Roll for Initiative

by Prak

First published

Armed with swords, spells, snacks, and a bag of dice, five heroes test their mettle against brigands, monsters, and a necromancer's undead army in the saga of gaming night in Ponyville.

Equestria stands on the brink of ruin. A necromancer has raised an army of the dead and is poised to plunge the world into darkness. Monsters and brigands roam freely across the land, preying upon the innocent.

Only one hope remains. Armed with swords, spells, snacks, and a bag of dice, five heroes band together to defeat the forces of evil… if their rolls are good enough.

Welcome to gaming night in Ponyville.

Dramatic reading by Goombasa.

Cover image by Elosande used with permission.

Roll for Initiative

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Roll for Initiative
Week 1

“You’re going to die if you keep going,” said the ghost of Star Swirl the Bearded.

“As if. There’s nothing in this musty old temple that can stop me,” Daring Do replied, moments before her hoof tripped yet another pressure plate. A rapid series of clicks was her only warning before the low, narrow hallway was filled with a rain of arrows.

Wincing and swearing every time a projectile perforated her leather armor, Daring darted back and forth as she made her way through the passage. When she reached the other side of the trap and the firing mechanism disengaged, she stopped and looked back. Still panting, she struck a confident pose and bowed theatrically to her companions.

“You see? Nothing can stop Daring Do, the Mistress of Advent—”

Her monologue was cut short as the trap door beneath her hooves fell open, but her quick reactions saved her once again as her arrow-riddled wings popped open and held her aloft. Beneath her, the flickering torchlight reflected off sharp metal edges.

“Ahem. As I was saying, nothing can stop—”

The ceiling collapsed, and Daring Do was pushed down into the pit.

Rainbow Dash’s hooves dug deep into her mane as she screamed. Again. “What the hay, Twi? A falling ceiling? You just put that in there to get me killed!”

“Yes, of course I did,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes as she lowered her DM screen. “I only set it up that way to kill you in particular. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the temple's builders would have wanted to make sure it was safe from all kinds of creatures, including pegasi and griffons. It's really nopony's fault but your own. Star Swirl even told you there was danger ahead.”

“Whatever," muttered Rainbow. "I can just erase the numbers and roll new ones again, right?”

“Yes, Rainbow. Your new character can catch up to the group when you finish.”

“Okay, y’all, let’s hurry up and make some progress while there ain’t nothing slowing us down,” Applejack said, smirking.

“Agreed, but you’ll need to lead the way," said Rarity. "None of us can detect traps, and you’re the most likely to survive them.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Rarity, bards can find traps too, you know.”

“I suppose we can, but my dexterity is woefully low, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice points from performance and persuasion.”

With a sigh and a shake of her head, Twilight set her DM screen back up and resumed the game.

“I guess I’ll be taking the lead from here, y’all,” the paladin announced. She took her time to prod every stone along the way, scribbling marks on the ones that wiggled.

The group soon passed the arrow trap and hopped across the spike pit, not even bothering to spare a glance downward at the carcass of their short-lived rogue. After all, there was no way to recover her gear from the pit.

Before long, the path opened into a larger chamber, and the group moved into a defensive formation. At the front were the two earth ponies: the paladin, whose white coat was barely visible beneath her heavy armor, and a solid black stallion named Crusher, whose only armor was the heavy scabbard across his back. Behind them stood the two unicorns: the maroon-coated bard, Noble Gem, and the pink sorceress, Swirly Sparks.

The chamber had once been a hall of worship, but it had been transformed into a den of horrors. The walls were lined with torture devices and tools. Tables with leather straps had recently been installed in the center of the room.

And there were the obligatory half-rotted corpses laying around the room, of course.

As the group took a few steps inside, the door slammed shut behind them. A disembodied bass voice assaulted their ears and shook the tools from the walls. They clattered on the blood-stained floor as the voice said, “So you have made it this far, heroes? Well done. Though I see that not all of you have been so fortunate.”

“Don’t y’all be worrying about us none," said the paladin. "Even without Daring, we’re plenty capable of beating your zombie ponies. Not to mention, a new rogue should be getting here any time now.”

“Wait, wait, wait," Twilight said, slapping her screen down onto the table again. "AJ, your character doesn’t know that a new one will be arriving soon. Besides, what makes you think there are zombies?”

Applejack raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Uh... Twi, you said there are corpses on the floor. That means they’re gonna get up and we’re gonna fight 'em.”

“I know I said there are corpses, but it doesn’t always mean there’s going to be a fight.”

“Darling, I’m afraid the scenario is rather transparent," Rarity said between taking sips of soda from a teacup. "That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. After all, there’s nothing else to do in this room but fight, so it’s not like some big surprise was ruined.”

“Yeah, Twilight, it’s totally obvious that the zombies are gonna get up and be all ‘Growwr’"—Pinkie hopped up and, standing on her hind legs, threw a series of punches at the air in front of her—"and we’re gonna be like ‘Whap’ and ‘Pow’ and ‘Zowie’ until we beat them all." She froze in mid-punch. "Oh wait, we don’t have any bat-ponies in the party.”

Twilight's eyes glazed over as Pinkie sat down, but she quickly shook her head and returned to lucidity. “Um... close enough. Now, can I get back to finishing Sombra’s monologue so we can get this apparently obvious fight started?”

“Sombra?” Rainbow Dash yelled. “Seriously? That’s your villain? King Sombra?”

“Enough! Yes, Sombra is the villain, and if you don’t like it, make sure you kill him. That way, you'll never have to see him again!” Twilight's magic snapped the DM screen back into position.

“Now where was I…” mused Sombra. “Oh yes. I remember now. I don’t care how many of you there are. You will all serve me in death, just like them.”

“About time,” the paladin said as the party drew their weapons. Meanwhile, the zombie ponies around the room stood up and silently decided the order they would attack in.

The first to act was Swirly Sparks, who fired a spread of magic missiles into the chest of the nearest undead, staggering it momentarily, but failing to kill it.

Crusher made the next move, charging ahead and cleaving through two zombies with his over-sized ax. Several more moved in to flank him, but he hardly noticed them as they gnawed ineffectually on his hide.

The paladin channeled her holy powers at the enemies surrounding Crusher and reduced several of them to dust, which gave the barbarian a way to escape, if necessary. A few of the shambling monstrosities responded by lurching in her direction, but she held back their flailing hooves and snapping jaws with her shield.

Noble Gem pulled out her lute and plucked at the strings with her magic, singing along with the melody. Star Swirl’s ghost joined in and made it a duet.

The door was splintered by a mighty buck as the fourth Daring Do made her entrance. “Don’t worry, guys. I got this,” she said, taking a moment to strike a heroic pose before charging toward a group of zombies. As she reached the closest one, she spun around and aimed for its head.

Applejack and Pinkie roared with laughter while Rarity and Fluttershy giggled, and Twilight and Rainbow facehoofed. The result on the attack die was a one: an automatic failure and, depending on the whims of Twilight’s dice, possibly something much worse.

Daring Do’s poorly aimed buck sent her tumbling past her intended target, right into the middle of the crowd. As the zombies fell upon her to take advantage of her disorientation, the heroes with especially sensitive ears could make out her last words: “This game is stupid.”

With the zombies clustered around the pegasus’ remains, Swirly took advantage of the opportunity by launching a fireball into their midst. Although she destroyed every undead in the blast radius, she had forgotten about the zombie her magic missile failed to kill; it closed the gap and mauled her with the sharp fragments of its shattered hooves.

Crusher swung his ax again and killed a few more undead, but the remaining zombies bit into his legs and battered his sides with their hooves. The paladin tried to position herself to assist, but couldn’t move far without leaving Noble Gem vulnerable. The bard continued to play her song.

The sorceress put another magic missile into the chest of her attacker, dropping it for good. Then, she moved to a safer location and called for the bard to follow. At that moment, several dozen extra zombies dropped through trapdoors in the ceiling.

“Um…I think I need to go into a rage now,” said Crusher. “If it’s okay with all of you, that is.” After a chorus of hasty agreements, the barbarian looked down at the bracelet above his hoof. On it, five letters were engraved: WWIWD. “When zombies attack…” he whispered.

“…make their skulls crack!” Fluttershy screamed. With her eyes wide and pupils narrowed to pinpricks, she picked up her dice and slammed them down onto the table. The result was a critical hit and an obliterated monster. She rolled again.

“Was that really one of Iron Will’s slogans?” Twilight asked as the body count continued to rise.

Rarity grinned back at her. “Does it really matter?”

When the whirlwind of spinning metal came to an end, the panting black barbarian stood amid a pile of bloody, half-rotted bodies.

Across the room, the paladin shrugged and ran away from the group she had been fighting. The bard was hot on her hooves, still playing her lute and singing. Star Swirl remained behind and distracted the undead by making funny faces.

Crusher’s turn soon arrived again, and he charged into the remaining cluster of zombies.

* * * * *

Two hours, a few encounters, and ten ill-fated Daring Dos later, the party of intrepid adventurers, guided by Star Swirl’s ghost, finally reached the necromancer’s inner sanctum. Upon a throne of bones sat King Sombra, flanked by figures wearing black, hooded robes, seven on each side.

“Your reign of terror ends here, you beast,” Noble Gem said.

“Ah yes, the bard," Sombra said without looking at her, instead keeping his attention on the wine glass levitating in front of him. "I have been watching you. Your confidence would be cause for concern if you had so much as scratched any of my minions. I don’t believe you drew your blade even once, did you?”

“Hey, just because she didn’t do any fighting doesn’t mean she didn’t help, you mean mister necromancypants!” Swirly yelled.

Sombra's gaze flicked over to her briefly before returning to the liquid in his glass. “Swirly Sparks, was it? Your power is impressive. It will serve me well when you belong to me.”

The paladin drew her sword and held it at the ready. “I reckon you won’t be owning any of us, Sombra. We’re gonna show you what’s what.

“I know of you as well: Celestia’s faithful paladin, Light Hooves.”

A round of snickers went across the table. Even Twilight failed to keep a straight face.

Applejack scoffed and stamped a hoof on the table. “Again with the laughing? I keep tellin' you, Light Hooves is a perfectly fine name for a paladin. I don’t get why y’all think it’s so funny.”

“Light Hooves,” Sombra said with a bit of a snicker, “Celestia’s light may protect you from being turned into one of the undead, but you can still die. And after I strike you down, I will make your friends eat the remaining flesh from your bones.”

“Yeah, yeah. We hear lots of big talk, but not much action," Daring Do said, stepping forward with her wings flared. "Are your goons just there for show, or are we gonna fight anytime soon?”

“Yes, Miss Do, we will fight. Before we do, however, you might want to pick up your robe.” Sombra motioned to a black cloth lying beside his throne.

“What the hay are you tal—” Daring’s words died in her mouth as the robed figures dropped their hoods. A row of bloody faces stared at her through glassy eyes under battered pith helmets.

“It’s a Daring Doozy!” Swirly shouted.

Sombra chuckled and said, “You’ll be needing it very soon.” He flicked the glass aside and stood up as it shattered on the floor.

“Not cool, Twilight. Not cool,” said Rainbow Dash.

Twilight leaned over her screen and grinned mischievously at her friends. “Roll for initiative.”

The Legend of the Blue Monk

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Roll for Initiative
Week 2
The Legend of the Blue Monk

Noble Gem’s ear twitched in response to a faint skittering sound, instantly waking her. The noise was familiar, and it always meant trouble. Crusher, however, had missed it. He was still sitting by the fire with his back to the bedrolls, oblivious to the approaching danger.

“Everypony, wake up!”

Noble's warning came just in time for Swirly Sparks to see a dark shape descending toward her. She rolled to the side, still wrapped in her bedroll, moments before the giant spider landed.

Crusher immediately leapt into action to cover his companions, but his ax glanced off the spider’s chitinous exterior. It turned to face him and lashed out, biting deeply into the barbarian’s leg and injecting its poison into his veins.

Light Hooves reached for her gear, but was immobilized by a web before she could equip anything. Swirly found herself stuck in her bedroll. Noble Gem played a lively tune on her lute which would, with any luck, help her friends to get loose.

The spider continued its duel with Crusher, steadily wearing him down while sustaining very little damage. Every bite weakened the barbarian further, and he soon collapsed, unable to continue standing under the weight of his armor.

Fortunately, before the enemy could deal a lethal blow, Light and Swirly managed to free themselves. Without bothering to grab any armor, the paladin charged in and swung her sword at the spider, but failed to penetrate its armored hide. The sorceress struck true with a glob of acid, which sizzled on its chitin.

While the damage was minimal, their attempt at diversion was a success. The arachnid turned toward them, biting the unarmored paladin with ease. The poison failed to take hold, however, and Light Hooves’ blade found its mark with her next attack, gouging deeply into its carapace.

The spider shifted its attention and went after Noble Gem. Though she was relatively defenseless, the foe stepped on a rock with one of its eight legs, which rolled out from under it, causing it to lose its balance and fall to the ground. With such a fine opportunity presenting itself, the bard could not let it pass unexploited.

She smashed her lute over its head.

Moments later, the spider was standing again after shrugging off a round of attacks by Light and Swirly. The paladin was quickly disabled by another web, and the sorceress took a nasty hit while trying to defend the helpless bard.

Suddenly, a new voice rang through the darkness of the forest. “Have no fear, for the great and powerful Trixie is here!”

“What?!” everypony around the table yelled at the same time.

“What are you doing, Rainbow?” said Twilight. “I thought you were making another Daring Do.”

Rainbow’s grin threatened to tear her head in half. “Yeah, but I figured if I’m gonna die all the time, I might as well do it as somepony I don’t like.”

Twilight stared at her for a few seconds, but then shrugged and said, “Well, you shouldn’t have a very hard time getting yourself killed. As badly as everypony else is rolling against this spider, a spellcaster like Trixie won’t last more than a couple of rounds.” Her comment was punctuated by a round of nods, followed by hateful glares directed at the dice scattered across the table.

“Spells? Nah. Too much trouble. I made her a monk instead.”

Rarity scoffed. “You can’t be serious. That seems rather out of character for Trixie."

“Says the bard who broke her own instrument instead of drawing her sword! This isn’t the real Trixie, you know. This is my version of Trixie, and I just want to get her killed.”

“Okay, whatever,” said Twilight. “Let’s get back to the fight. Trixie has just appeared, and she's next in the turn order.”

“Make way for the crazed and suicidal Trixie!”

