• 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 Six: Dead in the Water Part 3

Chapter Six
Dead in the Water
Trial Part 2

It’s me… I’m the traitor… I’m the one who took our memories away… it was all my fault.

My fault.

Myfaultmyfaultmyfaultmyfaultmyfault...

I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t deal. I’d blocked out all noise, all sensory input. I’m sure people were talking, saying something, accusing me, shouting at me, laughing at me, whatever, but none of it got through. I was lost in my own head.

My fault my fault my fault.

Every life lost in this game. Every person pointlessly slaughtered for Monoponi’s amusement. Every vanished memory, every ruined relationship. All my fault.

MY FAULT MY FAULT MY FAULT

I clawed at my head and let out a wordless scream at the top of my lungs, ripping through my throat, burning my lungs, my ribs, every bruise and cut and injury on my person.

Wallflower Blush. Timber Spruce. Apple Bloom. Sweetie Belle.

MY FAULT MY FAULT

I kept screaming my heart out, my lungs out, ruining my vocal cords. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter.

Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie. Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash. Flash Sentry. Adagio Dazzle.

… Trixie Lulamoon…

MY FAULT ALL MY FAULT

I fell over backward, my voice spent. I landed on my broken elbow, pain exploding through me like an erupting volcano churning molten rock through my veins. I didn’t care. I deserved it. I deserved it all and so much more for what I’d done.

I don’t know how long I laid there, weeping endlessly, feeling like the worst scum to ever walk the planet. I didn’t respond to anything until finally I thought I heard a voice whispering in my ear.

“Sunset. Sunset! Get up!”

“Huh?” I didn’t bother to open my eyes, not willing to face the world. But the voice sounded familiar… impossibly familiar. “Trixie? Izzat you?”

“Sunset. You can’t let him win. You promised me!”

“But… Trixie… it’s my fault!

“So what? You know what he’s like. He used you. I know you, Sunset. I know you never would’ve done this willingly.”

“I… no… no I wouldn’t have… I’d never!”

“Exactly! So get up, Sunset. You can’t let him win now. You can still beat him. I know you can.”

More voices filled my ears, all familiar, all impossible.

“Destroy that pony jerk, Sunset!”

“Do it for Gloriosa, Sunset!”

“Ya can’t let mah sister die now, Sunset! Keep her alive!”

“Sunset, please, save Rarity for me!”

“I believe in you, Sunset!”

“You can do it, Sunny Girl!”

“I’m trusting you to see this through, Sunset!”

“Beat him into the ground, Sunshim!”

“For all of us, Sunset!”

“...I’m sorry I betrayed you. Stop him. Please...”

“You guys… I…”

“It’s up to you, Sunset. You’ve got this.

She’s right. I can… I have to do this! Maybe Rarity, Applejack, Tiara, and Scootaloo’ll hate me. I don’t care. I’m not going to let that fucking piece of trash win now!

I opened my eyes, letting the sights and sounds of the courtroom wash back in. Monoponi was jabbering away at the others over some nonsense, occasionally laughing his stupid little laugh while they freaked out. Sitting up, I reached up with my good arm, took hold of my podium, and pulled myself up to my feet.

“Well, well, well, look who’s decided to join us again!” Monoponi tittered when he saw me. “And how’s my favorite traitor doing? Still screaming like a maniac?”

“Shut up!” I thundered, my voice resolute. I stood firm, despite the looks of disbelief I received from my fellow passengers.

“Pardon me,” Monoponi replied, extending an ear and holding a hoof to it. “I don’t think I heard you.”

“I said shut up! As in, shut your mouth and stop talking!” I stabbed my finger into my podium for emphasis.

Monoponi’s large eyes bugged out of his skull. “Excuse me?!”

“Let’s get one thing straight, Monoponi.” The glare I gave him was unyielding, used like a sword to pierce through his armor of bullshit and penetrate straight into his ugly, evil heart. “I don’t care what you say, what term you use. I’m not a traitor to my friends. Maybe you used me to wipe our memories. Fine. I can accept that. Maybe in the language of your killing game I’m the ‘traitor.’ I can accept that too. But I would never, ever, have participated in this willingly. I would never hurt my friends the way you’ve suggested I would. And no matter what you say, what lies you spin, I will not believe otherwise. Because it is the truth!”

“Sunset…?” Rarity said.

I turned to face her. She’d been crying, her makeup completely ruined. Her hair was similarly out of whack, completely unkempt. Tear stains ran down her cheeks, her eyes puffy and red. As she looked at me, I could see the hurt and fear swimming in those eyes, like black coal dust stains covering otherwise beautiful sapphires. “Yes, Rarity?”

“Please tell me the truth, Sunset. The truth.” Her voice hitched on every word as she spoke. “Are you saying you’re innocent?”

I gave her a firm nod. “Yes Rarity. I promise you: I never, ever would have done this purpose. Never. If it happened, it was because I was used, like everyone else.”

She turned away, whimpering, and let out a few fresh sobs, then faced me again and reached out to hug me. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry I doubted you!”

I gave her a firm squeeze with my good arm. “It’s okay. I don’t blame you for being upset. That’s Monoponi’s fault, not yours.”

“Woah, woah, time the fuck out!” Tiara cried, making a t-shape with her hands. “You can’t just turn around and forgive her like that! You heard the way she was talking about me! She tried to blame me for what she did!”

“Seriously, Rarity,” Scootaloo chimed in, glaring at me with fury in her eyes. “You just spent the last ten minutes helping us prove she’s the traitor. You slapped her in the face and everything. You’re being a hypocrite!”

Rarity withdrew from me and dabbed the tears from her eyes with a handkerchief. “Perhaps I am. But… just look into her eyes, Tiara, Scootaloo. She’s telling the truth.”

“If there’s anyone who oughta be checkin’ if she’s tellin’ the truth, it’s me,” Applejack insisted, jabbing her chest with her thumb. She then pointed that accusatory finger right back at me. “So you tell me, Sunset. Did you plan this game out with Monoponi? Did you?!”

“You’ve asked me this before, Applejack, remember?” I said, refusing to back down even an inch. “And my answer is the same thing now that it was then: no. I didn’t. I may have been involved, but if I was, it wasn’t willingly.”

Applejack crossed her arms over her chest, leaning forward as she stared into my eyes. “Hmm…”

“Applejack, do you remember what we talked about, the morning after we all shared our secrets? How I pointed out Monoponi’s misleading words led you down the wrong path? I remember you telling Trixie, at the end of the last trial, how you’d been misjudging people. Please, don’t make the same mistake now. I’m not your enemy. I’m your friend.”

“Ohohoho!” Monoponi interjected, spreading his forelegs wide. “Yes, listen to Sunset, Applejack. She only stole your memories away!

I whirled on the alicorn and screeched, “What part of shut up did you not understand the first time, Monoponi?!”

“Upupupu, who gives the orders around here? Not you that’s who!” Monoponi retorted with his usual forehoof to mouth gesture. “I don’t know where you got your extra confidence from, Sunset, but it doesn’t matter. You’re still the traitor!”

Applejack clapped her hands for attention, causing us all to look her way, Monoponi included. She bowed her head for a moment, sighed as she set her hands down, then looked up at me. “Ah’m sorry, Sunset.”

“Ahahaha!” Monoponi cried out gleefully, patting his belly. “You hear that, Sunset? Miss Honesty doesn’t believe--”

“Ah’d shut my fuckin’ fool mouth if Ah was you, pony!” Applejack interrupted with the fury of the ages in her voice. “Ah weren’t agreein’ with you. Ah was apologizin’ to Sunset for doubting her.

At this, Monoponi drew back, his mouth falling open. “What?” he gasped, completely taken aback.

“You heard me!” Applejack said. She balled one fist and clapped it to her chest. “Sunset’s right. Ah’ve been lettin’ you manipulate me and turn me against mah friends here this whole damned killing game. Sweet Lord, Ah was just rantin’ and ravin’ against Sunset here, because Ah was blinded by those little clues you left for me to find. Ah know you did that on purpose because it’s what you do!”

Scootaloo’s jaw dropped to the floor as she looked between the farmer and me, utterly nonplussed. “It… it is what he does, isn’t it?” she mumbled after a moment.

“That’s right,” Applejack nodded. “There was somethin’ Ah realized just now, somethin’ Ah was too busy bein’ angry over to think about. Mah sister got this secret of yours, Sunset. She knew the same thing Ah knew. But she didn’t doubt you. Because I remember now, somethin’ she told me that day, the day she died.”

“What was it?” I asked, feeling like I was walking on a field full of eggshells.

