• 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 Three: A Maelstrom of Murder Part 1

Chapter Three:

A Maelstrom of Murder

Daily Life Part 1

Tuesday morning, the day after the second trial…

When I woke up the morning after Sweetie Belle’s trial, I expected to wake to the sound of Monoponi’s announcement. Or maybe to the sensation of Adagio’s lips against my cheek. Instead, I awoke to the sound of arguing.

“Trixie awoke first, therefore she should get the first shower!”

“You have your own cabin! Go take a shower there!”

“Trixie still feels unsafe! She doesn’t want to leave yet! And you also have your own cabin!”

Blinking away the remnants of sleep, I sat up in bed, pushing off the sheets. “What?” I mumbled as I took in the utterly surreal sight of a naked Adagio Dazzle, her tangled mess of unbound hair bouncing as she shook a fist in the face of a mostly nude Trixie. The scantily clad illusionist had both her fists gripped at her side as she pointedly avoided looking anywhere except right into Adagio’s eyes, their faces bare inches apart. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, Sunset, Trixie is sorry she woke you!” Trixie said, frowning apologetically. “She just wanted to take a shower, but Adagio won’t let her!”

The beginnings of a pounding headache surged through my brain even as Adagio protested, “Only because Trixie has her own cabin. It’s bad enough she slept here. She’s overstayed her welcome.”

I rubbed my aching forehead with two fingers and a thumb, sighing. “Do we seriously have to argue about this? Go ahead and shower, Trixie. Adagio, you can wait, it’s okay.”

Trixie smirked, setting both hands on her hips. “Thank you, Sunset. Trixie knew you’d understand. If you’ll excuse Trixie.” She slipped into the bathroom, closing the door, and soon after the sound of water running filled the air.

Adagio, grumbling under her breath, plopped herself down next to me on the bed. “I don’t get why you put up with her,” she muttered.

“She’s my friend,” I replied, wrapping an arm around Adagio’s shoulder. “And after what we all went through last night, I can’t blame her for feeling scared.”

Adagio seemed to consider this, then nodded. A blush rose on her cheeks as she nestled herself against me, her hair falling on me like a giant bushy scarf. “I guess I can’t either.”

Last night… we had to watch Apple Bloom die in Applejack’s arms. Then, at the trial, just a few hours later, Sweetie Belle’s execution… I can’t imagine how either of them must be feeling this morning. All this death… I’m scared. I’m scared for my life, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Sweetie Belle tried to kill me. She tried to kill me. Apple Bloom took the fall, but she might not be the last person to try it. I’ll have to keep my eyes open. Pay attention. Question everything.

Speaking of which…

“Hey, Adagio, I’ve got a question for you,” I said.

“Hmm?” Adagio lazily looked up at me with one eye, making her appear cross-eyed.

“What were you actually doing at the theater the other night?”

“Mrrgh,” the siren grumbled, grinding her teeth together as she scowled. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask about that.”

I pulled her in closer. “Hey, I covered for you in the trial. The least you can do is tell me why I had to do that.”

For several moments, she didn’t respond. Instead she pulled her hand away, and held it up to her throat as she stared at the floor. Then, she spoke. “I… I was… I was trying to sing.”

“Sing?” That’s right, she told me before, about her gem being shattered. She can’t sing anymore. “But I thought--”

“I know what I said,” Adagio growled, cutting me off with a vicious glare. “But I had to try. I had to… I had to give it a shot.”

I scooted back just a touch, to give her more space. “Because singing is that important to you?”

With a roll of her eyes, she replied. “Not just that. It’s because of you.”

“Me?” I asked, holding a hand to my chest. “I don’t understand.”

“No. You wouldn’t. Pony.” Adagio grumbled the word like it was a curse, but the slight grin on her face betrayed her real feelings. “It’s a siren thing. I told you before, that sirens aren’t like ponies. We don’t care for each other, not in the same way you do. But.”

“But?”

Adagio blew out a sigh through her teeth, the grin fading. “But we do… mate. Usually for life. Typically we’d serenade each other with songs passed down by our families. Then, when we want to… finalize the arrangement… we’d write a new song and sing it. Together.”

My heart skipped about twenty beats before accelerating to a million miles an hour at the implications of that. “W-wait, wait a minute. You’re, you want to mar--”

“No!” Adagio interrupted, raising a hand as if to smack me across the face, and only stopping at the last minute. “No, don’t be stupid. It’s far too early for anything like that. I just… look.” She placed her hand on her face and sighed. “It’s important to me. If I’m going to be with you, in a relationship with you, I want to be able to do things that matter to me, to my kind.”

“Oh.” I gripped my chest, trying to force my heart to slow down, take it easy. “Sure. I knew that. Of course.”

Before Adagio could say anything else, the door to the bathroom opened up a crack and Trixie stuck her head out, her hair and skin dripping water on the carpet. She pointed one finger at the exposed gash on her forehead and said, “Sunset, would you be willing to assist Trixie with rebandaging this? Trixie is having trouble.”

With a sigh, I stood, patting Adagio on the shoulder. “Alright.” Leaving Adagio to stew on the bed, I entered the bathroom, finding Trixie wearing a towel, the first aid kit on the counter. Going for the gauze, I unrolled a strip and started wrapping it around her head. “You know, Trixie,” I said as I used the surgical scissors to snip off the end, then tied it with medical tape. “I’m happy to let you stay with me in my cabin if you need to, but--”

“Say no more, please,” Trixie said, holding up a hand, her face twisted into a contrite and embarrassed expression. “Trixie knows she imposed upon you. She is sure you would have preferred to have privacy with… with her.