Trixie charged in, carrying no weapons and wearing no armor. The spider's mandibles snapped at her as she closed in, but she danced around the attack and punched it in the head, smashing one of its eyes.

The party of adventurers hobbled over to the barbarian to watch the interloper get herself slaughtered. Taking advantage of their respite, Noble Gem and Swirly Sparks helped Crusher out of his armor, while Light Hooves focused on casting healing spells.

Meanwhile, the monk was holding her own, swearing loudly every time an attack missed her. One punch after another connected with the spider’s outer shell, splintering large sections of the plating and covering her hooves in its foul-smelling fluids.

“Hit me already, you stupid bug!” Trixie's yell was punctuated by a reckless move, spinning around and exposing her back to the enemy to buck it. Despite no longer being able to see her target, both of her hind legs connected with its face forcefully enough to shatter an oak tree, and the spider’s head went flying up into the branches.

Twilight leaned over and put a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. You were due for some good luck. Something like this had to happen eventually."

“Maybe so," muttered Rainbow Dash, "but it would have been nice if it was with Daring instead of Trixie.”

“True, but you never made Daring a monk. Anyway, it isn’t really a big deal. You shouldn’t be able to hold out long if you go face to face with a really tough enemy.” Twilight withdrew her hoof and put her screen back up.

As a flurry of punches collapsed the skull of a second mind flayer, Trixie looked across the room. The rest of the party was still engaged with the only remaining one. Crusher was enraged, but he still hadn't managed to do much damage. Swirly and Light were having more success, but the monster was far from done. Noble Gem, meanwhile, was clumsily banging on a makeshift drum.

Trixie trotted over to the bard. “Noble, don’t you think you’d be a lot more helpful if you actually tried to hurt the monster instead of giving everypony a headache with that thing?”

“Hmph. I tried that against the spider, and it cost me my favorite lute. I shan’t be trying that again.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “You do know you have a sword, right?”

The drum beats stopped. “I do?”

“Yes,” Trixie said as she ducked beneath the mind flayer’s attempt to attack her from behind. A half-hearted buck tossed it back to the other side of the room.

“You will excuse me a moment, won’t you?” Noble Gem said, setting her drum down on the stone floor. She drew her sword and stepped past the monk, then waited for her turn to attack.

After the barbarian and paladin did a little more damage to it, it was finally her turn to show the power of her magnificent weapon. The gleaming longsword flashed through the air and sliced deeply into a leg.

Her own leg.

Without saying a word, she sheathed her weapon, limped away from the battle, returned to Trixie, and picked up her drum.

Twilight scowled at the picture of a mind flayer before closing her book. “I’m not sure what else I can do to get Trixie killed. She’s already beaten a giant spider and two mind flayers without any help.”

“Come on, Twi! You can’t let me get stuck with this character!” Rainbow moaned, throwing her hooves into the air.

“I’m sorry, Rainbow, but short of throwing the Taurrusque at you, there’s not much I can do. Why don’t you have her commit suicide, or just leave the group?”

“No way,” Rainbow huffed as she leaned back and crossed her forelegs. “Daring Do died fifteen times last week. There’s no way I’m gonna let Trixie be more awesome than Daring. She’s gotta get killed by something.”

Twilight’s brow furrowed in concentration as she rested her chin on one of her hooves. Several minutes passed in ponderous silence before she suddenly yelled, “I’ve got it!” as Applejack and Rarity were coming back into the room with fresh drinks and snacks, causing them both to jump.

“Nice reflex saves,” Twilight said sheepishly. Applejack had narrowly avoided spilling the glasses, and Rarity caught the bowl of hay chips just before it could hit the floor. “Anyway, as I was saying, I can put together a nice little gauntlet that should get Trixie killed in no time.”

“Come along, everypony. The ignorant and misguided Trixie has decided that we shall bypass the elf-pony village. Instead, we shall brave the horrors of the dreaded Labyrinth of Blue Mare Murder.”

The rest of the party happily fell in line behind Trixie, and delved into the mouth of a conveniently-placed cave, above which hung a sign saying, ‘Beware, all ye who enter and happen to be both blue and female.’ Inside, they found a roughly-hewn passage, its walls adorned with paintings of pointy objects being thrust through pony-shaped splotches of blue paint.

The first trap was triggered almost immediately. Spikes sprang up from the floor directly underneath Trixie, but she leapt into the air and gracefully landed with her hooves atop their points. Once she had trotted across the field of deadly protrusions, they retracted into the floor.

When the arrow trap fired, Trixie caught all of the projectiles with a single hoof. The floor tried to fall from beneath her, sending her plummeting into a bottomless pit, but she effortlessly jumped to the other side. Over the next few minutes, she danced around poisoned spears, walked through fire without being burned, stopped a set of spinning saw blades with her bare hooves, and strangled a quarray eel.

A section of the ceiling fell on her, but she caught it and held it up on her back, allowing the others to crawl through the narrow space. After they had all emerged from beneath the stone slab, Trixie stepped out from under it, growling as it slammed onto the floor with enough force to turn most ponies into paste. She tried to take a step forward, but found herself held in place; a bit of her tail had been caught beneath the trap.

“If you can’t get free, you’ll be stuck in the cave, and you'll starve to death.”

“Are you serious, Twilight?” said Rainbow. “That’s not all you’ve got left, is it?”

“I have to agree," said Rarity. "As assassination attempts go, this one is somewhat lacking.”

“Yeah, I reckon all we have to do is cut a bit of her tail off." Applejack made a quick slicing motion across her own tail.

“Hey, she’s already beaten every trap I’ve got! I’m grasping at straws here. So, while cutting her free is possible, I’m going to make you roll some intelligence checks to see if any of your characters happen to think about it. I’m setting the difficulty for this check at thirty-five,” Twilight said with a wry grin, earning similar grins from her friends as they realized they could only pass the test by rolling a twenty, thus succeeding automatically.

Five dice hit the table at once.

“Aw, yeah! I totally failed that roll,” Rainbow bragged.

Applejack smirked. “I’m a mite under that too."

“So am I,” said Fluttershy.

Rarity shook her head, grinning down at the five on her die. All eyes turned to Pinkie Pie, who had cradled her die in a foreleg, hiding it from view.

“Sorry, everypony,” Pinkie said softly. She slowly moved her leg away from the die. As it came into view, her face split into her trademark grin. The result was a one. “I’m a complete idiot!”

The laughter soon faded, and Twilight put her screen back up to resume the game. “Okay, nopony thought to cut off part of her tail, so Trixie is stuck here, and will suffer a slow and agonizing death. Unless her tail is actually strong enough to shatter rock, that is.”

The rock shattered as Trixie flicked her tail.

“The crazed and suicidal Trixie is not amused,” Trixie grumbled to no one in particular. The rest of the party were too busy gawking at the rubble to listen.

Noble Gem was the first to recover from her shock. “Darling, don’t let it get you down. You were so close this time. Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to run into some horribly unbalanced monster when we leave this cave, and then you can be done in properly.”

“Yes, Trixie supposes you’re right.”

“Attagirl! Y’all know Fate has it in for you,” said Light Hooves. “I reckon it’s just a matter of time until it throws something at you that even you can’t beat.”

The party stepped out of the cave and into the sunlight, only to be greeted by the sight of a towering bull-like abomination, covered in a dull black carapace, and sporting a wide mouth full of sharp teeth that could chew half a dozen ponies at once. Four of the five adventurers went right back into the tunnel.

* * * * *

The beast fell to the ground. Its shattered carapace oozed foul-smelling fluids, particularly at the spots on its head where its own severed horns had been driven through its skull. The unintentionally great and altogether unstoppable Trixie stood in solemn triumph over her vanquished foe. “Stupid under-powered ultimate enemy,” she said as she lashed out at its dead face, punching a hoof-sized hole between its eyes.

Having utterly crushed the will of Fate, the warrior turned back to the cave. Her friends had already emerged and were approaching the carcass.

Trixie opened her mouth to speak but was silenced by the appearance of a bright glow behind her, which bathed the entire field in shimmering blue light. She turned around to see a small orb of iridescent energy rising up through the last hole she made in the monster’s face.

“Ooh! I know what that is!” said Swirly. “That’s the Taurrusque’s life force. If you destroy it now, it’ll be gone forever. Otherwise, it’ll go back into the body, then the monster will sink into the ground to sleep for a few hundred years.”

“Whatever,” the monk muttered. “It doesn’t matter if it comes back or not; it can’t beat Trixie. Unless…” Her frown slowly reversed, and her lips soon split into a grin.

“You have an idea?” said Crusher.

“Indeed I do. Watch and learn. The stupid and reckless Trixie shall snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!”

Trixie stepped toward the light. Strands of blue life force tickled her nose as she took a deep breath. Then, after barely a moment's hesitation, she lunged forward at the orb...

...and took a bite out of it.

“You didn’t… No way.” Twilight's dice clattered on the library's floor,

“Yeah, Twi, I did! I totally did!" Rainbow's words were choked out between peals of laughter. "There’s no way Trixie can survive eating something like that, right?”

Twilight laid down her screen and neatly folded it up. The book in front of her was showing a picture of the Taurrusque, along with its stats and other information only the game master should know. “Rainbow, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that Trixie is gone forever. You can never play as her again.”

Rainbow Dash leapt to her hooves and strutted around the table. “Aw yeah! Who’s the mare? Who's the mare?”

Twilight cleared her throat to bring the attention of the table back to herself. “As for the bad news, you just turned her into a goddess.”

"I hate this game," Rainbow said, but none of her friends could hear it over their own laughter.

Identity Crises

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Roll for Initiative

Week 3

Identity Crises

“Before we begin tonight’s game, there’s a couple of things I want to talk about,” Twilight said as she passed out the character sheets. “First of all, I’m making a little change to how I give out experience points. From now on, you’ll get bonus XP for good role-playing.”

“That’s certainly generous of you, darling,” Rarity said. “I feel like I've been stuck at level nine for ages.”

The others nodded and chanted their agreement, but Twilight held up a hoof to interrupt them. “Actually, if you keep playing the same way you’ve been doing it, some of you won’t be getting any bonuses at all. The only one who’s been making an effort to role-play properly at all is Rainbow Dash.”

“I don’t get what you’re sayin', Twi,” said Applejack.

“Indeed. I’m afraid I don’t understand your concern either,” said Rarity.

“You just need to make your characters act less like your real selves. You’re playing a role, not inserting yourself into a different coat. Try to give the characters their own unique personalities.”

“Oh, I get it!” Pinkie exclaimed. “So instead of acting like me, I should act like not me when I’m acting like Swirly, because even though Swirly is me, she’s not supposed to be me, and I’m not really—”

“Pinkie!” the other five yelled in unison, along with Spike, who had settled in a corner to read the latest comics while the mares played their game.

“That’s right, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “You all just need to try to develop unique personality characteristics for each of your characters. Now, the other thing I wanted to bring up was the matter of snacks. I don’t know if anypony else noticed, but not all of us got our fair share last week.”

“Seriously?” Rainbow Dash deadpanned.

“Yes, Rainbow, I’m serious,” Twilight said as she started to pull her books, dice, and papers out of a small box.

“What, are you counting popcorn kernels or something?”

A piece of paper hovered out of Twilight's box. It was divided into six columns, each with a pony's cutie mark at the top. “As a matter of fact, I—”

“Forget I asked,” said Rainbow, her voice muffled by the hoof pressed to her face.

Twilight grimaced, but pressed on. “As I was saying, before you all arrived, I counted the cheesy hay chips in the bowl, and there are exactly thirty-seven for each of us. I want you all to keep count and not go over that limit.”

She was answered by silence and five blank stares. “Twilight?” Fluttershy said after a long pause.


“Wouldn't it make more sense for us to bring extra snacks?”

“Oh… I guess it would.” After faltering for a moment, Twilight quickly recovered. “But for tonight, we only have the one bowl of snacks, so we need to ration it out. Starting next week, we can all bring something.”

Before the others could reply, Twilight levitated her screen into place and opened her books. “Now, let’s get started. After your last adventure, you've been enjoying some downtime in the newly-constructed Temple of Trixie. Having been present at the ascension of the new deity, you have been acknowledged as prophets, and are treated with special honors. As a new day dawns, you are each awakened by a knock on your door.”

“I get up and answer it,” Rainbow said quickly.

“No, you don’t,” Twilight answered.

Rainbow leaned forward, staring at Twilight through narrowed eyes. “Why not?”

Twilight met her gaze, but counterpointed Rainbow's scowl with a smirk. “Because your new character hasn't been introduced yet.”

Rainbow blinked, breaking the eye contact, and retreated back to her seat. “Oh. Right," she muttered.


As the first rays of sunlight peeked through her open window, Swirly Sparks was rudely awakened by a knock on her door.

“I hears you,” she said gruffly as she climbed out of bed. Using her magic, she ran a brush through her mane, which had changed from pink to orange overnight, and put on her purple cloak. Finally, she reached out with her magic and opened the door, revealing one of the younger acolytes, a chubby blue colt with a pair of scissors for a cutie mark.

“Good morning, your prophetousness,” he said.

“Whatchoo want?” Swirly snapped, scowling at the intruder.

The colt backed away from the door slowly. “Um… It’s time to wake up, Miss Sparks.”

“I wakes up when I chooses to wakes up. Ya hears me, ya little brat?”

“What?” Pinkie said in response to the stares she was getting from all sides. “You said to not act like me.”

“But Swirly has an intelligence score of nineteen!” said Twilight. “She needs to sound appropriately smart!”

Pinkie leaned back and crossed her forelegs. “How do you know somepony with nineteen intelligence wouldn't talk like that? Do you have nineteen intelligence?”

“Pinkie, I don’t have an intelligence score at all!” Twilight shouted. She slammed a hoof on the table to emphasize the point, causing her screen to fall over. Her magic lifted it back into place, but in the split second it blocked her vision, Pinkie disappeared.

“You really shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Pinkie said from beside Twilight, throwing a foreleg over her withers. "You’re the smartest pony I know. I’d say your score is at least a twelve. Maybe even a thirteen.”

“How did... Forget it! Back to the game.”

As the first rays of sunlight peeked through her open window, Light Hooves’ meditation was interrupted by a knock on the door.


She did not turn to look, but the hooffalls were light, indicating a young filly or colt. She stood up as the young Trixian acolyte nervously approached. The rising sun’s light reflected off her armor, casting a golden glow over the room, as she turned around to find a lanky unicorn colt with an amber coat.