“She told me she talked to you that mornin’, said she was gonna talk to you again after the magic show. Said she was a little worried about somethin’ but after talkin’ to you she was convinced you were trustworthy. Ah wasn’t sure why she was sayin’ that at the time. Ah remember sayin’ somethin’ back to her like, ‘O’course she’s trustworthy, Sunset’s been nothin’ but.’ And she just smiled at me and thanked me, like Ah’d done her a favor.”

Tiara gaped at Applejack. “She really said that?”

“Eeyup.” Applejack smiled wistfully, her eyes misting. “Ah… ah knew mah sister pretty well, Sunset. Ah know she wouldn’t’ve saved your life if she didn’t think it was worth savin’. That’s why, when Ah saw what Monoponi left me to find, Ah was so angry, ‘cause Ah thought you’d betrayed her. That you’d been lyin’ and cheatin’ this whole time, usin’ us all.”

Sighing, I gave her a respectful nod. “I can see why you’d think that.”

“And don’t get me wrong,” Applejack continued, giving me a stern look. “Ah still think you could’ve handled things better than you did. That you could’ve been more upfront with us, told us stuff, like you bein’ a pony, or Adagio bein’ a siren. Ah think some of the mistrust in our group really can be laid at your feet. Ah hope you can accept that.”

“Yeah,” I said, closing my eyes a moment. “I can accept that. I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes.” I opened them back up. “But I was always trying to help us get out of here alive. I was trying to do the right thing.”

“And Ah believe you,” Applejack said. She started to reach out her hand, like she was offering to shake, only to draw back with a slight flush on her cheeks when she remembered she couldn’t reach me. “And Ah’m sorry Ah kept doubtin’ you. Ah hope you can find it within you to forgive me on that.”

“Hey, you don’t have to apologize.” My mouth spread into a friendly grin. “I get it.”

“This…” Monoponi’s left eye twitched, going wild as he fidgeted, raising his rear leg like he wanted to kick someone. “This isn’t supposed to happen!”

“Well I’m not going to apologize!” Tiara cried out, furiously crossing her arms and sticking her nose up in the air. “You still accused me of being the traitor! You haven’t shown any faith in me, even after what I said and did for you. Why should I forgive you now, huh?”

I lowered my head, feeling a bit of shame welling back up inside my heart, but this time with a bittersweet coat of acceptance. “I am truly sorry, Tiara. Like I said, I made mistakes. Doubting you was one of them. You really did turn around and make yourself a better person, and I was wrong to doubt you.”

“W-w-w-well! I… Aaaugh!” She threw her arms up and let them collapse onto her podium with loud twin smacks! Then she looked up at me and pointed at me with a shaking finger. “You… you can’t just… I won’t…”

“Diamond Tiara, it’s okay if you’re mad with me,” I said, giving her a small smile that I was hoping like hell she wouldn’t mistake for mockery. “You should be. I was a complete ass. I won’t make excuses: I was looking for someone to blame. Monoponi manipulated me too. He got me convinced one of us was working with him, no matter what he said. And I was so convinced it couldn’t be me that…I’m sorry.”

She leaned back, her jaw working like she was chewing a cud. I saw a flurry of emotions pass over her face, and for a moment I feared she’d revert to her old self and scream at me some more. Then she let out another groan of frustration and set her hand down. “Fine. Fine! I’ll… I’ll forgive you! It’s the right thing to do. But I’m only doing it so long as you’re being sincere, damn it! If I find out you’re lying to me now, I’ll… I don't know what I’ll do, but it’ll be something!”

“No, no, why is this happening…?” Monoponi growled, twitching more and more as he became further unhinged.

I turned to Scootaloo, who hadn’t said a word for a while. “Hey, Scoots.”

Scootaloo blinked in surprise, then looked up at me. “W-what?”

I held out a hand. “I know you have every right to be just as mad at me as everyone else. I haven’t been as close to you as I should have been. I never took the time to hang out with you or make close friends with you, despite telling myself to do it more than once. I’m not going to ask for your forgiveness, because I don’t have the right to ask for it. But I would like to make up for my mistakes. I’m sorry, and, if you’re willing, I want to be friends.”

She spluttered, staring at my hand, then looked at Tiara, then Applejack, then Rarity, before turning away. “Y-you’re right. I-I am mad at you, Sunset,” she said, her voice trembling. She sniffed loudly and wiped at her nose with her arm. “I thought I could trust you. I was s-so happy when you showed up at the last trial, you know? I was so happy, because you lived. I… I don’t know what to think now. I hear what everyone else is saying. I hear what you’re saying. About our memories. Our friendships. And I don’t know who to… who to trust.”

I kept my hand up, refusing to let it drop. “I get that. Like I said, I’m not asking for your forgiveness. All I’m asking is for you to let me be the friend I should have been to you. You’ve lost so much in this stupid godforsaken killing game. I want to try and make up for that, like I should have been doing all along.”

Scootaloo let out a full-bodied sigh and nearly fell over before catching herself. When she faced me again, I saw her face covered with tears. But behind the tears, I also saw a smile. “You know what? Sure.” She took my hand and gave it a firm, solid shake, before releasing it and bumping my knuckles with her fist. “You’ve always been cool, Sunset. I’m not gonna take the word of freaking Monoponi over you. I’m… still not sure if I forgive you for the mistakes you’ve made, but friendship? I can do that.”

“Right on,” I said with a laugh, giving her a fistbump of my own.

RRRRGH! NO!” Monoponi screamed, using his magic to enhance his voice. He was so loud he almost deafened us, forcing us to cover our ears. “No, no, no! You’re not supposed to be getting along!

Despite the pain, I grinned cheekily, and decided to deliberately echo Trixie’s words from yesterday. “What’s the matter, Monoponi? Upset that we’re beating you at your own game?”

“Beating? Beating?! You’re not beating me! Eeurgh!” Monoponi practically frothed at the mouth in rage as he vibrated at his podium like he was an unstable bomb about to explode. Right on cue, to add to the effect, the entire ship shuddered from another explosion, this one audible even in the courtroom. “Oh you haven’t even come close to beating me! You still have a lot to figure out, Miss Traitor. You’d better get to it.”

“And fast, before Princess Twilight blows us out of the water,” Tiara gulped.

“Hey, uh, Sunset, before we go into anythin’ else, Ah have a question,” Applejack said, giving me a curious look.

“Okay. Shoot.”

Applejack paused for a moment to consider her words, her brow furrowed in concentration. “So, um, Ah know Ah was the one pointin’ out that your mind magic was used to take our memories away, but Ah’m still not sure how. You mentioned some kinda imprint thing. Would you be willin’ to clarify that for us?”

Shrugging, I said, “Sure. So, let’s see… how do I simplify this…” I hummed to myself for a moment then nodded. “Okay, so, basically, the ways spells usually work is that you have to create a spell matrix in your mind, like a mathematical formula. Most intrinsic spells, like unicorn telekinesis, are instinctive to the point no one has to visualize how they work to make them work. They will it to happen and their brain does the rest. More complicated spells use more complicated formulas, kinda like running something on BASIC versus C plus plus, if you catch my drift.”

Applejack stared at me, a blank look in her eyes. “Ah don’t follow.”

“They’re programming languages, dumbass,” Tiara snorted, dismissing Applejack’s ignorance with a backhanded wave. “For computers?”

The farmer’s eyes narrowed into slits as she glared at the rich elitist, growling something under her breath. “Alright. Ah get it now. Go on, Sunset.”

Nodding, I continued, “An artifact like the Memory Stone uses an extremely powerful, complicated spell matrix. It’s so powerful that it leaves an impression on those whom it's used upon. This is what I meant when I said imprint. It’s like copying a file on a harddrive, or scanning a piece of paper. What makes it different with me is my inherent magical talent. Since I apparently have some kind of mind reading magic, that must allow me to tap into this imprint and try to run it. Using the computer metaphor, it’s like my mind is the only one running the operating system this program was written for. So if I knew it was there, and I practiced, I could probably erase memories. But I’d never want to.”

“And you don’t have that magic now,” Rarity said.

“No, I don’t,” I replied. “Trust me, if I had the ability to read minds, I… well, I might’ve kept it secret because I would’ve worried it’d upset people, but even if I was keeping such a secret, there’d be no point to doing so now. Besides, it’s the sort of thing I would’ve shared with you, Rarity, because I know I can trust you.”

She blushed profusely at that, and stammered, “I-I-I, thank y-you, I suppose…”

Scootaloo rapped her knuckles on her podium, then rested them on her chin. “So if I get what you’re sayin’ Sunset… is it possible someone could use this imprint for themselves if they stole your magic?”

