• Published 24th Oct 2020
  • 3,962 Views, 1,561 Comments

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!

  • ...
14
 1,561
 3,962

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter Six: Dead in the Water Part 2

Chapter Six
Dead in the Water
Trial Part 1

Fact #1: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment: “A torn piece of paper detailing thoughts of the mastermind, with the following entries:
‘These morons aren’t using their Monopads right! Why aren’t they texting?’
‘Flash and Twilight Sparkle are romantically involved. This could be a big problem.’
‘What the hell was wrong with Timber? Why couldn’t he have drugged Wallflower right? Why did he make such a stupid note?!’
‘Woah. Sunset and Adagio? That could be an even bigger problem! I’m going to need a new photo for after the third trial. I can’t risk the siren finding out who took her magic now. I need Sunset alive.’
‘Way to leave it to the last second, Apple Bloom! I thought I was going to lose Sunset there for a second.’”

Fact #2: Video Game Case: “A case for a video game entitled ‘Tirek’s Revenge.’ It features a large red centaur on the box art.”

Fact #3: Ship Picture: “A picture of a blurred out figure standing on the bridge deck of the ship, appearing to give out instructions to a group of workers, all of whom seem to be hypnotized in some way as they work on installing weapons. Several boxes carried in the photo are listed as ‘property of QGT corporation.’”

Fact #4: Harmony of the Horizons Informational Pamphlet: “A short guide on the Harmony of the Horizons, the largest cruise ship ever built. Constructed in 2010 by RECL, it boasts a massive six thousand passenger capacity and a thrilling assortment of amenities, ranging from on-board sky-diving, go-kart racing, and ice skating, to a gorgeous promenade laden with massive shops and restaurants automated for passenger convenience. For the more selective, private passengers there are also a substantial number of private dining facilities located near the stern. Spa and fitness facilities aboard are top notch, unparalleled by any other modern cruise ship. For the intellectuals it also features a fully stocked three floor library with plenty of coverage on any subject one could desire, even for those who need to brush up during a break from their education. There is also a large museum which switches out its subject on a yearly basis, and is expected to feature AUSA as its focus in 2020. And for those who are spiritually inclined, the ship includes a large house of worship with facilities prepared for every major and most well-known minor faiths.”

Fact #5: Internet News Article Printout: “A printout of a news article from a website that states in January of 2020 the Harmony of the Horizons was taken out of commission by the company due to ‘undisclosed issues’ and will return to service in late 2021 after major renovations are completed.”

Fact #6: Wallflower Picture: “A picture depicting Wallflower Blush using some sort of mysterious magical stone artifact on Sunset Shimmer, in front of Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack.”

Fact #7: Apple Bloom’s Monopad: “Apple Bloom’s Monopad. Applejack refuses to divulge its contents.”

Fact #8: Sweet Apple Acres Invoices. “A series of invoices from Sweet Apple Acres to RECL for bulk orders of various crops and artisan goods. Each one is signed by Applejack Apple.”

Fact #9: Black Book: “A list of contacts, phone numbers, names, and associations for Rarity Belle’s boutique. Listed amongst the contacts is information for all sixteen passengers that were involved in the Killing Game. Several other names are blanked out, but are listed as associated with the RECL corporation.”

Fact #10: Party Invitation: “An invitation to a party being thrown by Sunset Shimmer. Several words are blacked out with marker. It reads: ‘You’re invited! Come down to Salami Slice’s Pizza on [censored] at [censored] to celebrate the birthday of Sunset Shimmer’s friend, [censored.] This is a surprise party so don’t spill the beans!’
In smaller text near the bottom it reads: ‘Be sure to keep this invitation: a raffle will be held. One lucky winner will [censored.]’ The raffle portion is missing from the invitation.”

Fact #11: Fact Sheet: “A sheet listing the magical talents of seven people. Four of the entries are blacked out. The three that remain are:
Rarity Belle: Gemstone Manifestation
Applejack: Super Strength
Sunset Shimmer: Mind Reading.”

Fact #12: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment #2: “A torn piece of paper detailing thoughts of the mastermind, with the following entries:
‘That damned map tracking was the biggest mistake I ever made. They’re not supposed to use it that way! I’m taking it away after this trial.’
‘Why do they keep bending the rules?! That’s it. If anyone breaks a rule I’m going to execute them. I’m sick of this. They need to learn proper respect for me!’
‘Fluttershy! Fucking Fluttershy! Why the hell was it Fluttershy? I need to review the security footage. Something doesn’t feel right.’
‘I knew it! I knew it I knew it I knew it! They used me! I’m going to have to change the motive. I can’t risk messing up the count. I need five survivors, damn it.’”

Fact #13: Princess Twilight Piece: “An Equestrian magazine article, dated for two years ago, about Princess Twilight’s life, complete with pictures, detailing her birth in Canterlot as a unicorn, her transformation as an alicorn, and her original coronation as a lesser Princess. It goes on to detail her coronation as Princess of Equestria, describing it as a tumultuous event that brought together races from all over to defeat three villains and imprison them in stone. It also describes rapid physical changes she’s undergone since that cause her to resemble Princesses Luna and Celestia.”

Fact #14: Equestrian Tome: “A decrepit, ancient Equestrian tome written in High Ponish that speaks about an artifact known as the Memory Stone that can affect memories. Few details are discernable, however it does mention the artifact leaves a strong, permanent imprint of its power on the minds of those it affects.”

Fact #15: Friendship Picture: “A picture of a younger alicorn Princess Twilight Sparkle, standing next to a unicorn copy of herself that wears glasses and a pegasus Rainbow Dash with her wings draped down. They are smiling and waving at the camera.”

Fact #16: RECL Factbook Pages: “A few pages scanned from a factbook on the RECL corporation. RECL, or Regal Equine Cruise Lines, was founded in 1952 as a subsidiary of QGT, Quality Guns and Technologies, a major military-industrial contractor focused on naval arms and armaments and other naval technologies during the First and Second Great Wars. RECL was founded by the company as a spin-off for civilian applications of naval technologies and tourism, and today is the largest and most profitable cruise line company in the world. Though no longer a subsidiary of its parent corporation, RECL maintains close ties to QGT, and frequently do business together. The pride and joy of the RECL corporation is the Harmony of the Horizons, the single largest cruise ship ever constructed, debuted in 2010 with state of the art robotics and automation involved in every aspect of its amenities, allegedly sourced from QGTs advancements in robotic engineering.”

Fact #17: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment #3: “A torn piece of paper detailing thoughts of the mastermind with the following entries:
‘Nonononono! How did I miss some of her magic? How?! This is a disaster.’
‘Everything is going wrong. I need to make sure Twilight dies. If I kill Twilight I can fix it.’
‘Time for the backup motive. Maybe I can get the farmer to kill the marshmallow and get it back on track.’
‘I do not believe this. Flash! Flash, you idiot! Oooooh I’m not letting you get away with this you stupid little shit!’
‘That’s it. Sunset stood up to me one too many times. She’s too inspirational. She could ruin everything. I’m throwing out the plan. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m tired of dealing with her. She dies. And I know I can get the siren to do it.’
‘That useless excuse for a magician saw everything! I’ll need to make an appearance. Maybe I can salvage this.’”

Fact #18: Youth Center Logbook Page: “A torn, weathered page from the Canterlot Youth Center logbook, detailing a list of sign-in names, and times. Scootaloo’s name is signed on multiple entries for various dates.”

Fact #19: Youth Center Pamphlet: “A pamphlet for the Canterlot Youth Center, explaining it is a place for youngsters of all ages up to eighteen to hang out, make friends, and participate in healthy activities, and asking those interested to become a sponsor for said youth, taking on the role of an older sibling figure.”

Fact #20: Danganronpa Pictures: “A series of three pictures depicting Sunset Shimmer with another individual. The pictures are censored, making determining the identity of the other person impossible. In each one, Sunset and the person are playing a Danganronpa game, a different game in each picture. The pictures are timestamped, dated to March, April, and May of 2020.”