“G’morning, Snails. You need somethin’, sugarcube?”

“Pardon me, Miss Prophetess who doesn’t sound much like a paladin, but you have never heard my name. Did you receive a divine message from our magnificent goddess, the great and powerful Trixie?”

“Have I mentioned that I still hate you for that?” said Rainbow.

“Don’t blame me," said Twilight. "Blame your dice.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Please do pardon me,” Light Hooves said, suddenly using a much more elegant accent, reminiscent of the big city elite. “I have not heard your name before. I merely addressed you according to your cutie mark.”

“But my cutie mark is a falcon, not a snail.”

“I hate you, Twilight,” Applejack snarled.

Twilight only grinned in response. Behind the screen, she erased a crudely-drawn snail from the flank of an equally crudely-drawn colt and replaced it with an ugly bird. "Now, which of you is next?”

As the first rays of sunlight peeked through his open window, Crusher was awakened by the sound of a bird’s chirping. It was sitting on a tree branch outside the window, trilling happily.

The huge stallion slowly got out of his bed, then walked over to the closet, where his Taurrusque-chitin armor had been set on the floor alongside his battle ax. The bird continued to sing as he put on his gear.

Before leaving the room, he walked over to the window and stared out at the beautiful and innocent creature, which seemed to be performing a lovely song written only for his ears.

“Graaaaaarh,” he roared, startling the bird into taking flight. In the hallway, a small hoof stopped just short of knocking on the door, and the acolyte slowly backed away.

The entire table went completely quiet. Even Spike had looked up from his comic and was staring. Fluttershy looked into the confused faces around her, and with each one, she shrank a little more.

“I didn’t see that coming. Nice job, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, an exuberant smile painted across her face.

“I feel dirty.”

As the first rays of sunlight peeked through her open window, Noble Gem yawned and stretched. Though she would have preferred to stay in bed a while longer, an insistent knocking at the door took that possibility off the table.

With a gentle sigh, she put on her slippers and opened the door. The sight of a young priestess in acolyte robes—as blue as all the others, but lacking the embroidered stars on the robes of the full-fledged clergy—greeted her on the other side. Bowing, the filly said, “Good morning, Prophetess Noble Gem."

Noble Gem rolled her eyes at the gesture. “Morning, kiddo. You here for a story? A song? Or are you just here to call me down to breakfast.”

“Just breakfast, I’m afraid, milady.”

“That would be lovely. I’m positively famished,” Noble Gem said, only to frown and scoff a moment later. “Oops. I meant that’s great. I’m really hungry.”

“Excellent! Please follow me downstairs," the filly chirped as she set off at a trot.

“Twilight, please tell me you’re going to forgive that little slip,” Rarity said. “Getting into such an unfamiliar character is difficult, to say the least.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Applejack said. “I ain’t used that fancy accent since I was a blank-flank filly.”

“Hey, do I get to join in soon or what?” Rainbow asked.

“Yes, Dash. You’ll join the game in just a moment," Twilight said. "Now, you all enter the dining hall at the same time.”

“Including me?”

“No!" Twilight shouted. "Just wait a minute. You’re all seated at a long table...”

Four of the tables were occupied by acolytes and guests of the temple, but the fifth was reserved specifically for ordained priests and honored guests, such as Trixie’s prophets. The meal placed in front of them was simple—oatmeal, hay, and water—but the oatmeal was warm, and the water was clean thanks to the clerics' purification spells.

The four warriors all scowled during the prayer. “Our great and powerful goddess of might, luck, and eating really questionable objects, we beseech your blessings upon our humble meal, and ask that your power be granted to us throughout Celestia’s day, that we may go forth from this place, in your name, to oppose all that is evil, wears tacky clothing, or uses the most untrustworthy of devices: wheels.”

After the prayer, the high priest stood up. As he had been in Trixie’s service no longer than any of the others, he had been chosen for the post by the fairest possible means. The oldest priests had compared their ages, backgrounds, and powers.

When that failed to reveal the strongest candidate, they settled it in the time-honored—since last week—tradition of Trixian clergy: by rolling dice.

“Fellow disciples of our almighty goddess, visitors, and honored guests, I am pleased to announce the arrival of another illustrious guest to our humble temple,” he said as he gestured around the opulent room. Intricate tapestries adorned the walls, and golden chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The tables were hoof-carved from mahogany, polished to a mirror-like finish. Stained glass windows depicted Trixie’s greatest feats: some real, some embellished, and some made up on the spot.

“You’re having way too much fun with this Trixie thing, Twilight,” Rainbow said.

“I must agree,” Rarity said. “The novelty has begun to wear rather thin.”

“Fine,” Twilight huffed. “Rainbow, I’ll introduce your character now. Who’s it going to be? Lightning Dust? Derpy? Maybe Gilda?”

“Nope. I made one up this time.” Rainbow’s smug expression melted as she noticed her friends’ lack of responses and their disbelieving stares. “What?”

You actually made a completely original character?” said Twilight.

Rainbow Dash stood up and spread her wings defensively. “Yeah, I did. What of it?”

“It’s just unexpected, is all, sugarcube,” said Applejack.

Rarity nodded. “Yes, I was certain you’d be going back to Daring Do after your last experience."

“Well, excuse me for trying something new," Rainbow groused before plopping back down at the table. "Now, do you want to hear about my character or not?”

“Okay, Rainbow,” Twilight said. “I’ll introduce your character, and then you can describe her for everypony. Assuming it is a mare, that is.”

The high priest fished around for words as he tried to remember where he was. “Hm… Stained glass windows. Tables. Tapestries. Chandeliers. No, wait, I didn’t say anything about those aloud. Oh yes! May I present our new guest, the master rogue known as—”

“Stop,” Rainbow Dash said, holding a hoof up for emphasis.

“What is it now?” Twilight said, groaning.

“I’m not a rogue.”

“What? But you told me...” Twilight's magic gripped Rainbow's character sheet, but Rainbow put a hoof on top of it and kept it from moving.

“I know. I changed my mind."

“Then what’s your new character now?” Twilight asked as she released the sheet of paper.

“A cleric.”

“I gotta say, that there’s a surprise. I never figured you for a cleric,” Applejack said.

Rainbow turned toward Applejack, but found her vision full of Pinkie's muzzle. “Yeah, Dashie," Pinkie said. "You being a cleric is like making cupcake batter out of maple syrup, but maple syrup is delicious, so your cleric must be delicious too. I hope I get a taste before the monsters eat you.”

Rarity gave Pinkie the usual response of raising an eyebrow and not thinking too deeply about what she said, then chimed in with her own feelings about Rainbow’s new character. “I must say, a cleric is certainly an odd choice for you, but I have every confidence in your ability to break the game, or at least not drag us all down when you get killed, so I’m fine with it.”

Fluttershy’s only contribution to the discussion was a meek “Oh my.”

“See, Twi? They’re all cool with it. Sorta.” Rainbow turned back to the dungeon master to find her wide-eyed, frantically rifling through her papers. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is that I thought you were going to be a rogue again, so I designed this game’s challenges around the party having one! If there’s nopony to pick locks and disarm traps, there’s no way you can possibly win!”

A thoughtful silence descended over the table, broken only by the occasional turn of a comic page in the corner, the crunching sound of a cheesy hay chip being eaten, or the scratching of Twilight’s quill as she recorded who had eaten it. It was Rainbow who finally spoke.

“I think I have an idea, but I’ll need your help, Fluttershy. Or rather, I’ll need Crusher’s help.”

“What do you mean?” said Fluttershy.

Rainbow leaned in close and whispered in her ear. Fluttershy’s eyes opened wide as she said, “Oh nononono, I couldn’t possibly do that."

“Trust me. It’ll be awesome. If we don’t do this, the whole game could be ruined because of how long it would take me to make a new rogue from scratch.”

“Well, yes, but…" Fluttershy hesitated, but after closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she said, "Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Game on, Twilight," Rainbow exclaimed. "Introduce me as a cleric, and watch us be awesome!”

“Ahem. Excuse me. I meant to say the cleric known as—”

“Holy Roller, at your service, my children.” The interruption came from a brown-coated earth pony mare with a bright yellow mane, who had walked up beside the high priest.

“Holy Roller? Are you ser—" The high priest coughed and started over. "I mean, welcome to the magnificently humble temple of our beloved goddess. Please join us for breakfast. You can sit with those four adventurers, whom you’ve never met before, but should bond with quickly enough to go questing with them.”

As she sat down, the priestess nodded to the others. “Hello, my children. I am Holy Roller, a cleric of the Order of Celestial Light.”

“Greetings, Sister Holy. I am Light Hooves, a paladin in the Order of Celestial Light.”

“I’m Noble Gem, a bard.”

“Calls me Swirly, hot flanks. I be a mighty sorceress wit a bad attitude.”

“Me Crusher. Crusher get mad and hit things. Crusher happy to meet you.”

Holy Roller grinned at her new friends as her breakfast was placed on the table. “Why, it is just as the high priest said. I feel an instant connection to you fine adventurers, and I desire to go on quests with you.”

* * * * *

The quintet entered the high priest’s office. He stood with his back to them, staring through his window at the snow-capped peaks of the Problematic Mountains, which appeared at the edge of the horizon, jutting above the treetops of the distant Forest of Constant Danger.

“Whatchoo wants wit us, Pops?” Swirly said.

Light Hooves smacked the back of her head as the high priest turned around. “Swirly! That’s no way to talk to our host.”

“It is quite all right, noble paladin," said the high priest. "I have called you all here on a matter of grave importance. There is a storm gathering to the east.”

“You should calls a pegasus for dat, Pops. We ain’t a weather patrol,” Swirly grumbled.

The high priest sighed and shook his head. “A metaphorical storm.”

“Then gets a metalforkal weather pony ta do it.”

“Pardon me for interrupting, Swirly,” Holy Roller said patiently, “but I believe that the high priest is simply saying that there are troubles in the land which must be addressed.”

“Exactly,” the high priest said quickly, cutting off Swirly’s attempt to reply. “Now, the quest which I am hoping you will agree to undertake is a journey to a lost tomb.”

“And where da hay—” Swirly’s remark was cut mercifully short as Noble Gem shoved a hoof into her mouth.

“And where’s this tomb?” said Noble Gem.

“East,” the high priest answered.

Noble Gem stayed silent for a few seconds, but when the high priest didn't say anything else, she spoke up again. “Could you be a little more specific?”


Noble's eye twitched. “Why not?”

The high priest shrugged and said, “Because I don’t know. It’s a lost tomb, after all.”

As the others sighed, Light Hooves stepped forward. “Your Grace, we really must be given more to work with than 'a lost temple to the east.’ Perhaps you could tell us its name?”

“Nope. Lost.”

“Crusher think you holding out on us. Make Crusher happy or Crusher get mad and break head.” The large black pony loomed over the high priest.

“I can’t believe you succeeded in picking up his hidden motive,” Twilight said. “Let’s see you if you can intimidate him into telling you more.”

Fluttershy rolled the die again. “Is a twenty-four enough?”

Twilight rolled a die behind her screen. “Yeah, that’ll do it. The high priest tells you about a legend he once heard. In the legend, Clover the Clever defeated an army of griffons and minotaurs by freezing them and imprisoning them in a secret tomb. While he doesn’t know exactly where the tomb is, he thinks you should be able to find it by following the cold wind blowing in from the east.”

"Why would he try to hide that from us?" asked Fluttershy.

"Good question," Twilight said. "You'll have to find that answer later, though."

After several days of travel through grasslands that had inexplicably transformed into a tundra, the five adventurers arrived at the gaping entrance to a long-forgotten tomb. The rubble around the area suggested that it was recently blown open from the inside.

Holy Roller stepped into the icy gale blowing from deep within the tomb. She stepped back a moment later, shivering and covered in frost. “S-Swirly, my ch-ch-child, we would all ap-p-p-preciate it greatly if you were to help with th-this.”

With a sigh, Swirly fired up her horn and cast an enchantment across the entire party. In an instant, all the snow and ice clinging to them evaporated. “Ya happy now, Holy Rolly?”

“Much better. After you, my dear fellow." Holy motioned for Crusher to take the lead.

“Wait a moment,” Noble Gem said, stepping in front of Crusher. “If there might be traps, I should go first. I may not be as good as a real rogue, but I might be able to spot a few.”

“No. Allow Crusher to display his versatility,” Holy Roller countered. As Crusher stepped around the bard, Holy fell in line behind the barbarian, keeping a generous distance. The others followed closely behind her.

A click announced the first trap as Crusher’s heavy hoof pressed a concealed switch. While the others watched from behind, a hail of arrows rained down upon him from all sides. The bombardment ended after a few seconds, and the barbarian turned around to face the rest of the party.

“Found trap."

“You can’t be serious,” Twilight said.

Rarity tilted her head around to get a good view of Fluttershy, who was blushing furiously, and the grinning Rainbow Dash. “That’s completely insane! What were you thinking?”

Applejack smirked and leaned in closer to the others. “Wait a second, y'all. I think I get it. How much damage did ya just take?”

“Three,” Fluttershy whispered.

“That’s it?” shouted the rest of them, minus Rainbow Dash and Applejack.

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m a genius.” Rainbow flapped her wings to get into the air and strike a pose, but the sudden gust blew the character sheets off the table. She rubbed the back of her head and laughed awkwardly as she floated back down. “Whoops. Sorry.”

“So much for all that genius hooey,” Applejack grumbled as she picked up the papers near her.

Twilight cleared her throat as she picked her screen up from the floor and levitated it back into place. “Anyway, you still have another problem to work out. Maybe you can get through the traps, but you still don’t have a way to get through locked doors. And guess what. After you get past the arrow trap, there’s one right in front of you.”

“Darling, I think we have more than enough options,” Rarity said. “I can attempt to pick the locks, and even if I fail, Pinkie can cast an unlocking spell.”

“Pinkie, do you have that spell?” asked Twilight.

“Nopey dopey!” Pinkie said as she popped a cheesy hay chip into her mouth.

Twilight smirked as she turned her attention back to Rarity. “And do you happen to have a set of thieving tools?”

“Uh… No."

“Then I guess you’re stuck." Twilight leaned back and stuck her nose into the air like a Canterlot noble. “Your only choices are to go back, have Rainbow re-roll as a rogue, or rest for eight hours so Swirly can memorize that spell.” A soft chuckle brought her head back down. “What is it now, Rainbow?”

