twilight_game_night Jan 5th, 2015 (edited) 1,781 Never
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  1. >The sun is already high when you wake - with no regular job, there isn't much reason for you to get up early. Not after how late you were up the night before. Still, you force yourself out of bed.
  2. >Today is special - you actually have something to do. Oh, sure, there is your "job," but does that really count?
  3. >For some reason, ponies find Earth philosophy and technology fascinating; you basically earn all your money giving lectures or demonstrating some minor gadget you've been able to recreate. Not many of those devices prove to be much use to a race capable of flight and magic, or lacking the necessary hands to manipulate the controls, but they crowd around nonetheless.
  4. >Almost sounds glamorous, until you realize you're basically busking.
  5. >Ponyville will have to do without it's resident freakshow for one day.
  6. >You dress quickly - not that you are in a rush. Twilight is probably busy doing princess stuff most of today.
  7. >But still you hurry, knowing that what is easily put off is also easily put aside. You don't want to risk losing your courage.
  8. >As you open your door, you remember the night before - the wind, the chill, Twilight shielding you - or was it the pizza? - with her wing.
  9. >You turn back, grabbing your jacket from its customary home - the extra chair by your dining table.
  10. >Few people visit you, so it seems as good a place as any to leave it, until you finally get around to putting that hook up by the front door.
  11. >You grab an apple from the bowl on the table and shove it in your jacket pocket - after all, you're not sure if you're going to have time to eat.
  12. >Besides, Apple Bloom has been after you to try these new apples. Ambrosia, you think she called them. She had brought over this small basket earlier in the week and you still haven't tried them. You're surprised she didn't ask you about them last night.
  13. >That gets you wondering about apple pizza. Could be doable... hell, Applejack probably has 15 different recipes for just that.
  14. >You might ask her about that tonight. But first, there are more important things to deal with.
  15. >Sugarcube Corner is your first stop. Pinkie Pie is out, which saves you from having to explain why you're buying *two* cupcakes. Mr. Cake quickly boxes them up, thanks you for your business and you're on your way. It's always relaxing to get out of there without a barrage of questions and invitations to parties.
  16. >And she always makes it so hard to leave with your pastries intact. On the one hand, it's endearing how she wants to see everyone take at least one bite, to see their joy and smile and appreciation of her hard work. On the other, sometimes you just want to take your goddamn cake home.
  17. >You reach into your pocket and pull out the apple - might as well eat while you walk.
  18. >Hmm. Not bad, though truth be told, one apple tastes pretty much the same to you as another.
  19. >Several ponies nod to you as you walk by, or wave in passing. A few ask if you have any plans for today - code for them wondering if you're going to be lecturing today.
  20. >To those, you simply apologize, telling them that there is something important you have to take care of. That alone almost draws a crowd in - by the time you reach Twilight Sparkle's home, you feel like all eyes are on you. Not that anyone's overtly following or staring at you. It's just that kind of feeling, like the air is heavy with expectation.
  21. >You knock twice. The door is almost never locked, but it wouldn't start things off well if you accidentally barged in on important princess business. Or she might not be home. Or so engrossed in a book that she wouldn't hear the end of the world.
  22. >After what feels like an eternity, you knock again.
  23. >"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming."
  24. >Dash?
  25. >Your favorite blue friend flings the door open and waves you inside.
  26. >"Twilight is out right now, but come on in. You can help me out with this."
  27. >As you step inside, you almost hear what might have been a groan. You look behind you, wondering what could have made that noise, but see nothing. You could have sworn the hooftraffic outside was heavier just a second ago - the town almost seems deserted now.
  28. >With a shrug, you shut the door behind yourself and approach the table - it's still covered in Burrows & Basilisks books, though you do notice that Twilight found time to hide her notebooks before she left.
  29. >"So why did you come by so early?" Dash asks you, eying the box in your hand. It is still about three hours before you and your friends were supposed to meet here to pick up the game from last night.
  30. "Just needed to talk to Twilight about something."
  31. >You can tell she wants to ask more, but manages - for once - to keep herself under control. You're thankful - you're not quite sure how to bring up this up to them.
  32. >You didn't really expect Twilight would have time to talk with you right now, and if you have to wait, you might as well do it helping out Rainbow Dash.
  33. "So what's up?"
  34. >"This!" she says, thumping an open book with her hoof.
  35. >You grab the book and spin it around so you can read it from your side of the table. Huh, looks like Dash is brushing up on the rules for social interactions.
  36. >"How the hell did you use Diplomacy on Rarity last night? It says right here it can't be used on other players."
  37. "Holy shit, you really didn't pay attention during any of our other campaigns, did you?"
  38. >"Sure I did!" She glances aside. "Whenever it was worth paying attention to."
  39. >Translation - whenever there was something to kill.
  40. "Flip to page 93, it gives optional rules for using them on other players."
  41. >She turns to the right page, skimming the relevant section.
  42. >"What dingus would ever agree to this?" she asks once she had finished.
  43. "Because of the story."
  44. >"What?"
  45. "Look, we do our best to play the part. Well, some of us do -"
  46. >She frowns. Shit, you half-expected that to go over her head.
  47. "- but we aren't our characters. I can't dodge crazy Matrix style like Paladin can. What about you, Dash? Can you play a guitar?"
  48. >She jumps up, copying her pose from last night.
  49. >"Hell yeah I... " she sits back down. "... can't."
  50. "Right, so if we're willing to admit that we aren't our characters, we can start to admit that our characters might do things that we ourselves wouldn't. There is no way I could convince *anyone* to go to a bar with me, but Mercury Flare can."
  51. >Dash hunches over the book, going over the rules line by line.
  52. >"But it says here," she starts, "that you can't actually make another player's character do anything. She knew you had a trick - why didn't she just kill you?"
  53. "You're right, social skills can't actually make another PC do something, same as a Lawful Good alignment can't stop someone from murdering foals and kicking puppies. Like I said, it's about the story."
  54. >"Why do you keep bringing that up?"
  55. "Because it's why we're here."
  56. "We're here to tell a story, together. If you just wanted to hang out with friends, you don't need these."
  57. >You gesture to the books.
  58. "If you just wanted to play a game, there are plenty to choose from. We chose this one because this isn't just about hanging out and having fun - it's about bringing new life in to a new world.
  59. >You can tell she remains unconvinced - too bad, you almost thought you could make an actual roleplayer out of her.
