twilight_game_night Jan 10th, 2015 (edited) 1,771 Never
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  1. >Ugh... straight in the eyes. You raise your hand to ward off the devilish sunbeam that woke you. Is that... are those... do you smell food?
  2. >You sit up, clutching your head. Oh, you're still at Twilight's place. On the couch. Not even dating, and you had to stay at her place and sleep on the couch because you pissed her off.
  3. >Maybe? You don't really remember anything after eating.
  4. >You stand on wobbly legs - they're feeling rather weak this morning, like you slept on them wrong. But there was plenty of room to spread out on the couch...
  5. >Eh, whatever. Time to investigate that smell. You stubble towards the kitchen.
  6. >"Nope!" you hear Twilight call out from there. "Go sit back down."
  7. >Well, it's not like your legs want to work anyway. You shuffle back, flopping down on the couch.
  8. >Huh, it's earlier than you thought. The clock shows it's still mid-morning.
  9. >Is Spike back? It can't be Twilight cooking in there, can it?
  10. >Out trots your little princess, carrying along two plates of waffles with her magic.
  11. >"You did good last night," she says, smiling at you. "You get waffles."
  12. "Did you make those yourself?"
  13. >She couldn't have.
  14. >"Of course? Who else would it have been?"
  15. >She throws herself onto the couch, though it would probably be more accurate to say your lap. It just happens to be on the couch.
  16. >You realize with a shock why your legs feel like you slept on them - someone did, it just wasn't you.
  17. >Twilight drags the table closer with her magic, setting down the two plates on it.
  18. >She looks up to you, seeing the shocked expression on your face.
  19. >"Oh, sorry..." she looks away quickly. "We didn't quite make it up to the bedroom last night."
  20. >You don't know what to say, so you fill your mouth with waffle before anything stupid comes out.
  21. >"I think we were both just too tired to climb all those stairs," she continues, "when there's a perfectly good couch right here." She daintily takes a bit of her waffle. Hesitatingly. Like she's just doing something to fill time until you finally respond to her.
  22. "So... we just fell asleep on the couch...?"
  23. >"Of course, what else would we -" she suddenly goes silent.
  25. >"YES, JUST TIRED."
  26. >She tries to shove a whole waffle in her mouth and failing spectacularly.
  27. >You can't help but laugh as she tries to hide her embarrassment behind waffles. Her cheeks glow crimson - laughing at it just makes it worse. Twilight slides off your lap, studying her now empty plate like it is a new book.
  28. >You grab her around her shoulders, pulling her back against you. She doesn't resist, falling against you like a dead weight.
  29. >"I didn't know it was possible to die from embarrassment, but I think I just did."
  30. "But you're still al-"
  31. >"Because if I didn't, I would."
  32. >She stares straight ahead without seeing anything.
  33. >You try to think of something - anything - to say, and fail. With one hand, you hold her tight to your chest, with the other, you take another bite of waffle.
  34. "You know, it's a shame that you're dead."
  35. >Another bite.
  36. "These waffles are great."
  37. >Another bite.
  38. "I wouldn't mind having more."
  39. >"We're all out of batter," she mumbles into your chest.
  40. "Not now, of course. There's no way I can eat when my princess has just died."
  41. >You give her a little squeeze.
  42. "Tomorrow morning would be fine."
  43. >"I'll still be dead tomorrow."
  44. "Then I'll have to go on a quest to bring you back."
  45. >A hint of a smile graces her blank face. Just a hint, but you would swear it's there.
  46. "I swear, my princess, I shall bring you back, no matter what the laws of life and death forbid."
  47. >You ball your free hand into a fist, thrusting it skyward.
  48. "No one, not even the gods, shall bar my path!"
  49. >You scream your words into the ceiling, holding that pose for long seconds.
  50. "And if that fails, then I shall just have to follow you."
  51. >She pulls back from your soft words, gasping in horror.
  52. >"You wouldn't!"
  53. "And leave you all alone?"
  54. >You cup her face with one hand.
  55. "What do you think?"
  56. >"I... I..."
  57. "I think we need to go grocery shopping."
  58. >"I... okay." She willingly accepts this change of topic without hesitation. Much better than trying to bring closure to anything else you've spoken of this morning.
  59. >"I'll go make a list..." She quickly slips out of your grasp, all but running into the kitchen with a pen and scroll of paper.
  60. >As she rummages around the kitchen, making a list of everything she could possibly need - strike that - a list of everything, you try to straighten out your clothes. Ponies may not wear them often, but they can certainly tell when they've been slept in.
  61. >You should at least try to be presentable. Don't want to start any rumors.
  62. >With a sudden burning in your face, you realize that your clothes would have been much neater if you *hadn't* slept in them.
  63. >You decide they're fine just the way they are, wrinkles and all.
  64. >"Oh, I meant to ask you -" Twilight sticks her head out of the kitchen "- where did you get that cider?"
  65. >Huh? What cid - oh that cider.
  66. "Um... I don't remember..."
  67. >"We should try to get more of it if you do," she says, making more notes on the list. "It tasted like sh-fine. It tasted fine. But it got me through the night and I didn't have a hangover."
  68. >She beams a smile in your direction.
  69. >"Please try to remember."
  70. >Crap, you'll need to tell her the truth soon.
  71. >She disappears back into the kitchen. Feeling rather useless, you look for something to do. The plates from last night are still on the table, along with your new ones - time to do some dishes, you guess.
  72. >You pile up the dishes and carry them into the kitchen, dumping them in the sink and reaching for a sponge.
  73. >You are dragged backwards before you can begin - apparently Twilight has finished with her list and is ready to go with her characteristic lack of patience for delays.
  74. >When Twilight is ready to go, she's *ready to go*.
  75. "Hey, how about leaving me with a little dignity?"
  76. >You flail wildly, trying to grab hold of anything.
  77. >"What?" She turns, seeing you hovering behind her in mid-air. "Oh, sorry."
  78. >Praise the dark gods, she lets you walk outside under your own power.
  79. >You look up - the sun is almost directly overhead. Well, the good news is that the market is usually pretty empty right about now. Most ponies do their shopping in the morning, when everything is fresh and they have their pick of the choicest goods. It's not too far of a walk, but enough that it will be awkward without conversation.
  80. >Good thing there is something you've been meaning to ask Twilight about. Just a mere curiosity.
  81. "So, what does Luna think about how she's depicted in Burrows and Basilisks?"
  82. >"Huh? Oh..." Twilight has to think for a bit before she can answer you. "It's never come up. I mean, it *is* just a game, Anon."
  83. >You shrug, didn't really expect an answer anyway.
  84. >"But Celestia did tell me something once," Twilight continues, "when she caught me reading one of the novels when I should have been studying."
  85. >She smiles guiltily.
  86. >"She says it's the most accurate depiction of her sister written during the exile. I mean... for the longest time, Luna was just a legend to us - the Mare in the Moon."
  87. >She lapses into silence as you ponder this.
  88. "So, who wrote the background for the game?"
  89. >Twilight never forgets an author, so it's one heck of a surprise when she simply shrugs. That gets you thinking.
  90. "I bet Celestia wrote it."
  91. >Twilight stares at you, eyes wide.
  92. >"She *did* seem amused when she caught me with that novel..." She stops walking, deep in thought. "Actually, that explains so much..."
  93. >Oh crap, you know that look. Twilight is about to run off and do *research*.
  94. "We're going shopping, remember?"
  95. >That almost shakes her out of it, but she still looks uncertain.
  96. "You can always just ask Celestia..."
  97. >"I can't do that!"
  98. "Okay, I'll ask Celestia."
  99. >"You can't do that!"
  100. "I won't... if I get waffles tomorrow."
  101. >The market is busier than you expected - you forgot it's the weekend. Honestly, the days blur together when you have no set schedule.
  102. >Still, it's not bad - not with Twilight here. Most ponies quickly make way for her, and you're able to follow in her wake.
  103. >You simply follow her from stall to stall as she piles more and more items into your waiting arms, letting your mind wander.
  104. >"Oh hey there, Anon!"
  105. >You look down to see a pinkish pony at your side. Of course, she always corrects you, but you can never remember the color. Cerise, maybe?
  106. "Heya Cheerilee, what's going on?"
  107. >"Oh, not much, just doing a little shopping." A little? Those saddlebags are bulging. "Planning to make some snacks for the game next week."
  108. >You see Twilight's ears perk up at those words. She doesn't turn - still talking to the merchant - but she's straining to hear everything.
  109. >"You *are* going to make it, aren't you Anon?"
  110. >You look back and forth between Twilight and Cheerilee. Your current campaign should end tonight, but...
  111. "I'm afraid I'll have to get back to you on that."
  112. >"Oh." The disappointment in her voice is clear. "Well, let me know as soon as you can. You always make things *interesting*."
  113. "Will do."
  114. >"See you later, Anon."
  115. >You nod farewell to your friend as she heads off.
  116. >"What was *that* about?"
  117. >Oh, Twilight's finished with the merchant, putting another bag into your arms.
  118. "Nothing really, I've just been playing a few nights a month over... at... her..."
  119. >Your words trail off.
  120. >"Well, you can go whatever you want, Anon."
  121. >She turns from you, heading to the next stall, head held high.
  122. >You rush to keep up with her, but she slips away before you can. Ponies that were more than willing to move out of the princess's way don't mind hindering *you*. Eventually, you lose site of Twilight entirely.
  123. >There are only a few items left on her list, you know that much, but not which vendors she was planning to get them from. While the market isn't that large, you do know that you won't find her if she doesn't want you to.
  124. >It's tempting to just leave... go back to her castle. You arms are overloaded, your princess has disappeared, and EVERYPONY seems to be intentionally getting in your way. She can find you later.
  125. >You should just leave.
  126. >You take one step, and then another.
  127. >Without hesitation, you follow after Twilight.
  128. >It feels like you're looking for hours, but common sense tells you it's only a few minutes before you hear a familiar voice.
  129. >"What do you mean 'no such thing'?"
  130. >"I'm TELLING you, if there was a cider that didn't leave you with a hangover, I would know!"
  131. >Oh, great. Another voice you remember.
  132. >You manage to shove your way through the crowd before things escalate.
  133. "There you are, Twilight. I've been looking for you."
  134. >"I said you could go wherever you want." She barely glances over to you, more interested in the stall she and Berry Punch are patronizing.
  135. "I know."
  136. >"So why didn't you go home?" she asks, picking up a bottle of cider to inspect it.
  137. "Because you said I could go wherever I want."
  138. >"And you wanted to get a drink?" Twilight scoffs.
  139. "I wanted to be with you."
  140. >Berry Punch grabs the bottle as it slips from Twilight's hooves.
  141. >"What do you think you're doing?" she yells angrily. "You can't just treat these things like a baby, you've got to hold them *carefully*!"
  142. >The vendor snatches the bottle from her arms.
  143. >"Damn it Berry, you get out of here before I tell everyone you're actually a teetotaler!"
  144. >"You wouldn't dare!"
  145. >He leans over the counter menacingly.
  146. >"Not if you get out of here *now*."
  147. >She runs, still holding the bottle. You take a step to pursue, but the merchant waves you off.
  148. >"She'll bring it back tomorrow."
  149. >"She actually doesn't drink...?" Twilight asks, eyes wide.
  150. >The colt says nothing as you lead Twilight away.
  151. "Let me take a look at your list..."
  152. >"Was he serious? Our town drunk never drinks?"
  153. >You shake your head at her - this isn't the time or place to discuss that.
  154. "I'll tell you about it later. Right now, let's get the last few items. What's left?"
  155. >"Just some flour, fruit..." she holds up her list "and cider."
  156. >Your peer closely at the list.
  157. "I don't see cider on here."
  158. >"What? I'm sure..." she looks over the list again.
  159. "Nope, not on the list. You'll have to get it next time."
  160. >"But I can make an exception," she starts to argue, before cutting herself off. "No... no. You're right, Anon. It's not on the list."
