• Published 16th Feb 2019
  • 3,698 Views, 168 Comments

Equestria Girls: Duel Monsters - Night-Quill



Twilight Sparkle's crown, the Element of Magic, has been stolen. She must now pursue the wayward Sunset Shimmer into a new world. A world where a dark magic lurks beneath the notice of its inhabitants, within a most peculiar game unlike any other...

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Duel #18: Truth Unveiled: Our Friend is a Pony?!

Author's Note:

Yea... Sorry about this, but this chapter got so long I couldn't start the battle of the ages. I promise we'll finally get back into the action next time. This story is coming to a close, so I will hope to finish it in a few weeks' time at least.

The night felt like it had taken longer than most. The trepidations of what might come to pass that day weighed too heavily on Twilight’s mind to permit her to sleep. Despite the mutual feelings of revealing the truth to her friends; whether they would forgive her for the subterfuge or not would we irrelevant should the worst-case scenario occur.

Back home, in her true form Twilight always had her magic to safeguard those around her in peril. Be it her battle with Nightmare Moon, Discord, Chrysalis and her changeling swarm, and recently with King Sombra. Even if she may have not been powerful enough to leave so much as a dent, it still presented her with options. Here, in this body, without her powers and no time to learn how to use this elusive sorcery from this world’s past, she had nothing. Nothing to protect herself or others. Not even the Elements of Harmony.

If only we had the rest of the Elements with us, maybe that would make the difference…

She feigned not hearing how Applejack and Pinkie Pie snuck out of the room. After a short while she could hear the distinct sounds of something cooking down in the kitchen, shortly followed by a pleasing aroma wafting through the slightly ajar door. Twilight decided to just graciously accept being deprived of any hope of sleep for the next hour or so, and followed the two’s lead as she made her way out of the room.

Stepping into the kitchen, she watched Applejack currently in the process of manning a pair of frying pans atop the worktop stove, one laden with scrambled eggs, the other containing thin slices of… flesh, Twilight being reminded once again that her new friends’ species was omnivorous.

“Top o’ the mornin’, Twi!” beamed Applejack, wearing an apron atop her nightwear, her hay-blonde hair looking slightly disheveled.

“Morning, Applejack,” Twilight responded, followed by a weary yawn.

“Sounds like someone needs a cup ‘a joe. Pinkie’s got’cha covered on that end.”

On cue, a light purple coffee mug slid across to Twilight’s end of the worktop, “Cream and two sugars!”

“How did…?” Before managing to fully utter it, Twilight took a calming breath, wisely ignoring the oddness as she reached for the mug, taking a slow, heat assessing sip. “Thank you, Pinkie. I couldn’t really sleep last night.”

“Ah’ll say,” said Applejack, “Heard a ya tossin’ and turnin’ like a hay-bale in a windstorm.”

“Are you saying my cake icing wisdom had no effect?” asked Pinkie, all the while in the process of drizzling honey over a large plate filled with slices of toast.

Twilight bobbed her shoulders sheepishly, “I know you all said it’s not a big deal whether I win or lose. You might have noticed I may have a force of habit, or two... or more.”

“Aww, we wouldn’t have you any other way~” said Pinkie, ever jovial. “Speaking of; you wouldn’t believe the dream I had. I was lying on the floor, exactly in the same spot, where I heard Spike mumbling in his sleep. Talk about nuts!”

Applejack chuckled, “Winona mumbles in her sleep all the time when havin’ one of her doggie dreams.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean like,” to which Pinkie let out startlingly impressive canine noises, “I mean like “noooo, Rarity, I don’t want to get between you and Applejack”.” Twilight held her breath in reservation all the while Applejack simply chuckled more.

It was around seven thirty when everyone else awoke; Rainbow’s hair and clothing looking highly ruffled, Fluttershy carrying Spike in her arms, while Rarity took a moment longer, her hair appearing perfectly curled like yesterday. All were pleasantly surprised over the breakfast put together by Applejack and Pinkie (earning Applejack a thankful peck on the cheek from Rarity). During the time everyone ate, got dressed and generally prepared for what would seem like another typical day at CHS, Twilight considered telling them the truth there and now, but given the high spirits of the new morning with their newly recovered camaraderie, she decided to hold it off until school, giving her time to work out her approach.

-

Canterlot High felt different this morning compared to the last two Twilight had witnessed. Everyone appeared in outwardly higher spirits here too, with students seeming to mingle with one another more actively. Added with Twilight losing count with how many students, both counterparts to Equestria and not, greeting her enthusiastically, offering assurances of their voting for her as the contender, and encouragement.

Twilight saw Spitfire approach her, donning her outfit from yesterday, though topped with a denim vest, “Wondercolts are rooting for ya, Sparkle,” she bid with a gesture as she went past.

“T-thank you!” said Twilight back, when she bumped into someone else.

“Oh!” beamed Derpy, despite the collision. “I was hoping I’d bump into you. Though maybe not so literally,” she giggled, before proceeding to reach into her bag to produce a muffin, that she offered to Twilight. “I hope you make it as the contender.” That moment the bell rang, signaling her and her fellow students to make their way to class. “Oh! Gotta go! Got math to get to.”

“Derpy, aren’t you in English on Fridays morns?” asked another girl nearby, to which Derpy’s eyes went into shocked focus.

“That’s all the way in the back!” she remarked and hurried off.

