• Published 24th Oct 2020
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Danganronpa: In Harmony's Wake - Dewdrops on the Grass



Trapped on a cruise ship with fifteen others, all with lost memories, Sunset Shimmer struggles to survive a killing game orchestrated by a mysterious being only known as Monoponi. Post Season Nine FIM. Now complete!

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Chapter Two: What Lurks In The Depths Part 8

Chapter Two:

What Lurks in the Depths

Post Trial and Epilogue

Sweetie Belle collapsed onto her hands and knees, her weeping loud and demonstrative. Her tears dripped down her cheeks and soaked into her clothes. “I’m so sorry, Apple Bloom,” she sobbed. “Apple Bloom, why? Why did it have to be you?”

Across from Sweetie Belle, her sister was similarly distraught, her outfit half ruined from tears, half ruined from the ripping and tearing she’d done in her outburst. She mumbled and muttered to herself, so quiet all I could make out was “not a murderer, not a murderer.”

Applejack, meanwhile, kept looking between the two Belle sisters, a flurry of emotions dancing across her features. The sob she’d held back as I finished my reveal of the case had stayed inside, now held back by other things. She seemed lost, unsure what to do. Now that the culprit had been determined, Applejack was like a captain without a ship. Like she’d lost her sense of purpose.

Or maybe she knew what she wanted, but couldn’t do it because of the damned rule about staying at our podiums. I know I wanted to rush for Rarity, try to give her a hug or something, anything to ease the pain of what I’d inflicted upon her.

But the worst was yet to come. Celestia on her throne, the worst was yet to come.

“So, you really did do it, Sweetie Belle,” Pinkie Pie mumbled, all her energy gone.

“Looks that way,” Scootaloo said with a sniffle. Like Applejack she was casting her gaze between the two sisters on the floor, though her gaze was more focused on Sweetie Belle. “I… I thought you were my friend, Sweetie. I thought I could trust you.”

Sweetie Belle regained enough of her sense of self to mount a response. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There wasn’t even supposed to be a trial!”

“No trial, huh?” Rainbow Dash’s furious expression held not even the slightest trace of sympathy. “Bull.”

Looking up at the athlete, Sweetie Belle choked past her tears to say, “But it’s true! I, the game was supposed to stop!” Her tears abruptly halted, boiling away in the sudden white-hot hatred that took hold. “If Sunset had just died like she was supposed to, we’d all be free from this place!”

“Fool!” Adagio spat, throwing out one curled up hand in Sweetie’s direction like a wielded weapon. “Killing Sunset wouldn’t have done a thing to free us! She’s not the traitor!”

“Still not sure about that,” Diamond Tiara muttered, but we all ignored her.

“And even if she was,” Fluttershy added, her assertive, stern, motherly state taking firm hold of her once again, “What on earth possessed you to think killing her would solve anything? There’s nothing to be gained by playing right into Monoponi’s hands! Err, hooves.”

“Because she’s a pony!” Sweetie Belle shot back. She leapt up to her feet, her whole expression riven with anger and hatred like a complete madwoman. She’d lost all control, all sense of the quirky but kind self she used to be faded like a distant memory, replaced by this. By someone overflowing with hate, with loathing, with a personality so unlike her I could scarcely believe this was the same person I’d seen baking muffins with pride just a few days ago. “Just like Monoponi! They’re working together! They have to be! They’re the same stupid thing!”

“Pony or not,” Flash replied with firm intent, refusing to back away from the madwoman right next to him. “She’s our friend. And I’m sorry I ever doubted her, even for a moment.”

Twilight Sparkle’s cold, unfeeling detachment remained firmly in place. “I’m not. I believe her when she says she’s not the traitor, so we’ll let this be for now. But we will be discussing this further. I’m not happy with you, Sunset.”

“You’re not listening!” Sweetie railed, slamming twin fists into her podium, dislodging her Monopad from its socket in the process. She paid the device no heed as it clattered to the floor by her feet. “You can’t trust her! She’s not human! She set up this whole game with Monoponi! She has to be responsible. She… she has to be… responsible…” Sweetie’s rage abated, ever so slowly, into mild catatonia. “She has to be. B-because, if she… if she isn’t… then Apple Bloom, she, she died for… for nothing…”

“Sweetie Belle, lemme ask ya this,” Applejack said, quiet but firm. None of the hostility or anger she’d been holding against the culprit was present. “Why didn’t you just talk to us first? Ah get that you couldn’t tell us about the secret. Ah know that. But ya still could’ve found a way to talk to us about it. We coulda stopped all of this from happenin’.” Her tone wavered as a sob worked its way to the forefront. “Mah sister would still be alive right now if ya had!” Tears slowly crawled down her cheeks, plopping onto her shirt. “Apple Bloom was your friend too! If ya’d just talked to her, to any of us…”

“I, I didn’t, I couldn’t… I didn’t know who I could trust anymore!” Sweetie Belle replied, her eyes bugging out and crossing as she pulled on her own hair. “Sunset, she, she led us through the first trial. Yeah I didn’t know if I trusted her all that much, but she didn’t seem like a bad guy! But then the secrets showed up, and when I saw what I did, I just… I panicked!” She slapped her hands palms down onto her podium. “I was so angry about this killing game, so scared, so worried for Rarity, for the rest of you, that I had to act! And when Monoponi confirmed she was a pony,I… he… I thought it was the only thing I could do.”

