The Game of Six

by shallow15

First published

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

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are widely considered to be goddesses incarnate of Equestria. But goddesses have entities they must answer to. A thousand years ago, Celestia was challenged by one of these entities for the fate of her domain. She won, but at a terrible cost.

Now, the Game begins again, with Twilight Sparkle and her friends caught in the middle.
Cover art by Acceleron

Featured on Equestria Daily on 11/3/13


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A “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” fanfiction
by Erin Mills

“My Little Pony” ©2013 Hasbro/DHX Media

Night fell over Canterlot, the moon rising full and bright and the stars twinkling in a myriad of colors, all arranged by Princess Luna in celebration of the new princess who had been crowned earlier that day. Fireworks shot over the city, eliciting excited “oohs” and “aahs” from the ponies assembled in the streets. The Coronation Festival was still in full swing, and everypony from Canterlot to the new princess's hometown of Ponyville was still celebrating.

Well, almost every pony. On the balcony of the astronomy tower, Princess Celestia, co-ruler of Equestria, rested on a large cushion and gazed at the stars. From there she could also look down into the gardens and see the newly ascended princess, Twilight Sparkle, and her friends, the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, enjoying the festivities.

Pinkie Pie was engaged in a cider drinking contest with Rainbow Dash and Shining Armor. Rarity was hobnobbing with Fancy Pants, one of her best clients. Applejack, normally not one to assume the limelight, was not only on stage with the orchestra but was even calling a square dance. Even more surprising, the normally stuffy and reserved unicorns that frequently attended palace social occasions were enthusiastically following the instructions the farm pony called out, and those who may have gotten a step or two off-beat were still laughing at their own clumsiness.

In the middle of the dance floor, Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle danced with a couple of handsome stallions. Fluttershy seemed to have lost her normal social awkwardness as she felt the rhythm, bowing and weaving without a care in the world. Twilight Sparkle flailed her new wings and her legs, nearly knocking her dance partner off his hooves, as she followed Applejack's instructions.

“Now, promenade down the floor, we've only got a little more. Take a spin in two-by-two and bow to your partner, cause you're through!” Applejack finished with a large grin. The assembled ponies on the dance floor and on the sidelines applauded and cheered.

Applejack doffed her hat and took a bow before gesturing to the orchestra. Her main accompanists, a gray cellist and a yellow violinist, both took a bow which was followed by the rest of the orchestra. Applejack said a brief word of thanks to the conductor, who took one of her hooves and kissed it, causing the farmer to blush. She gave a grin and made her way off the stage and towards the refreshment table, where Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were still applauding.

Celestia smiled and let out a small sigh of contentment. Yes, things were going to change now that Twilight Sparkle was a princess. She was certain her faithful student would have questions needing answers soon enough.

Tonight, however, she thought, let there be merriment and frivolity. The new princess has come, and with her, a new dawn in Equestria.

Celestia heard a rush of displaced air and looked up as her sister, Princess Luna, landed softly on the balcony. Luna's face wore an expression Celestia rarely saw: contentment. The Lunar Princess walked over to where her sister sat, and using her magic, brought a cushion from the tower's main room for herself.

“I know you want me to say it,” Luna said, once she had made herself comfortable. Celestia assumed an expression of innocence.

“I have no idea what you are talking about, Luna,” she replied. Luna quirked an eyebrow.

“Do not play the innocent with me, dear sister,” she began. “You know full well what I am referring to.”

“Not at all,” Celestia said, keeping her face perfectly straight. She levitated a glass of wine that sat on a small table between the sisters, taking a sip.

Luna sighed in exasperation, realizing she was going to have to say it anyway. “You were right. Twilight Sparkle was ready for this. I should have had more faith in you.”

Celestia smiled at her sister. “You were right in your reservations, Luna, and your reasoning was sound. It's only natural that you would worry about how the change would affect her, but after her success in the Crystal Empire, and the entire group's success in reforming Discord—”

“That remains to be seen, sister dear,” Luna reminded.

“If Discord did not have it in him to control himself, we'd be drowning in a flood of chocolate milk by now,” Celestia replied. “I'm certain that, wherever he is, he's behaving... or as much as he can behave, anyway.”

Luna let out a small laugh through her nose, pleased that her sister had made the concession.

“In any event,” Luna said, “she and her friends are sure to bring great things to our land.”

Luna levitated the wine bottle and poured a glass for herself. She raised the glass towards her sister. “To Princess Twilight Sparkle, may her reign never be tarnished by sorrow!”