Fighting off the blush that came to my cheeks, I shook my head. “It’s not that. Well, not just that. I.. we need to clear something up.”

Blinking owlishly, Trixie cocked her head. “What is it?”


“Hey, are you two done in here yet?” Adagio grunted, rapping on the door. “You’re not the only ones who need the bathroom.”

Sighing, I shook my head. “Nevermind. We’ll talk later.”

After dealing with the kerfuffle of three showers in one cabin we managed to arrive at the morning meeting only a few minutes late. The rest had already gathered, sitting around a couple of tables. I took quick notice of Rarity, who hadn’t bothered with any makeup this morning. Seeing her sans eyeshadow and mascara was odd. Odder yet was her hair. The poor woman had clipped a whole bunch of it off, because she’d torn out so much during the trial she’d ruined her previous hairstyle. It hung in muted curls, wrapped up in a ponytail. Wrinkles dotted her clothes. She sat next to Applejack, her chair scooted up to sit side by side with the farmer, who seemed just as out of sorts. Neither of them seemed to have gotten much sleep.

Twilight Sparkle, meanwhile, fixed me with an icy glare, watching me like a hawk. She pointedly kept Flash between her and me, though judging from the occasional glares she tossed his way, there was trouble in nerd paradise. I hope I’m not responsible for that…

Everyone else sat with their shoulders hunched, their expressions grim. A few had cups of coffee in styrofoam cups sitting in front of them, along with a small plate of toast, but no one took anything from it. The only one who had any real energy to speak of was Rainbow Dash, who took one look at me walking up with Adagio and Trixie and broke out into soft snickers. “Jeez, one girl not enough for you, Sunset?” she teased.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy chided in a low, quiet voice. “Not now please.”

Looking properly abashed, Rainbow muttered, “Sorry,” under her breath.

Diamond Tiara rose from her chair right as we sat down, notebook in hand and pen at the ready. “Alright, we’re all here,” she said, scribbling something down. “No one’s absent. Good.”

“There sure are people absent, Tiara,” Applejack growled. “Two of ‘em that oughta be here ain’t anymore.”

Tiara worked her jaw into a grimace. “Yes, I know. I just meant--”

“Ah know what you meant,” Applejack said, waving it off and glaring down at her cup of coffee. She wrapped her other arm around Rarity’s shoulder, who sniffled as she leaned into the farmer for support. “Never you mind. Just get this meetin’ on with.”

Tiara’s expression rapidly switched between a sneer and a simpering smile before settling on the smile. “The only subject I wanted to discuss was the one we all learned about last night… the pony in our midst.” She pointed her pen squarely at me.

“Hey, lay off of her, Tiara,” Rainbow Dash groaned. “We don’t need to start this crap again. Can’t we just let it rest?”

Twilight slapped her own notebook on the table, causing more than one of us to jump in surprise. “No. We need to discuss this. Sunset’s secret cost two people their lives. We need to know what else she’s hiding.”

“Hiding?” I snorted, and rose from my chair just long enough to fetch some coffee for Adagio, Trixie, and myself from the nearby bakery. “I’m not hiding anything, Twilight. Like I said during the trial, I tried to tell all of you about this the first night.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything after that?” Twilight shot back as she picked up her pen so she could spin it in her hand. “You had all the chances in the world, but you never said a word.”

“What was she supposed to say, Twilight?” Flash asked, gently reaching out and pushing Twilight’s hand onto the table. “‘Oh hey, by the way, remember Equestria? I’m a pony!’ Would you have listened to her? Would any of us have?”

“Trixie still isn’t happy with Sunset keeping the secret, but Flash is right,” Trixie added with a quick little nod in my direction. “It would have just upset people.”

Pinkie Pie, her face half plastered to the table and mostly covered by her hair, nodded, in the process taking on the appearance of a pink shrub rustling in the breeze. “Wallflower was such a meanie, she might’ve tried to kill Sunset.”

Scootaloo scowled into her own cup of coffee, taking a quick swig and grimacing at the taste. “Yeah, remember the way she threatened us? If she thought Sunset was the traitor, then…”

“But I’m not the traitor though,” I insisted. I took a drink of my own coffee, the black bitter liquid hot as fire on my throat, just the way I liked it. “I’m just as innocent as the rest of you.”

“The rest of all of us but one,” Fluttershy said pointedly.

“Look, forget about the traitor, that’s not what’s important,” Twilight said, whisking her hand out of Flash’s grip. “Sunset needs to tell us everything she knows. She might have some insight into Monoponi, since they’re the same species.”

“Wow. Racist much?” Pinkie Pie grumbled in a nasty, low tone, completely unlike her usual bouncy self. As she spoke, the curls in her hair vanished.

Twilight set a finger on her glasses just so she could glare over them at the party planner. “It’s not racism if she’s not human. It’s xenophobia.”

Pinkie Pie stood up from her chair, walked over to the bakery, and ordered three cupcakes. Shoving the first one into her mouth messily, she mumbled, “Same difference. Meanie,” as she resumed her seat.

“Look, I’ll tell you what I can, but I don’t think it’s going to be much help,” I said. Sighing and steepling my hands, I described what I knew of Equestrian magic and alicorns. I also made sure to mention I’d lost my magic when I crossed the portal, and how odd it was Monoponi had his. “That’s all I know,” I finished, draining the last dregs from my cup. “I haven’t been to Equestria in years. I have no idea where he came from.”

