• Published 28th Nov 2011
  • 33,177 Views, 997 Comments

The Moonstone Cup - Cyanide



Twilight is invited to Canterlot to compete with some of the greatest unicorns in Equestria!

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Chapter 6

The applause and cheering raged as Twilight Sparkle left the field with her opponent, Shahnaz, the ghul geomancer, still asleep in his circle of gems. She walked around the bleachers to meet her friends and Princess Luna, who were among the first to leave their seats, exiting the princess' private box to the rear.

Twilight smiled brightly, her face flushed and mane still somewhat disheveled as her friends all rushed to meet her. She found herself surrounded by ponies, with a baby dragon hugging around her neck tightly.

"Yeah, Twilight, that was awesome!" Spike crowed, his short arms not quite reaching all the way around his older friend. "I mean, that was amazing! You just shoved him around the whole time, he never had a chance!"

"That was sweet!" agreed Rainbow Dash exuberantly. A chorus of similar sentiments was raised by her friends; even Fluttershy only stopped jumping up and down and screaming when she noticed everypony looking at her.

Beaming, Twilight used her magic to gently flip Spike up onto her back. "Thanks, everypony!" she said, smiling ear to ear. "It wasn't as easy as you all make it sound but I think I handled it pretty well."

Princess Luna ruffled her wings dramatically, and she, too, smiled. "'Pretty well', indeed, Twilight Sparkle! You are doing my sister and I quite proud with your masterful performance these two days. I daresay that the age-group medal is already all but yours."

If possible, Twilight smiled even wider at Luna's words. "Thank you, princess! I still have to win two more matches for that, and..." She trailed off.

Everyone looked at her expectantly. "Yes, and what?" Rarity finally asked. "Out with it, dear!"

"And I feel very good about my chances!" Twilight finally said, with an excited squeak at the end for good measure.

Another chorus of cheers from the group of friends and a loud "Huzzah!" from Luna drew curious looks as the other spectators began to file out. Twilight could see ponies and other beings pointing at her and hear more whispering, along with not infrequent cheers from total strangers, but, at least for the moment, she was not concerned with what anyone was saying.

Applejack looked at the beaming unicorn pony. "So, Twi, you got some time before you find out who your next match is with. Anything you wanna do between now and then?"

"Well," Twilight said, as she began to feel the exertion of the match catch up with her. "I am kind of thirsty."

Luna's horn glowed brightly and a purple mist began to well up. "Let us go have a civilized cup of tea, then, away from here!" And between one blink and the next, the group was gone.

---

Luna's quarters, around the rear of Canterlot's throne room, were well-appointed with benches, cushions, rugs and any number of other comforts for the princess to receive guests. When the purple mist that had swept the group from the competition grounds back to the castle faded, the group found themselves already set on relaxing, overstuffed cushions. Luna appeared on her bed, her legs folded up underneath her, and with a small effort of magic, a set of teacups and saucers appeared on trays for each of the ponies.

"I trust this will be all to your liking," the princess of the night said, daintily levitating her cup before her. "It is a chamomile and spearmint blend my sister enjoys. I have found it quite relaxing and refreshing."

Twilight blinked, her brain still catching up with being teleported so suddenly, but the smell of the hot tea snapped her back to reality. "Oh, thank you, princess!" she responded, before levitating her own cup and taking a sip. It was delicious, and relaxing and refreshing, as promised. Twilight could already feel the strain of the match melting away.

"It's a very nice blend," came Fluttershy's gentle voice, after the yellow pegasus took a sip herself. "Where do you get your chamomile? It seems more fragrant than the flowers that grow near Ponyville."

Luna took another sip before setting her cup down on the saucer. "I believe my sister's chef has her chamomile flowers imported from Trottingham. It is a different varietal than that which grows near Canterlot and Ponyville." She sighed. "It is wonderful, but I do miss the chamomile that grew near the old castle. It was a different plant and I do not believe it exists anymore." She looked wistful for a moment, then shrugged her wings. "No matter. Twilight Sparkle, I must confess, I have an ulterior motive for bringing you here."

Curious and apprehensive looks were the order of the day, except from Pinkie Pie, who was preoccupied with pouring an entire bag of sugar into her tea. Rainbow Dash, who had been eyeing her teacup suspiciously, spoke up. "Does this have anything to do with that rumor I've been hearing about you and Twilight? Cause there's nothing wrong with that, but..."

