• Published 21st Mar 2018
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Duelists of the Friendship Cup - DrakeyC



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

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Dark World Dealings

Duelists of the Friendship Cup

Dark World Dealings

Sombra grabbed a chair by the back of the seat and pulled it towards the desk Sunset sat at. The metal squeaked as Sombra swiveled the chair around to face Sunset, and then sat down in it, his hands clasped on the desk.

Sunset looked around the room. I don’t think I have classes here. Which room is this? The posters and boards around the room seemed to indicator some sort of English class. When Sunset looked at the back of the room where bookshelves were lined up, she met Sombra’s green eyes and found herself transfixed.

Sombra stared at her for several seconds. Sunset fought the urge to fidget in her seat. I should look away. This is creepy… why can’t I look away? The lights were on in the room and yet Sombra’s face seemed to be in shadows, his features obscured.

At last, he spoke.

“Impressive victory, Miss Shimmer. You’ve reversed Canterlot High’s fortunes in this tournament.”

Sunset swallowed heavily. “Thank you.”

Sombra sat back in his seat. He raised his eyebrows and gave a small incline of his head. “Tell me, which of those cards that you used were created wholecloth during the duel? I am merely curious.”

No. Sunset felt a chill run up her back. “I… I got a few lucky draws. That’s all.” Sombra continued to watch her, his expression unchanging. Sunset nodded. “Just luck.”

“I believe the truly skilled make their own luck. And you, Miss Shimmer, are skilled.”

“I don’t think my dueling is going to change what I draw.”

“Is that so?” Sombra took a deep breath and looked away. He stood and clasped his hands behind his back, taking a few steps away.

Sunset bit her lip. He’s probing, trying to get me to reveal something. “Principal Sombra, what are—”

“May I call you Sunset?”

Sunset paused. “Huh?”

Sombra turned back at her. “Would it bother you terribly if I used your given name?”

“…No.”

Sombra nodded. “Then if I may, Sunset, I would prefer it if you dropped your pretenses of naïve innocence. I know what you did down there.”

He’s bluffing. He has to be. Sunset’s hand shook at her side and she clenched it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, you do.” Sombra raised his head slightly. “I do not think you are a fool, Sunset, and I would not treat you like one. I hope you will afford me the same respect. So when I say to you ‘I know what you did’, I expect you to respond with the understanding that you do not need to lie to me."

His eyes boring into Sunset’s, Sombra leaned forward. “If it will set your mind at ease, allow me to say the word first – magic.”

Sunset’s heart skipped a beat. She closed her eyes and took a breath. “You know?”

“I have said so, did I not?”

“How?”

Sombra waved a hand in the air. “Surely you did not think you were the only one in this world with power, did you? It is rare, true; I would not question it if you claimed to have never met another. But they are out there.”

He’s not wrong. Sunset had heard rumors and stories, but they’d never affected her so she hadn’t paid any attention nor had much interest. I was content to just wait for the portal to reopen so I could invade Equestria.

“But, yet…” Sombra tilted his head and narrowed his eyes slightly. “Your powers are different, somehow. I have met many duelists who can draw whatever card they may need, or create new cards from nothing. But I have never met a duelist who can create new types of cards.” His eyes fell on Sunset’s forearm and her duel disk. “Could I have a look at those Pendulum monsters, please?”

Sunset’s free hand moved to cover up her cards. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t trust you.”

Sombra’s lips twitched down slightly. “You offend me, Sunset. Not once before have I ever lied to you, and I do not intend to start now. What cause is there to distrust me?”

Anger boiled up in Sunset at his words. She channeled it into a glare. “You’re the head of the school that has humiliated and pushed around Canterlot High for years.”

“You deem me a scapegoat for your school’s ill performance?” Sombra snorted and shook his head. “I chose to take Crystal Prep to a higher level of competition, and Celestia refused to keep up. If you want someone to blame for Canterlot High’s loss of the tournament every year, look to your own principal.”

Sunset paused and blinked, her glare fading. “What do you mean?”

