• Published 21st Mar 2018
  • 2,117 Views, 607 Comments

Duelists of the Friendship Cup - DrakeyC



Friendship Games is retold, but with less academics and athletics and more card games.

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Battle Break

Duelists of the Friendship Cup

Battle Break

The stands of Canterlot High and Crystal Prep began to slowly empty, the students variably heading down the street to a small strip mall, or going inside the school. On the field, Applejack stood up and turned as her friends ran up to her.

“You did great, AJ.” Rainbow grinned and held out her fist.

Applejack bumped her fist and nodded. “Thanks, Rainbow. Ah got no regrets. Played the best game I could.”

Fluttershy bit her lip. “We’re down two games, though. We both lost.”

Sunset, her eyes narrowed and her arms crossed, nodded. “Yeah, because you guys were outmatched. Their decks just move too fast and hit too hard to stand up to them.” The other five turned their heads to look at her. Sunset’s expression softened and she shook her head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just… this isn’t right. Applejack, you’re one of the best duelists in the school, and if you hadn’t pulled out those dragons at the end, she would have crushed you.”

“Welcome to the Friendship Cup,” Rainbow snorted. “You should have seen it two years ago. We didn’t win a single duel, so once we lost four duels the first day, they called off the second day’s duels.”

“Well, they tried to,” Rarity said gently. “Principal Sombra was adamant the duels continue, and they did. We lost them as well.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Sunset looked at the table where the principals and vice-principals were sitting. “If he wants to give his students an ego stroke, there should be ways to do it without having to humiliate us.”

Pinkie held up her hands. “Whatcha gonna do? It’s not like we can just stomp over there and start screaming in his face aaaand there she goes.”

The five watched as Sunset began walking towards the principals.

Applejack shook her head. “Ah ain’t gonna stick around for this. Anyone wanna head inside and grab a snack?”

Pinkie grinned “Ooooo, the third-floor vending machines by the stairs restocked on Thursday! Let’s go!” She grabbed Rainbow and Applejack by the wrists and pulled them towards the school, leaving Fluttershy to follow. Rarity glanced back at Sunset before going with her friends.


Sunset stepped on the grass in front of the table. Celestia was talking to Luna while Sombra worked on a laptop and Radiant Hope was doing some sort of paperwork.

“Principal Celestia?”

Celestia looked up from Luna. “Ah, yes, Sunset?”

“Pardon my interruption, but I’d like to speak to you for a moment about the Friendship Cup?”

“Certainly. What is it?”

“What is the point of the Friendship games?”

Celestia swept a hand over the assembled crowd. “We like to foster goodwill and community between our two schools, Sunset. Canterlot High and Crystal Prep are the two largest high schools in the region. It’s a friendly interschool rivalry no different than any other, simply expressed through Duel Monsters instead of athletics or grades. It’s a day where both our students can mingle together and bond over a game they both enjoy.”

“But it isn’t.” Sunset pointed at the scoreboard displaying the 2-0 record. “As I hear it, every year Crystal Prep wipes the floor with Canterlot High, and I’m seeing it happen again now. That doesn’t seem like much of a friendly rivalry.”

“Celestia,” Sombra said, raising his eyes from his laptop. “If I may interject for a moment?”

“Of course, Principal Sombra.”

Sunset turned to Sombra and faltered a moment as he looked at her, his green eyes piercing her teal. “Ms. Shimmer, the wins or losses of either school are irrelevant. What is important is the sense of school pride one gets from their showing in this tournament. It is a day when, no matter what tournaments we may have as separate institutions among our students, we can unite them as one against a greater opponent.”

“But we always lose,” Sunset stressed. “And I heard that even when we’ve lost all four duels the first day, you’ve insisted on holding the next three, even though the tournament is a lost cause at that point. What’s the point in dueling your students when they’re clearly better than us and are obviously going to win?”

Sombra frowned, his brow creasing. “I must say, Ms. Shimmer, for a champion duelist you seem to have a very pessimistic view on this game.”

Sunset was taken aback. “What?”