“We’ll be seeing ya later then, Twi,” Rainbow stated as everyone prepared to make their way to their own respective classes.

“Wait, girls!” The five stopped in their tracks, looking at Twilight with hints of confusion.

“Listen… After lunch, could you all meet me on the rooftop?” Twilight asked, “There’s something I need to tell all of you and I’d rather it be private. Please?”

The five exchanged looks between one another, but by Applejack’s urging, they scattered into different directions for their respective classes, “We’ll see you there then.”

With the sounds of students flocking about dying down, Twilight was left alone in the halls of CHS. Spike fumbled his way out from the top of her backpack, holding himself forth onto Twilight’s shoulder. At the same time Priestess’ astral form appeared, uncharacteristically right next to Twilight, the spirit looking just as glum as her.

Sweet Celestia, that they have to be involved in all of this,” thought Twilight, “Them and everyone else in this school.

You’re not to blame, Twilight. If anything, just your arrival alone may have already saved more people than what might have been lost had Sunset succeeded escaping with your crown without notice.

I know. If only I still had my magic, or had the time to learn about the magic of this world.

Priestess looked down at Twilight, “You do have your magic. Remember what I told you? That you, Spike and Sunset, to us spirits, are awash with magic. The only question is how to tap into it.

Twilight looked to Priestess, a hint of hope alighting inside her, “Wait! Can you teach me something?

I considered teaching Sunset, back before all of this happened. From her I learned that magic in your world worked significantly different from ours. Thus, I was uncertain how to even begin mentoring her, but I also worried over her distraught state of mind at the time. Now I feel it may have been for the best, for were you or Sunset to use your power, the two of you would undoubtedly be the most powerful mortals to ever walk the face of this world.

But if Sunset can’t use her magic here, then… What good would the Element of Magic be to her?

Priestess crossed her arms in contemplation, “Perhaps I can look into it. The gloomy one may have it stored away, but she can’t see me nor impede me from merely assessing it. Wait for me and I’ll return as soon as I find something.

Twilight nodded, “Good idea! Spike and I’ll be in the library in the meantime.

Priestess reciprocated the notion, before fading into thin air before Twilight and Spike’s eyes.

-

Back in the library of CHS, the first genuine location of familiarity in this world, Twilight decided to take the chance to gleam anything potentially useful in regards to humanity’s magic, or even the Games of Darkness, if even but a sliver. She first took up a seat by one of the library computers. Remembering how to use the devices, Twilight performed a series of searches. Starting off with something simple, like simply magic. To her chagrin, the word “magic” itself seemed to be used quite liberally to refer to objects and things that weren’t really magic, but just to make something seem more appealing. The phrasing immediately made her think of a certain pair of swindlers from a while back in Ponyville, and so she abandoned that and went more into specifics.

Ancient sorcery yielded what looked like hundreds of sources to gleam from. Unlike in Equestria, where most of the planet had yet to be concretely mapped, and the plethora of other creatures that ponykind had come to share it with; the dragons, the gryphons, the near isolated kirin and many more; this world had so many different human civilizations: Each had their own specific myths and legends, gods, demi-gods, heroes, moralities and ethics. What she’d found during her previous session; most human magic seemed rudimentary at best:

It drew most comparisons to Zecora’s alchemy, but any correlation about ingredients seemed to be based solely on guesses, if not outright superstition. Any major spells she found seemed closer to those of hexes and curses of ancient pony civilization, inflicted either by items like charms and poultices, or supposedly cast down by gods, or from simply breaking a mirror (something about inflicting seven years of bad luck, perpetrated by a civilization called “Rome”, with no rhyme or reason).

Overall, humans sounded less than novices when it came to magic. A few sources, particularly one of the books she’d found, seemed feasible, such as the detailing of magical leylines, a common phenomenon in Equestria too, or celestial alignments used in rites, but the book itself seemed to address them in a more fictional than factual tone.

“Humans are utterly baffling when it comes to magic,” Twilight remarked. “They sound so inept with it, yet they also seem so fascinated by it, but apparently at some point some pretentious “moral authority” decreed it as heresy and forbid it on the pain of execution by drowning and burning! And can you believe their methods of divination? They had ones entailing cheese! And bird poop!”

“Maybe it’s all hidden away,” said Spike with a shrug.

Twilight sighed in defeat, “You might be right. Priestess did say the Games of Darkness fell to disuse and were forgotten, until recently. I just can’t believe it was done to make an actual monetized consumer good of all things. In Equestria you would require a formal license just to sell reagents alone. To create magical tools for public use; that would take months, maybe even years of evaluation and testing before approval.” She snorted, “I honestly wish I could meet whomever it was who did all of this. I would have more than a few select words to exchange with him over the whole monetization of dark magic rituals.”

“… Didn’t dice used to be magical tools?” asked Spike.

“Indeed they did; ponies from the Paleo-Pony period used to use dice as an early form of divination and foresight: It’s officially referred to as astragalomancy, but it reliability was proven soon after, but still persisted even beyond the age of Star Swirl the Bearded,” said Twilight in her more calm, enthusiastic manner. “How did you know?”

“When you’re working with a studious unicorn as long as I have,” Spike idly rubbed the knuckles of one paw against his fluffy chest, “you tend to pick up a thing or two.”

“And the thing that caught your attention was dice?”

