• 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 3

Chapter Three:

A Maelstrom of Murder

Daily Life Part 3

Rain cascaded down on the deck in sheets, soaking me to the bone. Thunder boomed, bolts of lightning visibly surging through the clouds. My hands gripped the guard rail as I stared out over the churning ocean waves, watching them froth and writhe.

I was cold, utterly miserable, and I didn’t give a damn. The thought of hurling myself overboard to splatter against the waves over two hundred feet below me grew more and more appealing by the minute. It’d be quick, only the slightest rush of pain. The fall would take mere seconds. I wouldn’t have enough time to panic. No more fear, no more worry over this godforsaken killing game. Just sweet release into the oblivion of non-existence.

I was never much of a religious pony when I lived in Equestria. I never believed in an afterlife. After a week in this killing game, after watching Fluttershy be brutally murdered by Monoponi right in front of us, I’m wishing there was one after all. An innocent soul like that didn’t deserve to be snuffed out without a second thought. If anyone deserved paradise in the afterlife, it’d be her.

But I knew what she’d say, if she saw me contemplating my own demise. “Don’t do it, Sunset. It’s not your fault. I don’t blame you. If you jump, you’re only letting him win.” It was cliched as all hell, but I knew she was right.

So, with one more glance at the stormy sea, I trudged back to my cabin, dripping water the whole way. Once inside, I wasted no time stripping off and showering, warming myself up till I felt reasonably human again. Then I got out, dried my hair as fast as possible, and switched out for fresh clothes.

I returned to the promenade, seeking to drown my sorrows in a fresh helping of food. Comfort eating wasn’t something I did often, but something about this place drove me to it. Better than getting drunk, or high off of some kind of pharmaceutical. I wasn’t the only one. Rainbow Dash chowed down on a plate of tacos like every single one had Monoponi’s face on it. The poor woman had thankfully gotten herself up only a few minutes after Fluttershy died, but she remained completely unresponsive. She didn’t even look my way, so I gave her space.

No one else lingered. I didn’t blame them. Despite the magical barriers Monoponi threw over the damage, the scent of iron and copper clung to the air, alongside the sharp bite of cordite fumes. For most people, the smell was off-putting, revolting even. To me, it was almost comforting, in a way. It reminded me of long nights spent in my lab in Canterlot Castle, whipping up potions or testing new spells. It wasn’t exactly the same odor, but it was close enough for me to deal with it.

I took a quick look at my Monopad as I sat down with my food at the table furthest away from Dash. 8:35. Fluttershy died over two hours ago. Right after Monoponi left, Tiara’d ordered us all to leave, an order we were all too happy to oblige. I remembered Rarity, sobbing softly, fled with Applejack trailing after her. Flash looked ready to beat the shit out of the first person who got in his way, and stomped down towards the fitness center to do just that to a punching bag. Adagio went back to her guard post, Trixie skedaddled to the library, and Scootaloo tried for ages to get Rainbow Dash to talk to her before she left. Pinkie Pie, I don’t even know where she ran off to, but the first chance she got she was gone.

I was the only one who wandered out onto the bridge deck, the storm having already dropped its first load of rain. I stood out there for only Celestia knew how long before I left to shower.

As I stuffed a forkful of food into my mouth, my Monopad dinged. I checked it, and sure enough Tiara had sent me a text, asking me to meet her down at the squash court. After forwarding that to both Adagio and Trixie so they’d know where I went, I told Tiara I’d come along. I ate swiftly, then headed down to meet her.

I found Tiara already inside the court, smashing a ball back and forth against the wall. “I’m here,” I announced, staying far to the side so she wouldn’t hit me by mistake. “What’s up?”

Tiara spun on her heel like a pinwheel, slamming the ball with her racket one more time before letting it bounce to a halt. “Sunset, I... “ She tossed her racket to the ground, and sat down on the bench next to the glass wall. “Sit with me, please.”

I took a seat next to her, studying her. Her eyes were red and puffy, like she’d been crying. Twin tear stains on her face confirmed that. As I watched her collect herself I saw her squeezing her right hand into a fist over and over, her left leg tapping constantly on the floor. “Are you okay, Tiara?” I asked.

“No. No, I’m not,” she replied, her mouth twisting up into a frown reminiscent of her usual sneer. “Fluttershy shouldn’t have died. Her death, that was…” she took a deep breath and let it out all at once, her whole body shaking. “I thought Timber and Sweetie’s executions were bad. This was a whole other level of messed up.”