Fact #21: Elements of Harmony, A Reference Guide, Updated Edition: “A guide to the Elements of Harmony, describing them as the six virtues of Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, and Friendship, also known as Magic.”

Fact #22: Typewritten Plans: “A set of typewritten plans for a Killing Game involving Sunset Shimmer and her friends. According to the plan, the cases were to occur as follows:
Trial 1: Victim: Wallflower Blush; Blackened: Timber Spruce
Trial 2: Victim: Apple Bloom; Blackened: Sweetie Belle
Trial 3: Victims: Applejack, Rarity; Blackened: Twilight Sparkle
Trial 4: Victim: Scootaloo; Blackened: Fluttershy
Trial 5: Victim: Adagio Dazzle; Blackened: Pinkie Pie
Survivors: Sunset Shimmer, Trixie Lulamoon, Diamond Tiara, Rainbow Dash, Flash Sentry.”

Fact #23: Equestrian Villain Piece: “An editorial piece dated for six months ago that focused on the villains that Princess Twilight had to deal with prior to her ascension to the Equestrian throne. It lists the following villains and their presumed status, with accompanying pictures:
Nightmare Moon: A corrupted alicorn who wanted to bring eternal night. Status: Reformed.
Discord: Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony who once ruled the world. Status: Reformed.
Queen Chrysalis: Former leader of the changelings, responsible for two different invasions of Equestria and an attempted coup alongside Cozy Glow and Lord Tirek. Status: Deceased.
King Sombra: Former leader of the Crystal Empire, a unicorn who uses dark magics. Status: Deceased
Lord Tirek: Centaur from a distant land capable of absorbing magic, responsible for several rampages and an attempted coup alongside Queen Chrysalis and Cozy Glow. Status: Deceased.
Starlight Glimmer: A unicorn of impressive power who once held an entire village hostage to an anti-cutie mark philosophy. Status: Reformed.
Storm King: A yeti warlord who was responsible for the conquest of numerous nations, including Assyria, Mount Aeris, and, briefly, the Equestrian capital of Canterlot. He used the Staff of Sarcanus to perform weather-based magic. Status: Deceased.
Cozy Glow: A pegasus foal who infiltrated the School of Friendship and drained the whole of Equestria’s magic, then subsequently attempted a coup with Queen Chrysalis and Lord Tirek. Status: Deceased.”

Fact #24: Sunset’s Journal: “A journal detailing communiques between Sunset Shimmer and Princess Twilight Sparkle. Most of the information has been blanked out or destroyed, leaving only a series of letters to Twilight about Sunset’s “young friend” that she made.”

Fact #25: Stock Certificate: “A certificate showing that Diamond Tiara owns a substantial amount of stock in both RECL and QGT corporations.”

Fact #26: Unknown Picture: "A picture found by Applejack. She refused to show it to anyone."

As we filed into the courtroom, I took in the appearance. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this final trial, but what I saw certainly wasn’t it. The courtroom had been dressed up like Canterlot palace, aping the design of the throne room with large marble pillars between walls of more marble painted in purples, with stained glass windows featuring pairs of ponies in various odd situations, like stranded on a floating island, or trapped in a crystal cave. Monoponi’s throne had disappeared from its usual spot, moved to sit behind the podium where Wallflower’s portrait had once stood.

Once stood, that is, because he’d completely shuffled up everyone’s places. I was the only one left with the same podium, whilst my fellow survivors joined me on the left and right. Wallflower’s portrait was gone, in its place Monoponi himself leering at us, presumably standing on some sort of footstool so he’d be able to reach the top of the podium. He’d surrounded himself with the portraits of the blackeneds, or blackened wannabe in Adagio’s case, leaving the victims on our side.

Trixie’s portrait, sitting right on Monoponi’s left, haunted me with the cheerful expression on her face. She looked downright happy, ecstatic even, almost like she’d been in the process of photobombing someone. I’m certain he put her there to mess with my head, to be as galling as possible, like a reminder of my failures. And yet, I managed to shove that aside, and take confidence from it instead. She wasn’t mocking me. She was cheering me on. I’m going to beat him, Trixie. For you. For all of us.

“Welcome, welcome!” Monoponi greeted, his voice all too happy. “Since this is the final trial, for the mastermind no less, I’m joining you as a participant! I’ll be here to answer questions if you ask them, but don’t expect me to give away everything! It’s still up to you to figure out who the traitor is, who I am, and why I put together this lovely little game. And don’t worry, we’re still going to have a vote at the end. What for, you ask? You’ll find out! Ahahaha!”

I turned my gaze to focus on Monoponi, on his stupid little grinning face, his oversized pony eyes brimming with malicious glee. He seemed bothered not a whit by the occasional rattle of the walls or the echoes of explosions from above. We were deep inside the center of the ship, far away from it all, the sounds of combat more like a distant thunderstorm. As I glared at him, I remembered what Trixie had told me, what Rarity and I had figured out before the investigation. If he really was here, physically, in this room, then who was firing back at Princess Twilight? Was it all automated? I decided to open with it, and ask him outright.

“Monoponi,” I said as I busied my hands with hooking up my Monopad to the podium. “Tell me something. Are you a puppet, or is the one behind you physically here, in this room with us?”

“That’s what you’re wondering about?!” Tiara cried, looking at me like I’d gone insane. “The ship is under attack! Why’re we even down here?”

“Oh you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about that,” Monoponi replied, waving a hoof casually Tiara’s way. “The autopilot can handle Princess Twilight’s pathetic little rowboat. It’s done a swell job so far!”

Well that answers one question, at least. “So you are here, then.”

“Yes, I am, I will admit that,” Monoponi said, spreading out his forelegs in an attempt to look magnanimous. It came across more as mockery. “But I’m surprised you figured that out. It’s not like Trixie’s little hint to you proved that. What if I was sitting in a separate room, away from my security cameras, like--”

“Like Junko, you mean?” I shook my head with a laugh. “Come on, Monoponi. You left me with enough memories of magic to know you don’t need to bother yourself with such an elaborate setup. A magical puppet or golem isn’t like a robot. You don’t need a whole computer setup and cameras to see through it. All you need is a mental connection. Then you could sit in front of all the cameras you wanted while simultaneously looking through your puppet’s eyes.”

“Now hold on a minute there, sugarcube,” Applejack said, giving me a stern look. “Ah ain’t about to pretend Ah know much of robotics, but Ah thought you told us once the Monoponi from those Danganronpa games were robots. What makes you think this one ain’t?”

Arching an eyebrow at her, I said, “Because he’s not. He’s never, not once, acted like a robot. I’m a mechanical engineer, and while I’m no robotics expert, I know enough to tell a robot when I see one. And even with the advanced robotics on this ship, they can’t have the range of expressions he’s demonstrated, or the range of motion, the dexterity. And maybe you don’t remember this, but he actually hugged me once. I remember feeling how warm he was, how fluffy, just like a real pony would be. It was disgusting. Magic could fake that, but robotics can’t, meaning he’s a real living being.”

The farmer snorted, her nostrils flaring as she shook her head, then fixed me with a piercing stare, one I didn’t know how to interpret.”If you say so. You’d know best.”

Taken aback, I asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Before Applejack could answer, Monoponi held up a hoof and coughed. Applejack glanced his way, swallowed nervously, then said, “Nothin’.”

Oookay. That’s not suspicious at all. I’d better sit on that for the moment though. I don’t want to sling accusations before I have proof. “Alright then.”

“So, like, we need to figure out the traitor, right?” Scootaloo said, extending a hand to gesture with. “Where do we start with that?”

“We did find a lot of clues,” Rarity answered hesitantly. The corner of her mouth curled into an uncertain frown. “But I don’t know where to begin with them.”

