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twilight_game_night_part_1

twilight_game_night Jan 5th, 2015 4,844 Never
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  1. >"Anon! Hey, Anon!"
  2. >"I'm so glad I caught you. Listen - my friends and I are having a game night, but Fluttershy is out of town this week. We could use a 5th player for our Burrows and Basilisks campaign."
  3. >"We're ordering pizza and everything, and you could sleep over for the night."
  4. >"Would you... would you be interested?"
  5.  
  6. >You sigh.
  7. "Damn it Twilight, are you doing this again?"
  8. >She knows you've caught her, but pretends to be shocked anyway. Appearances must be maintained and all that.
  9. >"Whatever do you mean, Anon? I just thought you would have some fun. But if you're not interested..."
  10. >You reach out a hand to stop her from leaving, not quite touching her. Her head twists back to face you, just enough to see that shit-eating smirk she always has when she knows you're trapped.
  11. "I didn't say that..."
  12. >"Well, that's sure what it sounded like. I didn't realize that you were so happy alone. By yourself. With no friends."
  13. >You boop her nose with your outstretched hand. She giggles, dropping the act.
  14. >"Yes 'Nonny, I did it again."
  15. "I know you love coming up with your own campaigns, but -"
  16. >"- but I have to stop making them so complicatedly hard," she finishes. This isn't the first time you've told Twilight that, but she just loves DMing and... well... you know how DMs can be.
  17. "Want me to look it over? See if there's anything I can smooth out?"
  18. >"Nope! I don't want you bringing any OOC knowledge into this!" Her eyes sparkle with the insanity of a happy DM. Oh gods damn it.
  19. "I never even said I would..."
  20. >Your protests fall on deaf ears. She was already dragging you along with her magic. Because of course she was. Railroading the campaign wasn't enough for her - she had to railroad the players too.
  21. >But in truth, things weren't so bad.
  22. >You were going to have so much fun wrecking those tracks.
  23. "So what's the problem this time?"
  24. >You figure you might as well try to find out where she donked up. Monsters too hard, puzzles too challenging, setting that is just too vague for the players to figure out...
  25. >"Well... everyone's died."
  26. >That's not good.
  27. >"Twice."
  28. >That's really not good.
  29. "So no one wants to play it anymore?"
  30. >She sighs, looking away from you.
  31. >"That's actually part of the problem. You know how stubborn Applejack can be - she won't let us go on to anything else. She even told me I wasn't allowed to make it easier!"
  32. >You nod in agreement. That pony never did know when to admit she was beat, and she had too much faith in her Twilight to see that she had made the adventure too difficult.
  33. >"She thinks there has to be something she's overlooking, some clue or secret door or... something!"
  34. "Well, is there?"
  35. >She looks at you with angry eyes.
  36. >"You know I can't tell you that."
  37. >You raise your hands in mock surrender.
  38. "And what else? I can't believe Dash would stick around after two party wipes. Are you short two players, not just one?"
  39. >"And that's problem number two! It's a challenge to Rainbow Dash now! I didn't think she'd even agree to play the campaign a second time, but there she was, sitting at the table with a brand new character sheet."
  40. >You nod, seeing where this is going.
  41. "Rainbow Dash certain doesn't take losing well."
  42. >Twilight rolls her eyes so far back, you can swear you almost see them doing a 360. Impossible, of course. She's not Pinkie Pie.
  43. >"I have no clue where you got that idea from."
  44. "Well, maybe it was that time she and Applejack got in that race, or the time she entered that flying contest thingy in Cloudsdale, or maybe it was that telekinesis contest she -"
  45. >"Anon!"
  46. >Damn, she sure got snippy when you tried to out-sarcasm her.
  47. "So what do you need from me, *princess*."
  48. >She stops so suddenly, you almost run into her.
  49. >Of course, if you did, it would be her fault.
  50. >Because she's still dragging you around with her magic.
  51. >Not that she wouldn't snap at you anyway.
  52. >She turns around and stares you in the eyes. You've only heard stories and seen pictures, put you're pretty sure this kind of evil look is on par with Nightmare Moon's.
  53. >Scratch that.
  54. >Woona is fucking adorkable.
  55. >Twilight looks like she's going to genocide all of humanity. Which is just you, so it's not as much of an accomplishment as it sounds, but still...
  56. >That would be some pretty impressive resume padding, assuming no one actually researched it.
  57. >Do princesses even have to have resumes? Wait, do ponies even do that?
  58. >Note to self, you can't mooch off your friends forever. Look into Equestrian hiring practices. Pretend to hunt for a job. End note.
  59. >She reaches up and drags your head down level with hers. Well, she tries to, but after a few seconds of hopping and stretching, she gives up and uses her magic.
  60. >"I need you to do what you always fucking do."
  61. >Princesses can swear?
  62. >"Break. My. Fucking. Game."
  63. >Was not expecting that.
  64. "What."
  65. >The flatness of the question confuses her.
  66. >"What?"
  67. "What."
  68. >"What what?"
  69. >Okay, this is going nowhere.
  70. "So, all these times you've yelled at me for ruining your campaigns, they're... poof! What you want me for now?"
  71. >She looks away, unable to meet your eyes. Like she'd just been caught cheating on her imaginary coltfriend. No, this is Twilight - like she'd been caught cheating on a test.
  72. >"Yes," she finally croaks.
  73. >You feel the magic forcing you into this awkward crouch fade away. In the most assholeish manner possible, you stand tall, puff out your chest and laugh. Laugh like a conquering... conqueror.
  74. >Twilight knows this laugh. It's why you've been "uninvited" from so many game nights. It's the laugh of destruction, the laugh of a man who has ruined great things, and built a new empire from the rubble. The laugh of a man who has managed to derail and defeat more DMs than you can remember.
  75. >The laugh dies in your throat as she looks up at you, tears in her eyes.
  76. >"Please?"
  77. >That look. Oh gods... that look. You can see the tears starting to well up, almost but not quite ready to fall. Making her eyes shimmer like little stars.
  78. >And like every other time, you kneel down and wrap your arms around her neck, ruffling her mane.
  79. "Of course."
  80. >"It's just..."
  81. >Her voice cracks up.
  82. >"It's not fun anymore. Everyone's so angry. I'm pretty sure Fluttershy is 'unavailable' because of how Rainbow Dash yelled at her last week."
  83. >You can feel the tears now, soaking into your shirt.
  84. >"Sure, I mean... it's the healer's job to keep the fighter going, right? But she only had so many spells and then they got flanked and -"
  85. >You pat her neck softly.
  86. "So Dash ran in like normal and got everyone killed."
  87. >She doesn't even answer you, but she doesn't have to.
  88. >"We're supposed to be friends, Anon! Friends don't treat friends like this. And it's all my fault."
  89. >You squeeze her tightly.
  90. "Don't worry, I'll fix this."
  91. >You smile.
  92. "I'll fix everything."
  93. >"'Nonny... you're starting to scare me..."
  94. >One last pat and you release her.
  95. "Come on, let's get back to your place. I need to look over your notes."
  96. >"I told you, no OOC knowledge!"
  97. "Fine, but I know you take notes during the games. I need to at least see what made them fall apart. So I can fix things."
  98. >She wipes away her tears with one hoof.
  99. >"You'll fix everything?"
  100. "I promise. Stick a cupcake in my eye."
  101. >Oh sweet zombie Jesus, this is a fucking nightmare.
  102. >Twilight's notes are scattered in front of you. She spent a good half our copying out the parts you were allowed to see, and even those sparse fragments painted a very ugly picture.
  103. "This is supposed to be winnable, right?"
  104. >She nods once.
  105. >"Supposed to be."
  106. >You sigh and put down the paper you are holding. You need that hand free, because this is a double facepalm moment.
  107. "Okay Twilight, I see the root of the problem."
  108. >"Really?"
  109. >Her eyes open wide with hope for a second, before narrowing. She teleports from her side of the table to yours, shoving you aside.
  110. >"Where?" she asks, nose to the sheet you have just put down. "I don't see anything."
  111. >You scooch aside before answering. Good thing it wasn't a book you'd been holding. Spike is a wise dragon, and he'd given you some sage advice that you'd just forgotten.
  112. >Never get between Twilight and something to read. Never. Ever. Seriously. Don't do it.
  113. >You put one finger on the sheet and slide it away from her. Twilight's head follows, until she's actually climbing onto the table. You slide it over to the notes from the previous session.
  114. "Do you see now?"
  115. >"See what? What am I supposed to be seeing?"
  116. "They're identical."
  117. >"No they're not. These -" She taps the new sheet with her hoof. "- are from the first playthrough. And these notes -" She taps the one with your finger on it. "- are from the second."
  118. "And?"
  119. >"And what?"
  120. "What else is different?"
  121. >She shoves her face into the first sheet, and then the second, looking back and forth. You cut her off as she begins to open her mouth.
  122. "Ignore the color of the ink, or the minor variations. Ignore synonyms."
  123. >She continues to study the two pieces of paper for a minute, before collapsing on the table.
  124. >"I give up. Just tell me."
  125. "They're the same. Not exactly, but basically the same."
  126. >She turns around to face you, one eyebrow raised.
  127. "You made this campaign specifically for your friends, didn't you?"
  128. >She nods.
  129. "You made it based on your previous experiences with them, right?"
  130. >Another nod.
  131. "You know how they play?"
  132. >Another.
  133. "And you tried to make a campaign that would actually challenge them? Something to break them out of their comfort zone?"
  134. >"I wouldn't say that... but... yes."
  135. "Did you tell them that?"
  136. >"I... um... well... kind of?"
  137. "Did you?"
  138. >"Not in those exact words, no."
  139. >You smile at her - at your sad little princess, huddled up on the table, with pages scattered around her.
  140. "Has everyone rolled up their characters for this go-around?"
  141. >"Not yet, we were going to do that tonight."
  142. "I can fix this."
  143. >The surety in your voice causes her to return your smile.
  144. "Can I DM?"
  145. >"Anon!"
  146. "Does that mean no?"
  147. >"It means no!"
  148. >Your shoulders slump. It's not like you expected her to agree to that, but... well... it was worth a shot.
  149. "Fine..."
  150. >You hesitate for a second.
  151. "Okay, I can still fix this!"
  152. "What we need to do is..."
  153. >You reach over and grab the Players Guide.
  154. "Make everyone's characters for them."
  155. >"What."
  156. >Oh no she didn't. That's your thing. That's basically your catch phrase. When you first woke up in the pony-infested land, that was the first thing you said. When you found out that magic was real in this world, that's what you said.
  157. "WHAT I said was, we need to pre-gen some characters right now. Before everyone gets here."
  158. >"I heard you, Anon. I'm just not understanding why. You're always against me forcing players into the situation I want. What do you call it... "
  159. >Hoof to her chin, she tries to remember the word you always use to complain about her DMing skills.
  160. "It's railroading, princess. Railroading."
  161. >"Right, railroading!" The happiness of learning something new is replaced instantly with suspicion. "So why now?" Her eyes narrow.
  162. >Others might mistake her look for anger, but you've spent enough time with her to see it for what it really is - hunger. Hunger for knowledge. Heh. Twilight, the little brainshark. Gonna nom on your learnings.
  163. "It's simple - your group is in a rut. So you made this campaign, but they're still in that rut. It's like slamming the party into a brick wall. It's just not going to work."
  164. >"And how will this help?"
  165. "Do you really think Dash is going to run into the room full of monsters if she's playing a squishy wizard instead of a fighter?"
  166. >"Yes."
  167. "Well... bad example. Of course she will."
  168. >Twilight nods with a smile on her face. Princesses love it when you agree with them.
  169. "And she'll die. Fast. And maybe, she will learn something from it."
  170. >"Like what?"
  171. "Like she needs to play differently."