  60. >Her eyes linger on the page for a second, like she's still valiantly trying to find anything to validate your claims, but no great secrets reveal themselves to her.
  61. >You're glad to see her making an actual effort to learn how to use Mercury Flare - this might be the first time you've seen Rainbow Dash put effort into roleplaying beyond copying the latest broken build and flinging dice until things died.
  62. >"My army," she suddenly blurts out.
  63. >Ah, that explains things.
  64. >"I had an army. Show me how to do that again."
  65. >You explain the basics to her, going over how various skills could be used and combined, but you know it won't be enough - she didn't drive away the Darkin with her skills. It was the poor roll and lack of roleplaying that killed it.
  66. >While she's rereading several skills, you step away and look through Twilight's books. You know she has to have something here that will help... hrm.
  67. >You almost give up - Twilight will be able to find the right book in a flash, no sense wasting your time searching now. But before you do, a name catches your eye - General Firefly. A brief look through the book shows that it will work nicely for what you have in mind.
  68. >You bring the book back to the table, noticing that the package from Sugarcube Corner has been opened.
  69. >Oh well, that little dream of yours was too much to hope for. Too beautiful for this world.
  70. >You reach in and grab the remaining cupcake - the gift was ruined, time to destroy the evidence.
  71. >As you eat, you push the book over the Rainbow Dash.
  72. >"What's this?" Dash asks, her mouth still full of your hopes and dreams. Cupcake, You mean cupcake.
  73. "Biography of General Firefly."
  74. >You nudge it even closer to her.
  75. >"So?"
  76. "So you know what's a more inspiring speech than 'OH SHIT WE'RE FUCKED'?"
  77. >You open the book to the first page, featuring one of the general's famous quotes.
  78. "Every damn thing this pony said."
  79. "If you aren't going to roleplay, at least pretend so you can claim some bonuses."
  80. >"Or I can just roll better."
  81. "And how are you going to do that?"
  82. >She doesn't have an answer for that one, and with a shrug begins an attempt at memorizing some of Firefly's speeches.
  83. >The front door creaks open.
  84. >"Rainbow Dash? Are you still here?"
  85. >"Yeah, and Anon."
  86. >"Oh."
  87. >She stops suddenly, half in and half out.
  88. >"Anon brought cupcakes!"
  89. >Fuck you, Rainbow Dash.
  90. >"I don't think he brought enough for you, though..."
  91. "No, I didn't bring enough for *you.*"
  92. >You're not sure if the words actually escape your gritted teeth.
  93. >"Oh, that's okay." She finally comes in, kicking the door shut behind her. "I'm not hungry."
  94. >Is she angry about something?
  95. >Twilight Sparkle trots past the two of you and up the stairs without another word.
  96. "Hey Dash, you good here?"
  97. >She gives you a gesture you can only interpret it as a thumbs up.
  98. "Cool..."
  99. >Do you follow her? Do you leave? Damn it, you knew you would get indecisive and chicken out if given half a chance. After all, Dash *did* ruin your grand gesture...
  100. >With a groan, you lurch to your feet. Can't blame Aredee for who she is, but you could blame yourself if you left now. What if... what if you did, and the worst happened? Could you live with yourself?
  101. >With a sense of impending doom, you head up the stairs.
  102. >You feel like you're heading to your death.
  103. >Every door is closed, but you know where she went - nothing helps the princess unwind after a hard day than a book. Only she's not in the the library.
  104. >You slowly open the door to her bedroom, there she is, curled up on her bed.
  105. >"Hi, anon."
  106. >She doesn't even turn to look at you.
  107. "Hi, Twilight."
  108. >You sit on the edge of the bed.
  109. >"Thanks for carrying me to bed last night."
  110. "How did you know?"
  111. >You feel her turning around, her warm body pressing up against your back.
  112. >"Who else would it have been?"
  113. >You twist around to look at her.
  114. "Is everything okay?"
  115. >"Just... a busy day."
  116. >You sit there quietly. How do you bring this up?
  117. >"Why did you come so early?" Twilight finally breaks silence.
  118. "I needed to talk to you about something."
  119. >Did she just flinch?
  120. >"Something about the campaign?"
  121. "No."
  122. >Is it your imagination, or can you feel her heart beating? Is it supposed to beat this fast? You study her face - it looks too neutral to be natural.
  123. >She doesn't speak.
  124. "I'm worried about you."
  125. >She pulls away from you slightly.
  126. "You're drinking too often. Too much."
  127. >Twilight pulls her blanket over herself.
  128. "Something's wrong."
  129. >You try to pull her closer to you, but she resists.
  130. "Can't you talk to me?"
  131. >"If I could, this wouldn't be a problem," she mumbles into her pillow.
  132. "Come on Twilight, talk to me. I care about you..."
  133. "You're my closest friend, Twilight, my little princess. You have been since I wound up here."
  134. >You climb onto the bed, wrapping one arm around her blanket-encased body. If she wasn't going to come to you, you were going to go to her.
  135. "Without you, I don't know where I would be right now, and I don't want to know."
  136. >She doesn't pull away from your touch, but neither does she welcome it.
  137. "And I know that I have hurt you."
  138. >She flinches at that, but you hold tight.
  139. "I'm worried that I'm still hurting you, Twilight. You didn't used to be this way, you didn't drink yourself into oblivion at the slightest excuse. You didn't swear. You didn't cry..."
  140. >Twilight's body shudders in your grip.
  141. "Not until you met me."
  142. "I'm worried... And after what Applejack said yesterday, I'm worried that it is because of *me*. I owe you everything, Twilight, and if that's what you need, that is what I will give you. If being around me is too painful, I can stop coming over. I can leave Ponyville. I don't know how I'm hurting you - gods, I wish I did - but I do know that if there's a way to stop it, I will."
  143. >Her body continues to shake - you see the tears starting to well up from under her tightly shut eyelids.
  144. "When I promised to fix everything, I didn't just mean your campaign or your friendship. I meant everything - what else do I have to live for?"
  145. >The tears rolled down her face, leaving wet streaks on her fine purple coat. You reach up and brush them away, discovering just how much softer it is than the cloth blanket.
  146. "If you need time to think, I'll be downstairs with Dash, trying to fix the one problem I do know how to deal with."
  147. >She still doesn't speak, so you shift your body, preparing to stand.