"You just don’t get it, do you, Twilight? We have a rogue with an awesome lockpick," Rainbow said. Though she was grinning, her brow was furrowed and her eyes were narrowed.

“No, I’m absolutely certain none of you took a level in rogue,” Twilight replied.

Fluttershy’s blush deepened, but she smiled as she said, “Crusher rogue. Crusher have lockpick.”

“You wouldn’t…”

With a feral roar, Crusher smashed his double-edged ‘lockpick’ into the door, splintering the heavy wood. He smiled as he observed his handiwork momentarily, then stepped through the opening, into the chamber beyond.

As the rest of the party followed, Noble Gem noticed that the lock’s mechanism was still in place, held up by a thin wire, which was stretched taut and appeared to be near its breaking point. “Oops, we missed a trap.” In clear defiance of the will of Fate, which intended the trap to go off as Holy Roller passed, she propped the mechanism up on a loose bit of wood before waving the last of her friends through.

The darkened room they found themselves in was large enough for the sounds of their voices and hoofsteps to echo in the distance. Once their torches were lit, it became clear that the room was circular with a high ceiling. Most of the floor space was occupied by a large pool of murky water. In spite of the freezing cold, it was not frozen. However, the surface was as still as a pane of glass.

Light Hooves reached out to touch the pool, but Noble Gem slapped her hoof away. “Don’t disturb the water.”

“I do not see what you are so concerned about," Light Hooves said. "Do you fear that some monstrosity within may be watching us, prepared to grab anypony who breaks the surface with its massive tentacles?"

Noble shrugged. “Actually, I hadn’t thought about that. I just think it’s pretty."

“Well, I thinks you guys should goes for a swim,” Swirly said. “If there’s something in there to fights, we should hurries up and do it.”

“Crusher prefer not fight. Crusher want leave.”

“I don’t thinks we got a choice, Crusha. You sees that door over there?” Swirly asked. Crusher nodded. “It’s got four locks, and they's connected to floor plates. If we stands on ‘em, whatever’s in that water will wakes up.”

Perfectly in time with the others, Holy Roller shook her head and sighed. “Swirly, please, for the sake of everypony’s sanity, stop speaking.”

“She has a point, though,” Noble Gem said. “There really are floor plates around the pool. We probably have to stand on them to unlock the door.” She prodded one gently with a hoof, causing it to move slightly.

The four circular plates were evenly spaced around the circumference of the pool, each one wide enough to accommodate a single pony. Directly across from where the party had entered, a heavy stone door barred their path.

“I guess this seems easy enough,” mused Light Hooves, “but that still leaves one of us unaccounted for. What is the last one meant to do while everypony else stands on the switches?”

“What makes you think there’s anything for the fifth pony to do?” asked Twilight.

Rainbow scoffed. “Give it a rest, Twilight. If there’s five of us, the dungeon’s gonna be designed so that we’re all needed.”

“Ugh. Fine.” Twilight rolled a few dice behind her screen. “Pinkie, you notice a switch next to the stone door. It has four colorless jewels set in the wall next to it, which nearly blend in with the rocky surface.”

“Hey, you guys, I just seen—”

“She fills you in on what she saw!” Twilight yelled. Pinkie huffed and crammed a hoofful of chips into her mouth.

Applejack stamped a hoof on the table and picked up her D20. “Okay, y’all, I reckon it’s time we pony up and see what’s gonna happen.”

Light Hooves was the first to step onto a pressure plate. It gave way slightly under her weight, sinking about an inch and settling into place with a loud click. On the far wall, one of the jewels beside the switch sparked to life and shone with golden light.

“So far, so good,” said Light Hooves. “Before anypony else steps on one, we need to discuss our strategy, should the worst happen.”

As the other ponies approached the paladin, Noble Gem asked, “What’s the plan?”

“I believe it is likely that when the four switches are pressed, this chamber’s guardian will appear," Light said, motioning around the room and pointing to each of the pressure plates. "Considering the size of this pool, it could be extremely large.”

As the rest nodded, Holy Roller spoke up. “Yes, my sister in Celestia’s Light, you are probably correct. Also, we may need to hold our positions during the battle.”

“So the weakest fighter needs ta be the one ta throws the switch,” Swirly said.

“Exactly, Swirly,” Noble said. “The one most likely to be killed should be the one to throw the switch. Wait... Why are you all looking at me?”

“Crusher hit monster with ax. Light use sword. Swirly use magic. Holy have magic and mace," the barbarian pointed out. "Bard no need break new lute on monster like last one."

Noble sighed. “You’re never going to let me forget that, are you?”

“Nope,” they all answered together.

“Fine,” Noble Gem said as she slunk off toward the wall switch. Crusher took up a position on the pressure plate to Light Hooves’ right, allowing the others access to the ones closer to the exit. To Crusher’s right, Swirly stomped onto the next floor switch, leaving the final one for Holy Roller. With the others in position and all four lights beside the switch glowing, Noble pulled down on it.

It stopped halfway.

The floor trembled beneath their hooves as a loud thunk issued from the depths. The serenity of the water’s surface was marred by ripples, followed by bubbles, as the water seemed to boil.

“The switch won’t go down all the way!" Noble yelled. "I can’t open the door!”

“I’ll come help,” Holy Roller said. “Hey, what’s going on here? I can’t move my hooves.”

“The plates are magnetized!” Light Hooves yelled as she strained to lift her legs. “Our horseshoes are sticking to them.”

Noble lifted her legs experimentally. “I’m still free over here."

“Glad ta hears it, swank-flanks. We gonna needs ya free ta helps fight dat thing.”

At that moment, a huge head broke the surface of the water. It looked vaguely like a pony, but instead of a fur coat, it was covered in oily green scales. In place of a mane, a spiked fin stood straight up. Its teeth were as sharp as knives and its eyes—each the size of a regular pony—were the color of blood.

As it emerged further and its lower half became visible, octopus-like tentacles splayed out across the room. The largest ones attached themselves to the floor, while the rest were held menacingly in the air.

Swirly fired the first shot, striking the beast in the face with a glob of acid. The octopony retaliated by slamming one of its tentacles down onto the floor, but instead of aiming for Swirly, it attacked slightly to her side. Noble Gem narrowly evaded the blow.

“I can’t reach its body,” Light Hooves said.

“Then attack the tentacles!” Holy Roller yelled back.

Heeding her advice, the paladin slashed deeply into the monster’s nearest appendage, a tentacle which was fastened securely to the ground beside her. The creature briefly roared in response, then renewed its cry when Holy Roller also struck a tentacle.

"Hey, I just realized something," Rainbow said. "How are we hitting it if our hooves are all attached to the floor?"

Twilight raised an eyebrow. "Hm. That's a good point." She raised a hoof to her chin, humming softly while she mulled it over. "Maybe you're holding the weapons in your mouths?"

"Then how are we talking?"

Sighing, Twilight shook her head. "Magic."

"Seriously? You can't think of anything better than that?" Dash countered.

"Would you prefer to say that you have an 'experienced tongue'?"

"Magic it is."

Despite the other attacks, the beast’s gaze was still locked onto the bard. In an attempt to transfer its attention to somepony else, she ran toward Crusher. After she finished moving, her lute’s music filled the air.

Crusher, for his part, hacked away at a tentacle. Swirly focused her attention on the same one, firing a bolt of crimson energy at the ax wound.

Despite the damage done by the others, the octopony turned once more to face Noble Gem and slapped at her again. The blow knocked her to the floor, flat on her belly, and the tentacle curled to grip her. She rolled to the side, however, narrowly avoiding it. "I thought I was supposed to be safe," she yelled.

Light Hooves and Holy Roller continued to strike it, but instead of joining the attack, Noble Gem ran around the room once more and took up a position on the opposite side, next to the cleric.

“Crusher very angry,” muttered the barbarian. “Crusher smash ugly thing.” Once more, his ax sliced deeply into the enormous tentacle beside him. The next shot from Swirly’s horn finished the job; the tentacle was completely severed and the monster’s grip on the floor weakened, causing it to dip slightly into the water.

“Great job, big guy!” Holy Roller shouted. As she yelled, the monster turned in her direction. “Uh oh.” A quick swipe from one of the smaller appendages knocked her down, but due to her hooves being fastened to the floor, she involuntarily sprang right back into a standing position. The same blow sent Noble Gem reeling again.

The paladin struck the closest target once again, but as the cleric prepared to do the same, she was stopped by the bard. “Wait! I’m badly hurt. I might not survive another hit.”

“Oh all right,” Holy Roller said. Instead of attacking, she cast a healing spell to restore most of Noble Gem’s lost vitality. The bard immediately picked herself up and sprinted around the room again, stopping halfway between Crusher and Swirly.

“Hey, waits a minute,” said Swirly as she watched Crusher take a swing, but miss due the monster’s main body being out of reach. “I gots an idea. It’s only chasing after Noble Gem, so if I makes her invisible, it might stops attacking.”

“Do it,” the others confirmed.

“Good thing I thought I might needs this spell. Yo, NG, heads up.” Swirly’s horn flared, causing Noble to vanish.

The reaction from the beast was immediate. It rotated its head all the way around the room, searching for Noble. When it couldn't find her, it released its tentacles from the floor, one at a time, and attached them higher on the walls, lifting its bulk out of the water completely.

“What in tarnation?" Light exclaimed. “I mean, why is it climbing?” High up above their heads, well outside the range of their weapons, the octopony came to a stop.

“So it’s just gonna stay up there?” Holy said.

“Why it no attack?”

Noble Gem’s voice came from somewhere near Crusher. “I don’t understand either.” When she spoke, the monster shifted slightly. “Is it only after me?” It moved again.

Light turned to the sorceress. “Swirly, can you take the invisibility off her?”

“Nope. Once she disappears, I can’t brings her back. The spell needs ta wears off on its own. It’ll just takes a minute or two.”

Applejack leaned back and stretched her neck. “I reckon we should take a minute to strategize.”

“Sounds good,” Rainbow said.

Rarity tapped rhythmically on the table with one of her hooves as she thought about it. “It seems to me that hacking away at tentacles won’t actually kill the octopony."

“We’re trying to kill it?” said Pinkie. “I thought we were just trying to drop it back into the water so it hits the last pressure plate and lets us open the door.” As the others stared at her, Pinkie pulled a pin from her mane and dropped it onto the floor. “Hey, I really did hear it!”

“Pinkie.” Twilight spoke slowly, carefully enunciating every syllable as locks of her hair popped up. “How in Equestria did you know about the last plate? Nopony had spotted that yet.”

“Just a hunch.”

The octopony suddenly released its grip on the walls and fell back down. In one quick movement, it bit Swirly’s head off, then began using its tentacles to pound her remains into paste.

“Okay, fine. That didn’t really happen.” Twilight brushed her mane back into place as she shrugged off the six bemused stares directed at her. “The fight is still ruined, though.”

“It’ll be fine, sugarcube," Applejack said. "Nothin’s really changed since we were focusing on the tentacles anyway. Now we just know what’ll happen when we win.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head before putting the screen back in place. “Okay, let’s get back to it for real."

The moment the invisibility spell wore off, the octopony descended again. Its new position put the three remaining anchor tentacles beside Crusher, Holy Roller, and Light Hooves. Combat immediately resumed.

The rest of the battle passed in a blur as Light and Crusher hacked away at the tentacles closest to them while Swirly destroyed the one near Holy. Noble Gem continued to run away, never allowing the beast to corner her. Holy Roller’s efforts were focused on keeping the bard healed.

At last, the final tentacle was severed and the octopony fell down into the water, immediately sinking down into the pool and landing on the final pressure plate. Noble Gem rushed to the exit and threw the switch. The door shuddered and slid open, the sound of grinding rocks assailing the ears of all the adventurers, who found their hooves released from the magnetic grip.

Crusher led the way as the party entered another corridor. Halfway down it, something clicked under one of his hooves and he found himself bathed in flames as spears were flung from holes in the walls. A quick splash of conjured water extinguished his mane, and the damage from the spears was healed by Holy Roller’s weakest spell.

At the end of the passage, the party found another wooden door. “Crusher pick lock."

Twilight groaned. “Forget it. Let’s just say this one isn’t even locked."

Crusher smashed the door anyway.

As the party stepped into the next room, they immediately noticed that the walls were all frozen over and the floor was coated in two inches of fine snow. In the center of the chamber, upon a throne of ice, sat an ethereal horse with a crystalline crown atop its head.

The king of the Windigos.

“And we’re going to leave it on a cliffhanger this time,” Twilight said.

Rainbow jumped up and yelled, “What?! Are you serious?”

Twilight pointed to the clock on the wall. “Look at the time. It’s after midnight.”


“Aw shucks," Applejack said. She stood up and stretched. "I’ve gotta get back to the farm and get some sleep. I shoulda already been in bed.”

Fluttershy scrambled to clear away her share of the mess. “And I need to feed the nocturnal critters before I go to bed. I'm already late! I hope they're not angry with me."

As soon as the books and papers were packed away, and the clutter had been picked up, the others hastened home. “Spike,” Twilight said, “take a letter.” The yawning dragon obediently put down his comic book, then picked up a scroll and quill.

“What is that, sister?” Luna asked as she walked into Celestia’s room. Celestia was sitting on a cushion beside her bed, poring over a scroll.

“It’s a letter from Twilight. She was just telling me about a game she’s been playing with her friends, and the lessons she’s learned about friendship because of it.”

Luna sat down beside Celestia. “What sort of game?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but they’ve been playing every Saturday night for over a month. It’s something called an RPG. It apparently involves using dice to fight monsters. I don’t really understand it.” Celestia glanced over at her sister and found her grinning like a madmare. Luna hopped up onto her hooves and bounded to the door.

“Where are you going?” said Celestia.

“To get my dice!”


View Online

Roll For Initiative

Week 4


“Thanks for getting here early,” Twilight said as she took her seat at the end of the table. “I have something I need to tell you before we begin.”

Rainbow Dash scoffed and rolled her eyes. “If this is about snacks again, we all remembered to bring something this time. There’s plenty for everypony.”

Twilight shook her head. “That’s not it.” Sighing heavily, she continued, “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

The other sounds at the table—the gentle scratching of paper being distributed, rustling of snack foods being poured into bowls, and clacking of dice being test rolled—died out as the rest of the group gave Twilight their undivided attention.

Twilight took another breath and opened her mouth to speak, but she stopped when the kitchen door opened and Spike walked in, carrying an extra chair. As the ponies watched in silence, he set it in an empty space at the table.