“Huh. I guess you’ve got a point,” Tiara said, smirking my way. “Too bad she didn’t ask me for help, huh?”

“Oh bite me, Tiara,” I snorted. “Like you could’ve done anything.”

“Well it didn’t work, did it?” Rainbow Dash growled. “Why didn’t you speak up during the investigation? Huh? You let us go to trial anyway! You know your sister would’ve died if we voted wrong, right? Or don’t you care?”

“Yes I care about Rarity, damn it!” Sweetie Belle screeched. “She’s my big sister! I know I put her in danger. But, I had to let the trial run. I was hoping that if Sunset revealed her own secret, maybe we could all work together. Do something to stop the game once and for all.”

“Sweetie Belle.”

Everyone quieted down immediately, all whirling to face the sister of Sweetie Belle, who’d managed to resume standing at her podium, if barely. Rarity, ragged and drawn, her clothes a mess, her hair dealt serious damage, her makeup melted into ruin, leaned onto her podium for support with both hands. “Sweetie Belle,” she repeated, her half-melted mascara obscuring the look in her eyes. “I have never been more disappointed, or worried, or scared for you in my life. Applejack is right, darling, You should’ve said something to me, at least. You know you can trust me!”

“I’m not sure I can anymore, though!” Sweetie Belle retorted. “You’ve been all buddy-buddy with Sunset since we got here. I love you, sis, but you’ve been making it really hard to get along with you lately!”

“I beg your pardon?” Rarity’s reply was no-nonsense, the attitude of a mother dealing with a spoiled child. “Who I choose to be friends with is my business, Sweetie Belle, not yours. As for you, young lady, I’ve done nothing but look after you this whole--”

“See? That! That, right there!” Sweetie Belle interrupted, gesturing towards Rarity with both hands open, palms up. “That’s what I’m talking about. You’ve been treating me like I’m still a little kid. But I’m not, okay? I’m an adult! I’m twenty-one years old, for god’s sake!”

For a moment, Rarity reared her head back, grinding her teeth together, before she visibly swallowed her anger and tried to put a smile back on her face. It wasn’t convincing. “Sweetie, darling, if I’ve been treating you that way, it’s because I’m worried. I’m scared! Bad enough I’m trapped myself in this killing game, worrying whether or not I can trust the person standing next to me, waking up in the middle of the night horrified that every sound is someone creeping up behind me with a knife or a rope! That, at least, I can cope with. I can try to survive. But I have to watch out for you too! Do you know, Sweetie, how many nightmares I’ve had about finding you dead, stabbed through the back or drowned in the pool or who knows what else? All of them! All of the nightmares! Every. Single. One!”

Rarity’s composure broke down as tears drizzled their way down her cheeks. “I-I’ve been so afraid I’d escape from this place and have to explain to mother and father that I failed to protect my baby sister, that she died to some wretched fiend, murdered just so they could try to escape this godforsaken ship. It’s been tearing me apart, Sweetie Belle! I’ve been barely keeping it together. Maybe I’ve been regressing a little with how I treat you, seeing you as more the child you used to be than the gorgeous young woman you are now, but it’s only because I love you!”

Sweetie Belle’s self-righteous outrage visibly collapsed, replaced with overwhelming guilt. “Rarity, I, I didn’t--”

“But this!” Rarity kept going, her words stomping all over Sweetie Belle like a stampede of wild elephants. “This, I, I never expected! I never once believed that you would be so foolish and irresponsible as to fall prey to one of Monoponi’s motives! I thought I could count on you to be smarter than that! I know you’re smarter than that! The worst I ever anticipated was you making a mistake, trusting someone you shouldn’t, letting them lead you into a situation where you’d get yourself killed. That, at least, I knew could happen. That is what I’ve been trying to prevent. That is what I’ve been watching out for. But I never once thought I’d have to keep you from outright murdering someone! And not just anyone, but the sister of the only other person here who’s in the exact same boat that I am!”