  172. >She ponders this for a second.
  173. >"But we always have a wizard in the group..." she counter-argues, "What difference will it make if it's Rainbow Dash instead of Rarity?"
  174. >You can't believe you have to explain this.
  175. "Can you really imagine Rainbow Dash playing an illusionist? Because I can't. I really, really can't."
  176. >"No, I really, really, really can't."
  177. >Twilight gives you a dead look, like you're the dumbest pos she's ever met. Like maybe she's reconsidering the whole classifying humans as sentient thing.
  178. >Perfect. Shit-eating grin time.
  179. "Exactly."
  180. >Words can't even describe the expression on your little princess's face.
  181. "You can't imagine how she'd play it."
  182. >You boop her nose for emphasis.
  183. "She can't imagine how she'd play it."
  184. >Boop again.
  185. "Remember what you're always telling the Cutie Mark Crusaders."
  186. >You almost boop again, but three times would be pressing your luck.
  187. >"Infinite possibilities...?"
  188. "Yeppers."
  189. >She runs the thought through her brain a few times - there's a possibility there, she can see it. But the look of confusion remains. You explain further.
  190. "You made this campaign expecting your friends to play certain characters a certain way."
  191. >"Correct..." she stretches out the work, as if to buy time to come the conclusion on her own before you can ruin it for her.
  192. "And they're following your expectations, and losing."
  193. >Oh. There it is. She's put the pieces together.
  194. >"And so if they play in ways I'm not expecting, they might be able to beat the campaign!"
  195. "There's no 'might.' I made a promise, remember?"
  196. >"You're going to fix this."
  197. >She smiles at you, face finally full of hope.
  198. "No, princess."
  199. >You return her smile.
  200. "I'm going to fix *everything*."
  201. >"Stop saying that!"
  202. >She gives you a playful shove.
  203. >Ow, that kind of hurt. Maybe that wasn't so playful.
  204. >"It's really starting to freak me the fuck out."
  205. >This is a nightmare. Trying to generate five new characters in - you check the clock - two hours. Well, one hour now.
  206. >If only they were playing WHFRP. Totally random character generation. So easy. So fast. So unbelievably frustrating to actually play.
  207. >Still, with Twilight's help, you've gotten two characters done. Hopefully the other four will be finished before anyone arrives.
  208. >Only two characters left, when your companion suddenly drops her pen.
  209. >"Oh shit."
  210. >Twilight Sparkle looks up from the splat book she was combing for feats, eyes filled with horror.
  211. "What? What's wrong?"
  212. >"Oh no oh no oh no oh no..."
  213. >You stretch across the table and grab her shoulders.
  214. "Did you forget some monster or trap in your campaign? Are we going to have to redo all these characters?"
  215. >"It's worse."
  216. >You shake her lightly like a vending machine, trying to get those precious words to fall out.
  217. >"What if we don't have the right miniatures for everyone...?"
  218. "You're right, this could be bad..."
  219. >You release her, sitting back, worried look on your expressionless face.
  220. "Celestia forbid our swordsfilly has to use a model carrying an AXE."
  221. >You duck, dice flying past you harmlessly.
  222. >"Oh fuck you, Anon!"
  223. >She says it with a laugh, but still, you're worried. You might be a bad influence on your little princess - she didn't used to swear this much. Also, those dice kind of got embedded in the wall. Would not have been pretty if you hadn't ducked.
  224. "You know, Twilight... most of the groups I've played with didn't bother with miniatures at all."
  225. >"But how did everyone know exactly where their characters were?"
  226. >You shrug.
  227. "We didn't. Well, we did - they were precisely where they needed to be."
  228. >"But... what about the rules?"
  229. >You smirk at her, picking up your pen and getting back to work.
  230. "What's rule zero?"
  231. >"The DM is always right?"
  232. "Nope, that's the Golden Rule, favorite of control freaks everywhere."
  233. >She frowns at you. She knows it's true, but no one likes to admit it.
  234. "No Twilight, Rule Zero is the most important rule of any game - have fun. It's no fun to be half an inch too far away from the bad guy. Sometimes it's better to fudge things a little. Using models locks your players into static locations. If you let them have that half inch, it's like you're telling them that it's okay to break the rules. But if they - and you - never know the half inch is there... it's more fun for everyone. Play it fast, play it quick. And have fun."
  235. >She looks at you doubtfully, but you can see you've made your point. Maybe not convinced her, but at least she can see things from a new angle.
  236. >"So, you don't like using models...?" she finally asks, after a few seconds of though.
  237. "Oh no, I find them pretty essential, but only as a representation."
  238. >You stress the last part.
  239. "Once some friends and I were playing a game without using any figures, and we got sooooo confused. Who was where, what they were fighting. Of course, it didn't help that we'd all been drinking."
  240. >"So what happened?"
  241. "I grabbed a few empty bottles and a handful of bottle caps and threw them onto the table. Bam. Problem solved."
  242. >"So I guess it did help that you'd been drinking," she giggles.
  243. "I guess so."
  244. >You pause for a second.
  245. "Never thought I'd hear that. Guess I learned something new today..."
  246. >You reach over and grab a fresh sheet of paper.
  247. "DEAR PRINCESS CELESTIA, TODAY I -"
  248. >Twilight shrieks with embarrassed laughter, grabbing for your arm.
  249. "- TODAY I LEARNED -"
  250. >You dodge back, still pretending to write.
  251. "- FROM YOUR FAVORITE STUDENT -"
  252. >"Ex-student!" she corrects, still trying to tackle you.
  253. "- THAT THE POWER OF ALCHOHOL -"
  254. >Twilight squeals in mock terror.
  255. >"Noooooo.. she can't know I drink!"
  256. "- CAN SOLVE EVERY PROBLEM EVER."
  257. >You finish as she finally manages to glomp on to you, sending both of you crashing to the floor.
  258. >"I'm a princess, you're supposed to be more respectful," she playfully chides, standing over you.
  259. "Maybe, but you're not *my* princess."
  260. >"I'm not...?"
  261. >Oh damn, you can see from the hurt expression in her face that she took that the wrong way. Stupid Anon, always thinking you're so clever.
  262. "Well... I mean...."
  263. >You were the first person to call her princess, before she'd even become an alicorn. Because she was your little princess. It probably helped that you weren't a pony - someone who didn't know who she was. Even Twilight's closest friends were always so respectful towards her.
  264. >Except Rainbow Dash. But Dash was kind of an asshole. Not that she wasn't the closest thing you had to a brofriend.
  265. >Wasn't always like this. At first, she tried to be your mentor, lecturing you about Equestrian customs and civilization. But you didn't care, once you'd figured out not to piss off the big ones. Then she tried to be your mother, but you proved perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.
  266. >And then somewhere along the line, Twilight realized that you weren't a pony. She didn't have to worry about her reputation around you, any more than you would have been concerned about a cat watching you stumble home piss drunk. You weren't going to judge her for not being the perfect student, nor for failing to live up to her station at every moment. Luna could get away with being... odd.. in public, because of her past. But Twilight Sparkle? No, she always had to be perfect.
  267. >You reach up, looping one arm around her neck and pulling her closer.
  268. "That's not what I meant."
  269. >"Then what did you mean?" she asks, planting one hoof on your shoulder, as if she was going to pry herself free of your grip if she was unhappy with your answer.
  270. >You squeeze tighter, causing her to squeak like a dog's chew toy.
  271. "I meant that you're *my* princess. You might be the Princess of Friendship to everyone else, but to me, you're *my* princess."
  272. >My silly perfect princess.
  273. >"But, you just said -"
  274. "I say alot of stupid."
  275. >What's that look on her face mean?
  276. >A loud knock on the door interrupts that train of thought. Fuck. You don't know what was just ruined, but something was.
  277. >Twilight shuffles free of your grasp awkwardly, moving towards the door.
  278. >"I'll just... um... answer that. It's probably..."
  279. "Pinkie Pie."
  280. >She's always the one that ruins these kinds of things. The knocking grows more rapid, almost frantic.
  281. >"OPEN THE DOOR I NEED TO PEE."
  282. >Goddammit Pinkie Pie.
  283. >You and Twilight share a look. She's thinking the same thing.
  284. >"ALSO I BROUGHT COOKIES!"
  285. "You better open the door before the cookies gets ruined."
  286. >"Hehe, yeah Anon, I'll... just go let her in."
  287. >She moves towards the door as you sit up and try to straighten your clothes.
  288. >"I know you're used to living in a mess," she calls over her shoulder to you, "but you might want to try to tidy things up over there. Don't want Pinkie Pie getting any wrong ideas."
  289. >You look around - it's easy to see what she means. Papers and books scatter the floor like leaves in a forest. The only clear place was - oddly enough - the table.
  290. >Yeah, that could look awkward.
  291. >Twilight hesitates by the door, giving you precious seconds to shove the books back onto the table in a wildly swaying pile.
  292. >The knocking gets more frantic - and suddenly stops.
  293. >"I STILL HAVE COOKIES!"
  294. >Twilight opens the door, flinging herself to one side as a pink blur shoots through the opening. For a brief second, you can see a hint of a tortured face, before it disappears from your field of vision, replaced by an absurdly large pile of baked goods.
  295. >Twilight shuts the door, levitating a cookie over to herself as she trots back.
  296. >"Well, the good news is I don't have to clean my porch..."
  297. "And the bad?"
  298. >She mumbles, holding up one hoof to indicate her mouth was full. Can't really blame her - Pinkie Pie's cookies are delicious. Instead, she gestures to the table, magicing up the two unfinished character sheets.
  299. >Oh.
  300. >You reach for a cookie, only to be thrown halfway across the room by the return of the pink blur.
  301. "Hello Pinkie Pie."
  302. >"HI NONNY!"
  303. >Oh god DAMN, that used to be your ear.
  304. "Have fun in the bathroom?"
  305. >"What? Oh silly 'Nonny, I didn't go to the bathroom!"
  306. >You look to Twilight in your confusion. Maybe she knows what... oh, nope. She's shaking her head. Don't even ask, don't even think about it. This is Pinkie Pie, after all.
  307. >"I got our minis!"
  308. >Pinkie pie holds up the small case of miniatures, opening the box with uncharacteristic reverence and pulling out a little pink figure.
  309. >You dive, just barely catching the box as it falls from her uncaring hooves.
  310. >"Did you miss me, Fuschia Wonder?" she asks, rubbing the model on her cheek like a long lost lover. "Oh, and I missed YOU, 'Nonny!"
  311. >She shoves Fuschia Wonder in your face.
  312. >"And she did too!"
  313. >The model disappears, but before you can even entertain the thought of sitting up, Pinkie Pie is eye-to-eye with you.
  314. >"Why did you stop coming?"
  315. >"Yeah, why *did* you stop showin' up?" Applejack asks, barging through the door without even knocking, almost slamming it into Twilight. Brutal and straightforward, that's our AJ. Well, no sense lying to her - she'd know right away.
  316. "Because the way I play was ruining game night for Twilight."
  317. >"Well, don't you go blaming it on her," she growled at you.
  318. >Despite always being able to sense a lie, AJ sure was shit at reading subtext. No wonder she always rolled up Lawful Stupid Paladins.
  319. >"SO AJ," Twilight broke in, trying to distract her friend. "Bring any cider?"
  320. >Applejack's head swings around, eyes still squinting in suspicion.
  321. "Why?"
  322. >"Because... Anon likes to drink while gaming...? Remember...?"
  323. >Oh, so she's going to blame this on you. Mhm, sure, you're the one with the drinking problem. Good think Twilight is so adorkable or you'd totally do nothing at all because you're actually pretty beta at times. But you still think you'd think angry thoughts at her if pushed to far. Maybe.
  324. >Applejack's head comes back around to face you, and she steps closer. Now you have two pony faces right in yours, one grinning, one furious.
