The Games We Play

by AbsoluteAnonymous

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: First Sight

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The mare in black stood on the edge of the bakery rooftop, surveying the streets below.

A wide-brimmed hat was pulled low over her eyes, her face hidden by a mask and a swirling cape draped theatrically over her shoulders. Normally, such a conspicuous costume would have attracted the attention of countless wandering eyes by now, and she would have had to bolt – but tonight, she was yet to be spotted. She almost blended in with the shadows, melting into the scenery like yet another facet of the night.

Her eyes followed the street as far as they could in the direction that the blue pegasus had gone. Although the pegasus moved quickly, she wasn't completely out of sight yet. Her current speed was nothing compared to how fast the mare knew she could fly during a race. As long as Rainbow Dash didn't realize she was being followed, catching up with her would be a cinch.

Mare Do Well smiled.

Wasting no time, she jumped, her cloak fluttering behind her. With a soft thud, she landed nimbly on the roof of the next building across the way. As soon as she touched down, she sprung into the air once more, and continued like this for some time, leaping easily from rooftop to rooftop.

Sure enough, she'd soon caught up with her quarry; but the pegasus remained as oblivious as ever, unaware of the shadow that trailed her.

• • •

Okay, so, spending a night in Cloudsdale, watching a Wonderbolts show – awesome. Returning to Ponyville so weighed down with merch that she couldn't even fly – not awesome.

Still, Rainbow Dash reflected, the purchases had been worthwhile ones, even if they did bulge so much in her saddlebags that her flight pattern had been thrown all out of whack, forcing her to walk. How she'd made it so far in life without a set of officially licensed Spitfire and Soarin' shot glasses was beyond her. Sure, she didn't like to drink, but she could start.

Casting a quick glance behind her, Rainbow Dash saw that she was alone. Since there was nopony here that she needed to maintain a cool facade for, she relaxed just long enough to let a single giggle escape, giving a giddy little hop.

Best night ever? Oh, yeah, Rainbow thought, still caught in the throes of excitement. Even if it probably wasn't the best night ever, a night of getting to watch her idols perform live and up close definitely qualified as the best night in recent memory, at least.

She was so caught up in reliving the highlights of the evening that she almost didn't notice when she walked straight into a stallion.

"Oops," Rainbow Dash said, catching herself and taking a quick step back. "Sorry. 'Scuse me."

He didn't move.

Since being burdened down with such heavy, lumpy saddlebags had made flying too awkward to consider, Rainbow Dash had instead opted to try and find a route on the ground that would allow her to get home as quickly as possible. Such a route naturally involved plenty of shortcuts, and, ignoring every safety rule she'd ever been taught as a filly, Rainbow Dash had found herself cutting through all kinds of back alleys and narrow streets as she'd charged through Ponyville, eager to unpack her purchases and further add to her collection of Wonderbolts memorabilia.

But now as she stood there, alone, too weighed down to fly and her path blocked by a wide, heavyset unicorn stallion, the pegasus was wondering if that had been a very good idea.

"Um, excuse me?" she repeated. Her voice remained steady – she was cool that way – but her nervously fluttering wings gave away the sudden uncertainty she felt.

Rainbow Dash stretched her neck, trying to peek behind him and preparing to sidestep him – or even just push him out of the way – if she had to. But the stallion matched her movements, blocking her view.

"Those bags look pretty heavy," he said casually, but his friendly smile had an edge to it.

"Yeah, they are, so that's why I wanna just get home as soon as possible, y'know?" Rainbow Dash answered in a breezy way. She took a quick step to the right, hoping to squeeze past him, but again, he matched her step, successfully blocking her way once more. Any anxiety she might have felt before was replaced with a surge of irritation. "What is your problem?" she snapped, narrowing her eyes.

"You're a pegasus. Can't you just flap your little wings and fly away if you wanna get past me so bad?" he asked.

It took every ounce of what little self-control Rainbow Dash had to resist bucking him in the face right then and there. "Can you just get out of my way?"

"What's in the bags?"

"None of your business. Stuff. Now move, before I make you." Rainbow Dash snarled, sharply flapping her wings once with a snap. Just for good measure.

"How're you gonna make me?" he said. He took a step forward, giving a dark laugh. "There's nopony else here, we're alone in a dark alley, and I'm guessing you can't fly. Probably because of those bags, right? Why don't you let me help you take those off your hooves?"