Pointing viciously with one finger towards Applejack, Rarity continued, “Do you know how much more afraid I became when I saw what happened to her sister? Right before my eyes was the very thing I’ve been most afraid of ever since Monoponi announced this killing game. We all had to watch as Applejack’s little sister, a sweet, innocent darling little soul died! In! Her! Arms! It was one of the most heart-wrenching, horrific sights I’ve ever beheld in my life! My worst nightmare, realized in a heart-breaking way I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy! Of course I wanted to talk to Applejack about it, as one big sister to another, but understandably she was a bit too upset to do so. And no one can blame her.”

Moving her finger to point accusingly at her sister, Rarity poured on the shame. “I am so disappointed in you that I don’t even know how to say it anymore! Your murder of Apple Bloom came from such a disgustingly stupid judgement on your part, and you should be ashamed. Ashamed of your actions. Of your thought processes. Of everything in your head that led you to think that instead of coming to me, your older sister, with your concern that my friend Sunset might be the traitor, you chose to kill. I don’t know if I can ever forgive you in my heart for what you’ve done, Sweetie Belle. I just don’t know. And I wouldn’t blame Applejack if she never did. Killing is wrong. I don’t care why you thought it was necessary. It’s wrong.”

With that, Rarity laid her elbows on her podium and broke into fresh tears, weeping into her hands. “Oh, Sweetie Belle, you utter, utter fool,” she whispered.

“But, Rarity, I…” Sweetie Belle looked away, and sank below view of her podium. I could only just make out the sound of quiet, sad tears being shed anew.

All the fear I’d felt, knowing how close I came to death? All the anger I’d felt, knowing my friend died to save my life? The guilt? The anxiety? It all faded. I couldn’t stay angry at Sweetie Belle anymore. I just couldn’t. All I could feel for her now…

Was pity.

It was Rarity and Applejack I truly felt sorry for. Applejack, for the loss of her little sister, for losing yet another family member to the empty oblivion of death. Rarity, for having to go through this trial, for having to watch as her sister’s crime was unveiled. And for what was to come.

“So, you’re an adult, you say, hmm?” Monoponi interjected, hovering over his throne. With a quick flick of his horn Sweetie Belle was dragged to her feet and forcibly held there with his magic. “You’re not a kid anymore, right? Well then, if you’re an adult, you’ll be tried like one, on your feet! The rest of you idiots! It’s tiiiiiiiiime to vote! Please use the podium screens in front of you. You have thirty seconds. Don’t forget, if you fail to vote, it will result in your death!”

He held up his hoof. “Who will be chosen as the blackened, hmm? Will you make the right choice, or the dreadfully wrong one?” He swept his hoof down. “Vote. Now!”

Our screens lit up with the same four by four image of everyone’s faces. Three were now crossed out, invalid choices all. As the voting timer ticked down, I hesitated to click on Sweetie Belle’s face. Instead my gaze darted over to look at Rarity, to see what she was doing. But she didn’t hesitate. She slammed her thumb down on her screen even as she wept. Good. I was afraid she’d… well, nevermind. I made sure to vote as well.

Just a few seconds later, on cue, the holographic display in the middle of the courtroom lit up with a vote tally. Twelve votes. Eleven for Sweetie Belle… and one for me. What moron voted for me? It wasn’t Sweetie Belle, was it? I quickly searched the faces of my fellow passengers, but none of them betrayed a hint.

It didn’t matter. The majority voted for Sweetie Belle, just as they should. The trial was over.

“Upupu, look at you!” Monoponi said mockingly, blowing a raspberry in Sweetie Belle’s direction. “Unlike Timber, you at least had the decency to actually vote. And for yourself, no less!”

Wait, she did? Then who voted for me?I glanced at Sweetie Belle, who was holding twin balled fists underneath her chin, staring at her podium screen. She didn’t say a word either.

“As for the rest of you sad excuses for decent people, your Captain is disappointed! One of you morons picked the wrong person! You should be more careful next time.”

“Then…” Fluttershy started.

“That’s right!” Monoponi’s horn lit, and the tally screen was replaced by the image of the spinning wheel. It spun and spun until the pointer stopped right on Sweetie Belle’s face. As before, a cascade of fireworks burst into life above the image, spelling out the word “GUILTY!”

“Congratulations, you successfully determined the killer! Again! The killer of Apple Bloom was in fact Sweetie Belle, the Ultimate Sapper. Let’s give her a round of applause, shall we? She almost had you clowns voting for Apple Bloom! Well done, Sweetie Belle, well done!”

Monoponi was the only one to engage in applause, an insulting display of him clacking his two forehooves together in a way that left me wincing a little at how he bent his limbs. Yes, Equestrian ponies are a bit more agile and dexterous than our unintelligent cousins on Earth, but that didn’t make the way he bent his legs any less painful looking.

“And as for you, Sunset, I’m surprised! You didn’t get any of the details wrong this time!” Monoponi cackled, holding a hoof to his lips. “Such a shame. I was so hoping to play the security footage again, just to prove how you got something wrong even as you correctly deduced the culprit. Ah well. I suppose this will have to do.”