“What?” he asked in response to their stares.

Applejack smiled at him and said, “You gonna be joinin’ us tonight, sugarcube?”

Spike waved a claw dismissively as he turned his back to the table. “No way. That game is dumb. It’s just a bunch of talking. Besides,” he added, turning his head toward the table again, “it makes dragons look like a bunch of evil pony-eating monsters. I’ll just stick to my comics. At least they let me see what’s happening.”

Twilight shook her head as Spike settled down in his corner. “Anyway, about that bad news—”

“Before you get to that,” Rarity interjected, “are we expecting somepony else?” She motioned toward the empty chair.

“Actually, that’s the bad news. You see, I got a letter from Princess Celestia yesterday—”

Pinkie gasped. “Is she the one who’s gonna be joining us? How is that bad? Does she know how to play? It would be bad if she didn’t, but we could teach her, and then I could throw a party to celebrate, and we could have dice-shaped balloons, and the cake could be a super big, tasty copy of her character sheet, and we could play new fun games like Pin the Tail on the Shambling Horror!”

Staring at Pinkie through narrowed eyes, Twilight said, “Are you done?” Pinkie nodded. “To answer your question, no, it won’t be Princess Celestia.”


“It’s going to be Princess Luna.”

“I don’t get it,” Applejack said after a moment of silence. “Why’s that a problem? We’ve spent time with the princesses before.”

“Actually, I’m not even sure what the problem is going to be,” Twilight said, rubbing the back of her head. “As I was saying, I got a letter from Princess Celestia telling me that Luna would be joining us.” The letter appeared in a purple flash. “She said she tried to talk Luna out of it, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“That does sound bad,” Fluttershy muttered.

Rainbow made a show of groaning and she leaned back in her chair. “Are we gonna have to teach her how to play?”

Twilight’s eyes flicked across the letter hovering next to her head. “No. She apparently has experience.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Yeah,” Applejack said as she poured baked apple chips into a bowl. “I reckon that’ll speed things up, but I gotta wonder when she learned to play. She ain’t been back from the moon all that long, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have games like this a thousand years ago.”

“Actually, Celestia’s letter answers that question,” Twilight said as the parchment vanished. “After returning from the moon, Luna was sequestered in the castle for several months while she regained her strength. During that time, she learned to play from some of the guards, one of whom was my own brother.”

“He still plays after all these years?” Rarity asked.

Rainbow cut off Twilight's reply. “Forget about that. We should just ask him what’s wrong with Princess Luna joining our game.”

“I already did that,” Twilight said. “He sent me a letter back, but all it said was, ‘My condolences. Sorry, sis, but you’re on your own.’”

“Oh dear.” Fluttershy shrank further into her seat.

Rainbow leaned farther back in her chair, tilting its legs until the only thing holding it up was the soft beating of her wings. “If nopony will tell us what’s wrong, I say we just forget about it. I mean, what’s the worst can happen? Her character dies, and she turns back into Nightmare Moon?”

Fluttershy sank so far into her chair that she might as well have been trying to hide under it. Applejack and Rarity went wide-eyed in shock. The color drained from Twilight’s face, and even Pinkie looked uncharacteristically pensive.

The awkward silence was shattered by the thunderous noise of a hoof striking the front door. Fluttershy tried to dive under her chair, only to find that Pinkie Pie had beaten her there. Twilight, Applejack, and Rarity all jumped up and stared at the door, while Rainbow’s wings locked up and her chair came crashing down to the floor.

Spike rolled his eyes and stood up. “Jeez, you guys… It was just somepony knocking.” The ponies had barely started picking themselves up when he opened the door. “Hey, Princess Luna! Come on in.”

“Thank you, Spike.” Luna stepped through the door, ducking to avoid banging her horn on the frame. Once inside, she stood up to her full height and looked around the room. “Aha!” she exclaimed upon spotting Twilight and her friends sitting around the table. One seemed to be missing, though. “It’s a pleasure to see you all again. But tell me, where is Fluttershy?”

“On it!” Pinkie reached down and dragged Fluttershy from beneath her seat. “If you’re going to hide, you should hide under your own chair.”

“But you were already under mine.”

“No excuses, young filly. Now go hide under your own chair,” Pinkie said, pointing to the empty space beneath the seat to her right.

“Young? I’m a year—Oh, never mind.” Fluttershy was half-concealed when Twilight’s magic grabbed her tail and pulled her back out.

“No hiding! Sit at the table.”

Her ears flat and lip quivering, Fluttershy climbed onto the chair, whimpering all the while.

“There,” Twilight said. “Now, let’s get organized. We saved you a seat, Princess Luna.”

Grinning manically, Luna trotted over to the table with a metal briefcase, held tightly in the grip of her magic, and plopped down on her seat. She dropped the heavy case onto the table, sending the loose dice and papers flying. A series of clicks echoed through the library as she opened a series of magical locks and disabled its traps.

“Princess Luna—” Twilight began.

“Just Luna when we’re playing, please.” More locks disengaged as the others collected the dice from the floor.

“Right. Luna”—Twilight paused for a moment to re-stack her papers—”we need to know how experienced you are. I mean, you can’t have been playing very long, and I have to figure out how much you can handle.”

The final lock on the briefcase snapped open, and the lid rose with a hiss. Inside, there was a stack of papers and a bag of dice. “As you can see,” Luna said, “I have plenty of experience.”

“Hoo-wee!” Applejack shouted as she looked at the pile of laminated character sheets. “How many of those have you played so far?”

“All of them, of course!”

Pinkie appeared over Luna’s shoulder. “Wow! You must die as much as Dashie if you’ve gone through all of those since you got back.”

Luna scoffed. “I’ll have you know that none of my characters have ever perished.”

“I bet you use a different character for every game, right?” Rainbow said.

“Also not true. I have used each of these on many occasions,” Luna answered, beaming as she looked around the table.

Twilight held up a hoof. “Wait a second. You’ve only been back a short time, so how did you manage to use that many characters?”

“By playing nearly every night, of course!” Luna picked up the stack of papers and started rifling through them. “Now… which one to use…”

“Every… night?” Twilight mumbled. “I think I’m starting to see what Shining’s letter meant.”

Luna’s ears perked at the mention of his name. “Shining Armor has told you of our games, has he? ‘Tis only natural, of course, that he should regale his sister with grand tales of our epic adventures. What did he tell you in the letter you spoke of?”

Twilight’s ears fell, and she looked around the table at her friends, all of whom were fidgeting nervously. With a forced, shaky chuckle, she said, “Oh, you know. He was just talking about… um… about... how much he’s missed playing with you since he moved to the Crystal Empire.”

Luna put a hoof to her chin and allowed a few seconds to pass in thoughtful silence before responding. “Yes, you’re quite right. I will rectify this inequity tomorrow night by visiting him at his new home to continue our previous game. Perhaps Cadance will wish to join us as well!”

Twilight tapped on the table to get everypony’s attention. “I think that’s enough chit-chat for now. We should get started. Luna, which char—” Another knock at the door interrupted her, and a dangerous growl started to build in Twilight’s throat as Luna bounded up from her chair and trotted to the door.

“Don’t be alarmed. ‘Tis only my contribution to the night’s refreshments.”

She opened the door and stepped aside as a dozen ponies walked in. The first one set up a folding table near the kitchen door, and the rest laid a variety of exotic salads, soufflés, pies, and puddings on top of it.

Luna trotted back to the others as the servers departed. “There! Now we no longer need these cheap snacks.” She snatched up the various bowls, as well as the tray of cupcakes Pinkie had provided, in her magical aura.

The rest of the group looked on in stunned silence, but Pinkie recovered when Luna started tipping the bowls and trays over the trash can. “Not the cupcakes!” she screamed as she bolted toward the impending snackicide.

Luna turned around to see who had yelled, drawing her attention away from the sight of Pinkie Pie catching the treats in her mouth. With a shrug, she set the unburdened dishes on the kitchen counter and returned to the table.

She looked around the table and noted Pinkie’s absence, but before she could comment on it, a belch from the kitchen drew her attention away.

Nopony was there.

Luna turned back to the table and found that Pinkie Pie had reappeared, her mouth ringed with crumbs. She grinned at Luna, then licked the crumbs away, but the moment they entered her mouth, her face turned green, and she was forced to shove a hoof into her own mouth.

“Shall we start now?” Twilight said, just loud enough to be heard through her face’s attempt to merge itself with the table.

“But of course,” Luna said as she sipped hot tea from one of Celestia’s cups.

“Okay,” Twilight said slowly, regaining her composure. “We need to know what class you’re playing. Do you want to make a new character or use an old one that’s level ten?”

Luna picked up the pile and started looking through it. “To expedite the process, I shall use an existing character.”

“Okay. I recommend using a rogue since the party doesn’t currently have one,” Twilight said, prompting a glower from Rainbow and a relieved sigh from Fluttershy.

Luna pulled a sheet from the pile. “Hm. I do have a character with ten levels in rogue.”

“Great. Let’s go with that one.” Twilight set her screen up. “Now, when we left off, you had walked into the final chamber of a forgotten tomb and encountered the king of the Windigos.”

Welcome,” the windigo hissed. The voice didn’t come from it directly; instead, it spoke through movements of the air whipping around its chamber. “I have been expecting you.

It stood up from its icy throne and snaked through the air toward the adventurers. Halfway there, it stopped and rose up toward the ceiling. A wall of ice formed behind the ponies. Around the walls, gusts of wind crashed together to form a harsh laugh as other currents whipped past their ears to form words. “Now, by my master’s command, you must die.

“Master?” said the paladin. “Exactly who is this mas—”

“Die, knave!” shouted a red alicorn who had not been among the party only seconds prior. The undulating, gleaming silvery locks of her metal mane parted to expose her horn, and a beam of light spewed forth from it.

“What!” cried Twilight. She stood up and stamped a forehoof on the table. “No way! That absolutely did not happen!”

“Do not be such a poor sport, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, grinning. The rest of the group facehoofed in unison.

“I’m not being a poor sport! Your character isn’t even there yet, and she’s a rogue, not a sorceress!”

Luna waved a hoof dismissively. “Of course she is. She does indeed have ten levels of rogue, but she also has twelve levels of sorceress.”

“Luna, this is a tenth level game! You can’t use a twenty-second level character!”

Her coat bristling, Luna stood up. “You approved my character, did you not?”

Twilight cringed slightly, but held her ground. “Yes, but you weren’t clear about what that character was.”

Narrowing her eyes, Luna said, “Are you calling me a liar, Twilight Sparkle?”

“No! Of course not!”

“Good. Then let us resume the game.” Luna sat back down, once again smiling.

Twilight also sat back down. After putting her screen back in place, she restarted the game. “All right. Now, the new party member has not been introduced yet, and since that attack couldn’t have happened, let’s go back to what the windigo king was saying.”

Luna narrowed her eyes again. “Are you calling my character a liar, Twilight Sparkle?”

This time, Twilight joined the rest of the group in their synchronized facehoof.

“By the way,” Luna added, “my character is twenty-ninth level, not twenty-second. She has seven levels of fighter.”

As the windigo king reeled from the red alicorn’s attack, she turned to face the rest of the group. “Greetings to thee, fair adventurers. I am Nightshade, and I have been traveling amongst you for some time, hidden from thy vision by my skills in the art of stealth.”

“Seriously?” said Holy Roller.

“Yes, Sister Holy is quite right,” Light Hooves said. “Your story does strain the bounds of credibility a mite.”

“Do mind that strange accent you sometimes fall into, Sister Light,” Holy teased, poking her in the side.

Nightshade stepped forward and looked each of them in the eye. “Why doth thou doubt my claims?”

The paladin and cleric both recoiled under the alicorn’s glare, but were spared from further argument when the windigo rejoined the battle. The party drew their weapons and rushed in, but Nightshade deliberately held back.

Swirly was the first to act; a stream of flame lanced from her horn and washed over the monster.

You cannot win,” the wind whispered as the windigo swooped down and touched Swirly, encasing her in a block of ice.

With the windigo so close to the ground, the rest of the party was able to make their moves. Holy Roller used her mace to shatter the ice imprisoning Swirly, who—thanks to her own protection spell—was unaffected by her brief exposure to the extreme cold. Crusher and Light Hooves both struck solid blows, but they hardly fazed the enemy, and Noble Gem couldn’t get close enough to do anything but play her lute.

Nightshade laughed at their efforts. “Come on! Thou canst do better than that. I could defeat this pathetic beast in my sleep.”

While her commentary drew grumbles from the other adventurers, it also drew the windigo’s attention. After suffering another direct hit from Swirly’s fire magic, it slipped away from the melee and engaged Nightshade, drawing upon a mysterious power—which had not existed until that moment, and could not be detected or destroyed by any means—to instantly triple its strength.

“Foolish creature!” she yelled as the windigo approached. “Thou hast entered into the range of my attacks!” The wire-like strands of her mane sprang forth and lashed out at the enemy.

Twilight opened her mouth to yell at Luna, but bit her tongue. After taking a moment to compose herself, she said, “Let me see your character sheet for a moment, please.”

Luna nodded, and Twilight’s magic snatched the paper. As her eyes scanned over it, her scowl deepened. “You have a weapon proficiency for your mane.” Luna nodded again, smiling. “It has an attack bonus of thirty-three.” Another nod. “And you don’t carry any other weapons.”


Twilight buried her face in her hooves as Luna reclaimed her sheet. “May I finally roll my attack now?”


As Luna’s magic gripped the dice, she added, “And after that, I’ll take my held action as well.”

Nighshade’s mane became a streak of gleaming silver and slashed across the windigo king. It tried to retaliate, but the alicorn pressed her advantage, lashing her metal hair back and forth across its body until, finally, the monster fell to the floor, defeated.

The wind in the room whispered once more, “You think you have won, but you know not what you face. This is but the beginning, for my master has risen, and none may challenge the might of—”

Nightshade’s mane whipped forth again and split the monster in half. As its body dissipated, the two halves of its cloven crown fell to the floor and shattered. The wind in the chamber stopped.

“Hey,” Swirly cried, “what in da world was you thinkings? We might’a needed the name dat thing was about to says.”

“Yeah, Nightshade, what gives?” Noble Gem said.

“Talking to it would be a waste of time,” Nightshade replied. “Come now. Let us find other foes to vanquish!”

Holy Roller sighed. “It doesn’t matter now. It’s already done. Let’s just collect the spoils of our victory and go back to the temple.”

