Equestria Girls: Duel Monsters

by Night-Quill

First published

Twilight Sparkle's crown, the Element of Magic, has been stolen. She must now pursue the wayward Sunset Shimmer into a new world. A world where a dark magic lurks beneath the notice of its inhabitants, within a most peculiar game unlike any other...

With her ascendance into an alicorn princess, what Twilight Sparkle thought would be a simple royal summit to the Crystal Empire goes horribly wrong when Celestia's wayward former student Sunset Shimmer steals the Element of Magic into another world. Equestria's newest princess must hurry and get back her element before nefarious forces within this new world can use it to wreak havoc.

Forces that go beyond the notice of this world's inhabitants, bound within a game tied to the very history and fabric of this new world. The name of the game is Duel Monsters.

-

An alternate Yu-Gi-Oh take on Equestria Girls. After feeling uneasy about using someone else's established setting for my previous anthology, I decided to put my own spin on the concept, and thus we have Equestria Girls: Duel Monsters.

Duel #0: Pursue the Thief: Into the Mirror Portal!

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Twilight Sparkle lunged forward, throwing her forelegs around the body of the amber, fiery-maned unicorn trying to make off with Twilight’s crown and Element of Magic in an attempt at stopping her where her magic had failed. On impact with the thief, the two of them were sent rolling forward, tumbling through the door leading to an unspecified chamber of the Crystal Palace with the grace of a wing-clipped pegasus.

Upon coming to an abrupt stop, Twilight’s eyes caught how the crown shot out of the mystery mare’s saddlebag and ricocheted off various objects set around the room until it went darting towards a large crystalline mirror atop a round stone pedestal. Instead of the expected results of broken glass and, if one were into superstition, bad luck, the crown sunk through the surface, ripples of magical energy permeating through it like on disturbed water. Twilight and her friends gasped in almost perfect unison upon witnessing the crown vanish.

“What did you do with my crown?!” she called demandingly towards the mystery unicorn.

The mystery unicorn cast a sideward sneer, “Sorry it had to be this way.”

Her horn glowed an unsettling green before vanishing with a burst of magical sparks, only to reappear before the mirror, that same, venomous grin staring back at Twilight.

“Princess,” she bid with a mocking salute of her forehoof before rushing through the mirror herself, vanishing just as the crown had through its shimmering façade.

All that transpired in those few moments elicited a second dumfounded gasp among the six friends, Pinkie Pie’s being the sharpest and most emphasized.

“Who was that?” called Fluttershy as Twilight continued to stare dumbstruck towards the mirror.

Their trip to the newly returned Crystal Empire for her first official summit as a princess of Equestria until now had gone off as uneventful, which was just how Twilight liked it. No changeling infiltrations, nor re-emergences of ancient evils from the distant past. In contrast to the peace of the night earlier, Twilight felt unable to comprehend what to think or feel at that moment. Her crown, not just a trinket belying her status as newly ascended royalty, but one of the six most powerful and crucial magical artifacts of their world and a key defense to their realm was now gone. The realization of the severity of the predicament had Twilight frozen in place when the weight of it all came crashing down on her mind.

Where was it gone? And who was that unicorn? How did she know about the Elements of Harmony? What did she plan to do with it? In the midst of her internal inquiry, Twilight spotted something on the crystalline floor a few hooves away. It looked like a small rectangular white box of some kind. Under regular circumstances it might have appeared highly insignificant and easily overlooked, but as of now, it was the first and only clue she had as to what was going on.

She wrapped the box in her telekinetic aura and floated it to her. On closer inspection she could have sworn it looked like something Shining Armor and his friends back in high school would have used to store their Hocus Pocus: The Get-together trading cards. She idly opened up the overlapping latch, held closed with a magnet, and lifted the contents within. It was indeed a deck of cards. She may not have cared much for such past-times as a filly, but her sharp memory for detail told her immediately that she’d never seen ones such as this.

On one side the cards were of a bookish brown with a discernible swirl or spiraling pattern leading to a black oval at the center with lighter brown, if not outright orange borders. On the other side most of the card was largely occupied by a portrait of a creature Twilight had never seen or heard of before, even in the most obscure book she’d remembered reading. It looked bipedal, covered mostly in white, flowy clothing decorated with amulets, most notably a pair of what looked like socks going up its forelimbs. A pink mane flowed down its rather small head from underneath a most intricate headwear not seen since the time of Star Swirl the Bearded. “High Priestess of Prophecy” was emblazoned at the top, with seven golden orange stars underneath that more to the right.

“What ‘cha got there, Twilight?” asked Pinkie Pie before she could finish analyzing the stack, popping up somehow from behind Twilight’s head in true Pinkie fashion.

Rainbow Dash hovered over, “Twilight; really don’t think this is a good time to be indulging in Hocus-Pocus...” she remarked flatly, looking over to see Rarity prod at the mirror, only to recoil back when the surface rippled at the slightest contact with her hoof.

Twilight rolled her eyes, far from the mood for witty banter, “We need to alert Princess Celestia right away,” she declared, hovering Spike onto her beck, “Spike, you hold onto this,” she set the box containing the cards into the infant dragon’s hands before galloping out of the chamber.

-

“Sunset Shimmer…” said Princess Celestia following a momentary pause, the alicorn’s eyes belying a hint of what Twilight discerned as sadness.

“A former student of mine. She began her studies with me, not long before Twilight,” all six listened intently. “But when she could not get what she desired, she turned down a path of darkness,” Celestia’s head lowered in regret. “I tried to help her, but during our last encounter, she fled in anger through the very mirror you spoke of.”

Spike walked up, presenting the replica crown to Princess Celestia, “She tried replacing Twilight’s crown with this,” which in the better lighting showed the clear lack of intricacies, such as the lack of facets on the star-shaped gem and the filigree was noticeably more angular compared to the genuine one’s more curved.

Celestia looked over crown, “I suppose Sunset thought you wouldn’t notice at the time this wasn’t yours,” she began to walk down the grand crystal throne room’s length towards the door, Twilight immediately following suit. “And by the time you did, it would have been too late to go after your crown, and Element of Harmony…”

“But I don’t understand,” Twilight shook her head, the newfound information of finding out about her mentor having had a previous student not long, and how said student had specifically come after something she’d always thought ponies having dismissed since the banishment of Nightmare Moon. “Where did she go? Where did she take my crown?!”

Celestia looked back at Twilight with a sideward glance, “You will soon know more about this place than even I…”

-

Everypony had gathered inside the gallery room housing the crystal mirror. Princess Luna stood before it, her night-blue reflection casting off the pristine surface.

“This is no ordinary mirror,” she stated. “It is a gateway to another world. One of few ever to be created during the time of Star Swirl the Bearded. This one in particular opens once every thirty moons…”

“Sparkly!” chirped Pinkie, prodding a hoof at the mirror’s surface, sparking to life once more with ripples of magical energy, a motion Luna found most unamusing, to which she slowly skidded the pink party pony away with her telekinesis.

“It has always been kept in the throne room of Canterlot Castle,” the Princess of the Moon, continued. “But once Princess Cadence took over the Crystal Empire we sent it here for her to watch over.”

A sigh escaped from her lips as Princess Celestia approached the mirror, “I had always hoped that Sunset Shimmer would someday and use it to return to Equestria and seek my guidance…” a disappointed furrow formed on the usually composed alicorn’s brow. “But it would seem she’s still bound by her thirst for power.”

“Twilight,” Cadence stepped up beside Luna, “you must go to this other world and retrieve your crown: Without it the other Elements of Harmony are powerless and Equestria is left without one of its most vital defenses.”

Luna looked over at Twilight with a grave expression, “Your crown does not belong in the place Sunset Shimmer now calls home. From what we have gleamed of this other world; there is a power much different from the magic of Equestria. Bringing magic not endemic to another plane can have dire consequences not only on their inhabitants, but could threaten the very borders of reality in between.”

“Multiversal disharmonic theorem,” Twilight nodded. “I’m familiar with its mechanics. Is there anything else you know about this power you spoke of?”

Luna’s expression turned grim. “All we know is that whatever magic exists in this world; it’s unpredictable and elusive. Unlike our magic and its inherent bond to all things in this world; out there, it’s a power independent of wielders with its own sentience and will,” the tone in the younger celestial princess’ voice felt like it was casting a shadow over her. “You must be cautious, Twilight.”

Rainbow Dash immediately zoomed next to the right of Twilight, “Well she won’t have to face whatever it is on her own!” she emphasized with a determined pump of a hoof.

“That’s right!” concurred Applejack as she trotted up to Twilight’s left, a look of assuredness. “Where Twilight’s goin’, then darn tootin’ we’re right there with her!”

The rest of her friends stepped up to stand beside Twilight. The newly ascended alicorn princess could not help but smile, being blessed with five ponies eager and willing to help her tackle even the prospect of inter-dimensional travel.

“Oooh! I’m so nervou-cited!” screamed Pinkie, a smile that should be all but impossible given how wide it came about.

“… You do realize that’s not even a real word, right?” asked Applejack, looking flatly at the over-enthusiastic pink earth pony.

“I’m afraid we can’t let the rest of you follow,” Celestia declared, stepping beside the gathered six friends.

Twilight and her friends froze in disbelief, looking over at Celestia with varying expressions of incredulity. True to her headstrong nature, it was Rainbow Dash who was the first to come out with a boisterous protest;

“Why not?!” the rainbow-maned pegasus shouted, wings flared in a mix of frustration and disappointment.

“It’s just as Twilight said,” Luna chimed in, as Cadence took the liberty to telekinetically float a pair of saddlebags onto Twilight’s back. “Multiversal disharmonic theorem is but one of the dangers when it comes to travel between worlds. Even one outsider alone can potentially harm the balance between the two.”

Twilight’s ear’s drooped in tandem with the discontentedness of her friends as they remained gathered around her.

“I’m sorry, everypony,” Celestia placed a comforting hoof beside Fluttershy, “but this is a trial that Twilight must overcome on her own, not just for the sake of Equestria, but for the sake of two worlds. I hope you understand the severity of this predicament.”

Twilight watched as her friends reluctantly stepped aside, each among them offering a physical gesture of affection and wishing her luck.

“And do not forget,” came the voice of Princess Luna, “you only have three days to recover your crown and to return. Otherwise you will not be able to return until another thirty moons have passed!”

Twilight’s throat felt like it was being constricted at the Princess’ warnings, exchanging worried looks between her and her friends. Swallowing hard, Twilight looked back at her mentor one more time, before her hooves slowly, and very unsurely carried her towards the portal.

“And whatever you do,” called Pinkie, “don’t look directly into the stream!”

“Wait, wha-?!” Twilight tried looking back when her left forehoof had submerged into the portal, only for a force from within pulling her in.

In an instant Twilight found herself helplessly adrift weightlessly in a blinding sea of spiraling colors. Her body felt itself twist and bend in ways her understanding of physiology would deem impossible, screaming throughout the dimensional dive as she went spiraling towards a light at the center of everything…


-

I just can't complete, the pages of this magazine
I picked it to read, the cover looked interesting

I just can't complete, my games in the corner
Will there be a point if I leave them there forever

You stand at the table across from me
I speak out to get you to talk to me
But your eyes they're frozen without a change
They won't even turn here for me
Though it's just me, why can't we be, the way we used to be

I just want to be
Back to you and me
With our feelings carefree
Won't you look at me
Don't you care to see
How much you mean to me ♪

Duel #1: Canterlot High: A Game Like No Other

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Upon entering the light at the end of the spiraling vortex, to which she could mentally note the prospect of being one of very few privileged to have partaken in inter-dimensional travel off the mental list of things she’d never expected to do in her life, Twilight felt sore, both physically and mentally. Her body felt strange and her mind and senses addled, at this point only capable of feeling the pull of gravity as she lay on something hard. Her sense of touch could at best describe the feeling as if lying on solid concrete.

“Twilight…”

She let forth a sore groan upon hearing a muffled voice reach her ears, almost as if recovering from tinnitus, “Ugh… Who…?”

“Twilight?” the voice came in clearer now, and it was very familiar.

She managed to sit up, the sensation of doing so feeling stranger than normal, “Spike?” she asked, her vision finally coming into focus, able to make out light, and gradually sharpen onto shapes, as a purple blur began to come into focus, “You’re not supposed to be here…”

The moment she could visually distinguish colors and shapes, her depth perception still questionable, she saw Spike in her view… Or what she thought was Spike anyhow. But for the life of her, in her sensory dishevelment, she couldn’t help but think of her closest companion looking less like a dragon and more like a…

“Spike? Are you a dog?!” Twilight asked, her left eye scrunching as her facial nerves began to settle in.

She watched as a small purple dog, with green lop ears, a little green tuft atop his head and… very striking green eyes, as if his irises and pupils had taken up more space from his sclerae, turned around in place, looking himself over in an expression just as confused as she herself felt. Even Spike’s movement looked much less… fluid, if her vision was to be believed.

“I think so…” the dog spoke, in what was clearly Spike’s voice, wagging his now shorter, furry tail, before he looked up at Twilight with a confused look, “But… I have no idea what you are…”

Twilight raised her still strange feeling brow as she raised her forehooves and… What she saw before her were not hooves, but rather hands, something common to beings like minotaurs and certain other species from Equestria. Her coat was gone, replaced by bare, hairless skin in the color of said coat.

Upon realization that the body she found herself in was not her own, Twilight’s mind went from muted to overtaken. With shallow, uncontrolled breaths, she managed to get in enough air to let it out in a high-pitched, uncontrollable scream of horror, before having the cognition to shut her mouth. She looked at her new limbs again and tried moving the fingers at the end of her former hooves. They moved in an undulating pattern and felt much more sensitive compared to hooves. She didn’t particularly enjoy the sensations, and their rhythmic wiggling looked strange, almost unsightly.

She found herself sitting in an odd upright posture, kind of like she recalled one unicorn back home in Ponyville who had a propensity for such a posture on park benches (who, according to rumors, had a strange obsession with hands, now that she thought about her). Looking down at her hindlegs; they seemed much longer now and were covered in very restrictive feeling clothing that reached up almost to her knee joint, under which she could feel similar extremities like her fingers, implying feet, pressing against the very sturdy insides. The very bottoms of these foot garments were highly elevated, almost like hooves.

In fact, most of her body was adorned in clothing; her lower part in a dark violet skirt on which she could make out what looked to be her cutie mark. Her top half was covered in a light blue, buttoned-up shirt with a magenta bow around the neck. One part that felt particularly disturbing about her chest area were a pair of prominent bulges said shirt was pressing against. For the life of her, she could not determine what these obstructions were for.

“Spike,” Twilight croaked, “Be honest; how does the rest of me look?!”

Spike squinted his eyes as he looked her over as per the request, “Bit hard to describe, really… I recognized you, so that’s a plus. And hey; look on the bright side,” he pointed up, “At least you don’t have those pesky wings anymore.”

Twilight tried to look over her back, something this body was not well suited for, just far enough to notice her recently obtained wings were also missing. Aggravating as they had been for the short time she had them, she’d rather much had them back, along with the rest of her normal body.

As Twilight tried to get up on her hooves… Hands? Feet? Whatever. She found herself unable to settle on all fours due to the major difference in length, and if she tried to bend over, the muscles in her new legs would pull in protest, eliciting her to stand up straight into a bipedal posture, to which vertigo took over and she found herself wobbling backwards until she caught herself against some structure behind her. To which she immediately reeled back when one of her transformed limbs elicited a rippling surge against the surface of whatever it was.

Above her, set atop a massive marble pedestal, stood a quite exquisitely carved statue of a rearing equine, though its physiological traits looked much different from a pony; bigger, more angular and overall less rounded. Seeming to get the hang of maintaining a bipedal pose, Twilight eyed the surface of the pedestal. Reaching out, she prodded it carefully, eliciting another magical ripple.

“Well at least we know where the portal is,” she mused, finding her knees wobbling slightly before settling back in place, “But dear Celestia, what the hay is with this body?!” she exclaimed, her knees knocking together as another bout of vertigo crept in.

“I dunno,” said Spike, idly scratching at the back of his ear, “But I can definitely say I have a bit of an understanding about being on four legs.”

In spite of the continued strangeness of her new bipedal body, Twilight couldn’t help but stifle a laugh as she lowered herself down the best she could, “But Spike; Princess Celestia and Luna told you not to follow me.”

“I know,” the dragon turned dog mumbled apologetically, “But I couldn’t just let you tackle it all on your own. And besides,” he placed a paw atop the deck box they’d found, “You forgot about this. Though it might be important.”

Twilight, with some difficulty at first controlling the pressure exerted by her new fingers, managed to pick up the container of cards Sunset Shimmer must have dropped, popping the lid to look at the card she’d been analyzing earlier. On a second inspection, she was starting to get some inkling as to what exactly she had turned into upon exiting the portal on this end. Whatever connection these cards had to Sunset Shimmer was going to have to wait, so Twilight felt back for her saddlebags… Which also seemed to have changed into one large bag slung up on her back. Like some form of “backpack”, with two straps going around her new limbs. With some fumbling, she slid the bag off and inserted the box into one of its compartments for safe keeping.

“Well, multiversal disharmonic theorem or not, it is good to have you with me Spike,” she remarked as she slid the bag on her back once more, still feeling very unused to the forms of movements she was now capable of, “Given the circumstances and whatnot…”

She looked around her surroundings; the world around her looked, for lack of a better description, somewhat muted, a little less vibrant than what she was used to, though that may have been an effect of crossing between dimensions and being changed into this new bipedal form. Behind the equine statue across what looked like a road for wagons stood rows of houses, very different in design compared to those from back home, and she could see some of the natives walking about on the sidewalk in the distance. Bi-pedal in posture like she was now.

She turned to behold a much larger building down a concrete path. Two stories tall, made of stonework that was colored a dull magenta. Two wings extended from the sides parallel of the central structure, all facets lined with tall windows. Located in the very middle of the central structure she could make out what must have been the entrance. A castle or keep of some sort perhaps?

“Regardless,” she took a step, taking it slow to become acclimated to this temporary mode of locomotion, “We have to find my crown and get back home as quickly as possible. You heard what Princess Luna said about there being what could amount as dark magic in this world!”

“I dunno…” said Spike, briskly keeping pace with her, “It doesn’t look that bad. I was expecting at least something along the lines of Sombra.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight raised a brow.

“You know; thorny spires, endless winter, dark clouds over yonder,” Spike nudged upwards, addressing the quite pleasant weather.

Twilight smiled uneasily at the thought of someone like King Sombra having access to the Element of Magic, and partially in regards to Spike’s enthusiastic imagination. Coming upon the door to the building, she focused for a moment, swaying her head to the side to telekinetically swing it open… Only to walk right into its glass surface.

“I, uh…” Spike cleared his throat awkwardly, “Prolly should’ve mentioned you don’t have a horn.

Really?” she mumbled, staring at nothing in particular incredulously with her cheek pressed against the glass.

Her eyes diverted towards a trio of natives standing on the other side of the door, who were looking right at her. They were shorter compared to her, their faces rather round with almost stubby noses (she assumed hers must look similar then). Possibly their equivalent to fillies? They each had brightly colored skin and manes; one with bright yellow skin and red mane with a magenta bow at the back, one with orange skin and a muted purplish short mane and one with alabaster skin and a curly mane consisting of shades of dulled rose and a faded violet. All three wore clothing of some variety. But the most striking features in their outfits were strange devices adorned on their left arms.

Seeing the natives up close and personal confirmed the further strange physiological traits, like the lack of proper muzzles, smaller, albeit rather intense looking, expressive eyes. The red and purple maned ones were staring at her with pursed mouth and their irises and pupils shrunken in some strange manner, while the white curly maned one bore an expression of unease. In retrospect, Twilight found the three looked rather familiar.

The three looked among one another, before the red maned one walked around and pushed open the door beside the one Twilight was plastered against, “Uh… Ya’llright right there?” she asked with a pronounced southern twang in her voice.

Regaining her bearings, Twilight stood back, dusting herself off and as casually as she could and resorted to use her hand to pull the door open and step in, chuckling awkwardly as the three fillies(?) stared at her with varying looks of confusion.

“I, uh, have a habit of… daydreaming?” she offered with an unsure smile.

When the curly one looked to speak, she was cut off by the one with the short purple mane, “C’mon, girls! The duel might be starting right now!” and with that she took off running down a hallway.

“Scoots, wait up!” called the red maned one as she and the curly maned one ran after.

“Scoots?” Twilight wondered aloud.

“Twilight!” Spike pawed at her limb, “Weren’t those-?!”

Twilight’s eyes widened upon realization, “They look and sound like the Cutie Mark Crusaders-” a specific word from the one who looked like the spitting image of Scootaloo suddenly addressed in her mind, “Did they say something about a duel?!”

The realization was not lost on Spike either, “You mean like a magic duel? As in the kind you had with Trixie?”

Now Twilight was both intrigued, and concerned. The Princess’ warnings about the unruly magic endemic to this reality rang in her mind, urging her to rush after the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ doppelgangers. The first few steps almost had her trip and fall, particularly with the elevated hoofwear, but like a newborn foal, she soon found herself able to accustom herself to this new form of locomotion and increased in speed. She hurried down the corridor lined with lockers. It dawned on her that this place seemed to be a school of some kind.

She heard murmured clamor coming from an ajar double door. Going through it, opening to a roomy gymnasium. And it was filled with, she was guessing, students of this school. Nopony paid her any mind as she walked in, unsure of how to address what she thought was happening. They were all gathered at the left and right sides, leaving a wide-open space occupied by only two students, one near the entrance and the other at the far end before a stage.

She quietly snuck into the crowd of natives. As with her fellow ponies; they were all of different variations of body and mane colors, added with a rainbow of various colored clothing. Rarity, she thought, would be ecstatic to see such variation in styles and designs, and seeing how everyone was clothed from almost head to hoof. And they were all wearing those strange devices on their left arms. They were circular at the front end with a rectangular portion at the back, with sheening flat surfaces over the tops front portions, almost like windows, while two, almost geometrically identical shapes were embedded in the sides.

“Hey, Twilight,” she heard a whisper from down her legs, “Little boost?”

“Oh right, sorry,” she knelt down to pick up Spike.

“So, what do you suppose everypony- everybody… what are those things on their arms?” inquired the dog.

“I have no idea…” Twilight looked over at the two students occupying the cleared center of the gymnasium, their devices having the geometric shapes combined into what looked like an angular blade running perpendicular their forelimbs, “They’re not some sort of weapon are they? This society practices blood sports?”

A hushed “Huh?” sounded next to her, to which Twilight realized one of the students looking at her. Glancing in their direction, Twilight almost jumped when she actually recognized who it was. Of course, she was of the species that she herself had been turned into, but the traits were all there:

A long, flowing bright pink mane curved down from her head with a white butterfly pin. Her skin was a vibrant yellow. Thought her eyes were significantly smaller from the pony she reminded Twilight of, they were still wide and expressive with a noticeably aqua green color. Her clothing was simplistic; a white sleeveless shirt hugged the top portion of her body, while a breezy light green skirt fell down her hind legs, emblazoned with butterflies, and had similar footwear that almost reached up her knees, just a different design and a color matching her skirt.

Twilight couldn’t help but notice that the obstructions, as she’d thought of them as, on this native’s chest were significantly bigger compared to the one’s on hers. From what she could define now; they must have been some form of gender dimorphic indicator, seeing how what she assumed as the stallion equivalents had almost flat chests.

“Aww,” the familiar… being(?), took immediate notice of Spike and reached out to pet him, “What an adorable dog you have there!” Even her voice was exactly the same! Spike did not seem to mind it, despite the initial groan, when his tail started to wag.

“Uh… Thanks…” Twilight grinned sheepishly, “So what exactly is going on here?”

She looked up, though still continued scratching behind Spike’s lopped ears, “Oh, it’s another bout between Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Every week it’s the same thing…”

Wait… Applejack?! Rainbow Dash?!

Twilight looked at the student near the gymnasium entrance. Her eyes widened upon further realization of the bipedal figure wearing a very familiar looking Stetson hat. Her skin was a burned orange hue with a thick hay blonde mane reaching down her back, and was dressed in a skirt made of a material she assumed as denim, a red checkered top that for whatever reason was tied into a knot at the front, exposing another top, this one plain white underneath. (So the denizens of this world wore clothing in layers?) A pair of very distinct looking footwear donned her hindlimbs that Twilight was not certain she knew the material of. Even the device she wore on her arm was color co-ordinated; the component over her arm being red with the blade part being a leafy green, aside from the dark indentation taking up most of its surface.

Across from her stood another figure with an eerily familiar rainbow mane, though it had been pulled back into a splayed tail, added with her wearing goggles over her forehead. Her body was a light blue in color and her outfit consisted of a darker blue top, left unzipped, exposing another top emblazoned with a cloud with a tri-colored lightning bolt jutting out from it. She did not wear a skirt, but some very low reaching… leggings? (Is that what they’d be called?) Her legs were otherwise almost completely bare, save for the footwear these beings took to wearing, though hers only reached past the ankles. The device on her arm was a dark shade of blue with a golden yellow blade.

“What exactly are we looking at…?” Twilight leaned in to ask the being who was the spitting image of her friend Fluttershy through the portal.

“You don’t know?” she asked, looking rather perplexed.

“Duel!” The crowd chanted, making Twilight jump a second time.

“Oh, you can share my disk’s spectator mode, seeing how you don’t have one,” the being that looked like Fluttershy said sweetly as she brought up her arm, the window on the device lighting up, showing images of the two being observed and some form of five-by-five grid.

Twilight stared intently at what the device showed her, the images of the purported Rainbow Dash and Applejack flickering rapidly before settling on Applejack’s.

DUEL START

Rainbow Dash Life Points: 4000

Applejack Life Points: 4000

What kind of magic is this? Twilight wondered.

“Alright, let’s get this over with!” she heard a voice speak through the device, carrying a distinct southern accent.

Twilight observed as Applejack snagged something from the front of the device tethered to her, placing them in her left hand and fanned them out.

“Twilight,” Spike whispered as quietly as he could, “Aren’t those like the cards we found?”

“You’re right,” she whispered into the dog’s ear, taking care to see that their new acquaintance didn’t hear.

Twilight watched intently as Applejack looked over the fanned cards, picking one among them, “Ah summon ‘Sylvan Flowerknight’ in attack mode!” she called out in the same voice, complete with the distinct southern twang of Twilight’s friend, as she slapped the card on the blade jutting from her device. “Disk” the doppelganger Fluttershy called it?

Before her opened a blue portal, from within which leapt a bipedal creature similar to them, covered head to feet in green armor with plan-like accents, wielding a double-edged sword in one hand and a shield in the other. (Level 4, 1800/1000)

They’re summoning creatures from the cards to do their bidding?

“When he’s summoned, Ah excavate the top card of my deck, and if it’s a plant-type monster, Ah send it to the graveyard,” Applejack declared, to which she pulled out another card and turned it over, “Ah send ‘Sylvan Hermitree’ to the graveyard. When he’s excavated and sent to the graveyard, Ah can look at the top three cards of my deck and put ‘em back in any order.”

Twilight watched as the bipedal Applejack drew three cards, going through them intently, before shifting one from one end to the other and inserted them back on top of the deck of cards held at the front end of the disk.

… It’s a game. Twilight realized. I don’t know how, but that thing she summoned is not magical. At least I’m not feeling any. Princess Luna said the magic of this world was without masters, and independent.

“You mind hurrying this up?” called the rainbow-maned being from the other side of the room, her voice also identical to the Rainbow Dash Twilight knew, “Would like to get this done with sometime today,” she spoke with a hint of scorn in her voice.

Applejack frowned, or rather, deepened the frown already present on her face, as she slid another card from her hand and slid it into what Twilight could perceive as some hidden compartment at the back of the round portion.

“Ah play the spell card ‘Fragrance Storm’! By destroyin’ one plant-type monster on the field, like my Flowerknight,” and with that the creature’s image burst into specks of light and vanished, “Ah draw a card. And oh; lookie here,” she flashed the card she drew, “It’s ‘Sylvan Cherbusprout.” Who’d ‘ve thunk it? And because it’s a plant-type monster, Fragrance Storm lets me draw again.”

She then slid another card into the device and tapped the 'window', a facedown image of one materializing near her feet.

“Ah set one card face down, and end my turn. Fast enough for ya, Dash?”

The bipedal Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes as she drew a card from her respective disk, “Not as fast as how I’m gonna kick your ass!”

Ass?!

“I summon ‘Level Warrior’ in attack mode!”, the rainbow-haired student slapped a card onto her disk’s blade, to which a blue portal appeared before her, out leaping in a dramatic fashion a bipedal creature covered entirely in a suit of red spandex, complete with a cape and stars emblazoned on its chest, as well as its face oddly enough. (Level 3, 300/600)

“Whoa! It’s like something out of Pow-” Twilight grasped onto Spike’s muzzle when she noticed Fluttershy looking up. Twilight grinned innocently as she lowered her hand from Spike’s face.

“When I normal summon Level Warrior if there are no monsters on the field, its level is reduced to two. Then I play the spell card ‘Double Summon’!” the image of another green-framed card arose from a flash of light on the ground. “I’d say the name speaks for itself at this point; I can normal summon a second time this turn, so I’ll also summon from my hand the tuner monster ‘Bri Synchron’, also in attack mode!”

From yet another portal appeared, from within emerging a creature made entirely of metal, its body composed of segments bearing a predominately green, white and gold color scheme. Long, wing-like protrusions extended from its back. (Level 4, 1500/1100)

Rainbow held forth a hand towards the two creatures before her, “And now I tune my level four Bri Synchron with my level two Level Warrior!”

The bipedal mechanical creature suddenly seemed to fade away, the outlines of its segmented body glowing brightly, which erupted as a quartet of brightly shining orbs shot out. Then the spandex donning creature erupted into two green rings hovering in the air, within which the orbs of light aligned in a straight line.

“Gathering stars will call upon a new force! A warrior who’s fist of awesome might will clear the way to victory!”

The rings encircling the orbs of light began to revolve, the orbs erupting into a brilliant pillar of light.

Rainbow snatched another card, which seemed to eject from the back of her disk's rectangular half, throwing her hand upwards, “Synchro summon!” she slapped the card onto the blade, “Come forth, ‘Mighty Warrior’!”

The pillar of light vanished, revealing a new, much larger bipedal creature. Twilight watched in sheer awe of the spectacle before her when the creature descended onto the ground: It was taller than any student gathered, its body a dark blue with golden lines running through it in an intricate pattern, its head donning a blue helmet, whilst its face was merely a pair of fierce red eyes staring from underneath the rim of said helmet. Its left arm was a light grey and thicker than a single student’s body, whilst its right arm appeared to be mechanical, composed of what Twilight assumed was meant to be some form of hydraulic technology. (Level 6, 2200/2000)

“Is that all?” Applejack asked, sounding unimpressed by the display, “Come on Dash, at least try to be unpredictable fer once.”

Rainbow grimaced at the attempted insult, which may or may not have worked, at least from where Twilight was standing, to which she slid yet another card into the back of the device, “I activate the Equip Spell, ‘Assault Armor’ and apply it to Mighty Warrior!”

A golden aura suddenly surrounded Mighty Warrior, its eyes flashing in the same golden light, its mechanical limb hissing with a burst of steam. (ATK: 2500)

“Assault Armor can be equipped only to a warrior-type monster that is also the only monster I control. It increases its attack points by 300. But I can send it to my graveyard,” to which she brought the card back up and slit it into a slot adjacent to the blade of the disk device, “To which my Mighty Warrior can now attack twice this battle phase,” she smirked arrogantly.

Applejack did not seem the least bit perturbed. Not that Twilight understood half of what the two were saying. So far, she had perceived that the point of this very ritualistic seeming activity was summoning monsters, or at least some form of astral images of monsters, to attack one another, based on what the bipedal Rainbow Dash stated.

Before anything else could be said or done, Twilight cringed when a loud noise suddenly reverberated through the gymnasium. The discomfort forced her to drop Spike as she clasped her ears shut, a sentiment many others around her shared as they too found themselves cringing or reeling.

The moment the ear-piercing honk stopped, everyone’s attentions had turned away from the game in session to somepony… someone(?) standing at the entrance to the gymnasium. She was a taller female of this species, her skin a bluish gray and sported and amazingly long, almost flowy sapphire mane, adorned in a short-sleeved magenta top with a contrasting pair of muted blue leggings. Whomever it was, she appeared very unamused, holding up an airhorn in one hand.

“Miss Applejack. Miss Rainbow Dash. My office,” she called flatly, her voice also very familiar to Twilight, “Everyone else; to lunch. Immediately.”

The images of Mighty Warrior and the face down card on the field faded and the blades of the devices on Applejack and Rainbow’s arms split apart and folded away to the sides. The spectators began to shuffle out past whomever this was. Perhaps a teacher or even an administrative figure of the school. Twilight walked along the other students to remain inconspicuous.

“Is it just me, or does she sound and look like Princess Luna?” Spike whispered.

Twilight took a look as she surreptitiously walked past her, “Now that you mention it; she really does.”

“So, we’re basically dealing with dimensional counterparts…” the dog remarked in a matter-of-fact tone.

“How do you-?”

“Comics,” Spike smirked as he was let down after the two of them rounded a corner away from the rest of the crowd.

Twilight rolled her eyes amusedly, “Well wherever you heard of it, it seems to be the case…” parallel worlds, let alone this new tidbit about inter-dimensional travel, so many new questions began to form in Twilight’s mind, only to have them set aside when she remembered what they were supposed to be doing, “We still need to find my crown and get back home! If anything, that spectacle did nothing but waste time.”

“Um, excuse me…” a soft-spoken voice came from behind Twilight.

Twilight wheeled around, seeing the counterpart of Fluttershy approach her.

“You might want to keep your dog tucked in. They don’t allow pets on school premises,” she stated, indicating Spike.

“Oh! Thanks for the heads up!” she promptly leaned down, opening up her bag, to which Spike hopped in before putting it back on, “Are you- Err. I mean my name is Twilight Sparkle. Good to meet you,” she said with a smile, this encounter feeling very nostalgic.

“I’m, um, Fluttershy…” she mumbled, very reminiscent to when Twilight first met her in Equestria.

Nailed it. “Fluttershy? Yes, hi,” she waved awkwardly, especially given her physiological changes.

“Are you new here? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before,” the dimensional counterpart stated.

“Um, yes!” Twilight responded perhaps a tad too enthusiastically, “I was just looking for the administration when I just stumbled into… that, when I heard the commotion. Could you point me in the right direction?”

“Of course, it’s just down the hall from the entrance, near the library; third door to your left” she explained, pointing towards the entryway down the corridor, “I should, I mean, I really need to go. Lunch period’s starting.”

“Alright, thank you!” said Twilight with a smile as she watched Fluttershy head back down the corridor.

Twilight turned the opposite direction and followed the instructions given to her, entering the central alcove from which she headed in the opposite direction from the entrance.

“So what do we do now?” asked Spike, poking his head out of Twilight’s bag.

“If the portal from Equestria exits before this… school. It’s very likely that Sunset Shimmer could be hiding out here, as a student,” Twilight remarked as she passed by a glass case filled with a series of trophies, “First and foremost, we need to avert any suspicion. So, I’ll see if I can enroll myself here. We’ll have more free range to investigate and hopefully we’ll get on the right track to finding my crown.”

Twilight soon found a door within the central corridor, just ahead being a set of double doors marked as the school library that had helpfully been marked with the title of “Principal”. Of course, seeing the name of the head of this school made her feel more than a little flabbergasted, given how she seemed to be running into counterparts everywhere she went. Taking a deep breath to steel herself, she knocked on the slightly ajar door.

“Come in,” a voice called from within, prompting Twilight to push open the door.

Twilight entered the office, head bowed low as she went, the tile flooring giving way to red carpeting. She stood before a hefty wooden desk, behind which sat whom she assumed was the principal, her face currently obscured by a folder she was perusing through.

“How can I help you?” said the principal, her voice familiar as her namesake’s, albeit it sounded less regal and more mundane.

Twilight cleared her throat in trying to come up with the proper manner to address the principal. Maybe it was a developed habit, but somehow, she felt the same nervousness she’d often feel when directly addressing Celestia in their world. After taking too long to answer, Principal Celestia lowered the folder.

True enough, she was almost a perfect reflection of Princess Celestia, albeit in the form of this strange bipedal species (Twilight noted how she really needed look into what to properly call them). Her skin was the same pristine white with a hint of pink as the Princess’ coat, and her mane was in the same tri-colored pattern, albeit it did not flow endlessly. The rounded face, the smaller eyes, and her not all that greater size compared to Twilight made her seem much less imposing than the alicorn she was the dimensional counterpart to. The chest obstructions underneath the yellow button-up jacket did nothing to help in this regard.

Celestia looked up at Twilight with anticipation, raising a questioning brow at the silence.

Twilight pulled at her collar with a faint cough, “Greetings. My name is Twilight Sparkle and-”

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the principal interrupted, “Oh, excuse me. Just making an observation,” she smiled apologetically, “I’m Principal Celestia Solaris, but please; just Celestia will suffice. Are you by chance a new transfer?”

The perfect opportunity; “Yes!” Twilight composed herself, “Yes, I am. I’m due to start next week. I’ve just moved into the neighborhood and my credentials might not have arrived just yet. I decided to come and have a look around beforehand, if that’s alright.”

Celestia rested and arm against her desk, swiveling slightly sideways, crossing one leg over the other, humming thoughtfully, “I suppose some might find it rather unconventional, but I see no harm, as long as there are no disruptions, much like just now.”

Twilight glanced to the side, guessing what the principal was referring to; “The bout at the gymnasium? What was that about?”

Celestia sighed outwardly, “A conflict between two of our students that tends to get out of hand every once in a while. With the CHS half-term fall formal championship in three days’ time, some of our students can get confrontational.”

“Championship?” Twilight inquired.

“Yes; Canterlot High, being a registered dueling academy, maintains a roster of its best duelists, recognized on a national level,” the principal looked at Twilight, as if scrutinizing her, “I take it your previous institution was not part of the dueling baccalaureate program?”

All Twilight could do was shake her head, this world raising only further questions the more she heard.

Celestia turned forward on her chair, placing both arms atop her desk tenting her fingers, “Here at CHS on top of providing base academic education, we also specialize in professional Duel Monsters,” she indicated something on the adjacent wall, “Our current champion, Sunset Shimmer, has remained undisputed since her freshman year.”

Twilight saw that it was a framed photo portrait the principal was addressing. It depicted a someone with a fiery red and yellow mane, the most distinct piece of her outfit being a studded jacket, wearing one of those disk devices, and expressing an aloof, almost condescending smile towards whomever beheld it. Atop her head was a familiar looking crown with a star-shaped gem at the top and center.

Twilight feigned ignorance, pointing towards the portrait, “What’s with the crown?”

“Something Vice-Principal Luna and myself came up with,” the principal replied, her lips forming into a small smile, “We came up with the title of Duel Queen or King for whomever reigns as our top duelist. They are also granted an honorary place on the student council, but so far Miss Shimmer has remained disinterested in the matter.”

“So whomever wins this championship title gets the crown?” Twilight reiterated, “Would I be eligible for this tournament?”

Celestia looked at Twilight thoughtfully, then glanced downwards in contemplation. After what felt like a needlessly uncomfortable moment of silence, she looked up, “I don’t see why not, seeing as you are going to be attending our school. Although…” now was her turn to clear her throat, “On such short notice, I’m afraid the most likely means for you at an attempt at the fall formal champion position would be to defeat our top duelists to appeal to the student body in a bid as a finalist. Of course, if you came from a non-dueling baccalaureate, you will need to be registered into our roster.”

Twilight felt her stomach clench at how complicated her task to retrieve her crown had become so far, “Is it possible for me to register?”

Celestia crossed her finger, offering a comforting smile, “I’ll speak to Vice-principal Luna; she handles the duelist registry.”

Twilight felt slightly relieved, “I appreciate that, Principal Celestia,” she gave a curt bow of her head.

“It’s no trouble at all,” Celestia smiled kindly, “Is there anything else I can help you with, Miss Sparkle?”

A thought crossed Twilight’s mind, “Out of curiosity; where is this crown?”

“It’s under lock and key for now under Vice-principal Luna’s care. Strangely enough, it had been stolen the other day, when one of our students returned it just this morning,” she shrugged, “How it ended up from stolen to lying on the front lawn, I have no idea.”

Twilight held up her hand, “Well, I think I can manage for now. Thank you. I think I will just get the lay of the school, if you permit me.”

“Of course,” Celestia nodded, “If there’s anything else you need, my door is always open. We look forward to having you with us here at CHS.”

Twilight nodded gratefully before backing away out the door, softly closing it behind her. She promptly sighed and sauntered over to slouch her side against a row of lockers.

“Twilight!” Spike’s head popped out of her bag, “What are you doing?! You could have just told her that the crown was yours and be done with it!”

“I wish it were that simple, Spike,” said Twilight regretfully, “But the crown in that photo was obviously the one Sunset tried to replace mine with; they couldn’t possibly know. And besides: Would you believe it if somepony from this world came to Equestria saying they’re a bipedal hairless creature with these,” she emphasized wiggling her fingers.

“I guess you got me there,” Spike shrugged, “But how are you going to became a champion in three days? You’re not even a duelist.”

“Ah, but you forget, Spike,” she reached back into one of the side pouches of her back, producing the white card container, “We already have these,” she gently shook it, smiling triumphantly.

“Okay. But do you even know how this all works?” Spike inquired further.

“… I have no idea!” Twilight replied, her smile not faltering, “But I’m certain I can get the hang of it, the best way I know how…” she emphasized by jabbing a thumb towards the doors labeled “library.”

Duel #2: Trial by Fire: The Art of the Duel

View Online

Twilight, staying ever true to rules set for libraries, and presuming the same to apply across dimensions, opened the door to the one within Canterlot High, as the dimensional counterpart of Celestia referred to this place. It wasn’t quite as grandiose as she’d hoped: Bigger compared to her Golden Oak Library home in Ponyville, but not even close to the likes of the Canterlot, Crystal or even the one in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Still, she remained hopeful that she could find the guidance she needed to become a ‘duelist’ as the players of this game were referred to.

Almost immediately, she was not certain where to begin. The place seemed empty (in lieu of the lunch period, though Twilight did not feel hungry, at least for now), and wherever she looked, she could not find a catalogue anywhere. Near a flight of stairs to the upper level she did find a large round table, the center occupied by a hefty brazen equine bust, the surface lined in a circle with a series of devices she was not quite certain about.

Taking a seat on an accompanying swiveling chair, Twilight rubbed her much flattened chin in contemplation. The object right before her reminded her of a typewriter, minus anyplace to put in paper, whilst ahead of that sat something like an upright mirror or a window, but its surface was black and almost completely non-reflective.

Spike manage to hop up onto the table, his paw accidentally hitting against something beside the typewriter device. The window flared up in front of Twilight, showing an image of a profile of an equine head (which seemed to be some form of icon or symbol for this school) over a large stylized letter C.

She looked over at Spike, who only grinned innocently, before she took hold of the little device he’d bumped onto, which looked oddly enough like a mouse, complete with a cord for a tail, minus the ears. As she did, she spotted a little white arrow slide across the window. Looking between the “mouse” and the window in befuddlement, she ran the device against the table’s surface in random directions, the little arrow imitating the movements in near perfect synchronization.

“Computer not working?”

Twilight yelped audibly, to which she heard someone else nearby hush sharply. Some…one(?) had snuck up beside her, holding onto a book that Twilight had overlooked on the table. This was one Twilight hadn’t recalled ever meeting in Equestria. Or had she? Regardless, he was a male of this so far unknown species; taller than Twilight, his skin a shade of yellow with a spiky, slicked back mane. He wore a rather thick looking dark grey hooded jacket and blue denim leggings and black footwear accented with a lightning bolt, which was also stenciled on the right arm. As everyone else; he wore one of the disk devices on his left arm, the blade folded away, the colors oddly enough not matching his clothing, with a red wrist component and a white, maybe light grey, blade.

He held up his hands in surprise at Twilight’s response, “Whoa! Sorry about that,” to which the both of them earner another hush from behind a bookcase behind the two.

“Sorry about that,” he repeated more quietly.

Twilight did her best to compose herself, chuckling awkwardly, “No problem. I was just looking for the library catalogue.”

He raised a brow, “It’s right there,” he said, pointing at a small icon on the window… mirror?

“Oh,” Twilight giggled, “Duh!” to which she moved the arrow over said icon, but nothing happened. She shook it around frustratedly, with similar results.

The male looked down at her uneasily, “… Have you ever used a computer before?”

Com-put-tor? “Uh… no?” she uttered in uncertainty, “I’m new here and have very… backwards parents…?”

He snorted, clearly trying to stifle a laugh, “Seriously? Like luddites?”

Those exist here too?

He coughed awkwardly, scratching at the back of his head, “Uh, no offense, of course!”

Twilight gave a curt wave, “None taken. But, would it be too awkward if I asked how this ‘com-pu-tor’ works?”

“Not at all. Allow me the honor of introducing you to the information super highway,” he chuckled, pulling up a chair by the computor next to the one Twilight had occupied. Twilight wheeled her chair to the side, taking note of Spike having hid under the table, as her new acquaintance took her spot before the device, “Flash Sentry, by the way.”

“Twilight Sparkle.”

He nodded in acknowledgment, “Anyway, it’s pretty simple; you move the cursor with the mouse, double click what you wanna open,” as he did, the mouse, that he referred to it as, clicked underneath his fingers, to which the catalogue icon changed the screen into something different; it changed to a light orange with a series of worded rectangles and a thick white line in the upper half with a thin white box marked “title”, “And ‘presto’. What were you looking for anyway?”

“I was hoping to find some books on dueling, actually,” said Twilight as she eyed the device in intrigue, “You wouldn’t happen to know or recommend something?”

Flash looked at her with uncertainty, “Oh, uh… Sorry, but most of the stuff I know on dueling I just learned by doing. I suppose you’ve not dueled before?”

Twilight shook her head, “I do want to learn though,” she leaned down to grab the deck box from her bag, “Even have a deck ready!”

“Well that’s halfway there. People tend to prefer it with a duel disk though,” Flash emphasized with a tap of the device strapped to his wrist.

Duel disk, right… “Well, uh, isn’t there something that could help me get on the right track?” Twilight asked, doing her best not to sound pleading.

“Well, yea,” Flash clicked something in the upper-right corner which made the image on the mirror vanish downwards, sliding the cursor up to another tiny icon, a four-colored wheel simply called “Boggle”, to which a new image opened up, the very word dead center on it, “Just check out the online manual and it should help you get started…” he said as his fingers tapped against the keys on the typewriter looking object.

This produced letters on the white line she almost missed on the white background, after which he tapped the biggest key. In a blink the background once again changed to a line of paragraphs, each with the title highlighted in blue underlined text. He then clicked on the very first one, which unveiled yet again a new background, this one of what looked like a dark purple cover of a book. The title being Official Duel Monsters Guide, spelled in detailed, gold letters, published by something called Crystal Mirage Inc.

“I mean it’s technically in book form too,” Flash shrugged with an awkward smile, “But this one’s more accessible, err, at least when you’ve got access to a computer, of course!” he explained, scooting out of the way for Twilight to take her seat before the computer, taking the mouse in her hand, and as she’d seen him do, flicked at the little wheel to have the image move downwards, coming up to an introductory page, followed by the appendix.

Twilight’s confusion was replaced by an eager smile when all she had was right there before her.

“This is exactly what I needed!” she beamed, tapping her fists together in excitement, “Thank you so much, Flash! You saved me a lot of hassle.”

“Hey, glad to help,” he said with a hint of red to his cheeks, “So you’re transferring or…?”

“Next week,” Twilight confirmed, though her eyes were directed towards the guide, going through the appendix, seeing it wasn’t a particularly long read if she skipped most of the supplementary material such as the history, “Princess- Principal Celestia permitted me to look around, and with the mid-term match coming up, I decided to do some research.”

Of course, much of what she said was a lie: She would not be attending, in fact, she didn’t have the time to even be there next week, unless of course she failed in her task… Notions which Twilight promptly had to brush aside. She had gotten out of much more dangerous situations back home; she needed to learn and master a game, defeat the top contenders at the school, whomever those were, ensure she was the finalist, topple Sunset Shimmer, if need be, as the school pro, get her crown, and get back home or be stuck in this world for the next thirty moons… And there she went again.

“Guessing it’s your first match then,” Flash remarked as Twilight was speedily browsing through the first set of rules; the field lay-out.

“Uh-huh…”

“Not to brag, but I play a pretty good game myself.”

“Mm-hm…”

“Maybe after school I could show you the ropes? The soccer field is as good a place as any.”

“Okay.”

“Oh! Cool! So, uh, I’ll just leave you to it…”

“Right…”

“See you after the last bell then!”

“Mm…”

As Twilight’s eyes ran through the text before her, she almost didn’t notice as Spike came out from hiding under the table to hop up onto the now vacant chair beside her and onto the table surface. After a short while, the dragon turned dog’s face slid into view, bearing the most amused smile she’d seen on his visage.

“What?” she asked, looking away from her research, currently on monster mechanics.

“Did you just agree to a meet-up with a colt?” Spike raised a daring brow.

Twilight looked at Spike obliviously, “I don’t follow…”

“‘Maybe after school I can show you the ropes.’” said Spike, doing a poor impression of Flash.

That was when realization struck Twilight, “Ooh…” her eyes darted side-to-side for a moment before looking back to Spike, “I’m sure it’s nothing serious. And besides; at least I have someone to do a test duel with.”

“I dunno, Twilight…” Spike muttered as Twilighy leaned down to take out the deck box, “I think he may have been crushing on you.”

Twilight sputtered her lips, “Whaaat? Nooo…” she chortled as she opened the container to get at the deck inside, which she then slid out onto the table to get a look at what exactly what she would be working with, “And besides; he’s a…”

Having gleamed enough understanding from Flash’s demonstration, she managed to backtrack and do a quick search on what exactly this species was she had taken the guise of. Luckily, in whatever means these computers functioned, they seemed quite versatile in being able to answer a straight up question she could write down. Though at first it came out as a garbled, incomprehensible gaggle of mismatched letters when she inadvertently tried typing with her fingers bunched together. After a few additional tries, accented with some subtle cursing under hear breath, she managed finally when using only one finger per hand, annoyingly slow as the process was.

“Human?” she both answered and questioned as something she gleamed as “Wikipedia” told her, “I’m a pony. If anything, I doubt I could regard him as something I’d deem attractive…” as she managed to find her way back to the guide, she paused in thought, “Say, Spike? How would you describe me as looking?” A fair question, she felt, as she hadn’t had the chance to look into a mirror or the like.

Spike brought a paw under his jaw as he looked Twilight over, as per her request, “I’m not sure how to put it…” he muttered, “More… sharper? Angular?”

“Ooookay…?” Twilight trailed, uncertain what to make of Spike’s analysis as she went to work separating the monster, spell and trap cards, as the guide called them.

-

“Dear sweet Celestia…” Twilight groaned at the sheer enormity of the game she initially thought she could grasp in a matter of hours.

She heard Spike snort from under the table, possibly having fallen asleep. Following a yawn and some weary smacking, the dragon turned dog hopped up onto the chair beside her, giving a snort, almost like a sneeze, “What’s wrong, Twilight?”

“This whole game…” Twilight muttered, her head quite ungracefully resting atop the typewriter-device, her arms slouched with a single card grasped between her fingers, “I did some further research, and the sheer number of cards to be found: It numbers in the eight-thousands! At first I thought it would be similar to everypo- everyone!” she growled, trying to keep to the human lingo now as best she could, “But turns out almost everyone’s deck will be fundamentally different, not to mention all the different card types! I’m not just talking monsters, spells and traps, but all the ones that go out of the main deck! So I can’t even come up with a working formula to ensure victory…”

Spike looked at the defeated sounding alicorn princess in human form, scratching at the back of his head with a hind paw before answering, “Well, you do remember what Flash said, right?”

Twilight’s eyes lazily fixated on Spike, to which her head rose slightly off the typewriter, looking almost like she was pleading for the answer she simply could not see.

“Learn by doing?” he inquired, raising a brow.

Twilight finally decided to lift herself off the piece of hardware, looking down at her companion unenthused, “Spike, we don’t have much time to practice. The tournament is in three days; and in three days’ time I need to defeat the best this school has to offer, on top of beating Sunset Shimmer, who is the best.”

“But you have her deck,” Spike pointed out, “As long as she doesn’t realize you have it, and I assume she needs it to do her best; doesn’t that already put you one step ahead of her?”

Twilight raised the card she was still grasping. “High Priestess of Prophecy” she was called: One of the higher tier cards of this deck Twilight had been bequeathed by the merits of simple good fortune. At best she could tell; these cards seemed to have some allusions to the Arcana, or Tarot cards, something she herself recalled playing around with as a filly, first time with Cadence back when she was her foalsitter.

Overall, Twilight did find the cards strangely endearing, a series of what she could amount to predominately human-equivalents to patrons of the magical arts, much like herself, Celestia, Luna and, naturally, the great Star Swirl the Bearded from ages long past. She could not fathom why, but it was High Priestess that she found the most appealing. It was the first of these cards she had seen, so some form of familiarity, if one could call it such in regards to a card, had been established with it.

It was at that moment that Twilight felt a presence around her. Looking around, she found that she and Spike were still the only two to be seen.

“What’s up?” asked Spike, looking around idly in tandem.

Twilight looked uneasy as she started gathering the cards she’d spread out categorically, sliding them back into the protective case, “I don’t know. I just thought there was someone next to me.”

“I think we’re still the only ones here,” Spike remarked, stretching out tiredly.

“I guess so…” Twilight muttered, standing up to sling on her backpack, “Come on, I need to freshen up a little.”

“You think we can find food somewhere? Because we haven’t eaten since last night,” said Spike, his tone slightly strained, along with the muted rumble Twilight could hear coming from the dog’s belly.

“That’s not a bad idea, actually…” Twilight muttered, her own stomach groaning in protest.

The two of them exited the library, unaware of someone observing the two from on high, sitting gracefully atop the bookcase closest to the computer Twilight had occupied.

-

“Spike, please, you need to be quiet,” Twilight muttered.

“Sorry,” Spike’s voice gagged from within her backpack that was currently hung from a rack inside the bathroom stall, “It’s just that being a dog has made everything more,” a sickening gulp escaped from within, “Fragrant…”

Twilight sighed. Spike did have a point though; the restroom they were in did feel strangely filthier by comparison to those back home where one would expect the sanitation crews to ensure at least an alleviation of any form of stench. Here, even if it didn’t seem as outwardly appalling to the eyes, just the smell made everything feel hideous, to which Twilight was actually thankful for her transformation to have included the footwear she was sporting.

After concluding nature’s call, Twilight stepped out of the booth to try and use the faucet, which, after some difficulty, managed to get it to run (without spraying herself amazingly) to clean herself off. Having the first chance to get a proper look at herself in the restroom mirror; seeing the strangely simultaneously familiar and yet unfamiliar face was an odd spectacle, to say the least. Twilight had to agree with Spike; while her face did seem to retain much of its soft features, she did feel as if she was slightly more angular in some places. Same could have been said about her eyes; which looked smaller than she was used to, with much wider, very iridescent purple irises and smaller pupils.

Also, she could have sworn that her mane, or hair, rather, seemed to fan out behind her. Very odd, given how she usually did not style herself too intricately like Rarity. If anything, this made it look almost like she had vague wings jutting out from her back if viewed from the front. Also the center of her front bangs seemed to have acquired an extra layer at the very middle, while its sides seemed to curve further down, framing her overall face.

She tugged at her lower eyelid, scrutinizing the smooth, almost flawless skin that had replaced her coat. Pursing her lips, she shrugged, the reflection mimicking her movements. Lastly, she could not help but poking at the very useless feeling protrusions on her chest. She still could not fathom what possible physiological benefits those things had!

A disgruntled gag emanated from her back, accompanied with a soft tap against her. As she was turning to leave, someone else entered the restroom; a human with golden orange skin, a head of fiery red and yellow hair, dressed in a striking black jacket with metallic studs at the collar folds, a magenta shirt emblazoned with a red and yellow symbol reminiscent of a flaming sun, along with an orange skirt with a yellow and purple curved streak going across, and very tall, black footwear that reached well up to her knees. As everyone else, she wore a duel disk on her left arm; black with a dark orange, folded tray (as the guide referred to it as). Twilight froze upon realizing who it was.

Sunset Shimmer!

Sunset looked straight at her, her eyes a slightly muted orange tone, which Twilight found unsettling to behold for whatever reason. Unlike in Equestria, her overall form, and the striking fierceness of those orange eyes staring at Twilight made her look rather intimidating, in spite of the otherwise familiar radiant coloration.

Sunset’s brow lowered, “What are you looking at?” she asked, her voice bearing a distinct hint of spite.

What luck, she doesn’t recognize me! “N-nothing, nothing!” Twilight stammered, holding up her hands, “I was just leaving…”

Sunset thrust her arm against the wall, effectively cutting off Twilight’s exit. Twilight leapt with a gasp at the swiftness, Sunset staring at her intently.

Or does she…?

Sunset said nothing, her orange, fierce eyes staring at Twilight, her expression of spite unflinching. After an uncomfortable silence she finally muttered, “Haven’t I see you somewhere before?”

“Nope!” Twilight peeped, feigning innocence, “I’m new here! Just having a look around is all!”

Sunset stared at her for a moment longer. When Twilight believed she’d been most certainly caught, Sunset snorted arrogantly, lowering her arm, “Whatever. Just stay out of my way,” she spoke harshly, shoving past Twilight.

Twilight did her best to prevent herself from bolting out the door. Upon her escape of the restroom, for the second time that day she found herself slumping against a locker.

“Uh, Twilight?!” Spike called from the bag, prompting Twilight to push away.

“Sorry, Spike!” she fretted, tugging at the zipper to let the dog’s head poke out.

“It was her, wasn’t it?” asked Spike, peering at the restroom door.

“It was,” Twilight started to walk away, “I’m not sure, but I think she didn’t recognize me. Not yet, anyway. To be honest, in human form, I may have not recognized her either, hadn’t Principal Celestia had that photo. Regardless, we should steer clear of her for now. The longer she doesn’t know we’re here, the better…”

Twilight glanced over her shoulder, seeing that the hallways had begun to fill with the students of Canterlot High.

-

After failing to procure any form of nourishment outside of water from a drinking fountain, her bits being incompatible with the vending machines in the hallways and the cafeteria no longer serving after the lunch period, all Twilight could do was return to the library, waiting for the final bell. Staying true to not interfering with students, and not knowing where she could potentially just snatch back her crown, she thought the best she could do for now was continue learning about the ins and outs of living as a human.

Makes me wonder: How did Sunset feel the first time she came here?

It wasn’t until later, at roughly three pm. that the students finally were let off for the afternoon and began crowding the hallways more freely. Amidst the clamor of their conversations and footsteps, Twilight carefully moved amongst them, going entirely unrecognized, save for the occasional awkward apology when she bumped into someone. After making it outside through the back entrance, she found what she thought looked like a polo field, with bleachers set across from it where some students were already congregated, talking among one another or fumbling with small devices Twilight had no knowledge of.

“Took me up on the offer after all?” Twilight turned to see Flash leaning beside the school exit, holding a second duel disk in one hand, one of a generic grey color, as opposed to the color coordinated ones everyone else wore.

Twilight looked over, smiling awkwardly. Just something in the human male’s expression made Twilight feel strangely awkward.

“I guess it’s like you said; learn by doing,” she shrugged, watching as he offered the duel disk to her, “Where’d you get that?”

“CHS has some spares, seeing as we are a sort of duel academy,” said Flash, “You know how to put this on?”

Twilight shook her head, to which Flash held the device with the wrist clamp pointed towards her. Twilight assumingly, inserted her hand through. The clamp shut around her, seeming to adjust to her forearm instantly.

Twilight looked at the device now attached to her arm. It felt slightly cumbersome, and the width of the folded trays would take getting used to. It did feel slightly tight, but not enough to cut off circulation.

“It’s not that complicated; just insert your deck into the port at the front, extras go in the back here,” Flash explained, indicating his own, to which he slid a compartment open.

“Simple,” Twilight reiterated, taking out her, or rather, Sunset’s deck and inserting it into the front port. The device clicked, to which the deck became fastened to it.

“I assume you had time to go over the basics?” he asked, “I mean you did have some time to yourself and all…”

“I should be ready,” I hope.

“Cool! Wanna take the bleachers side, or shall I?” to which Flash immediately hesitated, “Actually, why don’t I take that side-”

“What? Oh, no, no I’m perfectly fine walking,” Twilight responded in protest.

“Well what with you being new here and all,” Flash replied awkwardly scratching his head.

“I assure you, I’m perfectly fine taking some steps.”

“But it wouldn’t be the-”

“Would someone just pick a goddamn side already?!” someone shouted amongst the crowd.

In their little back and forth, a rather sizable crowd had gathered around Twilight and Flash Sentry.
The two looked at one another, the both of them chuckling in embarrassment, to which Twilight took the initiative and walked across the field closer to the bleachers, the foreboding sense of all eyes being on her creeping its way up her spine.

Just great. I mean it’s only my first ever duel, and with a bunch of ponies- PEOPLE watching me…

As soon as the two of them had assumed the appropriate distance, the crowd shifting around the field, Twilight saw as Flash’s duel disk turned on, the halves of the tray sliding forward to combine into one, then swung along his arm, making a highly distinct noise.

Twilight took a deep breath and sighed, doing her best to try and ignore everyone’s stares. Dueling is a big deal here. You should have expected as such. She removed her backpack, which allowed Spike to see the impending spectacle. She held out her duel disk bearing arm… To which nothing happened.

Twilight eyed the disk, perusing its overall rather obscure construction, trying to see how to activate it.

“Hit the “on” button!” someone else shouted from the bleachers.

Twilight blushed, trying her best to find wherever said button was located, already feeling the pressure of failing in such a simple task.

“Boop!” a pink hand suddenly prodded something somewhere on the disk, making Twilight yelp, perhaps a tad too audibly as the tray’s halves slid forth, combined, and swung along her arm, the screen atop lighting up.

Twilight watched as a pink skinned girl with puffy pink hair with large, innocent blue eyes stood next to her. She was clad in a light blue short-sleeved shirt over a plain white shirt emblazoned with a large image of a cupcake, a frilled three-layered skirt, all layers a varying shade of pink that deepened the lower the layer, held up with a purple sash, and a striking pair of blue footwear. And she must have had some of the largest chest obstructions underneath her shirt that Twilight believed she’d have seen that day!

“You’re welcome~!” the girl sing-sang, before skipping happily towards the bleachers.

“Uh, thanks-” Pinkie Pie?!

Opponent detected, a heavily filtered, female sounding voice sounded from the duel disk, “Streaming data,” the images of two five by five grids appeared on the screen, accompanied by two single grids to their sides; the field, “Duel start?

“And ‘boop’!” before Twilight could even respond, the pink hand came up from over her right shoulder, tapping against the box that appeared.

The image of what seemed to be a coin appeared on the screen which spun around rapidly, settling on a red side marked “tails”.

Opponent’s start.

Flash Sentry Life Points: 4000

Twilight Sparkler Life Points: 4000

“Okay, let’s do this!” came Flash’s voice from her disk, indicating it must have been some for of two-way communicator as well.

The technological advancements in this world are leagues beyond Equestria’s, and yet they don’t even seem to use magic, Twilight thought as the disk ejected her five hand cards.

Turn 1: Flash Sentry

“Since I have the first move, I can't draw,” Flash called, “I start by playing the spell card ‘Reinforcement of the Army’!” he inserted the card into a slot at the top of the tray, the image of said card arising from the ground.

Right, so a normal spell card…

“This lets me add one warrior-type monster from my deck to my hand,” Flash ran his finger against his duel disk’s screen before tapping it, to which a card slid out of his deck which he took in his hand, which Twilight’s own screen confirmed as the type he’d declared “And then I summon ‘Heroic Challenger – Thousand Blades’ in attack mode.”

A blue portal appeared on the ground near Flash, much like in the duel Twilight witnessed between Rainbow Dash and Applejack. From within arose a humanoid warrior in predominately silvery armor wielding a curve bladed polearm, with several different shaped blades protruding from its back to the sides. (Level 4, 1300/1100)

“I activate Thousand Blades’ effect: Once each turn by discarding a ‘Heroic’ card from my hand,” Flash placed a card beside a slot adjacent to his card tray, which the card slid inside, the graveyard, “I can't special summon for the rest of this turn except ‘Heroic’ monsters. I can then special summon one Heroic monster from my deck,” he went back to his screen and made his choice, “I choose ‘Heroic Challenger – War Hammer,” his chosen card once again slid out from his deck which he slapped onto the tray.

Another portal opened, out emerging a much larger and heftier humanoid in dark blue and silver armor, wielding a large weapon of its namesake. (Level 6, 2100/1300)

Flash’s first monster, Thousand Blades, suddenly knelt down, its arms crossed over its chest, “As a cost, Thousand Blades switches to defense mode when his effect is used. (DEF: 1100) I’ll set a card facedown, and end my turn,” the image of a facedown card appeared on flash’s field.

Twilight looked at Flash’s field. A monster with an impressive 2100 attack points, without needing to sacrifice any of them from his field, and another weaker monster forced into defense.

Turn 2: Twilight Sparkle

He said Thousand Blades can bring him a monster from his deck once per turn, as long as he has cards to discard. I’ll need to get rid of that first. “Alright, here I go…” Twilight drew her first card, then went over her hand.

Six cards; three monsters, a trap, and two spells. So far she had only two monsters she could summon without a sacrifice, whereas her trap was not going to have much use, seeing as her graveyard was empty, though she second one showed promise-

“Hurry up already!”

This elicited murmuring amidst the gathered students.

“Is this like her first duel or something?”

“Did she seriously challenge Flash Sentry with a deck she doesn’t even know how to use?”

“She couldn’t even turn on her duel disk from the looks of it…”

Twilight swallowed, the murmuring an undue focus on her making her feel increasingly nervous, making her focus wan.

“I summon ‘The Fool of Prophecy’ in attack mode,” Twilight placed a card in the black cleft of the tray, to which the same blue portal appeared before her.

From within arose a human dressed in a bright yellow robe with a low, matching hat, with a twig of some sort grasped in his mouth and leisurely holding a golden rod over his shoulder. (Level 3, 1600/900)

“I activate the effect of The Fool of Prophecy,” Twilight saw as her screen flashed, switching to a view of all the cards in her deck, an image of a hand appearing in the corner, allowing her to scroll through them, the disk having even the knowledge of every card’s placement in her deck in specific order, “I… I send one Spellbook card from my deck to the graveyard,” to which she chose one called ‘Spellbook of Judgement’ which slid out of her deck, which she promptly placed at the mouth of her disk’s graveyard slot that slid it inside.

“And then I…” Shoot! I sent a Spellbook into my graveyard; now I can’t use ‘Spellbook Library of the Crescent'! Twilight cringed, indignant over losing her focus from everyone’s jeers, “Uh, I place two cards facedown…” she declared, sliding two cards into the spell and trap slot on her side of the device and tapped two of her spell and trap slots on the screen, the two cards’ images appearing before her.

There’s nothing else I can do but… “I attack Thousand Blades with ‘The Fool of Prophecy’!” she declared.

The Fool spat out his twig, to which he trained his rod towards the sky. A white orb formed at the tip of the rod which he then flung at the kneeling warrior. The orb struck home, making the image shatter into bits with a surprisingly loud explosion.

Alright, he won’t be able to summon additional monsters from his deck now. Now I just need to watch out for his stronger monster. I can still recover from that miscalculation… Right? “I end my turn.”

Turn 3: Flash Sentry

“Alright, my go,” Flash drew a card, “I summon ‘Heroic Challenger – Ambush Soldier’ in defense mode.”

Onto Flash’s field emerged another humanoid, hunched over with most of its body covered in a dark green cloak, save for a goggled head. (Level 1 0/0)

A monster with zero attack and defense? It must have some nasty effect…

“Now I’ll attack The Fool with War Hammer!” Flash declared, though more energetically as she pointed at Twilight’s only monster.

Twilight tensed slightly as the large hammer wielding humanoid leapt into the air, bringing its namesake weapon up and over its head. The moment it touched back onto the group, the hammer came swinging down upon The Fool, the robed spellcaster erupting into tiny fragments with a resounding boom of the illusory hammer striking the ground. Twilight could not help but cover her face, illusions or not, given how life-like they were.

Twilight Sparkle Life Point (-500) 3500

“When War Hammer destroys a monster in battle, his effect triggers, allowing me to equip the destroyed monster to him as an equipment card,” upon concluding, a ghostly image of the destroyed Fool melded into War Hammer, “This increases its attack points equal to the original attack of the destroyed monster.” (ATK: 3700)

3700 attack points already?! Twilight gaped, her duel disk indicating as The Fool not counting as being in her graveyard, while one of Flash’s spell and trap slots had been occupied.

“I end my turn,” Flash declared, maintaining an overall neutral expression, not gloating, not seeming disappointed.

Turn 4: Twilight Sparkle

Twilight swallowed. Closing her eyes, trying to calm herself in shutting out the stares of the spectating students.

This isn’t good. I thought I had this deck figured out during my research. But I can’t even keep it together with people gawking at me… It’s like magic kindergarten all over again…

She drew her next card. To her surprised, it was something she could actually use, “I summon ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy’ in defense mode.”

Before her emerged a male human dressed in blue and white robes, with an intricate round hat sporting a blue symbol atop it. He grasped a spell book in one hand, holding it underneath an arm as it hunched down onto the field. (Level 2, 500/400)

“When Spellbook Magician is summoned, I can add one ‘Spellbook’ spell card from my deck to my hand,” she scrolled through her choices, “I choose ‘Spellbook of Knowledge,’” to which her chosen card slid out for her to take. Her deck rattled afterwards, the device shuffling it for her. This technology was becoming increasingly endearing the more she beheld it.

Maybe when I return home I should tell the Princesses about the possibility of further research into engineering…

She returned her focus back to the duel at hand, “I then activate the Spellbook of Knowledge I just took: I can send either a spellcaster-type monster from my field, or a Spellbook card from my hand or field to the graveyard,” she slid the now useless Spellbook Library of the Crescent to the graveyard slot, “This lets me draw two cards,” to which her duel disk let out a chime, the screen telling her to draw the mentioned number of times.

She looked at the two cards she drew. One did not add much in terms of usefulness, but the other, she felt would be perfect.

Alright; since I now have three Spellbook spells in my graveyard, I believe I can turn things around, “I then activate ‘Spellbook of Fate.’” she declared, sliding the card into a slot, “I banish one-to-three ‘Spellbook’ spell cards from my graveyard, and based on the number, I can activate one of three effects,” her duel disk asked her to enter her choices; she proceeded to remove all three Spellbook spells she had in her graveyard, which slid out of her graveyard slot, the disk directing her to place them into a different slot on the back of the rectangular portion.

“Since I banished three, I can banish one card on your side of the field; and I choose your War Hammer!”

At that moment Flash’s monster looked to evaporate out of existence. He removed the card from his tray and placed it into the allotted slot.

“That’s the way,” he said encouragingly through the disks.

Not much I can do now but hope he doesn’t summon another monster. “I end my turn.”

Turn 5: Flash Sentry

Flash drew his next card, “During my stand-by phase my Ambush Soldier’s effect activates: By sending him to the graveyard I can special summon two Heroic Challenger monsters from my hand or graveyard.”

Twilight’s eyes widened at that. And he has at least two in his graveyard so far! But what was the one he discarded?

“Special summon back ‘Heroic Challenger – Thousand Blades’ in attack mode (Level 4, 1300/1100), as well as ‘Heroic Challenger – Clasp Sword,' also in attack mode!”

The second monster he summoned was a much smaller looking humanoid warrior in a predominately grey and gold suit of armor, but its most distinctive feature was its right arm being some form of jagged blade. (Level 1, 300/100)

“When Clasp Sword is special summoned by the effect of a Heroic Challenger monster, his effect lets me add a Heroic Challenger monster from my deck to my hand,” his chosen card slid out, which he flashed in his hand, “I will then normal summon ‘Heroic Challenger – Extra Sword’ in attack mode.”

Another humanoid warrior emerged, this one bearing very outward angling armor that was a mix of silver and khaki green, wielding a pair of double-edged swords, the one in its left hand smaller than in the right. (Level 4, 1000/1000)

“And now, with the level 4 Thousand Blades and Extra Sword, I construct the Overlay Network!” he declared, sliding the latter over the former on his tray.

Overlay… So that means Flash uses-

Twilight beheld as the two monsters on the field turned transparent, their forms sliding together, to which they erupted into a pair of blue, glowing orbs that spiraled into the air. Flash held forth a hand.

Heroic warriors of blades and of twin swords, unite your power to bring forth the blade of champions!

He pulled his hand back into a fist, “Xyz summon! Arise! Rank 4, ‘Heroic Champion – Excalibur’!

A light burst over the field. Down from above descended a towering humanoid, clad in a hefty dark red and grey suit of armor with a face obscuring helmet and impossibly large, upward jutting spaulders. It brandished a large double-edged sword that may or may not have been split halfway down its length, though it still left it looking taller than Twilight wasThe blue orbs of light circled around the great figure. (Rank 4, 2000/2000)

An Xyz monster. So the spheres represent the two monsters used to summon it, and to use its effects the user needs to send one or more overlay unit to the graveyard.

“When Extra Sword is used as Xyz material for an Xyz summon, it increases the attack by the summoned monster by 1000,” Flash added, to which a silvery aura flared up around Excalibur. (ATK 3000)

But even if he attacks with Excalibur, my monster is in defense, so it won’t deal damage to me either way…

“I activate Excalibur’s effect; my removing two overlay units from him, I can double his original attack points until my opponent’s next end phase,” said Flash, sliding the overlaid cards out from under Excalibur and sliding them into the graveyard slot, to which Excalibur’s massive sword began to surge. (ATK 5000)

“I then attack Spellbook Magician (DEF: 400) with Clasp Sword (ATK: 300)!” Flash called out, to which the smaller warrior with its jagged arm blade sped towards the kneeling Spellbook Magician.

Before Twilight could comprehend the logic behind Flash’s attack, the facedown on his field suddenly rose up, revealing itself as a trap card.

“At this point I activate my facedown card; ‘Heroic Retribution Sword!’” to which Clasp Sword’s weapon began to glow an eerie red, just before it swung forth, only for Spellbook Magician to thrust out a hand, the blade glancing off a forcefield mere inches away from the magician’s hand.

Flash Sentry Life Points: (-100) 3900

“Heroic Retribution Sword becomes an equipment card: Any battle damage I take in battle with the equipped monster is applied to both players.”

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: (-100) 3400

“In addition, after the damage step, any monster that battled the equipped monster is destroyed.”

Twilight flinched when he Spellbook Magician suddenly burst into bits with a resounding yelp.

Oh no… Now my facedown card is completely useless: Without a spellcaster-type on my field, I can’t use ‘Magical Dimension’ to destroy Excalibur and bring her out… She looked at the only remaining monster in her hand, High Priestess of Prophecy.

“I then attack directly with Excalibur!” Flash called out, extending in arm forth.

Twilight instinctively stepped back as the towering warrior with the giant sword lunged forward. It delivered an impressive one-handed upward arcing blow, which came mere inches from Twilight’s face. She felt her left arm jerk against her own control, almost as if the duel disk was responding to an impact, like some form of feedback she might feel from a spell.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: (-5000) 0

The moment Twilight’s life points hit zero, her screen flashed red, the very unhelpful declaration of loser flashing in bold letters, followed shortly by the images of the cards on the field vanishing, leaving the soccer field empty once more, with no damage done to it whatsoever.

All Twilight could do was groan in defeat, almost feeling like slumping down on the grass, but the notion of several people watching her allowed her to stay on her feet. She could feel Spike’s paw against her shin, the dog looking up at her with a comforting smile.

“Well…” Twilight watched as Flash approached, his duel disk disengaged, “It wasn’t exactly the best performance I’ve seen so far, but…” he seemed to weigh his opinion awkwardly.

Twilight sighed, “I got distracted from all the gawking and made a misplay…” she muttered, showing the Spellbook Library of the Crescent card as her graveyard was emptied by the duel disk, “Not sure how it would have turned out then, but…”

“Hey, it’s no big deal,” Flash replied in a kind gesture, “It was only your first duel. You’ll get the hang of it.”

I certainly hope so. Time is not exactly what I have on my side right now…

“You know; there was a little something someone told me when I was first starting out,” he said, eliciting Twilight to look up at him curiously, “In dueling it’s just as important to use your heart and your instincts than just your head. You need to be in rhythm with your deck. Kinda like when I play my guitar.”

Twilight looked at nowhere in particular in contemplation. Thinking back to their, admittedly short, duel, Twilight realized that Flash, in a sense, kept a steady flow when it came to his dueling. No hesitation, just direct action. Of course, Flash had dueled much longer than she most likely every would, he knew the ins and outs of his deck, Twilight had so far only analyzed her cards, being able to just about recall what each one did. Perhaps there was some other variable she was not seeing…

-

Sunset Shimmer eyed the new girl through the classroom window. After their encounter in the bathroom, the notion of having seen her once before gnawed at the back of her mind. Initially, she thought her inconsequential, just another insignificant student among her comparably meaningless peers. Even her performance as a duelist was pathetic; a measly five turns and Flash Sentry annihilated her without so much as a hit.

Still, her cards were familiar. Though she wasn’t certain what this girl was trying exactly; with a little adjustment and the right card, she could have easily remained in the duel for at least a little while longer. Or turn the tables on Sentry, much as she could easily do if she so desired.

Still, maybe there would be a point in looking in on her, she thought. She’s clearly not a threat to me, but I can’t help but feel as if I’ve seen her… Could it possibly be her? No-one’s come for me ever since I first left…

She scoffed at the thought. Even if someone from back home had chased after her, it was of no consequence. Though the crown had slipped from her reach and was now somewhere she could not find, it was only inevitable before it was back where it belonged, with her. They would be powerless to stop her here; there was no Equestrian magic here to aid them, as she herself had discovered the day she arrived many years ago, lost and alone.

And once I have it, they’ll all regret for defying us…

A sudden throbbing pain erupted in her head. With a pained grunt, she found her hand pressing against her forehead. A sudden lightheadedness almost overcame her, when she stumbled backward, managing to catch herself against a classroom desk. As she sat there, her head feeling like it was reverberating with every beat of her heart, she felt like someone was observing her. She managed to turn around, looking over the room with one eye, finding herself alone…

When the pain began to lessen, her mind felt… Disheveled. For defying me… They’ll regret for defying me. It’s so close. I just need to be patient. Just three more days and all I’ve worked and suffered so much for, it will finally be done…

Feeling another bout of pain course through her head, she began making her way out. She needed to get home. She needed rest. Just three more days, and it would all be worth it. Nothing could stop her now. Nothing. Nobody. Nopony.

Duel #3: Familiar Faces: Broken Bonds

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“In dueling it’s just as important to use your heart and your instincts than just your head. You need to be in rhythm with your deck. Kinda like when I play my guitar.”

After whom Twilight could proclaim as the first proper friend, based on his more respectful demeanor towards her had to leave for the time being, something about band practice, her mind hung on Flash’s words, revolving in her mind as she excused herself to return back to the one place she felt most comfortable; the library. While some students were now present, the person seemingly in charge, who looked much like Miss Cheerilee from Ponyville, albeit her colors seemed inverted, looking almost like somepony completely different. And the more not said about that factor, the better, seeing how books were involved.

To pass the time and remain calm (and take her mind off her increasingly rowdy stomach), she thought perhaps looking into something of her forte would help her focus and find her “rhythm”. Human or alicorn, her forte was and always would be magic. Princess Luna’s warnings about magic in this world had had gnawed at her mind, given how it seemed so elusive that nothing of its kind had manifested before her. Or if she could still even sense magic as she could instinctually as an alicorn, perhaps her transformation into a human having taken that from her too. Using the, oddly enough, same computer once more, she checked to see if perhaps the library might have even just a pamphlet’s worth of information pertaining to magic.

To her surprise; they did. In the history section she’d found quite a few encyclopedias about the supernatural. Along with witchcraft and the occult. Feeling strangely eager to find out about possible magical heritage in this world, Twilight grabbed one about purported witches… and soon placed it back onto the shelf, a feeling of revulsion running through her gut.

“They burned people alive tied to stakes?! Savages…” she hissed, looking like the book was genuinely repelling her.

She tried something else, finding a much more informative, and less harrowing, work titled ‘The Encyclopedia of Magic and Witchcraft’. It wasn’t a difficult read, but it did well the enlighten her about the history of magic and the occult (something both Equestria and this world seemed to regard with trepidation).

Seating herself at a nearby table she allowed herself to get completely lost in her research, hearing Spike’s silently snoring inside her backpack.

For magic being elusive, it seemed to play a major role for early civilization here. She thought, going through a chapter pertaining to one of the ancient civilizations of this world, going back over three thousand years. Quite fascinatingly, the sun seemed to be a veritable deity, if not an outright god to them.