Twilight, still writing notes on what I’d informed her, seemed no less cold towards me after my info dump. If anything she was colder, harsher. “Well, never hurts to have information,” she snarled. “Is there anything else you haven’t told us? Maybe something from that Danganronpa you’re always going on about?”

Wait, what does she… oh yeah! Gasping in realization, I said, “Yes, actually. There’s something we need to be very careful about this time around.”

“Oh?” Tiara asked, narrowing her eyes at me. “What’s that?”

“So, the thing with the games is, there’s usually six murders, but not six murder trials. It’s because usually, after the first two…” I gulped and shivered. “There’s a double murder.

“A… a double murder?” Pinkie Pie whispered, her eyes welling up with fresh tears. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. And Monoponi’s been ripping these games off, like I said before. I’ll bet you anything he’ll try to make sure that happens. We’ve got to watch out for that.”

Twilight barked a bitter laugh, acrid and thick like day old coffee still sitting on the warmer. “Of course. And now that you’ve said that, it’s guaranteed to happen.” She set her pen down and slammed her notebook closed, then placed her arms on the table and rested her head on them.


“Look, did we have anythin’ else we needed to discuss? Or can we stop wastin’ time here?” Applejack said, glaring daggers at Tiara.

Rolling her eyes, Tiara shoved her notebook and pen back into her backpack. “Fine, fine. Meeting adjourned.”

DING-DONG BING-BONG

“Oh come on!” Scootaloo groaned, throwing up her hands so they’d slap at her sides. “Can’t give us five minutes, jeez.”

The screens winked on, showcasing an all too happy Monoponi, snarfing down on some hay fries with obnoxious chewing noises. “Ahem, um, attention all passengers,” he mumbled past his mouthful of food, spitting crumbs everywhere, “Please report to the bridge deck immediately!” He forced us to watch him slurp down a whole glass of apple juice and unleash a loud belch before the screens switched off.

“So gross,” Trixie spluttered, waving a hand before her nose as she walked in the direction of the bridge deck. “Trixie could smell that.”

Rarity hung back with Applejack for a minute while the others went on, so I stayed back too. “Hey, you two,” I said, trying out a sympathetic smile. “Listen, I--”

“Sunset,” Rarity said, hushing me immediately. It was the first word she’d breathed all day. She gazed upon me with sad eyes and a sadder expression, then turned away. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk to you for a while,” she said quietly.

My smile faded. “Right. I get it. Sorry. I’ll, I’ll just go then,” I said.

“Hold it a sec there, sugarcube,” Applejack replied, reaching out for my shoulder and pulling me back gently. She leaned in close so she could whisper. “Listen, Rarity’s not really mad at you or nothin’. She’s just takin’ the loss of her sister real hard. Ah’m not doin’ much better, but Ah’m gonna try and be there for her. It ain’t her fault her sister killed mine.”

“I hope it helps you both cope better,” I whispered back. “I’m so sorry for what I had to do in the--”

“Don’t be.” Applejack shook her head. “If you hadn't, we’d all be dead right now. Rarity don’t blame you for it. You did what you had to do. Just give her some space, alright?”

I flashed her a thumbs up. “Can do.”

She clapped me once on the shoulder, smiled softly, then helped Rarity as they made their way towards the bridge deck. Out of respect for them I took a wide berth around them before running to catch up with Adagio and Trixie.

The assembly on the bridge deck thrummed with fresh tension, palpable and thick. The fear in the air stank like sour milk left out on the counter to rot. Poor Apple Bloom hadn’t even been dead a day, let alone Sweetie Belle, but here we were again, not even remotely recovered from the ordeal.

The instant Rarity and Applejack arrived, Monoponi trudged his way out from the bridge tower door onto the balcony, still wiping crumbs off his face. “Well, well, well, good morning, my lovely passengers!” he said, spreading his wings to catch the sunlight streaming through the clouds. The weather had shifted from the pure blue skies we’d had the first week on the ocean. A storm threatened on the horizon, all towering black clouds, like a billowing gag threatening to choke us out. “I hope you slept well! I know I did, upupu.”

“Did you seriously have to be so gross over the intercom?” Scootaloo complained, showing more bravery than most of us dared to demonstrate.

Monoponi shook a hoof in her direction. “What? I had a full workout last night! That makes me hungry. A pony’s gotta eat.”

Rarity broke into quiet tears, sobbing into Applejack’s shoulder as the farmer held her close, an inferno of hatred for Monoponi blazing in her gaze. “Why don’t you just get to the point of this?” she said.

“Such impatience!” Monoponi cried, clomping a hoof on the deck with a clank and started flailing about, wiggling his limbs. “No consideration. No manner. No respect for your Captain. ‘Oh Monoponi, get on with it!’ ‘Oh Monoponi, stop wasting time!’ ‘Oh Monoponi, get to the point!’ No appreciation at all!”

“Blah blah, poor you, no one cares!” Rainbow Dash shouted, stomping one boot onto the deck with a clang!

Monoponi stopped flailing and shrugged. “Eh. Tough crowd. Ahem. So! You’ve passed another trial. Congratulations! Your ocean voyage continues with more rewards, more luxuries, more wonders for you to enjoy!”

“So soon?” Twilight inquired, peering up at Monoponi. “But it took three days after the last trial before you opened up more of the ship.”

“Aaaand? What’s your point?” Monoponi cupped a hoof to his ear. “Hmm? Hmmmmm? I don’t hear one.”

Sneering up at the alicorn, Twilight shot back, “My point is, we thought you needed the extra time to refurbish the ship. Prepare the facilities.”