One more light of his horn, and the display began to play a video for us.

~*~
Sweetie Belle clomped her boots with every step as she made her way down the stairs of the library, to the lowest floor. Twin emotions raged a war on her face, anger and fear in equal parts. Her Monopad was clutched in her grip so tight her knuckles turned white, the screen activated, still showing a secret written in full display.

Monoponi’s Secrets!

SUNSET SHIMMER

“Sunset Shimmer, despite her human appearance, is not from this world! Yes, that’s right. She’s not human, just like your dear sweet beloved Captain. But she’ll never admit to it. She’s hiding it instead. Why? Who knows?”

Moving between the shelves, Sweetie Belle found an isolated corner. A single security camera, its red light blinking, stared down at her as she moved right up to it, shoving her face into view. “Monoponi!” she whispered loudly. “I want to solve your puzzle!”

Immediately, in a flash of crimson light and a quiet, muffled pop, Monoponi appeared. “Upupu, I never expected someone would call upon me so fast,” he said quietly. “You picked a good spot, too. No one will ever overhear you here. Well done.”

Sweetie Belle shoved her Monopad into her pocket and huffed, crossing her arms and setting her weight on one leg. “Just give me the puzzle already.”

“Such impatience! How rude you are, to your Captain,” Monoponi moaned, bowing his head. “Oh very well then. Here it is: What is Sunset’s Shimmer’s true nature?

“Her true nature, huh?” Sweetie Belle shook her head, snorting in frustration. After a minute of concentrated thinking, she answered, “She’s a pony from Equestria, just like you.”

“Ding ding ding! We have a winner, folks!” The effect of Monoponi’s cheer was lost due to how quiet he had to be, to follow the library rule. “Congratulations on your victory, Sweetie Belle.”

“I’m right…” Sweetie Belle whispered, her eyes growing wide, her mouth agape. “I’m right… Sunset, she’s the traitor. She has to be! I’ve gotta do something!” She looked back down at the little alicorn. “What’s the prize?”

“The prize, my dear passenger, is twofold. First, take these.” Monoponi floated out a set of ten tickets to Sweetie, who stared down at them. “Apple Bloom didn’t want them, so they’re for you. Enough for one free weapon from the prize counter.”

“A weapon.” Sweetie Belle's eyes shot back and forth from left to right as the gears turned in her head. “I’m getting a free weapon. With someone else’s name on it.” One side of her mouth quirked up into the beginnings of a smirk. “I think I have an idea.”

“Oho? I’m glad I can inspire you! That is what I like to do for my passengers, after all: bring joy to their hearts. And creativity is a joy like none other!”

Sweetie Belle carefully tucked the tickets into her pocket, being sure not to damage them. “You said there was something else, too?”

“Why, yes,” Monoponi answered, chortling under his breath. His horn briefly sparked, and her Monopad buzzed. “You’ll find a new, one-time use only program on your Monopad. You should know that some of your fellow passengers are so distrusting, they’re trying to track everyone’s movements on the map. This program will let you scramble the map for everyone except yourself, for two and a half hours. But be careful! Once you use it, it’s gone.”

With that, Monoponi turned, to trot away. Looking back over his shoulder, he added, “Feel free to use these however you like. Just don’t be boring. Tata!” He teleported away, leaving Sweetie Belle to ponder.

The footage sped up, a montage from different angles, all showing Sweetie Belle scribbling away at notebooks in the library, pouring over books, carefully hiding her reading material when others strayed too close. Then it switched over to nighttime in the theater, showing us her process. She did a couple of things in a slightly different order than I’d described, but otherwise, she set things up precisely the way I’d said she did. But once the trap was set, the camera zoomed in on her face, and slowed back down to normal speed. Her eyelids drooped low, her lips curled up in a smirk that might’ve been considerable adorable, had she been a child. As an adult, it was terrifying. She let out a low chuckle, an evil one, full of malice. “Sorry, Sunset, but tomorrow night? We’ll be free of your game, once and for all,” she said quietly. Then she gasped, and looked at her Monopad. “Oh crap. I’m almost out of time! I’ve got to get back!”

The footage skipped again, this time to the theater, with us all gathered, just after Apple Bloom passed away. Just like I remembered, Sweetie Belle was trapped in Rarity’s clutches, as Rarity babbled on. The stunned look on her face, the tears, all the same. Except I hadn’t noticed, the first time, how she mouthed a single word on her lips, over and over. “Why?”
~*~

“And there you have it!” Monoponi pronounced as the image winked away. “A little extra insight into how it all went. You see, I had no part in making Sweetie Belle think Sunset was a traitor. She decided that all on her own! Upupupu!”