Sombra spread his hands. “Under my careful eye, Crystal Prep has become one of the most prestigious dueling institutions in the country. When I first became principal, eleven years ago now, Crystal Prep was much like Canterlot High. I instituted a dueling ranking system, decreed school events utilize the advanced ruleset of professional play, and I changed entry into the Friendship Cup to be based on merit rather than a student vote.”

He turned his head to the wall, and Sunset followed his eyes to a poster for the Friendship Cup. “I have told Celestia that her school could be the same as ours, if she would adopt my reforms. The benefits of my system are self-evident, but Celestia refuses. She once told me that it was the decision of her students, they wanted the Friendship Cup to be about fun, and had little interest in advanced rulesets or ranking systems. She agrees with that sentiment, and has told me she doesn’t want her school to be ruled by competition and bitterness.”

Sombra looked over at Sunset, stepping back towards her. “I have made Celestia offers of equality and fair competition, and she remains loyal to her students and to her ideals. Admirable. But misguided. Imagine what this tournament could be if Canterlot High would only rise to meet the challenge properly, instead of stagnating in mediocrity.”

“Is that what you think we are?” Sunset replied.

“Yes. But there are always outliers. Like you.” Sombra smiled at her. “I had often wondered about you. Canterlot High’s mysterious champion who never duels outside of tournaments. But you never entered the Friendship Cup, and what little I knew of you showed no higher ambition from you as a duelist than dominating your school. I brushed you off as a low priority, a probable false lead.”

He stopped in front of Sunset, his smile widening. “And now today you demonstrate to me your magic is not only active, but powerful beyond compare. I cannot tell you how delighted I am to apologize to you for my erroneous presumptions.”

Sunset stood, her chair squeaking, and looked up at him. “Well, you found me. What do you want with me?”

“To invite you to Crystal Prep.”

Sunset faltered. “What?”

Sombra reached into the jacket of his suit and withdrew a small pamphlet with a photograph of Crystal Prep on it. “Normally, tuition at our school is rather expensive, but it is worth the price for the caliber of instruction you would receive. I accept nothing less for my students than the best faculty and the best facilities, and we teach within the highest percentiles in the region for both Duel Monsters and conventional courses.

“What you will not read in pamphlets like this, however, are the private dueling classes we host. In the safe environment of this closed setting, in a class only I may authorize admittance to, Crystal Prep students with the potential for magic can hone their abilities and awaken the full breadth of their powers. An opportunity you will never find at Canterlot High.”

“A free tuition to a private school with magic lessons?” Sunset looked at the pamphlet. “You just finished boasting about how you use Crystal Prep to track down duelists with magic and train them. But why? What do you get out of this?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Crystal Prep’s reputation speaks for itself. We have tutored champion duelists for years, not to mention professionals who enter other fields of dueling such as card and game design. Success breeds prestige and prestige breeds influence.” Sombra closed his eyes and gave a small chuckle. “You could not imagine how much money Crystal Prep gets from sponsors and donors every year.”

“Money doesn’t make your school or your students better than Canterlot.”

“No – being better makes us better.”

“And it makes you arrogant.” Sunset glared. “I used to use my cards to push people around and control this school. And you think running an entire school that way is how I should learn? That I’d want to re-learn how to be a bully?”

“Bully?” Sombra frowned. “The only inequality you suffer from is that which you afflict upon yourselves. If you and your fellow students tire of losing the Friendship Cup, speak to Celestia about it. We could stop holding the tournament, or you may adopt my methods. Crystal Prep is proof they are successful. We have many students enrolled even now who hone their craft both magical and benign. Some have skill enough they could pose a challenge even to you.”

Suspicion bloomed in Sunset’s mind. “Twilight.”

Sombra’s gaze did not falter. “Yes?”

“She remembers my deck. She knows Pendulum monsters don’t really exist.”

“Proof of her latent abilities. She holds promise.” Sombra looked away and gave a small huff. “I have tried to encourage her to expand her horizons, but her mind is rigid and closed. She is intelligent beyond compare, and it has done her well in her classes, but she could be so much more if she could unlock her true potential. I have not yet given up hope for her, but if she did not awaken her powers when dueling you, I am uncertain what more it will take.”

“You expected her to awaken her magic dueling me?”