“Uh, I think so?” I scratched the back of my head and frowned. “It’s been a long time since I studied magic, and having magic stolen isn’t something common in Equestria. Buuut… I’m pretty sure if someone stole my magic, they could use it, and that would include the imprint of the spell.” A dark scowl twisted my face as I turned my gaze upon Monoponi, pointing at him. “And I know who did it, too.”

“Moi? No, surely not!” Monoponi mocked, waving a hoof dismissively. “I would never.”

“No, that’s wrong!” Scootaloo protested, slamming a fist on her podium. “You stole Rainbow Dash’s magic right in front of us, remember?”

~*~
Similar outbursts of incredulity arose from everyone else present, except for Rainbow Dash. Shaking in fury didn’t come close to describing the outpouring of anger from her. An aura ignited all around her, glowing in a brilliant burst of white-hot rage scintillating with every color of the rainbow, burning so bright I could barely stand to look at her. What the hell? Since when does Rainbow Dash have magic?!

“Good heavens!” Rarity burst out, hiding behind Applejack, pointing a shaky finger at the glowing Dash. “What on earth is happening?”

“Aaaah!” Trixie cried, diving for the doorway to the courts.

“Woho, that’s not supposed to happen!” Monoponi blurted, a look of panic rising on his face. His horn lit up in dark crimson, lashing out like a bullwhip to curl around Rainbow Dash. She spun like a tornado as he drained the aura from her, leaving her sprawled on the floor, clutching her head and moaning. “Muuuch better. Must’ve missed some the last time.”
~*~

“We’re not going to forget seeing something like that!”

Monoponi gritted his teeth. “You weren’t supposed to see that,” he groused.

“But we did,” I replied. “So somewhere along the line, you made a mistake. Looking back, I think I know what you meant by ‘last time’ too. You were referring to when you kidnapped us. You drained our magic then and there, and used it against us. What I don’t get is, how did you do it?”

“Oh no,” Monoponi chided with a shake of his head. “You’re not getting the answer from me. You’ll have to figure that part out for yourself.”

“Fine, we will then.”

Tiara, who’d been scanning through her Monopad, looked up at me and asked, “So how’re we going to do that?”

“We figure out who he really is,” I answered, glancing down at my own pad. “I think if we can do that, we’ll figure out how he’s able to drain magic.”

“But where do we even begin?” Scootaloo said, frowning. “I mean, is he someone we all know?”

“I don’t think he is,” I said, shaking my head. “If he was someone we all knew, I feel like he would’ve gone about this killing game differently. No, I’m pretty sure the only one who knew him in any capacity prior to the game was me.”

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.”

“I’m certain whoever is in these pictures with me is the mastermind. See how we’re playing Danganronpa? I’m starting to suspect I’m the one who showed it to him to begin with.”

“But why would you do that?” Rarity wondered. “This all comes back to the question I had before we started investigating: why did he let you keep your memories of Danganronpa?”

“Well, assuming it wasn’t just to help foster dissent, like Scootaloo suggested earlier, I think… I think it might’ve been to help me stay alive.”

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.”

“Remember the plans? I’m listed as a survivor. That means he expected me to stay around. And there’s more proof that suggests he wanted me alive too.”

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.’”

“Look at the way he comments on me in this first diary fragment. He outright says it, right there. ‘I need Sunset alive.’ I think… I think the real reason he let me keep my knowledge of Danganronpa was so he could make me the protagonist.”

“The protagonist?” Applejack repeated, her eyebrows disappearing underneath the brim of her hat. “Ah’m not sure what you mean. It ain’t like this is a story, Sunset. This is real life.”

“No, no, that’s not quite what I meant,” I replied with a sheepish smile. “See, in each of the Danganronpa games, you play as one of the sixteen people in the game. This person is the protagonist. They’re the one who investigates, who solves the mysteries during the trial, who explains how everything happened, and so on. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing this whole time. The only exception was when Trixie had to take over for me, after…” I swallowed, forcing down the sudden feelings of hurt and sorrow that arose upon touching this subject. “After Adagio tried to kill me. Which she only did because Monoponi made her do it.”

Monoponi tittered. “Upupu, I didn’t make her do anything. All I did was show you some pictures. She did the rest!”

“Shut the fuck up, asshole, no one’s listening to your bullshit anymore,” Tiara shouted, flipping off the alicorn with both hands.

He reared back, firing off a nasty, cold glare her way. “You’re lucky this is the final trial or else you’d see what happens when you disrespect your Captain like that.”

“I think you have a point, Sunset,” Rarity said, ignoring the byplay. “You have been leading everything. Your knowledge, your understanding made you the natural leader.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Without that… I don’t know who would’ve taken over. It still might’ve been me. But it could’ve easily been one of you, like Tiara. Or Twilight. Or maybe even Wallflower, since she was pretty smart, even if she made a dumb mistake like turning her back on Timber.”

“Ah think it probably would’ve been Twilight, to be honest with you,” Applejack pointed out. “Ah can’t see many others tryin’ to do it when she was the smartest of us all.”

I shook my head. “That doesn’t necessarily mean she’d have led the trials. In the first game, one of the characters was an Ultimate Detective, but she always left the trials in the hands of Makoto, who was the Ultimate Lucky Student, despite the fact that she’d solved the first case before they even went to trial. Twilight was smart, sure, but… I don’t think she had the confidence to lead. She would’ve played second fiddle, assistant to whoever it was.”

“Which is what she was supposed to be for you!” Monoponi shouted, throwing his hooves up in the air and extending his wings out in frustration. “And she did that brilliantly… for one trial! But nooo, she has to be so pathetic that she falls apart upon seeing Apple Bloom get shish kabobed!”

“Is that where the plan messed up, then?” I asked, curious now. “Because Twilight didn’t help me investigate the second murder?”

“Ah don’t think so, Sunset,” Applejack said, shaking her head. “Look again at these two lines from his diary.”

Fact #1: Mastermind’s Diary Fragment: “
‘Flash and Twilight Sparkle are romantically involved. This could be a big problem.’
‘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.’’”

“Ah’m pretty sure he weren’t intendin’ for either of those relationships to happen.”

Rarity snapped her fingers, her eyes sparkling. “Of course! Sunset, didn’t you tell me a while back, when we were chatting with Trixie, about how Flash only pursued Twilight because you suggested he should?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s right. What about it?”

“Well,” Rarity continued, a grin tugging at her cheeks, “I seem to recall Monoponi making a great deal out of Twilight and Flash’s dalliance the next morning.”

~*~
“That’s… that’s not scientifically possible!” she screeched. Furiously she pointed a quivering finger in Monoponi’s direction. “You are not scientifically possible!”

“Au contraire, mon chérie,” Monoponi retorted. “You’re just too stupid to recognize magic when you see it. But what else should we expect from a science-obsessed bookworm who’s so lonely and miserable she puts out on the first date?”

One of Twilight’s eyes twitched madly as she raised a shaking fist, her whole body shaking with rage. “You… you little piece of… little piece of… piece of shit!

“Woah, woah, Twilight, cool it!” I cried, getting between them and placing my hands on her shoulders. “Remember what I said! Don’t let him get to you! He’s just trying to mess with your head!”

“Let go of me!” Twilight snarled, struggling in my grip even as I strengthened it to hold her firmly in place. “Let me at him! I’ll tear him apart! I’ll smash him to pieces!”

“Hey, Twilight, chill!” Flash joined in, helping me keep Twilight restrained. “I’m mad too, but it’s not worth it. He’s not worth it, Twi.”

“But… he… I… oooh,” Twilight fell into Flash’s shoulder and gripped him tightly. I half expected her to burst into tears on the spot, but she didn’t. She just held him, her breathing slowing, her body relaxing. So I let go and backed off.
~*~

“That made her feel vulnerable. She sought protection from Monoponi’s words behind the aegis of Flash Sentry!” Rarity let out a wistful sigh as she held the back of her hand to her forehead. “Oh, it was so romantic!”

“We get it,” Scootaloo groaned, glaring at Rarity with narrowed eyes. “Move on.”

Rarity coughed into her hand, her cheeks flushing faintly with pink. “Yes, well, my point is, Flash acted as a stabilizer for Twilight. He was someone she could go to, to lean on, to rely upon. We saw for ourselves how unstable Twilight could become. That mad grin of hers…” Rarity shuddered. “Oooh it still gives me goosebumps.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” I muttered, shivering along with her. “Like she’d snapped, diving into pure insanity.”

“Precisely. So, what if that wasn’t supposed to happen?” Rarity proposed. “Recall this part of the plans.”