“Yeah it was.” The guilt welled up from within me like a punctured oil well, threatening to burst. “I feel like it was my fault.”

“What?” Tiara favored me with a disbelieving frown. “Why? You didn’t steal the ring. Fluttershy did.”

“But that’s just it. Fluttershy was only in there because I told her to go in there. I suggested she get Pinkie Pie a gift of some kind to cheer her up.”

“Oh.” Diamond Tiara cocked her head to one side, then nodded. “Still not your fault though.”

A dry chuckle escaped my lips. “Funny to hear you of all people saying that.”

“Like I told you, I’m trying to change.” Tiara, sighing, bent over and rubbed her forehead with her thumb and index finger. “If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine. I’m the one trying to be our leader. I should’ve done more to cheer Pinkie myself. Maybe if I’d gone in there with them I could’ve kept Fluttershy from stealing.”

“Maybe.” I leaned back against the wall. “I don’t get it though. Why would she steal a ring? There’s no point to it. It’s not like we have to pay for these things. All we have to do is scan them.”

Tiara shrugged. “Who knows? Not like we can ask her now.”

No. We can’t. Monoponi stole her away from us. The others he executed, they at least did something wrong. Fluttershy, though, I refuse to believe she was anything but innocent. So if she was innocent, what if…? “Maybe someone planted it on her.”

“What?!” Tiara whirled on me, eyes agog. “But the only other person in there was Pinkie Pie! What’re you saying, that Pinkie planted it on her to get her killed? Pinkie would never do something like that!”

“I guess that’s a good point,” I admitted.

“Besides, if she had, Monoponi would’ve considered it murder. But we’re not investigating, are we?” Tiara inquired, a trace of her old mocking smugness dancing on her face. “He said Fluttershy broke the rules. So she’s the one who stole the ring.”

Ugh. She’s right. What was I thinking? “You’re right. Sorry. It just seemed like it might make sense.”

Tiara snorted in derision. “Yeah, as if. Maybe if someone like Adagio or Trixie were in there with them, they--”

“Hey!” I sat up straight. “Adagio and Trixie are my friends. Don’t accuse them of that crap!”

“Tch…!” Diamond Tiara edged away from me, her expression rippling with irritation. “...fine. Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

I relaxed, resuming my leaned back posture. “Apology accepted.” She’s trying. She’s really trying. I can’t believe it, but she’s trying.

Tiara let out a breath I hadn’t realized she was holding. “Thank you.”

“So what’d you originally call me here for, anyway?”

“Oh!” Tiara snapped her fingers. “Right, right. I uh, ehehe, this is a little hard to talk about…” Her face bloomed as her mouth spread into a sheepish grin. Huh. When she looks like that, she’s actually kind of cute. Weird. “I know it’s hard to trust me, because of how I treated you.”

I made a gesture with my hand. “Go on.”

“Well, you see… I thought that maybe if I told you my secret, you might… trust me more?” Her sheepish grin grew into a full-teeth smile as she tapped her index fingers together, her eyes darting about.

“Your secret?” That’s right. The only secret that ever came out during Sweetie Belle’s trial was my own. No one else’s. I didn’t even get a chance to bring up Trixie’s with her. I still want to talk to her about that. Maybe I can get her on the subject without revealing anything. The rule against sharing is still on the books, and now we know just how willing to enforce the rules Monoponi is. But Tiara didn’t receive her own, since no one else did, so… “Are you sure that's a good idea? What if Monoponi--”

Tiara let out a quiet little laugh. “No, Sunset, I don't mean the one he gave me. I mean mine. What I think my personal secret is, anyway.”

I relaxed a tad, nodding. "But how do you know what it is?"

Diamond Tiara shrugged, her face heating up. "I don't. But this is one I'd never share with anyone, sooooo yeah." She blew a sigh out through her teeth. "Are you gonna listen, or not?"

Sure seems hard for her to talk about. I patted her shoulder reassuringly. “Alright. Go ahead.”

She bit her lip, glancing at my hand like she wanted to bat it away, then refocused on me. “Okay, so, do you remember a few days ago? The morning of the pool party?”

“Vividly,” I said, my words dripping with sarcasm. Great, she’s bringing this up. “Why?”

“Ahehehe, so, um… I slapped you. Because you called me a, uh… a bitch.”

“I remember.” My eyes flashed with ire, my right hand curling into a fist. “Why are you bringing this up?”

Letting out a wordless yelp, she backed away, her arms coming up to protect her face. “Look I know it hurt I’m sorry but I promise I’ve got a good reason!”