“True, our students have access to better cards due to their personal wealth, and our educational facilities focus on Duel Monsters and thus they know the game better. But this is hardly a promise of victory, as past, individual losses of our duelists will attest.” Sombra narrowed his eyes slightly. “Besides, if I may ask you on a personal level – what sort of attitude is it to have, where if victory is unlikely yet not impossible, you would give up on those grounds? That’s hardly a constructive attitude, especially in a game like Duel Monsters.”

Sombra folded his hands together and cupped them on the table as he leaned forward. “There is a saying among some, ‘the duel isn’t over until the last card is played’. I believe very thoroughly in that idea. One can never be certain of victory or defeat at any time, for until one’s Life Points reach zero, any card they draw could reverse a loss, or leave them floundering despite having a lead. Tournaments are the same way. True, there have been occasions where Crystal Prep has won all four day one duels. But then what if Canterlot High were to win all three duels on the next day?”

Sunset shifted her weight between feet. “I… I guess that’s a fair point. But—”

“Not to mention that, on an individual basis, there is one’s performance to take pride in.” Sombra smiled. “I did see your friends congratulate each other on their dueling so far, and rightfully so. Even if they did not win, they have put in an impressive performance against us, and I can promise you that my duelists do not make errors or go easy on opponents. Are they wrong to take pride in themselves based only on the outcome of their duels and not on the hard-fought game they played up to that point?”

“You’re twisting what I said.”

“I am merely paraphrasing a supposition I believed you provided, but perhaps I misunderstood. My apologies, then. Allow me to restate my points. Even if victory is unlikely, it is worth playing on the chance it will yet be attained, and that is true both of a duel and a tournament. And the outcome of these duels does not matter, just the skill one shows in them. If Crystal Prep were to lose today, I would be disappointed, but it would not bother me too greatly. All I care about is enjoying the duels you and your friends put on and seeing how you fare against my duelists, and that has always been my desire in the Friendship Cup year after year.”

Sombra sat back. “Is that an acceptable answer to your original question?”

Sunset paused, Sombra looking at her and waiting for an answer. How did he turn this around on me like that? I came over here ready to yell at him and put him in his place, and now I’m agreeing with him. She took a deep breath. “It’ll do.” It felt difficult to put ambiguity into her response.

“Excellent.” Sombra stood up. “I’m glad we could assuage your concerns. Good luck to you when your time to duel comes. I’m quite interested in what you have to show me.” He looked to Celestia and gave a small bow of his head. “If you’ll excuse me, Celestia, I have business I would attend to before our intermission is ended.”

“Of course.”

“Thank you. Hope, if you would?” Sombra nodded at Celestia, then at Sunset, and turned and walked towards the parking lot. Radiant Hope stood up and followed closely behind him.

Sunset let out a breath. “That was scary.”

“I know.”

Sunset did a double take and looked at Celestia. “Huh?”

“He does have quite a way with words, doesn’t he?” Celestia raised her eyebrows. “I often feel our conversations are framed in the context of me being a subordinate, even if that is hardly the case. He can be quite a presence when he wishes to be.” She shook her head and looked up at Sunset. “Even so, he’s not wrong. I know it can be frustrating for our students to do so poorly here, but it is worth trying, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Sunset sighed. “It just doesn’t seem fair that they’re so much better than us.”

“I know, but that’s out of my hands. Even if we offered more education on the advanced mechanics of the game, the students here don’t have access to the cards Crystal Prep does, and opening the school’s duel rules to those advanced mechanics would mean that those of you who can afford those better cards will start winning more often.”

“And then we’re in the same situation as we are with Crystal Prep now.” Sunset nodded. “I get it. It sucks, but it’s as fair as you can make it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still suck.”

Celestia gave her a small smile. “I won’t say you’re wrong, Sunset. What I will say is that you and your friends are some of the best duelists we’ve seen in years. If anyone could win the Friendship Cup, it’s you. I feel better about our chances this year than any other in recent memory.”