  148. >"Don't leave..." she whispers, just loud enough for you to hear.
  149. >You pat her shoulder.
  150. "Okay Twilight, I won't leave Ponyville."
  151. >You swing your legs around to stand.
  152. >", don't leave me..."
  153. >You pause, mid-swing.
  154. >Did she really just say that?
  155. >"...don't ever leave me..."
  156. >You put your arm back around her, slipping it under the blanket. She is so much softer, so much smoother.
  157. >"...don't ever leave me again..."
  158. >You hold her in silence, not sure what to say, not sure what to do.
  159. >No wonder she needs you - none of her other friends saw her pain. Even if they did, no one else had the courage to address it. They leave her to suffer her problems alone.
  160. >You would do anything for your princess, so you stay for her. It doesn't hurt that she feels so comfortable, like she was made just to fit in your arms.
  161. >At some point, you must have fallen asleep, because Rarity is calling your name. You couldn't have laid there awake for hours, not noticing the passage of time, right?
  162. >Twilight wakes with a jump.
  163. >"Get up!" she hisses.
  164. "They're your friends, too, Twilight. We can let them -"
  165. >"No!"
  166. >You frown.
  167. "The sooner we tell them, the sooner they can help.... No, nevermind. We'll keep this secret."
  168. >Her look of pure horror convinces you in ways words never can.
  169. >As the two of you come down the stairs, you swear to yourself that you will stay by her side as long as necessary.
  170. >You can only hope that one day she can share her problems with you.
  171. >Everyone is assembled around the table - they've even set up the DM screen and set up all the supplies and snacks. You happily note a lack of cider.
  172. >"What the hell were you two doing?" Dash whines at you. "You where up there for houuuuuurs."
  173. >"Oh? Hours?" Rarity raises a hoof to her mouth. "You didn't tell me that part..."
  174. "We were talking."
  175. >"Talkin, huh?" Applejack scowls. "Talkin bout what?"
  176. >"The campaign," Twilight answers. "We had to work out the details of Paladin's backstory."
  177. >"Ooooooh, any fun stories you can tell us?"
  178. >"No, Pinkie, but I will give you a hint."
  179. >You try to keep your face straight.
  180. >"Reread the myths of the Celestial Guardians," Twilight winks at you, "primarily the rise of the second moon."
  181. >Holy shit.
  182. >This... this could be not good. Bad, even.
  183. >"You want me to read *more*?" The table is too heavy for her, so Rainbow Dash settles for flipping the biography of General Flash instead. "Do you know how much I've read today!?"
  184. >"A little bit of reading isn't going to kill you," Twilight answers, settling down at her place at the table. "You might even enjoy the story."
  185. >Rainbow Dash opens her mouth to complain, but surprisingly grabs the core rulebook and flips it open instead.
  186. >"It's towards the front..."
  187. >Dash ignores Rarity's advice, flipping further and further towards the back of the book, hoof pumping when she finally finds the page she's looking for.
  188. >"I cast Bardic Knowledge!"
  189. >"Silly Dashie, that isn't a spell!" Pinkie Pie laughed, spraying crumbs from her cake-filled mouth.
  190. >"Fine, I *use* Bardic Knowledge!"
  191. "Are you really going to be this lazy?"
  192. >"I'm just ROLEPLAYING! Now Bardic Knowledge me, Twilight!"
  194. >The Darkin takes his leave of you as your party descends into the secret passage. Mercury Flare pauses at the entrance, looking up into the sky. The light of the two moons casts odd shadows on her face.
  195. >"My grandmare told me stories of that night..." she starts. "The ground shook, the air howled in rage, and a second moon - a new moon - rose to hover heavy about our heads. It is an unnatural moon. Always full, no matter the state of its mother. Always waiting."
  196. >She steps down into the passage, continuing her story as you travel.
  197. >"The priests said that something had been stolen from the Celestial Guardians, the twin-faced god that watches over us all. Something had been stolen from the Moon. Something precious. And if she ever finds the thief, the new moon will come crashing down in her vengeful rage to smite him.
  198. >"The years that followed were hard on all, towns and villages using it as an excuse to cast out their undesirables, claiming that they might be the thief, that they would bring the wrath of the Moon down upon the whole community.
  199. >"Your order -" she gestures to Paladin and Existential Dredd "- launched many crusades to find the thief, all the time ignoring the rising evil caused by the Moon's distraction. She was supposed to guard us, to seal away the devils and the dark things of this world, protecting us while the Sun nurtures us. And now evil runs free.
  200. >"By the time I was born, the crusades had ended - if the thief was to be found, he would have been found already. Most think him dead already, most likely rotting in some forgotten hole, never to be found. Others claim that the Sun took pity on him, transforming him into a new person so that the Moon would never find him."
  201. "The Sun is too merciful."
  202. >You scowl at the bard.
  203. "If she hadn't taken pity on the thief, then the Moon would be standing guard over this world."
  205. >"Wait a minute here, Twilight," Applejack cuts in. "Are we supposed to be finding this thief instead of actually fighting the Lich?"
  206. >"I can't tell you that!"
  207. >"Could you tell us if it is a viable alternative?" Rarity asks, pondering the possibilities.
  208. >"I... I guess so." Twilight flips through her notebook for a minute. "You can try that if you want..."
  210. >"If only we could find the thief..." Existential Dredd whispers. "If only we could find him, and bring him to justice, these dark days would all be over."
  211. >"But where would you look?" Mint Julip asks. "Who knows how long that would take, and there is evil here. Now. Would you leave it unchecked, doing untold harm, just for the promise of a brighter future someday?"
  212. >The priestess's words have wisdom. Too often in the past, your order had lost sight of the larger picture, allowing evil to grow in strength.
  213. "We continue forward."
  214. >Your words leave no room for argument. Even Existential Dredd reluctantly nods in agreement.
  215. >The tunnel delves deep under the earth, through the foundations of lost buildings and the bones of the world.
  216. >The Darkmaw has stood in ruin for time untold. Before the dawn of the Celestial Guardians, before the first creature drew breath. It has ever been a source of evil, twisting the ponies living in the surrounding lands into the creatures now known as Darkin. Even the humans and the gryphons, both known for their foolish bravery, never tried to claim the land.
  217. >Your path leads you to a thin arch of stone over a river of green sludge. If you wish to continue, you'll have to cross over.