“Obviously,” said Spike with a smile. “Thought you could use some levity.”

Despite the dire straits the day could entail, Twilight was unable of suppressing a hint of mirth, putting a hand on Spike’s back, “Thanks, Spike.”

Priestess’ form suddenly phased in atop one of the tall bookcases beside them. Both Twilight and Spike looked up to her in anticipation. “I am happy to inform you, that I have located your Element of Magic.

“Alright!” exclaimed Spike, only to clasp his mouth shut, the two of them looking around in case someone overheard. “I mean, um, good work. Where is it? Can we just, you know, swipe it and mosey on out of here before Sunset can get her hands on it?”

Unfortunately, it’s behind lock and key. The dour one is also currently present where it’s being held, in her office.

Spike rubbed his chin with a paw, “Do you think we could, I dunno, pick the lock with like a bobby pin and screwdriver, you know,” Spike did his best attempt at miming the use of tools, but his incompatible quadruped body made him fall on his back atop the desk he was sitting on.

“I… don’t think it’s that simple,” Twilight chuckled.

“Not with that attitude. Shot in the dark; break the lock and then make off with it.”

Stealing back the crown would be the most efficient means. However, should you steal back the crown and flee back to your world, do you think it wise to leave Sunset Shimmer to her devices here?” the spirit’s expression became troubled. “Sunset Shimmer might not yet have the power to pose as a major threat to this world, but should you escape under her notice, she might very well set off to accrue power through long-term. Whatever that presence inside her was; should it be allowed to fester…

“Then Sunset could very well unlock the Games of Darkness,” Twilight concurred.

“How do you know that?” asked Spike. “Didn’t you say Sunset couldn’t use her magic here? For all we know she could just be limited to nothing more than a petty thug. And if she decides to try again in the next thirty moons; just set up a whole contingent of guards and seize her. Problem solved.”

“Were it not for one variable, that’s actually a very sound plan,” said Twilight, giving Spike a pat, which may or may not have developed as some acclimation to this world and their new bodies, “but Sunset was able to repel Priestess, even if she couldn’t see her. Whatever is inside of her could very well allow her to unlock new powers. Inherent unicorn magic or no, Sunset could just as well unearth the Games of Darkness and make do. Maybe even improve on them.”

Which brings me to another point of concern,” said Priestess, descending from atop the bookcase, landing soundlessly on her feet. “Twilight, whatever ill you, or anyone else might think of her; it may very well be that Sunset might not be doing this completely out of her own volition.

Twilight and Spike exchanged troubled glances, after which Spike swallowed nervously, “You mean with whatever pushed you away might be controlling her?”

“You mean she might be possessed?” asked Twilight, a notion almost completely unheard of in modern Equestrian records.

Precisely. If just partially in the least. For all we know she might not even be aware of it herself.

“Is it possible to expel whatever it is?” asked Twilight, fully expecting the what it would come to entail.

In ancient times priests to the gods had rites to perform exorcisms of spirits and abominations not belonging to this plane of existence. Unfortunately, such priests are unheard of today, and learning to perform such rites would take time, the one commodity we do not have.” Priestess looked to Twilight in empathy, “The only way we could do this is to enact the Games of Darkness itself. But to do so would mean potentially harming Sunset Shimmer, let alone that the game will be enacted in front of the students.

“We can worry about exposure later,” said Twilight, undeterred. “Right now, the main goal is to make sure Sunset, or whatever could be possessing her, doesn’t get the Element. Once the crown is in my possession, maybe I can do something. I don’t know what just yet, but I’m sure there’s a solution. If not here, I can try to take Sunset back with us to Equestria.”

You’d be willing to bring a foreign entity into your world?

Twilight did not falter, “For all we know this thing could be from Equestria. This world is not the only one to have been troubled by evil spirits, and we managed to undo them by simple camaraderie.”

Priestess nodded, “But there is also the possibility it might have come from here, maybe even between worlds when Sunset crossed over. Still, I admire your dedication, even if it’s for someone who has already wronged you.

“Sometimes the best way to undo an enemy is through forgiveness,” Twilight remarked.

-

“From this moment forth, the night shall last forever!” the Mare in the Moon returned declared from above the gathered citizens of Ponyville, a malevolent, pompous laugh erupting from the shadowy pony, the town hall filling with a dreadful cold in its wake.

-

“It has been a thousand years since I have seen you like this. Time to put our differences behind us. We were meant to rule together, little sister,” said Celestia, kneeling down in front of her sister, surrounded by shreds of the husk and armor of Nightmare Moon.

The smaller, night blue alicorn’s eyes outwardly wept, as Princess Luna dashed forth to neck with Celestia, pristine tears streaming down her cheek, “I'm so sorry! I missed you so much, big sister!”

-

Up on the rooftop of Canterlot High, Twilight sat atop the surrounding safety barrier, Spike at her side, looking over the stretch of homes, towards the structure dotted horizon, where she could see the greater expanse of Canterlot city in the distance. Attempts at research did not yield favorable results, given the school’s selection overall being very limited in regards to mythology and the supernatural, thus cross-referencing using the computers could have proved inefficient, if these almost magical-seeming machines could even find such information.