“Thank you, Principal Celestia.” Sunset blushed and returned her smile. “That means a lot.” She looked at the Crystal Prep bench. “I just wish I could focus on the tournament and not keep thinking about—” She stopped herself.

Twilight?


Applejack pressed the keypad to confirm her selection and the coils of the vending machine turned, pushing a chocolate bar forward until it fell to the bottom. She squatted down and reached her hand into the slot to retrieve the treat. “Ah should cut back on this kind o’ junk food. Granny says it’s gonna make me fat.”

Pinkie let out a huff. “Give up candy? What kind of madwoman is she?”

“Ah gotta stay healthy, Pinkie. Ah work the farm fields.”

Rarity nodded. “And not everyone has the same sweet tooth you do.” She stepped up to the machine and smiled as she pressed her coins into the slot. “I think some baked snack chips will do for me.” The coils turned and Rarity crouched to grab the bag from the slot.

“Who ya think’s gonna duel next?” Rainbow asked, the five walking down the hall.

Applejack shrugged. “It’s random, who knows?”

“I’d hope Flash or Sunset comes next.” Rarity gave a small sigh. “I have no doubt either of them could pull out a win without difficulty. The rest of us have it more difficult.”

Rainbow nodded. “Flash for sure, Sunset, probably.” She snickered. “I just had the thought. Know what would be funny and cool for her to get matched with?”

“Twilight?” Fluttershy whispered.

“Yeah.”

“Er, no.” The group turned as Fluttershy fell out of step. She pointed to the door to the computer lab. The group came back and peeked in the window.

Twilight sat at one of the computers in the otherwise empty room, typing rapidly. She leaned closer to the screen and adjusted her glasses, then reached into her pocket and took out her phone.

“What’s she doing?” Rainbow whispered.

“It seems she’s making a phone call,” Rarity replied.

“No kidding.”

Twilight finished tapping her screen and raised her phone to her ear.

A humming and a high-pitched beeping filled the air. Four sets of eyes turned from the window.

“Pinkie, your skirt is vibrating,” Rainbow hissed.

“It does that sometimes, no biggie.”

Rarity groaned. “It’s your phone!”

“Oh. Should have been specific.” Pinkie reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out her phone. “What’s up? Uh-huh… no I’m not busy, I’m just in the hall with my friends watching you.”

Inside the computer lab, Twilight turned her head to the door.

“Hi!” Pinkie grinned and waved her hand. Inside the lab, Twilight’s mouth moved. Pinkie nodded. “Sure!” She opened the door and stepped into the lab. “Is this better?”

“Yes.” Twilight hung up her phone and slipped it into her pocket. Pinkie looked at her phone with a pout as the call disconnected.

“Hi,” Rainbow raised her hand and waved.

“Hello.” Twilight looked between them. “I had wanted to ask Pinkie a few questions, but now I’m wondering why you were spying on me?”

Rarity stepped forward, hands clasped over her front, and smiled. “So sorry for that, dear, we didn’t mean to snoop. We were just wondering what you were doing.”

“Well, that’s what I wanted to ask Pinkie about. I see here she maintains the school’s duelist database and thought she could answer a question.” Twilight gestured her hand to her computer. The five came closer and saw the home page for Canterlot High on her screen, currently on the directory page. “I was looking at the duelist profiles of you five. I hadn’t heard of you before this tournament and was wondering why you were chosen to compete.”

“That’s easy.” Rainbow pulled a chair over and sat down, draping her arm over the back. “We’re awesome!”

“I see.” Twilight stared at her blankly.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “What Rainbow means is that we were friends with the winner of the last tournament and the school likes us.”

“Ah. That makes sense.” Twilight nodded. “The win-loss records for some of you didn’t seem to reflect what I’d expect from tournament entrants, so I assumed it was popularity.”

“What’s that mean?” Rainbow asked, narrowing her eyes. “You saying’ we ain’t good enough to compete against you?”

“No?” Twilight scrunched her face and shook her head. “I simply mean that, some of you, anyway, don’t seem to have a win-loss record consistent with being the school’s best duelists.”

