• 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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Stoic Challenge

Duelists of the Friendship Cup

Stoic Challenge

Canterlot High’s cafeteria had been turned into a social hub for the tournament, with food and drink lining the tray and tables set up for free duels. The two sides of the cafeteria, divided by the tiled path between the doors on either end of the room, were decorated with banners, flags, and posters for their respective schools, the letters “CHS” on one side in blue, and “CPA” in purple letters on the other side. The students of the two schools had naturally gravitated towards their respective side, leaving the tiled path between the doors as an empty neutral ground.

“That can’t be Twilight… can it?” Flash furrowed his brow. “It looks just like her, and she has the same name.”

Sitting next to him, Sunset shook her head. “That isn’t our Twilight. It’s someone else.”

“So Crystal Prep just happens to have a duelist who looks exactly like Twilight and has the same name as her?”

Sunset tried to think of another explanation for this coincidence and failed. “Yes.”

Flash sat back and said nothing more. Sunset tried to catch a glimpse of Twilight across the cafeteria but couldn’t among the crowd.

This doesn’t change anything. It isn’t the same Twilight. It’s someone else. Different person, different life, different deck. It means nothing. Even as she thought it, she didn’t buy it. Twilight’s human counterpart being here changed everything. What will the rest of the school think? They can’t be blind, they know it.

“I’m more worried about the duel we just saw!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Sombra treated Celestia like a chew toy – chewed her up, slobbered over her, mangled her into a knot, then tossed her aside when he got bored.”

Rarity wrinkled her nose. “Thank you for the unnecessarily detailed metaphor, Rainbow Dash.”

“She’s right, though.” Applejack shook her head. “Celestia played a darn good game. She coulda whooped me somethin’ fierce. But Sombra? That was just another level.”

“Do you think all the Crystal Prep duelists are like that?” Fluttershy whispered.

“Unlikely,” Flash spoke up. “Most decks they utilize are only teched to handle one Extra Deck summon type, very rarely you’ll face someone with two. Not a lot of archetypes have the mix of cards needed to reliably support all three, unless the archetype itself is designed to do that.”

“Like Sombra’s,” Sunset said.

“Exactly, but that’s the exception, not the rule. I haven’t ever heard of a duelist using all three before and pulling it off that well.” Flash slowly nodded. “Applejack is right. Sombra is just something else.”

“He sure put on a show, that’s for sure.” Pinkie chugged a glass of punch in her hand. “He just wanted to scare us, to intimidate us! Well, guess what, meanie-bo-beanie? We aren’t scared of you!”

“Maybe we’re a little scared…”

Sunset looked up at a nearby wall where a projector showed the seven duelists from either school in vertical columns. “Flash, you’ve faced Crystal Prep duelists before. Recognize any of these ones?”

“Yeah. Those five call themselves the Shadowbolts.” Flash pointed to five of the seven portraits. “They shuffle themselves around the top six slots sans number one all the time, challenging each other and winning and losing. They’re in a league of their own, spending all their time training and honing their decks against each other.”

“What about the number one slot?”

Flash pointed to the boy at the top of the column. “Shining Armor, six-time champion of their semi-annual tournaments.”

Sunset nodded. That’s where I recognized him. Twilight’s brother. “What does he use?”

“No idea. He changes his deck every year to keep it fresh. Last year he ran Gaia Knights, and the year before that it was Six Samurai. This year, who knows?”

“Well, at least we’re five out of seven,” Apple said. “What about that Twilight of theirs? What’s she use?”

“No clue. I’ve never seen her in the tournaments before.”

“And check this out.” Rainbow held out her phone with Crystal Prep’s website open on her browser. “Her dueling record is 1-0. What kind of top duelist is that?”

Sunset narrowed her eyes. She has no duel record but is selected to compete in a top-level tournament. And this is when she was an unknown in prior years? That doesn’t add up. “I’ll ask her.” Sunset stood and walked towards the Crystal Prep side of the cafeteria.

At her approach the nearest Crystal Prep students turned to her and stopped chatting. The stares and silence rippled out through the crowd as it parted for Sunset. By the time she neared to the table for the chosen duelists of the school, they were looking right at her when she emerged from the crowd.

Sunset saw the deep purple gaze of the alternate Twilight Sparkle look up at her, and hesitated. They’re almost identical. This Twilight wore glasses, had her hair tied into a bun, and wore a Crystal Prep uniform. But beyond that she looked just like the Twilight that Sunset knew.

“Hello, Sunset.”

The voice cut through Sunset’s apprehension and made her focus back on the new Twilight. She nodded. “Hello.”