  219. >You hear the clatter of rolling dice behind the DM screen.
  220. "Oh fuck."
  221. >"Anon, language!" Rarity chides. "We do not know bad it is, yet."
  222. >"A small monster falls from ceiling above, landing on Mercury Flare. It claws at her face doing..." clatter "... 12 points of damage. The gouges ripped from her face glow a dull greenish light."
  223. >"Oh fuck."
  224. >You raise an eyebrow at her.
  225. "Language, Rarity."
  226. >"What? Now we know how bad it is!" She huffs. "Such language is perfectly justifiable *now*."
  228. >Mint Julip leaps forward, lunges forward, slapping the tiny imp off her companion in a flash of burning sunlight with one hoof, simultaneously purging the corruption from Mercury Flare's wounds with a warm caress from her other.
  230. >Everyone stares at Pinkie Pie in amazement.
  231. >"What? Touch spells only require one hoof, and I have Improved Dual Wielding."
  232. >"That's... kind of badass, Pinkie Pie," Twilight concedes. "I'll allow it."
  234. >More of the creatures drop from the roof of the tunnel, cutting off your escape, and even more burble out of the river of sludge. Alone, the tiny beasts have already proven to be dangerous, and their numbers are now beyond counting.
  235. >Your only hope is to make it to the bridge - there the beasts can only come at you from two sides, reducing the effect of their numbers. You quickly grab the injured Mercury Flare, but the monsters have already cut off your path.
  236. >"Stand aside!" Mint Julip calls out, bringing both forehooves together. A beam of pure noonday sunlight drills forth, burning a path through the imps.
  237. >The party dashes forward, running for the dubious safety of the bridge, Durararog and Existential Dredd striking out at any of the beasts that move to block your path. You try to carry the injured mare as carefully as possible, but haste is essential. She screams with each jostle.
  238. >Existential Dredd reaches the foot of the bridge first, doing her best to hold it open for the rest of you as more imps bubble out of the sludge. You move to hand Mercury Flare to Mint Julep so you can aid her.
  239. >"NO!" Durararog screams at you. "Get to the center of the bridge NOW!"
  240. >You leap over your embattled friend, heart heavy, but the barbarian is right. Getting Mercury Flare to safety is paramount. Once she's safe, you can move forward to secure the far end of the bridge.
  241. >Before you can, the unicorn dashes past you, her great axe driving the imps off the stone expanse in wide swings.
  242. >"Stay in the center!" she yells at you.
  244. >"You have Faster than Thought, right?" Rarity asks you.
  245. "Well, yeah. The massive bonus to dodging is spectacular."
  246. >"It also means you have to roll to dodge before rolling for any other defense." She taps the game map Twilight has spread out for you. "Do you really want to find out what happens if you dodge into that slime?"
  248. >Mint Julep joins you as you set down Mercury Flare. You're going to need both hands free for this.
  249. >The bard has stopped screaming, a bad sign. Julep moves to aid you, but you ward her off with a shake of your head.
  250. "I'll take care of her. Dredd needs you."
  251. >She turns her head back, and sees just how pressed the assassin is. At first, Existential Dredd was giving ground willingly - the bridge narrows towards the center, reducing the number of imps that could attack at once. Now she is being all but physically driven back by their weight in numbers. The priestess leaps to her feet, rushing to her aid.
  252. >The sight of the Sun and the Moon fighting in unison brings a smile to your face.
  253. >Existential Dredd brings her frenzied sword back under control. No longer so hard pressed, she is able to choose her targets with more care, putting the blade to greater effect.
  254. >As your companions fight for their lives, you fight for Mercury Flare's, tearing the gauntlets from your hands. Pressing the bare flesh of your palm against the open wounds, you pray to your goddess.
  256. >"Look, just let me die and go fight."
  257. "No, Dash."
  258. >"Pinkie can just raise me after the fight! You're wasting time!"
  260. "No!"
  261. >The Moon is reluctant to answer your prayers, and the bard's blood still pours out from under your fingers, slower than it had before.
  262. "I don't care if you hate me!"
  263. >You look up to the moon - even buried deep underground, you always know where it is.
  264. >Always.
  265. "If you care anything for this world, you will heal her! YOU WILL HEAL HER, DAMN IT!"
  266. >Her breathing slows, stutters.
  267. "Please..."
  268. >Your words are barely a whisper.
  269. "Please, not for me. I know you would never do this for me. Do it for her. For this world."
  270. >A dim bluish light leaks out from under your palms.
  271. "Please, we are trying to serve you. I am still trying."
  272. >The light slowly grows stronger.
  273. "We will die for you, my goddess, but if we must let it be with purpose. Not here, not now."
  274. >The light is almost blinding now, radiating from under your hands. The cold blue light of the moon, throwing everything into stark contrast.
  275. >The light begins to fade, pushing itself into Mercury Flare's body. As it grows weaker, she grows stronger, her breaths becoming strong and regular.
  276. >As the light finally dies, you pull your hands back from her mauled face. The wounds have sealed, leaving no scars or trace of injury aside from the blood staining her coat. And yours.
  277. >Deep red streaks cover your robes... she lost so much blood.
  278. >But now she is safe. Safe so long as you win this fight. You pull your gauntlets back on and stand. Too many have died because of the Moon's distraction. Your mind is set - no more. Even if it causes your death. You grasp the hilt of your sword, drawing the sacred blade of your order with one smooth movement.
  279. "No more."
  280. >Durararog has cut her way to the far end of the bridge, holding the innumerable demons at bay on her own. She doesn't even try to kill them all - slaying the beasts would serve no purpose when simply knocking them from the bridge serves the same effect. Their numbers are unending.
  281. "We're getting nowhere. We need to try something new."
  282. >"I was just waiting on you, Paladin," the unicorn calls back. "Take my place, and try not to fall."
  283. >You seamlessly swap places with her, not giving an inch of ground to the imps. Your sword flashes out, searing cold gouges into demonic flesh with its moon-forged steel.
  284. >You abandon all semblance of defense, striking out with reckless abandon - enchanted though your sword is, the barbarian's massive axe served her better. Blows strike you, and at first your armor holds. But soon you begin to bleed, the sheer number of clawed hands finding gaps and weak points in your armor.
  286. "Whatever you're doing, Rarity, you need to do now. I'm not going to last much longer without my defensive skills."
  287. >"Just one more round. One more."