"What? No! I spent, like, a million bits on this stuff, I'm not just gonna give it away!" Rainbow Dash cried. Although she'd heard and understood every word of his implied threat, the part about the bags was all that seemed to reach her. After all, the contents were precious; there was no way she was going to let some random stallion try and take them from her. "Do you even know who I am? I'm Rainbow Dash. Ponyville's most awesome pegasus, winner of the Best Young Flier's Competition, local hero? Do you seriously think you can intimidate me? If you do, then you must be dumber than you look."

"I don't have to," he answered simply. And with that, his horn lit with an orange glow, an aura that proceeded to encircle her saddlebags and yank them loose.

"What the hay? Give those back!" Rainbow Dash shouted. She leapt forward, forelegs waving wildly in a panicked attempt to retrieve them, but the stallion only grinned smugly and jerked them out of her reach with his magic, again and again, like he was playing keep-away.

"Worth a million bits, huh? What's even in here?" he asked, still in that infuriatingly playful tone as he casually undid the flap to rummage through the contents. "Big Wonderbolts fan, I see."

"Oh, that's it, it's on!" Rainbow Dash spat. "You messed with the wrong pegasus, buddy. Give me back my bags or I'll have to kick your flank, and then you'll –"

She paused. The unicorn stallion's eyes had widened in fear, his jaw dropping in shock. The orange aura holding the bag aloft vanished, dropping it unceremoniously on the ground. The contents spilled on the road.

"...be sorry?" Rainbow finished. "Wow, you're kind of a chump, aren't you? Is that seriously all it took to scare you?"

The stallion lifted a shaking hoof, taking a clumsy, unsteady step back, then again, and then once more. Still he gaped, babbling incoherently as he struggled to speak.

"Mare Do Well!" he finally whispered.

Rainbow Dash frowned.

"Huh? Did you just say –"

She turned her head to glance behind her, and her jaw dropped as well.

Perched on the roof of the building above them was a figure cloaked in darkness, a black cape streaming behind it, its shape illuminated only by the light of the silver moon.

"Mare Do Well!" the stallion yelped again. "Mare Do Well's back!"

He turned and broke into a run, and although Rainbow Dash normally would've given chase right then and there, she remained frozen in place, utterly dumbfounded.

Mare Do Well leapt with surprising grace from the roof, landing in the alley directly beside Rainbow Dash – who continued to stare, jaw still hanging open in shock. The stallion's hoofsteps faded into the night, but the masked mare didn't even attempt to go after him; instead, she bent her head to gather the straps of Rainbow Dash's saddlebag in her mouth before offering it to the pegasus, who accepted it wordlessly.

"Um, thanks?" Rainbow Dash ventured after she'd affixed it onto her back once again.

Mare Do Well nodded, and Rainbow Dash blinked, still somewhat stunned, before scowling.

"Okay, very funny. Who is it?" she asked before reaching for the mask that hid the other mare's face; but Mare Do Well took a step back, just barely escaping Rainbow Dash's reach.

"Twilight? Is that you?" Rainbow Dash guessed, once more reaching for the mask; but Mare Do Well again backed away. "No, Twilight would've used magic to get the bag. Uh... Applejack? Oh, wait, it's probably Pinkie, isn't it? This is a prank."

Mare Do Well silently shook her head.

"Didn't you humiliate me enough last time?" Rainbow Dash said irritably. "Are you going for round two, now? Come on, take off that stupid mask. You made your point, whatever it is."

Instead of answering, the mare gave a brief, mocking salute before springing out of reach with a surprisingly nimble leap. Again, Rainbow Dash was too taken aback to consider giving chase, and instead stood alone in the dimly lit alley, watching as the caped crusader disappeared into the night, leaving no trace or sign that she'd been there at all.

• • •

The next day was a beautiful and sunny one in Ponyville, and several very close friends were gathered for a picnic by the stream in celebration of the lovely weather – courtesy of Rainbow Dash, thank you very much.

It had been Pinkie Pie's idea to throw a Hurray It's the Last Warm Day Before We Bring In Winter picnic, and although they'd gathered under the premise of enjoying the sun together, they'd already divided into individual factions. Twilight was stretched across the red-and-white checked blanket they'd brought, a book spread open before her like always. Applejack was leaning lazily against a nearby tree, eyes shut as she chewed on a piece of straw that she held clenched between her teeth. Off to the side, Rarity was brushing Fluttershy's long, rose-colored hair, exclaiming softly over how lovely and fine it was, and Pinkie Pie was stuffing her face with a batch of cupcakes that she'd pulled out of nowhere.