Nightshade’s magic snatched up all of the treasure in the room at once and dropped it into her Saddlebag of Holding, then she trotted toward the door.

“Hey! What gives!” Holy yelled.

Stopping just outside the door to the windigo’s chamber, Nightshade said, “Dost thou not recall that it was I who slew the beast?”

“No, but we still helped!”

Swirly stepped forward to glare directly into Nightshade’s eyes. “Yeah! Are you plannings ta cuts us outta the loot?”

“I certainly hope not,” Light Hooves said.

“I agree.” Noble Gem stamped a hoof on the icy floor for emphasis. “Hogging the loot is not cool.”

All four turned to Crusher to see what he would say.

“Um… I don’t really mind.”

As the other four facehoofed—again—Nightshade laughed. “You see? It’s fine,” she said between chuckles. “Besides, I’m only going to keep what I can use. You’ll get all the rest.”

Nightshade continued on her way back to the exit, but the others lingered for a moment, and Holy whispered to Light, “She’s a fighter, rogue, and sorceress. Think there’s anything she can’t use?”


* * * * *

As the party traveled across the countryside, the land started to thaw around them, and by the time they reached the Temple of Trixie, the early summer climate had fully returned. The courtyard was abuzz with activity. On one side of the cobblestone path through the center, training dummies had been placed along the walls for target practice, while others were out in the open, being pummeled by acolyte monks. On the other side, students of less physical disciplines laid in the sunlight, reading books or listening to lectures from their seniors.

The party walked along the path and soon entered the temple’s sanctuary, where rows of pews faced an ornate pulpit, behind which stood a series of stained glass windows, each depicting one of Trixie’s greatest deeds, including her defeat of the Taurrusque, her conquest of Equestria’s largest water wheel, and—

Five voices rang out at once. “Twilight!”

Grinning sheepishly, Twilight said, “Oops. Got a little carried away there. Anyway—”

Luna looked up from her bowl of salad. “Who is this Trixie?” she asked, bits of lettuce and other assorted vegetables still crunching between her teeth.

Rainbow Dash groaned, but Rarity took pity on her and deflected the question. “It’s a rather long story. You really needed to be there in order to understand it. The important thing to know is that there’s a new goddess in the world named Trixie, and this is her temple.”

Twilight cleared her throat and pressed on. “You pass through the sanctuary, and the guards allow you access to the inner chambers. When you reach the high priest’s office, you are ushered inside and find him behind his desk.”

“Your Grace,” said Holy Roller as she entered the room, “you have some explaining to do.”

Shaking his head, a wan smile upon his lips, the high priest looked up at the party as they arranged themselves in a semi-circle around his desk and said, “I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”

Swirly leaned in close and stamped her hoof on the mahogany desk, leaving a deep imprint of her horseshoe. “I’ll just bets you wasn’t.” She raised her hoof again, but before she could bring it back down, it was wrapped in silver threads, and she was pulled away from the desk by Nightshade’s mane.

Nightshade stepped forward. “Thou hast much to answer for, fiend. First, thou built this blasphemous temple to a false god, and then thou sent this group of amateur adventurers to face a foe they could not possibly defeat!”

“Hey! We could have beaten it!”

Ignoring Noble Gem’s outburst, the high priest stared at Nightshade. “What would you know?” he barked. “You are an outsider with no place in these events! Who are you supposed to be, anyway?”

“Very well. I shall tell thee of myself. I am Nightshade, ruler of all forests, destroyer of the four great bandit cities, and slayer of King Sombra!”

“What?” Luna asked. “Why are you all looking at me that way?”

Twilight sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, then looked up at Luna. “It’s just that in this game, they already killed King Sombra, so Nightshade couldn’t possibly have done that in this world.”

“There is no conflict,” Luna said. “In my previous game, King Sombra had become a lich when I killed him, so it makes sense that it happened after they killed his lesser form.”

Once more, the rest of the table performed a synchronized facehoof.

Rainbow went the extra mile and smacked her face a few extra times for good measure. “Lich King Sombra? Really? Who thought that was a good idea?”

“No kidding,” Pinkie agreed from her new position next to the food table, her voice muffled by the carrot cake stuffed into her mouth. “Regular old King Sombra was boring enough. Imagine how bad it would be if he was harder to kill.”

“Pinkie, dear,” Rarity said, “weren’t you too full to keep eating?”

“Yep! I can’t eat another bite!” Pinkie answered, right before shoving an entire pie into her mouth.

Meanwhile, Twilight surreptitiously erased “Lich King Sombra” from her notes.

“An impressive list of deeds, no doubt,” the high priest said. “However, even you are unprepared for the power that now rises in this land.”

Groaning, Nightshade pulled several locks of her hair together to form a spear. “I think we’ve heard enough of this.”

“Wait!” Light Hooves yelled as she threw herself between Nightshade and the priest. “We might still need information he possesses. Besides, I sense no evil nature in him.”

Holy Roller also stepped between them and held out a hoof surrounded by a golden glow. “It’s true. He’s not evil, but he is under some kind of curse.”

“Fine,” Nightshade muttered, letting her hair fall limp. “We’ll let him live for now, but I expect to get some useful information from him.”

Holy continued to scan the high priest. “Actually, it looks like he can’t tell us anything the one who cursed him doesn’t want us knowing.”

“Then he’s useless.” The spear formed atop Nightshade’s head once more.

“No!” the rest of the party shouted in unison.

“Crusher say we find source of curse and smash.”

Swirly nodded. “I agrees wit Crusha.”

Nightshade continued to brandish her spear. “If we don’t know where to look, it would be pointless. Killing him is a much more effective solution!”

“Not necessarily,” Holy Roller said. “I can sense that the curse is bonded to something else. It's somewhere to the southwest.”

“It’s probably the new great bandit city that was built recently,” said a guard outside the door who had conveniently overheard everything but, even more conveniently, had not bothered to try to stop the adventurers or get help when the life of the high priest was threatened.

“A new great bandit city!” Nightshade exclaimed, her eyes gleaming to match her grin. “Come along! We must destroy it at once!”

“Unfortunately, assaulting a city would take too long for tonight,” Twilight said. “I know it’s a little early, but this is the best point to stop, so we’ll have to continue this next week.”

The cleanup passed in near-total silence, with every attempt to speak being stopped by a terse shake of Twilight’s head. The only consistent noise was Luna’s humming as she oversaw the servants who came in to remove the leftovers from the feast she brought.

Finally, they all stood at the door, ready to go. “See you all at the same time next week,” Twilight said.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Luna said. “This was the most fun I’ve had since Shining Armor moved to the Crystal Empire!”

“Speaking of which, you did say you’re going to visit him there tomorrow night, right?”

“Indeed! I’ll also be bringing the other guards who played in our last game, that we might resume our adventure.”

As Twilight opened the door to see them out, she said, “I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you. See you all later!”

The following night, Twilight called her friends over again. Once they were all seated at the table, she began, “I think we can all agree that last night didn’t go well.”

Rarity scoffed. “Darling, I think we can all agree that you’ve just made the understatement of the year.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow, “that was completely ridiculous! Nopony else could get a word in or do anything with Luna around.”

Applejack scowled beneath her stetson, which was pulled lower than usual. “Agreed. If this is gonna keep happenin’, there’s no point in even playin’.”

“I agree,” muttered Fluttershy.

Rainbow leaned back in her chair and crossed her forelegs. “And adding in that bandit city is just gonna make things worse. Now she’s all excited about coming back, and that’s gonna make her more pushy than ever.”

“Actually, girls, that’s part of my plan,” Twilight said, grinning mischievously. “One way or another, Luna won’t be a problem after next week.”

“What do you have in mind?” Rarity asked.

“Well, to start with—” Twilight was interrupted by a belch from the next room.

“Letter for you, Twilight,” Spike yelled as he ran into the room. Twilight grabbed the scroll with her magic and unrolled it only to drop it moments later, her concentration shattered by a fit of raucous laughter. One by one, the others picked up the letter and joined in the hysterics until the entire group was rolling around on the floor, leaving the unfurled parchment laying on the table.

Dear Twily,

I hate you.

Shining Armor

The Final Challenge

View Online

Roll for Initiative

Week 5

The Final Challenge

“So, Twi, what’s the plan?” asked Rainbow Dash after taking her seat at the table.

Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, Dash. I can’t tell you that.”

The faces of Twilight’s friends fell into matching grimaces.

“And why not?” said Applejack.

“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash said. “How are we supposed to do our part of the plan if we don’t know the plan?”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said as she distributed the character sheets, “but if I tell you the plan, it can’t possibly work. I need your responses to be genuine.”

She smiled and looked to each of them in turn. “This game is going to be your toughest challenge yet. I designed it to counter every trick in Luna’s book, so you’ll have to be clever to win.”

The clatter of hooves and wheels touching down outside the library cut off any impending replies.

“Okay, she’s here,” whispered Twilight. “Remember to make her feel welcome.”

The door opened moments after the others nodded, and Luna strutted in with her entourage in tow. While the porters set up the buffet, Luna approached the table.

“Howdy, Luna!” said Applejack. She tipped her hat then held out her hoof. “Nice to see ya again!”

Luna hesitantly tapped her own hoof against Applejack’s and said, “Likewise.” Continuing around the table, she came to the next pony.

“Princess Luna, always a pleasure,” said Rarity.

“The pleasure is all mine, Rarity.”

“Hey, Luna! How’s it hangin’?” Rainbow asked as Luna reached her.

Luna scratched the back of her head before answering, “It’s… hanging very well, I suppose.”

Fluttershy mumbled something unintelligible, but she was smiling, so Luna smiled back and nodded.

“Heya, Princess Looney!” Pinkie shouted as Luna reached her.

Luna came to a stop and stared at Pinkie with one eyebrow raised. The others fell completely silent.

“Pinkie,” Twilight whispered, “what are you—”

“Hello to you, too, Pinko!” Luna said, grinning as widely as her lips would stretch. The silence persisted, but it was Luna’s turn to continue grinning awkwardly while the rest of the table stared at her, Pinkie looking especially horrified.

After a few seconds, Luna’s grin fell into a grimace. “What?”

Twilight cleared her throat. “Well, Luna, I know you don’t know the term, but you… sort of just called Pinkie”—she paused to sigh—”an anti-princess revolutionary.”

Luna stepped back, her eyes wide. “Those actually exist?”

“Not around here, thankfully,” said Rarity as she levitated a teacup full of soda from the refreshment table.

“Oh. My apologies, Pinkie Pie. I meant no offense.”

Pinkie grinned. “None taken, Princess Looney! Now sit down so we can get started!”

Shaking her head, Luna took a seat at the far end of the table, next to Twilight.

Twilight set her screen up and opened her books. “Now, when we left off, you had just learned of the existence of a new great bandit city. After speaking with the guard who told you about it a little more, you found that the bandits have kidnapped the high priests of several other temples, but he didn’t know what the bandits are planning to do with them. Since then, you’ve restocked your provisions at the temple and set out. After two days of travel, a walled city comes into view over the horizon.”

“Aha!” cried Nightshade. “We have at last uncovered this den of evil! Now, I shall inflict righteous vengeance upon the vermin who dwell within!”

“Please stay your blade a moment,” said Light Hooves. “This city appears to be well-guarded.”

Noble Gem stepped forward. “I agree. There are fortified positions all along the walls, and each seems to be guarded by a squad of archers. There are too many for any of us, even you, to survive a direct attack.”

Nightshade scoffed. “I see them as well as thou can. The wretches are not looking down. They are waiting for the guard at the gate to alert them to danger with his bell.”

She grinned and licked her lips as her mane shifted between a variety of different blades. “I simply need to eliminate him before he can signal for help. With my stealth skills, it should be a simple task.”

“You betta holds on,” Swirly Sparks said, triggering facehooves from the rest. “I knows those glasses he’s wearings. Those are the legendary Glasses of True Seeings. Wit’ those, he can sees anypony comings, even if they’re hidings.”

Nightshade scowled. “I do not approve of this. It is not a fair challenge.”

“Well, perhaps there is a hidden door somewhere that is unguarded,” said Holy Roller.

“Wait,” Crusher said, stroking the stubble on his chin. “Crusher have idea. If guard sees pony who not bandit coming, he ring bell, right?”

The others all nodded, and Holy added, “Yes, and he will probably ring the bell if anypony approaches with a weapon drawn or makes any hostile move toward him.”

Crusher’s face contorted into a sneering grin. “Crusher look like bandit, right?”

* * * * *

Crusher trotted toward the gate, the battle ax across his back clanking against his Taurrusque chitin armor with every step. To further the image, Noble Gem had smeared blood from a convenient animal carcass onto his armor.

“Hail, fellow bandit,” the guard said as Crusher approached. Though his greeting was friendly, he still gripped the bell firmly. Any sudden movement would cause it to ring.

“Hail, gate guard,” Crusher said.

“One moment while I open the gate for you, my brother in banditry.”

The guard reached back with one of his hindlegs and flipped a lever. The gate slowly started to creak open.

“You may proceed.”

“Thank you,” Crusher said.

He stepped forward until the guard was at the edge of his reach and stopped. “One more thing. Crusher have friends coming.”

“I suggest waiting at the tavern, then,” the guard replied.

“You not understand,” Crusher said, rising to his full height and turning to stare into the guard’s eyes. “Crusher’s friends not bandits.”

The intensity of Crusher’s stare virtually petrified the guard. He broke into a cold sweat, and his knees started to quiver.

He leaned in and slowly stepped toward the guard, looming over him. “Careful. You no want to ring bell. Crusher not like bell.”

Movement registered in the guard’s peripheral vision. Though the ponies approaching were covered by dark cloaks, his glasses showed that they were not bandits. Still, he didn’t ring the bell.

“You no see them, right?”

The guard nodded.

Once the others were through, Crusher leaned in close to the guard. “If you ring bell after Crusher leave, Crusher find you. Understand?”

The guard nodded as a puddle formed beneath him.

“Good.” Crusher turned and walked toward the gate.

Before passing through, he stopped and looked back. “One more thing. No close gate.”

The guard nodded again, and Crusher walked through to join the others. Grinning at them, he said, “Crusher good at stealth.”

More than half of the table erupted into laughter. Meanwhile, Fluttershy grinned despite her blush, Luna gawked at her, and Twilight glanced back and forth between the pair of them with a smug smile on her face.

“That… was awesome… Fluttershy,” Dash said while she gasped for breath.