“That’s a lie if Ah’ve ever heard one!” Applejack retorted, glaring at Monoponi as she slammed her fist into her open palm. “Just tell me one thing: did you give her that secret on purpose, knowin’ what she would do with it?”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t, does it really matter anymore?” Monoponi shrugged, not the least bit cowed by Applejack’s show of force.

“But you did tell her we were tracking movements on the Monopads,” Twilight said, her cold glare back. “Why?”

“Because it’s such a blatant misuse of resources, that’s why!” Monoponi screeched, throwing up his hooves in disgust. “Unacceptable! Disgraceful! The map was supposed to be for you to find each other so you could talk. Hang out. Maybe find your victim. But nooo. You idiots had to be smart! You had to start using it to track the killers. Well I’m not allowing that anymore!” His horn sparked with crimson light and our Monopads let out harsh beeps unlike the usual notification. “There. I’ve fixed it. No more tracking people down with your map! If you want to find each other you’ll just have to use the texting app and tell each other where you are.”

“Wait, this thing can text?” Rainbow Dash said, raising her eyebrows as she held up her Monopad and turned it around in her hands.

“Yes it can text! It can even record audio, take pictures, and video, but other than recording evidence, none of you have used it for these things!” Monoponi slapped a hoof to his face. “It’s like, on the one hoof, you’re using resources at hand for things you’re not supposed to be, but on the other hoof, you completely forgot about basic, vital features I was expecting you all to be using! So disappointing. So humiliating, that I have to point these things out.”

He resumed his place on his throne. “But nevermind all that. That’s not important right now. What is important is the punishment!”

“Execution…” Rarity whispered, fresh tears rolling down her cheeks. “You’re going to execute her. My poor little Sweetie Belle.”

“Well of course I am!” Monoponi retorted. “She wanted to be tried as an adult. Well she was! And she’ll face the consequences like one too. Not that it would’ve mattered even if she was a child. If you murder, and you’re caught, you’re punished. No exceptions!”

“No!” Rarity slammed both her fists down on her podium. “I won’t let you do it! I won’t! I’ll stop you!” She left her podium and whisked around the courtroom till she was standing before Sweetie Belle, arms outstretched, facing Monoponi. “Take me instead! Execute me in her place!”

“What?! No!” Scootaloo cried out, grabbing both sides of her head. “Are you insane? Rarity, you didn’t do anything wrong!”

“Yes I did, Scootaloo,” Rarity argued. “I played a part in all of this too. By befriending Sunset, I made my sister distrust me,”

“But you said it yourself, Rarity,” Diamond Tiara intervened, her expression a mixture of amusement and scorn. “Killing is wrong. You didn’t kill anyone. She did.”

“Oh put a lid on it already, Tiara!” Rainbow Dash snarled, marching over to get up in Tiara’s face. “Or I’ll do it for you!”

“Aaah!” Tiara squealed, falling back.

“Rarity, Ah can’t let you do this either,” Applejack stated, walking over to Rarity and laying a firm hand on her shoulder. “Ah know how you feel. Ah do. But this won’t help anythin’. We ain’t gonna trust Sweetie ever again, even if you take her place.”

Rarity shrugged Applejack’s hand off. “Even so. I respect what you’re telling me, but my decision is final. I won’t allow Sweetie to die, not if I can help it.”

“Rarity…”

Everyone turned to face Sweetie Belle, who’d risen out from behind her podium and stepped around her sister, so she could face her. She reached out her hands and took one of Rarity’s, cupping it up to her own chin. “Please. Don’t.”

Rarity gasped, her mouth falling open. “What? Sweetie, don’t you understand? He’s going to kill you!”

“I know. And I know it’s going to hurt. A lot,” Sweetie said, shivering. “But… I deserve it. I screwed up. I killed an innocent person… I killed my friend, just because I thought killing the traitor would end the game. I ought to own up to that.” She closed her eyes and smiled, a false expression of fake joy. “I mean, I do keep saying I’m an adult, right? Adults take responsibility for their actions.”

“But… Sweetie… I can’t… I won’t…”

“Now then, I’ve prepared a very special punishment for Sweetie Belle, the Ultimate Sapper!”

“It’s okay, Rarity. I’ve accepted it. Just promise me, you’ll live, okay? You’ll make it out of here. You’ll survive!”

“Let’s give it everything we’ve got! Iiiiiiiit’s punishment time!”

Monoponi, with a flash of his horn, summoned up a big red button, and slapped down upon it with his forehoof.

“I promise, Sweetie Belle! I promise!”

A metal collar swooped down from the ceiling on a long chain, affixing itself to Sweetie’s neck before brutally ripping her away, her hand outstretched, reaching back for Rarity even as she soared high above the rest of us and through the doors to the punishment room.

“Rarityyyyyyyyyyy!”

“Sweetie Beeeeeeeelle!”