“That’s just silly,” Twilight snickered, “The sun’s not a god. Another being just moves it.”
Twilight did not notice an ash-skinned bowler hat wearing student look at her from the far-off adjacent side of the table with an expression of utter befuddlement.

-

As students more frequently began to exit the premises, Twilight figured it best to go lay low somewhere for now and wait. Odd as it felt, she had nowhere else to go; she knew nothing of the locale of this Canterlot, she was penniless by this world’s standards, and she did not feel it safe to spend the night without a roof over her head.

Going back to return the book to its rightful place, she suddenly thought she caught glimpse of someone in white walk by between the large bookcases, swearing to have caught sight of a glimmering pink head of hair, when she bumped into someone.

“Whoa nelly!” whomever she collided with exclaimed, the two of them stepping away from one another before she turned to look at Twilight.

Twilight did her best not to gawk when she saw a familiar orange-skinned, freckled face, complete with the ever-present Stetson she had come to forever associate with it.

“You nearly scared the living daylights outta me,” the dimensional counterpart to the one and only Applejack, chuckled, “Ah thought Ah was the only one here.”

Twilight shared in the round of restrained laughter with her. Memories of when she first met the farmpony in Ponyville flooded back into her mind, the nostalgia warming her heart in this strange and unknown world. Seeing the familiar, yet unfamiliar face of the Element of Honesty felt very comforting, even if she surely did not know who Twilight was.

“Yea, I had a bit of a sit-in,” Twilight giggled, indicating the book in her hand, “I must’ve missed when everyone else left.”

Applejack snorted, nodding at the cart of books beside her, “While here Ah am stuck shelving these things before Ah can call it a day,” she sighed, looking resentful, “And Ah just had to play Rainbow’s game when Ah should’a known we’d get in trouble for sure…”

“Oh, right! I saw you and Rainbow dueling in the gymnasium, actually,” Twilight noted.

Applejack looked at her, raising a questioning brow, “Say, don’t think Ah’ve seen you here before,” she held out a hand, “Ah’m Applejack!”

Twilight took the human girl’s hand, to which the felt an unexpectedly firm grab. Definitely Applejack, “Twilight Sparkle. I’m new here.”

“Pleasure to meet ‘cha!” Applejack emphasized with a tip of her hat, “Though Ah’m ‘fraid Ah can’t chat right now, unless I seek to be spendin’ the whole night in the library,” she added as she looked at one of the books, inspecting its placement serial, “Ah swear, for every one Ah need to go halfway ‘round the place just to find the correct shelf.”

“The Complete Works of Neightsche?” Twilight looked at the book with interest, “You’re in the wrong section altogether. This is history,” Twilight felt a sudden eagerness swell up inside her, “If going by- that is I assume you go by the Dooey Decimal Classification?”

Applejack’s expression belied her overall knowledge on the matter being discussed, “Uh… Yea?”

Twilight took the book from Applejack and walked forth, motioning her friend’s counterpart to follow, “Neightsche goes in the philosophy section so if going by D.D.C., it should go to the one-hundred class,” she explained as she went on, finding the correct shelf (meaning they really did use the same categorization as in Equestria), to which she started running her finger along the spines of the books as she walked down it, “So this should go riiiight here,” and she slid the book in its proper place.

“Ooh. Well, thanks for that, at least now Ah-” but before she could finish, Twilight already had another book in hand.

“Now botany is classified as a pure science, so for this one you’re looking for the five-hundreds…” and she would repeat the process like a well-oiled machine. While certain books might have gone over her head, but her intuition and all the time she’d spent in libraries allowed her to adjust quickly with categories like computer sciences (something she’d genuinely been fascinated to indulge in with her newfound discoveries of this world’s technology, but regretted the little time she had to spend in that world).

It did not take too long when she lastly slid the Encyclopedia of Magic and Witchcraft into its proper place in the history section, the book cart emptied of its cargo, “And that’s the last one,” Twilight beamed, pleased with herself.

Applejack looked at a small device, allegedly known as a “phone”, with an expression of amazement on her features, “Ya did all of that in thirty minutes?!” she gawked.

Twilight crossed her arms, smiling ever so sweetly, “What can I say? I love books, spent much of my time in the library.”

Applejack looked down at the empty cart, rubbing at the back of her hay blonde head with a chortle, “And this was supposed to be my punishment…”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” Twilight whispered with a wink, bringing a finger to her lips, “I was glad to help.”

“Mighty kind of ya, Twi,” Applejack replied, calling her by what her Applejack would back home, “Guess I should call up my brother to pick me up.”

“Alright, you do that…” Twilight chuckled, not sure what to make of what the dimensional counterpart was saying, “Well I’ll just be hanging back here and-”

“Wait, hold on,” Applejack looked up from the device, “The school’s gonna be closin’ soon. They don’t let people loiter around afterhours.”

-

Twilight was not quite certain what to make of her new predicament. She was frankly quite amazed she’d managed to spin a believable tale about living far away from the school, being unable to commute due to losing her wallet and being basically stuck in town for the time being. Applejack had been quite insistent about making up for helping her with her punishment. As such Twilight found herself seated in the cabin of what she could only describe as a poniless carriage being pulled by a loud, somewhat sputtering machine. She believed Applejack had referred to it as a ‘jalopy’.

“So let me see if Ah got this straight…” said Applejack, seated in the middle of the cabin, “You’ve never been in a car, ya don’t have a phone and you learned all by just readin’?”

Twilight gulped, the sensation of sitting in the jalopy making her feel strangely queasy. The machine was dreadfully outdated compared to the ones she could see outside all around, many of them smaller, with shinier chasses, and seemed to made much less noise compared to the one they were in. Although she could have sworn one blaring music so loud, she could actually hear it perfectly over the revving of whatever form of engine this vehicle used.

“I’ve used computers a bit,” she replied, hugging her backpack, and by extension, Spike, whose revealed existence would have been inevitable regardless, closer to her body.

Applejack let out an amused laugh, thought not in any condescending or demeaning tone, “And Ah thought our family was the rustic kind. This has gotta be the first time meeting a downright luddite, right, Bag Mac?”

“Eeyup,” came the short, simple and to the point response of the human Big Macintosh. As was expected, he was big and burly even in this universe, though with a paler coloration of his skin and the white shirt underneath the red and green checkered jacket seemed to be strained against his sheer physique. He was controlling the vehicle though a series of pedals at his feet and a wheel his hands rested on.

I seriously need to appeal the princess for the possibility of further analysis into inter-dimensional surveying. There seem to be constants for nearly everypony it seems…

“Uh, yea. My family’s difficult that way,” Twilight chuckled awkwardly.

“Well Ah can assure you, you’ll get used to it out here,” Applejack affirmed, putting an arm around Twilight’s shoulder and giving her a reassuring pat, “Ah bet my butt you’d make it as a librarian or the like well enough, what with how fast you went through with that decimal system.”

Twilight saw Big Macintosh roll his eyes, though said nothing to add to the conversation (not that it was expected, given how soft-spoken Big Mac was to begin with). Twilight tried her best so smile casually, to be undone by the feeling of slight nausea.

“Oh… car sickness…” Applejack murmured, reaching past Twilight to roll down the side window.

After some time on the road, the fresh air, some effluents notwithstanding, having made the trip bearable for Twilight, coupled with Spike having the sudden urge to hold hid head out, his lopped ears and tongue flapping in the draft, the vehicle pulled up onto a larger property than most Twilight had seen. A sizable house took up the central space with a very small building reminding Twilight of the Sweet Apple Acres barn rose up beside it, before which Big Mac stopped the vehicle. She even spotted a little red barn-style doghouse to the side, making Twilight assume Winona also existed in this reality.

The buildings were a familiar hearty red, much like Applejack’s family farm in Equestria. There was more to the property past the barn-looking building compared to the predominately closed-off properties they’d passed: An orchard. Though less than half the size of the overall one encompassing Sweet Apple Acres. There were also some fenced areas in the distance where Twilight thought she could make out from quadruped animals, but wasn’t quite certain what kind.

Upon disembarking, Twilight’s legs felt slightly wobbly on part of the alleged ‘car sickness’ as Applejack had referred to it as. She was just glad to be on her legs again, even just the two of them currently. A deep breath and she felt none the worse, finally letting Spike out of her backpack, though surreptitiously motioned him to remain quiet for the time being.

“It’s very gracious of you to invite me to your home, Applejack,” Twilight meant that in the utmost sincerity. Though the notion of her living on the opposite side of town from them was furthest from the truth, feeling guilty about having to lie to someone who back home embodied honesty, having a roof to sleep under, plus the prospect of finally having something to eat was just too welcoming.

“It’s no problem whatsoever, Twilight,” the now confirmed farmgirl affirmed warmly, “You helped me, sure as hell won’t leave you lyin’ in the gutter!”

Hell? “Hopefully someone found my wallet and turned it in to the administration.”

“And said someone who found it wasn’t a friggin’ rat, like certain someones Ah know…” added Applejack, a hint of resentment in her voice as she walked past towards the house.

Twilight’s gaze followed the farmgirl in trepidation; just the tone that the usually positive Applejack she knew would never use. She then saw as Big Macintosh walked up, him too looking on after his sister, to which he glumly shook his head and sighed.

That’s when Twilight thought back to when she first saw this Applejack and Rainbow Dash in the school gymnasium. While she couldn’t recall the exact details, the boasting banter between the two… Was it less about boasts and more as genuine attempts at insults?

“Umm…” she looked at Big Mac, “Is there something going on between her and Rainbow Dash?”

Big Mac pocketed his hands, as he nodded, “Eeyup.”

“Do you know why?”

“Nope.”

“I’m guessing she hasn’t told you.”

“Eeyup.”

Typical stubborn Applejack, “Sorry for being nosy. I hope it’s not a problem.”

“Nope.”

Twilight went to follow Applejack to the house, when she heard a commotion out back. Going around the apple red house to the capacious side-yard, more familiar faces, quite literally regarding today, unveiled.

It was the Cutie Mark Crusaders, or whatever they called themselves, if anything, in this world, with Applebloom and Scootaloo in the middle of a duel. Applebloom, wearing a red and green duel disk matching her sister’s. Currently on her field were what looked like a bamboo shoot with stubby legs and face and a strangely colorful, giant mosquito with cartoony, cutesy eyes and a facedown.

Opposite of her stood Scootaloo, wearing a duel disk matching the colors of Rainbow’s, her side being taken up by a facedown card and what looked to be some form of four-wheeled vehicle much like the cars Twilight had seen on the road on the ride there; white with a red streak going horizontally across its entire form, and in place of headlights it had cartoony eyes and its wheels seemed to be extending out on bendy tubes. Its overall body looked hunched over.

“I summon ‘Steamroid’ in attack mode,” proclaimed Scootaloo as she placed a monster card onto her tray.

Before her emerged what looked to be a train caboose with similar frowning cartoony eyes at the front, with is frontmost wheels extended out on tube-like arms, looking like raised fists in its bendy posture. (Level 4, 1800/1800)

“Since your Bamboo Shoot stops me from using spell and trap cards, I’ll cut to the chase and attack it with Steamroid,” Scootaloo pointed out her target, “When attacking, Steamroid gains 500 attack points!”

Steamroid laid down on its front, its ‘arms’ reeling back into its body before rushing forth with a resounding honk of its train horn. (ATK 2300). It came upon the eponymous Bamboo Shoot (Level 5, 2000/2000) and rammed into it, causing it to erupt into bits before backing away to Scootaloo’s side once more.

Twilight continued to observe the two. Any duel now would serve as a vital lesson if she had any hopes of defeating Sunset Shimmer.

“Hey, aren’t you the one who bumped into the school door this morning?” Sweetie Belle’s dimensional counterpart asked, also observing the duel between her friends. So at least something in this world had remained constant from Equestria fortunately.

Twilight blushed in embarrassment, “Uh, yea… I was kind of out of it then…” she chuckled awkwardly, “So uh… You’re friends with the Apples?”

Sweetie Belle looked at Twilight, like she was appraising her, “Just with Apple Bloom really, Scootaloo and me.”

“Now that my spells and traps are usable again, I play my facedown: ‘Call of the Haunted’!” Scootaloo went on, her facedown revealing itself as some form of trap, “This lets me special summon a monster from my Graveyard in attack mode: So I’ll bring back ‘Expressroid’.”

The ground before Scootaloo seemed to shift, when from the ground arose another vehicle, this being something Twilight couldn’t quite recognize, looking like a train with one car, but without a caboose, the front end looking closer to a car’s, once again with the cartoony eyes. (Level 4, 400/1600)

“Expressroid’s effect lets me bring two “roid” monsters back into my hand; I choose to return Drillroid and Submarineroid,” he proclaimed cards of choice slid out of her graveyard slot and were added to her hand, “Then I attack Naturia Mosquito with Expressroid. So I only take 200 damage in total from its effect!”

“And that’s when Ah activate my trap card; ‘Naturia Sacred Tree’!” Apple Bloom responded, her facedown flipping up, “With this I sacrifice my Mosquito to summon one plant monster from my deck; and Ah pick ‘Naturia Rose Whip’, in defense mode,” Apple Bloom’s mosquito erupted into bits, to which her disk ejected her chosen card that she promptly placed on the tray.

From the ground arose a small, almost unassuming looking shut rose, the outside of its bloom bearing a grinning face, which seemed to titter in a comically high pitch, a plant tendril arising near it from the ground afterwards. (Level 3 400/1700)

“Okay, I take it back!” Scootaloo blurted, her Expressroid stopping its attempted ramming, “In that case I’ll end my battle phase. Then I’ll play-” when suddenly Rose Whip lashed with its tendril like the namesake weapon.

“Uh-uh,” called Apple Bloom wagging a playful finger, “You forget, Scoot. Naturia Rose Whip prevents you from playing more than one spell or trap per turn.”

Scootaloo looked flummoxed, then smacked her forehead, “Aw dang! I forgot about that…” she pouted, “I guess I’ll end my turn then.”

“Alright, my go!” Apple Bloom drew her card, “Ah summon ‘Naturia Marron’ in attack mode!”

From the summoning portal wafted out an oversized, fluffy yellow burr, a pair of comically large eyes somehow adhered to its surface. (Level 3, 1200/700)

“When ‘Naturia Marron’ is normal summoned, Ah can send one ‘Naturia’ monster from my deck to the Graveyard,” she chose a card which then went straight to the Graveyard, “Ah can then take two ‘Naturias’ from my Graveyard, shuffle ‘em back in and draw a card,” after two quick taps, two cards came out of the her graveyard, which she placed atop her deck and the duel disk shuffled it. She then drew a card.

“Then ah activate ‘Naturia Sacred Tree’s’ effect again,” Apple Bloom’s continuous trap’s image flashed, “By sacrificing a plant-type monster, like my Marron, Ah can special summon an insect-type monster from my deck. Ah summon ‘Naturia Mantis’, in attack mode!”

After Naturia Marron exploded into pixels, its place was immediately taken up by a cartoonishly adorable looking mantis, with expressive, adorable eyes, tiny pink flowers at the ends of its feelers and its sickle limbs looking similar to leaves. (Level 4 1700/1500)

“Ooh, I know where this is gonna go…” said Sweetie Belle with an excited expression.

“Ah tune my level three Naturia Rose Whip with my level four Naturia Mantis!” Apple Bloom declared with an overly theatrical throw of her hand towards the sky.

On cue, Naturia Rose Whip, with a final titter, burst into three, expanding green rings, whilst Naturia Mantis’s form glowed bright gold. Four orbs of light emerged from within it into a row, the rings settling around them in a straight line. A light erupted from within the rings.

“Nature’s denizens, take heart. The life-giving light shall awaken your ancient protector.”

“Synchro summon! Come on down! Level 7! ‘Naturia Landoise’!”

From within the light emerged a gargantuan sized creature composed of a sandy-brown stone. It craned its long neck, yawning profusely, revealing its shape as those of a tortoise, with the top of its domed shell being a veritable verdant green garden of colorful flowers, a single tree growing at the very top. (Level 7 2350/1600)

“And Ah use him to attack Expressroid for game!” Apple Bloom pointed with the same manner of theatrics.

The giant tortoise seemed to slowly step forth, looking about its surroundings with sleepy eyes. Down at its feet, Expressroid’s cartoony eyes distended out in a comedic manner when Landoise simply stepped on it, stomping the machine creature flat to the ground, to which the tortoise only looked around once more, seemingly oblivious to its actions before stepping back to Apple Bloom’s side of the field.

Scootaloo Life Points: (1700 – 1950) 0

Scootaloo simply pouted in defeat as both players emptied their graveyards, which, to Twilight’s amazement must have been filled with almost half their respective decks.

“Apple Bloom is really good, what with her basically locking down everything. Most of the time me and Scoots just try to see who can last the longest. This has got to be a new record with twelve turns at least,” Sweetie Belle elaborated.

“That was a good game, Scoots. So sorry that Ah just keep stoppin’ ya from summoning all the time,” Apple Bloom remarked as her duel disk finished disengaging.

“Eh,” Scootaloo brought her hands up behind her head leisurely, “Point is to win the way you see wanna. I’ll figure something out. Maybe.”

That’s when Apple Bloom and Scootaloo took notice of Twilight standing beside Sweetie Belle. Twilight waved at the two, trying to look as casual as she could, despite the awkward first time they met.

“Uh, hi?” Apple Bloom spoke up, looking unsure of the weird stranger from before standing on her lawn.

“Sorry, I was just watching you duel,” Twilight replied, “I’m Twilight Sparkle. Your sister invited me over after I helped her with a… problem.”

“Ah,” Apple Bloom seemed to feel at ease more, “Well, Ah’m Apple Bloom.”

“Scootaloo,” the purple-haired girl said casually, retaining her leisurely hands behind her head pose.

“Sweetie Belle,” the curly haired girl said brightly.

Now with introductions out of the way, it felt more natural to ask some crucial questions, “So I take it you saw the duel this morning?”

“Saw it? More like trying to stop it,” Apple Bloom crossed her arms, looking slightly resentful.

“It was all fine and good when Applejack and Rainbow Dash dueled for fun,” Scootaloo added, her arms slumping down to her sides, “It’s been this way ever since they were freshmen. Now all they do is fight.”

“Fight?” Twilight asked, internally flabbergasted.

“Yea. We all used to hang out together with our sisters at times,” Sweetie Belle added.

“Well, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle’s,” Scootaloo interjected, “Rainbow’s not my actual sister.”

“So, like an honorary?” Twilight asked, albeit already knowing the answer to it.

“Uh-huh,” Scootaloo confirmed, “But before we came to CHS, something just happened and now everyone’s distant or hates each other.”

“Distant…?” Twilight wondered. Granted, most of her time was spent in the school library, so she hadn’t exactly mingled with anyone. Overall, the only human outside all the dimensional counterparts she’d interacted with was Flash Sentry, who seemed nice enough. All the other students during her duel did come off as more standoffish, if not rude, “I’m new to the school. Could you tell me what you mean by that?”

The three girls looked among one another, a subtle sadness shared between them.

“Well, it looks like everyone’s just stickin’ with whoever is most similar,” Apple Bloom began.

“Like you’ve got tecchies, drama, the jocks,” Sweetie Belle counted down on her fingers, “And everyone’s completely at odds with everyone else.”

“I think we three are the only ones we know who remain together just because we’re friends…” Scootaloo looked down at her duel disk, “Even in dueling when it’s between someone different, there’s no fun to be had.”

“Especially with the fall formal mid-term match comin’ up; everyone seems even more on edge than usual,” Apple Bloom remarked.

That’s right, the duel for the position of Duel Queen or King, “Principal Celestia told me about it. So then how is it decided who faces the current champion?”

“Ah’m not entirely sure,” Apple Bloom shrugged, “But Ah think it’s based on rank an’ popular vote if needed.”

“Vote?”

“Yea. Every group has their own best duelist to represent them, but seeing as almost everyone only backs their own, it’s usually sudden death,” Scootaloo added, “At least that’s what Rainbow told me.”

“Hence the duel earlier today; Applejack and Rainbow are both representin’ the jock side, so-”

“Alright, hope everyone’s hungry, ‘cuz food’s on!” came the voice of Applejack, peering out a window. She looked over at the gathered group, looking much less enthused, “So, uh… You two stayin’ too or-?”

“Granny says it’s fine, Applejack!” Apple Bloom curtly interjected, Twilight noting the hint of frustration in the youngest Apple’s tone.

Applejack glanced to the side, her face unreadable, “Alright, alright. Just come on in ya’ll.”

“Hold that thought! I need to get Spike,” Twilight said, looking around, only now realizing him missing.

“Don’t ya’ll worry none; he’s inside, chattin’ it up with Winona,” Applejack chuckled, “Gotta say, she’s bein’ awful calm with a new friend an’ everythin’…”

-

Inside the human Apple household Twilight was given a pleasantly warm welcome from the family matriarch Granny Smith. Though she appeared slightly rotund compared to the wirier old mare in Equestria, Twilight could not help imagining that over half of the old woman’s girth must have been pure muscle, given the sheer force behind her handshake. Even Winona rushed over from somewhere in the house to greet the newcomer, hopping up against Twilight’s legs to no end until she was content with her sniffing and getting a desired petting.

At the table, Twilight was seated on one side along with Applejack and Big Macintosh, while Apple Bloom and her friends took to the other side, Apple Bloom being directly opposite of Twilight while Granny Smith took a place at the end adjacent to Twilight and her youngest grandchild.

Twilight, near starving as she had been through most of the day, made sure to stick to the vegetarian parts of the selection Granny Smith had prepared, knowing full well from her little research into humans that they, unlike ponies, were an omnivorous species that consumed the… cooked flesh of other animals. Thankfully Granny Smith did not seem to mind. Likely given that she was the head of the school cafeteria at CHS.

“So Applejack says yer family is some of them luddite folks,” Granny Smith commented in between.

Twilight smiled awkwardly, “You could say that.”

“Honestly, Ah don’t think the family farm would be doin’ good at all without the ol’ tractor if you ask me,” Granny Smith stated, “Though Ah have to admit, what with ya young’ns today with yer cellular phones and yer duel disks and yer Donny PlayMakers and yer…”

Twilight watched in awe as the old woman prattled on, adding increasingly confusing objects with seemingly no end abound. She leaned towards Applejack with a strong look of concern in her eyes.

“Should we be concerned about this?”

Applejack, after swallowing a mouthful only smiled wryly, “Nah. Granny does this every now an’ again. She’ll run out of steam sooner rather than later, Ah assure ya.”

“Eeyup.”

After eating her fill, and Spike being seemingly content with having dog food, Applejack bid Twilight to sit and relax while she and Big Mac helped Granny with the dishes. Just like back in Equestria, the overall house felt rather rustic. Settling in the quite homey living room, furnished with a large sofa with a coffee table in front, with a rocking chair to the side and the walls lined with a shelving unit, a hefty bookcase and most of the walls being covered in framed photos. In one corner left in perfect view from the couch was a large screen atop a low cabinet.

Twilight sighed from just being able to just sit back and relax for a spell, splaying her legs out just enough to not look like she was slouching, this being the first time that day where she could remove her shoes (which Granny Smith had been very adamant about). As she rested, she took the time to go over her deck anew. Her first duel with Flash played out in her mind, mentally chastising herself for such a simple error of failing to realize the opportunity to play ‘Spellbook Library of the Crescent’.

Apple Bloom suddenly appeared and seated herself next to Twilight to her left, while Sweetie Belle did the same to her right. Lastly Scootaloo simply leaned over the backrest, all of them seeming quite interested in Twilight and the deck she held.

“So you’re a luddite and a duelist?” Apple Bloom asked with a hint of confusion.

Twilight cleared her throat, not particularly fond of the current label she had to bear as part of her identity, “Well, my parents, more or less.”

“You do seem awfully keen about it,” Sweetie Belle remarked.

“Oh, I am,” Twilight said with much more enthusiasm than she originally intended, “I love learning about new things, so now that I’m out on my own, I figured it be time I learned it as well.”

“How many matches have you had?” asked Scootaloo, looking down at Twilight’s deck with interest.

Twilight inhaled sharply, “One, so far…”

The three girls looked at her with varying expressions of disbelief, Sweetie’s naturally being the least forthcoming of the trio, whereas Scootaloo’s jaw almost hung agape. Twilight tugged at the collar of her shirt, trying to come up with something to say to change the subject.

Of course! “We were talking about the fall formal match! The representation of all the cliques in school?”

Apple Bloom shook herself out of her bamboozled state, “Uh, yea. Applejack and Rainbow have been fightin’ over representation of the jock side, seein’ as Applejack doesn’t really belong to any of ‘em.”

I swear, it sounds like a dominance display more than anything, “So then, if Applejack and Rainbow Dash are the jock representatives, who are the rest?”

“There’s my sister, Rarity, for the fashionistas,” Sweetie Belle spoke up.

“Ah’m not entirely sure, but Ah think Fluttershy is representin’ the eco-kids,” Apple Bloom added, “Though Ah reckon she don’t like it none.”

That is very surprising to say the least…

“I think this year it’s Pinkie Pie representing the drama crowd,” Scootaloo looked up contemplatively, “Come to think of it; I think she was last year’s finalist against Sunset Shimmer.”

“Ya sure? Ah thought it was Flash Sentry from the rockers’ side,” asked Apple Bloom, though she did not sound entirely convinced of her own assumptions.

Great, so I dueled one of the figurative big fish for my first duel. I guess that’s somewhat of a comfort… I guess.

“So, figuratively speaking…” Twilight began, getting all three’s attentions, “If I were to defeat all the top contenders in this… dominance display they seem to have going on, I would have the chance of facing off against Sunset Shimmer… perhaps?”

A silence fell over the living room, broken only by Granny Smith’s chatter over from the kitchen.

“You’re actually trying to do that, aren’t you?” asked Scootaloo bluntly.

“… I am, yes,” Twilight admitted.

“I don’t know…” Sweetie Belle chimed in, “If you’ve only dueled once, I don’t see you having much of a chance.”

Regardless, it’s what I have to do. “I know,” Twilight nodded dejectedly.

“If you don’t mind me askin’, Twilight. Why are ya’ll so keen when you just got here?” Apple Bloom asked.

Twilight looked back, hearing Applejack talk back to Granny Smith about something. Based on the tone audible, it would seem Granny Smith might not have been too happy about a certain occurrence earlier that morning.

“I may not be much of a duelist,” Twilight began, “And I might not know next to anyone around here… yet. But…”

She thought back to what she’d beheld that very day. The hostility between Applejack and Rainbow Dash, the overall spiteful attitude of many of the students over her first performance as a duelist. And now with the added insight into the internal conflicts within CHS. Twilight wasn’t certain over the finer details as to how and why it’s all happened, and while she desperately needed to get her crown back, she could not just sit back idly in such a matter. When she first arrived in Ponyville, she was not so different from the students of CHS. Until she learned something that made life ultimately better.

“But I feel it only right that I remedy this dilemma at CHS. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like spending my time there dealing with animosity, and I doubt neither do you.”

To this she was met with unanimous nods.

“So how’s this for a fun afternoon activity?” she held up her deck, “You showing this novice more of the ropes?

Duel #4: Revelations: The Power to Change the World

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As the afternoon transitioned into evening, Twilight let Apple Bloom and her friends turn to their own devices once it was decided best to no longer cause a ruckus with the sounds of their dueling. It was here when Applejack informed her that she would be rooming with her for the night. Like the rest of the house, Applejack’s room was equally rustic in its décor; simplistic and minimal with a bed, a drawered desk, a bookcase and a closet. The only contemporary elements being what looked to be a miniaturized variant of a computer with the screen attached to the component that Twilight had learned was referred to as a keyboard, along with the red and green duel disk settled on top of a shelf along with some trophies and ribbons hanging off the edge.

As Applejack was busy rummaging through the closet, Twilight took note of a series of portraits hung up above her bed and nightstand. One was of Applejack as a child along with Big Macintosh and her holding onto a baby Apple Bloom. At the very top was a photo of a man whose physique matched that of Big Macintosh, with bright yellow skin and wearing what had to be the same Stetson as Applejack, and a smaller woman with dark cream skin and frizzled, bright orange hair with freckles similar once again to Applejack. It didn’t take much to come to the conclusion who those were. Twilight decided to not refrain from saying anything; the Applejack she knew back home did not like talking about it either.

Applejack emerged out of the closet, a rolled up green sleeping bag clutched under one arm, “Found it!” she proclaimed, setting the rolled-up bedding beside the nightstand, “Took a while since Ah haven’t had a use for it for quite a while.”

Twilight couldn’t help but smile at the hint of nostalgia, “It kind of reminds me of my first slumber party.”

Applejack sat down on her bed, crossing her legs and leaning back, “Must be tough. Ah mean comin’ out on your own, new school and whatnot,” she remarked, “Just a shame it had to be durin’ the fall formal match fast approachin’.”

Twilight looked over at the farm girl. She gingerly sat herself down at the foot of Applejack’s bed, to which Applejack sat up straight, leaning forward, looking as if she were expecting a question, “Applejack… If it’s not too much of a bother… That is, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, if that’s alright.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, I had a talk with Apple Bloom and her friends out back.”

“Yea; you lot seemingly took a shine to one another,” Applejack interjected, “Uh, sorry. You were sayin’?”

“I heard… That is to say, the girls told me you and their sisters, or equivalent, used to be friends,” Twilight stated, “And that there’s something come between you and-”

Applejack suddenly sprang up from the bed, “Ah gotta go check on the chicken coop!” she downright blurted out as she walked briskly out the room, leaving a staggered Twilight sitting on the bed.

It was only a moment after when Spike entered the room, glancing behind him before hopping up next to Twilight.

“What was she in a hurry for?” the dog inquired, idly scratching his head with a hind paw.

“I… don’t know,” Twilight replied slowly, “Speaking of, what have you been doing this entire time?”

Spike imitated what could best be interpreted as a shrug, “Couldn’t speak to anyone, so I was just talking to Winona.”

Twilight looked down at the dragon turned dog in surprise, “Wait, you can actually talk to dogs now?”

“Yea. I was just as surprised as you are!” he exclaimed in response, “Now I know what it’s like to be Fluttershy. Surprisingly, Winona was pretty eloquent and had a lot of interesting thoughts to share…”

Twilight glanced to the side for no particular reason other than the further rising questions pertaining to inter-dimensional travel on top of the scores already in her mind, “So… What did the two of you talk about?”

“I think the better question would be why Applejack nearly stormed outside,” Spike interjected, “Seriously, did something happen?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Twilight shrugged, “I tried asking her about what’s happened between her and Rainbow Dash. Then she just storms off.” Twilight shook her head, “If there’s any doubt; that is definitely an Applejack. Stubborn and obstinate when she can be…”

“Oh Twilight, I thought I knew you better than this…” Spike chortled as he leapt off the bed, “With someone as stubborn as Applejack, you gotta be more indirect…”

“What are you on about?” Twilight asked, watching the purple dog look through a series of lined books at the bottom of Applejack’s nightstand.

“You probably didn’t spot it from up there, but see, I saw this when I came in,” elaborated the dog, pushing his weight down on the upright row, toppling them on their other side, exposing something that looked much more out of place.

It was a small picture frame nestled at the very back of the line of books. Twilight knelt to the floor and reached for it, the image having been hidden unveiling itself. Five familiar faces stared out towards her from the photo, sending a wash of fondness through Twilight’s very soul.

It was a photo of five girls whom she instantly recognized. At the far left, slightly leaning, grasping a sports ball of some kind against her, a pair of goggles hanging loosely from her neck was Rainbow Dash. Her streaked hair was worn loose, unlike the flayed tail she’d seen the modern-day one at the gymnasium sport. A confident grin adorned her face.

Next to her seated on a bench was definitely Pinkie Pie, even at a glance, her hair seeming even more frazzled than normal, sporting an impossibly wide grin accented with both hands held to the sides of her face, her fingers extended into a V at either side of her mouth.

Nestled in between all five was Fluttershy, looking slightly nervous, both hands, with the fingers curved inwards below her face. Despite all of that, she seemed to have managed a slight smile, her eyes diverted in the direction of Pinkie, who’s arm had obstructed her just slightly.

After her, the last one on the bench was a girl with alabaster white skin with a purple head of hair that was styled into a graceful curl at the front, her legs held to the side in a sultry, neat pose. It could be nonother than Rarity. What caught Twilight’s eye in particular was her holding onto a hand over on her right shoulder, belonging to Applejack who stood to Rarity’s left, very close to her in fact, as the farmgirl looked up at the camera with a wide, upbeat smile, her other hand holding over her Stetson.

“It’s our friends,” Twilight said in a hushed tone, holding the frame in both hands, seeing them just as they were back home, of course herself missing from the group. Which begs the question: Shouldn’t there also be a “me” in this world as well? Or am I not at the stage where we were to meet…

As Twilight’s mind wandered into the uncomfortable territory at the possibility of the deterministic universe, Spike crawled onto her lap from underneath, “So is there a Rarity in this world too… Is she holding hands with Applejack?”

Twilight paid no mind to Spike’s question pertaining to his boyhood… puppyhood… whichever, crush as she perched the portrait onto the nightstand proper, “At least this proves that they were friends once…”

That’s when Twilight noticed another, smaller picture frame behind the lamp on the nightstand, turned towards the wall, looking like it had been deliberately hidden. She stood up from her kneeling position and reached around to pick it up. Turning it around, she saw that it was a picture of Applejack, with the other half being covered by, surprisingly, a facedown Duel Monsters card. She slid the card off and examined it.

The card bore the image of a beautiful woman with beautiful golden hair flowing in the breeze. The figure was turned away from the viewer, only the side of her face visible. Her garments consisted of a beautiful soft red, frilly dress, with rose décor lining said frills, the back largely exposed, while a golden tiara adorned her head. The background was a softly painted view of roses blowing in the breeze with her hair. Twilight also noticed the rather sizable obstructions on the woman’s chest, her mind for a moment going back to her attempts at understanding their reason for being, when she noticed something peculiar in the image. Should the woman’s hair be tied back near the end, and if the tiara was replaced with a specific kind of hat, she would look quite similar to a certain someone.

“Rose Lover…” Twilight read aloud the name inscribed upon the card. She then looked at the photograph, now unobstructed. Her eyes widened upon beholding it entirety.

The photo was of Applejack and Rarity, Applejack standing behind Rarity with the two of them at a slightly sideward angle, with her arms wrapped around Rarity’s stomach, all the while her head rested against the purple-haired girl’s left shoulder. Rarity’s left arm in turn was folded up so as to hold her hand against the side of Applejack’s head. The both of them were smiling happily in the photo, with Rarity looking a shade or two redder and looked close to a joyous laugh.

Twilight’s attention was diverted at the sound of a disgruntled cough. Applejack stood just a few feet in from the door, arms crossed, her left brow raised much akin to the very expression her Equestrian counterpart would do. Twilight found herself at a loss for words from getting caught.

Twilight stammered uncontrollably, the photo and Rose Lover still in her hands as Applejack approached, “Ah guess your folks didn’t teach you to not go prying into other people’s matters…”

Frankly, all Twilight could do at this point was to just look apologetically at Applejack, handing her the photo, expecting the farmgirl to snatch it away in anger. To her surprise, she simply took it and slumped down, looking down at the photo, her expression quickly dissolving from anger to an expression of sadness. She looked almost longing as she looked down at the image. Her shoulder lowered in a sigh.

“Well…” she began, her hand limping down, the picture hanging from her fingers, “Ah guess that answers at least some of your questions, at any rate…” she looked away, “Goddammit, Apple Bloom…”

“So then… you were friends,” Twilight stated, “I just don’t understand-”

“More than just friends, some of us,” Applejack interjected, looking back at the photo of her and Rarity, “Her name’s Rarity. We all knew each other way back from grade school. But her and me, we were always pretty close…”

Applejack’s initial anger aside, it seemed being an impromptu sleuth had at least some results, what with the farmgirl openly spilling the beans now, awful as it made Twilight feel having ostensibly forced her.

She watched as Applejack gripped the photo in both hands, leaning her elbows on her knees, “She’s all about fashion an’ designin’ things and lookin’ pretty, while Ah’m just a simple to-the-point, roughin’-it country gal. But we understood each other.” She looked up in reminiscence, Twilight being able to make out the tiniest hints of a smile, “Ah’ve relatives livin’ in Manehatten, the Oranges. Now, we don’t see ‘em very often, just on those few rare occasions. Anyway, they’re these very uptight, prim and proper, ya know? We don’t get along…”

Twilight simply nodded. It was similar to the story behind the Equestrian Applejack and how she originally obtained her cutie mark.

“Now Rarity; on the outside, she wants to be the definition of classy,” a chuckle escaped Applejack’s lips, looking back down at the phot, “But she also understood me, and Ah just couldn’t help but admire that about her… We always supported each other, helped one another when needin’ help…”

“So you…”

Applejack nodded solemnly, “Yea. Ah loved her…”

Twilight largely ignored the sudden cringe she heard from Spike. She looked at the farmgirl, her entire form and being a clear indicator, that something happened between her and Rarity. Twilight scooted closer, placing a comforting hand on Applejack’s shoulder.

“What happened?”

Applejack glanced up, pointing at the group photo Twilight had propped up on the nightstand. “Ah found out she was cheatin’ on me… With Rainbow Dash,” she uttered the name in utter contempt.

Twilight looked at the photo in disbelief. Perhaps it was presumptuous of her to assume these five people who looked like her friends and lead completely different lives from her friends, maybe even naïve, but Twilight simply could not believe it. The Fluttershy she met in the gymnasium that morning was similar to the shy and sweet mare from Ponyville. This Applejack was just as obstinate and stubborn as the farm-mare from Sweet Apple Acres, and just now in all honesty admitted her feelings. Even that short moment she’d spotted the alternate Pinkie Pie gave her vibes of the bouncy, completely random smiling pink mare.

And there were the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ counterparts to consider. They seemed hurt too by this wedge driven between friends. Twilight remembered Apple Bloom having to note Granny Smith’s approval for Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo staying over. Was their friendship so strained that it threatened to pull the trio apart too?

“What makes you say-”

Before Twilight could finish, Applejack held up a hand, “Twilight, just…” she sighed, “Ah know you’re tryin’ to help. Really, Ah do. But that’s just how it is. Sometimes people aren’t the way you thought you knew ‘em. Ah’ve accepted that, an’ so should you.” And with finality, she took both photos and shut them in the nightstand draw, out of sight and out of mind, “There’s a towel set out for you in the bathroom. Just… Ah need to be alone now.”

Feeling dejected, Twilight said nothing in protest as Applejack went over to her desk and powered on the miniature computer for whatever activity. Twilight, deciding to give the girl her requested privacy, exited the room. She might as well get cleaned up since she had the chance, for she felt Applejack would not be so willing to extend this invitation further, should things go awry tomorrow.

She noticed the card, Rose Lover, had been in her hand since Applejack had walked in on her and Spike sleuthing. Looking at the card, Twilight began to piece the puzzle in her mind. Applejack outwardly seemed made up in her mind that she no longer had her friends and… her girlfriend. But if so, why had she kept both pictures close? Particularly Rarity’s she had so poorly hidden behind a lamp. And this card. What did it mean?

Walking into the bathroom, fumbling slightly with the lock, Twilight set the card on the sink countertop as far away from any water sources as possible before starting to undress. When she’d gotten her top unbuttoned, she’d uncovered that the obstructions on her chest were further covered by some form-fitting sling.

“So that’s why it’s felt so tight constantly!” she blurted, trying to look for a means of removing the garment from her body.

-

Twilight lay on the floor, huddled up in the sleeping bag provided.

After getting out of the shower, Applejack had remained very much untalkative, only to inform her of the wakeup call. Twilight had thought of trying to approach the farmgirl in some alternative ways, but the most she’d get out of her was a curt “uh-huh”, if not just silence. Applejack had turned from initially friendly to passively resentful of her it seemed.

Twilight simply pulled the loose flap of fabric over half her face, sighing exasperatedly, and longingly. It had only been a day in this new world, and she already felt very much homesick. Not just from the physical alterations to her being, but from the overall mood of this dimension. It felt as if this world felt much more distant in terms of its people’s interactions.

Taking a look at Spike curled up beside her atop a cushion, Twilight resigned to try and get some rest; rolling to her side and closing her eyes. When she eventually felt to be on the cusp of sleep, she suddenly realized as if she could feel something out of place in the room. She saw Spike fast asleep beside her, to which she turned around and hefted herself up, seeing Applejack lying on her bed back facing towards her.

Twilight sat up, when in an instant she noticed someone sitting on Applejack’s desk chair. It was a human woman, albeit much taller than any other she’d seen, to the point that she had one leg stretched out, whilst the other was bent up due to how low the chair seemed for her height alone. She was dressed entirely in white, composed of thigh-high boots, gloves that went well past her elbows, a bisected skirt and a top that seemed to reveal her belly and much of her upper chest and seemed to fold around her rather large chest obstructions, complete with a large pendant covering up the cleft that would be between them. A white pointed hat, albeit drooping at the top just slightly and having an almost impractically wide rim, adorned her back-length, striking pink head of hair. Several lengths of cloth hung off at various parts of her clothing bearing symbols Twilight could have sworn to have mistaken for magic sigils. She was quite casually looking down at an iridescent green book or tome grasped in one hand, to which Twilight realized her entire being was giving off a soft whitish glow. She glanced at Twilight, her striking emerald eyes looking towards the alicorn-turned-human, a small smile forming on her lips as she did so.

Uncertain what to think of, Twilight tried reach for Applejack, when the woman slowly held up her hand.

“You need not fear, Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria,”

Twilight blinked in confusion when an ethereal voice sounded in her head, the tone sounding soft, and distinctly female.

“I am communicating directly to your mind and soul,” the voice answered just when Twilight was thinking of the exact same, “It would be best if you were to follow suit, so as not to awaken your friends. Not many know of my kind’s existence, and for the time being, I feel it best it remain as such.”

“Some form of telepathic communication?” Twilight wondered.

Once more in direct response to her mind, the voice responded, “That would be the common denominator. I am speaking to you through my thoughts through what could best be described as a connection between our souls.”

It was there that Twilight was not certain what to think, or feel, her mind drawing a blank. Although she was also uncertain if she felt comfortable with whomever this was hearing her thoughts. Twilight, a test of sorts, brought her hands to her temples and tried to focus her mind into a more straightforward form.

“Who… Or what are you?”

The woman simply smiled as she soundlessly shut the tome in her hand, “I have had many a name and title throughout the ages. Somewhere, somewhen, I was known as Hecate. Elsewhere I was called Isis. Or Anahita. But for now, in this incarnation, I am simply the Priestess. It is an honor to finally meet you proper, your Highness…” She bowed her head, as much as she could from her position for the time being.

Twilight felt a tinge of awkwardness at being referred to as a highness, “If it’s alright, I feel prefer to just be called Twilight…”

“As you wish.”

“Then… How do you know who I am?”

The Priestess in a casual display leaned her head against her hand, “I have been observing you since the moment you picked up my card.”

Twilight quietly reached for her backpack, taking out the white deck box and out of that her, or rather, Sunset’s deck. True enough, there was High Priestess of Prophecy on top. “So then… This is the magic princess Luna warned me about?”

“I am, in a way, a part of that, yes. I am what you may refer to as a spirit. I come from a world hidden from mortal perceptions, inhabiting the very space as this one, only in a different dimension. Myself and others like me can manifest ourselves in this world through various means. Including what you refer to as “Duel Monsters”.”

Twilight contemplated on what the Priestess had just said, thinking that what she had beheld so far was just a highly advanced form of technology creating hollow images that did not have actual physical presence, “So then… What I’ve seen before: I thought they were just illusions.”

“For the most part, they are,” the Priestess shrugged. “Many of these monsters you’ve witnessed are mere hollow imitations of the true thing, recreated by human hands different from how it was ages past.”

Twilight pursed her lips, “Ages past? I’m sorry, my knowledge on this world’s history is very limited so far…”

“There is no need to apologies, Twilight. What most people don’t understand, that what they think of as merely a game and pastime, goes back beyond even the very origins of their civilizations. To a time when the primal magics of this world reigned, which humans sought to harness for their own ends.”

Twilight did not say, or rather, think, at least not directly, her mind focusing entirely on what the Priestess was telling her.

“In their pride, many early civilizations, much like how they thought they can control fire, or the land, or beasts, they thought they could control the power of this very universe they inhabit. In their hubris they created the Games of Darkness…”

“Games of Darkness?” Twilight felt a shiver crawl up her spine.

“Yes. Humans would use the powers of the universe to break the barriers between worlds to summon beings much like myself, and use us for their trivial conquests or entertainment of haughty lords. By great fortune, humanity eventually fell away from their connection to the powers of the world, until not too long ago, when the Games of Darkness were rediscovered and made into its current incarnation.”

Twilight looked at the deck from the dreadful realization of what the spirit was telling her, “So Duel Monsters is the Games of Darkness rediscovered… And people are actively marketing it to the masses?!”

The Priestess shifted her position, crossing one leg over the other, “Quite so. In most cases it’s a mere imitation. Of course, in the wrong hands, someone could very much evoke the very powers of the Game of Darkness once again. Which is why I have been observing you.”

Twilight had a strong inkling as to what the Priestess was telling her. Humans indeed had seemed to have no aptitude or true interest in magic, or even the ability to even harness it like very much everypony did in Equestria, where magic was just as much a part of them as it was of the land. Of course, there was one, or now two, beings Twilight knew of whom had understanding and aptitude in magic. Not the very same magic they were used to, but no doubt if they knew well enough what they had to work with, they could surely find a way to harness this otherworldly magic too.

“You mean Sunset Shimmer.”

Twilight flinched when the Priestess suddenly appeared sitting next to her, in a rather sultry pose with her legs sandwiched to the side, one arm supporting her upper body whilst the other levitated her tome.

“Yes. My former charge, Sunset Shimmer, poses such a danger to this world…” to which her tome opened up, the pages unveiling an event earlier that day, across dimensions.

“A former student of mine. She began her studies with me, not long before Twilight. But when she could not get what she desired, she turned down a path of darkness,” Celestia’s head lowered in regret, “I tried to help her, but during our last encounter, she fled in anger through the very mirror you spoke of.”

Twilight was barely able to prevent herself from gasping at the vision as it played out before her and sounded in her very mind. Was Celestia aware of some of the machinations in the human world? But if so, what would Sunset need the Element of Magic for in the first place?

“Did Sunset summon you like the sorcerers of old?”

The Priestess shook her head as the tome closed, “Sunset did not bring me here. I came to her of my own volition.”

“Why?”

“Spirits are drawn to persons of greatness. Sunset Shimmer and you are not to only mortals to have us come to them. Many have come before you, drawn by many characteristics of their person; their personal power, their drives, virtues, vices. Sunset’s very nature as an anomaly to this world is what drew me to her initially. To us, the two of you are veritable flames in pitch blackness: You possess power unlike any mortal.

Twilight could not help but look upon herself, another realization dawning on her, “So that’s what that was! You’re the one I sensed back in the library! I can still sense magic even here!”

The Priestess nodded, in confirmation, but then her features appeared to sadden, “But… When I peered into Sunset Shimmer’s very soul; I saw loneliness and anger swelling within her. At first, I tried to help steer her in the right direction, just as your ruler Celestia tried. But over time the anger and hatred bloomed within her, and she could no longer hear me. I know not what she intends with the crown she stole from you. But I fear what might happen should she try to use the Element of Magic, something very alien to this world.”

“It’s why I’m here. I’ve come to take back the Element of Magic to Equestria where it belongs!”

The Priestess looked at Twilight, her smile returning, “And right the wrongs my former master has wrought upon the students of CHS?”

Twilight watched as the Priestess looked over at the sleeping form of Applejack. Twilight followed her gaze.

“Sunset was… She was responsible?”

“I can hear its heartbreak…”

“‘It’s’?” Twilight looked confusedly at the spirit.

“The card she had hidden along with the image of her beloved. I can hear its anguish.”

“But… How can that be? How can this thing too have a spirit? Or are you saying Apple Bloom’s Naturia Pineapple is a spirit too?!”

The spirit seemed to stifle a giggle at Twilight’s befuddlement, “It possibly can, or will. That is how many a spirit has come to existence before. Have you ever wondered how a god attains its power?”

Twilight turned her deck around, having placed the Rose Lover card on the other side of it so as not to get it mixed up.

The Priestess looked down upon the card with a subtle sadness in her eyes, “This card was a present from the one who loved Applejack. So strong was that love, that the sheer emotion poured into this card birthed a fledgling spirit tied to those very emotions. It may not have the enormity of a people’s adoration, or fear, for a god, but it still carries with it the love, and sadness, of who first bore those feelings.”

Twilight looked at the card with a newfound fascination, and all the same, she too began to feel a strange ache inside. Maybe a side-effect of this mental channel between her and a spirit being, but she did exhibit a sense of melancholy all the same.

“This… is a whole lot to take in… So in this world a person’s emotional resonance can affect an object?”

“Such is the nature of the Games of Darkness. It can be used to destroy, but, as a part of the primordial energies of this world, it can be used to create. It’s not that much different when a sculptor puts their heart and soul into their craft, or a poet to their words, or a storyteller to their tales.”

Twilight looked at the dosing Applejack, her eyes trailing in the direction of her nightstand draw. Twilight place a hand over Rose Lover, like placing a comforting hand upon someone’s form.

“I understand what I need to do now.” She looked up at the spirit of the Priestess, “Thank you, for trusting me to reveal yourself to me.”

The spirit smiled, standing up with her emerald tome in one hand, “I had a good feeling about you being the one who could stop my former charge. When the times comes, I will stand by your side.”

Twilight smiled at the spirit in gratitude, “Thank you. And hopefully, by the time the day is up tomorrow, I’ll have others willing to stand by my side too.”

The Priestess gave a quizzical smile, “What do you intend to do?”

“I intend to use the most powerful magic of them all to make things right…” Twilight stated, quietly edging the nightstand draw open.

-

A soft nudging to her shoulder, made Twilight groan in protest. Her eyes strained from the discomfort of light peering through her lids, the scent of old wood and varnish being the first thing she could address in her mind.

“Hey, Twi,” a familiar southern twang softly spoke, “Rise and shine there.”

At such gentle urging, Twilight managed herself to sit up, feeling and hearing the joints in her body creak from the less than ideal cushioning provided by the sleeping back. Clambering on all fours, her hands balled into first, she stretched her back, stifling a yawn as her body addressed the notion that she still possessed fingers.

She rubbed the crust coagulated at the rims of her eyes, “Morning, Applejack.”

Applejack seemed somewhat amused by the odd wake-up pose before Twilight properly stood up on two feet, a shudder running down her form as her body was newly acclimated to the pose, “Floor wasn’t too hard on ya, was it?”

“No, I’m fine,” Twilight muttered, craning her neck. She looked at the farmgirl, who seemed already fully dressed instead of in the crinkled top and shorts she’d last seen her in, “You’re looking bright.”

“Oh, Ah woke up hours ago,” Applejack declared with a subtle pride in her tone. “When your family owns a farm, it comes natural.”

“So I noticed,” Twilight muttered, yawning into her hand.

Applejack, seemingly less upset than she was last night, looked over at something, “You know, Ah could’a sworn I’d put that thing away proper last night…” she noted regarding her chair, which had been left pulled out from under her desk and swiveled sideways.

Twilight’s eyes widened from slight surprise. She’d almost thought that what she witnessed last night had been in her head, until upon further introspection.

“Hey, Applejack,” Twilight spoke, looking at the farmgirl, “I’m sorry about last night. I realize I overstepped my boundaries. I was simply concerned over what Applebloom had said to me.”

Applejack gave a lax wave of a hand, “Aw, that’s alright. Just, uh, maybe not make a habit out of it in the future. Alright?”

Twilight simply nodded, again feeling quite uncertain in regards to everything that happened, and what would happen, if everything went according to plan.

Duel #5: Mending Hearts: The Beautiful Warrior

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The morning had been thankfully uneventful after Twilight’s apology. After breakfast, which Applejack had prepared herself for Twilight, before waking her up, perhaps as a subtle gesture of forgiveness, there had to be a division on who traveled with whom to CHS. Big Macintosh, would ride Granny Smith and one person more in the jalopy, while the rest would need to take the school bus as they referred to it.

Twilight offered to commute with Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo while the rest of the Apple family took the jalopy. Everyone was surprisingly open to the idea, mostly due to the human Cutie Mark Crusaders having taken a genuine liking for Twilight after the time they’d spent together practicing Duel Monsters.

The commute to school was onboard a long, yellow automobile, helpfully labelled as a school bus on its sides, like a much larger variant of a Manehatten taxi, only pulled by whatever engine it utilized (which, based on a dark gaseous exhaust expelled by all the mechanical vehicles, might have been combustion based). Twilight and the girls sat near the back, her having insisted she take the window in case of the phenomenon Applejack referred to as car sickness as she had suffered yesterday.

As the bus went on, Twilight, having seemingly no problems as of yet, saw as Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo leaned over the back of their seat.

“I guess you now know the reason, huh?” Sweetie Belle asked. “About our sisters.”

“How did you…?” Twilight inquired, when the curly-haired girl held up both hands.

“I wasn’t spying on the two of you, honest! I was going downstairs when I heard the two of you and I eavesdropped… I guess that is spying then, isn’t it?” she murmured sheepishly.

“If it were up to Applejack, we prolly wouldn’t even be able to hang out afterschool. Ah gotta have Granny Smith at my back, like yesterday, and obviously we can’t hang around Sweetie’s house,” Apple Bloom emphasized.

“And my mine’s in the exact opposite direction of either, so the commute is murder,” Scootaloo muttered, lazily resting her chin against the backrest, looking dour, “Plus Rainbow doesn’t seem to like me hanging near AJ.”

Alright, that felt like going well over the line as far as Twilight was concerned, what with Scootaloo not being Rainbow’s sister, and even if she were it’d been overboard.

Twilight looked among the three girls. With everything she’d learned about her friends’ dimensional counterparts and how the symbolic wedge had come between thanks to Sunset Shimmer, she at the very least owed it to those three and hopefully rekindle the shared kinship between their sisters (and equivalent). Twilight gave the three a reassuring smile.

“Don’t worry, I’ll do my utmost to try and fix this. It’s the least I can do for three good teachers.”

-

The bus came to a halt in a parking lot behind the school, several other busses having already arrived while a few more were still pulling up. The passengers filed out in a haphazard manner, with Twilight and her three friends coming up among the last. The three of them made their way to the crowding back entrance, when Apple Bloom bid them to the side.

“Twilight, since you’re goin’ out of your way to help us, and since you’re serious about gettin’ at Sunset Shimmer,” she handed Twilight a card, which she fanned out into three, “Me and the girls want you to borrow these. Maybe you can use ‘em if ya find yourself in a pickle.”

Though hesitant at first, Twilight accepted the loan. As the crowd of students began to flow into the school proper, the four began to follow suit, when Scootaloo looked up at Twilight;

“So what exactly are you gonna do?”

Twilight eyed the crowd, intentionally trying to see if she could spot a certain someone, “First off, there’s someone I need to talk to…”

As the crowd thinned further indoors, Twilight went looking around. The striking pink hair was easy to spot, finding Fluttershy going through her locker down the same hallway where the gymnasium was.

“Good morning, Fluttershy,” Twilight spoke softly, given the counterpart in question.

The human Fluttershy peeked from behind her locker’s hatch, seemingly only slightly surprised, “Oh! Um, Twilight, right?” she stuttered, closing the locker. “Good morning,” she smiled in slight nervousness, “Um, I saw your duel yesterday. It was… It was fine. That is, for a beginner. N-not that I’m saying you are a beginner, but-”

Twilight lifted her hands dismissively, “No, no it’s alright.” She smiled sheepishly, “I hope you don’t mind, but I kind of need your help again.”

Fluttershy gingerly pointed at herself, “Me? Well, of course I would love to help… That is, I’m not so sure I can, n-not that I want to disappoint or anything!”

Twilight couldn’t help but smile, if a bit uneasily, at just how almost exact the human girl was to her mare counterpart.

“It’s nothing complicated; I would just like to ask if you’d know where I can find Rarity,” she elaborated.

Fluttershy looked at her with an undetermined expression, “Why are you looking for Rarity?”

Twilight looked around, then motioned Fluttershy to lean in, “I spent the night over at Applejack’s house; she insisted since I helped her with her probation in the library yesterday (please don’t tell anyone). I assume you knew of her and Rarity’s relationship from before…”

Fluttershy seemed to visibly flinch at Twilight’s words, taking a step back, pressing against her locker with a look of trepidation on her features. When Fluttershy failed to respond for a moment, Twilight apprehensively tried to approach her, when at last the pink-haired shy girl spoke up;

“They were two of my best friends,” she murmured, her gaze falling to the floor. “But… Ever since that Valentine’s Day… That’s when everything fell apart. It’s been awfully lonely since then.”

Twilight looked at her… She wanted to earnestly think friend, but… No, no, this Fluttershy, as far as she was concerned, she counted as a friend. She was the first among the school to approach her openly as a friend, allowing her to observe the duel between Rainbow Dash and Applejack through her duel disk’s spectator function, and was kind enough to direct her without asking. If there was a constant between the two dimensions, she was certain that this Fluttershy was just as kind and caring as the one back home.

Twilight took Fluttershy’s hand and held it between hers, giving the shy girl a reassuring smile, to show that she was not alone, “Fluttershy, do you know what exactly happened that day?”

Fluttershy seemed to blush slightly from Twilight’s gesture, “W-well, all I know is that… at least, as far as I know, Applejack stood up on Rarity that afternoon when they were meant to go someplace special together…”

Applejack did say Rarity was purportedly cheating on her… “Do you by any chance recall anything else? Perhaps something you did that day; did you talk to either of them? Or perhaps anything about what Rainbow did that day…?”

Fluttershy brought her free hand to her chin, looking to be deep in thought. She hummed contemplatively, her lips pursing, trying her best to try and remember.

“I think I remember me and Rainbow having helped Rarity with something…” she muttered, furrowed her brow. “Hold on, maybe it was… I think… I can’t remember the exact details…”

When Twilight was about to relent, Fluttershy looked up in a sudden realization, to which she looked at Twilight, “That’s when Rarity hugged and kissed-!” she had to stop herself midway through the sentence when some students cast confused stares at her. She ducked her head, edging closer to Twilight, who in turn did her best to keep her composure, glancing side-to-side idly.

When everyone else’s attention seemed to veer away, Fluttershy muttered, “Rarity hugged and kissed Rainbow Dash for something we did. I don’t remember the details… And there also went my train of thought…”

At least Twilight now had something to go by. If Sunset Shimmer was involved, as the Priestess had claimed, perhaps she’d used that moment as a means of misconstruing the situation in some way.

“Um, excuse me, Twilight,” Fluttershy uttered, still standing perhaps a tad too close, what with her larger chest obstructions pressing against Twilight’s upper arm awkwardly, “Why are you so interested in all of this?”

Twilight looked at Fluttershy, adorning an expression of determination, “Because I want to help,” she stated firmly. “Not just Applejack and Rarity, but also three concerned sisters who are afraid that their friendship will only be strained by all of this,” she looked at nothing in particular, indicating everyone still in the hallway.

She could see subtle hints pertaining to what the Cutie Mark Crusaders had told her of the school from the inside. Most students went about on their own, alone, perhaps in pairs, while seeming to ignore or purposefully avoid one another. The odd few would be conversing with one another, though not very openly, which, despite the number of students, added barely anything to the clamor in the hallways, which already felt rather quiet to begin with. She could have sworn earlier on to have seen two boys casting antagonistic notions at one-another not long after she came in. It felt overall quite hollow, for lack of a better description, compared to when she went to school. She might have been the odd one out, being more focused on her studies than camaraderie, but she was not so oblivious as to have never noticed the coming and goings of her fellow students.

“Yesterday I found out much about what’s been going around this school. That everyone just sequesters themselves to their own cliques instead of coming together to share their differences. I may be new here, and some might just say I need to get in line and stick to my own kind from here on out,” she looked back at Fluttershy, “All for what? To see whose side is best in regard to this?” she used one hand to fish out her deck box. “I don’t know about you, but I do not want to go to school in a place of enmity.”

Fluttershy finally had the courage to back off from Twilight. The pink-haired girl seemed to look her over, as if she were evaluating Twilight over what she’d just said. She would then look down at the ground, looking conflicted. It was understandable, or at least Twilight had an inkling. Fluttershy back in Equestria was very much a shut-in, induced by an inherently meek and socially anxious disposition, one of her few known outlets being the caring of animals. Her other's self-confidence was highly dependent on the support of others, so Twilight and the of their friends, had made impressive strides in bringing Fluttershy out of her shell. This Fluttershy, assuming she was at all a shut-in herself, did not have that necessary interactive support of those she could trust, which Twilight felt she would have needed, if not yearned for, similar companionship.

“Well…” Fluttershy mumbled, gingerly fingering her long, flowy hair, “It has been kind of lonely. Applejack won’t talk to me because of Rainbow Dash, and anytime they meet up it becomes a fight, and Pinkie abruptly stopped talking to me…”

Twilight’s heart felt like it sank a few inches further along her sternum. Pinkie Pie? As in the bouncy pink girl she sort-of met abruptly yesterday preceding her duel with Flash? If she was anything like her Pinkie Pie, somepony with no vindictive bone in her body, then whatever happened here must have been utterly devastating for the lot.

“Fluttershy… I know we’ve just met, and maybe my forwardness is a bit… unconventional perhaps,” she watched as Fluttershy did nothing to interject, “If so, may I ask just one simple question?”

The pink-haired girl simply nodded.

“Do you trust me?”

Fluttershy looked away again. She finally, after a deep breathed sigh, she gave her answer, “I… I do trust you.”

Twilight sighed internally herself to said answer. She was relieved to have managed to establish a fledgling rapport with her friend’s counterpart. And hopefully it would serve as a start to making things right again.

“So what do you intend to do?” Fluttershy inquired.

-

Being forced to wait until the lunch period this time, and thus spending more of her time in the school library (the constant need to wait weighing on her mind as she knew each hour wasted was one less she had to get her crown and return home), Twilight would refuse to let starvation hold her down this time around. Reuniting with Fluttershy, the two of them made their way down the cue together (to which greetings were exchanged with Granny Smith), mostly sticking to what Fluttershy was having, just hoping that, as befitting her counterpart’s love of animals, she was a vegetarian.

As they made their way down the rows of tables, Fluttershy pointed Twilight in the direction of the fashionista clique’s informally allotted space.

“Alright, let’s hope this works,” she whispered to her new friend as the two separated, Twilight making a beeline towards the fashionista clique’s side of the room.

Feigning to look for a seat anywhere around her, she surreptitiously tried to spot the one person she was looking for among the chatting students. Given how thus far every counterpart she’d run into had been a perfect duplicate from Equestria in terms of personalities and colors, it shouldn’t have been too difficult to… There.

Much like the Equestrian one had her alabaster white coat and luxurious, arduously kept curled purple mane, the human girl seated at the end of a largely occupied table matched her coloration exactly. Like the one from Equestria, her hair was styled into a series of long, elegant curves to the side of her head, while the thick back of it cascaded gracefully down her back. Her skin looked almost pristine compared to several other people Twilight had seen that day, and her outfit gave a clear indication for her sense of style: A white, flowy shirt-dress suspended around her neck, clenched to her body with a purple belt and a matching skirt that reached just above her knees, her slightly side-angling legs adorning what looked to be slightly elevated boots made of a felt-like fabric with elegant patterns embroidered on their sides. The only major difference was a hairpin composed of three gems.

And what luck; there was one more seat to the very end of the table that was free, right next to Rarity. Twilight thanked Celestia under her breath as she approached, looking casual.

“Hi,” she beamed at Rarity, to which the fashionista looked up at her, “This seat taken?”

Rarity looked over Twilight in scrutinization. Like her equestrian counterpart, her eyes were a striking shade of sapphire blue, accented with light blue eyeshadow and her eyebrows had been plucked into a tidy formation. “No…” she replied simply, indicating the last seat, “Please.”

Twilight set her tray down and seated herself, largely ignoring the glances, and a few stares from Rarity’s select clique. No-one said anything, not even in greeting, perhaps as an outsider, or because they did not know what to think of the total stranger who just invited herself in.

“Thanks,” Twilight nodded at Rarity, “I’m new here, just looking to get acquainted.” She took a sip of water, “Twilight Sparkle.”

Rarity, in a well-mannered gesture, placed her fork down and turn to Twilight, “A pleasure. My name is Rarity,” she said bringing a hand to her sternum. “If you permit me; I love what you do with your hair.”

Twilight raised a quizzical brow, “Oh, uh… Thanks?”

She honestly didn’t know what to think of that. Her mane had largely maintained the rather bizarre shape it had taken when she’d emerged through the portal. In the morning the most she did was brush out the tangles and try to look presentable. Possibly some form of side-effect of her inherently magical makeup perhaps?

“Oh my, yes; I especially adore the back,” she stated, leaning out just slightly, “It’s almost like you had little wings,” she tittered, “No offense, of course.”

Twilight chuckled awkwardly; stunned at how spot-on this alternate Rarity was to some of the truth about her, “Yea, I suppose that’s true…”

“Oh!” Rarity beamed suddenly, “I simply must make a note of this! No! Better…” she pulled out a phone, something Twilight had noticed many people seemed to spend much time fixated on, and what sounded like a muted camera snap emanated from it. “Could you turn sideways, darling?” she asked motioning with her hand.

Twilight complied, followed by a second snap. Rarity then bid her to turn her back. Another snap.

“Much appreciated,” the human fashionista declared, looking at the device for a moment before returning her attention to Twilight. “You said you were new here?”

“Yes, I transfer next week, so I’m-” she feigned as if a realization had come upon her, “Wait… Did you say your name is Rarity?”

“Yes, Rarity Belle, but please, just called me Rarity, darling.”

“Ohhh…” Twilight took a sharp breath though gritted teeth, “This is awkward…”

Rarity looked perplexingly at Twilight, “Pardon? Is something the matter?”

Twilight, while never the one for acting, mirroring past genuine moments similar, brought a hand to the back of her neck, “Well, it’s just that, well, I met your ex yesterday…”

Rarity’s body went stiff, “My ex…? Applejack?!” at that the rest of her clique occupying that table fell completely silent. One of them, through a panicked expression of gritted teeth, doing a motion Twilight did not recognize; swiveling her palms sideways close to her neck. Another one next to her shook her head with pursed lips.

Able to piece together what these two were trying to tell her, Twilight held up both hands, “It’s not what you think!” she blurted, “In fact it’s completely the opposite!”

Rarity frowned, her mild, courteous demeanor having drastically altered, now eyeing Twilight with suspicion, “Explain. How do you know Applejack?”

Twilight reeled slightly at the undertones of hostility in the human Rarity’s voice, her neatly kept brows having furrowed just enough to show aggression, albeit her eyes betrayed more of a sense of concern. Rarity seemed conflicted; was she assuming Twilight was Applejack’s girlfriend? The notion sounded preposterous. Twilight wasn’t even human, the idea of her being attracted to one seemed highly unlikely. Not that humans looked all that odd, now that she’d been stuck in the body of one for over a day now, but also since she was not into females, as far as she knew, anyway, though she would not discount the possibility… And she felt her mind going off track.

Twilight straightened herself and opted to approach Rarity as calmly as she could, “Rarity; I swear, me and Applejack are not doing anything together. I honestly just met her yesterday in the library. I assume you know about the duel that took place in the gymnasium?”

Rarity nodded, her sternness softening, though she still looked warily at Twilight, “Continue.”

“Right; and Applejack’s probation was to empty the returns cart of the library. I was in the library at the time, doing some independent studying,” which was truthful in retrospect, “I lost track of time, everyone left. I came across her there with the book cart. She was not very good when it came to the Dooey Decimals, let me tell you…”

This seemed to elicit some form of reaction, a sharp rush of air through her nose. A chuckle?

“Just between us; I helped her finish it. Now, this might sound… questionable, but you see; I lost my wallet. I came here by commute because I do not know the school bus charters, and because of this accident I was ostensibly stuck, so Applejack offered me to stay the night at her house, which I took her up on,” Twilight decided to omit mentioning Sweetie Belle for the time being, “I was in her room where I found a photo of the two of you “hidden” behind her lamp.”

Rarity’s sternness had completely evaporated, replaced by an expression of confusion, “A photo…?” she murmured.

“Yes, with a Duel Monsters card. I believe it was…”

“Rose Lover?” Rarity finished for her, her hand having slowly made its way to her chest, over her heart, “She… she kept it?”

Twilight nodded, able to relax fully now that Rarity’s passive aggression ceased, “I tried asking her about it. She was stubborn at first, but, Rarity,” she gently took Rarity’s other hand in her own, “I think she misses you.”

Rarity, stunned by Twilight’s words, looked up at her, eyes completely given over to a note of sadness. Her eyes trailed away, focusing on nothing, the young fashionista appearing conflicted.

“But then… How come she stood me up that Valentine’s Day?” she asked, looking close to pleading, her and Twilights hands now grasping at each other, as if the aggression never occurred, “I waited for her… I tried calling her, e-mails, tried talking to her! But she just… She wouldn’t even address me. And then she started coming between our sisters, the fights with Rainbow Dash… Why? Please, tell me she told you why?!”

“She…” Twilight hesitated, “She told me you cheated on her. With Rainbow Dash.”

Rarity looked aghast, the student sitting closest to her inching away, “What?! That’s preposterous! Why would she think that?!”

“Fluttershy did mention you kissed her,” Twilight remarked.

“That was a spur of the moment as thanks. I happened to have lost the pair to a one-of-a-kind set of earrings!” she seemed to sporadically switch tones, “I should know, I made them. Haven’t managed to top them so far.”

“It’s true, she hasn’t!” one of the other fashionistas declared as confirmation.

“Regardless; Rainbow Dash had found it, I was ecstatic. I may have hugged and kissed her from spontaneity. But that doesn’t mean I like her that way!” she paused for a moment, “And how did she find out anyway?”

Twilight already knew the culprit. Of course, mentioning that a spirit inhabiting a card told her would be the end to this endeavor, so for the time being she had to feign ignorance, “That is… an excellent question, actually.” Now was the perfect opportunity, “Regardless, you might be happy to learn that I convinced her to talk to you.”

Rarity looked conflicted about the offer, “I… I don’t know… Twilight, it’s been two years. She broke my heart. I’m not even sure I want to have anything to do with her.”

“I understand that it hurts,” Twilight replied, “But what if in the very least, you consider closure? Applejack told me you’ve been close since you were little. Will you at least grant her that?

Rarity slowly pulled her hands out of Twilight’s, dragging them up her upper arms in a self-embrace, looking to contemplate on what Twilight had said. Twilight could not rush her decision in this very delicate matter, even if time was soon going to become a factor when lunch period would end. She tried to appear the model of patience as the fashionista weighed on her choice.

Finally, when Twilight was internally beginning to feel at her wits’ end, Rarity sighed and took a steady breath before her choice…

-

Twilight seated herself on the ledge of the library’s rooftop. It wouldn’t have been her first choice in the matter. In fact, it was Fluttershy who recommended as, barring the occasional group gathering from time-to-time, the rooftop was perhaps the best place of privacy at CHS. It might as well have been the best meeting location, in case things turned hostile or audible. She’d let Spike out of hiding from her backpack, to Rarity’s surprise, having snuck some food for him. Otherwise, the dragon-turned dog seemed slightly dismal, remedied only when Rarity gave him an affectionate rub under the chin.

For the moment they waited, Twilight staring over at the landscape; made up mostly of suburban houses in a specific grid-like pattern, while over on one side in the distance she could make out much larger buildings. It only made it a further shame she could not explore this new world further once she’d secured her crown. Perhaps once thirty moons had passed, she could request Celestia and Luna about future forays…

Their attentions were caught when the doorway to the rooftop opened. True enough, there was Applejack, her eyes squinting ever so slightly under her Stetson under the late morning sun, while Fluttershy followed closely behind, looking apprehensive. As the two approached, Fluttershy took the initiative to hurry over to Twilight’s side.

“Fluttershy?” Rarity spoke at the presence of the pink-haired girl, “Why are you-?”

“Rarity?” the three of them looked at the farmgirl, who seemed perplexed, “Twilight? What are you…? Was it you who put Fluttershy up to this? She told me this was something to do with Rainbow Dash!”

Twilight looked at Fluttershy, who covered the lower half of her face with her hair, “I’m sorry! I panicked!” to which Twilight could only sigh.

Rarity looked uneasily between the duo and Applejack, “W-what’s going on?” she asked, “Twilight told me you wanted to speak with me. She said you miss me.”

Applejack then stared at Rarity. Though her body did not show it, Twilight could catch a glimpse of something stirring within her through her eyes. A silence fell on the rooftop as the two former lovers looked at one another. Rarity took a timid step towards the farmgirl, Twilight unable to see her expression, but she could well enough imagine it.

“Applejack…” she spoke in a tone of uncertainty, “Is it true?”

Applejack did not respond and merely continued to stare, her eyes diverting away uneasily for just a moment.

“That photo of us from out of junior high?” she took a step closer, “The card I gave you as a present for your birthday? Twilight told me you still have those. On your nightstand.”

“It…” Applejack grunted, looking away from Rarity, “I… Twilight, I told you not to get involved with-”

“Applejack!” Rarity retorted, “Whether or not Twilight put you up to this or not, just answer me honestly! Is it true?”

“Why should I even answer that when you’re the one who went all gropey with Dash?!” the farmgirl blurted.

“What?!” Rarity exclaimed in response, “I did nothing of the sort!”

Applejack took out her phone, fiddled with it for a moment before very much shoving the device in Rarity’s face. Rarity took the device, eyes glue to the screen. Twilight took the initiative to get in close to see. To her amazement; there was a picture of Rarity and Rainbow Dash kissing, and what clearly looked like it was being reciprocated by the rainbow-haired girl, and seemed to have a hand going down Rarity’s… tuckuss.

Rarity gawked at the image in disbelief, “This isn’t true! Applejack; whoever sent you this, they’re lying! I waited for-”

“Can I have my phone back, if’n ya please?” Applejack interjected, “I’m not interested in anymore lying. An’ Twi; I’d kindly appreciate if you-”

Twilight yelped when Rarity, with an exasperated grunt shoved the green phone in her hands and a distinct mechanical rev permeated the area. Rarity’s duel disk, one of two distinct shades of sparkling blue whirred to life, the two halves of the tray sliding forth, combining and sliding along her arm.

“Fine,” Rarity said darkly, glaring at Applejack, “If you’re not going to listen, Applejack, then let’s see how you like it when I knock you down the roster for the fall formal mid-term.”

Twilight looked between the two, almost failing to notice Fluttershy taking the phone from her. Rarity’s threat seemed to ring with its intention as Applejack’s own red and green trayed disk revved to life.

Rarity Life Points: 4000

Applejack Life Points: 4000

“Um, was this part of your plan?” Fluttershy asked, looking up from Applejack’s phone as the duel disks proclaimed detecting a duel.

Twilight said nothing, just looking on as the two took some distance between one-another, almost like in a western frontier quick-draw slingshot duel. A certain proclamation rang in her mind;

“Such is the nature of the Games of Darkness. It can be used to destroy, but, as a part of the primordial energies of this world, it can be used to create.”

“The coin landed in my favor,” Applejack called, giving her the first move, and thus no draw. The duelists drew their starting hands.

Turn 1: Applejack (Hand: 5)

“Ah play the spell ‘Sylvan Charity,’” Applejack played her first card, its image arising from the ground upon being inserted into her disk, “With this, Ah draw three cards…”

Twilight pursed her lips; a three-card draw would give the farmgirl a huge advantage. Although, based on her own experiences when it came to draw effects; there would be some form of catch to it.

“Then Ah need to reveal two from my hand for ya, including one ‘Sylvan’ card,” she flashed the two of them; revealing two monster cards. “They’re ‘Sylvan Bladefender’ and ‘Princessprout’. With it Ah place these two on the top of my deck,” to which she slid them both stacked up atop her deck.

“Apple Bloom told me that Applejack’s deck focuses on excavating cards to activate their effects…”

“Ah then play ‘Seed of Deception,’” Applejack played another spell card, “This lets me Special Summon one level 1 or 2 plant-type monster from my hand. So Ah’ll summon ‘Sylvan Cherubsprout’ in defense.”

From the summoning portal emerged a small, very unassuming green creature with a body seemingly composed of folded leaves, complete with pronounced ears that looked like clovers and a tail composed of a leaf equal in length of its body. (Level 1, 100/100)

“When Cherusprout is Special Summoned, Ah can declare either “one” or “two”. Ah choose two. Then Ah excavate that many cards from the top of my deck, but Ah reckon we know what they are,” she said, removing the top two cards, openly revealing them once more, “Any ‘Sylvans’ excavated go to the graveyard, to which their effects activate: Firstly, ‘Princessprout’ is Special Summoned from my graveyard as a level one monster, in defense mode.”

Through another portal emerged a small creature resembling a small greenish, little girl with long green hair in two long tails, adorned in a most intricate, beautiful ground trailing robe made of a myriad of bright, flowery colors in ornate patterns and a golden headdress. (Level 1, 100/100)

“And ‘Bladefender’ gets added to my hand. Who Ah then Normal Summon in attack mode!”

Applejack managed a third summon on her first turn: This one a regular-sized, tan-skinned man adorned in a kimono composed of shades of green, complete with winding lush red leaves around the top half of his body like some ornate shoulder armor. He wore a wide, conical hat, its rims lined with leaves, and two elegantly curved swords hung edges up from a thick sash. He slowly drew the longer of the two blades and stood in a relaxed, honed guard position. (Level 4, 1900/700)

“Ah then take my level one Cherubsprout an’ Princessprout to construct the Overlay Network!”

“Overlays. So, Applejack uses Xyz monsters, just like Flash.”

The two plant creatures turned transparent, their forms sliding together as Applejack slid their respective cards atop one another, to which they erupted into the pair of blue orbs, just like with Flash and his Heroics.

“Young sapling of the groves, young ruler of the glades, come together in the life-giving sun, and bring forth one who tends to the sacred tree.”

“Xyz summon!” Applejack swung forth her arm as the orbs united, coalescing into a new glowing form descending onto the field, “Rank 1: ‘Sylvan Princessprite!’”

The light abated revealing what may have been an older, more refined Princessprout. Her hair was woven into intricate bangs on the sides and back of her head complete with a familiar looking headdress, and her kimono was now a predominately aqua green with wide, flowy sleeves. Like with Heroic – Excalibur, the glowing orbs revolved around her form. (Rank 1, 1800/0)

Rarity looked at the creature with a clear indication of sadness in her eyes.

“Ah remove an overlay unit from Princessprite,” one of the orbs vanished, “Ah excavate the top card of my deck,” she turned her deck’s topmost card over, “It’s a trap card, so Ah add it to my hand. Ah then place two cards facedown. Ah end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 2: Rarity (Hand: 5)

Rarity drew a card, fanning her hand out as she looked at the field, sliding her new card among them.

“I remember…” she stated, looking at Princessprite, “When you found the cards of your calling, you absolutely refused to use her because she wasn’t powerful.”

Applejack said nothing in response, keeping a level, almost cold expression.

“Applejack, why? Why won’t you even talk to me?!” she called out, despite being the one who instigated the duel in the first place. “I knew you were stubborn, but this is ridiculous!”

“Are you going to make your move or not?” Applejack asked bluntly.

Rarity’s right hand clenched as an expression of hurt took over her face, “You…” she cried exasperatedly as she held up her hand, “If you won’t listen, then fine! I set one card facedown, and set a monster!”

Two cards appeared facedown on her field, one among her spells, one sideways in her monster zone.

“I end my turn,” she declared.

(Hand: 4)

Twilight looked flummoxed at the contrastingly lackluster performance of Rarity. She was half expecting her dueling to reflect on her sense of dramatics like her Equestrian counterpart. Or did she draw a bad hand and this was the best she could do?

Turn 3: Applejack (Hand 3)

Applejack drew her next card, to which she indicated Princessprite, “Ah remove the last overlay unit from Princessprite to excavate my top card,” she flipped it over, revealing a monster, “Ah send ‘Sylvan Komushroomo’ to the graveyard. When he’s discarded this way; Ah can target one spell or trap on your field and destroy it.”

A swirl of flames began to emerge around Rarity’s set card.

“I play my facedown card: ‘Common Charity’!” she retorted, revealing itself as a trap card, “I draw two cards, and then I must banish a normal monster from my hand,” she concluded by sliding a card into the banished compartment at the back of the boxy rear part of the duel disk, “Your effect was wasted.”

“In that case Ah activate Princessprite’s second effect,” Applejack interjected, “She lets me Special Summon one plant-type monster from my graveyard once per turn, by discarding or sacrificing a plant-type monster,” she slid a card from her hand into her graveyard, “So Ah’m bringin’ back Komushroomo in defense mode!”

From the portal emerged what looked to be a small stumpy-legged anthropomorphic mushroom with a tall, drooping cap that was literally aflame. A single eye peered out from under a less drooping section of the cap, while in one tiny hand it held a wooden staff. (Level 2 100/2000)

“Ah then tribute Komushroomo to summon from my hand ‘Sylvan Guardioak!’”