  289. >You have to keep faith that your unicorn companion's plan will work - you cannot look back to see what she is up to. One second's distraction would mean your death, and the deaths of all you strive to protect.
  291. >"I roll to Intimidate," Rarity says with a smile.
  293. >"AVE LUNA! AVE SOL!"
  294. >The words ring out through the cavern, beyond deafening.
  295. >The monsters draw back - they hesitate - they flee. Some run down the tunnels, some back into the river. Some simply cease to exist, fleeing this world altogether.
  296. >You turn back, stunned. Durararog stands on the apex of the bridge, axe held high.
  298. >"That. Was. AWESOME! Brohoof?"
  299. >Rarity reluctantly reaches out and taps Rainbow Dash's outstretched hoof.
  300. >"Not to sound insulting or anything," Applejack comments, "but that was kind of out of character for you."
  301. >"Perhaps for me." She holds up her character sheet. "But not for Durararog." She leans forward, grinning. "I was simply playing my character. And I did so beautifully, if I do say so myself."
  302. >"You did," Twilight agrees with a smile. "Bonus XP for you tonight. And on that note, good time for a break I think. Anyone else hungry?"
  303. >"But... but... no! We can't stop here!" Dash looks on the verge of throwing a tantrum. "So much awesome just happened and I didn't get to do anything!"
  304. >Applejack dives in to her saddlebags, pulling out an apple pie and setting it on the table.
  305. >"Well, I brought this along, just in case. We don't have to go nowhere."
  306. >"And I brought more cookies!" Pinkie Pie added, dumping two fresh plates on the table. You swear, one of her Emergency Strategic Cookie Stockpiles must be in this room, somewhere. You make a note to search for it later - knowing where cookies are is never a bad thing.
  307. >"Oh, thanks girls," Twilight looks over the offerings. "But I'm not really feeling it."
  308. >You feel something hit your foot. You peak under the table - it's a small box from Sugercube Corner. You peer at Pinkie Pie quizzically. What is this?
  309. >You reach under the table and open it surreptitiously - inside are two cupcakes. Not the same flavor as the ones you purchased earlier today, but still...
  310. >This can't be coincidence.
  311. >Pinkie Pie gives you a quick wink.
  312. >How the hell did she know?
  313. "Hey Twilight, would you like a cupcake?"
  314. >You hold the box out to her.
  315. "What about a cupcake?"
  316. >"Ooooh, my favorite!' She reaches in and grabs one. "I've been craving one of these all night. How did you know?"
  317. "Just a hunch."
  318. >You're going to have to thank Pinkie for this later, and ask her why she did it.
  319. >She messily devours it in two bits, grinning happily. Your little princess is... a bit of a messy eater. You don't mind, though. It's cute.
  320. >As the others dive in to the pie and cookies, you take a small bite of your cupcake. Twilight... Twilight is staring at it.
  321. "Would you like the rest of my cupcake?"
  322. >"No... no..."
  323. >You hold it out to her.
  324. "Are you sure? You can have it if you -"
  325. >She snatches it out your hand before you can finish the sentence.
  326. >Ewww, pony spit.
  327. >You wipe your hand on your pants.
  328. >"So, what now?" Dash asks between cookies.
  329. >"Well..." Twilight consults her notes.
  331. >The imps have fled - your party is safe for now, but you are all vulnerable.
  332. >Mint Julep's powers are all but exhausted and you can feel the monster's corruption burning in your wounds. Mercury Flash has been stabilized, but she lost too much blood. You can clearly see where you carried her - it is miraculous that she survived.
  333. >It sickens you - she almost died because of your weakness, because you pretend to serve a goddess you do not deserve.
  334. >Existential Dredd and Durararog fare better - the first because of Mint Julep's healing, the later because the reach of her might axe kept the demons at a distance.
  335. >You quickly discuss your options - finding a place to hide and rest seems your best choice.
  336. >To go on now would be suicide - you already feel yourself growing weaker with every passing moment as the corruption digs itself deeper into your body. You know your goddess will not save you. Still you trudge on, hoping to find a place of refuge. Someplace defensible.
  337. >Mint Julep notices your flagging steps.
  338. >"What's wrong, Paladin? Are you - oh my Sun!"
  339. >She tries to catch your as you collapse, but your weight is too much for her and you slam into the ground.
  340. >The others rush over to your side, gasping in horror as they see the extent of your injuries.
  341. >"Dredd, quickly! Scout ahead for a safe place!"
  342. >The assassin rushes off as Mint Julep leans over you.
  343. >"This is my last healing spell, Pally. Please don't die..."
  344. >The world goes dark.
  346. >"Why didn't you say something, Anon?" Pinkie wildly gesticulates. "Do you *want* to die!?"
  347. "I thought you were out of spells. Besides, Paladin wouldn't want to be a bother..."
  348. >"Oh, you silly. Helping a friend is never a bother!"
  350. >You wake in a small room lit by the dull light of Durararog's horn.
  351. >"Oh good, you're awake." She sets her axe against the wall. "For a while, we were not sure you were going to make it."
  352. >You look around, trying to get a grasp on your surroundings - Mercury Flash is curled in corner - it couldn't have been easy for your companions to carry both of you here.
  353. "How long have I been out...?"
  354. >"Sixteen hours. Mint Julep worked herself frayed trying to keep you both alive through the day."
  355. >You finally notice the priestess fast asleep beside you, lines of weariness marring her face. Still, it sports a smile.
  356. "Where is Existential Dredd?"
  357. >It takes you a while to croak out the words.
  358. >"She's out hunting for a path - it's a maze down here. We thought it would be a shame to waste time idle."
  359. >The unicorn looks away, embarrassed.
  360. >"In truth, I think she felt guilty surviving unscathed when the two of you almost perished. Seeing the priestess hard at work drove her over the edge."
  361. "And what of you?"
  362. >"What of me?"
  363. "You don't feel any guilt?"
  364. >"Someone had to guard you."
  365. >Still, that answers your question.
  366. "It's not your fault, I am to blame. My weakness, my hubris."
  367. >She turns back to you, anger in her face.
  368. >"No weakling could have survived so many injuries. Do not speak ill of yourself again - your stand against the demons saved us all."
  369. >Existential Dredd appears in the doorway, bearing a telling limp and sporting fresh bandages on her flank.
  370. >"I think I've found what we seek."