Thus, she’d chosen to contemplate in the airy tranquility of the rooftop as she waited (the odd roar or once the aggravating sputter of a two-wheeled motor vehicle running past, notwithstanding). As she sat there, Twilight went over again and again how she would break the truth about her to her new friends. She’d considered breaking it gently, let them know she’d been lying to them and then convince them her otherworldly nature. If they wouldn’t believe, she had Spike as the proverbial ice-breaker (in his own words).

“You know, I’ve been thinking…” said Spike in a humble tone, “All this talk about dark games, possessions, world-threatening entities. Kinda made me realize how we seem to go through that constantly back home. Ya think anything like that happens around here?”

Twilight looked down at Spike, contemplating on his remarks, “I’d assume every world would have its own problems. I noticed that everything here isn’t as tightly-knight or as unified as in Equestria. Disharmonious, you could say.”

Spike hummed, “Now that I think about it more, aren’t we sort of like the bad guys? I mean, us coming in here, with our otherworldly magic and woes. Sure, Sunset… Or whatever might be affecting her, is the culprit, but when Priestess said about you and Sunset being possibly the two most powerful beings in this world’s history?”

“I… guess you could say that. If I had the time, or will for it, maybe I might very well be an equivalent of Princess Celestia to the people here. Or Nightmare Moon…” a distasteful thought made its way into Twilight’s conscience. “Spike; do you think I might ever end up down the same path as Sunset Shimmer?”

“Definitely not!” retorted Spike. “Don’t even joke about a comparison: Sunset might be smart and gifted, if she was Celestia’s pupil, but she also pretty much backstabbed her, just for not getting what she wanted. You’d never do that, Twilight.”

“How cute. You’re so beholden to her, you actually excuse her atrocities. Tell me, Princess, has she told you every little thing she’s done? Even the unsightly?” Sunset’s words echoed in Twilight’s mind. She could not deny that Twilight trusted her mentor to the utmost; being an immortal, over a millennium old being of generations of accrued wisdom and knowledge… Given recent developments, such as Twilight’s impromptu ascension, Sunset’s words had admittedly made her question about the possibility of ulterior motives.

Did Sunset know about… this? Or was it something else?

The sound of the door to the rootop opening beckoned her out of her thoughts, seeing Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie (in that specific order), make their way towards her, the latter traipsing, much like her counterpart had the tendency to hop. Twilight stood up from her place on the safety barrier as an act of formality as the five girls gathered around her, all of them, save Pinkie in her ever-accepting demeanor, expressing varying degrees on confusion for the outwardly secretive meeting.

“Thank you all for coming,” said Twilight. “I’m guessing all of you might have a question or two about all of this.”

Rainbow shrugged, “I kinda figure this has something to do with last night.”

“Rainbow said she found you sitting at the top of the stairs last night,” Fluttershy added. “We just assumed you’re still a little nervous.” The started to idly play with her hair, “I mean I can understand it being your first big match, everyone staring, the expectations, wondering what everyone will think of you…”

“It is a part of it,” Twilight nodded, “but there is something else. You see… I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

When it seemed Applejack was about to say something, Pinkie gasped, smacking both hands to her cheeks, “So you are going to turn us into witches?!” She glanced about, proceeding to lean in and obscure her mouth with a palm, “If we get a choice; I want a mallet.”

Twilight’s stared at Pinkie, the self-proclaimed “otaku”, a term Twilight still did not quite grasp, her brows, lips, possibly even the top of her eyes flatlining for the short moment she took to try and comprehend what the pink oddity of the multiverse was implying. Following a moment of silence that lasted needlessly longer than necessary, Twilight figured it wise to just cut to the chase.

“No, I am not turning you into… witches…” Twilight sighed. “I’m not really a transfer from Everfree.” She watched as everyone exchanged confused looks between one another.

Twilight glanced towards Spike, who surreptitiously revved his paw in urging. Twilight took a deep breath and-

“You’re from the far-off future where the unregulated overuse of Synchro Summoning brought about a robot apocalypse that wipes out all of humanity and you’ve traveled back in time to stop it all by wiping out Duel Monsters before any of it can happen but on discovering how it brings people together you’re assembling the five chosen ones to fight against the real culprits who happen to be giant gods bound to the Earth?!”

Pinkie concluded her stream of consciousness with an eager, toothy smile, her eyes literally sparkling in anticipation. Whether she realized, or cared, everyone was looking at her in varying degrees of utter bafflement, with Rainbow being the first to speak out after a prolonged pause.

“Pinkie, much as I appreciate your enthusiasm over everything: That has got to be the dumbest thing to ever come out of your mouth! “Synchro Summoning bringing on a robot apocalypse”? I’ve seen anime with dumber plots that make more sense than… that!”

Spike outwardly groaned, “She’s a pony princess from an alternate world accessed through a portal hidden in your school statue who’s crown was stolen which happens to be a magical element that helps power a series of similar magical elements and she must now win the mid-term duel to get the crown back tonight or else she and I will be stuck here for a long time.” He took a steady breath, “Also I’m her companion who happens to be a dragon in the form of a dog. Because the portal has a sense of humor with my name being Spike. Apparently.”

Another round of silence followed, only this time all the girls were focused on Spike, who stared back in blunt amusement, emphasized by an idle scratch behind his head. All five looked genuinely bewildered this time around, Rarity inadvertently raised a hand to her agape mouth, while Rainbow was digging into her ear canal with a finger. This time it was Fluttershy who broke the silence, raising to point a finger at Spike.