"Rainbow!" Twilight snapped.

Luna looked between the two ponies in confusion. "What rumor are you referring to?"

A slight red tinge arose beneath Rainbow Dash's cheeks. "Well, y'know, the one where you're-"

Rarity cleared her throat noisily, mercifully cutting Rainbow Dash off. "Perhaps, Rainbow Dash, we should let the princess speak in her own time? Hmm? Hmm?" She punctuated the second 'hmm' with a glare that put Fluttershy’s stare to shame.

This time, anyway, no one could accuse Rainbow of being slow on the uptake. "Ohhh... Yeah. Sorry. Go ahead, princess."

Luna ruffled her wings and shook her head. "I am afraid, Twilight Sparkle, that I have done you a grave disservice in sponsoring you for this tournament."

Curiosity turned to confusion and worry on Twilight's part. "What do you mean?"

Luna sighed again, settling into her bed, tea forgotten. "I am sure by now you have noticed the dragon queen's interest in you."

Twilight nodded. "I don't think she likes me very much."

"It is not your fault, and it is not you she dislikes. Not truly, at any rate." Luna started to look faraway as she spoke, and an icy tone entered her voice. Spike shivered and walked over to sit next to Twilight. "We have never gotten on with our royal cousin, the queen of Ormsreich. The Lady of Air and Fire had little use for the cold and darkness we brought each night, and believed," she said and closed her eyes, sadly, "that we were planning to usurp our sister's throne. She was among the first to warn our sister of our betrayal, some years before we styled ourself Nightmare Moon, but our royal cousin's warnings were ignored until it was too late."

Luna opened her eyes, lowering her head. "You may have returned me to myself, Twilight Sparkle, but Najstariot does not trust me or believe that I have changed. She could not gainsay my sponsorship of you, but she was suspicious even before your invitation was sent, and after your display of power at the trials, I believe she thinks that you are not competing fairly."

Twilight blinked and opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by Applejack throwing her hat to the floor, angrily. "Consarn it!" she yelled. "Y'all were on the outs a thousand years ago and so she accuses my friend o' cheatin'?! Just who does she think she is?!"

"The queen of all dragons, dear Applejack," Luna replied, gently.

"I don't care if she's Tirac in a dragon costume!" The infuriated farm pony retorted. "Can't nopony accuse one o' my friends o' cheatin' and get away with it!"

Eyes suddenly glowing fiercely, Princess Luna leaned up, resting her weight on her front knees, and her voice went cold once again. "We would ask that you not use that name within these walls again. We know it was nothing more than a slip of the tongue and so we shall overlook it, this time."

Applejack blanched, and sat back down on her cushion, all of the wind suddenly gone from her sails. "Um... I'm powerful sorry, princess. I didn’t know there was somethin’ wrong with, uh, that name."

“He was a vile creature,” Luna said, venom dripping from her words. “Evil and vicious. After a thousand years, how is it that that thing is still remembered?!” The princess glared at Applejack, the glow in Luna’s eyes cowing her even further. The other ponies shrank back.

Twilight wracked her brain in confusion during the ensuing pregnant pause. Wasn’t Tirac just an old pony tale? Parents would tell foals to eat their alfalfa or Tirac would steal them away to his cavern. Carrot Top had even dressed up as him for Nightmare Night. Was he real? Did Luna know him?

“Hey, I’m sure Applejack didn’t mean anything by it,” Rainbow Dash spoke up, interrupting Twilight’s train of thought. “I mean, isn’t T-” She stopped as Luna turned to look at her through narrowed eyes.

"Rainbow, it’s okay." Twilight said, hurriedly. "AJ, I'm not cheating, so I have nothing to worry about. Anyway," she continued, archly. "Didn't you accuse Rainbow Dash of cheating during the Running of the Leaves? Weren't you both cheating?"

“Hey, yeah, that’s right!” Rainbow Dash looked at Applejack, pointedly.

Applejack mumbled something into her hat and lapsed silent.

The glow in Luna's eyes faded and she settled back down on her bed, but she was clearly shaken. "I hope that you are right, Twilight Sparkle," she said slowly, bringing her attention back to matters of the present. "But did you not think that it was unusual to have one of the tournament organizers overseeing one of the first matches in the youngest age bracket of the competition? There were nearly twenty other matches under way at the same time. Do you think the dragon queen personally oversaw each?"

Twilight looked up at Luna, momentarily at a loss for words.