“Oh Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, you do keep asking such silly questions,” Monoponi said with a giggle. “Upupu, that’s what I hate about you! Shut your trap already. It’s my ship. My rules. I decide when things open up, and I’ve decided they open up today!”

“So you’re gonna make us explore again, huh?” Pinkie Pie asked, hands square on her hips. Her hair remained flat, with no trace of curls whatsoever. The difference in her mood was more than a little off-putting, but also… sad. Like she’d lost some vital part of herself. The poor girl, in some ways, had suffered more than the rest of us in this situation. While the rest of us had been afraid for our lives, she’d been losing her very soul.

“It’s like I said before,” Monoponi answered, balancing himself on one hoof and holding himself aloft with his wings. “Your Captain is here to serve, to provide wonderful activities for you to enjoy! And who doesn’t love a good bit of exploration, hmm?”

“Are you gonna give us a hint?” Flash asked. “Tell us what we’re gonna see?”

“Why would I do that? That’d take away the fun!” Monoponi spun on his one hoof then hopped off it, landing back on all fours. “Speaking of which, it’s time for you to get to it. This time, there are two places for you to check! You’ll find the gate in the cabin corridor has unlocked itself!” His horn spat out a crimson shard of light which zipped past the rest of us towards the cabins. “But you’ll also find more to see down the promenade offshoot corridor.” Another jet of light took flight, headed the other way. “What is what? Where will you go? What will you find? You’ll find out!”

The gun turrets on the bridge deck popped up and spun to speed, taking aim at us. “Of course, this is an official sponsored activity. No one chose to sit out last time! I wonder if anyone will today? Eyahahaha!” With that, he vanished in a flash of light.

“Sooo, I dunno about any of you, but I’m really not looking to practice my swiss cheese act today,” Rainbow Dash said, letting out a nervous laugh. “C’mon Fluttershy. Why don’t we go down this way?”

The two of them made for the promenade. Soon after Pinkie joined them, followed by Twilight, Flash, and Scootaloo.

“Must we do this?” Rarity moaned, her knees shaking like they were about to collapse.

“Sorry, we can’t sit this one out, Rarity,” Applejack said, helping the woman stay on her feet. “Ah know how you feel, but we gotta do it. C’mon now.” She carefully escorted Rarity in the same direction most others went.

“Well, Sunset, Trixie doesn’t know about you, but she’s more interested in what’s past the cabins,” Trixie declared.

“Yeah, I’m feeling the same,” I agreed. “Adagio, you gonna come with?”

Adagio and Trixie briefly shared a sparking glare, before the siren crossed her arms and nodded. “Might as well.”

So we headed for the cabins, leaving Diamond Tiara still standing on the bridge deck, before the younger woman suddenly ran our way. “Hey, wait up, Sunset! I want to come too.”

The three of us halted, whirling one by one to stare at Tiara in shock. To my bemusement the elitist was all smiles, and not simpering, self-serving ones either. Genuine, happy smiles, the sort I’d expect from Pinkie Pie or maybe Scootaloo, rather than her. “Uh, why?” I asked, instantly on guard.

“Look, I’ve been wanting to say something since last night,” Tiara said. No trace of her usual ego showed itself. No sneer, no demeaning attitude. Instead, she gripped one wrist in her other palm, rocking back and forth slowly on one foot, still smiling. “I wanted to apologize, Sunset.”

“What?” I blurted, my whole face screwing up, utterly nonplussed. “Apologize? You?”

“Well, yeah!” Tiara retorted, her smile fading for just a moment into her usual unimpressed frown before forming back into a smile. “I was wrong about you, okay? I’ve been a real jerk to you, and I’m sorry.”

I shared a baffled look with Adagio, who rolled her eyes hard, pointed a finger at her head, and spun it around. “But last night you were still saying I was--”

“I know, I know,” Tiara interrupted, holding out a hand palm outwards, her smile remaining firm even as her left eye twitched. “But I thought about it, and I was wrong. I can admit when I’m wrong!”

I glanced at Trixie, who had a hand held to her chin, her lower lip pressed out as she stared at Tiara with narrowed eyes full of suspicion. “I guess. It’s just, this feels kind of sudden.”

Tiara briefly ground her teeth together, growling under her breath before resuming her bizarre smile. “M-maybe it is. But it’s the truth!” She stuck her hand towards me. “So can we start over? Maybe try to be friends?”

I cautiously examined the hand, fearing some sort of prank or trap. This has got to be a setup, I thought. Still...if there’s even a chance Tiara’ll lay off of me? I should probably take it. But this totally reeks. So I extended my hand and shook hers, once, before dropping it. “Friends might be a strong word,” I admitted, “but we can at least call a truce for now.”

Pursing her lips, she nodded. “Of course. I have a lot to make up for. I understand.” Taking a step towards the cabins, she held out a hand. “Well, shall we?”

With a shrug, I followed her lead, Adagio and Trixie close behind. Trixie sidled up to me, cupping a hand around my mouth so she could whisper, “Trixie doesn’t believe her!”

“Me neither,” I whispered back. “Keep an eye on her, okay? She’s planning something.”

Adagio squeezed up to my other side and shoved Trixie just hard enough to knock her away. “If you think you can trust Diamond Tiara for one second, think again,” she said quietly. “She’s not fooling anybody.”

“I know that,” I replied, casting a brief sympathetic glance in Trixie’s direction. The poor illusionist stumbled, but regained her footing, firing off a nasty glare at the siren. “Don’t push Trixie, please.”