As she disappeared from sight, the screens and walls lit up once more with another sickening display:

GAME OVER

Sweetie has been found guilty.

Time for the punishment!

Sweetie Belle hurtled along the corridor, knocked around until she emerged into a small room decorated up to resemble a Qilin castle courtyard. The architecture was crudely painted cardboard and styrofoam, more like a caricature than an honest portrayal. Fake bonsai trees and bushes dotted the area, not so much adding a sense of charm as adding a sense of mockery. There were even fake armor and weapon racks set up, scattered about like child’s playthings, full of fake armor and weapons made from the same materials as the walls.

The gallows at the center, however, was solid, strong wood. The chain hauling Sweetie Belle pulled her right up onto it, till she was just barely standing on her feet, just enough to hurt without actually choking her. She reached up and clawed at the collar, huffing and puffing as her face turned red from effort, but to no avail. She gave up after a couple of moments, letting her hands drop.

At first, I feared we were going to watch a slow hanging. That is, until several Monoponi’s showed up, all dressed up in suits of fake armor. They approached rapidly, removing a fake qiang spear limper than a pool noodle from the weapon rack, as well as a set of armor, and quickly went about throwing the armor onto Sweetie Belle, paying no heed to her attempts to slap them away. Finally the last one handed her the fake spear, and they all backed away to sit down near the edges of the wall, and the chain around her neck released, dropping her to the deck.

THE LAST HURRAH OF THE CRUSADER QUEEN

Ultimate Sapper

Sweetie Belle

Execution: Executed

Sweetie Belle stared down at the spear in her hand, utterly confused, until she looked up in panic at the sound of loud armored boots stomping towards her. A great big Monoponi strode into view, standing on his hind legs towering over her by a good half a foot, with his features exaggerated to be more monstrous. Instead of forehooves, he had two jagged-tipped clawed paws, gripping a massive nine foot long chain whip, a Qilinese Jiǔjiébiān, with a great big nasty spike on the end.

Yelping in fright, Sweetie Belle sped around the backside of the gallows, hiding for cover. The giant Monoponi bellowed in fury, swinging his whip down to crash through the gallows like a tidal wave carving through a sand castle. Shards of wood chips went flying, a few scoring lines of pink on Sweetie’s cheeks as she leapt to her feet and ran screaming for the closest wall, dropping the useless spear in her panic.

She didn’t get far before the whip whistled through the air with a crack, taking a chunk of Sweetie Belle’s hamstring right along with it. The exposed muscle oozed blood and the stringy bits of severed tendon. Crying out in pain, Sweetie Belle stumbled, skidding along the ground before she managed to pick herself back up, moving at a limp.

The monstrous Monoponi toyed with Sweetie, letting her get closer to the wall. He echoed with a deep, sinister laugh as he suddenly lashed out with the whip again, this time slicing through her other hamstring, once again leaving a trail of blood and gore. Uttering a choked scream, Sweetie crumpled to the dirt, taking several heaping breaths before somehow scrabbling back to her knees. She crawled along the ground, finally managing to reach the wall, where there was a large button I hadn’t noticed, labeled “safety.”

Monoponi unleashed his whip once more, this time carving a chunk out of her back even as she slammed a fist on the button. The ground dropped out from beneath her, Monoponi roaring in anger as she vanished into a tunnel. The camera followed her as she rolled like a loose stone through the narrow tunnel. Every so often a small blade sticking out of the wall sliced out hunks of flesh, from her arms, her sides, her legs, every cut eliciting a cry of pain.

The tunnel abruptly opened into a large room, dumping Sweetie right past one extra long blade that slit open her stomach, spilling her intestines. Sweetie Belle had just long enough to scream one last time, desperately trying to stuff her intestines back into her abdominal cavity as she plummeted into a bed of foot long needle thin spikes, impaled from every angle. One punctured her right eye and out through the back of her skull. Blood, fat, and viscera streamed down the spikes as she writhed and twitched, blood leaking from her mouth and nostrils. Finally, after several excruciatingly long minutes, she ceased. We saw one last shot of her face frozen in an eternal expression of agony before the camera winked out.

Monoponi flashed back into existence on his throne, dusting himself off. “Oh my goodness, that was intense! Brutal! Extreme!” He hugged his forehooves to his chest. “Oooh I’m so proud of myself! I did good with that one!”

“No… Sweetie Belle, no!” Rarity collapsed to the floor, only saved from smashing her head against a podium by Applejack’s quick response. She sobbed wordlessly, beating Applejack’s chest with her fists, her tears practically forming a lake below her as she cried for all she was worth. Applejack withstood the beating without a single wince, holding Rarity against herself for support, her expression stoic.

“Poor Sweetie Belle,” Pinkie Pie moaned, holding herself tight.

Scootaloo’s eyes welled up in tears even as she twisted her lips into an ugly sneer. She slammed a fist against her podium. “God damn it!” she cried.