Sombra looked back at Sunset. “If you are concerned I somehow arranged your confrontation, do not be. I have not influenced the randomly chosen duels of the tournament, you have my word. But I will not deny that when I saw the two of you matched, I grew rather excited. I had hoped at least one of you would spur the other into awakening.” He smiled again. “And so you did.”

“Yeah, well…” Sunset sat down in another desk and rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s not something I’m proud of. I could have seriously hurt her.” She looked at her deck. “I can’t control it. I didn’t even know I could summon it up like that. But I won’t use a power that I can’t stop from hurting others.”

“A fair assessment. I do not think Twilight was in any serious danger, if that will help put your mind at ease. And while your magic is unlike any I am familiar with, I believe the same tutoring techniques used for other duelists could help you hone and learn to control it.”

Sombra stood and held out the Crystal Prep pamphlet again. “Attend Crystal Prep, Sunset, and I can help you unlock and master your abilities. You could become a duelist unparalleled but for a handful of others like you.”

Sunset stared at the offering for several seconds.

I don’t even know why I can’t control it, much less how. And it made me into… that. “You really think you could help me?”

“I promise it. I think attending Crystal Prep would be the best thing for everyone, including yourself.” Sombra inclined his head slightly. “I would hate to think what may happen if you lost control of your powers while dueling one of your friends.”

Sunset’s head skipped a beat. My friends… She took a shaking breath and looked down at her duel disk. This deck was born from Twilight’s deck, and then reformed from my friendship with the others here. If I left them, would my deck vanish? Or would it change to something else, something I don’t even recognize? She moved her eyes to the Extra Deck slot, empty. If just using my magic this one time caused those evil cards to appear, what could happen to me if I abandoned my friends?

She looked up at the pamphlet in Sombra’s hand, and raised her arm to gently push it aside.

“No.”

Sombra frowned. “May I ask why?”

Sunset inhaled deeply. “I can’t say I’m not at least a little curious. And I do want to learn how to control my magic. But I can’t leave Canterlot. I have friends here.”

“You could make new friends at Crystal Prep. And contact with your friends here would not be forbidden.”

“It’s not that simple.” Sunset took a breath. “I belong at Canterlot High. Crystal Prep may be great, but… all the things you said about how you reformed it, the way your students duel…” She stood firmly and locked teal eyes with green. “Like I said: I’m not interested in re-learning how to be a bully.”

Sunset looked back at Sombra. After holding her gaze for several seconds, he gave a brief bow of his head. “This is the second time today I have been disappointed.” Sombra sighed and tucked the pamphlet back into his suit. “You may consider my offer remaining open, at least until the end of the tournament. Think it over a bit more and we can talk again tomorrow.”

My answer will be the same. Aloud Sunset merely said, “Sure.”

Sombra extended his hand, now empty. “Once again I congratulate you on your win. Whatever you may choose, you have a unique gift, Sunset. I hope you will do what is needed to nurture it.”

“…Thank you.” Sunset took the hand and shook it.

Once their hands stilled, Sombra withdrew his. “If you do not mind, I will take my leave. Good evening, Sunset. I will see you tomorrow.”

With a short bow and a nod, Sombra turned and calmly walked out of the room, leaving the door open behind him.

Sunset waited, listening to his footsteps echo down the hall.


“Twily?” Shining Armor knocked twice on the closed door. “Dinner’s ready.”

“Not hungry,” came the muffled response.

Shining frowned and turned the door handle. “Twilight?” He pushed the door open and peaked his head into his sister’s room.

Twilight sat with her back to him, working on her computer. Her duel disk lay on the desk next to her, a cable running from the disk to the computer.

“No, no, no!” Twilight grunted and slammed a fist beside her keyboard. “It won’t even transfer!”

“What are you doing?” Shining asked, coming up to her.

Twilight turned to her duel disk and examined the cable connection as she spoke. “My duel disk doesn’t have any records of my duel with Sunset. Any time I try to access data from it, either the programs crash or the data is corrupted. The duel record is corrupted. The video and audio recordings are blank. Even the record of my opponents didn’t add Sunset to the directory.”

“Should run some maintenance on it, make sure it runs properly.”

It worked fine yesterday!” Twilight shrieked, her eyes snapping up at her brother. “But the after I dueled Sunset, everything went haywire!”