With a roll of my eyes, I uncurled my fist. “Just tell me already, then.”

She nodded, whimpering. “So, I don’t know if you know anything about my family, but the Rich’s are, well, rich. We’re wealthy. We’re important. My mother especially. She’s influential in the state legislature, always doing her best to pass new, more favorable laws for people like us.”

And screw over everyone else in the process. Gross. “Okay, but what does that--”

She held out a hand. “Let me finish. Please.” She took a slow, deep breath, let it go, then continued. “To my family, image is everything. We have to be refined, astute, elegant, chic. We have to be the best of the best.” She sniffed, choking back a sob. “Mother, she… one of her hobbies is raising dogs. She raises them in litters, abusing them, rearing them to be vicious, ugly killers. You know how she does it? She does it by making them fight. She keeps one to be a mother, for the next go around and makes the rest fight as much as possible. If there’s ever any runts? They barely live a few weeks. She makes them eat the bodies.”

My jaw fell open. “That’s sick! What is wrong with her?”

Tiara spread out her hands and sighed. “That’s not the worst part. The worst part is… she tried to raise me the same way. She’d insult me, berate me all the time, say I was… a worthless bitch. She wanted me to be as vicious and mean as she was.”

Well. She probably succeeded more than you’d care to admit. Still… “No wonder you reacted the way you did. I pushed a pretty big button there, didn’t I?”

“Yeah. You did.” Tiara scratched the back of her head and shrugged. “I guess I should count myself lucky. It could’ve been worse. If I hadn’t been an only child, she might’ve--”

“Oh, no, no way,” I interrupted, sweeping a hand through the air. “Come on. Dogs are one thing, but you can’t honestly expect me to believe your mom would be evil enough to make you kill your siblings.”

“I wish I could say for sure.” Tiara’s whole body slumped, her expression melancholy and bleak.

To my surprise, I found myself actually offering her a comforting hug. She rolled her eyes, but accepted it, falling into my arms. She stank of sweat, dripping it all over my fresh clothes. She withdrew after a minute or so. “Thanks,” she muttered through gritted teeth.

It’s okay to accept hugs Tiara, but I won’t push it. “You’re welcome.”

She hopped to her feet, snatched up her racket, and went back to playing squash with great intensity. “I’d like to be alone now, please,” she said, not looking back at me.

I obeyed and left. Not wanting to get all sweaty and have to shower again, I meandered about the ship, letting my thoughts roil. How I was still coping as anything other than a comatose mess from all the death we witnessed, I had no idea. Rarity and Applejack were barely holding it together. Rainbow Dash was still completely out of it in the food court. Pinkie Pie… what little chance there’d been to cheer her up was long gone now. Everyone else stewed like we were all vegetables in a slow cooker, constantly under tension but without any one thing breaking us.

In my case, I think the only things keeping me going were Trixie and Adagio. I knew I could count on them, rely on them to be there for me. They kept me afloat like a life jacket. If I were to lose either of them… god, I’d probably just fall over like Applejack and Rainbow Dash, only I wouldn’t get up again.

Maybe the other thing keeping us going was survival instincts. At our core, we still had our basic needs met. Food, water, shelter, air, none of those were in danger. Yet. So psychologically speaking, without those being threatened, there was still some level of safety, at an instinctual level.

Maybe. I dunno. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t really know anything about this shit.

DING-DONG BING-BONG

I jumped in fright, but it was just the nighttime announcement. Not that dreaded body discovery alarm. I swear, even if I lived through this I’d have years stripped from my life thanks to the stress.

As I traipsed about the ship I found myself at the spa. Despite the late hour, the systems thrummed, ready to go for any one of us who came by. The quiet music still played, relaxing and soothing.

On a whim I decided to go sit down for one of the foot massages, stripping off my socks and boots in a hurry. A part of me expected the robotic massage chair to spit out white-gloved hands like something out of a cartoon. Instead it used a combination of pistons and pressers, a feat of engineering that left me feeling a little giddy. The massage was good too, leaving me melting in my chair. No wonder Flash and Trixie felt so good afterwards.

But this was just it, I realized. With things like this around, this is how he kept us from going insane. This is how Monoponi kept us just stable enough to cope and move on after every death. Little luxuries to ease the soul. The proverbial bread and circuses, to placate the masses.

My Monopad bleeped insistently at me. I checked it, finding I’d been ignoring several texts from Trixie and Adagio demanding to know where I was. “I’m fine, girls,” I muttered to myself as I tapped out a reply.