Celestia raised her own glass and the two clinked in a toast. “Here, here!”

The two sisters finished their wine and sat in silence. After moment, Luna noticed, despite the satisfied expression on her sister's face, there was still tension in Celestia's posture. She puzzled over her sister's contradictory body language until a memory surfaced regarding the time of year. Luna's eyes widened as the logic behind many of her sister's orders and plans made over the last year became clear to her.

“It's almost time again, isn't it?” she asked. “That's why you wanted her ascension to happen so quickly.”

Celestia sighed, and gave her sister another smile, this one tinged with sadness. “Yes, it's time again. I wanted to be sure I had everything in place before they arrived.”

“Will you tell her?”

“I honestly don't know,” Celestia answered. “I want to be sure it will actually happen before I break the news to her.”

“When will it happen?”

“I'm not sure. They haven't arrived yet. I keep half-hoping that he's forgotten about us.”

“Not likely,” Luna said. “Not after the last time he was here.”

The two sisters fell back into silence, each remembering the outcome. The same outcome that led to Luna's millennium-long banishment. Luna swallowed, remembering how she felt the Nightmare take over her mind, knowing that her own will and feelings on the matter were irrelevant. She let out a sharp breath as Celestia leaned over and nuzzled her.

“I won't let him do anything like that again,” Celestia said. “Not to you, and not to Twilight.”

Luna smiled and relaxed, returning the nuzzle. “You shall triumph, Tia. You always do.”

Celestia said nothing, but Luna felt the muscles in her sister's neck tense up again. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a knock on the observatory tower door. The two princesses separated and looked back at the door to the main room. Celestia got to her feet and walked back into the main room towards the door. Luna followed behind her.

Celestia opened the door to find a gray pegasus with a blond mane and tail standing at attention. The pegasus had a messenger bag slung around her neck. Her gold eyes were crossed, but she smiled brightly and spoke clearly. Celestia recognized her as one of the mail ponies from Ponyville. The princess believed her name was Ditzy Doo.

“Princess Celestia? Excuse me, Your Highness, but there's a package for you.”

“A package? This late at night?” Luna asked, her voice wary.

Ditzy Doo nodded. “Actually it came to Ponyville this morning, but since it was addressed to you, I rushed it up here, but then the coronation was going on, so I didn't really get a chance to deliver it until now. Sorry about the delay.”

“No trouble at all,” Celestia said, taking the small package from the pegasus. “Thank you very much, and, please, stay for the rest of the celebration. Do you need a place to stay?”

“Oh no, Princess, that's okay. I need to get back home. My Muffin is waiting for me. But if I could use your balcony?”

The princesses smiled and stood aside, allowing the mail mare to trot out to the deck and take off into the sky. They turned their gazes on the small box that had been delivered. Celestia took the box out to the observation deck and placed it on the table. She used her magic to unwrap the shipping paper and lift the lid of the box, praying that it wouldn't be what she expected.

Celestia cursed under her breath as she and Luna stared down at the two ebony six-sided dice nestled in foam inside the box. The dice Celestia had expected to arrive any day now had finally come.

“You don't have to roll them now,” Luna said quickly. “You could wait until the morning... or next week.”

Celestia shook her head, not taking her eyes off the dice. “No. Better to get it over with now. If we're lucky, we won't have to deal with this again until next year.”

“Three rolls, correct?” Luna asked. “Three rolls of the dice, and all we have to do is hope the total is not thirteen.”

Luna flexed her own magic and took the dice from her sister. The ebony cubes were decorated with white pips, from one to six on each side of each die. Logically, it would be impossible for anypony to roll any number higher than a total of twelve. Both sisters knew, however, that logic had nothing to do with this particular ceremony.

Celestia sighed, placed the dice on the table, then picked them up with her hooves. The dice would not roll properly if magic was used. She held the dice loosely between her hooves and shook them, listening to the cubes rattle against each other. She let them fly and both sisters breathed a sigh of relief at the three and the two that stared up at them from the table.

“Two more,” Celestia breathed. She picked up the dice, held them between her hooves, shook, then took a deep breath before letting them go. The first die bounced a couple of times and came up six. The second tumbled across the table, then began spinning on one corner. The princesses' eyes widened and they both held their breath as they waited for the die to come to a halt. Finally the spinning slowed and the die clattered to a halt near the edge of the table.

It came up seven. Six plus seven. Thirteen.

“No,” Luna whispered. She looked up at her sister in alarm. Celestia hadn't moved, continuing to stare at the dice on the table. Luna took a step closer.