Fact #22: Typewritten Plans: “
Trial 3: Victims: Applejack, Rarity; Blackened: Twilight Sparkle”

“When I first saw this, I was so terrified for my life I didn’t stop to consider how it would have come about. What could’ve caused Twilight to murder myself and Applejack?”

“You know somethin’, Rarity?” Applejack said, frowning. “Ah think you’re onto somethin’. ‘Cause Ah think Ah know what was supposed to cause it.”

Fact #22: Typewritten Plans: “
Trial 2: Victim: Apple Bloom; Blackened: Sweetie Belle”

She let out a saddened, sorrowful sigh. “Our sisters.”

“...you think so?” Rarity said, giving Applejack a kinder look than she’d bothered with for ages now. Friendlier, even. Less subzero cold and more cool autumnal chill.

“Ah know so,” Applejack nodded glumly. “And Ah’ll bet dollars to doughnuts it was gonna involve that picture Sunset found too. Ah’ll bet Monoponi was bankin’ on us bein’ pissed at each other over what our sisters did. Then Sunset was supposed to give us the picture, or maybe Twilight was supposed to have it, who knows, and that would’ve caused us to fight somethin’ fierce. Like we did do, after the third trial.”

I snapped my fingers several times. “Right, I get what you’re saying. And if Twilight was supposed to follow along with me, she was supposed to have learned from me how the investigations work, how to mislead me.”

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.’”

“Look at the last line of his diary here. He says he had to change the motive. That suggests that the accomplice plus one motive he gave us wasn’t the original one. Maybe it was the political favor one he used for the fourth case. Maybe it was something else. But whatever it was, it would’ve led to Twilight snapping entirely, and using her brain against us. She would’ve killed the two of you and set up a fake scene, making it look like you killed each other.”

“Eeyup, that’s what Ah’m figurin’,” Applejack said. “Make it look like Rarity and Ah have it out for each other, then kill us both and try and mislead you. Ah bet she was supposed to try and take charge of the investigation, push you along, keep you from noticin’ stuff. Try an’ make sure you vote wrong.”

I let out a wry chuckle. “It wouldn’t have worked. I caught on to Adagio doing it, and she wasn’t even trying to hide a crime. And while she wasn’t exactly a queen of subtlety, compared to her Twilight might as well have had ‘obvious’ tattooed on her forehead.” Glancing Rarity’s way, I decided to reach out with my good hand, offering it to her. “I’m… glad things didn’t go that way.”

“Likewise, darling,” Rarity said, smiling warmly at me as she took my hand. I saw her eyes dart down briefly and her head duck an inch before she raised it again, her cheeks aflame.

Heat washed over my own face. Had she been just about to... no, she wouldn’t have.

Applejack’s mouth twisted up and she heaved a sigh before shaking her head firmly, as if trying to shake off the sight. “Ah am too. Like Ah said before, Big Mac and Granny are countin’ on me to make it through this. Ah ain’t gonna leave Big Mac to manage the farm alone.”

“Okay, okay, so that answers the Twilight and Flash question,” Tiara said, rolling her eyes, “but what about Adagio and Sunset?”

Instantly I shrank back from everyone, yanking my hand away as sorrow filled my breast. “That’s… I don’t want…”

“Tact. Tact, Diamond Tiara!” Rarity scolded, glaring at the younger woman. “Do you know what that is?”

“Obviously not,” Scootaloo scoffed. She looked over at me and tried to pat my shoulder. “I’m sorry, we shouldn’t even be bringing it up.”

“No, no, it’s…” I let out a loud sigh, feeling my heart race, though whether it was from anxiety or a desperate desire to run away from the conversation I couldn’t be sure. “We need to discuss it. J-judging by the m-mastermind’s plans, it w-wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“No. No it wasn’t!” Monoponi cried out, slamming both forehooves on his podium. “You and the siren? You and the siren?! What kind of crackshipping moron would think you two were a good pair?”

“Crackshipping?” Tiara mouthed, utterly nonplussed.

Rarity hummed, rubbing her chin with her thumb. “It did strike me as an odd pairing. Perhaps a bit more understandable when it was revealed you were both from Equestria, but… I never would’ve expected it to occur.”

“And yet it did,” I said. “It wasn’t… I didn’t set out to seduce her or anything. Before Wallflower died, she came to me and wanted to strike up a partnership. She told me she was a siren, and used that as leverage to get me to agree to watch her back, so long as she watched mine. For a while there I was worried she was using it as an excuse to isolate me so she could kill me at some point down the line.”

Monoponi grunted. “Yes. That. That, I expected. That, she was supposed to do. It’s what she did next that wasn’t supposed to happen!”

“What does he mean, Sunset?” Scootaloo said.

Blushing, a sheepish smile spread on my face. “So, uh, apparently, she was so scared by the first execution that she came to visit me afterwards. Said she didn’t want to be alone. I gave her a friendly hug, she muttered something about feeling embarrassed if her sisters saw her… and then she kissed me. And it was great. I enjoyed it. So one thing led to another and…” I trailed off, tapping my two index fingers together as my face practically lit on fire from the heat filling it.

“And then you fucked, yes, yes, we’re all adults here, we get it, Sunset,” Diamond Tiara said, rolling her eyes in exasperation.

“A-anyway,” I continued, my face split in half from my sheepish grin at this point, “it was pretty physical at first. I was seeking comfort, because she wasn’t the only one who was scared. I was too. Then as time went on, I began to fall in love with her, or…” I sighed. “With the idea of her. I saw her as being just like me, another bully turned good, only she hadn’t done the turn good part yet. I was trying to help her be a better person.” Anger flashed through me like flash flood in the desert, washing away my embarrassment in an instant. “And then Monoponi had to ruin it all by using that fucking photo album!” Glaring at him in hatred, I added, “I still don’t get why you wanted me dead even though I was your protagonist.”

“Oh? Ohoho? You really want to know why?” Monoponi seethed, his body vibrating with rage once more. “Because you wouldn’t stop disrespecting me! You’re not supposed to do that! You’re supposed to respect the authority I have. I’m Monoponi! I’m the one running the game!”

“Yeah, exactly,” I retaliated, flipping him off with my good hand. “You’re Monoponi. Not Monokuma. If you and I played the games together, you ought to know as well as I do he never cared what people said to him. All he was interested in was despair. Anything else slid off him like it was nothing. But you, Monoponi, you kept overreacting to everything. You freaked out over the slightest insult. You kept retaliating, lashing out with threats over and over until you lost your temper and executed someone without even bothering to check if they’d truly violated the rules or not! It’s no wonder your plan went off the rails from the very beginning. You’re too much of an idiot to think for more than two seconds--”

“BE QUIET!” Monoponi exploded with rage, his whole body glowing with a crimson aura as his eyes glowed like military-grade spotlights. “I WILL NOT TOLERATE BEING SPOKEN TO IN THIS MANNER!

Everyone else shrank back in fear, but I shrugged and laughed. “Proving my point, Monoponi,” I said in a sing-song voice. “This doesn’t scare me anymore. All it does is show how pathetic you really are.”

Monoponi’s magic summoned up several ethereal weapons crafted from his aura, each aimed at me, ready to impale me or slice me in two. “Keep going, Sunset,” he hissed. “Keep pushing me. See what happens.”

“You won’t hurt me for the same reason you wouldn’t kill Applejack: you need five of us alive. Still dunno why, but you do. So…” I used my good hand to fluff my hair, then spread out my arm as far as I could extend it. “Take your best shot.”

“Sunset!” Rarity squealed, bunching up in fright. “Don’t taunt him like that!”

“He might actually do it, you know!” Scootaloo seconded, her body soaking in sweat as her eyes bounced between me and Monoponi.

Monoponi heaved, his chest expanding and contracting at a ridiculously fast pace as he frothed at the mouth, the magical weapons inching closer to me with every second. But I didn’t back down. I kept my stance, making myself a nice, easy target, right for a heart shot.

And then, just like I knew he would, Monoponi dismissed his magic, the weapons disintegrating into wisps of magical light. “If I didn’t need you alive,” he snarled, “I would enjoy ripping you into so many little pieces it’d take days to find them all!”

“Uh huh. Sure. Whatever,” I dismissed him with a wave of my hand.

Tiara swallowed noisily as she gave Monoponi a wary look, then switched her gaze to me. “So, like, we know when the plan messed up. But does that tell us anything about who Monoponi really is?”