I didn’t want to go back via that creepy access corridor, so I made my way up the grand staircase instead. As I passed by the food court, Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen. Hope you got back to your cabin, Dash.

I did, however, catch sight of a mass of straight-as-a-board pink locks disappearing around the corner, toward the cabins. Curious, I upped my pace, and just missed seeing Pinkie enter her cabin and close the door behind her. She had something in her grasp, some kind of tote bag. What the... isn’t she supposed to be guarding the stairwell tonight?

But before I could knock on her door and ask, Adagio burst out of my cabin. “There you are!” she hissed, her face contorted with frustration. She stomped over and with one quick swipe snatched me up by the torso and whisked me inside.

Trixie leapt up from the bed, thankfully dressed in tasteful sky blue silk pajamas. Though where she got them from, I had no idea. Maybe the spa had some? “Sunset!” she squeaked. “Where have you been? Trixie has had to make conversation with Adagio for nearly an hour!”

“A tragedy, I’m sure,” Adagio snarked, glaring at the illusionist before turning her gaze to me. “Sunset, why weren’t you answering your texts? We thought something happened to you. Again!”

“I…” Shame welled up inside me. God damn it. I did it again, didn’t I? “I didn’t mean to--”

Adagio silenced me, not with a slap as I’d feared she might, but with a tight embrace, and a kiss, cool and gentle, so unlike the fiery passion she usually displayed. It was over in a heartbeat as she drew back, eyes burning like fire. “You can’t keep doing this,” she said, her tone full of fear so naked I was shocked she’d be this open with anyone else nearby, let alone Trixie. “Y-you can’t, okay? A-after Fluttershy, after what we saw… I…”

I drew Adagio into my arms and held her tight. She buried her head into my shoulder like a giant puffball returning home to roost. I felt more than heard her sobbing, her tears staining my shirt. “I’m sorry,” I whispered into her ear. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She snorted, messily spilling snot on my shirt as she reached up and beat me on the arm with a fist. “Don’t do it again,” she growled. “I can’t take it.” She drew back from my hold, fixed me with one final glare, then stomped off to the bathroom to wash her face.

Trixie took the opportunity to spring her own hug on me. “Trixie agrees with Adagio, you know,” she said as she held me. “You can’t keep scaring us. What if you’re ambushed? Or worse, what if Monoponi decides you broke some stupid rule?”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” I said, giving her a squeeze. “Just, when Fluttershy died, I… I thought it might’ve been my fault. Because I told her to go to the jewelry store with Pinkie, you know? So after meeting up with Tiara, I was… meandering.” I chose not to mention what Tiara told me. It was her secret, not mine.

Trixie shivered violently, almost knocking me off my feet in the process. “Trixie doesn’t understand how you’re responsible for what Fluttershy chose to do.”

“Tiara said that too,” I said, leading Trixie over to the bed so she could sit down. The poor woman kept vibrating like an old style ringing alarm clock. “Are you okay?”

“Trixie is very anxious,” she muttered through chattering teeth. “Trixie… I’m terrified Monoponi will decide I’ve broken a rule next. I don’t want to be shot to pieces!”

At least it was quick, unlike Timber and Sweetie Belle. “I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about there, Trixie.”

“I don’t?!” Trixie shook so hard she fell off the bed, thankfully missing clocking her head on the desk by mere inches. She curled up into a fetal position. “B-b-b-but Monoponi keeps y-yelling at me a-all the time and I--”

“Hey. Hey.” I knelt down so I could stroke her back. “Hey. You’re going to be fine, I promise.”

Adagio emerged from the bathroom and glared at the collapsed Trixie. “Really.” She rolled her eyes and dropped to her knees beside me. “Trixie, you’re fine,” she groused. “Get up.”

Trixie’s nose wrinkled as she frowned up at the siren. “Don’t order Trixie around!”

“Well get up then,” Adagio fired back, one hand squeezing like she ached to put it around Trixie’s throat.

Trixie saw that, meeped, and shot up to a sitting position against the bed. “Sorry!”

Adagio blinked. “What…” She looked down at her hand, scowling at it. She forced it to uncurl. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to threaten you.”

Trixie relaxed, if only just. “It’s okay. Trixie knows you have anger problems.”

The siren broke into a full-throated belly laugh.

After that, we settled in for the night. Adagio and Trixie seemed a bit more at ease with each other, less tense. At least, neither of them tried to strangle each other in their sleep. The night passed quickly, and I awoke to the morning announcement as usual.