  325. >"Yep."
  326. >"Oh... good, I'll just go bring that in," Twilight responds, slipping out to retrieve the barrels.
  327. >You hope Applejack brought enough - she's a surprisingly happy drunk.
  328. >"Now don't you go ruinin' tonight," Applejack growled at you as Pinkie Pie bounced after Twilight. "We've been having enough trouble gettin' through this already. We don't need your shenanigans tonight. Pinkie Pie is bad enough, but *you* -"
  329. >She rams a hoof into your chest.
  330. >"- you better not mess this up."
  331. >She steps away from you quickly as Twilight and Pinkie come back in. Three barrels... not bad.
  332. >Applejack takes her customary place at the table, eying the papers and books.
  333. >"So what's all this then?"
  334. >She reaches out and drags one of the finished character sheets over to her, looking at it carefully. AJ can clearly see the other finished sheets... you hadn't tried to hide them.
  335. >"Gee Anon, you must plan on dying pretty frequent-like if you need so many pre-made characters."
  336. >You sidle over beside her, peering over her should to see which sheet she had picked up.
  337. "Well actually, Applejack..."
  338. >You know you're a bastard, and you love it.
  339. "... that one is yours."
  340. >She stares at the paper in silence with such intensity that no one, not even Pinkie Pie, moves a muscle.
  341. >Either Applejack has been getting lessons from Fluttershy, or she doesn't do all the applebucking with her legs. It's a miracle that the sheet of paper doesn't flinch away from her gaze.
  342. >You do, when she finally raises her eyes.
  343. >"Anon, I think you got a mighty quaint way of spelling paladin." She shoves the paper in your direction. "Wanna try writing that again?"
  344. >Twilight catches the sheet with her magic, bringing it back to Applejack.
  345. >"I know how much this campaign is frustrating you," she cuts in. "He's here to help. As a favor to me."
  346. >Oh shit, that made her even angrier.
  347. >"What do you mean 'as a favor?'" Applejack slams one hoof down on the table, toppling over the pile of source books. "Is he making you do something?"
  348. >She switches back to you.
  349. >"You better not be taking advantage of her! She puts her heart and soul into these games and you always wreck them!"
  350. >Never in your life have you seen anyone - anypony - pointing a hoof in such an accusatory manner. It always surprised you how expressive these creatures could be without fingers.
  351. >It takes all your willpower to not return her gesture with one of your own. But deep down, you know AJ means well, she's just...
  352. >"Damn it Applejack, I asked HIM here! Stop being so overprotective!"
  353. >"Well sometimes you *need* protecting! Every time he leaves, I see the hurt look in your eyes!"
  354. >Silence.
  355. >What... what did that mean? Were you really such horrible company? Did Twilight keep inviting you over out of pity, or because if Discord can be reformed there might possibly be hope for your twisted soul?
  356. >Twilight stands there, mouth agape.
  357. >Pinkie Pie slowly and stealthely reaches for a cookie from the pile.
  358. >You feel the characteristic tingle of Twilight's magic as she picks you up and sends you out the door.
  359. >"Pinkie Pie, Anon - could you excuse us for a minute. I need to have a word alone with Applejack."
  360. >"Well, that was AWK-ward." Pinkie Pie blinks at you in shock, then at her own empty hooves. "She threw me out before I could get a cookie."
  361. "Yes, Punky Poo, that certain was awkward."
  362. >You're in shock, barely hearing the words your friend says to you. Still, you can't help but tease her - it's not even a conscious decision anymore.
  363. >"It's PIN-KEY PIE!" She yells, bouncing up and down like a basketball.
  364. "Yes, I know. I'm horrible."
  365. >"Oh Celestia, Anon!" She grabs you around your waist with her soft pink forelimbs. "I don't think you're horrible! You're always so fun to be around."
  366. >She releases you and backs up, blinking up at you in what she hopes is the cutest expression ever.
  367. >It doesn't help.
  368. >You slump against the door, feeling the solidness of it against your back.
  369. >It surprises you when you realize that you can't hear raised voices from behind the door. Normally Twilight is always so quick to defend you against other ponies.
  370. >You guess she just didn't want Applejack telling the truth and hurting your feelings. But of course it had to happen eventually. Applejack never lies.
  371. >"Want a cookie...?"
  372. >You look over to Pinkie Pie - she had slumped down beside you and you never even noticed. Not until she was actually half in your lap, trying to shove a cookie in your mouth.
  373. "Where did you get that, Pookity Pook?"
  374. >The words tumble out of your mouth for lack of anything else to say. What else could you say? No? Fuck off and die? Not to the only pony in Ponyville that had apparently can actually stand being around you.
  375. >"Emergency Strategic Cookie Stockpile!" She answers, beaming up at you. "I have them all over Ponyville!"
  376. "Sure, thanks..."
  377. >The cookie tastes fresh, certainly not the kind of cookie you imagined when you heard the words "Emergency Strategic Cookie Stockpile." You half expected it to taste of rust and Cold War Soviet technology.
  378. >Not that you know what Cold War Soviet technology tastes like, but you can imagine. Anything to distract yourself.
  379. >You don't know how long you sit there, chewing that one cookie, petting Pinkie Pie's mane. Just that it was long enough that you were surprised she could stay still that long. You glance over to her, worried. Did she die? You'd always read that sharks die if they stopped moving, what if Pinkie Pie was the same?
  380. >Every time, she smiles at you again. She's doing this for you, you realize. Pinkie Pie is actually holding still. For you. It's only on the fourth glance that you realize you've been having the same thought, over and over, checking over and over to see if she's still breathing.
  381. >A shadow falls over you before you can thank her for this.
  382. >"Whatever are you doing outside, Anon? Is Twilight Sparkle not home yet?"
  383. >Ah. Rarity. She was never mean to you either. After all, it wouldn't be polite.
  384. >"Twilight did tell me that she was going to find a fifth player for tonight -" she looks at you with meaningful eyes. "- and I can only assume that means you."
  385. >"Well who *else* would it be?" Pinkie Pie bounces up to great her friend. "Trixie?"
  386. >Rarity's polite chuckle said all that needed to be said. That was a pretty shitty game night - one that at least hadn't been your fault.
  387. >"So, are all waiting outside for a reason... or..." she drifts off.
  388. >Pinkie glances over to you with concerned eyes. You give a slight shrug.
  389. >"Twilight just needed to have an eetsy-beety little chat with Applejack," she winces through her gritted smile.
  390. >"Whatever about?"
  391. >You almost fall backwards as the door opens suddenly.
  392. >"About nothing," Twilight answers grimly.
  393. >That's right, you are nothing.
  394. >"Rarity, if you wouldn't mind keeping Pinkie Pie company..."
  395. >"Oh, not at all," she answers quickly, reading the situation faster than you. She takes a step back, placing a restraining hoof on Pinkie Pie's tale to stop her from bouncing back inside.
  396. >Twilight looks down at you - was that genuine concern on her face? Or just pity?
  397. >"Applejack has something she wants to say to you."
  398. >You nod dumbly, returning to your feet and trudging inside. Somehow, Twilight must have convinced Applejack to apologize. Somehow, you're going to find a way to make it through tonight - you did promise to fix everything and you can't fail your princess like you have so many times before. Not again.
  399. >You try to stand tall and prepare yourself for the shittiest apology ever. Applejack can't tell a lie for shit, and you've known for a long time just how much she's hated you. But a man must show some pride, after all. Or find a way to pretend.
  400. >And you've been roleplaying for many years - you are an expert on pretend.
  401. >To your surprise, Applejack looks genuinely remorseful. Ashamed, even.
  402. >Twilight gives Applejack a nudge. Even in your daze, you can see it was not as gentle as it could have been.
  403. >"Say it, Applejack."
  404. >She can't even meet your eyes. She must know that you'll be able to tell she's lying if you see her eyes.
  405. >"Ah... Ahm sorry." She glances aside to Twilight, who frowns at her.
  406. >"Say all of it."
  407. >"Ahm sorry, sugercube." She finally looks up at you. "I was wrong."
  408. >You don't know what is more surprising. Applejack admitting she was wrong was a rarity in itself, but "sugercube?"
  409. >Applejack hasn't called you that since That Night.
  410. >In fact, you distinctly remember her calling you by several other choice words when Twilight abandon the table, tears streaming from her eyes. Twilight managed to forgive you quickly, but Applejack... Applejack never had.
  411. >"Can you forgive me?"
  412. >You don't know what to say, but a nod of your head seems to be enough reassurance for Twilight Sparkle. She gives her friend another nudge, this time more gently.
  413. >"Go let the others in. Anon and I have something to finish."
  414. >Seeing her go, you can't help but hope she doesn't hold on to this guilt as long as she held that grudge against you.
  415. >"So..." Twilight whispers, rubbing up against your leg, "... what are we going to do about these two unfinished characters...?"
  416. "Wait, that's why you send AJ away?"
  417. >"Well of course! She's sorry about what she said - I think it's best we just move on and not bring this up ever again."
  418. >That sounds... suspicious. But your little princess rears up and grabs you with her hooves before you can question her further.
  419. >"Everyone's here except Rainbow Dash! We don't have much time!"
  420. >Ah, one crises over, time for the next one.
  421. >You ponder the situation for a second. Twilight thinks you're trying to solve the problem with the characters, but you're actually wondering if you should press the issue. Does your little princess hate you? Does she pity you? No, you can't ask - if you were truly that confrontational, you would have found out the truth long ago.
  422. >Twilight gives you a gentle shake, trying to stir you to action. You reach down and brush her hair out of her eyes.
  423. >You did promise to solve everything.
  424. "So whose characters need to be finished?"
  425. >"Luckily, Rainbow Dash's and yours."
  426. >More lucky than she knows - you had PLANS for those two.
  427. >You kneel down and look her in the eyes.
  428. "Twilight, I'm going to need the Device."
  429. >She gasps.
  430.  
  431.  
  432. >"Are you sure?"
  433. >You nod, face grim.
  434. >"If... if you're sure..."
  435. >You nod again. You knew you were going to need this all along, hoping against hope that you wouldn't need to use it.
  436. >For so long, you were bound by technology. At first you railed against its loss, but eventually came to find its absence stimulating. And it's such a pain to get it working. Impossible even, without a unicorn's help.
  437. >"Well, if you're sure..." Twilight gives you one last pleading look. "I was so proud of you..."
  438. >You cup her face in your hands.
  439. "You can still be. I just need to copy out two characters. I won't use it any more than necessary."
  440. >She hesitates for a second longer, desire to help you with your addiction warring with the neccesity of having finished characters before Rainbow Dash arrived.
  441. >"If I get it, can I use it instead of you?"
  442. "Only if I get to see your notes for this campaign."
  443. >She understands - you've had this conversation before. Last time you played together.
  444. >"Okay Anon, I'll get it for you." She gestures towards her friends with her head. "Go and keep them company - introduce them to their new characters."
  445. "Sure, give me the hard job."
  446. >Your whining has an affect on your princess, just not the effect you were hoping for. She *giggles*.
  447. "Do you have any idea how hard it's going to be to convince them all to try these new characters?"
  448. >"Yep!" She bumps you playfully. "That's why I'm having you do it."
  449. >With a flash, she teleports out of the room, leaving you to deal with three probably very angry ponies. You turn, sighing.
  450. >"Actually, Anon," Rarity calls out to you from across the room, "I quite relish the opportunity to try something new."
  451. >Oh damn, they heard.
  452. >"Though I do wish you had chosen a nicer name for her..."
  453. "Feel free to change it."
  454. >You gesture to the pen you had been writing with earlier.
  455. >"Oh, no, I couldn't," she protests. "I don't know the first thing about barbarian names."
  456. >She squints at her character sheet.