  161. >She pulls a pen out of her bag and strikes through that line on the paper.
  162. >"Any particular fruit you feel like getting?" Twilight asks, smiling for you.
  163. "Strawberries. Maybe some bananas."
  164. >"Let's see what they have." She starts to walk off, but hesitates, looking to you. "Stay close?"
  165. "Always."
  167. >You stand in the kitchen, arms full of groceries. Staring.
  168. >Just where the hell does all of this go...?
  169. >First things first - you drop the bundles on the counter. Can't put things away when your arms are full. Eggs and other perishables are obvious - into the refrigerator they go. But the flour and other dry goods...? There are way too many cabinets in here.
  170. >Things would be so much easier if Twilight hadn't rushed upstairs as soon as you two stepped through the door. Something about introducing her new books to their new friends.
  171. >Sometimes... that little pony reminds you of an anime you watched back home. Not that you really mind, books are nice and all. Very handy for bludgeoning wayward players.
  172. >You always bought the hardback versions for a reason.
  174. >Threatening your players with an iPad or laptop just didn't have the same effect. Fucking eBooks.
  175. >With a sigh, you begin opening cabinets. Nope, that one's dishes. Pots. Glassware. More dishes. Um... potion supplies...?
  176. >You decide that Twilight can put the groceries away. It is her home, after all. Time to tackle those dishes - at least you know where to put those away.
  177. >What's taking Twilight so long? You start to feel a little annoyed by the time you finish washing the plates and dry them. She probably got sidetracked and is curled up in the library reading.
  178. >You look back to the pile of food. Take another shot at putting those away...? Naaaaah.
  179. >You wipe your hands dry.
  180. >Time to see what's going on.
  181. >You head upstairs. Bedroom? Or library? Hmmm. You pop your head into the bedroom, looking around. Nope, not there. Library it is, then.
  182. >You open the door slowly - there she is, sitting in her chair, her back to you. There are two others in the room, but that one... that chair is *hers*. You don't know how she can sit in that spot - you've always felt weird sitting with your back to a door.
  183. >Not that you're one of *those* people, it's just human nature. Though you shouldn't say "human" nature, since you've noticed the exact same trend in ponies.
  184. >Not Twilight, though.
  185. >What is she reading...? That isn't one of the books she bought today, is it? No, obviously not. Even from the doorway, you can see the signs of heavy wear - this book has been read many times.
  186. >With a sigh, Twilight closes the book, setting it on the side table. Her head turns back to face you.
  187. >"Hey."
  188. "Hey."
  189. >You cross the room and sit in the adjacent chair, the side table between you.
  190. >"I thought about what you said," she says softly. "About Celestia."
  191. >She puts her hoof on the book, pushing it slightly towards you. You look at it - it's one of the old Burrows and Basilisks novels. You've never read any of them - you're sure they are perfectly decent books, but in general you would prefer to make your own story instead of reading someone else's.
  192. "Is that the -"
  193. >She nods.
  194. >"The book Celestia caught me reading."
  195. "How many times have you read it...?"
  196. >The edged of the cover are worn ragged, the spine held together only through luck and wishes.
  197. >"I don't know," she answers with a sad smile. She unsubtly pushes it towards you again. "It's the book that got me into roleplaying."
  198. >You tilt your head to one side, eyebrow raised questioningly.
  199. >"It was such an amazing adventure," she explains. "I wanted to create stories of my own."
  200. "And you couldn't just write one?"
  201. >She shakes her head, the fringe of her mane swaying back and forth gently.
  202. >"That's not the same, and you know it." You nod in agreement. "I tried... before I had... friends." She still has that sad smile on her face.
  203. "It's different, creating a story with another person."
  204. >"It is..." her smile turns genuine. "I like this much better."
  205. >If she nudges that book any further, it's going to fall off the table.
  206. "You want me to read that book, don't you?"
  207. >Twilight ducks her head shyly.
  208. "Can't you just tell me that?"
  209. >She shakes her head, never looking up.
  210. >"I just..." She can't finish.
  211. "I would love to."
  212. >You reach over to the book, your hand brushing across her hoof.
  213. >On impulse, you wrap your fingers around her hoof. Twilight looks up to you in surprise. The two of you sit there, staring into each others eyes for a minute. She dips her head back down, blushing.
  214. "We'll read it together."
  215. >If something is worth doing, it's worth doing with the people - ponies - you care about.
  216. >You tilt your head towards the door.
  217. "Come on, let's go put those groceries away first."
  218. >You stand, still holding her hoof, and she slides off her seat to follow you. You reach over with your free hand and grab the book, slipping it into your jacket pocket. You pat the pocket for emphasis.
  219. "For later."
  220. >She lets you lead her down the stairs without a word, only pulling free of your grasp when you reach the kitchen. It doesn't take long for the two of you to put the food away. You had thought that Spike would be the one to deal with all the domestic chores, but you really shouldn't have assumed that Twilight wouldn't know her own kitchen.
  221. >You didn't realize that the room was this small - the two of you bump into each other constantly as you work.
  222. >Her mane is a mess by the time you finish - you kept reaching over her to put things away.
  223. >You run your fingers through Twilight's mane, down her neck.
  224. "I'm sorry."
  225. >"For what?" she asks you innocently.
  226. "For making a mess of things."
  227. >She giggles softly, leaning into you.
  228. >"Speaking of messes, you should probably go home." You pull your hand back. "Your clothes are a disgrace," she chuckles.
  229. >Oh.
  230. >"It wouldn't be a bad idea to change before everyone gets here," she continues.
  231. "Right, we wouldn't want them to know I slept here."
  232. >Can't argue with that.
  233. "I'll be right back."
  234. >You kneel down and give her a hug before leaving.
  235. >On the way out, you grab your bag, dumping out the contents on the table. Just a notepad, sketchpad, a few knick-knacks. Still, you're going to need all the space.
  236. >As you walk, you feel the weight of Twilight's book thumping into your leg every other step. You pull it out of your jacket pocket, looking it over. You wouldn't be surprised if it was almost as old as Twilight. You crack it open, gently, afraid that it will fall apart at the slightest excuse.
  237. >It's... not bad. You can see the appeal, though you'd rather be making your own story, with your friends.
  238. >Crap, you're supposed to be reading this with Twilight.
  239. >You reluctantly put it back in your pocket as you reach your home.
  240. >You quickly strip out of your clothes, pulling on fresh jeans and a shirt - your favorite ones.
  241. >Rarity shredded the clothes you had arrived with, but it was worth it - she used them as a pattern to make you several full sets of clothing.
  242. >You carefully fold a second outfit, putting it into your bag for later. Hopefully you'll need it - hopefully you'll earn waffles tonight.
  243. >There's a little extra room left in your bag - you look around, seeing if there's anything else you need. All of your gaming supplies are at Twilight's place, and it's not like you own much anyway. Nothing you need. You pull your jacket back on.
  244. >Twilight's book smacks into you.
  245. >Nothing you need *here*, you correct yourself.
  246. >You step outside, shutting the door behind you. The temperature is just starting to drop, and already fireplaces are being lit. You breathe deeply, savoring the calming smell of woodsmoke.
  248. >GAH! You twitch away, jerking Pinkie Pie's head out of your bag.
  249. "Heya Pinkie."
  250. >First of all, where did Pinkie Pie come from?
  251. >Second, why is she wagging her tail like a very self-satisfied puppy?
  252. >Very suspicious.
  253. "What are you up to, Pinko?"
  254. >"Fun things!" She blinks up at you innocently. "Bye!"
  255. >She dashes off without another word to you. Sometimes, you wonder which of your friends is actually the fastest. Sure, Rainbow Dash can break the sound barrier, but Pinkie... she breaks the laws of reality. Regularly. Sometimes, you wonder if she's the one that brought you here...
  256. >Sometimes, you think some really strange thoughts. Get yourself together, Anon.
  257. >That's just plain silly.
  258. >So is Pinkie Pie.
  259. >Dammit!
  260. >You pull out Twilight's book again, need to distracted your wandering brain.
  261. >Besides, it couldn't hurt to read a few more pages, right?
  262. >After a few steps, your stomach twitches. It's been a while since waffletime. You had meant to go straight back to Twilight's - why, you don't know. It's several hours until your other friends will arrive. No rush, yet you still find yourself impatient to return. But food would be nice.
  263. >Your steps waver. Minty Fresh's Pizza Palace is only a slight detour. Twilight probably hasn't had anything to eat either - you just know she'll be nose-deep in one of her new books when you arrive.
  264. >Eventually, you come to a decision, veering off course. You turn the corner - there it is. Time for -
  265. >BOOM.
  266. >The door slams open, windows rattle. Confetti sprays everywhere - what the hell just happened?
  267. >"YOU GET BACK HERE AND CLEAN THIS UP!" you hear Minty Fresh roar in surprised rage.
  268. >"Ooopsie!"
  269. >Off runs a giggling pink blur.
  270. >Oh gods damn it, Pinkie.
  271. >Minty Fresh sees you and scowls.
  272. >"That damned friend of yours just fired off her party cannon in my kitchen!" He rears back, waving his forelimbs wildly in the air. "It's going to take all day to clean up this mess!"
  273. >You slip away as Minty Fresh drops to his knees, howling in rage.
  274. >Your little boy heart is crushed. No pizza...? Pinkie Pie sure is going to have a lot to answer for when you see her tonight.
  275. >Hopefully you can scrounge up something from Twilight's kitchen, or find Pinkie's stash, though you're starting to get a little tired of cookies.
  276. >The woodsmoke smell in the air grows stronger as the temperature drops. Eventually, you have to put Twilight's book away - your hands are too cold. You shove them into your pockets to keep them warm. It wasn't this cold last night, was it?
  277. >You shiver in your jacket. You didn't feel a cold front come in... then again, with the pegasi controlling the weather, you probably wouldn't have.
  278. >Fuck, it's cold. Every pony you pass is wrapped up with scarves and coats. Was there some fucking newsletter you forgot to subscribe to?
  279. >You duck your head, hunching up as much as possible, and continue to trudge forward.
  280. >After a few minutes, the warm smell of cooking food catches your nose. Some family is going to have a warm hearty meal. You wish someone would do that for -
  281. >So lost in thought, you almost walked right into Twilight's door. You look around briefly, wondering which of the nearby homes was the source of the smell.
  282. >Doesn't matter.
  283. >You knock twice and push the door open.
  284. >The smell is mesmerizing - you walk away, leaving the door wide open, never seeing the pink arm that pulls it closed.
  285. >You stumble forward, walking through the house. You pass the gaming table, carelessly letting your bag slide off your shoulder. It's not like anything in there is breakable. Carefully, you look through doorway to the kitchen.
  286. >Your little purple pony is standing in front of the stove, spoon gripped in one hoof.
  287. "Wouldn't it be easier to use magic?"
  288. >Twilight jumps in surprise.
  289. >"You're back already?" Her eyes dart back and forth between you and the pot on the stove.
  290. >You shake your head.
  291. "Nope. Still at my place. I should be back in... ten minutes?"
  292. >She looks back to the stove, judging the state of the stew. She nods.
  293. >"That sounds about right..." she answers hesitantly.
  294. "Alright, I won't be here for ten minutes."
  295. >You slip out of the kitchen, throwing yourself onto the couch. It's a shame there's no fireplace in here - the cold is beginning to seep into the castle.
  296. >But there is a blanket, neatly folded and set on one side of the couch. You pull it over yourself, trying to get warm again, spending the time huddled under the blanket. You swear that it hasn't been ten minutes before Twilight comes trotting out of the kitchen with a pair of bowls.
  297. >She sets them on the table before climbing onto the couch, pulling the blanket over herself.
  298. >For the first time, you actually start to feel comfortable, her body pressing up against your side warming you.
  299. >"Mom always says food tastes better when it's made by hoof," she idly tells you, answering your question from before.
  300. >You pull your arm out from under Twilight, putting it around her flank and pulling her up onto your lap.