Letting out a wordless grunt as her face twitched, Adagio pulled away in a huff. “Fine.”

Diamond Tiara looked over her shoulder as she walked. “Hmm? Did you say something?”

“Nothing,” Adagio and I chimed together.

Arching an eyebrow, Tiara turned back to watch where she was going as we reached the cabins. A few quick strides down the hallway later, and we came to the bolted metal door. Right as we approached, it slid down into the floor.

Peering past it, I saw that it looked like a continuation of our own cabins, save that each door was locked, and sans name tags. About fifty feet down the corridor it ended in another bolted door, but just before it was a small offshoot with a narrow staircase facing up into the wall, with a protective balcony around the descent so no one could stumble into it. Strangely, unlike the rest of the ship, this staircase was plain metal and plastic, with none of the usual finery or craftsmanship we’d come to associate with the rest of the ship. Then I spotted a sign right above the staircase: “Crew Access Only!” That explained it.

“Are we sure we’re allowed to go in here?” Trixie asked, trepidation written all over her body.

Tiara waved for us to follow. “I doubt Monoponi would’ve opened it up if we weren’t. Come on!”

We descended the staircase, each of our steps echoing with a loud clatter. We went down several flights before we found a landing that wasn’t blocked off by yet more bolted bulkheads. This one led into an access corridor. Unlike the rest of the cruise ship, this one lacked carpet, instead floored with plain white linoleum shining in the fluorescent lighting. The corridor was wide, allowing for plenty of material to be moved to and fro, but with a low ceiling, leaving it feeling cramped and confining. Exposed pipes snaked along some parts of the ceiling, and there were plenty of locked doors, and little alcoves dotted the walls, large enough for someone to slip into and be hidden amongst shadows. The corridor stretched before us heading a long, long way before it branched off.

As we walked, a creeping unease trickled its way down my spine, like I was intruding on something I wasn’t meant to see. There was one unlocked door along the way, but it only led to a small laundry room so stuffed with machines and ironing boards and hangers there was barely any room to move around. We left that alone for now, with only Trixie murmuring about how glad she was to have a place to clean her clothes.

A good several hundred feet down the corridor later, we reached a t-junction. The path ahead was blocked by yet another bulkhead door, but the path to the right opened up into another access corridor that once again went down several hundred feet. “Good grief,” Adagio muttered as we turned the corner. “When is this going to end?”

Almost all of the doors down this second corridor were also locked, until we finally, finally hit a pair of doors on either side, right where it ended in another bulkhead. The one on the right was locked, so with a shrug, we opened the one on the left.

We emerged into a large fitness center, right behind the front check-in desk. The desk held numerous useful supplies, including stacks of towels and a few sets of padlocks and keys, presumably for use in a locker room. The whole wall along the side where we came in was lined with banks of large windows, showing the ocean waves churning as the ship motored its way on through. The wall opposite was lined with mirrors, broken up only by twin doors labeled “Men’s locker room” and “Women’s locker room” respectively, with scanners attached to the wall to open them up via Monopad. Over to the left was a pair of double doors, currently closed, so similar to the ones we saw for places like the library and the game corner it was safe to say it was the fitness center entrance. To the right, the center opened up into several large rooms separated by open doorways.

The first large room contained dozens of treadmills, elliptical machines, bicycle machines, and other cardio-based workout systems. Rainbow Dash, dressed up in a tracksuit and wearing earbuds in her ears, rode on one of the bicycles, pedaling away at max speed. “Oh, there you guys are!” she said, waving as she tapped a control on the machine’s console. “Where’d you come from?”

I pointed towards the door behind the front desk. “Access corridor. Goes all the way up to the cabins.”

“Neat!” Rainbow Dash slowed the speed on her bike just long enough to take a swig from a water bottle, then sped back up. “I just couldn’t resist hopping on this as soon as I saw it. Can you believe it? We finally have a proper place to exercise! No more laps around the promenade. You can listen to music and everything.” She jerked her thumb over towards a treadmill in the corner, where Fluttershy, also clad in a tracksuit, walked at an easy pace. “Even Shy’s getting some in.”

Fluttershy looked up and waved, smiling pleasantly at us. “Oh, hello Sunset, Adagio, Trixie… Diamond Tiara?” For just a moment, her cute little face scrunched up in confusion. Then she shook her head to clear it out and smiled again. “I like this place. It’s nice.”

“It’s a pretty good view,” Tiara said, nodding as she stared out the window at the moving ocean currents.

“Yeah, I’ll have to come down here myself sometime,” I said, my eyes on the ellipticals especially. I preferred them over treadmills.

“Maybe we all should,” Adagio seconded, flashing me an amused smirk. “We could make a party out of it.”

“Oh no,” Trixie objected, throwing out a hand. “No more parties. Trixie’s heart can’t take another ruined celebration!”

Adagio snickered and sauntered on towards the next room over, putting just a tiny bit of extra sashay in her hips, leaving Trixie glaring in her wake. Chuckling quietly to myself, I followed.

The next room, like the cardio room, had a large bank of windows showcasing the ocean, only this one was full of weight-lifting equipment. Racks of dumbbells in mass ranging from one pound all the way up to one hundred pounds lined one wall, next to a shelf full of free weights and barbells. A series of machines ranging from the usual bench press to a whole myriad of everything you could imagine, such as calf machines, leg extension, chest presses, cable crossover, and more. There were also a few incline benches and a small selection of other free weight equipment such as kettlebells, body bars, medicine balls, and others. In addition, there were a few standing sandbags with plenty of space around them for punching and kicking practice.