  457. >"I'm afraid I also don't know the first thing about many of these abilities... would you mind terribly...?"
  458. >You stride over to the table, quickly locating the necessary books and handing them to the unicorn.
  459. "What about you, Applejack?"
  460. >You look over to her, heartened that she does not flinch away from you. Looks like she has taken her guilt and put it to good use. She's not going to fail her friend. Not this time.
  461. >"Well, I guess I could use some help tryin to figure out how to actually play this..." She thumps the paper with one hoof. "It's Lawful Good, I get that part. But it's also a rogue, and that part I'm just not gettin."
  462. "Well... you've got quite a few options... a reformed thief? A thief catcher?"
  463. >She shakes her head and frowns.
  464. >"Naw..."
  465. "Treasure hunter?"
  466. >"Do I look like Daring Do?"
  467. "Not really."
  468. >She frowns down at her character sheet. Hey, that's it. You snatch the sheet from her hooves, crossing out the name you had already written.
  469. "How would you feel about being the hidden blade of justice? You normally play a paladin, acting as the shield."
  470. >"Whatcha gettin at?" She frowns harder.
  471. >You write down her character's new name and pass the sheet back to her.
  472. >Dredd.
  473. "Your character is basically built to be an assassin, right?"
  474. >"I can figure that much out on mah own, Anon."
  475. "But she's lawful good, right?"
  476. >She grunts. Sigh. Applejack never has any patience. You might be able to lead a horse to water... but not this pony. Just give her the damn canteen.
  477. "If your character is lawful and an assassin, then it must be justified by some higher power. Your character has the same motivation as Paladin, just a radically different way of doing things."
  478. >"I guess that makes some sorta sense." She frowns again. "Mmkay... hey Rarity, couldja hand me that there book?"
  479. >Applejack digs in, trying to familiarize herself with this new character's skills.
  480. "Anything else?"
  481. >"Well..." She frowns yet again. "What kinda name is 'Dredd'?"
  482. "Um... it just seemed appropriate for some reason. SO HAY PINKIE PIE -"
  483. >"HAY NONNY!" she responds back with her customary enthusiasm.
  484. >Wait, shit, why was she so quiet up til now? A quick look around the room doesn't reveal any impending doom or cake-a-lanch.
  485. "Watcha been up to?"
  486. >Better just ask, before the end comes.
  487. >She grunts and holds up a book.
  488. >"Trying to figure out all these spells."
  489. >Oh, already living up to the Responsibility part. That's... unexpected. About as unexpected as Rarity being okay with playing a Barbarian and Applejack calming down about the rogue.
  490. >Shit, something is wrong. You step back from the table and eye the trio suspiciously.
  491. "Okay gals, what's going on here?"
  492. >"Just tryin to learn our new characters for the game," Applejack grunts, not looking up.
  493. >"Plus Applejack told us she'd murder us if - ACK!"
  494. >Dice to the fucking head.
  495. >"And I also told you not to say a damn thing to Anon or Twilight!" She glares at Pinkie Pie. "So don't you dare say anything about this to Twilight, sugercube."
  496. >She might be threatening to murder you, but at least she's sounding nice about it.
  497. >"Applejack had a little chat with us outside," Rarity explains, barely looking up from the Burly Barbarian's Bashbook. "We know how important this is to Twilight Sparkle, and we would hate to disappoint her."
  498.  
  499. >Bampfh.
  500. >Weirdest damn sound effect you've ever heard, but that's the sound of Twilight teleporting.
  501. >"I brought it..."
  502. >Bueno.
  503. >"You have 10 minutes, okay?"
  504. >She slams your iPad on the table, cutting your mad cackling off before you can even start. Some of it gets caught in your throat, choking you up a bit.
  505. >"Ten. Minutes. That's all the charge I put on it."
  506. >You were so very lucky that empowering and mending magics do not require the unicorn to actually know what they're fixing, otherwise this thing would have been a dead weight after your first day in Equestria.
  507. >"Nine and a half..."
  508. >You snatch up the device, quickly opening up your character folder. Yes, it is time for your most disgusting creations. Truly, Twilight will rue the day... oh, except she wants you to break this campaign. So maybe she won't rue the day?
  509. >Scrolling with one hand, you write with the other. Even though you only have to copy the information, ten minutes isn't much time to fill out two characters as complicatedly stupid as this. At least you weren't trying pull an "Old Man Hendersen." That would take forever to write out.
  510. >Not that you hadn't tried once, but it backfired. Instead of skimming over all three-hundred pages of backstory, Twilight had found it enthralling, reading it over and over until she knew your character better than you did.
  511. >You glance up when you hear Applejack chortling. You raise one eyebrow.
  512. "Whatchu laughing at?"
  513. >"Apple to the rescue," she answers smugly.
  514. "Shut up."
  515. >Three minutes of work, and your character is done. It's interesting how just a handful of abilities can totally break a character. Sure, you had to take a shitton of disadvantages to get those perks, but how often will you come across solid mercury silverware or J-pop music?
  516. >You reach for a new sheet of paper to get started on Dash's character when the door slams open.
  517. >"YO, A-NON. YOU FUCKING FAGGOT. I HEARD YOU WERE GOING TO BE HERE."
  518. "YOU HEARD RIGHT. AREDEE."
  519. >Fucking brofist.
  520. >When you finally die and go before the Dark Gods, you will proudly tell them that you taught a pegasus to brofist. And then they will let you into Valhalla and die from your awesomeness.
  521. >"HAY DASHIE!"
  522. >"Oh, heya Pinkie Pie."
  523. >Dash looks slightly confused.
  524. >"What's going on here?"
  525. >"Everyone's studying up on their new characters," Twilight explains, still keeping one eye firmly on the clock. "We're going with pre-genned characters this time around. Anon's idea."
  526. >"Oh, well if Anon's behind this, I guess it can't be *too* bad. Everyone playing the norm?"
  527. >"Nope." Applejack raised one hoof. "I got a rogue."
  528. >"Barbarian," Rarity adds.
  529. >"I don't know!" Pinkie Pie brings her character sheet up to her eye. "But I do have a lot of touch spells.
  530. "That's a cleric, Ponk. You're playing a cleric."
  531. >"Huh," Dash snorts. "I guess that means I'll be playing a fighter of some kind. We're gonna need at least two beatsticks if we want to get through those hellhounds this time."
  532. "Nope."
  533. >"Then what the hell am I playing?"
  534. "Bard."
  535. >"Bard!?"
  536. "Yup. Bard."
  537. >"Da fuck is a bard?"
  538. >"Rainbow Dash, darling... do you have an idea how frequently I've played a bard?"
  539. >"Bard shmard," Rainbow Dash waved off Rarity's interjection. "All I know is you play the squishy thing I have to stand in front of."
  540. >She squints at the unicorn.
  541. >"Come to think of it, what *do* you usually do?"
  542. >"Diplomacy."
  543. >"Diplomacy? ANON!? You're going to make me do *diplomacy*?"
  544. >You look up, wasting precious seconds that should be spend copying down the most broken-ass character you ever created.
  545. "I'm just writing down the character. You can do whatever you want with her."
  546. >This does nothing to mollify the look of abject terror in Dash's face. You have never seen anything that scared, ever.
  547. "You can do this, Dash."
  548. >"What? No way! I'll even play a squishy wizard, just give me something that can actually do things!"
  549. "Aredee, have you ever seen me roll up a character that wasn't broken as fuck?"
  550. >"Well, no..."
  551. "Then fucking shut up and believe in the me that believes in you because I have..."
  552. >"Five minutes."
  553. "Five minutes, thank you Twilight. Five minutes to finish writing out the most insane character I have ever created. Something so insane that even I never ran it."
  554. >"But it's a BARD."
  555. "She can play metal."
  556. >"I guess I can live with that..." she huffs grudgingly, slipping into the kitchen.
  557. >You hear the sounds of Rainbow Dash violently rummaging around.
  558. >"DAMN IT TWILIGHT, WHERE ARE YOUR MUGS?"
  559. >Twilight Sparkle rolls her eyes and huffs in disgust. "Rarity, could you step into the kitchen for a second and help out Rainbow Dash?" She nudges your shoulder gently. "I can't take my eye off him for another four minutes."
  560. >"It would be a pleasure..." she responds, daintily setting down the book she is studying. "Though I'm not sure about that four minute thing..."
  561. >"HEY TWILIGHT! TWIIIIIIIILIGHT!"
  562. >"Oh do be quiet, Rainbow Dash. I'll be right there to help," Rarity snorts in that odd pony way. "It is a shame that Spike had to assist Princess Celestia this weekend. I wouldn't mind having a snack or two to accompany these cookies and cider."
  563. >"Right, Princess Celestia. Mhm." There may have been a hint of a blush starting to grow on Twilight's cheeks as Rarity trots out of the room. "Though that does remind me... we need pizza. Anon, want to help me pick that up before we start?"
  564. >Another rattle of dishes, followed by a shriek of melodramatic terror.
  565. >"GOOD IDEA! THEY HIRED DERPY TO HELP WITH DELIVERIES. PRETTY SURE MY LAST PIZZA WAS INSIDE-OUT WHEN IT GOT TO ME!"
  566. >How can she even hear when she's making a racket like that?
  567. >"OH THERE THEY ARE!"
  568. >The two exiles return, bearing the fruits of their labors - six mugs, each bearing the symbol of one of your friends. You had them made for them after your first few sessions together. Rainbow Dash slams one in front of you - unlike the others, it was plain without any decorations.
  569. >"I can't believe these were hidden all the way up there!" Dash complains to Twilight before throwing herself at the closest barrel. Yep, Twilight is definitely starting to blush.
  570. >She gently nudges you.
  571. >"One minute left."
  572. >You hurriedly scrawl out the last few lines, only hoping that Dash will be able to read your messy writing. Skills done. Feats done. Attributes done. Equipment...
  573. >"Time's up."
  574. >Bampfh.
  575. >With a purple flash, the two most important things to you in Equestria disappear.
  576. >"I do hope you were able to finish, Anon." Rarity looks over to the page you hold, words drunkenly slurred all over. "And I do hope you plan to rewrite that. We wouldn't want any more confusion about our characters than necessary."
  577. >Rainbow Dash puts down her mug and launches herself over the table to settle down beside you.
  578. >"Come on, A-non, show me the awesome!"
  579. >You hand her the sheet, realizing grimly that you will have to rewrite it - even you can barely read some of those words.
  580. >"Um... I think I might have to pass on this character. I don't really want to play someone who uses rapers."
  581. >She looks at you, one eyebrow raised.
  582. >"That's kind of sick, dude."
  583. >You grab the sheet from her hooves and add the missing letter.
  584. >"Oh, cool. Nevermind then, I'm cool with this. What's a rapier?
  585. "It's a type of sword."
  586. >"AWESOME! So I can fight AND play metal? And are those spells? WHY ARE THERE SPELLS? I can fight and play metal and cast spells?"
  587. >You point to the rogue skills.
  588. "And disarm traps."
  589. >"AND I get rogue skills!? Is there anything this character can't do!?"
  590. "Ran out of points to give you Drive: Starship, but since this is a fantasy campaign, that shouldn't be a problem."
  591. >You smirk at her and reveal your favorite skill combo.
  592. "Did get you Drive: Motor Vehicle and Weapons Proficiency: Improvised Weapon."
  593. >"Wait, what does that do?"
  594. "Think about it."
  595. >She does, eyes growing bigger and bigger with excitement.
  596. >"This is better..." she gasps, tears forming in the corners of her eyes, "... this is better than cider."
  597. >She hugs you - Rainbow Dash never hugs you. Punches you, sure. Brofist, yep. Hugging? She must really be happy about this.
  598. >"Bards are fucking AWESOME!"
  599. >Bampfh.
  600. "Took you longer than I expected."