“Not by itself, no,” I said, shaking my head, “but it could be a vital clue. The mastermind is likely someone who throws together elaborate plans that can be undone with a single out of place element. They’re decent at adapting to changing circumstances, but their plans still have a high risk of failure. They’re also prone to emotional outbursts, easily losing their temper, and they’ve got some kind of beef with Princess Twilight Sparkle. Meaning she’s probably beaten them at least once before, and they’re out for some sort of revenge.”

“It’s not just--”

“Not just revenge,” I cut him off, “Yeah, I was paying attention when you said that to Trixie, thank you. Shut up while we’re talking, will you?”

Perhaps his anger had finally been spent, because rather than overreact to my command, he quietly sat back on his podium and tapped his forehooves together, much like a human would twiddle their thumbs.

“So if Princess Twilight’s beaten them, that means they have to be from Equestria, right?” Scootaloo asked.

“Oh I’m sure they’re from Equestria,” I replied with a confident smile. “I’ve been sure of that for a very long time now.”

“Wait, wait, didn’t we find a list of Princess Twilight’s villains or somethin’?” Applejack said, frowning at her pad as she flicked through screens. “Oh, yeah, here we go.”

Fact #23: Equestrian Villain Piece: “An editorial piece 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.”

“Huh. Looks like most of ‘em are either reformed or dead. Ah… Ah didn’t know Equestria had such a harsh sense of justice.” Her eyes flicked to the last entry and her whole body convulsed with her disgusted shudder. “They even killed a kid?”

“It doesn’t,” I said, a dark frown crossing my face. “Usually if they can’t reform someone, Equestria will imprison them instead. Usually through petrification. I’m sure Twilight would never have killed a kid on purpose. So something else must’ve caused that.” I read through the list thoroughly. “Huh. Discord must’ve escaped his stone prison. How the hell did they reform him?”

“Does it really matter, darling?” Rarity said. “If he is reformed, then surely he’s not responsible for our predicament.”

My eyebrows shot to the top of my head as I considered that. “Mmm... Well, from what I remember, he made Twilight at her worst moments look like a picture of sanity. He didn’t just rule my world: he used it as his plaything, transforming ponies into whatever he wanted, destroying whole landscapes for the sake of a joke, and so on. The worst part about him was, he wasn’t violent. He was malicious and creepy, but he didn’t kill. And that’s before any reformation. With it? I can’t see him doing this. Besides, this game is far too structured for a spirit of chaos, even with all the rule bending that went on.” Which is more evidence on how much Monoponi sucks at imitating Monokuma. The bear never would’ve allowed the kind of crap he lets through.

“Hey, look, one of these villains had some kind of staff with storm magic or something,” Tiara pointed out as she scanned the list. “Could Monoponi be this guy? Because I’m pretty sure he’s got the ship surrounded by a storm of some kind, that won’t go away.”

I shrugged, considered what else we found, then shook my head. “No, no, this Storm King sounds like some old guy. A lot of the other clues suggested the mastermind, at least in their human form, is young.

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.”

“See? My journal makes it clear. I talk about having a “young friend” that’s almost certainly the mastermind. Maybe the mastermind stole that staff, and that’s how they’re using the weather magic, or maybe they found some other way to do it, but I’d be very surprised if he turned out to be the Storm King.”

“Oh please. Like I’d really be that chump,” Monoponi said with a snort that sent his nostrils flaring like crazy. “That guy was so stupid he petrified himself while jumping off a balcony at the top of Canterlot Palace. Smashed himself into itty bitty little pieces.”

“Well, what about this Nightmare Moon then?” Scootaloo said, pointing to the line on the display. “I mean, she was an alicorn, and Monoponi’s an alicorn, so maybe--”

“Ah, no, let me cut you off right there, Scootaloo,” I said with a firm shake of my head. “I don’t remember that much of Equestria, thanks to Monoponi’s theft of our memories--”

“Your theft! You stole their memories, not I,” Monoponi insisted, posing like an innocent angel.

I shot him a dirty look but didn’t bother responding. “Anyway, like I was saying, although I don’t remember much… I feel like Nightmare Moon was important to Equestria somehow. Like, I dunno, she was Celestia’s long lost sister or something.”

“But then, if whoever Monoponi was wasn’t an alicorn originally, then… how did Monoponi become one?” Tiara asked.

“Well, we don’t even know if they are one, for real. It could just be an illusion of some sort, the shell that they wear.” I scanned through my Monopad and selected something. “But we do know it’s possible for someone to become an alicorn. Princess Twilight did it herself, see?”

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.”

“Hey wait a minute,” I muttered as I read what I just showed off. “Princess Luna…? Why does the name Luna sound so familiar?”

“Ah feel like she was someone in charge of stuff, like, Ah dunno, a vice principal or somethin’,” Applejack said, scratching her head. “But Ah’m not gonna worry about that. What Ah’m wonderin’ about is, how’d the mastermind become friends with you, Sunset? Ah’m strugglin’ to think of a good reason for you to have a ‘young friend’ like your journal said.”

“I think I can answer that one, AJ,” Scootaloo said, sighing.

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.”

“If the mastermind is someone young, or appears young, the best way for them to befriend Sunset would be through the Youth Center. It’s… a pretty good place. I used to go there a lot when I was younger, before my parents had my aunts take care of me.”

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.”

Scootaloo gave her display a withering glare. “See? The mastermind left this evidence behind to prove it.”

“Huh, I wonder why they would’ve left that specifically.” I peered closely at it, examining it carefully. “I mean, this stuff dates from, like 2006, over fourteen years ago. You would’ve been, what, seven?”

“Just about,” Scootaloo said. “I feel like I had a good sponsor around that time too, but I can’t remember who they are anymore. But I do know I had good experiences. It’s just…” she groaned and reached out to claw at her Monopad like she wanted to take the paper, ball it up, and toss it away. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

“So, like, what does the Youth Center have to do with Sunset?” Tiara said, her eyebrows raised in confusion. “She’s too old to go there.”

“I could’ve been a sponsor,” I pointed out. “It sounds like something I’d do. I like volunteering and helping out. I could see myself sponsoring a kid, letting them hang out with me, play video games, stuff like that.”

“Hey, wait, there’s a kid listed on that villain list, right?” Scootaloo said excitedly. “Is it her?”

I shook my head. “No, that wouldn’t make any sense. I wouldn’t show Danganronpa to someone that young. They’d have to be at least sixteen or seventeen for me to consider showing them the games, and that lists this Cozy pony as a foal, meaning she has to be younger than sixteen, since that’s Equestria’s age of majority.”

“Sixteen? Not eighteen, darling?” Rarity said with a confused pout.

I shrugged. “Equestria’s a bit different from Earth. Ponies have cutie marks that help them figure out their destiny, their role in life. And it’s a bit behind in terms of education and technology too, so between those two things, we grow up a little faster. Besides, the list says Cozy is dead. A dead person can’t run a killing game.”

“Ah think we’re startin’ to run out of villains here,” Applejack murmured, reaching under her hat to scratch her head.

“Question, Sunset,” Tiara said, raising her hand. She pointed out a specific line in the villain piece.

Fact #23: Equestrian Villain Piece: “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.”

“What’s a changeling? Is that anything like that one guy on Sta--”

I held up my hand to stop her. “If you’re about to say, are they a race that can change their form at will, then yes. I remember reading about changelings. They’re emotovores… actually, pretty similar to sirens, except unlike them, they feed on love. I think I see where you’re going with this too, but this Chrysalis is dead, according to the list. And I doubt she could transform her appearance on this side of the portal without some other magic.”

Rarity, who’d been poring over her Monopad, suddenly gasped. “What? Why… Sunset, there’s something odd here. Do you recall this thing we found, early in the investigation?”

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.”

Bemused, I examined the case in question, opting to look at the physical copy I’d stashed in my bag over the display version. “What about…” My eyes widened in realization. “Hey, what the heck?!”

Fact #23: Equestrian Villain Piece: “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.”

“They’re the same! That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I thought so too, darling,” Rarity said, nodding. “That’s why I wanted to point it out.”

Applejack peered at me, cocking her head. “Ah don’t get it. We already know there’s alternates between the two worlds. What’s so funny about this?”

“Because, Applejack, every alternate we’ve seen has been a real person,” I answered. “But this video game features the exact same centaur that Princess Twilight took on. I remember seeing this guy in my dreams now. He was enormous, and looked just like the picture on this box art.”

“Wait, wait, doesn’t that just suggest that maybe this Tirek guy has an alternate, but he looks nothing like the centaur version?” Tiara said, holding up one hand to gesture with.

“Well…” I frowned and looked back at our evidence list again. “I guess there is some basis for that.”

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.”

