Elements of Gaming 8
By Ryden, Xephfyre and Krimzon_Flygon
At first glance, anypony would think of the humble, idyllic town of Ponyville as one of Equestria's quietest and most peaceful places to live; normally, they wouldn't be wrong.
Indeed, compared to the city streets of Manehatten, or the bustling weather factories of Cloudsdale, Ponyville would probably have a name for itself as a bastion of solitude, a place where anypony who's anypony could just kick back, relax, and have a nice daffodil sandwich.
That is - until precisely noontime, five days a week.
Much unlike its neighbors Cloudsdale and Trottingham, Ponyville was one of the first few places to receive the unprecedented honor of hosting the "Grand GameHoof Gala Opening," hosted by none other than Equestria's royal monarch, Princess Celestia herself.
Nopony would have ever suspected the small, countryside town to have ever played host to something of such scale and magnitude- truly, the only other places to have been host to said event were few in number; namely Canterlot and Manehatten.
Yet, to the quiet, reserved pegasus making her way down the well-trodden path of Stirrup Street, that much came as little surprise; after all, she'd been there when the sensation that came to be known as 'Gaming' first spread like wild fire all over Equestria - perhaps even before.
"Oooh..." came a soft, demure moan from the yellow pegasus, her wings flapping gently in the pre-noon breeze as she paced back and forth outside the glass-paned GameHoof, the staff inside carefully eyeing her with a hint of trepidation. "Where could Pinkie be...! It's about noon, and she said she'd be here before the-"
Before she could even finish, Fluttershy stopped short as the noonday bell chimed, the deep, resonding gong of the brass bell that hung over Ponyville Elementary School signaling the start of what every little filly and colt ever looked forward to.
The end of class.
Soon enough, the ground began to rumble, pebbles vibrating as the earth itself gave way to a force mightier than few forces in all of Ponydom could ever equal: schoolfoals with an allowance.
Barreling down Stirrup Street, a gigantic column of colors zoomed towards Fluttershy, the demure pegasus barely having any time to even squeak as the army of schoolfoals knocked her off her hooves, sweeping the yellow pegasus right along through the GameHoof doors.
Once inside, the veritable horde of schoolfoals went their separate ways, groups thronging shelf after shelf as they clamored over one another to eagerly snatch away at copies of 'Call of Cutie: Modern Warmare 3,' apparently one of the latest in a very, very long, long line of sensations.
Fluttershy, on the other hand, found herself sprawled across the floor, eyeballs literally spinning in her head as she slowly tried to crane her neck upwards, hooves going straight to her temples as she tried to stop the room from spinning.
At least, right up to the point a certain sugar-dosed earth pony decided it was about time to show up for their appointment.
"HEEEEEEEEEY THERE, FLUTTERSHY!" came the characteristic high-pitched party squeal of Ponyville's resident party maniac, the pink earth pony standing wide-eyed over the still-dazed pegasus, examining her friend with a vaguely quizzical look. "Is there something on the ceiling? OOH, OOH, IS IT CANDY?"
Her heart almost literally skipping a beat, Fluttershy gave a squeal of fright; her dainty wings sending her darting straight for the ceiling before she could even think twice.
Grasping the nearest overhead lamplight for dear life, Fluttershy held on for dear life as the timid yellow pegasus tried to calm herself down, teeth chattering as her entire body tittered with nerve-wracking shock.
"Aw c'mon, Fluttershy," rang the ever-familiar tone of a certain sugar-dosed earth pony, now standing completely upside-down in direct defiance of all laws of gravity as she dangled right next to her timid friend, legs seemingly glued to the ceiling. "It's just me, your Auntie Pinkie Pie!"
"Oh, Pinkie! Thank goodness it's you..." was all the meek little pegasus could muster as she breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Please don't scare me like that, if you would be so-"
"There's no time for that!" Pinkie Pie's voice practically shrilled in her ear as a pair of pink hooves grabbed her shoulders before forcibly pulling her down, and despite her iron grip on the ceiling lamp Fluttershy found herself standing back on all four trembling legs on the floor before she had even blinked. "WE'VE GOT GAMES TO BUY!"
Clamping down hard on Fluttershy's tail with her mouth, Pinkie yanked the still-reeling pegasus and barreled straight for the Gamehoof counter, Fluttershy's little "eep" of fright barely registering with the sugar-infused earth pony.
"HIIIIIIIII!" screeched Pinkie as she bent hoof-first over the glass counter, giving the gray-coated salespony what might have been the biggest shock of his mortal life as he immediately found himself face-to-face with the grinning visage of an impossibly wide-eyed earth pony, her saucer-like orbs practically staring through him.
Barely able to utter even a scream of surprise, the gray-coated salespony immediately began backpedaling at breakneck speed on all fours, tripping over a few unopened boxes and crashing flank-first into the nearest shelf; a literal shower of boxes entitled 'Battlefilly 3' almost burying him where he sat.