“… Spike can talk.”

“Yup,” said the dog with a wry smile. “Been able to all this time.”

Applejack’s eyes darted back and forth between Spike and Twilight, scratching at her head underneath her Stetson, “You’re a… pony?!”

“You’re a princess?!” asked Rarity seeming to scrutinize Twilight up and down in shock.

“Spike can talk.”

Pinkie Pie, by contrast, looked more disappointed than shocked, “So you’re definitely not gonna turn us into witches?” She swept a hand over her forehead, “Whew! That’s a relief. Those filthy alien sickos…”

“You’re seriously more focused on that instead of the fact there’s a talking dog claiming Twilight is a pony princess?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Oh, that was actually my ninth guess! Between an ancient Pharaoh inhabiting the body of a school girl and an android from the future.”

“Spike – can – talk!” Before any further questions could be asked, Fluttershy practically lunged forth in a blur of pink hair, picking up Spike in her hands, twirling in a pirouette as she raised the small dog up, gazing at him in awe; “This is amazing! I’ve always dreamed of meeting a talking animal! Being able to understand animals is one thing, but being able to actually talk to one! It’s my childhood dream come true!”

Spike looked mildly startled, but seemed perfectly comfortable being held up by the animal loving Fluttershy, “Hey; I’m a dragon, in the form of a dog, isn’t that more-”

Fluttershy hushed softly, “Just let me have this moment,” she whispered, after which she took a steady breath and let out a soothed, blissful sigh.

“Ya’ll ‘right there, Fluttershy?” asked Applejack.

After a moment longer of relishing(?) in her moment, Fluttershy gently lowered Spike down to the floor, appearing perfectly serene, on account of the revelations, “I’ll be fine~”

“Oookay…” said Rainbow in a level interjection, “So can we go back to the bit about Twilight being a pony princess?!”

“That’s… That’s just plumb loco!” exclaimed Applejack. “Twi, Ah get you’re a bit of the new fox fresh out the hole, but…” her attention turned to Spike, who met her gaze with a blunt expression.

“Again; talking dog,” he said flatly.

Applejack pressed her Stetson firmly atop her head, appearing slightly distraught, “Hoo nelly…”

“Applejack, dear,” Rarity spoke up, holding to Applejack’s back as if keeping the farmgirl from fainting, which no doubt would have been quite unbecoming of her, “color me crazy, but I might actually believe her. And not just about the talking dog… Pardon me, Spikey.”

“What makes ya say that?” asked Applejack, though based on the tone of her voice, she was undoubtedly convinced.

-

Rarity had to rub her eyes when she thought they were playing tricks on her mind. Following a series of deliberate winking, she eyed Twilight at her end of the soccer field intently.

“Somethin’ wrong, darlin’?” asked Applejack from beside her, no doubt roused from feeling her body shifting whilst having the farmgirl’s strong arm around her shoulder.

“Oh, no. It’s nothing. I just had something in my eye.”

That had to be it. Because I thought I saw… I almost thought as if there were wings on Twilight’s back just now…

-

“I honestly thought I was seeing things back then, but with Spike and… your unusual want to help us,” said Rarity. “So then is it true? You’re a princess?”

Twilight nodded, “It’s all true. I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, newly ascended alicorn princess of the land of Equestria and personal pupil to Princess Celestia, as well as sister of Prince Shining Armor and sister-in-law to Princess Cadence of the Crystal Empire. But please; call me Twilight.”

“Well, I mean that could have been rehearsed but…” Rainbow needed only a glance towards Spike, “Nope. I’m convinced.”

“Did you say Celestia?” asked Fluttershy. “Like Principal Celestia?”

“I know it’s hard to believe. Honestly, I was amazed about it myself, but sit seems between our two worlds there exist counterparts to its denizens. You all exist there too; my five most cherished friends. That’s one reason I was fixated on you lot so much.”

That’s the reason you got us all together to make up?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Partially. I understand this feels… hauntingly deterministic, but seeing you, the same, but different faces of five incredible ponies and the best of friends; I didn’t know what to make of it. It was during the night I spent at Applejack’s home where I discovered your shared history,” Twilight smiled sheepishly, “I know it might seem counterproductive in retrospect for what I’m here to do, but I thought that with the five of you together, just like back home when I first met you, I might find help to fulfil my task here.”

“And that task is the crown for the school Duel Queen?” asked Rarity. “But… It’s just a cheap handcraft, how could it be the crown of a royal?”

Twilight knelt down to her backpack and produced the similar, but on closer inspection, less intricate fake crown and showed it to the girls, “This was meant to be replaced with my crown while the thief got away. It was by chance that the thief tripped on Spike’s tail that I woke up and gave chase. My crown, the one Fluttershy found and handed in to Principal Celestia, was flung into your world through the portal connecting our worlds. The thief was Sunset Shimmer.”

“Bin-GO!” exclaimed Pinkie.

“Sunset Shimmer?” Rainbow scoffed. “Okay, first of all; why would someone like Sunset Shimmer know about a portal, and-”

“Sunset Shimmer is not who you think,” Twilight interrupted. “She was my mentor’s previous student, until she betrayed Princess Celestia’s trust and fled here.”

“An’ now she’s a pony too?!” blurted Applejack. “Okay, this is just gettin’ weird!”