“Let’s start with what we know about the traitor,” I said. I held up my hand and began to count off on my fingers. “First, we know they were involved with stealing our memories. Second, according to Monoponi, they’ve been working with him to make the game exciting and interesting. Third, Monoponi was surprised they survived.” I narrowed my eyes and glared at the alicorn. “They are still alive, right?”

Snorting like the stallion he was, Monoponi answered, “Yes. It’s one of you!”

Scootaloo set her hands down on her podium. “Then whoever it is should admit it already. Who is it?” She narrowed her eyes at the farmer. “Is it you, Applejack? Is that why you ran from us?”

Applejack’s fiery temper flared as she whirled on the younger woman. “Ah beg your pardon?! Are you accusin’ me of riggin’ a game where mah own sister died?! What kinda messed up person would Ah be if Ah did that?”

“Hey!” I shouted, holding out my good hand. “Stop it. We’re not going to get anywhere by accusing each other. Let’s calm down and go over the facts, okay?”

Rarity hummed as she glanced through her Monopad, then selected something. “Well, if we want to focus on the facts, I do have a question for you, Applejack.”

Fact #8: Sweet Apple Acres Invoices. “A series of invoices from Sweet Apple Acres to RECL for bulk orders of various crops and artisan goods. Each one is signed by Applejack Apple.”

“Care to explain this?”

Frowning, Applejack looked at the invoices on her own Monopad. “Ah can’t. Ah’ve never seen these before.”

“But they have your signature,” Rarity pressed, her tone turning nasty. “Don’t they?”

“Well, they do, but Ah still don’t recognize ‘em. Ah don’t even know what RECL is.”

Diamond Tiara scoffed, muttering, “Of course you don’t.” In a louder voice she continued, “They’re the company that built this ship. Duh.”

“Stands for Regal Equine Cruise Lines,” I added. “Rarity told me during the investigation that your farm is too small time for a global company to bother purchasing from.”

“Oh she did, did she?” Applejack growled, glaring daggers at the seamstress. “Ah don’t appreciate you insultin’ mah livelihood like that.”

Rarity rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Oh please. It’s hardly an insult to state facts.

Applejack’s face rippled with tension as she sneered. “Ah guess Ah shouldn’t expect anythin’ else from someone tryin’ to be a rich--”

“Oh would you shut up?!” Scootaloo roared, slamming her hands down on her podium. “I’m sick of hearing you two go on about how much you hate each other. For fuck’s sake, it’s not worth it!”

Rarity recoiled, her lips trembling before she withdrew into herself in shame. Applejack pulled back a fist like she was prepared to take Scootaloo’s head off, only to let it drop to her side as she bowed her head, her anger fizzled out. “Sorry, Scootaloo,” the farmer mumbled.

“Don’t apologize,” Scootaloo replied with a sigh. “Just don’t do it, okay?”

Applejack nodded glumly. “Ah won’t.” Then her lips tightened. “Mah farm isn’t very big, it’s true. It ain’t like some of those massive orchards they have up in the Pacific northwest. And we don’t just grow apples. We grow a whole bunch of different things. So… Ah guess if you look at it that way, it really don’t make much sense we would’ve sold stuff to some fancy cruise line.”

“Wait a minute,” Tiara said, giving me a questioning look. “Do we even know for sure that there’s products from her farm on the ship?”

“Uh, yes, Tiara,” I replied immediately. “Yes we do. Don’t you remember?”

~*~
With Applejack’s help it didn’t take long to get all three tables in place, and by the time we did Twilight had snapped out of whatever stupor she was stuck in. “Alright, that’s done,” Applejack pronounced happily, wiping her hands together as if to get rid of dust or dirt. “What’s next?”

“We need drinks and snacks,” I answered. “I think Pinkie said something about two big bowls for beer and cider?”

Applejack’s grin split her face ear to ear. “Cider? We can do cider! Ah think I saw a buncha big bottles of it in the duty-free store. They’re even Sweet Apple Acres brand, if ya can believe it. Apple Bloom, come help me bring ‘em.”
~*~

“The cider we had at Pinkie’s pool party was from Applejack’s farm.”

Tiara cringed, her face turning green while one hand moved to cover her belly. “Oh. Right. I tried to forget all about that.”

“It did seem a mite odd, come to think of it,” Applejack said with a concerned frown. “My family prefers to sell cider ourselves. We only make bottles like the kind Ah got from the duty-free store for a few local shops in Canterlot. It’s specialty stuff, part of how we stay afloat in the winter.” She gave a sheepish shrug and laughed. “Ah guess Ah was too excited to have some of mah’s family’s cider to realize that at the time.”

Rarity pursed her lips like she was prepared to say something nasty, only to think better of it. “So why would the ship buy some of your stock?”

Scootaloo rapped her knuckles against her podium. “Maybe… maybe it was for this killing game. Maybe the mastermind planned ahead with the ship’s stores, so Applejack could have some of her family’s liquor around.”

“We do have evidence suggesting that,” I agreed.

Fact #5: Internet News Article Printout: “A printout of a news article from a website that states in early 2020 the Harmony of the Horizons was taken out of commission by the company due to ‘undisclosed issues’ and will return to service in late 2021 after major renovations are completed.”

“AJ, was there a date on the invoices?”

Applejack peered at her Monopad. “Looks like the purchases happened around Winter 2019 to Spring 2020."

“Well there you go,” Scootaloo said with a slight grin.

Tiara snapped her fingers. “Hold on! How do we know that was the mastermind? What if it had nothing to do with them?”

“Why should we assume that?” I said, spreading out my hands in bemusement. “The mastermind gave us this article so we could use it as evidence in this trial. That should be all the reason we need to accept it’s proof that it was the mastermind’s fault.”

“But what if they only did that to mislead us?” Tiara countered. “We don’t know when the mastermind took over the ship.”

“No, but we do know they were involved with adding weapons to the ship,” I said.

Fact #3: Ship Picture: “A picture of a blurred out figure standing on the bridge deck of the ship, appearing to give out instructions to a group of workers, all of whom seem to be hypnotized in some way as they work on installing weapons. Several boxes carried in the photo are listed as ‘property of QGT corporation.’”

“Look at how these people are hypnotized. That means the one behind it was using magic. And there’s only one person we know who would have the magic to hypnotize people like that: the mastermind.

Scootaloo grunted in disagreement. “I dunno, Sunset. We’ve never seen Monoponi outright hypnotize people. How do we know he can?”

“There’s no one else who could,” I reiterated. “At least, as far as we know.”

Fact #11: Fact Sheet: “A sheet listing the magical talents of seven people. Four of the entries are blacked out. The three that remain are:
Rarity Belle: Gemstone Manifestation
Applejack: Super Strength
Sunset Shimmer: Mind Reading.”

“The closest who comes to hypnotism is myself, but hypnotism and mind reading aren’t even remotely the same thing.”

Applejack’s piercing stare returned in full force. “Is that so?”

“Apparently,” I shrugged. “Didn’t know till I read this. Monoponi must’ve drained the ability out of me, like he drained the rest of our magic.” What is her deal? Applejack, you’re starting to scare me.

“But, wait,” Scootaloo said, pointing at her Monopad. “This only has three names on it. Who’re the other four?”

“They don’t matter,” Monoponi growled, shooting a nasty glare at her. “They’re dead.”

“I can hazard a guess, Scootaloo,” I replied, ignoring Monoponi’s twitchy-eyed scowl. “Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy. They’re the other ones who were in the pictures with me when we… when the Rainbooms took on the Dazzlings.”

“It does make a great deal of sense,” Rarity said, nodding. “Though I wonder what their magic was. It seems as if we all had one unique talent. Though I’m still not sure what mine was. Gemstone manifestation?”

“I think,” I said after taking a moment, “it’s referring to telekinesis. Unicorns in Equestria are able to use telekinesis in a great many ways. The usual way is to pick things up and move them around, but it can be bent to accomplish other tasks, up to and including self-levitation. And if I remember from my dreams, Rarity, the pony version of you I saw had a fine sense of telekinesis far beyond most ponies. She was able to manipulate dozens of objects at once like it was nothing, and she had an innate gem-finding spell. Combine those two together, and you get the ability to manifest gemstone-stylized telekinetic fields.”