  371. >"And a safe path there?"
  372. >The assassin grunts, presenting her injury.
  373. >"I saw many evils this day that I had to leave unavenged."
  375. "Whoa AJ, you actually ran from a fight?"
  376. >"What did you think Twilight and I were doing over here passin notes? Gossipin about colts we like?"
  377. >For some reason, that makes Twilight blush.
  378. "Maybe."
  379. >Did she just squeak?
  380. >"SO," Applejack booms in an overwhelming voice. "Do y'all want to know what else I found?"
  382. >"We can no longer entertain any hopes that we face anything other than the Lich," the assassin informs you with a stern face. "I found evidence of his servants. He is building an army."
  383. >Your can feel your companion's despair. It seems to take physical form, looming over you all like a specter of doom.
  384. >"Their numbers are already too great for us to fight, and I am afraid they are made of sterner stuff than those imps." She looks to Durararog. "Your tricks will not work this time."
  385. >"Then I shall invent new ones," the barbarian retorts.
  386. >"There are even mines deep below the earth, manned with enslaved Darkin and Ponies and operated by machinery the likes of which I have never seen before."
  387. >"Wait -" Mercury Flare had woken and has heard everything "- there are slaves down there and we have an army to fight? I think I might have an awesome idea."
  389. >"Dash..." Twilight grumbles in a warning tone. >"Am I going to need cider for this...?"
  390. >"No! This is totally awesome!"
  392. >"The Lich may have an army, but so do we." The bard's voice rings out strong and true. You are heartened by her recovery. "We just need to rescue them."
  394. >"Applejack?"
  395. >"Sorry, sugercube, plum forgot to bring any."
  396. >Twilight screams in frustration, throwing her hooves into the air.
  397. >"Well..." Applejack looks around the table, her gaze finally settling on you, pleadingly You can tell she didn't bring any for a reason, but she can't tell her friends that...
  398. "I think it would be best if we skipped that."
  399. >Everyone looks to you in surprise. You? Turn down alcohol?
  400. "It would take at least an hour to get to Sweet Apple Acres and back with some cider. Do you really want to put the game on hold that long?"
  401. >"No... " Twilight shakes her head vigorously, her mane flipping back and forth. "I'll just have to find a way to get through this."
  403. >The bard stands.
  404. >"Tell us everything you saw - we have plans to make." She nods towards Mint Julep. "We have to wait for our companion to recover before we move on, but that doesn't time must be wasted."
  405. >Existential Dredd nods grimly, reaching into her saddlebag and retrieving a map. She spreads the map out on the floor, placing a trinket on each corner to hold it flat.
  406. >Small spatters of blood mar parts of the map - a sign of the dangers the Earth Pony braved to find your way. Not all of it is hers - not all of the blood is red. Flecks of black and green also decorate the paper.
  407. >The four of you gather around, leaving Mint Julep to her well earned rest.
  409. >Twilight Sparkle pulls a page out of one of her notebooks and reaches over the DM screen to place it in the center of the table.
  410. >"Existential Dredd managed to cover a lot of ground - I've been copying out this map as you go." She points to several areas of the map. "She didn't go down those tunnels, so there's probably more -"
  411. >"Probably?" Pinkie Pie asks. "You're not sure?"
  412. >"PROBABLY more in those directions."
  414. >"But that doesn't concern us," Existential Dredd waves away your questions. "The slaves are mostly in this area," she points to an area marked in red, "but it's also with the highest concentration of Reavarii."
  415. >"Reavarii?" Durararog looks at her questioningly. "What are those?"
  416. "Followers of the Lich, traitors to all of existance."
  418. >"Basically cultists!" Pinkie Pie bounces up and down. "I have an idea? Did you find their Kool-Aid? We could poison it!"
  420. >"I see no way for us to defeat them through subterfuge." The assassin frowns. "Their supplies are well guarded. We would need kill all the Reavarii to reach them, which would defeat the purpose."
  421. >"Hmm..." The bard taps her chin, deep in thought. "What about those machines?"
  422. >Existential Dredd rummages around in her bags, pulling out another sheet of paper.
  424. >"I was wondering when you were going to ask about that, not that it will do you any good." Twilight puts another sheet of paper on the table - it loosely resembles what would happen if a truck hate-raped a mine cart.
  425. >You know that ponies in general do not put much stock in self-propelled vehicles, but still... you would have thought she would have a better design.
  426. >"None of you recognize it -"
  428. >"I know what this is," Mercury Flare states with unquestionable certainty.
  430. >"What!?"
  431. >Rainbow Dash holds up her character sheet, pointing to the relevant part.
  432. >"Drive: Motor Vehicle."
  433. >"Seriously?" Twilight's jaw drops. "Seriously? I thought that was a joke!" She turns to you, jaw still wide open in shock. "You seriously gave her that?"
  434. "Yeah, why would you think I was joking?"
  435. >"Because why would you take that? In a fantasy setting?"
  436. >You shrug.
  437. >"Came in handy, didn't it?"
  438. >That look she gives you... if you two were dating, you're worried that you would be spending the night on the couch.
  439. >"Fine."
  441. >"I know what this is," she says again, looking back up to Existential Dredd. "If you can get me to one of these, I can operate it. It looks fairly sturdy -"
  443. >"It looks sturdy, right Twilight?"
  444. >"Like you could drive it through a brick wall," your princess answers with a sigh. "Applejack...?" She looks to her a friend with a hopeful look.
  445. >You shake your head frantically, hoping Twilight doesn't see.
  446. >"I... I think we shouldn't stop just quite yet."
  447. >"Fine..." Twilight whines.
  448. >You can tell she isn't going to give up.
  449. "Continue planning without me - I'll be right back."
  450. >You stand and enter the kitchen, pulling out your friends' mugs, glad to see they are no longer hidden. After a moment's search, you fill them all with apple juice and add a splash of vinegar.
  451. >Bleh, tastes horrible, but at least it tastes like cider.
  452. >You gather the mugs in your hands... well, you try. Carrying six full mugs without spilling anything is a bit beyond your abilities.
  453. "Hey Applejack, could you help me in here for a second?"
  454. >After a moment, the little orange pony pokes her head through the door.
  455. >"Whatcha need help with, Anon?"
  456. >Then she sees the mugs. Is that a look of concern on her face? She enters the kitchen fully, moving over beside you.