Even getting dressed and ready went more easily. Adagio had no problem letting Trixie go first, and Trixie was in and out before I could blink. “Did you two, like, bond last night or something?”

“Something like that,” Trixie snickered.

We made our way to breakfast. Thankfully, the smell had gone away overnight, as had most of the damage, though there were still patches of crimson forcefield. The mood this morning was even worse than yesterday, not so much grim as downright wallowing in black sludge. Anxiety and worry oozed between us like slime through cracks in a wall. Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen. Flash and Twilight sat at opposite ends of the food court, with Twilight refusing to look Flash’s way while Flash stared mournfully at her. Applejack and Rarity, naturally, were on guard duty, per their texts. Scootaloo sat near Diamond Tiara, both chewing quietly.

Pinkie Pie drooped over her table, a goofy smile on her face. Her forkful of eggs hung loose in her hand, and as she raised it to her mouth she missed a couple of times before she got it in. Her pupils were oddly dilated, given the bright light of the food court. “Heeey,” she said, waving at us and giggling. “What’s up?”

“Uh, not much?” I said, sharing a confused look with Trixie and Adagio.

Pinkie dropped her fork to her plate. Her happy smile flipped to an ugly, gross frown. “Not much? Not much?!” She slammed a fist on her table, sending her fork clattering to the floor. “Fluttershy died yesterday, and you call that not much?!”

“Woah!” I took a couple steps back, my hands shooting up in surrender. “I didn’t say anything about Fluttershy. Cool it.”

“Oh.” Pinkie’s frown flipped back to the goofy smile as she scooped up her fork and tossed the fallen eggs into her mouth, carpet fuzz and all. “Okie dokie loki.”

Utterly nonplussed, I shuffled away to collect a breakfast tray. “What the hell was that?” I whispered to Adagio and Trixie as we made our selections.

Trixie spun one finger next to her head. “Trauma. Or she’s high. Trixie doesn’t know which.”

“High off what?” Adagio inquired as she collected her seafood salad.

I glanced back at Pinkie, watching the girl fall over face first into her plate. “I dunno. I thought I saw her with something last night as I was coming back.” My face fell as I let out a bitter sigh. “Probably feeling just as guilty as I am.”

“Eh.” Adagio shrugged as we sat down at a table together. “Her choice.”

As soon as we sat down, Diamond Tiara stood up, tapping a spoon to her glass. “Alright everyone, listen up. I know we lost someone last night, and it’s been rough on all of us. Even me.”

“Wasn’t just rough,” Scootaloo scowled. “It was complete bullshit. Fluttershy didn’t deserve that.”

“Yeah for real,” Flash agreed, taking his gaze away from Twilight. “We should have, like, a moment of silence or something for her.”

“I’ll agree to that,” I said, bowing my head. I saw out the corner of my eye that even Twilight acquiesced. She was whispering a soft prayer under her breath. Fluttershy, I’m sorry. You know I’m sorry. I hope that, if there is an afterlife, you’re resting there peacefully, with all the animal friends you could ever want.

“So,” Diamond Tiara said after giving us a few moments, “we need to change the guard schedule. There’s… there’s a gap, now.” She brought out her notebook. “I’m looking for people to volunteer to take the extra shift.”

“I’ll do it,” Scootaloo said immediately. “I don’t have much else to do around here, so I’ll take up her spot. She was supposed to patrol today, right?”

“She was,” Tiara nodded. “That’ll be fine for today. I’ll write that down.”

We took some time splitting off the schedule so each of us took one of Fluttershy’s shifts over the next week or two, all except for Rainbow Dash. “Where is she, anyway?” I asked once we finished.

“She’s in her cabin,” Twilight replied, her voice, though still cold, oddly tinged with a hint of sorrow. “I watched her go in last night after our guard shift. She conked out in a hurry.”

“I knocked on her door this morning,” Scootaloo added, shaking her head. “She uh, she screamed at me to leave her alone, so…”

“Well at least she’s alive,” Flash groused as he went back to his coffee.

DING-DONG BING-BONG

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Scootaloo cried, throwing up her hands.

Monoponi’s image popped onto the screens. His table was back in one piece, albeit with a comically large x of duct tape holding it together, and paper plates with fresh food scattered about it rather than the usual fine porcelain. “Goooood morning, my lovely passengers! Please report to the bridge deck. I’ve got something extra special for you today!”

“Oooh, I like special!” Pinkie blurted as she hopped to her feet. She sped out in a hurry, stumbling every so often.

Adagio took one last bite of her salad, then calmly set her fork down. “So. New motive time?”