Komushroomo erupted into a puff of glowing particles that elicited another portal opening. From within arose a creature that must have been at least twelve feet tall in stature. Like many of Applejack’s monsters, it had a predominately green color scheme. It was some form of ogre or giant with a burly but chubby frame, its feet and hands were composed of wood ingraining into its arms and legs with a many of leaves for hair and what looked to be branch stubs for horns and the two tusks jutting from its mouth. It wore a white loincloth and a necklace made of giant acorns, and was wielding a large wooden bludgeon over half its size over its shoulder. (Level 6, 2400/1500)

“Trust me; Ah know what you’ve got under there,” Applejack stated ominously, “When Guardioak is summoned, Ah can excavate one-to-three cards; Ah choose two,” to which she flipped over her first card, “The first card is a spell, so Ah return that to the bottom of my deck,” then the second, “Ah send ‘Sylvan Flowerknight’ to the graveyard. Then with his effect Ah choose one ‘Sylvan’ card from my deck and place it on top.”

Applejack’s chosen card slid out from her deck. Upon removing the deck was shuffled by her duel disk before placing the card back on top.

“Then Ah attack your set monster with Guardioak!”

Guardioak lunged forth with reverberating stomps and swung down with its hammer. At this moment the set monster revealed itself as a turtle or tortoise whose tiny claws and head were encrusted with brilliant emeralds, and its entire shell was one large shimmering emerald that glistened under the sunlight. (Level 4, 0/2000) The hammer crushed the turtle, resulting in a billowing dust cloud.

“When flipped face-up, Gem-Turtle lets me add one ‘Gem-Knight Fusion’ from my deck to my hand,” Rarity’s duel disk ejected a card which the fashionista took into her hand.

“Ah then attack you directly with Sylvans Bladefender and Princessprite!” Applejack continued, pointing directly towards Rarity.

Bladefender first lunged forward and swung his green blade, sending a veritable gust towards Rarity, which sparked against a transparent, segmented forcefield over Rarity.

Rarity Life Points: (-1900) 2100

Princessprite in turn swung one of her arms, sending a gust of glowing cherry blossoms towards Rarity, which began to violently crackle as they struck the flickering forcefield, the illusions being intense enough that the fashionista had to cover her eyes.

Rarity Life Points: (-1800) 300

Twilight gawked at the brutal display by Applejack, to the point where even Spike in his fondness for Rarity began to growl at the farmgirl.

“Ah end my turn,” Applejack declared bluntly.

(Hand: 3)

Turn 4: Rarity (Hand: 5)

As Rarity was preparing to draw her next card, her hand simply froze, her finger tips merely inches from her deck. Her head lowered, closing her eyes.

“Is there any point to it?” she asked, her tone sounding utterly defeated, “It’s evident from your display…”

“Ah beg your pardon?” Applejack asked, sounding uncomfortably bemused.

Rarity lowered her right hand, “Perhaps I should just call my turn here, and let you whale on me.”

Applejack seemed to scoff at that notion, “Excuse me, Rare, but that’s not how this goes. You challenge someone to a duel, you fight to the end.” She pointed a finger at Rarity, “Don’t even think about just giving up if you consider yourself a duelist.”

Rarity smiled. Or rather, exhibited the hollow imitation of a smile, her eyes finally turning up towards her ex, “Because you don’t want to beat the fashionistas’ choice by a surrender because it wouldn’t affect your credibility in taking Rainbow’s spot for the jocks?”

“What?! Well…” Applejack hesitated, “No… I… You don’t just give up when you commit to somethin’, Ah thought you knew that, Rare!”

Rarity let out a hollow chuckle, her hand coming back up to draw her next card, “If you insist…” het eyes steeled once more as she inserted a card into her disk, “I activate the spell card ‘Gem-Knight Fusion’!”

“Gem-Knight Fusion?” Twilight wondered aloud.

“Oh, yes,” Fluttershy spoke up, “Rarity’s specialty is Fusion Summoning.”

Fusion Summoning; using a spell to combine monsters into larger, more powerful ones. I remember reading about the principles, but I didn’t come upon this type of card…

-

“I activate the spell card ‘Polymerization,’” Sweetie Belle declared, playing her card, “With this I send ‘Aria the Melodious Diva’ on my field and ‘Sonata the Melodious Diva’ in my hand to the graveyard…”

-

Rarity took two cards in her hand and inserted them into her graveyard. A swirling red and blue vortex appeared above the field, to which the shapes of two humanoids appeared in the air: One looked to be covered head to toe in a suit made of a reddish-brown and white streaked stone, akin to sardonyx, with a long chain dangling from its hands, a jagged, red spiky chunk hanging off one end of it. The other was wearing an almost jet-black suit of armor that still glistened akin to obsidian, a ring floating around its body composed to equally glistening orbs. The vortex began to suck the two beings into its eye, the two seemingly melding together like mixing colors. Rarity held her hands up at an angle.

“My valiant gems: The onyx red like fire. Obsidian, the shimmering blackness. Unite in your splendor, and create a new jewel, so that the world can bathe in its luster…”

Her hands came together, fingers intertwining, “Fusion Summon! Arise, my champion! Level 7 knight of passion, ‘Gem-Knight Citrine!’”

From within the vortex erupted a new being, landing into a kneeling position. It then arose to its feet; its figure encompassed entirely in a glistening bronze armor, complemented with a flowing navy cape. Its gauntlets glowing a warm, fiery red, with a matching stony greatsword brandished in one hand. The knight hefted its sword, resting the flat of the blade against its shoulder, looking as if the sword weighed nothing in its hands. (Level 7, 2200/1950)

“I activate the effect of Gem-Knight Obsidian in my graveyard,” Rarity declared, “When sent from my hand to the graveyard, I can Special Summon a level 4 or below Gem-Knight normal monster from my graveyard: Revive, ‘Gem-Knight Sardonyx’!”

A dark purplish portal appeared, from which the aptly named Gem-Knight Sardonyx arose, gripping its spiked ball and chain. (Level 4, 1800/900)

“Next, I Normal Summon ‘Gem-Knight Alexandrite’ in attack mode,” Rarity slapped a card on her tray.

Another glistening knight arose to her field; this one wearing a pearly white suit of armor with specific parts studded with a particular gem, including rubies, emerald, sapphires and opals. (Level 4, 1800/1200)

“I activate Alexandrite’s effect; by sacrificing him, I can Special Summon one Gem-Knight Normal Monster from my deck.”

Applejack in response, seemed to manage what looked to be a slight smile, “Well, that’s somethin’ Ah haven’t seen yet…”

This is very conflicting, Twilight thought looking between the two in the midst of their duel. First they seem to be dueling out of spite, but I keep spotting moments where they seem to be almost passionate…

A card slid out of Rarity’s deck, which was then shuffled the moment it was retrieved, “I summon ‘Gem-Knight Iolite’ in attack mode.”

Yet another glimmering knight arose on Rarity’s field, this one, as befitting it name, adorned in a slightly more minimalist bright blue armor. It flexed its right arm, emanating a metallic rattle, possibly indicating something about the cannon-like protrusion jutting from its gauntlet.

But even if she now has three monsters, Rarity’s down to only 300 life points. Applejack’s Guardioak is stronger than even that Fusion summoned knight. Plus she has two facedowns; for all we know she might have traps set up in case Rarity tries to counter.

“Next I activate Gem-Knight Fusion’s effect from the graveyard; by banishing a ‘Gem-Knight’ monster, like Obsidian, I can add it back to my hand,” two cards slid out of her graveyard, one being placed in the banished slot while the other went to her hand and back into her disk, “And I activate Gem-Knight Fusion a second time!”

Two Fusions in one turn?!

“I fuse my Gem-Knights Sardonyx and Iolite on the field,” to which the two knights hovered off the ground, the vortex once more appearing, sucking and blending the twos’ forms.

“My valiant gems: The onyx red like fire. The stone blue like oceans’ depths. Unite in your splendor, and create a new jewel, so that the world can marvel it its resplendence…”

“Fusion summon! Arise, my champion! Level 7 knight of spirit: ‘Gem-Knight Amethyst!’”

A new combined monster emerged alongside its citrine comrade; this one in a glistening amethyst purple armor, very similar in overall design to Citrine’s, complete with a matching cape, but with a differing helmet design and its right gauntlet brandished a forward pointing blade that looked blue like ice, and a shield looking like a spiraling mass of ice which it held forward in a hunched pose. (Level 7, 1950/2450)

“And now, I attack Gaurdioak with Gem-Knight Citrine!” Rarity held forth her arm in signaling one of her knight, the glimmering bronze knight hefting its sword off its shoulder to wield it with both hands.

What?! Guardioak is stronger! Twilight watched helplessly as the citrine knight lunged forth seemingly to its demise.

As Guardioak prepared its massive club to crush the charging knight, Rarity took a card from her hand and slid it into her graveyard. (Gem-Knight Citrine ATK 2200 -> 3200) The knight’s sword flared up in flames and cleaved the earthen ogre’s club in half before swinging it down vertically across its whole body. Guardioak’s body erupted in flames and it burst into bits.

Applejack Life Points: (800) 3200

“What did she-?!”

“By discarding ‘Gem-Merchant’ from my hand, a Gem-Knight gains a thousand attack points for the rest of the turn,” Rarity explained.

“But then why did Applejack not activate a facedown? Are they dummies?” Twilight wondered aloud.

“Gem-Knight Citrine prevents the opponent from activating cards and effects when it attacks,” Fluttershy chimed in, still grasping Applejack’s phone.

Rarity slid one card in her spell and trap ports, “I place a card facedown. My turn is concluded.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 5: Applejack (Hand: 3)

Applejack smirked as she drew her next card, “Ah shoulda known. You had somethin’ up your lack of sleeves the entire time.”

Rarity did not reciprocate in the exact demeanor, “Because you urged me to. I wasn’t joking about just letting you do away with me, if you hate me so much.”

Applejack looked very uneasy at those words, “Ah… Ah don’t…”

“Then why? Why didn’t you just talk to me? Applejack; do you have any idea how I felt when I was waiting for you that day and you didn’t show up. Or when I tried to call you? Text you?”

“Rarity, please, just stop lyin’ to me,” Applejack said harshly as she placed her latest draw into her hand.

Rarity scoffed, “Come at me then.”

“Fine, Ah will,” she slid a card into her graveyard, “Ah discard ‘Sylvan Sagequoia’ to activate Princessprite’s effect; lettin’ me bring back Sylvan Guardioak!”

The purple graveyard rift opened: A familiar giant club emerged first, then the wooden hand gripping it. The lumbering tree ogre climbed its way back onto the field and brandished its massive weapon. (Level 6, 2400/1500)

Just then something erupted its way from the floor. A large tree arose, a face composed of squinted eyes, pouted lips with that looked like little spectacles at the top of a low stretching nose. Its leaf-heavy branches looked to almost form a puffy head of hair at its very boughs, sides and back, with three lengths of braided grass forming a beard underneath its lips. Four root-like tendrils snaked at the bottom of its trunk body. (Level 7, 2600/2100)

“When ‘Sylvan Sagequoia’ is sent to my graveyard from my hand, Ah can Special Summon him,” Applejack elaborated, having amassed four impressively powerful monsters on her field thanks to her deck’s unconventional mechanics, while her life points remained almost untouched, as opposed to Rarity who had a measly 300 left.

Neither of Rarity’s knights could stand up to Sagequioa with its 2600 attack points, and should it strike the vulnerable Citrine it would be the end. In a prolonging sense she could also use Sagequoia to destroy the defending Amethyst, take out the 200 points weaker Citrine with Guardioak and finish it with a full-on direct attack with Bladefender or Princessprite.

“Once each turn, Sagequoia lets me excavate one card,” the farmgirl spoke in confidence as she inspected her deck’s topmost card… Only to fall utterly silent, looking as if she’d perfectly frozen in place.

The silence that followed, barring the slight hum of the duel disk’s cooling systems and emitters, went on for an uncomfortable while. Applejack’s first motion was her looking up from the excavated card towards Twilight, her visage appearing distantly blank, with perhaps the slightest hint of confusion, or accusation.

“She found it,” Twilight thought to herself, locking eyes with the counterpart of one of her most stalwart friends. “She can deny all she wants and avoid the truth. But can she deny her heart?”

-

Applejack and Twilight’s eyes looked defiantly at one another. Only this time it was Twilight who was taking the assertive position. How could she have missed this card not being were it belonged? Obscuring the image of those happier times she’d rather had buried. At least, that’s what she had wanted. For two years she could never bring herself to toss that accursed photo, or the card serving as an eternal reminder of how she was betrayed. And yet, there it was, bereft of even the film of dust it had accrued behind the lamp.

“Applejack,” the memories of that one particular day came flooding back, “I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to give you this when we were alone,” she thought back to her sixteenth birthday, after the festivities a la Pinkie Pie had slowly come to a close, with Rarity being the last guest to remain, when she handed her a final gift in a golden plastic fold sleeve.

“I know you’re not exactly into… froufrou, but when I found it while gem hunting, I thought it would be perfect. Not only is it a plant-card, but I think she even looks just like you~”

-

Applejack said nothing as she slid the card into her graveyard as Sagequoia effect demanded. Twilight grit her teeth underneath her lips, hoping her engineered plan of reuniting two broken hearts would come to fruition.

The farmgirl forcefully pointed at Gem-Knight Citrine, “Ah attack Citrine with Sylvan Sagequoia for game!” Sagequoia’s tendril-like roots sank into the floor upon its master’s command.

Rarity’s facedown revealed itself as a trap. Whether or not Applejack was just confident, or desperate to have ignored the possibility was up for debate, but perhaps Rarity could still turn the tide in her favor.

“I activate ‘Pyroxene Fusion!’” Rarity responded, “This lets me perform a Fusion Summon using monsters in my hand and field as materials, “I send Gem-Knight Citrine and Gem-Knight Amethyst from my field, and ‘Gem-Knight Lazuli’ from my hand to the graveyard.”

The vortex appeared once more, the two knights on Rarity’s field arising towards it, when a third figure, a shorter, clay brown, almost like a little metallic girl with long tassels akin to pigtails appeared between the two, until the vortex swirled them together once more.

“My valiant gems: The knight of passion, the knight of spirit, the right hand of the Lady: Unite in your splendor to create the ultimate jewel, so the world may marvel at its perfect spectrum.”

Once more Rarity’s hands came together with fingers intertwined, “Fusion Summon! Arise, my champion! Level 9, Knight of Spectrums, ‘Gem-Knight Master Diamond!’”

A new knight emerged, more resplendent that the last, adorned in a pristine sparkling suit of armor that shimmered in the sun like the gemstone of its namesake. A large carved diamond rested at the center of its already shimmering chestplate, along with the upwards curving diamond horns adorning its slit helmet. Like its other higher tier brethren, a billowing cape hung from its back, a royal purple with a red inner layer. Hefting from the ground, it brandished its own massive sword, a black blade with pristine white edges affixed to a golden hilt, with a line of gems of each color of the spectrum adorning the central ridge. (Level 9, 2900/2500)

Spike barked cheerfully and pranced in place at the counterpart of the target of his affections. Even Twilight found herself calm, seeing the larger, glistening knight stand defiant before the quartet of monsters whose power it alone trumped.

“Gem-Knight Master Diamond gains one-hundred additional attack points for each ‘Gem’ monster in my graveyard,” Rarity added, “Sardonyx, Iolite, Lazuli, Citrine, Amethyst, and of course Gem-Turtle. (ATK: 100 x 5 = 500 + 2900 = 3400) However, when Gem-Knight Lazuli is sent to the graveyard by an effect, she lets me bring one Normal Monster from my graveyard to my hand. So I return Sardonyx back to my hand.” (ATK: 3400 – 100 = 3300)

“Ah call off my attack with Sagequoia,” Applejack replied, to which the tree rewound its tendrils back out of the nonexistent hole, “Ah change my other monsters to defense, then end my turn…”

(Hand: 2)

But, even with her new knight, Applejack still has her facedowns. Rarity would only attack safely thanks to Citrine’s effect…

Turn 6: Rarity (Hand: 1)

Rarity drew her next card, “I activate Master Diamond’s effect: By banishing one Gem-Knight Fusion Monster from my graveyard, his name is treated as that of the banished knight, and gains its effect,” a purple card slid out of her graveyard. “I banish Citrine, so now Master Diamond prevents you from activating cards and effects when he attacks.”

The orange gem embedded in Master Diamonds sword lit up, to which a fiery aura erupted around the great blade. (ATK 3300 – 100 = 3200)

Rarity swung forth and arm, “I attack Princessprite (DEF: 0) with Master Diamond!”

The towering knight charged with its flaming greatsword, thrusting at the reeling kimono adorned sprite, whose image erupted in flames. Applejack’s life points remained unchanged due to Princessprite being in defense position. Of course, now Applejack could no longer special summon plants from her graveyard.

Rarity looked at the two cards currently in her hand, “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 7: Applejack (Hand: 2)

Applejack drew her next card before indicating Sagequoia, “Ah activate Sagequoia’s effect again,” to which she flipped over the top card of her deck. Not saying a word, she placed the card at the bottom of her deck, meaning it wasn’t a plant monster.

The farmgirl looked at her hand, appearing uncertain what to do. Twilight assumed she had nothing in her hand for the time being to deal with Rarity’s glistening Master Diamond, who stood defiantly ahead of his master, sword held to the side as if to shield her from oncoming threats. The view was fitting, to say the least, knowing the Equestrian Rarity’s penchant for dramatics and love of gemstones.

-

Applejack’s current hand was… Not preferable, to say the least. Her facedowns had served as an excellent deterrent; ‘Sylvan Waterslide’, which at the moment would do nothing. Her second, ‘Wall of Thorns’ was the ultimate game breaker in this scenario, were Rarity foolish enough to attack brazenly. But of course, Rarity would not attack as such; she was no Rainbow Dash and her eye for detail would deter her from such a simple mistake. She knew her so well. Just like Applejack should have known that she would have had something to counter her brute force rush she had intended.

Of course, the card she just drew could even the odds…

-

“Ah activate ‘Fragrance Storm,’” Applejack made her play, a familiar card materializing on the field.

That’s the one she used against Rainbow Dash: She sacrifices a plant monster to draw a card, and if she draws a plant type monster, she can draw again…

“Ah sacrifice my Bladefender,” the plant swordsman burst into bits upon Applejack’s declaration, “To which Ah draw a card,” and she did, her expression hinting at desperation. She inspected the card, then flipped it over, revealing itself as a monster, “Ah drew ‘Mariña, Princess of Sunflowers,’ so Ah can draw again…”

-

The first card she drew could work, but the only means she could do so now… She prayed her next draw would be something preferable, hopefully A Feather of the Phoenix to- Wonder Clover. Great…

Applejack looked at Mariña, Princess of Sunflowers: It’s 2800 attack points were insufficient against the 3200 of Master Diamond. And even if she wanted to summon her, she would have to give up both Sagequoia and Guardioak, all for a meaningless summon. Perhaps if she put her faith in Sagequoia once more…

-

“Ah activate the effect of Sagequoia,” Applejack once again flipped over her top card.

-

‘Sylvan Mikorange’. That would not help her, even as she slid the card into her graveyard slot. Doing so increased her monsters’ attack by three-hundred, still not enough. Would it have been Marshalleaf she could have left Rarity defenseless. Dammit, it was as if her deck was deliberately working against her.

Of course, there was a way she could summon Mariña easily and still make use of her ability. She could just attack with Sagequoia or Guardioak for minimal damage and use her ability to destroy Master Diamond, leaving Rarity open for the final blow with no facedowns. But that would mean having to…

“Oh, sugar cube…” the memory echoed in her mind, “You’ve already given me too much. It’s enough just to have ya and everyone else together with me. Especially you, darlin’.”

“But this is special. I picked this one specifically to represent something most dear: It may be a card to anyone else, but between us… It represents us; our hearts, and my love for you.”

“Rarity…” Applejack uttered, her finger hovering over the icon accessing her duel disk’s graveyard.

-

Twilight watched on as the farmgirl went silent, her finger only inches away from her duel disk’s screen.

Her heart is conflicted,” a familiar echo reverberated inside her mind.

Twilight surreptitiously glanced around, when she spotted a familiar pink-haired figure in white hovering just to the side, emerald tome still grasped in her hand. No-one else reacted to the Priestess’ presence, indicating she was the only one capable of seeing the spirit.

Priestess?” Twilight reached out with her mind, “You’ve been watching too?

The spirit looked at Twilight with a serene smile, “You really are a clever one, Twilight. You snuck the card into Applejack’s deck in her sleep and brought them together for a clash between their souls. A true Game of Darkness it is not, but it seems working.” The spirit looked at Applejack, her smile flattening out slightly, “All we can do no is see whether or not she will follow what her heart is telling her, or if she would rather accept defeat. Or worse, crush her other half…

Twilight looked worriedly at the Priestess, who had subsequently vanished following her ominous remark. Applejack still hadn’t done what she had been hoping. All it would take was finding the symbol of her heart, or remain stubborn to the end and have it shattered in her denial. Twilight’s unknowingly clenched her hands tight, praying to whatever powers that be that Applejack would make the right decision.

“Ah…” Applejack’s lips pursed, shutting her eyes as her finger touched the screen, “Ah activate ‘Rose Lover’s’ effect in my graveyard!”

The image of the lady in the red rose-themed dress appeared behind Applejack. The projection of the card really did emphasize on the similarities between her and Applejack, as her blonde hair flowed in a nonexistent breeze. A saddened expression decorated the beautiful maiden’s features, as she brought a gloved hand to her lips. With a grandiose motion, she swept her arm out in a blown kiss, a single petal wafting from her onto Applejack’s field. A light erupted from where the petal landed.

“By banishing her from my graveyard, Ah Special Summon ‘Mariña, Princess of Sunflowers’ from my hand!”

From the light arose a giant closed bud of a flower. The bud immediately sprang open into a radiant, giant sunflower, from within its center a womanly figure uncovering her pristine, tanned face. Conjoined to the center of the flower by her waist, donning a red-skin tight vest decorated with silvery white petals and matching arm-length gloves. A headdress composed of an arching cloth and lined with golden petals adorned her equally golden hair, her eyes revealing themselves a radiant fiery orange. (Level 8 2800/1600)

“You did keep it…”

Both Applejack and Twilight looked at Rarity, her alabaster face frozen into an expression of indetermination. Her right hand found its way to her sternum once again as a slightly breeze wafted her elegant purple curls. Twilight swore to have seen something glistening off her well-cared skin.

“Applejack…” she mouthed the name, almost unheard, but it was evident from just watching her lips.

Looking over to Applejack, the farmgirl held a single card in her hand, whereas her eyes were affixed to Rarity. Twilight held her breath, her stomach twisting as she anxiously awaited what was to come next.

“All we can do no is see whether or not she will follow what her heart is telling her, or if she would rather accept defeat. Or worse, crush her other half…”

Breaking the silence was the clap of a boot against the floor. Applejack stepped forth, hesitating as she moved one foot ahead of the other, then again, and again, until she’d gone past her monsters and onto Rarity’s side of the field. She walked past Master Diamond…

-

As soon as she’d passed the diamond white knight with his giant greatsword, there was nothing between them. Applejack, still grasping the Rose Lover card, not having slid it into the banished slot as her disk continued to remind her, stood still, gazing into the pair of sapphire eyes before her, framed by the slightly wafting purple hair. She thought she could have seen it even from across the field, a little shimmer trailing down from one of those very eyes.

“You kept… my heart…” she whispered a tear rolling down her other eye.

Applejack may be self admittedly headstrong and stubborn, but she just couldn’t stand it anymore. Never letting go of the heart she grasped in her right hand, she closed the distance between them and threw her arms around Rarity, even if her weighted left arm made it awkward. Her right slung around Rarity’s back and pressed tightly, yet gently close to Rarity’s right shoulder. As her freckled cheek pressed against the side of Rarity’s head, her Stetson fell off her head, which she very much didn’t care to notice. She could feel as Rarity’s arms found themselves wrapping around her lower back.

“Ah'm sorry…” Applejack mouthed, a single tear trailing down from her eye as she embraced Rarity. “Ah’m so sorry…”

Rarity said nothing, only snuggling herself closer against Applejack’s cheek, her fingers caressing at her firm back.

-

Twilight brought a hand to her mouth, a sniffle escaping her nose. Fluttershy on the other hand, was shedding tears beside her, sniffling profusely, seeing the two opponents embrace in the middle of a duel. Twilight put a comforting arm around the pink-haired girl’s shoulder, giving her a side-hug.

“We did it,” she whispered in assurance to Fluttershy, “We really did it; we mended two broken hearts…"

Duel #6: Rebuilding Friendships: Tag-Team Dueling

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Twilight and Fluttershy remained off to the side, giving Applejack and Rarity a hint of privacy during their moment of emotional mending. The two sat along the ledge barrier, Fluttershy holding Spike on her lap, who’d shed tears quite strongly from the emotional scene they beheld between the two, so naturally having an animal with her helped calm her. Spike looked slightly troubled, though of course he could not voice his concerns about the potential parallels revealed from this world and how much they might be similar back home. Twilight made mental note of having a talk about it with him later.

“Um, Twilight,” uttered Fluttershy, “can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” Twilight beamed, what with the exhilarant feeling she’d felt inside since the duel ended.

“Was that really your plan from the start?” the pink-haired girl inquired. “Them getting back together over a duel?”

Twilight considered Fluttershy’s question carefully. She naturally couldn’t say it was the words of Priestess that inspired her.

“I assume you know how stubborn Applejack is?” she replied. “I’ve only known her for a day and I could already surmise. Added with her refusal to throw away the photos she had of not only Rarity, but you and your other friends, on top of the Rose Lover, you could say I may have altered certain variables based on the clique system in play in the school.”

“Wow…” Fluttershy looked oddly amazed. “You must be really good at reading people…”

Twilight chuckled bashfully, “Well kind of, maybe, not really. I’m more the bookish type. Although, someone very close taught me the importance of understanding others. I guess you could say I just took it to heart and became good at it.”

“Who was it?” Fluttershy asked, admittedly entangling Twilight’s conundrum further.

“Well you see…”

“Twilight, Fluttershy,” Applejack’s southern twang broke the conversation between the two.

Applejack and Rarity had joined them at the ledge, both with discernible redness in their eyes, with Rarity’s pristine alabaster skin tone belying some pinkness on her cheeks as well. The farmgirl stood before Twilight, arms crossed in what should have been an expression of crossness, but the wry smile formed on her lips indicated otherwise.

“You know how Ah said maybe not make a habit out of stickin’ your nose where it don’t belong?” she chuckled mirthfully. “Well, just this once; Ah’m super thankful you did!”

Twilight grinned sheepishly, when all of a sudden, she felt herself getting lifted off her perch into what might as well have been the most literal definition of a bear hug. How Applejack managed it despite her perceivable frame and overall body build, the strength was inconceivable, making Twilight fret if she would have all her ribs in place. Thankfully, it was only for a moment, then she found herself released once more.

“Sorry about that,” said Applejack, now her turn to being sheepish, “jus’ feelin’ so happy right now Ah-”

Twilight took a breath. So far, no snaps or pain. “That’s alright…” she groaned, though retained her smile.

Twilight was then embraced from the side by Rarity, “Oh yes! Thank you, thank you so much!” The fashionista’s eyes looked almost like the sparkled from sheer joy, “I haven’t felt this elated in so long!”

Twilight managed a smile as air once again entered her lungs to their regular capacity, “And I’m certain Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom will be happy to know as well.”

“Of course, one thing still puzzles me,” said Applejack, looking over the horizon in though. “What was up with that photo?”

“Oh, it’s been photoshopped,” said Fluttershy in a matter-of-fact tone, presenting Applejack back her smartphone.

“What?” asked Twilight, unfamiliar with the lingo.

Applejack turned on the smartphone, the image still there, which she began to scrutinize with squinted eyes. Rarity joined in, but the glare in the sun made things difficult.

“Turn up the brightness, darling,” Rarity urged, to which Applejack did something to brighten the image.

Fluttershy slid to the side, not looking at the photo herself when she took a deep breath; “Rainbow Dash’s arm is not the right length; you can see it where the bicep meets the forearm. The forearm skin tone isn’t an exact match; Rainbow’s skin is a hue of light ceruleanish grey; there it’s light brilliant cerulean. Also, Rainbow isn’t wearing her wristband on that arm when she’d taken to wearing those since the end of junior high. Lastly, note the odd angle of the neck, for Rarity’s kiss was on the cheek and not the lips.” The entirety came out all in one continuous stream, which had Twilight, Applejack and Rarity staring at the shy girl with varying levels of awe.

The three went over the photo themselves. After a moment of closer observation, Fluttershy’s statements were valid. Very much perfect, in fact, right down to Rainbow’s arm behind Rarity looking a slightly darker shade than the rest of her. Some of the shading looked out of place, as did the lack of any ruffling on the top she’d worn that day where the now-confirmed fake arm was resting.

“Ah suddenly feel dumber than a hare in a coyote den…” muttered Applejack, to which both Twilight and Rarity patted her on the back and placed a hand to her shoulder in comfort.

“If it makes you feel any better; I would have missed that myself,” Twilight offered, though her sentiments went unnoticed.

“But who would do such an awful thing?” asked Fluttershy in trepidation.

Sunset Shimmer. Twilight knew the truth. She could tell them, but that would require evidence, something she did not have, other than testimony by an otherworldly spirit currently following her around via a card. Still, it would not hurt to see if her new friends had some form of inkling about.

“Well, would you and Rainbow Dash have any enemies on campus?”

The three looked at her, then among each other.

“Well other than other student groups,” Rarity noted, “but this was two years back.”

“An’ Ah’ve never wished bad on anyone, besides…” A realization dawned on the farmgirl’s face, “God damn; Rainbow! Ah gotta talk to her an’ apologize!”

“Don’t worry, Applejack,” Rarity interjected, taking her hand. “We’ll tell her together that this was all a big misunderstanding. I’m certain she’ll listen if we’re together.”

“Ah certainly hope so…” Applejack nudged her hat lower over her eyes in resentment, “Assumin’ she’ll even speak to me on friendly terms ever again…”

“Fluttershy, you’re observant: Do you have any idea who might have framed Rarity and Rainbow Dash? Or any possible enemies before now?” Twilight inquired, glad to see that cohesion was remerging quickly amongst her friends’ counterparts.

Fluttershy kneaded her hair thoughtfully, “Well, I’m not so certain, but if I had to pick someone, even if it is mostly out of spite…”

“Pardon?”

“That is to say, I wouldn’t put it past if Sunset Shimmer did it,” Fluttershy stated. “She’s stuffed me in my locker plenty of times. A-and just yesterday she was very crossed with me for some reason over the crown…”

Right; Principal Celestia had mentioned the crown yesterday to Twilight too. “Sunset Shimmer?” she asked, feigning ignorance. “The school champion? Red hair? Orange eyes? A stare that could kill you?”

“An’ cuddly as a sawblade,” Applejack added.

“Um, yes?” Fluttershy bobbed her shoulders.

“Also known as the biggest bully of CHS,” Rarity nodded, crossing her arms. “Why, I remember one time when she challenged… Who was it? Lightning Dust? To a dare that ended in tears.”

“Really? What?” Twilight asked, perhaps disturbingly curios. Sunset Shimmer was her predecessor as Celestia’s protégé, so her acting as a bully seemed very unbecoming.

“I don’t know the exact details of how it came about, but suffice it to say, they were daring over money.” Rarity frowned and muttered, “No doubt extorted…” before straightening her face. “They held bills atop their hands and took it in turns to pick them up… stabbing through them with a switchblade!”

Twilight grimaced, “What happened?”

Rarity pursed her lips remembering, “Lightning ended up stabbing herself through the hand.”

Fluttershy let out a muffled whimper, whereas Twilight felt utterly shocked. And she was Princess Celestia’s student?!

“To be fair, Lightning Dust is about a dozen apples short of a bushel,” Applejack remarked, though earning a disapproving scowl from everyone. “Sorry…”

“And she’s the champion, on top of being in the student council?!” Twilight gaped out of sheer incredulity. She could not help but feel that this world’s standards seemed quite lacking... “And wait; she brought a weapon to school?!”

All Rarity could do was nod in response to Twilight’s inquiries.

“Nothin’, Ah mean nothin’ would feel better than beatin’ that bitch down from her pedestal…” growled Applejack, for the first time using more colorful language, one which would end with her paying the swear jar in Equestria.

“Wait! Do you have the number of who sent the photo?!” Rarity interjected.

“It was in an e-mail,” Applejack stated. “It was ages ago, so tryin’ to find it might take time, but Ah guess Ah could do that, seein’ as we’re already missin’ class.”

Twilight bowed apologetically, “I’m so sorry about that!”

Applejack brushed it aside, “Come on now, Twi; it’s fine.”

“I agree; missing one class over what you did for us is worth the spot of tardiness,” Rarity affirmed with Applejack. “And to be honest; I wouldn’t mind showing Sunset what for myself. Especially if it was her behind this…” to which an uncomfortable coldness seemed to emanate from the fashionista.

“Tell you what; Ah’mma see if Ah can find that e-mail while we’re still up here. Lord knows Ah’m gonna need all the help Ah can get makin’ it up with Rainbow…” said Applejack, fiddling on her smartphone, looking more than a little apprehensive.

As Applejack went to work finding this “e-mail” of hers, Fluttershy beckoned Twilight to the side, away from Rarity and Applejack.

“Um, Twilight, if it’s not too much, could you maybe help me with my own little dilemma? That is, if you’re up for it. Not that I want to impose, seeing how you already accomplished a lot…”

Twilight idly dismissed Fluttershy’s concerns, “It’s not problem, Fluttershy. It’s regarding Pinkie Pie, right?”

“Oh right, I already told you,” Fluttershy mused.

“I would be more than happy to help a friend,” Twilight pronounced proudly.

“You… You consider me a friend?” asked Fluttershy, hints of a sheepish smile having formed on her lips, added with the less indirect eye contact. “Even if we’ve just met?”

Twilight nodded, “Of course. I know what it’s like being alone,” she informed, albeit slightly altered regarding her past of self-induced solitude, “and no-one should have to go through that. Please, tell me the whole story…”

-

Keeping privy to the next bell, Twilight and her new friends surreptitiously made their way back into the school proper from the rooftop. Applejack had managed to find the e-mail address of whomever had sent her the altered photo (yet another example of this world’s amazing technological feats, given how complicated and time-consuming photo alteration was in Equestria, even with magical aid), but unfortunately it did not give any definitive indication pertaining to the sender. All they could gleam was “honest prier at B-mail dot com”. A most oxymoronic title. Still, it did not discount the possibility of it having been Sunset Shimmer, a notion that still disgusted Twilight to no end thinking someone like her could have ever been protégé to Celestia.

As if responding to her feelings, she caught a glimpse of Priestess sitting atop the ledge of a bookcase, expressing what might have been concern or possibly discontent. She could not discern as she could not hear her mental transmissions. Before she could try to reach out, she was distracted by Applejack.

“Ah’mma see if Ah can find Rainbow Dash, get this whole mess cleared up,” she stated, beginning to head for the library exit.

“I’ll go with you, at least until next period,” Rarity reciprocated, taking a moment to look back at Twilight. “Will you be on campus the whole day?”

Twilight shrugged curtly, “I don’t really have a choice right now until I can find my wallet. Fluttershy needs my help with something, but you’ll find me around if need be.”

Rarity glanced at the timid girl bringing up the rear, “You mean Pinkie Pie?”

“Do you know anything about their falling out?” Twilight asked.

Now was the fashionista’s turn to shrug, “To be honest, Pinkie hasn’t spoken with me in forever either. I had other things on my mind and it sort of slipped my mind.”

“And she just pretends I’m not around…” Fluttershy murmured.

Twilight pursed her lips contemplatively. Obvious dimensional differentials aside, including this Applejack and Rarity’s orientations and all, first impressions of the human Pinkie, though brief, hinted mostly at the one on the other side of the portal; chipper and jovial. Never could Twilight think of her Pinkie wish ill will or scorn on anypony (or anyone), barring that single time shortly after she’d met her…

“Out of curiosity; by any chance has her hair gone limp?”

-

It figured; the night of the fall formal and midterm championship would be topped off by a party. Where there was party; there was Pinkie, planned by Pinkie. So, Pinkie’s propensity for partying pertained past the portal…

Strange bout of alliterative thinking promptly ignored, Twilight approached the pink party planner, currently the only person (until Twilight, tailed closely by Fluttershy) occupying the school gymnasium who was busy decorating the space for the big event two nights away. A large glittering magenta banner had been hung up over the stage at the far end, rolled up and ready to be unveiled at the pull of a rope, complete with some seemingly haphazard streamers hanging off it. Or that’s what the unaffiliated would fathom. At the moment Pinkie looked busy blowing a balloon before promptly tying it up and tapping it gently away… Before pulling off one of the balloons imprinted on her frilly skirt and proceeding to inflate it.

Yup… Definitely Pinkie Pie, thought Twilight, as evidenced by the established rules of physics breaking before her. She closed in on the party girl, who hadn’t taken notice, what with her back turned.

Twilight coughed softy, “Excuse me,” she spoke, eliciting Pinkie to about face towards her, the filling balloon still in her mouth. “I believe we’ve met before, albeit briefly but-”

“Oh, he-!” the Pink girl’s frizzy hair was suddenly billowing like it was in a windstorm the moment her lips released the balloon. When it had sputtered its last, along with Pinkie, on top of shaking her head rigorously, she resumed beaming at Twilight, “You’re the new girl who dueled Flash!”

“Yes, that’s me.” Twilight grinned embarrassedly from one particular memory, “Thanks for the help with the duel disk earlier…”

“Oh no problem!” Pinkie’s voice suddenly emanated from ahead and above.

In the split second she’d looked away, Twilight saw Pinkie hanging upside down from the hung-up banner, trying a triplet of balloons around one of the sides where it was suspended. When Twilight looked back over her shoulder to Fluttershy, trying to ask if she’d seen what she hadn’t, Pinkie was already back in front of her with another balloon in hand.

“So, what part of your adventure as the new girl in school are you at?” asked Pinkie, something Twilight found perplexingly random.

Twilight idly glanced to the side, watching Pinkie start blowing the balloon, “I’m sorry, I don’t follow…”

“Oh, you know;” said Pinkie, this time remembering to clasp the distending sphere of rubber shut, “new girl, this far into third term, came from seemingly nowhere, the underdog suffering a public defeat by her handsome rival slash love-interest, only to stand right back up and make an epic comeback!”

Twilight wasn’t certain what to make of whatever the pink party planner was going on about, deciding to ignore it for the moment in lieu of more pertinent matters.

“Actually, there’s something I wish to talk with you about,” Twilight replied. Seeing Pinkie’s raised eyebrows as she continued filling the balloon, she deduced she had her undivided attention. “It’s regarding her.”

Twilight stepped aside, revealing Fluttershy, who in a meek display waved timidly at Pinkie. Only silence followed. Save for the hissing of air traveling from Pinkie’s lungs into the balloon. Lungs with quite the impressive capacity given how the hissing didn’t cease. Twilight looked on in a blend of intrigue and trepidation as the balloon continued filling at a steady pace without Pinkie needing to stop to inhale, the pink party girl’s brows lowering into a perfect geometrically flat-lined frown.

As the hissing continued well over half a minute, the balloon continuing to inflate, Twilight and Fluttershy exchanged looks of concern. Pinkie’s face remained mostly unchanged, aside from her pink cheeks turning noticeably darker.

“Uh… Pinkie?” Twilight spoke up, wincing as Pinkie’s entire face slowly flushed.

“That can’t be good…” Fluttershy remarked, kneading her hair in worry.

“Or healthy!” Twilight blurted, seeing the balloon swelling up well beyond its elasticity.

Pinkie’s eyes began to squint, the hissing of air still not abating when the girl’s cheeks began to change from flushed red to a tint of blue. Before Twilight could get another word out, the impossibly inflated balloon burst with a resounding bang, sending the pink girl, now with hints of blue, falling backwards with a thump. Loud, wheezy breathing followed.

“I’m okay!” Pinkie proclaimed with a rasp, raising her arm with her forefinger extended before falling limp beside her once more.

Twilight and Fluttershy huddled around the gasping Pinkie, whose complexion was thankfully retaining its healthier bubblegum pink, albeit she looked cross-eyed.

Twilight held up three fingers over Pinkie’s face, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Clementeen,” said Pinkie, eliciting Twilight and Fluttershy to exchange further concerned looks.

The two resolved to try and help the strange anomaly in the shape of a human being back on her feet. Only Pinkie managed to beat both of them to it by kicking herself up and onto a standing position, impressively enough.

“Right! Now where was I that definitely did not involve someone I do not know about?” she asked in a shockingly genuine upbeat tone, walking towards a cardboard box nearby filled with various party paraphernalia.

Twilight turned to Fluttershy, incredulously pointing at Pinkie with her thumb, to which Fluttershy shrugged.

Groaning from exasperation, deciding to approach the party girl again, this time more directly, “Look, I don’t know exactly what went on between the two of you, but don’t you think you’re acting a little childish?”

This seemed to give Pinkie a moment of pause in the midst of her rummaging, before resuming, producing what appeared to be some form of canister. On quick inspection, it was helpfully labelled as helium.

“Right,” Pinkie started, affixing a pink balloon to the nozzle and began to fill it, “Pinkie being childish…”

“Pardon?” was all Twilight could ask due to lack of context.

“Just because I’m chipper and bombastic, something I’m totally aware of despite what some people may think, and yea I might have blown up a thing or two, but it doesn’t mean I’m dumb!”

Twilight looked to Fluttershy in any hope of an explanation, but she seemed equally flummoxed.

“Pinkie, you might need to lay some context…” said Twilight promptingly.

Pinkie’s frown evaporated in the instant of realization, followed by a snorted laugh, “Oh, right, sorry!” She cleared her throat, “It just feels pretty insulting when a certain someone first asks me to arrange the party for the animal shelter adoption extravaganza, only to call that off saying my, and I quote ‘obnoxious loudness’ would just scare half the puppies and kittens to death!”

“B-but… But I never told you that!” Fluttershy replied indignantly. “Pinkie, the extravaganza was a bust because we didn’t have your enthusiasm attracting more people.”

“Well,” Pinkie shrugged, sticking another balloon into the canister nozzle, followed by the hiss of buoyant gas, “at least the puppies and kitten survived, amirite?” Her flat, restrained voice indicated no humor whatsoever, when the canister suddenly sputtered and the balloon stopped filling.

Pinkie rummaged through her paraphernalia, humming in contemplation when she failed to find a second helium canister.

“Shoot…” she tapped her cheek in thought, “Oh! I think I had one in my locker!” she pointed upwards in realization and briskly turned in place to exit the gymnasium, prancing in her own bipedal way, not unlike her pony counterpart.

“Wha…” Twilight mouthed as Pinkie rather brazenly just up and walked, or skipped away. “H-hey! Pinkie, we weren’t done here!” she called as she, and Fluttershy a few steps behind her, went after Pinkie.

The trio were unaware as someone watched them exit the gym and go down the hall. A pair of unnatural feeling orange eyes trailing behind them.

-

Sunset Shimmer raised an unamused, but curious brow as the three girls exited the gymnasium. Two of them she recognized; the annoying noisy girl with a borderline obsession pertaining to parties. So sickeningly chipper non-stop, never shutting up. And there was the wimpy animal lover; so easy to push around it got boring shoving her in a locker after only the third time. And then there was the new girl.

She grunted as a tinge of pain jabbed in her head. Again? The same thing happened yesterday… Come to think of it, ever since she’d gotten back from Equestria, these aches, if not outright migraines, had sprung up…

She peered into the gymnasium. She snorted in contempt; of course, the pink nuisance was the one in charge of the afterparty yet again. It might have looked passable if you were in elementary school, what with the rolled-up banner over the gymnasium stage, balloons, streamers…

Pathetic. This year’s mid-term championship match and fall formal was the night everything would change. She wasn’t going to be demeaned like this by having her field of battle look like some saccharine, pastel mess.

She took out her phone and with familiar movements ticked her way through her limited list of contacts. She had better things to do today, so might as well have someone more fitting do the dirty work of ridding her of the eyesore in the gymnasium. Even they should be able to handle it. A determined tap set off the front-view camera for assurance, and the message was ready. Send.

-

On the way back to the gymnasium, Twilight could not help but find it increasingly irritating how Pinkie seemed to go about ignoring her on top of Fluttershy now, the deliberate humming as she skipped not helping matters. Twilight had actually managed to get irritated enough to the point of rubbing her temples with her fingers.

Ugh! Not even my Pinkie could ever be this persistent in avoiding coming forth with her problems… I swear, by Celestia, this is even worse than the Mirror Pool incident. I mean the clones may have been frustrating with their unruliness, but it was easier rounding them all up than trying to get through to…

“Twilight,” Fluttershy chimed in, “maybe we should just back off if-”

“Hey!” Twilight and Fluttershy looked up upon hearing Pinkie’s exclamation.

During their moment of absence two figures had entered the gymnasium. Standing atop the stage, in a strange display of one standing atop the other’s shoulder, seemingly in an impotent attempt at getting at the rolled-up banner, which was still about three, maybe four, feet too high for them to reach. The one on the bottom soon began to lose balance, and the both of them unceremoniously toppled and fell into a heap.

Twilight, though not certain what to think of an admittedly fruitless and ill-conceived method, gave a pitiable wince as the two tried to fruitlessly scramble back up, their grunts and vocalizations of protest sounding rather familiar to Twilight. Then again, with the sheer number of dimensional counterparts she’d seen so far (including whom she could have sworn looked like Derpy from Ponyville, right down to the mismatching eyes), it shouldn’t come off as much of a surprise anymore.

The two finally, after what seemed to require more effort than necessary, manage to clamber onto their feet. One was a lanky boy, a tad shorter than any of the girls present, with amber yellow skin, with hints of freckles and drooping turquoise green hair, adorned in a green blazer, light yellow pants and red sneakers. His eyes seemed permanently affixed in a half-lidded, drowsy gaze. The other was a shorter, portlier boy with a bluish grey skin tone and short, slightly disheveled orange hair adorned in a black t-shirt with a white image of scissors on the front, blue jeans and faint green sneakers. Other notable traits included thick eyebrows and a pair of buck teeth. As very much everyone else in the school, they wore duel disks.

Pinkie approached the two, looking up at them with a highly unamused expression, “Were you two just trying to take down the congratulatory banner which may or may not be filled with confetti among other things I just hung up?” she asked, tapping her boot against the floor.

“Err…” the portly one droned, his voice sounding slightly nasal, “No…?”

“Uhh, Snips, I thought Sunset Shimmer told us to take care of it,” the lanky one stated, his tone making him sound quite scatterbrained.

“Snails!”

Pinkie’s brow flattened creepily and her lips pursed in agitation, “I’m sorry,” she said in an uncharacteristically steady tone, “but could you repeat that?”

“Uh, okay!” Snails replied, “Sunset Shimmer told us to take care of the kiddie party decorations because she… Uh, I dunno, I zoned out on that last part…”

“Dammit, Snails!” Snips retorted, when, in a poor attempt to save face, he crossed his arms boastfully, trying to appear tough, “I mean, that’s right, yo! Sunset says she don’t like no kiddie crud, so we’re here to take it all down!” he spoke, making hand gestures that Twilight had no idea regarding their meanings.

Great… First with Trixie in Equestria, and here these two get mixed up with Sunset…

“Is that so?” Pinkie asked, grinning sweetly. “Well, I have only thirty-four words to say to that…” Pinkie, reached into her hair, rummaging through it, when she produced a megaphone from its dimensionally transcendental depths. Clearing her throat, she pressed its trigger, a high-pitched hum emanating from the device; “NO WAY IN HECK IS SUNSET SHIMMER TELLING ME HOW I PLAN MY PARTIES WHICH I WORK MY BUTT OFF FOR TO MAKE THEM THE BEST THEY CAN BE.” She paused for a moment, giving Snips and Snails a moment as they shook from disorientation. “EVEN FOR BUZZ-KILLS LIKE HER.” She then reinserted it back in her hair.

Snips rummaged a finger in his ear as the two were still shook up from the voluminous retort, “Y-yea?” he mouthed sputtering as he shook his head, “W-well what are you gonna do about it? You really wanna make Sunset Shimmer mad?”

“Yea, and you don’t wanna see Sunset Shimmer mad,” his eyes wandered in an unfocused stare, “she’s scary when she gets mad…”

Pinkie snorted, “What’s she gonna do? Beat me up? Stuff me in a locker like Fluttershy? Because that only worked once.” She leaned back, covering the side of her mouth with one hand, “They have really crummy locks…”

“Yea? Well…” Snips hesitated, “we’re not scared to get violent! Right, Snails?”

“We aren’t?” Snails asked absently.

Twilight, though only slightly concerned about the confrontation turning violent, spotted Priestess walk across the stage from behind the rolled-up curtains. As expected, no-one but she could see her, walking in a slow, deliberate stride. She cast a wily sideward glance at Twilight, as if hinting at something Twilight hadn’t recognized.

The situation had taken an unexpected turn. What started out as trying to get Pinkie and Fluttershy back on speaking terms had now veered off into Snips and Snails going about trying to impede Pinkie’s work on behalf of the school… A most fitting idea snuck its way into Twilight’s conscious, glancing between Fluttershy and Pinkie.

Twilight stepped forth, performing a calming gesture, “There’s no need to get confrontational here people. If Sunset Shimmer is taking issues with Pinkie’s mode of festivities, there’s a perfect means of solving this little dilemma.”

“… Reporting it to the student council?” Snails asked in a shocking display of common sense.

As much as the first response would have made sense in a normal setting, at least by Equestrian standards, Twilight had a different resolution in mind.

“I propose a duel. Two-on-two.” She gestured at the two boys, “You representing Sunset Shimmer: If you win, then we will take down the decorations as per her wishes.”

“So, what? Us against you two?” asked Snips, in a tone of condescension Twilight did not care for in the least. “Ha! Don’t think we don’t know how you get your butt kicked yesterday!”

Twilight shook her head, “Not me…” She gestured to Fluttershy, “Fluttershy will be tagging with Pinkie Pie.”

Fluttershy jerked in startlement, “Me?!”

“Her?!” Pinkie reciprocated the sentiment.

“Yes; you two,” Twilight declared, pulling the two towards her by their hands. “I’m certain two of the best duelists at school working together can pull off a spectacular performance. And besides, won’t it be fun?” she fluttered her brow at Pinkie. To her chagrin, the pink party girl simply frowned.

“Um, Twilight,” Fluttershy muttered, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I mean, I don’t want to ruin Pinkie’s hard work if we were to…”

Twilight leaned towards Pinkie, “I’ll accept full responsibility for whatever happens. Is that fair?”

Pinkie looked up in thought, “Hmm… Well, I guess it’s fair. Plus, dueling is just a lot of fun!” her face seemed to brighten just slightly.

“So, do both sides accept the proposal?” Twilight asked, glancing up at the pondering Snips and Snails.

The two huddled with their backs turned, seeming to whisper something in between one another. They turned back to the girls, Snips retaining his boastful posturing while Snails simply looked serenely complacent.

“Alright! We accept!” He declared with a needlessly dramatic upward point.

“Uh, yea. We’re gonna duel.”

Pinkie rolled up her nonexistent sleeves in response, “Then it’s time to d-d-d-d…”

-

“d-d-d-duel!” Pinkie proclaimed, stopping her stuttering only once both teams were in place as they activated their respective duel disks.

Twilight assumed a seat on the right-side bleachers, once again letting Spike out of her backpack, having also taken the initiative to close the gymnasium door to hopefully reduce sound pollution.

“So, what exactly is your plan here?” asked Spike, shaking his small, furry body from head to tail.

“If Pinkie and Fluttershy were once close, I believe that by having them face opponents together, maybe it can reignite their trust by having them work together,” Twilight explained.

As the two sides’ duel disks were activating the proper parameters, Twilight once again saw Priestess, this time seated sideways at the top of the opposite bleachers, one long leg stretched out leisurely along the seating. She looked up from the preparing duelists at Twilight, nodding with approval.

“Is something wrong?” asked Spike, following Twilight’s gaze towards the bleachers.

Twilight glanced between Spike and the Priestess, who this time had not decided to vanish upon her looking away. Twilight considered to tell the dog the truth, when the conjoined call of “Duel!” brought her focus back to the opposing teams. In retrospect, Twilight had wished she’d gotten a school issue disk for the spectator function…

Snips Life Points: 4000

Snails Life Points: 4000

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 4000

Fluttershy Life Points: 4000

The coin flip seemed to have gone for Snips and Snails first, or however the devices determined the order of tag-duels, as he was the first to begin selecting something from his hand.

Turn 1: Snips (Hand: 5)

“Okay! I summon ‘Ojama Blue’, in defense mode!”

What appeared on Snips’ field was something Twilight had not come to expect. So far most of the monsters were often presented as frighteningly fearsome or gracefully, maybe even to the point of attractive, elegant or beautiful, or having the cuddliness of creatures like para-sprites, only to reveal some innate nastiness to them in terms of their abilities.

Appearing on Snips’s field was a small blue humanoid with a head proportionately larger than its body. Its head was vaguely rectangular, with two disproportionate squinted eyes near the top corners, and a very pronounced pouted mouth slightly below the middle. What made it appear very out of place was that its small blue body was practically naked, save for a pair of red briefs, or a speedo that hid some form of bulge. It knelt down in a passable display of a defensive pose with its tiny arms crossed over its chest. (Level 2 0/1000)

“I place two cards facedown. Beat that, if ya can!” he resumed his needless tough-guy posing.

(Hand: 2)

Turn 2: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 5)

As per the rulings, Pinkie did not draw a card either. The first one to draw would be Snails on his first turn, plus none of the players could attack on their first turns due to two players remaining completely defenseless. She looked over her five starting cards with a pout, tapping at her chin in a needlessly dramatic fashion.

“Oooh… I’ll summon ‘Madolche Ba-a-aple’ in defense mode!”

Before Twilight could once again wonder about the pink party planner’s antics, on her field emerged what at first looked to be a cartoon sheep or lamb. Twilight instantly noticed that the ‘wool’ of the creature was clearly not actual wool, but it looked to have the texture of what looked to be marshmallow. A pair of what looked to be horns composed of swirls of orangish cream jutted from the front end of its body near its head. It bayed with an admittedly adorable voice as it hunched down atop the sideward card that materialized underneath defense-position monsters. (Level 4, 0/1800)

“And I’ll place one teeny-weeny little facedown,” she continued, before giving a nonchalant shrug. “Well, I’m done.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 3: Snails (Hand: 5)

Turn 3: Snails (Hand: 5)

A slight nudge from Snips’ elbow brought the vacantly staring Snails back into the moment, “Whu-wha? … Oh, right, uh, draw…”

“I know it’s mean of me to say this, but I get the feeling this is going to be over pretty quickly with these two bozos…” Spike whispered from behind a paw.

“Uhh, I summon ‘Howling Insect’ in attack mode, yea.”

On Snail’s field emerged what was clearly a grasshopper or locust with a striking blue body with teal-green wing coverings and a gruesome yellow face with uncharacteristically vicious looking glowing yellow eyes. It rubbed its extended rear-legs, as if in anticipation, a faint sound akin to scraping emanating from them. (Level 3 1200/1300).

“And uhh… I’ll end my turn,” he proclaimed, not seeming very enthused about the moment.

(Hand: 4)

Turn 4: Fluttershy (Hand: 5)

Fluttershy took a deep, steady breath before sighing calmingly. She drew her first card. She looked at the card fondly before affixing it to her disk’s tray.

“I summon Bicorn Re’em in defense mode.”

On Fluttershy’s field emerged a remarkably feline looking beast. Its body shared similarities with a lion, save for a black pronged pattern running along its sides, while its head was a distinctly more orange hue compared to its tan body with a rougher fur texture. Two slightly upward curving, blade-like horns protruded from its forehead. It crouched down, a guttural rumble emanating from its jugular. (Level 4 800/1600)

“I place one card facedown. My turn ends.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 5: Snips (Hand 2)

“Alright, my draw,” Snips looked at his latest draw. “Oooh, I’ll play a field spell; ‘Ojama Country’.”

Snips slid in a card and tapped his screen. After a moment of the four duels disks humming, the gymnasium was suddenly overtaken by a strange glimmer for a short moment, unveiling the surroundings as having changed. In place of the gymnasium was what looked to be some pitted embankment of reddish-brown sandstone. Atop said embankment stood haphazardly placed structures that appeared to be houses resembling mushrooms in design, save for two extending orbs jutting out of each. The ceiling had given away to a deep blue sky, while small multi-colored half-naked humanoids in red briefs seemed to be walking around aimlessly.

“W-what just-?!” Spike almost shouted, managing to catch his voice in his throat. “Where are we? How’d we get outside?”

Twilight looked around, a part of the bleachers, at least what she and Spike had occupied remained unchanged. Feeling around curiously along her seat, she watched as her hand seemed to peel away at their new surroundings, exposing the slightly worn lacquered wood underneath her hand. Upon pulling away the landscape enveloped the exposed bleachers again, like flowing water taking up unused space.

“It’s fine, Spike,” said Twilight, though thoroughly impressed by what she was beholding. “It’s just another projection. And a very impressive one at that. And all without using magic! Incredible!”

Spike did not seem to share her enthusiasm, watching one of the strange little creatures dawdle past him.

“Ha! With Ojama Country in play, as long as I have an Ojama in play, all monsters’ attack and defense points are switched around,” Snips declared triumphantly. “Which means I’ll be switching Ojama Blue to attack mode.”

The blue humanoid in briefs stood up, flexing its gangly arms, to which cartoonishly disproportionate bumps arose from its biceps. (ATK: 1000)

“Oh… my,” Fluttershy muttered, seeing her own comparatively fearsome beast seem to lose its footing slightly (Bicorn Re’em DEF: 800)

“Uh-ohhh…” mouthed Pinkie, her own monster’s defense takin a direct plummet to zero.

Snails guffawed dopily, “Good one, Snips.” (Howling Insect ATK: 1300)

“What’s more; once each turn I can send an ‘Ojama’ card from my hand to the graveyard, like Ojamagic and Special Summon one ‘Ojama’ from-” Snips’ duel disk screen flashed red. “Wait, what?!”

“Um, Snips; you don’t actually have any Ojamas in your graveyard…” Fluttershy said, pointing out Snips’ mistake.

“D’oh!” Snips blurted, eliciting an idle laugh from Snails. “W-well, I can still summon ‘Ojama Green’ in attack mode!”

Another strange small humanoid appeared on Snips’ field, which seemed to match one of the various creatures wandering about in the projection. This one had a heavily muscled upper body in comparison to its very slim legs, and a head, with no clear indication of a neck, just as large, if not larger than its torso. A single large eyeball gazed from above a huge mouth lines with strangely shining teeth, only offset by a long purple tongue that seemed incapable of fitting into its mouth. In flexed its biceps in a posturing manner, whilst its pecks seemed to quiver. The display was… uncomfortable, to say the least. (Level 2 0/1000 -> 1000/0)

“And now I use Ojama Blue to attack Madolche Baaple!”

The blue bug-eyes humanoid clenched its fist, letting forth a most unsettling wet noise reverberating from its throat. It then launched a wad of spit, accented with a sound akin to a firearm going off.

“What a pity…” Pinkie spoke with a deepened voice, “You activated my trap card; ‘Madolche Waltz!’”

To Twilight’s shock, the tiny globule caused Pinkie’s monster to explode violently. Her life points remained unchanged due to Baaple having been in defense mode. Just then what seemed to be one of Baaple’s horns flew in an arc over the field of battle and struck Snip’s segmented forcefield, bouncing off it.

Snips’ Life Points: (-300) 3700

“Hey, what gives?!” Snips blurted in befuddlement.

Pinkie giggled, “Didn’t anyone teach you not to spit? And Madolche Waltz-y here; every time you attack one of my deliberately delectable pals, you take 300 points of damage afterwards. In addition, when Madolche Baaple is destroyed and sent to the graveyard, she boings back into my deck.” To which Pinkie reinserted Baaple’s card into her deck that was subsequently shuffled.

“Yea? Well I can still attack ya directly with Ojama Green!” Snips retorted.

At that that disgusting green humanoid turned its back towards Pinkie. Twilight could only watch in disgust as the thing seemed to squat down, clenching its fists as its body started to quiver.

Oh sweet Celestia, don’t tell me it’s…

A loud sputter of flatulence emanated from Ojama Green, a visible ball of miasma wafting towards Pinkie. As the gaseous projectile reached her, the party girl began to fan at the air in front of her with her cards.

“Pheee-eww!” Pinkie winced. The sheer spectacle almost made Twilight feel as if she could smell the funk of methane and rotten eggs.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: (-1000) 3000

“How do you like them apples?” Snips sneered.

“Uh, Snips, I think that was a fart…” Snails remarked, earning a round of groans all around him.

Snips rolled his eyes, “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 6: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 3)

As soon as Pinkie was finished spraying from a can of air freshener that she, naturally, had pulled out of seemingly nowhere, she drew her next card.

“Okay, spitting I could handle, but farts?! That’s just too far…” she remarked. “I summon ‘Madolche Mewfuille’ in defense mode!”

A dark pink drowsy looking cat appeared on Pinkie’s field, garbed in an oversized purple belt around its chest and wore a hat that seemed to be made out of a pancake with a fluffy tassel hanging off it. (Level 3 500/300 -> 300/500)

“Are all of Pinkie’s monsters edible?” Spike whispered, to which Twilight could only shrug.

“When this fluffy yummy cuddly is Normal Summoned, he lets me Special Summon one ‘Madolche’ from my hand.” Pinkie looked over her remaining three cards, “Ooooh, I think I’ll-”

“Not so fast!” Snips interjected, swinging a short arm.

“I dunno, Snips; these things do tend to take a while…” added Snails, idly scratching at his cheek.

“I activate the trap card ‘Spatial Collapse’!” a continuous trap revealed itself from one of Snips’ facedowns. “This card can be played if all players have five or less cards on their fields, so now none of us can have any more than five cards out at once.

Pinkie gave a raise of her shoulders, “Oookay…? Still, I Special Summon-”

“Not so fast… Again!” Another trap card revealed itself on Snips’ side, “I play ‘Ojama Trio’!”

Three puffs of smoke appeared on Pinkie’s side of the field, unveiling themselves as three of the multi-colored creatures wandering around in the field spell projection. One was the same as the muscular mono-eyed Ojama Green. Another was a gangly yellow one with a pear-shaped head with two tendrils where its eyes were located, along with thick red lips bearing a disturbing grin. The third was a very dark grey with a comparably pudgy body, small squinted eyes and an enormous nose. (3x Level 2 0/1000 -> 1000/0)

“Ojama Trio summons three ‘Ojama Tokens’ in defense mode to your side of the field. So now you can’t summon any more monsters or set cards thanks to Spatial Collapse!” Snips added in a boisterous arms-crossed pose. “What ‘cha gonna do now?”

Pinkie grimaced just slightly, seeing the three “Ojama Tokens” make varying insulting gestures at her, the yellow one wagging its rear towards her whilst the dark grey one simply fell on its back, a bubble of snot emerging from its nose, going promptly to sleep.

“I… end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

“This can’t be good…” Twilight muttered, able to hear the strangely informative back-and-forth between both parties.

“Can’t Pinkie just sacrifice those things?” asked Spike.

“She’ll have to wait until next turn, seeing as she already used up her Normal Summon that turn before Snips brought out those ‘Ojamas’, and with Spatial Collapse he ultimately shut down most of Pinkie’s field,” said Twilight. “Overall, it’s an interesting strategy. Instead of actively going for his opponent’s life points, Snips is stalling her by suppressing field presence…”

Turn 7: Snails (Hand 4)

Snails drew his next card, “Oooh, nice. I summon ‘Warm Worm’ in attack mode.”

On Snail’s side, beside his primed Howling Insect, emerged a baggy-bodied caterpillar or worm with a brownish red back and a white belly lined with a row of stubby legs. A tri-pointed mane of fire protruded from behind its beady eyes, whilst a small puff of smoke emanated from its spinneret. (Level 3 800/1400 -> 1400/800)

“And then I’ll play ‘Verdant Sanctuary’… Whatever that means…” a continuous spell was unveiled from the ground. “Then I’ll attack… uh… the horned thing with Howling Insect.”

Howling Insect reared back, its wings unveiling from underneath its chitinous covers which began to flutter in rapid succession, a hint of a faint screech emanating around the immediate vicinity. (ATK: 1300) Bicorn Re’em lowered its head, groaning from discomfort (DEF: 800), when the poor creature erupted into fragments, eliciting a peep from Fluttershy.

“And then I’ll attack directly with Warm Worm,” Snails followed, his worm turning its rear towards Fluttershy, the air before it rippling forebodingly.

“I play my facedown; ‘Battle Instinct!’” Fluttershy unveiled a trap card. “This card activates if I’m attacked directly and have no monsters; to which I can special summon one level 4 or below beast-type monster from my hand. I choose Giant Rat in attack mode!”

A snarling grey rat, taller than a human appeared on Fluttershy’s field, grasping what appeared to be a human skull in one paw. (Level 4 1400/1450 -> 1450/1400)

“I’m guessing all of Fluttershy’s cards are animals?” remarked Spike. “Isn’t it kind of weird how coincidentally all our friends’ counterparts’ decks seem to coincide with their personalities and interests?”

Twilight had taken note of the similarities, naturally. Applejack, being a farmer and purportedly had some sense of closeness to the land as an earth pony would, used plant-type monsters, a most befitting choice. Rarity, with her love for beautiful aesthetics and precious stones, used the most befitting Gem-Knights, which may also had played in on her penchant for dramatics. Pinkie’s Madolches seemed to ostensibly be based on some personifications of various confectionery delights, given at least in terms of her pony counterpart’s fondness for sweet things. Fluttershy, if being like her counterpart on top of being shy, likely had a fondness for animals, which her two first monsters seemed to indicate.

A thought came across Twilight in conjunction to similarities between this world and Equestria. Magic, for the most part, in Equestria was highly reflective of the subject wielding it, be it unicorn sorcery, or the inherent magic saturating the very fiber of all three pony tribes, right down to the meanings behind everypony’s cutie mark. If what Priestess had told her about Duel Monsters, or rather, the Games of Darkness being bound to the inherent power of this cosmos, could everyone’s decks covertly be a reflection of the person who wielded them.

And someone thought to literally monetize it…

“Uh, well, I’ll attack the rat with Warm Worm instead…” Snails replied.

If I only had a disk so I could see their statistics better…

Warm Worm (ATK: 1400), the air around it continuing to ripple, launched a stream of fire from its spinnerets at the newly summoned Giant Rat (ATK: 1450). The large rodent swiftly ducked under the flames and charged at the hapless arthropod, viciously sinking its large incisors at the back of its neck, making it erupt into bits.

Snails Life Points: (-50) 3950

“He just offed his own monster and took damage…” Twilight mused, feeling uncertain what the dopey student was trying.

“I told you, you shouldn’t expect much from these two, alternate reality or not,” Spike added with a shrug.

“Thanks. When Warm Worm is destroyed, it sends five-”

“Three!” Snips retorted.

“Three. Cards from the top of your deck to the graveyard.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy reluctantly took the top three cards of her deck and slid them into the graveyard slot.

“Uhh… What else was there…? Oh yea! And with Verdant Sanctuary when an insect is destroyed in battle, it lets me add an insect from my deck to my hand that was the same level, so I add a level five-”

“Three,” Fluttershy corrected.

“Level three insect to my hand,” Snail’s deck ejected a card for him to pick up. “I set one facedown. I’m done.”

(Hand: 3)

“Hmm…” Twilight hummed, eyeing the field following Snails’ turn.

“So what do you think that was all about? He took damage and just sent three cards into Fluttershy’s graveyard,” Spike stated. “Compared to Pinkie, she’s not even hurt.”

“I know,” Twilight confirmed with a nod, “I’m just wondering if these two might be more knowledgeable than we think…”

Turn 8: Fluttershy (Hand: 3)

Fluttershy drew her turn card. “I summon ‘Mine Mole’ in attack mode.”

A small brown cartoonish star-nosed mole with big, cutesy eyes appeared on the field. Its namesake nose may or may not have actually looked more akin to a pink flower, and it wore an orange safety helmet, while in one of its stubby paws it brandished a pickaxe. (Level 3 1000/1200 -> 1200/1000)

Fluttershy then looked defiantly towards Snips’ two Ojamas posturing obnoxiously, “I will then attack Ojama Green with Giant Rat!”

“Wait what-?”

Snips barely managed to respond when the large rodent charged forth on all fours towards the one-eyed Ojama Green (ATK: 1000), which began to fret and flail its arms as Giant Rat’s (ATK :1450) glistening incisors chomped down on it, destroying it.

Snips Life Point: (-450) 3250

“And then, Mine Mole attacks Ojama Blue!”

Fluttershy’s small, but plucky Mole (ATK 1200) ran towards the posturing blue humanoid, swinging its pickaxe with a squeaky battle cry. As the squinty-eyes blue humanoid held out its hands in protest (ATK: 1000), Mine Mole struck with its weapon, ending Ojama Blue.

Snips Life Point: (-200) 3050

“Hey, no fair!” Snips cried out in protest.

“Well, actually, it is; this is a two-on-two duel after all,” Fluttershy stated matter-of-factly.

“Ehh, I could’ve handled it…” Pinkie grumbled.

“But Pinkie, your field…”

Snips piped up, “I activate Ojama Blue’s effect: When he’s destroyed in battle, I can add two ‘Ojama’ cards to my hand!” to which said number of cards slid out from Snip’s deck.

“See, now he just got a new card in the hand,” Pinkie retorted.

“I-I was just trying to…”

“Are you through?” Snips called with slight agitation.

“Oh! Um, yes?”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 9: Snips (Hand: 4)

Snips drew his card, “Okay, now I play Ojama Country’s effect and discard ‘Ojamagic’ to the graveyard to Special Summon one Ojama from my graveyard! I bring back Ojama Blue in attack mode!”

The blue squinty-eyed humanoid arose from the purple graveyard portal, to which it crossed its arms and stuck its tongue out at its foes. (Level 3 0/1000 -> 1000/0)

“And when Ojamagic is discarded to the graveyard, I can bring one each of Ojama Green, Yellow and Black to my hand!”

“Seriously?” Spike snorted. “Those things are so easily taken down. What’s having three more of those… horrible abominations gonna do?”

“I play ‘Polymerization’!” Snips inserted an all too familiar card to Twilight from her training with Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. “With this I’ll fuse Ojamas Green, Yellow and Black in my hand!”

The Fusion vortex opened over the field, to which the three respective Ojamas, all looking exactly alike to their tokens occupying Pinkie’s field, were sucked in, their forms beginning to blend together. Snips brought his hands together, fingers intertwining.

“Fusion Summon! Check it out: Level 6, Ojama King!”

What came forth from the vortex was… Absolutely ridiculous. The combined Ojamas formed a giant white humanoid, with the majority of its body being composed of a neckless head. A wide pink-lipped mouth extended from side-to-side, a row of pristine white teeth peeking from between. Its massive nose took up most of the length of its body. Two tendrils near the top of its head bore squinted eyes. Two stubby arms protruded from its sides around where a human’s ears would normally be located. Atop its head was a tacky looking golden crown, a short green cape clung off its back, and like its materials, it wore a red speedo over its comparatively smaller groin and another around the top of its head. Just then the creature flexed its arms, its body distending to possess a set of massive muscles. (Level 6 0/3000 -> 3000/0)

Twilight’s face scrunched just slightly upon seeing this aberration no doubt birthed from a mind most vulgar, “You were saying?”

“Oh, my…” Fluttershy murmured.

“And with Ojama Country still in play, his attack and defense switch around, giving him three thousand attack points,” Snips boasted, “and on top of that, Ojama King makes you unable to use two of your monster zones!”

Both Pinkie and Fluttershy winced when a small Ojama King appeared on their duel disks’ screens, holding a giant stamper, with which it plastered a red X on two of their respective monster zones.

“Ohhh… shitake...” Pinkie groaned, in anticipation of what was to come next.

“Ojama King, attack her Giant Rat!”

Ojama King (ATK: 3000) leapt into the air, straightening its body midair before beginning to plummet down on Fluttershy’s monster (ATK: 1450), which cowered in vain under its paws, letting loose a fearful shriek before the over-muscled abomination touched down, squashing the rodent flat. Fluttershy yelped as her duel disk’s feedback rocked her body upon impact.

Fluttershy Life Points: (-1550) 2450

“That’s for last turn!” Snips sneered.

“When Giant Rat is destroyed in battle, he lets me Special Summon an earth attribute monster with 1500 or less attack points from my deck in attack mode,” a card slid out of Fluttershy’s deck, “I Special Summon a second ‘Giant Rat’ in attack mode!”

A duplicate Giant Rat emerged onto her field, grasping at the human skull in its paws, hissing aggressively.

“I end my turn,” Snips crossed his arms smugly.

(Hand: 3)

Turn 10: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 3)

Pinkie continued to look over at Fluttershy with confused uncertainty in the midst of drawing her next card. Taking a deep breath through her nose, Pinkie’s eyes steeled towards the looming Ojama King, whom had managed to clamber back onto its feet…

“I play the spell card; ‘Terraforming’! This lets me add a field spell from my deck to my hand,” her chosen card was ejected… Only to remember that due to Snip’s Spatial Collapse and the irksome Ojama Tokens taking up her field along with her Madolche Waltz, she was very much stuck.

“I… can’t do anything…” she muttered, “I end my turn…”

(Hand: 4)

“But… She could have just sacrificed one of those Ojamas!” Spike almost shouted at Pinkie’s anemic display. “Why didn’t she-?!”

“She… She can’t…” Twilight mused.

“What do you mean?” Spike looked up at her in confusion.

“Maybe she doesn’t have monsters that require tributes… Or maybe Ojama Tokens can’t be sacrificed for a Tribute Summon. From what I’ve seen, Snips’ strategy is to ultimately shut down his opponent’s field and render them unable to move while he whittles them down.”

“Are you seriously implying that Snips and Snails can actually win?!” Spike asked incredulously. “If that happens I… I won’t even know what’s real anymore…”

Turn 11: Snails (Hand: 3)

Snails drew his card "Uhh… I banish Warm Worm from my Graveyard to Special Summon Azz… Uh, Azzt… Erm… the Giant Worm.”

The Ojama Country’s ground erupted, a long, green segmented arthropod emerging onto the field. Looking like some form of centipede, it coiled in place, snapping its vicious set of mandibles, its fearsome compound eyes giving off a red shimmer. (Aztekipede, the Worm Warrior, Level 4 1900/400 -> 400/1900)

“… Hey, what’s with the attack points?” Snails asked, sounding somewhat annoyed.

“Because of my Ojama Country, dummy!” Snips retorted. “Why did you even summon that?!”

“Because it’s tough, duh!” Snails replied in a slightly less hostile tone.

“Well just… Just switch it to defense!”

“I can’t, uhh, I just summoned it!”

“Fine, don’t worry about it, just do something!”

“Uhh, okay…” Snails picked out another card from his hand, “I Normal Summon 'Warm Worm' again.”

A second Warm Worm emerged onto the field.

“I attack Giant Rat with, uhh, Howling Insect, yea.”

Howling Insect’s wings began to flutter again, the irksome screeching beginning to sound once more (ATK: 1300). In response, the second Giant Rat (ATK: 1450) rushed at the oversized grasshopper, snatched it up and began to tear into the arthropod, literally devouring it in front of everyone in rapid succession, leaving behind bits and pieces of chitin which soon vanished.

Snails Life Points: (-150) 3800

“That… That was horrifying…” Twilight remarked.

Spike was pulling on his ears, “Again with getting his monster killed?!”

“Verdant Sanctuary lets me add another insect to my hand that’s the same level…” another card ejected from his deck to be added to his hand, “Oh yea; when Howling Insect is destroyed in battle, it uhh… Oh yea; he lets me Special Summon an insect from my deck with one-thousand five hundred attack points.”

“Just say fifteen-hundred!” Snips called out.

“So, I summon, uhh, ‘Shield Worm’ in defense mode.”

Another squirming arthropod emerged: This one a predominately brown and orange baggy worm which seemed to possess some form of chitinous crest on its underside that it lifted to its front, over which loomed a sextet of beady eyes. (Level 4 800/2000 -> 2000/800)

“Sniiips…” he called out in a whiny tone. “It switched it around the way I don’t want iiit…”

“Well stop playing those kindsa cards then!” Snips argued.

Snails muttered something everyone unheard, “Shield Worm sends cards from Fluttershy’s deck to the graveyard equal to the number of insects on my field, so that’s five-”

“Three!” Spike shouted from next to Twilight in exasperation.

“Three… Who said that?” Snails looked around.

Twilight feigned coughing in an attempt to abate suspicion, with one hand over Spike’s muzzle. In turn, Fluttershy took another three cards from the top of her deck and slid them into her graveyard slot.

“Uhh, then I attack Giant Rat with Warm Worm, I guess…”

Twilight had to grip Spike’s muzzle tighter as the dragon-turned-dog was pulling on his ears in sheer frustration, a muffled scream just barely escaping his lips.

As before, Warm Worm prepared to fire a stream of fire from its spinneret, when Giant Rat lunged at the hapless arthropod and tore into it viciously.

Snails Life Points: (-50) 3750

“And you again send three cards to the Graveyard.”

Fluttershy, with increasing reluctance, was forced to send three more cards into her graveyard, this making it nine overall.

As Spike’s insanity-induced screaming began to abate, Twilight whispered to him, “Spike! Spike, calm down! It’s part of his strategy!”

“Fhay wut?” Spike muffled. Twilight eyed the dog flatly, when Spike finally seemed to get a grasp again and assumed silence, eliciting Twilight to release his muzzle.

“It’s how Snails’ deck works. Instead of damaging the opponent, he forces them to send cards from their deck to the Graveyard. It says in the rules that if a player runs out of cards to draw, they lose.”

“Wait…” Spike began counting down on his paws, “So if he sent three last turn, added with three twice this turn, so that’s nine… How many cards does a deck usually have?”

“Forty cards. So at this rate, with Fluttershy’s starting hand being five, plus, her needing to draw once each turn, added with the nine she’s lost to Snails’ worms, plus the Giant Rat she summoned from her deck, she’s almost down to half…” Twilight looked apprehensively at the playing field, “Spike… I think I may have made a huge mistake pitting these four against one-another…”

“And I get another insect. Uh, I end my turn, I guess…” Snails drawled, seeming uneasy with having two monsters with their reversed stats being left in unfavorable positions on the field.

(Hand: 5)

Turn 12: Fluttershy (Hand: 3)

Fluttershy, looking slightly nervous as almost half of her deck had been spent, closed her eyes, seeming to mumble something under her breath.

-

I need to do something… I can’t let Pinkie Pie down. Even if she thinks I betrayed her, I… I need to show her, no matter how much she resents me, that I will always be there for her!

-

Fluttershy drew her next card, looking over at it, to which her eyes seemed to brightened. Twilight noticed this change in the shy girl’s expression, to which she hoped her trepidations might be proven wrong.

“I activate ‘Ayers Rock Sunrise’!” Fluttershy, in a much more confident and flourished display, inserted a card into her disk, unveiling her drawn card. “This card lets me summon one beast-type monster from my graveyard. And then, for each beast, plant and winged-beast monster in my graveyard, all the opponent’s monsters lose 200 attack points!” A card slid out of her Graveyard slot, “I choose the tuner monster ‘Uni-Horned Familiar’, in attack mode!”

From the Graveyard portal emerged a bipedal, monkey-like creature with shaggy teal fur, pointed ears, a long tail with a tuft at the end, and most notably a golden horn protruding from its forehead. (Level 2 0/1000 -> 1000/0)

Just then, spectral apparitions of various animal-like creatures appeared over the field of battle. Among them being a Giant Rat and Bicorn Re’em, along with four other monsters; two of them appearing to be some form of giant flying squirrels, one a small monkey and one a black tapir, amounting to six monsters. The apparitions hovered and flitted among Snips and Snails’ monsters, Ojama King noticeably seemingly to deflate, for lack of a better description, slightly.

“I will now tune my level two Uni-Horned Familiar to my level three Mine Mole…”

Uni-Horned Familiar’s form faded, leaving only its glowing outlines. Its likeness erupted into two green rings. Mine Mole levitated off the ground to the middle of said rings, its form also fading away, whilst three glowing orbs arose from within it it. The orbs of light settled in an upright row within the row of rings, which began to revolve. (2+3=5)

“Little critters need not fear, for their inner courage will light the way for the coming of a valiant protector in their hour of need.”

The orbs erupted into a pillar of light within the rings.

“Synchro Summon! Level 5 steed of lightning: ‘Thunder Unicorn’!”