  301. "Can we eat now?"
  302. >She shakes her head, tickling your nose with her mane.
  303. >"It's too hot."
  304. >You watch curls of steam drift up from the stew, slices of carrots and other vegetables slowly swirl around in the brown liquid.
  305. >Twilight cranes her neck back to look at you, smiling at the contentment on your face.
  306. >"Are you happy?"
  307. "I'm with you. Why wouldn't I be?"
  308. >She doesn't answer, just continues to smile. After a few minutes, she leans forward to retrieve the bowls - they're finally cool enough to hold. You set yours on the arm of the sofa, never loosening your grip on her as you eat. It's the best meal you have eaten since you arrived in Equestria.
  309. >No, it's the best you've had in years.
  310. >You set your empty bowl inside of hers, reaching out to set them back on the table. With a tug, you pull the blanket back into place over the both of you.
  311. "Thank you, Twilight."
  312. >You hold her tightly with both arms.
  313. >After a while, you glance at the clock.
  314. "We still have an hour before our friends arrive. Did you want to read that book?"
  315. >"No."
  316. >Good, neither did you.
  317. >"Was there something else you wanted to do?"
  318. "No."
  319. >You're glad there's no fireplace in this room now - it would be too warm with a fire and Twilight pressed up against you.
  320. >And if you had to choose between a fire and Twilight, well...
  321. >You know which one feels best.
  322. >She doesn't move, except for her soft regular breaths. You'd almost swear she was asleep, except for her smile.
  323. >For the first time, you look down on your little princess and realize... you don't just care for her.
  324. >You love her.
  325. >You're so lost in her, you don't see the pink face that looks down from the stairs.
  326. >Pinkie Pie smiles at the sight of you embracing Twilight Sparkle and slowly slinks away.
  327. >Her work here is done.
  328. >The two of you sit there, not speaking, not moving. Content. Satisfied. Happy.
  329. >As if such words could describe how you feel. No, it's more like...
  330. >Euphoric.
  331. >The velvet softness of her coat, the warmth of her body, the way your arms enfold her torso. Her head is still tilted pack, exposing her elegant neck.
  332. >She puts her forelegs over your arms, holding you as you hold her, and nuzzles your chest.
  333. >"We have to clean up," she murmurs.
  334. "Not yet..."
  335. >Twilight doesn't argue as you squeeze her tighter. There's plenty of time... a whole... you glance over to the clock.
  336. >Oh crap, they should be here by now. Reluctantly, you give one last squeeze and slide your arms free.
  337. >She looks disappointed - normally she's overjoyed when you agree with her, but not this time. Twilight pulls herself from your lap, taking the empty bowls into her kitchen.
  338. >Without her, the once-comfortable couch and blanket are worthless, you cast them aside, pushing the table back to its customary place. You pile the books and other gaming supplies on it slowly - over the past couple of days it's accumulated quite the clutter of assorted books and references.
  339. >This room is starting to remind you of your place... back home. Not the shack you live in now. It's not like Twilight to be so messy...
  340. >She returns, catching you trying to put away some of the excess books
  341. >"No, leave them," she shakes her head gently. "We might need them again."
  342. >You pause, obscure source book in hand.
  343. "Are you sure?"
  344. >You gesture to the light mess.
  345. "It's starting to get a little crowded at the table.
  346. >Twilight nods, smiling at the books and papers scattered around.
  347. >"Let's just tidy it up a bit, then."
  348. >It's mostly just stacking books and pushing dice into piles, but it makes things look a little nicer.
  349. >You hear a loud hammering on the door - Twilight jumps in surprise and looks to you.
  350. "I'll go let them in - go ahead and get your notebooks."
  351. >She bolts up the stairs as you head to the front door - odd that they didn't just let themselves in.
  352. >You can hear Rainbow Dash loudly complaining before you reach the door, and what sounds like Rarity's voice, though you cannot make out any words. Seems like some of your friends have arrived at the same time.
  353. >All of them, you realize as you throw open the door to reveal four ponies.
  354. >"- and did you really have to drag us -" Applejack turns from Pinkie Pie as you open the door, cutting herself off mid-sentence. "Heya, Anon. Sorry we're so late, but *this* one -" she flips her head back, gesturing to the pink mare "- just had to take us all on some field trip."
  355. >"But of *course*-" Rainbow Dash interrupts "- she forgot where we were going halfway there!"
  356. >"And by then, we were *so* lost, it took half an hour at least to get back," finishes Rarity.
  357. >"Oopsie!" Pinkie Pie bounces inside, giggling. The others look to each other, sigh, and follow.
  358. "Well, I'm glad you're all here now."
  359. >Rarity dips her head in acknowledgement.
  360. >"And I as well. I just cannot wait to see what tonight has in store."
  361. "Yes, it should prove... interesting."
  362. >"Interesting? Tonight is going to be AWESOME!" Rainbow Dash leaps into the air - you can almost see fireworks and rainbows exploding behind her like the special effects in a cheesy music video. Her face grows serious and she raises a hoof like a fist. "I have an *army*. We're gonna *crush* them." She slams her hoof into the floor for emphasis. "Now let's get this ADVENTURE on the road!"
  363. >"Yup," Applejack agrees, eyes alight with zeal. "We've wasted enough time tonight." She pushes past you. You stand there, smiling out into the dark. It's nice to see your friends like this again.
  364. >"Well, ainchya coming?" Applejack calls back to you.
  365. "Yeah, I'll be right there."
  366. >You softly shut the door and follow.
  367. >Twilight has finished getting everything ready - your friends are gathered around the table, just waiting for you.
  368. "So, where were we?"
  369. >You sit yourself down on the floor, digging your character sheet out from the pages of your notebook.
  370. >"Waiting for *that* one -" Rarity gestures over to Rainbow Dash "- to get us all killed again." While the words are harsh, her tone is not.
  371. >"I'm not going to get us all killed *again*!" Dash argues back. "Not all of us." Her eyes shift from side to side. "Probably."
  372. >"Well, if that doesn't sound like overwhelming confidence, I don't know what does," Twilight comments. "I hope you put a little more work into your roleplaying..."
  373. >"Oh hells yeah."
  375. >"YOU ARE SLAVES NO LONGER!" Mercury Flare calls out, slamming her rapier through one of the remaining Reavarii, the Ponies and Darkin slaves overwhelming the rest with sheer numbers and mining tools.
  376. >One runs, attempting to escape the slaughter. Existential Dredd seperates from the shadows, forelimb slipping around the cultists neck in a cruel embrace. She rears back, knife streaming blood from the tear in the Reavarii's neck, splattering the floor and far wall. It takes two hesitant steps, shudders... and collapses.
  377. >The slaves look around in confusion. Some move to run deeper into the mines, to avoid the retaliation they believe will come. Others talk quietly, speaking of running free, to escape this place altogether. A handful pick up the slain cultists weapons with grim determination.
  378. >"You *can* escape this place," Mercury Flare's voice is quiet, yet heard throughout the cavern. "My companions and I have cleared a path for you."
  379. >A few move to run, but the bard holds up one hoof - she's not done.
  380. >"No one will blame you - running from this place. Enjoy your peace while you have it. We will fight to protect you, and we will die, ascending to the night sky to live on at the Moon's side."
  381. >She gestures skyward.
  382. >"Every night, until the end comes - and it *will* come if we fail here - you can look up to the stars and know that we fight for you still. Every pinpoint of light is a mortal soul that died in Her name, fighting against the return of darkness."
  383. >Her already quiet voice drops lower, forcing the freed slaves to gather around closer to hear her words.
  384. >"And we will join them if need be."
  385. >She pauses for a second, a look of infinite sadness on her face.
  386. >"But the stars are many - and though the darkness of night still comes, they light the way. And we -" Existential Dredd steps up beside her "- we are few."
  387. >Another pause.
  388. >"And as dark as the night is, this place is darker still. I do not know we can overcome it alone."
  389. >Mercury Flare's voice is barely a whisper now.
  390. >"We have found where your families are held, but many stand against us. I will fight to rescue them, but I cannot do it on my own." She looks to them, to each and every soul. "I ask you, free Ponies and Darkin," she pleads, "will you help me carry the torch of hope in this dark place?"
  391. >A silvery pegasus with shredded wings looks around for a moment. "There is no place we can go to escape this evil," he says softly. He nods to Mercury Flare. "If I must die somewhere, let it be here, so that I can fly in the night sky once again."
  392. >Mercury Flare places a comforting hoof on his shoulder.
  393. >"There is a priestess with us, above. She can heal your wings."
  394. >The stallion shakes his head.
  395. >"No. My mate is dead, my children are dead. My heart can never soar again until I am with them."
  396. >"The sky has enough stars," an Earth Pony stallion steps forward, stamping on the neck of a dead Reavarii, shattering the bone. "I can't even count them all." He nods to the bard. "I fight so that others may live." He dips his head, picking up the cultist's knife in his mouth.
  397. >A few hold doubts, but Mercury Flare waves off the others why try to convince them to stay.
  398. >"I will not drag the unwilling to their deaths," she says, even as Dredd tries to intimidate the holdouts. "Would you take a broken sword into battle?"
  399. >"No," the assassin answers reluctantly.
  400. >"Then why would you take a broken soul?"
  401. >The assassin nods in acceptance.
  402. >"Follow behind us and run when we attack," Dredd instructs the holdouts. "The Reavarii will be focused on us. It will be your best chance to escape."
  403. >Mercury Flare smiles at her companion's understanding.
  404. >"Now come," she addresses her army. "Your families are waiting."
  406. "Was that from General Firefly?"
  407. >Rainbow Dash shakes her head proudly.
  408. >"Nope, all original! I spent all day working on it!"
  409. >Well, at least she's actually trying to roleplay now.
  411. >"Well, it looks like..." Twilight consults her notes "... you have about 150 mostly able-bodied followers. Only 30 have weapons, though."
  412. >Dash frowns at that.
  413. >"They aren't coming after us, right?"
  414. >Twilight looks to Applejack, who flings the closest d20 across the table.
  415. >"Existential Dredd doesn't here any sounds in the tunnels," Twilight tells the group after checking the roll, "though the minehead is too far away."
  416. "I bet that's where they are. They've probably called in reinforcements."
  417. >You hold up a d20.
  418. "Tactics check?"
  419. >Twilight nods, and you cast the die.
  420. >"Between your *exceptional* knowledge of Reavarii tactics -"
  421. >Fuck yeah, natural 20.
  422. >"- and Existential Dredd's map, you're able to predict their battle plan." Twilight lays out the cavern map again, putting around the map to represent groups of cultists. She digs deep into the minis box. "Oh, it's got to be here somewhere..." you hear her mumble. "Ah!"
  423. >Your princess holds up a PC paladin model and places it on the map.
  424. >"You also suspect that they have called in reinforcments - something more powerful than standard cultists."
  425. >"A paladin?" Applejack asks, eying the model.
  426. >"No," Twilight answers. "It's just a representation of something more powerful than a cultist."
  427. >"So what is it?" Pinkie Pie bounces up to ask.
  428. >"A surprise."
  430. >Applejack frowns at that.
  431. >"Ahm not sure we're gonna like this surprise."
  432. >Dash looks over the map, thinking for a second.
  433. >"I have a plan."
  434. >"To be fair, her last plan worked out fairly well," Rarity points out, preempting the others' objections.
  436. >"When we emerge from the tunnels, my companions will attack from the opposite side, moving left to draw the enemy away," Mercury Flare instructs her soldiers. "We will move right, towards their supplies. There you will be able to arm yourselves."
  437. >She begins to draw a map on the hard-packed soil.
  438. >"We will continue to move, surrounding the enemy, drawing our circle tighter and tighter, until we are able to focus our entire force on the outnumbered foe."
  440. >You stare incredulously at the diagram Rainbow Dash drew.
  441. "Spiral power?"
  442. >"What?"
  443. "You're just reminding me of something..."
  444. >She raises an eyebrow at that, continuing with her plan once she realizes you aren't going to explain yourself.
