• Published 24th Feb 2013
  • 2,152 Views, 41 Comments

The Game of Six - shallow15

A thousand years ago, Celestia was challenged by an ancient entity for the fate of her domain. She won, but at a terrible cost. Now, the Game begins again...

  • ...

Rules of the Game

Lightning Dust look a deep breath and hurled herself towards the ground. She grit her teeth and flapped her wings harder, forcing her body to travel faster. Below her, the crowd of ponies gathered beneath the Dodge Junction clock tower stared up in disbelief.

Disbelief turned to gasps of horror as Lightning Dust pulled her wings in and let herself plummet to earth. The pegasus's brow furrowed and she pulled her forelegs to her sides, steering herself headfirst towards the crowd. The gasps returned and a couple of mothers in the crowd covered the eyes of their foals.

At the last possible second, Lightning Dust thrust out her wings and pulled upward, snagging the cherry on top of the fudge sundae that had been sitting on a small box in the middle of the town square with her teeth. She flew upward, performed a triple loop-de-loop, landed on all fours in front of the crowd, tossed the cherry in the air, and caught it in her mouth before grinning widely and taking a dramatic bow. The ponies in the crowd cheered and applauded wildly. Bits were tossed in front of the pegasus. She waved a hoof.

“Thank you! Thank you, Dodge Junction! There'll be another show at four o'clock this afternoon! If you think you have a stunt that I can't perform, I'm willing to take up the challenge! Four o'clock, right here!”

The crowd let out another smattering of applause then began to disperse. Lightning Dust gathered up the bits in the dust, and began stacking them on the box, occasionally taking a bite out of the melting sundae.

Thirty-four bits, she thought. Not bad for the lunch crowd. Wish they'd come up with something more than death-drop stunts though.

She shoved the bits in her saddle bags, and pushed the box back over by the saloon, taking a moment to return the dish the ice cream had come in.

“Here ya go, Brass,” she said to the pony behind the bar. Brass Spigot, the bartender, nodded and put the dirty dish and spoon into the tub for empty glasses.

“Good crowd today?” he asked. Lightning shrugged.

“It was okay. Another couple of shows and I'll probably be ready to move on. Maybe head for Los Pegasus or Vanhoover or somewhere.”

Brass Spigot nodded again. “Well, I'm gonna miss ya when ya go, Lightning. You kicked up business around here quite a bit.”

Lightning smiled. “Yeah, you're pretty cool yourself, Brass. Can I get a sarsaparilla?”

“Sure thing.” Brass grabbed a glass mug, filled it, and slid it across the bar. “On the house. Call it a good luck drink.”

“You're gonna spoil me, Brass.” She reached into her saddlebag and tossed a couple of bits on the bar. “I better return the favor.”

Brass took the bits and placed them in the cash register. Further down the bar, a pony waved for service. Brass looked back at Lightning, who smiled and waved him off. The bartender headed to serve the customer. Lightning Dust sighed and stared down into her drink.

Things had gone downhill since she had been kicked out of Wonderbolt Academy. She couldn't face going back home afterward, so she had decided to start traveling. The next thing she knew, four months had passed and here she was, wandering aimlessly across Equestria, doing street stunts for money.

“Excuse me? Miss Lightning Dust?” a quiet stallion's voice asked.

“Next show's at four,” Lightning replied, not looking up. “Come back with your challenge then, okay?”

A sack of bits landed on the bar in front of her with a loud clunk. Lightning Dust blinked and stared at the sack, before turning to look at the stallion.

He wasn't much to look at. An earth pony, fairly average build, dusky brown coat, black mane and tail, brown eyes. The only thing unusual about him was his cutie mark: a pair of black dice with white pips that totaled thirteen. He gave the pegasus a small smile.

“I trust that would be enough to compensate you for your time?”

Lightning Dust frowned. “Who are you?”

The stallion chuckled. “Who I am isn't as important as what I can do for you.”

“Listen, I don't know what you've heard about me, but I am not that kind of mare.”

“Nothing could be further from my mind, I assure you,” the stallion interrupted. “No, Miss Dust, I find myself in the need of the services of a skilled stunt pegasus and, should you accept my offer, I will give you the thing you want most in the world.”

Lightning let out a chuckle. “Let me guess, you'll whisk me away to some private island where I'll want for nothing and live out my days in luxury.”


“No?” The pegasus quirked an eyebrow.

“No,” said the stallion. “Because that kind of life doesn't interest you in the slightest. No, Miss Dust, I know what you really want.”