We found Rarity and Applejack whaling away at two of them, Applejack punching up a storm and Rarity screeching as she landed kick after kick on another in a series of smooth movements, followed up by arm and knee strikes and palm slams. Jeez, Rarity! I get you’re working out some of your anger, but holy shit! I do not want to mess with you. We wisely left them alone, not saying a word.

The next room was mostly empty space, containing a large open area lined with mats, presumably for dancing, martial arts, yoga, or other similar activities. A small shelf laying against the wall contained a series of assistance equipment, including jump ropes and resistance bands amongst others. This is where the larger rooms ended, though there was a door labeled “To Courts/Pool/Sauna” along the mirrored wall.

Opening that up we entered into a wide corridor, with rooms to either side exposed by glass walls. On the left was a combination basketball and volleyball court, complete with equipment for both laying on shelves in the corner. On the right was a squash court and a tennis court, also containing matching equipment. “Wow,” Tiara said, her eyes sparkling as she beheld the squash court. “I haven’t played squash since I got here. I’ve really gotten off my game.”

“You play squash?” Trixie inquired, arching both eyebrows. “Trixie didn’t think you did anything like that.”

“Of course I play squash,” Tiara replied with a roll of her eyes. “It’s healthy and fun. I also play badminton and croquet, but there’s never anything like that around in a place like this.”

Adagio pursed her lips and crossed her arms, nodding at Tiara, impressed. “Huh. I might have to take you up on that,” she said. “I’m a fan of squash too. It’s… invigorating.”

“Great! We can do that later though,” Tiara said. She pulled out her Monopad and shook it briefly. “I’ll text you later. We still have a lot to explore.”

As she and Trixie moved on towards the far door, Adagio hung back just long enough to whisper to me, “Maybe she’s not as bad as we thought?”

“I dunno,” I replied, scratching my chin. “She is being nicer. Could still be an act though.”

We moved on to the far door, and opened it up. “Well, the sign wasn’t lying,” I said as I took in the sight of a large in-door pool. While not as big as the one up on the bridge deck, this one still loomed larger than any pool you’d see in someone’s backyard. The setup was similar to one I’d seen in fitness centers elsewhere on land, with half the pool separated into lanes by colorful markers in shades of red, blue, and gold, while the rest lay open for free swimming. A single diving board rested at the far end, next to several smaller diving platforms for launching off. Surrounding the pool on all sides was a line of bleachers, up to three benches high, and scattered about were shelves of towels and other pool accoutrements, including water wings, pool noodles, and other floatation devices.

Trixie took a deep whiff of air, her nose wrinkling. “Wait. Shouldn’t this place smell like chlorine? Why doesn’t Trixie smell chlorine?”

I braced myself, and sure enough, Monoponi flashed into existence, flying above the pool like a hovering vulture waiting for a dying animal to pass away. “I would never allow my pool to be contaminated by chlorine!” he declared even as the other three let out varying cries of shock. He took one more lap then landed before us, his wings folding against his sides. “Chlorine hurts your skin! It burns your nose, your lungs. It dyes your hair even! Do you know what chlorine would do to this fabulous black and white coat of mine?”

“Then what do you use instead?” Tiara asked, recovering more quickly than Trixie or even Adagio. She seemed oddly calm given that she’d been terrified into submission by Monoponi barely two days ago. “Bromine?”

“No, no, no!” Monoponi furiously shook his head. His horn lit up and a small bottle labeled “Monoponified Swim Solution” appeared out of nowhere, held in his magic grip. “I use this! It’s PHMB, or polyhexamethylene biguanide.”

Trixie took several steps back and brushed down her ruffled cloak. “Poly-what?”

“It’s an antiseptic,” I answered, my vast store of random knowledge coming into play once again. Sometimes I wonder if I’m more of an egghead than Twilight is. “It’s used in a lot of applications, but one of them is as an alternative to chlorine for keeping pools clean. It’s expensive though.”

Monoponi shrugged, and with a quick blast from his horn the bottle vanished back into the aether. “Money is no obstacle to me!” he pronounced. “No expense spared! My passengers deserve only the best, and they’ll get the best!” With that, he disappeared.

“Hmph,” Adagio said, crossing her arms and glaring at the spot where he’d been standing. “Always the showoff.”

“He really is,” Tiara agreed with a frown. “Monoponi must be more loaded than even my Daddy to be able to afford all of this. Where does he get the resources from?”

“I doubt we’re going to find an answer to that anytime soon,” I said. I pointed to one side of the pool, which led down a narrow corridor with a sign labeled “Locker Rooms and Sauna” above it. “Come on.”

As we walked down the corridor, we found two offshoot rooms. One, with an all glass door, contained a hot tub and small wading pool, for relaxation, with darker mood lighting and colored lights shining up from the tub. The other, past a steel door with a large window, was a smaller wooden-paneled room lined with benches. The general dry, heated atmosphere confirmed this was the promised sauna. Interestingly, instead of steam vents, there were long glowing red rods in the walls visible between the gaps in the planks. Must be infrared, then. There was a temperature gauge set in the wall just outside the sauna door, albeit marked with a warning of “Do not adjust without crew consent.” The gauge contained a simple half circle marked in blue, green, yellow, and red, with smaller temperature numbers. Right now, the marker was set firmly in the green, at approximately one hundred twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit, but the gauge ran in a range from eighty-five degrees at the lowest in the blue all the way up to three hundred in the red.