From the light emerged a regal equine with a dark blue body and fiery orange mane. Yellow patterns reminiscent of lightning bolts ran down its body, whilst a glowing bolt-shaped horn protruded from its forehead. Thunder Unicorn reared on its hindlegs, letting loose a neigh, accented with the rumble of thunder. As its hooves touched down on the ground, blue sparks crackled around them. (Level 5 2200/1800 -> 1800/2200)

Twilight couldn’t help but feel strangely transfixed on the new monster. While its body did not exactly match that of true equines, she could not help but exhibit a feeling of familiarity with the surging thunder-horned unicorn.

“Also when Mine Mole is used for the Synchro Summon of a beast-type Synchro monster, I draw a card. I then play Thunder Unicorn’s effect!” Fluttershy declared. “During my Main Phase I can select one monster on my opponent’s side: That monster loses 500 attack points times the number of monsters I control. I choose Ojama King!”

A bolt of lightning suddenly struck Ojama King, its body suddenly deflated further, complete with a sputter like a balloon. (ATK: 3000 – 1000 – 1200 = 800).

Snips visibly cringed, “This sucks…”

“Thunder Unicorn, attack Ojama King! Thunder Spear!” Fluttershy in another more confident display, swung her arm in a rather dramatic fashion at the deflated aberration.

Thunder Unicorn (ATK: 1800) raised its head, its lightning-bolt horn beginning to surge in golden radiance. Rising to its hindlegs, it let forth thundering neigh as its hooves slammed down to the ground, its head lowering in the momentum to point its electrified horn pin-point at Ojama King. A bolt of electricity surged forth. The white product of someone’s nightmarish sense of humor spasmed and shook uncontrollably, everyone catching glimpses of its most bizarre skeleton (which seemed to be mostly a skull, arms, legs and a pelvis), until its vocally exploded, accented with another sound flatulence, to which Twilight could only groan.

Snips Life Points: (-1000) 2050

“When Thunder Unicorn’s effect has been used, I can’t attack with any other monster this turn. So I will switch Giant Rat to defense mode. (DEF: 1400)” The oversized rodent hunched over, nestling the human skull in both paws. A facedown materialized on Fluttershy’s field, “I set one card facedown and end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

“Nice play, Fluttershy!” Pinkie cheered, when she seemed to hesitate slightly. “I mean… um… Heck with it: Nice play!”

Fluttershy responded with a flattered giggle. Twilight could finally allow herself to smile in satisfaction for the first time since the duel started.

I think it’s working…

Turn 13: Snips (Hand: 3)

Snips drew his next card. “Plan B!” he screeched. “I play the spell ‘Tri-Wight’! This lets me Special Summon two level 2 or lower Normal Monsters from my graveyard: I Special Summon Ojama Yellow and Ojama Green!” to which the yellow pear-headed and green single-eyed toothy Ojamas emerged both onto his field. “I Overlay the level 2 Ojama Yellow and Ojama Green!”

Overlay? Twilight wondered as the two Ojamas erupted into orbs of blue light that spiraled into the air before coalescing into one large brilliant light.

“Xyz Summon! Sunset Shimmer’s regards: Rank 2 ‘Armored Kappa’!”

The next monster was not like any Snips had summoned. It wasn’t even an Ojama, nor seemed to have any correlation whatsoever. This new creature was a gangly green creature that looked to be a blend of a turtle’s body with a frog’s limbs and had a sharp orange beak. Twilight thought she’d seen illustrations of something similar in books of Equestrian bestiaries. A silvery star-shaped headdress rested flat atop its head, with matching colored armored bracers adorned on its forearms and legs, along with a segmented steel chestplate adhered to its belly. On its back it wore a high-collared cape composed of similarly segmented lengths of metal. (Rank 2, 400/1000 -> 1000/400)

So Sunset Shimmer gave him this thing? Twilight thought as the Armored Kappa lowered onto the field, the orbs representing its Overlay Units hovering around it. Whatever this thing is, I wager Sunset gave it to Snips as some form of ace in the hole…

“I remove one Overlay Unit from Armored Kappa,” Snips declared, one of the floating orbs around it straying from its pattern and embedding into Armored Kappa’s being, sending a ripple of light throughout its form. “This increases its attack by 1000. I’ll then attack Thunder Unicorn!”

Armored Kappa (ATK: 2000) produced a gurgling hiss from its throat before taking a deep breath. It lunged its head forward, sending a stream of water towards Thunder Unicorn (ATK: 1800). When the regal beast attempted to defend itself with another surge of electricity, the water caused its golden bolts to coalesce onto its own being, making it combust violently. Fluttershy yelped more audibly as her monster was obliterated.

Fluttershy Life Points: (-200) 2250

“That’s for the King!” Snips spat. “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 14: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 4)

As Pinkie drew her next card, her eyes furrowed with pouted lips. She swiped a thumb once over each cheek, leaving a dark red streak over them, after which she licked at said thumb.

“Mmm, cherry…” She then took a card from her sizable hand of five, “Sorry about this, buddy…” Pinkie said to Mewfuille. “I sacrifice Madolche Mewfuille,” the cat vanished from her field in a swirl of light, “to Tribute Summon Madolche Puddingcess, in attack mode!”

Taking the place of Pinkie’s monster was a child-like human girl. She had flowing, swirly blonde hair than reached well past her back and billowed out elegantly. Adorned in creamy yellow dress with frills reminiscent of swirls of whipped cream, a brown undulating pattern looking like solidified chocolate pudding running down one row of these frills, along with a small silver tiara. She performed a pirouette in place before assuming a semi curtsied pose. (Level 5 1000/1000)

“Mess with the best, now the best will make a mess,” she quipped, her pout having given away to a determined smile.

“Why? What’s she gonna do?” asked Snips in a condescending tone.

“Oh, she’s going to attack…” she steadily raised a hand, and with a snap pointed it at the coiled up Aztekipede, (as her duel disk properly pointed it out) “Snails’ Giant Worm thing!”

Snails slowly looked towards Pinkie’s field with an absent “Huh?” when the child-like Puddingcess (ATK: 1000) pointed a finger at Aztekipede (ATK: 400). From out of nowhere, a large, dark brown ball of what seemed to be chocolate pudding fell from the simulated sky, covering the green centipede with a wet splatter, before the resulting mess broke away into bits.

Snails Life Points: (-600) 3150

“Heeey…” Snails said in a tone that one would assume was of protest.

“And now things get delicious,” Pinkie emphasized with a smirk. “When Madolche Puddingcess destroys a monster in battle, she lets me destroy one of my opponent’s cards…” her head turned towards Snips, accompanied by the uncanny sounds of a groaning hinge.

“Uh-oh…” Snips visibly cringed, his eyes diverting towards his certain trap card.

“Puddincgess; splatter it!” Pinkie ordered with a dramatic point.

In response, Puddingcess idly snapped a finger, giving a mischievous wink, when Snips’ Spatial Collapse exploded into a puddle of pudding. At that moment, the entire obscured gymnasium felt as if some unseen weightiness to the air had lifted.

Pinkie took a deep breath through her nose and sighed, “Once again; pudding saves the day.” She then proceeded to take a card from her hand and slid it into a slot at the front end of her duel disk’s blade, “And now I can freely play the field spell ‘Madolche Chateau’!”

Pinkie inserted the card into her disk and tapped her screen. Her and Fluttershy’s side of the field shimmered, like rippling water, transforming their half of the Ojama Country ground to something most befitting the party girl. Behind the two arose a grand castle which, like something out of the Brothers Glumms’ Hazel and Gelato, was composed entirely of pastries and confectionery. The front wall was made up of a checkered chocolate cake, while the battlements at the top was of sponge cake lined with swirls of whipped cream, while the two towers on both sides were made of stacked cakes, ice-cream sandwiches as macarons. Twilight could not help but feel like her mouth might have watered just slightly, despite knowing it was all an illusion.

“When Madolche Chateau comes up, this tasty wonder shuffles all my Madolche monsters back into my deck,” to which the only monster in Pinkie’s graveyard at the time was ejected and placed into her deck to be shuffled. “And it also increases the attack points of all ‘Madolches’ by 500. And top it all off (pun intended), when there are no monsters in my graveyard, Madolche Puddincess gains another 800 additional attack and defense points!” (Madolche Puddingcess ATK and DEF: 1000 + 500 + 800= 2300)

“Whoa; that’s a lot of attack points…” Snips remarked.

With an out of tune hum, Pinkie slid another card into a slot, “Now I can place this itty-bitty facedown. And that’s that.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 15: Snails (Hand: 5)

As Snails drew his next card, Snips ran up to him, gripping him by his blazer and began to shake him violently, “Snails, you gotta do something!”

Snails’ head bobbed from the momentum, “Uhh… What am I supposed to do?”

“I dunno! Use the thing Sunset gave you or something! If we lose, she’s gonna kill us!”

“… Uh, literally or… non-literally?” Snails wondered aloud.

“Both!”

“Uhh, okay…” as Snips released hold of him, Snails pressed something on his screen. “I activate my facedown; ‘Lair Wire’.”

The card’s image launched a thin wire that ensnared around Puddingcess’ ankle. Before she could fathom what was happening, the wire pulled taught and reeled her into the card, splintering into bits upon making impact.

Pinkie let out a wheezing gasp, grasping the sides of her head in utter shock, “Not the pudding!”

Reluctant as she was to do so, Pinkie’s Puddingcess’ card was forced to be shuffled into her deck as per its effect, a quivering pout on her lips.

"Lair Wire... Uh, it banishes an insect from my graveyard and destroys an opponent's card," Snails clarified.

“I activate a Trap card!” Fluttershy interjected. “Chain Whirlwind! This card can only be activated when a card is destroyed by an effect: I destroy two spell or trap cards on the field: I’ll destroy Ojama Country and Verdant Paradise!”

The Ojama Country projection on Snips and Snails side suddenly began to crackle, breaks like in a mirror spreading throughout its landscape until the entire thing shattered all around them. The sandstone embankments were instead overtaken by a terrain matching Madolche Chateau, where the entire ground was made up of puzzle-piece shaped tiles composed of various confectioneries. Then the card projection of Snails’ Verdant Paradise erupted into bits. Now with Ojama Country gone, all monsters’ attack and defense values switched back to their rightful positions.

“Aw crud…” Snips muttered, slouching his shoulders.

“I got this, Snips,” Snails replied more nonchalantly. “I play D.D.R – Dance Dance Revo- Oh wait, no the other one; ‘Different Dimension Reincarnation,’ yea. This lets me Special Summon a banished monster in attack mode and equip this card to it.” On cue, one of Snails’ Warm Worms appeared from a black portal.

“Then I play ‘One for One’. By discarding a card from my hand, I uhh… I Special Summon one level 1 monster from my hand.” Snails slid a card from his hand into his graveyard. “I summon the tuner ‘Sinister Sprocket.’”

Another monster that did not quite seem to match their owner’s regular monsters emerged onto the field. It was a small sprocket with a black dome on top with red-lined, blue eyes, whilst underneath its teeth was a downward coil of chain. (Level 1 400/0)

“Uh, so I tune Sinister Sprocket with Warm Worm. Uh, that makes four, right?”

Despite his lack of certainty, Sinister Sprocket’s chain lashed out and coiled around Warm Worm. The small metallic being faded away replaced by a green ring, which revolved around the bound Warm Worm, which also began to fade into a glowing outline. Three orbs of life arose in a vertical line from its body in along the single ring. (1+3=4) The ring began to revolve, to which the single orbs shot out into a pillar of light.

“Uh, Synchro Summon. Level 4, ‘Dark Diviner’… Whatever that means.”

Another mismatched monster emerged from the pillar. By contrast to Snails’ arthropod themed monsters, this monster seemed to be some ghostly apparition, obscured entirely by a tattered blue cloak, topped with a red hood. A pair of glowing red eyes shone from within the ruffled fabric, whilst two gangly hands reached out from the blue folds, wielding a long, intricate staff. (Level 4 2000/1000)

“What do you suppose that thing does?” asked Spike, looking more concerned now that Snips and Snails seemed to have rebounded from Fluttershy and Pinkie’s efforts with their new monsters.

“I don’t know. But if Sunset Shimmer gave them these cards; odds are they’re both dangerous…” Twilight replied, not noticing her own hands were gripping tightly at the folds of her skirt.

“I attack Fluttershy’s Giant Rat with Dark Diviner,” Snails lazily pointed at the hunched-over rodent.

Dark Diviner (ATK: 2000) pointed its staff at Giant Rat (DEF: 1450). A flurry of dark energy bolts launched from the pale blue gems studded at the tip. Fluttershy flinched in surprise when her Giant Rat exploded.

“I use Giant Rat’s effect to Special Summon a third one to my field,” Fluttershy responded, a third skull grasping rodent appearing on her field.

“Oh, when Dark Diviner destroys a monster, you send three cards from your deck to the graveyard,” Snails added.

“Again?” Fluttershy groaned, sending another three cards from the top of her deck to the graveyard. If Twilight’s calculations were correct; Fluttershy’s deck was left with eighteen cards.

“And I’m done,” Snails concluded.

(Hand: 2)

Turn 16: Fluttershy (Hand: 3)

Fluttershy drew, putting her down to seventeen cards. “I summon ‘Unibird in attack mode.”

A dark blue bird with a bright yellow vaguely lightning bolt shaped tuft atop its head arose onto the field, spreading its wings to reveal familiar lightning-esque stripes around its neck and chest. (Level 2 100/600)

“Now I activate Unibird’s effect: By banishing it and one other monster on my side of the field, I can Special Summon a Synchro Monster from my Graveyard with a level equal or less. I’ll banish Giant Rat for this effect: My little friends; bring back Thunder Unicorn!”

As Giant Rat vanished from the field, Unibird spread its wings, letting loose a screech as its body began to shine and spark with pure electricity. With a burst of lightning, a familiar blue equine appeared back on the field, neighing in triumph as it stood before Fluttershy, its golden horn surging with ribbons of electric currents. (Level 5 2200/1800)

“I activate Thunder Unicorn’s effect once again to decrease Dark Diviner’s attack by the number of monsters I control.”

As earlier, a bolt of lightning from above struck Dark Diviner, a haunting snarl emanating from within its cloak in protest. (ATK: 2000-500=1500)

“Thunder Unicorn; attack Dark Diviner!” Fluttershy ordered, pointing an accusatory finger at the floating specter.

The unicorn’s jagged horn erupted with more lightning, lashing out with its neck to launch a concentrated projectile at Dark Diviner. Another hollow snarl permeated the gymnasium as the electricity coursed through its body. But to everyone’s amazement, the monster did not seem to explode as they were wont to do.

Snails Life Points: (-700) 2450

No-one seemed to react to anything for what felt like a full-on minute. Snails looked around, seeing all eyes were focused on him when complete silence pervaded the obscured gymnasium.

“What?” he asked with a bob of his shoulders.

“Why didn’t Dark Diviner go boom?” asked Pinkie, after which she lapped up some of the cherry syrup she’d smeared on her face that had started to run down her cheeks.

“Ohhh…” Snails replied absently, to which he actually looked at his own screen.

“He doesn’t know his own card’s effect…” sighed Twilight, fighting the urge at a facepalm. “I at the very least took the time to memorize mine!”

“Uh, ‘This card cannot be destroyed by battle,’” he read aloud. “That explains it.”

Fluttershy laughed uncomfortably in the midst of sliding a card into a slot, “I place one card facedown and end my turn…”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 17: Snips (Hand: 3)

Snips drew, “Okay; you may have wrecked my Ojama Country, but I can still take out your prissy unicorn! I remove Armored Kappa’s second Overlay Unit to increase its attack by another 1000.” The last remaining sphere levitating around the kappa strayed and embedded itself to it, “I attack Thunder Unicorn again!”

Armored Kappa’s (ATK: 2400) throat started to gurgle before lashing out its head once again, firing a jet stream of water towards its previously vanquished foe (ATK: 2200).

“Fluttershy, he’s gonna-” Pinkie managed to cry out, when Fluttershy’s facedown card revealed itself.

“I activate my trap; ‘Horn of the Phantom Beast.’”

A pair of what looked to be antlers carved with shallow arcane indents materialized onto Thunder Unicorns head, along with a piece of spiked armor running along its neck. (ATK: 2200 + 800 = 3000). Thunder unicorn once more launched a projectile of electricity from its horn, this time cleaving through the jet of water, resulting in Armored Kappa being electrocuted.

“Horn of the Phantom Beast becomes and equip card that increases my monster’s attack by 800. And when the equipped monster destroys another in battle, I draw a card.”

“I activate Armored Kappa’s second effect!” Snips retorted. “I discard a card to prevent my monsters from being destroyed this turn and I take no battle damage!”

A spiraling arc of water surrounded the kappa, absorbing the electricity coursing through Armored Kappa, leaving it unharmed.

“The card I discarded was another Ojamagic, so that means I get another Ojama Yellow, Green and Black into my hand,” his duel disk expelled three cards from his deck to be added to his hand. “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 6)

Turn 18: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 2)

“Hey, Fluttershy,” Pinkie chimed in the midst of drawing her next card, “do you know what time it is?” Before anyone could make so much as a guess, Pinkie’s facedown raised from the floor, revealing a trap card, “‘Madolche Palooza’ time! This lets me Special Summon as many ‘Madolches’ from my hand to the field as I can, but they kinda gotta go back to my deck at the end phase…”

Snips snorted, “Good luck with that when you still have those Ojamas on your field.”

Pinkie giggled, “Silly Snips; I only need two. I Special Summon ‘Madolche Cruffsant’…”

On Pinkies edible looking field emerged what was simply put a brown and white stuffed toy spaniel puppy, wearing a collar with a charm shaped like a croissant, along with a small green top hat. (Level 4 1500/1200 + 500 = 2000/1700) Fluttershy could not help by fawn over the stuffed animal when it proceeded to bark and wag its tail.

“And ‘Madolche Messengelato’!”

Beside Cruffscant emerged a male child-like human with dark teal hair adorned in a brown and red, long-hemmed outfit. The large newsboy cap with a large golden pin engraved with a horn instrument suggested him as some form of mailman or messenger, along with the green satchel hanging off his shoulder. (Level 4 1600/1000 + 500 = 2100/1500)

“Yup…” Spike nodded, “All edible.”

“When Messengelato is Special Summoned with a beast-type Madolche monster on my field, like this scrumptious Cruffsant, I can add one Madolche spell or trap to my hand,” Pinkie’s deck shuffled and ejected a card, “which I’ll also play; ‘Madolche Ticket’.” A continuous spell emerged onto her field. “And then I attack Dark Diviner with Messengelato!”

“Uhh, I thought it can’t be destroyed in battle…” Snails drawled in his ever-oblivious tone.

Pinkie only shrugged, “It can’t. You still take damage though.”

Messengelato straightened his cap with one hand, an ominous glint in his eye. In the blink of an eye, the gelato-themed messenger drew an envelope from his satchel and sent it flying in a beeline towards Dark Diviner (ATK: 2000), against all plausible laws of physics. The envelope seemed to pierce the floating specter, albeit it still remained afloat, seemingly unharmed.

Snails Life Points: (-100) 2350

“Sadly, during my end phase, Messengelato and Cruffsant return to my deck…” Pinkie slid the respective cards into her deck, “Buuut, thanks to Madolche Ticket, now any time a Madolche returns to my deck from the field or graveyard, I can add a Madolche to my hand for each of them…” two cards slid out of her deck. “And I place one card facedown. Turn’s done!”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 19: Snails (Hand: 2)

Snails drew, “Oooh; I banish two insects from my graveyard (Howling Insect, Warm Worm) to Special Summon ‘Doom Dozer’ in attack mode.”

A more befitting monster erupted form the confectionery ground: A bright red, with a glistening blue back chitin, centipede emerged and coiled itself onto Snails’ field. (Level 8 2800/2400).

“I attack Thunder Unicorn with Dark Diviner…” he looked down at his disk again, “Uh, ‘when this card declares an attack, if the ATK of the attack target is higher than this card: The ATK of the attack target becomes equal to this face-up card's current ATK.’”

So Dark Diviner can literally destroy any monster it attacks without fear of destroying itself and ensures further deck destruction… Twilight thought, feeling rather reluctant to see Thunder Unicorn perish again.

“Not so fast, Snails…” Pinkie responded with a dramatic pointing pose. “I activate my trap card; ‘Madolche Nights’. When your monster activates an effect while I have no monsters in my graveyard, this card negates that effect!”

Dark Diviner’s (ATK: 2000) staff once again launched its flurry of dark energy bolts. Thunder Unicorn (ATK: 3000) expertly weaved around the fusillade, to which it responded in kind with a lightning bolt. While the specter remained unharmed, the attack still shaved a considerable amount of life points from Snails.

Snails Life Points: (-1000) 1350

“Heeey…” Snails drawled, looking slightly annoyed at Pinkie Pie. “I attack your Ojama Token with Doom Dozer.”

“Snails, no!” Snips retorted in vain as the giant centipede rumbled towards the panicking Ojama Yellow token and lunged down, mandibles agape, seemingly to devour the protesting creature.

A puff of smoke erupted just above Pinkie Pie, at which the party girl looked in the direction of with a slight hint of unimpressed confusion.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: (-300) 3700

“Snails! Now she has a monster zone back!” Snips screamed at his partner indignantly.

“Uhh, so? She doesn’t have any monsters out.”

“Well at least put a facedown or something! You gotta protect me!” Snips demanded in a begging tone.

“I can’t. I only have another two Howling Insects…” His eyes suddenly widened upon realization. “Oops… Uh… Turn over?”

Turn 20: Fluttershy (Hand: 2)

“That’s all I needed to hear…” Fluttershy said, strangely ominous in lieu of her soft voice as she drew her next card. “I activate Thunder Unicorn’s effect; decreasing the attack points of Dark Diviner by 500.”

The specter was struck by another bolt of lightning. (ATK: 2000-500=1500)

“Thunder Unicorn; attack Dark Diviner! Thunder Spear!”

Thunder Unicorn (ATK: 3000) raised its head once more, drawing electricity from the air until its horn was aglow with power. With a victorious neigh, it rose to its hindlegs, smashing its forehooves on the way back down, launching its iconic javelin of power at Dark Diviner. As during every previous attempt, the ghostly specter remained unharmed, apart from a pained rasp emanating from within its body.

Snails Life Points: (-1500) 0

“Uhh… Did I just lose, Snips?” asked Snails, ever the oblivious one.

“I end my turn,” Fluttershy announced, now dripping with ever surfacing confidence.

(Hand: 3)

Turn 21: Snips (Hand: 6)

“Crap, crap, crap…” Snips muttered as he drew a card. “Protect me! I summon ‘Ojama Yellow’ in defense mode!”

Another Ojama, this one being much like one of the tokens with the pear-shaped head and tendril eyes. It knelt down atop its sideward card with its hands crossed at its front. (Level 2 0/1000)

“I switch Ojama Blue to defense mode too!” Snip’s Ojama Blue knelt down similarly to its red cousin.

“Try getting through that. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 5)

Turn 22: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 2)

“Enough is enough!” Pinkie exclaimed as she drew. “I have had it with these flatulent Ojamas in this fudge… ulent… Agh! Forget it. I summon Madolche Petingcessoeur in attack mode!”

Another female human, this one the size of what might as well have been a doll, if that’s what Madolches were to begin with, arose to the field. She had blonde hair tied up into a flayed bun atop her head with a silvery lace. She wore a bright pink dress with the hems decorated with ruffles looking like swirls of whipped cream and a big green bow over the belly. She spun in a pirouette in place before striking a joyous pose. (Level 4 1400/1400 + 500 = 1900/1900)

“Petingcessoeur can be Special Summoned as long as I’ve no monsters in my graveyard. And then with her effect I can Special Summon one Madolche monster from my hand. Bring on back the pudding… cess.”

Madolche Puddingcess re-emerged onto the field, performing a formal curtsy, holding at the sides of her dress. (Level 5 – 1 = 4 1000/1000 + 500 = 1500/1500)

“Monsters Special Summoned with Petingcessoeur also have their level go down by one. Now I can Overlay Petingcessoeur and Puddingcess…”

The two confectionery themed monsters both spun in a pirouette until their forms faded into glowing orbs. As with any previous display, the orbs revolved up above, getting ever closer before coalescing into one.

So that’s why Pinkie was having such a hard time before. Xyz summoning requires some degree of field presence, and with Spatial Collapse and those Ojamas crowding her field, she was unable to bring out stronger monsters. But because of Snips and Snails disharmonic dueling towards the end, their strategy was broken!

“Patrons of sweet happiness, combine your power and roll out the welcoming for the queen of the land of delights.”

“Xyz Summon! Rank 4: ‘Madolche Queen Tiaramisu’!”

Descending from on high came a beautifully dressed doll-like human girl. Her hair a shimmering platinum blonde topped with a white gold crown. Her outfit was a frilly dress with colors matching her namesake confectionery; coffee brown with white frills, with an orange inner layer in the midst of her skirt. In her hands she held a glistening pink scepter with a golden two-pronged crest. She courteously bowed towards her intended opponent. (Rank 4 2200/2100 + 500 = 2700/2600)

“So what? Even if you destroy Armored Kappa, I’ll just keep summoning more Ojamas! And if you destroy Ojama Blue, I get two Ojama cards into my hand. You’re not taking me down, Pinkie!” Snips pointed at Pinkie boastfully.

“Madolche Queen Tiaramisu’s effect: By removing an Overlay Unit from her; I can shuffle up to two Madolche cards from my graveyard to my deck. This in turn makes you shuffle that many cards from your field to your deck,” Pinkie replied.

Snips let out an obnoxious, nasally guffaw, “Because of your cards’ effects, you only have one card. It doesn’t matter which you pick!”

Pinkie shrugged nonchalantly, “Guess your ri- ‘Mystical Space Typhoon’!”

Using the last card in her hand, a gust of wind arose onto the field from nowhere. It coalesced around Pinkie’s Madolche Waltz, blowing it into the simulated sky, where it vanished.

“You know, that is an awfully long name; ‘Mystical Space Typhoon’. You’d think something simpler would be better like, I dunno, ‘Cyclone’. I mean not to spit on those hard-working designers over at Crystal Mirage Inc., but…”

“Uh, Pinkie?” Twilight called form the bleachers. “Perhaps you should finish the duel first and comment later!”

Pinkie giggled. “Oopsie! But anyway; Mystical Space Typhoon destroys one spell or trap on the field; so now with Madolche Waltz all snugly in there; I remove one Overlay Unit from Tiaramisu!”

One of the revolving spheres of light strayed from Tiaramisu. Holding aloft her scepter, the orb embedded itself into its crest. A golden light shone forth, prompting Pinkie to remove her two Madolche cards in her graveyard to be shuffled. She then pointed her scepter at Snips’ field, the same golden light making Ojama Blue and Red vanish.

“I attack Armored Kappa with Madolche Queen Tiaramisu!”

Tiaramisu (ATK: 2700) held forth a hand, extending her thumb up, which she then turned downwards at Armored Kappa (ATK: 2400). A looming shadow appeared underneath the reptilian creature, prompting it to look up, when, accompanied by a cartoony whistle, a giant tiramisu piece landed on the hapless creature, utterly squashing it. This left Snips’ field empty.

Snips Life Points: (300) 1750

“Let ‘im have it, Fluttershy!” Pinkie called encouragingly, a far cry from the dismissiveness from earlier.

(Hand: 0)

Turn 23: Fluttershy (Hand: 3)

Fluttershy drew her last card of the duel, before pointing at Snips directly, “Thunder Unicorn, attack Snips directly!”

Snips screamed pathetically as Thunder Unicorn unleashed one last lightning projectile from its horn, the attack spreading along with segmented forcefield around the defenseless player.

Snips Life Points: (-3000) 0

Duel #7: To Win the Crown: Twilight's Gauntlet

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Snips’ scream of defeat continued on until it petered out into a pathetic throaty squeal, looking like he’d frozen in place in his cowering posture assumed on Thunder Unicorn’s game ending attack. Snails idly walked up to his partner in crime, staring at him in his absent manner, proceeding to prod the buck-toothed boy, to which there was no response.

From the bleachers, Twilight smiled triumphantly at the display between Pinkie and Fluttershy, crossing her arms in content when she observed Pinkie bounce over to Fluttershy to hug her.

That’s four of them mended,” she thought. Now all that remains is for Applejack to patch things up with Rainbow.

I must say, the mental voice of Priestess resounded in her mind, spotting the spirit seated just a few rows above hers, her long legs stretched over two, “you take to dilemmas at an astounding level of adaptability. First you reunited the two broken lovers by calling out to their shared emotions with the one card treasured by the both of them. And now, you got the distrusting pink one to accept the aid of the shy one.

Twilight glanced over at the spirit, presenting a small, somewhat devious smile, “I’ve had my share of dilemmas to conquer back home just the same with my friends. Here it’s all the same as in my home. These five, they will always be stronger together than apart, just as I’m stronger with my friends.

And I believe they will be all the stronger with you as their friend as well,” Priestess nodding approvingly. “If you permit me; I can see why you are deemed worthy as a Princess.

It’s not something I’m entirely certain about, but… Thank you.

“Uh, Twilight? You’re spacing out again,” Spike’s paw prodded at Twilight’s leg.

Twilight turned to Spike, “Sorry, Spike. What is it?”

Spike stared up at her with a look of worry, “Is everything okay? I’ve seen you just stare at nothing at random moments today. Did you get enough sleep last night, or what?”

Twilight looked back apologetically, “I’m sorry. I-”

“Heeey Twilight!” Pinkie’s sporadically shouted, having appeared sitting right next to Twilight on the bleachers.

Twilight and Spike both yelped from the spontaneity incarnate that was Pinkie Pie.

“Sorry. You just seemed very into talking with your dog,” the pink girl grinned.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Fluttershy interjected, “I talk to my pets all the time.”

“Oh, right. Uh, congratulations on winning,” Twilight smiled back awkwardly. “I see you two are now at least on speaking terms at least.”

Pinkie sputtered her lips, “Well duh. It’s not like we just weren’t forced to co-operate together in a high-stakes card game with all my hard work on the line.”

A pang of guilt struck Twilight, sending a shudder racing down her spine at the probability of what might have happened should Snips and Snails emerged the victors. It may as well have proven a possibility at the start. Although, Twilight did have a valid counter-argument;

“I’m sorry I jeopardized your work, truly,” Twilight replied, looking ashamedly at Pinkie. “I just didn’t know what else I could have done since Fluttershy asked me to help her. But seeing as the two of you decided to work together, despite whatever grievances there might be between you two, you overcame the challenge before you.”

It was almost the truth. Almost. Though Snips’ lockdown had ostensibly removed Pinkie’s contributions from the duel for an extended number of turns leaving Snails free to destroy Fluttershy’s deck, it was also due to their inability to effectively work in synch that caused their downfall. With Snips’ field spell leaving a potentially stronger monster on Snails’ field vulnerable which allowed Pinkie to rebound, added with Fluttershy using an opportunity to make the end a more straightforward power bout.

“I don’t really have, well, any grievances with Pinkie, just to be clear,” Fluttershy remarked.

Twilight responded with an understanding nod towards Fluttershy, crossing a leg over her knee, “So, Pinkie; would you be willing to share with us more specifically what happened between you and Fluttershy?”

At Twilight’s urging, Fluttershy joined the two on the bleachers. Pinkie, in the meantime, proceeded to yank on her front tuft of hair, accompanied by the odd sound of rubber stretching before releasing it with an elastic snap. In response a phone puffed out of her messy pink head, complete with a resonant ‘ding’, which landed on her awaiting palm.

“Well, when I said that Fluttershy called off my plans for the animal shelter adoption extravaganza, patent pending, she sent me this e-mail,” Pinkie stated. After a little while of searching, she presented Twilight and Fluttershy her smartphone (complete with a pink casing, to no-one’s surprise), showing them a message. “But now I’m just confused…”

Twilight squinted her eyes at the small text on the screen, when, due to years of self-imposed perusal of fine print, she spotted something off, “‘Flutteryshy’?” she asked.

“What?” asked Fluttershy, trying to peer at the screen.

“You e-mail address; ‘flutteryshy, all lower case, at B-mail dot com,’” Twilight replied.

“That’s not my e-mail: It’s just ‘fluttershy’, one word, at B-mail dot com,” she cleared.

“Wait, what?” Pinkie asked, taking her phone back, looking down at the sender’s e-mail with squinted eyes. Upon realization, Pinkie exhibited an uncomfortable, sheepish smile, as she inserted the device back into her hair. “Boy is my face red…” she muttered, tapping her index fingers together, chuckling awkwardly.

“It’s always wise to triple check the spelling,” Twilight remarked, though in retrospect she thought it might have come off slightly smug. “Sorry…”

Pinkie shook her head, looking forlorn. She leaned forward, bracing her forearms against her thighs. She sighed, “Two years Pinkie. Two years of being a grade-A meanie, and at Fluttershy of all people…”

Twilight looked from Pinkie to Fluttershy, whom stood up to move and sit next to Pinkie. She put a comforting arm around the pink girl’s shoulders, “It’s okay, Pinkie. Though I at the very least wish you’d have spoken to me first.”

Pinkie returned the physical gesture, seeming slightly less downtrodden, “Yea, I really should have. It’s been kinda lonely these past two, well, technically three school years. And don’t get me started on that one time I had it real bad where I threw a party for myself. I mean Gummy’s great company and all, and Boulder is a real riot, especially when Maud’s around, but, no joke, one time I was talking to a bag of flour.”

Twilight could not help but shudder, thinking back to her Pinkie’s fall into temporary insanity shortly before the time of the Grand Galloping Gala.

Pinkie looked at Fluttershy with a hopeful expression, “You forgive me for being a rotten silly-billy?”

“Of course, I forgive you,” Fluttershy replied, the two of them hugging each other.

“Though there’s just one thing…” Pinkie stated in the midst of the hug. “Who is ‘Flutteryshy’?”

The two of them separated, Pinkie scratching at her chin in though as Fluttershy answered, “Well, we’re not a hundred percent certain, but we did have a debate over it possibly being Sun-”

Pinkie’s head perked up in realization, “Quick! Fluttershy! Are you absolutely certain you don’t have an evil doppelganger?!”

Fluttershy looked at Pinkie with pursed lips, “Pardon?”

“It’s like in this one manga I read… Well, not so much ‘read’, since shonens are basically the same thing, just ‘kaboom, kaboom, kaboom’ from start to finish, but there was this character who looked exactly the same as the main protagonist who made it his life’s work to take the place of the protagonist as part of his evil plans…” Pinkie paused, humming in thought, “… Or it could’ve just been a troll.”

They have trolls in this reality? Twilight wondered, listening to Pinkie’s ramble.

“Then again, why would a troll specifically go after me, let alone know exactly what I was gonna do, but…”

“Well, actually, it’s more than likely it’s someone from school,” Fluttershy chimed in, smiling awkwardly, Twilight thinking as if she’d seen a massive droplet appear on the side of her face.

Pinkie shrugged, “That was my third guess. The question is…” her eyes narrowed at nothing in particular, “who is it…?” she slowly turned to look at Twilight.

Twilight held up her hands indignantly, “What?! It wasn’t me, I-” she suddenly found Pinkie’s arm around her shoulders and tugged against Pinkie, whose sunny smile had returned to her visage.

“Awh, I’m just joshing ya!” she guffawed. “You just arrived here, the awkward, mysterious girl righting wrongs… And your little dog too.”

“I, um, I’m wholeheartedly of the stance that it might have been Sunset Shimmer,” Fluttershy managed to finish before any further interruptions.

Pinkie rolled her eyes, “Mm, as if it could be anyone else,” she remarked dryly, shrugging.

“I understand you were the previous contender against her last year,” Twilight inferred.

“Sure as bubblegum!” Pinkie replied, smiling eagerly.

“You wouldn’t happen to recall how-”

The door to the gymnasium suddenly opened, “Ah, there ya are!” came a familiar southern twang.

Applejack and Rarity walked in through the door and approached the three up in the bleachers.

“Hey, you two!” Twilight beamed, albeit she restrained herself when she recognized the distinct lack of a certain rainbow-haired girl. “Did you manage to sort things out with Rainbow Dash?”

Applejack went to sit next to Twilight, Spike hopping onto Twilight’s lap, to whom Rarity sat beside. The farmgirl gave off an uncertain expression, “We couldn’t find her.”

“Couldn’t you just call her?” Twilight inquired, seeing as the smartphones the people of this world seemed quite fixated on made long-distance communication so easy.

Applejack inhaled through her teeth, “Yea… Ah kinda-sorta deleted her number…”

“I still had her number from before, so I tried to call her. Unfortunately, no answer,” Rarity added with a pout.

“Her phone is likely on silent,” Fluttershy offered.

“True. Though I’m certain the vibration would have gone off,” Rarity replied.

“Just trying to remain optimistic,” Fluttershy chuckled sheepishly.

A throaty gasp emanated from above and between Rarity and Applejack, eliciting everyone’s attention to turn towards the source, which was none other than Pinkie. The party girl leaned forward from the seat one layer above Rarity and Applejack, an expression of barely restrained glee plastered on her visage as she looked between the two.

“Oh my gosh! Rarity? … Applejack?” her smiled broadened to a width that teetered on impossibility.

“Uh… Heya, Pinkie,” said Applejack in greeting. “Ya’ll right there?”

“Did you and Rarity get back together?!” Pinkie blurted, looking in between the recently reunited couple. “And without telling me?!”

Rarity smiled pleasantly at Pinkie, “We did, just today, in fact.”

Applejack glanced towards Twilight, casting her a playful smirk, “An’ Ah see you and Fluttershy are back at least on speaking terms Ah reckon?”

Pinkie threw her arms around the two, pulling their faces against her cheeks, complete with an uncanny squeak sound, “You betcha! Sure, I was all ‘Fluttershy? Who’s Fluttershy?’ like a colossal jackass, but while I was out getting more helium, Snips and Snails had come to tear down my decorations, until Twilight Sparkle suggested we duel over the fate of the fall formal midterm duel party! And Snips and Snails were totally owning me, but then Fluttershy made the save and we started kicking their butts and were perfectly in synch! It was so much fun!”

Applejack chuckled, despite Pinkie’s steady increase in volume ringing in her ear, “So that’s two for two, huh?”

Pinkie snorted, “Well duh, we… Wait? ‘Two for two?’”

Rarity finally managed to escape Pinkie’s overly affectioned embrace, patting in any stray hairs of her elegant curved coiffure, “Yes, it was Twilight who helped work out our issues… That is to say, help us see past the jest pulled on us.”

Twilight suddenly found Pinkie sliding in one fluid motion next to her, looking over her as if there was something unusual about her, “Seriously? Was I actually right? Are you a magical girl? Or an angel? (Your hair does kinda look like wings.) An alien bent on spreading love and happiness to our world?” Pinkie suddenly narrowed her eyes in suspicion, “You’re not gonna turn us into witches, are ya?”

“Uhh…” Twilight was not in the least bit certain what to say. “Witches?”

“I see Pinkie’s still into manga,” Fluttershy noted. “Oh! Have you been reading ‘Utagawashi Senshi Mahou Shoujo’ too?”

“Girl, you know it,” Pinkie stated with a rev of her neck.

“Ooh! I love that one! Even if it gets really startling later on, and my favorite character kind of died…” Fluttershy continued.

Twilight leaned closer to Applejack, “What are they on about?”

“Oh, just some comics Ah know nothin’ about,” Applejack shrugged.

“I’ll admit, I did read ‘Mutinous Gal Cimeterre’ on occasion,” Rarity piped up.

“Ain’t that one of them girl-on-girl pornos?” Applejack asked, raising a daring brow, to which Rarity blushed.

“Why, Applejack; just because it might go on the more risqué at times doesn’t mean it isn’t teeming with raw emotion,” the fashionista dramatically swept a hand across her brow. “And besides,” she said, her tone increasingly sultry, “I always did see you as my Cimeterre…”

Listening to the four girls conversing, now with at least part of their qualms sorted, a sense of warm familiarity came over Twilight. Four faces that were both unfamiliar, yet also so familiar simultaneously. Just yesterday she’d felt the longing to get back to Equestria, the human world having felt unnaturally distant and divided, while undeniably amazing with its breathtaking advances in the realms of technological prowess and innovation.

But now with the four counterparts to her friends, with the unfortunate lack of Rainbow Dash, Twilight likened the newly ignited camaraderie back to when she first arrived in Ponyville.

It’s like the day Princess Celestia sent me away to Ponyville during the Summer Sun Celebration. How I met everypony who I’d come to call my closest friends. These girls are all so alike. It may be a different world, and there’s some differences, but… It almost feels like I’m back to that very day.

In her nostalgic reminiscence, Pinkie pie fished for her phone through her hair. When she seemed to snag something, she retracted her hand, only to find it was a rubber chicken. Setting that aside, she went back in and rummaged around longer. Her hand seemed to have gotten stuck. She forcefully yanked, resulting in a sharp inhale through gritted teeth as she pulled out what looked to be a disheveled ball of confetti, streamers and bits of pink hair. Fighting back tears of pain, she unravels the mess, finding her phone in its midst.

“I should really clear the space out…” she hissed, stuffing the rubber chicken back inside. “Just leave it to Pinkie! I’m sure Rainbow will listen if it’s me calling her.”

“Maybe try a text first,” Fluttershy recommended. “I think she might have class right now.”

“Will do,” Pinkie sing-sang, her fingers beginning to tap rapidly against the screen.

“Twilight, if I may,” Rarity called out across from Applejack.

“What is it?” Twilight leaned forward to look over at the fashionista.

“I just wanted to say one more time of how grateful we are for your intervention. And, well, hearing Pinkie say it; the way you just came up and were dead-set on helping us, all of us, you really are like an angel,” said Rarity, Applejack affirming their shared sentiments with a firm nod. Twilight smiled warmly at the two, genuinely touched, further seeing and feeling the similarities, if not outright kindredness with these girl’s dimensional counterparts. “If you ever need anything, you’re more than welcome to ask the two of us. We owe you so much.”

Twilight, glanced to the side in contemplation, I suppose this is the best time if ever. “Well, actually there is something I-”

A sudden tune began to sound in the gymnasium. “Oh! Ooh! Rainbow’s calling me!” Pinkie shouted, bouncing in her seat, making the obstructions under her shirt jiggle, something which Twilight could not help but find unsettling, yet she just couldn’t look away. The party girl pressed the pragmatic device to her ear, “Heya, Rainbow!” she spoke quite audibly into the device.

Everyone watched as Pinkie slapped a palm over her lips, blushing from embarrassment before offering a more leveled, “Sorry” into the phone. “I’m just sooo happy to hear from you! It’s been like, what? Two years.”

Twilight exchanged glances with Applejack and Rarity as Pinkie fell silent for a moment.

“Listen, Dash, I have some super exciting news for ya… No, I didn’t get the party cannon yet. I think it’s still in shipping. It takes a really, really long time with all the paperwork and credentials. You know, standard live ammunition stuff and whatnot… Where was I again? … Oh! Also, me and Fluttershy are friends again! We just had a super-duper exciting duel for the fate of the fall formal decorations and… Oh, right! Sorry, again. Applejack and Rarity were looking for you so I figured I call you and… Uh-huh! Yea, Applejack just wants to… Say what?”

Now everyone was looking at the party girl with uncertainty as her eyes diverted in the direction of her phone, the eager smile replaced with concern.

“But… Rainbow, we just… But… I… Oh… But then…?” Pinkie’s lips drooped into a frown, her brows inverting downwards. “Okay… Bye…” Her hair seemed to slightly limpen. Not deflate, but just noticeably seemed to bunch up, albeit still puffy.

A silence fell over the gymnasium, made all the dourer with Pinkie’s downcast change in demeanor.

Applejack was the first to speak, “So… What did she say?”

Pinkie pouted, stuffing the phone back into her slightly limpened hair. She grunted in frustration when the device almost slid back out, having to shove it much further than her hair’s dimensions and length of her forearm could have possibly coincided. “‘It’s been two years Pinkie,” she started, adding a slight rasp into her voice akin to Rainbow’s more coarse tone, “I know we were friends once, but things change. I’ve moved on. I know you just want to do what you think is right, but this is not like those shoujo you read. No offence, but for your own sake, you just need to accept it and move on yourself. See you around.’” She crossed her arms and pouted.

Twilight felt hear heart sink in her chest, a sentiment Spike announced himself with a whine. The rest of the girls seemed evenly dismal at what Rainbow had said over the phone. Applejack leaned forward, hand to her forehead as she groaned in disappointment, to which Rarity leaned in closer to her, placing a comforting arm on her shoulder. Fluttershy sat quietly, fumbling with her hair, while Pinkie simply frowned.

Twilight tried to think of something. As much as her subconsciousness nagged at her that not all worlds could possibly work on the exact same as hers. Yet at the same time these five girls in question had been friends, until Sunset Shimmer came in and shattered the bonds between them, estranging them from one another, setting them into specifically tailored groups. It was as if the time before the founding of Equestria, with the three pony tribes divided, unable and unwilling to work together. Perhaps not on an evenly grand scale, and there were no windigoes, as far as she knew anyway…

We needed Rainbow Dash in order for me to gain traction among her representative part of the student body for the finalist position. I have Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie together now, but will that even be enough? And will they even be willing to help me? I’ll just end up sounding like I was using them…

“Somethin’ wrong, Twi?” came Applejack’s voice beside her.

Twilight sat up straight, looking over to the farmgirl, “Uh, no. I’m… I’m sorry that Rainbow Dash couldn’t be persuaded. It’s just that I… I promised your sisters and Scootaloo that I’d try and help mend your bridges and-”

A gentle hand touched her shoulder, “It’s fine, sugarcube. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle got nothin’ to worry about us gettin’ between them and their friend. If Rainbow’s goin’ to have a problem with it, well she’s just goin’ to have to take it up with me. As civilly as possible, don’t ya fret.”

“Maybe Rainbow needs more time to think it over,” Fluttershy offered. “I’ve known her the longest and she can be needlessly difficult.”

“She does have a point,” Rarity nodded in agreement, looking to Applejack. “Let’s just give her some time. Maybe she’ll come around.”

Applejack sighed, before visibly affirming her half-hearted acceptance with a shrug, “Ah guess that’s all we can do fer now.”

“Now…” Rarity looked past her girlfriend towards Twilight, “was there something you meant to say, Twilight?”

Twilight quickly considered her words, “Well, yes. There is…” She glanced between her left and right, to her four new friends. “During these past two days; I know it might seem crazy, but I’ve decided that I want to run as the contender for Duel Queen for the fall mid-term.”

Silence befell the gymnasium once again. This time, however, the girls, sans Fluttershy, were looking at her with varying expressions ranging from surprise to outright disbelief. Rarity seemed unable to make a concrete decision on the subject. Applejack was looking away, seeming to be thinking hard about something. Whereas Pinkie… looked absolutely flummoxed about the prospect.

Fluttershy upon looking upon everyone from her end of the row, raised a forearm, “I’ll vouch for you.”

“Uhm, that’s, uhh…” Rarity stuttered, “Listen, Twilight, it’s fine for you to get into the spirit, what with you just transferring, but…”

“That sounds absolutely, positively, undeniably, impossibly… amazing!” Pinkie quite literally screamed. “The new girl, righting wrongs, suffering a devastating defeat against her good-looking rival slash love-interest...”

Love-interest?!
“rising to the occasion to take down the big bad.” Pinkie beamed eagerly. “… You’re the new girl, Sunset Shimmer is the big bad.”

“I figured that, yes,” Twilight affirmed, still flummoxed about this notion of her being in anyway interested in a boy she just met, let alone someone she barely knew outside of how he looked, the fact he played guitar and had a warrior deck.

“Well, you see, not to demean you or anything, darling,” Rarity chimed in, “But you’ve just transferred and, well, you have no dueling record and…”

Pinkie hissed through her teeth, “You kinda did lose to Flash Sentry though…”

“And if I’m to be perfectly frank,” Rarity looked away her expression turning cold, “I would not pass the chance to get a jab at Sunset Shimmer, especially now…”

Pinkie shrugged, “Mm, I went last year. I figure I give someone else a shot. Not that I really, really wouldn’t mind figuratively tearing Sunset Shimmer a new (Eff!)ckhole either. But, that’s democracy for ya!” Twilight cringed at the strange sound she thought she’d heard in the midst of Pinkie’s sentence.

“You’re being very quiet all of a sudden, Applejack…” Fluttershy remarked, diverting everyone’s attention to the farmgirl.

“Oh, sorry. Ah’m Jus’ thinkin’. See, Twi was pretty deadset on duelin’ Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo back when she was stayin’ with us. Those four went on fer hours, an’ even after it was gettin’ late they did a few more without gear. Ah’ mean, Ah’ was glad to see those three take a shine to her an’ all. But…” she looked keenly at Twilight, “Was all of this… I mean, did ya plan it like this?”

Twilight sighed, bringing a hand to the back of her neck. Applejack had finally caught on, “It was, yes. I just felt that I should do something, for the school, and hearing what the girls told me, it made me want to help them most of all, and by extension, I wanted to help all of you.”

“So, getting me and Applejack back together? Pinkie and Fluttershy? Rainbow Dash? All of this was for your chance at Duel Queen of the fall formal?” Rarity inquired.

“I trust Twilight,” came a steady declaration from Fluttershy. Everyone’s focus diverted to the shy girl, who did not flinch this time, a look of assertive determination expressed on her delicate features. “Gosh…” her features suddenly softened, “I can’t remember the last time people actually listened…” she shook her head, resuming her air of assertiveness, “I think what Twilight is doing is for the better. I can attest. I mean, just look at us: She reminded us how much we meant to each other, even more so between you two,” she indicated Applejack and Rarity. “I don’t like how things have changed ever since we started high school. Sunset Shimmer’s dominance over everyone and starting this everyone versus everyone dynamic: If Twilight managed to bring us together, I… I want to think that maybe she could bring the whole school together.”

Fluttershy sighed, slumping ever so slightly, “I rest my case.”

Applejack turned to Rarity, “What do ya think, darlin’?” she asked, addressing her with her more intimate term of endearment.

Rarity appeared to think about it for a moment, “Well… I do see Fluttershy’s point. Ever since high school things have been awfully distant. As much as I’m iffy about this whole affair, but…” she clutched at Applejack’s forearm tightly. “She did help us. And she’d just met us. Much as I would want retribution on Sunset my own way but… Maybe we should help her make it in return.”

“If Rarity thinks so, then…” she looked to Twilight as she clutched a hand atop Rarity’s, “maybe ya can work another miracle.”

“Do you have a plan, Twilight?” Fluttershy looked expectedly at her.

“Well, I did speak to Principal Celestia about this, so-”

“If you permit me,” Rarity interrupted. “Way I see it there’s only one way for you to garner any support this late into the term. You need to defeat the school’s top brass.”

Twilight nodded, “Which is all of you.”

“Quite right. So, if we could somehow put on a convincing enough display…”

“No,” Twilight shook her head. “Not convincing: The four of you: You have to duel me. At your best. Nothing held back; you must be determined to defeat me.”

“But Twilight, you’ve only had your first duel so far!” Fluttershy replied concerned.

“Wait, her first-?!” Rarity retorted, when Applejack softly placed a finger over her lips, the fashionista blushing ever so slightly.

“Correction,” Pinkie chimed in. “First duel in school!”

“Oh, right…” Fluttershy blushed. “Your training with Apple Bloom and the girls…”

“But do you think it will be enough?” Rarity inferred levelly. “I mean Sweetie Belle is admittedly very talented…”

“Hey, if she can go up against Apple Bloom, Ah’ say she’s about as ready as can be right now,” Applejack noted with a hint of pride.
“But even if we were to duel, how can we ensure the entire school will see?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight rubbed her chin in thought, “That is true. I mean I’m guessing everyone who saw my display yesterday against Flash might not be as inclined to-”

Twilight yelped as she, and Fluttershy, were both pulled into a sideward embrace by Pinkie Pie, “You just leave that to your pal Pinkie!” she declared. “I’ll make sure that absolutely everyone comes to see the epic boss rush, or my name isn’t Pinkamena Diane Pie! Now the first thing we need is… Oh shoot…”

“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked, continuing to be distracted at those confounded obstructions on the Pink girl’s chest. How big can those things get?!

“I still need to finish decorating the gym,” said Pinkie with much less enthusiasm, in bizarre paradox given her passions. “If I only had that party cannon right now so I could decorate everything super-fast…”

“No to worry, Pinkie; we’ll all chip in. I’m sure we can save some time if we-” Rarity was interrupted when the double doors to the gymnasium opened.

In walked a girl, someone whom Twilight did not recognize as a dimensional counterpart as she seemed almost bound to encounter throughout her time in this world. Barring perhaps Flash Sentry, though even him she’d at least thought to have seen somewhere before in Equestria. Her skin was a muted grey with a head of greyish violet hair, with very simplistic flat-cut bangs at the front while the rest of her hair fell just above her shoulder in a geometrically perfect line around the rest of her head. Her eyes, currently half-lidded, casting a dull, almost emotionless looking expression, were a shockingly contrasting turquoise. She wore a simple bluish grey frock with a dark grey belt and very simple, albeit heavy, looking boots. She was pushing a rather hefty looking wooden crate atop a furniture dolly, atop of which lay a crowbar.

Pinkie immediately leapt down from the bleachers and rushed over to the newcomer, Twilight and the rest following suit in a more orderly fashion. “Heya, Maud!” she said eagerly, giving the girl an affectionate hug. “What’s in the box?” She suddenly gasped, “Did you uncover a dinosaur skeleton on school grounds and are bringing it here for safe keeping?!”

The newcomer, Maud, blinked, which seemed strangely slow and deliberate, “Hello, Pinkie. Dad asked me to bring you this. It seems to be the party cannon you ordered. He and Mom thought you might be able to try it out, what with you decorating the gymnasium,” she said in a quiet, most deadpan tone if Twilight had ever heard one.

The name Maud, however, sounded vaguely familiar. Twilight recalled the Pinkie Pie of her world having an older sister named Maud. She hadn’t met any of Pinkie’s family yet, the only previous knowledge being from the words of Pinkie herself, along with some photos she’d kept in her room in the Sugarcube Corner.

Pinkie let out an enthusiastic exclamation, grabbing the crowbar and what seemed with very little effort, sent the top of the crate flipping over, to which the entire assembly splayed out, revealing what looked almost exactly alike to her pony counterpart’s trademark party cannon. Underneath the barrel was a box marked “party munitions” in bright, colorful letter against a glittering magenta background.

“You mean people actually manufacture these things?” Twilight asked the closest person, Applejack, in sheer amazement, to which she simply shrugged.

Pinkie bounced in utter joy before hugging her sister again. “Thank you so much, Maud! You just saved me a lot of time!” she said cheerfully, Maud not even flinching. “Oh! Even better! Do you think you could ask Mom and Dad to bring over a batch of my cupcakes?! We’re holding a little pre-fall formal event and we’re going to need cupcakes!”

Maud did not outwardly move, “Of course. I’ll ask Dad when I return him the furniture dolly. How many do you need?”

“About two thousand,” Pinkie replied very casually. “Tell ‘em to use the emergency stash in the party shed.”

“Will do,” Maud confirmed.

“Oh! And bring one extra for my new friend, Twilight Sparkle here,” Pinkie emphasized, giving Twilight a hearty pat on the back.

Maud looked at Twilight, her face remaining unflinching. Twilight grinned sheepishly, uncertain how to approach this Maud.

“Uh, hi! Twilight Sparkle… And you are…?”

“I’m Maud. I collect rocks, minerals and silicates.” She blinked. “Those are rock-forming minerals.”

“Oh. So, you’re a geologist?” Twilight asked.

“Actually, I’m a student here. But yes; I do seek a career in geology. I already have a scholarship at the Canterlot Geological Institution set up post-graduation,” said Maud. “Anyway, I better get going. It was very nice to meet you.”

“Likewise!” Twilight replied with as much enthusiasm as she could fake.

As Twilight watched the confoundingly deadpan Maud exit the gymnasium, courteously closing the doors behind her, most likely given the sort of cargo she was transporting for her sister. Turning to her quartet of new friends, she watched as Pinkie, like a foal on Hearth’s Warming eve, was excitedly opening the ‘party munitions’ box that came with the cannon, Applejack looking on in slight apprehension, whilst Fluttershy was reading the manual for the party ordinance.

“‘Congratulations on purchasing your new Bee & Miller mark thirty-six festivities launcher (or party cannon). Before operating the Bee & Miller mark thirty-six festivities launcher, make sure you read and comprehend this manual thoroughly to ensure fun, and explosive, but safe results in using the Bee & Miller mark thirty-six festivities launcher. Bee & Miller Inc. will not be held responsible for the mishandling, accidents, injuries and slash or deaths as the result of the improper use of the Bee & Miller mark thirty-six festivities launcher…’”

Pinkie Pie pulled the manual from Fluttershy’s hands and began to read it… For a good five seconds before haphazardly tossing it away, “Aw, who’s got time for that?” she bent over to rummage through the glittering box, producing what looked to be a miniature cannon shell, albeit with a mostly cardboard construction, helpfully labeled ‘high school prom’ on the side.

“Uh… Pinkie?” Applejack watched in trepidation as Pinkie opened the back hatch of the party cannon, “Ya absolutely sure it’s safe fer ya to be usin’ that thing?”

Pinkie let out a snorted giggle as she inserted the shell into the cannon’s bore, “Silly Applejack. Have I ever scared you wrong?”

Applejack’s mouth lined, “Yes. Several times, in fact.”

Pinkie shrugged, “Eh, worth a shot.” She then directed the party cannon at the left-side bleachers, adjusting it to an upward angle.

Twilight watched on in uncertainty, seeing as this version of the Equestrian Pinkie’s party cannon seemed much more intricate, and potentially dangerous, what with the full-on ordinance. Rarity edged closer to Applejack, putting her arms around her significant other.

“If something bad happens,” she stated, “I always loved you…”

“Fire in the hole!” Pinkie cried out as her hand slammed down towards the big red trigger button very helpfully labeled “Fire!”.

-

Sunset Shimmer jerked in the midst of her stride when a muffled boom reverberated through the school corridors. Surveying her surroundings, with a few other students occupying the hallway, giving a wide berth of her, just the way she liked it, also looking about wondering the cause of the noise.

-

Much to Twilight’s, and no doubt everyone else, excluding Pinkie’s, amazement, the results were… Downright amazing, to say the least. The smell of black powder, and the bit of tinnitus notwithstanding.

The left-side bleachers’ frames had been almost perfectly entwined in glittery autumn colored streamers, a color scheme most fitting, what with it being the fall formal. A few streamers had missed the mark in, what one could assume was from the cannon’s spread, whilst a miss-shot banner reading ‘rocking prom’ lay stretched out over the seating rows.

“Well Ah’ll be…” Applejack muttered in disbelief, Rarity still clinging tightly onto her form. “So these things actually work.”

“But how does a cannon manage such perfect results with the streamers?” Twilight wondered aloud.

Pinkie opened to a seemingly random page on the previously discarded manual and read aloud, “‘The function of the Bee & Miller mark thirty-six festivities launcher is a copyright of Bee & Miller Inc.’ So hush-hush.”

Rarity, after just a moment longer spent clinging to her significant other, finally urged herself to let go, patting out the wrinkles in her top, “Regardless; this will save us much time then, for whatever it is you’re planning, Pinkie.”

“Ya got that right,” confirmed Pinkie, in the process of opening and reloading a new shell into the bore. “Just gotta do the right-side, a little Pinkie adjustment and this formal’s good to go!”

“Of course,” Rarity nodded. “Though how about we step out while you finish your business here?”

“Why?”

“Well…” Rarity trailed off, diverting everyone’s attention to Fluttershy, who stood in a slightly hunched pose, not having budged since the cannon went off. Entirely motionless, her arms held close to her chest, her pupils had shrunk into pin pricks in the midst of her wide-open eyes.

“Oh… Whoops…” Pinkie said with an apologetic grimace. “Just, uh… Computer lab. ETA, oh, gimme ten minutes. Fifteen tops.”

-

“So, uhh, Snips… What do we do now?” asked Snails, him and Snips having vacated the gymnasium.

“I dunno! We screwed up bad, and you know how Sunset gets if she doesn’t get her way!” Snips retorted, accented with a hint of chattering teeth.

“Oh yea. She’s gonna kill us, right?” Snails asked in an absent manner, when the slightest hint of focus entered the dopey youth’s eyes. “That’s not good.”

“Oh! I got an idea!” Snips beamed abruptly.

A moment later the resonant metallic thud of a closing locker emanated in the hallway.

“We just stay in here until the heat’s off!” came Snip’s muffled voice from inside the locker.

“Great idea, Snips!” replied Snails. “… Uh, wait; what if I gotta pee?”

An exasperated groan followed. “Well go to the bathroom and get back!” Snips retorted.

A futile rattle followed, the locker door shaking slightly, but otherwise refused to budge.

“Uh-oh…”

-

Twilight looked about the ‘computer lab’ as Pinkie had referred to it. It was a larger than average classroom, of sorts, only instead of desks it was lined with rows of long tables, from left to right, an aisle left between the rows for easy access. Atop them were lined with the same computer units as she’d seen in the library. A few students had taken up places amidst the computers, sitting as apart from one another as possible, barring two students who seemed to have additional pieces of technology with them, perhaps parts of an associated clique.

Rarity was seated by the computer closest to the wall near the entrance, Twilight having taken a seat beside her, whilst Applejack was leaning against the wall adjacent from Rarity and Fluttershy, having overcome the hint of shellshock on the way there, had shakily settled next to Twilight.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Twilight spoke up, to which all attention was diverted towards her. “Since Sunset Shimmer is the school’s top duelist; doesn’t everyone know her ins and outs by now?”

“By ‘ins and outs’ ya mean…?” Applejack inquired.

“I’m saying, shouldn’t everyone know her deck type, her style of play, summoning preferences, tactical inclinations and whatnot?”

“I recall her using spellcasters during her first championship. The display was rather painful to witness though…” Rarity shifted in her seat. “See, shortly before then, she had just broken up with Flash Sentry. And he was her opponent at the time.”

“Oh…” Twilight felt a strong tinge of remorse, thinking back to how polite Flash had been during their first encounter, even despite her abysmal performance on the dueling field.

The thought of Sunset Shimmer being in relationship with him, and not just by the implications of interspecies congress, and what she’d been told of her activities, and mental state for that matter, sounded so very wrong. To top off the unnerving presence that she emanated since seeing her in the human world for the first time, especially those striking orange eyes that Twilight had witnessed during that chance encounter with her.

“But since then,” Applejack continued on Rarity’s behest. “She’d been usin’ that chess deck of hers.”

So Sunset Shimmer had abandoned the one I now have. “Chess… deck?”

“Archfiends. Ugly sons a bitches. Hits ya fast and hard before ya get a chance t’ do much of anythin’. Get past the first five turns an’ she low-blows ya with a vengeance,” she sighed deeply. “Ah swear, sometimes she’s just messin’ with ya just for the hell of it.”

“So, on the off chance I do get to face her, I’ll need to be vigilant,” Twilight confirmed.

“Twilight, darling, trust us; you’ll need more than vigilance,” said Rarity, her expression belying a sense of uncertainty.

“Like what?”

Rarity looked back at Twilight in defeat, “Well, that’s just it. I don’t know…”

Just then the door to the computer lab opened, in stepping Pinkie Pie, with a stray streamer hanging off her shoulder and confetti sprinkled in her puffy head of hair.

“Well, that’s as decorated as that gymnasium’s gonna get!” she emphasized with a pleased grin, before shaking and sputtering like a dog to ruffle off the stray bits of décor. She stretched out her hands at the ends of her fingers, a display Twilight found oddly unsettling, before the pink girl wiggled them idly. “May I?”

Twilight relinquished her seat to Pinkie who subsequently grabbed hold of the computer’s mouse. Upon moving the device, the black screen changed to the familiar background as on the library computer. Opening a program dubbed “Microsponge Word”, the screen changed to one taken up almost completely by a blank white space, looking like an A4 sized piece of paper, with a series of peripherals and tool functions accessible atop that. This was the closest to the typewriter analogy Twilight had gleamed as Pinkie began typing on the keyboard, her flexibility with her digits making the process infinitely faster than Twilight back when she first tried.

“So, what exactly is your plan, Pinkie?” Twilight inquired as she watched Pinkie work.

Pinkie soon sat back from the computer, rubbing her chin in a dramatic fashion, accented with a contemplative hum. What sounded like a dinging of a call bell emanated from seemingly Pinkie’s very being, when she fished out her smartphone (with no tearing of her hair this time) and without prompting took a snapshot of Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy. She then held the phone away from herself, putting on a broad, pearly white smile and holding up her free hand with her two foremost fingers help up in a V, before darting the phone at Twilight to snap an image of her.

After fiddling with her phone for a moment, she returned to the computer where she once more showed off the convenience of this world’s technology when she was able to transfer the images from the phone onto the computer. With a few more alterations, Pinkie looked over what she was working on.

Twilight and the rest of the girls peered at the screen. Written in bold, dark purple letters, accented with a diagonal image of the back of a Duel Monsters card behind the text was; “Epic Duel Monsters Boss Rush. Underdog new girl Twilight Sparkle versus school pros. Location: CHS soccer field, 3pm sharp.” At the top in a line were the very unassuming photos of Applejack and Fluttershy, Pinkie in her cheerful pose and Rarity who had seemingly in the blink of an eye taken a pose akin to blowing a kiss at the camera.

Applejack looked at her girlfriend, “You’re such a tease. Ya know that?” to which Rarity playfully winked at her.

Beneath the text was the equally unassuming image of Twilight, underneath that in black letters with pink highlighting read “Attention: Free cupcakes!!!”

“And ‘boop’,” Pinkie clicked on a few series of functions. After a short moment a hefty machine in the corner on the opposite side of the room whirred to life. Like a miniaturized printing press, the machine began to slide out A4 sized pieces of paper into a neat stack.

“So… Fliers?” Twilight asked.

“Yup! Now we just put these up around school where people are just bound to see ‘em, and we’ll have our own little mini tournament all set,” said Pinkie, traipsing up to the printing machine to pick up the stack of fliers.

“Pinkie, I appreciate your enthusiasm, really, I do. But I’m not so convinced that people will be willing to watch me play after last time,” Twilight remarked glumly.

“Oh, I know that,” Pinkie replied unnecessarily nonchalantly. “What do you think the free cupcakes are for?”

“Ya know; she has a point…” Applejack chimed in. “Them’s good cupcakes.”

Just like my Pinkie’s, Twilight thought as Pinkie handed Fluttershy, Rarity and Applejack a share of the fliers. She sighed, watching as her new quartet of friends went over their shares of the workload, encouraging herself to smile for how they were already willing to do so much for her sake. If only she could have told them the entire truth about herself. When the time finally came that she would have to leave this world behind, she began to feel a conflicting ache about having to also leave them behind…

Duel #8: The Gauntlet is Thrown: Passion of the Beautiful Warrior

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Twilight gingerly adjusted the wrist brace of the steely grey loaned school issued duel disk on her forearm. With the prospect, or hoped prospect in the very least, of a spectated gauntlet of duels on the horizon, by mere hours nonetheless, she figured she try to look the part by wearing a duel disk like everyone else, even if hers lacked the color co-ordination.

“Nervous, Twilight?” asked Spike, the two of them seated side-by-side on the bottom row of the soccer field’s bleachers.

“Like you wouldn’t believe…” Twilight emphasized with a sigh, finally content with the wearing adjustments of the arguably cumbersome device. Flexing her fingers in assurance that the clasp wasn’t too tight, Twilight topped off the look by fastening her, or rather, Sunset’s old deck, in place at the front of the device. “Apple Bloom and the girls’ training and teaching did wonders, but now, I’m just concerned if I’ll screw up like I did during my duel with Flash. That is to say, if Pinkie’s plan works, in drawing a crowd. And a crowd is what we will need, but also the thought of said crowd looking down on me and judging me…”

“Twilight,” Spike patted a paw against Twilight’s side, “you can do this. Remember; you’ve done so much more than any of these people could ever imagine: You uncovered Nightmare Moon’s return, united the Elements of Harmony, saved Princess Luna, saved your friends from being Discord-ed, rescued Cadence, fought an army of changelings, found the Crystal Heart, and most of all, you inverted destiny! What more do you need? Like the fact so many of those entailed certain doom if you’d screwed up?” He swept back a paw in the direction of the soccer field, “You’re playing a game…”

A game that is essentially a recreation of dark magic ritualized combat…

“and not just against anyone, but against people who have all the cause to respect you for what you’ve done for them. Twilight, you trained for this, you’ll figure it out, and you will pull through. I just know it.”

Twilight put a hand around Spike and held him close, affectionately scratching at the front of his fluffy chest, “Thanks Spike. You always know the right things to say when I’m anxious.”

“Just gladly doing my job,” Spike chuckled proudly, resting his head against Twilight.

-

Sunset groaned in disgust as she peered into the gymnasium. Against all her wishes for a more presentable field of battle, as far as one could get in such an average educational facility as Canterlot High, the sickeningly saccharine party decorations for the mid-term duel and fall formal dance were still here. And all the more abundant from what she’d seen earlier. The rolled up banner was still up over the stage, bushels of balloons and lengths of streamers tied around the bleachers… And a strange odor seemed to pervade the gymnasium… It smelled distinctly of… gunpowder?

Snorting at the reek of fire with a hint of sulfur, she closed the door of the gymnasium. “Those morons had one job. I swear, when I catch those two there’s going to be hell to pay…” she muttered in irritation.

Her less than amicable mood being further dampened, on top of just wishing the day to be over and done with in anticipation for the big night tomorrow. The night where she could finally put an end to the charade of the past three years, and where everyone would know the burn of all her anger. Just the anticipation made her fingers feel like trembling in excitement. How would this pathetic world react when she would finally bring them all screaming back into the reality they systematically sought to suppress for so long?

She took notice of a quartet of students bunched around at the end of one of the locker alcoves. From the distance she couldn’t make out what exactly had caught their attention. A poster? A flier. She walked close enough to be within earshot, recognizing them as part of the techies. Smart, if not outright brilliant when it came to the most academic pursuits, barring her, of course. But also meek, flimsy, so easily pushed around.

“So what do you think?” asked one of the two girls in the group; petite, light-purple skin and long unimaginative long hair of two tones of brown.

“Wasn’t that the girl who didn’t even know how to turn on a duel disk?” asked one Sunset knew on the basis of being an easy extortion target: Lanky, purple skin, bluish purple hair, yellow dress shirt, complete with suspenders and thick glasses; Micro Chip.

“Maybe she’s just not used to proper duel gear?” suggest the second female of the group, another petite girl with yellow skin and orange curly hair with thick round glasses. “I mean if four of the top brass are accepting her challenge, maybe there’s more to her?”

“And hey, free cupcakes. If this is Pinkie Pie we’re talking about, it’s worth it just for those,” said the last of the bunch; another lanky, shorter boy with light orangish-brown skin and a most unimaginative brown bowl cut.

“What is worth it?” asked Sunset, her voice at a deliberate raised volume for sheer intimidation.

The four techies turned around in startlement, Micro Chip almost screaming as Sunset approached.

“S-S-Sunset Shimmer?!” Micro Chip exclaimed, quivering against the wall, the rest of his clique mates frozen in place under Sunset’s ireful gaze. “I-I-I don’t have anything today, I swear!”

Sunset ignored the cowering student as she brusquely made her way to whatever the four were looking at, not even bothering to address them backing away. It was a flier adhered to the wall, printed on an A4 sheet. At the top were lined mugshots of four of her most likely contenders:

Rarity, the pretentious drama queen of a fashionista, blowing at kiss at whomever took the photo. Always flaunting herself as if she were some blue-blooded Canterlot snot. She was perfectly aware that many boys in school found her desirable. With the drive and willingness, she could have had most of the school under her thumb, but instead she would deny the path to power in lieu of her pretentious open-handedness. And the fact that she was once girlfriend to Applejack.

Speaking of, Applejack: The knuckle dragging hick with that cowgirl penchant of hers and the habit of being actively forward to a detriment. Maybe that’s why she was so easy to manipulate into thinking Rarity, her girlfriend, was cheating on her with that loudmouth Rainbow Dash. Their bouts of vindictive competition were quite amusing, given how neither were wise to how they, and Rarity, had been fooled.

Fluttershy, a girl so timid and unassertive that pushing her around lost most of the point behind it when she’d never fight back. Still, her pathetic habit of having only animals as friends had its uses. Over time Sunset simply got bored of how much of a doormat she was and paid her next to no mind. Until she unwittingly took what was rightfully hers and prolonged the inevitable. And To think such a coward was regarded as one of the school’s top duelists.

And Pinkie Pie. Oh, if there was anything so saccharinely vomitous it was Pinkie Pie. A self-declared comedian and party professional; a girl who seemed like every day of the year, even that time of the month, were just mirth and joy nonstop. And yet Sunset was genuinely fascinated how this human was seemingly able to defy this world’s even more static laws of causality and physics, like some sugary spawn of Discord. And the fact how great of a duelist she was, despite lacking the raw drive and determination to dominate. That’s why she could never have defeated Sunset during the last mid-term. Nor this year.

“Epic Duel Monsters Boss Rush. Underdog new girl Twilight Sparkle versus school pros. Location: CHS soccer field, 3pm sharp,” it read on the amateurish flier. An equally unassuming photo of a girl with purple skin, radiant violet eyes and dark blue hair with a purple and magenta streak going down her front bangs, the back of her hair flared out so that it almost looked as if she had wings…

Twilight… Sparkle?! Sunset jolted in realization. That girl yesterday… It’s her!

Sunset glared at the image of the girl… No, alicorn. The newest alicorn princess of Equestria.

They did send someone after me. And it was the element bearer herself. And all alone? She snorted. Typical Celestia, always with the pointless subtlety. She could have sent her with a contingent of soldiers, or even a few specialists and they could have had the Element back in no time.

A condescending grin emerged on her lips. Her performance yesterday against Flash? Pathetic. So, she had the gall to challenge these four when she’s not even a novice. She…

“‘Attention: Free Cupcakes?’”

She pinched the ridge of her nose in frustration. Of course, she had something to do with this. Well then. I might as well see what Celestia’s latest pet is capable of-

Sunset gasped as another throbbing wave of pain sprung in her head. This one agonizing enough that it sent her toppling onto her knees, and almost on her face hadn’t she managed to catch herself from toppling over.

Why?! What is this?! Why now?!

She whined as a particularly strong pang erupted inside of her, sending her falling onto her side, caressing her head, crumpling into a fetal position. She could not tell how long she lay there, but eventually the pain faded, as abruptly as it had come…

Why was she cowering on the floor? Why was she on the floor? Sunset clambered back onto her booted feet, shaking her head. She was on her way towards the soccer field because of…

Twilight Sparkle. Yes. There was no way in Tartarus that she could even hope to contend with four of the best duelists at CHS, let alone us. No-one could defeat us. Not when we are so close now...

Sunset walked down the corridor wiping the back of her hand against something she’d felt on her face. She went on, unaware of the black stain marring her hand.

-

Twilight continued to sit at the end of the bleachers, watching as an ever-increasing number of students began to congregate further up and around, idly chatting away in groups of one to three at most. Even upon the bleachers she could clearly make out that all of the pocketed groups composed solely of their respective cliques.

A contemplative hum sounded, “You seem to be moving up; what with four of the best allowing you to take them on.”

Twilight turned her head in surprise, “Flash?”

“Yo,” Flash casually raised a hand in greeting. “How’s CHS been treating ya so far?”

Twilight smiled up at her definitely-not-love-interest as Pinkie had seemed to misread their relations, “It’s been… Interesting, to say the least. I’ve been learning, and believe I’ve gotten the hang of things now.”

“That’s good to hear. We should definitely have a rematch sometime,” Flash replied, taking a seat next to her.

“You know, you could always join in,” Twilight remarked. “Pinkie never said anything about this not being an open invite.”

“Truth be told; I did consider it. But I don’t think I’d qualify that much as top tier,” he smiled dourly. “Turns out being the current champion’s ex, and getting your ass kicked by her first time around doesn’t get you much in terms of representative merit, so to speak.”

“Oh… I’m sorry to hear that…” said Twilight apologetically.

Flash simply wave it off, “It’s cool. If you ask me; I think this little impromptu ‘boss rush’ is just what everyone needs before tomorrow.”

Twilight chuckled, “And free cupcakes.”

“And free cupcakes,” Flash reciprocated. “Speaking of cupcakes…”

Twilight looked to see Maud walking up to her, one such discussed confectionery in one hand, which she presented to Twilight.

“Pinkie asked me to bring you this specific one. Because it’s colored exactly like your hair,” she stated, ever deadpanned. True enough, as she frosting atop the white sponge cake did very much match Twilight’s hair. “If you permit me, from this angle, it looks like you have wings.”

Twilight chuckled awkwardly at the remark almost everyone had made about her hair, as she accepted the cupcake, “Uh, thanks, Maud. Are you going to be watching the ‘boss rush’ too?”

Maud blinked, “I like rocks…” A small smile formed on her lips, “But I do like to see my sister play. Also, I rather like Rarity’s deck.”

“Because they’re gems?” Twilight inquired, redundant as it was.

“Yes. I have a deck too. It’s rocks,” Maud added. “So underappreciated. So underestimated…” she said with a hint of foreboding before walking off.

“… I can never read that girl,” Flash remarked as he, Twilight and Spike watched her walk away.

Twilight shrugged before taking a bite out of the cupcake.

… Reminds me… Of home… Twilight thought, a stray tear of utter joy rolling down her cheek.

True enough, Pinkie soon arrived on the soccer field, followed by Applejack, followed by Maud, each pushing a large serving cart jam packed with veritable rainbows of different colored cupcakes, rowing them back-to-back in front of the bleachers. This seemed to peak more than a few student’s attentions. Pinkie gave Maud another hug in thanks, before producing a megaphone, again from her hair. Pinkie spoke, but her voice came out as inaudible. She shook the device and said some incomprehensible vocalization. Again, she went mostly unheard. She turned the horn in her direction, eyeing it in confusion. She held a hand to the intake side and snapped her fingers, her hair billowing upwards in a burst of sound.

“There we go…” she unintentionally said towards the crowd. “Gooood afternoon all you wonderful people of CHS and thank you so much for coming to this epic boss rush where our new up-and-coming school heartthrob Tw-i-light Sparkle…”

“What?!” Twilight retorted.

“Oh! And there she is right now!” Pinkie declared, peering at Twilight, feigning to shield her eyes. “Come on up, Twilight, and say hello to everyone!” she called, beckoning Twilight.

Taking a deep, steady breath, Twilight gingerly stood up, Flash giving her a supportive thumbs-up as she went, with Spike following close behind. She approached Pinkie standing before the rafters around their centermost portion, surreptitiously glancing at the scores of students watching as she went. As she went, she spotted certain individuals among the crowd whom she recognized as counterparts to other ponies she knew back home.

There was a Lyra Hearstrings and Bon Bon, side-by-side, indicating these two were also a couple. A fiery-haired yellow girl dressed in a blue jersey; definitely Spitfire, and she though she could spot other Wonderbolts including Soarin and Fleetfoot. Up on the top row she spotted a yellowish-white skinned girl with wild blue and cyan hair donning a pair of purple shades while wearing a large headset, her head incessantly nodding no doubt to some beat. A wide berth had been given for a pair of sound speakers set some distance away from her left and right, a compact mixer set next to her while one of those small portable computers sat on her lap. Would Vinyl still be called DJ-Pon3 in this reality? Further down she spotted a gray-skinned girl with a brownish head of hair dressed in a somewhat formal pink dress over a white shirt who looked much like Octavia Melody.

The further she went the more she realized how many counterparts there were, not only to those closest to her in life. The fact there hadn’t been a counterpart to her, while fortuitous in lieu of the potential of multidimensional disharmonic theory, even if its ramifications had yet to be wholly proven, and being able to blend in, still felt oddly specific. Thinking about it, could there also be an original Sunset Shimmer to this world?

“Twilight Sparkle everybody! And before you even ask; yes, good friend of mine. Believe it or not, folks, but our latest addition to our student community, from what I’ve been told, is lookin’ out for the coveted crown of the Duel Queen of CHS!”

An abrupt, “Ha!” emanated from somewhere within the crowd. Twilight pursed her lips in shame, whilst Pinkie, through her toothy smile, was visibly displeased as hinted by a noticeable twitch in her right eye.

“Sure, she may have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the-” she cut off to make a clicking sound, followed by a wolf whistle “dashing Flash Sentry. But… can she rebound and take on the best, most amazing duelists CHS has to offer on the path to a rematch against her rival and love-interest?!”

“Pinkie!”

“Just let me have this one, Twilight!” Pinkie said, failing to realize on turning the megaphone towards Twilight, blasting her with an ear-piercing noise. “Got anything to say to everyone?” she asked, blinking ever so sweetly as if nothing potentially out of place had been said or done, passing the megaphone to Twilight.

Shaking off the disorientation and adjusting to another bout of Pinkie induced tinnitus, Twilight took the megaphone and looked to the stands, most of the eyes turned towards her. Some seemed focused on their phones, some seemed to be training the in-built cameras in them towards her. After a moment of contemplative silence, Twilight raised the electronic device to her mouth.