“Tia? What shall I do?” she asked, quietly. Celestia's head snapped up, her expression hard. Luna knew that look. It was the look her sister got when moving into problem-solving mode.

“We have thirteen days to prepare,” Celestia said quietly. “In the morning, send a message to Twilight Sparkle that we need to see her as soon as possible. In the meantime, send messages to our runners that they need to locate Discord, wherever he is. He may be useful."

Luna nodded. “It shall be done. Anything else?”

Celestia shook her head. “I'll make additional plans after I talk to Twilight. But ultimately, it will all come down to him.”

Luna nodded, then moved forward to nuzzle her sister. “It shall be all right. You were victorious against him before, you shall be again.”

Celestia looked at her sister with sad eyes. “The cost of victory wasn't worth it, and you know what the stories say about those he challenges again after being defeated once. He expects a better match the next time. I fear he won't go so easy on me this time.”

“This time, we shall be ready for him, him and his damned challenge,” Luna said harshly. “We will not be tricked by him again.”

Celestia gave her sister a small smile, which Luna returned.

“Good,” Luna said. “A smile is what I like to see. I shall dispatch the runners.”

Luna took to the air and flew between the towers, heading for the barracks of the Royal Guard. Celestia watched her sister fly into the distance. Her smile faded as she looked back down at the dice. She picked them up and rolled them once more. It didn't surprise her in the slightest when they came up thirteen again.

“Very well,” she said quietly. “Let us play the game once again.”

Rules of the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Dust frowned. “Who are you?”

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

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

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

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


“No?” The pegasus quirked an eyebrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happens if I say no?”

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

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

The stallion grinned. “I can guarantee it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed he is, Twilight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the Board (I)

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“The Game of Six?” Twilight echoed. “Well, it's an old Equestrian game, dating back before the pre-Classical Era. It kind of fell out of fashion after chess was invented. I don't think anypony plays it anymore.”

“You've never played it yourself?” Celestia asked.

“No,” Twilight answered. “I've read about it, of course.”

“How is it played?”

Twilight quirked an eyebrow, but quickly realized this was Celestia's usual technique for finding out what she knew before offering any new information. This had been her teacher's preferred method of instruction when Twilight had been her student.

“The easiest way to explain it is as a combination of chess and a blocking game like backgammon or the griffin game Senat. Each player has six pieces; the Wizard, the Centurion, the Merchant, the Farmer, the Druid, and the Fool. Like chess, the object of the game is to take your opponent's Wizard, but the difference is that, in the Game of Six, the only way to remove a piece from the board is to either block it from moving by using at least two other pieces, or by taking the piece with the piece that it has a direct vulnerability to.”

“And which pieces are vulnerable to which?” Celestia asked.

Twilight smiled, enjoying the routine the two of them had fallen into. “According to Road Scholar's A History of Games, the vulnerability of the pieces follows a circular progression: Wizard takes Centurion, Centurion takes Merchant, Merchant takes Farmer, Farmer takes Druid, Druid takes Fool, and Fool takes Wizard. Obviously, other factors are in play such as how many hexes on the game board a piece can move and how they are allowed to move.

“The Wizard, like the king in chess, can only move one hex at a time in any direction. The Centurion can move any number of hexes, but only in a straight line. The Merchant may move up to six hexes, but can only move three hexes in one direction, then it must move in a different direction. The Farmer also must move in a straight line, but can only move four hexes at a time. The Druid may move up to three hexes in any direction. The Fool may move up to eight hexes, but it cannot move in a straight line for more than two hexes. I think that covers everything about how the game is played.”

Celestia smiled at her former student. “And did your research tell you why it is called the Game of Six?”

“No, but it seemed fairly obvious,” Twilight answered. “Six pieces per player, the board is hexagonal. The number six is all over the game.”

“It's more than that,” Celestia said. “Six is an important number in Equestria. Six archetypes as the game pieces, six Elements of Harmony, six tribes of ponies – ”

“Six tribes?” Twilight interrupted. “How can there be six tribes? History states there's only ever been three.”

“Think it through, Twilight. Add all the things you've learned since moving to Ponyville to what you learned during your studies here.”

Twilight frowned as she thought and began to speak her thoughts aloud. “Let's see... the first three tribes are obvious: pegasii, unicorns, and earth ponies. I suppose... even though there's only four of us... alicorns could be considered their own tribe?” Twilight looked up at Celestia, who nodded with a small smile on her face.