“So, you’re Sunset Shimmer.” Sunset turned her eyes towards Shining Armor, who had his elbows on the table to support his chin. “They say you’re the best duelist Canterlot High has ever seen.”

Twilight wrinkled her nose and sniffed at Shining’s remark.

Sunset shook her head. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Agreed.” Twilight’s voice drew Sunset’s attention back to her. She had her eyes closed and her brow creased as she pushed her glasses up. “I can find no record of Sunset’s deck in any database I know of, nor has anyone ever bothered to record her duels for others to see. It seems rather premature to praise her skill without any evidence of such.”

“Excuse me?” Sunset glared down at her. “If you have something to say to me, just come out and say it.”

“As you wish.” Twilight made to stand up when Shining Armor put a hand on her arm, stopping her with her hunched over the table in mid-movement.

“Twily,” he said, a slight edge to his voice. Twilight looked at him and he said more softly, “Chill. We’re here to duel, not to talk trash about our competition.”

Twilight stared at him for a moment before turning to look back at Sunset. She closed her eyes and sank back down in her chair. “My brother is right. We’ll let our dueling speak for itself, once the tournament begins.”

“Fine,” Sunset replied. She looked down at Twilight’s duel disk. “CHS has seen the rest of you guys before, but not you, Twilight. How’d you qualify?”

For a moment Sunset thought she saw Twilight’s annoyed composure falter. She recovered quickly, though, and cleared her throat. “I was admitted into the tournament based on academic achievement, not my dueling record.”

“That’s self-evident. You’re only 1-0.”

“Hey,” Shining held a hand up, his eyes narrow. “She’s one of the best students in our school. A record isn’t everything.”

“You ought to know, Sunset,” Twilight replied. “Your own record is sparse for someone with your reputation.”

“That’s different.” Sunset regretted the response the moment she gave it. Twilight justified her concern.

“How so?”

Dammit. “It’s a long story.”

“Really?” Twilight tapped a finger on the table, her eyes narrow. “My working theory is that your ‘Harmony Guardians’ are ineligible for professional play and you keep to unranked duels so you can keep using them. The only thing I can’t figure out is why the faculty here would let you use them in tournaments.”


The word fell with the thud of a lead weight. Sunset turned and stepped aside as Sombra walked up to them, his hands clasped behind his back. He looked down at Twilight and shook his head. “That’s enough.” Twilight meekly shrank down in her seat.

Sunset stiffened when Sombra turned his head to her. “We take this competition very seriously at Crystal Prep. Some students get carried away with it all and make hasty accusations. Please forgive Twilight’s rash behavior and words, Ms. Shimmer.”

“Of course.” Sunset nodded.

“If you would please excuse us, I would like to confer with my students before the tournament begins. I’m sure you have preparations to make as well.”

“Yeah.” Sunset stayed in place for a moment, until Sombra looked away from her. She turned and walked back to her table. She looked over her shoulder to see Sombra talking to the Crystal Prep students.

Why does it feel like he’s still watching me?

Flash looked up as Sunset sat down. “How’d it go?”

“Not well.” Sunset scrunched her face. “Their Twilight is nothing like the one we know. She’s rude, she’s condescending, and she just insulted my dueling right to my face.”

“Sounds like a typical Crystal Prep duelist,” Rainbow muttered, her arms crossed.

“Don’t matter.” Applejack shook her head. “Like you said, she’s not our Twilight, so there’s no use fretting about her name or what she looks like. It’s not like she’ll go easy on us.”

“Did you find out what deck she uses?” Rarity asked.

Sunset shook her head. “I didn’t get a chance to ask, but she seems to know my deck, so that’s a disadvantage.” When she finished she paused. Her eyes widened.

Pinkie didn’t notice and took up the reins of the conversation. Sunset looked over the cafeteria but couldn’t see Twilight between the crowd.

My deck…

“That’s impossible…”

“Huh?” Flash noticed Sunset’s whisper. “What was that?”

“She knew my deck,” Sunset said aloud.


“How does she know my deck?”

Flash held up his hands. “Maybe she saw you dueling?”

Sunset bit her tongue to keep from giving Flash an explanation he wouldn’t understand. She remembers. Sunset’s current deck cast the same curtain of memory over all who saw it that her previous deck had. Only the five friends around her could remember she used Harmony Guardians.

That’s impossible. How could she know? Unless… Sunset thought back to earlier in the week when her deck had been stolen. They said it was likely a Crystal Prep duelist. Could this world’s Twilight have been spying on her and taken the chance to look at Sunset’s deck? Perhaps that was how she knew. Maybe if Sunset wasn’t actively dueling with them, the memory-distorting powers of her cards didn’t manifest.