“Between this picture and the one we found just after the third trial, we can see how Princess Twilight and the one we knew looked different. Princess Twilight is an alicorn, whereas our Twilight was a unicorn when she crossed over to Equestria.”

“Wait, but that’s not that different though,” Scootaloo objected with a shake of her head. “They look almost exactly the same. The only difference was Princess Twilight went through some funky magical events to turn her into an alicorn, and ours didn’t.”

“Right, but that’s my point, Scootaloo,” I said, pointing squarely at the picture. “If this Lord Tirek has a real alternate in this world, he must be someone who’s a lot less... beefy. And now that I think about it, I remember reading about a Tirek in history. He was some centaur that tried to take over Equestria by absorbing magic, only to end up imprisoned in Tartarus by Celestia. And every time he absorbed magic he’d grow bigger and more muscular. I guess at some point he must’ve broken out and that’s why Twilight had to deal with him.” My brow furrowed as I concentrated on my memories. “But, wait… in the dreams I saw, he didn’t die. He was sent back to Tartarus. He must’ve escaped again, somehow, but how?”

“Maybe that’s why the mastermind left these funky clues for us, then!” Applejack declared, snapping her fingers. “Ah mean, if this Tirek can absorb magic, and we know Monoponi can... Is that it? Monoponi, are you Tirek?!”

“Ahahahaha!” Monoponi cackled, shaking with mirth. “Me… that complete buffoon… ahahahaha! Ahaha… haha...ha… no. No, I am not Tirek. Guess again.”

Applejack snapped her fingers again, this time with a disgusted look on her face. “Shoot.”

“Maybe we ought to step back a minute,” I said, holding out my hands for calm. “Maybe instead of figuring out who, let’s figure out how they captured us and brought us here.”

“Alright,” Rarity nodded. “Well, to start with, Sunset, we know they’ve been working on obtaining the cruise ship for years, much longer than they must’ve been working with you.”

“Agreed.”

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.”

“See, the news article says the ship was taken out of commission back in January.”

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.”

“But the earliest timestamp picture here isn’t until March. Meaning the mastermind must’ve only gotten to know me after they took possession of the ship.”

“Uh, not to cast doubt on what you’re sayin’, ‘cause Ah think you’re on the right track,” Applejack interrupted as she scratched her head. “But ain’t that a pretty big assumption to be makin’? What if you’d been sponsorin’ this person for a lot longer than March?”

I frowned, thought about that for a moment, then shrugged and shook my head. “Even if you’re right, Applejack, I don’t think it matters much. These photos are the only thing that dates my interactions with the mastermind, and the mastermind wants us to figure out who they are, so they wouldn’t give us misleading information.”

“You know, darling, now that I look at these photos again,” Rarity interjected, pressing her right index finger to her chin, “It feels as if the mastermind only learned about Danganronpa because of you.”

“Right you are, Miss Prissy!” Monoponi said with a giggle in his voice. “Upupu, this is another way Sunset betrayed you! She taught me what Danganronpa was! I never would’ve known about it otherwise. And it was such a wonderful experience, getting to play those games! Sunset, you and I would talk for hours on my theories about them. Oh, the mysteries, the violence, the death, the despair. Despair might not be my goal, but I sure do enjoy it! Ahahaha!”

“Sheesh. Fanboy,” Scootaloo muttered, sticking out her tongue.

The seamstress rolled her eyes. “Right. Anywho, that feels important, Sunset. Very important.”

“Yeah, I agree with you,” I said, nodding. “We’ve known for a while that Monoponi’s goal has nothing to do with us. He told us as much way back…” I trailed off, suddenly very uncomfortable.

Rarity reached out and touched my arm, giving me a watery smile. “It’s alright. I’m well aware of what you were going to say. He told us that at the second trial, after… after my sister’s execution.”

I grabbed for her hand and held it tight, giving it several reassuring squeezes before releasing it. “Y-yeah, that. S-so…” I took a moment to regain my composure. “So, his goals have to do with Princess Twilight. And we already know we were friends with her. In fact, we were all friends, all sixteen of us, before we came aboard this ship.”

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.”

Rarity withdrew the physical copy from her own bag to show off. “It’s true. I have each of your names, number, and address in this book. Given that not all of you are of… similar means, the only reason I’d have that information is if we were friends.”

“Huh,” Tiara said, one corner of her mouth turned down. “You’re making it sound like Monoponi threw together this whole game just to torture Princess Twilight.”

“I think that’s exactly why he’s been holding this game,” I said in agreement. “We know he’s been broadcasting it to her. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, though. There has to be, or else he wouldn’t have gotten the ship. He likely used the ship as the setting as convenience, since he already had it.”

Scootaloo rapped her knuckles on her podium. “Yeah, I’ll bet he used Danganronpa because he loved the games you showed him. It provided the perfect setting for slow emotional torture. I know if I was forced to watch a show all about my friends murdering each other, I… fuck, I don’t have to describe what I’d feel then, do I? We’ve all been living it.”

“It’s been simply dreadful,” Rarity moaned, her eyes watering. “Losing my sister, Applejack losing hers, all this death… it’s been so pointless, so cruel!”

Applejack doffed her hat and held it to her breast. “Apple Bloom…” she whispered.

“Wait, now there’s something else I don’t get, Sunset,” Tiara interjected. “Why take our memories away?”

“Apart from the fact that I doubt he’d ever get us to kill each other if we all remembered how good of friends we were?” I asked her in return. She nodded, so I continued, “Because it’s an aspect of the Danganronpa mysteries. Every game in the series featured memory loss in some crucial way. Our situation is… probably closest to the first game, where good friends had their memories taken away and are forced to kill each other, causing the ones watching endless despair. Monoponi obviously loves the style of Danganronpa, so he sought to emulate it in as many ways as he could. I mean, hell, he’s even had us do those freaking scrum debates, and that’s an outright game mechanic he ripped off.”

“I kinda liked those, actually,” Tiara muttered, then looked away when we all shot her a nasty glare. “Sorry, sorry…”

“Okay, okay, I think we’re getting off track,” Scootaloo said. “Sunset, we’re trying to figure out what the mastermind did to capture us, right? Well, if they had you sponsoring them with the Youth Center, then they must’ve been using it as a way of gathering information, right?”

“What, you mean, slowly pick my brain over time for info on all of us?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo nodded. “That has to be what they did. Then when the time was right and they were ready, they found some way to gather us all up and take us out to sea.”

Applejack placed her hat back on her head. “But Ah still don’t get the point. Just torturin’ Princess Twilight can’t be enough. He had to have known she was gonna try and rescue us!” As if to emphasize, the ship shuddered under another massive explosion audible to us in the courtroom.

“See that’s what I’m still not sure about,” I replied. “Gimme a minute.”

While the others talked amongst themselves, I closed my eyes to concentrate. Okay, let’s think about everything we know here, Sunset. We know his goal isn’t just revenge. We know he’s torturing Twilight on purpose. We know he worked for years to secure this ship, spent who knows how much money arming it to the teeth. We know he used Danganronpa because he happened to fall in love with it while gathering information on us. But why? What is the point?

Well, let’s look at this a different way, Sunset. I frowned, squeezing my eyes shut harder as I raised my good hand to cover one ear. What did every villain on that list of Twilight’s enemies want? They all wanted the same thing: to rule Equestria. But in order to rule Equestria, they’d need to take out any opposition. They’d need to be prepared, with weapons, with armor, with magic. Most of all, they’d need to take out Twilight. Take her down, and Equestria follows suit.

...that’s it! THAT’S IT!

“It’s a trap!” I shouted, cutting off all discussion. “It’s one big trap! He’s luring Princess Twilight in so he can capture her and drain her magic, then he’s going to take the ship to Equestria and use it to conquer it!”

“Ding ding ding ding ding! And we have a winner!” Monoponi announced, using his horn to shoot jets of light that exploded into deafening, brilliant fireworks over the courtroom. At each burst I saw Scootaloo flinch more and more, slapping her hands on her ears by the third one as she bent over and whimpered. “That’s right, Sunset! That’s why I’ve done all of this! So I can move right back in and have the power I’ve deserved all along!

“Hey, hey, it’s okay, Scootaloo, it’s okay,” I said quietly, rubbing the younger woman’s back as she continued to whimper, a few tears dripping down her cheeks. “It’s over now.”

“I hate fireworks,” she moaned as she leaned into me, using me for support till she could stand on her own. “Fuck I hate fireworks… thanks Sunset.”

“Sure thing,” I said, smiling at her.

“Now hold on there, sugarcube,” Applejack said, doubt etched across her face. “Ah thought this Princess Twilight was ruler of all Equestria. And she’s shown up with a warship too. What makes you think she ain’t expectin’ a trap?”