“I’ll not deny, my first ever public performance was… beyond satisfactory. But, for the sake of my opponents slash new friends, I hope I will prove a worthy enough challenger, and that you will be entertained.”

“I doubt it!” called a random voice from somewhere in the crowd.

Pinkie snatched the megaphone back. “No cupcake for you!” she shouted, pointing out exactly the one who’d jeered.

“Aww…”

Pinkie proceeded to clear her throat. “With that outta the way, who’s ready for a boss rush?!!” she cried, raising an enthusiastic fist into the air.

A pitiable, half-hearted cheer emanated from the crowd.

Pinkie frowned, “And yes, the cupcakes are still involved.”

The crowd erupted with greater enthusiasm.

Pinkie rolled her eyes in irritation. She leaned towards Twilight, covering the mouth of the megaphone, “Just take your position at that end, I’ll do the rest,” she said, pointing a thumb at the end of the field, left from the spectator’s view.

“Alright,” Twilight complied.

“Well, guess cheering for the cupcakes is good enough. And now, without further ado- No touching!” Pinkie snapped when one of the students on the bottom row was already reaching out for one of the confectioneries. Pinkie glared daggers at him until he meekly sat back down, doing a gesture of indicating her eyes with her index and middle fingers and pointing at him. “… Without further further ado, here’s Canterlot High’s own Rarity!” She snapped a finger towards Vinyl Scratch, “Take it away, DJ!”

Vinyl gestured a thumbs up to Pinkie, her head still nodding in rhythm as she did something on the laptop computer, made adjustments on the compact mixer and with the push of a key, music began to emanate from the speakers for added mood.

“Oh! And as a bonus bit of news: Did you know she and AJ are back together?” Pinkie asked the crowd, eliciting a chorus of endearment from the audience.

Twilight saw from across the field as Rarity’s two-toned duel disk activated, eliciting her to do the same. As always, the two halves of the blade-like tray slid forward, combined into one and swung along her arm, the screen blaring to life with the grid of the playing field.

Opponent detected. Streaming data.” the familiar feminine synthetic voice spoke as Twilight’s desk was automatically shuffled. Once finished, the device prompted her, “Duel start?

Upon tapping the ‘yes’ icon, the virtual coin spun in the midst of the screen, stopping abruptly on the blue side with a star gold star reminiscent of a pentacle within it. “Your start.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Rarity Life Points: 4000

“Good luck, Twilight,” said Rarity through the in-built communicator.

“You too, Rarity. No matter what you do, don’t hold back.”

Turn 1: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

Twilight’s hand was ejected from the disk, which she fanned out, having attained enough finger flexibility from last night’s repetitions. She shut her eyes and breathed in, holding it in for a moment, the sighed, steeling her resolve and her focus.

She took a card from her hand and slid it into a spell slot, “I start with the spell card ‘Spellbook Library of the Crescent’,” on cue a hologram of a darkened moon appeared on the field. Her duel disk prompted her to her touch screen, “This card lets me take three different ‘Spellbook’ spell cards from my deck, reveal them…”

As she made her choices, the disk pre-emptively once more shuffling Twilight’s deck before the moon faded, revealing three holograms of cards that materialized spinning over the field, their images pointed at Rarity’s side upon stopping.

“and you must then choose one of them at random, adding it to my hand. The rest return to my deck.”

The cards span in place once more, too fast to be able to make them out with the naked eye. They stopped with the images pointing at Twilight, their placements changed through the imaging.

Rarity eyed the three holograms in contemplation. There was really no physical means for her to have even the remotest means to have followed their placement.

“I choose… The one to your right,” Rarity said with finality, to which the left and middle cards faded, leaving the third, ‘Spellbook of Fate’ in place, to which the card itself was ejected from Twilight’s deck.

“Now I summon ‘Temperance of Prophecy’ in attack mode,” Twilight slapped a card into the cleft of her tray.

On the field materialized a woman covered head to toe in an orangish-brown robe with silver rims and flowing white cloth talismans wafting from he waist. A hint of a cyan braid hung out from her face obscuring hood, while in her hands she held a small golden goblet each, connected with a string of cyan pearls with a crest attached to the middle link. (Level 3, 1000/1000)

“Due to having played a ‘Spellbook’ card this turn, I can sacrifice Temperance to Special Summon one level 5 light or dark spellcaster from my deck,” Temperance’s chalices expelled smoke, one white, one a swirl of dark violet and black, the two swathes swirling together over Temperance’s form, making her vanish from sight.

“Come forth; ‘Emperor of Prophecy’!” slapping the freshly ejected card onto her disk, to which a pillar of darkness erupted on her field.

From within the pillar emerged another human spellcaster, male, garbed in a violet robe of black and intricate silver inlays and golds rims, six cloth talismans hanging off his shoulders back and waist. His head framed by a high collar and adorned in an intricate silver and gold helm. In his right hand he brandished a golden wand with six horizontal prongs beneath a rounded silver and purple crest. (Level 5 2300/2000)

So far so good. “I then activate ‘Spellbook of Secrets’. This lets me add one other ‘Spellbook’ card to my hand.” A card was once again ejected after a quick shuffle, “I choose ‘Spellbook of Power’ to be added. I then place a card facedown. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

The crowd did not seem to respond much. All Twilight could hear aside from her duel disk was the sound of Vinyl’s music emanating from the speakers… The thought suddenly occurred to her that Vinyl’s inclusion in the stands may have been intentional, to block out any potential jeering from the audience to better Twilight’s focus. Looking over at Pinkie Pie who was busy handing out the promised cupcakes (save one), Twilight noted herself to hug that ever-lovable pink oddity. Strictly out of endearment, of course.

Turn 2: Rarity (Hand: 5)

In a rather flourished manner, Rarity drew her first card. Opening her eyes with a mysterious seeming smile formed on her lips, her purple coiffure seeming to sway in a non-existent breeze, she deftly flicked her first card onto the field.

“I summon ‘Box of Friends’ in defense mode.”

Appearing on her field was what looked very much like a yellow box marked with varying colors of polka dots and tied with a red silk ribbon. (Level 1 0/0)

Zero attack and defense points? Twilight wondered eyeing between her disk and field. It must have some form of effect if she’s bringing that out so openly…

“And now,” Rarity began as she held delicately a single card between her index and middle finger, “I active the heart and core of my radiant arsenal.”

“Gem-Knight Fusion!” a portion of the students shouted out in adoration.

Rarity smiled sweetly as she slapped the card onto her disk. True enough, the image of Gem-Knight Fusion emerged onto the field, presented by a glistening image of a red and blue distended knightly figures spiraling within a field of brilliant gemstones.

“I fuse together Gem-Knight Lazuli and Gem-Knight Iolite from my hand.”

The sparkling variant of the Fusion vortex emerged, the copper-colored Lazuli from before and Iolite with its cannon arm arising and swirling together into a shimmering light.

“My valiant gems: Right hand of the Lady. The stone blue like oceans’ depths. Unite in your splendor, and create a new jewel, that the world may bask in its light…”

Rarity’s hands came together, fingers intertwined, “Fusion Summon! Arise, my champion! Knight of Balance, ‘Gem-Knight Zirconia’!”

From the vortex emerged a knight larger and heftier than the three Twilight had witnessed during the duel between Rarity and Applejack. Standing at an astounding ten feet tall, its body was encased in a bulbous, rounded silvery armor with light blue inlays. In place of hands, its arms were composed solely of hefty battering rams with facets made of smoothed, glistening zircon. Like its other Fusion kin, a cape, one of muted purple, wafted behind its hefty form. (Level 8 2900/2500)

2900 attacks points, and a defender. Now I just need to worry about any potential effects this knight has…

“When Lazuli is sent to the graveyard by an effect, like Fusion Summoning, she lets me add one normal monster from my graveyard to my hand. Iolite is treated as a normal monster while in the graveyard, so he returns to my hand.” Rarity then gestured towards Twilights field in a graceful motion, “My champion Zirconia, attack Emperor! Zircon Hammer!”

Zirconia, seemingly levitating off the ground, slid across the field, one of its battering rams reared back in preparation to strike.

Now! “I play my facedown card; ‘Spellbook of Fate’!” Twilight swung her arm, her facedown arising to reveal itself. “… Its effect if determined by banishing one-to-three ‘Spellbook’ cards from my graveyard. By banishing ‘Spellbook Library of the Crescent’ and ‘Spellbook of Secrets’, I change Zirconia to facedown defense position, thus negating your attack!”

Zirconia was instantly warped back to Rarity’s side, the hefty knight vanishing underneath a sideward image of a facedown card.

“I place one card facedown. My turn has concluded,” Rarity declared.

(Hand: 2)

Turn 3: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 4)

Twilight performed her draw. Rarity used up almost her entire hand that turn. I have a nearly full hand, rearing to go, while she’s down to just one. I do not know what she has hidden under that facedown though, so I should be cautious. Zirconia has no effects it seems, but its attack strength is something I’d rather not take to the face… She looked at her hand, a plan formulating in her mind.

“I summon ‘Amores of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

A lanky human male with green hair tied in a tail emerged onto the field. Clad in a light blue tunic, like all the other Prophecy spellcasters so far, cloth talismans were hung from his clothing, two over his shoulders, two at his waist. A thick blindfold covered his eyes and he brandished a stringless bow bearing the crest shared by his kin. (Level 3 600/2000)

“Amores allows me to Special Summon one level four or below spellcaster from my hand by revealing one ‘Spellbook’ from my hand,” To which Twilight flashed ‘Spellbook of Power’ from her last turn. “With Amores I Special Summon Strength of Prophecy in attack mode.”

A red-haired woman emerged onto the field, with determined eyes matching the radiance of her hair, clad in a predominately red and dark grey outfit with silver linings and studded with citrines on her chest, sleeves and matching crest hairpins. She too bore the same cloth talismans, two at her shoulders, two at her waist. Resting against the ground in her grip was a hefty stone axe, the blunt of it fashioned into a snarling beast’s head. (Level 4 1500/1400)

“I activate Strength’s effect: By shuffling a ‘Spellbook’ from my graveyard back into my deck…” Spellbook of Fate slid out of her graveyard slot, “I can increase the attack of one spellcaster on my field by 500 and its level by one.”

Strength pointed an open palm at Emperor, the citrines in her clothing emanating a fiery glow, which transferred into a matching out around Emperor (Level 5 -> 6 ATK: 2300 -> 2800).

Now Emperor is strong enough. “I attack Zirconia with Emperor!”

Emperor (ATK: 2800) raised his wand towards the heavens, the crest at its tip forming a sphere of power at its end, which he then proceeded to fling at the obscured Zirconia. The sphere struck home, unveiling Zirconia's hulking form, a crackling surge permeating his body, the knight grunting in pain before exploding.

“Next I attack Box of Friends with Amores!”

An arrow of blue light materialized beside Amores’ bow, which he pulled back with a seemingly invisible string before launching it at the unassuming box on Rarity’s field. The arrow pierced through the container, causing it to erupt in blue flames, burning to nothing in the blink of an eye.

She’s open, now I can-

“When Box of Friends is destroyed, its effect triggers,” Rarity interjected. “It allows me to Special Summon two normal monsters from my deck in defense, as long as either their attack or defense points are zero.”

I digress…

“I summon ‘Gem-Knights Garnet’ and ‘Sapphire’ in defense mode.”

Two knights emerged onto the field, one in a brilliant garnet red suit of armor, a respective gem studded in his chestplate, with his right arm adorned in a hefty gauntlet. (Level 4 1900/0) The other a gleaming sapphire blue, sleek suit of armor that proceeded to kneel, holding out its hands to which a wall of ice formed before them. (Level 4 0/2100)

Alright, slight goof-up. I can still destroy Garnet. “I continue my battle phase by attacking Gem-Knight Garnet with Strength.”

“Trap card, activate!” Rarity interjected again. “‘Gem-Enhancement’! By sacrificing one Gem-Knight on my field, I can Special Summon one Gem-Knight from my graveyard. Revive, my champion: Gem-Knight Zirconia!”

Garnet’s armor erupted in an intense blue glow around its seams, swelling into a familiar shape that coalesced and dimmed to reveal the revived Zirconia. (Level 8 2900/2500)

“Sorry, Twilight, but you cannot extinguish my champions’ luster so easily,” said Rarity with a graceful sway of her hair.

Twilight, despite the predicament, couldn’t help but smile. Rarity was not dueling out of anger now, like she was before with Applejack. “It’s good to see you’re having fun.”

“Oh indubitably, darling,” Rarity chuckled. “Make no mistake, I shall duel to win. But whatever may come of this, Twilight, I want you to know that I will be forever grateful, and I will always be here if you need me.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Rarity. I hope I will be a worthy opponent in either case.”

“We shall see. I hope you are prepared, for my dueling passion starts here,” Rarity bowed daringly.

Twilight chuckled in the shared merriment, “I end my battle phase. I will then play ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’. I send Amores to the graveyard in order to draw two cards.”

Twilight looked at her current hand; so far, she had gone down from five at the start to a sizeable four. She looked up towards Zirconia, another one of Rarity’s formidable Fusion Monster knights. Realizing that most of these fusions, barring Zirconia so far, would be capable of some form of devastating effect as she demonstrated during her duel with Applejack. The ordinary Gem-Knights, while formidable, were more lacking in strength and based on Obsidian performed a more utilitarian elements instead of aiding in combat.

What’s more, with Gem-Knight Fusion in Rarity’s graveyard, she would simply use its latent effect to bring it back and use it to summon another, stronger knight. If only she had a means of stopping Rarity from fusing altogether…

Wait… This card… Twilight noticed a certain trap she’d drawn with Spellbook of Knowledge.

“Maybe you can use ‘em if ya find yourself in a pickle,” Apple Bloom’s words echoed in her mind.

“I set two cards facedown. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 4: Rarity (Hand 2)

Rarity drew, to which she slid the card directly into her disk, “I activate ‘Graceful Charity.’ This card lets me draw three cards, as long as I discard two from my hand.”

Rarity drew thrice, going over her hand of four, before selecting her two discards and feeding them into her graveyard slot. A ghostly image of a black knight with a halo of black orbs appeared behind Rarity.

“When ‘Gem-Knight Obsidian’ is discarded to the graveyard, he lets me add one level 4 or lower ‘Gem-Knight’ normal monster from my graveyard to my hand,” a card slid back out of the slot. “I choose Gem-Knight Garnet from last turn. I then activate Gem-Knight Fusion’s graveyard effect: By banishing a Gem-Knight, like Obsidian, I can add it to my hand.”

Here we go…

“I then activate Gem-Knight Fusion once more. I fuse Gem-Knights Garnet, Sapphire and Zirconia-”

“Trap card, activate!” Twilight declared, one of her two facedowns emerging. “‘Cursed Seal of the Forbidden Spell’!”

A gasp emanated from among the fashionista students. Rarity eyed the risen trap warily, her expression hinting she was aware of the ramifications.

“By discarding a spell card from my hand,” Twilight slid Spellbook of Power into the graveyard, “I negate your Gem-Knight Fusion. Also, you are unable to use that spell card for the rest of the duel.”

Rarity said nothing as she was forced to send not only her fusion card, but also her entire field, and part of her hand to the graveyard.

“You think you may have gone a little overboard?” Spike whispered; no doubt due to his feelings for both Rarities.

“Well played, Twilight,” Rarity spoke over her disk in a genuinely complimentary tone. “I will say, either your defeat at the hands of Flash were grossly exaggerated, or training with Sweetie Belle did wonders.”

“You don’t mean you’re going to…?”

Rarity laughed haughtily, “Oh ho-ho no~. It’s like Applejack said; when you start a duel, you see it to the end. And besides; what kind of fashion extraordinaire would I be if I could not improvise?” She took the second last card in her hand and slid it into her spell slot, “I play the spell card, ‘Absorb Fusion’.”

What?! Another Fusion card?!

“Absorb Fusion adds one Gem-Knight card to my hand, which is then used as one of the Fusion components, along with any other components in my hand or on my field by banishing them.” She chose a card off her duel disk screen, her deck being shuffled and her chosen card ejected from her deck, flashing it at Twilight, “I choose ‘Gem-Knight Lapis’ to be added into my hand, and I fuse her with Gem-Knight Iolite.”

The sparkling fusion vortex emerged, along with the images of Lapis, a lighter colored twin of Lazuli and Iolite. A black aura surrounded them as they were sucked into the vortex.

“My valiant gems: Left hand of the Lady. The stone blue like oceans’ depths. Unite in your splendor, and bring forth the Lustrous Lady…”

Rarity’s hands came together once more, “Fusion Summon! Her excellence: Level 5, ‘Gem-Knight Lady Lapis Lazuli!”

A new gem emerged from the vortex. As befitting her name, she was a female monster as opposed to the predominately male Gem-Knights. Her shimmering metallic body was covered in a combination of cloth and armor in a vague likeness to a deep blue kimono, the metallic hems studded with two large stones of her namesake. She landed gracefully before Rarity, arms held out, leaving her wide sleeves hanging elegantly at her sides. (Level 5, 2400/1000)

Before now I thought she could only use Gem-Knight Fusion or a slightly delayed trap card. So, Rarity has back-up plans in case her main fusion card is compromised. Still, Lapis Lazuli is much weaker compared to Zirconia. I should be able to handle her…

“I activate Lady Lapis Lazuli’s effect. Once per turn, I can send a Gem-Knight from either my deck or extra deck to the graveyard…” One of her Fusion Monsters slid out of her extra deck port on the side opposite her deck. “I choose one of my champions, ‘Gem-Knight Topaz’. This lets Lapis Lazuli deal 500 damage to you multiplied by the number of Special Summoned monsters on the field.”

Special Summoned…?! All three monsters out were Special Summoned!

Lapis Lazuli held aloft her hands, three jagged lances of gemstones appearing above her. Swinging forth one arm, the three lances launched at Twilight, each striking the segmented forcefield before her, causing her duel disk to vibrate in feedback.

Twilight Sparkle Life points: (500 x 3 = 1500) 4000 – 1500 = 2500

Rarity swept back her hair extravagantly, “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 0)

She just shaved off one third of my life points, and all without attacking. She must have misconstrued my facedown card, ‘Magician’s Circle’ which would have given me another spellcaster to summon if she’d attacked. But now with that lady Gem-Knight, I’m not certain if I should even special summon any more monsters unless I can take it out.

Turn 5: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 2)

Twilight drew her next card… ‘Spellbook of Judgement’. Tempting, but she was not looking to Special Summon just yet, and the only remaining monsters in her hand would not help against Lapis Lazuli.

“Sorry about this, Rarity. I activate the effect of Emperor. By banishing a spellcaster monster on my field, and a Spellbook from by graveyard, I can take control of one of your monsters until the end of this turn. I banish Strength,” the red-haired warrior mage vanished from her field, “And Spellbook of Power from my graveyard, to take control of Lapis Lazuli.”

Emperor held out one hand, and pulled it back whilst clenching it into a fist. Lapis Lazuli vanished from Rarity’s field and appeared on Twilight’s side, one of her monster zones marked as occupied with Lapis Lazuli’s card image present on her screen.

“I attack you directly with Lapis Lazuli!”

Lapis Lazuli held forth both hands, scores of small gems materializing before her, which were then launched towards Rarity in a rapid flurry against her forcefield. Rarity’s arm was jerked by the system feedback, but she retained a neutral impression.

Rarity Life Points: 4000 – 2400 = 1600

“Emperor of Prophecy can’t attack the turn I used this effect, so I will end my turn. During my end phase, Lapis Lazuli returns to your field.”

Lapis Lazuli vanished from Twilight’s side of the field and remerged onto her rightful place at Rarity’s side.

(Hand: 3)

Hopefully that bought me enough breathing room until I draw the right card.

Turn 6: Rarity (Hand: 0)

-

Right… She really put me in a tight spot with that Cursed Seal trick. Unless I can somehow keep Lapis Lazuli alive to shave her life points down before she summons something stronger or destroys her with a card. She’s lucky to happened to have had that specific card just like… Sweetie Belle!

Rarity glanced towards the bleachers, specifically, towards her end of it where her fellow ‘bosses’ as Pinkie had insisted on calling them, sat, sans Pinkie who was adamantly ensuring an equal distribution of cupcakes (minus one). True enough, seated next to Applejack she could see Apple Bloom, between whom and Scootaloo sat her little sister spectating.

You gave her that card, didn’t you? Rarity inexplicably found herself smiling at sister. Of course. You told Twilight everything about what’s been going on. My relationship with Applejack, the school, everything. Like how you and your friends’ sisters were acting so foolish.

She diverted her line of sight towards the girl whom was wrongfully duped into breaking her heart, proudly observing her duel once more. For the past two years dueling, or rather, everything at CHS had felt so lonesome. Sure, she had her place among the fellow fashionably inclined, but that wasn’t the same. Sure, she’d praise their styles, commend them for something they did, or have them downright idolize her exploits. And while she may know many of their names, that was about it.

I… we will always be indebted to Twilight for bringing us back together in so many ways. Twilight, you gave me back my heart, and with it, reignited my passion. No matter what happens now, she will always have a friend in me.

-

Twilight blinked hard when she saw Rarity reaching for her next draw. It was hard to make out, but for a moment, she thought she’d seen Rarity’s form envelop in a soft violet aura. The mental echoes she’d come to recognize as an indicator of Priestess’ presence filled her thoughts, when an astral projection of the woman appeared hovering beside her.

Priestess? Could you see it too?

Indeed, Twilight. I am not certain, but it would seem she’s evoked some internalized power. But it feels different from anything else I’ve seen before.

Is this something to do with the Game of Darkness?!” Twilight surreptitiously glanced at the Priestess.

Rarity drew her next and only card in her hand at that point. Mathematically, unless she was very lucky, the odds of it being something to solidify her field further was minimal at best, yet the uncanny aura she’d witnessed just then… Could it have something to do with…?

“I play ‘Pot of Dichotomy,’” Rarity declared, the hologram of a pot bearing two distinct facets emerged onto the field: One side purple, gluttonous visage with a long tongue lulling out, exposing teeth studded with gems under thick lips. The other, a smiling white visage with what looked to be spindly hands held together as if in prayer or meditation.

“This turn I cannot conduct my battle phase. I return three monsters of different types from my graveyard to my deck…” three cards of her choice were ejected, “Box of Friends – machine. Gem-Knight Lazuli – rock. And Gem-Knight Garnet – pyro.” She placed the cards atop her deck, which was shuffled, “I then draw two cards.”

A facedown materialized on her field, “I set one card facedown. And activate Lapis Lazuli’s effect. I send Lazuli from my deck back to the graveyard.”

Lapis Lazuli raised spread her arms once more, this time materializing two gem lances, which were then launched towards Twilight, shattering violently onto the forcefield.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: (500 x 2 = 1000) 2500 – 1000 = 1500

“When Gem-Knight Lazuli is sent to the graveyard, she adds one normal monster from my graveyard to my hand,” another card slid out of her graveyard slot. “I choose Gem-Knight Sapphire. Whom I will play in defense mode.”

The sapphire ice knight emerged once more, spreading out his arms to form the barrier before him. (Level 4 0/2100)

“I end my turn,” Rarity said, her eyes steeled in determination.

(Hand: 1)

Turn 7: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 2)

Twilight looked across from the field at Rarity as she drew her next card. What was that just now? Was it just luck that she drew that Pot of Dichotomy? It’s not out of the realms of possibility, but at the same time as that aura just now. I know I’ve seen it before…

She looked at the latest card she drew. This should help… “I summon ‘Spellbook Magcian of Prophecy’ in defense mode.”

The young light blue-robed magician emerged onto the field, grasping the dark blue tome under his arm as he knelt on the ground. (Level 2 500/400)

“When normal summoned, Spellbook Magician adds one ‘Spellbook’ to my hand,” her selected card ejected, revealing it as a second Spellbook of Power. It’s now or never; I need to get rid of Lapis Lazuli before Rarity can special summon and use her effect to finish this. “I activate ‘Spellbook of Power’!”

A fiery red tome appeared and opened before Emperor of Prophecy, whom reached out for it. A fiery aura began to surround him, coalescing into a crackling sphere over his hand. (ATK: 2300 -> 3300)

“Spellbook of Power increases the attack points of one spellcaster on my field by 1000. And when it destroys a monster in battle, it allows me to add a 'Spellbook' spell card to my hand.” Risky as it was with Rarity’s facedown, she had to act now, “I attack Lapis Lazuli with Emperor!”

Emperor, instead of using his wand, vigorously flung the energy sphere at Lapis Lazuli. In what felt like a moment of slowed time, Twilight grit her teeth anxiously in the event that Rarity’s facedown would reveal itself as something harmful…

The attack struck home, the impact eliciting a haunting, pained scream from Lapis Lazuli before her form exploded, inflicting sizable damage to Rarity’s life points in the process.

Rarity Life Points: 1600 – 900 = 700

Alright! Breathing room achieved! Twilight added a card as per the Spellbook’s effect. Priestess! “I end my turn. During my end phase Emperor’s attack points return to normal. (ATK: 3300 –> 2300)

(Hand: 3)

Turn 8: Rarity (Hand 1)

Rarity drew her next card, “I now activate my facedown; ‘Common Charity’.”

That’s a trap she used against Applejack. She can draw twice, so long as she banishes a normal monster from her hand…

Rarity drew twice in her overtly flourished style, making her hand count four. She folded one of the newly drawn cards against her palm whilst the one remaining betwixt her fore and middle fingers was slid it into the banished slot.

Still, she will have a hard time when she’s still unable to use Gem-Knight Fusion.

Rarity slapped a card onto her tray, “I summon ‘Gem-Knight Emerald’ in attack mode!”

A new knight arose onto her field. This one adorned in a sleek, brilliant green suit of armor with golden accents. On each gauntlet it brandished what looked to be green circular saws. (Level 4 1800/800)

“Defeating my champions or depriving me of my core card will not stop me. Just as I strive to make the world even just a little more beautiful, with my passion ignited; I will always find a way!” she swung her hand sideways in flourish. “‘Gem-Knight Emerald’s effect! By sacrificing him and one normal monster on my field, I can special summon one Gem-Knight fusion monster from my graveyard! Emerald Resurrection!”

Emerald crossed its arms over its chest as Sapphire vanished from the field. The emeralds embedded in its chest and saws erupted in a radiant green glow.

“Return, my Lady: Gem-Knight Lady Lapis Lazuli!”

From the glow emerged a contrastingly darker silhouette. When the light finally faded; Lapis Lazuli stepped elegantly forth onto the field of battle, back from the dead. (Level 5 2400/1000)

“I activate Lapis Lazuli’s effect once more, by sending ‘Gem-Knight Amber’ from my deck to the graveyard, you take another one thousand points of damage.”

Lapis Lazulie conjured two more jewel lances and psionically flung them at Twilight, unable to keep herself from instinctively raising her arms due to the sheer realism of the holograms.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: (500 x 2 = 1000) 1500 – 1000 = 500

One more hit from her and I’m finished!

“Lapis Lazuli, attack Twilight’s Emperor!”

Just as the lady Gem-Knight (ATK: 2400) held forth her arms, conjuring a flurry of gems, Twilight pressed an icon on her duel disc, “I play the trap card ‘Magician’s Circle’! When you attack, we can both special summon one spellcaster-type monster from our decks with 2000 or less attack points!” A card slid out from Twilight’s deck, “I summon ‘Reaper of Prophecy’!”

From a burst of dark smog emerged a human of indeterminate gender, garbed in a black and dark purple robe with silver trimmings. The hems and sleeves of the robe were tattered, and on their waist was set a massive buckle in the likeness of a fanged skull. As the other Prophecy casters, cloth talismans hung from their waist, only these were black instead of white. Underneath the hood, the left side of their face was covered in a silver half of a human skull. Brandished in their hands was a large black, jagged scythe, with the crest of Prophecy embedded on its sides where the blade met the shaft. (Level 6 2000/1000)

Lapis Lazuli sent the conjured flurry of gems pummeling at Emperor (ATK: 2300), his form being torn apart.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 500 – 100 = 400

“I set one card. My turn concludes.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 9: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

Right, I can now sacrifice Magician and Reaper to summon Priestess to take out Lapis Lazuli, but Rarity has yet another facedown. Priestess can destroy one card once per turn by banishing a Spellbook from my graveyard, but the questions boils down to which one do I destroy? Lapis Lazuli will take out my remaining life points, so she is the urgent target. But then I could be possibly leaving a dangerous facedown for Rarity to trigger. If I destroy her facedown and then attack Lapis Lazuli, I’ll leave Rarity’s field open. But should I risk it even if she has only one card left in her hand.

Twilight swallowed hard as she drew her next card. ‘Double Spell’…!

“I sacrifice Spellbook Magician and Reaper of Prophecy,” Twilight’s monsters faded from the field in swirls of light, “to summon the mistress of timeless wisdom; High Priestess of Prophecy!”

Priestess true form emerged onto the field, her cloth talismans swaying from the burst of power granted from her comrades’ sacrifice. Grasping her emerald tome over her right forearm, she took an assertive step forth on her long, slender legs. (Level 7 2500/2100)

-

Rarity eyed Twilight’s newly summoned white clad spellcaster warily. Graceful and, frankly, adorning just the most gorgeous garb of white and silver, she thought she recognized the card from somewhere else.

High Priestess of Prophecy has an effect that lets her destroy a card on the field by banishing a spell, I believe, once per turn. The card I set is Brilliant Spark; if Twilight destroys Lapis Lazuli with High Priestess I can inflict damage to Twilight equal to Lapis Lazuli’s attack points. If she destroys Brilliant Spark and destroys Lapis Lazuli in battle, I’ll only lose 100 life points. The card in my hand is Dark Factory of Mass Production; with it I can bring back two of my knights and discard one to bring Brilliant Spark back into my hand. If I can just hold off a little longer, I should be able to draw a fusion trap…

-

“I discard Spellbook of Judgement from my hand to activate ‘Double Spell,’” Twilight inserted said spell into her disk.

“Double Spell?” Rarity muttered.

“This lets me choose one spell from my opponent’s graveyard and this card’s effect becomes that of the taken spell.” Twilight pointed at Rarity in defiance, “The spell I choose is your ‘Graceful Charity’.”

On the field the image of Double Spells card revolved, the flipside being the image of Graceful Charity.

“I draw three cards, then discard two of them…” One; ‘The Fool of Prophecy’. Two: ‘Spellbook of the Master’, three ‘Dark Renewal’.

Twilight slid the Fool and Stoic of Prophecy from her hand into the graveyard, before inserting Spellbook of Eternity into her disk, “I play ‘Spellbook of the Eternity’. This card lets me add one banished Spellbook to my hand,” her choice was ejected from the banished slot, “and I choose the first Spellbook of Power I banished by Emperor’s effect.”

-

Increases her monster’s power by a thousand and lets her draw a card by destroying a monster in battle… If she uses that along with High Priestess’ effect to get rid of my facedown…!

-

“I now activate Priestess’ effect; once per turn, by banishing a Spellbook from by graveyard,” Twilight had Spellbook of Eternity ejected, “she can destroy one card on the field!”

Priestess levitated her tome before her, the deceivingly small book fluttering through what looked like dimensionally transcendental numbers of pages. Seeming to pick out something from the tome, it then closed and she uttered some arcane language even Twilight could not recognize. An emerald burst of light erupted from underneath Rarity’s facedown, the card burning away into nothing.

“Now I activate Spellbook of Power, increasing Priestess’ attack points by a thousand.”

Priestess’ tome spun rapidly in place, its emerald shine turning radiant orange. Upon halting the cover flung itself open, Priestess reaching out with both gloved hands that drew in crackling bolts of power from the tome, coalescing into a crackling fiery orb between her palms. (ATK 2500 -> 3500)

-

Rarity watched as the High Priestess siphoned power from the fiery tome before her, making her a total of 1100 points stronger than Lapis Lazuli, and herself with no trap card to defend herself with. There was nothing she could do at this point; all being left in her hand a spell card she couldn’t even use. Rarity closed her eyes, her lips curving into a smile of contentment.

Much as her drive as a duelist wished for victory, she did not mind it. Twilight Sparkle, this strange, yet so helpful girl had already done so much for her in the one day she’d known her. It was a well-deserved victory for the girl with hair like wings.

-

“High Priestess attacks Lapis Lazuli!”

Priestess thrust out her hands, sending the ball of energy careening towards Lapis Lazuli, the lady knight covering her front in vain with her arms until she fell victim to a second bolt from the Spellbook of Power, her form being eradicated in a haunting wail.

Rarity Life Points: 700 – 1000 = -300

Twilight Sparkle Victory!

Duel #9: Desperate Overlay: Twilight vs. Fluttershy

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An incredulous silence fell over the audience, possibly well before Vinyl Scratch toned down the music. Twilight looked over at the students looking down upon her and Rarity, a regular cornucopia of shock of disbelief aimed at her, or Rarity, or both. The first breaking of the silence was someone, whom Twilight could have sworn was the one vocally doubting her earlier, thus depriving him of his free cupcake, shouting in denial to an almost pathetic degree.

“You go, new girl!” came the shout from, to Twilight’s surprise, the girl who looked like Lyra Heartstrings.

Pinkie slid out from behind Lyra, once more demonstrating her latent ability of defying reality like her pony counterpart, slinging one arm around and over the green girl’s shoulder in a chummy manner, “You heard it here, folks! Twilight Sparkle, the new girl underdog takes her first win in this epic boss rush to the sheer bamboozlement of everyone among us. But this girl? This girl, knows where it’s at!”

And with that, Pinkie handed Lyra a cupcake before disappearing behind her very form. Only to pop up further up the bleachers, standing over the railing behind Vinyl Scratch, able to maintain perfect balance despite the rounded surface of the metal structure.

“So how about it? Everyone ready for some more dueling?!” she asked the crowd with great enthusiasm.

“It could have been a fluke…”

“Okay, you need to chill!” Pinkie called out the incessant naysayer in the audience, in stark irony to her demands.

“Bring out the next challenger!” called out, to everyone’s surprise, Flash Sentry, having stood up from his seat along the bottom row.

Pinkie then popped out from behind Flash and side-hugged him, “Now we’re talking! A word of encouragement from the rival slash possible love interest himself!” The remark left Flash blushing hot red, all the while Pinkie, with a smug grin, took Flash’s hand to place a cupcake into it.

-

“Well, that’s your cue Fluttershy,” said Applejack. After a moment’s pause with no response, she looked over to the pink-haired yellow girl, “Fluttershy?”

“Oh! S-sorry!” peeped Fluttershy, a stray card falling to the ground from beside her, which she picked up upon folding in her fanned-out deck which she fastened into her pink and teal duel disk.

Applejack watched as Fluttershy and Rarity crossed paths between the bleachers and the field, the two of then exchanging the wishing of luck. As Rarity Approached, Apple Bloom, whom had taken a spot next to Applejack, politely switched sides from her sister’ left to her right so as to let Rarity sit between Applejack and Sweetie Belle. Upon sitting down, Applejack put a loving arm around her reunited girlfriend.

“Not gonna lie, sugar cube; she really had you on the ropes,” Applejack remarked.

“Indeed, she did,” said Rarity. “Quite the coincidence that she just so happened to have such a specific card against my deck…” she went on, casting a sideward glance at Sweetie Belle, who began to pat at the surface of the bench as if trying to appear idle. Applejack watched as Rarity simply smiled and put an arm around her little sister, with no words spoken.

That’s when Applejack realized that despite all the good that had come about that day, there was still a space next to Scootaloo that remained empty. The orange cerise-haired girl remained unaware of Applejack, whom could discern the subtle sadness in her.

Ah know, Scoot. Rainbow should be here with the rest of us, just like before…

“How do you think she’ll fare?” asked Rarity, interrupting Applejack’s thoughts.

Applejack looked up to the field, Fluttershy’s duel disk’s light pink tray having folded out, her own duel disk’s spectator function showing the proceeding coin flip.

“Which one are ya referrin’ to?”

“Who do you think?”

-

“Twilight.” Fluttershy spoke over the duel disk communicators. “I just want you to know that if you beat me, n-not that I’m saying you can’t, but seeing as we agreed to not hold back… That is to say, I wish no hard feelings whoever wins or loses.”

“Of course, Fluttershy. Regardless of outcome, you will always have me as a friend,” replied Twilight. Of course, if I do lose, it means this plan is a bust and I’m back to square one on how to get close to the crown. The thought of having to steal it back, even if it is mine, the prospect sounds so unwelcoming…

Twilight watched as the virtual coin flipped on its red side. Vinyl Scratch proceeded to start up on a new track, this one playing a much softer tune, possibly as more befitting of the comparatively meek and timid Fluttershy. It seemed to work, as knowing her new friend’s counterpart from Ponyville, Fluttershy was not the kind of put herself out before a crowd so readily. For all she knew she was urging herself to the fullest to focus on the duel instead of the multiple pairs of eyes beholding her in a duel.

Duel Start!

Fluttershy Life Points: 4000

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Turn 1: Fluttershy (Hand: 5)

Fluttershy stood still in her spot at the opposite end of the soccer field, the duel disk communicator belying her humming softly to the tune, her eyes closed, almost as if she were meditating. When the music began to slightly embolden in the addition of a beat. She opened her eyes, taking the five cards extended out from the top of her deck. As Twilight watched Fluttershy fan her hand out, she noticed that her quick, hasty manner of movement had changed to that of a more deliberate, defined series of motion.

“Right,” Fluttershy took a card from her hand, “I start off with the continuous spell ‘Spiritual Forest.’” The image of said card arose onto her field. “Then summon ‘Chain Dog’ in defense mode.”

On Fluttershy’s field emerged, as per the name, a white dog rather reminiscent of certain breeds of short-haired terrier. Its pointed ears were a dark grey color, along with the tip of its tail. Around its body hung a very loosely coiled golden chain, complete with a golden padlock at its neck, with a matching skeleton key grasped in its mouth. (Level 4 1600/1100)

I end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 2: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

Twilight drew her first card of the duel. Right, Fluttershy uses synchro monsters, meaning her monsters’ levels need to coincide for a specific monster in order to summon it using a tuner. “I summon ‘Amores of Prophecy’ in defense mode.”

The blue-garbed, blindfolded arcane archer emerged onto the field, taking a knee with his bow. (Level 3, 600/2000)

“Amores of Prophecy’s effect: Once per turn I can reveal one ‘Spellbook’ from my hand to special summon one level four or lower spellcaster from my hand…” she flashed ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’ from her hand. “I summon ‘Temperance of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

Amores stood up and launched a magical arrow into the ground, the spot opening into a portal. From within it the brown robed female spellcaster with her connected twin chalices emerged beside her comrade. (Level 3, 1000/1000).

Twilight took the revealed spell and inserted it into her disk, “I then activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’. I discard Spellbook Star Hall from my hand and draw two cards. And because I activated a Spellbook, I can trigger Temperance’s effect.”

Temperance’s chalices expelled the white and dark smoke, swirling around her form to become completely obscured.

“By sacrificing Temperance, I can special summon one level 5 or above light or dark spellcaster from my deck.” Her deck shuffled before her chosen card slid out, “Come forth, ‘High Priestess of Prophecy’!”

Priestess unveiled herself from the swirl of smoke, clapping her emerald tome shut in one hand and nestling it under an arm as she stood defiantly on her long, slender legs. (Level 7, 2500/2100)

“Once per turn, Priestess can remove one ‘Spellbook’ from my graveyard to destroy one card on the field. By removing Spellbook Star Hall, I destroy your Chain Dog!

As in her previous display, Priestess’ projection skimmed through her emerald tome, finding the correct spell within the seemingly infinite pages, and proceeded to chant with her hands held in a specific gesture. Fluttershy’s Chain Dog erupted in a green light, howling in pain before burning to nothing in the emerald flash.

Fluttershy Life Points: 4000 – 1000 = 3000

Fluttershy’s life points instantly dropped by a thousand on the duel disk screen. The glowing outline of a hulking creature emerged onto the field. The glow faded, revealing a large anthropoid creature in armor seemingly made of thick burl, a green head with a black mane surrounding it, thick ape-like arms and contrastingly thin legs. Resting against the ground it gripped a massive, crude wooden club. (Level 7, 2600/1800)

“When a beast-type monster is destroyed, I can pay a thousand life points to special summon ‘Green Baboon, Defender of the Forest’, from my hand,” she stated in a rather nettled tone.

The aptly named Green Baboon roared as if reflecting some inherent rage for the demise of its comrade, thumping its great club against the ground in a display of power.

Twilight looked at her hand, seeing she still had some means of hampering Fluttershy, “I play ‘Spellbook of Power’, increasing Priestess’ attack power by a thousand. And when she destroys a monster in battle, I add a 'Spellbook' card to my hand.”

Priestess’ tome spun in place, its emerald shine turning radiant orange before flinging its cover open from the centrifugal force. Priestess reaching out with both hands to draw in crackling bolts of power from it, coalescing into the crackling fiery orb between her palms as in the duel with Rarity. (ATK 2500 -> 3500)

“I attack Green Baboon with High Priestess!” Twilight declared, designating the hulking ape.

Priestess (ATK: 3500) launched the crackling orb at Green Baboon (ATK: 2600). When the attack was about to strike home, a bright green aura, for the lack of a better description, shattered from around Green Baboon on contact, not exploding or dispersing as a monster normally would. Though Fluttershy still took damage.

Fluttershy Life Points: 3000 – 900 = 2100

“Spiritual Forest prevents one beast, beast-warrior or plant-type monster from being destroyed by the first attack in a battle phase, so Green Baboon is not destroyed,” Fluttershy explained.

Twilight looked over her hand, “I place one card facedown and end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 3: Fluttershy (Hand: 2)

Fluttershy drew her first card of the duel. Sliding the card into her hand, she reached for a different one, “I summon the tuner monster ‘Key Mouse’ in attack mode.”

On Fluttershy’s field emerged a white mouse with blue tipped ears, a slightly jagged blue tail with a tuft at the end from which jutted, of all things, the teeth end of a golden key. Around the rodent’s neck was a heavy collar, from which a small golden padlock and a key ring with an appropriately sized key hung off it. (Level 1 100/100)

Just then a golden chain with a padlock landed on the field beside Key Mouse. A golden skeleton key lowered itself into said lock and turned. In a burst of golden light, Chain Dog remerged onto the field, wagging its tail as it caught the key from the air in its teeth. (Level 4 1600/1100)

“When I have two beast-type monsters on my side of the field, Chain Dog can special summon itself from the graveyard, but is banished should it leave the field,” Fluttershy divulged. “I shall now tune to my level one Key Mouse to my level four Chain Dog.”

Here it comes…

Key Mouse’s form faded into a glowing outline. The outline erupted into a single green ring, which positioned over Chain Dog, whose form also faded into four orbs of light the positioned themselves into a vertical line within the ring, which began to revolve. (1 + 4 = 5)

“Little critters need not fear, for their inner courage will light the way for the coming of a valiant protector in their hour of need.”

The orbs of erupted into a blinding pillar of light.

“Synchro Summon! Level 5 steed of lightning: ‘Thunder Unicorn’!”

Twilight watched on in apprehension as what seemed to qualify as Fluttershy’s blue-coated, golden-maned ace monster galloped from within the light, trotting in an arch around the midst of the soccer field, its hooves sparking with every step that sent erratic jolts coursing through the ground. It reared in a circling motion, a thundering neigh emanating from its mouth before its forehooves touched back to the ground. (Level 5, 2200/1800)

Even through the music, given its softer tone, Twilight could hear what constituted as Fluttershy’s clique (the ‘eco-kids’ if she recalled right) cheering for their representative. Though a few others seemed to have completely given into the spirit of the event, emboldened by Pinkie’s bombastic antics as she appeared to have stuck a suction cup dart to her head whilst flaying pink pom-poms.

“And now, I attack Amores of Prophecy with Thunder Unicorn.”

She’s not using its effect to thin out my rows! Twilight realized as Thunder Unicorn’s horn began to surge with power.

Thunder Unicorn’s (ATK: 2200) electric projectile struck the kneeling Amores (DEF: 2000), the blindfolded archer convulsing violently before exploding into bits.

“And then Green Baboon attacks High Priestess!” Fluttershy declared, pointing out her monster’s target.

Green Baboon (ATK: 2600) hefted its large club and performed an impossible leap towards Priestess (ATK: 2500), bringing up its wooden club to strike. Priestess cringed and reeled back as the weapon came down upon her, her form dispersing before the club impacted to the ground with a resounding boom.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000 – 100 = 3900

I’m so sorry!” Twilight cried out in her mental commune with the spirit.

Don’t be, Princess. My form here is but a shell, a mere imitation. Just focus on defeating Fluttershy,” Priestess’ echo reverberated into her mind, her astral image, unseen by anyone else, continuing to stand by her side.

“I place on card facedown. I end my turn,” Fluttershy declared, two powerful beasts standing before her akin to protective guardians.

(Hand: 1)

Turn 4: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 2)

Twilight drew her next card. Perfect! “I summon ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy’ in defense mode.”

The white and blue robed bookkeeper spellcaster emerged kneeling onto the field, ever dutifully clutching his blue tome under an arm. (Level 2, 500/400)

“Spellbook Magician lets me add a ‘Spellbook’ to my hand from my deck,” her chosen card was ejected, “I chose ‘Spellbook of Secrets’, which I will then activate. This lets me add another ‘Spellbook’ from my deck to my hand, as long as it’s not of the same name. My choice is a second Spellbook of Knowledge. To activate it I will sacrifice Spellbook Magician from my field to draw two cards.”

Twilight give the image of the young spellcaster an apologetic look, even though knowing they were merely projections of light. Though in a short moment before fading from the field, Twilight thought she saw Spellbook Magician nod towards her. She drew another two cards.

“I then activate the equip spell ‘Spellbook of Life’. By revealing a ‘Spellbook’ from my hand,” she flashed ‘Spellbook of Eternity’ “and banishing a spellcaster from my graveyard,” Amores of Prophecy’s card was removed from her graveyard, “I can special summon a spellcaster monster from my graveyard and equip it with this card. Be revived, High Priestess of Prophecy!”

A glowing violet tome sprung up, spinning onto Twilight’s field, which opened its covers from the centrifugal force. The tome’s ethereal pages let fort a soothing light, ejecting a growing shape that grew into Priestess. Her hologram seemed to be reading her emerald tome before snapping it shut and tucking it under one arm to stand at the ready. The tome representing Spellbook of Life closed and went to hover over her. (Level 7 -> 10, 2500/2100)

“And now I banish Spellbook of Knowledge from my graveyard to destroy Green Baboon! Lexicon Designator!”

Priestess positioned her hands into the previous gesture from earlier, chanting something in her ethereal voice, when suddenly Green Baboon’s entire form erupted in green light, disintegrating the fearsome creature into nothing.

“Now, High Priestess attacks Thunder Unicorn!”

Priestess revved her free arm in a circular motion, a glowing sphere of energy coalescing into her hand.

“I play my trap card; ‘Barrier Wave!’” Fluttershy retorted, unveiling her facedown. “When you attack, I can sacrifice one synchro monster on my field. Forgive me, Thunder Unicorn.”

Thunder Unicorn raised its head proudly, its horn expelling a golden rippling wave.

“This switches all your monsters into defense mode, and you take damage equal to their defense points.”

The ripples washed over Priestess forcing her to kneel. Twilight’s segmented forcefield became visible as the waves fell over her, feeling her duel disk quiver on her arm from the feedback.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 3900 – 2100 = 1800

And just like that, Twilight had most of her life points shaved off with one single card she was too foolish to take into consideration, Fluttershy still able to top her by 300.

Not good! I should have used Priestess to destroy that instead and then use my facedown… However, Barrier Wave forced Fluttershy to sacrifice Thunder Unicorn, leaving her field empty, and leaving Priestess still on Twilight’s field in defense, so even if Fluttershy could bring Thunder Unicorn back as she had in the duel with Snips and Snails, I might still be able to recover as she can’t inflict battle damage.

“There’s nothing more I can do but end my turn…” Twilight declared with a hint of trepidation.

(Hand: 3)

Turn 5: Fluttershy (Hand: 1)

Fluttershy drew her next card, having a rather miniscule hand of two. She sighed reluctantly as she took one of the two cards and placed it on her tray, “I summon ‘Playful Possum’ in defense mode.”

A highly unassuming brown opossum emerged onto Fluttershy’s field in a hunched-over pose atop a sideward card. (Level 2 800/0)

“Then I activate the continuous spell ‘Supply Squad’. Once per turn, should a monster on my field be destroyed, I can draw one card,” she looked to her monster with a hint of sadness. “Playful Possum, as long as my opponent controls a monster with more attack points, can destroy itself.”

The opossum’s form erupted into bits, followed by the image of Supply Squad flashing, prompting Fluttershy to draw a card. With a small smile, she seemed to softly tap the card against her lips before inserting it into her disk.

“I place one card facedown and end my turn.”

(Hand: 0)

There was something Twilight was genuinely not surprised about in terms of Fluttershy’s demeanor. Despite her knowing so far that this was merely a game with a highly advanced form of immersion with whatever technology the duel disk utilized, Fluttershy appeared to show genuine concern, if not outright sadness seeing her critter-based monsters being sacrificed or destroyed.

It pains me to not be able to tell her that her cards are actually a lot more real than she can fathom…

Turn 6: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

Twilight drew her card. This time I need to be more careful with her facedown. Luckily, I have plenty of fodder to use for Priestess’ ability.

“I summon ‘Stoic of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

Onto the field emerged a human male with spiked up orange hair, clad in a purple spauldered tunic and burgundy pants, a wide, splayed out collar around his head, whilst two long cloth talismans crossed from his shoulders around his chest. In both hands he wielded staffs with top-heavy gold facets with diamond tips. (Level 1 300/300)

“Then I play ‘Spellbook of Eternity’. This lets me add one banished Spellbook to my hand,” Twilight’s banished slot ejected Spellbook of Knowledge. “I then play Spellbook of Knowledge once more. By sacrificing Stoic on my field, I draw two cards.”

Stoic’s phantasmal image lingered on the field, the tips of his staffs shining in a brilliant flare.

“And when Stoic is sent to the graveyard, I can add one level three or below spellcaster from my deck to my hand.” Her deck once more shuffled before ejecting her chosen card, flashing it to confirm it as Fool of Prophecy.

“I will now banish Spellbook of Knowledge once more to destroy your facedown card with Priestess.” Twilight declared, Priestess’ hands taking to the appropriate gesture, when…

“I activate said facedown card,” Fluttershy replied, “‘Scapegoat’!”

A quick-play spell unveiled on Fluttershy’s field, to which four small, puffy creatures that looked like small cartoonish sheep with tiny curved horns on the sides of their bodies (due to lack of a distinctive head) with peaceful, smiling expressions on their faces. Blue, yellow, pink and orange. (4x Level 1 0/0)

“Scapegoat summons four ‘Sheep Tokens’ to my side in defense mode.”

Realizing she had now wasted Priestess effect, and because of Fluttershy’s Spiritual Forest, attacking these beast-type Sheep Tokens would be pointless since Priestess was her only monster on the field. But on the other hand, Twilight recognized the danger that having four potential fodder could lead to a potential revival of Thunder Unicorn as she had witnesses during Fluttershy and Pinkie’s duel with Snips and Snails. And she still had the one facedown she couldn’t use earlier.

“I switch High Priestess to attack mode,” Twilight turned Priestess card right side up on her tray, her projection rising to her feet from the ground. “I will then attack one of your Sheep Tokens with High Priestess!”

Priestess repeated her display from last turn, revving her arm in gathering power, when Twilight’s facedown arose from its placement, revealing a trap card.

“When a spellcaster attacks I can activate the trap ‘Magician’s Circle’. Magician’s Circle let’s me special summon one spellcaster from my deck with 2000 or less attack points. As such, I summon ‘Reaper of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

On Twilight’s field a glowing circle formed to the ground. A trail continued to form within said circle, shaping into a five-pronged star, forming a perfect pentacle shape onto the ground. The light of the magical symbol intensified, to which a humanoid shape began to rise at the very center, melding through the ground itself.

Brandishing their vicious scythe, the gender ambiguous black, purple and silver garbed spellcaster stood poised on Twilight’s field. (Level 5 2000/1600)

“Reaper of Prophecy’s effects are determined based on the number of ‘Spellbooks’ in my graveyard when summoned. I have one Spellbook of Knowledge, Spellbook of Power, Spellbook of Secrets and Spellbook of Eternity, adding up to four. This lets Reaper gain 600 additional attack points, and also adds one Spellbook to my hand from my deck.” Another card ejected from her deck, revealing it as a second Spellbook of Power.

Priestess launched the gathering energy from her hand, arcane bolt striking the blue Sheep Token, when the green aura of Spiritual Forest shattered around its unassuming form, saving it from destruction.

“I will then attack the same token with Reaper of Prophecy!”

On command, Reaper swung forth their fearsome scythe, sending a blade of pale energy cleaving through the token. At first looking like it wasn’t affected, the token exploded in a smoky puff. In response, the image of Fluttershy’s Supply Squad lit up, prompting her to add a card.

“I end my turn,” Twilight said, looking over the cards accrued in her hand. Due to using Stoic of Prophecy, she could not normal summon further monsters that turn, but come next turn, she would be free to utilize the likes of Fool and potentially power through Fluttershy by destroying Spiritual forest with Priestess.

(Hand: 6)

Turn 7: Fluttershy (Hand: 1)

Upon drawing her card, Playful Possum emerged back onto the field.

“If destroyed by his own effect, Playful Possum special summons itself to my field during my stand-by phase. I will then destroy it again, (So sorry!) to use Supply Squad.” as Fluttershy regrettably had to destroy her own monster, she seemed comforted by whatever it was she drew from her deck. “I summon ‘Lock Cat’ in attack mode.”

A white, rather average looking feline emerged, sitting in an almost sultry manner on the field. The tips of its ears, as well as the base and end of its tail were a bright red, and around its neck was a thick golden collar with a large padlock at the front. (Level 3, 1200/1000)

“Lock Cat lets me special summon one level 1 beast-type monster from my graveyard in defense mode, so I’ll return Key Mouse to the field, but its effects are negated.”

A tiny golden lock appeared beside Lock Cat, to which an adequately sized key inserted itself into it and turned. In a magical chime, Key Mouse took its place on the field, huddled into a white and blue ball. (Level 1, 100/100)

“I now tune my level one Key Mouse to my level three Lock Cat, and my three level 1 Sheep Tokens!” (1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 3 = 7)

As before, Key Mouse faded into light which expanded into a single green ring. Lock Cat and the three sheep tokens lined up in the air, their forms fading, Lock Cat unleashing three orbs of light and the three Sheep Tokens one each. The six orbs lined perfectly in the center of the ring.

“Little critters need not fear, for their call shall beckon the heavenly guardian of roaring thunder in their hour of need.”

“Synchro Summon! Level 7, heavenly steed: ‘Voltic Bicorn’!”

A new equine beast emerged from the pillar of light. A neigh, accented with the roar of thunderbolts, emanated through the grounds, belonging to a large, ebony horse with golden lightning bolt marking running along its body. A thick crackling golden crest adhered to its chest, with a matching golden arced tail of electricity. Down its neck ran a wild teal mane, with two slim, bolt-like horns protruding by its ears. (Level 7, 2500/2000)

I should have known Thunder Unicorn wasn’t Fluttershy’s only synchro monster. It’s even stronger too. And with Spiritual Forest it can take out Priestess without destroying itself.

“One more card,” Fluttershy inserted one into her disk, “the spell ‘Ayers Rock Sunrise’!”

-

“This card lets me summon one beast-type monster from my graveyard. And then, for each beast, plant and winged-beast monster in my graveyard, all the opponent’s monsters lose 200 attack points!”

-

“Return to us; Thunder Unicorn!”

The simulation covered the entirety of the soccer field, seeming to transport Twilight and Fluttershy into the eponymous Ayers Rock. A gorgeous red sunrise arose in the fabricated, though spectacularly rendered horizon. A neigh emanated from all around them, followed by the sounds of sparking hooves. Obscured by the beams of sunlight, a smaller equine silhouette seemed to gallop from the sky on top of the rock, rearing in triumph before leaping down from it to stand before Fluttershy. (Level 5, 2200/1600).

The simulation soon faded back to the soccer field, when ghostly spheres containing the forms of Key Mouse, Lock Cat and Playful Possum appeared on Twilight’s field. Priestess (ATK: 2500 -> 1900) and Reaper’s (ATK: 2600 -> 2000) postures seemed to weaken until the apparitions faded.

Not good…

“Thunder Unicorn, attack High Priestess of Prophecy!” Fluttershy ordered, sending the blue and golden maned equine forth.

Thunder Unicorn (ATK: 2200) charged up and launched its crackling projectile at High Priestess (ATK: 1900). Priestess’ form convulsed and screamed in pain before her form broke apart.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1800 – 300 = 1500

“And Voltic Bicorn, attack Reaper of Prophecy!”

On command, Voltic Bicorn (ATK: 2500) galloped across the field towards Reaper (ATK: 2000). In one fluid motion, the two-horned equine planted its forehooves into the ground, spinning its bulk around on them and delivering a vicious double buck against the scythe wielding spellcaster. An audible thunderclap erupted on impact, knocking Reaper away until disappearing from the projection altogether.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1500 – 500 = 1000

Twilight, you need to stop holding back!” came Priestess’ mental echoes.

Priestess, what are you-?

Trust me, I have seen these very cards in use much longer than you. You must stop risking these duels for the sake of secrecy!

Of course, Twilight knew what Priestess was referring to, placing an emphasizing hand atop the back of her borrowed duel disk, “But that’s just it; this is a public display. For all we know Sunset Shimmer could be observing us even now. I thought if I kept up at least a bit of a charade that this might just be slightly different from her original deck-

Twilight: Regardless if she knows your deck, she doesn’t know you. How you wield these cards is what matters, not if she knows what they are. You already showed with the aid of the one named Sweetie Belle that you are not the same duelist as her. Fluttershy is most truly a formidable duelist, despite her demure nature. I realize you like to plan things beforehand, a most commendable trait, but now you must release yourself from these restraints, and unleash the full strength of the Prophecies!

Twilight wasn’t going to deny it. Her deck was Sunset’s original before her further fall from grace and abandonment of Priestess and her comrades, so it stood to reason that Sunset would recognize it if she were to observe. However, now with an increasingly difficult chain of duels against her friends’ counterparts, having just managed to defeat Rarity with the use of Double Spell combined with Rarity’s Graceful Charity, Twilight began to see the reasoning behind Priestess’ warning.

“I end my turn,” Fluttershy declared over the duel disks’ communicators, looking uncharacteristically menacing between Thunder Unicorn and the new Voltic Bicorn.

(Hand: 1)

Turn 8: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 6)


So much for that plan, thought Twilight, drawing her next card. Now with her field empty, she would be unable to do what Priestess was imploring of her.

On the plus side, she did have a full hand of seven cards. Going carefully over her current arsenal, Vinyl’s music continuing to do its job of muting any potential interruptions. An empty field; no monsters, no facedowns, no spells or traps and a full hand of seven, with only a thousand life points. Against Fluttershy’s two powerful monsters, two continuous spells, one that protected the first target of attack, one that gave her a free draw with that Playful Possum of hers reviving itself constantly, and one card in her hand, plus her 2100 life points.

Now what could she do with her hand to turn things around?

What couldn’t I do? she asked herself, seeing the card she drew. “I activate ‘Magical Stone Excavation’. With this card I can bring one spell card from my graveyard to my hand by discarding two cards.” I hope I make the right decision…

Twilight slid Fool of Prophecy and Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere to her graveyard. In exchange, the graveyard slot spat out one of her earlier cards. She presented it as one of her two Spellbooks of Knowledge.

“I then activate Spellbook of Knowledge once more. By discarding a second Spellbook of Power, I draw twice.”

-

“She’s doin’ it!” Apple Bloom said with great enthusiasm.

Applejack gave a playful nudge against Apple Bloom’s shoulder, “Ya sure trained her well, didn’t ya?”

“Ah suppose. Ah mean the first few times she was kinda hopeless,” the youngest Apple sibling snickered. “She started turnin’ things around when she was dueling Scootaloo since, well, Scoots wasn’t usin’ her actual deck.”

Applejack looked at her sister, “Say what now? Why’s that? Fer fairness’ sake?”

“No…” Scootaloo muttered, one hand pressed over her deck in its placement on her duel disk, looking forlorn. “I swore that, until things went back the way they were, I would not use my true deck.”

-

Twilight looked at what she’d drawn. One was a monster card depicting a male sorcerer with a great white head of hair and beard. Perusing the monster’s effects, she’d realized she’d drawn exactly what she would need to turn this duel to her favor.

“Now, I summon ‘Hermit of Prophecy’ in attack mode,” she declared, slapping the first of the two freshly drawn cards onto her disk.

Onto Twilight’s field emerged said bearded sorcerer, wielding a short, broad-headed scepter emblazoned with the Prophecies’ crest. His wiry frame was covered by a loose, flowy purple robe with silver filigrees and blue gems studded into silvery inlays on his biceps belt, hat and waist. As his comrades, white cloth talismans hung from his clothing, on the sides of his waist. While the color of his robe and cloak were not the same as whom this figure reminded her of, plus his hat, purple with a triangular frame, was much too small and lacked bells, he was almost a perfect human image of one of her idols in the history of magic. (Level 3, 1200/700)

“Next, I activate ‘Spellbook of Fate:’ I banish one-to-three ‘Spellbooks’ from my graveyard,” she went over her graveyard, her choice; ‘Spellbook of Eternity’ being ejected from her graveyard. “By banishing one, I can add a spell or trap card to my hand.” In response, another card was ejected from the graveyard which the presented to her adversary, “I choose Spellbook of Life, which I shall then activate.”

The purple tome appeared spinning in the air once more. Twilight flashed another spell, Spellbook of the Master from her hand, to which the tome opened itself, shining light onto the field, within which a humanoid form began to materialize.

-

“Is she summoning Priestess again?” Rarity inquired, inadvertently gripping at the folds of her skirt watching the spectacle.

Applejack squinted her eyes, seeing the much less imposing figure arise from the ground, “No, it’s…”

-

Temperance of Prophecy’s form was unveiled from the tome’s violet shine, holding aloft her connected chalices as the tome closed and hovered over her. (Level 3 -> 5, 1000/1000)

Hermit then held aloft his scepter, the Prophecy crest at its head letting forth a blue light. (Level 3 -> 5, 1500/700).

“When on the field, if a Spellbook is activated, Hermit of Prophecy gains 300 attack points and increases his level by two.” Twilight then indicated the newly arisen Temperance, “With Spellbook of Life, I banished Spellbook Magician from my graveyard as part of the cost, increasing Temperance’s level by two.

-

Applejack looked through her duel disk’s screen. Two monsters whose levels had been altered to five. Twilight’s sudden change in style almost matched perfectly with…

-

“With my level five Hermit and level five Temperance, I Overlay them!”

Temperance and Hermit’s forms devolved into swirling lights that coalesced into one over the field, forming a swirling nebula of power.

“Power of the cosmos and fate intertwined, the arcane wisdom and force of the universe; bring forth the mother of life and energy, that the world may witness her bountiful radiance.”

“Xyz summon! Rank 5: Fertility goddess, ‘Empress of Prophecy’!”

From the nebula emerged a tall feminine figure, her curvaceous form clad in a glistening white and verdant green robe with golden filigrees. A tall, fanned out collar surrounding her slender neck, an elegant, most intricate crown encompassing her head, her hair as white as the first snow of winter that shone in the afternoon sun. Seven talismans hung off her form, two from her collar, two from her slender waist and two from the crest atop the staff in her left and one from a brooch hung below her chest, over her exposed belly. In her right hand she bore a broad, white and gold shield emblazoned with the crest of the Prophecies. (Rank 5, 2000 -> 2600/1700)

-

“Wait, she can Xyz summon?” Apple Bloom asked aloud.

“Ya mean she didn’t last night?” asked Applejack.

“Nuh-uh. Weird, she’d had all those opportunities too,” Apple Bloom remarked. “So why hold off on it until now?”

“Maybe she was holding off to surprise everyone?” Sweetie Belle offered in suggestion. “I mean, that could be the reason, right?”

-

Fluttershy looked upon the towering feminine figure, two spheres of blue light revolving around her in a perfect pattern, “You can Xyz summon too?”

Twilight stood defiantly behind the protection of her newest unveiled monster. Despite her previous trepidations about unveiling too much about the truth of her deck, she could feel like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Perhaps Priestess was right; even if Sunset Shimmer may have been witnessing this duel right now, maybe even uncovering that Twilight was wielding the very deck she’d tossed aside, Sunset did not know Twilight, and what lay in her soul.

“Such is the nature of the Games of Darkness…”

Twilight smiled in invigorated confidence, “I was always able to. I just didn’t have the confidence, until now. I realized I can’t be at my best if I don’t give it everything I have, not if I want to make the change we want. Fluttershy; thank you.”

Fluttershy looked at her with uncertainty, “What for?”

“For helping me realize. All this time I’ve thought I could hold my own by just relying on my intuition and intellect; a trap I’ve fallen in time and time again until reality reminds me that there’s more to it than just my smarts.” Twilight sighed the last hints of mental tension, “Fluttershy, being such an amazing opponent is what helped me realize that I need to embrace dueling to the fullest. Seriously; thank you.”

Fluttershy stood somewhat confounded by Twilight’s speech. When she felt the inclination of having sounded nonsensical, possibly crazy, the normally shy and demure girl reciprocated the smile, “You’re most welcome. So, what will you do now at your fullest?” Fluttershy cast a most daring half-lidded smile towards Twilight.

Twilight met Fluttershy’s smile with her own, “Empress of Prophecy gains 300 attack points for each Overlay unit attached. However, by removing one Overlay unit, I can excavate the top five cards of my deck.”

Her duel disk’s inner workings analyzed the top five cards of her deck, a sliver of yellow light just barely peeking in between each, projections appearing over Twilight’s field representing each scanned card. From left to right, her excavated cards were revealed as ‘Dark Renewal,’ ‘Hidden Spellbook’, ‘Charioteer of Prophecy’, ‘Wheel of Prophecy’ and ‘Spellbook Organization’.

“For each ‘Spellbook’ excavated, I can destroy that many monsters on your side of the field. I uncovered ‘Hidden Spellbook’ and ‘Spellbook Organization’. Therefore I will destroy your Thunder Unicorn and Voltic Bicorn!”

Empress of Prophecy (ATK: 2600 -> 2300) held aloft her scepter, the images of the uncovered Spellbooks disintegrating into a cluster of arcane letters that swarmed around her. Pointing her scepter forward, the arcane letters began to pelt the two equine monsters in a vicious flurry, both their forms dissipating from the field as if torn apart.

“Voltic Bicorn’s effect activates!” Fluttershy responded. “When destroyed by my opponent, he forces both of us to send seven cards from the top of our decks to the graveyard.”

In compliance, Twilight’s duel disk ejected the top seven cards of her deck, Fluttershy’s doing the exact same across the soccer field, both contenders placing the stacks at the mouths of their graveyard slots, which systematically slid each card in one at a time. Supply Squad’s image flared, prompting Fluttershy to draw a card since she had a monster be destroyed.

“Next, I activate the effect of Green Baboon in my graveyard…”

Fluttershy Life Points: 2100 – 1000 = 1100

The earth ruptured on Fluttershy’s side of the field with a verdant green light. With a bestial howl, Green Baboon from earlier leapt from within the light, its thick wooden club smashing against the ground in its wake, the great beast thumping its armored chest in furious bravado. (Level 7, 2600/1800).

Suddenly another equally large monster materialized itself onto the field. Like Green Baboon, it stood as tall as an Equestrian minotaur, its body yellow muscly, covered mostly in stone-like armor, its feral face surrounded by a splayed out blackish grey mane, while in its hand it wielded an oversized longbow with an arrow the length of a royal guard’s lance. (Level 7, 2600/1800)

“When a beast-type monster on my side of the field is destroyed, by paying another one thousand life points, Green Baboon can special summon itself from the graveyard. And by banishing two beast-type monsters from my graveyard, I can special summon ‘Yellow Baboon, Archer of the Forest’ from my hand.”

Though her move was once again counteracted by Fluttershy’s uncanny ability to seemingly rebound when she least expected it, Twilight could not deny that she was beginning to feel a most exhilarating sensation in her chest. Novice she may have been, but with witnessing and partaking more and more in Duel Monsters, and with the constant teetering between victory and defeat, Twilight was actually beginning to derive an amazing sense of enjoyment from the spectacle.

“And just like that, you turn things around again,” Twilight remarked, unaware of the positively eager smile on her face. “You really are amazing, Fluttershy!”

Fluttershy, in a rather awkward display given the intensity in the air with Vinyl’s music, the hollers and woops managing to break over the volume and the notion of two vicious anthropoid apes standing before her, sheepishly tapped her foot against the ground, fiddling her hair around a finger.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she murmured, “I mainly just to what my mentor taught me.”

“Mentor?” Twilight asked, now very interested in whomever it was who helped make Fluttershy as talented as she’d shown today.

“Rainbow Dash…” said Fluttershy with a whiff of nostalgia. “She always told me to be more assertive, but, as you can tell, I’m not the most forward person around.”

Twilight had no argument over that.

“It may come off as a little silly, but when she got me hooked in Duel Monsters, I wasn’t really all that good. But Rainbow, she taught me that to have the most out of it, should I win or lose, was to take chances, that I should not hesitate, and be aggressive, for lack of a better term. I find that, through dueling and getting used to this level of forwardness in a safe, non-hurtful way, I believe it helped me, at least a little, to be more confident.”

“So then, when the five of you fell out of favor?” Twilight asked, trying to come off as mindful as she could.

“After Rainbow and Applejack started fighting, I just didn’t know what to do since I still wanted to be friends with both, but seeing them argue and fight all the time was too painful to watch. I guess you could say I just fell to the wayside.” Fluttershy looked resentfully down at the ground, “And then there was of course Sunset Shimmer…”

Typical; the divide and conquer method, thought Twilight. “Well, luckily you don’t need to be alone anymore.”

Fluttershy nodded, “And we have you to thank for that.”

“Not entirely: I couldn’t have done it without you,” Twilight replied.

“Me? But I’ve hardly done anything,” Fluttershy said, shaking her head dismissively.

“You were the first person to talk to me; a complete stranger and her dog,” she indicated Spike beside her feet, who wagged his tail and barked in agreement. “And you were willing to help me so readily despite having only met me. And let alone what I was planning. I mean, even I think some of my plans may come off as borderline insane deep down, and I count that as being one of those plans!”

“But to be fair; I think you posed a very valid argument with all the problems at CHS.” Fluttershy beamed at a sudden realization, “You should definitely run for the student council once officially enrolled! Because, if you permit me, you’d make a great representative.”

Twilight felt herself flush from the flattery, “You really think that?”

Fluttershy grinned playfully, “I’d vote for you.”

If only that were possible, Twilight thought, knowing her time in this fascinating world was growing shorter by the minute. Her thoughts were waylaid when Vinyl’s current track faded and a familiar voice in the crowd voiced his discontent.

“Get on with it!”

“Alright, you’re on thin ice, mister!” came Pinkie’s retort. “Inch. Thin.”

The two shared an awkward laugh. “You should probably conclude your turn soon…” Fluttershy remarked sheepishly.

Twilight’s soft expression hardened to determination as she presented her hand, “That I should; for I still have three cards in my hand.” Twilight picked her next card and with more practiced, fluid motions inserted it into her disk, “I play the equip spell ‘Wonder Wand’ on Empress of Prophecy.”

A simple black shafted wand with a gleaming ground malachite-like stone embedded to its tip in a gold fitting emerged from a portal my Empress. Casting her shield aside, which evaporated into shimmering sparks, the grasped the new weapon in her right hand, the head alighting with power. (ATK: 2300 -> 2800)

“Wonder Wand increases the equipped monster’s attack points by five hundred. And for my final play, I activate ‘Spellbook of the Master’.”

A dark purple tome with glowing arcane runes surrounding a blue spherically grounded gem in its middle appeared before Empress.

“Spellbook of the Master can only activate if I control a spellcaster monster, as well as revealing a Spellbook from my hand,” she flashed the final card, ‘Spellbook of Judgement’ in her hand in confirmation. “This card lets me target one normal spell type ‘Spellbook’ in my graveyard, and this card’s effect becomes that of the one I choose. My choice is the power-boosting Spellbook of Power.”

The dark purple tome began to flicker with a hint of orange, like its cover was a stained glass over a flickering flame. In a bright flash, the tome took on the radiant orange hue of the specified Spellbook, opening itself before the Empress. Empress held her two scepters forth, drawing power into a sphere held aloft by their tips. (ATK: 2800 -> 3800)

“3800 attack points?” Fluttershy gasped. “But that means even if either of my baboons survives…”

“I’m sorry, Fluttershy,” Twilight looked towards her friend somberly.

Fluttershy looked Twilight straight in the eyes, and as the equivalent to the embodiment of kindness across the endless void, only smiled sweetly. “You win some, you lose some. And I’d rather you’d won this one.”

Twilight nodded in empathy. She motioned towards Empress, continuing to hold aloft the crackling sphere of energy. “Empress will attack Green Baboon, for game.”

Empress (ATK: 3800) swung both staffs outwardly, leaving behind arcs of energy as the projectile propelled towards Green Baboon (2600). On impact, the fearsome beast bellowed in a blend of rage and pain as the green aura from Spiritual Forest continued to protect it from destruction. Alas, all for naught. Twilight could see Fluttershy grip at her duel disk bearing arm from a pang of feedback, but otherwise, she looked back at her contentedly, continuing to smile in approval as her remaining life points were subtracted.

Fluttershy Life Points: 1100 – 1200 = -100

Twilight Sparkle Victory!

The crowd fell silent as the images of Empress and Yellow Baboon faded from the field. Twilight looked over the gathered students, her lips pursing in confusion whilst she gathered her cards from her tray and slid them back into her deck. She looked over to Fluttershy, who reciprocated her sentiments with a bob of her shoulders.

“Oh, em, gee…” muttered Pinkie Pie in an uncharacteristically restrained manner. “That was incredible! With a an uber specific seven-card flush of a combo, Twilight Sparkle wins!” And there was the boisterous party girl in all her vocal glory.

Twilight was surprised when a multitude of students began to actively applaud for her, some going as far as doing a standing ovation. She could distinctly hear Lyra Hearstrings from earlier holler out in an enthusiastic whoop.

“You go, new girl!”

“Bring on the next one!”

“Were you faking it the first time or what?!”

The sudden validation and downright adoration swelled inside Twilight’s chest as the students applauded her. Just yesterday she stood before some of these same people as an unskilled, unimpressive novice way out of her league. On one hand, she did question the moral qualms about putting this much worth on a simple past time like the things her brother used to do for fun with his friends, although it also meant her and her new friends’ plan was actually working. Now if she could pull off two more victories, perhaps, just perhaps, she might be one step closer to getting back her crown before time ran out.

“I’d say you’re coming off increasingly convincing,” Fluttershy remarked over the communicators.

“So it seems,” Twilight replied with a shared smile.

Duel #10: Honest Saplings: The Green Arbiter

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“So then: Is everyone ready for the next bout in our new pally Twilight’s epic boss rush?!” A chorus of enthused students sounded from the bleachers from Pinkie’s question.

With her second victory against the school’s top brass, while still a mere novice by all presentable standards, Twilight was beginning to reconsider the efficacy of this plan conceived by Pinkie, who’d managed to distribute all the cupcakes, save the one left all alone on one of the serving wagons. (The green frosting and small slice of lime belying its flavor.)

Having managed to defeat Rarity and Fluttershy so far, both instances having cut it close. Especially with Fluttershy’s uncharacteristic ferocity she did not expect from someone she’d known, mostly in regards to her dimensional counterpart, as delicate, mostly unconfrontational and well-meaning. Perhaps the fixation people seemed to put into a game, much ponies back home put on events like the upcoming Equestria games, had caused a small, but major divergence between the human and pony Fluttershy.

One thing’s for sure; all the things I’ll have to tell everypony… If I make it back on time.

“Somethin’ wrong, sugarcube?” came Applejack’s term of endearment through Twilight’s duel disk.

Twilight snapped out of her thoughts with a start, seeing Applejack having taken Fluttershy’s place on the opposite end of the field, her rich red duel disk having deployed its verdant green tray.

“Oh, n-no! I’m fine!” Twilight insisted, enabling her duel disk’s shuffle function, “Just amazed.”

“‘Bout what?” asked Applejack.

“That I’m actually doing this- That is; winning this- I mean how far I’ve come!” said Twilight with an awkward two-part correction. She did not notice as Spike shook his head amusedly.

Applejack chuckled, “Don’t sell yerself short, Twi. An’ hey; you had good teachers.” She indicated at Apple Bloom sitting in the bleachers with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo along with the defeated contenders, waving enthusiastically at Twilight, with Scootaloo giving her two V signs with her hands. “Ah’ve said it once before; but it bears repeatn’: You’re some kinda miracle on legs. Rebuldin’ friendships, and relations, an’ now you just stomped two of the best CHS has to offer!”

“It’s a shame Rainbow isn’t here with us…” Twilight said in a moment of absence that these people were not the same as the five back home.

“Ya sound almost as if ya knew Rainbow already,” remarked Applejack with an awkward smile.

It was only at that moment Twilight realized the slip, “Oh… Oh! I… I didn’t…”

“Trust me, Twi; even before all a’ this came about, Rainbow could be a real pain in the ass even on the best a’ days,” said Applejack with a wry smile.

“Oh- Oh! Of course, if you say so!” Twilight responded, giggling awkwardly. I wish I knew the connotation of ‘ass’ in this context, because I know for a fact donkeys would be very insulted…

Pinkie’s ever chipper soprano of enthusiasm reverberated across the field from her megaphone, “Alright, our wonderful audience; it looks like our very own strong girl Applejack is ready and rearing to get her game on!”

An immediate silence, for whatever reason fell over the audience. Even Vinyl’s sound system seemed to have timed out in response to whatever joke was meant to be conveyed that went over Twilight’s head by figurative miles. She could even spot an ash-skinned, bowler hat wearing student visibly retch.

“I don’t know why, but there was something terribly wrong with that…” remarked a grey skinned girl with slightly unkept blonde hair whose eyes seemed to be slightly unfocused.

Pinkie rolled her eyes, looking ever so miffed at the negativity. She raised the megaphone to her mouth, “Three-two-one, go!”

With reciprocated chuckles, Twilight and Applejack activated duel mode in almost perfect synch, “Opponent detected. Streaming data.” The ensuing coin flip went in Twilight’s favor.

Duel start!

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Applejack Life Points: 4000

“I’ll admit, it feels good to not hold back anymore,” remarked Twilight.

“Boy, Ah’ll say. Ya kept it secret you can do Xyz summoning all this time and even won against Rarity without ‘em.” A daring smile curved onto Applejack’s face, “So Ah guess this mean Ah’ll have to be double the serious.”

That’s the problem, thought Twilight. With each consecutive duel I’m forced to reveal more and more about me, and therefore each opponent afterwards will be harder. Rarity was entirely unprepared and was more reckless with power. Having Sweetie Belle’s Cursed Seal helped a lot in that regard, yet still it went dangerously close.

Turn 1: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

Twilight’s hand came chockfull of Spellbooks; Knowledge, Power and Star Hall. Applejack’s deck seemed highly power reliant during her duel with Rarity. So far, most I need to watch out for is that Sagequoia of hers…

-

A large tree arose, a face composed of squinted eyes, pouted lips with that looked like little spectacles at the top of a low stretching nose. Its leaf-heavy branches looked to almost form a puffy head of hair at its very boughs, sides and back, with three lengths of braided grass forming a beard underneath its lips. Four root-like tendrils snaked at the bottom of its trunk body.

“When ‘Sylvan Sagequoia’ is sent to my graveyard from my hand, Ah can Special Summon him.”

-

“I reveal three ‘Spellbook’ spells from my hand,” Twilight proclaimed, setting the cards face-down against her screen, the device reading them to reveal their identities through projections. “Knowledge, Power and Star Hall. Doing so lets me special summon ‘High Priestess of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

Priestess’ form emerged onto the field, seeming to feign sitting in the air before grasping her emerald tome under one arm and standing up straight on her long, slender legs. (Level 7, 2500/2100)

“I then activate I activate the continuous spell ‘Spellbook Star Hall’.”

The image of the card arose onto her field.

“Next I normal summon ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy,’ also in attack mode.”

The young blue and white clad archivist magician emerged beside Priestess, levitating his clear blue tome over one hand whilst his other hand had two of its foremost fingers to his forehead. (Level 2, 500/400)

“When normal summoned, Spellbook Magician lets me add one ‘Spellbook’ spellcard to my hand,” her choice was ejected from her deck following a brief shuffle. “I then activate that card; ‘Spellbook of Judgement’. At the end phase of the turn this card is activated, I can add Spellbooks to my hand equal to the number of spell cards activated this turn.