“I’m afraid it gets worse,” said Twilight, looking over the distance, towards Canterlot City. “I understand what I’ve already told you sounds absolutely ridiculous, but Sunset Shimmer must not be allowed to get the crown… My crown, the Element of Magic, is an ancient artifact of tremendous magical power, one of six that time and time again have been an integral part of the defense of our realm. Without it the remaining five are inert. And as Spike said; if I don’t get it back by tonight; the lunar alignment maintaining the connection to this world will be broken and we’ll… we’ll be stuck here for a very long time, leaving my home without one of its most vital defenses and us stranded here.”

“Oh my…” muttered Fluttershy. “W-we could just ask Principal Celestia to give it back, we-”

“Fluttershy,” Rainbow Dash interjected, “whether this is all a hundred percent true or not, I don’t think telling either principal “our friend and new transfer is a pony princess looking for her lost crown” is going to go over all too well. At best they’ll tell us to get back to class. At worst we’ll find ourselves in padded cells.”

“And we don’t want that!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Everyone; there’s one more thing,” Twilight informed, turning back to her friends with a grave expression. “I want to ask that you don’t attend the mid-term duel.”

“What?!” the girl’s, save Fluttershy, exclaimed in varying volumes, the most audible being Pinkie.

“Oh, hell no! I am not leaving the chance to see the bacon-haired bitch getting her ass kicked!” Rainbow Dash declared adamantly. “Magical pony or not: She’s screwed with the school long enough!”

“And we helped you make your deck so super-duper fantastic!” said Pinkie with a pleading expression. “I wanna see what kind of amazing performance we all put together, as pals.”

“You don’t understand,” Twilight interjected. “Sunset, she… She’s uncovered something your world has not had to contend with for centuries and… And you could be in danger!” Everyone stared at Twilight in silence. For emphasis, Twilight knelt down to take out her modified deck and held it before everyone. “The game that everyone so freely plays; believe me or not, but it’s a potentially lethal tool from your world’s history. Duel Monsters I discovered, is actually a recreation of dark magic ritualistic combat from ancient civilization. And Sunset knows this.”

The five continued to stare at Twilight, albeit a conclusive verdict on their opinion of Twilight’s claims was difficult to decipher. Twilight turned her back to them, a feeling of what may as well have encapsulated embarrassment, indignity and futility. She truly wanted to at least be able to protect these five individuals, but because of the vast differences between what constituted reality, and fables between their two worlds, she no doubt came off as increasingly deranged.

Twilight then felt a hand upon her right shoulder. Fluttershy stood beside her, expressing not accusations, but an accepting smile, “I believe you.”

“… You do?”

Fluttershy nodded, “Someone as caring as you wouldn’t lie to us.”

The distinct sound of a hop followed, to which Pinkie Pie appeared to Twilight’s left, locking arms with her, “She kinda did. Buuut on the other hand I’m thinkin’ most people would have thought you crazy! …Well lucky for you, I’m not most people!”

“Nope. You are not,” declared Rainbow Dash.

Applejack sighed, “In that case,” she declared, not in exasperation, but in defeat. “Seein’ as we’re gonna be late anyway,” she sat down on the safety barrier, propping one leg over the other, “start from the beginnin’.”

Happy to comply with Applejack’s request, Twilight gave a brief summary of her world: The three pony tribes, her friends and the Elements of Harmony. In greater detail, she informed them of Princess Luna’s warnings about the unruly magic of this reality. (Which elicited some questions about Twilight’s own parentage, and the lack of a queen in the monarchy, for apparently in this world monarchies were always ruled by queens and kings, based on heritage rather than accomplishments, a notion Twilight voiced making no sense.) Twilight began uncertain whether to mention Priestess or not, seeing as no-one but her and Spike could see her, but thanks to Spike’s insistence, she told them of the spirit and her guidance. Lastly, she elaborated on Sunset’s true nature, and the Games of Darkness.

“This... is certainly a lot to take in…” said Rarity.

“Boy, Ah’ll say,” Applejack reciprocated. “So, what you’re sayin’ is that if Sunset wins and gets the crown, or if she might even use that “Game of Darkness”, everyone at CHS, maybe even the world, is in danger?”

“Yea; it’s not like we went through arduous detail establishing that,” said Pinkie, sounding oddly rhetorical, when she seemed to wink. To whom or why was anyone’s guess.

“What’s the big deal?” asked Rainbow. “Just snatch the crown when it’s brought out at the start of the match and make a break for it. Hell, I’ll snatch it, pass it, and you make a break for it.”

“But… wouldn’t that cause problems in the long run?” asked Fluttershy.

“What? Me getting detention? I think the fate of the school, or the world, might take precedence over that.”

“No; wouldn’t everyone find out about the portal?” Fluttershy emphasized. “If anyone saw Twilight or Sunset just run off an disappear, wouldn’t that get authorities involved. If you took the crown, that would label you as an accomplice.”

“As would all of us,” Rarity concurred. “Think about it, Rainbow: Different realities! There would be investigations, and since all of us have interacted with Twilight the most; we would be questioned. Maybe even interrogated!”

Rainbow frowned, “But wouldn’t everyone find out immediately if Sunset evokes these Shadow Games?”

“Games of Darkness,” Fluttershy corrected.

“Whatev, but doesn’t the point still stand?”