  601. >"Sorry Anon." You never thought a pony could look sheepish, but Twilight manages to pull it off. "I'm running out of new places to hide it."
  602. "You don't have to do that, you know..."
  603. >You had only broken in to her house two - maybe five - times trying to get it back. You barely even tried after the first week.
  604. >Three months since your last relapse, and counting!
  605. >"A-non, are you gonna rewrite this or what?"
  606. >Aredee is tugging on your sleeve, trying to get your attention.
  607. >"I can tell it's awesome, I just can't actually... you know... read it."
  608. >You wince internally. It's no fun, tricking your best friend like this. Not that the character isn't awesome. It's pretty fucking awesome. Just... not the way she thinks. It's not like you rolled up a fucking Astartes Librarian or anything.
  609. "Rarity, do you think you could do Dash and myself a favor and tell her about bards a bit while we -"
  610. >You gesture to Twilight.
  611. "-step out to grab the pizza?"
  612. >"Yeah man! Awesome idea!" Dash slaps her character sheet onto the table. "But lets forget the talking - best way to learn is by *doing*. One bit says my bard can take your barbarian!"
  613. >"It would be my pleasure."
  614. >Rarity reaches for the d20s.
  615. >"You *are* correct, Rainbow Dash. The best way to learn *is* by doing."
  616. >With one leg, she sweeps all the excess books and papers off the table, eyes narrowing at her opponent.
  617. >"Roll for initiative, you prancing faggot."
  618. >Ooooh, she's getting into character already. It's so tempting to stay and watch, but Twilight is already tugging you towards the door with her wings.
  619. >"Come on, Anon." She gives you another tug. "I need your hands to carry the pizzas."
  620. "But can't you just -"
  621. >"Nope. Need hands. New law. Just passed it. Come on."
  622. >You hear shrieks of laughter from Pinkie and AJ as the door closes behind you.
  623. >"WHAT! FUCKING BULLSHIT, DOUBLE OR NOTHING!"
  624. >You chuckle silently.
  625. >Twilight looks up at you and smiles.
  626. >"Thank you, Anon. This is the most fun they're had in weeks."
  627. >It's still light out - you'll never get used to this. It feels like the sun always sets so late, though Twilight assured you that it's the natural here. Maybe something to do with the lack of pollution in the atmosphere letting more light in, you don't really know. Or maybe it's because when the sun sets, it does so suddenly. No slowly lengthening shadows leading to eventual nighttime. Not unless the Princesses feel like it that day.
  628. >This world is so unnatural. So fascinating.
  629. >This is just so fucking weird.
  630. >Gaming while the sun is up.
  631. >Un-fucking-natural.
  632. >Oh, and all the little technicolor critters. But mostly the gaming during the day thing. That's just weird.
  633. >There's only a slight chill in the air, making the walk to the pizza shop invigorating. It feels good to stretch your legs after spending so long hunkered over that damn table.
  634. >Your little companion trots alongside you at a slightly brisker pace, having to take three or four steps for every one of yours.
  635. >The two of you walk along in comfortable silence for a while - you've made this journey many times together. You've been avoiding game night, but you've still been hanging out with your friends. Most of them anyway.
  636. >Guess you no longer have to avoid Applejack - that's good.
  637. >It's... it's good to have friends again. Too many nights you had to skip out on spending time with Dash and Twilight, just to avoid the awkwardness with Applejack.
  638. >Ah, there's the pizza place. Not far at all from Twilight's home - quite convenient during the colder months. Also not too far from your place, and relatively cheap. Quite handy for an NEET like you.
  639. >You open the door for Twilight - Anon always is a proper gentleman, after all.
  640. >A black stallion with a mint green mane greets you with a smile from behind the counter."
  641. >"Heya Anon, good to see you again."
  642. >"Good to see you too, Minty Fresh."
  643. >He never has explained to you how he ended up owning his own pizza shop - doesn't seem to match his cutey mark or personality at all. Still, he manages to get along great with most of the customers, even bringing in tourists and travelers.
  644. >"Interested in the regular? Pepperoni?"
  645. >Because of the number of gryphons and other non-pony customers, he always did keep a small amount of meat toppings on hand. Some creatures just were meat eaters, it was understood. Hell, Minty Fresh once told you in confidence that he'd tried it a few times himself. A cook has to know the flavor of what he sells, after all. Still, you always feel uncomfortable eating meat around ponies.
  646. "No, just two pizzas, one veggie, one cheese."
  647. >Twilight tugs on your sleeve, happy to let you take charge in this situation, but obviously worried about something.
  648. >"Will two be enough?" she asks.
  649. >"Pizzas are all half-off tonight," Minty Fresh tells you with a wink. "I've got some brand new cooks in the kitchen, working for free." He leans over confidentially, hoof raised to his mouth. "They mean well and all, so I'm giving them a chance, but I can't vouch for the quality."
  650. >Three heads pop around the door to the kitchen - how did they make that happen, are they standing on each other?
  651. >"Do we have customers, Mr. Fresh?" Scootaloo asks, eyes shimmering in excitement. They grow only wider when they see who you are.
  652. >"HI ANON! HI TWILIGHT!"
  653. >"Oh hi girls," Twilight returns. "Trying to get your cutie marks in making pizza?"
  654. >All three nod eagerly, heads bobbing up and down in unison. For a second, an image of them doing that out of sequence pops into your head. Scootaloo bashing the back of her head into Sweetie Belle's face, her rearing up and throwing Apple Bloom off her back....
  655. >Those fillies are always so close together, it's lucky they're so in tune with each other.
  656. "I see what you mean."
  657. >You reach into your pocket, pulling a handful of bits out.
  658. "We'll take four pizzas. Let's make 'em mushroom, cheese and two veggies."
  659. >With any luck two of the four should be edible. Plus, you've always liked these three. Even after her older sister cut all ties with you, Apple Bloom and her friends were always coming around to your place to hear stories of your world, or attending the lectures you gave that passed for a job. Sometimes even trying to help you out with your little projects.
  660. >You count out he appropriate number of bits and hand them over to Minty Fresh.
  661. >"Didja hear the order, girls?"
  662. >"MHM!" Apple Bloom disappears from the doorway.
  663. >"Yep!" Sweetie Belle follows. "I'll get the crusts started!"
  664. >"Think you girls will be okay to make these on your own?" Minty Fresh asks before Scootaloo can dash off.
  665. >"Um... probably? I think we're starting to get the hang of it." She chases off after her friends. "These ones should be mostly good."
  666. >Minty frowns at that last part. He was giving you a good price, and his idea of passable was pretty damn good by your low standards, so you didn't mind. Even if they tasted horrible, enough cider and it wouldn't matter anyway.
  667. >"I better go help them out," he finally decides. "You two are going to be out here, right? If you don't mind, just give a holler if someone pops in."
  668. "Sure thing."
  669. >You settle down on the nearby bench. Twilight Sparkle looks back and forth between the door and the bench, hesitating for some reason.
  670. "You've never seen how pizza is made, have you?"
  671. >"No..."
  672. >Imaginary fist pump. Guessed right.
  673. "Are you curious how it's done? You can go watch if you want - I'm sure Minty wouldn't mind."
  674. >With one last glance at the door, she joins you on the bench.
  675. >"No, not that curious."
  676. >The bench seems a tad small for ponies. Maybe not weirdos like Lyra who try to sit like you, but Twilight barely has room to lie down on it. You slide over as far as you can, but she still ends up snuggled up against you.
  677. >Not that you mind, much. Except it reminds you of what you heard earlier. About what Applejack said.
  678. >She apologized. She said she was wrong. But she didn't say about what.
  679. >"You're not horrible, you know."
  680. "Heard that?"
  681. >You look away, pretending to study the decor. Minty sure had some... interesting ideas about wall art. Probably appealed to the gryphons and the younger, rowdier ponies.
  682. >She nods. You might be afraid to look at her right now, but you feel it. Or was it nuzzling?
  683. "I thought you said we weren't going to bring this up again..."
  684. >She presses up against your side.
  685. >"I'm not..." She may not be as bad at it as the Element of Honesty, but Twilight Sparkle sure wasn't any good at lying either. "I'm just saying..."
  686. >The pause drags on. You don't know if you want he to finish that sentence. Eventually, you put your arm around her neck and pat her shoulder.
  687. >"What I mean is..."
  688. "It's okay."
  689. >For a while, you were caught up in the excitement of helping your friends figure out their new characters. But this lull... it's giving you time to think. And that never ends well. You don't know if you can stand being told that she doesn't mind trying to help you become a decent person - that's about the best case scenario you can realistically imagine. Or maybe thank you for your help tonight.
  690. >She shuffles even closer to you. This bench must be even smaller than you thought, if it's this uncomfortable for her. What was Minty Fresh thinking? This thing was obviously only large enough for a single pony.
  691. "We don't have to talk about this."
  692. >"Oh." She sounds disappointed. You don't want that - you're trying to make her feel less guilty, not make this more awkward.
  693. "It's okay, I don't mind."
  694. >"Oh."
  695. >You squeeze her tightly.
  696. "Come on, cheer up."
  697. >You finally look back to her. Is she trying to hold back tears?
  698. "I promised I would fix everything."
  699. >You twist, putting your other arm around her, hugging tightly.
  700. "Don't worry, I'll make tonight fun for everyone."
  701. >You release her once you think she has gotten over the tears.
  702. "This bench is pretty uncomfortable, want to go walk around a bit?"
  703. >"No."
  704. >She puts one leg over your lap, pinning you in place just like a housecat. She must be tuckered out - today has been an emotional roller coaster and it's still not over... You put your arm back around her, holding her loosely. Best to just let her rest a bit - she's in for a long night DMing.
  705. >You convince yourself that your attention is drifting back to the art in the restaurant, even though all you can really think about is the rhythmic movements of Twilight's body as she breathes. You wonder if your breathing feels so awkward to her as well - you hope not. It's not that you mind the feeling...
  706. >You try harder to distract yourself with the decor. You wonder if Minty had some help from some of the guys back home. Impossible, of course, but the style of art was just so similar.
  707. >And so very uncharacteristic for a pony. You've only been here for about a year, but this place has always struck you as a little odd.
  708. >Minty sticks his head out of the kitchen, opening his mouth to call out to you before seeing the princess.
  709. >"About five more minutes," he whispers loudly.
  710. >"I'm not asleeeeep..." Twilight softly whines back to him, lazily raising her head to face him.
  711. >"Sorry princess, I thought you were, just didn't want to wake you."
  712. >"No, I'm awake."
  713. >You're not so sure about that.
  714. >"I was just -"
  715. >She looks to you.
  716. >"- thinking."
  717. >You nod in agreement.
  718. "Yeah, we have a big night planned."
  719. >Oh damn Anon, you always say the wrong things. You don't even realize it until Minty ducks back into the kitchen trying to hide a chuckle.
  720. "We've got a big B&B game planned!"
  721. >Too late to explain. Damage done. Now Twilight is laughing at you too. She bumps her head into your chest.
  722. >"We have five minutes - let me go back to sleep."
  723. >You knew she had to be asleep. No way she'd act like this if she was fully awake. Again, not that you mind...
  724. >The time passes uneventfully; soon the Cutie Mark Crusades are bouncing out of the kitchen each carrying a pizza box. They carefully pile them before you - Sweetie Belle scampering back into the kitchen and returning with the last pizza.
  725. "Where's Minty Fresh?"
  726. >"Oh, he's still in the kitchen," Apple Bloom beams up at you, huge grin on her face. "Said he has to clean something up. Not sure what though."
  727. >"Any luck with your cutie marks, girls?" Twilight asks as she groggily climbs out of your lap.
  728. >"Noooo."
  729. >They sound so pitiful, whining it in unison.
  730. "Well, maybe next time."