Even in her near-permanent state of Equestria's greatest sugar-high, Pinkie Pie couldn't help but wince in pain as she witnessed the entire shelf collapse all over the unsuspecting salespony; a small "ooh" escaping her lips as the last few copies of Brink teetered off the shelf and right onto the poor salespony's head.
"What in Nightmare Moon's name is going on in my store!"
Thundering forth from the back end of the counter, a voice not much unlike the booming echo of a certain princess of the night barreled forth like an invisible steamroller, halting even the normally sugar-hyper Pinkie Pie right where she stood.
Throwing open a lone white door right next to the front desk, a disheveled and clearly grumpy pegasus scanned the store for cause of all his worries; his eyes horribly worn and bloodshot from countless hours of paperwork. If anypony had bothered to look closer, they probably would've also noticed the shiny gold nametag reading 'store manager' dangling over the edge of his clearly over-worn uniform.
No sooner had his eyes fallen on the now-unconscious sales staffpony did the gray-maned pegasus turn his withering gaze to Pinkie Pie, his bloodshot eyes narrowing to threatening slits as he hovered over to the now stock-still earth pony.
"H...hi, Moneybags." Pinkie managed probably her first ever forced smile.
"THIS IS THE THIRD TIME THIS WEEK!" bellowed the pegasus, clearly reaching the end of his tether as his pupils started narrowing to pinpricks. "JUST... JUST TAKE YOUR ORDER AND GO. NOW."
Reaching over the glass counter, the pegasus fished out two pint-sized brown paper bags and unceremoniously hurled them at both Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, the latter somehow managing to catch both in her open mouth by executing a double-backflip even the Wonderbolts themselves would've whistled for.
"Here's yours, Fluttershy!" yelled Pinkie Pie as she tossed one of the small brown packages over to her timid friend, eliciting a small yelp of fright as the dainty yellow pegasus darted for the package; barely making it in time to catch it with her outstretched front hooves.
"NOW OUT! OUT! OUUUUUUT!" bellowed the frazzled store manager as he hastily shoved both Pinkie and Fluttershy out the front door, giving both an extra push with his hooves to make sure they were at least a good ten meters out before darting back in and slamming the front door with a very audible 'THUD,' muttering something about hooligans and pink demons.
Pinkie got to her hooves, frowning at the door. "I'll never get how that grumpypants got into the entertainment business. Oh well!" The smile was back on her face in a snap.
"Sorry I can't stay and chat, Fluttershy, but I gotta be back at Sugarcube Corner for a little delivery before I can get down to this baby right here! I heard this one almost didn't make the shelves 'cause the ponies working on it almost scared themselves to death!"
Holding the paper bag overhead as though it were a solid gold sculpture of Celestia herself, Fluttershy could almost swear she saw her pink-maned friend's eyes literally sparkle with anticipation as she longingly eyed the game within; her smile actuallystretching from ear to ear.
"...Buuuuut of course there's no way that kinda stuff is true," sputtered Pinkie Pie, the earth pony waving her hooves wildly in an attempt to form the "no" sign, sweating a little as she tried to backpedal away from whatever she'd just brought up. "That's just silly talk, is all."
Shooting a quick glance at her right hoof, Pinkie let out a quick gasp of shock and surprise as she began looking around for the nearest street exit before quickly darting through Hoofington Avenue and straight into Ponyville market square.
"SorryFluttershy notimegottadelivercupcakes enjoythegamebyeeee!"
Alone outside the GameHoof entrance, Fluttershy could only eye the dust cloud Pinkie had left in her wake with a vaguely quizzical look, right eyebrow raised in faint wonderment as she tried calling after the speeding pink blur that was once Pinkie Pie.
"... But we don't even wear watches."
Comfortable silence greeted Fluttershy as she stepped through the humble oak doorway that preceded entry into her humble abode, and she softly deposited the brown paper bag that she had collected from GameHoof down on the sofa, looking around her home.
"Angel?" The soft-spoken pegasus called out. "I'm home!"
In a flash of white, Fluttershy found her paper bag zipping out of her outstretched hooves and straight onto the couch, a manic blur of pristine white fur tearing away at the dull brown packaging, sending bits and pieces of paper flying all over the once-clear living room.
"Oh, Angel..." murmured Fluttershy, a smile still plastered over her face despite the raging storm of paper now flying about her living room. "I appreciate the help, but I hope I didn't disturb-"
A vehement shake of Angel Bunny's head suddenly stopped her in her tracks, and the questioning expression on her beloved pet's face prompted her to take a closer look at the casing he was holding up in his paw... a casing that looked nothing like the one which she had pre-ordered.
"The... Darkness...? Oh... oh my." Fluttershy began to shake her head slowly, rubbing her eyes several times over to make sure she wasn't seeing things; much less the ones adorning the casing's front side.