Shining leaned closer. “Twily, what’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” Twilight grunted angrily and clutched her hair. “Everything’s wrong! That duelist is something beyond just cheating, Shining! Her eyes were glowing! So was her deck! How do you explain that?”

“Error with the holograms?”

“And her new Extra Deck cards that I’ve never seen her use before despite recording almost twenty hours of footage of her dueling?” Twilight jabbed a finger at her camera drone on her dresser. “I checked. Literally, I rewatched it all. And now all the data of the duel is corrupted?”

“Twilight.” Shining sat down on the bed. “Look at me.” Twilight turned her eyes his way. “You’ve had a long day. How about we go grab some food and you let your mind rest, and you come back to it in an hour? Maybe you’ll come up with something over dinner.”

“I’m not hungry,” Twilight muttered.

“We had an early lunch at the tournament, you are so.” Twilight’s stomach growled. Shining smirked and pointed to it. “See?” He put his hand on Twilight’s shoulder and gave her a playful shake. “You’ll think better on a full stomach.”

Twilight closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Let me give you a scenario. A duelist with cards you’ve never seen before – nevermind they’re an entire type of card you’ve never seen before – is out there. Emails and phone calls to judges and card designers, and research on every card database you know of, turn up nothing. When you face her in a duel, her eyes start glowing and she starts playing cards you are absolutely certain she didn’t have before. Her cards physically hurt you, beyond what a duel disk is designed to do normally. And then after the duel, your duel disk has no data about the duel.”

She opened her eyes. “Would you not be even the slightest bit curious as to what was going on?”

Shining pulled his hand back. “Yeah, that’s definitely weird, and I’d want to know more. But my first step would be to approach this girl and just ask her about her cards. I wouldn’t spy on her with a camera drone and try to steal her deck.”

“I wasn’t trying to steal it, I just wanted to look at her cards.”

“I would have just asked her.”

“If she’s cheating then she’ll say no.”

“And if she isn’t cheating, she’ll say yes, and you’ve been spying on an innocent girl.” Shining shook his head. “Twily, curiosity is one thing; this is obsession.”

“I knew it,” Twilight muttered. “You don’t believe me. No one does.” She gave her cell phone an accusing look. “The only person who ever thought I was onto something was Principal Sombra. And he hasn’t returned my calls all night.”

“He does run our school, Twilight. He’s a busy man.”

“I know, but I need to talk to him!” Twilight cupped her hands to her face and groaned. “I just want someone to explain this to me. It doesn’t make sense.” She looked at her duel disk and flicked the hinged flap that covered up the cable ports on the bottom.

“Everything I know about this game tells me I’m wrong. Judges, designers, store owners, websites, databases. Even my own schoolmates. They all tell me those cards can’t exist. But I’ve seen them, I’ve played a duel against them. I know what I’ve seen, and I know that what I’ve seen can’t be real.”

She looked back at Shining Armor. “Does a crazy person realize they’re going crazy?”

“You’re not going crazy, Twily.”

“Isn’t that just what you’re supposed to tell a crazy person to make them feel better?”

Shining chuckled at the remark; Twilight didn’t. He quickly stopped and he stood up, moving in front of her.

“You are not crazy, Twilight.” Shining hugged her, patting the back of her had. “You are the smartest duelist I’ve ever seen, and that isn’t your BBBFF talking, that’s the Crystal Prep champion. If you say something is going on, I believe you. And I know you’ll figure it out.”

“Thank you,” Twilight mumbled into his shirt.

But,” Shining continued. He stepped back and put a hand on her chin to tilt her head up. “You need to know when to take a step back. What was it you used to say to me? ‘A poor duelist focuses on beating what’s on the opponent’s field; a great duelist focuses on beating what’s in their deck.’”

“I don’t think that’s quite the same thing…”

“Point is, whatever is happening with that Sunset Shimmer girl, yelling at your duel disk and calling yourself crazy isn’t going to give you the answer. You’ll be free all day tomorrow, you can look around Canterlot and talk to people then if you need to.”

“...Yes.” Twilight inhaled. “You’re right, that’s fair... yes.”