“Well, Monoponi?” Rarity said, turning to face the alicorn. “Is she right?”

Monoponi hissed a sigh through his jagged teeth. “Yes. Yes, that’s what your power was. Not that it matters!”

“If it doesn’t matter, then why did you leave us the list?” I said.

He crossed his forelegs over his barrel and huffed. “Figure that out for yourself.”

“Wait, Sunset, I get that you were right,” Scootaloo said, looking at me quizzically, “but what made you think our Rarity’s power would have anything to do with that pony Rarity you saw?”

A sheepish smile overtook my face for a moment. “Right, of course, you wouldn’t get it.” I held a fist to my mouth and coughed to clear my throat, wincing at the sharp tug of pain from my ribs. “It’s because of what we saw in that photo album. Remember how everyone, even me at the end, had pony attributes, just like how Princess Twilight did in that one other picture we found?”

“Yeah… so?”

“So,” I continued, “it stands to reason that if they were ponified in some way, then their magic has links to Equestrian magic. And given that we all seem to have alternates in Equestria, it logically follows that our talents would be similar to their talents.”

Tiara’s face screwed up into an expression of disbelief. “Wait, all of us?”

“Yeah, all of us. Except me, obviously, since I’m from Equestria.” I frowned, a thought occurring to me. “Though maybe I have an alternate here on Earth somewhere that I’ve never met…”

“Did… did you see my alternate in your dream, Sunset?” Scootaloo said hesitantly.

“I did. She looked a lot younger, like she was still a foal, but I did. She hung out all the time with…” My mouth tightened as I glanced briefly at Applejack and Rarity. “With Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle.”

Rarity took in a sharp breath and covered her mouth with one hand. “Are you saying… my sister’s alternate is still alive?”

“I don’t see why she wouldn’t be,” I answered, before casting a dark glare at Monoponi. “Unless he did something.”

“Moi? I haven’t harmed a hair on anypony’s head, save yours, Sunset.” Monoponi shrugged his shoulders. “But it also doesn’t matter. Stop worrying about the ponies and focus on this game.”

“‘Sides, even if that other Apple Bloom is alive,” Applejack said, her words hitting us like frozen blocks of ice, “she ain’t mah Apple Bloom.”

“I suppose that’s a good point,” Rarity sighed, bowing her head.

“So,” I said, trying to move the conversation along, “we know that the mastermind obtained the ship in advance, and had enough influence to make decisions on what places the cruise line sourced goods from. That must mean the mastermind either works for the company that owns this ship, or has close enough ties that they can mind-control whoever has enough authority to decide what happens with the ship.”

“What kind of ties are we talking here?” Scootaloo asked, spreading out her hands. “Are we talking, like, family of the CEO?”

“Ah don’t think they’d need to be family,” Applejack said with a snort. She glanced through her Monopad, then her mouth twisted into a sneer. “Ah think they’d just need to have sufficient connections. Like, say, bein’ a major stockholder!”

Fact #25: Stock Certificate: “A certificate showing that Diamond Tiara owns a substantial amount of stock in both RECL and QGT corporations.”

“W-w-what?!” Tiara yelped, taking a step back from her podium. “No, no, no way!”

“Oh come on,” Scootaloo groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. “You can’t seriously be suggesting Diamond Tiara is the mastermind. She’s standing right there!”

“Honestly, Applejack, even for you, this is stupid,” Rarity sighed.

With narrowed eyes I stared at the farmer. “Applejack, what’re you doing?”

Applejack rubbed her nose with her thumb. “Ah’m just pointin’ out Tiara’s connections makes her suspicious.”

“Is that so?” I growled, using her words from earlier against her.

She dropped her hand so she could look me in the eye. “Yeah. That’s so. Ain’t nothin’ else to it.”

Bullshit. You’re pulling something and I don’t like it. And the longer you’re doing it, the more suspicious you look. But I’d better bait her out, give her enough rope to hang herself with. “Alright then,” I said, deliberately dropping my gaze. “It is suspicious that Tiara has connections like that, yes. It would make it easy for her to cooperate with the mastermind. Coordinate.”

“Did you just accuse me of being the traitor?!” Tiara gasped, gripping both hands into fists as her lips pulled back to show her teeth. “What the hell, Sunset?”

“I didn’t say that, Tiara,” I replied, trying a smile in the hopes it would calm her down. I’m still pretty sure you are, but I don’t have enough information to prove it yet. “Just pointing out that it’s a possibility. You have spoken about how influential your family is on several occasions.”

“And?!” Tiara snarled, her teeth gnashing. “That doesn’t mean shit! How many times do I have to prove I’ve been trying to be a better person? I thought you believed in me.”

“I do,” I said, blatantly lying to her face. Out the corner of my eye I saw Applejack grumble something under her breath. “But it’s something we have to investigate. Relax, Tiara. I’m not going to say anyone is the traitor until we’re certain, okay?”

“Tch,” Tiara muttered, pulling her hands up so she could cross her arms over her chest, then pointed at me with one finger. “Fine. But I’m telling you right now: I’m not the traitor.”

I nodded several times in rapid succession. “I hear you. You mentioned this briefly during the investigation, but I’d like you to go over again why you have stock in these two companies.”

“Wait, wait,” Scootaloo said, holding up her hands. “Hold up a sec. Both that picture you showed us and this stock certificate mentions a QGT. Who’re they?”

“Oh, right, you weren’t with us when we found this.”

Fact #16: RECL Factbook Pages: “A few pages scanned from a factbook on the RECL corporation. RECL, or Regal Equine Cruise Lines, was founded in 1952 as a subsidiary of QGT, Quality Guns and Technologies, a major military-industrial contractor focused on naval arms and armaments and other naval technologies during the First and Second Great Wars. RECL was founded by the company as a spin-off for civilian applications of naval technologies and tourism, and today is the largest and most profitable cruise line company in the world. Though no longer a subsidiary of its parent corporation, RECL maintains close ties to QGT, and frequently do business together. The pride and joy of the RECL corporation is the Harmony of the Horizons, the single largest cruise ship ever constructed, debuted in 2010 with state of the art robotics and automation involved in every aspect of its amenities, allegedly sourced from QGTs advancements in robotic engineering.”

“They’re one of the largest military-industrial contractors. Once I read that I remembered some other things I’ve read about them in the past; they were involved in a lot of the AU’s naval development during the First and Second Great War. They practically invented the idea of the aircraft carrier, and were responsible for building some of the most important ships in the AU’s Second Great War fleet.”

“Which means,” Tiara followed up with another sharp glare my way, “they make a lot of money. That’s why they’re part of my stock portfolio. They’re reliable. They’re not going to go out of business so long as the AU has a fleet to maintain. Same thing with RECL. Cruise lines are a reliable source of income. About the only thing that could ruin them as a company is a global pandemic, but like, what’re the chances of that ever happening?”

“Probably higher than you’d expect,” I muttered under my breath. At a louder volume, I continued, “Did you purchase these stocks, or did your father purchase them for you?”

At that, Tiara paused, and set a finger to her lips as she stared at the ceiling for several moments. The longer share stared, the more she winced, like her head hurt. “I don’t know, Sunset,” she finally answered. “I can’t remember.”

“That sure is mighty convenient, ain’t it?” Applejack snorted, shaking her head.

“It’s the truth!” Tiara shouted, slamming a fist down on her podium then raising it to point at the farmer. “The mastermind wiped our memories, remember?”

“Oh Ah remember alright.” Applejack leaned forward and placed her hands on her hips, one corner of her mouth quirking up into a mocking smirk. “Just sayin’ it makes a convenient excuse, is all. Like you’re tryin’ to hide somethin’.”

“Applejack…” Rarity growled in warning. “Back off of Diamond Tiara. If she says she doesn’t remember, she doesn’t remember.”