“She probably is,” I answered, “but that’s the other reason he used Danganronpa. Look, we all know what we’ve been going through, right? This killing game, it’s been a living nightmare, Hell on Earth. It’s brought us all to the brink of despair time and time again. How much worse do you think it must be for someone who’s friends with all of us, who’s forced to watch, able to do nothing while their friends die one by one? It’s got to be pretty awful. I doubt Princess Twilight is even thinking rationally anymore. Her judgement is likely compromised, her ability to make quick decisions dampened… she’d make for an easy target. Much easier than if she hadn’t withstood the emotional turmoil of watching us kill each other for the past few weeks.”

“Then we have to warn her!” Rarity shrieked, looking all about the courtroom as if seeking a quick exit. “We can’t let Monoponi capture her! If he captures her, we’re doomed!”

But before she could take a single step away from her podium, Monoponi’s aura lashed out and froze us all in place. “Now now, you don’t think I’m actually going to let you get away with warning the Princess, do you?” Monoponi said sweetly. “Because you’re not. By the time she arrives, it’ll be too late. The trap’s already set. Besides, you have other duties to attend to. You still haven’t figured out who I am.

“Why’re you so insistent on that?” I wondered as soon as he released us. “You’re acting like we have to hurry. What, you want to be sure we’ve revealed you before Twilight shows up, so you can gloat about it?”

Monoponi gave a casual shrug. “Guilty as charged! What can I say? Your Captain does have a bit of an ego. And you’re so close, too!”

“We are?” I muttered. “Okay, fine, we’ll figure you out.”

“Sunset!” Tiara protested, giving me a pleading look. “We can’t just keep cooperating! We have to do something!”

“I know that, Diamond,” I said, a note of irritation crawling into my voice. “But right now we don’t have any other choice. Just wait, okay? I’ll think of something.”

“Tick tock!” Monoponi sang. “Time’s a wasting!”

Scootaloo let out another quiet whimper, then turned to face me, holding up her hands to gesture with. “Okay, so, so, we know the mastermind was at the youth center, we know you sponsored them, and they picked your brain for info on us. But how did they capture us?”

Rarity clapped her hands for attention. “Sunset, I think I have the answer to that!”

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.”

“Of course!” I shouted. “No wonder we felt so creeped out when we saw it. This must’ve been a party the mastermind asked me to throw for them. They used that to lure us all together.”

“Huh,” Applejack frowned, looking over the invitation on her pad. “Ah’m not sure Ah understand why it’s got a raffle ticket. What’d be the point to that?”

“Same reason it says it’s a surprise party,” I answered. I glanced over at Monoponi, who was glaring at his foreleg impatiently as if he was looking at a watch. “Means there’s no evidence left behind. He told us back during the fourth trial that it took a long time for us to get out to sea where we’re at now, long enough that we got to spend at least a good couple of weeks acting like we were on vacation before he wiped our memories again. That would give the police plenty of time to start searching for us, so he needed to minimize the likelihood of anyone being able to put two and two together and find us.”

Tiara flashed me an impatient thumbs up. “So we know how the mastermind got us here now. But who is he?”

“Hurry it up, Shimmer!” Monoponi growled. He’d brought out some sort of tablet similar to our Monopads and was glaring it before scoffing and shoving it back under his podium.

“I-I-I still don’t know!” I blurted, feeling panic rise up and take hold, surging through my nerves like an electric shock. “I don’t know! It doesn’t make sense. Every logical person on that list of villains is dead!”

Applejack glanced over at Monoponi, who was beginning to vibrate with rage again. “Well you’d better think of somethin’ fast ‘cause it looks like he ain’t gonna give you long!”

Whimpering and clutching at my head, I moaned, “Damn it, okay, guys, just… let me think, okay? Let me think! I must’ve missed something.”

I looked back over the evidence we’d gathered. Somewhere in there was something I hadn’t seen, something to tie everything together.

And then I spotted something… odd.

Fact #13: Princess Twilight Piece: “An Equestrian magazine article, dated for two years ago...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.”

“Wait a minute…”

Fact #23: Equestrian Villain Piece: “An editorial piece dated for six months ago...
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.
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.
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.”

“The article on Twilight’s coronation says she fought off three villains and turned them to stone. The villain piece says those three must’ve been Cozy, Chrysalis, and Tirek, but it also says they’re deceased. The first one was written two years ago, the other six months ago… as if something had happened to them.”

“You’re nearly out of time, Shimmer!” Monoponi shouted, his magic beginning to lash out at his surroundings like dozens of writhing tentacles.

“Shut up, I’m thinking, okay?!” I looked back down at the evidence again. “So… so… if something happened to them, something must’ve made people think they died. But if it took an entire army of creatures working together to take them out, Twilight must’ve been keeping tabs on them. If their deaths were faked, she’d know. But… I feel like this has to be it, but I don’t see how!”

Monoponi rose up in the air on his wings. “I’m giving you one more minute, Shimmer, before I decide I don’t need you idiots anymore and wipe you out!”

“Hurry up, Sunset!” Tiara cried as she quivered in fear.

“Please, Sunset, I don’t want to die either!” Scootaloo begged, tugging at my pant leg.

I let out a wordless scream. “I know! Let me think, for fuck’s sake!”

“Come on, Sunset,” I heard Applejack mutter under her breath.

“Thirty seconds!”

Fuck, fuck fuck! What am I missing? I looked back over the evidence again, trying to see some sort of pattern. Think, think, Sunset! What does all of this tell you? Forget everything except the stuff you haven’t tied down yet. Focus on the pictures. The video game case. What do they say?

Rarity reached out and placed both her hands on my arm. “Breathe, Sunset. You can solve this.”

It… it tells me… tells me that we all have alternates.

“Ten seconds!”

Well we knew that! That doesn’t help!

"Five!"

What does that… have to… do…

"Four!"

Oh my god…

"Three!"

If they did that, then that could explain it...

"Two!"

But then who...oh. Oh my god. That’s it!

"One!"

I KNOW WHO IT IS!

Monoponi’s magic surged forth and grabbed us all, forcing us to hover in the air. Scintillating weaponry of hard crimson light manifested at each of our throats, ready to slice and stab and otherwise end our lives the instant he flicked them forward. “Time’s up, Sunset,” he grunted, his voice growing deeper. “What’s it gonna be? Do you have an answer? Or do you die?”

“I have an answer, Monoponi!” I declared with supreme certainty ringing in my voice. “I know who you are!”

“Oh, you do, do you?” Monoponi said, intrigued. He hummed for a moment, then set me, and me alone down, leaving the other four suspended, their lives hanging by a thread. “You get one chance. And you do this right, Sunset! Closing argument style! Mess this up, and you get to watch them die!”

“Don’t fuck this up Sunset!” Tiara cried. “Please!”

Rarity wriggled in Monoponi’s magic grip, panic contorting her features. “Oh dear heavens, Sunset, don’t let him kill me! I don’t want to cease to exist!”

Scootaloo almost managed to force her way out of the magic bonds surrounding her until they tightened, threatening to cut off her air supply. “Sunset!” she gasped. “You… please…”

“Calm down, y’all, Ah’m sure she’s got this…” Applejack stammered, despite looking just as panicked as the other three. I could hear her teeth chattering from here.

I closed my eyes, sorting together my thoughts. I can do this. I know I’m right. I have to be. Opening my eyes, I shouted to the heavens:

“This all started years ago, with the mastermind’s original crimes in Equestria. They were defeated multiple times by Princess Twilight, and eventually made their way here, to this world. The mastermind was trying to find some way to get close to people involved with Princess Twilight Sparkle, and chose me as their target. Because of their age and appearance on Earth, they needed an excuse to befriend me despite the age difference between us. Thus they used the Canterlot Youth Center, and took advantage of my willingness to be a sponsor.

“Over a series of months, I became closer and closer friends with the mastermind. I frequently invited them to play video games with me at my apartment, where I inadvertently exposed the mastermind to the video game series this whole killing game is based upon: Danganronpa. It became the mastermind’s favorite game series, the one they always wanted to play with me when they visited. Over the course of visits we ended up playing all three of the main games together, and, according to the mastermind, I had a great deal of fun listening to their thoughts and theories. I had already played the series once before, but with the mastermind I experienced it fresh all over again.

“And I wish I hadn’t. The mastermind had slowly, over the course of the many months I knew them, solicited information on all of my friends, the people involved in this killing game. They learned about our magic, learned about our history. Most importantly they learned about Wallflower Blush’s use of the memory stone. Though the memory stone was destroyed, the imprint it left on my mind allowed me to call upon its power, due to my inherent talent with mind magic. As such, this allowed the mastermind to wipe our memories, so long as they drained the power from me first.