That must be it. It’s either that or… She frowned and shook her head. The alternative is even more impossible, not to mention even more worrying. She had to have been the thief I caught. The only other explanation is…

“Students, the opponents for the first round of the Friendship Cup will soon be selected. The seven ranked duelists of both schools are asked to be at the field as soon as possible. Others may remain in the cafeteria and designated common areas, where the duel will be broadcast.”

Once Celestia ended her announcement, Sombra held his hand towards the exit of the cafeteria. “Come, duelists. We’d best not keep anyone waiting.” The seven stood and followed Sombra out the doors into the hall. He pushed open the doors to the field and held it as they walked past. “Twilight.” Twilight stopped when Sombra spoke as she neared. “A moment, please.”

Twilight backed out of the line and let the others go. When they has passed, Sombra let the door close and looked down at her. “Please explain what happened in the cafeteria a minute ago.”

She swallowed. “Shining complimented Sunset’s dueling… and I guess I let it get to me.”

“That much is apparent. You’ve not forgotten the importance I placed upon discretion in the matter of Sunset Shimmer, have you?”

“Of course not.”

“Good. I ask that you keep to that. And, yet…” Sombra peered closer at her. “I sense something else is amiss with you. I would prefer to resolve such a matter now, that it will not interfere with tournament proceedings further.”

Twilight nodded, holding his gaze. “The students here. Several of them seem to recognize me, they called me by name.”

“I see.” Sombra waved a hand in the air. “Pardon my forwardness, but I fail to see how this is cause for alarm. You run a prolific website on dueling that many students utilize. No doubt you are unaccustomed to such recognition from your peers, but here in Canterlot High, your accomplishments are more notable.”

“Thank you.” Twilight coughed lightly, her cheeks warm. “That seems a bit of a simple explanation, though. They seem very familiar with me.”

“Perhaps they aim to make friends and coax information from you about your deck, then. Or even more simply, their efforts at friendship are sincere. I can think of no other likely scenario.”

“I guess…”

“No guesses. We need confidence moving forward.” Sombra gently put a hand on Twilight’s shoulder and smiled. “I merely expect you to do your best, but only because I know that will be more than sufficient to overcome any duelist you may face today.”

“What about Sunset Shimmer?”

“Ah, yes.” Sombra’s smile didn’t fade. “I am still looking into a private matter about her, but I don’t believe she will be a problem. Regardless of whatever cards she may have or what skill she possesses, this is a seven-on-seven tournament. One, perhaps even two losses, are permissible. Disappointing, but not beyond salvation.”

“Fair point.” Twilight nodded. “I’m ready, then.”

“Good. Let us proceed, then.” Sombra raised his eyes from Twilight to push open the door again, gesturing her forward with his free hand.

Sunset watched Twilight sit down on the Crystal Prep bench. The grassy field before them had been marked with four cones that sent out holographic light beams, tracing out a rectangle. On the scoreboard on the far side of the court were the fourteen portraits of the participating duelist, arranged in a row beneath their school logo.

Hope lifted the microphone from the principal’s table. “Now that we are assembled, we shall choose the first duelists to compete.” The first portrait in the two rows lit up – blue for Canterlot, purple for Crystal Prep – and began to flash. The two student bodies cheered as the light flipped between portraits, and then began to slow.

Sunset looked at Twilight, the other girl looking at the screen. What would happen if we had to duel?

The portraits slowed even further and then stopped, flashing. The highlighted portraits slid down in the display and grew larger.

“Our first duel is decided! CHS’s Fluttershy Breeze will face CPA’s Sour Sweet!”

“Oh no.” Sunset turned her head. Rainbow and Applejack stood up and pulled Fluttershy to her feet.

“Ready to whoop butt, Fluttershy?” Rainbow grinned.

No! I'll crack under the pressure! I'll snap like a twig!”

The CHS students began to chant her name. Rainbow and Applejack sat down, leaving Fluttershy to slowly creep up to the dueling field. On the Crystal Prep bench, Sour Sweet stood up, tossed her hair, and walked up opposite her.

Sour Sweet pursed her lip. “You’re so scared. I don’t know if I should stroke your arm or shove you down.” She grinned. “Oh, wait. Yes I do.” She turned and strutted to the far end of the field.

“Flut-ter-shy, Flut-ter-shy!”

“You got this!” Rainbow called out.

“Give that brute what-for!” Rarity chimed in.

Fluttershy raised her duel disk and pressed the button to activate it, the arm swinging out and folding into place. Sour Sweet’s disk projected a pale pink light field.

“And now, let the first duel of the Friendship Cup begin!

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