Applejack reared back like she’d been snapped at by the jaws of a beast, though her mocking smirk only grew. “If you say so, Rarity.”

Scootaloo turned to face Applejack, giving her a look of sheer disbelief. “Applejack, what--”

I reached out and touched Scootaloo’s shoulder, and when she looked at me, eyebrows raised, I gave her a quick shake of my head. “Don’t,” I whispered.

The younger woman shrugged my hand off, now favoring me with the same disbelieving look before sighing and turning back to her podium. “So anyway,” she said, giving me one last glance, “Tiara, what kind of connections does owning this amount of stock give you?”

“Honestly? Not a lot,” Tiara said with a shrug. “I mean, this is a sizable chunk of wealth, but it’s not like I own a controlling interest in it. It’s enough to maybe get me into the occasional stockholder’s meeting, if I want, but that’s about it.”

“So then the mastermind must either be someone with much stronger connections,” I mused, setting my chin to rest on my good fist, “or else they’ve got a lot of people under their control.”

“It’d have to be the second one,” Tiara said, with a knowing smile. “I don’t expect most of you to know this, but companies like RECL and QGT aren’t monolithic entities. You can’t just have the CEO walk into a meeting of the board of directors and have them order a ship like this one taken out of commission. This ship makes the company so much money there’d be issues all up and down the line, from the captain of the ship and its crew, to the dock workers that maintain it, middle management up and down the entire country, all the travel agents that book tickets for passengers, some of the wealthier passengers that ride on it on a regular basis… so the mastermind must’ve taken a very long time to do all of this.”

“How long are we talking here?” Scootaloo asked her.

Tiara paused for a moment, then said, “Years. We’re talking at least a few years of hard work, making connections, inroads, getting people on side. Even if the mastermind can use funky mind-control or whatever to shortcut a few things, they can’t mind control everybody. They’d have to be careful with it. Guide things. Manipulate over the course of time.”

“Sounds like if the mastermind had some allies they could trust to run things it’d go a long way towards helping them,” I said.

“Definitely,” Tiara nodded. Then, pursing her lips, she said, “Actually, maybe not, not if they… Sunset, what do you know about mind magic?”

“Uh…” I scratched the back of my head. “Not as much as I’d like. It was never something I studied in any detail. Back when I was Celestia’s personal student in Equestria, I think the most I could’ve done was a basic compulsion charm. Like, imbue an object with a compulsion that makes weak-willed ponies desire it, to the point they’d be willing to fight over it. I think Celestia called that a Want It Need It spell? Said it was useful for making a quick exit if I needed a distraction in an emergency, but I’d have to be careful not to put too much power into it or else it could cause a whole mess of chaos.”

“Well, let me ask this then.” Tiara held out her hands to gesture with, pointing to herself, then to me, then to Monoponi, then back to herself. “Is it possible to use mind magic to mess with someone’s head, so you can plant suggestions in their mind and make them think it’s their own idea, and let them come up with plausible reasons for things to take place?”

“I think so,” I answered after a moment. “I think I read about someone doing that once. There was a famous unicorn who worked his way up the ranks of Canterlot nobility far faster than usual, and it turned out he was using illegal mind magic to do it. Ended up in the dungeons for the rest of his life.”

“So what if that’s what the mastermind did, then?” Tiara proposed. “If the mastermind did that, then all they’d need to do is use that on some key figures. It’d still take a long time to accomplish their goal. They’d still have to take years to get the ship, and might still have to use direct mind control for arming the ship with its weapons. But once they had everything in place all they’d have to do is wait until it was practically gift-wrapped for them.”

I’m surprised by how savvy you’re being about this, Tiara. Then again, this is your domain, isn’t it? Manipulating people. Business. It’s what you know. “I think you’re probably right,” I said aloud. “It’s the most logical thing. What we’d need to figure out though, is why they’d do this.”

“Well it’s for the killing game, wasn’t it?” Scootaloo asked. She frowned and leaned over her podium. “I mean, what else could the ship be for?”

Hmm. Is she right about that? Was the killing game the only reason the mastermind bothered to get the ship? I considered that for several moments, then shook my head. “No, I don’t think that’s it Scootaloo. I think the ship was used for the killing game because it was convenient. Like Tiara said, it must’ve taken the mastermind years to put this all together. If all the mastermind wanted to do was throw together a killing game, there’s all kinds of easier ways to do it, cheaper ways, ways that don’t require years of setup and expenses numbering in the millions.”

“Easier ways, huh?” Applejack said, any sense of amusement vanishing from her face. “Like what?”

Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I answered, “Like a different setting, for one. The mastermind didn’t need a massive cruise ship for a killing game. They could’ve used any number of things. Like an abandoned hospital. Or a resort. Or an isolated mountain valley. Or a university, or even an underground shelter. Any of these would’ve been expensive, sure, but not to the same level as the most advanced, largest cruise ship in the world.”

“Uh-huh,” Applejack muttered. She scowled at me, her gaze hostile enough that if looks could light people on fire I’d be set ablaze. “You’re sayin’ this like you’ve thought about this kind of thing before.”

Now I did roll my eyes. “Well, sure. I liked the games. Any fan of the series is going to consider possible places for a new killing game, even if it’s just speculation for a sequel. And…” I trailed off as warmth filled my cheeks. “I might’ve… maybe… written some… fanfiction once..”

“You’re a writer, darling?” Rarity asked, her voice carrying a note of intrigue. “You’ve never mentioned that before.”

“Eeeh, it’s just a hobby,” I said with a nervous laugh. “Look, that’s not the point. The point is, Applejack, if you’re suggesting that thinking about how a killing game could work makes me suspicious, you’re wrong.”

“Am Ah?” Applejack placed her hands together so she could crack her knuckles. “Ah ain’t so sure about that.”

“Ahem!” Monoponi coughed, shooting the farmer a glare.

Applejack froze, her eyes widening in terror for a moment before she swallowed. She laid her hands down on her podium. “But uh, then again--”

“Okay, that’s enough,” I protested. I pointed a finger accusingly at her and then Monoponi. “Are you working with him?”

“Whu--no!” Applejack reared back as if I’d slapped her, holding up her hands and waving them in surrender. Her face contorted with panic. “No Ah ain’t!”

“Really.” Rarity favored Applejack with a look so full of venom I thought Applejack might disintegrate on the spot. “So then, tell me, darling, what it is you are doing, hmm? Because I’ve seen you taking cues from that horrid little monster this whole trial.”

Tiara added her own glare to the mix. “Me too. Pretty suspicious if you ask me.”

“Seriously, Applejack, what the hell are you doing?” Scootaloo thirded.

Sweat ran down the farmer’s face in rivulets as she swallowed repeatedly, her chest rising and falling faster and faster with each passing second. “Ah’m… Ah ain’t doin’ nothin’, Ah swear!”

“Bullshit!” I roared, slamming a fist down on my podium, causing the farmer to let out a wordless yelp of terror. “You ran from Tiara and Scootaloo during the investigation, you wouldn’t show us Apple Bloom’s Monopad, you’ve been giving me stink eye this whole time, and every time you come close to saying something Monoponi makes you take it back. What. Are. You. Doing?”

As her shirt became inundated with sweat, Applejack used her arm to wipe off her brow, splattering droplets everywhere as she shook it off. She mumbled under her breath to herself, her breathing so fast now she was hyperventilating. She looked up at me, started to say something, only for her eyes to roll up in her head.

But before she could collapse, a crimson aura surrounded her, bringing her back to consciousness, easing her breathing. Her eyes fluttered open as she got her footing back. When she looked at me this time, I was the one taken aback by the naked hostility and utter calm she demonstrated. “Ah found somethin’ durin’ the investigation,” she said, her voice even and steady. “Somethin’ vital, about the traitor. And when Ah found it, Monoponi appeared. He told me Ah couldn’t tell anyone at the trial till he said it was time. Said he’d kill me otherwise.”