  457. >"I'm hoping that's not real cider..."
  458. >Why not? you ask yourself.
  459. "Nope, basically just apple juice."
  460. >"Thank Celestia," Applejack sighs in relief. "Don't know if you've noticed, but she's been hitting the sauce pretty heavily lately."
  461. >She had seen it too?
  462. >"That's why I didn't bring anything tonight," she explains.
  463. >You nod, signifying your approval.
  464. "You know..." Applejack leans in confidentially, "... she's even asked me to make apple*jack*."
  465. >You stare at her in confusion.
  466. "She wanted you to make *what*?"
  467. >"It's when you freeze cider and pull the ice chunks out," she explains, "Only the water actually freezes, so it doubles or triples the alcohol content."
  468. "You're named after *booze*?"
  469. >"I'll kick you into next week if you continue that train of thought, sugercube."
  470. >You shut your mouth. While you're pretty sure she can't do that, it's not worth finding out. You gesture to the mugs, then back to the doorway.
  471. >With her help, you're able to get the mugs out to the gaming table with minimal spillage. You don't know what made you think ponies can carry full mugs easily, but AJ gives it a good go.
  472. >You can't get it out of your head that you now know Applejack was conceived on a night of drunken debauchery. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, it's your headcanon now. That's right, you headcanon real life.
  473. >And you should never, ever, EVER say that around her.
  474. "I picked up a little bit of cider earlier. Stashed it in your refrigerator."
  475. >You put Twilight's mug in front of her - she looks up to you like she loves you with all her soul. It makes your heart hurt, knowing that you're lying to her. Also, that you're serving her something that tastes like ass.
  476. "I'm afraid it's not from Applejack's farm. Quality isn't that great."
  477. >"That's fine, I just can't be sober now." She takes a sip. "It tastes... nice."
  478. >"Nice?" Rarity giggles, "I think I might pass on mine, if that won't offend you."
  479. "Not at all."
  480. >You sit, forcing yourself to take a sip. Oh gods, it still tastes like ass.
  481. >Even Pinkie Pie barely chugs hers, and that's a pone that takes her drinking seriously. Oddly enough, you've never seen her drunk.
  482. >Or have you never seen her sober?
  483. >You're not sure.
  484. >Either way, Pinkie is Pinkie.
  485. "So, did I miss anything?"
  486. >"Nothing important." Dash grimaces at her mug. "Just working out where the machines are."
  487. >She points to another red mark on the map. By the label, it's the entrance to the mines.
  488. >"We might be able to fight our way in," she scowls, "but probably wouldn't make it out."
  489. >"Actually, sugarcube, I had a thought on that."
  491. >"Though their numbers are many, the Reavarii in this area seemed rather... inattentive." Existential Dredd smiles with menace. "The bard and I should be able to sneak in unopposed."
  492. >Mercury Flare looks unconvinced, but eventually nods her consent.
  493. >"How will we escape?" she asks after a second's thought.
  494. "Well, they do look pretty sturdy."
  495. >You wait a few more hours, giving Mint Julep as much rest as possible before reluctantly shaking her awake. She wraps her hooves around your neck gently.
  496. >"I'm happy you didn't die."
  497. >You hug her back.
  498. >It doesn't take long for your party to reach a small hollow near the minehead. You are luckily able to avoid encounters with any more monsters or the Reavarii - any confrontation risks raising the alarm.
  500. >"Is there anything we should be doing while you..." Rarity searches for the right word "... *procure* our transportation?"
  501. >"Just don't die."
  503. >"You did your part at the bridge, Paladin," Mercury Flare tells you. "Now let me do mine."
  504. >Existential Dredd says not, just drawing her knife and disappearing into the shadows.
  505. >The two of them sneak through the dark paths, past the many Reavarii occupied loading oar into the cart-machines. Every few minutes, some pony slaves push mine carts into the cavern, dumping the ore for sorting. There are a few close calls, some of the hooded figures looking in the bard's direction.
  506. >Existential Dredd grimaces with every noise and blunder Mercury Flare makes, but the two eventually make their way to an unattended vehicle. They hop into the cab, the assassin looking on in wonder as her companion flips several switches and grips the wheel.
  507. >The roar of the engine echoes throughout the cavern, hooded figures look up in surprise.
  508. >"Hang on, Dredd," Mercury Flare yells over the noise. "This is going to get fun."
  509. >The machine lurches into action as some of the Reavarii move to intercept. Others block off the exits to the cavern.
  510. >"That's right, assholes, bunch up for me." Mercury Flare slams the gearshift into drive and the vehicle speeds ahead.
  511. >No one that survives this day will know just what was loudest - the roar of the engine, the screams of the assassin, or the maniacal laughter of the driver. Even the Reavarii, beings who worship the darkest of horrors, will speak of this day in hushed whispers.
  512. >As the vehicle powers ahead, Flare spins the wheel, causing it to skid - the side of it slamming into the Reavarii's line.
  513. >Broken bodies go flying, survivors moaning in agony.
  515. "Don't forget the +3 damage for Weapons Proficiency: Improvised Weapon."
  516. >"Why would that apply?" Twilight asks, reaching for Applejack's untouched mug. "You're not drinking this, right?"
  517. >"Naw, you go ahead."
  518. "Well, show us the weapon stats for a truck."
  519. >You gesture to the stack of rulebooks.
  520. "I checked, but I couldn't find them listed *anywhere*"
  521. >Twilight looks at you and sighs. You can't tell if she's happy with you or... not.
  523. >The sounds of the Reavarii's suffering cease.
  524. >Mercury Flare spins the wheel again, getting the skidding vehicle back under control.
  525. >"Anyone in particular that's pissing you off?" she asks Existential Dredd. "They're starting to close in on us, but I think we have time for one more pass."
  526. >"Um..." the assassin leans out of the cab, looking around. "That one over there." she points to a hunched Reavarii facing away from you, the only one that hasn't moved. "That little shit over there. He's not taking us seriously."
  527. >"Hell yeah!" Mercury Flare throws the machine into a higher gear and cackling. It eats up the distance in seconds, slamming into the the Reavarii and turning him into a fine pink mist.
  529. >"What the fuck just happened to that fucker?" Dash asks, eyes wide.
  530. >"He was deaf," Twilight explains. "You caught him unaware."
  531. >"Aaaaaaand?" Rainbow Dash continues to stare at her expectantly.