"She has 'offered' to oversee each of your matches." Luna looked back at Twilight pointedly. "She intends to monitor you for the entire tournament. My sister informs me that the ghul king has, in his own turn, 'offered' you some respite from Najstariot's gaze, on the pretext that any match you should have with a dragon should be proctored by a neutral party."

Rarity spoke up, standing up from her cushion. "Princess, if I may, but this is outrageous! Twilight is our friend, not a token to be passed around for political reasons!"

Luna looked back, evenly. "She is a hero, dear Rarity, as are all of you. It has ever been the fate of heroes to be used as pawns in political games. Unfortunately, my sister and I have little power to prevent it in this case without damaging relations with the dragons. Again," she turned back to Twilight, "I apologize for my error in dragging you into the midst of this."

Twilight sat up straight, with a smile. "No apologies necessary, princess! Whatever the dragon queen thinks of me, I'll do my best for the rest of the tournament. I won't let her trip me up!"

A matching smile was Luna's response. "Then there is nothing more to worry about! Now, may I offer to warm anypony's cup?"

---

A half hour of tea and small talk later, the group of eight found themselves materializing at the tournament grounds again. The grounds had once again been rearranged; a number of unicorn and pegasus ponies were just hauling away the last of the excess seating, leaving only two of the small arenas. Twilight and Luna walked toward a posted sign near the bleachers in the center labelled "Next Matches" in an unnecessarily elaborate script. The rest of the group followed closely, warding off curious passers-by.

The hand-written list detailed the remaining matches in the young adult bracket. It was short; only eight of the young adult competitors from the previous day's trial had gone on to the duels, and so there were only two matches listed. To the right, the overwrought sign declared, Trixie would be facing somepony named Harah. So, Trixie had made it to the duels and won her first. Twilight remembered this potentially important information with only a slight grimace. To the left, the sign read, Twilight Sparkle would be facing Gianna. Why did she know that name?

"Hey, Twilight, isn't that the gryphon from the other day?" Spike said brightly, having wandered over to read the sign. "I didn't know she was competing."

"Oh, of course! Thank you, Spike!" Twilight replied. She reached over and ruffled his dermal plates. "What would I do without you?"

With a grin and a shrug, Spike said, "I dunno. Probably forget stuff and get lost all the time."

Luna looked over at her friend, mildly. "You have met this pony?"

Twilight grinned and stuck out her tongue at Spike before turning to Luna. "She's not a pony, she's a gryphon. We all ran into her on the road outside Canterlot just after we arrived from Ponyville on Friday. She seemed very nice and gave me a heads-up on some of the rumors going around about me."

Luna stretched her wings broadly. "What rumors would those be? I have heard tell of many."

"Well," Twilight began. "What she told me was that everypony thought I was some kind of alicorn sorceress from Manehattan, and that some ponies were even saying I was actually a princess like you and Princess Celestia..."

A loud laugh came from Luna, while Spike muffled a smaller one. "I do not doubt that these things are being said! A pony of worth attracts these sorts of exaggerations."

Twilight looked around uncomfortably. There was once again a growing crowd of ponies clustering near Twilight and Luna, whispering back and forth. She shook her head in confusion, and spoke, maybe a bit louder than necessary. "I don't understand. Why don't ponies just find out the facts instead of making up wild stories?"

"I am afraid I do not know, Twilight Sparkle," was Luna's apologetic reply. "I, myself, have been the subject of such tales. There always seems to be an urge to portray anypony that carries great responsibility and that one has great expectations of as larger than life."

The air was split by a loud boom, and a handful of helium balloons and streamers suddenly flew past Luna, Twilight and Spike. The trio turned just in time for another burst from Pinkie Pie's inexplicable Party Cannon; the pink pony had already set up an ad hoc dance floor, blasted decorations across the grass near Twilight's friends, and was in the process of setting up her turntable.

"Alright, everypony... Let’s party!" Pinkie shrieked as the music started up, and she began leading a growing, snaking conga line near the turntable. First Twilight's other friends, and then nearby ponies began joining in the sudden party.

Twilight gaped, and then scowled. "Pinkie, what are you doing?!"

From the head of the conga line, Pinkie winked at Twilight, and then went back to dancing. Twilight began to growl, and then looked around again.

The growing knot of rubbernecking ponies near her and Luna had vanished, some into Pinkie's conga line, others joining the party in small groups, still others just staring in awe and confusion. The growing crowd was dancing, bouncing balloons, laughing and generally enjoying themselves. At least temporarily, the awe over Twilight had been forgotten, thank to Pinkie and her artillery piece.