Monoponi waggled a forehoof at her. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Applejack, oh Applejack, your Captain should’ve known he couldn’t rely upon you. Miss I’m-So-Honest-I-Can’t-Lie-Worth-Shit. You’ve given this away far too early! Oh well. Guess it’s time for me to keep my end of the bargain!”

His magic wrapped itself around Applejack’s throat, instantly cutting off her air supply. Whatever magical calm he’d supplied her with vanished in an instant as her hands clawed at her throat, desperately trying to regain some oxygen.

“Holy shit!” Tiara shrieked, hiding behind her podium.

“Let her go, damn it!” Scootaloo demanded. She reached up as if to try and help Applejack claw the magic away, only for Applejack’s body to rise up in the air, out of reach.

Rarity gaped, staring at the farmer, whose life dwindled by the second, then at me. “Sunset, do something!”

“Monoponi, stop this! Now!” I ordered.

The alicorn cackled as his grip around Applejack’s throat tightened. She managed to let out a few gasping noises as she writhed in pain and panic. “And why should I? I warned her! I warned her of the consequences. I told her to keep quiet, and she didn’t listen. Besides, she was never supposed to live this long. I’m just correcting a mistake!”

“But you wanted five survivors!”

That got his attention. His hold on Applejack loosened, enough to let her gasp down some air into lungs, keeping her conscious, if barely. “Oh? Can you prove that?”

Trying not to lose control over myself, I pulled up the requisite proof on my Monopad. “Of course I can.”

Fact #12: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment #2: “A torn piece of paper detailing thoughts of the mastermind, with the following entries:
‘That damned map tracking was the biggest mistake I ever made. They’re not supposed to use it that way! I’m taking it away after this trial.’
‘Why do they keep bending the rules?! That’s it. If anyone breaks a rule I’m going to execute them. I’m sick of this. They need to learn proper respect for me!’
‘Fluttershy! Fucking Fluttershy! Why the hell was it Fluttershy? I need to review the security footage. Something doesn’t feel right.’
‘I knew it! I knew it I knew it I knew it! They used me! I’m going to have to change the motive. I can’t risk messing up the count. I need five survivors, damn it.’”

“Right here, in your own diary. You said it yourself. You need five survivors..”

“Hmph.” As abruptly as he’d snatched her up, Monoponi let Applejack go. She dropped to the floor in a heap, leaning against her podium, wheezing, tears streaming down her face. “I suppose that’s true. Though, tell me, Sunset. Do you know why I need five of you?”

“...no. I don’t.” Yet.

“Well I’m sure you’ll figure it out as you go along!” Monoponi said casually. He leaned over on his podium and his horn ignited for a moment, summoning up a mug of coffee. “As for you, farmer, you want to tell them what you found? Go ahead.”

Scootaloo knelt down to run her hand over Applejack’s back, then took her other one and secured it under Applejack’s arm. “Come on, Applejack, let’s get you up, okay?”

“Ah’m…” Applejack broke into a massive coughing fit as she used Scootaloo to prop herself up, then climbed to her feet. “Ah’m f-fine, dang it.”

“No, you’re not,” Scootaloo insisted. “Breathe. Take it easy. Does your throat hurt? Did he injure it?”

Applejack shook her head, her ponytail bouncing behind her. “N-no,” she muttered in a hoarse, rough voice. “Just… gotta gimme a second.”

Rarity pressed her lips together, staring at Applejack with an unreadable expression. “Are you… are you going to be alright?”

“Ah think so,” Applejack answered. She reached down to pick up her hat, which had fallen off her head when she’d collapsed. “Ah’m surprised you care, though.”

Her eyes flashing with ire, Rarity retorted, “I don’t! Not, not like that. But just because we’re no longer together doesn’t mean I want you dead.” She sighed, the anger fading. “How many times must I say it? Killing is wrong. I don’t like you, Applejack, but I don’t want you to die, either.”

“Funny, ‘cause Ah thought you said Ah should’ve died, back at the end of the third trial,” Applejack said, though her words lacked any real bite to them. “Ah remember that, even if you don’t.”

Rarity groaned and spun away so Applejack couldn’t see her face. I still could though, and on it I saw a mixture of shame and humiliation. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Applejack snorted, and shrugged lightly. “‘Course you don’t. Not like it matters anyhow.”

“Oh my god, no one cares about your stupid drama!” Tiara shouted, throwing her hands up in frustration.

“Diamond, cool it,” I said, giving her a stern look. Then I turned my gaze to Applejack. “You sure you’re okay?”

Her nostrils flared as she growled, “Yeah, Ah am. No thanks to you.”

“What?” My face twisted in bemusement. “But, Monoponi only spared you because I asked him to.”

Applejack barked a mirthless laugh. “Exactly mah point. ‘Cause you asked him to. He didn’t listen to no one else.”

What the hell? I save her life, and she repays it by being an ass? What gives? ...is this about Rarity? “Applejack, I’m sorry about you and Rarity but--”

“Me and Rarity? That’s what you think this is about?” Applejack burst into sad, sorrowful laughter and grabbed for her bangs with her hand, running it down her face. “Landsake, Ah’m not mad at you ‘cause of that.”

“Then what the hell is it?” I asked, spreading out my hands as if daring her to charge at me. “I just saved your life.”

Applejack stopped laughing. Her voice flattened, turning monotone. “You really want to know?”

Scoffing, I nodded. “Yeah. I do!”

“Alright then.” Applejack reached into her backpack, and pulled out a Monopad. The name “Apple Bloom” was inscribed upon it in glimmering gold lettering. “Ah’m gonna show y’all this first, ‘cause Ah think it provides some context for the real clue.” She unhooked her own pad from the podium and connected her sister’s, then tabbed over and pulled up something for us all to see.

And when I saw it, my jaw just about hit the floor.

Monoponi’s Secrets!

SUNSET SHIMMER

“Sunset likes to pretend she’s a goody-two shoes, but she’s a big fat liar, and good at it too! She’s an expert at bullying tactics like manipulation and destroying relationships. She ruled the roost at Canterlot High and delighted in tormenting five students in particular. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack! Funny how those same five people showed up in this game, isn’t it? Who knows what other lies she’s telling?”

“What the fuck?!” Scootaloo shouted, whirling to face me, eyes agog. “What the hell is this?”

Rarity gasped, then gasped again, holding both hands to her breast. “Sunset,” she whimpered, her eyes filling up with tears. “Is this true?”

“Wow, and here I thought I was bad news,” Tiara murmured.

“B-b-but, but, I thought… how?!” I cried, my good hand gripping the side of my head as I took several steps back from my podium. “I thought we only had one secret!”

“Ahahahaha!” Monoponi doubled over, leaning against his podium for support as he wriggled with mirth. “You--you thought you only had one secret? Ahahaha!” He managed to stand back up after a moment and used his magic to wipe a few tears from his eyes. “I never said that. Allow me to demonstrate!” He fired off his horn at the central display, cuing up some security footage.

~*~
Monoponi demonstrably shrugged. “As you wish! Now then, this motive comes in two parts! The first is a classic. A well trodden path. Secrets!” Monoponi extended his wings out and stood on his hind legs. “Yes, secrets! But not just any secrets! Your most personal secrets! Your shames, your hidden desires, your darkest acts! But because it would be boring and trite to just hoof you your own secret, I’ll be switching it up! Each of you will get one other person’s secret, via Monopad.”
~*~

“Nowhere, Sunset, did I ever say that I gave out one secret per person! I just said you’d receive one other person’s secret.”

I shook my head in denial over and over again, refusing to buy this. “But when you talked about our secrets, you said ‘your own secret.’ Not ‘secrets!’ That implied--”

“Implied nothing!” Monoponi waggled a forehoof at me like a teacher scolding a student. “You assumed I meant only one. That was your mistake.”