“Yes, I must agree,” said Rarity. “You did a magnificent job, darling.”

“Somethin’ wrong there, Luna?” asked Applejack.

Luna opened her mouth a couple of times, but no words came out. Her third attempt at vocalization finally succeeded. “That was ridiculous!”

“So?” said Pinkie.

Twilight cleared her throat. “Luna, I don’t know what your previous games were like, but in our games, brute force isn’t enough to solve every problem. Sometimes, you have to rely on cleverness.”

Once inside the walls, the party found it easy to move around without attracting attention as long as they stayed under their cloaks. Though it would have been suspicious in most places, half of the ponies in the city were dressed the same way. As they wandered through the streets to get a general impression of the layout, Swirly used her magic to sketch a rough map, marked with points of interest.

After a while, the party took refuge in an alley and looked at the information they had gathered.

“Okay, here’s what we knows,” whispered Swirly. “There’s no districts in the city ‘cause they just builds new buildings wherever they can finds space for ‘em. That means we don’t knows where ta finds the leader.”

Nightshade snarled and stomped on the hard ground, driving her hoof nearly a foot into it. “This is so annoying! This city is too big to destroy like the others, and there are too many guards!”

“Maybe there’s a reason for that,” said Noble. “We need more information.”

Crusher nodded and stood up. He walked out of the alley and stepped in front of the first pony to come near him. “Why this city so big and have so many guards?”

While Crusher was making no deliberate attempt to be intimidating, the bandit stepped back anyway.

“Don’t you know?” the generic, nameless bandit said. “This is the bandit holy city. The temple to the god of thugs is here.”

“Is temple big deal?”

The bandit nodded. “That’s where the bosses are gonna sacrifice those priest guys.”

“Which way?” asked Crusher. The bandit pointed down the road, so Crusher nodded and stepped out of his way.

After he returned to the party and gave them the new information, Nightshade smiled and said, “A holy city, eh? This intrigues me. We must find this temple at once!”

“Agreed,” said Holy and Light at the same time. Crusher, Noble, and Swirly all nodded.

They stepped back out onto the street and traveled in the direction the bandit indicated, watching closely for any building that looked like a temple. That turned out to be unnecessary, however, as the temple was actually the tallest building in the city and was painted completely black. Despite it being too obvious for anypony to overlook, Light Hooves still managed to miss it, focusing instead on random spots appearing in front of her eyes and drooling like an imbecile as—

“Hey! You’re layin’ it on a bit thick there, ain’t ya, Twi?”

“Well, you did roll a botch,” Twilight said, glancing down at the “1” on Applejack’s die.

The party stepped into the temple and found it to be empty. Like the exterior, everything within was painted black.

“Matte black or glossy black?” asked Luna.

Twilight opened her mouth to give an answer before realizing she didn’t have one. After thinking it over for a moment, she said, “I don’t really know. Does it matter?”

“No. I just prefer matte.”

Like the exterior, everything inside the temple was painted matte black.

“I actually prefer glossy,” whispered Fluttershy.

The interior of the temple was painted in random swirls of bright colors, and the pews were all neon red, neon green, neon purple, and it wasn’t changing again, no matter how much anypony complained.

Although the building was tall enough to contain five or six floors, there were no stairs leading up, nor any doors leading out of the room, save for the entrance.

“You’d thinks they’d be guardings this place if it’s so important,” said Swirly.

“I’m not so sure about that,” Noble replied. “There could be something on the upper floors, but I don’t see a way to get there.”

“There must be a way up,” said Holy. “We should split up to search. Let me know if you find anything that looks interesting and, for the love of Celestia, don’t touch anything!”

The rest of the group branched out, rolling their eyes and muttering to themselves. Swirly and Noble moved between the pews, searching under the hymnals and complimentary daggers, which were far too cheap to be worth taking.

“Well, you’d load up on them if I didn’t say that,” Twilight said in response to the unspoken question.

Meanwhile, Nightshade examined the matte black marble pillars—which changed color again because the swirls were too hard to describe—but found nothing of interest. Crusher, likewise, came up empty-hoofed in his search of the glossy black altar.

Light Hooves, however, found something that looked interesting. “Sister Holy, please come and look at this.”

Holy trotted to the other side of the room to see what Light had found. It turned out to be a statue of the god of thugs. In one hoof, he held—

“Does this god have an actual name?” asked Rainbow.

Twilight scratched her head. “Well, I hadn’t really thought of one. Is it important for any reason?”

“I don’t know yet. Let’s see.” Rainbow rolled her D20. “So how much info do I get from this knowledge check?”

“Hm. That’s a pretty high roll. Just a moment while I write it out for you.”

Holy stared at the statue of Gildana, goddess of thugs. She stood upright on her lion legs, and in one of her taloned bird feet, she held—

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Really, Twi?”

Twilight giggled and returned to her description.

In one foot, she held an offering plate atop her claws, piled high with gold coins. A single talon on her other foot pointed forward. Looking closely, Holy noticed a thin coat of ash on its tip. Beneath her feet, the floor sported a nearly indiscernible scorch mark.

“Everypony, get over here! We found it!” yelled Holy.

After the rest had gathered, she continued. “This statue is a test. Only Gildana’s most faithful can pass.”

“So the door is behind it?” asked Nightshade.


Nightshade formed a huge war hammer in her mane and stepped forward. “Then we can simply smash our way through!”

Holy jumped in front of her. “No! You can’t do that. This statue is imbued with the essence of a god. If you try to hit it or force your way through in any way, a fiery ray will shoot from that claw and burn you to ash! Not even you could survive being smited… smote…”

“Smitten,” Twilight said.

“Right. Not even you could survive being smitten by a god!”

Applejack raised her hoof. “Sugarcube, I don’t mean to question ya, but I always thought ‘smitten’ meant ya were taken with somepony.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Applejack’s right. That’s the only way I’ve ever heard it used.”

“Yeparoonie!” exclaimed Pinkie.

“You are incorrect,” said Luna. “When my sister and I went to war in olden times, we would often refer to our enemies as having been smitten by our power.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Well, I guess that settles that.”

Luna simply nodded, having completely missed the sarcasm.

“Yes, I suppose you are correct,” said Nightshade, “but how do you propose that we proceed?”

“That’s easy! Watch and learn.”

Holy reached out toward the offering plate and, before any of the others could stop her, swept the entire pile of coins into her saddle bag.

“Are you crazy?” yelled Light Hooves as she dove to the floor with the others. Her answer came in the form of the noise caused by stone grinding against stone, and she looked up again to see Holy standing in front of an open doorway.

“You see,” said Holy, “Gildana is the goddess of thugs, so the way you show your devotion to her is by acting like a thug. If you leave an offering, you get cooked. If you take the offering, you get to pass.”

“And pray tell,” said Nightshade, “just how dost thou knowest so much about the worship of an evil deity such as Gildana? Art thou not a cleric of Celestia’s Light?”

Holy shrugged. “Actually, I’m non-denominational.” With that, she trotted through the doorway and up the staircase on the other side.

Rainbow stood up from the table. “I’ll be right back. Just gonna grab some snacks.”

As she walked toward the buffet, Applejack stood up and followed behind her. “I reckon I’m gonna do the same. Anypony else want anything?”

Pinkie raised her hoof and said, “Bring me something tasty,” but the rest shook their heads.

At the table, they found that the hors d'oeuvres from the previous week had been replaced by fancy cakes, pies, a bowl of imported chocolates, and a big bowl of chips.

Rainbow’s eyes lit up at the sight of them. “Hey! You actually brought real snacks this time! There’s even cheesy hay chips over here!”

Luna smirked. “But of course! After Shining Armor told me of your preference for them, I ordered the kitchens to prepare the finest cheesy hay chips ever created.”

Dash and Applejack reached into the bowl, and each one took a single chip. With a nod to one another, they popped them into their mouths and chewed them. They glanced back to Luna as the taste registered. She was staring at them, waiting to see what they thought.

“This is delicious,” Rainbow said, not quite able to make eye contact with Luna.

“Absolutely!” said Applejack, likewise looking anywhere but directly at Luna.

“Splendid!” Luna turned back around to the rest of the table.

As they both swallowed, Dash and Applejack leaned in close. “RD, are you thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’ they did?”

“You’re thinking the cooks just went out and bought a bag of chips?” Rainbow asked.

Applejack nodded, and the two snickered through the entire process of loading up their plates and returning to the table.

Holy Roller stepped into the room at the top of the stairs without taking the time to peek inside. She found herself surrounded by a group of six guards, all of whom looked directly at her rosary, which bore Celestia’s emblem.

“Uh oh. I knew I should have taken that off.”

The guards pressed in on her. She tried to fall back, but Swirly was right behind her.

“Hey, back up!”

“I can’t!” said Swirly. “Noble’s right behind me!”

“Then all of you need to back up!”

The doorway at the bottom of the stairs slammed shut.

Swirly rolled her eyes. “I don’t thinks we’re goings anywhere.”

Holy growled and drew her weapon. She deflected the first three blows with her shield, but the fourth and fifth attackers flanked her. She cried out as her armor was pierced from both sides.

Holy grit her teeth and pawed at the cobblestone floor as she glanced back and forth between two earth ponies and a unicorn. She turned to the left and rammed the unicorn. As she turned away from the others, one of them swung his mace, missing her. The other carved a deep wound in her side with his sword.

Swirly charged into the opening and tried to ram another enemy, but he put a single hoof on her head and held her back. “No fair, ya meanie!” She ran in place until she was gasping for air; then, the bandit pushed her back and slashed her across the chest.

The enemies surrounding Holy took it in turns to attack her. An overhead blow to her back from the first bandit made her knees quake, but she held her footing. The next attack slipped through an opening in her armor and gouged her flank. Her final assailant tried to stab her with his longsword, but it was deflected by her armor.

The bandit Swirly had rushed sliced into her chest again. Her focus dimmed from the loss of blood, but she clung to the lilting melody from Noble’s lute, which gave her the presence of mind to lean back as another sword cleaved the air, narrowly missing her neck. Still, there was one more waiting his turn—the only pegasus among the bandits. He raised his sword high above his head and prepared to strike the killing blow, but it fell from his grip and impaled his own back.

“And he rolled a one. That’s ten points of damage to the bandit as he accidentally stabs himself,” Twilight said, smirking at the “18” she had really rolled.

Holy tried to shove another enemy aside, but the bandit dug in his hooves and pushed back.

Swirly giggled as the pegasus grasped at the sword protruding from his back. A fiery ray lanced from her horn and pierced his chest. Flames engulfed his entire body, and the smell of charred flesh and fur filled the air as the bandit’s smoking husk fell to the floor. Swirly staggered into the opening his death provided.

Noble stowed her lute and drew her sword before stepping forward. The first bandit clubbed her over the head with his mace, and the second attacker grabbed her, turned her around, and put his knife to her throat.

“Bards are so useless!” cried Holy just before another blow to the back forced her to her haunches, and a knife was pressed to her throat as well. Swirly could only flail helplessly as the last bandit grabbed her and forced her down.

The bandits carefully backed away from the door, just enough to let Light Hooves come through, but not giving Nightshade an opening.

“What is this?” asked Light.

“Paladin,” said a bandit standing between the ones holding Holy and Noble, “we know we can’t win this fight. Even if we defeat the rest of you, the alicorn will kill us all. So… we offer you a choice.” He smirked.

Light narrowed her eyes and kept her hoof on the hilt of her sword. “What kind of choice?”

“It’s simple,” the bandit leader continued, twirling his hoof in the air. “All you have to do is surrender your allegiance to Celestia and swear it to Gildana instead!”

The rest of the party gasped, but Light Hooves maintained eye contact and showed no sign of emotion. “If you accept my offer,”the bandit leader said, “Gildana will empower you with might enough to strike down even an alicorn! Think of your friends. All you have to do is join us and kill one; then, the rest will go free.”


The rest of the table gasped again.

“Applejack, what are you doing?” cried Pinkie as she fell off her stool.

“You’re going to doom us all!” cried Rarity.

“Indeed, Applejack.” Luna slammed a hoof onto the table. “I believed that you were as committed to the magic of friendship as anypony here!”

“I am!” said Applejack. “The thing is, I have to think of what my character would do, and she’s a paladin! Her faith is everythin’ to her.”

Applejack rubbed her chin. “There might just be a way, though.”

“Come again?” the bandit leader said.

“Never. I’ll never betray my vows!” Light Hooves removed her hoof from her sword and stamped it on the floor. “However, don’t think I’ll let you harm my friends, either!”

“And how do you propose to accomplish that?”

Light lowered her head and narrowed her gaze even further, but a smirk grew on her face as the bandit’s smile faded. Her voice was barely more than a whisper as she said, “I can’t stop you, and I can’t let Nightshade get past me, but there’s nothing stopping her from going through me.”

Behind her, Nightshade snorted and dug her hooves into the floor. The bandits barely had time to register the threat before her metal mane whipped around and slammed into the paladin’s back, caving in the armor plating and hurling her forward. She crashed into the bandit holding Noble, and the three of them collided with the far wall.

The battle-starved alicorn cackled as she released all restraint. Her mane formed four blades, two of which lashed out at each of the enemies holding Swirly and Holy. They whipped around the captives, splashing everything nearby with blood as they dismembered the bandits. Meanwhile, she bucked another one across the room, where he hit the wall with a crunch that should have been sickening, but sounded more like a pony making awkward splat noises with her mouth.

“Okay, so I’m no good with sound effects!” Twilight turned her head away from the others and snorted, waiting for them to stop laughing.

“Now, thou art all that remains,” Nightshade said to the bandit leader as she shook the blood from her mane. Crusher trotted up beside her, battle ax in hoof.

The bandit backed away, but found himself with the point of a sword at his back. Turning his head, he saw Noble Gem standing behind him. Behind her, Holy Roller’s hooves were engulfed in a golden aura as she cast a healing spell on Light Hooves. Swirly Sparks, to his side, had red sparks falling from her horn as its glow intensified.

“Well, darn.”

His pathetic excuse for last words spoken, all four attacks fell on him at once.

* * * * *

Swirly’s face lit up as she pulled an object from a pouch slung over the back of the bandit she toasted. “Ooh! This lookses nice!” She rotated the silver necklace dangling from her hoof, admiring it from various angles as the pegasus corpse crumbled to ashes behind her.

“A wonderful find,” said Nightshade. “Thy prize is clearly magical in nature.”