With a small smile, Luna leaned over to Twilight. "The Element of Laughter, as I recall?"

Twilight giggled. "Yes."

"You should find your place in the arena, I think. Pinkie Pie's distraction will not serve to keep them occupied for very long, given that the matches are scheduled to start a short time from now."

Spike leapt up to wrap his arms around Twilight's neck, again. "Good luck, Twilight!"

"Thanks, Spike." Twilight let the small dragon down to the ground, and turned toward the arena, head and wings held high.

---

"To my left, Gianna!" The dragon queen stood at the center line of the arena, between unicorn and gryphon, her stentorian voice easily drowning out the roar of the excited crowd stomping and cheering in the bleachers. "Daughter of chieftain Gamall of the Mt. Grundle aerie and widely considered to be the finest gryphon summoner of her generation! She acquitted herself admirably in the trials and her first match this morning was a decisive victory. Good luck to you, Gianna!" Najstariot then made a horrible, grating shriek and bowed her head toward Gianna, and was answered with a matching shriek from the gryphon.

Najstariot turned her head toward Twilight. "To my right, Twilight Sparkle! Bearer of the element of magic, she recently saved Equestria and the world from the depredations of the chaos spirit Discord! She placed first in the trials, and her first match today was an inspiring example of quick thinking and versatility under pressure! Good luck to you, Twilight Sparkle!" She bowed her head toward Twilight with a neutral expression, and Twilight returned the gesture, silently grateful for the lack of a gryphon shout directed at her.

"Competitors, to the center!"

Twilight and Gianna approached each other, both smiling broadly.

"Nice to see you again, Twilight." Gianna began, in her gruff voice. "Didn't really expect to make it this far!"

Twilight giggled and offered a hoof. "I know what you mean. I didn't realize you were actually in the tournament, but I think I saw your statue during the trial the other day!"

Taking the much smaller unicorn's hoof in talon, Gianna gently shook with a chuckle. "You saw that, huh? At least someone remembers it, everyone else has just been talking about the amazing stunts you and Trixie pulled."

Setting her hooves back on the ground, Twilight looked away slightly in embarrassment. "Well, I am pretty proud of the gem-seeking bean."

"That was so good!" Gianna gushed. "I wish I'd come up with something like that!"

An impatient voice shook the arena. "Competitors!"

"I think that's us," Gianna said, raising a talon in a lazy salute, before she turned and began walking back to her end of the field. "Good luck!"

"You too!" Twilight called out. Her horn glowed, and in a burst of magic she was at her own end of the field.

"Begin!"

Here goes nothing, Twilight thought, as a purple glow fading to a frigid blue formed around her horn.

Shahnaz's starting strategy had been sensible and effective; it had very nearly put Twilight out within seconds of beginning their match, and would have been even more effective if he had been using fairly instantaneous unicorn magic. A similar glow to that surrounding Twilight's horn engulfed Gianna, and she stumbled for a moment before a panicked screech raised a roaring vortex of fire around her, breaking Twilight's line of sight.

It didn't matter. The Drain spell had hit, if only for a moment, and the stolen energy was like lightning through Twilight's horn. Ha! This was incredible! She spiraled into the air rapidly, wings buzzing like an insect. This must have been what Rainbow Dash felt like all the time! A rainbow arced from Twilight's horn as she rocketed higher and higher, laughing madly. She reached the height of her climb, and an unsteady arc of blazing purple energy lanced from her horn, striking the edge of the huge mass of clouds that hung heavily over Canterlot and the competition grounds. One of the small clouds opened as if it were a balloon that had been popped. It emptied a short but torrential downpour over the makeshift stadium, flooding Gianna's vortex.

Twilight was unstoppable! She laughed again, launching herself toward the ground. Maybe she could do a Sonic Rainboom! That would certainly surprise everyone! Her sudden rainstorm had worked, flooding the field and turning the grass to mud, as well as drowning Gianna's fire. The gryphon was battered from the side as Twilight struck at her with telekinetic "attacks", slaps, really. She didn't want to hurt her! It was against the rules, and anyway, she liked the gryphon, even if she was screaming at her! She hoped they could be friends! Great friends! Gianna could move to Ponyville and Twilight could introduce her to everyone! Maybe she could work in Clouds-

Twilight's train of thought was disrupted as she was grabbed and ponyhandled by something. It was invisible, insubstantial, but definitely there. She could feel strong hands grabbing at her, legs battering her wings, trying to flip her over in midair. It was like a giant, invisible Spike trying to hug her! How fun! She laughed again, and her horn blazed. There was the sound of rushing wind as whatever was grabbing at her was torn apart by the banishment. Ha! Sorry, invisible Spike! Now, there was something important...