The image of Star Hall shone in a faint white aura, which seemed to transfer onto Priestess. A glowing sphere then appeared over Star Hall’s image; pitch black, with a golden yellow upside-down triangle composed of three smaller triangles within it. A white flame enveloped the sphere shortly after.

“At this point the effect of Star Hall activates. Each time a ‘Spellbook’ spell card is activated, Star Hall gains a Spell Counter. For each counter, my spellcasters’ attack points increase by a hundred. (Spell Counters: x1) Next I activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge;’ by sacrificing Spellbook Magician, I draw twice.”

Spellbook Magician snatched his tome in his hand and tucked it under and arm whilst gesturing farewell with his free hand as he vanished. Twilight’s duel disk pinged with sign of approval, urging her to draw twice. A second Spell Counter appeared over Star Hall’s image (Spell Counters: x2).

“Then I activate, ‘Spellbook of Secrets’. This lets me add a ‘Spellbook’ other than itself from my deck to my hand,” another card slid out of her deck, which she flashed as ‘Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere’ (Star Hall Spell Counters: x3). “And lastly, the spell ‘Foolish Burial’. This card lets me send one monster card from my deck to my graveyard,” her chosen card was ejected into her hand, which promptly went into the graveyard.

“I end my turn. At this point the effect of Spellbook of Judgement activates: I activated four spell cards after Judgement; so I add that many Spellbooks to my hand.” After scrolling through her choices, four cards were ejected one by one from her deck, putting her hand count at a comforting 6. “In addition, I can special summon a spellcaster-type monster from my deck whose level is equal or less to the number of cards added to my hand by this effect: I choose ‘Fool of Prophecy’, in attack mode.”

The yellow clad magician with the twig in his mouth emerged beside Priestess, lazily leaning his scepter against his shoulder with one hand in a pocket. (Level 4, 1600 + 300 = 1900/600 (due to Star Hall with x3 Spell Counters))

(Hand: 6)

Turn 2: Applejack (Hand: 5)

Applejack drew her first card, “Eight cards in one turn and ya ended with a hand bigger than what ya started with,” she remarked looking most impressed.

“You said it yourself; I have good teachers,” Twilight replied.

“Ah’ll say,” she smirked, fanning out her hand. “Let’s put that to test, shall we?” she slid a card from her hand and inserted it into the disk. “Ah activate the field spell ‘Mount Sylvania’.”

A rippling wave of light emanated from around Applejack, the ground changing in its wake. The plain grass soccer field became suffocated by a veritable forest, forming a circular arena of a glade around them. Over the trees in a simulated horizon, Twilight thought she could see a towering mountain in the distance. The glade was accented with a canyon wall opposite the bleachers that still remained due to the sheer number of people interfering with the projection, from which a tranquil water fall babbled into a pond that took up half the space.

“Here in Mount Sylvania, once per turn Ah can send one plant-type monster from my hand or field to the graveyard, in order to place one plant-type monster from my deck to the top of it.” She held up a card from her hand, “Ah discard ‘Sylvan Snapdrassinagon’ to activate Mount Sylvania’s effect.”

The moment Applejack slid the card into her graveyard, a faded image of a creature best described as an anthropomorphic snapdragon flower with little arms and legs wearing a purple cloth over what must have been a shrouded face, as hinted by the single eye peering from over it. A comically thick leather belt was slung diagonally on its body, holding a triple assortment of knives.

“When Snapdrassinagon is sent to the graveyard, it lets me excavate the card on the top of my deck,” Applejack explained, to which she flipped the top card of her deck over. “It’s ‘Sylvan Cherubsprout’, so as a monster it goes to my graveyard. When Cherubsprout is sent from the graveyard like this, it lets me special summon one level one plant monster from my deck.” A card was ejected from Applejack’s deck which found its way onto her tray, “So Ah special summon my second Cherubsprout in defense mode.”

Twilight recognized this monster from Applejack and Rarity’s duel from earlier. The small green unassuming, almost helpless looking creature with a body made of folded leaves, the ears of clovers, small white horn-like protrusions on its head and a larger leaf serving as its tail. It promptly folded the leaf around itself in an almost cowering manner. (Level 1, 100/100).

“When Cherubsprout is special summoned, Ah can choose one or two, then Ah excavate that many cards from the top of my deck. Ah choose two.” As such, the flipped over her first card, “Sylvan Bladefender, so it goes to my graveyard. However, if he’s sent there from being excavated,” the moment she discarded the card, it immediately slid back out of the graveyard slot, “he gets added to my hand instead.” She flipped the second card, “Hmm, Mistake…”

“Mistake?” Twilight raised a brow. “Did you do something wrong or-?”

“Nah, it’s the card ‘Mistake’, so it goes to the bottom of my deck,” Applejack corrected. “Then Ah take and put ‘Sylvan Marshalleaf’ on top of my deck as per Mount Sylvania’s effect,” her deck was shuffled and she placed the card on top.

Applejack’s deck works like an uncontrolled chemical reaction it feels like. Her cards force her to excavate cards from the top of her deck, then based on their type they’re sent to the graveyard for some form of effect. But just from Mount Sylvania alone, she’s already summoned a monster, reinforced her hand, and on top of it; knows her next draw…

“Ah then summon ‘Sylvan Peaskeeper’ in defense mode.”

A trio of small green orbs with spindly little arms and tiny stumps atop their head appeared on the field atop the sideways card defense position monsters were positioned on. It didn’t take long to realize that they were anthropomorphized peas. They had perfectly round white eyes with black pupils lacking distinct irises and tiny mouths. They looked towards Twilight in obvious terror as they huddled together in a severely lacking defensive pose. (Level 1, 400/100)

“When Peaskeeper is summoned, Ah can excavate the top card of my deck once more,” she slid the aforementioned ‘Marshalleaf’ into the graveyard. “When ‘Sylvan Marshalleaf’ is sent to the graveyard by being excavated, Ah can destroy one monster on the field.”

In a spiraling flurry of leaves, a small green humanoid similar to Snapdrassinagon wearing a leaf as a mask, appeared on the field. Around its neck was a simple brown cord, off which hung a single leaf and two oversized bluebell flowers on either side of that. In its tiny hands it held what looked to be daggers made of bluebell buds. In the blink of an eye, the tiny being flung one of its daggers at Priestess, her and Twilight both looking taken aback from the lack of a visible wound. Priestess’ form suddenly erupted into bits.

Priestess!

“An’ now, Ah use Cherubsprout and Peaskeeper to construct the Overlay Network,” Applejack declared, the forms of her monsters fading into energy as a spiraling nebula emerged behind them. Her monsters went spiraling into the nebula, eliciting a pillar of light to emerge from within.

“Under the life-giving sun, the surge of life erupts, bringing forth the one who tends to the sacred tree.”

“Xyz Summon! Rank 1: ‘Sylvan Princessprite!’”

The green kimono clad maiden from Applejack’s previous duel emerged onto the field, grasping a cherry blossom branch in one hand, the projection of Mount Sylvania a most perfect backdrop for this monster. Her Overlay Unit spheres revolved around her form. (Rank 1, 1800/100)

That’s the one that allows Applejack to summon plant-type monsters freely from her graveyard by sacrificing a plant monster. Though because of Star Hall, The Fool outpowers her by a hundred.

“Ah play the spell card ‘A Feather of the Phoenix’. By discardin’ a card, Ah can place one card from my graveyard to the top of my deck,” a card slid from her graveyard slot that found itself back on Applejack’s deck. “Ah then activate Princessprite’s effect: By removin’ one overlay unit, Ah can excavate the top card of my deck, and if that card is a spell or trap, it’s added to my hand,” as one of Princessprite’s spheres melded into her form, Applejack flipped the topmost card over and revealed it, “It’s Sylvan Marshalleaf, an’ Ah’ll use him to destroy yer Fool.”

In a repeated of earlier, Marshalleaf emerged onto the field in a flurry of leaves, to which it tossed one of its makeshift blades at The Fool. In a similar delayed reaction, the Fool’s form erupted into bits, leaving Twilight’s field deprived of monsters.

“An’ now, Ah attack ya directly with Princessprite!”

Princessprite swung her hand bearing the cherry blossom branch, sending forth a veritable gust laden in dozens of their petals. They wafted into Twilight’s forcefield, erupting like small, blinding firecrackers against it.

Twilight Sparke Life Points: 4000 – 1800 = 2200

And with that, Twilight’s life points were almost down to half in one turn.

“Ah place one card facedown. That’s all she wrote.”

(Hand: 1)

“You really seem to have a penchant for direct attacks it seems…” Twilight remarked in regards to her predicament.

“Ah like bein’ thorough,” said Applejack. “Hmm, kinda like you, eh? Like yesterday with the books an’ all.”

Turn 3: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 6)

Twilight drew her next card, putting her at the maximum of seven. Even so; I have a more than enough to turn things around.

“Admirable indeed, my friend,” Twilight stated with more than a hint of confidence. “However, from what I’ve learned in these past few days; it’s not always the field or life points that matter; it’s the cards you hold.”

“Awright,” Applejack thumped her chest in a reciprocating smirk, “show me!”

“I activate the equip spell ‘Spellbook of Life’,” Twilight slid one of the Spellbooks she’d acquire via Spellbook of Judgement into her disk, the card’s image arising onto the field. “By banishing-”

“Hold yer horses there! Ah activate the continuous trap ‘Imperial Iron Wall’!” Applejack responded with a push of her touch screen, unveiling her facedown.

“What does that-?”

“With Imperial Iron Wall up, neither player can banish cards,” Applejack proceeded to elaborate. “Field, hand, graveyard; sorry sugarcube, but you’re not gettin’ at me with that old trick.”

Twilight was barely able to restrain the gasp building up in her throat. So that means my Spellbook of Life won’t work since it requires me to banish a monster from my graveyard… Disheartened, she was forced to slide the card into her graveyard port. “Still, as the card was activated, Star Hall gains another Spell Counter (x4).”

Hampered as Twilight now was from utilizing a select few cards in her deck, as well as Priestess’ ability to destroy cards, if her past experiences had taught her anything; it was that she could always find an alternate way. “I activate a second Spellbook of Knowledge. By discarding Spellbook of Fate from my hand, I draw twice again.” Two of her added Spellbooks were now rendered useless, but she would ensure they would not be wasted.

“I summon Justice of Prophecy, in attack mode,” Twilight declared, slapping a new card onto her tray.

Out emerged a sorceress garbed in a very dark, bordering on black, green robe indicated only by a slight iridescence of the afternoon sun (which further signified the wonders of this technology where it was able to correlate almost seamlessly with the immediate surroundings), with white trimmings and inlays. A wide poncho covered her chest and shoulders with a white crest of the prophecy emblazoned on it with black pearls, similarly to the small semi-conical hat she wore over her light brown hair. Two cloth talismans hung from her waist, and in her left hand she wielded a heavyset scepter or mace made of gold and a purple, thorny dagger in the right. (Level 3, 1600 + 400 = 2000/800)

Twilight looked at her hand, to which she picked one out and slid it into her disk, “I activate ‘Spellbook of Power’ to increase Justice’s attack by a thousand.”

Upon activation, Star Hall gained a fifth Spell Counter. The orange tome twirled before Justice, opening its cover, to which a surge of power began to coalesce onto her dagger, the weapon glowing like hot iron with arcs of energy racing across its length. (ATK: 3100)

“I will then attack Princessprite with Justice of Prophecy!”

Justice pointed her surging dagger towards Princessprite (ATK: 1800), the familiar orb of energy being launched from the blade. Princessprite, whose form splintered on impact. Twilight added a card to her hand per Spellbook of power’s effect.

Applejack Life Points: 4000 – 1800 = 2200

Now we’re even! “I place two cards facedown and end my turn,” Twilight declared, setting the newly added card, eyes focused warily on the mystery that was Applejack’s facedown.

(Hand: 2)

“At this point, Mount Sylvania’s second effect activates; during my opponent’s end phase, Ah can excavate one card from the top of my deck,” Applejack interjected, to which she flipped her topmost card over. The card was transferred to her graveyard slot, indicating a monster. No effect seemed to trigger this time around.

Turn 4: Applejack (Hand: 1)

“Not bad, Twi,” said Applejack as she drew her card, “Ah activate ‘Sylvan Charity’. This card lets me draw three times, then Ah need to reveal two cards from my hand with one needin’ to be a ‘Sylvan’ monster…” She did as directed, drawing three cards. Going over her hand, she pressed two against her duel disk screen, revealing them in projection form as ‘Sylvan Hermitree’ and a spell, ‘Miracle Fertilizer’. “These two here then go on top of my deck in any order Ah like. Next, Ah activate Mount Sylvania’s effect…”

Applejack slid a card she’d already know was a Sylvan type monster. In a sudden repeat of earlier on the roof of CHS, a gaggle of roots punched their way through the ground, followed by a towering tree with branches in the formation of a toupee running up and down the sides of its trunk, a pair of squinted eyes and kneaded grass forming a goatee and moustache over a pouting pair of lips. Sylvan Sagequoia. (Level 7, 2600/2100)

“Since Ah discarded Bladefender to the graveyard, ‘Sylvan Sagequoia’ can be special summoned from my hand. And then Ah resume Mount Sylvania’s effect, and, well; look at that; ‘Hermitree’. So it goes to my graveyard.”

An astral image of a great tree, towering over all in the glade, including Sagequoia, and outdoing them similarly in girth, appeared behind Applejack, its broadly spread out canopy bearing a thick head of leaves filled with massive patches of red.

“When ‘Sylvan Hermitree’ is excavated and sent to the graveyard, Ah look at the top three cards of my deck, and rearrange them.”

Twilight watched as Applejack took the top three cards of her deck and perused through them. The first one was obvious; this Miracle Fertilizer spell. Applejack proceeded to take the third card, and placed it over Miracle Fertilizer’s before sliding the three back atop her deck.

“An’ then Ah activate Sagequoia’s effect. He lets me excavate one card from the top of my deck, which is, of course, ‘Sylvan Princessprout’, so she goes to the graveyard,” but before her duel disk could even begin to slide it in half-way, it was promptly spat back out, “to which Ah can special summon her in defense mode!”

The small kimono wearing sprite emerged onto the field, huddled in a kneeling position with her hands clasped together. Noticing the horns atop the creature’s head, Twilight made a connection that Princessprout was meant to be a precursor of Princessprite, while also a more matured Cherubsprout, as evidenced by all three possessing the white horns atop their heads. Much like a sprout growing into a tree. (Level 1 100/100)

“When Princessprout is special summoned this way, Ah can pick a level between one an’ eight, and she becomes that level. So Ah choose level seven.”

Seven… And Sagequoia is level seven…

“Ah use my level seven Sagequoia and Princessprout to construct the Overlay Network!”

The Overlay nebula emerged onto the field once more, the forms of Sagequoia and Princessprout deforming into energy and spiraling into the nebula.

“Under the life-giving sun, the surge of life erupts: Great Goddess of Tranquility aloft on verdant wings; take to the skies and shade the sacred grove.”

“Xyz Summon! Take flight! Rank 7: ‘Orea, the Sylvan High Arbiter!”

Emerging into the very sky was possibly one of the largest monsters Twilight had seen so far. Barring the intimidating size, this creature was arguably one of the most beautiful ones she’d seen thus far. It was a giant bird with very pale green plumage covering its graceful body, with great wings or with tri-colored wings starting green, turning bright orange and ending in bright red tips like a flower’s petals. Large, red flowers circles around its neck over thicker, grass green neck plumage, its tail looking to be composed of great leaves splayed out much like a peacock’s, and atop its head a crown or red-budded stems extended, as well as a series of long red tassels that swept behind its form. A pair of strangely soft, almost serene eyes stared down at Twilight past a short beak. The great avian let loose a melodious call, flapping its enormous wings over the simulated glade. As before, orbs of light revolved around it as any other Xyz monster. (Rank 7, 2800/2500)

The audience vocalized their amazement at the giant avian suspended over the field.

“Pretty~!” came Pinkie’s voice over the megaphone.

“An’ ain’t she as pretty as an orchard on a spring day…” said Applejack, looking upon her own monster in adoration. “Orea, she lets me send one plant-type monster from my hand or field to the graveyard,” she flashed her choice, “in this case the level 5 ‘Sylvan Lotuswain’. Doin’ so lets me look at cards from atop my deck equal to the discarded monster’s level.”

Twilight watched as Applejack took the top five cards of her deck and splayed them out, going over them contemplatively.

So this is Applejack’s deck’s true strength. It lets her observe and rearrange her entire deck, slimming down having to relegate her draws on chance…

After a moment of rearranging, which, considering it was Applejack, gave Twilight a strange impression of Applejack’s, or rather the one from Equestria’s, very specific method of work where she’d often observed the middle Apple following a very specific pattern, the five cards were placed back atop the deck.

“An’ now, by removing one overlay unit from Orea,” Applejack declared, one of the spheres of light melding into Orea’s form with a soft ripple, “Ah excavate three cards from top of my deck. And for each plant monster Ah excavate and send to the graveyard, Ah return a card on the field to the hand.”

Twilight internally cringed. So because she knows the next five cards she’s going to excavate, she can end up clearing my entire field and leave me open!

Applejack flipped over the first card, “First; ‘Sylvan Peaskeeper’, graveyard,” she slid the card into the graveyard.

Before Applejack on the field came a spectral projection of the three terrified looking anthropomorphized peas, “When a Peaskeeper is sent to the graveyard this way, Ah can special summon one level four or below plant-type monster from my graveyard. So Ah’ll special summon ‘Sylvan Bladefender’ in attack mode.”

The green clothed swordsman Twilight had witnessed earlier emerged onto the field, gripping the sheath of the longer of his two swords in a sideward stance. (Level 4, 1900/700)

“Second; ‘Sylvan Mikorange’, graveyard.”

Another spectral image; this one a small sprite-like being in an orange and yellow kimono and a round orange head framed by leaves and berries, positioned in the likeness of hair and a headdress, holding its tiny hands together in a pose akin to prayer.

“When Mikorange is sent to the graveyard like this, it increases the attack of all plant-type monsters by 300." (Orea, Sylvan High Arbiter ATK: 2800 -> 3100, Sylvan Bladefender ATK: 1900 -> 2200)

“Third; ‘Sylvan Waterfall’. As a trap card, it goes to the bottom of my deck. Fourth: 'Mark of the Rose'; bottom. Fifth, 'Super Solar Nutrient'; bottom. Since Ah sent two plant-type monsters into the graveyard, Orea returns two cards on the field to the hand, an’ Ah choose yer two facedown cards.”

As if on an unspoken command, Orea spread her wings wide and buffeted them down with enough force to generate a gale.

“Activate facedown cards!” Twilight retorted, “‘Spellbook Organization’ and ‘Mystical Space Typhoon’!”

Applejack eyed the field in befuddlement “What are you-?”

“First; Spellbook Organization lets me look at the top three cards of my deck; and I can reorganize them. And it adds one additional Spell Counter to Star Hall.”

Twilight looked at the top three cards of her deck, similarly to Applejack, before after a switch between the top- and bottom-most, they were returned to the deck. Star Hall generated a sixth Spell Counter.

“I will then use Mystical Space Typhoon to destroy my Spellbook Star Hall!” Twilight continued. “Doing so deprives your effect of its targets.”

As Orea’s gale storm abated, a second tornado erupted from underneath the projection of Star Hall’s card, the image splintering, but the five accrued Spell Counters remained. The five counters formed into a circle and began to spin, their speed increasing until all that could be made out was a white glowing halo.

“When Star Hall is destroyed, I can special summon one spellcaster-type monster whose level is equal or less to the number of Spell Counters that were on it from my hand or deck. I summon the level six ‘Reaper of Prophecy’ from my deck, in attack mode!”

The darkly dressed gender ambiguous scythe wielding spellcaster emerged onto the field. Strangely, as soon as they had arisen, a foreboding red glow emanated from underneath the dark purple cowl, and the great scythe’s blade seemed to also take on an icy blue glow. (Level 6, 2000/1600)

“What the-?” Applejack wondered aloud.

“When Reaper of Prophecy is summoned, their effect is determined by the number of ‘Spellbooks’ in my graveyard. I have eight in total, so I can activate all three of Reaper’s effects. First; they gain 600 attack points (ATK: 2600). Second; I can add one Spellbook to my hand.” A card was ejected from Twilight’s deck, revealing it as Spellbook of the Master. “Third: I special summon a level five or above dark spellcaster from my deck. I choose ‘Prophecy Destroyer’.”

Reaper swung his scythe to the side, the blade seemingly sinking into the air itself, before yanking a literal rip into space, a dark gash spilling out. Two clawed hands reached out from within around the ‘edges’ of the tear, and tore it apart further. A thorny pair of leathery wings unfurled from inside the tear, unveiling a much different monster from what Twilight had used so far.

It was not visually reminiscent of the other Prophecy monsters. It stood taller and wider than the others, its body grey and muscly, with its legs covered in black and silver rimmed armored leggings and greaves whilst a long tail with a spiked tip snaked behind it. A demonic helmet with flaming eyes and a mouth was affixed to its head, whilst in one of its burly arms it grasped a flaming double-edged longsword appropriated to its size. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

A cheer of adoration erupted from the crowd at Twilight’s display.

“Whoa! Is it just me or did it look like it was almost the end to Twilight’s winning streak?!” asked Pinkie through the megaphone. As if in response, Vinyl abruptly cut the latest track and began to play some form of symphonic metal track to further hype up the cheering crowd.

“Well Ah’ll be,” said Applejack in astonishment. “Ya used Mystical to destroy yer own card to protect yerself from my attack. How did you know not to use it on my Iron Wall?”

“I only drew Mystical Space Typhoon thanks to ‘Spellbook of Power’. I wasn’t certain what you were planning with your free attack, so I decided to hold onto it just in case,” Twilight responded with a pleased look on her face.

Applejack grinned eagerly, “You just keep surprisin’ me over an’ over again, Twilight. Now this is how ya duel fer real!” She pointed at Reaper, “Ah attack Reaper with Orea!”

Orea (ATK: 3100), in a similar display from before, buffeted her great wings, sending a concentrated gale force trailing along the ground towards Reaper of Prophecy (ATK: 2600). On reaching the grim spellcaster, the ground erupted underneath, their form being obliterated from the force.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 2200 – 500 = 1700

“Then Ah attack Justice of Prophecy with Bladefender.”

Bladefender (ATK: 2200) crouched forward steadily, gripping at the hilt of his sword with his right hand whilst still gripping the sheath with the left. In the blink of an eye, Bladefender spooked Twilight by having seemingly appeared on her side of the field, his sword drawn with his arm held out to the side. Justice of Prophecy (ATK: 1600) suddenly collapsed on to her knees before her form shattered.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1700 – 600 = 1100

“When Bladefender destroys a monster in battle, Ah can excavate a card. But in this case Ah choose not to and simply end my turn.”

(Hand: 0)

Turn 5: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

Twilight drew her card. I just barely managed to fend off Applejack’s attack there. With that powered up Orea, and how she can ostensibly reorganize large swathes of her deck, I need to get rid of it quickly before she leaves me open again.

“Alright; first I play ‘Spellbook of the Master’,” Twilight slid the card into her disk, “By revealing another ‘Spellbook’ from my hand,” she pressed said card onto the duel disk’s screen, revealing ‘Spellbook of Wisdom’. “This lets me choose one normal Spellbook spell from my graveyard and this one’s effect becomes that card’s. I choose ‘Spellbook of Knowledge.’ By sacrificing Prophecy Destroyer, I can draw twice.”

Applejack looked at Twilight in suspicion as she sacrificed her last remaining monster.

“Then I activate ‘Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere’. This card can only be played when I have five or more Spellbooks in the graveyard; it lets me exacavate the top two cards of my deck, and any Spellbooks revealed are added to my hand. Anything else gets shuffled back in.”

Twilight looked at the top two cards she was not aware of, seeing how the last two cards she had were confirmed by Spellbook Organization. The first card was not a Spellbook, or a spell card at all; ‘Dark Renewal’, while the other revealed itself as ‘Spellbook of Eternity’. Adding that to her hand, her deck shuffled.

“Now I activate ‘Magical Stone Excavation’; this lets me add a spell card from my graveyard to my hand, at the cost of discarding two cards to the graveyard,” Twilight slid two cards into the graveyard slot, in return the disk spat out another card for her to take. “The card I chose is Mystical Space Typhoon; which I will now use to destroy your Imperial Iron Wall!”

The image of Applejack’s card erupted in the same gust of wind as before, the gale shredding it into bits.

“Cards can now once again be banished from the graveyards. So I now banish ‘Spellbook of the Master’, ‘Spellbook of Life’ and ‘Spellbook of Power’ to special summon Prophecy Destroyer from my graveyard.”

From out of nowhere, a familiar flaming sword dropped from the sky and embedded into the ground. A rush of flames raced down from the crossguard and spread out in a distinct star-like pattern around it. An erupting gout of fire burst from the pattern, unveiling a pair of leathery, thorny wings from within. When the flames died down, Prophecy Destroyer stood where the pattern once was, brandishing his reclaimed sword. (Level 5, 2500/1200)

“Then I activate ‘Spellbook of Eternity’ to take one of my banished Spellbooks back into my hand. I choose ‘Spellbook of Life’, which I will then activate. By revealing a different Spellbook again,” Twilight unveiled Spellbook of Knowledge once more, “and by banishing a spellcaster-type monster from my graveyard, I special summon another spellcaster from my graveyard and equip it with this card, and its level is increased by that of the banished spellcaster. Revive; High Priestess of Prophecy!”

The violet tome that was the Spellbook of Life twirled onto Twilight’s field, opening its pages to let loose its reviving light which coalesced into the form of Priestess. (Level 7 -> 2, 2500/2100) The tome took its place hovering above her as she opened her emerald tome whilst staring up at Orea in defiance.

“Aw crap…” muttered Applejack in anticipation.

“By banishing one Spellbook from the graveyard,” Twilight ejected Spellbook of Eternity to be placed in the banished slot, “I use Priestess to destroy Orea. Lexicon Designator!”

Priestess held her hand in their specific gesture, chanting in the arcane language. Orea, in an admittedly sorrowful display, let forth an agonizing cry as she started to slowly descend to the ground, only to never reach as the emerald energy of Priestess’ magic seared her to nothing in an instant.

“Now Prophecy Destroyer; attack Bladefender!” Twilight ordered, her demonic spellcaster’s sword alighting in flames in preparation. With a hellish roar, Destroyer (ATK: 2500) sent a wave of fire from a single swipe that seared away Bladefender (ATK: 2100) to ashes.

Applejack Life Points: 2200 – 400 = 1800

“And final attack: I attack you directly with Priestess!”

Priestess revved her arm in a circular motion, gathering power into her palm which she then launched at Applejack. The arcane bolt struck square on revealed segmented forcefield in front of Applejack, her left arm jerking back from the 2500 attack point strike. Priestess then proceeded to wag her finger towards Applejack.

Applejack Life Points: 2200 – 2500 = - 300

Twilight Sparkle Victory!

Dayum girl!” Applejack exclaimed in surprise. “Ah’ dunno what Apple Bloom an’ the girls put you through, but you’re killin’ it out here!”

-

“An’ now, Ah’ activate the equip spell ‘Mark of the Rose’!” declared Apple Bloom, inserting a spell into her red and green duel disk. “This lets me take control of the monster it’s equipped to, an’ Ah’ choose your Reaper!”

Reaper appeared to cringe as an intricate marking of a rose began to seemingly peel onto Reaper’s cheek, the grim spellcaster gritting their teeth, feeling the unsightly carving form onto him.

“Quick-play Spell: ‘Spellbook of Wisdom’, to make Reaper resistant to spell cards!” Twilight hastily responded by sliding her spell into Scootaloo’s borrowed disk.

“Sorry, but ah activate Naturia Beast’s effect; by sendin’ two cards from the top of my deck to the graveyard, Ah’ negate your spell card.”

The green spherical barrier forming around Reaper shattered, the rose mark finishing its formation followed by Reaper vanishing in a gout of black smoke, only to remerge on Apple Bloom’s field, brandishing their scythe for the keeper of the mark, alongside the verdant green tiger-like Naturia Beast (Level 5, 2200/1700).

“Now Ah’ attack directly with Reaper for game!”

“Trap card activate: ‘Magician’s Circle’!”

-

“She is a tough opponent,” Twilight replied, casting a glance at the youngest Apple sibling seated among the audience.

“She sure is. After all; she is an Apple. When we do somethin’, we do it right and to the end.”

“Apt description; I never defeated her. Not once,” said Twilight in emphasis. “Even now I’m very trepidatious about whether or not I stand a chance. Every duel so far has cut so close I’m just amazed that I managed to luck into winning thrice!”

“Ah’ dunno about that,” Applejack said with a chuckle as she, began to gather her cards back in defeat. “Ah’ mean, way Ah’ look at it; Ah’ might have just gone maybe a little too gung-ho just then. If’n ya ask me; your smarts and intuition just beat my gutsiness.”

-

“You know; there was a little something someone told me when I was first starting out: In dueling it’s just as important to use your heart and your instincts than just your head. You need to be in rhythm with your deck. Kinda like when I play my guitar.”

-

“You’re a great duelist, Twi. An’ Ah’ mean it,” she emphasized with the human gesture of extending her thumb from a closed fist. “Ya just keep impressin’ me an’ everyone else it seems.”

A wash of warm familiarity came over Twilight, hearing no truer words spoken by the counterpart to the Element of Honesty. Twilight watched and listened as the students applauded over her record five-turn victory. On the bottom row she could see the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ cheer with enthusiasm, as well as Scootaloo giving her two V-signs with her hands, complete with a toothy smile.

-

Applejack deactivated her duel disk as she walked back to her spot on the bench. As happy as she was for the impressive display by her new miracle of a friend, a nagging sense of disappointment over her display gnawed at the back of her mind. As she sat down in contemplation, a slender white hand came upon her left shoulder.

“Are you alright, darling?” asked Rarity, still as observant as ever how she was able to read her like an open book.

“Yea, Ah’m fine,” Applejack shrugged. “Just feel like Ah’ performed pretty poorly by comparison just now.” She looked down at her deck, pursing her lips in contemplation. “Say, Rare; do ya reckon’ maybe ya might wanna help with a do-over sometime? Ya know, if you’re not too busy.”

“Oh Applejack,” cooed Rarity, her hand moving across Applejack’s back to her right shoulder, “You know I’ll always make time for you whenever you need.”

Applejack felt her cheeks redden, a sensation she’d come to miss so much during the time of their manipulated break-up. Applejack reciprocated by putting an arm around Rarity’s waist and gave her a soft peck on the cheek.

“Thanks, hun,” she said, “An’ if ya want, Ah’ll still be a mannequin for ya…”

Rarity chuckled deviously, “Ohhh, did you ever imagine getting out of that~?”

Applejack rolled her eyes, the two of them softly laughing with each other.

Duel #11: Madolche Madness

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So far so good, Twilight, even to her own amazement, was able to score a rather straightforward victory against Applejack, her disk having recorded a total of five turns (yet another convenient function of this seemingly multi-purpose apparatus). Her previous understanding of card games, stemming largely from the odd times she’d seen Shining Armor dabble in Hocus-Pocus as a colt, was put largely into question with the seemingly insane amount of luck she’d experienced so far in three consecutive duels.

Logically it’d make sense that everything would stem to the luck of the draw: A deck of forty or so cards, a fixed number of each (her having had to make do with whatever Sunset had placed in it previously, which seemed to still function just fine). But now, having gone seemingly above a plain novice to at least a recognized duelist among the CHS student body in only a day…

I sense something is troubling you, Twilight,” the psionic echo of Priestess sung inside her mind, the spirit appearing in her projection form beside Twilight, formally grasping her tome underneath an arm, seeming to stare Twilight directly in the eyes.

Twilight surreptitiously turned her eyes towards the spirit, taking a quick glance at the applauding crowd, accompanied by more bellows of encouragement from the odd student, “It’s not so much troubling as it is just… I guess confounding would be the best choice of words.

We might have a moment, seeing as the pink one seems to be lost in one of her congratulatory rants…” echoed Priestess, casting an amused glance at Pinkie, who was putting a lot of emphasis on the notion of the word ‘three’.

It just baffles me how well my luck’s held out so far. I mean my brother used to play something similar as a colt, but whenever I saw it, he’d never had this insane level of luck as me…

Priestess formed an ever-mysterious smile on her lips as she listened, “Luck you say?

Twilight raised a brow at Priestess, on the verge of questioning her further, when her psionic focus was interrupted by Pinkie having raised her volume.

“And with that hint of So will the next duelist come on down for the fin-a-le?!” she yelled, launching a fist to the air with great gusto.

The bleachers fell almost as silent as during Pinkie’s previous poor choice of puns, discounting an off cough or a sniff amidst the students. All eyes had diverted towards Pinkie who’d quite literally looked to have frozen in her pose.

“Should we…?” Rarity spoke up from her spot on the bleachers.

“Give her a moment,” said Maud, remaining outwardly unmoved.

It was beginning to get awkward when some students were beginning to eye their phones or watches, one even going as far as looking at an antique pocket watch.

“Oh, wait…” Pinkie finally showed signs of genuine motion again, “That’s me! Ohmigosh! For a moment that could have been awkward!” she exclaimed, a snorting laugh escaping her lips.

In her ever chipper traipse, Pinkie hopped over to her backpack beside Fluttershy, unzipping it to fish out her very pink and magenta duel disk. She looked between the device in one hand, her megaphone in the other, as if having a dilemma over the two, when she tossed the latter to Fluttershy.

“Here Fluttershy; you do commentary!”

Fluttershy fidgeted with trying to catch the megaphone, inadvertently managing to finally catch it by its grip. “W-what?!” she exclaimed, further reeling when her voice boomed out of the horn.

“Yea, just like that,” remarked Pinkie before proceeding to skip to her place on the field.

Fluttershy, refusing to stand up to the potential sight of hundreds of student eyeing her raised the device to her mouth, eyes darting one way and another nervously. “Uh… Yay?”

Twilight’s nostalgia urged her to smile from endearment at Fluttershy, before turning her attention to her last opponent of the ‘boss rush’. Pinkie proceeded to reach into her head fluff, extracting her deck, somehow still in one neat stack, which she fastened onto its port on the duel disk. The device then activated, its brighter pink tray segments sliding forward, combining, and sliding along her arm.

Priestess, what do you mean by what you just said?” Twilight tried reaching out mentally, hoping her guide to this world could hear her.

Twilight; I understand your comfort in physical laws and logic, but in regards to duel monsters, there’s more than just mere luck of the draw involved, you-

“Hey, Twilight; are you as nervou-cited as I am?” asked Pinkie, once again cutting off the psionic conversation.

“Uh, no I… Wait, what did you say?” asked Twilight when a certain word uttered by the pink party girls catching her attention.

“Are you as nervou-cited as I am?” Pinkie asked in parroting herself.

“That; that word in the middle,” said Twilight holding up a finger.

“Nervou-cited?” Pinkie giggled, “Just came up with that. You know, when you’re nervous and excited at the same time? Like you’re nervous, which is like a bad thing, but you’re excited, which is more a good thing, and since we’re about the throw down as opponents, so kinda like enemies, but at the same time we have like super respect for one another, and no matter who wins we’re still gonna be like the best of friends, but at the same time it’s gonna be super intense…”

Twilight had to fight the urge of going cross-eyed from Pinkie Pie’s tendency for sporadic introspective rants, another constant across dimensions it seemed when it came to the causal anomaly that was Pinkamena Diane Pie.

“And how I’m clearly the quirky one of the bunch to Fluttershy being the shy introvert, Applejack the tough girl with the heart of gold, Rarity the pretty one with a matching beautiful personality and I guess maybe somewhere down the line Rainbow Dash might or might not be the sixth ranger to this group of ours… Where was I going with this?”

Twilight shook her head with a sputter, regaining her focus, “I believe we were about to ‘throw down’…?” she asked with an awkward grin.

“Oh! Right…” and with that Pinkie slid a hand over her face, to which her eyes seemed to narrow and her lips took on a pronounced pout, before proceeding to press the ‘start’ icon on her disk, which Twilight followed suit. “DJ, hit my music!”

After the rattle of cards being shuffled, the virtual coin revolved on the screen before landing in Pinkie’s favor.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 4000

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Duel start!

Turn 1: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 5)

“Here we go!” cheered Pinkie, “I special summon ‘Madolche Petingcessoeur’ from my hand!”

Now there was a familiar sight; the small blonde doll in the pink dress with ruffles imitating whipped cream emerged onto the field, doing a pirouette before bowing happily. (Level 4 1400/1400

“When this little sweetie, pun intended, is special summoned, she lets me special summon a ‘Madolche’ from my hand or deck, but its level goes down by one,” Pinkie swiped a finger across her duel disk screen, her eyes darting back and forth in the rivulet of images until she pressed a finger back down. Her deck shuffled and slid forth a card which she slapped to her tray, “Bring on the pudding… with ‘Madolche Puddingcess’!”

Another monster Twilight remembered from the duel against Snips and Snails; the older, more refined looking princess doll in the creamy yellow frilled, pudding-themes dress and silver tiara. She delicately held at the folds of her dress and curtseyed. (Level 5 -> 4, 1000/1000 -> 1800/1800)

“When I’ve no monsters in my graveyard, Puddingcess gains a whopping 800 extra attack and defense to boot!”

“Twilight, didn’t she do that Xyz thing with those two?” whispered Spike down from the ground.

“She did, and I believe she will again…”

“And with my delectable dames, again, pun intended, I Overla-ay!” Pinkie called with a dramatic upward point as the Overlay nebula emerged onto the field, Petingcessoeur and Puddingcess’ forms becoming wafting forms of energy before spiraling into the nebula.

“Two patrons of sweet happiness, combine your power and call on the advisor of the world of delights.”

“Xyz Summon! The honorary Rank 4; ‘Madolche Teacher Glassoufle~!’”

Emerging into the field came another doll-like humanoid. A female with a contrastingly overall green color scheme, which included her hair tied into two buns at the back of her head and the formal, yet humble green dress with a blue necktie. The most unusual trait of her was the skirt starting from her waist looked akin to a bisected cake, with lighter green ruffles going down the middle. In her hands she held a pointer, and she was wearing a pair of round spectacles, possibly indicating some form of royal instructor or the like. She bowed humbly in place. (Rank 4, 1800/2500)

“Aaand that’s it; end my turn. Come at me bro!” Pinkie exclaimed with a thump on her chest, which only resulted in her obstructions jiggling, which Twilight found strangely unsettling. I mean, sistah!” she repeated in correction, thumping again, hence another jiggle.

(Hand: 4)

Twilight chuckled awkwardly before proceeding with her turn.

Turn 2: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

Twilight drew the first card. It wasn’t as favorable as last time, having only two Spellbooks this time around, second of which she just drew and four monsters. At first her previous thoughts on luck were true, seeing that two of her monsters could not be summoned as she had no sacrifice. To her relief, the picture of a familiar teal-haired, brown-robed sorceress almost had her sighing.

Oh thank Celestia, I thought I almost jinxed myself… Her mouth lined, remembering how as a mare slash woman of science, she did not give credence to the notion of jinxes… Although, that was something Zecora had not agreed with her on, during their recent time of training together. She shook her head, focusing back to the duel, sliding a card from her hand to her tray.

“I summon ‘Temperance of Prophecy’ in attack mode,” Twilight slapped the card on her tray.

The brown-robed, connected chalices wielding sorceress emerged onto the field. (Level 3, 1000/1000)

“I then active ‘Spellbook of Secrets’, and I use it to add ‘Spellbook of Power’ into my hand,” Twilight took the selected card. “Since I played a ‘Spellbook’ card, I can sacrifice Temperance to special summon a level five or above light or dark attribute spellcaster from my deck.”

Temperance held aloft her chalices, one spewing its curtain of thick white smoke, the other the dark purplish smoke, which covered Temperance’s form entirely.

“I special summon ‘High Priestess of Prophecy’ in attack mode!”

A white gloved hand emerged, swiping away the smoke, revealing Priestess, bearing her opened emerald tome over a fore arm, crossing her legs in a graceful forward step. (Level 7, 2500/2100)

With her ace in the hole immediately on the field, she wasn’t going to waste this opportunity, “I activate Priestess’ effect, by banishing Spellbook of Secrets from my graveyard, I destroy your facedown card. Lexicon Designator!”

Priestess’ tome levitated off her arm as she positioned her hands into the correct gesture, her ethereal voice murmuring her incantations. Pinkie’s facedown burst into ashes in a flash of green flames, followed with a yelp from Pinkie.

“Toasty~!” she exclaimed.

“Quite,” Twilight chuckled. “I then activate ‘Spellbook of Power’, increasing Priestess' attack by a thousand for the rest of the turn. More than enough to take out Glassoufle.”

Priestess tome lit from a light emerald to a radiant orange, opening its seemingly infinite pages before her. She reached out with her hands, coalescing the power within into the familiar orb of power between her hands, keeping it contained between gnarled fingers. With a grunt, Priestess (ATK: 3500) launched the orb towards the defending Glassoufle (DEF: 2500), who let loose a high-pitched yelp upon impact, resulting in a loud explosion.

Pinkie’s life points remained untouched due to being in defense position. Twilight, however, felt safer for depriving Pinkie of field presence, not wishing to face more of her stronger monsters, especially during her current predicament.

“Whenever a monster affected by Spellbook of Power destroys a monster in battle, I add a 'Spellbook' to my hand,” Twilight added and followed through. “I place one card facedown and end my turn.”

(Hand: 4)

Turn 3: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 4)

“Yosh! Watashi no tān. Dorō!” Pinkie exclaimed as she swiped a card from the top of her deck in a dramatic fashion.

Twilight raised a brow at Pinkie’s sudden change of language. While she was far an expert on the subject, from what she could understand, it sounded similar to that of eastern Equestrian areas.

“Uh, Pinkie… No offense, but maybe stick to a language I understand?” Twilight asked gently, mainly given her past experiences with her Pinkie Pie who may not at times take certain hints as gracefully as others.

Pinkie giggled, “Sorry. I just had to.”

Twilight eyed the pink girl with uncertainty, “Had to what?”

“You know; that.”

“No, I don’t-”

“Summoning a monster~!” Pinkie spouted abruptly, “‘Madolche Mewfuille’, in defense mode~!”

This one Twilight also recognized from Pinkie’s earlier duel; the pink stuffed toy cat with a plumed cavalier hat made of pancake. It let out a mewling yawn as it sat down as close as it could to its genuine animal counterpart, given its stubby short legs. (Level 3, 500/300)

“Heh. Remember back in the gym how I was undoubtedly gonna put the hurt on Snips and Snails. I don’t mean literal hurt but figurative hurt, obviously,” Pinkie’s spoke, her pace gradually increasing, “I mean who would put literal hurt into a card game of all things, right? I mean that Spatial Collapse was super annoying how he just shut me down…”

Twilight stiffened a chuckle listening to Pinkie go on one of her numerous train-of-thought tangents. Something she’d come to expect of the one in Equestria, so of course it would also apply to one that was bipedal.

“But then you notice how it was also the reason how your plan with me and Fluttershy ended up working like cinnamon in apples. I don’t know about you, but I just think there’s nothing better to spice up apples than cinnamon…”

Twilight’s smile ebbed slightly. Amidst her rambling, she thought she hadn’t heard Pinkie take even an ounce of breath between words.

Pinkie’s eyes started to squint as her voice grew increasingly raspy, “So now I can actually do what I was gonna do originally and use my puffy pink pussy…”

The crowd let out a unified gasp.

Pinkie took a long gasping breath of air, “Use my puffy pink pussy cat friend to special summon another ‘Madolche’ from my hand!”

“Ohhh,” the students responded in chorus.

“Goddamn; I thought she meant vag-”

“And what better than my pal ‘Madolche Butlerusk’? Also in defense!” Pinkie said with a twirl as she slapped a second card on her tray.

Another child-like human doll emerged onto the field. Adorned in a fancy black and white butler’s outfit, complete with white gloves, a monocle, a neatly trimmed short head of hair, awkwardly holding a porcelain tea pot in one hand and a cup atop a plate in the other with a white cloth draped over his forearm, all the whilst kneeling. (Level 4, 1500/800)

“When this delightful diligent dependent is summoned,” said Pinkie in an impressive display of alliteration, “I can add a field spell from my deck to my hand.” A card ejected from her disk.

“It’s gonna be that…” Spike paused in his whispering. “What’d she call it again?”

“‘Chateau’,” said Twilight. “It’s Prench for castle.”

“And here we go, to the land of delights; ‘Madolche Chateau’!” declared Pinkie in sheer excitement as she inserted the field spell into the magic and trap port and tapped her screen.

The soccer field was overtaken by the great castle build of stacked and assembled cakes, macarons and other solid forms of pastries, and the landscape sectioned off into fields of different cakes fitted together like puzzle pieces.

“With Madolche Chateau in play, all my little pals are returned to my deck,” Pinkie elaborated as her graveyard spat out all three monsters in her graveyard, two of which were shuffled into the deck and one sliding into the extra deck port. “On top of that, all my ‘Madolches’ gain 500 attack and defense. And that’s not even all! When a Madolche monster’s effect would shuffle itself back into my deck, it returns to my hand instead. Isn’t this field spell just the best?!”

While Twilight admired Pinkie’s sheer enjoyment of the duel so far, a testament to Pinkie’s ever upbeat and joyous nature across the dimensional limbo it seemed, she couldn’t exactly share in her friend’s counterpart’s enthusiasm. With the seemingly awful hand she’d been dealt, plus with having only Priestess to depend on so far, and should she be destroyed, Twilight did not like her chances against Pinkie in these circumstances. She realized that Snips, contrary to his usual ineptitude (another constant between the two worlds), was wise in sealing off much of Pinkie’s field presence during their duel in the gymnasium, given Pinkie’s reliance on Xyz monsters.

Good thing neither of Pinkie’s monsters are strong enough to attack or defend against Priestess’. And with a Spellbook in her graveyard, I’ll get rid of Madolche Chateau.

“Oh, and let’s sprinkle in a bit of extra; continuous spell ‘Field Barrier’,” Pinkie slid a card into her disk, the image of said card arising to her field. “With this baby up, neither of us can play field spells, and any field spells up can’t be destroyed.” She narrowed her eyes, “You were thinking of it. Weren’t you…?” In an instant, she was back to chipper, “I end my turn!”

(Hand: 2)

-

Fluttershy, still holding onto the megaphone, looked around nervously, uncertain whether to say something or not, given Pinkie’s vagueness on the request. Raising the device close to her mouth, her eyes darted back and forth, but nothing particularly profound came to mind.

“Um… Yay,” she muttered, her voice barely audible even with the sound amplification.

-

Turn 4: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 4)

Twilight drew her next card. So far, she had only one Spellbook in her graveyard. Her facedown was Spellbook of Fate with which she could potentially add a new Spellbook to her hand by banishing Spellbook of Power. Would it have been wise to destroy Pinkie’s Field Barrier that currently made her dangerous Madolche Chateau almost untouchable? The card she drew was Spellbook of Life. Useful if Priestess would be destroyed, while at the moment she could not revive Temperance to use her ability to summon another spellcaster like Reaper from her deck.

It felt like her deck was entirely out of synch from the last three duels now.

Twilight,” Priestess’ psionic echo reverberated in Twilight’s mind.

Twilight saw as Priestess’ on-field projection seemed to surreptitiously glance in her direction.

Twilight, what’s wrong? Your thoughts feel distraught.

I-I don’t know! My deck doesn’t seem to work anymore! It the last three duels I seemed to be making conducive draws.” Twilight looked over her hand. “It’s just like I was telling you earlier; my brother never had this much luck in the stuff he played. I guess expecting this lucky streak to last indefinitely for the whole day was a foolish notion…

Twilight,” Priestess’ mental voice rang in a much more sagely tone, almost reminding her of Celestia offering her wisdom during her many years as the alicorn princess’ pupil, “Remember; this isn’t just any game. As I was trying to tell you before the pink one’s interruption-

“Hey, you alright over there?” came Pinkie’s voice over the communicator, Priestess rolling her eyes in annoyance for the third interruption, from the same person.

Twilight looked over the field, seeing Pinkie Pie looking right at her, no longer smiling, but appearing very much concerned.

“O-oh! Yea! I’m fine, just strategizing!” Twilight said with as much conviction as a certain draconequus claiming to behave.

Pinkie narrowed her eyes, her lips puckering into a pout. She was not buying it at all.

“… No dice?” asked Twilight.

Pinkie shook her head, her puffy curls of hair bobbing along in her movement, “Nope.”

Figures. One thing she’d fallen for on numerous occasions since getting to know her version of Pinkie Pie was how amazingly perceptive, if not unconventionally wise she was, in contrast to her bouncy, sometimes sporadic surface impression.

“I mean what’s there to be all frowny about? You’re among friends, we’re having loads of fun and even the audience is having a blast!” said Pinkie with a joyous bounce.

“I’m not really certain if I should be saying this, given that it’s in the middle of a match, but…” Twilight tried coming up with a roundabout form of phrasing. “It feels as though I’ve just lost my… How should I put it?”

“Pep?” Pinkie offered.

“Mmm, not exactly, perhaps more like-”

“Your oomph?”

Twilight’s mouth lined, “What would that even-?”

“Oooh! Your ‘duelthusiasm’!” Pinkie exclaimed with a smile.

“My what?” Twilight asked incredulously. But, given this was a Pinkie Pie she was talking to, she suspected an enlightening explanation was coming, in Pinkie’s own unique way.

“Your ‘duelthusiasm’, silly,” said Pinkie. “You’ve been dueling super hard today and you prolly have yesterday’s embarrassing defeat tattooed on your retinas!” she emphasized by pulling her eyes almost unnaturally wide with her index and middle fingers of each hand.

Twilight squirmed at the display, “That’s… one way to put it, I suppose.”

“So now you’re just really, really worried that the moment you lose you’re going to be shunned, and I mean shuunnned-uh…” said Pinkie, putting much emphasis on the N. “So you feel like nothing, absolutely nothing, seems to be going in no way, no how, how you’d hoped and it’s making you feel bad.”

That… Was surprisingly spot on! Twilight looked at Pinkie with the grade of surprise she’d not believed possible, not until her discovery of the further anomalous phenomena relating to Pinkie Pie, dubbed the Pinkie Sense. “How did you know?”

Pinkie turned so that her side was facing Twilight, “Trembling coccyx,” she stated, leaning forward and holding one arm behind her to point at the area surrounding her rear.

“Trembling… coccyx?” Twilight wondered. Wait, humans have tailbones?

“Uh-uh. When that happens, it means someone’s losing or lost their duelthusiasm. But don’t worry, Twilight, let your pal Pinkie give you a little boost!” said Pinkie, pointing at herself, smiling sweetly. “Question: Ya know why I duel?”

“But… shouldn’t we-? The crowd-”

Pinkie held up an open palm, “They’ll hold. Now: Ya know why I duel?”

Twilight glanced between the audience and Pinkie. Vinyl’s music continued to blare through the small speaker set up around the sunglasses donning DJ, the crowd looking not that displeased, but she could spot some of the students chattering amongst each other, the music blocking it out, no doubt as per Pinkie’s design.

“… Why do you duel?” Twilight asked, deciding to relent.

Pinkie spread out her arms in an open gesture, “To have fun, of course.” She then gestures towards the crowd, “And to make others happy while doing it.”

Twilight raised a brow at the notion. Dueling, for all the influence it seemed to hold over both the students of the school, even a sizable portion of the world’s population, from what she’d gleamed from the rulebook she’d read through the Internet, seemed much akin to any form of competition. Like the pegasi flight competitions to weed out the best fliers, or polo, or even something non-physical, like chess. Twilight wasn’t the most endeared to competition, she’d never seen the honest point to most of them. Mostly just two or more ponies trying to outdo each other for validation, added with overeager fans, the odd case of spectator hooliganism (the Haysel Polo Disaster still fresh in many ponies’ minds).

“Make others happy?” Twilight inquired.

“Yuppers!” Pinkie bounced. “I don’t wanna duel just to show I’m better than someone else or some other horse… shitake,” she hesitated for a moment. “I want everyone to have a good time, feel the excitement of a super tense moment, and make funny remarks while at it!”

“So you want to duel specifically for the act of entertainment?”

“Duh. That’s basically what I do all the time. Me and Maud. She’s a stand-up comedian, don’t cha know?” Pinkie nudged her head towards her sister seated by Flash sentry, who seemed to recognize Pinkie’s gesture and waved ever slightly. “I help plan and throw parties, bring people together, just forget about their worries and woes and just smile and have fun. Not like Sunset Shimmer who just made everything so (Eff!)cking serious all the time!”

Twilight looked about when that strange sound once again occurred mid-word.

“That’s how I roll. I don’t care what people might think whether I win or lose. I’m gonna keep on doing what I do, and that’s enough to keep up my duelthusiasm.”

The pink one speaks wisdom, no doubt,” came Priestess’ mental voice once more.

Priestess?” Twilight’s mind focused on the mental link between her and the spirit, all the while feigning a look of contemplation.

Her sole purpose for dueling and life is the guaranteed happiness of others. That’s what keeps her passion and will in dueling sustained,” she surreptitiously glanced at Twilight through her projection on the field. “Twilight, this is what I was trying to tell you earlier.

I… I don’t understand, what does any of this have to do with the end to my good fortune streak?

Luck is only a part of dueling. If you have no will to keep going, you can’t overcome adversity anywhere. Remember, those are not mere cards you wield in your hands.

Right, that these cards contain our will and gradually reflect upon the user’s soul, so then…” Twilight fell silent.

The reason why she duels… The reason why they duel? So then, what am I dueling for?

-

“A former student of mine. She began her studies with me, not long before Twilight. But when she could not get what she desired, she turned down a path of darkness.”

“Twilight, you must go to this other world and retrieve your crown: Without it the other Elements of Harmony are powerless and Equestria is left without one of its most vital defenses.”

“It was all fine and good when Applejack and Rainbow Dash dueled for fun. It’s been this way ever since they were freshmen. Now all they do is fight… But before we came to CHS, something just happened and now everyone’s distant or hates each other.”

“Of course, in the wrong hands, someone could very much evoke the very powers of the Game of Darkness once again… My former charge, Sunset Shimmer, poses such a danger to this world…”

“Well… It has been kind of lonely. Applejack won’t talk to me because of Rainbow Dash, and anytime they meet up it becomes a fight, and Pinkie abruptly stopped talking to me…”

“But then… How come she stood me up that Valentine’s Day? I waited for her… I tried calling her, e-mails, tried talking to her! But she just… She wouldn’t even address me. And then she started coming between our sisters, the fights with Rainbow Dash… This isn’t true! Applejack; whoever sent you this; they’re lying!”

“Just because I’m chipper and bombastic, something I’m totally aware of despite what some people may think, and yea I might have blown up a thing or two, but it doesn’t mean I’m dumb!”

“Ah’m sorry… Ah’m so sorry…”

“Well duh. It’s not like we just weren’t forced to co-operate together in a high-stakes card game with all my hard work on the line… You forgive me for being a rotten silly-billy?”

“Of course, I forgive you… I trust Twilight,”

“She did help us. And she’d just met us. Much as I would want retribution on Sunset my own way but… Maybe we should help her make it in return.”

“If Rarity thinks so, then… maybe ya can work another miracle.”

“Sorry it had to be this way… Princess.”

“But I feel it only right that I remedy this dilemma at CHS. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like spending my time there dealing with animosity, and I doubt neither do you.”

“I want to help.”

-

“I want to help…” Twilight muttered. Looking at her hand again; it may not have been the most ideal at the moment, but then again, not one of her duels had depended entirely on perfect planning. “I activate the spell card, ‘Diffusion Wave-Motion’.”

“Ooooh, ‘Diffusion Wave-Motion’,” Pinkie parroted. “… What’s that do?”

Twilight Sparkle Lifepoints: 4000 – 1000 = 3000

“By paying a thousand life points, a level seven or above spellcaster-type monster on my side of the field must attack all monsters my opponent controls. In addition, these monsters cannot activate their effects and any active effects are negated.” Twilight pointed a finger towards Pinkie’s side of the field, “I enter the battle phase!”

Priestess (ATK: 2500) levitated her tome above herself, to which its endless pages fluttered in a rapid flurry until abruptly stopping upon a nondescript spread, when two white, perfectly circular waves of energy shot out, spreading out in a diagonal angle one at a time. The waves would spread out until they phased through Pinkie’s Mewfuille (DEF: 800) and Butlerusk (DEF: 1300). The two of them combusted after a moment’s delay.

Pinkie may not have taken damage, but in the very least she doesn’t have anything to use as overlays. And due to Diffusion Wave-Motion’s effect, they can’t return to Pinkie’s hand or deck to be reused. And with Field Barrier, Pinkie can’t simply replace the current copy of it.

Twilight caught Priestess glance towards her, as she snatched back her descending tome, giving an approving smirk with tug at the front of her hat.

“I end my turn,” Twilight declared, any reluctance vanished from her voice.

(Hand: 4)

Turn 5: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 2)

“Oh, poopie,” Pinkie said as she drew her next card. “But I guess that’s one way of diffusing the tension!” She shrugged, “Eh? … Ehh?”

“Yay,” Fluttershy’s voice carried over by the megaphone.

“Ohhh, stop…” Pinkie chortled. “Though now my two pals are stuck in the graveyard… Hmm, what to do… what to do…?” she looked over her hand, when a resonant ‘ding’ sounded from nowhere. “Pfft! Well duh; I summon ‘Madolche Magileine’ in defense mode.”

A human doll came flying onto the field from nowhere sitting atop a fork, the back of which seemed to hold a huge puff of fluffy whipped cream studded with and assortment of berries, peach slices and pecans. Swinging off the fork and into a kneeling position, the doll was of a female human with carmine hair, dressed in a dark purple frilly dress accented with a drooping, wide-brimmed hat. (Level 4, 1400/1200 -> 1900/1700)

“When this delightful darer is summoned, I can add a ‘Madolche’ monster from my deck to my hand,” a card slid out of her deck, “I picked ‘Hootcake’. And then I place two cards facedown. Ending my turn.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 6: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 4)

“Right, here we go!” Twilight drew her card. “I activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’. By discarding a ‘Spellbook’,” Twilight sent the redundant Spellbook of Life to the graveyard, “I draw twice.”

As Twilight drew her two new cards, a sense of relief came over her seeing familiar parts of her arsenal make their way up into her hand.

So that’s what Priestess… and Pinkie were on about… “I summon Justice of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The near black dressed female sorceress with her scepter and dagger emerged onto the field, talismans wafting in a non-existent breeze. (Level 3, 1600/800).

“Now I’ll use Priestess’ effect; I banish Spellbook of Knowledge to destroy your Magileine.”

“Sokkō Mahō hatsudō!” Pinkie exclaimed in that eastern language. “‘Waga Mi o Tate ni’…” Pinkie cleared her throat, “I mean ‘My Body as a Shield’!”

“Nani?!” came Fluttershy’s megaphoned voice, “… Sorry.”

Pinkie simply presented the upward held thumb gesture at Fluttershy, “Anyhoo, ‘My Body as a Shield’, by paying 1500 life points, I can negate the destruction of a monster by an opponent’s card effect and destroy that card. I’ll save you, Mageleine!” Pinkie cried as she leapt forward, letting out a distended “Noooo…” as she deliberately deepened her voice

As Priestess finished her chant and hand gestures, it was Pinkie who this time was hit by the green flames, though it did nothing to actually harm her, given their state as projections. A slight sizzle escaped the front tuft of Pinkie’s hair.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 4000 – 1500 = 2500

“Hunh…” Pinkie uttered. “Not as dramatic as I’d hoped…”

At that moment Priestess was overcome by her own emerald flames and burned to nothing in an instant. With only Justice on her field, Twilight would not be able to hold off against Pinkie’s Magileine. Fortunately, she had an impromptu back-up plan on hand.

“At the end of my turn; since I played a ‘Spellbook’, I can banish Justice to special summon a level five or above light or dark spellcaster from my hand or deck.” She slapped a card from her hand onto her tray, “I summon ‘Wheel or Prophecy’ in attack mode!”

In farewell, Justice used her spiky dagger similarly to Reaper, in which she tore a hole into the air itself, only to vanish into said hole herself. From within emerged a monster she had yet to reveal, much like last time with Destroyer. A towering, muscular male humanoid emerged, with the head, fur and flowing mane of a male lion, garbed in heavyset black and silver faulds and a harness bearing the Prophecy crest, along with a matching circlet on his head. A guttural roar escaped from his jaws, holding aloft his left arm towards the heavens. A massive disk came hurtling from the sky and embedded itself into the ground. As tall as the being who’d seemed to have summoned it, its rims divided into four sides by rounded gaps, the surface emblazoned with a half serpentine, half humanoid demon, and a canine reminiscent of a jackal, with the Prophecy crest at the center of it all with a blue grounded gemstone. The feline creature slipped its left arm into a strap bolted to the disk’s inner surface and brandished it as a shield. (Level 8, 2700/1700)

“In addition, Justice allows me to add one ‘Spellbook’ into my hand from my deck,” a card ejected from Twilight’s deck, revealed as a second Spellbook of Power. “When Wheel of Prophecy is summoned by the effect of a spellcaster-type monster, he lets me return any number of banished Spellbooks back into my graveyard. I return Spellbook of Secrets and Spellbook of Knowledge to my graveyard.”

(Hand: 6)

Turn 7: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 1)

“Wohoo!” Pinkie cried out. “You got back your duelthusiasm!” she cheered as she drew her next card. “When that happens, my duelthusiasm just goes up!” She slapped a card into her disk. “I summon ‘Madolche Hoot-cake’ in attack mode!”

Onto the field emerged on flapping wings a large brown owl plush toy garbed in a predominately blue smart outfit with a red tie and blue shoes, oddly enough. Atop its small beak was a pair of tiny spectacles and on its head was a slightly slanted hotcake, akin to a hat. (Level 3, 1500/1100 -> 2000/1600)

“Hootcake lets me banish one monster from my graveyard in order to special summon one ‘Madolche’ monster from my deck,” a card slid out of her graveyard. “Sorry, Butlerusk…” she said as she slid the card into her banished slot. “I think I’ll take… Ooh! ‘Madolche Messengelato’!”

A monster Twilight recognized from earlier as the gelato themed messenger or mailman emerged onto the field, casually adjusting his cap before swiftly holding out his hand, to which three envelopes sprung up out of nowhere between his index, middle, nameless and pinkie fingers. (Level 4, 1600/1000 -> 2100/1500)

“When Messengelato is special summoned while I control a beastie Madolche, like Hootcake,” to which Hootcake proceeded to produce a letter from under its wing and tossing it to Messengelato, “this dutifully diligent dispatcher adds a ‘Madolche’ spell or trap into my hand!”

Messengelato tossed the letter back towards Pinkie, which vanished before reaching her, to which a card slid out of her deck.

“Hooray! I got ‘Madolche Ticket’, which I’ll also activate!” the continuous spell’s image appeared onto the field beside Field Barrier. “Now there’s nothing else to do but chaaarge!”

Twilight raised a brow as Wheel of Prophecy held forth his shield in her defense. But Pinkie’s monsters don’t have enough attack points, even with Chateau’s effect-

“And ‘boop!’ Trap card, activate: ‘Madolche Lesson’!” Pinkie said with a flourish as her remaining facedown revealed itself.

“What does…?” Twilight had to catch herself from asking, no doubt anticipating the impending explanation which everyone seemed to painstakingly narrate for every card.

“Madolche Lesson lets me shuffle one Madolche monster from my graveyard back into my deck,” to which Pinkie’s only remaining monster in the graveyard, Mewfuille was returned and shuffled, “To which all my Madolche’s on-hand gain 800 additional attack and defense!”

Messengelato (ATK: 2100 -> 2900), with an ominous glint in his eye, threw a triad of envelopes that flew in a swerve like miniature buzzsaws towards Wheel of Prophecy (ATK: 2700).

“Facedown activate,” Twilight rebutted, “Quick-Play spell; ‘Spellbook of Fate’. By banishing two Spellbooks from my graveyard,” Secrets and Power, “I force Messengelato to facedown defense mode!”

Before the envelopes made contact, they vanished, whilst Messengelato’s form seemed to ripple like disturbed water, immediately replaced by a facedown card.

“Oh…” Pinkie pouted. “Oh well. Hootcake…” her eyes narrowed, “finish what he started…”

Hootcake (ATK: 2800) flapped his wings before letting loose a forceful, low-pitched hoot, which sent rings of sound towards Wheel of Prophecy (ATK: 2700). As the rings pelted against his great shield, the humanoid lion began to waver, before outright collapsing, his form erupting into tiny fragments.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 3000 – 100 = 2900

“Magileine, attack Twilight directly! (I still like you!)” she declared with a dramatic point.

The fork-flying (any implications or references to me made Twilight was drawing a blank upon) doll flew low in an arc around the field (ATK: 2700). As she was just about upon Twilight, she produced what looked to be a Prench madeleine from out of nowhere and tossed it at Twilight in a veritable strafing run. The cake exploded with a thick puff of smoke as it hit Twilight’s unveiling forcefield, her left arm jerking from the duel disk feedback.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 2900 – 2700 = 200

I can see how Pinkie was last year’s runner up now…

“And that ends my turn!” Pinkie proclaimed behind her misleadingly charming looking monsters now rendered capable of outdoing even Twilight’s strongest monsters by sheer power alone.

(Hand: 1)

“Goodness, how is Twilight Sparkle going to get out of this one?” Fluttershy asked the crowd, her focus on the duel overpowering her inherent reluctance to be the focus of attention.

A very valid question if I do say so myself… Twilight thought as she prepared for her draw.

Twilight,” Priestess’ voice once again echoed in her mind, “Do not give into your doubts!

Twilight saw as Priestess’ astral form appeared beside her, eyes staring intently with concern over her. Twilight glanced at the spirit. Though her heart was hammering under her sternum, proving just how intense this simple game was in tension alone, Twilight refused to show an iota of weakness.

I’m here to help,” she declared with conviction inside her mind. “I understand now what you and Pinkie meant. Dueling is not about luck, not entirely…

Turn 8: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 6)

Twilight, mirroring Pinkie’s, though with more restraint closer akin to Rarity, extravagance as she drew her next card.

“I summon ‘Amores of Prophecy’, in defense mode,” the blue clad, blindfolded arcane archer emerged onto the field, kneeling down with his stringless bow gripped in one hand. (Level 3, 600/2000)

“With Amores, by revealing a ‘Spellbook’ from my hand,” Twilight pressed Spellbook of Power against her duel disk’s scanner to confirm it, “I can special summon a level four or below Spellcaster from my hand. I summon ‘Fool of Prophecy’ in attack mode,” Twilight slapped the card onto her tray, unleashing the yellow-garbed, spellcaster with the twig in his mouth. (Level 4, 1600/900).

“With Fool on the field, once per turn, I can send one ‘Spellbook’ card from my deck to the graveyard…” Spellbook of Life was fed into the slot. “Then I activate my ‘Spellbook of Power’, increasing Fool’s attack by a thousand.” Fool slung his golden scepter off his shoulder as the fiery orange tome materialized before him. Holding the weapon forth, the power within the Spellbook arced its way into the scepter, coalescing into the fiery orb at its very tip.

She then indicated Pinkie’s side of the field, “To battle; I attack Messengelato with Fool!”

With a lazy grin, Fool swung forth his scepter, sending the crackling orb careening straight towards the facedown Messengelato (DEF: 1500), exploding violently on impact.

“Since Messengelato was destroyed, I use its effect to return him to my hand thanks to Madolche Chateau.” Pinkie’s Madolche Ticket image then proceeded to glow. “And with Ticket’s effect I can add a ‘Madolche’ monster to my hand. And guess who~?” she said with a flutter of her brows as she revealed Pettingcessoeur.

“Due to Spellbook of Power’s effect, I add a 'Spellbook' card for destroying a monster,” Twilight declared, taking her chosen card. Perfect! “I end my battle phase. I then activate ‘Spellbook of the Master’: By revealing another Spellbook from my hand,” Spellbook of Wisdom, “I can choose one normal Spellbook spell card in my graveyard and give Spellbook of Master its effect: I choose Spellbook of Knowledge. To which I discard Spellbook of Wisdom to draw two cards.”

Twilight looked over her slightly diminished hand. She took one card from among them and slid it into her disk. “I set one card facedown, and end my turn. At this point I activate the effect of Fool. Since I’ve used his effect this turn, if I have at least five Spellbooks in my graveyard during my end phase, I can sacrifice him to special summon a level five or higher spellcaster from my deck. I have exactly five, to which I will summon Reaper of Prophecy!”

Spitting his twig out, Fool bid farewell with lax gesture as his form vanished from the field, leaving behind a shimmering ring of light where he once stood. This light promptly darkened into a pillar of blackness, from which a great scythe slashed through, unveiling the darkly dressed macabre sorcerer kneeling. The blade of the scythe glowed a cold blue, whilst a single red eye stared from underneath their hood. (Level 6, 2000/1600)

“Reaper’s effects are determined by the number of spellcards in my graveyard: With three, his attack is increased by 600 (ATK: 2600). With four I can add one ‘Spellbook’ from my deck to my hand,” she was ejected Spellbook of Eternity from her deck, “And with five, he special summons a level five or above spellcaster from my deck. I unleash ‘Prophecy Destroyer’!”

As in the previous duel, Reaper sunk his scythe into the very air itself, tearing a dark, swirling rift into the fabric of reality. With a monstrous roar, the demonic Prophecy Destroyer tore itself onto the field from the rift and knelt down beside his smaller comrades, the blade of his flaming sword driven into the ground. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“With my defenses bolstered, I end my turn,” Twilight declared, her focus causing her to overlook the sudden gust that seemed to pick up behind her.

(Hand: 4)

-

Rarity had to rub her eyes when she thought they were playing tricks on her mind. Following a series of deliberate winking, she eyed Twilight at her end of the soccer field intently.

“Somethin’ wrong, darlin’?” asked Applejack from beside her, no doubt roused from feeling her body shifting whilst having the farmgirl’s strong arm around her shoulder.

“Oh, no. It’s nothing. I just had something in my eye,” she assured her girlfriend. That had to be it. Because I thought I saw… I almost thought as if there were wings on Twilight’s back just now…

-
Turn 9: Pinkie Pie (Hand: 3)

“Oooh, this is so exciting~!” she exclaimed as she drew her next card. “Intense! Heart-pounding! Fun!” She looked over the new card, before sliding it into her disk, “I set this puppy facedown. Then, since I’ve no monsters in the graveyard, I special summon ‘Madolche Petingcessoeur’ from my hand!”

The little girl doll finally returned onto the field, pirouetting joyfully before bowing. (Level 4, 1400/1400 -> 1900/1900)

“And with her on the field, let’s bring on back her big sis,” Pinkie began as a card was ejected from her deck, “Come on back, ‘Madolche Puddingcess’!”

Puddingcess remerged to the field beside her, alleged, sibling, doing a courteous curtsey towards Twilight before assuming a neutral stance with her hands held together over her lap. (Level 5 -> 4, 1000/1000 -> 1500/1500 -> 2300/2300)

Right, with Madolche Chateau out, Puddingcess’ gains a total of 1300 extra attack and defense when Pinkie’s graveyard is empty.

“Hmm…” Pinkie hummed in contemplation, going through her duel disk’s screen. “What to do, what to do…”

Twilight watched how Pinkie reached into her hair, digging around for something for a good moment before producing something small and green from her hair. Twilight peered through squinted eyelids, recognizing the distinct, slender green shape. She almost believed she recognized it as Gummy, the alligator sometimes living in her Pinkie Pie’s mane, but this one looked slightly bigger and, somehow, even less animate, which would have been a miracle in and of itself given how stationary she’d perceived the baby gator on most occasions.

“What do you think, Gummy?” she could faintly hear Pinkie over the duel disk communicator. “Yea, I guess that’s a good point… Well I’m not exactly Rarity, I- Shh! Quiet, Gummy, not so loud!”

Twilight grimaced ever delicately, looking between Pinkie and the crowd. After a curt gesture of begging for some form of explanation, any responses she got were the odd blink, or even a few shrugs from among the students.

“Okay then, if you think she won’t see that coming. You wily little gator, you,” Pinkie chortled in an endearing manner before inserting ‘Gummy’ back in her hair. “I believe that it’s time… to Overlay!” she declared with much flourish as Pettingcessoeur and Puddingcess’ forms once more changed into surges of light that coalesced together, forming the swirling nebula.

“Patrons of sweet happiness, combine your power and roll out the welcoming for the queen of the land of delights.”

“Xyz Summon! Her majesty: Rank 4, ‘Madolche Queen Tiaramisu’!”

The platinum blonde, white gold wearing Madolche queen in her frilled coffee brown royal dress arose from the nebula. She held aloft her pink, gold tipped scepter in triumph, as though beckoning her overlay units to arise from beneath her as they began to revolve around her form. (Rank 4, 2200/2100 -> 2700/2600)

“After a moment of deliberation with my consultant, the right and honorable Gummy,” at that point Gummy, whom may or may not have actually been a gator plush toy, poked out of Pinkie’s fluff, “I came to the conclusion that I shall remove an overlay unit…”

Tiaramisu held aloft her scepter, one of her overlay units careening out of its path and melding into the ornament.

“So I’ll then shuffle the removed Pettingcessoeur, and Madolche Lesson from my graveyard, to my deck. Of course, with Chateau, Pettingcessoeur returns to my hand, and Ticket lets me take another ‘Madolche’ to my hand…” a card ejected from her deck, revealing it as some form of horseback riding human doll. “So I’ll return your Destroyer and Amores to your hand.”

Pointing her scepter at Twilight’s monsters, Prophecy Destroyer roared in protest as it and Amores were bathed in golden light before vanishing from the field, prompting Twilight to gather their cards from her disk into her hand.

“Next, I summon ‘Madolche Chouxvalier’ in attack mode.”

A new Madolche emerged onto the field, this a male human doll in a frilled black uniform with a matching bicorne hat mounted atop a teal plush pony, or horse with a bright green mane and tail (a notion Twilight would normally have felt offended about, but she digressed). In his right hand the doll wielded a striped red and white saber, clearly meant to be a candy cane, with a basket guard made of whipped cream. (Level 4, 1700/1300 -> 2200/1800)

Pinkie, in a repeat from earlier in the gymnasium, swiped her thumb over her cheeks, leaving behind dark red lines, “Karera ni kēki o tabe saseru…” she said with narrowed eyes, sucking the excess cherry syrup off her thumb. “Batoru! Madolche Chouxvalier no kōgeki!”

It didn’t take much guessing from Twilight’s part what Pinkie meant in the latter as Chouxvalier (ATK: 2200) held fort his candy cane sword. His mount reared up with a neigh before charging towards the kneeling Reaper (DEF: 1600).

“Trap card activate!” Twilight declared. “'Negate Attack'!”

A green transparent barrier, arose in front of Reaper, just as Chouxvalier swung his saber in a strafing run, impacting the barrier instead of the grim sorcerer.

“Negate Attack stops your attack and forces you to end your battle phase."

“Ohhh… Gummy, I think we may have made an oopsie…” remarked Pinkie, after which she nudged Gummy with a finger to simulate him nodding with her. “I guess I end my turn then,” she ended with a shrug, her mouth in a perfect line.

(Hand: 3)

Turn 10: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 6)

Twilight drew her next card. It’s now or never.

“I activate ‘Magical Stone Excavation;’ by discarding two cards, I can add one spell card from my graveyard to my hand.” She looked over the card she was given.

A familiar flaming sword suddenly embedded itself into the ground, forming an intricate pattern of flames onto the field, before erupting the ground itself in a burst of flames. A pair of thorny wings unfurled amidst the erupting debris, Prophecy Destroyed snatching his flaming sword from the air. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“By banishing three Spellbooks, I can special summon Prophecy Destroyer from the graveyard,” Twilight elaborated with a wry smile.

“Ooh, I get it; you sent him to the graveyard with Excavation!” Pinkie added, bobbing up on her toes in excitement.

“Correct, Pinkie. And since I now have what I need banished, I activate ‘Spellbook of Eternity’ to add ‘Spellbook of Life’ to my hand, which I’ll then activate to summon ‘Strength of Prophecy’ from my graveyard,” she declared, revealing Spellbook of Miracles from her hand for the cost, whilst ‘Temperance of Prophecy’ was slid out of her graveyard for the additional cost.

As the violet tome twirled onto the field and opened its pages, the red-haired, crimson armored axe-wielding magical warrior emerged from the calming glow, brandishing her lion-headed axe. The Spellbook of Life hovered levelly as few feet above her head. (Level 4 -> 7, 1500/1400)

“With Strength of Prophecy, by shuffling a ‘Spellbook’ from my graveyard into my deck,” Spellbook of Eternity promptly found itself being recycled into her deck, “I can increase the level of one spellcaster-type monster by one, and increase its attack points by 500.”

Strength held forth a palm, a red aura forming around Reaper of Prophecy. (Level 6 -> 7, 2600/1600 -> 3100/1600)

“With my field set, I Overlay my level seven Reaper and level seven Strength!”

Twilights spellcasters spiraled into red lights that coalesced into one another, forming once again the summoning nebula.

“Power of the cosmos and fate intertwined, the arcane wisdom and force of the universe; bring the patron of the heritage of wisdom and learning to stand by my side.”

“Xyz Summon! I beseech you, keeper of knowledge: Rank 7, ‘Hierophant of Prophecy’!”

Emerging from the nebula came a whole new spellcaster. A tall, slender male, garbed in a most intricate robe of black and purple, with extensive gold filigree and linings. Atop his jet-black haired head sat a five-pronged golden crown, while in his hand he wielded a sleek golden staff emblazoned with the crest of the Prophecies, complete with one of the white cloth talismans hanging off it, along with the four adorned on his robes. Two red orbs of light revolved around him. (Rank 7, 2800/2600)

The crowd erupted into an uproarious applause at the display. This brought waves of grateful confidence to wash through Twilight.

“And now; with Hierophant’s effect; by removing one overlay unit,” One of the overlay unit orbs swerved to embed itself into Hierophant’s staff, “I can destroy as many spells and trap cards on my opponent’s field as there are Spellbooks in my graveyard.” She tapped her duel disk in emphasis, “I currently have exactly three, so I destroy the three cards not counting Chateau on your field!”

Hierophant swung forth his scepter. Above him three holes of darkness opened into the sky, from which a flurry of arcane bolts pelted Pinkie’s field, destroying Field Barrier, Madolche Ticket and her facedown, revealed as Madolche Waltz. Twilight felt relief in her stomach, for had she attacked, Waltz would have inflicted 300 points of damage, which would have cost her the match.

-

“That’s all well and good,” remarked Applejack. “But as long as Pinkie has the Chateau up, she’s still got ‘em powered up Madolches.”

“Not to mention Madolche Chouxvalier makes Twilight unable to attack anything else except him,” Rarity concurred.”

-

“I’m not done yet,” Twilight stated. “I have yet to normal summon this turn, so I’ll tribute Hierophant of Prophecy to summon ‘Emperor of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

Making his latest appearance since the duel with Rarity, Emperor in his violet, gold and silver inlaid outfit and silver and gold domed crown took the place of Hierophant, whose form vanished of a burst of light. Brandishing his six-pronged scepter, Emperor swept the remaining embers away. (Level 5, 2300/2000)

-

Applejack stared at Twilight’s display in befuddlement, “Did… did she just sacrifice him… for that?!

-

“Now, my next card; ‘Spellbook of Miracles’.”

A white Spellbook emerged onto the field. Opening on its own power, it burst into a series of revolving orbs of light in every color of the rainbow.

“Spellbook of Miracles can only activate if I have a Spellcaster-type Xyz monsters in my graveyard and at least two banished Spellbooks. I can special summon that monster, and attach two of those Spellbooks as overlay units! Return to us; Hierophant of Prophecy!”

The orbs of colors coalesced into each other, forming into a radiant white flare. In a burst of light, Hierophant of Prophecy stood back on the field, revived, with two green spheres revolving around his being. (Rank 7, 2800/2600)

-

“Holy crap!” exclaimed Sweetie Belle, clearly not caring if her sister disapproved of such crass language. “She’s still going! She’s still actually going!”

-

“Since Hierophant has been re-summoned, I can activate his effect a second time. By detaching an overlay unit, I destroy your Madolche Chateau.”

As another sphere embedded into Hierophants’ staff. Another, much larger dark void tore into the sky, the entire field being pelted with arcane bolts. In a loud display of flashing flares and explosions, Madolche Chateau was obliterated, leaving behind only the soccer field.

“Such sweet sorrow…” Pinkie remarked with a quivering lip as she was forced to slide her cherished field spell into the graveyard slot.

“This means all Madolches lose Chateau’s attack and defense boost,” Twilight added.

(Madolche Magileine: 2700/2500 -> 2200/2000 (due to Madolche Lesson))
(Madolche Hootcake: 2800/2400 -> 2300/1900 (due to Madolche Lesson))
(Madolche Chouxvalier: 2200/1800 -> 1700/1300)
(Madolche Queen Tiaramisu: 2700/2600 -> 2200/2100)

“And now, my final card, courtesy of Magical Stone excavation; ‘Spellbook of Power’!” Twilight thrust her final spell card in her hand into her disk.