Instead of a subtle background of luminescent green crystals, or flashy, over-the-top explosions as a towering beam of light split ocean-borne platforms from stem to stern, the cover of the box was bathed in a single, dull shade of ebon black.
Utterly devoid of color, faint slivers of haunting yellow light bled forth from the two lone words near the top of the casing, seemingly engraved into the consuming blackness by a gryphon's jagged claws.
Yet, in the midst of the swirling darkness, the blackened silhouette of a single earth pony stood alone amidst the onset of the consuming night; paying it no heed as a wry, razor thin smile creased his lips.
Crisply dressed in a simple, black leather jacket and gray undersuit; his jet-black mane neatly slicked to the sides of his head, the lone earth pony crossed both forehooves over his chest in a show of mock superiority, clutching two silver-tinted pistols to his chest as his eyes blazed aglow with the same haunting yellow light that bled from the jagged words above.
Dancing about his hooves, strange impish creatures clamored about in reverence to their master as two sinister, snake-like creatures reared their burning eyes overhead, row after row of jagged, razor-sharp teeth lining their mouths as they gleefully danced about, swaying in time with three thorned, scythe-like tendrils creeping slowly upwards, seemingly borne from the darkness itself.
"This... this isn't what I asked for!" Fluttershy slowly began to shake her head, her hooves trembling as the ramifications of what she had just obtained hit her with full force. "I... I think I might have taken Pinkie's game by mistake!"
The magenta earth pony's words slowly began to creep back into Fluttershy's mind, hauntingly reminding the timid little pegasus of the game's nature. What was it about it that Pinkie had said about it again?
"... I heard this one almost didn't make the shelves 'cause the ponies working on it almost scared themselves to death..."
Letting out a terrified squeak, Fluttershy immediately dropped the casing, flitting upstairs with all the speed of a hummingbird and leaping right into bed, hugging the covers tight around her, eyes scrunched up tight in terror.
"Oh no... oh no...! What am I going to do? What am I going to do! Ohhh, Pinkie's probably having the time of her life with my copy of The Sims now..."
Bounding over to his owner's side, Angel Bunny pointed his front paw at the game's ominous cover, then quickly pointing both towards the general direction of Fluttershy's TV.
"Oh no, no no no no no!" came Fluttershy's vehement protests, the dainty pegasus shaking her head from side to side. "Doing s-something like that would just..."
The smack on her head was completely unprecedented, and Angel Bunny was giving her a totally disapproving look that simply screamed of exasperation, almost as though he wanted to scream out at her "For Celestia's sake, have some guts, will you! I wanna see something interesting!"
"Ohhh... All right." Fluttershy finally relented, unable to resist any request (or demand) that her beloved Angel Bunny made. "If it makes you happy, I'd be willing to do it..."
The rabbit's expression almost instantly changed from one of irritation to that of satisfaction, as though he'd just gotten the Christmas present of the year, and he bounded out of Fluttershy's room, game casing in hand as he tapped his foot impatiently, waiting for his owner to set up the console.
It was with much trepidation that Fluttershy stepped out of her room, hesitantly approaching the ominous game casing that Angel Bunny held in his hands, and starting up the Xbox 360 with trembling hooves that hardly wanted anything to do with that game, but just couldn't deny her Angel Bunny's request.
This... this was going to be a very, very hard day ahead indeed.
"I remember the night of my twenty-first birthday... that was the FIRST time I died."
Fluttershy's attempt to put the controller down and rush off to Pinkie's was stopped by a carrot to the head and a glare from Angel. Fluttershy slumped in her chair, sighing deeply. That was NOT the first thing she wanted to hear when going into a game! Here she was, getting up early and getting all her chores done, looking forward to a nice, quiet game of The Sims. Now she was being browbeat by a bunny rabbit into playing a game that was, for all intents and purposes, the absolute antithesis of what she was looking for!
"Estacado... Hello, ESTACADO! Come on, wake up, sunshine!"
Something was fading into view on the screen at the sound of the voice, thick with a coltfather accent. Fluttershy squinted to try to make it out. A pair of...hooves? Yeah, hooves. There was a flash of bright light, and Fluttershy, or whoever she was playing as had sat up in a top-down convertible chariot, cruising down a Manehatten freeway towards a tunnel, staring at his hooves.
The reddish Earth Pony in the passenger seat had turned to face her, smirking behind his thin moustache. "Come on, whassa matta with you, ya weenie, huh? Get one little tap from a nightclub bouncer and you go to SLEEP on me over here?"
The driver, a gray Pegasus turned to glare at the Earth Pony. "Hey, I already told 'ya, he don't look so good." He turned back to the road. "That guy was a gorilla. Ugly, too..."
It was then that Fluttershy realized something. Something that, in spite of herself, made her feel a little bit more at ease. "It's a... it's just like Halo." She murmured. A game where she saw through the eyes of her character, like the futuristic shooter she had picked up on so quickly. Though she was still unnerved to a great degree by the idea of playing a game called "The Darkness", the fact it was similar to a game she had played before (a game that she had been VERY good at, she remembered with a flicker of pride) untied the knot in her stomach ever so slightly.