“How can you tell that?” Fluttershy asked.

“While I was browsing I looked at the profiles of several other students here and did some rough calculations to get a ranking for each of them, presuming the one I looked at with the highest ratio, Flash Sentry, is the top ranked. For example, you would rank approximately in the thirtieth percentile.”

Fluttershy blinked. “You figured that out by looking at our website profiles?”

“Yes. Though, I didn’t have time to look at all of them and based this on a small sample size. My conclusions are being presented with a considerable margin of error.”

“Oh, ok.”

“I noticed something else on this site, too” Twilight turned to the computer and clicked on another page, bringing up a poster for the Autumn Crown Tournament. “The website claims that a duelist named ‘Wind Whistler’ was the victor of your last tournament. But I can’t find a record of her in the directory and no one I ask about her seems to know who I’m talking about.”

“Yeah, well…” Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck. “It turns out it was someone faking like they were a new student and just happened by that weekend, and they wanted in the tournament, so Celestia let them. Then when it ended, they never showed up again.”

Pinkie nodded. “I blanked out their profile and put an alias in.”

Twilight frowned. “So the winner of the previous tournament was someone who entered under false pretenses? Who? I know several of you dueled them and you just said you were friends with them.”

Rarity shook her head. “It’s… difficult to explain.”

“Why?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Applejack interjected. “The point is they ain’t here now, so ya don’t need to worry about that. What we should all be focusin’ on is the tournament now.”

“Quite.” Twilight nodded. “I’m disappointed the duels have been one-sided so far. The tournament is more interesting to watch when Canterlot is able to challenge us properly.”

“Eh, we’ve done fine.” Applejack smiled and put her arm around Fluttershy. “We did our best, got no regrets.”

Fluttershy smiled. “At least we had fun trying.”

“Most institutions that encourage a competitive atmosphere use the Expert rules,” Twilight said. “If you want to have a better chance defeating our school next year, perhaps you should consider asking Celestia to implement a rule change for tournament play.”

“Casual is more fun!” Pinkie said. “That’s why they call it casual, otherwise they’d call it ‘Meanie No-Fun Rules’ or ‘Serious Business Rules’.”

Twilight gave a small smile. “Not inappropriate names. We take dueling very seriously at Crystal Prep. It’s the launching point for a lot of careers in Duel Monsters.” Her smile faded. “If you don’t mind me saying, if any of you wanted to pursue a future as a professional duelist, it would help you a lot if you enrolled at Crystal Prep.”

“Yeah, right.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Like any of us could afford it.”

“There are scholarship programs if you show skill in dueling or have advanced academic knowledge. That’s how I got admitted.”

“Really?” Rarity raised her eyebrows.

“Yes.” Twilight smiled proudly. “I was in my final year of elementary school when I began development of an algorithm to calculate a value I called ‘duelist level’. It took into account multiple factors in deck building, including consistency, speed, field control, and hand control, to produce statistics on how effective a duelist’s deck is. Principal Sombra heard of my program and met with me, and after I explained to him how it worked, he invited me to attend Crystal Prep.”

“Lucky.” Applejack nodded. “Did ya have to beat him in a duel or something?”

“What? Oh, no, no.” Twilight rapidly shook her head. “I wouldn’t stand a chance against Principal Sombra. Besides, I don’t duel much, even before designing my program.”

“Why not?” Fluttershy asked.

“There’s little point to it for me.” Twilight held up her duel disk. “I’ve looked at hundreds of archetypes and themes, and Lightsworn cards have the most preferable combination of speed, versatility, and consistency that I’ve seen. Once I made the choice to focus on them, I spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning my deck to precision. At this level of refinement, I just need to know an opponent’s deck type to determine the probability of being able to defeat them or not. Actually dueling them is unnecessary.” She gave a proud smile as she finished.

“Wow.” Rainbow scrunched her face. “That sounds so boring.”

Twilight’s smile vanished. “Boring?”