“Oh yeah,” Lightning Dust snorted. “Sure you do.”

“Fame. Glory. The acknowledgment that you're the greatest stunt flier in the history of Equestria.”

“Pfft. Everypony knows that, it's part of my spiel. Take your money and go away, you're boring me.” Lighting picked up her mug of sarsaparilla and began to drink.

“You also want to prove to your father that you aren't a failure and a washout.”

Lightning choked on her drink and nearly spit it out. She forced the liquid down her throat and looked back at the stallion. “How did you know that?”

“The same way I know that he was a highly decorated member of the Wonderbolts, before the accident that ensured his stunt flying days were over. He also told you stories of his time with the group and inspired you to carry on the family tradition, fueling your desire to become the best Wonderbolt anypony had ever seen, until your own recklessness caused you to be ejected from the Academy. Which brings us to where you are now: too ashamed to go home and tell him what actually happened. So you've been sending letters saying you were chosen for a new offshoot team that is moving around Equestria training in various environments, all the while actually doing street performing to make ends meet.

“Which brings me to my response to your initial skepticism. What you want, Lightning Dust, is to make your father proud of you by becoming the most legendary pegasus in the world. Would that be a fair assessment?”

Lightning Dust stared at the stallion. It was all true. Somehow, he knew everything that had gone through her mind ever since she had been kicked out of the Academy. Things she hadn't told anypony.

“What do you want?” she asked, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.

The stallion gestured at the bag of bits he had tossed on the bar. “Those are travel expenses. I need you to be in the vicinity of Ponyville in approximately twelve days. After that, all you need to do is exactly what I tell you, when I tell you. And once it's all over, you'll have exactly what you want. Do we have an agreement?”

“What happens if I say no?”

The stallion shrugged. “Then I will need to find a new centurion, and you will be free to continue on your way, living hoof to mouth... keeping your secret from your father.”

Lightning Dust frowned and looked at the bag of bits, then at her drink. After moment, she looked back at the stallion. “You can help me make him proud?”

The stallion grinned. “I can guarantee it.”

Lightning Dust took a deep breath. “Okay, deal.”

“Excellent. Remember, Ponyville in twelve days. Don't worry about finding me, I'll find you.”

The stallion slid off the barstool and began to make his way out of the saloon. Lightning Dust turned and called after him.

“I'd like to know what this is all about, if you don't mind.”

The stallion looked back at her, grinning in a way that the pegasus was sure she didn't like.

“It's a game,” he said. “One which promises to be very entertaining.”

“Uh-huh,” Lightning said. “You never told me your name.”

“No, I didn't.” The stallion turned and walked out of the saloon.

Lightning Dust jumped off her stool and dashed outside, determined to get at least one straight answer out of the pony she had found herself working for. She looked up and down the main street of Dodge Junction, but to no avail. The stallion had vanished.


Twilight found Celestia in the palace sculpture garden. As she trotted out into the sun, she saw Celestia sitting at a small stone table near the vacant pedestal where Discord had been imprisoned. The princess had her eyes closed and her head tilted upward. Her wings were extended slightly. The entire scene gave the impression that the princess was doing more than sunning herself. Of the many myths and legends that had sprung up around the alicorn princesses, one of the most persistent was that Celestia did not actually need to eat, instead taking nourishment from the rays of the sun itself.

Seeing her mentor like this, Twilight couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a grain of truth in that particular rumor. She also wondered what kind of outlandish traits would be attributed to her now that she had become an alicorn herself.

Putting the thoughts out of her mind, Twilight trotted over to Celestia and cleared her throat.

“Princess?” she asked. “You wanted to see me?”

Celestia's eyes opened and she drew her wings in. She smiled at her former student and gestured to the cushion on the ground opposite her. “Yes, Twilight. Please, sit down.”

Twilight took a seat on the cushion. As she did, she noticed that there was a game board set on the table. The board was hexagonal, and was further subdivided into smaller hexagons, six on a side, mostly white, with the occasional black hex between them. Two sets of six figurines were set in a line on opposite ends of the board. Before Twilight could look closer at the figurines, Celestia spoke.

“How are you this morning?” asked the princess.

“Oh, just fine, Princess,” Twilight said. “Thank you so much for a lovely coronation ball.”

“It was my pleasure, Twilight. And please, you can call me Celestia. I think we've moved beyond the need for titles at this point.”

“Oh... of course... Celestia,” Twilight fidgeted on the cushion, uncomfortable with the informality.

“Twilight, I've asked you to come here because I have something very important I need to discuss with you.”