The ponies in the car continued to talk: evidently something very, verybad had happened, something that somepony named 'Paulie' would not be pleased about. If the chatter between the driver and his passenger up front was anything to go by, Paulie was not somepony you'd want to get mad.
And throughout this entire conversation, the Pegasus in the driver's seat was DRIVING LIKE AN ABSOLUTE MANIAC!
Weaving in between trucks and chariots, crossing the yellow line multiple times, and getting angry honks of the horn from the drivers around him, Fluttershy could SWEAR that she had stepped out of a First-Person Shooter and straight into Burnout.
The two had changed topics, apparently in the midst of discussing something about 'disposing' of some foreman down at a nearby construction site. Now this, THIS is where she drew the line!
Fluttershy threw the controller down on her sofa with an uncharacteristic huff of exasperation. Driving like madponies, talking about killing an innocent foreman... and THESE were supposed to be the GOOD GUYS? She didn't care if Angel ignored her for a month, Fluttershy was NOT about to demean herself by playing this...THING!
She stood up, ready to march up to the console, eject the horrible disk and head to Sugarcube Corner. Angel, on the other hand, would have none of it. He was in front of the console with a few quick hops, spreading his little arms and glaring at Fluttershy.
"Angel Bunny, I can't play this game! It's horrible!" Fluttershy protested. "Please, Pinkie is probably wondering what happened to her game, I need to...!"
Angel shook his head, reaching behind him and pulling the case from nowhere, pointing at the cover with a single unwavering paw.
Fluttershy mouthed silently in protest, before sighing and sitting back down, picking up the controller.
"Hey...we got company."
The Earth Pony in the passenger seat took one look behind them, and his eyes went wide.
The engine roared loudly, and the chariot shot forward. Fluttershy gripped the controller as she heard a new sound: sirens. The Pegasus in the driver's seat had thrown away what little finesse he had during the opening, and was literally smashing cars out of the way as his Earth Pony friend laughed raucously.
"LUNA, Graymane, you're gonna KILL US! HAHAHAHA!"
"I told you they was comin'." growled Graymane, hunched in his seat. "I heard the sirens. Didn't I say I heard the sirens, Shallow Grave?"
Shallow Grave had turned around in his seat, muttering something about Graymane hearing sirens in his sleep. He tossed Jackie a shotgun, telling him to lock and load. Really, Fluttershy wasn't paying attention. This was madness. These ponies were criminals. Scum. Murderers. And now they were about to get into a high speed gunfight with Royal Guards. WHAT did Pinkie SEE in these ponies?
"Ohhh, buck MEEEEEEEEEE!"
Fluttershy watched, horrified, as a Guard chariot smashed into the side of their vehicle, sending Shallow Grave off balance, leaning dangerously out the side. And a semi was coming up, right...
Even Angel flinched; the semi had cracked against Grave's head with a wet crunch. Immediately, the Earth Pony went limp.
"Grave!" shrieked Graymane. "Oh, HORSEAPPLES! J-Jackie...JACKIE, you gotta get up here! Take Grave's place, I can't lose this guy!"
Fluttershy watched as her character climbed over the seat, shoving Shallow Grave's body the rest of the way out of the chariot with a hoof before sitting down and raising the shotgun. An utter disrespect for the dead. Thought Fluttershy. Sure, it's not like these ponies are ALREADY detestable.
To be fair, it may not have been entirely disrespect: a well placed shot by Graymane had sent a chariot spinning out of control. "Scratch one more of Manehatten's finest. That was for my buddy Shallow Grave, flank-wipe!"
The chariot roared along the tunnel, taking a 90 degree turn into an abandoned section. Fluttershy breathed a sigh. It looked like they'd lost the Guards...
Fluttershy squeaked as something hard hit the car: an Earth Pony in a green outfit and hard hat had slammed up onto the hood of their chariot, his face mashed against the windshield. Fluttershy reacted without thinking, squeezing the right trigger and blasting him off of the chariot with a scream.
Now more workers were appearing, and they were...shooting? Fluttershy sat up as she realized that the workponies had pulled out hoofguns and began blasting away at them!
Roaring down a tunnel, tires screeching in protest, past a group of armed 'workponies', through a scaffolding, and suddenly they were airborne. Graymane had time for a choked scream as the chariot turned sideways, before everything went dark with a crash.
Fluttershy forced herself to breathe, before turning back to Angel, forcing a smile on her face. "T...there we go, Angel Bunny. They crashed: the game's ove-"
Angel shot her another glare. Fluttershy turned slowly back to the screen, as the blackness slowly dissolved like torn paper, leaving thin black letters framed over a pure white background. Letters that formed the words "The Darkness" before fading like ink in water.
"Celestia help me..."