The fiery tome appeared before Hierophant, holding forth his free hand, the power surging into his gnarled fingers to contain the raw energy, coalescing into the familiar fiery orb held aloft over his palm. (ATK: 2800 -> 3800)

“Hierophant of Prophecy attacks!”

“Oh, just a bee-tee-dubs,” Pinkie interjected, “Since I have Chouxvalier; you kinda-sorta have to attack him.”

Twilight only smiled, “He was my intended target from the get-go.”

Hierophant (ATK: 3800) threw the crackling orb at Chouxvalier (ATK: 1700), resulting in a resonant explosion that decimated the doll soldier.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 2500 – 2100 = 400

Redundant as it was, Twilight added a card the her hand as per Spellbook of Power’s effect. “Prophecy Destroyer then attacks Madolche Magileine.”

Spreading his thorny wings, Destroyer’s (ATK: 2500) sword flared further until the flames had entirely engulfed the blade. With a fearsome roar, the demonic knight swung forth the fiery blade, sending a wave of flames hurling towards Magileine (ATK: 2200). The doll atop her flying fork met with a same, explosive end as Chouxvalier.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 400 – 300 = 100

“And lastly, Emperor of Prophecy attacks Tiaramisu.”

Emperor (ATK: 2300) held aloft his scepter, forming a sphere of energy that he then proceeded to launch at Tiaramisu (2200). In another explosive display, Tiaramisu was obliterated, along with the exact number of Pinkie’s life points.

Pinkie Pie Life Points: 100 – 100 = 0

Twilight Sparkle Victory!

Duel #12: Hornless Devil: Sunset Shimmer

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Twilight let out the most relieved sigh yet. If she could rate all the moments in her life where she would feel so relieved, undoubtedly this would rank somewhere between the end of the Canterlot Changeling invasion, and when she unraveled Star Swirl’s own machinations pertaining to fate itself. But she’d pulled it off. A duelist for only two days, and she’d already defeated Canterlot High’s top brass-

A sudden tightness found itself around Twilight’s ribs, all the while feeling something smoosh against her chest. She didn’t quite know how begin to describe it, but it felt strangely nice, but she could not fathom why.

“Woo! You did it!” Pinkie screamed in the most contradictory joy Twilight thought someone who’d just lost could exhibit, as she embraced Twilight with the force of a human vice. “You did it! You-did-it-you-did-it-you-did-it, you did it!”

Twilight cringed from the new bout of tinnitus from Pinkie’s shrill voice so close to her ears, “I sure did…”

Pinkie released Twilight from being tightly embraced between her arms and chest obstructions, leading Twilight by the wrist towards the central ring of the soccer field and holding up Twilight’s left arm in admittance of her victory. This elicited the gathered students into a chorus of cheers and standing applause. Vinyl Scratch began to blare some form of congratulatory music Twilight believed she recognized as a rather new genre called ‘techno’, all the while the DJ bobbed her head in rhythm with some form of hand sign. Twilight watched as Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and the Cutie Mark Crusaders approached in a rush.

Fluttershy was more than happy to relinquish the megaphone back to Pinkie whilst Applejack gave a firm congratulatory pat on Twilight’s back, followed by a hug from Rarity.

“Congratulations, Twilight,” said Rarity upon pulling back from the hug, her hands grasping at Twilight’s shoulders. “You… actually pulled it off!”

Twilight chuckled, “I know, I’m just as amazed as you are, arguably.”

“And there you have it folks!” said Pinkie into the megaphone at the audience, gesturing towards Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, everybody! The girl out to change Canterlot High, the ignominious underdog aspiring for the coveted title of Duel Queen-” Pinkie grinned innocently at an indignant ‘Hey!’ from Twilight, “Who just whooped all the asses of four, count ‘em, four of CHS’ best! Now, we have a question for all of you! That’s right; you, in the audience. I’m talking you, and you, you, all of yous: What do ya say? Think Twilight Sparkle is the one to finally take down that awful, duplicitous, conniving-”

“Oh, just shut up already!”

Twilight, her friends, the audience, all on the soccer field had their attention diverted towards the edge, complete and utter silence befalling the schoolyard. Twilight’s eyes widened in worry come the realization who had so abruptly interrupted their little event.

Fiery red and golden yellow hair, striking to the point of terrifying orange eyes and golden yellow skin, a most recognizable black jacket contrasting her otherwise warmly colored outfit of purple, red and orange, complete with a black and orange trayed duel-disk, currently deactivated. Her eyes, even in the late afternoon sun, looked as if they were aglow in a baleful display of an indescribable hate.

Sunset Shimmer! Twilight spotted Priestess’ astral form appear beside her, the spirit looking upon her previous charge in what could only be sorrowful concern.

The students followed Sunset’s stride, a plethora of expressions dotting their faces. Some looked genuinely afraid of the bully and honorary Duel Queen’s approach. Others looked at her with resentment. Flash Sentry narrowed his eyes, standing up from his place on the bleachers, as if anticipating something. Twilight caught Sunset casting a disdainful glance at him, only to scoff at him. She approached Twilight and her gathered friends, each of them showing their own ire towards the fiery haired unicorn in the guise of a human girl, even Fluttershy. Even Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were glaring daggers at the taller, older girl, while Sweetie Belle looked most reluctant to be caught in Sunset’s gaze.

Sunset proceeded to walk around the group, looking at them as if observing them in an almost analytical fashion. Towards the half point of the circumference, her orange eyes were focused solely on Twilight, locking with her purple ones. No doubt she was trying to intimidate her, but Twilight needed not fall for it. She knew who this girl was, her secret, her crimes, and her actions at CHS. She stopped before Twilight and her friends, back facing the audience. She continued to observe the eight gathered, crossing her arms as she cast a visibly haughty gaze.

Sunset drew her arms from betwixt one another and began a slow, deliberate clap. She smiled wryly, focusing mainly on Twilight, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie and Fluttershy.

“Bravo,” she sneered in faux sincerity. “Bravo, indeed. That was quite the display, new girl.”

“Who in the hell invited you, Sunset?” Applejack inquired in honest, unabashed hostility.

“To be fair, it was an open invite…” Pinkie whispered from behind a palm.

Sunset shrugged in a dramatic fashion, her sneer lengthening to a smile, staring over her chin condescendingly, “What? I just came to see the new girl perform, just like everyone else. Oh…? Was I not supposed to?” She pouted in clear faux innocence.

“After all you’ve done, we much preferred it without you showing up,” spat Rarity.

“Why, Rarity,” Sunset gasped, “How uncourteous of you. Shouldn’t you be getting your girlfriend to do the posturing? Oh right, I forgot, you were the one cheating on her with Skittles…”

Rarity clenched her fist, looking just about ready to go at Sunset and sock her, but Applejack’s hand caressed her shoulder, stepping forth to stand at her side, “She most certainly can ask me of anythin’, for we found out about your little PhotoShop project.” She held Rarity close to herself, the couple joining together to size up Sunset.

“Oh?” Sunset raised a brow, “Took you this long to find out? I knew you were more than a little dense, Applejack, but two years? Sheesh, didn’t think you were that much of a hick.”

Applejack took a step forward. “Oh, Ah’m sorry, didn’t quite catch that. Why don’t ‘cha come a little closer?” she dared, doing a display of rubbing a fist against a palm, the bones of her hand cracking ominously. “Ah dare ya.”

Sunset’s eyes narrowed, but she seemed to prefer keeping her distance. She turned around facing the crowd, her arms gesturing a shrug towards the audience.

“Well how about that?” she asked seemingly everyone around her. “Four of the top students all taken down by some no-name new girl who couldn’t even last more than a couple of turns yesterday. I guess it goes to show you, that these four weren’t worth a lick of salt in facing your Duel Queen after all… Unless, of course, you weren’t even trying in the first place.” She looked over her shoulder, a single orange eye leering at the school’s cream of the crop.

Twilight could hear some of the students begin to murmur amongst themselves. She’s trying to turn the entire student body against us…

“That’s a load of horse crap!” Applejack rebutted. “A true duelist always, an’ Ah mean always does their damnedest! Or are ya just scared that Twilight here just might have your number?”

Sunset turned back to face Applejack, her sneer replaced by a venomous frown.

“How ‘bout it, Sunset?” Applejack asked daringly, patting her red and green duel disk. “Wanna throw down right here an’ now?”

Sunset chuckled, “Oh please. As if a bumpkin like you could beat me anymore than Miss Airhorn there could.” She glanced over at Pinkie Pie, “Did you know you have something on your face?”

Pinkie pouted, wiping the streaks of cherry syrup off her cheeks, licking it off, not once blinking or breaking eye contact.

“Like a child,” Sunset huffed.

“Don’t listen to her Pinkie,” said Fluttershy in defense. “If anyone’s missed your antics, I most certainly have. And we wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“I’m not,” Pinkie muttered. “Such a killjoy.”

“Ohh, and I see you and Flutters are all chummy again,” Sunset remarked. “What? Finally learn to read and write?”

“W-we’ll have you know, that… that that was a really small font,” Fluttershy rebutted, albeit not very effectively.

“Ooh, scathing,” Sunset chortled. “Have to say though, at least you finally got some spine. Should I go kick a puppy, see how that holds it up?”

“Alright, enough!” Twilight blurted, stepping up from behind her friends. Sunset’s spiteful glare seemed to intensify when Twilight stood before her in defiance. “I will not have you besmirch my friends, Sunset Shimmer. I don’t know what they’ve ever done to you, but what you did to them was inexcusable.” And what you’ve done to me.

“So, you honestly thought you could work your way up so fast to face me through this little spectacle that you and that saccharine airhorn set up?” Sunset asked goadingly. A laugh escaped her lips. “Well then…” she turned back to the audience. “Why not give our fellow students a real show?”

She’s challenging you,” Priestess’ voice echoed in Twilight’s mind.

I know,” Twilight concurred. “She’s trying to size me up and intimidate me. But perhaps this would be for the best. If I can defeat Sunset now, it’ll demoralize her. I just don’t know if I can defeat her with a deck that she herself built.

Remember what I said; she does not know you, Twilight. Your propensity for wisdom and patience are something Sunset does not have,” said Priestess in encouragement.

“Very well then,” Twilight pointed at Sunset, “Sunset Shimmer, I’ll accept your challenge. Much as I was hoping to duel you during the fall-term finals, I’ll gladly show the students your folly.”

Sunset did not hesitate, nor waver. Instead, a toothy smile formed on her lips.

“This should be interesting…”

Pinkie, in a complete contradiction to the tension, smiled eagerly, only for Sunset to come up to her and yank the megaphone from her hand. “I don’t think so. The last thing I need is your grating voice distracting me.” And with that, Sunset nonchalantly tossed the device over the bleachers.

Pinkie sputtered, “Told you she’s a buzzkill…”

Twilight assumed her previous position on the soccer field, with Sunset taking the opposite of that. This time her friends opted to stand with Twilight instead of occupying the places among the audience.

“Ya got this, Twi,” said Applejack, giving Twilight a pat on the shoulder. “You’ve shown how amazin’ you are, you sure as hell can beat ‘er.”

“We’ll be right behind you,” Fluttershy assured her.

“Yea, really (Eff!)ck her up, good!” Pinkie boasted, once again that strange sound accompanying her voice.

Twilight watched as Sunset’s duel disk’s fiery orange tray halves slid forth, combined and swung along her arm. Twilight’s dull grey disk soon followed.

I wasn’t expecting to face Sunset so soon. I just wonder, if she will invoke the Game of Darkness… I mean she wouldn’t, right? Not in front of the students, and given how we’re out in the open…

“Just so you know,” Sunset’s hushed voice came through her communicator, “I’m perfectly aware who you are, Princess Twilight Sparkle…”

Twilight suppressed a gasp just as the decks finished shuffling and the virtual coin flipped. It landed on the red tails, the start going to Sunset.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 4000

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Duel start!

“Duel!”

Turn 1: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 5)

“I’ll show you why I’m the Queen,” Sunset declared as her five hand cards were ejected. Fanning them out, she went over her selection. “I activate ‘Card Advance’,” she declared, sliding a card into her disk to reveal it as a normal spell card. “I look at the top five cards of my deck, and put them back in whatever order I want.” After a moment of rearranging, said cards were returned to the top of her deck. “I then summon ‘Vilepawn Archfiend’ in attack mode.”

Thinking back to what Applejack had said about Sunset’s monsters being ‘ugly sons of bitches’, she could certainly see the reasoning for such colorful term of phrase. Onto Sunset’s field emerged a skeletal looking humanoid with most of its body covered in brownish bone plates, save for patches of exposed sinew on the sides of its chest, its thighs and arms. A grimacing skull-like face with glowing red eyes glared at Twilight, swinging a dark blue sword with the blade very much affixed to its right arm, complete with an engorged, thick golden left forearm resembling a shield. (Level 2, 1200/200)

She wasted her normal summon on such a weak monster? What is she-?

“Card Advance allows me to tribute summon in addition to a normal summon the turn it is activated. So I now sacrifice Vilepawn Archfiend to tribute summon ‘Skull Archfiend of Lightning’ in attack mode.”

Vilepawn Archfiend vanished from the field in a flash. A bolt of lightning struck its place from the clear sky, bringing with it a hulking creature keeled over on the ground. It rose to its full height, standing at an intimidating ten feet, with a pair of purple, leathery wings fanning out from its back. Like Vilepawn, it had a somewhat skeletal body, with gaps between such places like between the ribs and the hip bone occupied by engorged muscle tissues and sinew. Its arms were a vicious pair of bulbous, clawed extremities whilst atop its distended, skeletal head jutted a pair or downward curving horns. It snarled fiercely, a jolt of electricity running through its body. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“Next, by discarding ‘Archfiend General’,” Sunset slid a card into her graveyard, “I can add the field spell ‘Pandemonium’ to my hand.” Sunset smiled darkly, “Prepare yourself to step into the very bowels of Hell, Twilight Sparkle.”

Sunset slid the card into her disk and tapped the screen. Twilight stepped back in trepidation when blood red, bony protrusions began to breach their way through the ground. Soon she found herself standing atop splayed-out sinew in a ring of bones leading to where the center of the soccer field would be, only instead the protrusions lead up into a teeth-ringed pool of what looked to be either lava, or possibly blood. Great bony spikes surrounded the field, curving inward to form a most infernal looking arena. For the first time in any duel, Twilight was outright disturbed. Though it was merely a simulation (at least she hoped), she could almost feel the air turn noxious.

“W-what is this?” Twilight found herself stuttering.

“Here in the Archfiends’ realm of Pandemonium, I do not require to pay the price for the service of my minions. And furthermore, should you destroy any ‘Archfiend’, Pandemonium adds another of a lower level to my hand. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 2: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

Twilight steeled herself, refusing to show fear before someone so unabashedly loathsome, “I draw.” Going over her hand, the figurative pieces to a mental puzzle fell into place. “I activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’,” Spellbook Organization found itself sliding into the graveyard, “By discarding a ‘Spellbook’ spell card, I draw twice.” A card most comforting in the current predicament unveiled itself. Twilight pressed three cards against her duel disk’s screen, their images unveiling themselves; Spellbooks of Miracles, the Master and Fate. “By revealing three ‘Spellbooks’ from my hand, I special summon the avatar of the mystic arts; ‘High Priestess of Prophecy’ in attack mode!”

In a flurry of emerald pages, Priestess emerged onto the field, said pages gathering into the emptied cover of her emerald tome, which snapped shut upon every slip making its way to its rightful place. (Level 7, 2500/2100)

Sunset smirked, “I take it you’re planning on using her to destroy my Archfiend with its effect? After all, you have two perfectly good Spellbooks in your graveyard.”

-

“She… has a point,” Fluttershy commented, observing partially through her disk’s spectator function. “Priestess can destroy Skull Archfiend with her effect.”

“That’s right, and Twilight can inflict a massive 2500 damage on Sunset from a direct attack,” Rarity added.

“Yea… about that…” Pinkie chimed in awkwardly.

-

“I activate the effect of Priestess: By banishing Spellbook Organization, I destroy your Archfiend. Lexicon Designator!”

Priestess’ tome levitated before her, its infinite pages fluttering before her as her hands worked into the correct gesture.

“Skull Archfiend’s effect activates,” Sunset replied.

Something arose from the red pit, dripping in thick, reddish-orange fluid, revealing itself as a cube, roughly the size of a bowling ball. It had a faded brown coloration, like sun-bleached bone, with black dots on each of its six surfaces in specific patterns: A dice.

“When an effect targets Skull Archfiend, a die is cast; should it land on one, three or six, that effect is negated, and the card that triggered it is destroyed.”

Twilight pursed her lips in trepidation. Still, that’s a one-in-two chance on succeeding, so it can go either way…

Sunset swung forth an arm, “The die is cast: Hell’s Gamble!”

The dice flung itself from over the pit, striking one of the bony protrusions surrounding the hellish arena, after which it tumbled around before bouncing close to the pit. The upward facet showed three dots in a row, which suddenly splayed open, revealing them to be a series of eyeballs.

-

“Called it,” Pinkie remarked flatly.

-

“Three. Therefore, your monster’s effect is negated, and she is destroyed in the process,” Sunset stated.

Priestess’ emerald tome erupted into flames and disintegrated before her, followed by a pained shriek as the same flame erupted below her feet and raced up her form, granting her the same fate.

“Priestess!” Twilight exclaimed in shock.

I’m fine, Twilight,” Priestess’ astral image appeared beside her.

Priestess, can’t you try reaching out to her? You said you were her charge before.

Priestess gazed towards Sunset, the usually calm, if somewhat mischievous spirit for the first time since Twilight had met her, showing a clear expression of sadness, “I’ve been trying since the duel started. I don’t know how, but her mind is closed off to me.

Closed off?” Twilight wondered. At first, she’d assumed Sunset would know Priestess’ effect since she was originally Sunset’s card, and that the duplicitous unicorn in human form was being deliberately playing dumb. “You told me that Sunset and I are like beacons of power, hence you’re able to show yourself to me and her… Did something happen to her when she abandoned you?

Priestess lowered her gaze, “I don’t know. Her behavior simply turned for the worse, and eventually she couldn’t see or hear me like you can.

Twilight looked at her spirit guide in empathy, “Priestess… Maybe I can do something to jog her memory.” Twilight took another card from her hand, “I normal summon ‘Strength of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The red-haired, crimson armored axe-woman emerged onto the field in Priestess’ place. (Level 4, 1500/1400).

“I return Spellbook of Knowledge from my graveyard to my deck for Strength’s effect; increasing her level by one and her attack by 500. (Strength of Prophecy: Level 4 -> 5, 2000/1400) I then set one card facedown.” Twilight looked down at her screen. “I end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

-

“Why did she leave Strength in attack mode?” Sweetie Belle wondered aloud. “Sunset’s Archfiend is still 500 points stronger.”

“And if there’s anything Ah’ve seen about Sunset… Ah jus’ hope Twilight knows what she’s doin’…” Apple Bloom stated in agreement.

-

Turn 3: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 1)

“So I destroyed your evident ace and that’s all you do in response?” Sunset asked condescendingly before drawing her card. “Well, look at that; it’s ‘Trade In,’” she quipped as she slid the card into a spell slot, “Trade In lets me discard a level eight monster from my hand, like my Imprisoned Queen Archfiend, to draw twice.” Sunset’s last card was discarded, only for two new cards to be added from her deck. Given Card Advance’s effect, Sunset was perfectly aware what she was getting.

“Now, I summon ‘Terrorking Archfiend’ in attack mode.”

A seven foot, half fleshy, half skeletal demon emerged beside Skull Archfiend. Strikingly similar in many ways, though this one had a collar of bony spikes surrounding its grimacing skeletal head, the top of which bulged into some fleshy mockery of a crown, while a two-part blood red cape hung from between its leathery wings. It rested its clawed hands against the pommel of a large blue, jagged sword. (Level 4, 2000/1500)

A level four monster with 2000 attack points?

“I don’t know what you were thinking leaving you monster out like that in the first place.” She chuckled, “Well then, I’ll just end her if you’re wont to so readily throw your minions away. I attack Strength of Prophecy with Skull Archfiend of Lightning!”

A surge of electricity ran through Skull Archfiend’s (ATK: 2500) body. With a rasping snarl, it launched a bolt off itself into the sky. An ominous rumbled emanated from up above.

“Trap card activate: ‘Safe Zone!’” Twilight declared in anticipation.

A bolt of lightning lashed out from the sky towards Strength (ATK: 2000). A blue segmented barrier formed before her much akin to the forcefield surrounding the duelists that appeared during direct attacks.

-

Apple Bloom gasped in realization, “Oh, hey! That’s the card Ah gave ‘er!”

-

“Safe Zone makes an attack position monster immune to destruction by battle, and it can’t be targeted by my opponent’s card effects. But as a cost, the monster it applies to can’t attack directly,” Twilight inquired.

Sunset snorted in annoyance, “But, you still take damage.”

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000 – 500 = 3500

“Since attacking with Terrorking would be pointless, I’ll end my turn,” said Sunset, the slightest hint of irritation belied through her voice.

(Hand: 1)

Turn 4: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

Twilight drew her next card. I guess she wouldn’t have expected Safe Zone. She glanced over her shoulder; a small smile of gratitude aimed at Apple Bloom.

“If you know who I am, then you also know why I’m here,” Twilight spoke softly, so as not to be overheard.

Sunset’s eyes narrowed, “Your name on that saccharine nuisance’s flier tipped me off, yes. So, Celestia sent you all alone after me? I see the arrogant fool is still dead-set on subtlety as opposed to definite results.”

Twilight felt a tinge of anger, having the upstart unicorn talk foul of her beloved mentor, “Why did you take the Element of Magic? And why did you come to this world?”

Sunset merely scoffed, “Don’t expect your title of Princess to assume you’re beholden to answers.”

Twilight, browsed over her hand. At the moment she did not feel comfortable bringing Hermit of Prophecy, with his lacking attack points, against the likes of the brutish Terrorking and Skull Archfiends. At this point, with Safe Zone protecting Strength from being destroyed by battle or card effects, she figured she could weather losing another five hundred life points.

“To battle: I attack Terrorking Archfiend with Strength of Prophecy!”

Hefting her lion-headed axe, Strength (ATK: 2000) charged at the sinewy skeletal demon (ATK:2000). With a roaring heave, the axe cleaved into Terrorking’s bulging chest, its form fading into a cluster of fragments.

“Due to Safe Zone, Strength is not destroyed.”

Sunset suddenly slid her remaining hand card into her graveyard slot. The fragments of Terrorking coalesced together, reforming the demonic horror on Sunset’s field.

“What did you-?!”

“When Terrorking Archfiend is destroyed, by discarding ‘Desrook Archfiend’, I can special summon Terrorking back from the graveyard,” Sunset explained, the ever-prevalent overconfidence she exhumed showing in her voice.

Twilight looked over her hand, “I set one card facedown. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 3)

-

“What do ya think?” Apple Bloom asked, looking up at Applejack.

Applejack furrowed her brow. So far, despite the slight dent in her life points, Twilight seemed to be holding, what with Safe Zone protecting Strength from destruction. Sunset Shimmer’s hand was also empty. However, if Twilight only knew of the full extent of Pandemonium. But, as per her vows as a duelist, she was forbidden from disclosing this knowledge to Twilight.

-

Turn 5: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 0)

Sunset drew her next card. “So, you’re thinking that without cards in my hand, I’m beat?”

“I’ve made the connection that an empty hand doesn’t imply defeat, yes…” replied Twilight.

“How very astute of you, new girl,” Sunset smirked. “I play the spell card ‘Card of Demise’.” The image of a quite distressing card depicting a guillotine appeared. “Card of Demise lets me draw until I have three cards in my hand. However; my opponent takes no damage this turn, and at the end of my turn I have to send my entire hand to the graveyard…” Without more than a glance, she placed all three cards into her disk. “I place three cards facedown. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 0)

Three facedowns?!

Turn 6: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

Twilight drew her next card, “It figures: Card Advance let you know the next five cards you’d draw beforehand.”

“I have been dueling for three years, Princess. You’ve barely even scratched the surface of what I’ve witnessed.” Sunset frowned, “To think yourself so arrogant that you even fancied yourself a proper duelist in a day. Let alone the thought of defeating me.”

“Arrogance has nothing to do with it, Sunset,” Twilight rebutted. “Just like back home, I had many wonderful friends to help me, and more.”

“More?”

She… She doesn’t remember? “I summon ‘Hermit of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The wizened bearded sorcerer in purple emerged beside Strength, tugging at the brim of his large, pointed hat. (Level 3, 1200/700)

“In the very least, much as it repulses me from what you’ve been up to, in a way I should be grateful to you for getting me this far,” Twilight stated.

Sunset tilted her head, “What are you talking about?”

Twilight was taken aback by her opponent’s answer. “You really don’t remember?”

“Remember?” Sunset seemed unmoved. “Remember what? If you’re trying to flatter me, I’d hate to break it to you, but appealing to my better nature will not earn you anything.”

Twilight stared at Sunset in disbelief. Was Sunset this dedicated to an act or was there… Was there something wrong with her? If Priestess could not reach her with the same mental connection that Twilight shared with the spirit…

“Make your move, Twilight Sparkle!” Sunset demanded harshly. “Or surrender. I don’t care which.”

“Very well, I activate ‘Spellbook of Secrets’. This lets me add a ‘Spellbook’ from my deck to my hand,” a card was ejected, revealing it as Spellbook of Power. “Since I activated a ‘Spellbook’, Hermit gains 300 attack points and his level is increased by two. (Level 3 -> 5, 1200/700 -> 1500/700).

-

Applejack relaxed once the field set-up was complete. “Ah know where this is leading.”

-

“Using the level five Strength and Hermit, I construct the Overlay Network!” Twilight announced, to which Hermit and Strength devolved into swathes of light the coalesced together before her, forming the swirling nebula.

“Power of the cosmos and fate intertwined, the arcane wisdom and force of the universe; bring forth the mother of life and energy, that the world may witness her bountiful radiance.”

“Xyz Summon! Rank 5 Fertility Goddess: Empress of Prophecy!”

Emerging onto her field was her very first monster as a result of Xyz Summoning. The beautiful platinum blonde sorceress in her white robe that showed off her namesake fertile beauty inlaid with golden petals and vines and verdant swathes of green. She brandished her golden scepter and white-gold greatshield. (Rank 5, 2000/1700)

“Empress of Prophecy gains 300 attack points for each overlay my monsters possess. However; I remove one of them to activate Empress’ ability,” one of the revolving lights coalesced into Empress scepter. “Once per turn, I shuffle my deck,” a faint rustle of cards followed, “and excavate the top five. For every ‘Spellbook’ spell card among them, I destroy that many monsters on my opponent’s side of the field.” She can’t get lucky twice.

The inner workings of Twilight’s duel disk analyzed the top deck; ‘Spellbook Library of the Heliosphere’, The next; ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy’. Third; ‘Wheel of Prophecy’. Fourth; ‘Spellbook of Power’. Fifth; ‘Spellbook of Eternity’. One more than she needed, but she wasn’t complaining.

“Three Spellbooks, more than enough to wipe out both of your Archfiends!” Twilight declared, pointing defiantly at the skeletal terrors.

Images of the three Spellbooks arose around Empress. Holding aloft her scepter, they dissolved into a series of arcane symbols which began to swirl around in a foreboding pattern around Empress, like a gale picking up in velocity.

“Trap card activate!” Sunset retorted. “Continuous trap; ‘That Six’!”

Twilight’s brows rose with concern. “‘That Six’?”

“Since Empress’ ability is a targeting effect; Terrorking and Skull Archfiends’ effects activate! Terrorking; cast your die; Hell’s Gamble!” Sunset swept an arm, the dice once more arising from the red pit.

The bone dice ricocheted itself off one of the arena’s bony protrusions as if flung by some invisible arm. The macabre thing landed on four, the four dots opening into eyeballs once me.

Sunset growled, “Terrorking’s dice must land on two or five. Therefore, Empress destroys him…”

Empress swung forth her scepter, the flurry of arcane symbols tearing the sinewy demon into bits.

“However, because an effect destroyed Terrorking, Pandemonium adds one ‘Archfiend’ of a lower level into my hand.”

Something else arose from the crimson pit of Pandemonium. This time a large, dripping rectangle, revealing itself as a card, which flung itself towards Sunset, fading before it managed to reach her. A card was ejected from her deck, which she pressed against her field. “I add another level three ‘Desrook Archfiend’ into my hand, which I shall discard in order to resurrect Terrorking!”

This time Terrorking did not reassemble, but rather, its form arose from Pandemonium’s pit, dripping whatever noxious fluids it contained. With a furious flap of its wings, the demon king sprayed the juices off itself and roared. (Level 4, 2000/1500)

Skull Archfiend; cast your die!” Sunset repeated.

The dice flung itself back into the air, going only a few feet from striking Twilight. Despite knowing the dice was just as much an illusion of light, she yelped, bringing her right arm defensively over her face. She watched as the dice bounced off another protrusion and rolled near the pit, landing on a two. Twilight felt relieved, for Sunset had specifically stated it requiring the results one, three or six.

“I activate That Six’s effect!” Sunset declared. “Whenever a die is cast, if its result is two, four or six, I can change it into one!”

Twilight gasped with a start, “You’re manipulating the results?!”

Sunset only smirked, when the remaining arcane symbols revolving around Empress suddenly tore into her, a shriek just barely managing to escape her lips.

“You…” at that moment Twilight had accrued a wide plethora of obscenities to blurt at Sunset.

Sunset harrumphed, “What? Going to accuse me of underhandedness? Do you honestly think I’d have gotten this far basing my successes on something so fickle as a roll of the dice? Honestly, Princess, what do you take me for? I was Celestia’s protégé long before she even noticed you, by my own merits.”

Twilight grit her teeth, “Are you insinuating that I didn’t? You’re the one who betrayed her trust and defied her wishes. Celestia always looks out for everypony’s wellbeing, she-”

“Like when she sealed her own sister on the moon a thousand years ago?”

Twilight flinched at Sunset’s rebuttal. “She… But… She didn’t know what to do, she-”

“How cute,” Sunset scoffed. “You’re so beholden to her, you actually excuse her atrocities. Tell me, Princess, has she told you every little thing she’s done? Even the unsightly?”

A shiver ran down Twilight’s spine at Sunset’s words. Princess Celestia, Twilight’s lifelong mentor in the magical arts, the wise and powerful alicorn who’d ruled Equestria in stability for over a thousand years, doing something unsightly? It had to be Sunset trying to manipulate her adorations for Celestia in an attempt to throw her off.

“Because I activated Empress’ effect, the excavated cards are returned atop my deck in whatever order I choose,” Twilight affirmed, fanning the top five cards of her deck, rearranging them and placing them back. “I activate the ‘Spellbook of Miracles.’”


-

Pinkie let out one of her overly elongated, rasping gasps, “That’s the thing she used to beat me!”

“She can bring back Empress by using banished ‘Spellbook’ spell cards as overlay units,” Fluttershy added, holding her hands together over her chest. “She might not be able to destroy Sunset’s Archfiends with her effect, but with Spellbook of Power, she will be stronger than either of them.”

“That is,” Applejack interjected, “Unless Sunset has some sort of trap set up.”

-

“With Spellbook of Miracles, if I have a spellcaster Xyz monster in my graveyard and at least one banished ‘Spellbook’, I can special summon that monster and attach those banished Spellbooks as overlay units. The goddess of fertility, Empress revives!”

The series of revolving spheres of colored lights erupted onto the field, coalescing into a shining white star. With a blinding flash Empress was reborn with a single green overlay unit revolving around her form. (Rank 5, 2000/1700 -> 2300/1700)

Sunset sighed surreptitiously, “If you’re thinking about trying to destroy Skull Archfiend with her effect, don’t bother. That Six is a continuous trap card; anytime I roll two, four or six I can change them into a one, and one, three and five can be changed into a six. With it, Skull Archfiend is invincible to targeting effects.”

Now was Twilight’s turn to smirk, “I anticipated that notion when you used That Six the first time. But my goal isn’t to destroy Skull Archfiend by Empress’ effect. I activate ‘Spellbook of Power’ from my hand.”

The fiery orange tome twirled onto the field, opening its covers when Empress held forth her scepter, the book relinquishing its contained energy to the weapon’s tip. (ATK: 2300 -> 3300)

“Spellbook of Power increases a spellcaster-type monster’s attack by a thousand. And just in case you may have a destruction trap underneath one or both facedowns; I activate my facedown card; ‘Spellbook of Wisdom’,” Twilight unveiled her facedown. “With this, I can make one spellcaster-type monster immune to spells or traps. I choose traps. I will then attack Skull Archfiend with Empress!”

Empress (ATK: 3300) flung the crackling orb of power at Skull Archfiend (ATK: 2500), which tried to in wain launch a bolt of lightning against it. The orbs repelled the electricity and struck the skeletal demon square in its bulbous chest, the impacting explosion tearing it to bits. Twilight’s duel disk chimed, inviting her to draw a card as per Spellbook of Power’s secondary effect.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 4000 – 800 = 3200

“You… You actually hit me…?” Sunset Shimmer muttered in disbelief.

Twilight wouldn’t dignify her foe with any form of remark and instead slid a card into her disk, “I set one card facedown. My turn is over.”

(Hand: 1)

Sunset grit her teeth, “Before your end phase, I activate the trap card ‘Alchemy Cycle’.”

A purple aura surrounded Terrorking Archfiend, the sword wielding demon collapsing onto a knee, a hissing rumble emanating from its throat. (ATK: 2000 -> 0)

“Alchemy Cycle reduces the attack points of all monsters on my field to zero until your turn’s end. Doing so lets me activate my other facedown; ‘Card of Last Will.’” Sunset’s duel disk chimed. “Card of Last Will can only be triggered when the attack of one of my monster’s is changed to zero by a card effect. It lets me draw until I hold five cards in my hand.”

So I used Spellbook of Wisdom for no reason at all: Those cards were set there just to trick me until she activated them to replenish her hand.

“Now, during your end phase, Alchemy Cycle’s effect wears off and Terror King Archfiend regains its original strength.”

The purple smoldering aura abated off Terrorking, the demon spreading its wings in fervor, its pitiable rumble erupting into an energized roar. (ATK: 0 -> 2000)

Turn 8: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 5)

“Even so, your Archfiend isn’t strong enough to fight Empress,” Twilight stated in defiance.

Sunset drew her card. She proceeded to slowly shake her head and tut. “Princess, you have no idea of the terrors that lurk in my deck,” Sunset pressed a button on her screen. "I activate the effect of Imprisoned Queen Archfiend in my graveyard during my stand-by phase! When she's in my graveyard and Pandemonium is on my field, I can increase the attack of a level four or below Archfiend monster by a thousand until the end phase!"

From the Pandemonium pit, a pair of chains seemed to be made up of linked, metallic knucklebones snaked forth. They wound themselves around and behind Terrorking Archfiend, launching themselves upwards like serpents, their sharp tips embedding into Terrorking's back with a visceral jab. The demon roared, whether in pain or fury as the chains began to glow red. (ATK: 2000 -> 3000). Twilight could only watch in disgust.

A card was slapped onto Sunset's disk, “I summon ‘Darkbishop Archfiend’ in defense mode.”

Beside Terrorking arose another skeletal humanoid demonic being. This one’s sinew was an unsettling shade of cyan, with a bulb atop its head similar to Terrorking, albeit more simply. Its arms were covered in wide, ragged purple sleeves, while in its right arm it brandished a cyan staff with a humanoid skull affixed to the top. It took a knee, cradling its staff against itself whilst covering its chest area with its sleeved arms. (Level 3, 300/1400)

“I then activate the equip spell ‘Axe of Despair’ and equip it to Terrorking Archfiend.”

A gnarled axe materialized onto the field, at first looking like wood, an immediate disturbing feature was the bulbous head which the axe blade was affixed to: A green, shriveled humanoid head with an eternal grin etched on it thanks to the taught skin. Terrorking Archfiend gripped the axe with one hand while keeping its sword in the other. (ATK: 3000 -> 4000)

Twilight looked at the weapon with clear disgust, “Your current taste in cards is abhorrent.”

Sunset eyed her warily, “Current…?”

“I was told by a reliable source that you once used a spellcaster deck, like me…” Twilight raised a brow. “You’re not in the least bit curious how I got together a functioning deck in less than a day?”

Sunset seemed genuinely affected by Twilight’s question for the first time. The barest glimpse of uncertainty finally cracked through that mask of arrogance.

“I wasn’t lying; part of my success is thanks to you, Sunset Shimmer. The night you snuck into the Crystal Castle, you left something behind.”

“So then…” Sunset spoke in a whisper, “Prophecies…”

I think you’re getting through, Twilight,” Priestess echoed in Twilight’s mind. “Keep at it, perhaps it’s not too late-

Sunset shut her eyes, bringing a hand to the side of her head. Twilight for the first time felt concern for the one who stole her crowned and wronged many people. It looked as if Sunset was in genuine discomfort. She seemed to wince, as if she were in pain.

“Sunset?”

Sunset’s eyes snapped open, the vitriol returning as her orange eyes glared at Twilight. “Terrorking Archfiend, attack Empress of Prophecy!”

Twilight was taken aback to almost missing her cue, “Facedown activate: Quick-play spell ‘Spellbook of Fate’! I banish one-to-three ‘Spellbooks’ from my graveyard, and the effect is determined by the amount. I choose Spellbooks of Secrets and Wisdom, to which I force Terrorking Archfiend to switch to defense mode!” Terrorking Archfiend’s Hell’s Gamble requires it to land a two or five on a die, so there’s a one-in-three chance of it succeeding…

“Darkbishop Archfiend’s effect activates!” Sunset interjected. “Like all Archfiends, he too has the ability of Hell’s Gamble, but his can extend to any ‘Archfiend’ card. Its requirements are one, three and six.”

-

“That means it doesn’t matter what result she gets…” Rarity noted in confirmation. “With That Six on Sunset’s field, if she fails a roll, she’ll just change it to one of her preference.”

“That…” Sweetie Belle hesitated for a moment, “That bitch!”

-

“The die is cast: Hell’s Gamble!”

The gruesome dice arose from Pandemonium’s pit, flinging itself once more against one of the bone protrusions. It bounced along the sinewy floor, landing on two, the finality emphasized by the two dots opening into eyes.

“That Six’s effect activates; I change the result of two into one. Thus Darkbishop Archfiend negates your spell and destroys it.”

Twilight watched in indignance as he spell card’s image faded in a shower of golden sparks, effectively having forced her to waste two Spellbooks for nothing.

“Terrorking Archfiend’s attack therefore continues unimpeded.” Sunset affirmed.

Terrorking Archfiend (ATK: 4000) wound back its arms, snarling as its bulbous chest started to throb and bulge violently until finally its ribs splayed out its chest cavity. In utter disgust, Twilight witnessed how a swarm of buzzing, blood red insects surged forth from within, straight towards Empress (ATK: 2300). Twilight watched helplessly as the swarm covered her form entirely, and promptly melted away into a throbbing, skittering pile, before vanishing.

Twilight Sparkle Life points: 3500 – 1700 = 1800

Sunset laughed in amusement, “You can’t even hold out with more advanced Xyz monsters against me. The obvious answer is that your precious friends simply didn’t try hard enough or feigned out of some misguided obligation. So is that it then? The purported ‘magic of friendship’ as I believe Celestia called it?”

Twilight’s brow furrowed listening to Sunset’s retained arrogance. Whatever happened earlier in her trying to reach out to Sunset’s memories about Priestess and the Prophecies, whether it was genuine, or if Sunset was merely playing mind games, her continued persistence in mocking Celestia riled her. She could never believe this abhorrent unicorn was once a student of the Princess.

-

Sunset took a glance at her remaining four cards. The loss of Skull Archfiend may have hampered her attempts at crushing the upstart Twilight, but come next turn it would not matter. She’d seen enough that the detrimentally defensive Princess had nary any mass destruction effects in her deck, so as long as Darkbishop and That Six remained, any effect attempted against Terrorking Archfiend would be nullified. And with the improvements by Axe of Despair, come next turn, her victory was assured with the most aptly named weapon in her arsenal that sat in her hand.

Checkmate…

Duel #13: Battle-Scarred: Mark of Hate

View Online

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 3200

Sunset Shimmer’s field
Monsters:
Terrorking Archfiend (Level 4, 2000/1500 -> 3000/1500) Attack position
Darkbishop Archfiend (Level 3, 300/1400) Defense position

Spells/Traps:
That Six (Continuous trap)
Axe of Despair (Equip spell -> Terrorking Archfiend)
Pandemonium (Field Spell)

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1800

Twilight Sparkle’s field
Monsters:
-

Spells/Traps:
-

Turn 8: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 4)

Twilight glared defiantly at Sunset, her Empress of Prophecy, after painstakingly summoning her, and reviving her to annihilate Skull Archfield to break Sunset’s effect nullifying combo with That Six, being reduced to carrion feed by Terrorking Archfiend.

Sunset narrowed her eyes, “You were never my caliber, Twilight Sparkle. Not in Equestria. Not in this world. And never will be…” she took a card from her hand. “I set one card facedown, ending my turn. Now, make your move so I can end this.” (Terrorking Archfiend ATK: 4000 -> 3000)

(Hand: 3)

-

“Twilight has only one card in her hand,” Scootaloo remarked. “Anyone kept note what it is? ‘Cuz I kinda lost track…”

“I think it was Spellbook of the Master,” Sweetie Belle replied. “Was that the one that copies a Spellbook’s effect?”

“But she needs another Spellbook in her hand in order to use it. So if she doesn’t draw a Spellbook this turn, it won’t do any good…” Apple Bloom muttered, nervously chewing on her thumbnail.

“Don’t you fret just yet,” Applejack replied. “Remember; Empress of Prophecy allowed her to excavate an’ rearrange her cards. Knowin’ Twilight, she put one of them Spellbooks she revealed on top for such an occasion.”

Apple Bloom’s mood brightened, “Oh yea! An’ if there’s anyone here who knows a thing or two about excavatin’!”

-

Turn 9: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 1)

Remember what I said; she does not know you, Twilight. Your propensity for wisdom and patience are something Sunset does not have.

Emboldened by Priestess’ words, Twilight drew her next card. Thanks to Empress’ effect, she was well prepared for what it was. “I summon ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The white and blue robed archivist sorcerer emerged onto the field, his sapphire tome hovering over an open palm whilst holding two fingers of his other hand against a temple. (Level 2, 500/400)

-

Scootaloo cringed, “But why would she put a monster on top and not a Spellbook?!”

“Oh!” Apple Bloom mouthed in realization. “But Spellbook Magician gets Twi a free Spellbook from her deck, right?”

“Ohhh, and because she needs to shuffle afterwards, so that way she might get something she can use afterwards!” Scootaloo caught on. “That is, if I’m right with what Spellbook she’s going for…”

-

“When Spellbook Magician is summoned, I can add one ‘Spellbook’ from my deck to my hand,” after a quick automated shuffle, a card ejected from Twilight’s deck, “The card I chose is Spellbook of Knowledge.”

Sunset rolled her eyes, “You’re really pushing it, aren’t you?”

“It’s just like Applejack said; a true duelist always does their best. She might not know it, but like someone much like her back home, I tend to trust her judgement.”

-

What I'm sayin' to you is the honest truth. Let go, and you'll be safe.

-

“Cute,” Sunset spat. “So what are you going to do? Sacrifice your monster in the vain hope of drawing a game changer?”

“Not exactly,” Twilight smirked, sliding a card into her disk. “I activate ‘Spellbook of the Master’. By revealing one other ‘Spellbook’ in my hand, though it would probably be redundant since you already know what it is, to which this card’s effect becomes the effect of another normal Spellbook spell in my graveyard.”

A white tome appeared on the field, which erupted into a swirling flurry of different colored lights.

“My card of choice was ‘Spellbook of Miracles’. Since I banished Spellbooks of Secrets and Wisdom, I’ll use those as the selected overlay units, and revive Empress of Prophecy a second time!”

The lights came together to form the blinding white star once more, the Empress stepping forth from the light, casting a defiant side-long glance at the Archfiends. (Rank 5, 2000/1700 -> 2600/1700)

“You imbecile!” Sunset retorted. “It doesn’t matter how many times you activate her effect! With Darkbishop on my field, That Six makes my Archfiends invincible to your effects.”

“I wasn’t planning on using her effect. Not yet at least…” Twilight pointed a finger at the kneeling Darkbishop. “To battle! Empress of Prophecy attacks your Darkbishop Archfiend!”

Empress (ATK: 2600) without the aid of Spellbook of Power, held her greatshield in front of her, the orange gem studded in the embossed Prophecy symbol lighting aglow, which spread into the arcane symbols etched along the rest of the shield’s shimmering surface. A ray of light erupted from the whitegold over Darkbishop (DEF: 1400) whose form evaporated in the light.

“During my second main phase, I activate Empress’ effect: By removing one overlay unit (ATK: 2600 -> 2300), I shuffle and excavate the top five cards of my deck and any ‘Spellbook’ spell cards revealed will destroy one of your monsters.”

Sunset grunted, “Terrorking Archfiend’s Hell’s Gamble will still activate! You’ll still risk destroying your own monster!”

“Perhaps,” Twilight responded gravely. “But I much prefer the risk when it’s not being manipulated: Terrorking Archfiend requires a roll of two or five, so you can’t change the outcome in your favor with That Six. I would rather take a one-in-three chance gamble than one that is rigged…”

One of the green lights revolving around Empress erred from its path and embedded in her scepter. Twilight’s duel disk scanned her deck’s top five cards, a projection appearing over the field. First: Dark Renewal. Next: Reaper of Prophecy. Third: Spellbook of Life. Fourth: Double Spell. Fifth: Magical Dimension.

Feeling her deck cut her much too close for comfort, Twilight sighed. “I revealed one Spellbook. Therefore I destroy your Terrorking Archfiend!”

“The die is cast! Hell’s Gamble!” Sunset snarled.

The gruesome die once again arose from Pandemonium’s pit. Everyone held their breaths as the dice was flung, again bouncing off one of the bony protrusions. Twilight’s eyes followed intently, amble to vaguely make out a series of sides; two, six, one, three…

The die stopped. A single dot showing off the topside surface, the gruesome eyeball splaying open.

Twilight heard the student body’s relieved cheers, thinking she saw what might have been the one jeering at her beforehand clutching his chest.

The two revealed Spellbooks splintered into the flurry of arcane symbols that proceeded to swarm around Terrorking Archfiend. The demon was shred into nothing under the assault.

-

You're not singing
You're not singing
You're not singing any more

Pinkie, accompanied by several others in the audience chanted accompanied by demeaning jabs aimed at Sunset. Among them included Lyra Hearstrings, Bon Bon, Derpy, Octavia Melody, a girl who Twilight thought she recognized as a counterpart from Equestria, one with messy red hair and wearing glasses, one who looked much like Roseluck from Ponyville, among others. This was followed by a punchline in a series of record scratches by Vinyl.

-

Sunset growled in fury, “Pandemonium’s effect lets me add my third ‘Desrook Archfiend’ to my hand, which I then discard to revive Terrorking!”

Terrorking’s form remerged from Pandemonium’s pit, now deprived of Axe of Despair. (Level 4, 2000/1500)

“Next I activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge,’” Twilight continued. “I sacrifice Spellbook Magician from my field in order to draw twice.”

Spellbook Magician’s tome dropped into his awaiting hand, whilst flicking his free hand in a gesture of farewell before vanishing. Twilight drew two cards. “I set two cards facedown and end my turn.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 10: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 3)

-

Impossible! Sunset’s mind screamed. She can’t… She can’t possibly be this strong!

“You’re replacing me?!” Sunset shouted indignantly at the regal alicorn, whose back currently stood facing her, eternally flowing mane obscuring her face.

“You disobeyed me, Sunset. I made it clear you were not to dabble with the mirror and the danger it could pose.” Celestia’s sideward glance eyed accusingly at Sunset. “You’ve shown me that I can’t even trust you anymore.”

“No!” Sunset stomped a hoof on the tiled floor of the Princess’ chambers. “I have worked so hard! Suffered so much! You can’t just abandon me!”

I can’t lose… Not to her. Never to her!

-

Sunset drew her next card. “During my stand-by phase I activate the effect of ‘Imprisoned Queen Archfiend’ in my graveyard to increase Terrorking’s attack points by a thousand!”

The chains embedded into Terrorking’s back glowed again, whatever stygian power flowing into the repulsive creature, making it roar in pain-induced vigor. (ATK: 2000 -> 3000)

“I then summon ‘Shadowknight Archfiend’ in attack mode!”

Another skeletal demon emerged onto the field. This one seemed similar to the earlier Vilepawn Archfiend, only larger, with dark blue sinew around its biceps and thigh areas, with a much larger blade attached to its right arm and a long, wider shield for its left forearm. A splayed blue mane spread from the back of its skull-like, grinning head. (Level 4, 2000/1600)

“Now to end this!” Sunset forcefully slid a card into her disk. “I activate the spell card ‘Checkmate’!”

-

Pinkie cringed betwixt her gathered chanting posse, “Uh… You're not sinnnngggginggg any more…?”

-

“To activate I sacrifice Shadowknight Archfiend.”

Shadowknight was promptly impaled by Terrorking Archfiend’s large sword, which came to bear a dark aura, followed by Shadowknight’s form dissipating.

Such display made Twilight feel increasingly sickened by Sunset’s choice of cards.

“Now Terrorking Archfiend can attack you directly, even if you have monsters on your field,” Sunset grinned maliciously. “Terrorking Archfiend, attack Twilight Sparkle!”

Terrorking’s chest began to bulge and pulsate violently, as it no doubt was swelling with those disgusting insects again. Twilight refused to be taken down by something so repulsive.

She hastily pressed the trigger on her duel disk screen, “Facedown activate! ‘Magical Dimension’! I sacrifice a spellcaster-typse monster in order to special summon another one from my hand!” she revealed the remaining card in her hand, “Arise, ‘Reaper of Prophecy’!”

Empress of Prophecy devolved into an orb of energy, her last remaining overlay unit shattering into specks of light. The orb flung itself into the sky and slammed into the sinewy ground. A blanket of dark smoke emerged like an insetting mist. From within it arose a four-point metallic frame, within which was suspended a human-sized coffin or sarcophagus with chains. The casket opened with a foreboding groan, unveiling a burst of swirling dark miasma which gathered out of it into a humanoid shape. Swinging their wicked scythe, Reaper of Prophecy emerged onto the field. (Level 6, 2000/1600)

“When summoned, Reaper’s effects are determined by the number of ‘Spellbook’ spellcards in my graveyard: I currently have Spellbooks of Power, Fate, the Master, Miracles, Knowledge and now Wisdom and Secrets, as well as Spellbook Organization I returned the first time I used Mircales, that makes eight…”

Reaper’s obscured eye lit in an eerie red glint, whilst their scythe’s blade elongated as a beam of cold blue light. (ATK: 2000 -> 2600)

“With three, Reaper gains 600 additional attack strength, with four, I can add a ‘Spellbook’ from my deck to my hand,” a card ejected from Twilight’s deck, revealing it as Spellbook of Life. “And with five, Reaper special summons one level five or higher dark spellcaster from my deck…”

Reaper swung and tore a hole into the fabric of reality. A fearsome bellow erupted from the tear, followed by a burst of flames. Emerging from the flames, a pair of great thorny wings spread out, unveiling the burned grey body of ‘Prophecy Destroyer’, brandishing its flaming longsword. Despite its outward appearance, Twilight already saw it as comparatively noble to Sunset’s Archfiends. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“And finally, thanks to Magical Dimension, I can destroy one monster on your field: Your Terrorking Archfiend!”

Sunset grunted in anger, “Unless Terrorking Archfiend’s effect pulls through; you’re finished. Hell’s Gamble!” Sunset beckoned, the ghoulish dice emerging from Pandemonium’s pit.

Once more everyone, be it Twilight, Sunset, or everyone watching, held their collective breaths as the die was cast. If the result was a two or five, Twilight would have nothing left to stop Sunset’s killing blow…

The dice landed on the edge of the pit, revealing a facet with four dots opening into eyeballs.

“Four?!” Sunset shouted in cringe.

A flurry of chains shot out from the sarcophagus and bound the winged demon in their coils. They then proceeded to violently yank Terrorking back inside, before booming shut and vanishing from the field along with the smoke.

-

Rarity sighed, “Sweet, merciful mistress of luck, thank you…”

“So Sunset just lost her only monster,” Fluttershy affirmed, hands cupped over her chest in relief.

“And she can’t revive it again since she used up all three Desrooks,” Applejack grinned triumphantly. “Twilight might actually win this one!”

-

“Not yet! Pandemonium’s adds the level three ‘Vilepawn Archfiend’ to my hand!” Sunset swiped the ejected card. “I activate the continuous trap ‘Call of the Archfiend!’” A card with a macabre image arose on Sunset’s field.

Twilight swallowed, having just barely managed to survive Sunset’s attempted final strike.

“I discard one fiend-type monster from my hand to special summon one level five or higher fiend-type monster in my graveyard,” Sunset slid Vilepawn into the graveyard. In response a large pair of arms emerged from Pandemonium’s pit, dripping the noxious ooze to the sides. “I summon ‘Imprisoned Queen Archfiend’ in attack mode!”

Pushing down, the arms raised up a large creature, a haunting, bubbling snarl escaping from its skeletal mouth. Spreading a great pair of black wings, the new terror launched itself up from the pit. It landed on Sunset’s side of the field, standing at an astounding twelve feet, its body composed of bluish bone plates and bulging muscle tissue along its sides, thighs, shins, biceps and forearms, with a ragged green loincloth dangling from its waist. A crest of bony extremities connected with tendons jutted from its skull-like head, whilst a long chain composed of metallic finger bones were bound and dangling from its wrists and ankles. (Level 8, 2600/1700)

Twilight pursed her lips. So this is the abomination that was empowering her Terrorking.

Sunset pointed a finger towards Destroyer, “Imprisoned Queen Archfiend attacks Prophecy Destroyer! Punishing Bind!”

The chains hanging from Imprisoned Queen Archfiend’s (ATK: 2600) limbs shot out towards Destroyer (ATK: 2500). Twilight looked away, unable to witness as her monster was torn to pieces by the chains.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1800 – 100 = 1700

“I end my turn,” Sunset growled. “You may have survived that, Twilight Sparkle, but come next turn, I’ll finish you.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 11: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 1)

Twilight drew her next card. With Sunset’s Terrorking finally over and done with, and no more Desrook’s left to revive it, Sunset’s That Six combo was defeated. All that remained was avoiding a direct attack from this new Archfiend fresh out of the pit and just focus on keeping Sunset’s field empty. Unfortunately, the next card she drew wouldn’t help much.

“I banish Spellbooks of Wisdom, Fate, and Spellbook Organization from my graveyard to special summon Prophecy Destroyer in defense mode!”

Destroyer’s flaming sword fell from the sky onto the field, its flame forming the magical rune on the sinewy ground of Pandemonium, which erupted in flames. Prophecy Destroyer remerged, kneeling down with its wings folded over itself protectively, grasping its sword by the hilt with the blade driven to the ground. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 12: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 2)

Sunset drew her next card. “I discard ‘Mist Archfiend’ for the effect of Call of the Archfiend once more. I revive ‘Skull Archfiend of Lightning’ in attack mode.”

Unlike their chess piece counterparts, Skull Archfiend re-entered the field through materializing from a bolt of lightning. The horned demon spread its wings beside the larger Imprisoned Queen, a vicious snarl rattling from its sinewy throat. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

-

“¡Ay-ay-ay! ¡El demonio está de vuelta!” Pinkie cried out from the crowd.

-

“I’m sure you realize, Princess, that with Skull Archfiend back, my That Six combo is back in effect,” Sunset stated forebodingly.

“I didn’t expect your Call of the Archfiend to work for multiple monsters,” Twilight replied. “I’d have to admit; if it wasn’t you I was dueling, this might be more enjoyable. But instead, all I can listen to is your blustering.”

“I’ll have plenty of fun once I’ve crushed you and shown these idiots that you’re not worthy of facing me again…” Sunset muttered.

“Sunset: Why do all of this? Why did you come here? Why take my crown to this place? Why would you subject yourself to the Games of Darkness?” Twilight asked in earnest.

Sunset looked at her in mild surprise, “Oh, so you know about that, do you now? But you are not beholden to any answers from me. Just know that I despise you with all my being.”

“Why? I’ve never done anything to you. I’ve never even met you.”

“True, you haven’t,” Sunset shook her head. “But, I know who you are, and what you’ve done. And you have your cherished mentor to thank for that.” She pointed an accusatory finger, “I attack your Prophecy Destroyer with Skull Archfiend!”

Skull Archfiend (ATK: 2500) roared, its surging body launching a bolt into the sky. A rumble followed, after which lightning struck down squarely on Prophecy Destroyer (DEF: 1200), causing an explosion that decimated the demonic warrior.

“I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 13: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 2)

It seems she really can’t remember…” Priestess voice once more echoed in Twilight’s voice.

She seems to know me well enough, or at least claims to. What do you suppose happened that her memories of you were affected? I was expecting her to at least have memorized her old deck to the point of being able to combat me perfectly…

I’m not certain,” Priestess astral image closed her eyes in regret. “I’ve tried to force my way inside, but her mind seems like it’s shielded from me. Tell me, Twilight, is mental fortitude like this common in your world?

Twilight looked down, a most uncomfortable notion creeping into her mind, “I’m not versed in mind control, Priestess. It’s dark magic, the kind even Celestia herself would not even touch. Any records are kept safely stored away with only special clearance permitted. But I suppose it might be possible that those with training could resist its effects. I’ve read about sorcerers in the pre-Celestia era being able to erect wards inside their minds, but with the arts having fallen out of favor. If Sunset somehow learned to protect her mind, perhaps even block off memories… But why would she do so?

“What are you doing?” Sunset asked, irritated. “Make your move!”

As Twilight reached to draw her next card, Priestess’ spectral gloved hand came atop hers. Twilight surreptitiously looked at Priestess, seeing the spirit stare back at her grimly.

Twilight, I want to try something. Remember what me and the pink one taught you during your last duel. Keep your mind focused. I’ll handle the rest.

Twilight nodded, “I’ll do my best.” With the Twilight drew. Spellbook of Judgement. It wasn’t something she could really make use of by itself, but she now had a Spellbook to work off.

“I activate ‘Spellbook of Life’,” Twilight revealed Spellbook of Judgement in her hand, “By reveling a different Spellbook from my hand, and banishing a spellcaster-type monster from my graveyard, I can special summon another spellcaster from my graveyard and equip it with this card.”

-

“Wohoo!” Pinkie cried from the audience, “Bring out Priestess!”

-

Twilight chuckled, “Not quite. I special summon ‘Strength of Prophecy’.”

The violet tome spun onto the field and opened out on the ground, emitting its purple lightrays that spawned Strength, the red-haired warrior sorceress hefting her lion-headed axe. The tome closed and levitated above her head. (Level 4, 1500/1400)

A card slid out of Twilight’s graveyard slot, “I banish the level three Hermit of Prophecy, so Strength’s level increased from four to seven. I then activate Strength’s effect; by returning Spellbook of Power from my graveyard to my deck, I can increase the level of one of my spellcasters by one and their attack points by 500. I’ll use it on Reaper of Prophecy.”

Strength pointed a palm towards Reaper, the red gems of her outfit glowing red, followed by Reaper being surrounded in a fierce red aura. (Level 6 -> 7, 2600/1600 -> 3100/1600)

“I overlay my level seven Reaper and Strength!”

On command the two spellcasters lowered their weapons as they devolved into lights, rising up in a spiraling blaze before combining over the field, into the nebula.

“Power of the cosmos and fate intertwined, the arcane wisdom and force of the universe; bring the patron of the heritage of wisdom and learning to stand by my side.”

“Xyz Summon! I beseech you, keeper of knowledge: Rank 7, ‘Hierophant of Prophecy’!”

Slamming the pole of his golden staff onto the macabre ground of Pandemonium’s landscape, the black, gold and silver garbed spellcaster stood ready, overlay units revolving around him. (Rank 7, 2800/2600)

Sunset’s eyes focused on the newly summoned sorcerer, her mask of anger steadily fading, “… Hierophant… What did…?”

“I remove one overlay unit from Hierophant,” Twilight declared, refusing to waste the opportunity. “Hierophant then destroys spells and trap cards on my opponent’s field up to the number of ‘Spellbook’ spells in my graveyard: I have five, so I destroy all your spells and traps on the field.”

Sunset let out an audible gasp. Pointing his scepter towards Sunset, three tears into the cosmos opened above the field. A fusillade of tiny shooting stars erupted from each one, perforating Sunset’s That Six, Call of the Archfiend, and then Pandemonium itself was pelted away, the bony protrusions and fleshy growths giving back way to the soccer field.

“W-what have you done?!” Sunset blurted.

-

Applejack couldn’t help but smile smugly at Sunset’s current predicament. Even the other students openly cheered for Twilight in spite of Sunset’s presence.

“At least that awful field spell’s gone now…” Fluttershy muttered in relief.

“An’ that ain’t all,” said Applejack. “Without Pandemonium, Sunset’s gonna have it much harder…”

-

“Lastly, I attack Skull Archfiend with Hierophant!” Twilight declared.

Hierophant (ATK: 2800) released hold on his staff, which levitated before him perfectly upright. The sorcerer placed his hands in a gesture not too dissimilar to Priestess. His staff lit up in a beam of light that shone on Skull Archfiend (ATK: 2500). The winged demon covered itself in a futile attempt as the light literally disintegrated it.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 3200 – 300 = 2900

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. Pandemonium’s, hopefully imaginary, noxious funk cleared from her mind.

“I end my turn.”

(Hand: 1)

Sunset stared back at Twilight, her face etched in utter disbelief, “Y-you… You can’t be this strong! You’re barely even a novice…”

Twilight simply smiled, not in condescension, or an air of superiority, but a genuine, hopeful, thankful smile. “You said it yourself, Sunset. The Magic of Friendship.”

Turn 14: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 2)

Sunset drew her next card, when suddenly what looked like black smoke emanated from her mouth. Twilight looked on perplexed, when the sound of someone life point counter ticking down rang.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 2900 – 1000 = 1900

“What just happened?” Twilight asked in confusion.

Sunset growled, “Without Pandemonium, I must pay life points to keep Archfiends in play.”

Twilight looked up at the still present Imprisoned Queen Archfiend.

-

“Here in the Archfiends’ realm of Pandemonium, I do not require to pay the price for the service of my minions. And furthermore, should you destroy any ‘Archfiend’, Pandemonium adds another of a lower level to my hand. I end my turn.”

-

So in two turns she’ll lose if she keeps Imprisoned Queen on the field.

“So I’ll have two turns to finish you,” Sunset stated, sliding a card into her duel disk, “I play the continuous spell ‘Solidarity’. So long as all the monsters in my graveyard share the same type, all monsters of said type on my field gain 800 attack points. (Imprisoned Queen Archfiend ATK: 2600 -> 3400) I attack your Hierophant with Imprisoned Queen! Punishing Bind!”

With a roar, Imprisoned Queen (ATK: 3400) lashed out with her chains. Twilight barely had time to look away in terror when she could have sworn that she saw Hierophant’s (ATK: 2800) head get impaled. On looking back up, Hierophant’s form vanished, leaving her field empty, with the empowered Archfiend looming over her.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1700 - 1100

“I set one card facedown. I end my turn.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 15: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 1)

Twilight drew her next card. If I can just hold out for Imprisoned Queen to drain her remaining life points. She looked over her drawn card. She softly held the card to her lip, uttering a thanks as if the addressee had somehow guided her.

“I play the spell card ‘Double Spell.’”

-

“Isn’t that the card she used to beat you?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“It is, yes,” Rarity nodded, putting a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Not that you weren’t involved in any way…” she added with a side-glancing smile, to which Sweetie Belle seemed to freeze up.

-

“By discarding a spell card,” Twilight slid the impractical Spellbook of Judgement into the graveyard, “I can copy a normal spell card in your graveyard.”

Sunset looked down at her duel disk as the contents of her graveyard scrolled past. Twilight’s finger tapped on the specific card on her screen, the image of Double Spell turning around to reveal her choice, the macabre Card of Demise.

“By copying your ‘Card of Demise’, I draw until I hold three cards, as long as I discard my hand at the end of my turn.”

“You also can’t deal damage to me this turn,” Sunset added.

“I’m well aware of that,” Twilight replied, “I then remove three Spellbooks from my graveyard to bring back Prophecy Destroyer in defense position.”

With another burst of flames, the demonic knight emerged onto Twilight’s field, kneeling with its sword driven to the ground and wings folded over itself protectively. (Level 6, 2500/1200)

“I then normal summon ‘Stoic of Prophecy’, also in defense mode.”

The pointy-haired, dual staff’s wielding sorcerer materialized onto the field, crossing its top-heavy weapons in front of himself by the tips. (Level 1, 300/200)

“I set one card facedown, and end my turn.” And with that, Twilight was forced to slide her remaining card into the graveyard.

(Hand: 0)

-

Having gone mostly unnoticed, Rainbow Dash stood close to the bleachers, having been observing the latest development in the impromptu spectacle, drawn by the notice of Sunset Shimmer having been skulking around. Her duel disk’s spectator mode had shown most of the technicalities; this new student, Twilight Sparkle, had so far managed to hold her own against the queen bitch of CHS.

Everyone, absolutely everyone watching were entirely fixated on the battle, any form of nervous habit on display, from biting one’s finger, fidgeting, shivers. No matter the outcome, Rainbow Dash herself was entirely convinced of her next actions. Whoever this new girl was, she absolutely needed to test her own skills against this new adversary.

-

“I activate the continuous trap; ‘Battle-Scarred’!” Sunset declared abrasively. “Now during my stand-by phase we both take Imprisoned Queen Archfiend’s cost out of our life points.”

“What?!”

Turn 16: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 1)

Sunset almost yanked her next card from her deck, right before the effect of Imprisoned Queen Archfiend drained her of another 1000 life points, as indicated by the virtual miasma projected from her mouth, the same occurring on Twilight’s side of the field.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 1900 – 1000 = 900

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 1100 – 1000 = 100

“I’m done with this,” Sunset uttered grimly, sliding one of her two remaining cards into her disk, “I activate the equip spell ‘Falling Down.’”

Before any inquiry or explanation could be so much as uttered, Twilight was startled when Destroyer collapsed on his knees. The fire-imbued demon knight groaned in what sounded like a snarl accented by the roar of flames, when jagged, spiky growths began to penetrate through its back. She almost gasped in sheer terror when the growths forcefully breached out into a series of bony protrusions jutting from Destroyer’s back. It threw up its arms in what sounded like the most agonizing roar imaginable.

“So long as I control an ‘Archfiend’ monster, I can take control of one of your monsters. However, during your stand-by phase, I take 800 points of damage.”

Twilight watched helplessly as Prophecy Destroyer stood up and leapt across the field onto Sunset’s side. From this angle she could spot throbbing webs of veins permeate much of the fiery demon knight’s dull grey body, the red-hot glow of the eyes and mouth of its visage helmet having changed to a noxious purple, all before kneeling back down in defense position. With the press of a button, due to not having the material card itself (instead the system marking Destroyer’s spot on Twilight’s field currently empty and marking one of Sunset’s monster slots as occupied), Destroyer rose up into attack position, looking ready to tear into Twilight with gnarled, clawed fingers instead of the flaming sword.

“I will then attack Stoic of Prophecy with Imprisoned Queen Archfiend!”

Imprisoned Queen (ATK: 3400) lashed out with its shackles once more, a single one cleaving Stoic (DEF: 200) gruesomely in half.

“When Stoic of Prophecy is sent to the graveyard, I can add a level three or below ‘Prophecy’ monster from my deck to my hand,” Twilight’s deck ejected a card, revealing it as Justice of Prophecy.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sunset sneered, “I’ll defeat you with your own monster! Prophecy Destroyer attacks you directly!”

In a gruesome display of animalistic madness, Prophecy Destroyer (ATK: 2500) leapt across the field, arms reared back to swipe at Twilight for the finishing blow.

“Trap card activate!” Twilight responded hastily, “‘Magician’s Circle!’ When a spellcaster-type monster attacks, we both special summon a spellcaster from our decks with 2000 or less attack points!”

“Dammit…” Sunset muttered.

“I special summon ‘Charioteer of Prophecy’ in defense mode!”

Onto Twilight’s field emerged a sorcerer clad in a green gold rimmed garb with a blue cape, two cloth talismans hanging from his waist and wielding a long, double-edged sword in his right hand, whilst his left held to the reins of his steed: A tall white horse with a saddle and decorative collar matching those of it’s rider’s primary colors. The horse knelt down to represent being in defense mode. (Level 4, 1800/1300) The new monster was quickly dispatched as Destroyer came down upon the sorcerer and his steed, crushing them with an explosive impact. Twilight’s field was left empty.

“I… I end my turn,” Sunset growled, eyeing the final card in her hand, indicating it as having no use.

(Hand: 1)

Turn 17: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 1)

Twilight drew, hoping against all odds that this final card would ensure victory, “During my stand-by phase, you take damage from the effect of Falling Down.”

Another gout of smoke wafted from Sunset’s mouth.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 900 – 800 = 100

Twilight looked at her hand. It was Wheel of Prophecy, added with Justice of Prophecy. No good, as Justice of Prophecy required a Spellbook to trigger her effect, plus Wheel of Prophecy held no value in this predicament, what with needing two sacrifices to normal summon. Looking at it on all accounts, with Sunset’s Battle-Scarred, there was no way around it; both of their life points would be depleted. Twilight relaxed her wrist holding her cards, and simply sighed.

“I end my turn.”

(Hand: 2)

-

“It’s over,” Applejack declared glumly. “The moment Sunset draws her next card, that Imprisoned Queen and trap is gonna take both out.”

“A draw,” Apple Bloom concurred. “But, Ah suppose it’s better than nothin’.”

“It’s the closest anyone’s ever come to beatin’ Sunset,” Applejack sighed. “As far as Ah’m concerned, just seein’ her walk away as somethin’ other than a winner; brings a smile to my face.”

“You an’ me both, sis. You an’ me both.”

-

Sunset clenched her right hand so tight her nails may have actually dug into her palm. A flurry of indignant emotions and questions rushed through her mind all at once.

How?! How could she already be this adept at dueling?! I stole into Equestria only two days ago, so she couldn’t have been here more than a day in the least, and the portal remains active for three days. It took me months just to get the hang of the game, let alone gathering the necessary cards. Yet she already has a fully functional deck and is pulling off complex maneuvers… Why?! Where did she even get cards as powerful as the Prophecies? Could it be…? What she said… Did I…?

An uncontrollable gasp escaped her lips when like a bolt of lightning on a cloudless day, a throbbing pain erupted in her head for the third time since returning through the portal.

This again?! Why?! She gritted her teeth clutching at the side of her head in vain as what felt like a burning web spread through her cranium. Ever since she arrived… What’s happening to me…?!

-

Twilight’s expression had changed from solemn regret to downright concern. When she thought Sunset Shimmer couldn’t get any more detestable from her demeanor, all that was swept aside when Twilight saw the fiery-haired girl grasp the side of her head, having leaned forward, whilst clenching her teeth. Either Sunset was being needlessly bitter or… She’s… in pain?

A single orange eye snapped in Twilight’s direction, looking less and less like the eyes of a pony, or human, but more like the flaming orb of an enraged dragon. Twilight felt almost urged to step back, a shudder racing up her spine when the eyes zeroed in on her.

Turn 18: Sunset Shimmer (Hand: 1)

At this point nothing could be done. Sunset furiously swiped her next card, triggering the effects of Imprisoned Queen and Battle-Scarred.

Twilight suddenly felt like her breathing had cut off. A foul tasting and burning sensation raced up her throat, the black plume of mist wafting out of her mouth. Only now she could feel it; honest to Celestia, she was feeling the noxious fumes expel from her body, her lungs felt like they were burning, as if a small part of her had actually shot out from within. The moment the effect ceased, Twilight clutched at her chest, a hoarse cough following. The ensuing gasps of air felt like her lungs truly had been burned from within, until the stinging inexplicably subsided.

Sunset Shimmer Life Points: 100 – 1000 = -900

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 100 – 1000 = -900

Draw

With her breathing resuming to function normally, though feeling slightly out of breath, Twilight’s eyes focused back on Sunset, who seemed to be going through similar symptoms. Imprisoned Queen and Prophecy Destroyer vanished, duel mode deactivating.

Was that…?! Was that part of the Game of Darkness?!

Priestess’ astral projection appeared standing behind Sunset. The white clad spirit grabbed hold atop Sunset’s head, the girl visibly flinching as if the spirit were material.

Sunset Shimmer!” Twilight heard the spirit’s mental voice reverberate across the field. “Reveal yourself to me; let me see what plagues your mind!

Was this Priestess’ doing? Had she invoked the Game of Darkness just for the chance to breach through into Sunset’s mind. Whatever she had done, the fact that Sunset seemed to outwardly react to the spirit’s touch indicated that whatever hypothetical mental blocks Sunset had set up to bar Priestess’ mental link, had temporarily fallen.

Back!

Twilight flinched. There was another voice; distorted, almost as if there were multiple voices speaking all at once. Among them seemed those of a feminine pitch. Sunset’s own mental voice possibly? Priestess hands released from Sunset’s head. No, not released, but were forced off by some invisible force.

“Sunset!” As if she’d lost control of her legs, Twilight rushed towards Sunset, who was now clutching her head with both hands.

-

“Umm… What’s going on?” asked Fluttershy as she and everyone else watched Twilight rush for Sunset.

“Either she’s taking a draw in the most undignified manner,” Rarity commented, “… Or she’s having a migraine?”

-

“Sunset!” Twilight called out again, her previously held disgust having miraculously evaporated. Whatever was happening to the fiery-haired unicorn turned human; the amnesia, the inability to commune with Priestess, that voice pushing her back, the sudden pain she was suffering, maybe, just maybe, she could reach out to her. “Sunset, what’s wrong? Do you remember…?”

Sunset’s gaze snapped back up at Twilight. Her eyes stared up at Twilight, directly into hers. Twilight reeled back, those fiery orbs alight in anger such as she’d never beheld before.

“S-Sunset…?”

“Get away from me!” Sunset snapped and lashed out.

A loud, reverberating slap overtook Twilight’s senses. Her eyes blurred as her head was thrown violently to the side, a stinging pain enveloping her left cheek. She stumbled away, coming dangerously close to collapsing. She felt a hand on her raw cheek, her senses slowly catching up. She looked back at Sunset, standing with her right hand swept over to her left, those enraged eyes glaring at her in utter contempt.

“Hey!” came an angered exclamation from behind Twilight. She heard as Spike ran up, growling angrily at Sunset.

“How dare you!” followed by another. In a moment, Twilight felt someone’s arm around her shoulders, whilst a delicate alabaster hand gently urged to turn her head. “You scratched her?!” shouted Rarity incredulously.

That’s when Twilight noted something else on her face other than just the stinging flesh where Sunset’s palm had connected. She hissed as Rarity delicately dabbed a tissue against her cheek.

“What the hell was that?!” Applejack shouted, standing protectively in front of Twilight. “So that’s what ya are, huh?! One draw an’ ya fly off the deep end?! Honestly, to think yourself anythin’ but a snake, Sunset!”

But Sunset remained unmoved by Applejack’s scolding. Instead, her eyes continued to focus on Twilight. She felt hadn’t Applejack intervened, Sunset would undoubtedly have attacked her right then and there. She pointed an accusatory finger at Twilight.

“This isn’t over, Twilight Sparkle!” she declared. “Tomorrow night, we’ll settle this once and for all. Mark my words; I will destroy you, and then all will witness what happens when they defy me!”

With that final declaration of war, Sunset turned and ran. Applejack shouted after in protest, taking a few steps after her.

“Are you alright, darling?” asked Rarity, looking at Twilight with worry, holding the tissue against her cheek. “I knew Sunset was unscrupulous, but… Ugh, I can’t even put it into words!”

After fully recovering her senses, Twilight looked to Rarity, “How is it?”

Rarity frowned, uncovering Twilight’s cheek, “She genuinely scratched you across the cheek! They don’t look deep, but they’ll undoubtedly scab…”

Twilight put a hand over the tissue, looking in the direction Sunset had taken off in. How could someone, whom she’d never even met, nor even heard about until recently, hold so much contempt for her as to going as far as assaulting her? Not that it was the first time; there was the recent bout with Trixie Lulamoon and the alicorn amulet, but even then, Trixie didn’t so much harm her as she simply forcibly evicted her from Ponyville and cordoned off the entire town.

“We should get those cleaned off, they could get infected,” said Rarity urgingly.

“Here,” came Fluttershy, holding a soft blue package of something. “I always carry these in case of injured animals. They’re perfectly fine for people.”

“Thank you, Fluttershy,” Rarity plucked a tissue from a small hole in the package, which she delicately dabbed over Twilight’s scratches. The moist antiseptic wipe stung slightly where Sunset’s nails had breached the skin.

“To think she’d do something so awful…” said Fluttershy, keeping the pack of wipes on hand.

Twilight winced slightly, “It’s not as up there as the thing with the knives…” she commented, Rarity continuing to clean out her cheek.

“Oh, I know,” Fluttershy muttered. “But the way she just reacted, that was… disturbing.”

“Ah swear that girl…” Applejack growled in frustration. “First she challenges ya, the moment she doesn’t have it ‘er way she goes nuts.” She looked at Twilight, “Ya’ll right there, Twi?”

“Yea,” Twilight winced, Rarity finishing cleaning her cheek. “Stings a bit, but I’m fine. Wasn’t expecting that…”

“What in the world got into her?” asked Rarity, delicately holding out the slightly stained antiseptic wipe. “Any other time she’s just obnoxiously proud or demanding. But just now?”

If only I could explain it to them…

“Well, that was… Morbidly unexpected, but congratulations to our very own Twilight Sparkle!” called Pinkie, having either retrieved her megaphone, or possibly had another on hidden in her floof. “Not only did she beat all four contenders, but on top of all of that; she dueled that no good…” she paused for a moment in thought, “…That no good (Eff!)cknugget Sunset Shimmer to a draw! A draw, everybody! A draw!

The gathered students proceeded to loudly cheer and applaud.

“You go new girl!” called Lyra Heartstrings, raising a pepped fist into the air.

“Way to show that big palooka!” cried Bon Bon, slamming a fist against an open palm.

“You’ve got my vote!” called Derpy, waving happily.

“Eyy…!” called Vinyl, lifting her shades and giving a lax, but deliberate point towards Twilight.

“Now you gotta know that counts for something when our own taciturn turntabler has something to say!” Pinkie emphasized, popping up behind the DJ, who lowered her glasses back over her eyes and shrugged nonchalantly.

“Oooh, and what’s this?” Pinkie vanished behind Vinyl, only to then pop up beside Flash Sentry standing up from his seat on the bleachers. “Does Twilight’s rival slash love interest have something to say?” she asked, topped off with flirtatious clicking.

“Pinkie!” yelled Twilight indignantly from the field.

“You know what I’m about!” cried Pinkie in unperturbed rebuttal.

Flash Sentry cleared his throat, whether out of need or embarrassment, if not both, before Pinkie held up the megaphone to his face with a mischievous grin on hers, “Well, um… I just wanted to say, that even if I beat her on her first go, after what I’ve seen today; I fully endorse Twilight Sparkle as the students’ choice contender for the midterm duel.”

“You heard him, folks,” said Pinkie, giving Flash a playful nudge. “Twilight Sparkle for midterm finalist, what say all of y-”

“Hold that thought for just a bit, okay Pinks?”

For a second time the even was interrupted by a new arrival. Everyone’s attention was now diverted to a bright blue-skinned girl with a head of radiant rainbow hair tied back into a high tail, immaculately showing off all its shades from red to purple, complete with a pair of goggles atop her head. At long last the fifth of Twilight’s friends’ counterparts had come forth.

“Before anyone makes any hasty decisions,” said Rainbow Dash, her eyes diverting towards the field, specifically at Twilight, “I think maybe we should make sure the people know exactly who to vote for.” She smiled in a cocky gesture, holding up her currently deactivated blue and gold trayed duel disk.

Duel #14: High-flying Warrior: Rainbow Dash

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Pinkie let out an overdrawn, overly dramatized gasp, “What an unbelievable coinci- I mean: What an unexpected turn of events!” She seemed to wink at… no-one, actually. “CHS’ top athlete and dashing daredevil duelist of dauntless determination… Wow, five words beginning with D… Oh right: Rainbow Dash has stepped up to the field!”

Twilight watched as the blue girl approached. Now with a better view from the first time she’d witness Rainbow’s human counterpart in full. Even from the distance it was evident that Rainbow would be an epitome of human physical fitness; her body was sleek, and from the denim shorts she wore that showed almost the entirety of her legs, they were very toned, belying great strength.