“Is it about next month's princess summit?” Twilight asked. “Because I've been thinking about it and I think I could come up with an agenda that should cover everything we need to discuss and—”

Celestia held up a hoof, interrupting Twilight. “No, Twilight, nothing like that.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“I had hoped you would have time to adjust to your new role before something like this happened, but it appears the cosmos has other ideas.”

“Is something wrong?” Twilight asked. “Is Equestria in danger?”

“Yes and no,” Celestia answered. She frowned in thought. “How can I put this? What exactly do you know about Luna and myself?”

Twilight blinked. The question was perplexing, but that had never stopped her from trying to answer one.

“Well,” she began, “You two are the rulers of Equestria. You raise and lower the sun, while Luna does the same for the moon. You are the most accomplished magic users in Equestria. Um... you've ruled Equestria for as long as anypony can remember. You're goddesses—”

“Ah,” Celestia said. “Stop right there. This is the first thing you need to realize, Twilight. Luna and I are not goddesses. Yes, we are very long-lived, and yes, we have great power, but we are not immortal nor are we the creators of the world. The world was here long before we were, and we are reasonably certain it will be around long after we have gone, whenever that may be.”

“Okay. Uh... I'm still not understanding what this is all about.”

“All right, let me try a different approach. When Luna and I were very young, we were... chosen, for lack of a better word, to be the stewards of this world. To protect it and its inhabitants. Now, as I said, we are not goddesses, but we do have an innate connection to the cosmos at large, and the beings that reside on that level. You've glimpsed the cosmic plane yourself when you ascended to alicornhood.”

“Oh, yes,” Twilight said, remembering the ethereal place she had gone after completing Starswirl the Bearded's final spell, where Celestia had revealed Twilight's destiny to her. “So there's some sort of cosmic danger coming to Equestria?”

“It's a bit more complicated than that,” Celestia answered. “There are other worlds than ours, Twilight. And each world either has a god, or a steward, or some entity that is responsible for the existence and balance of that world. But even those of us who oversee a world have entities we have to answer to. These are the entities that keep the cosmos in balance and act as a check against those stewards who might be tempted to abuse their power.

“One of these entities is coming to Equestria, aren't they?” Twilight asked.

“Yes, he is. He has many names, but here, he's known as Arbosh.”

Twilight's eyes widened as she recalled reading the name in Ancient Myths & Legends of Equestria. “The Master of Games? He's real?”

“Indeed he is, Twilight.”

“But, according to legend, he destroys whole worlds! He comes to a world, challenges the rulers to play one of his games, and if they lose, the world is destroyed.”

"This is true," Celestia acknowledged. “But, if the steward wins, the world is granted a thousand years of peace and tranquility, and while he may visit a world again, many worlds go eons without ever seeing him again.”

“A thousand years,” Twilight murmured. “He's come here before, hasn't he? When Nightmare Moon—”

Celestia nodded again. “It was not an easy victory, but aside from a few incidents here and there, the world has known peace and harmony since then. But, as with many things on the cosmic level, there are further conditions. Every year since Luna's return, I have received a box that contains a pair of dice. I must roll those dice three times. If I roll them and none of the three rolls totals thirteen, Arbosh does not return to Equestria, and the world gets another year of peace. However, last night—”

“The dice came up thirteen,” Twilight finished. “Arbosh is coming, and you have to face him.”

“As will you, in a way,” Celestia looked at Twilight, her expression serious. “The game that Arbosh and I will play will be played in the real world. Twilight, I have no right to ask you this, after all that you have done for Equestria, but... will you and your friends be my pieces in the game?”

“You play with real ponies?” Twilight said, appalled. “That's horrible!”

“I agree, but those are the rules. Rules that neither Arbosh nor I can break. He is bound to them just as much as I am.”

Twilight looked off to her right. The day was still sunny and bright, but she felt like a shadow had fallen over everything. Her coronation had seemed to be the beginning of a bright, new future. Now, that future seemed tragically cut short. She looked back at her mentor.

“I don't have the right to speak for my friends. You'll have to ask them yourself. But, yes. Yes, Celestia, I will be one of your pieces.”

Celestia's posture relaxed and she let out a sigh. "Thank you, Twilight. And you're right, your friends deserve to make the choice themselves. We shall meet them as soon as possible. But first, I have one last question.”

Celestia tilted her head toward the game board in front of them. She levitated one of the pieces in front of her. The figurine depicted a pony with a staff, a cloak, and a pointed hat decorated with stars.

“What do you know,” Celestia asked, “about the Game of Six?”