“New motive time,” I agreed with an unhappy nod.

“Here we go again,” Trixie moaned, doubling over with her arms hanging loosely as she walked, somehow keeping her hat on.

Together we all followed Pinkie, arriving at the bridge deck with little fanfare. The slick metal, still wet from last night’s rain, made for uneasy footing. Fresh storm clouds beckoned on the horizon, threatening to inundate us in a deluge at any time. Our anxiety only grew, now churning with a revolting scent, like boiling sewage. Rainbow Dash stomping into the crowd, her face twisted up in anger, her fists gripping so tight the knuckles turned white only added to the uneasy atmosphere. I kept my distance from her.

Monoponi wasted no time sauntering out the tower door to the balcony, humming a jaunty tune. “Oh!” he said as he spotted us, a big grin plastered on his muzzle. “There you are. How’re you all doing this fine morning, hmm?”

“Shut up!” Rainbow Dash bellowed, her voice raw and hoarse. “No one wants to hear it. Just tell us the motive already and then beat it!”

Reeling back, Monoponi’s grin flipped into a nasty snarl. “So. That’s how it’ll be, is it? I give you all a warning, I teach you a lesson about respect, and what do you take away from it? Nothing! Outrageous! Unacceptable!”

“What part of--”

“Be quiet!” Monoponi thundered, his horn lighting up to summon several bolts of lightning and a painfully loud peal of thunder. Rainbow Dash shut her mouth at once, her whole body shaking with rage. “Do you want to join your precious Fluttershy in the grave that badly? Hmm?! Because I won’t hesitate to execute you for treason if you keep up this disrespect! I am your Captain! Act like it!”

For a moment, as I watched the mixture of emotions coursing through Rainbow, I feared she’d provoke him further. But she was no more suicidal than I was, so she backed off. “Yes, sir,” she hissed.

“Better,” he said, slapping a hoof to his mouth. “Upupupu. Now then! As I said over the intercom, I have something very special for you! A brand new, one of a kind, never-before-used moooooootive!” He struck a pose as fireworks erupted above the tower. “Isn’t that exciting?”

“Oh boy, it sure is,” Scootaloo said with as much sarcasm as she could invest in it. “I can’t wait to hear it.”

I glanced Pinkie’s way, expecting her to either cheer or burst out crying, given her drug-induced state. But she said nothing. She just stood there, zonked out. Like she wasn’t paying attention at all. Good grief, Pinkie, what did you take? I hope you’re being safe with it… I was worried for her health. Last thing we needed was someone going on a drug-fueled rampage.

“For your motive,” Monoponi continued, grabbing my attention, “I’ll be presenting the blackened with a special, one of a kind offer. Upupupu…” His face split into a fresh toothy grin. “If the blackened successfully navigates the treacherous waters and stormy seas of the ship’s trial, they’ll be able to take a fellow passenger with them! That’s right, it’s two for the price of one!”

Whispers burst out amongst the crowd, several people glancing at each other in suspicion. Oh damn, I thought. I wouldn’t call this motive never-used by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an effective one. Imagine the accom-

“Is that it?” Flash interrupted my train of thought, facing Monoponi with crossed arms. “Nothing else? No catch?”

“Upupu eyahahahahahaa!” Monoponie burst out laughing, rolling on the balcony. “Oh Flash! You do have a sparkle of creativity after all!” The alicorn ignored the look of dark hatred Twilight shot his way. “Yes, you’re right, just taking a fellow passenger along isn’t very interesting, is it? Well, that’s not all there is to this motive!”

“M-more?” Trixie spluttered, shaking in her boots. “B-b-but what else could--”

Monoponi flashed out of existence to pop up right in Trixie’s face. The poor girl shrieked and leapt backwards, falling to the deck with a thud. Then he just as quickly teleported back to the balcony. “No interruptions!” he cried.

Tears streaming down her face, Trixie nodded even as she curled back up into a fetal position for protection.

“Ahahaha! So,” Monoponi continued, “there is indeed a very special catch to this motive. A requirement, if you will. After all, if I just let you loose with this motive, there’s nothing to stop you from breaking up into pairs! You’d kill each other in a heartbeat, and then we’d end up with far too many corpses in a hurry. No, no, no. Two caveats this time.”

I rushed over to Trixie and helped her back up to her feet. “Easy there,” I said quietly. “Try to stay calm. He won’t hurt you if you’re quiet.”

Trixie whimpered in response, nodding gratefully as she stood.