  731. >You reach down and ruffle Scootaloo's mane - she says she hates it when you do that, but she's never tried to avoid it.
  732. >Truth be told, you almost hope they never get their cutie marks. Their endless enthusiasm for new things always cheers you up, reminds you that maybe *you* should try new things too.
  733. >Of course, anyone who ever said that trying new things can't hurt is a fucking lying sack of shit who has never broken their leg zip lining. Good thing this world has magic.
  734. >"Come on, Anon, pick up the boxes. We have to get back before Dash realizes just how much bards suck."
  735. "Why do *I* have to carry them?"
  736. >"New law, remember? Hands only."
  737. "What about them!?"
  738. >You gesture to the CMCs incredulously. They blink at you in confusion.
  739. >"By my infinite mercy, they are pardoned." Twilight inclines her head towards the trio.
  740. >"Um... thank you...?" Apple Bloom stammers out, unsure just what the hell is happening.
  741. >You throw your arms into the air in mock exasperation, before picking up the boxes and rushing ahead of Twilight to hold the door for her, even though your hands are full. Proper gentleman, and all that.
  742. >Where another human would have had trouble getter past you because of the pizza boxes in your hand, Twilight was able to walk right under them. You noticed long ago that their small size had all kinds of perks. Most ponies are pretty much the same size as a giant plushie, though far more cuddly.
  743. >You are just lucky that they tend to construct their buildings tall, otherwise you would have had to resort to crawling around for much of your time here. As it is, the top of your head just barely cleared most thresholds.
  744. >The sun had set with its characteristic speed while you were waiting for your pizzas, and the wind had picked up. You wish you had brought your jacket with you.
  745. >You wish you had been given a chance to get your jacket.
  746. >You try to shelter the pizzas from the wind with your body without much success. At least the walk wasn't far, and Twilight was obviously feeling the cold too. She walked close to you, occassionally brushing up against your leg. She looks up at you smiling and sees the way you are huddled, trying to protect the pizzas. She raises one of her wings to full extension, trying to help block the wind.
  747. >It only comes up to your shoulder, but it helps keep the chill from you as well.
  748. >You return to Twilight's home without speaking, not sure what to say to her. From the way she keeps glancing in your direction, maybe she doesn't know what to say either.
  749. >Unlike the comfortable silence of the walk to the Minty Fresh's place, the return trip's quiet is awkward, and the cold is just enough to make the social uncomfortableness feel physical.
  750. >This time, Twilight Sparkle opens the door for you - it *is* hard to pull open a door when equipped with double armfuls of pizza. Not that you didn't try, but she pulls it open with her magic just as you finally figured out how to reach for the handle without spilling everything.
  751. >You quickly duck inside, only to hear Dash screaming in frustration.
  752. >"I give up, I GIVE UP!"
  753. >You peek around the boxes, marveling at the small mountain of bits piled in front of Rarity.
  754. >"Oh, you don't want to try again?" She tuts to herself quietly. "I never took you for a quitter, Rainbow Dash."
  755. >"I don't have anything left to bet!"
  756. >If ponies wore clothes, you are positive that Rainbow Dash's boxers would be part of that pile and she would be sitting naked on the floor, reaching for the dice again.
  757. >Well, she *is* sitting naked on the floor, but it's just not the same.
  758. >Rainbow Dash flings herself backwards wailing.
  759. >"Bards SUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!"
  760. >She finally sees you.
  761. >"Dude, you have to show me how this guy doesn't suck."
  762. >Good, she still has faith in you, even if she has lost faith in her character.
  763. "Sure, just give me one second..."
  764. >Applejack clears a place on the table for you to put down the pizzas before dashing off too the kitchen.
  765. >"Ah'll go grab some plates"
  766. >"Yeah, Anon." Twilight snuck up on you silently. "Show Rainbow Dash how it works." She smirks.
  767. >You shake your head.
  768. "Can't. I don't want you to see how she works. Not until it's too late."
  769. >"But ANON." Oh gods, Dash is giving you sad pony eyes. She knows you can't resist the sad pony eyes.
  770. >You sigh and sit yourself down, reaching for the dice.
  771. >Rainbow Dash quickly sits up and reaches for the pizza, only for Pinkie Pie to slap her hoof away.
  772. >"Nope! You promised!"
  773. >Dash wails in despair as Rarity smirks and reaches out.
  774. >"You must truly have been desperate to wager the first slice of pizza. Too bad your bard failed to... *perform*."
  775. >Rarity giggles at her own joke as she begins to open the box.
  776. "Wait. Double or nothing."
  777. >She looks down at all of the bits.
  778. >"Are you sure, darling?"
  779. "Yes. Roll for initiative."
  780. >"Well, I'm sure I can always find other ways for you to..." She looks you up and down and shrugs. "... work off your debt. I hear you have plenty of spare time."
  781. >Pinkie Pie giggles. You blush. Twilight stomps. Rainbow Dash almost drops her mug.
  782. >"What?" Rarity raises an eyebrow. "What? I need some repairs done around the store and it's just too tedious... oh. OH. YOU PERVERTS. I WOULD NEVER."
  783. "Well gee, thanks Rarity. That doesn't hurt my self-esteem at all. Good to know I'm too hidious for you to ever..."
  784. >"That's not what I meant!" She screams in frustration and reaches for her d20. "You better hope you win this or I'll make you do all sorts of unpleasant things!"
  785. >Pinkie Pie giggles. You blush. Twilight stomps. Rainbow Dash almost drops her mug again.
  786. >"I will *DESTROY* you!"
  787. "Please, be gentle. It's my first time..."
  788. >The two of you roll - bam, you get initiative. Of course you do, Mercury Flash has all kinds of bonuses, from the innate Pegasus reroll to plain ol' Improved Initiative.
  789. "I try to calm down your barbarian with a diplomacy test. 'Oh great warrior, I know not how I have offended you. Please accept my apology."
  790. >Roll - SUCCESS!
  791. >"Darn, very well. I guess this can count as a draw -"
  792. "I'm not done. We're out of combat, correct? Your barbarian no longer feels hostile towards me?"
  793. >"You saw the dice as well as I did."
  794. "I enquire as to the name of the warrior before me, and invite him to the closest tavern so I may make ammends."
  795. >"Durararog doesn't trust you *that* much..."
  796. "Diplomacy test -"
  797. >You roll.
  798. >"Aparently she does, sugarcube," Applejack comments, returning with plates.
  799. >"Fine, I go to the tavern with her!" Rarity sighs - she thinks she sees where this is going, having pulled similar stunts herself. "But I keep an eye on my drinks the whole time!"
  800. "Okay by me, roll awareness."
  801. >20.
  802. "At no point do I even approach your drink."
  803. >Her eyes narrow. Now she's concerned - this is the part where she would have poisoned the drinks - she doesn't know where you are going with this.
  804. "You doubt my peaceful nature? All I wish to do is apologize for my insult. I'm guessing your character's full attention is on me at all times?"
  805. >"Of course - waiting for the first sign of hostility for my attack of opportunity."
  806. "Minor Hypnotic Charm - test for it."
  807. >"Damn!"
  808. >Only a small bonus, and only possible because Durararog is watching Mercury Flash so intently.
  809. "Major Hypnotic Charm - test at -3."
  810. >Another failure.
  811. "I cast Charm."
  812. >"Remember, at the first sign of hostility I snap out of it. I'm going to cut you in half!"
  813. "No hostility, you just feel an overwhelming urge to drink. I order you another beer. And another. Let's keep going until you fail a consitution check."
  814. >After a string of passed tests, you start ordering stronger and stronger drinks until...
  815. >"Oh bother..."
  816. "And now that you're passed out - and probably already dying of alchohol poisoning, if only this system included it - I calmly slit your throat in full view of the entire room, reminding them to never, EVER, fuck with me."
  817. >"Damn, that's cold, Anon," Rainbow Dash looks at her character sheet suspiciously. "And not really my style."
  818. >You knew this wouldn't be a very convincing test of Mercury Flash, but you can't give away the character's secrets just yet.
  819. "But you see how it can work, right?"
  820. >"Yeah... just not my style."
  821. "Don't worry, there are plenty of tricks this bard can pull off that you will enjoy -"
  822. >"- but you don't want the egghead -"
  823. >"I am *not* an egghead!"
  824. >"- to see," Rainbow Dash finishes your sentence.
  825. >You nod.
  826. "I'm sure Twilight will be able to pick out a few of them as soon as she looks at your character sheet, like the Natural Disguse and Major Stardom combo."
  827. >"I suppose you'll be wanting this then..." Rarity pushes the pile of bits towards you.
  828. "Nah, Aredee can have those back."
  829. >You reach over the pile to open the top box and check - yep, cheese.
  830. "I just want the first two slices, as is my right as conquering champion."
  831. >As you stretch across the table to pull out your two slices, you realize that there is an awful lot of money on the table... but you couldn't take Dash's money. Not when it's your fault she was playing a character she had no idea how to use.
  832. >Good thing you won. Rarity could have had you painting her shop ten times over to cover the bet.
  833. >For a few minutes, everyone is occupied getting pizza or refilling mugs. Twilight Sparkle heads upstairs to grab notes and DM tools, leaving you alone with your fellow players.
  834. >"Look Anon, there's something we need to ask you." Applejack obviously intends to spend this time well. "Pinkie and I took a look at your character sheet and... are you insane?"
  835. You shake your head. Sure, things on your character look a little odd, but it's all according to plan.
  836. >"Yeah Nonny!" Pinkie almost bounces across the table to speak to you. "How can you play a Moon pally when you've got the major disadvantage Archenemy: Moon?"
  837. "It's penance. My character is serving out of penance, hoping for redemption."
  838. >"But still, how can you serve someone you hate?" Rarity asks. Roleplaying always did interest her. ACK, now you're doing it.
  839. "You all are misunderstanding the Archenemy disadvantage."
  840. >You grab the main rulebook, flipping it over to the appropriate page. It's easy to find, the wear on the pages so much heavier than anywhere else.
  841. "See? It only says that they hate the PC and oppose his every action. It's only assumed that the PC feels the same towards them."
  842. >"But still, the Moon?" Dash whines. "How are we supposed to win now?"
  843. >"Dash does have a point, darling. Whatever could you have needed those points for?"
  844. >You hold up your character sheet, gesturing like a magician pulling a bunny out of a hat. Your finger comes to rest next to your basic skills.
  845. "Maxed out evasion, dodge, parry. No one is ever going to touch me."
  846. >"I'm pretty sure the *Moon* can," Dash retorts. All you can do is shrug. Twilight is coming down the stairs, and there is no way you're revealing your worst-case scenario plan.
  847. >"So hay, afore we get started -" Applejack's attempt to change the topic is obvious. "- shouldn't I be playing as a pegasus? I mean, mobility has got to be key for an assassin."
  848. "Not when fighting as part of a group."
  849. >You grab a handful of minis to demonstrate.
  850. "See, you hang back, stealthed, while we engage the enemy. We clear a path - either killing or outmaneuvering - so that you can strike at the primary target."
  851. >"What about the initiative loss?"
  852. "What about it? You want the rest of us to go first, so we can make that path for you. And once we do, that Earth Pony strength bonus is essential."
  853. >You lean back, satisfied with your explanation.
  854. >"So basically..., I'm more of an executioner than an assassin."
  855. "Basically."
  856. >"So you must have had a cunning plan when you picked human for your character."
  857. "Kind of... not really."
  858. >"What!?" Rainbow Dash's look of disappointment is emotionally crippling. "First you're the archenemy of the MOON, and now you're playing a HUMAN? HUMANS SUCK!"
  859. >She starts waving her hooves in front of her.
  860. >"Not you, I mean. Not in real life. But in the game..."