“Okay, so that's four,” Twilight said, returning to her thoughts. “One of the tribes could be the bat-winged ponies that Princess Luna has with the night guard... but recent evidence found by Cloudsdale genealogists proves that they're a subspecies of pegasii, and technically part of that tribe. However, nopony said that there would be vast differences between the tribes in appearance. Given that they have that odd shine to them when their emotions are up and their feelings of love radiate across Equestria, plus the fact they weren't seen for over a thousand years... yes, that makes sense. The crystal ponies have to be the fifth tribe!”

“Excellent, Twilight,” Celestia said. “The crystal ponies are indeed one of the tribes. But can you identify the sixth?”

Twilight bit her lip in concentration. “Well, they could... no, that doesn't make sense. Pegasii, unicorns, earth ponies, alicorns, crystal ponies and... and... what other ponies are there? I don't think I've ever seen any other type of pony in Equestria or the Crystal Empire.”

“Try a different approach,” Celestia suggested. “You know the various physical traits that separate each tribe from the others. What do they have in common?”

“Well, we're all quadrupeds. We have enlongated muzzles. Honestly, the basic pony shape is pretty much an earth pony with additional physical features that distinguish the other tribes. Pegasii have wings, unicorns have horns, alicorns have both and they tend to be taller than the other tribes. Wait... taller.”

Twilight's mind raced as memories of her brother's wedding to Princess Cadance surfaced. There had been somepony taller than most of the other ponies at the wedding. Somepony who had disguised herself as Cadance and also had wings and a horn. And her minions were also quadrupeds with enlongated muzzles and the basic shape of an earth pony. Twilight's eyes widened as she came to a realization.

“Changelings?” she whispered. She looked up at her mentor. “The changelings are the sixth tribe?”

“Yes, they are,” said Celestia. “After the wedding I did a little research of my own. I found an ancient scroll which proved that, many eons ago, the changelings were much like the other pony tribes. They had insect-like traits back then, but not to the same extent. I have no idea what caused them to become what they are now, but that's something to consider another day. The point, Twilight, is that the number six has power in Equestria, and the Game of Six is a reflection of that. This is the game that I will be playing against Arbosh... and that you, and whoever joins you as my pieces, will have to experience. And I must inform you, Twilight, that it will most likely not be a pleasant experience.”

“I didn't think it would be,” Twilight murmured. She took a deep breath and looked at Celestia. “But I said I would be one of your pieces and I'll do anything you need me to do. Should I get my friends so you can ask them?”

“Not quite yet,” Celestia said. “First, let's play.”

“I'm not following you,” said Cherry Jubilee. “You want me to go to Ponyville in twelve days for what reason, exactly?”

“You're very perceptive, Miss Jubilee,” said the stallion across the counter. “And I'm not going to insult you by telling you an untruth. I am about to partake in a game with Princess Celestia, and the nature of this game requires that we both act as... coaches, for want of a better word, for a team of six ponies that fit certain criteria. I would like you to be a part of that team.”

The cherry farmer quirked an eyebrow. “I'm not one for games, Mister...?”

“Arbosh,” answered the stallion.

“That's an unusual name for a pony.”

“I am an unusual pony,” Arbosh said. He reached down, produced a sack of bits and placed it on the counter between them.

“I also understand that I'm asking you to take some time away from your orchards for vague and nebulous reasons. I'm hoping this is enough to compensate you for your time.”

“Money isn't the issue, Mr. Arbosh,” Cherry said. “You say this is a game, but it sounds distinctly unsavory.”

“But you're also intrigued,” Arbosh countered. “I can read it in your face.”

Cherry Jubilee flushed and she took a breath to regain her composure. Before she could speak, Arbosh held up a hoof.

“Let me assure you that what I'm asking you to participate in is exactly what I said it is; a game. There will be nothing illegal, unethical, or treasonous about it. All you need to do is follow the instructions I give you and the rest of your team. And in return, on top of the travel expenses in that bag, I will guarantee you the exclusive distribution contract for the top six restaurants in Manehattan.”

Cherry frowned again. “I find that highly unlikely.”

Arbosh smiled, reached into the sack of bits and pulled out a scroll tied with a red ribbon. He undid the ribbon and snapped the scroll open across the counter. Cherry Jubilee looked the scroll over, disbelief evident on her face. After a few moments, her expression changed to a completely different kind of disbelief. She looked back up at Arbosh.

“This is impossible. I've been trying to get any sort of distribution contract to just one of these restaurants for years. How could you possibly –“

“I'm also very well connected,” Arbosh replied with a grin. “So, Miss Jubilee, do we have a deal?”