Unlike Twilight and her friends’ counterparts, Rainbow’s footwear was composed of what she believed were referred to as ‘sneakers’, not as tall as the boots most of them worse, reaching just above the ankle and secured with laces. Judging from their lighter construction, they must have been more conducive to running. A loose very light blue, possibly white, shirt hugged her upper body with the familiar symbol of a cloud with a tri-colored lightning bolt emblazoned on it (a most peculiar coincidence to be sure), topped with a sky-blue jacket with the sleeves worn rolled and bunched up over her elbows. She had a pair of red, yellow and blue striped cloth bracelets around her wrists, one of the elements betraying Sunset’s Photoshopped image. Twilight had no idea what the goggles over her head were for, but they just felt strangely fitting.

She seemed to have very small chest obstructions by comparison to Twilight and her friends: Almost flat, in fact.

“Rainbow,” Applejack stepped forth to intercept the star athlete.

Rainbow looked at the farmgirl distantly. The two of them locked eyes, standing silent for an uncomfortably long moment. Twilight watched, the barest ember of hope deep within making her hope the two would reconcile.

“Rainbow, listen: Ah’m sorry, I-” Applejack began, only to be silenced when Rainbow held up a hand, her expression unchanging.

Rainbow stepped past Applejack, her cerise eyes focusing entirely on Twilight. She met the athlete’s gaze, the nostalgia of meeting the pegasus back in Ponyville. Though here Rainbow was not jesting or goofing off. She looked at Twilight with an unwavering intensity; like sizing her up. As if there was any question; as she’d made it abundantly clear on her entry; she was challenging her.

“So… You’re Twilight Sparkle, huh?” she asked casually.

“I am. And you’re Rainbow Dash,” Twilight responded. “I’ve heard about you quite a bit.”

Rainbow’s eyes focused on something else, “Ouch…” she murmured with a wince.

Twilight raised a hand to her cheek, a hot tingle following as she pulled it back, specks of dark red staining her fingertips. Sunset’s scratching smack really had left cuts on her cheek. A sudden tinge of terror crept inside her.

“Oh, don’t touch them, darling, they’ll get infected,” urged Rarity, taking another tissue to dab the seeping blood.

“Hey, Flutters,” Rainbow looked to Fluttershy, “don’t you carry band-aids in case of injured animals?”

“Oh, yes! I’ll be right back,” Fluttershy lightly jogged to her previous place at the bleachers.

“Looks like Sunset did a number on you in more ways than one,” Rainbow remarked. “But hey, at least it wasn’t like with Lightning Dust, where she-”

“Yes, I believe I’ve heard the knife through the hand story,” Twilight cut-in with a shudder.

“I knew Sunset’s a stuck-up bitch day in and day out, twenty-four seven, but that was just nuts,” Rainbow added. At that point Fluttershy had returned with a small package of band-aids, who promptly administered the first one over a scratch. “Good thing AJ and your dog where here, ‘cuz from what I was seeing, she looked just about ready to start whaling on ya.”

Twilight had no arguments there. Of course, what worried her more was everything else. The psionic scream strong enough to force Priestess back. And that sheer rage behind those burning eyes. There had to be something wrong with Sunset Shimmer, something much more than a simple grudge. Twilight’s lack of understanding of the magic of this world did not help matters, but if she were to compare it to anything she herself had seen, it looked very similar to corruption of power, much like the alicorn amulet.

“Anyway,” Rainbow brought both hands to her waist, “I get you’re looking to face off against her in the midterm match, so Pinkie set this whole thing up to garner support. I want in on this.” Definitely Rainbow’s counterpart. She did not ask, she just declared. “You managed to stalemate with Sunset, that’s something no-one else here could attest to. So, what do ya say?” she held forth her duel disk bearing arm. “Up for one more with the best for last?”

Twilight could hear the exasperated groan of Applejack to the side. Despite the athlete’s brazenness, Twilight herself only found the familiarity of the group dynamic of her friends back in Equestria: All five counterparts to the ponies who’d changed her life were now here, just like what felt like so long ago when she first forayed into the Everfree to seek out what bound the six together.

“Though I’d like to add in a wager,” Rainbow added, a foreboding glint present in her eye.

Twilight looked at the athlete with an uncanny apprehensiveness, “What kind of wager?”

A small smirk formed on Rainbow’s lips, “If I win, I take your place as the one to face off against Sunset Shimmer.”

“But Rainbow,” Rarity admonished, “Twilight’s already fought painstakingly difficult five matches! You can’t just expect her to give up when she’s come so far!”

“Maybe,” Rainbow shrugged. “But what will the audience think should their champion turn down a challenge just because she might lose?”

“Rainb-!” Applejack caught herself in what had to be an accusatory shout, looking indecisive. Naturally, since Twilight had been working to possibly rebuild their lost friendship. The farmgirl restrained herself, and tried again, more delicately. “Rainbow, please-”

“Did… Did you just say ‘please’?” asked the rainbow-haired athlete in confusion.

“Yes, Ah did. And Ah’ll say it again. Rainbow, please, just listen: Twilight’s trying’ to make everythin’ right again. Back before all this horse hockey with Sunset Shimmer started,” Applejack explained in a solemn tone. “Ya know what she’s done in just one day since she arrived?” She looked to Rarity who, along with Fluttershy, were finished tending to Twilight’s cheek. “Me an’ Rarity; that whole thing Ah’ve been mad at you an' her for nary two damn years? Ah was proven that Ah was wrong; that you-know-who just fooled me into thinking that, well… Point is, me an’ Rarity are back together, an’ Ah just want you to know; even if you don’t wanna be my friend no more: Ah’m sorry, an’ if ya ever reconsider, you only need to ask. Okay?”

Rainbow looked at Applejack, her features, noticeably softening at the farmgirl’s coming forth. Twilight glanced between the two, a tinge of hope tingling in her chest. It may take time, but maybe, just maybe, she brought all five together once more in this new world.

Rainbow turned back to Twilight, “Wager still stands, new girl.”

“Dammit, Rainbow!” Applejack exclaimed frustratedly.

Twilight’s tinge of hope descended into a swell of incredulity in her stomach, “Why are you so dead-set on taking my place?!”

Rainbow shrugged, “Eh, because you showed Sunset is just as human as the rest of us? Because I wanna take a crack at her after losing that honor to Pinkie last year? Because my blood is boiling at the chance to face a new challenge? Isn’t that enough?”

“And what then?” asked Twilight.

“What then?” Rainbow parroted. She rolled her neck leisurely, “I dunno. I’m a ‘in the now’ kinda girl. When I have something in front of me, I deal with that before the one after.”

“Ooooh!” went Pinkie, now back to freely partake in her knack for showmanship. “And before any duel has even started, Rainbow’s already sizing up CHS’ new heartthrob. So then: What do all you wonderful people in the audience think? Go from a five to a six?!”

“Technically she didn’t win that last one…” came a remark from an uninvitingly familiar voice in the crowd.

“You know what I mean!” Pinkie retorted. “Round six a go-go?”

“One more round!” the audience shouted. “One more round!”

Rainbow raised a humored brow, “Well, the crowd hath spoken. You’re not gonna let them down, are ya?”

Twilight let out a surreptitious sigh. Rainbow had played the situation in surprising tact to her advantage, all for the chance of challenging her. Twilight was unsure whether to feel honored for Rainbow, one of the seven best duelists in CHS, perceiving her as a worthy challenge, or trepidatious over the costly wager the rainbow-haired girl had issued. In either case; she was not getting out of this predicament by declining, not without taking a potentially heavy dent on her credibility.

“Alright, I’ll accept your challenge, wagers and all,” Twilight announced, pressing the deployment switch for emphasis as her duel disk’s tray halves slid forth, combined and swung to its proper placement along her arm, accompanied by a rattle as her automated shuffler once again did its work.

Rainbow Dash smiled eagerly as she followed suit, keeping her forearm held upwards as hers deployed and her cards shuffled. Twilight wasn’t certain, but it looked almost as if Rainbow was showing the process off in such a way possibly to show her legitimacy.

Twilight took her spot at the end of the soccer field, the spot of grass where she’d been standing having a noticeable series of compressed imprints. The rest of her friends had resumed their places on the bleachers, while Spike remained diligently at her side.

“Psst,” hissed Spike, “You sure this is a good idea? I mean you tied with Sunset…”

Twilight, establishing the slightest hint of eye-contact, covered the general area of the communicator of her disk, “I know, Spike. But this is exactly why Rainbow chose to make her move; she recognized me as a worthy opponent, and given her standing at the school, if I defeat her, it should guarantee a unanimous verdict…” She swallowed, “As long as I don’t lose…”

“Is your disk on the fritz, ‘cuz you’re coming in all muffled?” Rainbow’s voice called through the speaker.

“Oh! Uh, no, I was just…” Twilight tried to come up with an excuse, but given the few seconds too long, she sighed, “I was talking to my dog.”

Rainbow visibly shrugged from her end, “Eh. I talk to my tortoise all the time.”

“Tan- Uh, y-you have a tortoise?” Twilight asked, almost slipping out the expected name of her Rainbow’s wackily contrasting, but fervently faithful, pet back in Ponyville.

“Yea. His name’s Tank. I adopted him after I learned what irony meant,” the athlete chuckled.

Twilight let out an endearing aw, “That’s adorable!” Nailed it!

“Alright; gear seems to be working. So…” Rainbow leveled her duel disk, “Let’s get started.”

Taking the initiative, Twilight tapped the revolving virtual coin on her screen. Twice in a row, the toss went to her opponent.

“Duel!”

Rainbow Dash Life Points: 4000

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000

Turn 1: Rainbow Dash (Hand: 5)

“Alright, let’s make this interesting,” said Rainbow, her face oozing in confidence. “I summon ‘Fortress Warrior’ in defense mode.”

At the slap of the card, onto her field arose a rather bizarre looking ‘warrior’ as the name implied: It was a four-legged statue with two stone torsos back-to-back, both propping up some sort of round slab over them with their thick arms. Sides of said slab looked as if they were lined with windows and Twilight thought she could spot bits of rebar. (Level 2, 600/1200)

I saw a hint of what Rainbow could do in the gymnasium. No doubt she’s going to use something to bring out a tuner to-

“I end my turn,” Rainbow called.

(Hand: 4)

Twilight looked at Rainbow with a bewildered double take, “Wait, what?!”

Rainbow’s shoulders raised slightly, “I end my turn. Your move,” she said in a needlessly matter-of-fact tone.

Turn 2: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 5)

“Bad hand?” asked Spike.

“Mm, that’s not quite how that seems to work here, Spike…” said Twilight as she drew her card. “Still, I’m not leaving her any material for later: I summon ‘Fool of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The yellow robed, scepter wielding spellcaster of a lax disposition emerged onto Twilight’s side, leisurely propping said scepter to his shoulder, flicking the twig in his mouth. (Level 4, 1600/900)

“Once per turn when Fool is on my field, I can send one ‘Spellbook’ spell card from my deck to the graveyard,” a card slid out of her deck, revealing it as ‘Spellbook Library of the Crescent’, which promptly was fed into the graveyard port. “I will then attack Fortress Warrior with Fool!”

The sorcerer (ATK: 1600) spat out his twig as he held aloft his scepter, charging power at its tip before flinging it at Fortress Warrior (DEF: 1200). A resounding explosion followed, something quite commonplace at this point, a cloud of dust billowing out.

It won’t do damage, but she’ll still be down one Synchro component-

When the virtual dust cleared, Fortress Warrior was still standing, no worse for wear.

“Oh, yea;” Rainbow spoke up, “Fortress Warrior can’t be destroyed from one attack each battle phase. Just thought I’d let you know.”

Twilight frowned, “She… She was goading me, wasn’t she?”

“A little, yea,” Spike nodded.

Twilight sighed, “I set one card and end my turn.”

(Hand: 4)

Turn 3: Rainbow Dash (Hand: 4)

“And draw,” Rainbow called as she drew. Fanning out her sizable hand of five, Rainbow seemed to be thinking something over quite deeply, given her lips curling into a lopsided pout. Looking over at Twilight, her pout seemed to curve into a devious smile as she took out a card and slapped it beside Fortress Warrior’s, “I next summon ‘Rescue Warrior’ in defense mode.”

Another monster confusingly referred to as a warrior emerged onto Rainbow’s field. This one, roughly the size of an adult human was decked in bright orange overalls with equally eye-catchingly bright yellow rims, reminding Twilight the vests of rescue worker ponies back home, with a thick brace at the back of a face-covering red helmeted head. On its back it carried a massive two-bit barrel-like canisters connected to a nozzle it wielded in its left hand and a two-pronged tool attached to its cylindrical right forearm via hoses. (Level 4, 1600/1700)

“Another one in defense…” Twilight muttered almost incredulously.

“Are we certain this is Rainbow Dash and not just someone who looks like her?” asked Spike flatly. “You know? ‘Cuz I was expecting her to go all out.”

“And then…” Rainbow slapped another card on her tray, “I summon ‘Backup Warrior’ in attack mode!”

In an instant a third monster emerged onto Rainbow’s field; this one was another humanoid garbed in a dark green outfit complete with a greyish green domed helmet strapped to his head and a pair of goggles over his maniacally grinning face. On his back looked to be a triad of large cannons, and in place of his forearms were a pair of much smaller cannons, one that seemed to had some form of belt leading into it. (Level 5, 2100/0)

“Spoke too soon…” Spike remarked.

“Backup Warrior can be special summoned from my hand if I have two monsters on my field in defense position,” Rainbow added, before pointing towards Fool of Prophecy. “To which I then attack your Fool!”

In a maniacal cackle, the two cannons Backup Warrior (ATK: 2100) had for arms let out a cacophonous, rattling fusillade the likes of which Twilight had never heard before. Fool of Prophecy (ATK: 1600) shook violently before bursting into sparkles of light.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 4000 – 500 = 3500

“I set one card, and call it a turn,” Rainbow announced before crossing her arms. “Think you can take ‘im?”

(Hand: 2)

Turn 4: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 3)

“I’ve dealt with worse; I assure you,” Twilight stated as she drew a card.

“Oh, bee-tee-dubs, you might wanna work on your draw,” Rainbow interjected.

Twilight looked over at Rainbow in confusion, “My draw?” She glanced down at her deck, then back to Rainbow, “What do you mean work on my draw?”

Rainbow brought her hand down to her own deck and mimed Twilight in how she would normally draw a card in what seemed the most feasible way to do it, “Don’t do it like this. More like this.” She then mimed her way which was more forceful, her arm slinging right across her chest and away from her body.

Twilight stared at the rainbow-haired human counterpart of her friend with a look of utter confoundedness, “What does it matter how I draw a card?! I take a card, add it to my hand; no hassle.”

Rainbow tapped herself on the forehead and sputtered, “You really are new at this, aren’t ya?”

“I really don’t follow where this is going…” Twilight asked, almost pleadingly looking over to her friends in the audience.

“Eh,” Rainbow proceeded to shrug nonchalantly, “I’m sure you’ll get it in a bit…”

“Get what?” Twilight inquired, her logically rounded mind irked at the lack of any form of explanation from Rainbow, which aggravated Twilight further considering it being Rainbow who brought it up originally. “Rainbow!”

“I’m sure someone will tell you after the match,” Rainbow smiled innocently, idly revving her right shoulder.

Twilight puffed out her cheeks in frustration, “Fine… I see no reason to wrack my mind over this, I will proceed as I was initially.”

“She might have a point though,” Spike whispered. “I mean, everyone else seems to be doing it similarly. Not like a hundred percent, but it is there.”

Twilight took a curt glance at Spike as she placed her drawn card into her hand before fanning them out. What does it matter how you draw it? As long as it gets into your hand is all that matters… “I summon ‘Spellbook Magician of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The light blue robed archivist sorcerer emerged onto the field, proudly levitating his tome over an open palm whilst holding two fingers of his other hand against the side of his head. (Level 2, 500/400)

“When Spellbook Magician is summoned, he lets me add one ‘Spellbook’ spell card to my hand,” a brief rattle of shuffling cards followed, after which a card was ejected from her deck, “my choice being ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’. I then reveal it, along with ‘Spellbook Organization’ and ‘Spellbook of Eternity’ to special summon ‘High Priestess of Prophecy’. To my side; avatar of the mystic arts!”

In a flurry or ethereal pages, Priestess unveiled herself, gathering said pages into the infinite number already within her emerald tome. (Level 7, 2500/2100)

Rainbow simply smiled in anticipation, “Brought out your ace already.”

“Next I activate ‘Spellbook of Knowledge’. By sacrificing Spellbook Magician, I draw two cards.”

In a lax farewell gesture, Spellbook Magician vanished from the field, followed by Twilight drawing two cards, in her own way, deciding to ignore Rainbow’s amused eyeroll. “I then activate Priestess’ effect; by banishing Spellbook of Knowledge, I destroy your Fortress Warrior.”

In a repeat of the numerous times Twilight used Priestess for her destruction effect, the tome hovered opened before her, her hands taking on the correct gesture while murmuring in an unknown language. Despite being made of stone, Fortress Warrior was eaten away into a pile of ashes by a trail of green flames spreading around its body.

“Then I activate ‘Spellbook of Power’, increasing Priestess’ attack points by a thousand,” Twilight pointed at the heavily armed Backup Warrior, “to which I move onto battle. Priestess attacks Backup Warrior!”

Her tome changing to the familiar fiery orange from Spellbook of Power, Priestess drew its stored power into her hands (ATK: 2500 -> 3500), her fingers suspending a crackling orb between her hands, which she then launched at Backup Warrior (ATK: 2100).

“Facedown activate!” Rainbow responded. “Quick-play spell ‘Half Shut’! This prevents a monster from being destroyed in battle, but that monster’s attack points are halved until the end phase.”

“But you’ll take massive damage from doing that,” Twilight added.

“Who said anything about using it on my own monster?” Rainbow smirked, leisurely pointing at Priestess. (ATK: 3500 -> 1750)

In another mad cackle, Backup Warrior (ATK: 2100) let loose with the seemingly automatic cannons as Twilight had come to view his weapons as. The projectiles shredded the careening orb, forcing Priestess to cover her front with her arms, when a green barrier formed before her, which the shots ricocheted off of, whilst a few of them either misfired past or punched though and hit Twilight’s segmented forcefield.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 3500 – 350 = 3150

With one clever counter Rainbow not only saved her monster, but in addition dealt Twilight additional damage, and prevented her from using Spellbook of Power’s beneficial effect. With a resigned sigh for the moment all Twilight could do was; “I set one card and end my turn.”

(Hand: 4)

-

“She saved Backup Warrior on top of stopping Twilight from adding another Spellbook and dealt some damage,” remarked Fluttershy.

“Well it is Rainbow Dash,” Applejack stated. “Girl’s got a knack for coming up with these things on the fly. At least that hadn’t changed…”

-

Turn 5: Rainbow Dash (Hand: 2)

Rainbow drew her next card, doing it in that fashion where it seemed to take more effort and energy than needed, “Alright; I suppose it’s time to get serious. I play the spell ‘Tuning’.” She slid a card into her disk, “This lets me add a ‘Synchron’ monster from my deck to my hand,” her chosen card was ejected from her deck, “at the cost of sending my topmost card to the graveyard. I then summon the added ‘Fleur Synchron’ in attack mode.”

With a high-pitched giggle, emerging to the field what looked to be a semi-opened flower bud with a cartoonishly grinning face, stringy long arms ending in thick white hands and short stubby legs. (Level 2, 400/200)

“I will then tune the level five Backup Warrior with the level two Fleur Synchron.”

Fleur Synchron burst into light, forming into the two green tuning rings. The rings descended onto Backup Warrior, placing the half machine fighter at their center, to which his form faded into a glowing outline, erupting into five orbs of light which lined up in a perfect vertical row. (2 + 5 = 7)

“Proud warrior beckoned by thunderclap, strike down your foes with the skies’ awesome might.”

The lights erupted into a blinding pillar.

“Synchro Summon! Ride the storm! Level 7: ‘Lightning Warrior’!”

With a crackling entrance, a towering humanoid leapt to the ground. Covered almost entirely in pristine silvery-white segmented armor, save for the head covered only in a goggled mask, a head of wild, blonde hair swaying in the jolts of electricity coursing through his form. Ragged red cloth tied to his waist and shoulders billowed wildly, ceasing only when the excess jolts trailed down his legs and into the ground. (Level 7, 2400/1200)

But it has only 2400 attack points…

“Next; when Fleur Synchron gets sent to the graveyard as a Synchro material, it lets me special summon one level two or below monster from my hand. So I summon ‘Jet Synchron’.”

A small mechanical being emerged onto the field. Its body was mostly composed of a metallic cylindrical structure, with a partial white casing at the front. At the front of its body within its structure looked to be a slowly revolving fan, held in place with a pointed stub, which had a pair of determined, angry eyes affixed to it. Parallel to the form of its body, it had a pair of spindly legs and arms, but due to its back-heavy structure, it was force to crouch. The arms seemed to have angled extensions extending from the shoulders akin to what might pass as rudimentary wings. (Level 1, 500/0)

“I assume ‘Synchrons’ are all tuner monsters?” Twilight inquired.

“Pretty much,” Rainbow replied. “And I assume you know what’s coming next?”

“You’re going to tune Jet Synchron to one of your remaining monsters to conduct a second Synchro summon.”

“Guilty as charged,” Rainbow smirked, giving what Twilight was beginning to consider calling a thumbs-up.

The fan inside Jet Synchron began to revolve at increasing speed, the back of its body erupting in a burst of flame before its form faded and was replaced with one of the tuning rings. The ring placed itself around Rescue Warrior, whose form faded into four orbs of light. (1 + 4 = 5)

“In the unrelenting jet streams, break the bonds to fly at awesome speeds unsurpassable.”

The rowed lights erupted once more into a blinding pillar with in the tuning ring.

“Synchro Summon! Fly high! Level 5: Jet Warrior!”

Bursting from the light with an intense roar, a metallic humanoid flew up high, doing what looked like extensive aerial acrobatics over the field before touching down in a crouched position. This new monster was difficult to describe for Twilight: It looked to be mechanical, in a distinctly humanoid shape, its body composed of a black, white and gold chassis built around a silvery endoskeleton. Its head had a pointed shape with two eyes slightly to the sides, which melded directly into a parallel conical structure that encompassed its chest, its back spewing an intense blue fire, with rudimentary wings extending from the shoulders with fully assembled variants of what Jet Synchron’s body was composed of. (Level 5, 2100/1200)

“But both of your monsters are weaker than Priestess. You wasted five monsters just for that?” Twilight asked, eyeing the two back-to-back Synchro summoned monsters warily.

“Hey, the good stuff’s just getting started,” Rainbow grinned. “First off, when Jet Synchron is used for a Synchro summon, it lets me add one ‘Junk’ monster from my deck to my hand. And then, when Jet Warrior is Synchro summoned, it can return one monster on your side of the field to your hand.”

Jet Warrior’s eponymous ‘jets’ began to rev loudly, sending an earth breaking gust trailing along the ground towards Priestess.

“So that’s what you were after?” Twilight stated. “Leaving me open for a two-part direct attack.”

“Correct-a-mundo, Twi,” said Rainbow, adjusting her goggles. “Gotta say, I was expecting a bit more. I mean you didn’t even hit me once. But hey, I’ll give you much kudos for sticking to your guns even with the wager, so-”

“I play the continuous trap: ‘Safe Zone’!” Twilight quickly responded, Apple Bloom’s borrowed trap revealing itself.

The segmented forcefield from Twilight’s duel with Sunset assembled itself into a spheroid barrier around Priestess, the final hexagon materializing in place just as Jet Warrior’s effect landed, the barrier dissipating the trailing gust.

“Oh…” Rainbow looked on in surprise. “So you did have something prepared after all.”

Twilight smiled in response, “I like to be prepared, just in case. Safe Zone prevents its target monster from being destroyed or targeted by card effects, and it also prevents destruction from combat. Though this comes at the cost of Priestess not being able to attack directly anymore.”

Rainbow only chuckled, “I knew this was going to be a fun match after all. Well then; I end my turn.”

“At this point before your end phase, I activate my second facedown; ‘Spellbook Organization,’” Twilight interjected, revealing the set quick-play spell. “This lets me take the top three cards of my deck and rearrange them.” And in addition, gives me more ammunition. Looking at the middle card, Twilight cast a surreptitious glance towards the bleachers, before placing it on top.

(Hand: 2)

Turn 6: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 4)

Twilight drew, ignoring Rainbow shaking her head, before taking one of her remaining Spellbooks and sliding it into her disk, “At this point I activate ‘Spellbook of Eternity to return Spellbook of Knowledge back into my hand. I’ll then activate that again, sending ‘The Grand Spellbook Tower’ to the graveyard to two draw twice. I then normal summon ‘Temperance of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The dual chalices wielding, brown-robed sorceress emerged in a puff of smoke. (Level 3, 1000/1000). Whether or not as a result of the highly advanced system, Priestess seemed to tug at her hat in greeting to her fellow sorceress, to which Temperance bowed courteously.

“As I have already activated a Spellbook this turn, I can sacrifice Temperance in order to special summon a level five or above light or dark attribute spellcaster from my deck. I beckon ‘Reaper of Prophecy’!”

Once again exhuming her mixed smokescreen of white and dark mist from her chalices, Temperance made her exit. With a swing of their oversized scythe, Reaper unveiled themselves from within, the blade of his namesake weapon elongating with a cold blue gleam, whilst their eye glimmered ominously red from underneath the dark purple hood. (Level 6, 2000/1600)

“Judging by that you have a lot of Spellbooks in the grave now,” Rainbow stated upon seeing Reaper’s emergence.

“I have five ‘Spellbooks’ in my graveyard so far, yes,” Twilight confirmed. “This means all of Reaper’s effects trigger: His attack points increase by 600, and he can add a ‘Spellbook’ spell card into my hand. However, as I used Temperance’s effect; I can’t use his effect to summon another spellcaster this turn. I choose to add a second ‘Spellbook of Power’ to my hand with his effect.” Twilight’s deck shuffled and her chosen card was ejected. “I will then banish Spellbook Organization from my graveyard to destroy Lightning Warrior.”

Priestess began her chant, followed by Lightning Warrior, which Rainbow had painstakingly summoned, searing away to ashes.

“I then activate Spellbook of Power on Reaper, to increase his attack points by a thousand.”

As with all Prophecies, the burning orange tome appearing spinning before Reaper, opening its pages to unveil the hidden power within. Reaper drew the inherent energy with their scythe, the gleaming cold blade turning orange, like steel inside a furnace, energy racing up and down the weapon, which Reaper had to grasp near the blade to keep it in check. (ATK: 2600 -> 3600)

“Now; I attack your Jet Warrior with Priestess!”

Grasping her tome under one arm, Priestess (ATK: 2500) revved her arm in front of her, quickly gathering power before her palm which swiftly shot towards Jet Warrior (ATK: 2100). The mechanical warrior exploded on impact, Rainbow holding her duel disk bearing arm in front to shield her eyes from the flash.

Rainbow Dash Life Points: 4000 – 400 = 3600

That leaves Rainbow with 3600. Reaper has that exact amount to end this duel right here! “I then attack you directly with Reaper!”

With a forceful heave, Reaper swung their energized scythe, sending a wildly pulsing surge of power swerving directly at Rainbow. With another resounding boom, a cloud of virtual dust picked up, obscuring the rainbow-haired athlete entirely. The suddenness to the duel had the students, particularly those of who seemed to belong to Rainbow’s clique, awing, some even gasping in disbelief. The duel was over in six turns. One over Applejack’s count.

I… I actually did it. Five victories, broken only by a tie. I don’t know how, but I actually did it. Just one more duel and I can end this madness, and return home-

From the dust unveiled not just Rainbow, but some astral image of a monster Twilight had not seen before. A humanoid in red and blue thorny armor with long white hair and an expressionless red mask with glowing yellow eyes. Its spike-lined arms were crossed protectively at its front, as if shielding Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash Life Points: 3600

Twilight, in utter bafflement, watched as a card was ejected from Rainbow’s graveyard slot, “Phew…” sighed the athlete in relief, looking at the card in gratitude. “Sure am glad it was this that was sent to the graveyard with Tuning…”

“W-what happened?” Twilight asked, dumbstruck. “What did you do? You didn’t have a set card-”

“‘Necro Gardna,’” said Rainbow, flashing the card proudly at Twilight. “When my opponent attacks, I can banish him from the graveyard to negate it.”

-

“Heh,” Applejack chuckled. “If figures.”

“That card always seems to come through for her in the end,” said Fluttershy, smiling, even if they were all rooting for Twilight’s victory.

“Ah dunno how she does it. Dumb luck, divine intervention, or somethin’ else,” Applejack added fondly.

-

Twilight stared in awe at the card, its statistics now accessible to her once its effect had been triggered in the duel. A card that protects the player from a single attack from behind the scenes as it were, given its placement in the graveyard. Rainbow placed it in the banished compartment at the back of her disk, seeming to take great care with it.

“That’s a… That’s a remarkable card,” said Twilight, thinking back to what Priestess had told her when they met.

“Mm,” Rainbow nodded. “Fluttershy gave it to me.”

“Rainbow,” Twilight began, taking a brief moment. “It’s not too late, you know.”

Rainbow looked at Twilight, her confidence replaced by genuine solemnity. Perhaps here, in the heat of battle (a most ironic notion pertaining to what Twilight knew), the two could commune respectfully.

“Your friends miss you, Rainbow. Fluttershy and Applejack especially. Fluttershy told me how it was you who helped her be more courageous and… She felt alone and almost helpless without you, especially with Sunset Shimmer around.”

Rainbow’s eyes slowly turned downwards. Even from the distance between the two, Twilight felt she could tell, that Rainbow was herself hurting.

“And Applejack: I spent the night at her place, so I guess I’ve known her the longest out of all of you five,” a mostly true notion, even though Twilight was forced into silence for a sizable time at the Apple residence after her, well, honest to Celestia, prying, “She wronged you, I know, but… But she realized her mistake. You heard her yourself; you lot were just being manipulated from behind your backs. You five can mend this, you-”

“Twilight,” Rainbow interrupted, albeit in an uncharacteristically restrained, respectfully so, tone. “I get where you’re coming from. But really; I’ve moved on. Friendships come and go.”

No; Twilight Sparkle was not so easily deterred; “They don’t have to. I can see you’re the tough girl archetype, for lack of a better term, but at least think about it. And not just for your own sake. A certain someone watching us right now is worried that her friendship might be jeopardized too.” With a cursory glance at her hand, she believed herself safe for the time being; “I set one card and end my turn here.”

(Hand: 3)

Turn 7: Rainbow Dash (Hand: 2)

Rainbow was silent for a moment, the fingers of her right hand resting atop her deck. Whether she responded verbally or not, Twilight believed she had made some impact. She knew enough about her own Rainbow Dash to realize that she was obstinate and stubborn, so patience was crucial. Perhaps even speaking to her through their duel would have a greater impact.

Rainbow finally drew her card, in a more restrained fashion this time, though still with way too much arm movement in Twilight’s astute observation.

“You pulled quite a nasty with that Safe Zone of yours. I’ll just have to break it down first! I summon ‘Junk Synchron’ in attack position.”

Onto Rainbow field appeared, or rather hopped, a strange small humanoid machine with big orange feet, forearms, chestplate and to top it all off a tall cylindrical hat over a spheroid white head with googly eyes peering from underneath the brim. a white scarf hung from around its neck, and there seemed to be a very eye-catching teal-green ‘handle’ at the bottom right of its chestplate. (Level 3, 1300/500)

Another tuner monster? But she doesn’t have anything to tune it to, so why would she-?

“When Junk Synchron is normal summoned, he can special summon one level two or lower monster in my graveyard, but it has its effects negated. To that end; I special summon back Fortress Warrior.”

The new, very orange, tuner monster held out a hand, before which the rocky Fortress Warrior arose from the ground. (Level 2, 600/1200)

Oh! So that’s why. Junk Synchron gives her a free material for tuning. But it’s not going to be very big at only level 5.

“Now I’ll sacrifice my level two Fortress Warrior to special summon Jet Warrior from the graveyard in defense mode. However, when leaving the field, it gets banished this time.”

Jet Warrior arose from the dark graveyard portal and knelt down, with its arms awkwardly crossed just over its chest due to the awkward conical structure jutting from its chest. (Level 5, 2100/1200)

From five to eight!

“I will now tune my level three Junk Synchron with the level five Jet Warrior!”

Junk Synchron grabbed hold of the handle on its body and pulled, revealing it as some form of pullcord. A loud revving started from its back, when its form faded and formed three tuning rings, which surrounded Jet Warrior. (3 + 5 = 8)

“Beaten and broken, courage still lives on. Combine in your power, and break down your obstacle with awesome might.”

“Synchro Summon! Level 8, ‘Junk Destroyer’!”

With a resounding boom, a giant mechanical-looking humanoid landed onto the field. The majority of its body was encased in predominately black and grey armor with bronze rims, its greaves decorated with red, jutting spikes at the knees. A quintet of gems lined its chest, four of them green, with the largest central one being a fiery red. It had four, powerful arms extending from its shoulders, and a masked head covered by a tall pronged brazen crown. A cold steel, X-shaped frame clung to its back. (Level 8, 2600/2500)

“When summoned, Junk Destroyer can destroy a card for each non-tuner monster used to summon it: I’ll destroy your Safe Zone, to which the monster it is targeted towards is also destroyed.”

“I don’t think so!” Twilight slid a card into her graveyard slot. “I send ‘Effect Veiler’ to the graveyard.”

-

Rainbow looked on in surprise when a blue-haired angelic human with brilliant white wings emerged onto the field. Unfurling its wings to their fullest, a blinding gleam shone off them, forcing Junk Destroyer to cover its face to prevent itself from being blinded.

She has Effect Veiler?! It’s gotta be a coincidence, right? There’s no way that would be the same one…

-

“Effect Veiler-”

“Negates a monster’s effect for one turn by discarding it to the graveyard,” Rainbow cut in.

“Oh… You already knew that, I see.” Twilight remarked awkwardly.

“Scootaloo and me both have one,” Rainbow stated. “Bit odd for an established Xyz user to have one in her deck,” she said, raising an observant brow.

Twilight’s eyes darted aimlessly from one direction to the next.

“… Scoots gave it to you, didn’t she?”

“She did, yes,” said Twilight in unequivocal admittance. “She and her friends all gave me something in case I was in a pickle,” she giggled.

“Mm. I hear rumors she’s playing Fusion outside of school,” Rainbow remarked, sounding none too enthused.

“She is, yes,” said Twilight in admittance. “She didn’t know better since she honestly did know why her honorary big sis and friend’s sister had a vendetta going.”

Rainbow sighed, “Fusion really doesn’t suit her.”

“Maybe you should tell her that yourself,” said Twilight in encouragement.

After a moment of glum silence, Rainbow turned her attention back to the duel, “I’ll attack Reaper with Junk Destroyer.”

With a grunt, the depowered Junk Destroyer (ATK: 2600) charged at the looming Reaper (ATK: 2600).

Does she plan on taking them both out?

“At this point I discard ‘Rush Warrior’ from my hand. When a warrior Synchro monster attacks, its original attack points are doubled during damage calculation.”

With a vicious double haymaker, thanks to its two pairs of arms, Junk Destroyer (ATK: 2600 -> 5200) crushed Reaper with a literal boom, the grim sorcerer having vanished under the virtual dust kicked off by the force.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 3150 – 2600 = 550

“Whoa! And Dashie takes a big lead with a hand trap: Reaper’s down go boom!” commented Pinkie with a strangely hoarse sound towards the end, which led to several people around her covering their ears.

“I then banish Rush Warrior in order to add Junk Synchron back into my hand, then set one card. Your move, Twilight.”

(Hand: 1)

Turn 8: Twilight Sparkle (Hand: 2)

As she proceeded to draw, Twilight rolled her eyes as she complied with Rainbow’s insistence on drawing her way, casting a humored pout as a means of belying something along the lines of “There. Happy?” or something similar.

“I remove The Grand Spellbook Tower from my graveyard to destroy Junk Destroyer with Priestess’ effect: Lexicon Designator!”

In another repeat, Priestess murmured her incantation, the four-armed warrior being rendered ash by the arcane flames. This rendered Rainbow’s field empty, but due to Safe Zone’s effect, Priestess could not attack directly.

“Next I summon ‘Hermit of Prophecy’ in attack mode.”

The monster resembling Twilight’s idol emerged onto the field, stroking his beard contemplatively. (Level 3, 1200/700)

“I then activate ‘Spellbook of Life’ from my hand. By returning a ‘Spellbook’ to my deck,” Spellbook of Power was returned to be shuffled, “and banishing one spellcaster-type monster from the graveyard,” Fool slid out of her graveyard slot, “I special summon another spellcaster-type monster from the graveyard and increase that monster’s level by that of the one I banished. Return to us, Spellbook Magician!”

The violet Spellbook appeared over the field opening its pages to shine its life-giving light upon the ground. Spellbook Magician materialized within the light, beckoning the Spellbook of Life into his free hand as he held both it and his own tome. (Level 2 -> 5, 500/400)

“When a ‘Spellbook’ spell is activated while he’s on the field, Hermit’s level is increased by two and his attack by 300. (Hermit of Prophecy Level 3 -> 5, ATK: 1200 -> 1500) Now; I take the level five Hermit and Spellbook Magician to construct the overlay network.”

The two spellcasters devolved into swathes of energy that shot forth, the overlay nebula emerging on the field where the two coalesced into one, a pillar of light erupting from its eye.

“Power of the cosmos and fate intertwined, the arcane wisdom and force of the universe; bring forth the mother of life and energy, that the world may witness her bountiful radiance.”

“Xyz Summon! Rank 5, Fertility Goddess: Empress of Prophecy!”

Emerging from the nebula, Empress held aloft her scepter, revived from her ignominious defeat at the hands of Sunset Shimmer and her That Six combo. (Rank 5, 2000 -> 2600/1700)

“Empress will attack you directly!”

Empress (ATK: 2600) held forth her wide shield, the arcane symbols inscribed upon its inlays lit up in a trail, followed by the great amber gem at the center top glowing.

“At this point I activate the trap card ‘Magician’s Circle’,” Twilight swiftly tapped the screen of her duel disk. “When a spellcaster-type monster attacks, we can both special summon a spellcaster with 2000 or less attack points from our decks in attack position: I choose ‘Strength of Prophecy.’”

A ring with a pentacle star inside its borders formed onto Twilight’s field, and hers only, indicating Rainbow refrained from bringing out her Effect Veiler. Not that it didn’t make sense, as Effect Veiler had no attack points whatsoever. The symbol flared up; the red-haired, axe-wielding warrior mage arising at its center, hefting her weapon in preparation. (Level 4, 1500/1400)

Empress let loose an incandescent beam of light towards Rainbow, which the athlete was forced to cover her face from.

Rainbow Dash Life Points: 3600 – 2600 = 1000

“Strength of Prophecy then attacks you directly for game!”

The red gems studded in Strength’s (ATK: 1500) outfit and hairclips lit up in a fiery glow. She then swung her beast-headed axe, driving it into the ground which sent a ripping trail through the earth towards Rainbow.

“Trap activate!” Rainbow interjected. “‘Defense Draw’!” Strength’s attack veered towards the revealed trap card, impacting on the image with a burst of flames. “Defense Draw reduces damage from a single attack to zero, and I draw a card.”

So close… “During my second main phase, I activate Strength’s effect; by returning Spellbook of Eternity to my deck, I can increase her level by one and her attack points by 500. (Level 4 -> 5 ATK: 1500 -> 2000). I set one card and end my turn.”

(Hand: 0)

Turn 9: Rainbow Dash (Hand: 2)

Rainbow took a deep breath through her nostrils as she slowly and deliberately placed her fingers over her next card. As she once more drew in the needlessly energetic fashion, a hissing exhale escaped her lips. She looked over the card, glancing up at Twilight’s side, then back at her hand.

“I was saving this for when I’d face off against Sunset in the midterm. I guess I have no choice now…” said Rainbow Dash, before sliding a card into her disk. “If you control a monster and I don’t, I can special summon ‘Level Warrior’ as a level four monster.”

There was something Twilight recognized from yesterday. The red spandex wearing warrior complete with a white cape and the strange lack of eyeholes on the star emblazoned face. (Level 3 -> 4, 300/600)

“And then I normal summon Junk Synchron from earlier.”

The overtly orange robot hopped back onto the field, its scarf billowing in the wind in some unfelt draft. (Level 3 1300/500)

“As before, Junk Synchron special summons a level two or below monster from my graveyard when normal summoned; so I revive Fortress Warrior once more.”

At another beckoning gesture, the stony ‘warrior’ arose to the field, continuing to heft the stone platform over its two torsos. (Level 2, 600/1200)

“With that, I tune Junk Synchron to Fortress Warrior!”

At another pull of its cord, what Twilight realized was a pair of some form of engines, revved to life on Junk Synchron’s back, before fading to release the tuning rings. (3 + 2 = 5)

“Beaten and broken, courage still lives on. Combine in your power, and empower others through your awesome valor.”

“Synchro Summon! Level 5, ‘Junk Speeder’!”

A sleek, silvery humanoid emerged from the bursting pillar of light. Smaller than even Jet Warrior, its sheen coming from the silvery, aerodynamic armoring covering much of its body and limbs, with some purple decorative embossments and linings, save for its biceps and hip joints, which were covered in black, form-fitting fabric. A finned goggled helmet obscured its head, while a pair of long metallic wings jutted from its upper back. Junk Synchron’s scarf was present around its neck, billowing as if an updraft was surging from beneath its feet. (Level 5, 1800/1000)

“When Junk Speeder is Synchro summoned, it lets me summon as many ‘Synchron’ tuner monsters from my deck as possible, as long as they all have different levels.”

Junk Speeder spread out its arms and legs, a duo of twisters erupting at its sides. To its right arose a ramshackle, metallic orb with a round, red lens within an indentation on its surface. (Level 1, 0/0)

“Level one; ‘Unknown Synchron’…’”

A second monster emerged to Junk Speeder's left; this one a blue robot with thick stumpy legs and arms, with what looked to be some form of exhaust tubes protruding from its back.

“And level four; ‘Hyper Synchron.’

-

“Wha… Rainbow’s never done this before,” Rarity noted, looking at the assembled monsters.

“Ah guess she’s been doin’ some improvin’ lately,” added Applejack. “With that, she’s got quite the pick in Synchro monsters to choose from.” She looked over at Twilight, “Ah hope Twilight can pull off another miracle right about now…”

-

“And now, I tune my level four Hyper Synchron to my level four Level Warrior!” Rainbow declared, holding her right arm towards the skies as Hyper Synchron’s form emanated an ominous hum that intensified into a revving screech before erupting into four tuning rings. (4 + 4 = 8)

“Loyal guardian of the skies, spread your awesome wings that shield those beneath your gaze from adversity.”

“Synchro Summon! Take flight: Level 8, ‘Stardust Spark Dragon’!”

From the erupting pillar of light extended a pair of pristine white wings. As the light faded, the form that they were connected to unveiled itself. If there was anything comparable to the majesty of Celestia in this world; Twilight felt she found it in this new monster that Rainbow had summoned. Even the audience vocally agreed with her as they oohed in amazement.

-

“That… is definitely something Rainbow has never done before,” Rarity reiterated, awestruck.

-

Alight over Rainbow’s field was something even beyond dimensions could not be mistaken for any creature other than a dragon. Opposed to Equestrian dragons, namely either massive size, or a simplistic coloration of usually complementing tones and the characteristic ridges running down their backs, this one was completely different. Its body was as pristine white as its magnificent wings, with a long, slender neck ending in an angular, head with three backwards curving ‘fins’, complemented by an equally long, slender tail ending in a four-part crest at the tip. Noticeable purple, gem-like protrusions covered its chest, and all four limbs, composed of arms and legs, exhibited sharp extremities. It let loose a call somewhere between a roar and an avian shriek. (Level 8, 2500/2000)

“Dear… Sweet… Celestia…” Twilight murmured. The game’s book may have mentioned dragons being an integral part of the game’s history, but to see one herself, let alone one so beautiful, she was wholly unprepared.

“Holy Toledo!” even Spike could not keep up the pretense of not being able to talk, but it seemed to go unnoticed by everyone around them.

“I might have made a huge mistake…” Twilight remarked, remembering that this was one of Rainbow’s monsters.

“How awesome is this, right?” asked Rainbow Dash, standing proudly underneath her most impressive looking monster so far. “And when Hyper Synchron is used as the tuner for a dragon-type Synchro monster, its attack is increased by a whopping 800, though at the expense of me having to banish it at the end phase.” (Stardust Spark Dragon ATK: 2500 -> 3300)

Twilight acted quickly in tapping her screen to unveil her facedown, “I activate the quick-play spell; ‘Spellbook of Fate’!”

Rainbow groaned, “Really? After all that I don’t even get to attack? Lame.”

“Spellbook of Fate’s second effect switches a monster to facedown defense position, which would nullify Hyper Synchron’s effect,” Twilight reminded. “No; I banish three ‘Spellbooks’ from my graveyard in order to banish your dragon.”

A gale burst of golden glowing pages erupted from underneath Stardust Spark Dragon. The dragon screeched in protest as it was soon overwhelmed, its form becoming completely obscured, until in an invisible gust the pages spread out and vanished, along with the fearsome dragon. Much as it pained her to a degree, Twilight sighed as her effect went through.

“Aww…” Rainbow groaned, disheartened at the loss of the, in her own words, awesome dragon.

“I’m sorry, Rainbow. But to defend my place as the one to duel Sunset Shimmer, I had to,” Twilight stated firmly, even if feeling truly remorseful to have banished such a beautiful creature.

Rainbow sighed, “I know. Although I still have my Unknown Synchron and Junk Speeder on the field…”

Twilight’s eyes widened in realization, “You summoned your dragon just to throw me off?!”

“Kinda,” Rainbow chuckled with a shrug. “I mean I am sorta making this stuff up as I go along, to be frank…”

It’s official: She is a Rainbow Dash alright… Twilight swallowed eyeing the two remaining monsters on Rainbow’s field. A level one tuner and level five monster. Her own monsters all had an attack power of at least 2000, and barring Junk Destroyer and Stardust Spark Dragon, Rainbows monsters seemed more apt for quick, speedy attacks before her opponent could put up a sizable defense.

“I tune my level one Unknown Synchron to my level five Junk Speeder!” Rainbow declared, the metallic orb’s lens blinked, before unleashing a single tuning ring.

Junk Speeder extended its wings and sped up into the sky, the tuning ring going with it, its form fading into the five glowing orbs. (1 + 5 = 6)

“Break the bonds of the earth, and make its awesome force your own to draw in your enemies to their fate.”

“Synchro Summon! Force of the world: Level 6, ‘Gravity Warrior’!”

With an earth-shaking boom, a new warrior dropped from the sky, though Twilight was hard pressed to refer to this new monster that. Indeed, this warrior looked closer to a beast than a human (or pony), with a white, distinctly lupine face, framed by a blue helmet that splayed out into what looked like metallic dreadlocks at the back. Its body was encased in a hefty blue and silvery suit of armor, with spikes jutting from its ball-jointed shoulders, and possessed an almost slithering segmented tail. Its arms ended in hands possessing vicious looking, sharp-tipped fingers. (Level 6, 2100/1000)

“When Synchro summoned, Gravity Warrior gains 300 attack for each monster on my opponent’s field,” Rainbow boasted, her confidence having fully settled back.

With a beastly growl, Gravity Warrior’s ‘dreadlocks’ splayed out, a faint hum emanating from its form, and the ground around it seemed to tremble faintly. (ATK: 2100 -> 3 x 300 = 900 -> 3000)

Twilight cringed, having been duped into not only playing her facedown too quickly, but also her monsters having inadvertently increased Gravity Warrior’s power so that it was exactly a thousand higher than that of Strength’s.

“Gravity Warrior; attack Strength of Prophecy…” she said, holding out her right hand, before clenching it into a fist. “For game.”

With a beastly roar, Gravity Warrior’s (ATK: 3000) dreadlocks splayed out again unleashing another metallic hum. Strength’s (ATK: 2000) form began to shudder, the red-haired warrior mage looking distraught as she took an unwilling step forward, then another, when her torso suddenly began to get dragged forward. Her whole body shot forth, against all control, right into the awaiting claws of Gravity Warrior. With one swipe, Strength’s form shattered.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 550 – 1000 = -450

Rainbow Dash Victory!

Duel #15: Temporary Ceasefire

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Twilight was dumbstruck as she watched Strength of Prophecy (ATK: 2000) get pulled by what might best be described as an exorbitant pulling force generated by the beast-like Gravity Warrior (ATK: 3000). Whatever it was doing to generate such a feat literally made it seem like she was falling sideways, right for the vicious claws at the ends of its fingers. With one swipe, like that of an ornery Ursa, Strength’s form shattered, a gust blowing across the field against Twilight’s forcefield, followed by the heart dropping sound of life points plummeting.

Twilight Sparkle Life Points: 550 – 1000 = -450

Rainbow Dash Victory!

“Holy shi-!” Pinkie exclaimed, only to catch herself before she did what would have amounted to a fine for the state mandated swear jar, at least in Equestria, “… Schmidt!” She paused for a moment. “I, uh… Rainbow Dash is the winner…”

Some members of the crowd began to cheer for Rainbow’s part, most likely those of her clique, the jocks, complete with enthusiastic whistles and even chanting her name.

Twilight Sparkle was not always the most dignified pony, or human, for that matter. Especially not a human, with the multitude of awkward circumstances she’d gone through, what with her ineptitude to technology, the customs, or even dueling near the start. As a newly ascended alicorn princess, she’d come to view her new status as something requiring finesse, patience, and poise.

At her current best, she stood stiffly on the slightly trampled patch of grass she’d occupied for quite a while that afternoon. Everything that day seemed to have been going mostly as she’d hoped, and then some. That was all she really could do, for the good of her respectability. She absolutely refused to hyperventilate in front of everyone. Her vulnerabilities had receded into her mind, which was now in disarray.

Now you’ve done it, Sparkle. You just had to fall for Rainbow’s goading, didn’t you? But the way she worded it was so connivingly well thought-out- That’s beside the point! You had it! You had much of the student body convinced; you beat four of the best! You nearly beat the best by the tip of your horn! But there was no way out; Rainbow Dash, freaking Rainbow Dash, “reading is for eggheads until she touched A. K. Yearling” Rainbow Dash, played you like a flugelhorn...

“Twilight?” Spike tapped at her shin, which went unnoticed. In her state of disbelief, much of the world’s external stimulus went over her.

Now Rainbow Dash will be the one to duel Sunset. And the way Sunset reacted, and whatever that… Dear Celestia, and the notion of the Games of Darkness…! I mean, Rainbow Dash might be able to win, but if there’s actual magic involved like during my match with her! Could she handle it? How would she, let alone everyone else? Everyone could be in danger!

Twilight?” even Priestess’ psionic echo didn’t rouse her from her internalized dilemma.

That was until a sudden, sharp pinch at the soft skin at the back of her knee finally warranted a hiss of pain, “Ouch!”

“Twilight, you’re doing that thing right now,” said Spike, leaning up against Twilight’s shin.

“Spike…?! Did you bite me?”

“No fingers,” the dragon-turned-dog remarked, getting back on all fours.

“Right…” Twilight muttered absently, her mind close to receding back into her to the point of almost not noticing someone approaching, to which Spike deliberately bumped his furry body against her leg. She flinched with a start, recognizing Rainbow Dash standing right in front of her, duel disk disengaged.

The athlete turned to the audience, holding up a hand, “Hey, Pinkie! Phone me!”

In an impressive example of understanding, Pinkie’s megaphone came flying in, Rainbow catching it with impeccable dexterity by the handle. She looked at Twilight, like she was scrutinizing her in lieu of what to say. Twilight remained silent, her eyes catching Rainbow’s cerise ones, refusing to look any weaker than she possibly could have before the victor in front of the people she’d striven to impress.

Holding up the megaphone, wincing from the errant squeal emanating from the device, Rainbow looked over the audience, took a deep breath and, “Yea; I’ve decided: I’m voting for Twilight Sparkle as the contender for Duel Queen.”

In a double take, Twilight stared at Rainbow Dash, further dumbfounded by the athlete’s demeanor. As if in answer to a question she didn’t even come to ask, Rainbow flashed a card at Twilight. A teal-haired, white garbed human of indeterminate gender with wings.

“For Scoot,” Rainbow stated, sliding the card back into her deck. “If she’s that willing to trust you, enough to let you use that, maybe there’s still something you can do.”

“B-but…” Twilight blinked incredulously, “But our wager! You beat me, what about-”

“Just wanted to see if you were still willing to put everything on the line, even if you might have lost,” said Rainbow, an earnest smile formed on her lips. “You’ve got guts, Sparkle. And you came this close to beating Sunset Shimmer, something even I haven’t managed. And come on; I’m me!”

An awkward laugh escaped Twilight’s lips, both at the similarities between the rainbow-haired athlete and her pegasus counterpart through the portal, currently no doubt grumbling how she couldn’t accompany Twilight to this new world, and at her unconventional mode of encouragement. She didn’t know whether or not she should have hugged the athlete at this point in gratitude. Only to have Rainbow put a chummy arm around her shoulder.

“I officially decline my placement as runner-up for midterm contender!” Rainbow announced to the crowd. “If you want to make a complaint… Well the vote is tomorrow, so it’s between her and… What? Everyone else who Sunset has consistently kicked the asses of? So take that for what it’s worth. Or you can give our new Wondercolt to the herd your warm welcome.”

“Wonder…colt?” asked Twilight.

“The name of the unified school team,” said Rainbow in a hush, before turning back to the crowd. “Come on now; anything anyone has to say to the champ?”

Amidst the crowd, one of the spectating students stood up to make her way onto the field. The slightly messy hair, grey skin and mismatching walleyes immediately confirmed her as the human Derpy Hooves. The girl gingerly took Twilights hand and shook it, smiling sweetly.

“I think you were amazing! Even your duel with Rainbow Dash: Though you lost, I had fun watching, and I think a lot of others felt so too,” said Derpy, her smile never wavering. “I was literally grasping at my seat towards the end!”

Twilight reciprocated Derpy’s sentiments, “I’m happy you enjoyed the spectacle.”

Derpy nodded eagerly, “I bet you’ll get that awful Sunset Shimmer tomorrow! I mean you two were neck and… neck?” Twilight nodded in confirmation to the idiom. “See you tomorrow!” At which she began to head out, the sun in the having begun to approach the rim of the horizon, painting the edge of the sky a radiant orange.

“You’re serious about this, Dash?” came a slightly gruff female voice. Judging by the slicked back, fiery hair and the yellow skin of this approaching individual, it was the human counterpart to Spitfire. She eyed Rainbow Dash in honest confusion, looking between her and Twilight. “You’ve been raring to get at Sunset forever. You sure you wanna leave it up to the new girl?”

Rainbow brought her hands behind her head, “Yea, I know. But hey, there’s always next year and all.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, “Thanks for the vote of confidence…” she remarked dryly.

“I mean, I don’t doubt ya on many things, but… I dunno, just I always thought it’d be you to finally take ‘er down,” she smirked, “Well, you or me, in any case.”

“Well hey,” Rainbow chuckled, “You may be looking at the next Duel Queen right here. You can always take a swing at her later.”

Spitfire scoffed, “I never cared for the title of ‘Queen’ at all. It’s just that bitch staining the name of Canterlot Wondercolts that pisses me off so much.” She looked to Twilight, “Sparkle, yea? Team captain’s vouching for ya, so then we’re rooting for ya. Don’t let us down.” She smirked, holding forward a fist. Letting intuition lead her, Twilight reach out with her own and gingerly tapped knuckles with Spitfire, like a hoofbump. “Give Sunset hell tomorrow,” she said, bidding a farewell gesture.

“You’re a team captain?” asked Twilight as she watched Spitfire walk off.

“Soccer, swimming, volleyball, you name it,” said Rainbow with a hint of smugness in her voice. “Don’t let Spits get to ya. If the name didn’t tip you off; she’s fiercely competitive. So if she’s backing someone, that’s a miracle in itself.”

Several other students close by offered encouragement and congratulations. A few even offered warm greetings to the school and were offering a spot in their specific cliques to her. Most awkward was the enthusiasm of Lyra Hearstrings, to which Bon Bon had to literally drag her friend slash implied lover with her.

Pinkie Pie walked up to the two, taking back her megaphone and inserted it into her hair, “Whew…” she said, miming wiping sweat off her brow, before bringing both fists to her hips and smiled with that trademark Pinkie smile. “That went wondertacularly… I couldn’t decide on the words so I combined them.”

Upon seeing when no-one else was looking, Twilight let loose a long, worn-out sigh, her body going near limp to the point where she undoubtedly would have collapsed to her knees, hadn’t Rainbow and Pinkie moved in to prop her up by her arms.

“Who-hoa, easy there,” said Rainbow. “If I was you right now, I’d be pumped.”

“Sunset did kinda-sorta scratch her though…” Pinkie added in an uncharacteristically dry delivery.

“Want me to go after her and sock ‘er one for ya?” asked Rainbow.

“What? No!” said Twilight distastefully. Never before had someone offered to inflict physical violence on somepony or -body on her behalf, and she preferred it never come to that. “Um, no. I prefer not resorting to violence. Please.” Rainbow’s response was a displeased groan.

With the field emptying out, Twilight, having found her footing again, saw as Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo approached. Applejack and Scootaloo in particular caught her attention, the former looking at the athlete in what could amount to uncertainty or concern, while the latter looked at her as if she was pleading.

“Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo uttered as she approached. She rubbed her forearm, suddenly averting direct eye contact. “Um, you might have figured that was my Effect Veiler just then… I gave it to Twilight to… That is, I gave it to her if she was going to be dueling, this morning, a-and I… I mean I didn’t…”

Rainbow placed a hand atop her honorary little sister’s head and gently ruffled her cerise hair. Scootaloo returned her gaze back up at Rainbow, her eyes widened with a glint of hope.

“It’s fine, Scoot,” said Rainbow nonchalantly, the best display of tenderness from Rainbow. “Listen, you have nothing to fear about me coming between you and your friends. I’d be a pretty bad big sis if that was the case, right?”

Scootaloo’s eyes darted about, the girl stuttering in embarrassment. With a laugh, Rainbow ruffled her hair harder, miraculously not mussing it much from its usual placement, “Oh, and in my personal opinion; fusion really doesn’t suit ya.”

With that, the athlete began to walk away. That was where Applejack came in.

“Rainbow! Seriously; everythin’ that’s happened: Water under the bridge?” she called out.

Rainbow stopped, looking over her shoulder at Applejack, and everyone else no doubt, seeing how everyone had gathered around Twilight. In a non-verbal response, Rainbow held out an arm, extending her thumb upwards from a fist, a gesture Twilight had seen repeated several times that day, so it was evident of positive connotations, before continuing heading off. Though Rainbow and Applejack did not say anything, Twilight thought she could spot some hints of some reformed rapport. Perhaps they wouldn’t start off again as cordial as Twilight was hoping, but maybe they really would mend the figurative fence. Eventually.

“I think we just might have got our sixth ranger~” sang Pinkie, one hand still grasping Twilight’s bicep, all the while happily pulling Fluttershy in with her other.

“Say what?” asked Twilight, further confounded by the unfamiliar human lingo.

Fluttershy chuckled, “We’ll need to get you up to speed in otakudom one of these days.”

“Oooh!” vocalized Pinkie, Twilight feeling her arm being released, only to then feel a tight pressure around her torso, before being pulled into a three-way hug with Pinkie and Fluttershy, those confounded chest obstructions pressing against her upper back awkwardly. “You know what we should do in celebration?!”

“Have a party?” gasped Fluttershy in the grasp of Pinkie’s vice-like arm.

“Nope: We need to have a par-tay!” exclaimed Pinkie in response. “Specifically a congratulations-Twilight-on-beating-four-out-of-six-matches-making-an-impression-on-everybody-plus-getting-us-together-again-and-welcoming-our-newest-bestest-buddy-and-Wondercolt partay! Duh!”

A round of laughter emanated from everyone gathered, vice-like hug or no. The vibes or familiarity and nostalgia felt stronger than ever, having the counterparts of four of Twilight’s friends, plus the Cutie Mark Crusaders, together. Dimensional differences or not, at that moment, this world felt slightly more… right, than any other moment Twilight had witnessed thus far.

“Say, Twi,” Applejack spoke up. “Did ya manage to find your wallet?”

Twilight raised a brow, “Found my wallet…?” Oh that’s right! “Oh… Dang it!”

-

“So, what do you think?” asked Principal Celestia, casually leaning against the window frame, watching the remaining students vacate the premises from the second-floor classroom.

Luna glanced at her, her expression much less amused. “Still thinking about disciplinary action regarding Miss Shimmer,” she stated, sounding thoroughly unamused.

Celestia chose not to comment on that. “I must admit, Miss Sparkle’s performance was remarkable.”

“And so far all we know about this “new student”,” added Luna.

Celestia hummed contemplatively, “Indeed. I have heard no hide nor hair of her credentials for someone transferring soon.” She looked over at Luna, “So nothing on your part as well?”

Luna, without saying a word, pulled down the window blinds, “Nothing. I found no information on this Twilight Sparkle. Birthday, educational background, medical, you name it. Interestingly, I did manage to dig up dirt on a Twilight Sparkle, but it doesn’t add up.”

“How so?”

“There’s a Twilight Sparkle currently attending Crystal Prep, but so far I have no confirmation on her transferring…” She pursed her lips, “Let alone why she would transfer to our school, what with such an illustrious facility she-”

“Now Luna…” Celestia softly scolded her sister, despite herself not being all that fond of said facility herself. “How did you come across that, anyway?”

“Cadence, naturally,” said Luna, not at all impacted.

Celestia nodded, still able to see the five junior and three freshman students through the gaps in the blinds. “Makes me think back…”

“Sister?”

“When Sunset Shimmer first came to us. As if she just popped into existence; a girl her age, alone, no parents, her background very much a mystery,” said Celestia, her eyes trailing after the students as they too finally took to make their leave. “Next thing you know the school feels like a completely different place from before.”

“Speaking of new arrivals;” Luna crossed her arms, “what of Miss Sparkle? Are we still just going to allow her to compete in the mid-term duel were she to win the vote tomorrow?”

Celestia looked on in contemplation, grabbing her right elbow in her left hand and grasping her chin with her right hand, she considered the ramifications. A mysterious new student who, much like the aforementioned Sunset Shimmer, just appeared out of nowhere, and soon after something would happen within the school amongst the student body.

“Let’s give it a day or two before we come to a decision about her,” said Celestia. “In the meantime, I need to give Turner a call.”

Luna looked at her in intrigue, “Turner? Why?”

Celestia, closed her eyes, having felt strangely troubled since the duel between Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle, “I… I hope it’s just me being paranoid, Luna. I just can’t help but feel like there’s something more going on than we realize.”

“Surely you can’t mean that…” Luna hesitated for a moment. “I mean, that was a long time ago. What possible connections could there be?”

Celestia looked away, a somber sigh escaping her lips, “I know it seems highly unlikely. Still, lots of strange things have happened with Duel Monsters involved. We may not be Academia, but… Let’s hope I really am just being paranoid…”

-

Sunset Shimmer, her legs having finally tired, had retreated into a nearby alley, refusing to her utmost to let people see her in her crushed state. Leaning her back against the bare brick wall, her mind was disheveled, with Twilight Sparkle being the only point of clarity. Twilight Sparkle, and the indignity of how she might as well have been defeated.

Defeated. Its sting was not unheard of for her: She had been defeated before, so many times, in so many ways, not just on the field of battle the denizens of this world foolishly perceived as a mere game. If it was anyone else, anybody else; she would have crushed them. Her will was indomitable, not like everyone else living in ignorance of the real power at their fingertips. But Twilight Sparkle; a mere amateur. How could she be on her level so quickly?

There always existed the possibility that somepony could follow her, much as she, to her own embarrassment as of now, had come to view Celestia’s methods as inefficient and lacking. If only she hadn’t been so ignominiously clumsy once she had switched the Element of Magic with the fake crown, Twilight Sparkle might have been none the wiser, at least for a little while. And there was that meddlesome Fluttershy for taking the element out of reach: Knowing Vice-principal Luna’s propensity for thoroughness, no doubt behind lock and key. Sunset made note to mete out a special bit of punishment for the meek fool, once the element was back in her hands.

But now there was the immediate threat to her plans: Princess Twilight Sparkle. Her performance going from yesterday to today, much as Sunset hated to admit it, was remarkable. The consecutive duels against the school’s top brass wasn’t just theatrics with the four holding back; Twilight was fully aware of what she was doing. But how did she master something that took Sunset months? And where did she get such a powerful deck immediately upon arrival? And she knew of the true nature of Duel Monsters.

Did Princess Celestia know beforehand? As Sunset had come to learn, her former mentor was wont for secrecy, but never had she uncovered if the Princess had stepped into this world herself. A rush of infuriation coursed through Sunset; had Celestia been planning for this the entire time?

“In the very least, much as it repulses me from what you’ve been up to, in a way I should be grateful to you for getting me this far.”

What had Twilight Sparkle meant by that? Grateful? For what?

“You really don’t remember?”

Remember what? Sunset had never met the new princess before. Even taking the upstart’s advice in trying to delve into her memories, she… She found only emptiness. But why? The further she tried, it felt as if her own mind was becoming enshrouded like fog on a dark night. It felt… It felt like it was physically hurting her just trying.

“I wasn’t lying; part of my success is thanks to you, Sunset Shimmer. The night you snuck into the Crystal Castle, you left something behind.”

Sunset rubbed at her temples, straining to try and remember everything she could about the night of her brief return to Equestria. She’d waited in hiding behind the bushes around the Wonder Colt statue for when the hidden portal would open, after which she dove in, finding herself inside the treasury not of Canterlot Castle, but the Crystal Castle, being aware thanks to knowing enough how to peer through the portal.

-

“As I continue my research, I found that this mirror is not just an ordinary one, but in fact a door to a door to a new world that looks completely different from ours. It also seems the mirror-”

“What are you doing here?!”

-

Finding the Element was easy: A simple beaconing spell that locked onto any source of magic in the immediate vicinity, emitting a reaction for her horn to follow like a metal detector. And with the Element having the strongest signature, it might as well have called her to it. After managing to evade the lacking security, almost as if the Crystal Castle was inviting anypony to come in and snoop around, it was almost insulting to see Equestria’s newest princess not even having the foresight of keeping her element better protected. A simple switch with the crown used for the CHS Duel King or Queen and it would have been over, when she slipped… or had she tripped on something?

Regardless of how, she had to make a break back for the mirror. Twilight had tried waylaying her by teleporting in front of her; a most elementary trick if ever there was one, for she easily teleported past Twilight’s placement. When she’d thought she was home free, Twilight had managed to catch up and flung her weight onto Sunset, the two of them taking a violent tumble, which caused the Element of Magic to shoot out, bounce about the enclosed space, right into the portal.

If she’d left something behind… But how would she have had anything to leave behind? All she took was her backpack and cloak (that she, awkwardly enough, got from a costume shop), all she really needed back in the home dimension; she had her magic to rely on. Or did she have that deck with her that she’d merely forgotten about…?

What deck? She’d always used the one even now affixed to her duel disk… Right? Or had she…? She had back during her last year’s mid-term against the obnoxious Pinkie Pie. But before that against her ex…?

“Sunset Shimmer!” A recent memory called from within the recesses of her mind. “Reveal yourself to me; let me see what plagues your mind!”

“P-Priestess…?”

Sunset’s head suddenly felt as if a fire had erupted within the cranium. She grasped at the sides in vain as jolting agony overtook her entire body once more, this one being worse than any of the inexplicable migraines she’d had in the last few days.

What is this?! Her mind screamed futilely. The pain… No, agony, was so severe, it felt like her head was going to split simply from thinking, like someone had driven a hot wedge through her skull that was now burning away at her, both physically, and in her mind. Stop it… Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Why?!

“Do you remember…?”

“Remember?”

“Remember?”

“Remember?”

“RemeEMbER?!”

“Remember!”

“You don’t need to be alone…”

“Stop!”

Sunset’s head shot up in an abrupt, violent motion, against any and all bodily control. The momentum may as well have been strong enough to snap her neck the way it contorted. Her eyes stared helplessly at the blurring brick wall above and behind her, the gradually changing sky staring down at her from her hiding place in the alleyway. Her body was frozen in that most discomforting of positions, unable to move nary a finger, like the burning in her mind had seared away any connections to her body. All she could do was feel, her vision blurring, and her hearing muting. She wasn’t sure if she could breathe. She didn’t feel like suffocating, just the pain, and utter loss of control.

What’s happening… to me? She wanted to cry out, feeling her vision blur… Or just to opposite, feeling it like it was clearer through the film of clear liquid expelling from her eyes, trickling down her cheeks in warm, salty streaks.

Help me…

That’s when her body stopped being rigid, her arms falling to her sides, though her neck still felt like it was locked in place. Possibly broken? The muscles relaxed finally; her head allowed to droop down. No cracking. Not broken. Possibly. But her mind… She couldn’t remember… She could, but then at the same...

Her body retched forward. Sunset found herself collapsing onto her knees, her hands managing to catch herself from having her face plow into the asphalt beneath her. And with that, she heaved violently onto the ground.

Shaking her head, Sunset found herself gasping for breath on her knees. Why was she on the ground… And in an alleyway of all places?! Getting back up, she wiped her dust and dirt-stained hands against her jacket. What was she doing here? She didn’t have time for fooling around.

It isn’t over yet. If Twilight Sparkle insists on getting in my way, then she’ll be the first example of what happens to those who defy me, she thought, holding her head, feeling a rather prominent pain. “But first; I need some Tylenol…” she muttered, not noticing on her way out of the alley as her boot touched down on a black splatter on the ground.

-

For the sake of legitimacy, Twilight had gone to get in touch with Principal Celestia in regards to her missing wallet. Not that there was not wallet, not one missing, in any case, as Twilight’s bit purse was tucked away inside her backpack. Both the principal and vice-principal were gone, their office doors locked. Likely having gone home, given how long Pinkie’s “boss rush” had taken.

“Barring the distasteful subterfuge; I’m just glad that gauntlet ended as well as it did,” said Twilight as she walked down the hallway back towards the exit to the school.

Spike had returned into her backpack, the dragon turned dog’s head poking out, “Do you think it’s high time that we told them the truth?”

Twilight stopped in her tracks peering over her shoulder towards Spike, yet she said nothing, her eyes diverting at nothing in particular, contemplating her assistant’s suggestion.

“I’m… I’m not actually certain about that,” said Twilight.

“Why?” asked Spike. “If you’re worried about them thinking you’re crazy,” he gestured to himself with a paw, “talking dog. Heck; I’d be weird even in Equestria. You know, unless I was a diamond dog, but I digress.”

“I know, Spike. But see; there’s another factor to all of this. You remember what Princess Luna told us back before we left Equestria?”

Spike needed a moment to remember when he looked up in realization, “Oh yea, that… de-harmonic… dimensional…?”

“Multiversal Disharmonic Theorem. And no, at least not in this case. When she said there being magic in this world too, different from that of Equestria’s,” said Twilight, her attention diverting to the form of Priestess who had appeared sitting atop a row of lockers, leisurely dangling one leg over the rim.

“Yea; don’t think I haven’t noticed you zoning out constantly after yesterday,” remarked Spike.

“Sorry. It’s just that with people being around it can be a little hard to explain, and-”

I believe I can speak for myself in this regard, Twilight.” Priestess’ voice echoed in her mind, only now Twilight felt a pair of furry paws grasp at her neck.

“Whuzzat?!” barked Spike. “Twilight, did you hear that, or am I just hearing voices?! Is that a symptom of staying in this world too long?! … Or do dogs have better hearing than I thought?”

“Spike calm- Wait! You heard her too?” Twilight glanced between Spike and Priestess, the latter who dropped down from atop the lockers and landed soundlessly on her long legs.

He can. I thought it be a perfect time to extend communications with your dragonic companion, now that he’s aware and there’s no-one to eavesdrop.

Spike, while still clinging to Twilight with his forepaws, seemed to also spot Priestess, “W-who is that? Twilight? She looks just like one of your monsters!”

“Spike, let me formally introduce you to Priestess. We met last night in Applejack’s room. You were asleep at the time,” said Twilight, vocally, as she was uncertain whether or not the psionic link between her and Priestess would apply to Spike as well.

Spike observed Priestess with a look of uncertainty, laced with a hint of bafflement, which the spirit seemed to be amused by, as hinted by holding a hand to her lips.

“So… Your monsters are real?” asked Spike, still looking over Priestess. “I thought all of that was just projections.”

For the most part what you’ve observed, young dragon, are the product of human engineering, which is far beyond my understanding. Myself,” Priestess indicated herself, “as you see before your eyes, I am very much real.

“How are you talking without moving your lips?” asked Spike. “Oh! Are you psychic?!”

I am projecting my thoughts directly into your mind, the same as I have been doing with Twilight all this time. I cannot physically communicate with those on an alternate plane. So in a way, yes; I am communicating with the two of you with a form of telepathy as you might call it.

“Oookay…” Spike eyed Priestess warily. “Why didn’t you extend this over to me and not just Twilight?”

Priestess shrugged, “It’s just as Lady Twilight said; firstly, you were asleep. And if I may be so bold, you just looked too precious to wake up…

Twilight stiffened a giggle at Priestess’ bout of playfulness, combined with Spike emitting a peeved snort, a notion both Twilight and Priestess found more endearing than scolding.

That is to say, it could have proved difficult before with so many witnesses. I wished to adhere to Lady Twilight’s approach to secrecy, but now since we have some privacy for the moment, I decided to reveal myself to you as well, Spike the dragon.

“So… Who or what are you exactly?” asked Spike, his wariness having washed away via the two’s giggling.

As Lady Twilight said, I am simply Priestess. I am a spirit currently using that Duel Monsters card as my vessel as per my influence in humanity’s consciousness. Over the millennia I have existed under many names and titles among this world’s populace. Wherever and whenever, the people of this world gave me the moniker as a goddess of wisdom and the mystic arts.

“Humanity’s… consciousness? What’s that mean?” Spike looked between Twilight and Priestess.

“As far as I understand,” Twilight began, “in this world magic seems to work based on influence rather than just taking and diverting or transferring energy inherent to the world as it does in Equestria. Essentially humanity’s devotion to something inadvertently causes energy inherent to this world to develop a consciousness with power over others fueled by this devotion.”

And apt description if there ever was one. It was through humanity’s growing consciousness and perceptions that I was given form and have presided over all things magical since then in many forms, in many ages. Many fellow spirits such as I exist, currently separated from the material world, but I fear this will soon change, if we don’t stop Sunset Shimmer.

Spike looked at Twilight, “I’m getting a bit lost here…”

Twilight thought about the situation for a moment, when her mind came upon the perfect comparative, “Spike, you remember when I…” a hint of a regretful sigh escaped her, “When I screwed up with Star Swirl’s unfinished spell.”

“It’s not easy to forget how you switched around our friends’ destinies and whatnot,” said Spike when he noticed Twilight’s ashamed expression, “Uh, by complete accident, of course!” He patted Twilight’s shoulder, “Besides, you fixed it all, and completed the spell. And became an alicorn princess. Mustn’t forget that part, am I right?”

“I know, Spike. No harm done. Point is; the people of this world, according to Priestess, were much more careless than us, as a whole,” explained Twilight.

Priestess shook her head in a similar tone of regret, “I’ve seen countless times when wayward fools sought the power of the cosmos for foolish gain. I have witnessed wars, pestilence, the rise and falls of entire empires. The fact you two managed to arrive before Sunset Shimmer got her hands on the Element of Magic was fortuitous: If she gets her hands on such an exorbitant source of power, she could easily reinstate the age of the Games of Darkness once more.

“Games of Darkness?” Spike wondered aloud. “W-what’s that?”

“Well, let’s just put it like this,” Twilight emphasized, pulling her deck’s container out, popping the cover and pulling out, fittingly, High Priestess of Prophecy, “This game, it’s ostensibly a recreation of dark rituals that entailed summoning supernatural beings as weapons. And believe me, Spike, I’ve already felt it,” Twilight’s lips pursed. “The moment Sunset’s Imprisoned Queen Archfiend sapped us of our remaining life points, for but a moment, I could feel the effect choking me…”

“Imprisoned Queen? Wasn’t that when… When you started coughing?” Spike asked. Twilight simply nodded, to which the dragon turned dog’s expression switched from confusion to alarm, “That was real?!”

It was, little dragon,” Priestess’ voice echoed in response. “I tried reaching out to Sunset Shimmer by changing the final turn of the duel into a Game of Darkness. When neither side won, it left the both of them vulnerable, in which I tried to peer into Sunset’s soul.

A shudder raced down Twilight’s spine when she remembered; the furious, echoed voice that roared within Sunset, “Priestess… What did you see in there?”

Now was the spirit’s turn to appear lost and confused, to the point where she held her emerald tome close to her chest, her eye closing in sorrowed uncertainty, “I couldn’t see anything. Only a brief glimpse, but something pushed me back.

“Wait, wait!” Spike interjected. “What does she- pardon me: What do you have to do with Sunset Shimmer?”

Priestess looked past Twilight towards Spike, her sorrowed expression remaining, “When Sunset came to this world from yours, I was drawn to her. Unlike the people of this school, Sunset Shimmer is a veritable signal beacon to spirits much as myself. When she first arrived, she was lost, confused, uncertain. I wished to help her, as I had with others throughout the ages, but eventually, she began to grow distant until finally, my voice could no longer reach her. It was most fortuitous that she dropped my card, for it allowed me to make contact with Twilight Sparkle.

“So, why not just warn someone else?” asked Spiked. “The principal, or tell the others about Sunset’s acts, or-”

“She couldn’t,” Twilight replied, cutting off her assistant.

Most humans can’t see or hear spirits. Twilight, Sunset, and you, Spike the dragon, are the only ones here due to your otherworldly, magical natures.” She bowed her head, “I apologize for hiding myself from your perceptions initially, but as Twilight herself stated, I agreed with her notions of maintaining some form of secrecy, in lieu of your own notion of talking dogs being unheard of even in your world.

Spike shrugged, or rather, did the best comparative to a shrug, given his canine physiology, “Eh, that’s okay. I hate to admit it; but I can be kinda fidgety. But: Let me see if I got this straight; so someone took dark ritual blood sports used for summoning monsters and spirits; then patented it, packaged it, slapped a brand on it and is now selling it to ordinary people, all the while a power-hungry unicorn from Equestria is using it, and Twilight’s crown, for whatever insidious plan she’s cooking up?”

Twilight and Priestess exchanged awkward, yet thoughtful looks between each other.

In lieu of your contemporary mode of articulation, I suppose that is the best way to describe it,” echoed Priestess.

“Alright, now I’m up to speed,” said Spike in a strangely matter-of-fact manner.

“I thought you’d be more distraught,” said Twilight.

“Oh, I definitely am,” admitted Spike dryly. “Standard procedure: Using humor to mask it.”

“Twilight?” came Rarity’s voice from down the hall. “Is everything alright? Did you manage to find your wallet?”

Priestess, focus on showing Spike the ropes about mental communication,” said Twilight through her mind as she proceeded down towards the exit, “Sorry! The principals already left; I wasn’t certain what to do next. My ID and everything are in there…” she feigned wrapping her arms around herself in worry.

“That’s alright, darling,” said Rarity with a small smile. “I’m sure we’ll find it tomorrow. Come; I called us a taxi.”

“Oh… But, I possibly couldn’t charge you on driving me to the whole other side of town!” and the notion that she didn’t know any of the street names or locales, to getting lost in the town could amount to-

Rarity tittered, “Oh don’t be silly. And besides, we’re going to my house.”

Twilight held herself from sighing in relief, “Ah. That’s very gracious of you for inviting me.” The two of them, along with Sweetie Belle, who seemed quite ecstatic over something, walked down the path towards the road, Twilight’s eyes trailing along the rearing equine statue.

“What Pinkie had said earlier, after yours and Rainbow’s duel, about a party? The two of us thought it would be a splendid idea if we all just got together at my place. Start making up for lost time. And of course, to warmly welcome you,” the fashionista said, smiling sweetly.

“Ooh, so like a slumber party?” asked Twilight, bringing her hands together in eager anticipation.

“I suppose so,” said Rarity. “Have you ever been?”

Nostalgia flooded Twilight’s mind, thinking back to during her early days in Ponyville that one scheduled stormy night. “Just once, a long time ago, to be frank. It was… Interesting, a bit hectic, but I remember it fondly.”

“I have a good feeling you’ll like it, given that Pinkie is involved,” Rarity chuckled. “She always could make even the smaller events fun.”

Soon a yellow car pulled up along the road; ostensibly like a Manehatten cab carriage, but in the form of the human world’s combustion powered vehicles. The three clambered into the backseat, Twilight insisting on a window seat in case of another bout of yesterday’s carsickness. As the car began to pull away from CHS, Twilight’s eyes focused towards the soccer field, a sense of accomplishment, as well as foreboding trepidation swelling within her.

Tomorrow is when the hard part begins…