  446. >"This maneuver will also allow us to cover those who wish to escape," Mercury Flare looks over to them. "Is everyone ready?"
  447. >As the bard speaks to her army, you talk to your companions.
  448. "We will have to draw them away from their supplies if Mercury Flare's slave revolt is to have any success."
  449. >You point to several parts of the map.
  450. "Unfortunately, we will be heavily outnumbered, and probably facing something much stronger than we have so far. Priestess -" Mint Julep looks up from the map, eyes wide "- what magic have you that will preserve us?"
  451. >She thinks about it for a second.
  452. >"The Lingering Warmth of the sun will keep us from dying for a short time," she says slowly. "Once the odds turn against us, hopefully it can keep us alive long enough for the bard's army to come into play."
  453. >"Then we are prepared?" Durararog takes one last look at the map.
  455. >You look over to Rainbow Dash. She nods.
  456. >"Let's fucking do this."
  457. "Fuck yeah."
  458. >Brohoof.
  460. >You burst out from the tunnel, sword held high. The enchanted blade catches the light from the Reavarii's torches, shining mirror-bright.
  462. >Wait, what...?
  464. >Twilight Sparkle grabs up the Reavarii models, moving them around the map.
  465. >"Sorry, but your prediction was wrong," she says to you apologetically.
  466. >"But he rolled a 20!" Dash waves her forelimbs wildly. "What the hell?"
  467. >"Sorry..." Twilight says again. "So did I..."
  468. >"Ah shit..." Applejack half-stands, staring at the paladin model. "Anon, think Paladin can put eyes on that guy?"
  470. >At the entrance to the mine, you see a shade - the twisted and enslaved soul of a once noble soul now bound by the Lich's will. To your surprise, you recognize it as one of your order.
  472. >"Yup, it's mah last character," Applejack says, head in hoof. "Damn, she has Advanced Tactics."
  473. "That explains why nothing was were I thought it would be."
  474. >"Yer gonna wanna kill her fast," Applejack suggests, "afore she starts handing out bonuses."
  476. >You see slaves burst forth from the mines, trying to maneuver towards the supplies, only to be cut down by the Reavarii's disciplined strikes. You see Mercury Flare desperately trying to rally them, to pull back, to do anything, only to be outmaneuvered by the shade's minions. You see Existential Dredd, leap from nowhere to strike the Shade down, only to be battered aside, rescued from certain death at the last minute by an Earth Pony stallion who drags her unconscious body back into the mines.
  477. >You see disaster unfolding.
  478. >To your left, Durararog rushes forward - axe swinging - scattering the Reavarii's formations. Mint Julep follows in her wake, striking out at targets of opportunity. They try to stick to the plan, drawing the enemy away, but it will not do any good if the bard and her army remain bottled up in the mines.
  479. >You have to break them free.
  480. >You try to cover the distance quickly, to take out the shade guiding the Reavarii, only to be driven back time and again. The cultists fail to land any blows, but you make no headway through their formation.
  481. >You helplessly see Mercury Flare take wing, diving at the shade with rapier outstretched - it does not end well. Her limp form slams into the cavern wall. She crumples unmoving.
  483. >"Damn it AJ!" Rainbow Dash screams. "Why do you always make your characters so damn strong!?"
  484. >"Because normally I'm the one playin' 'em," she answers, frowning.
  486. >Salvation comes at the barbarian's hoof, her wide swings throwing the Reavarii into disarray. Even the shade is forced to retreat.
  487. >Where you failed, she succeeded, and now Flare's army pours forth from the mines, grabbing up weapons from the fallen.
  488. >The fighting devolves into a violent brawl, enemies fighting back to back, as their lines dissolve.
  491. >You push yourself back from the table, looking over the map. Things are not looking good, even with the additional fighters on your side.
  492. >A glance around the table paints an even more depressing picture. Applejack and Rainbow Dash are angrily arguing with each other, accusations of incompetence and power-gaming flying back and forth. Rarity's eyes hold a wild panicked look of utter desperation as she frantically looks over the map, trying to find something - anything - that could turn the tide. Pinkie Pie's hair has lost it's characteristic spring, falling limp at flat against her head. She rests against the table, resting her head on her forelimbs.
  493. >And Twilight, she looks to you, eyes tearing up. You promised her you would fix this... how could you lie to her...? To your princess...?
  495. >Some of the freed slaves try to break - they try to run, spending their own fellows' lives to cover their escape. Fifty still fight, attempting to cover the flight of twice their number.
  496. >Cowards.
  497. >You fling back the cultists attacking you and thrust your sword skyward.
  499. >The sound catches their attention, though it does not stir their hearts.
  500. "Every man - every pony - dies."
  501. >You stand strong, never allowing your blade to fall, fending off attacks with only your armored fist.
  502. "What we must do is strive to make our deaths meaningful!"
  503. >You catch one of the Reavarii as it leaps at you, crushing it's throat with your hand and casting the corpse aside.
  504. "And there is no greater purpose than service to the Celestial Guardians!"
  505. >You slap aside a sword with the flat of your palm, redirecting it into another Reavarii.
  506. "Every soul that perishes serving the Moon becomes a bright star in the night sky!"
  507. >You jump back quickly, evading a jabbing spear.
  508. "The braver the death the brighter the star!"
  509. >Another spear grazes your cheek, almost tearing your hood from your head.
  510. "Ponies, Darkin - have you ever tried to count the stars? The legacy of untold thousands who have served shines down from the heavens, standing by our Moon in her struggle against the Darkness!"
  511. >You grasp the haft of the spear with your free hand and snap it, driving the splintered end back into the wielder's face.
  512. "Would you rather die running, with the empty Void waiting for you? OR WILL YOU STAND BY ME?"
  513. >The shade has moved to face you directly, shouldering aside her minions. Her sword flashes out, catching your upraised limb.
  514. >It never waivers, still holding up the moon-forged steel as blood runs freely from your arm.
  515. >You catch the next swing with your other hand, holding the blade with your steel-banded fist.
  517. >You twist your hand, wrenching the sword from the shade's grasp.
  518. >Blood drips from your sliced palm, splattering across the shade's face as you slam your fist into her.
  520. >You backhand the shade, knocking her to the ground.
  522. >You stomp down on the shade's chest, pinning her underneath your foot.
  524. >Your sword flashes brighter than the sun as you bring it down.
  525. >The shade screams as you remove her head from her body.
  527. >You grab a d20, holding it up.
  528. "I roll for Inspiring Presence."
  529. >Twilight Sparkle reaches over the DM screen, pushing your hand down.
  530. "No," she whispers with a slight shake of her head. "No, you don't."
  532. >As you speak, your companions and the remnants of Mercury Flare's forces converge on you, forming up on your unflinching blade. Reinforcements trickle in as the fleeing slaves find their courage in ones and twos, flooding in at the death of the shade.
  533. >You fight your way to the mineshaft, find yourself fighting side-by-side with a crippled Pegasus, his silvery coat torn and shredded.
  534. >He stands over the limp body of Mercury Flare, his blood mingling with hers on the cavern floor.
  535. >You parry a blade as it slashes out at his neck - his reactions too slow to save himself. Your counterattack splits the Reavarii all but in two. Still, out of the corner of your eye, you see the pegasus stumble, falling to his knees.
  536. >As he collapses entirely, you see the broken spear shaft lodged in his side. He pushes your hand aside as you reach to help him. Somehow, he manages to force himself back on his feet, lashing out and catching another Reavarii in the head. The cultist crumples, dropping the blade it had tried to strike the bard with.
  537. >You finish it off before it can recover.
  538. "Mint Julep!"
  539. >You can see her, she's close. Only two body lengths away in the scrum. Durararog is with her and hears your call. With one swing, she splits a cultist in half, crunching through the spine with her mighty blow. She grabs the priestess and drags her away from her opponent, shoving her towards you.
  540. >"GO! Paladin needs you!"
  541. >She finishes off Mint Julep's opponent with her next swing, smashing the Reavarii's skull with the haft of her axe.
  542. >Another tries to intercept the priestess, only two go down under two Darkin, savagely hacking at the cultist with captured blades. It dies helpless, but it does not die slow. You almost regret not ending its suffering.
  543. >"Oh my Sun..." Mint Julep reacts in horror to the pegasus' injuries, not knowing where to begin. Not that he lets her, shoving aside her hooves every time she tries.
  544. >"Take care of *her*!" he angrily yells, pointing to Mercury Flare.
  545. >Another blow catches him in the leg, he finally falls, unable to hold himself up any longer. Mint Julep tries to take advantage of his injury, but you shove yourself between them.
  546. "He has made his choice, priestess. Let his star burn bright."
  547. >She turns back to the bard, body wracked with tears.
  548. >The Sun will never understand.
  549. >She is always too merciful.
  550. >Another spear pierces the pegasus's body, thrust through his neck, his last act to crush his killer's skull.
  551. >May his soul shine forever in the night sky.
  554. >It surprises you, Rainbow Dash sitting silently as Pinkie Pie tries to heal the NPC. Not arguing. Not yelling at her for wasting her spells on a *prop*.
  555. >She frowns slightly when you move Paladin to block Mint Julep.
  556. >You are proud of her.
  557. >She flinches as Twilight announces the results of the last damage roll.
  558. >"Get me fighting again, Pinkie Pie," she says softly. "I'm tired doing *nothing* as everyone else suffers."
  560. >Mercury Flare's eyes flutter open and she reaches around, trying to find her rapier. You pick it up from the ground, pressing it into her hand.
  561. >"No, wait!" Mint Julep tries to hold down the bard, "You're in no condition to fight!"
  562. >Mercury Flare shoves her aside - gently, but firmly.
  563. >"Neither was he," she says with a tear in her eye.
  565. >"It's just mop-up now Pinkie, I'll try to be careful."
  567. >The bard launches into the closest Reavarii with reckless abandon, striking out as often with her hooves as her blade.
  569. >"What? I only said I'd *try*!"
  571. >You move to assist the bard, protecting her from blades she never sees.
  572. >She pulls back in shock when she stumbles across the body of a unicorn... one of those who tried to flee.
  573. >All of his wounds are to the fore.
  574. >"Why...? Why didn't he run...?"
  575. "He found a reason to fight."
  576. >Mercury Flare looks to you, tears flowing freely from her eyes.
  577. >"WHY!?"
  578. "Just as a broken sword can be reforged, so too can a broken soul."
  580. >Only a few more rounds of combat, and the last of the Reavarii fall.
  581. >Rarity makes the last kill.
  582. >Actually, you're glad you weren't keeping score - she's probably in the lead.
  583. >"And so... that's 23 for me..."
  584. >Oh, she did, awesome.
  585. >"... and ten for Paladin."
  586. >You're never going to hear the end of it.
  587. >"Break time?" Twilight asks, looking over the map to make sure there was nothing she was forgetting.
  588. >"Yeah, I need to take care of..." Dash runs off. "I have something in my eye!"
  589. >"Ooooh, snack time!" Pinkie Pie pants, mouth wide like a puppy. "How about pizza!"
  590. "No, we can't get pizza."
  591. >You give her an ugly look.
  592. >"Oh, right. NEVERMIND!" She giggles. GIGGLES. The fucking nerve of this pony.
  593. >"Hey, Anon." Twilight stands. "Help me in the kitchen?"
  594. "Yeah..."
  595. >"Anything I could help with?" Rarity asks, starting to rise, only to be tackled by Pinkie. With a foreleg around Rarity and Applejacks withers, she pulls them down to the table.
  596. >"We have to figure out what to do *next*," she says, a psychotic gleam in her eye. She releases Applejack long enough to wave you away. "We got this. Go on." Pinkie gets her limb back around the orange pony before Applejack can realize her chance to escape.
  597. >You don't know what good their planning will do without you or Dash, but maybe they'll surprise you. Rarity *does* seem to have a head for tactics.
  598. >Everyone has taken to their characters in ways you didn't expect - Applejack even using *stealth*.