“That was even worse than Timber!” Rainbow Dash shouted, even as she held a quietly weeping Fluttershy against her shoulder.

“You sick bastard,” Flash Sentry spat, glaring at Monoponi with impressive levels of fury.

Monoponi giggled, waving a hoof dismissively at Flash. “You called me that last time, Sentry! Next time, maybe try being original?”

Twilight Sparkle set one hand on her face, covering her eyes and blocking me from seeing most of her reaction, save for her grimace of disgust.

Diamond Tiara screamed and hid behind her podium. “This place is a nightmare!”

“Such brutality,” Adagio growled, shaking her head. “It’s entirely unnecessary.”

“Au contraire! I’d say it’s exactly what’s necessary!” Monoponi said with a giggle.

Trixie grabbed a hold of me and hid behind me, using me as a shield as much as a comfort. “Trixie cannot take much more of this. Please protect her, Sunset!”

Ignoring the eye-twitch and glare Adagio shot in our direction, I held Trixie close, with a comforting arm around her shoulders. “Monoponi,” I declared, pointing at him with my free hand. “I want to know why. Why do you keep doing this to us? What’s your game?”

“Game? Game?! There’s no game, Sunset!” Monoponi held a hoof to his mouth. “Well, other than the killing game, but that’s not what I mean, upupu. You want to know why this is happening to you? Well… I’ll tell you what.” He stood up from his throne, hopped down to the ground, then came over and jumped up to rest on my podium, his face bare inches from mine. “Since I was so kind to give you a hint last time, I’ll give you another one here.”

My gorge rose at the scent of his rancid breath, but I swallowed it back down. “What?” I grunted.

“Keeping you all here? Subjecting you to this game? It’s not about you. Not at all. I have a different goal in mind.”

With that, he suddenly teleported away, half-blinding me with the suddenness of the crimson flare of light. I heard more than saw him reappear on his throne as I moaned, rubbing at my eyes, trying to ease the pain. “Is that it?” I grunted. “That’s all you have to say?”

“Yup! If you want to know more, all you’ve gotta do is survive through the next trial! If you can, now that everyone knows your secret! Ahahahaha!”

I will survive, Monoponi. Don’t count me out yet.

Monoponi interrupted any further chatter with a sudden kraka-thoom! from his horn. “Alright, you idiots, I’m tired of dealing with you. Time to leave! Get out!”

With that, he vanished, leaving us all to shuffle together towards the elevator. I supported Trixie in one arm and, after a bit of reluctance on her part, Adagio in the other, walking together as a trio. Applejack had eschewed making Rarity walk herself, instead carrying her bridal style, the poor woman still weeping endlessly into Applejack’s shirt. The rest scurried in at the rear, in ones and twos, until we were all aboard the elevator.

The twelve of us that were left, that is.

As we rode the elevator back up to the promenade, my mind whirled anew with the scant details Monoponi had provided. The last time, he’d implied someone was watching us, someone with a connection to Twilight Sparkle. I still didn’t dare try to figure out who, because I didn’t want a fresh headache, but given what he’d just told us… his goal. His reason for doing this. It wasn’t because of us.

He didn’t care about us. We were tools, for some purpose, some other person. Did this person want to see us suffer? Were they some kind of sadist, paying off Monoponi to put people through horrific trauma just for shits and giggles? I was even more terrified of Monoponi now that he’d revealed this. If he didn’t care about us, he might choose to dispose of us, once he’d accomplished his goal. Whatever that goal was.

There wasn’t much for me to analyze, so I wasn’t likely to come up with any other answers. What he’d told me just left me with more questions instead. He was probably laughing at the image of me trying to work this all out.

As the elevator dumped us back into the promenade proper, I checked the time. It was after midnight. Well past the time when we all needed some sleep. If we could get any. So we, as a group, everyone watching everyone else in fear of potential danger returned to our cabins. One by one we filed in, though I noticed Applejack purposefully went into Rarity’s room with her. Probably just to watch over her. At least, I hoped. Though I guess if we find Rarity dead in the morning, it won’t be hard to figure out who did it.

I didn’t have the energy to banish even that annoying stray thought. Waves of fatigue crashed down upon me like pounding surf, unrelenting, unyielding. As I withdrew my keys and opened my door, I expected to part ways with the two women clinging to my arms. But to my surprise, both came into my room with me. “What? What’re you doing?” I mumbled, the exhaustion affecting my speech.

I’d rather not be alone tonight,” Adagio said, firing off a withering glare at Trixie, who glared right back, just as angrily. “We’ve been outed, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t spend it with you. I don’t know what she’s doing here.”

“Trixie is here because she doesn’t want to be alone either!” huffed the illusionist, who placed her hands on her hips. “Trixie’s sleep will be filled with nightmares, and Trixie would rather be somewhere she can feel safe. Like by Sunset.”