The ground was wet and cold as Twilight landed heavily, on her side. The icy mud shocked her back to her senses, the last of the drained energy bleeding away into the wet ground. Twilight staggered to her hooves, her muscles sore from exerting herself so suddenly and excessively under the influence of the stolen energy. She winced at a piercing squawk from Gianna. A wave of mud bore down on Twilight, which she repelled with her telekinesis. She tried to look around the splash, to see where Gianna was, but the mud kept with her and she kept having to push it back.

Wait, what kind of mud follows you?

The "splash" of mud looked at Twilight through the aura of her telekinesis with dull, brown eyes. It began thrashing, throwing small globs of mud everywhere. Twilight was already filthy from her landing, her entire left side covered in mud and drenched, and the mud monster was making sure the right matched. Twilight flung the creature away, back toward Gianna's side of the arena.

Alright, stay on the offensive, Twilight, she thought to herself. She splashed a wave of mud toward Gianna by cutting her telekinesis across the ground like a huge knife. A shriek from the gryphon, and the mud was pushed back, leaving the wave to splash harmlessly around her. With a grin, Twilight powered her horn again, and there was a similar glow from the ground on Gianna's side of the arena, around the gryphon herself. The muddy ground emitted painful cracking noises as Twilight forcibly expelled the water from the mud, leaving only dry dirt. Dry dirt with three of the gryphon's mismatched extremities stuck in it.

Gianna shrieked in frustration and yanked at her trapped talon and paws painfully, shrieking stinging telekinetic strikes at Twilight. The unicorn jumped back, not wanting to risk going airborne while Gianna was lashing at her like that, and raised her Drain spell again. The gryphon began to glow, and then grinned, before making a noise that sounded like an eagle fighting with Opalescence.

Twilight staggered and retched, her spell dropping as she fell heavily onto her cannons, in the mud. Whatever she had absorbed, it wasn't Gianna's energy. It was enervating. Sour. Bad. Wrong in a way that Twilight could only compare to Discord's influence. She wanted to throw up this horrible thing she'd just swallowed. Twilight blinked, blearily, and could clearly see a black miasma surrounding Gianna. A shield? What kind of shield was this? The unicorn stumbled trying to get to her feet, and was knocked back to her knees by another telekinetic shriek.

There was a loud crunching sound and a pained squawk from Gianna's side of the arena, and the gryphon rose into the air, lumps of dirt falling from her freed talon. She hung in the air, screaming and shrieking, building some big spell. The horrible sounds jarred Twilight, grated against her in ways she didn't know sound could. She was so tired. She just wanted this to be over. Maybe she could apologize to Gianna for unintentionally hurting her feet, and then they could all go to Pony Joe's and laugh about it over a doughnut.

The abused earth began to split, and a shocked hush fell over the crowd. Twilight blinked again, staggering to her feet, her wings uselessly twitching as the battered pony tried to see what was so impressive.

She felt like vomiting again. There were ponies tearing themselves from the ground, or things that used to be ponies. Bundles of dry, dusty bones, perhaps ten or so, buried for Celestia only knew how long. Earth ponies, unicorns, even a pegasus missing the bones of its left wing. Angry red light burned in the sockets of their discolored skulls as they rose to Gianna's command, the gryphon still screaming in her native tongue.

The energy in the air felt the same as the bad magic Twilight had absorbed. That's what it was. Gianna had surrounded herself with... Twilight staggered to her hooves, furiously, and lashed at Gianna with a strike that took the distracted gryphon like a slap across her face. The gryphon stopped shrieking and the skeletons started advancing. The summoner grinned at Twilight cockily, tilting her front talons in the air as if she were a marionetteer.

Think, Twilight! Thinkthinkthinkthink! A Come-To-Life spell was not going to help, since that was effectively what Gianna had cast, just a very... sick one. She could banish them all but she was already winded and drained from her second attempt at Draining Gianna, and most likely she'd collapse when she was done. Twilight was at a loss as the skeletons advanced. She had no experience with the dead. Like most ponies, she had generally hoped never to have to deal with them. Some ponies in the past had occasionally used Memory spells to "channel" spirits of loved ones, but that was... not really done anymore, and hadn't been for centuries.