  861. >You shrug again. Another stroke of luck when you arrived here - humans were considered a fictional race popularized by the Burrows and Basilisks game. It didn't take too long for everypony to just accept that this piece of fantasy was real.
  862. "Believe it or not, this is the scariest character I have ever created."
  863. >Twilight Sparkle takes her place at the head of the table, setting up her DM screen and pulling over the plate of pizza you had prepared for her. Cheese, of course.
  864. >"Really Anon, a human?" she asks, taking a bite of her pizza. "You're usually so keen on min/maxing, why on earth would you take a race with no bonuses?"
  865. "Because I don't need them."
  866. >She shakes her head, sighing. She knew better than to push any farther - you aren't going to reveal your cunning plan until it is too late to stop it.
  867. >"Everyone ready?"
  868. >Time for your group's introductory tradition to began.
  869. >"Mercury Flare, pegasus bard, reporting in!"
  870. >"Existential Dredd, pony assassin of the Order of the Vengeful Moon, stands ready."
  871. "You changed the character's name?"
  872. >"Sounds a bit more intimidating."
  873. >Can't argue with that.
  874. >"Mint Julip, pony priestess of the Joyous Order of the Sun, is ready for FUN!"
  875. >"Durararog the Majestic, unicorn barbarian, is ready to embark on a new adventure with her newfound companions."
  876. "Anonymous, human Paladin of the Order of the Vengeful Moon, is ready to seek his redemption."
  877. >"Seriously?" Twilight twists her head to one side. "You named him after yourself?"
  878. "Well no, actually I left the name blank."
  879. >"Want me to come up with something for you?" Dash asks, reaching for a pen.
  880. >You hold up your hands to stop the barrage.
  881. "It's intentional. He tells no one his name. He is anonymous."
  882. >"But if I call *him* Nonny and *you* Nonny, no one will ever know who I'm talking to!" Everyone always thinks of Rarity when it comes to hysterics, but you think Pinkie Pie's style of overreacting is worse. At least Rarity doesn't try to rip her mane out.
  883. "Fine..."
  884. >You search your mind, trying to think of a decent nickname for your anonymous paladin.
  885.  
  886. "Just call him Paladin."
  887. >Not like anyone else is playing one.
  888. "Have gun, will travel!"
  889. >No one gets the reference. Shit, you don't think you've explained guns to them. Luckily, they don't ask.
  890. >"I guess that works," Twilight says grudgingly. Everyone else just shrugs. You have the feeling they don't expect Paladin to live very long.
  891. >If only they had FAITH. Heh, hold that feeling back for your next game of Dark Heresy.
  892. >"Alrighty, so... Mint Julip, Existential Dredd and Paladin have been summoned before the head of the Celestial Order, Durararog and Mercury Flare by the promise of money. The Potentate has a mission for you - 'Evil stirs again in the ruins of Darkmaw. Thrice have we send forth a band of heroes to investigate, but we have heard *nothing*. Our seers foretell doom, when they can see anything but coming oblivion. The Darkin flee the surrounding lands, breaking our tenuous armistice and invading our realm. All signs point to it, adventurers. The Lich rises again."
  893. >"The Lich?" Rainbow Dash whines. "I thought Moon held him at bay!"
  894. >"'That she did, young bard, until that day fifty years ago when she was distracted by the theft of that which was most important to her and the second moon rose in the sky. If her attention had not been split, looking for the thief, she could solve this on her own."
  895. >Twilight Sparkle looms forward over the DM screen.
  896. >"Our protecting goddess is unable to act, too much of her power is wrapped up holding the second moon in the sky, waiting for the thief to reveal himself - even if we were able to catch her attention, she could not destroy the Lich, for that moon is her raised hoof, destined to come down upon he who harmed her most grievously.'"
  897. >"Well of course we shall act without delay, oh holy representative of the Celestial Guardian."
  898. >"Isn't your barbarian being a way too polite?" Dash never really could grasp the idea of actually roleplaying... her loss.
  899. >"Civilized ponies are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." Rarity grins menacingly at her friend. "Care to go again?"
  900. >You knew she would take to it perfectly, but damn. Quoting Robert Howard? Fuckin A.
  901. >Rainbow Dash shakes her head vigorously. Apparently she had learned her lesson, and it had stuck with her.
  902. "We march without delay, your holiness."
  903. >"The Potentate bids you farewell - 'May you bring the light of the sun with you wherever you travel, and may the vengeance of the moon be there to shield you wherever you need it.'"
  904. >The party travels quickly - they are all experienced adventurers and know their skills well. The priestess Mint Julip frequently tries to look inside your enveloping robes, but you artfully evade her every attempt.
  905. >The further you travel, the fewer refugee parties you come across - this is a worrying sign. It means fewer survivors of the Darkin attacks. Occasionally you meet up with a military patrol trying to turn the tide, but it is too little. The reason you were chosen becomes obvious - there are no other military forces available.
  906. >It is disheartening to know that three previous groups have most likely met their dooms -"
  907.  
  908. >"Yeah, because *you* killed them with hellhounds," Applejack blurts out, causing Twilight to frown. You worry that your little princess has in her the makings of a supervillain - she loves monologuing a tad more than is healthy.
  909. "And since we're obviously breaking character here, can I ask about the three previous parties? Haven't you girls only run this twice?"
  910. >"First time, we were the second party," Pinkie Pie answers. "I love parties, it's a shame so many were lost."
  911. >Ah, well, calling Mr. Chekhov. You wonder how this is going to return to bite you.
  912. >"Can we *please* continue now?"
  913.  
  914. >On your third day of travel, you reach the front line, or where they nominally are according to the maps you were given. The only sign of it is a battered troop of Earth Ponies, many bearing wounds from the constant fighting.
  915. >"Your lands were ripe for the taking," Durararog tells her companions. "Protected only by trust and a thin piece of paper.
  916. >You cannot argue with her - as the Moon's power waned, so to did the strength of her Order. Paladin had seen too many of his fellows leave the church as they lost faith, and far more turn to the Sun, believing that peace was all that lay ahead.
  917. "Come, let us see what aid we can give these soldiers."
  918. >"We did not bring relief supplies with us," counters Existential Dredd. "What can we do for them?"
  919. "Putie Plop, what spells did you prepare?"
  920. >"All touch combat spells!" She grins at you. "I want to see what they do!"
  921. "Since you're a priestess of the Sun, you can convert those to healing spells. I don't expect us to see combat yet, so we might as well do some good here."
  922. >Applejack nods in agreement.
  923.  
  924. >The priestess Mint Julip approaches the soldiers with Mercury Flare, leaving behind their more intimidating companions. The Earth Ponies look on edge already, no need to push them over.
  925. >With care, she tends to their wounds, working herself to exhaustion until all are well.
  926.  
  927. >"So, can I roll some dice now or what?" Rainbow Dash demands.
  928. "Sure, you could try for a diplomacy test, see if you can get any information about the surrounding land or something."
  929. >She whimpers, reaching for the d20.
  930. >"Alright! Natural 20!" Aredee does her customary crit dance, reminding you of some athletes you've seen. "So do we know stuff now?"
  931. >"Yes, Rainbow Dash," Twilight answers with a sigh. "You know stuff now."
  932.  
  933. >"It looks like you and your men have gone too long without sleep," Mercury Flare addresses the unit's commander. "Sleep well this night, for my companions and I shall stand guard over you."
  934. >"My thanks, adventurer. We were not prepared for this - both ponies and supplies run low."
  935. >"Didn't you see this coming? The Darkin are savage marauders and these lands poorly fortified."
  936. >"We did not. Just a month prior, they invited us to their village to share in their harvest festival. This is not normal. Something has them scared. Fighting only broke out when some squads acted to repel their movements."
  937.  
  938. >"That sounds mighty suspicious," Applejack interrupts. "We should hunt some of them down and talk to 'em this time. Instead of, you know, killin 'em all."
  939. >Fictional murder or not, Applejack is not one to let wrongs go unrighted.
  940.  
  941. >"If what the captain said is true, then the Darkin were only acting in self defense," Durararog suggests. "It is possible we may be able to bring peace to this land."
  942. >"But you're forgetting the root of the problem -" Existential Dredd counters.
  943. "Darkmaw."
  944. >The two of you cannot allow such an evil to fester - if your goddess cannot act, then it is up to you to act for her.
  945. >"We should continue there," Dredd continues, heart heavy with guilt. "That is our greatest threat."
  946. >"Maybe we'll get lucky and find some Darkin on the way." Mint Julip puts a consoling hoof on Dredd's shoulder.
  947.  
  948. >"Whoah there, what do you think you're doing?" Applejack demands as Pinkie Pie reaches into her saddlebag.
  949. >"Getting my dice!"
  950. >"You better not be casting a spell on me!"
  951. >"I am!"
  952. >With a flourish, she pulls her stone d20 from the bag and flings it on the table.
  953. >"I did!"
  954. >"What the hell did you attack me for?"
  955. >"I didn't!"
  956. >Pinkie Pie points to one of the spells listed on her character sheet. Unbridled Joy.
  957. >"What purpose does that serve?"
  958. >"Dredd was sad," Pinkie explained, dumbfounded. Wasn't this obvious? "Now she's not!"
  959.  
  960. >Julip's touch has a calming effect on the assassin, not quite bringing peace to her heart but at least giving her the strength to carry on.
  961. >The party takes turns standing guard over the soldiers during the night. Durararog wakes you as the moon begins to reach its peak and you take your place, tugging the hood of your robe lower to keep the moonlight off your face. You consider waking Mint Julip at the appointed hour, but disregard the though. She served well and to her limits today, healing those soldiers. You let the little pony rest, standing tall until the moon sets. Only then do you wake Mercury Flare, it being her appointed hour. The pegasus is restless anyway -
  962.  
  963. >"Are we going to *do* anything?" she demands.
  964. "We're working on it, Dash. Don't worry, we'll find some nice bad guys to chop up soon."
  965.  
  966. >The bard wakes everyone before the sun has even broken the horizon, betraying her eagerness to continue.
  967. >You bid the soldiers farewell, hoping that they find a way to survive this conflict. If only more of your companions had stayed true. Though you had done nothing to drive them away, you cannot help but feel guilty. You should have acted to prevent it. You should have done *something.*
  968. >Now the realm is at war, if this can even be called that.
  969. >More than once, you hear screams in the distance, or see smoke clouding the horizon. Though you wish to ride off to confront the Darkin - and some of your companions agree - your duty lies elsewhere.
  970.  
  971. >"What do you mean we aren't going to attack them?!" Rainbow Dash waves around one of the Darkin minis with one hoof. "Are we just going to let them get away with whatever they want? I'll even -" she shudders "- talk to them. Just so long as we do *something*!"
  972.  
  973. >Existential Dredd sees the pained look on your face, what little of it that *can* be seen.
  974. >"I feel the same way, and it is tempting to let slip the bard so she stops complaining, but whoever is under attack would be long dead before we can reach them."
  975. "We could at least avenge them."
  976. >"At what cost? Every minute we delay brings this world closer to oblivion."
  977. >You cannot argue this truth. Even the bard grudgingly accepts it.
  978.  
  979. >"Fiiiiine, so long as we actually *beat* this campaign."
  980.  
  981. >With another day's travel, both earth and sky grow dark with evil.
  982.  
  983. "'Dark with evil'?"
  984. >"Shut up."
  985.  
  986. >Your party has traveled deep into the Darkin's territory, and you begin to see signs of their habitation. It looks like one of their villages stands in your direct path. With luck, it will be abandoned.
  987.  
  988. >"Oh my, this is the first time I've seen a village be a random encounter." Rarity puts one hoof to her chin. "Though come to think of it, the *horrendous* architecture in Dodge Junction did give me a bit of a shock."
  989.  
  990. "This is no chance encounter."