I leaned over my podium, hiding my face behind my hands, fear coursing its way through my veins like chunks of ice floating in a half-frozen river. “T-then when Apple Bloom came to ask me about Equestria, the morning of the show, she… she was…”

“She was tryin’ to figure out how a low-down snake like you managed to fool everyone!” Applejack snarled, slamming both fists onto her podium hard enough to send wood chips flying. “Mah sister died for you! Ah oughta rip you in half over that, now that Ah know the truth!”

“No, no, Applejack, please--”

“Sunset!” Rarity interrupted. She gazed at me, eyes full of sorrow as she reached out and took my hand in hers. The warmth of her smooth alabaster skin pressing against mine was small comfort next to the hurt I saw in her expression. “Is this true? Please, tell me.”

“It--yes, technically, but--”

She yanked her hand away from me and burst into tears.

Feeling my heart sink, I reached out to try and take her hand. “Rarity, please, listen, I--”

“Don’t touch me!” she howled, slapping my hand away. “You horrid little liar!

My hand stinging, I backed away, feeling tears of my own start to well up. I tried to force them down as I spoke. “Listen to me, you guys! Please! I’ve changed! I haven’t been like that in years. And while I remembered I was a bully, I didn’t know I tormented you guys specifically!”

“Ah don’t believe you anymore, Sunset!” Applejack shouted. She raised a fist like she yearned to slam it into my jaw. “You can’t fool us anymore! When Ah saw this secret Apple Bloom had, it made me realize somethin’ about what Monoponi said, when he told us the traitor’s secret was that they were the traitor. Ah’m thinkin’ that was him misleadin’ us again. He didn’t mean they were the traitor, of this game. He meant they were a traitor in general, someone who couldn’t be trusted. And then, before Rainbow died, he told us the holder for that secret might be dead. Which meant he was talkin’ about Apple Bloom, meanin he was talkin’ about this secret!

“No, damn it, why won’t you listen to me?” I begged, unable to resist the tears any longer. “You’re doing it again, Applejack! You’re letting Monoponi tell you what to think instead of using your head! When have I ever misled you guys?”

“How about keeping secret the fact that you’re a pony, huh?” Applejack sneered as she raised a middle finger at me. “Or Adagio’s secret about bein’ a siren? Or that extra key you made for yourself? Or even the new lock you put on Trixie’s door?!”

I shook my head rapidly. “No, AJ, please. None of that was harmful. Hell, I’m only alive because of the latter two!”

“I don’t know, Sunset,” Scootaloo said, sighing. While not as loud or demonstrative as the others, she showed just as much doubt on her face. “Because I remember something else Monoponi said, back before the fourth trial.”

~*~
“Fine! Fine! You want to know something so badly, Sunset? Hmm? You’re so eager for knowledge? Well, let’s see what you do with this chestnut!” Monoponi summoned up a peal of thunder as loud as dynamite, stunning us all into submission. “The traitor has been assisting me from the very beginning, helping to make this game as entertaining and exciting as possible. Things wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without them!”
~*~

“What?!” I screeched. “No, he didn’t mean me! All I’ve been doing is--”

“Solving the cases? Keeping us alive?” Scootaloo scoffed, dismissing me with a wave of her hand. “Save it.”

“No, seriously, Scootaloo, listen. Listen!” I set my good hand down on my podium and tried to take deep breaths, in the hopes of bringing my hammering heart under control. “I’m not the one who’s been causing constant tension on this ship. That’s Diamond Tiara! She’s the one who tried to be a leader. She’s the one constantly keeping us at odds! She’s the one Monoponi was surprised is still alive! Remember Applejack and Rarity’s fight at the ice rink? I saw her grin when she gave Rarity the key to Trixie’s room. She was trying to start shit!”

“What?!” Tiara reached out both hands, clawing like she wanted to throttle me. “You asshole! I thought you said you believed in me!”

“Well I lied!” I railed, whirling on her, my body shaking. Every fresh breath was agony on my ribs. I was pushing myself too hard, but I couldn’t have cared less. "I’ve been convinced you’ve been the traitor for a long time now, Tiara! I heard what you said in the second trial!”

~*~
“So what?” Tiara scoffed, thumbing her nose at Flash. “Idiot. Just because I don’t like someone doesn’t mean I’d kill them.” In a whisper that I only discerned because I read her lips, she added, “I’d make someone else do it.”
~*~

“That clued me in that you might be a traitor early on, Tiara. And then there was the way you acted before the third trial. Your little one eighty friendship asspull. I realized after the third trial that Twilight might’ve been onto something, when she tried to use you to cover up her crime. And you said it yourself: your stock certificate would get you into a stockholder’s meeting. All the mastermind would need is a single inroad. The rest, they could do!”

“You… you!” Tiara’s whole body quivered with rage, her hair popping out of her cap as it lost its grip and flung itself off her head to land somewhere on the courtroom floor. “I thought you were my friend! God, Sunset, I even said I’d die for you! You think I was making that shit up? Because I wasn’t! You asshole!

Rarity’s head rose out of her hands, her face covered in tear stains and running snot. Despite that, she glowered at me with a look of dark betrayal. “Sunset Shimmer! How dare you accuse Diamond Tiara after everything she’s done for us? For you?”

“But, but it explains everything!” I shouted back, my voice growing hoarser by the second. “I--”

“It explains nothing, Sunset, and you know it!” Rarity retaliated before I could begin to put my argument together. “Diamond Tiara isn’t the one from Equestria! You are! Diamond Tiara isn’t the one who knows all about Danganronpa! You are! Diamond Tiara isn’t the one who stood up to Monoponi time and again only to suffer zero consequences. You are!

Pain exploded in my chest as if I’d been stabbed, the cold bite of her words running through my heart just like the steel of a knife. “No, Rarity… Rarity please…”

Rarity’s lips curled up into a sneer before she abruptly slapped me across the face. “No, Sunset! No more lies!”

Cradling my stinging cheek with my good hand, I took another step back, trying to get out of her reach. “But it’s not possible for me to be the traitor, Rarity! The traitor took our memories, remember? How am I supposed to have done that?”

“How am I supposed to have done that?!” Tiara retorted, now flipping me off with both hands. “You moron! You’re the one who came from magic pony land, not me! Rarity just said that!”

“Besides,” Scootaloo interjected, her voice growing heated, “you’re the one associated with this.

Fact #6: Wallflower Picture: “A picture depicting Wallflower Blush using some sort of mysterious magical stone artifact on Sunset Shimmer, in front of Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack.”

“I was looking through the evidence we gathered, Sunset,” Scootaloo continued. “I saw this and was like, what is that? But then I remembered that other thing you found and translated for us.”

Fact #14: Equestrian Tome: “A decrepit, ancient Equestrian tome written in High Ponish that speaks about an artifact known as the Memory Stone that can affect memories. Few details are discernable, however it does mention the artifact leaves a strong, permanent imprint of its power on the minds of those it affects.”

“The Memory Stone. An Equestrian artifact that can steal memories.”

“What?!” I whirled on the younger woman, fresh outrage overcoming the sorrow Rarity had inflicted upon me. “But I’m not the one using that in the picture. Wallflower is! If anyone had the power to steal memories, it was her!”

Scootaloo laughed in my face. “Come on, Sunset, don’t pull that shit. Monoponi said the traitor stole our memories and that they’re alive. But Wallflower’s dead. She was the first victim. Which, now that I think about it, that’s kind of funny, isn’t it? How the only other person who could’ve been involved with the memory wipe turned up dead from the start?”

“Yeah, yeah that is kind of weird, isn’t it?” Tiara seconded, still brimming with rage. “It’s like you were getting rid of a loose end. Like you were making sure she couldn’t do something to undo the memory wipe!”

“Oh my fucking god!” I moaned, rolling my eyes so hard it gave me a headache. “I didn’t kill Wallflower. We proved that back in the first trial. Monoponi showed us the footage!

Rarity’s scowled blackened further. “But Sunset, you forgot something else we found during the investigation.”