“See?” Shining smirked and ruffled her hair. “Your bro is good for more than being a handsome duelist.”

“Stop that,” Twilight scowled and pushed his hand off her hair.

“I will, if you come get dinner with me.”

“Fine, but after dinner I’m coming back to work on this.”

“As long as you get to sleep at a proper time, sure.”

“…‘kay.” Twilight stood up and obediently followed her brother out of her bedroom, pausing at the doorway to look back at her duel disk, and then to her broken glasses folded up on the desk in front of it.

Why can’t I understand this?


Sitting at her desk in her apartment, Sunset stared at the Magia card on top of the scattered pile of cards in front of her.

Why did I receive these cards? Twilight left me her deck to take care of. Then they turned into these. Why? Sunset sighed and slumped in her chair. Twilight trusted me to use her deck properly. And somehow I turned it into this… I don’t even understand what ‘Pendulum’ is supposed to mean in regards to the Elements of Harmony. Sunset reached into the pile and picked up her Compassio card. Her lip quivered as she looked at it.

Dark attribute… needs the other Pendulum Zone empty to use its effect… the other six synergize perfectly with each other. This one relies on being alone. She let Compassio fall back on top of the others. Twilight’s deck was born from the bond she shared with her friends in the two worlds. So what does this deck say about me? That I corrupted Twilight’s cards into something that shouldn’t exist? She stared at the card, the fae knight’s eyes a mirror of her own teal.

Is that card what I am? Even when trying to be good, I’m part of something evil?

Sunset’s phone vibrated from the bed. She leaned over and picked it up, turning it over to reveal a text alert from Rarity.

Are you okay?

Sunset reached to touch the keypad icon, and paused. She moved her hand over to the phone icon and tapped it instead.

The line rang twice before it picked up.

“Well?”

“I don’t know.” Sunset fought down a lump in her throat. “Rarity, those cards… you know what they were called.”

“I do. Rainbow Dash retrieved the ones you dropped on the field.”

“Okay.” Sunset bit her lip. “How are you guys doing?”

“Pinkie has been, well, Pinkie about it - I can’t be certain if her exaggerations are for comedic effect or simply how she cannot help but express herself.”

“Exaggerations?”

“She’s saying you turned into a monster.”

Sunset ignored the pang in her chest. “And the others?”

“Fluttershy is worried about you more than what you did. Applejack hasn’t discussed it much, but I can tell she’s concerned.” Rarity huffed. “Rainbow Dash thinks it’s, to quote her, ‘totally awesome’. She wants to know if you can give magic to the rest of us.”

Sunset narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Quite not. I recall the last time you did that. Better to say, I recall pieces of it.”

Images of a darkened parking lot and her hands glowing with red magic entered Sunset’s mind. She shut her eyes to will them away. “What about you?”

“I could do without seeing you in that state ever again. Otherwise, I’ll be fine.”

“I wouldn’t do anything like that to you again, Rarity. Never.” Sunset gripped her phone tighter and pressed it closer to her head. “I don’t want to hurt you, or the others, or even Crystal Prep’s students! I didn’t mean to do... What happened today wasn’t what I wanted!” She stopped and caught her breath, clutching a hand to her face. “I’m sorry… Please believe me.”

“I do.”

Hand still on her face, Sunset closed her eyes and nodded. “Thank you. Really, thank you.”

“I think the question we’re all pondering in our own way is what happens now.”

“I’m not sure.” Sunset lowered her hand and breathed deep. “I guess, no more magical duels for me. Good thing I won’t have to duel again in this tournament, right?”

“Indeed. I do hope you’ll still come to support us? We can’t know the match-ups, of course, but it’s Rainbow, myself, and Flash left to duel.”

“Of course I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Marvelous.”

Sunset pulled her phone away to look at the clock on it. “I’ll let you go get some sleep, then.”

“You do the same, darling. And try not to beat yourself up about this. We’ll figure this out together.”

“Yeah… together.”

“Ta-ta.”

Sunset hung up and tossed her phone back to the bed.

Figure it out together… She lowered her head, letting her hands hang from her knees. I know one person who could tell me what it means. But she’s in another dimension. She glanced back at her stack of cards on her desk.

What am I supposed to be able to do?

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