"Hey...where are you"
For a brief moment, all Fluttershy could see was the dull gray of solid concrete, her screen wobbling violently as her character, this seemingly inconspicuous earth pony called "Jackie," struggled to get back on his hooves, vision blurred and hazy as he ran his hooves over his arms, checking for any damage.
"Oh, Celestia... it HURTS!" shrieked a voice from behind the wreckage of their chariot.
Pressing the left thumbstick, Fluttershy ran behind the chariot to find Graymane sprawled on the ground. Her stomach did a flip as she ran her eyes over the wounded pegasus: a wing lay two feet away from him in a pool of blood, and something white and pointed was sticking out of his left hind leg. A prompt appeared on the screen, indicating to Fluttershy that she could help him by pressing A.
"Ah Celestia, I think they clipped me somethin' good that time," mouthed the white-coated pegasus as he limped towards a nearby lamp, a steady trickle of blood leaking from yet another gaping flesh wound in his right wing, an charred piece of shrapnel embedded in the appendage.
"Listen, Jackie, it's not safe fer you ta be here..." came the pain-wracked moan of the white-coated pegasus as he tried to settle himself down, desperately tending to his wounds.
"Take that door and you'll be in the nearest Manehatten construction site. You an' I both know that yer uncle's not gonna be one ta' let ya go that easy, so I've gotcha a little somethin' right here."
Reaching a hoof into his now-charred business suit, the white-maned pegasus pulled out two intricately carved pistols, their pitch-black shade of dusk dimly reflecting the faint light overhead, gleaming in the sheen.
"Some twenty-first birthday, eh, kid?"
"Thanks, Graymane..." Jackie's low, husky voice seemed to echo through the encroaching blackness; eerily calm despite only narrowly evading death's gaping maw.
Silently bearing witness to all this, Fluttershy couldn't help but clasp her hooves to her mouth as she felt a pang of sorrow in her heart for this helpless earth pony, abandoned by fate to a seemingly inescapable end.
"Th- That's horrible, Angel!" choked the visibly moved pegasus as she felt a pang of sorrow for the condemned earth pony, her heart visibly pained by his ordeal. "How could anyponyDO such a thing!"
In response, the dainty white rabbit could only shake his head in faint exasperation, rolling his eyes and pointing his left paw at the screen, a frown creasing his lips as he tried to make his owner remember she still had a game to play.
"Huh? Oh- right! Sorry about that, Angel..." murmured Fluttershy as she turned her attention back to the screen in front of her, Graymane's two pistols now grasped firmly in Jackie's forehooves as the earthpony reared back on both hind legs, slowly turning to face the door forward.
Gently nudging her left analog stick forward, Fluttershy commanded Jackie to slowly make his way towards the door, slowly edging the ever-calm earth pony forward until the door finally creaked open, revealing nothing save a gray, dimly-lit hallway adorned with little more than a lone, rusty ladder, a few stacked boxes and a bunch of used two-by-fours.
"D-Do I really have to go this way?" squeaked the frightened pegasus as she turned to her white-coated companion, a look of utter pleading in her eyes.
Turning his head sideways, Angel shot Fluttershy an icy stare that quickly silenced whatever plea the visibly chilled pegasus was attempting to muster, a nearly inaudible squeak of terror escaping her lips as she once more commanded Jackie to walk forth, down the lone hallway.
Contrary to her expectations, the dimly lit hallway was little more than that: a simple, dull hallway filled with little more than basic construction supplies, heavy machinery and a small load-lifter that looked ready to fall apart at the bolts.
Gently pushing her stick forward with a little more force, Fluttershy commanded Jackie to break into a light run forward, leaping straight into the load lifter and hitting the rust-worn "up" button, slowly bringing the antiquated load-lifter to life with an audible, ear-splitting 'creak.'
Beginning its laborious ascent, the aged load lifter bore Jackie upwards with speeds that would have made even the slowest turtle look like Rainbow Dash on her best day; thin streams of light slowly filtering in and out of gaps in the platform as it slowly rose to ceiling height.
Borne from the inky blackness of the night itself, a voice utterly devoid of emotion, heart and harmony roiled forth, bearing an infernal power that crushed all light before it, staining Jackie's vision with an otherwordly grey.
The very moment she heard that infernal sound, Fluttershy threw herself backwards, toppling over the chair with a shriek. The moment she hit the floor, the terrified pegasus scrambled to her hooves, tearing as fast as she could to the door.
Something small and furry hit her in the small of her back, sending her sprawling. A second later, the case was shoved into her face, a small furry paw pointing at the cover. Fluttershy felt her forehead hit the ground, sighing in defeat.
No sooner had it come did the voice once again fade into the aether, disappearing from hearing and mind as the rusted load-lifter finally creaked into place, Fluttershy picked up the controller, gently edging Jackie out of the aged machine and into yet another dull, gray room filled with box upon box of construction supplies.