Swirly nodded and dropped in on the floor. “Yep! Now, let’s sees what it does!”

She sat down on her haunches and began casting an Identification spell. After the required hour had passed—during which nopony else even noticed the passage of time—she stood up and yelled, “Aha! It’s an Amulet of Protecting!”

“Thou meanest ‘protection,’” said Nightshade.

Swirly rounded on her and glared up into her eyes. “Is you callings me a criminal?”

Nightshade recoiled. “What? What art thou saying?”

Swirly pressed forward, prodding Nightshade with a hoof. “You calleds me da meanest protection pony! I ain’t runnings no protection rackets!”

“No!” cried Nightshade, throwing her hooves into the air. “I was just saying thine amulet is…”

She hung her head and sighed. ”Never mind.”

Swirly shrugged. “Oh. Okays, then.”

She backed away and threw the necklace across the room. “Noble, catches!”

Noble Gem grabbed the jewelry as it flew into her reach. “Thanks, Swirly! I owe you one.”

“What hast thou done?” said Nightshade. “Thou hast willingly discarded an item that thou couldst use!”

Swirly scoffed. “As if that thing would helps me. Sorceresses stays out of range. If enemies gets in close to me, I’m cooked, anyway.” She smiled as she motioned to Noble, who was putting the amulet around her neck. “Noble gets in close lots more than I does ‘cause she has her sword, so she needses it more.”

As Swirly bounded away to join the others by the stairs, Nightshade lagged behind, lost in thought.

“Luna?” said Twilight. Her voice went unheeded as Luna continued to peer at her character sheet while rubbing her chin.

Pinkie took a bit more initiative and grabbed Luna’s ear. “Hellooooo in there!” she shouted into it.

Luna yelped as she started, dragging Pinkie down with her as she fell from her stool. Twilight, Applejack, and Rarity winced at the heap of tangled limbs as Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash helped them up.

“What… was that… for?” Luna said between gasping breaths. Pinkie shrugged.

Twilight coughed, drawing attention back to her. “Okay, everypony. As I was saying, they’re all heading up the stairs to the next floor. We’re just waiting on you, Luna.”

“Oh. Yes, of course. I naturally follow behind them.”

“All right,” Twilight said, “you go up the stairs and emerge into a new room, much like the last, except this time, you find a sleeping ogre in the center of the room. His rumbling snores make your teeth chatter and your hooves rattle on the floor. On the other side, you can see a gated doorway.”

“Wait a minute,” said Rainbow, holding up a hoof. “What the hay is a random ogre doing inside a temple?”

“Yeah, how did something that big get up those narrow stairs?” added Applejack.

Twilight sighed and said, “Magic.”

She looked around the table at the bemused stares of her friends and tried again. “Look, it doesn’t matter how it got there. Maybe somepony teleported it. Maybe they built the temple around it. The important thing is that a campaign should have an ogre in it somewhere, and this is the only place for one to go.”

“Darling, I don’t really think it matters,” said Rarity. “If we can have a campaign without a dragon, I see no reason why we can’t leave out the ogre as well.”

“No dragons!” Luna rose halfway from her stool, eyes wide. “Why would you play a game with no dragons?”

The rest all stared pointedly in Spike’s direction, who smirked as he continued working his way through a stack of the latest comics.

“Oh. So you have no dragons to avoid offending Spike.” Luna sat down, nodding. “Quite considerate of you.”

“Not quite,” said Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes.

Twilight leaned in and said in a hushed tone, “You see, Spike doesn’t mind us fighting dragons as long as we let him control them.”

Luna scratched her head. “I do not see the problem, then. Why do you still have no dragons?”

Applejack sighed. “Because he already wiped out two whole parties.”

“Anyway, back to the ogre.” Twilight set her screen back up and resumed the game.

“So, think we can sneak around it?” asked Holy.

“I most assuredly can,” said Nightshade.

Noble nodded. “I believe I can as well.”

“I can turn invisible,” said Swirly.

The barbarian, however, shook his head. “Sorry. Crusher’s stealth no work here.”

Light Hooves shook a foreleg to rattle the metal plates covering it. “And wouldn’t you know it, I forgot to bring my quiet armor.

“Then we are forced to fight!” Nightshade’s mane shaped itself into a scythe as the ogre stirred. She stepped forward to kill it before it could get to its feet, but she found her path blocked by Noble.

“Hold on a moment. I want to try something.” The mischievous glint in the bard’s eyes overwhelmed Nightshade’s bloodlust, so she stepped back as Noble pulled out her lute and waited for the ogre to rise.

The monster stood up and stretched, its back facing the group. As it cracked its neck, Noble said, “Hey, Mr. Ogre!”

It spun around to face her and picked up a club that was twice her size.

“Me crush puny ponies!” it roared.

Though the rest of the party assumed defensive stances, their weapons drawn, Noble began to play a tune. The lively beat echoed from every wall and filled the chamber. Instead of attacking, the ogre began to tap its toes. Then, as the music intensified, it started to sway. Its legs bounced up and down, causing the room to shudder. The club fell to the floor as its arms joined the motion. As the ogre danced, it yelled, “Oh! Oh-oh! C’mon!”

It bounded around the room, gyrating madly. “Come on! Come on! Come on! Hot!” it cried as its flailing arm struck the bars at the exit, ripping them out of the way. Its stomping dislodged small stones from the ceiling, pelting the party members and the ogre alike. “What a hot beat! Whooooah!”

Noble turned around and walked toward the group, finishing her song as part of the ceiling collapsed behind her, crushing the ogre.

As the rest of the group rolled around on the floor in hysterics, Luna asked Rarity, “Did you know that would happen?”

Rarity scoffed. “Of course I didn’t know, but there are times when you just have to do something silly. The game is much more fun when you do the unexpected.” She continued to stare into Luna’s eyes for a few seconds, but her composure soon reached its limit. A snicker escaped her lips, followed by one from Luna, and soon both mares were rolling on the floor with the rest.

As they emerged onto the fourth floor, the party found themselves in an empty chamber. The cobblestone floor was bare, save for the hole where it had collapsed onto the ogre, and the walls were devoid of markings. The doorway leading to the next staircase was across the room.

Nightshade led the way as they crossed, examining each tile for traps. Crusher and Light Hooves followed behind her, as they were the most likely to survive any surprises that Nightshade overlooked.

“The way is clear,” Nightshade said as she reached the other side of the room. “This floor offers no challenge. Let us proceed.”

She had nearly reached the door when Swirly bit her tail.

“Wait!” Swirly cried through a mouthful of metal strands. She spat out the hair and pointed above the doorway. “Look there.”

At the top, there were outlines of three ponies, one of each race. A soft glow emanated from the pegasus symbol. The same glow could be seen as a haze in the air below.

“Has anypony ever seen anything like that?” asked Holy.

Most of the party shook their heads, but Swirly and Nightshade hesitated, searching their memories for any knowledge that might be helpful. Both soon sighed, however, and shook their heads, as well.

“That’s just great. So nopony knows anything about this?” said Light.

Noble frowned. “Seems that way.”

The rest of the group stopped speaking and stared at Rarity. “What?”

“Rarity, don’t you have something you can do?” asked Twilight, staring over the top of her screen.

“I don’t see what I could possibly— Oh, right. Bardic knowledge.”

Rarity rolled her die.

“My mistake,” Noble Gem said. “I do know something about this.” She cleared her throat and began reading from a card she conveniently found in her pack. “This gateway is attuned to the magic of a particular type of pony. If any but the permitted type should step through, they will be instantly erased from existence. The runes that control the gateway are on the wall beyond the door, but they can only be activated by the hoof of a pony currently attuned to it.”

“Then we are stuck,” said Light Hooves, sighing. “We have no pegasus in the party, and if only a pegasus can pass, there is no way to proceed.

“You’re getting even with me for not making another Daring Do, aren’t you, Twilight?” deadpanned Rainbow.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Of course not. I would never give you an impossible challenge. If you can’t pass, it’s because you made a mistake or you just haven’t thought of something yet.”

“Okay, we just gotta think this through,” Applejack said. “Where can we find a pegasus?”

“I think one of the bandits from before was a pegasus,” Fluttershy said.

“All right!” shouted Rainbow Dash. “Now all we have to do is go get that body and throw it at the control… What?”

The rest of the group hung their heads. Pinkie looked up a little, but didn’t quite meet her gaze, as she said, “Sorry, Dashie. That bandit’s just a pile of ash.”

Rainbow’s face fell. “So that’s it. We’re sunk. Even if we can get out of here and go kidnap a pegasus off the streets, we’d never get back in because I took all the coins off that plate already.”

Luna raised her head. “Very well, then. If it is the only way…”

“What are you doing?” cried Holy Roller as Nightshade walked toward the doorway. “If you get too close to that, you’ll be killed!”

“Perhaps. But perhaps not. I am part pegasus, after all. If I am fortunate, it will be enough.”

“No,” Crusher said. “Crusher no let you.” He grabbed Nightshade by the tail, but he couldn’t hold her in place. She continued to walk forward, dragging him behind her.

“Let go. This is the only way.”

Crusher tried to object again, but Light Hooves put a hoof over his withers and gently pulled him back.

“She’s made her choice,” Light said. “We must respect that. Celestia’s Light be with you, Nightshade.”

Nightshade turned her head back and nodded; then, she stepped forward. White light erupted from her body, and she screamed in agony as smoke filled the air. Soon, the light faded, the cries were silenced, and the smoke began to clear.

On the other side of the gateway, a red pegasus with a pale yellow mane laid on the floor, panting. She forced herself up onto unsteady hooves and slapped the earth pony rune on the wall before collapsing again.

The earth ponies in the group rushed forward through the doorway when the symbol changed. Holy Roller and Light Hooves devoted their efforts to healing Nightshade while Crusher touched the unicorn rune to let Swirly and Noble pass.

Luna sighed. “So, what effects will this have on my character?”

Twilight opened a book behind her screen. “Well, that was a pretty low roll. Even with that huge bonus to your saving throw, you barely survived. The gate burned away all of Nightshade’s earth pony and unicorn abilities, so she’s an ordinary pegasus now. It also removed all the class levels and abilities closely associated with the parts of herself that are lost. She’s no longer a fighter or sorceress.”

Luna leaned back and stared at the ceiling. She sighed again, but the corner of a lip twitched upward. Leaning forward again, she smiled and said, “I suppose that’s not so bad, all things considered. You all seem to do quite well, despite the limitations of your characters.”

Pinkie patted her shoulder. “That’s why it’s so fun!”

“None of us can win the game alone, so we have to work together,” added Rarity.

Applejack nodded. “I reckon it could be fun to just go through a game killin’ everything, but that’s gotta get old after a while. Playin’ with friends and workin’ as a team is always a hoot.”

“Yeah, Applejack’s totally right,” Rainbow said. “I once played a character who couldn’t lose, and it was the worst!”

Luna nodded. “Yes, you are all quite right. I must say that this has been the most fun game I have ever been a part of. While slaying monsters is amusing, it’s far more entertaining to see how somepony else might handle it.”

She stood up and spread her wings. “You have all taught me valuable lessons which will no doubt enrich my future gaming experiences! Applejack, you have shown me that holding firmly to the beliefs of one’s character can be a boon, rather than a liability.” Applejack tipped her hat in response.

“Rarity, you have demonstrated the importance of innovation and experimentation, thus showing me that more fun can come from doing something unexpected than what you already know to be effective.” Rarity nodded and took another sip of soda from her teacup.

“Rainbow Dash, your actions have shown me the value of having depth to one’s character beyond mere skills.”

Rainbow waved the compliment off and said, “Yeah, yeah. I know I’m awesome.”

Luna rolled her eyes and turned to the next pony. “Fluttershy, you have shown me to use skills in creative ways to solve problems which could not otherwise be overcome.” Fluttershy blushed and shrank into her seat, but she smiled.

“Pinkie Pie, you have demonstrated that the needs of a fellow party member can often be greater than one’s own, and that giving of oneself can make the group stronger.”

Pinkie scoffed and bounded over to the snack table. “Anypony who brings a spread like this doesn’t need to learn about giving!”

Luna giggled and turned to Twilight. “And you, Twilight Sparkle, have shown me… Well… Ah! You’ve taught me to never allow Spike to play a dragon!”

Twilight facehoofed as Spike guffawed.

“You have all taught me such important lessons. Why, it is as though the six of you are the Elements of Role—” Luna’s proclamation was cut short as purple magic clamped her mouth shut.

Groaning, Twilight said, “If you finish that joke, I swear to Celestia, the earth will open up and swallow all of your characters.”

She let go of Luna’s muzzle and raised her screen. “Everypony is healed now, so let’s finish this game!”

The party emerged from the stairwell and entered the topmost floor of the temple. A throne sat at the opposite end of the room, but its occupant was concealed by shadow. A larger pony stood beside the throne, robed and hooded. To the side, a cage held all the trembling priests the party came to find.

“Welcome to my sanctum,” said a familiar female voice.

Holy moved to the front of the group. “Let me guess. You’re Gildana, right?”

The figure on the throne stirred. “Hah! That wretch, Gildana, was no match for my power. I have slain her and claimed her domain for my own. I also ate her feathers.”

Nightshade recoiled in disgust. “What? Why wouldst thou eat her feathers?”

The figure shrugged. “No real reason. It’s just what I do.”

“So what are you after?” said Light Hooves, stepping to the fore.

“Power and influence, my paladin friend. Power and influence.”

Light scoffed. “Don’t call me your friend.”

The shadowed figure raised a hoof to her heart. “You wound me, friend. Have you forgotten all the good times we had together?” Trixie leaned forward into the light.

“Not cool, Twilight,” said Rainbow Dash. “Not cool.”

Trixie grinned. “Of course, you are beneath the notice of a goddess such as myself. Therefore, I will amuse myself by watching you fight my minion. Should you prevail, I will reward you with the return of these priests and the destruction of this city your rogue so despises.”

She turned to look at the robed pony next to her. At her command, he pulled back his hood to reveal the dead face beneath. His dark fur was matted with blood from a hundred wounds, and the red horn atop his head was chipped and cracked.

“Destroy them, King Zombra.”

The rest of the group performed a synchronized facehoof while Twilight leaned back and smirked at them. “Did I mention that there are nets filled with rocks above your heads?” she asked. “If you try to run, those rocks will fall, and everypony will die.”

Twilight leaned over her screen and grinned mischievously at her friends. “Roll for initiative.”