  532. >"And I assumed," Twilight grins, "that you were going to demand the triple damage from backstabbing him."
  533. >"Did I just backstab someone with a *truck*?" You didn't think Aredee's eyes could get any wider, but they do. "I just backstabbed someone with a truck!" She turns to Applejack, hoof held out. "BROHOOF!"
  535. >Cackling wildly, Mercury Flare turns the wheel again, swinging the machine around. Reavarii from all over the cavern were beginning to surround them, and the open cab offered scant protection. Time to get out of here.
  536. >The vehicle breaks through the Reavarii lines one last time. Some manage to throw themselves aside, most do not. It picks up speed, roaring down... the mineshaft?
  538. >"Was that the plan?" Rarity's eyes are wide. "That was not the plan."
  539. >"I came up with a better plan," Rainbow Dash answers proudly.
  540. >"Is this going to be like your last few plans?" Applejack's eyes narrow. "Remember, this time you're dragging my character to her death too."
  541. >"No, this plan is great! There's still way too many of them for us to fight." Dash looks to Twilight Sparkle. "Right?"
  542. >"You can always fight them. As for surviving... well, that's not for me to say..." she looks to the map, counting the number of minis still standing. "But I'd say there's still about fifty that are fit to fight."
  543. "And how many slaves are down in the mines?"
  544. >You think you know where Aredee is going with this.
  545. >"You don't know - Existential Dredd didn't go down there."
  546. >"But did I see enough to make a guess?" Applejack asks, picking up a d20.
  547. >"Um. Maybe. Let me check." Twilight flips through the last few pages of her notebook. "Roll."
  548. >AJ flings the dice, everyone staring expectantly as it tumbles across the table. Fourteen.
  549. >"Well, that's a success, though just barely. I'd say you've seen enough to make a guess." Twilight shrugs. "About 200, give or take."
  550. >"Awesome!" Rainbow Dash shoves her things into her bags. "Time to end it for the night!"
  551. >"Are you sure?" Twilight hesitatingly asks. She looks like she is ready to throw everyone out, but... "You never want to stop playing."
  552. >"I need to think about things," Dash explains. "I need to make... plans."
  553. >Waking in Equestria, cut off from your life, from your friends, from your *species* - that was confusing, disorienting. But you adapted. Rainbow Dash making *plans*? This is horrifying. You hope there are pony therapists, because you are going to need one after tonight. Maybe two. Shit, let's just hire all of them.
  554. >"I guess this is a good place to stop." Rarity begins packing her belongings as well. "I have a feeling that this train won't have any breaks from here on."
  555. >Thank the gods you keep your fucking mouth shut and don't say what you want to say.
  556. >"Okay girls, we'll pick this next w-"
  557. >"Tomorrow?" They all turn to her, grinning wildly.
  558. >"Okay then, tomorrow," she surrenders to their pressure. "Are you going to help me clean up again, Anon?"
  559. "Yeah, just let me say goodnight to everyone..."
  560. >You follow your friends outside, giving Rarity a polite hug and Rainbow Dash a high... hoof? Applejack simple tips her hat and trots off, but you grab Pinkie Pie's tail before she can bounce away.
  561. "Hey Pinko Pride, what was up with those cupcakes?"
  562. >"Oh, those? I saw the box in the trash." She blinks up at you. "Rainbow Dash told me she ate one, so I thought you might need replacements." She bounces up, booping your nose with hers. "Besides, you bought the wrong ones, silly!"
  563. "How did you know I needed two?"
  564. >She rolls her eyes at you.
  565. >"Well of *course* you need two," she explains. "One for Twilight Sparkle, and one to give up for her."
  566. >She giggles and bounces free of your grip.
  567. "Wait! How did you know I needed them for..."
  568. >Your words trail off as Pinkie disappears. Those aren't really words you want to shout across all of Ponyville.
  569. >With a sigh, you head back inside. Twilight hasn't moved from the table - she's staring at the leftover cookies hungrily.
  570. "You haven't had anything to eat all day, have you...?"
  571. >"Just the cupcakes." She pokes a cookie with one hoof. "But I just don't like these cookies. I don't know why Pinkie Pie brought these ones - she knows I hate them." She see's your doubtful look. "Well, not *hate*..."
  572. "Want me to cook you something?"
  573. >Her eyes light up at your offer.
  574. >"That would be great! With Spike gone, I just haven't had time..."
  575. >Ah, right. You doubt that she has had a home cooked meal the entire time Spike has been away.
  576. "Sure thing."
  577. >You ruffle her mane, making her giggle.
  578. "Whatcha want?"
  579. >"Breakfast!" she calls after you as you walk into the kitchen.
  580. >You crack open her refrigerator and take a look. Hmm... eggs, butter, some fruit. There really isn't much in here. Spike must do most of the grocery shopping in addition to the cooking.
  581. >You'll have to see about picking some food up tomorrow - the dragon won't be back for a while and someone has to see to the princess's needs. Poor girl - mare? - can barely take care of herself.
  582. >Lots of spices, though. Looooots of spices.
  583. >You need to make something quick and easy - you're pretty tired, she's famished. Scrabbled eggs it is. You throw some butter into the frying pan, and while it's getting up to temp hunt down some bread. Into the toaster they go. You swirl the butter around in the pan and crack a few eggs into it, adding rosemary and a touch of salt. It doesn't take long for them to cook - less time than you thought, actually. That's fine, a bit more butter takes care of the dryness.
  584. >You turn the heat down, just enough to keep them warm while the toast finishes. While waiting, you pull out an orange, splitting it into its separate wedges. Hrm. You've got orange, yellow and brown food... need something red...
  585. >Cranberry juice.
  586. >You pour two glasses.
  587. >Bam! Toast is done. You throw everything onto plates and bring them out to your princess.
  588. >Twilight has cleaned off the table while you were cooking - you put her plate in front of her, sitting down opposite her.
  589. >"Thank you, Anon," she smiles at you, and shoves her plate across the table. She grabs her glass of juice and slides around the table until she bumps into you. "I was so busy these past few days... particularly since I've had to reschedule things for these game nights."
  590. >She rests her head against your shoulder.
  591. >"Still, it's been worth it. We've been having so much fun." She smiles up at you. "Thank you."
  592. >You gently boop her nose.
  593. "Eat your food, Twilight. It's getting cold."
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