  599. >Of course, that was the point.
  600. >You grimace when you see the mugs lined up on the counter.
  601. >"I found your 'cider' earlier," Twilight smiles at you, pouring apple juice into the mugs.
  602. "Oh."
  603. >"That's all you're going to say to me?" What's that look mean? "You lied to me!" Twilight rears up, shoving you back against counter. She pins you in place, one foreleg to each side of you, hooves resting on the edges of the counter.
  604. "I..."
  605. >She slams the side of her head into your torso.
  606. "I'm... sorry..."
  607. >"No, don't be." Her forelegs wrap around your waist. Hesitantly, you put a hand on her back, stroking down her spine, softly. Gently. "You only did it because you care about me."
  608. >You smile down at her as she nuzzles against your body.
  609. >"Nachos," she murmurs quietly. She looks up to you, eyes shimmering through her bangs. "Nachos?"
  610. >You run your fingers through her mane, brushing the fringe out of her eyes.
  611. >You want to see them clearly.
  612. >"Nachos?" she asks again.
  613. "Do we have the ingredients?"
  614. >"We should..." she answers, not releasing you. "Remember? Chips were the first thing we picked up today."
  615. "The first...?"
  616. >"Yeah, you don't remember?"
  617. >You're smart enough to know it would be bad to admit that you weren't really paying attention to what she was buying.
  618. "First? So, the stuff on the *bottom* of the pile?"
  619. >Her eyes grow wide.
  620. >"Oh no... oh no." Her horn lights up as she throws open the cabinets, pulling out the bags of chips. Still she doesn't loosen her grip on you. In fact, it tightens. "Oh thank Celestia, they're okay."
  621. >You hadn't realized she was holding her breath until she lets it all out in a sigh of relief. Her body shrinks in your arms as she finally releases it, hot against your chest.
  622. >"Nachos," she says again, giving you one more squeeze.
  623. >"I should..." she releases you reluctantly "... I should go check on them." She gives you one more look with her big eyes, still standing on her hind legs, one forehoof on the counter to support her. "You *can* handle it, right?"
  624. >You grab her, pulling her back up into you.
  625. "I told you I would fix everything."
  626. >You lean down, putting your hand between her wings, holding her. Her eye widen even further as your face nears hers.
  627. "That includes nachos."
  628. >You can feel her shallow breath on your face, her body barely moving. Almost as if she was afraid to move, afraid to breathe too deeply for fear of accidentally breaking your embrace.
  629. >She stares into your eyes like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding semi.
  630. >"I... should check on them..." the words tumble out of her mouth.
  631. "...probably..."
  632. >"They're... just outside... right outside..." her eyes never leave yours, never flicker over to the open doorway.
  633. >Neither do yours.
  634. "...yeah..."
  635. >You can feel Twilight's heart pounding. Can she feel yours? Her body shifts slightly in your grasp, stretching. Your head dips, meeting her halfway.
  636. >Her lips touch yours, softly at first, hesitantly.
  637. >You pull back slightly, just enough to speak, your nose pressed up against hers.
  638. "...they're right outside..."
  639. >"I don't care."
  640. "You're a horrible liar."
  641. >You can always tell.
  642. >"I'm not lying."
  643. "I know."
  644. >She really doesn't care.
  645. >Twilight's head tilts to one side as you lean back in, locking your lips with hers. She shudders in pleasure, long denied desires finally realized as you give her what she - what you - want.
  646. >She almost collapses in your grip - only your arms keep her standing. Her lips break away from yours as her head tilts back - you remove one hand from her back, running it up through her mane, cradling the back of her head.
  647. >You bend over further, kissing her high on her neck, moving down slowly, kiss by kiss.
  648. >Her hind legs tremble in excitement, threatening to give out. You spin her around, pulling her back against you, your arms wrapped under her forelegs so that she doesn't accidentally slip out of your grasp. The dead weight of her body is like putty, threatening to slip free, and you find the downside of Twilight's velvet coat.
  649. >It's so smooth, so sleek, sliding over your skin offering no resistance, difficult to hold on to. The moistness of her sweat makes her body slippery. It's all you can do to keep her standing.
  650. >She twists her head around, kissing you once more on the lips before her legs finally collapse and she slips from your arms, falling to her belly. You drop to her knees, cradling her head.
  651. "Are you alright?"
  652. >She wearily smiles at you.
  653. >"You earned your waffles," she whispers, biting her lip.
  654. >You smile back at her, rubbing one hand along her flank.
  655. "Maybe I can earn a double serving later tonight."
  656. >She ducks her head, hiding her face from you.
  657. >Oh.
  658. "With the game! I mean with the game!"
  659. >She reaches out with one hoof, patting your leg.
  660. >"It's okay, Anon, I know what you meant." She seems to have recovered somewhat, at least her breathing is sounding back to normal. "I just prefer my interpretation."
  661. >Your cheeks blaze with warmth as she turns the tables on you.
  662. >As she stands, so do you. Twilight looks to the doorway - the first time in what seems like forever.
  663. >"I really should check on them..." she says reluctantly. "Can you get the nachos started?"
  664. >You nod, unwilling to trust your mouth to not make a fool of you.
  665. >"Good." She beams up at you. "Let's see if you can make it a triple serving of waffles."
  666. >Your face burns hotter.
  667. >"I meant... you know..." she stumbles over the words in her haste to explain. "Nachos!" she finally shouts, echoed by Pinkie Pie's voice out in the gaming room.
  668. "I know what you meant, my princess."
  669. >She sighs in relief.
  670. "I just prefer my interpretation.
  671. >That embarrassed squeak of hers is so adorable. It's a good thing you find it cute - you suspect you will be hearing it much more frequently in the coming days.
  673. >She quickly steps out of the kitchen before you can say - or do - anything else.
  674. >With a satisfied sigh, you watch her leave, reluctant to take your eyes off her for a second. Once she is out of sight you start looking for -
  676. >"Sitting!"
  677. >"ON RAINBOW DASH!?"
  678. >"Well, I only have two arms!"
  679. >Oh, Pinkie Pie and her wacky hijinks. Their voices drop to the point you cannot make out distinct words, though you do hear Twilight and Pinkie Pie continue to argue. You smile as you pull some melting cheese, butter, and milk out of the refrigerator.
  680. >"Just... JUST GO INTO THE KITCHEN AND HELP ANON!" Twilight yells.
  681. >You almost drop the jug of milk. Oh gods, you hope she wasn't talking to -
  682. >"HELLO!" Pinkie Pie springs into the kitchen. "I'm here to help!"
  683. >You frantically look around, trying to find something for the pink pony to do while staying out of your way.
  684. >As you reach for a baking sheet, she thumps her head into your leg.
  685. >"I'm glad I picked you!" she says proudly.
  686. >You don't even ask what she means, patting her head.
  687. "Thanks Ponk."
  688. >You put the baking sheets on the counter next to the bags of chips.
  689. "Think you can spread these out on those sheets? We're gonna have to heat them up in the oven."
  690. >She stares at the baking sheets in wonder.
  691. >"You make faaaaaaaaaaaaaancy nachos..." her head turns slowly to take in all of the ingredients you've accumulated, watching carefully as you dice up peppers and tomatoes.
  692. >If you keep cooking here, you're going to have to see about having some counters added to match your height - all this bending over is going to ruin your back.
  693. >With an overwhelming somber air, she pours out the chips on the baking sheets.
  694. >"I'm really glad I picked you."
  695. >Still not worth asking - as fun as she is, nothing that mare says will ever make sense to you. You just pat her head again as you start mixing the dairy products in a sauce pan.
  696. >"Are you mad at me...?" Pinkie Pie asks quietly.
  697. "No, why would you even think that?"
  698. >You look over to her as you pull a wooden spoon out of a drawer and begin stirring the cheese sauce.
  699. >"Because you aren't talking to me," she pouts.
  700. >Why does she always have to be the center of attention?
  701. "Okay, fine. Why were you sitting on Rainbow Dash?"
  702. >"Like I told Twillie, I ONLY HAVE TWO ARMS!"
  703. >She waves them in your face, as if you doubted her.
  704. "But why did you have to do that?"
  705. >"Because she wanted to check on you two!" she answers, clawing at her face in horror. "I couldn't let her do that!"
  706. >Wait, what?
  707. >She opens up the oven, throwing the chips in.
  708. >"I know everyone thinks I'm kinda maybe flaky sometimes, but I know when it's time to get serious!"
  709. >She bares her teeth, growling as she sets a timer.
  710. >"See, I look serious!"
  711. >You can't help but laugh.
  712. "Yes, Funky Pipe, you can be serious."
  713. >You push her away from the timer as she begins to bark at it.
  714. "But never be too serious, okay?"
  715. >"Okay!"
  716. >She smiles back at you.
  717. >"So what did you think of your present?" She bounces around you in circles as you pull the now warmed chips out of the oven.
  718. "What present?"
  719. >You aren't really paying attention to what she's saying - focused on trying to put all the parts together without spilling anything. The running, bouncing pony doesn't help.
  720. >"The present I left in your bag, silly!"
  721. >That caught your attention - what the hell is she talking about?
  722. "What present...?"
  723. >Pinkie Pie stops her bouncing, pupils shrinking like her acid just kicked in.
  724. >"Nevermind, I think you're good here. You're good here, right?"
  725. >Aaaaaaaaaaaaand there she goes, walking backwards out of the kitchen, her expression never changing.
  726. >Oh, crap! When she ran into you outside your home! You thought she was trying to look in your bag - turns out she was putting something in it. Horrible thoughts run through your head of what this present could be.
  727. >Okay, you can deal with this.
  728. >Step one - get the nachos out to your friends.
  729. >Step two - grab your bag.
  730. >Step three - get someplace private and find out what she put in there.
  731. >Step four - if necessary, burn the evidence.
  732. >It's a good plan, a solid plan. Time to get on it.
  733. >Chips go into a bowl, sauce poured over, peppers and tomatoes on top. Bam, done. You carry the food out to your friends, noting that the others are still staring angrily and Pinkie Pie.
  734. >And she still has that look on her face.
  735. >You slide the bowl to the center of the table, giving Pinkie Pie another pat on the head. Everything she has done, she did to help her friends - you can't be mad at her for that. Even if you don't approve or understand.
  736. >You look to your bag - it's still where you left it by the couch, untouched.
  737. >It's... you look back to the pink mare... it's a problem for later.
  738. >You lean over the table and snap your fingers in front of Rainbow Dash's face, causing her to jump.
  739. "Hey, Aredee!"
  740. >She glares at you for a second, before remembering that she's not mad at *you.*
  741. "What do we do now?"
  742. >Her eyes flash wide - you... you're putting her in charge?
  743. >Applejacks eyes flash wide - you're putting Rainbow Dash in charge?
  744. >Rarity nods with calm acceptance.
  745. >"Aside from that last fiasco - which was not her fault I must add - her plans have worked out marvelously."
  746. "Exactly. Though let's not forget your contributions, Rarity."
  747. >You don't know how she does it, but the mare somehow manages to *curtsey* while laying on the floor.
  748. "So team, what now?"
  749. >You sit down on the floor at your spot, idly fiddling with your mini.
  750. "Applejack, the map if you would please..."
  752. >Your party huddles around Existential Dredd's map, judging your next action.
  753. >"Their families," Mercury Flare points to the area with the highest concentration of slaves. "That is where we should strike next."
  754. "But some of them only stand with us because their families are at risk."
  755. >You hate to play this role, but someone must.
  756. "If we rescue them, then much of our army may find they have something to live for."
  757. >"And abandon us," Durararog finishes your thought. "What a horrible thing to think."
  758. "I can't disagree, but it is something we must keep in mind."
  760. >"I can't even believe you'd say that!" Mint Julep screams at you, drawing the attention of some of the freed slaves.
  761. >"And what happened to that 'a broken soul can be reforged' stuff!" Mercury Flare stomps in anger. "Was that just a lie?"