“Trixie,” I said, my tone echoing my frustration. “What do you mean by that?”

“Exactly what she said. Trixie is feeling scared, and wants to be near her friend. There is nothing wrong or shameful about that.” Trixie shook a fist at Adagio, who’d been mocking her by using her hand to imitate her talking. “Quit that!”

“No. I was with Sunset first. She’s mine,” Adagio hissed, jerking her thumb towards the door. “So get out.”

Trixie slapped a hand to her face. “Uuugh. Trixie is not romantically interested in Sunset. Not at all. She has no desire to get between you two. She just doesn’t want to be alone. And she thought you were going to try to get along with her better!”

Adagio recoiled, her face screwing up in anger. “You… hmph. Fine then. There’s enough room for all three of us on the bed anyway. Just don’t touch me.” She managed a simpering smile, which bared her teeth. “Or you’ll regret it.”

“Trixie understands,” murmured Trixie, flushing with a combination of embarrassment and pride in her own assertiveness.

“Okay, fine, whatever,” I said, throwing up my hands. I dropped my jacket to the floor and threw off my shirt and pants, leaving me in my underwear, like I usually do for sleep. I threw myself into bed. “Let’s just get some sleep. I’m too tired to argue right now.”

Adagio, apparently trying to make Trixie feel more uncomfortable, stripped til she was nude, ignoring the outraged glares she received. She slipped into bed on one side of me. Not to be outdone, Trixie stripped off most of her clothes as well, then cuddled up next to me in bed on the other side from Adagio.

Had the situation been different, I might’ve been excited by the thought of being in bed with not one but two hot girls. But I had no desire for anything like that, not right now. This trial had been even more thoroughly exhausting than the last one, and unlike last time we’d been up most of the day already. Any desire for conversation or anything other than just plain old sleep evaporated as I slipped into unconsciousness.

That night, oddly, I suffered no nightmares. Instead, my dreams filled with images of my former home… Equestria. The images focused on a small village I’d never seen before, a happy, peaceful place. Flashes of ponies I’d never met ran through my mind, living out parts of their day. Going to the spa, working on the farm, busting clouds, feeding animals, filing books. And though I’d never actually met these ponies, they all seemed oddly familiar. Like I’d seen them before, just… not like this. What’s more, they were happy. Their lives weren’t in constant danger of being snuffed out, not like ours. They weren’t trapped in a killing game. They just lived.

Then the images shifted to a single, solitary scene, playing out like a video: a group of five ponies, each wearing a necklace bearing gemstones shaped like their cutie marks, surrounding a sixth. Each one blasted a beam of light at the one in the center, with the magic swirling and dancing around her. At first, she was shocked, then scared, then… she accepted her fate. In a brilliant flash of light, she vanished, leaving a familiar smoking mark on the ground.

The mark of Twilight Sparkle.

Abruptly I awoke in a cold sweat, still snuggled between Adagio and Trixie, who were both fast asleep. The sounds of the sea at night played through the open porthole window, the smell of salt filling the air like always. Moonlight filtered through, lending the cabin a bit of light in the otherwise stark darkness. My head pounded like someone took a sledgehammer to it, though at least the nausea was absent. “What was that about?” I muttered to myself, holding a hand to my head.

“Hmm?” Trixie mumbled, rolling over in her sleep. “No, I don’t want to eat rotelle. I hate rotelle.” Quiet little snores arose as she tightened her grip on my arm, forcing me back down to lay my head on my pillow.

Between that, and the little hissing noises Adagio let out every few seconds, I found myself drifting off again, this time dreaming of nothing but an endless field of darkness. In a way, it was the most peace I’d had since this killing game began.

It wouldn’t last.

Author's Note:

Poor Sweetie Belle. :pinkiesick:

I'm quite proud of Rarity's rants. It's exactly how I pictured my older sister would yell at me if I'd been as dumb as Sweetie Belle. At least, how I think she would have. :unsuresweetie:

Trixie, meanwhile, she be bargin' in on Sunset and Adagio. Sadly, Sunset will not be getting a second girlfriend. Polyamory denied. :fluttershysad: But more seriously, Trixie's scared, and like any scared little girl, she's attaching to a figure she sees as a big sister, kind of like how I acted towards my own big sister when I was very little. The fact that Trixie is 24 is irrelevant: you can feel like a little kid at any age, with the right scary situation. :raritydespair:

I have a lot more to say about this chapter in my notes in my blog, including planning notes and why I went with the victim and culprit I did. (There were a lot of uncertainties here.) But for now, I hope you enjoyed. I know I did. Chapter Two is usually one of the best chapters of each game, and I'm very proud of mine.

Next time: We check back in with Princess Twilight.

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