"So I says to him-"
Sensing danger, the timid pegasus commanded Jackie to crouch low with a simple press of her thumbstick, edging the earth pony around a central support pillar as she tried to follow the source of the noise, gently craning Jackie's head over a bunch of loose boxes to get a quick look ahead.
"Oh, right, well that's very generous of-"
Pausing mid-sentence, two pegasi, each dressed in inconspicuous worker wear, craned their heads around in suspicion as they sensed they were not alone, wings gently beating off the ground as they flew overhead to check out the pile of wooden two-by-fours near the central support pillar.
It was just a few seconds later when they rounded round the corner where Fluttershy was hiding, and the moment they caught sight of her, the first one let out a shout of alarm, reaching down to his belt and drawing his piece...
Except that he never got a chance to.
Time immediately slowed down. For Fluttershy, everything seemed to crawl agonizingly slow as the pegasi's movements reduced themselves to a sluggish creep. Everything she saw came in painfully sharp detail; everything she heard was registered with crystal clear clarity. Her senses stretched beyond what she thought even possible, the pegasus found her hooves reacting with almost robotic efficiency.
The laser pointers indicating where her guns were aiming almost seemed to be moving on their own as they positioned themselves neatly above the foremost pegasus's head, and with a single twitch of her right forehoof, sent a round spinning right through his cranium.
The pegasus toppled like a ton of bricks, collapsing to the floor below him with a heavy thud!, and before his partner could even react, Fluttershy had already whipped her targeting lasers around, bringing Jackie's weapons to bear on him.
Another twitch, another bang!, and another pegasi corpse crumpled limply to the floor, a neat, bloody hole drilled right through his head.
For a while, nothing but the sound of a ringing silence permeated the empty living room, the remnants of the gunshots fading into the distance as the game regained some semblance of silence.
That is, until Angel Bunny's carrot hit the floor with a soft 'THUD.'
"...and that'll be fourteen bits, Ms. Lyra!" chirped the ever-carefree Pinkie as she dropped off a small box of six cupcakes into the lime-green unicorn's awaiting hooves, gleefully receiving exactly fourteen gold coins in return.
"Thanks, Pinkie!" came the gleeful reply of the town's resident lyre virtuoso, her eyes almost sparkling with delight. "Bon-Bon just loves cupcakes, so I figured it's about time I give her a little surprise!"
"Oh, no problem at all, Ms. Lyra!" chirped Pinkie, merrily tossing the bits into her pouch. "In fact, I just picked up a little surprise for myself at the local GameHoof, and-"
Shredding off the brown paper packaging, Pinkie could've sworn her heart literally skipped a beat as her once-puffy mane literally deflated in the blink of an eye, becoming limp and lifeless as the once-energetic earth pony stood rooted to the spot, eyes wide with fear.
In place of the game she had been expecting, a lone copy of some game apparently titled 'The Sims' lay right before her hooves, the utterly un-threatening cover art filled from top to bottom with gleeful, carefree ponies waving up at her from within the cover of the game that, very clearly, was not hers.
Was. Not. Hers.
The ramifications of what had just transpired slammed into Pinkie like a proverbial freight train, and though it seemed even physically impossible, her already-widened eyes grew even larger as she realized just what this meant.
Sweet Celestia... could Fluttershy have already...
Dashing off towards the western edge of Ponyville at breakneck speed, Pinkie Pie prayed silently to the Princess of the Sun that somehow, just somehow, she hadn't just consigned Fluttershy to an eternity of sleepless nights.
"YOU WRONGED ME, JACKIE."
"YOU BETRAYED MY GIFT."
Snarling forth, the same infernal, vile-spawned voice that Fluttershy had now come to associate with her ever-constant companion, this... monstrosity known only as "The Darkness," boiled with barely-suppressed anger and rage as it slowly wrenched the once-unconscious Jackie back to the realm of the living.
...On hindsight, "living" might not have been the best of words to use.
Though Jackie's vision may have stained with haze and blur, Fluttershy could still make out the vague outline of a near-skeletal pegasus silently beating his wings as he... it, fluttered down what appeared to be... a trench of sorts, dimly lit by three faint, orange lamps spread along the length of an old, termite-eaten wood support.
Slowly, the rest of Jackie's vision came into focus, the hazy murk clouding the earth pony's eyes slowly fading as Fluttershy began to make out the vague outline of Jackie's lower body, his leather jacket beaten and dusty in a few places, but otherwise no worse for the wear.
Whipping her eyes upward, Fluttershy could only narrow her eyes in barely-contained anger as she watched that very same pegasus, adorned in military regalia of purest black, sadistically twirl a small pistol in his hooves.
Craning downwards with the sickening sound of bone grinding against bone, the skeletal pegasus gave a utterly malicious snarl of pleasure, staring deep into the tear-stained eyes of an innocent unicorn, his amber mane slick with ash and rainfall.