  762. "No..."
  763. >"I suggest you explain yourself." Existential Dredd looms ominously over you.
  765. >"Seriously, Anon," Twilight frowns slightly at you. "That seems pretty out of character. Am I going to have to deduct XP?"
  767. "If we rescue the families, our army fragments."
  768. >"So?" the bard yells at you. "It's not their fight!"
  769. "But it is. All of Creation fights against the Darkness."
  770. >You shove the bard away, harder than necessary, drawing angry murmurs from her followers. Some who had minutes ago looked to you as a hero now stare daggers.
  771. >"You insult those who fought at your side," one of the slaves steps forward. "Speak your next words carefully, paladin."
  772. "It's not an insult, or a question of your bravery."
  773. >You step back, to fully address the forces arrayed before you.
  775. >"Are you sure you want to do this...?" Twilight asks. "I won't go easy on you because -"
  776. "- because of my heroic speech earlier?"
  777. >She blinks twice in surprise, realizing just what she was about to say.
  778. >"Right, the speech," she eventually blurts out.
  780. "It is a matter of necessity!"
  781. >Your words ring out through the cavern.
  782. "Right now, hard though it is to believe, your families are in the safest place possible."
  783. >"You've got a mighty *interesting* definition of 'safe'," the assassin grumbles, hoof on the hilt of her sword.
  784. "Then what would you do?"
  785. >Your words catch the assassin off guard.
  786. "Rescue the families, and then what? Let our army fall apart, to fall prey one-by-one to the horrors of this place? We may have defeated a few, but you of all of us know just how dangerous this place is."
  787. >You turn away from her, facing the army once more.
  788. "Or would you bring them with us, dragging their families to almost certain death? Would you *arm* them?"
  789. >You hiss the last words, as if their very sound is poison.
  790. "Desperate though we are, I will not let children die for me."
  791. >"Then we send them *all* away," Mercury Flare states with certainty. "If they stay together, surely they can escape this place."
  792. "And we face the Lich alone?"
  793. >"Yes," Durararog answers.
  794. "And we die alone?"
  795. >"If need be," Mint Julep replies.
  796. >"Our bodies are the shields that protect the innocent," Existential Dredd recites the motto of your order.
  797. "Then we are in agreement."
  799. >"What!?" Rainbow Dash slams both forehooves on the table, making dice jump and miniatures dance. "Why couldn't you just tell us that to begin with!?"
  800. "Because you would assume I had something up my sleeve -"
  801. >"Because you always do," Rarity giggles.
  802. "- and it's *your* army, Dash. I can't control them, only you can, so I needed you to arrive at that decision on your own."
  803. >"And you couldn't just trust us to trust you?" Applejack sneers at you.
  804. "I trust you all with my life. But Paladin? He wasn't willing to risk the lives of all those people."
  805. >"That's..." Twilight drifts off, trying to think of a reason to accept your argument and finding none. "... that's really not very convincing." She sighs. "I'm going to have to deduct XP," she tells you apologetically.
  806. "That's fine - the lives of those people are worth it."
  807. >"It's not like they're sure to die if they come with us," Rainbow Dash whines.
  808. "Yes, it is."
  809. >She leans forward to argue more, but Rarity lays a hoof on her shoulder.
  810. >"He still has something up his sleeve, darling. Don't bother."
  811. >"Then we should strip him naked," the pegasus grumbles, folding her forelimbs in front of her. "Should never trust anyone who wears as much clothing as that guy."
  812. >"Well, that is an idea..." Rarity's eyes open wide as she considers the thought.
  813. >"Rarity," Twilight cautions in a warning tone, "you know what Anon said about humans and nudity."
  814. >"Well, I would never do it without his consent!" Rarity argues innocently, prompting an angry glare from Twilight. "I can think of some marvelous dye-patterns we could -" she holds up her forehooves in surrender as Twilight leans over menacingly. "But it's not like Anon wearing so much clothing is the worst thing ever."
  815. >"Gee Twilight, I don't know why you're getting so *overprotective,*" Applejack comments with a smirk. "He can make his own choices."
  816. "And in this case, I choose to agree with Twilight."
  817. >"Aha! Because you have something up your sleeve!" Rainbow Dash thrusts a hoof towards you accusingly. "Now STRIP!"
  818. >You look around the table.
  819. "All in favor of ignoring the pervert?"
  820. >Four technicolor hooves join your upraised hand.
  821. >"The horny bard does not represent us," Pinkie Pie says with a giggle.
  822. "The motion carries."
  823. >Rainbow Dash looks like she wants to argue - more than she normally does, at least - but after a few hesitant starts, she sits back and mopes. Anything she says is just going to shove that hoof further in her mouth.
  824. >"So, can we *please* continue now?" Twilight asks, desperate to change the topic.
  826. "Then we are in agreement."
  827. >You point to the spot on the map where the slaves are held.
  828. "We strike here next. We must come up with a plan to minimize loses - any deaths will endanger their successful escape later."
  829. >"Cultists and lesser monsters we can handle," Durararog says, studying the cavern layout on the map, "but what about shades? One was enough to defeat two of our party and push us to the brink of defeat. If all of the defeated heroes were turned, there are fourteen left to face."
  830. "Most of them probably guard the Lich - he is not yet truly free, or we would all be dead. At most, we will have to defeat one or two."
  831. >"We will still face the rest," Mercury Flare corrects, "only later."
  832. "Perhaps."
  833. >Your companions ignore that - they know better than to waste breath asking.
  835. "Hey, I think I'm going to start cleaning up a bit early, keep planning without me."
  836. >"Oh, I'm sorry, are we *boring* you?"
  837. "Of course not, Applejack."
  838. >You frown at her unwarranted tone.
  839. "Rarity and Dash have this, right?"
  840. >"I'm sure we can manage..." the unicorn responds, politely looking up from the map just long enough to make eye contact with you.
  841. >Rainbow Dash stays silent, still not trusting herself to speak without digging herself deeper.
  842. >You gather the dishes and return them to the kitchen, getting started on scrubbing up the dirtied pan.
  843. >"Anon..."
  844. >You turn to see your Twilight silhouetted in the doorway. She stays there for a second, takes another look back into the game room. She comes to some kind of decision, turning back to you and crossing the small space to stand near you.
  845. >"You aren't... are you...I mean..." she babbles slightly, unsure what to ask you - or if she *should* ask you.
  846. >You dry your hands and kneel down in front of her, bringing your head level with hers.
  847. "What's wrong, Twilight?"
  848. >"Are you mad at me for docking your XP?" the words finally come out. The concern in her eyes is wholly unwarranted for such a small thing.
  849. "In the past, you've penalized me worse for less."
  850. >"Yes, but..."
  851. >You put a finger to her lips, silencing her.
  852. "Everyone hates the DM's girlfriend - or boyfriend in this case - getting preferential treatment."
  853. >Coltfriend? What is the proper term in a cross-species relationship?
  854. >"Then why did you leave?" she hisses at you.
  855. "Because I trust them. And my character really isn't relevant right now. Not until the end."
  856. >"You aren't going to do what I think you're going to do, are you?" Those sad eyes... those sad, sad eyes...
  857. "If I must. You *did* tell me to break your game."
  858. >You reach out with a comforting hand, stroking the side of her face.
  859. >"But we're having fun now, you don't have to -"
  860. "Do you see any other way for us to win?"
  861. >She pulls back from you.
  862. >"I have to get back to them," she lies, blinking tears out of her eyes. "I can't leave them unsupervised for a second."
  863. >She leaves, and your heart is torn. What should you do...?
  864. >With a sigh, you dump the dirty dishes in the sink. Your heart isn't in it. You lean against the counter for a bit, staring at the ceiling. Maybe you should have waited until tomorrow, or at least until after tonight's session is over...
  865. >Why does this always complicate things?
  866. >Some part of you wants to feel angry at Twilight - she TOLD you to do this, and now suddenly she doesn't want it? What the hell is she worried about? That you won't stick around after you beat her campaign?
  867. >You promised not to leave her, you promised to solve everything, why doesn't she trust you?
  868. >You want to be angry at her, but you can't. You just can't.
  869. >Twilight is scared. She's scared that somehow she's going to lose you. Drive you away. Let you get away.
  870. >You can't be angry at her for being scared, for caring about you. That's really all you've ever asked from life, for someone - somepony - who truly cares about you.
  871. >You sigh again, finally realizing what you have to do. You can't make her believe in you just by saying it - she needs to arrive at that decision on her own. Just like Paladin, you're going to have to break character to do the right thing.
  872. >You leave the kitchen - the dishes are a problem for later - walking back into the game room. Twilight sits at her place, the DM screen cutting her off from her friends, a wall more solid than the flimsy cardboard it's made of suggests.
  873. >She leans against the table, holding her head up with her hooves. As you walk past her, your hand drops, scratching between her ears. Twilight looks up to you surprised, and you smile.
  874. >You seat yourself, pretending to pay attention to what's happening.
  875. >Rarity and Rainbow Dash make the occasional declaration and roll - neither you nor Twilight pay much attention unless they address you directly.
  876. >"Hey, you alright?" Applejack asks, reaching behind Rainbow Dash and giving you a light shake.
  877. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking about some stuff."
  878. >She frowns at your evasive answer.
  879. >"Hey, Dash -" she interrupts what the pegasus is saying "- swap places with me. You're mostly talkin to Rarity anyway right now, you two might as well be sittin together."
  880. >Rainbow Dash slides over as AJ steps back, not even breaking off from what she's doing.
  881. >She lays down beside you, hiding her face from her friends with her hat.
  882. >"Anon, I know somethings up. You're sittin here just like Dash used to - only payin attention when someone actually forces you to." She breaks off for a second, casting her eyes down. "I know I haven't been the best friend to you these past few months, but... ahm tryin now, okay?"
  883. >She looks around the table.
  884. >"Look, what you did for this session is great - Rarity and Rainbow Dash are really lovin their characters. Pinkie's havin as much fun as ever, and ahm not hatin mine." She blushes slightly. "I might even play a rogue again."
  885. "But?"
  886. >"But right now, somethin's wrong with you. And with Twilight. So tell me - what's wrong?"
  887. >You look to Twilight, but she's still out of it.
  888. "I'm going to have to do something she doesn't want me to do."
  889. >"Are you going to ruin her campaign again?" your friend asks, voice turning harsh.
  890. "She thinks I am."
  891. >"Are you?"
  892. "I... I'm doing what I think is best."
  893. >"For her?"
  894. "Yeah."
  895. >Applejack nods, satisfied.
  896. >"Then stop worrying and get back in the game, I'm sure it'll be fine. Believe in yourself."
  897. "I don't know if I can."
  898. >"Then believe in the you that can. Can you do that?"
  899. "Yeah, I think I can."
  900. >You smile at her.
  901. "Thanks, AJ."
  902. >"It's what friends are for, Anon. Now you get back in there and do it for her."
  903. >You sit up taller.
  904. "Hey, Rainbow Dash!"
  905. >"Hey what?"
  906. "Are we there yet?"
  907. >Pinkie Pie looks to you, her head resting on the table. Her eyes growing wide with excitement, a smile slowly splitting her face.
  908. >"No, we're still trying to find a way -"
  909. "Are we there yet?"
  910. >"Are we there yet?" Pinkie follows.
  911. "Are we there yet?"
  912. >"Are we there yet?"
  913. "Are we there yet?"
  914. >"Are we there yet?"
  915. "Are we there yet?"
  916. >"Are we there yet?"
  917. >"Fuck! Almost! Just-"
  918. >"Are we there yet?" Applejack interrupts, shit-eating grin wide on her face.
  919. >Rainbow Dash balls up her scratch paper and throws it at your head, only for Pinkie to bounce up and swat it out of the sky.
  920. "Yeah, I think we're here. Now tell me the fucking plan."
  921. >"Well, basically we're..." Dash looks to Rarity for help.
  922. >"We are going to rush them," Rarity explains. "From every entrance."