“You’re telling me!” Pinkie exclaimed. “There’s no fun in it if you always know how duels are going to go! That’s what makes it exciting!”

Twilight pushed her glasses up her nose. “I’m sorry, but I don’t participate in this game for fun. I study to advance my knowledge of the game and I take my efforts very seriously.”

“Why even bother if you don’t enjoy it?” Rarity asked.

Twilight paused and blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“If you don’t enjoy Duel Monsters, why spend any time on it at all?”

“I didn’t say that.” Twilight shook her head. “I merely enjoy it on a different level. Each deck is a variable and each duel is a problem to be solved.” She smiled, her eyes distant. “It’s like when your parents get you a book of math problems for your birthday and you can’t help but stay up all night solving them.”

“We all know that feel,” Rainbow muttered.

Twilight began to continue, but her phone vibrated. She took hold of it, looked at the screen, and stiffened, her eyes wide. “Pardon me, I have to go.” She stood and bowed her head towards them. “Thank you for speaking to me.” She stepped around them and briskly walked out of the room.

Rarity let out a breath. “Well, that was an unexpected encounter.”

Rainbow stuck out her tongue and faked a gag. “I’d say more like a reminder why Crystal Prep sucks. Just talking about how smart she is and how good her deck is.”

“She’s nothing like the Twilight we knew,” Fluttershy said.

Pinkie crossed her arms. “Did you hear what she said about changing the rules? She’s no fun at all! She’s the opposite of fun, she’s like… some, not-fun, no-fun, non-fun-having… duelist person.”

Applejack slapped her forehead. “Pinkie?”

“Yup?”

“Stop talking.”

“Okey-dokey!”

“She wants fun? I can give her fun.” Rainbow smirked and punched her palm. “Whoever I’m against, I’m gonna squash them! We ain’t outta this yet.”

“Ah’m more wonderin’ what she was thinkin’ comin’ here and askin’ us questions like that.” Applejack frowned. “Good thing ya erased Twilight’s duel profile, Pinkie. That coulda been a lot of tricky questions.”

Pinkie nodded crisply. “Celestia told me to. She said that if Twilight wasn’t actually registered in the school then she should be DQ’d.” Pinkie held up her hands. “Not like it matters now, right?”


Twilight stepped out of the doors to the parking lot of Canterlot High and descended the short flight of concrete steps to the asphalt. As she crossed the parking lot back to the entrance to the field, the limousine from Crystal Prep opened its back door.

“Twilight.” Twilight raised her head at the sound of her name and looked to see Radiant Hope holding the door open. She gestured a hand to the limo. Twilight swallowed, already knowing who was waiting in the back seat, yet she obediently came forward and rounded Hope and the door to slide into the seat. The door was shut behind her.

Alone in the limo, Twilight raised her eyes to Principal Sombra and found him looking at the window separating the driver’s seat from the passengers, his fingers steepled before his face. In the dim light of the limo, his bright green eyes almost seemed to be glowing.

“For what purpose did you access the school database?” Sombra whispered.

Twilight licked her suddenly dry lips. “I was confused as to why duelists with such poor dueling statistics had been chosen to represent the school.”

“And?”

“I wanted to know who had won their Autumn Crown Tournament. I could find no record of who it might have been and all video recordings of the tournament have been removed from the internet.”

“And?”

“And…” Twilight hesitated. “That’s all.”

Sombra turned his head to look past Twilight. She looked out the window next to her and saw the girls she had been talking to leave the school and walk across the parking lot, not paying any mind to the limo. Sombra turned his head forward again and closed his eyes. “I did say to you once before that we should be honest with each other and with ourselves, did I not, Twilight?” Twilight quickly nodded. “Please, then, divulge the real reason you spoke to them.”

Twilight paused and looked at the floor of the limo, her eyes sweeping around as she thought over her answer. “I… the winner of their previous tournament has had their identity covered up, I can find no information on them. I know several of those girls dueled the winner, and they claim to be friends with them, but they refused to identify them. They just said it was a student who was disqualified after because they weren’t a real student. And now the five of them are entered in the tournament despite the fact their records and skill level make them extremely poor choices for representatives.”