Heaving in time with the peals of thunder from the hellish, ashen sky above, the lone pony of war could barely choke back sobs as he wept into his navy-blue uniform, gasping through the tears.
"N-no... no, no! Have mercy! C... Celestia help me... p-please! PLEASE HAVE MERCY! PLEASE!"
Slowly levelling the weapon with the innocent unicorn's horn, the grotesque form of the undead pegasus began snapping his neck back and forth, hoof tightening around the trigger in a slow, agonizing press, almost as if to savour the grim vicissitude of the moment.
Crumpling backwards to the floor, blood trickled from the unicorn's head in a slow, steady stream, horn visibly smashed from the slug's massive impact. His eyes, hollow and void, stared blankly upwards into the ashen skies, tears mingling with crimson as they flowed freely down his mud-stained cheeks.
"YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE."
Hoisting himself upright, Jackie raised both hooves to shield himself from the oncoming thunder of a massive explosion tearing through the trench before him, fire and ash nipping at his clothes as the skeletal pegasus calmly fluttered through the inferno, not even fazed by the roaring heat and flame.
Narrowing her eyes, Fluttershy commanded Jackie to break into a quick run forward, time once dilating to a near-standstill for the yellow pegasus as the world around her seemed to fade into a distant blur, hairline cracks tinted orange appearing at the edges of her vision.
To the yellow pegasus, all that remained clear before her was the unsuspecting pegasus, blissfully unaware of his approaching doom as Fluttershy's concentration deepened even further, the world around her and Jackie literally grinding to a complete halt as she fired two shots right into the pegasus's wings, clipping him from the air and sending him straight to the charred earth with a horrific, snarling scream.
"THIS IS FOR JENNY!" yelled Fluttershy in an uncharacteristic show of anger, bringing Jackie right up close and personal with the skeletal pegasus, immediately clamping both hooves down on her right and left triggers.
In response to Fluttershy's command, Jackie immediately brought his left leg down with bone-crushing force, smashing his leather loafers straight into the lower jaw of the demonic pegasus, eliciting a very audible crackas the bone shattered completely.
Whipping out Graymane's pistols, Jackie pointed both straight into the lifeless orbs of the undead monstrosity that dared pass itself off as one of the living, ramming both muzzles straight into the hollow eyeholes and pulling both triggers, popping the demonic pony's head like a rotten grape.
No longer a threat, the lifeless corpse of the undead pegasus lay motionless on the ashen trench, his wings slowly ceasing all movement as the all-too-familiar prompt flashed at the bottom of the screen.
"Press A to Devour Heart"
"AND THIS IS FOR GRAYMANE!" The pegasus yelled again, her hoof unhesitatingly landing down on the A button without a second thought.
Immediately, the darkness itself seemed to contort at Jackie's beck and call, coalescing into a formless, writhing mass of jagged tentacles flanked by two snapping, infernal vipers; maws lined with row after row of jagged, hellish fangs that looked more than sufficient to tear anypony in two.
Snaking forward on their master's command, the left choose to keep silent vigil over Jackie's head while the other, more savage twin instead chose to tear through the rotten, undead corpse, wrenching out the blackened, withered heart and gobbling it up in a shower of visceral gore and stained blood.
"I don't care who or what you are! NOPONY HURTS MY FRIENDS! NOPONY!"
Sliding down the infernal viper's throat, the bio-luminescent lights adorning the sides of the two hell-spawned snakes immediately shifted to a bright tinge of crimson red, sending the two adders into a literal frenzy as they began snapping at thin air, baring their teeth in raucous glee at Jackie, jaws snapping dangerously close but taking great care not to harm their master.
At the top of the screen, three words slowly faded into existence right below the emblem of a lone, jagged tentacle, fading almost as quickly as it appeared.
"DEMON ARM ACQUIRED"
"Demon... Arm?" queried Fluttershy, a little puzzled by this sudden turn of events; by now, she'd grown so used to the use of Jackie's demonic vipers it was a little surprising to gain anothernew power.
Venturing further down the trench, explosion after explosion tore down the length of the aged embattlement as dust and ash flew in all directions, one particularly large tremor sending a veritable landslide of rubble crashing straight into the trench, sending Jackie stumbling backwards and blocking any further progress.
To any other pony, this would have probably been quite the setback, and probably one they wouldn't see an immediate answer to; Fluttershy, on the other hand, narrowed her eyes to slits and sent forth Jackie's newest power.
In response, the inky blackness at the earth pony's feet swirled and bubbled, contorting like freshly made taffy before spawning forth an enormous, serrated tendril; the black appendage tearing through the rubble before them like it was little more than a cloud of dust.
Sensing the disturbance, yet another otherworld pony, this time apparently a unicorn, poked his head out from an adjoining room, horn immediately glowing a sickly green as he summoned forth an aged, wooden rifle.
He never stood a chance.
Galloping along the garden path to Fluttershy's humble abode, sweat poured down Pinkie Pie's brow as the earth pony's heart hammered away in her chest, worry and fear at the very forefront of her mind.