“The first!” Monoponi said, stretching out his white feathered wing. “No more than one victim is allowed! We have a count to keep on this ship, and we already screwed it up because someone couldn’t keep her grubby little paws to herself! It’s first come first served to this one, so we’d better not end up with two corpses this time!” He pointed a hoof squarely at me. “Yes, I was listening to your silly little conversation yesterday morning!”

“Great,” I said, rolling my eyes. “So there’s a limit. Fine. But what’s the other caveat?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Monoponi replied, his eyes flashing. He held up his black leather wing. “The second, is this. No accomplices! You have to do this by yourself! If you have an accomplice, they are disqualified from being your plus one. I know you idiots would leap at the chance to help each other, like the little friendship loving shits that you are. So I’m taking that away from you!”

That sent me reeling back, in complete shock. “Oh damn,” I whispered. “If we can’t have an accomplice, then…”

“That’s right!” Monoponi said, cackling with glee. “The only way you can take someone with you is if you don’t work together. You’ll just have to fool them along with everyone else at the trial. Won’t they be happy? Thrilled? Ecstatic?! I know I would be.” He let out a loving sigh. “Oh, just picture it! Someone so in love with me that they’d kill for me, and kill everyone else in the process! Ooohoohoo, it’s so wonderful!”

How many people are vulnerable to this motive? I considered Adagio and Trixie, then squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. No. They wouldn’t. They’re too smart. What about Flash? Or Twilight? They might not be happy with each other, but it’s possible. Anyone else? What about… uh oh.

I opened my eyes to look at Rarity and Applejack. The farmer had the seamstress firmly in her embrace, much like she’d been ever since the trial. Is it possible they’ve rekindled their relationship? Damn, I’m so glad I didn’t show them the picture now. Adagio was right.

I reached into my pocket, feeling the picture still inside. I’d made sure to keep it on me ever since we found it, so it wouldn’t get lost. Should I get rid of it? I shook my head. No, I can’t. They have a right to know. I just have to keep it safe for now. This motive isn’t that bad, at least, not now. Not after the people we’ve already lost.

“Is there anything else you need to tell us?” Diamond Tiara asked, stepping forward. Her bearing suggested she was demonstrating respect, but I caught sight of the middle finger she held just out of Monoponi’s sight, next to her hip. “Or is that all?”

“Actually, yes, there is,” replied the alicorn with a surprisingly thoughtful expression. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this so soon, buuut it’s too good to resist!” His horn lit up, and our Monopads all let out a bizarre bzzt sound, like we’d gotten a wrong answer on a game show or something. “Please check the rule section of your pads.”

I pulled mine out, switching it over to the rules straight away, expecting to see some other new restriction on us. Instead, to my surprise, something was actually missing. “The secrets rule,” I breathed. “It’s gone!”

“Got it in one, Sunset!” Monoponi twirled about till he struck the most ridiculous pose yet, standing on his rear hooves with his forehooves bent over his head, dancing back and forth in celebration. “You may now freely discuss each other’s secrets to your heart’s content! No need to keep that hatch battened down any longer, since it’s no longer a motive. Oooh, I can’t wait to see what happens next. Ta ta!” WIth that, he vanished in a flash of light.

“Alright, listen up everybody!” Tiara said, whirling on her heels to face us. She had her hands tucked behind her back, cutting a figure more akin to a military general than the elitist snob she’d been up until now. Then again, in Equestria there’s not much difference between the two. “I know Monoponi’s motives are always tempting, but we can beat this if we work together! We’re already working hard by taking shifts as guards. We’re becoming a team. To that end, I want to apologize, to all of you, for the way I’ve acted in the past. I’ve been a real jerk, and I want to make up for that, by keeping you all alive!”

Wow. She really is committed to turning over a new leaf. Taking a cue from her, I walked up to stand next to her and faced everyone. “Tiara’s right, guys. If weŕe going to get off this ship, we have to do it together! As a team. As friends.” I smiled and nodded to her, and though she looked a little bit flustered, she nodded back. Then I fired off a demanding look at Trixie and Adagio. Trixie hopped up to give her support right away, but Adagio took a moment before groaning and following suite.

“Excuse me,” Twilight spat, her words like a sword slicing apart our rising confidence. Memories of similar interventions from Wallflower flashed through my mind. “But as difficult as it is to believe Diamond Tiara of all people is trying to be inspiring, what makes you think any of us are going to listen to you, Sunset?”