Memory spell. A Memory spell! That was it! Twilight hoped she was right as she advanced to the edge of her side of the arena, splashing through the mud and bracing her hooves, her horn glowing brightly. If this worked, she could banish all ten of them without breaking any more of a sweat.

The first skeleton reached her, a large earth pony with a partially caved-in ribcage. Twilight jabbed with her glowing horn, connecting with the skeleton's skull. The skeleton collapsed to the ground, inert, and Gianna squawked in surprise, shaking her head as if she'd been struck. She swept her talons around in a great circle, and the skeletons moved, attempting to surround Twilight.

Yes! That worked! The skeletons had been dead for so long that they weren't really "ponies" anymore. Gianna hadn't really raised the dead, just put some animating magic into what amounted to old rocks. Twilight's Memory spell had "reminded" the skeleton that it was part of the ground, and it simply gave up, letting the Come-To-Life spell dissipate on its own, without needing to banish it at all. Twilight leapt back again, fluttering her tired wings to give her extra lift, and then rushed at the skeletons as they attempted to surround her.

The unicorn's glowing horn tore through each skeleton, and Twilight could feel little bursts of energy recoiling at Gianna as each skeleton in turn rejected her control and collapsed. The gryphon withstood four painful shocks before she dropped her spell, letting the rest of the skeletons collapse where they were. She flew back, shrieking in frustration and panting.

Twilight bared her teeth and her horn started to glow. Her eyes were unevenly dilated and flitted furtively at beings around the arena. Gianna, who had desecrated the remains of the ponies. Najstariot, the dragon queen, who simply stood there and allowed this travesty to go on. Luna, who had dragged her into this tournament. She turned to look at her opponent again, ears twitching spastically.

Gianna flew forward, slowly, trying to figure out what Twilight Sparkle was doing. She attempted to shriek another telekinetic attack to disrupt whatever big spell the unicorn was apparently attempting to cast. Her shriek turned into a surprised hiccuping sound as a huge gust of wind caught her wings from behind, bowling her over in midair and sending her flailing and sliding roughly across the mud. She quickly climbed to her feet... And saw Twilight standing next to her, looking up at the mud-covered gryphon.

Twilight spoke up, smugly, from her position in the mud on her side of the arena, where Gianna had landed. "And I think you'll find that I just won the match."

Indeed, a moment later, a disbelieving Najstariot bellowed, "The match is over! Twilight Sparkle wins by territory default!" Cheers erupted from the crowd.

Gianna tried to laugh, but it came out more of a disappointed cough. "I guess you did." She smiled lopsidedly. "You're as good as everyone says. It was fun."

Twilight couldn't believe how cavalier Gianna was being. The ground was littered with old bones, many damaged and broken, evidence of the gryphon summoner's crimes. There were even a few small bone chips clinging to the mud in Twilight's mane. "Fun? Fun? You desecrated all of these remains and played these poor, pathetic ponies as puppets, and you call that fun?! Even... Even Discord didn't stoop to anything like this!"

Gianna looked like she'd been slapped, and took a few steps back, looking over at Najstariot helplessly. The dragon queen merely watched with a somewhat curious expression. "Jeez, Twilight, what's your problem?" She sounded hurt by Twilight's attack. "I mean, I thought I was being respectful!"

Confusion replaced some of the anger on Twilight's face. Not all, not even most, but some. "Respectful? How is digging up the dead respectful?!"

"I asked your ancestors to borrow their strength!"

It was Twilight's turn to look as if she'd been slapped, and she sat down heavily, in the mud. "Asked my ancestors...?"

"It's a sign of great respect among gryphons! We'd only ever raise our opponent's ancestors if we thought they were really strong!" The large gryphon blinked down at Twilight. "You didn't know?"

Twilight looked around in mute shock at the bones littering the destroyed ground. Some of them were broken where she'd crushed them underhoof, others bore marks from her horn. "No, I didn't."

"Wow. I'm sorry, I guess," the gryphon said, her voice even scratchier than usual. "I guess I thought you knew,” she said, trailing off for a moment. “I dunno, everything."

"I'm sorry, I have to leave," Twilight said, softly. The filthy pony turned, running away from the arena, back toward Canterlot.

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