Fact #22: Typewritten Plans: “A set of typewritten plans for a Killing Game involving Sunset Shimmer and her friends. According to the plan, the cases were to occur as follows:
Trial 1: Victim: Wallflower Blush; Blackened: Timber Spruce
Trial 2: Victim: Apple Bloom; Blackened: Sweetie Belle
Trial 3: Victims: Applejack, Rarity; Blackened: Twilight Sparkle
Trial 4: Victim: Scootaloo; Blackened: Fluttershy
Trial 5: Victim: Adagio Dazzle; Blackened: Pinkie Pie
Survivors: Sunset Shimmer, Trixie Lulamoon, Diamond Tiara, Rainbow Dash, Flash Sentry.”

“Right here,” she said, stabbing her finger into her Monopad’s screen. “Her death was planned.

“Dear sweet lord, so was Apple Bloom’s!” Applejack cried. “Ah didn’t see that before! A-and look! Sunset’s on the list of survivors!”

“So’s Diamond Tiara!” I protested, pointing right at her name on the central display. “And remember the way Monoponi acted at the end of the fourth trial? I called him out! His plans were messed up! He tried to have Adagio kill me, even.” My fingers danced on my pad to bring up evidence of my own.

Fact #17: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment #3: “A torn piece of paper detailing thoughts of the mastermind with the following entries:
‘Nonononono! How did I miss some of her magic? How?! This is a disaster.’
‘Everything is going wrong. I need to make sure Twilight dies. If I kill Twilight I can fix it.’
‘Time for the backup motive. Maybe I can get the farmer to kill the marshmallow and get it back on track.’
‘I do not believe this. Flash! Flash, you idiot! Oooooh I’m not letting you get away with this you stupid little shit!’
‘That’s it. Sunset stood up to me one too many times. She’s too inspirational. She could ruin everything. I’m throwing out the plan. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m tired of dealing with her. She dies. And I know I can get the siren to do it.’
‘That useless excuse for a magician saw everything! I’ll need to make an appearance. Maybe I can salvage this.’”

“S-see? He admitted it himself in his own diary! Look at the way he phrased it. He called me too inspirational. A-and, don’t forget what he said the night after the fourth trial!”

~*~
Monoponi’s crimson eyes stared into mine, unfeeling. Unmoving. Yet I still didn’t waver. I remained resolute, in total certainty I was right. “You know, Sunset,” Monoponi finally said, “you keep talking like that, people will think you’re working with me.”

“You, I, and everyone else knows I’m not.”

Monoponi laughed. Not an ‘upupu’ or ‘ahaha,’ but a single bark of a laugh so unlike the alicorn’s usual expression of mirth it scared me. Then he spoke, and what he said terrified me far more. “No. You’re not. Too bad. We’d make a great team.”
~*~

“He outright said we weren’t working together. And don’t forget that before that he said the traitor was assisting him. That means I can’t be the traitor.”

“No it doesn’t!” Scootaloo countered. “Assisting Monoponi and working with him aren’t the same thing! You could’ve easily been assisting his plans without even knowing it!”

“...What?” I murmured, the wind taken out of my sails.

“Think about it, Sunset,” Scootaloo continued, her ire building by the second. “Look at everything you’ve done in this game, and see how it’s helped Monoponi. Your talk about Danganronpa split our group in half before a single person died. You’ve been solving every case, keeping the rest of us alive so the game would keep going. You kept your pony nature a secret, causing Twilight to freak out and eventually kill Fluttershy. Every time you brought up Danganronpa something bad happened afterwards, like when you told us there’d be two murders in the third trial. And you’re the one who has mind reading magic. I’ll bet you planned everything with Monoponi, and then he made you erase your own memories so you couldn’t give up his plans!”

“No… no that’s not possible!” I protested, but my words were weak and frail. The sheer amount of anger and betrayal on everyone’s faces wore away at me like acid, melting my defenses and leaving me exposed. “Listen to me. Whatever Wallflower did with the Memory Stone back then, we obviously undid it, right? We fixed things, because we saw from another picture that I became friends with her. And I can promise you, if I ever got hold of a dangerous magical artifact like that? I’d destroy it. I’m sure we must’ve destroyed it. So how could I have erased memories with no Memory Stone to do it with?!”

“It’s true, the Memory Stone was destroyed!” Monoponi interjected, reminding us all of his presence. I hadn’t realized it but he’d been sitting there laughing silently at all the thrown about barbs and accusations. “But just because it was destroyed doesn’t mean the magic’s gone.”

“Wait a minute... wait!” My eyes widened in shock. “You’re… you’re not saying… the imprint she left on me? It was an imprint I could use? Is that even possible?”

“You know it is, Sunset, or else you wouldn’t be saying it, upupupu!”

Is it, though? I know it’s possible in Equestria. I’ve heard of artifacts doing things like that. Cursed spellbooks or tomes or devices, like the fabled Inspiration Manifestation, forcing an imprint that adapts to the user’s magic. And if my magic talent here on Earth was mind based, like he claims, then… “Oh my god. It is possible,” I said, horror overtaking me. “But, but that still doesn’t mean I’m the traitor! W-what if--”

“What if nothing! You’re all but admitting it now!” Tiara interrupted. “If you’re the only one who could use this ‘imprint’ thing in your brain, you’re the only one who could’ve taken our memories!”

“No, listen to me!” I replied, still unwilling to accept this. I refuse to accept this! I can’t be the traitor! I can’t! “The only way it’s possible is if my magic really was mind-based! And there’s no proof it was! So unless you can prove that my magic had something to do with mind reading and mind control, it’s impossible for me to be the traitor!

“Ah’m sorry, Sunset, but YOU’VE GOT THAT WRONG!” Applejack roared as she brought up the other clue she’d found.

Fact #26: Demon Picture: “A picture of a demonic Sunset Shimmer, with a crowd of hypnotized students behind her, and a group of six ponied up students facing against her: Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Applejack.’”

“Ah told y’all, the other thing Ah showed you was just for context. This is the real clue that convinced me, Sunset. No matter what you try and say, no matter what excuse you come up with, this proves it. This proves you have mind-magic. Which means you could’ve taken our memories! Which, when put together with everythin’ else proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you, Sunset Shimmer, are the traitor in this killing game!

I couldn’t take it anymore. The sheer volume, the depth of conviction in Applejack’s words… I fell over onto my ass, tears pouring down my face. “No… no it’s not… it can’t…”

“Upupupu, but it is!” Monoponi announced, rearing back to adopt his Celestia-aping pose. “Congratulations, my lovely passengers! You’ve solved the first mystery assigned to you. You are one hundred percent correct. Sunset Shimmer is indeed the traitor! Allow your Captain to make it official!”

I heard the sound of his horn lighting up, and our Monopads all let out a harsh beep. After a moment of tears I managed to haul myself up to my feet, just enough so I could check and see what had changed.

It was my profile. Right there, where once my talent had been listed as “???.” No longer. It was finally filled in. I finally knew what it truly was… and wished I didn't.

Sunset Shimmer: Ultimate Traitor.

Author's Note:

And now you know! Congratulations to NickChi, RTStephens, AxelFones, Brony1984, and JCarp for their correct guesses! :pinkiehappy:

I don't want to get into too many more details right now, because we've still got a ways to go with this trial, but I will say this: from the very beginning, I always intended for Sunset to be the traitor. Everyone who accused her of it was correct, and the notion of her being the traitor was deliberately brought forward early in the story in the hopes of making it seem implausible, as intentional misdirection on my part.

I do feel a little bit bad about Applejack's clues, but...the real, important clues were the ones you all had. The two that Applejack reveals here, that you didn't see in the investigation, are things that you as the reader already knew about, canon from the first movie. I feel there was enough information available from the other clues to allow you to solve this mystery. Plus... if I'd revealed them during the investigation, it would've made things far too obvious. I didn't want it to be that easy. :twilightsmile:

Don't worry though: there are no more hidden clues.

Also: we're switching to a M/W/F schedule for the rest of the posts. It fits better with the planned final date.

PreviousChapters Next