“A worst-case scenario, if Sunset decides to abandon subtlety,” Twilight stated. “Although, with what Priestess told me last night, I’m afraid such a possibility is imminent. That’s why I’m asking that you don’t attend the mid-term duel. I know it’s cold of me, what with everyone in the school remaining unaware, and they would also be in danger, but they won’t believe me. The fact you all are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, is more than I was expecting.”

“We’re not leavin’ ya in the same room with Sunset Shimmer,” said Applejack adamantly. “Look, whether or not this is ain’t some bout of me goin’ crazier than a betsy bug, or I’m still sleepin’ in Rarity’s bedroom an’ this is all a dream, but you’re still our friend. Dark magic or not.”

“Besides,” Pinkie piped up, “can’t you just match her mano y mano, your epic life or death match with your sworn enemy? I mean you said that Priestess lady did something like it, right?”

“I know,” Twilight swallowed, remembering the burn in her lungs, “I’m just afraid if I’m not strong enough. The first time, I felt like I was going to suffocate when Sunset’s trap drained the both of us.”

You are strong enough,” said Spike, firmly planting a fore and rear paw on the floor of the rooftop. “I know it, because I was there every time when you and our friends saved Equestria. The Twilight Sparkle I’ve known all my life would not give up, Games of Darkness or not!”

“Maybe you do have magic!” Pinkie suggested.

Twilight raised a brow, “I do, I just can’t access it since I’ve no horn to-”

Pinkie giggled, “Not that way silly! Through these!” Pinkie reached forth to pull up Twilight’s hand, still grasping her deck.

Twilight looked from Pinkie, to her cards, “Through… my cards?”

-

“Humans would use the powers of the universe to break the barriers between worlds to summon beings much like myself, and use us for their trivial conquests or entertainment of haughty lords… In most cases it’s a mere imitation. Of course, in the wrong hands, someone could very much evoke the very powers of the Game of Darkness once again.”

-

That was when the epiphany struck; “Dear, sweet Celestia: That’s it!” She promptly proceeded to joyfully embrace Pinkie, not even caring about the strange feel of her chest obstructions. “Pinkie, even beyond the boundaries of my own existence, you’re still an unwitting genius!”

“And I didn’t even have to try!” Pinkie remarked with a grin.

“What is it?” asked Fluttershy with anticipation.

“I can’t use my magic the way I normally do, but I’ve been unwittingly using it anyway!” Twilight explained, her enthusiasm of discovery remerged. “It was so obvious I completely overlooked it! Duel Monsters is a recreation of the Games of Darkness of old, I’ve been using it this entire time!” She turned to address everyone, holding out her arms for emphasis, “Heck; you all have!”

Four of the girls looked to one another, visibly questioning one another, until Rarity chose to inquire, “What do you mean?”

“Since the first time I dueled I found it baffling that none of the regular laws of random chance seemed to take effect, at least until I dueled Pinkie. But then when she told me about her ‘duelthusiasm,’ I got a hold on things again when I focused on a purpose!” Twilight began to pace in her enthusiasm of the newfound discovery, “Priestess told me about the laws of reverence in this world; the belief in a deity, or even ascribing special meaning to an object, like a card: Like Applejack’s Rose Lover that was a gift of love from Rarity, or Rainbow Dash’s Necro Gardna that was a gift from Fluttershy, or just Fluttershy’s gratefulness to Rainbow Dash as a whole as her mentor: Unlike in Equestria where it’s the direct control of energy; the magic here seems to function on some ‘empathic matrix.’ It’s like the dark magic evoked by King Sombra, or the Crystal Ponies and their connection to the Crystal Heart…”

Fluttershy knelt down beside Spike, “Is… Is she alright?”

Spike revved a paw, “Just let her get it all out of her system. She always gets like this when she makes a discovery.”

“…So it must have just inched its way into people’s subconscious that they don’t question the contradictions to random chance, akin to a universal perceptions filter. So whoever created the game may have unwittingly brought the Games of Darkness back; perhaps some subtle formula hidden among the rules, or just the act mimicking the ritualistic rites.” She sharply turned to address everyone once more, “Everyone; you have all been unwittingly enacting the Games of Darkness! … Not in its entirety, but you’ve unconsciously been partaking in the ritualized combat of your world’s past!”

“So… What you’re saying is that you or me or us or everyone in the school or some random person in town, is actually using magic every time we duel?” asked Rainbow. “That’s… actually pretty awesome!”

“But, suppose this is all true,” Applejack spoke out, “How does this help?”

Twilight straightened herself, “For one; Sunset will still be beholden to the rules of the game. Even if she does enact a full-on Game of Darkness, if possible, I still have a chance.”

“Pardon me for not being as enthused about it coming down to chance,” Rarity remarked.

“But that’s the beauty of it: Duel Monsters isn’t all about chance; like with Pinkie’s passion to entertain, it reflects off your will,” Twilight emphasized by indicating her chest. “It’s not so much a game of cards where luck of the draw determines the outcome; it’s one’s willpower, and skill. Sunset doesn’t know we upgraded my deck, so that already gives me the advantage, and then there’s the final variable: You. All of you”

“U-us?” Fluttershy stammered. “B-but what can we do?”

Twilight simply smiled, “Our friendship.”

“I see,” said Spike. “It’s just like back at the Old Castle of the Two Sisters; you beat Nightmare Moon because of the Magic of Friendship, so now you’re going to do the same with the Games of Darkness!”