Upon reaching the entrance to Fluttershy's home, Pinkie threw open the mahogany door and barreled straight for her friend's living room, searching frantically for the innocent, and hopefully unscarred pegasus.
"FLUTTERSHY? IT'S ME, PINKIE! I BROUGHT YOUR-"
Whatever train of thought barreling through her mind instantly derailing like Ditzy Doo on her mailing rounds, Pinkie Pie could only watch in mute amazement as her jaw literally hit the floor, speechless at what transpired before her very eyes.
Her eyes narrowed to wire-thin slits, Fluttershy's hooves literally danced about her controller as the normally sweet, demure look on her face was replaced by one of unwavering concentration; the usual smile on her lips replaced by a stoic frown that belied stone-hardened purpose, willing to do whateverit took to reach the end.
On-screen, terrified screams and wails of blood-curdling terror echoed throughout the room as pony after pony ran screaming, sobbing and begging for their lives as blackened tendrils of purest night eviscerated all who stood in Fluttershy's way, her ravenous serpentine minions tearing into corpse after corpse and popping still-beating hearts with a sickening squelch.
"FLUTTERSHY!" yelled Pinkie, snapping the yellow pegasus out of her reveire and back to the reality of Ponyville.
"Huh? Pinkie? I-" was all the yellow pegasus could manage as she brought a lone hoof to her forehead, shaking off some mild dizziness. "I didn't quite see you there... sorry if I caused you any trouble..."
Shaking her head from side to side, the pink earth pony immediately darted over to Fluttershy and put a hoof to her best friend's forehead.
"A-are you sure you're alright? No fevers, chills, no strange twitchy-twitches or anything like that?"
Sighing, Fluttershy's smile once more returned to her face, gently brushing Pinkie's hoof off her forehead.
"It's alright, Pinkie." breathed the yellow pegasus, her voice back to normal. "I-I'm just a little tired, that's all. Could I please have my copy of The Sims... if you don't mind, that is."
"Oh- right!" said Pinkie, perking up as she rummaged around in her delivery pouch for Fluttershy's game, gently taking it out and handing it over to the pegasus. "I hope that you can, y'know... forgive me?"
"Oh Pinkie, don't be silly!" exhorted the yellow pegasus, fluttering over to the Xbox and gently ejecting the disc. "No harm done whatsoever!"
Breathing a sigh of relief, Pinkie Pie trotted over to her floating friend and gently took the case for The Darkness in her hooves, putting it right back in her delivery pouch.
"Well then in that case," perked up Pinkie Pie, her mane now back to its regular, puffy self. "I'll get down to this baby sometime tomorrow... it was pretty tiring running all over Ponyville covering for this week's cupcake rush."
"Oh..." murmured Fluttershy, gently floating over to the door to help Pinkie Pie take her leave. "Well don't let me stop you on any account, so why don't you run along and get some much-needed rest, Pinkie."
"Thanks, Fluttershy!" yelled Pinkie as she trotted out the door and out along the garden path. "Hope you enjoy that 'Sims' game of yours!"
"Oh, no worries!" yelled Fluttershy in response, a tiny smile flickering across her face. "I think I'm going to enjoy this one a lot."
By this hour, everypony in Ponyville would have, under normal circumstances, tucked themselves away under the safety of their covers, snuggling warmly up to their pillows and plushies as they eagerly awaited the rising of Celestia's sun for the coming of a new day.
Well, almost everypony, at least.
Humming silently to herself, Fluttershy gently pried open her bedroom doorway with an almost inaudible creak, gently trotting down the stairwell to her living room and stopping just shy of her lone television set.
"Hmm Hmmm, Hmmm Hmmm..." came the yellow pegasus's sweet, almost hypnotic lullaby as she slowly lifted her copy of The Sims off the sofa, gently prying it open and fluttering over to her TV, switching it on with one gentle push of a button.
She looked down at the disk inside, and a warm smile spread across her face.
Nudging her 360's eject button with a simple tap of her hooves, Fluttershy slowly placed the disc inside and quietly edged the tray back inside, soundlessly floating over to her couch as she picked up her trusty controller, flopping into her pillows with a subdued 'bamf,' still humming silently to herself.
Soon, the television began to dim as the shroud of night completely enveloped Fluttershy's living room, her TV slowly flickering back to life as the all-too familiar face of one Jackie Estacado came into view, standing alone amidst the darkness.
Flickering above, a lone spotlight kept silent vigil over the night, illuminating little more than Jackie's hollow, hardened eyes.
Slowly, surely, both Jackie and Fluttershy began to grin; lips curling upward in thin, wry smiles as the encroaching darkness boiled with malice, writhing and snapping to the faint echoes of silent melodies.
"Lucky, lucky pony."
"Haven't you guessed, Jackie?"
"You are The Darkness."
"You can do anything..."
"And they'll pay the price."