“Woah,” I said as I looked over the gauge. “Don’t mess with that.”

“Why does it go so high?” Adagio asked as she scowled, poking at the display. “Wait, nevermind. Stupid question.”

As we moved on to the locker rooms, we found we had to scan our Monopads to get in. The doors only opened up one at a time, and closed behind us as soon as we walked through. The locker rooms contained the usual assortment of small lockers for valuables, showers, and toilets. Scootaloo was in the middle of dressing up in her own tracksuit. “Oh hey there,” she said, grunting as she zipped up the suit. “Pretty nice fitness center, huh?”

“It’s not bad,” I agreed. “What’re you up to, Scootaloo?”

She shrugged. “I figured I’d just go lift some weights. I could use the pick-me-up after…” she sighed, her body shrinking down as her eyes misted up. “After last night. Besides, I want to stay near Rarity and Applejack. I’m worried about both of them, especially Rarity.”

Tiara smiled at that, and clapped a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “That is very kind of you, Scootaloo,” she said as if she were delivering a pronouncement from on high. “I'm certain they’ll appreciate you watching out for them.”

“Heh, thanks,” Scootaloo said with a sad smile. “I just don’t want anyone else hurt, you know? We’ve lost too many people already. I don’t want to lose any more friends.”

“Good to hear,” Tiara said, slapping both hands on her hips so she could loom like the authority figure she purported to be. “Keep at it, Scootaloo. Keep them safe.”

With a squint of confusion Tiara’s way, Scootaloo gave a half nod then scurried out the other exit.

“So that’s it for the fitness center,” Adagio said as we followed Scootaloo out back into the main room. “What’s next?”

“This way,” I said, pointing towards the exit doors. “Might as well see where this leads.”

This, as it turned out, led out into another offshoot of the promenade, albeit this one much shorter than the last. To our left as we exited was a grand staircase split in two that ascended back up towards the library, theater, and game corner, with a glass elevator shaft in the middle for those who couldn’t be bothered or weren’t able to climb the stairs. Judging by the orientation the fitness center lay directly below the theater, which meant the door across the hallway led to the library. And sure enough, it was labeled as such, and briefly poking our heads into it confirmed it was the library’s second floor. We stayed just long enough to spot Twilight grimacing our way over a book before leaving.

Instead we headed further down this level of the promenade, though it terminated fairly quickly into yet another blank wall. On the same wall as the library was a smaller door, with a simple sign reading “Spa” above it. Tiara gasped happily, speeding for the door immediately. “Yeesssss,” she said as she threw it open.

Inside, we found a large circular room, sectioned off into smaller circular pods. The whole place used calm, quiet mood lighting, gentle music of chimes and bells playing over speakers. There was a center desk with a logbook where one could sign up for services, and a small sign stating “Currently self-serve: help yourself!”

Each pod contained a mixture of the expected spa services. One was lined with massage tables, which were crewed not by human therapists, but by robotic arms on stands. Flash Sentry, clad only in a towel, laid out on one, his face a picture of bliss as the machine did its work. I couldn’t help but snicker at the sight. “Enjoying yourself, Flash?” I said.

“Huh?” His eyes shot open. “Oh, uh, hey there, girls,” he said, letting out a sheepish laugh. “Yeah, I kinda needed this, after dealing with Twilight this morning. I dunno what’s got her in such a snit.”

“Is that machine as good at its job as it looks like it is?” Trixie asked, her eyes sparkling with delight. “Trixie does love a good massage.”

“It’s great,” Flash replied as he closed his eyes and settled his head down on the table. “Best massage I’ve ever had.”

“Well, we’ll leave you to it,” I said, still snickering.

The next pod contained chairs like what you’d see in any kind of nail salon, complete with robots ready to perform manicures and pedicures. Diamond Tiara leapt into one chair and tossed off her shoes and socks, leaning back and letting out a sigh as the machine got to work. “This is exactly what I needed,” she said as the machine gently laid a mask over her face, complete with twin circles of cucumber. “I’ve never seen one automated like this before, but I’ll take what I can get.”

“Do, uh, do you need us to stick around?” I asked, gesturing with my thumb. “Or should we keep exploring?”

“Go ahead,” Tiara said, waving us off with a kinder, gentler wave than her usual dismissal. “I’ll text everyone later so we can meet up and discuss what we’ve found. We’ll meet up at the food court around 1:30 or so.”

I took a quick peek at my Monopad, noting the time as 10:05. We’d already spent an hour wandering around, it seemed. “Alright. Have fun.”

“Um, Sunset, do you mind if Trixie goes ahead and gets a massage too?” Trixie asked, holding both fists up to her mouth. “Please?”

With a laugh, I waved her back towards the massage pod. “Sure.”

“Yes!” Trixie cried, throwing up her arms in delight. She sped off, ducking into the changing room at the back of the pod.

With just Adagio by my side now, we checked out the other pods. One held a cooling saltwater bath right next to a bubbling hot tub, another held chairs lined with ottomans for foot massages, and the last had a large mud bath and accompanying rinse showers. Pinkie Pie rested in the mud bath, her eyes dull, lacking any shine, her mouth twisted up into a sad frown. “Oh, hey,” she said, not even bothering to look our way. “This is a nice place, huh?” She spoke in a quiet, somber monotone, no energy to her words at all.

Seeing the poor girl so depressed didn’t just break my heart so much as take a sledgehammer to it and shatter it like a glass statue. “You okay there, Pinkie?” I asked, immediately regretting the stupid question. No, she’s not, obviously. Jeez, Sunset.