“Morbid as the end of that sounds, exactly!” Twilight replied. “That is, if you’re still willing to stand with me…”

Applejack let out a thoughtful chuckle, “Twi, crazy as this all sounds; I’m with ya.”

Rarity grasped her girlfriend’s hand, exchanging determined glances with Applejack, “I’ll stand with you.”

“I kinda have to be there anyway,” Pinkie grinned with a shrug. “I am the master of ceremonies and all.”

“I wasn’t going to stay out of it regardless if just to see Sunset fall,” Rainbow smirked. “Also; the one and only Rainbow Dash doesn’t run away from danger.”

Fluttershy tugged at the end of a handful of her wavy hair, “If you think about it; isn’t most of the school also with you on this too?”

“Sunset may have the experience,” Twilight replied, “but she doesn’t have the hopes of everyone else with her. Thank you, everyone: That you believe in me.”

Pinkie slowly leaned back and whispered, “Is this the part where we slowly back away and call the loony bin?” The remark elicited a round of laughter at the jest. “What?”

-

Principal Celestia sat at her desk, her workplace laptop currently displaying a hot article from the Daily Corral about a sudden and unexplained fire that occurred in the industrial district. She jerked when the sound of her door’s lever clicked, immediately minimizing the browser. In walked Luna, hands behind her back at a formal angle, her face the epitome of neutral professionalism. She promptly laxed the posture once behind closed doors, approaching Celestia at her desk.

“Anything on Miss Sparkle’s credentials?” asked Celestia, idly bringing her browser back up.

“Nothing whatsoever,” Luna replied. “I even went as far as double-checking with Cadence. She says it absolutely can’t be their Twilight Sparkle; she’s among their honor rolls, one of their best, if not awkward, students (in her words, not mine), and she’s quite close to said Twilight. Turns out she’s seeing her brother.”

“Aww, that’s lovely for Cadence,” said Celestia, given her and Luna’s lack of significant others, seemingly from now until forever. “I just got off the phone with Turner a moment ago.”

“I see,” Luna’s left brow inched up. “How is he anyway?”

“Eccentric. Awkward. Maybe a little insane. You know, typical Turner,” Celestia chuckled. “He directed me to this.” She turned her laptop to Luna.

Luna spent a moment perusing the article, “What does this have to do with anything?”

“It was the central hub of Canterlot’s Ghouls,” said Celestia gravely. “Dozens of people were found dead; all of them burned beyond recognition, though autopsy reports from Canterlot Central report other unexplainable damage.”

Luna looked at Celestia, her usually calm and collected demeanor belayed by a furrow in her brow, “Unexplainable?”

Celestia rested her elbows atop her desk, kneading her fingers together and leaning forward to support her chin atop them, “Crushed skulls, various impalements, many differing points of trauma. Apparently, they apprehended the heads of the “establishment”,” Celestia explained, urging Luna to scroll downwards.

“‘The sibling leaders and proprietors of the Canterlot chapter of the Ghouls and their enterprise, Gauge and Caliber Primer were found on-site.’” Luna muttered, reading through the meat of the article. “‘Caliber Primer, the master of ceremonies and recruiter for the underground cage matches, was found in the main hub of the building, suffering from smoke inhalation. On subsequent screenings, medical professionals describe her suffering from severe bouts of deliria and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Presiding physician, Doctor Horse, was reached for comment about the subject spouting distressed remarks about ‘demons and monsters killing everyone, while an undisclosed ‘she’ stood and watched’. Gauge Primer, head of the establishment and of the Canterlot chapter of the Ghouls, was found mostly unharmed, with minor burns, and is currently being held for questioning by the Canterlot City Police Department. She remains uncooperative at this time.’”

Celestia followed Luna’s face like a hawk, seeing as her sister’s expression turned increasingly troubled, “The authorities are chalking it up as either an accident in lieu of the building’s condition, possibly as an act of arson. The deliria? Smoke inhalation combined with the holo-projections. Frankly, I don’t buy it.”

Luna looked down at Celestia in apprehension, “You don’t seriously think that there’s a connection between this and Twilight Sparkle?”

Celestia bobbed her shoulders before prompting to sit back up properly in her chair, “The time could add up. Not that I am saying there is such a connection; Miss Sparkle herself did not come off as someone prone to violence.”

Luna crossed her arms, seeming to consider something before responding, “Do you think we should call off the mid-term duel? Just in case?”

Celestia spun her chair clockwise, crossing her leg and proceeded to stare up at the wall of her office, specifically towards a specific framed photograph hung higher than the rest. A photo taken a long time ago, but the two women included were easily identifiable, despite the respective ponytail and French braid instead of their free-flowing hair, and the uniforms of white tops, blue miniskirts and royal boots, added with the high-cut short-sleeved blue vests worn over them.

She contemplated for a good while, until turning back to her sister, “We don’t have any confirmation as of yet if anyone from CHS was involved. Given the high spirits of the students since yesterday, I… I think we should commence. And if anything does happen…” the sound of her foot tapping against something emanated from under her desk, “we can handle it on our own. Just keep an eye on Miss Sparkle, and Miss Shimmer.”

Luna’s mouth lined, clearly uncertain about the decision, “Alright. Let’s just hope to whatever gods are out there that it wasn’t one of ours…”

“I know, Luna,” Celestia reciprocated. “I know…”