  923. "Doesn't sound particularly cunning, but I assume you have a good reason for that."
  924. >She nods.
  925. >"Indeed. We will have to tie up all of their forces at once, or they might start using their prisoners against us."
  926. >"How?" Applejack asks. "Any way I could sneak in and get 'em out?"
  927. >Rainbow Dash shakes her head as Rarity continues to talk.
  928. >"There are just too many for you to successfully escape with, and -" she holds up a hoof as you begin to open your mouth "- and the tunnels leading there are far too narrow to bring in one of those driving machines."
  929. >"I could at least try to get in an hold em off!"
  930. >"No," Rarity looks at her sadly. "If something goes wrong, there is absolutely no way we could rescue you."
  931. "Sounds like you've got it pretty well worked out. Where do you need me?"
  932. >Rarity points to a group of militia models on the map.
  933. "Well, we were going to have you lead this group..." you feel a but coming on "... but..." yep, there it was "... I am afraid our rolls were a little underwhelming and none of them trust you." She winches. "You *did* say some pretty awful things earlier..."
  934. >You shrug. Had to be done.
  935. >"So instead... we need Paladin to guard Mint Julep."
  936. >Pinkie Pie energetically waves to you from across the table.
  937. "Babysitter? I'm playing babysitter?"
  938. >"She's almost out of spells," Dash explains. "Pretty much all she has left are a few healing spells, Lingering Warmth, and... whatever the hell that laser is."
  939. >"Midday Sun!" Pinkie Pie "helpfully" answers.
  941. >None of the priestess's remaining spells will be particularly helpful in the coming battle. Not in the crowded chaotic mess that Durararog plans to unleash on the Reavarii.
  942. >No wonder Mint Julep needs a babysitter to protect her - the priestess gives too freely, with no thought to self preservation or future need.
  943. >Just like the Sun, too merciful.
  944. >And so as the Sun sets, the Moon shall rise to protect her.
  945. >You draw your sword and stand ready to lay down your life for hers.
  946. >Your force splits up, Durararog, Existential Dredd, and Mercury Flare each leading a band of warriors down one of the lesser tunnels to other access points.
  947. >You stay at the main tunnel to the cavern, sticking to the shadows, Mint Julep huddled close to you under your robes.
  948. >At first, your companions had argued against it - you were too likely to be found - but a demonstration of your robes' power convinced them.
  949. >If you did not want to be seen, you would not be.
  950. >The two of you watched, close to the cavern's entrance. Waiting for the bard's signal.
  951. >Your purpose - your purpose will be to serve as a distraction. At first you argued against it - this would put the priestess at risk - but your companions have faith in your skills and dedication.
  952. >Mint Julep argued the strongest - more than willing to put her life on the line. But that wasn't why... no, she believes in you wholeheartedly.
  953. >If only you were worthy of their trust.
  954. >Long minutes pass.
  956. >"Okay, so, we're all in place?"
  957. >"Yep," Twilight answers Rainbow Dash flatly, without any enthusiasm.
  958. >"Is there any sign that we have been noticed?" Rarity asks with concern.
  959. >"Roll it." Twilight checks the result. "Nothing that you've noticed."
  960. >You all breathe a sigh of relief.
  961. >"Okay AJ," Rainbow Dash says to her friend, "Do your thing."
  963. >Only by sheer chance do you see the form of Existential Dredd as she sneaks into the cavern, reconnoitering the cavern. Truth is, you don't actually see her, just the flapping hemline of her cloak.
  965. >"So, Twilight - any sign of a shade?"
  966. >"Roll it, Applejack."
  967. >The Earth Pony frowns at her friend's attitude, rolling a d20 across the table. Twilight doesn't even peak over the DM screen to look at the result.
  968. >"Eighteen," Applejack says forcefully. "Does Dredd see anything?"
  969. >"No."
  971. >You do not see Existential Dredd return to her place, but she must have - for a ball of cold white light flares into life high in the cavern.
  973. >"Never thought I'd find a use for illusion spells," Dash comments slyly. She nods to you. "Do your thing, Anon. This is going to be awesome!"
  975. >You stride forth into the cavern, sword once more held high, Mint Julep following close behind you.
  977. >You hold that pose for a minute, ominous and terrifying.
  978. >In truth, you are waiting for things to fall apart, but the Reavarii freeze, all according to plan.
  979. >You point to the bard's illusion with your blade.
  980. "You believe you can hide from Her sight deep underground, BUT SHE HAS GROWN TIRED OF WAITING!"
  981. >The pickets and guards rush towards you while the others set aside their tasks to pick up weapons.
  982. "COME, VILLAINS!"
  983. >You swing your sword back, ready to strike.
  986. >"You've successfully drawn most of the Reavarii towards you, away from where the prisoners are kept." Twilight pushes the cultist minis towards Paladin's model. "Good luck," she adds wistfully.
  988. >The priestess fidgets with barely controlled impulses behind you, eager yet unable to fight with her full power. She is managing to restrain herself, only lashing out with her staff at enemies that slip past your dancing blade.
  989. >Not that many do.
  990. >You try to limit yourself to defensive actions, only striking out offensively when the perfect opportunity to counterattack without risking yourself or the priestess arises.
  991. >Cultists crowd around you, their own numbers hindering their attacks. As one winds up for a swing with his axe, you tease another forward into its path. The first cultist is unable to stop his heavy blade, momentum carrying it forward into his fellow.
  992. >It does not kill the Reavarii... no, it's the priestess that does that.
  993. >You can feel her dissatisfaction growing as you are forced to strike out more and more frequently - not to kill, but to cripple.
  994. >Killing takes time you can ill afford to waste - every second your blade spends lodged in the enemy is a second it is not weaving a defensive web around you.
  995. >Mint Julep tries to reach those you leave screaming and mangled, to ease their pain the only way she can.
  996. >Too merciful. Even when killing, the Sun is too merciful.
  997. >More than once, you have to put yourself at risk to block an attack that never should have been near her, if only she had stayed still.
  998. >The enemy never touches you, but these are risks you should not have to take.
  999. >As more and more of the Reavarii lay injured around you, you find yourself harder pressed than ever trying to defend Mint Julep.
  1001. "Seriously, Ponk, can you stop that?"
  1002. >"It's what my character would do," she answers with total sincerity. You sigh.
  1003. "Carry on then."
  1005. >Relief comes as your allies stream out of their hiding places, easily overwhelming the few cultists who had stayed at their posts.
  1006. >This eases the pressure on you, but only just, for now they no longer get in each others' way. As hard pressed as you are, your height easily allows you to see past your attackers. Your companions' forces striking down those guarding their loved ones, taking them on one at a time in overwhelming numbers.
  1007. >The time for guidance at an end, your companions leave them to their work. They engage the Reavarii streaming from you, a thin wall of flashing steel stopping the cultists from reaching their prisoners.
  1008. >Durararog takes the center, where her reach can claim the most space. Foes who dodge her swings frequently find their bodies moving further than intended - her magic granting them a little extra distance, a little extra momentum - taking them right into the waiting blades of Mercury Flare and Existential Dredd.
  1009. >They slowly advance, working their way towards you. Reavarii panic, trapped between your unbreachable defense and their relentless slaughter. They try to flee only to run directly into the fourth and final group of freed slaves - the group you were to lead originally. Without someone to lead them, Mercury Flare had chosen to split them up - not adding them to the other three parties, but standing as sentinels in the tunnels.
  1010. >In their headlong flight, the Reavarii only notice when their intestines slip from their bellies and limbs go flying.
  1011. >Unlike the priestess, these warriors are *not* merciful, taking out weeks - months - of helplessness and torment on their enemies.
  1012. >Mint Julep moves towards them, but you interpose your body.
  1013. "My purpose here and now is to protect you, priestess. I cannot let you do this."
  1014. >"I cannot stand by when there is suffering I can ease." She tries to push past you, but you grab her.
  1015. "Then direct your efforts towards those worthy of it."
  1016. >You point towards the prisoners, many suffering from ill-treatment and sickness.
  1017. "Use the last of your healing spells on them, but *only* your healing spells."
  1019. "You have to do this Ponk - don't convert Lingering Warmth or Midday Sun to power healing spells. We're going to need those for the final fight."
  1020. >"But I could heal so many..."
  1021. "I know, but remember that we are facing the Lich and probably fourteen shades."
  1022. >"You could always rest first," Twilight suggests to Pinkie Pie with a twinkle of hope in her eyes. It's the first bit of emotion you've seen in your princess since she left you in the kitchen.
  1023. >Pinkie Pie's ears perk up at her words and the Earth Pony leans forward, staring pleadingly at you.
  1024. >You shake your head.
  1025. "We just struck at two major strongpoints and they've already sent one shade to oppose us, remember?"
  1026. >Rarity puts a hoof on Pinkie Pie's withers, pulling her back.
  1027. >"Please do as he says," the unicorn tells her. "There is no chance our enemies will allow us to rest unmolested."
  1028. >"But wouldn't it be better to draw out the shades one by one?" Rainbow Dash asks, trying to formulate a new plan.
  1029. >"Naw," Applejack disagrees, "better we find them than they find us. And -" she looks to Twilight "- there's no guarantee they'd come at us one at a time."
  1030. >"Anon has a plan," Rarity adds. "We do not know what it is, but I believe in him."
  1031. "Please, Pinkie Pie."
  1032. >Your request tears at her heart.
  1033. >"I... I understand... but Mint Julep can't... she can't..."
  1034. >"Diplomacy test!" Rainbow Dash grabs the closest d20 from the table - Pinkie's d20, the stone one given to her by Maud. On instinct, Pinkie Pie tries to grab it back - even here in Equestria it is taboo to touch another's dice.
  1035. >"Important dice for important rolls!" Dash yells, flinging it at the table. "I roll to convince Mint Julep to not waste those spells!"
  1037. >The six of you pause, the silence total except for the heavy clatter of the stone across the table. It bounces off your mug, skittering towards Twilight's screen.
  1038. >It rocks back and forth for a second, eventually coming to a rest on -
  1039. >"20!" Dash hoofpumps the air. "Hell yeah!"
  1040. >Twilight sneers at the d20. You could swear she bumps the table with her hip, trying to get it to move one last time.
  1041. >With a final grimace, she turns to the still frozen Pinkie Pie.
  1042. >"It's a social check," Twilight reminds her. "Mint Julep doesn't have to follow it."
  1043. >One of Pinkie's eyes twitches, just one, and she slowly brings her hoof back down, scooping up the d20 and cradling it gently.
  1044. >Her hair collapses on itself for a second, just a second, before springing back up into its usual mess.
  1045. >"No," she whispers. "No, my own dice would never hurt me. There must be a reason..."
  1046. >"You can ignore -"
  1047. >"No!" Pinkie Pie cuts off Twilight. "I just... why? Mint Julep needs a reason..."
  1049. >"Do we mean *nothing* to you?" Mercury Flare yells in the priestess's face.
  1050. >Mint Julep pulls back from the bard, face filled with confusion.
  1051. >"But... those people... " she stammers. "I could do so much for them..."
  1052. >"And we are going to die for them!" The pegasus stamps the ground for emphasis. "Do you see any way for us to survive? Because I don't! We are going to go into the Lich's throneroom, and we are going to DIE."
  1053. >"Then if we're already dead, let me use the last of my power to help them!"
  1054. >"Do you really want me to die screaming...?" Mercury Flare's eyes tear up, and she drops her head, ashamed to let anyone see. "You thought those Reavarii were worthy of your mercy... but not us...?"
  1055. >She peers up at the priestess through the fringe of her mane. Tears stream freely from her eyes.
  1056. >"We are going to die trying to buy them time to escape..." she whimpers, "and I... I feel it's the right thing to do. But please... it will not be swift... let the gentle caress of the sun be the last thing I feel, not an eternity of pain. Please..."
  1057. >"I'm sure Paladin will find a way!" the priestess argues, verging on tears herself.
  1058. >You shake your head.