  991. >Existential Dredd nodded in agreement. "We must take this opportunity to find out if our realm's actions are just."
  992. >A cursory examination of the village reveals that it is still inhabited. Those too sick or too old to flee remain. They do not attempt to hide from your party, though they refuse to acknowledge your existence. Mint Julip does her best to help them. She quits after the third villager flinches away from her touch. Something has driven all fear from these people.
  993. >The reasons promise to become clear as you hear the rending of flesh from behind a nearby building.
  994.  
  995. >"Yes! We're finally getting some action!" Rainbow Dash powers one hoof into the air.
  996.  
  997. >Mercury Flare rushes around the corner - the rest of you have no choice but to follow.
  998. >The sight that greats you explains everything - two massive skeletal hounds greedily tear at a still living Darkin's limbs from his body, toying with their food. A third hound chews on the head of another Darkin, tearing every scrap of flesh from its skull. Thankfully, this one is dead.
  999. >Mercury Flare engages the closest beast, her rapier barely grazing -
  1000.  
  1001. "Yo Dashbag, check again. You crit on a 13."
  1002.  
  1003. >- smashing hilt-deep into the creature's side.
  1004. >The other two beasts leap at the bard, only to be intercepted by you and Durararog. You dance aside, avoiding it's snapping jaws. It follows, spinning around and exposing it's back to Existential Dredd's blade.
  1005. >The blow smashes clear through the hound's spine, driving it to the ground in a shower of blackish blood. With one hound down and another badly injured, the way is clear for Mint Julip to close on the injured Darkin. She hesitates for a second - one hand glowing red, the other blue - before rushing to the Darkin's side. The injured beast snaps at her, but Mercury Flare is able to pin it in place, driving her still lodged sword into the wall. By the time you look over to her, Durararog easily dispatches her target with two swings of her axe - her magic is not strong enough to pin the beast in place, but serves to delay its movements long enough to land a blow.
  1006. >You finish off the crippled hound with a single blow of your sword - it was already dying, but no sense taking chances.
  1007. >Abandoning her rapier, Mercury Flare steps back and -
  1008.  
  1009. >"Oh yeah, let's see what this magic can do!"
  1010.  
  1011. > - destroys its skull with a single word.
  1012.  
  1013. >"Not bad," she says with a smile.
  1014.  
  1015. >At your feet, a frantic Mint Julip is trying to stabilize the dying Darkin, but it seems to have lost all will to live long ago.
  1016. "Julip, the touch of the Sun brings hope. See if this creature still has anything to live for."
  1017.  
  1018. >Pinkie Pie sets aside her plastic d20, reaching back to the stone one given to her by Maud.
  1019. >"Always use important dice for your important rolls!"
  1020.  
  1021. >The Darkin's eyes flare open, the life finally returning to it. The creature bucks twice, almost catching its savior with a flailing hoof.
  1022. >"Calm down, we're here to help!"
  1023. >You can't tell if it even heard the priestess's words.
  1024. >Over the panicked yelling of both doctor and patient, you begin to hear a calming tune. Mercury Flare has unpacked her guitar and begun playing it.
  1025.  
  1026. >"What?" Dash eyes everyone. "I'm playing my victory song!" She rears up, putting one hind hoof on the table and bobbing her head back and forth while trying - abysmally, to play an air guitar.
  1027. >"Actually, that's not a half bad idea," Rarity comments. "Bard Song."
  1028.  
  1029. >The Darkin's struggles cease as it becomes enthralled by the music. Others slowly gather around, until you are sure the entire village's remaining population is here.
  1030.  
  1031. "Performance, followed by Charm," Rarity suggests.
  1032.  
  1033. >"All you motherfuckers love me, right!?"
  1034. >The Darkin cheer Flare's performance - you'd be willing to bet some of them would be more than willing to die for her now.
  1035.  
  1036. >"So I have my own army now!?"
  1037. >"Not quite, they're not that loyal," Twilight warns. "But it seems you've given them a reason to hope, and it's not like they have anything else to live for. They're sure to be appreciative."
  1038. >"Well fuck." Dash ponders it for a second before shrugging. "Most of them are too old or crippled to do us any good. They'd just slow us down." She glares at each and every other player in turn. "I mean, slow us down *more*."
  1039. >She leans back, drumming on the table with her forehooves. "But more bodies is always nice. I'm going to have to think about this for a second."
  1040. >"Hey Applejack, could you do me a favor?"
  1041. >"Sure thing, Twilight. Whatcha need?"
  1042. >Your little princess slams her empty mug onto the table.
  1043. >"Could you keep this full for me?" She groans into the empty mug. "Rainbow Dash has an army... I can't be sober for this."
  1044. >"Diplomacy check!" she finally decides.
  1045. >"To do what?" Twilight asks.
  1046. >"TO DIPLOMACY THEM."
  1047. >Twilight takes a deep gulp.
  1048. >"Any chance you want to roleplay this?"
  1049. >"I JUST DID!"
  1050.  
  1051. >"So, um, who wants to help us raid the Darkmaw ruins and probably die for us?"
  1052.  
  1053. >Twilight smirks at her friend, levitating the d20 so that everyone could clearly see the result.
  1054. >"If you aren't going to actually roleplay, you've got to at least roll well."
  1055. >"Well, I wasn't *planning* on rolling a 3!"
  1056.  
  1057. >"Yep, you'd all die."
  1058. >One by one, the Darkin crowd wanders off, Mint Julip pleading the more heavily injured and ill to stay behind for healing. No one takes her up on her offer, leaving her chasing after the few slowest, frantically touching them to cast healing spells.
  1059. >One practically jumps a building after she slaps it on the rear.
  1060.  
  1061. "Did you just molest-heal that Darkin?"
  1062. >"Unfortunate hit location roll." Pinkie Pie grins sheepishly.
  1063.  
  1064. >Soon, there the only Darkin remaining is the one Mint Julip had saved from the hounds. Fresh scars covered his limbs, making him look almost almost like a changeling in the dimming light.
  1065.  
  1066. >"I didn't say 'stop,' AJ." Twilight waves her mug at her friend.
  1067. >"But Rainbow Dash doesn't have any army anymore!"
  1068. >"But she *did*. Now I'm drinking to forget. Top it off!"
  1069.  
  1070. >"Sweet, one of them still likes me!"
  1071. >Mercury Flare jumps off the stage-
  1072.  
  1073. >"There's no stage," Twilight reminds her.
  1074.  
  1075. >Mercury Flare walks over to the Darkin, praising it's loyalty.
  1076. >It steadfastly ignores her, eyes only for Mint Julip.
  1077. >"I can help you," it says as it limps over to her. She may have healed it's injuries, but it takes divine power to heal aging. "When the Evil reappeared, we of course launched an attack to defend our land. Every frontal assault failed."
  1078.  
  1079. >"We kind of noticed." Applejack glared at Twilight Sparkle. "Twice."
  1080.  
  1081. >"But in my youth, I explored the ruins extensively. I may remember a secret way in, one a small party like yours could use."
  1082. >"I will gladly lead you there, in the hopes that you can do what we could not."
  1083. >With the Darkin guiding you, you quickly reach the secret entrance to the Darkmaw ruins, arriving before the sun sets.
  1084. >On the way, you and Existential Dredd question him, unveiling the truth behind their "invasion." The "invaders" were the panicked remnants of their army fleeing. Not just the ruins, or the immediate area... just fleeing. As far as their legs could take them. As far from the growing evil as their body could manage.
  1085.  
  1086. >"Well girls," Twilight nods to you, "and Anon, that's further than you've gotten before. You're actually in the ruins now."
  1087. >Everyone, even Rarity of all people joined Rainbow Dash in her celebration dance. Except Twilight. She doesn't like to dance in front of you for some reason.
  1088. "So, about Rainbow Dash and that Army..."
  1089. >She scowls at her empty mug.
  1090. >"Fill 'er up!"
  1091. >"Um, Twilight... I think we're out." Applejack tapped the barrel with a hoof.
  1092. >Her scowl turned into a smile with disturbing ease.
  1093. >"Well, we're out of pizza, out of cider, and we're further in than you've gotten before. Time to call it a night?"
  1094. >"But we're doing so well!" Rainbow Dash pleas fell on deaf ears.
  1095. >"Yeah, looks like a good time to quit," Applejack said, looking to the clock. "I've got a full day of buckin ahead of me tomorrow. Gotta replace what we just drank, after all."
  1096. >"Oh, and I have a project that just *must* be finished tomorrow. Rarity put a comforting hoof on Rainbow Dash's shoulder. "I know it's a tad early to break up for the night, but I will be free tomorrow."
  1097. >"You know I'm always available for a party!" Pinkie Pie chimed in, punctuating the sentence with a kazoo. Where the hell did she get that kazoo?
  1098. "Well, as Rarity pointed out, I *do* have an awful lot of spare time."
  1099. >You wink at her, causing her to somehow huff and laugh at the same time.
  1100. >"And ah guess ah can cut the buckin a little short if I work a little harder. Tomorrow night then?"
  1101. >They look to Twilight expectantly.
  1102. >"I guess I can rearrange my schedule," she mutters, not looking up from her empty mug.
  1103. >One after another, they file out. Rarity tries to stay behind to help clean, but you shoo her out. You'll take care of it. It's not like you have anything better to do, or any reason to get up early tomorrow.
  1104. >When you get back from saying goodnight to everyone, the little purple pony is asleep with her head on the table. Just how much did she drink? You really should have kept track of that - her drinking is starting to worry you a bit. For some reason, you think that Dash's army isn't the only thing she's trying to forget.
  1105. >It doesn't take you long to straighten up the place - with the exception of Rainbow Dash, the ponies are remarkably neat. Even Pinkie Pie's party cannon somehow manages to clean itself up.
  1106. >Careful not to wake her, you fold up the DM screen and close Twilight's notebooks, making sure you don't get a peak at anything. You could never forgive yourself. You leave her gaming supplies packed up neatly on the table - you're not sure where she hides those notebooks.
  1107. >With care, you pick Twilight up in both arms, carrying her like an oversized puppy. Princesses shouldn't use tables as pillows. You slowly climb the stairs.
  1108. >You're lucky Twilight relies on Spike for most of the domestic chores - her blanket is on the floor. Would have been impossible to tuck her into bed while holding her if it had actually been made.
  1109. >You gently put Twilight onto her bed, sliding your arms out from under her. Her short fur is so soft. As varied as the pony coloration was, there was an even wider range of textures. Applejack's short coat reminded you of suede, Rainbow Dash's bristly fuzz felt almost like astroturf. Rarity felt like silk, of course, but surprisingly Pinkie Pie wasn't sticky - no, she felt almost like a rubber balloon. You are always worried that she's making your hair stand on end when you touch her. Fluttershy's coat felt the most like animal fur, the soft fuzz of a baby kitten. As for Twilight Sparkle... velvet. Soft and warm.
  1110. >She squirms slightly on the cold bed, missing your body heat. For a second, you are tempted to climb in beside her. No, that would be stupid. Instead, you kneel down and grab her blanket, spreading it over her and tucking her in.
  1111. >She barely moves as you do this - she's gone from alcohol induced stupor to true sleep.
  1112. >Looks like she is having pleasant dreams, from the smile on her face.
  1113. >You pat her shoulder one last time and turn to leave, stopping at the door to her bedroom.
  1114. >No, this is wrong. You forgot to say goodnight.
  1115. >You return to the side of her bed and kneel down.
  1116. "Goodnight, Twilight Sparkle."
  1117. >On impulse, you lean over and kiss the tip of her nose.
  1118. >"Goodnight, 'Nonny."
  1119. >Aww, she's talking in her sleep. You quietly slip out, never seeing the sadness in her eyes.
  1120. >"Why do you always leave me...?" she whispers quietly.
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