She shook her head. “It’s all highly suspicious.”

“You suspect further ill manner of goings-on?”

“Maybe. We already know Sunset Shimmer is cheating, somehow. This could be part of it. Or not. I’m not sure.” Twilight inhaled. “The point is, something strange is happening with Canterlot High’s duelists. Something they’re aware of and covering up and refuse to talk about.”

“Perhaps. It is also possible they are embarrassed that an anonymous duelist entered the tournament and defeated them all under a false pretense. It would reflect badly on both student and faculty if an unknown element were to insert themselves into the situation without difficulty, sweep the tournament brackets, and then leave immediately after. Or, perhaps, the student who won did not desire to have the fame that comes with their win and asked their identity be concealed.”

“Both of those scenarios make sense. But I’m not sure that’s the case.” Twilight furrowed her brow. “There’s something very strange going on at this school. I can’t figure out what, but I know it isn’t my imagination. Every scenario I begin to construct to explain the oddities in their behavior, they fall apart the more I investigate.”

“An investigation?” Sombra raised an eyebrow. “You seem to be taking these things rather personally, Twilight.”

“Challenging problems are the best kind. It makes finding the answer more rewarding.”

Sombra gave a small smile. “You dislike being unable to understand things. You have a very rational mind, it is what makes you such a good student. But if you practice strict adherence to what one can only observe with the rational mind, you close yourself off to other possibilities. It would do you very well to accept that, perhaps, you are overthinking this.”

Twilight frowned. “I know. But I can’t help it. There’s a lot of strange things going on at this school. And I know that Sunset Shimmer and her cards are at the center of it. I just can’t figure out how.”

“I agree entirely.”

Twilight perked up and looked at Sombra. “Really?”

Sombra nodded, his eyes still forward. “Yes. Certainly, there is something amiss here that warrants further study. And I do believe that Sunset Shimmer plays a critical role in the suspicious elements you have noted.” He turned his eyes to Twilight. “But for now, if you please, avoid further socialization with those girls. If they are up to some sort of nefarious cover-up, it would do us no good to hint we suspect them, and any questioning of them on the fact would serve to that end.”

“Right. Sorry.”

“Do not apologize, you have done nothing wrong.” Sombra reached up a hand and knocked on his window. The door opened immediately. “For now, let us return to the field, Twilight. Please do not fret about this further. I’d like you to keep your mind on the dueling.”

“Yes, sir.” Twilight bowed her head. Sombra stepped out of the limo and moved back, extending a hand to help Twilight to her feet as she emerged.

Hope looked at her watch. “It is time to end the intermission. I’ll go inform Vice-Principal Luna.” She walked briskly onto the field and across the grass.

Sombra gently put a hand on Twilight’s back. “Come. Let us see who is next to play.”

Twilight glanced up at Sombra. “Do you really plan to look into my suspicions about them?”

“Indeed. I have a working theory as to what may have happened, but I lack sufficient evidence to support it.”

“Is there anything I could do to help?”

“Not at the moment, no.” Sombra smiled and looked down at her. “But I appreciate your willingness. I do believe the time will come soon when you will be of great help to me, Twilight.”

Twilight blushed. “Thank you.”

The two reached the field and Sombra removed his hand, Twilight sitting down.

“Now that all duelists and officials are present, we can choose our next duelists!” On the display screen, the five remaining duelists for either side had their portraits begin to flash.

Sunset stared at Sombra as he sat down next to Hope. Was he talking to Twilight just now?

There was a fanfare and the crowds cheered. A high-pitched squeal drew Sunset’s attention to the bench next to her, where a certain large puff of pink hair had just inflated larger.

“The next round of the Friendship Cup is set! Canterlot High’s Pinkamena Pie shall face Crystal Prep’s Lemon Zest!”

Author's Note:

Sorry for the long wait for a comparatively dull chapter - I downloaded Fallout 4 a month ago. I've been slightly preoccupied. :raritywink:

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