  1059. "My body shall be the shield that protects the innocent. It has been, for a very long time. And I believe... I believe now is when it must end, though I shall do what I can to protect you all."
  1060. >Mint Julep can't hold it back any longer, the tears finally coming forth.
  1061. >"Please..." Mercury Flare begs the priestess one last time.
  1063. >"Okay!" Pinkie Pie's hair bounces back to full extension. "I think Mint Julep can accept that."
  1064. >"Way to ruin the mood," Applejack says with a smile, brushing a tear out of her eye.
  1065. >You look over to Twilight - has she...?
  1066. >No. She looks sad, but... distant. She knows she can't stop you now.
  1067. >Rarity follows your gaze, frowning as she sees Twilight.
  1068. >"Look, darling, I know you're worried that we will wipe again, but it is okay," the unicorn tries to comfort her. "I'm having fun." She looks around the table, eyes lingering for a second on each of her friends. "*We* are having fun," she corrects herself.
  1069. >"Yeah, I know..." your princess answers. "Let's just keep going."
  1071. >You watch as the priestess expends the last of her healing spells on the most gravely injured prisoners.
  1072. >The bard cleans her face, wiping away the tears and filth, wearing a smile - you know she spoke up only because she trusted you.
  1073. "You don't fear death...?"
  1074. >"I fear it quite a bit," she answers sheepishly. "But I believe in you more."
  1075. >Some of the freed Ponies and Darkin approach, and you step back, knowing your work moments ago could not have erased your words earlier. You are not welcome - let the bard have her moment.
  1076. >They kneel before her, thanking her for her guidance. Offering to come with her, promising to die for her.
  1077. >You watch her shake her head sadly, gesturing to their families. You do not hear what she says, but you see its effect. Swiftly, they gather the freed prisoner and as many weapons as possible.
  1078. >With a final look to Mercury Flare, they leave, hurrying towards safety.
  1079. >You look to Existential Dredd.
  1080. "It is time, Assassin. Lead on."
  1081. >Unlike before, your party moves as noisily as possible, seeking to draw as many of the enemy to you as possible.
  1082. >The path is not easy - cultists frequently move to bar your path, sometimes launching attacks from ambush. A lucky spear grazes Durararog's head, blood flowing freely and blinding her in her left eye.
  1083. >Three tunnels later, a knife catches you in the leg, slipping between the plates of your armor where a larger blade would not.
  1084. >You do not pause, continuing to limp on through the tunnels. You feel the moon as begins to rise, coming closer and closer to it as the path slopes upward.
  1085. >"Careful..." Mint Julep warns. "I feel the presence of... something..."
  1086. >Existential Dredd's eyes widen and she slips into the shadows.
  1087. >You look around, trying to find what - THERE!
  1088. >A shade leaps from the darkness, knife held high.
  1090. >"Mine." Pinkie Pie lifts a hoof guiltily. "From our first attempt.
  1092. >An orange hoof comes shooting out of the shadows, moon-forged blade shining bright as it catches the shade in the chest mid-air.
  1093. >The monster falls, screaming blasphemous obscenities as Reavarii boil out of the side tunnels to cover its escape.
  1095. >"Bye, Fuchsia Wonder." Pinkie Pie waves sadly as Twilight removes the model.
  1097. >The next Reavarii attack almost succeeds - Mercury Flare will not fly again without the Sun's healing. After the battle, she returns to the spot she was wounded, staring at the scattered feathers and blood for long seconds.
  1098. >Mint Julep almost dooms you all then - her desire to heal the bard palpable. She steps forward, hesitantly, like she is not in control of her own body. She stops when the bard spits on the ground, on her own lost wings.
  1099. >"I didn't need them down here anyway," Mercury Flare says resolutely. "They just took up space."
  1101. >"She can just heal me after we beat the Lich," Rainbow Dash explains as you all try to pick your jaws up off the table.
  1103. "Damn, and I thought we'd finally made an honest roleplayer out of you."
  1104. >"I am pretty sure we did," Rarity responds, trying to wipe the tears from Pinkie Pie's face.
  1106. >The shade returns, almost claiming the barbarian - you move to intervene, but your injured leg gives out. But Durararog has heard your warning and turns, a killing blow becoming a grazing one.
  1107. >She fends off the attacker with Existential Dredd's help, but it escapes once more. You do your best to bandage the long gash in her side, but it is deep. Not fatally so, but... her movements are slowed. She may not turn so quickly next time.
  1109. >"Darn it, Twilight!" Applejack pounds a hoof on the table. "Are you trying to kill us all?"
  1110. >"I'm just doing my part," she answers, face dead.
  1111. >You slide slightly closer to hear, reaching for her hoof, hoping your actions are hidden by the table.
  1112. >She pulls her hoof back, out of your reach, and gives you an ugly glare that she doesn't bother to hide from your friends.
  1114. >The path continues upward - you can feel yourself nearing the surface. More and more frequently the areas you move through are dressed stone, not rough-hewn earth.
  1115. >The Reavarii make a last-ditch effort to stop your party in front of a massive door. Warding runes glimmer faintly in the dark of the tunnels, casting an odd bluish tint on the conflict. The assassin's luck finally runs out, her attempt to dodge a thrust spear a second too slow. It slides across her underbelly, cutting a shallow furrow though the flesh. She brings one forehoof down on the spear shaft, knocking it out of the Reavarii's grasp, and brings her knife around in a glittering arc to punch through the cultist's neck. She quickly reverses her grip and tears it free, continuing the motion in a smooth arc that slices through a second cultist's face.
  1116. >Once the screaming stops, only Mint Julep stands before the door uninjured. She looks first to Durararog, her white coat now mostly stained red, panting for breath yet unwilling to retreat. Then to Mercury Flare, who stares at the door in unrivaled rage, torn feathers plastered to her back with her own blood. Existential Dredd returns her look, nodding in determination even as she presses one forelimb to her belly to stop the bleeding.
  1117. >She doesn't look to you - she knows there is no one, not even the Moon, could stop you now.
  1119. >Not even your princess.
  1120. >"Do we have a plan...?" Pinkie Pie asks quietly, head down, pressing her snout to the table.
  1121. >"Die fabulously," Rarity states with certainty, hoof in the air. "Die with honor and ascent to the stars."
  1122. >You smile at that.
  1123. "No."
  1124. >Every head turns to you, curious. Everyone except Twilight. She looks away, pretending to double check her notes.
  1125. "I go in first."
  1126. >"Of course," Dash says with a shrug. "That's kinda obvious. You're the tank."
  1127. "Mint Julep next."
  1129. "As I see it, we have one hope."
  1130. >You put one hand on the door, preparing to shove it open.
  1131. "The Moon."
  1132. >"But -" You don't let Mercury Flare finish the thought.
  1133. "But she is distracted, I know."
  1134. >You look back to your companions one last time.
  1135. "We will have to catch her attention."
  1136. >"But that's impossible!" Existential Dredd yells at you. "It won't work!"
  1137. >You smile down at her sadly, allowing her for the first time to see your face under your hood.
  1138. "Would you rather die without hope?"
  1139. >"Not really," she answers you.
  1140. "Then have faith."
  1141. "Mint Julep, we need the Moon to see us - use Midday Sun to burn a hole through the ceiling. It's shallow here - you should be able to make a large hole."
  1142. >She nods somberly.
  1143. "Then cast Lingering Warmth. We will need time to get Her attention - hopefully that spell will keep everyone alive through what is to come."
  1144. >"Just remember to stay close, Paladin - that spell has a short range."
  1145. "I know."
  1146. >"And what of us?" Durararog asks, breathing still labored.
  1147. "Defend the priestess. All of you. Stay close to her."
  1148. >You take a deep breath, hold it for a second, and exhale. It's time to end this.
  1149. >You shove the door open.
  1152. >"Don't do this," Twilight begs you, eyes shimmering with wetness.
  1154. >You stride into the room, doing your best to ignore the pain in your leg.
  1155. >Your sword flickers out, intercepting the first shade's blade and sending it spinning. You punch out with your free hand, knocking it back. Another comes at you from the left and you twist, driving it back with a wild swing. You bring that arm back quickly, slamming your elbow into a third's face. The one that ambushed you twice, you dully realize.
  1156. "NOW, PRIESTESS!"
  1158. >Twilight rears up, bringing her forehooves down on the table, knocking down the DM screen and sending miniatures flying.
  1159. >"Please, Anon!" She screams. "Don't do this!"
  1160. >That's okay, you don't need the map anymore.
  1162. >A beam of heat shoots up from the priestess's hooves, burning through the ceiling in seconds. The cold light of the Moon shines down through the hole, illuminating the center of the room.
  1164. >"Please," she sobs. "Why would you do this? Haven't you been having fun with us?"
  1166. >You thrust forward with your sword, clearing the smallest of paths between the shades. You bodily shove your way forward, knocking them down. You can clearly see the bound fragment of the regrowing Lich on the far side of the room. It glows with evil menace.
  1168. >"Haven't you been having fun with *me*?"
  1171. >"Not yet, you're too far away!"
  1172. "It's better that way. NOW CAST IT."
  1173. >You step into the pool of moonlight and pull back your hood.
  1175. >"Please..." You stand, putting your arms around her. "I don't want this story to end..."
  1177. >You look up to the night sky, to the Moon. Your sword falls from your limp hands, clanging sharply against the stone floor.
  1179. >"I don't want this to end..."
  1180. >You squeeze her tighter.
  1182. "I am sorry..."
  1183. >You rip your robes from your body, shredding them. Their magic is nullified - everyone can see you clearly now.
  1185. >She collapses in your arms, staining your shirt with her tears. She slams her eyes shut, trying to block out the pain.
  1187. "I am sorry, my goddess!"
  1188. >The shades gather around you, hesitant to step into the moonlight.
  1190. "I am sorry, Twilight, but..."
  1191. >You stroke her cheek softly.
  1193. "Look at me!"
  1194. >You scream your words into the sky.
  1195. "LOOK AT ME!"
  1197. >Twilight opens her eyes, just barely, just enough. You look deep into them.
  1201. >She flinches away from your gaze for a second, only a second. As much as she wants to crawl into her library, to get away from here, she can't keep herself from returning your look.
  1203. "I AM HERE, DO YOU SEE ME!"
  1204. >The light grows stronger, brighter.
  1206. >"We were having so much fun," she whispers. "I don't want the story to end..."
  1209. >"But you'll die!"
  1212. "Neither do I..."
  1214. >The light is blinding, but you stare up into it. You deserve the pain, after all the harm you've caused.
  1216. >"Then why...?" she tries to blink away her tears and fails.
  1217. "Can you think of a better way for this story to end?"
  1219. >Your clothing, your armor, burn away in the light, in the harsh gaze of the moon.
  1221. >"No..." she whispers quietly.
  1223. >You can see your goddess now, her face contorted in rage fueled by pain and loss.
  1225. "I can."
  1228. >Your skin begins to burn in the cold light.
  1230. >Twilight's eyes flare open wide.
  1231. >"How...?" she gasps.
  1233. "I return your love."
  1235. >You kiss Twilight.
  1237. >The room burns away in a flash of light as the second moon - your goddess's hoof - comes crashing down on you.
  1239. "How's that for an ending?"
  1240. >"So... did we survive?"
  1241. >Twilight's head turns sharply, like she had forgotten the others are here.
  1242. >"What?" She blinks in surprise.
  1243. >"Did we survive?" Rarity repeats.
  1244. >Twilight can only stare at her in surprise.
  1245. >"Mint Julep cast Lingering Warmth, which should stop us from suffering life-ending injuries," Rarity explains. "Did. We. Survive?"
  1246. >"Yes...?" Twilight answers uncertainly.
  1247. >"Then the story is not over, darling," Rarity informs her with a smile. "You were worried for nothing."
  1248. >She shoves the core rulebook over to your side of the table.
  1249. >"Roll up a new character, Anon," she says with a smile. "Our party has suddenly found itself short one."
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