“Thus when it came time to kidnap us, the mastermind used me once more. They claimed it was going to be their birthday, and that they’d never had a birthday party before. They also wanted to meet my friends. Through careful manipulation they conned me into sending invitations, which were to act as raffle tickets, meaning no evidence would be left behind, and the whole thing was kept secret, so there’d be nothing anyone could inform the police of after we vanished.

“Instead, it was a trap. As soon as we’d all arrived, the mastermind revealed their true Equestrian status and drained us of our magic. Using my mind magic as a focus, the mastermind wiped our memories, then had us carted off to the cruise ship. The mastermind amused themself during the sail from the port by allowing us to act like it was a vacation, and wiped our memories again at the end.

“Using the knowledge they’d gathered from me, the mastermind crafted together a careful plan for this killing game. They decided everything down to who would die in each case and who would be the blackened, and created motives accordingly. They thought they understood our personalities well enough for this to succeed. However, the plan went wrong from the beginning. Despite the victims and blackeneds of the first two trials being what the mastermind intended, the methods were different, as were the results. Everyone used the Monopads in a different manner than anticipated. Relationships formed that weren’t supposed to, such as Flash and Twilight, and myself and Adagio. Then finally things completely went off the rails when Twilight Sparkle left that note. This caused a chain reaction that completely disrupted the entire game, resulting in things going further and further out of the mastermind’s control. Though the mastermind was still able to execute Twilight, nothing else went to plan.

“Despite this, the mastermind persisted, even attempting to have me killed when they decided they were tired of my disrespect for their authority. But the mastermind’s plan failed again, thanks to Trixie, whose bright thinking and action saved my life, at the cost of her own and Adagio’s.

“The identity of the mastermind is a simple matter, when the clues are assembled. We know from the Equestrian magazine article about every villain Princess Twilight has ever faced. We also know the most likely culprits are considered deceased. But as we’ve seen from other photos, we know every Equestrian has an alternate, and that when you transition between the worlds, your form changes to match that of your alternate. And when that’s understood, the deception and thus, the mastermind’s identity becomes obvious. Only one of the villains is young enough to pretend to be a youth in need of a sponsor. Only one of them could be described as a young friend. Only one of them could manipulate the best of us with their childlike charm.

“The identity of the mastermind is none other than that pegasus foal:

COZY GLOW!

Show yourself, Cozy! End this charade!”

As my words echoed through the courtroom, silence reigned, with the only sound being that of the soft musical chime of Monoponi’s telekinetic aura. My fellow passengers all gaped at me, horror stricken, most likely convinced I’d sealed their fate.

But I didn’t waver. I stared down Monoponi, as he stared me down in turn, my finger still raised, pointing at his face. I remained still, patient, and calm. I know I’m right. I’m sure of it.

Then all of a sudden, Monoponi’s aura faded, dropping the other four to the ground. They all cried out in pain as they landed, a few of them bumping heads or elbows or other limbs on their podiums before they managed to haul themselves to their feet.

“Golly, Sunset. I can’t believe you did it!”

It was Monoponi speaking, but not Monoponi. It was a completely different voice, young and feminine, cloaked in a veil of polite friendliness that belied the sadism underneath. It was all at once diplomatic, childlike, full of wonder… and scared me to death. This voice was all too familiar, despite the memory loss, echoing in the darkest parts of my soul. A voice of true evil.

“T-then, she… she was right?” Scootaloo breathed, rubbing at her bruised throat.

Applejack winced as she held a hand to a nasty shiner forming on her face. “Ah’m sure she must be.”

Tiara let out a low moan as she leaned against her podium, holding both hands to her back. “God, why’d he have to drop me like that…”

“What… who are you?” Rarity whispered as she stared at Monoponi in mute horror.

Monoponi giggled, a laugh entirely unlike any produced by the alicorn before. He took flight, floating towards us till he was hovering over the very center of the courtroom, right above the holographic display. Everyone except for me backed away from their podiums, fear reflecting in their faces. “Oh, Rarity, don’t tell me you don’t know? You heard my best friend Sunset Shimmer name me! But why hide behind this face anymore? I think it’s time you all saw the real me!

A large bubble of magic exploded around Monoponi. At first, it was the same color his magic always was, that sickly, evil crimson. But as we watched it, it changed. Emerald green flames surrounded him, bathing him in their light before they shifted to a brighter red, less crimson and more scarlet.

Then the flames fell, and we were all stunned beyond belief.

Floating before us was a young pale pink skinned woman, about sixteen or so years of age, clad in a dress containing elements of classical Pegasi attire mixed with Earth schoolgirl uniforms, shaded in colors of rich cranberry red to pinkish to livid blue. Crenellation shaped gold trim decorated her skirt and sleeves. A cream colored belt tied around the waist prominently featured a mahogany brown rook symbol. Similar ribbons of cream and gold festooned her hair, arms, and legs. Rolls of pale cyan and greyish blue hair streamed around her face so curled up it was like she had a head full of scrolls. Atop her head she wore a gold filigree leaf crown, like the Roaman emperors of old. In her right hand she carried a wand, shaped from a contorted, curvy horn with an attached handle of malachite. Most worryingly, however, she sported pony ears the same color as her skin, and two large feathery pegasus wings opened up behind her, fluttering as if in a gentle breeze.

She opened her shining scarlet eyes, leaned back, and cackled like mad. Peals of laughter rolled from her throat in endless waves as she held the back of the hand holding the wand up to her mouth and laid her other on her hip. “Oooh Sunset, it’s so good to finally see you again!” she said in a syrupy sweet voice. “I’ve been in that Monoponi disguise for so long I almost forgot who I was!”

“Y-you’re… you really are…” I stammered, barely able to find my voice. A mixture of loathing, rage, and emotions I didn’t even have words for coursed through my body, churning not just my stomach but the whole rest of my torso up like all my organs had been ripped out and thrown into a blender. “You’re Cozy Glow.”

“Thaaaat’s right!” Cozy curtsied before us with perfect form, before returning to her podium. “I’m Cozy Glow. It’s so nice to meet you when you can see the real me! We’ve had so much fun together, haven’t we? This game has been so thrilling! But now?”

The sweetness vanished from her voice as she leaned forward, adopting a maniacal smile that sent torrents of fear rushing through my veins like water from a broken dam. “Now, the real fun begins!”

Author's Note:

Major, major credit to Rainstorm Riddles for creating the artwork used in this part. She took my sparse descriptions and whipped up an incredible set of backgrounds and interpretations. Thank you very much my friend. :pinkiesmile:

Congratulations to ShadwSonic, SuperSonicHeroes, BlackOpsElf, NickChi, RTStephens, AxelFones, JCarp, and Superfun. Brony1984 also gets partial credit for a really cool as hell idea I wish I had thought of. Ah, I'm so proud of all of you, especially those who'd not put forth a guess before now. I was applauding every correct guess. :pinkiehappy:

That's right, it's Cozy Glow! Now, why is it Cozy? Well, there's a lot of reasons, and there's still plenty of content left to come, so I don't want to spoil anything. But I can share with you this image by The Butcher X.

I happened to come across this image back around the end of September 2020, when, in a fit of Danganronpa fervor, and having just read a couple of excellent Fangans, I wanted to embark on writing a story of my own. So I set upon my original idea, which involved taking the blackeneds from all three video games and throwing them into a second killing game for the sake of either reincarnating back to life, or being erased from existence altogether. But I didn't get very far into the prologue before realizing I just didn't have the voice of these characters down at all.

So when I saw that image, thanks to the Danganronpa in my brain my very first thought was, "if anyone would run a killing game in MLP it'd be Cozy Glow." And then the ideas began to flow. I wrote down a few, not intending to write anything. And then I started writing anyway. And kept writing, and writing, and here we are today.

In other words, if it were not for this image, this story would not exist. The story was built from the ground up with Cozy in mind.

Like I said there's still plenty yet to come! We're not done yet.

A few of you had the notion of Sunset's demon form being involved as a separate entity, that or Human Sunset. Both of those were really cool ideas, but they didn't fit the story as intended. But I wanted to acknowledge how much I liked them.

Oh, and please, Sunsagio fans, don't take Monoponi's crackshipping comment to heart. That's not the opinion of the author regarding the pairing. My opinion is that it's a fine pairing that just has a lot of complications involved. Monoponi, however, is a jerk, and spouts a lot of opinions I do not agree with.

Also, just for kicks, here is a close-up of Cozy without the lighting effects:

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