“I dunno, I think they have a point,” Scootaloo intervened, getting up in Twilight’s face. “Maybe you don’t trust Sunset, but I do. Diamond Tiara and Sunset hate each other's guts. If they’re agreeing on something? We should probably listen.”

“Are we seriously going to argue about this?” Flash spoke up before Twilight could respond. “This is the same thing we did back when there were sixteen of us, and no one listened to Sunset then. Now there’s only eleven of us. We can’t afford to ignore her any longer. She’s right, Twilight.”

Twilight heaved a sigh, her cold gaze shattering like glass, stitching itself back together as melancholic acceptance. “I know she is. That’s not the point.” She walked right up to Flash, and raised her hand. But instead of the slap I’d expected, she caressed his face. “I just can’t trust her anymore, Flash. She lied to me. She lied to all of us.”

Flash opened up his arms, inviting Twilight in. After a moment’s hesitation, she sank into his embrace. “I know,” he said in a warm voice that banished the remnants of her icy winter’s chill. “No one’s asking you to. You don’t have to trust her to accept that she’s right.”

Twilight burst into tears. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I never should’ve--”

“Sssh, it’s okay.” He smiled down at her and gently kissed her forehead. “I forgive you.”

No one stopped them as the two walked off towards the cabins.

“So. Ah guess that happened,” Applejack commented with a shrug. Then she glowered at Tiara. “But Twi was right about one thing. Ah ain’t about to believe whatever fool thing you’re tryin’ ta pull on us. Ya can’t just change overnight. Ah dunno why Sunset’s giving you the benefit of the doubt, but you’re not gettin’ it from me.”

“Indeed,” Rarity agreed in a dark, nasty tone. “Applejack, I believe we were ‘on duty’ as Tiara would put it?”

“Right. Pardon.”

Tiara gripped one hand at her side, shaking with fury as the two walked off. “You… you…” she hissed. “I… am trying… my best!”

“Well, I’ll give you a chance,” Scootaloo said, slapping Tiara on the shoulder and smiling.

Wincing, Tiara rubbed at her shoulder and grimaced. “Uh, thanks. I think.”

That just left Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie… or maybe just Dash. Pinkie was nowhere to be seen. She must’ve wandered off without us noticing. Rainbow, on the other hand, stood silently, staring at the deck. Her eyelids fluttered, her breathing fast and shallow. Her lips moved, breathing silent words I couldn’t make out. Poor Rainbow. She needs her space. We should give it to her.

Diamond Tiara, unable to read my thoughts, strode up to Rainbow before I could object. “Hey, Rainbow Dash,” she said calmly, trying out a smile that she probably thought was sympathetic. “I know it’s been rough, losing Fluttershy, but--”

Rainbow Dash whirled on her, shoving her away. “Don’t,” she hissed. “Just. Just don’t. Leave me alone.”

Tiara stumbled backwards, falling over with a yelp. I caught her just before she hit the ground. “Hey!” she protested after getting back to her feet. “That was uncalled for.”

In response, Rainbow Dash copied one of Tiara’s favorite moves, flipping her a double bird. She stomped off in the direction of the promenade, probably heading for the fitness center.

“Let her go,” I said, grabbing hold of Tiara’s shoulder before the younger woman could move. “She needs time.”

“Grrrr…” Tiara huffed. “Fine. Look, we’re done here everybody.”

Author's Note:

Everyone's just a bit more wound up after Fluttershy's death, aren't they? Just like my readers. :rainbowlaugh: (But seriously I love you all you're all the best. :heart:)

Yes, Spoiled Rich's dog training habit is a reference to Aunt Marge from Harry Potter. I was of mixed feelings about Spoiled Rich when she was revealed during Crusaders of the Lost Mark(because it gave DT an easy out for being a bully), but that was also the last piece of characterization DT ever received. So I decided that Spoiled's human counterpart would, naturally, be worse than her Equestrian self, with some extra flaws. Like training dogs to defend their estate. Or giving her daughter a complex over a word she's going to hear all the time.

If it seems strange that Rainbow Dash would choose to comfort eat right near where Fluttershy died, it's because, in her mind, she's showing a particular kind of loyalty by staying near the site of her death. It's completely irrational and ridiculous, but hey, that's what trauma does to a mind.

Next time: part four!

EDIT: Due to confusion about what secret Tiara shared, I have edited the chapter to make things clearer. To be precise: she did not tell Sunset what the secret Monoponi gave her was. She shared something from her past that she suspected was the secret about her given to someone else. She does not know if this is her secret, nor did she break the rules. Sorry for any confusion! :twilightblush:

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