Pinkie shrugged, her arms raising up out of the mud with a schlup sound before smushing back down in a splat, spattering bits of mud everywhere. “I’m fine,” she said in the same tone. “Don’t mind me.”

My eyes watered as I clenched a fist, holding it to my chest. “I’m sorry, Pinkie,” I replied quietly, choking back a sob. “I’m sorry for what this place has done to you.”

That got Pinkie to look up at me, cocking her head. “It’s not your fault, Sunny,” she said. “It’s that big ol’ meanie Monoponi. He did this to us. I just…” she sniffled, a few tears dribbling down her cheeks. “I just wish Wallflower, Timber, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom were still alive. They didn’t deserve to die. None of us do.”

Adagio raised a hand as if to protest, then lowered it when I shot her a glare. “I suppose you’re right,” she groused.

“By the way,” Pinkie said, shifting in the pool, the mud sloshing. “I found something you should see. It’s behind the counter.” She pointed at the center desk.

Curious, I made my way over, finding what Pinkie mentioned laying in a small alcove. It was a picture, just like the one I’d found of myself, Trixie, and Wallflower, except… different.

It featured Rarity, Applejack, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom. They were sitting in a diner, plates of half-eaten food in front of them. Rarity and Sweetie Belle were both in the middle of laughing, as Applejack and Apple Bloom together appeared to be telling some kind of joke, both of them gesturing in strange ways.

“They knew each other,” Adagio breathed as she took the picture from me to look at it. “Just like you, Trixie, and Wallflower.”

“Looks that way,” I grunted, clenching a fist at my side. “Damn that Monoponi. He’s stolen so many happy memories from us.”

“Wait… Sunset, I think they were more to each other than just friends,” Adagio replied. She shoved the picture back in my face and pointed. “Look.”

I peered closer and my eyes widened in shock. Three of them were wearing rings on their ring fingers. Applejack and Rarity wore matching gold bands with a pair of small gemstones, one a purple sapphire, the other a deep orange topaz. Sweetie Belle also had a ring, but hers was silver, topped by a single pink tourmaline.“Holy… Applejack and Rarity were married?”

“Looks that way,” Adagio replied. “Sweetie Belle too, though not to Apple Bloom.” She took the picture back briefly and squinted, turning it over to look closer at Apple Bloom’s hands. “At least, I don’t think so.”

“It’d be pretty weird if she was,” I responded, frowning. “I mean, what’d be the odds of that even happening? Two sets of siblings marrying each other, I mean.”

Adagio let out a low laugh. “I’ve seen it happen, both in Equestria and here on Earth. It’s more common than you might think.” She looked back down at the picture. “I’ll bet that Sweetie Belle’s partner is the one taking the picture. There’s five plates on the table.”

“Good eye.” I took the picture back and slipped it into my pocket. “We should show this to Applejack and Rarity.”

Before I could move, Adagio’s hand shot out to grip my shoulder. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? This picture could cause a lot of problems.”

I brushed her hand off my shoulder and scowled. “I’m not going to hide it from them, Adagio. They have a right to know.”

“I’m not saying keep it quiet forever. Just for now.” Adagio shifted her weight onto one leg. “Trust me on this. I know negative emotions. You show this to them now, and one or both of them will be dead by tomorrow.”

Hmm. I guess she has a point. She’d know better than almost anyone, being a siren. “Alright,” I agreed, if reluctantly. “But we’re going to give it to them eventually.” I walked back over to Pinkie and filled her in. “You okay with that too, Pinkie?”

She nodded, her chin hitting the surface of the mud. “Uh huh. I figured you’d say that, when you saw it. I won’t say a word, I promise.”

“Alright then.” Leaving Pinkie to her mud bath in peace, I left the spa, Adagio following behind. “We’ve just got one more thing to check out.”

“Right, the staircase,” Adagio said.

We made for it, heading up the stairs two at a time. It rose slowly until the twin staircases turned around and rose up to meet up with the end of the promenade offshoot, depositing us right back outside the theater. There was an exit from the elevator here too. “Huh. Guess it just ends. Let’s try the elevator.”

We summoned it up to us and hopped inside. To my delight there were more than just two buttons. There was a keypad numbered one-through-five, with it currently hovering at two. I tried hitting one, but the elevator didn’t move. Hitting four or five likewise did nothing. It only responded to two, depositing us back down on the other floor.

“So much for that,” I groaned as we left the elevator. “Where do you think the rest go?”

Adagio snorted. “We’ll probably only find out when someone else dies. Or two.”

My heart sank at those words. I don’t want anyone else to die. Too many have died already. But she’s not wrong. Monoponi won’t let up on us now. If anything he’ll probably press us harder. And I’m worried. Very worried. So far he’s tried to set this up just like the games, and we’ve already had two trials. If things run true to form… we might end up with two victims this time.

God I hope that doesn’t happen.

Author's Note:

One of the things I had to do with this story is figure out where the friendships our characters had led them prior to the story's events, since they've aged up. Rarity and Applejack being married is one of the logical conclusions I came to, based upon a large number of factors, including the fact that Rollercoaster of Friendship was literally forty-five minutes of pure Rarijack fuel and you will never convince me otherwise.

Regarding Adagio: more of my headcanon on how sirens might work is on display here.

There are real automated spas like the one in this story. They're not as good as the ones in this story, but they don't have the advantage of working in a semi-magical environment.

I hope everyone has a Happy New Year! I'll see you next year, on Saturday, with Part Two. It'll be a fun time.:pinkiehappy:

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