Rainbow Dash was, as always, late, but when she finally arrived, she stopped in front of her friends, forelegs crossed over her chest before curtly demanding, "So which of you guys was it?"

"Was what?" Twilight asked, not even pretending to look up from her reading.

"Come on, you know," Rainbow Dash answered impatiently, tapping a hoof irritably.

"Um... I'm pretty sure we don't," Applejack said with a yawn and a stretch.

"Which of you guys dressed up like Mare Do Well just to embarrass me? Don't you think I learned my lesson the first time? Way to keep rubbing it in. Geez." She rolled her eyes.

That caught their attention.

Twilight lifted her head from her book, looking puzzled. Applejack opened one eye, her brow furrowed. Rarity and Fluttershy exchanged confused glances. Pinkie Pie continued to eat cupcakes obliviously, apparently having not heard a single word of the conversation.

"Rainbow Dash, what are you talking about?" Twilight Sparkle finally asked, her head cocked in perplexity.

The pegasus sighed heavily before pushing her sunglasses up onto her forehead, so as to look at her friends disdainfully through narrowed eyes.

"Last night I ran into somepony dressed like Mare Do Well. It must have been one of you pulling some kind of a stupid prank, so, who was it?"

"Are you sure you weren't just seeing things?" Twilight asked carefully, marking her place in her book before closing it and sitting up.

"Positive," Rainbow Dash answered before plopping down onto the blanket, striking what she hoped was a casual, relaxed stance. She didn't want anypony to see how shaken up she really was from the whole experience. It wasn't just the fact that she'd almost been robbed; it was the fact that one of her supposed friends had once again donned the cloak of the now-legendary Mare Do Well with the express purpose of embarrassing her. If word got around that Rainbow Dash of all ponies had almost been overpowered by some street tough, her reputation would be completely ruined. "She was wearing the hat and mask and everything. Very funny, you sure showed me, yadda yadda yadda."

"It wasn't me," Twilight said, looking over to Rarity. "I gave my costume back to Rarity because I thought she might be able to use it for something."

"That's right," Rarity agreed, nodding emphatically. "I thought maybe I could work it over into a new ensemble. It would be such a shame for all that lovely fabric to go to waste. And of course you know I never had my own."

"I still have mine, but I can promise you right here and now that I haven't worn mine since the day I put it away," Applejack said sleepily. "I don't plan to, neither."

"Oh, I could never wear it again, it was so embarrassing," Fluttershy squeaked, seeming to shrink a little behind her curtain of hair, which Rarity once again took up to brush. "Everypony was watching me. It was terrible."

"Gummy ate mine!" Pinkie Pie said happily. "He tore it into itty bitty little pieces and got a really sick tummy after. Poor little guy."

Rainbow Dash carefully examined the matching expressions of earnestness that her friends wore. Their eyes were all wide and sincere.

Applejack, at least, wouldn't lie, and Fluttershy didn't seem the type to moonlight as a masked crime fighter when she was scared of the dark. As for the others, their stories seemed probable enough.

"Fine," Dash said at last, pulling her sunglasses back down over her eyes and stretching out to lie on the blanket. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I was just seeing things."

• • •

Although she'd ended up agreeing that she must have imagined it, privately, Rainbow Dash knew better.

That wasn't the kind of thing you could just imagine. Her encounter with Mare Do Well had been real – up close and personal, not just some trick of the light or an instance of her mind playing games with her. She knew the truth; she'd seen the mare herself. Not only that, but so had the thug who'd tried to take her bags. Why else would he have run?

Rainbow might've liked to imagine that he'd run due to how intimidating Rainbow Dash herself was, but as much as it pained her to admit it, she knew that wasn't the case.

She was the only one who knew that Mare Do Well had been nothing more than an elaborate hoax played on the town by her friends to teach her a lesson about humility. As far as everypony else knew, Mare Do Well had been some sort of incredible hero, performing feats of inequine strength and bravery in order to protect the town. A hero who had disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as she'd arrived. Rainbow Dash was the only one who knew that the truth was that her friends had decided she'd gotten the point and no longer needed to keep up the charade.

If Mare Do Well had made some sort of comeback, then it must have been one of them. That, or a copycat artist of some sort. But who would do that? And why?

Rainbow Dash tossed and turned on her cloud bed, eyes squeezed shut, body tense. She felt frazzled, and couldn't sleep, no matter how hard she tried to relax. Her brain was spinning in circles, her mind working faster and faster, thoughts pinging back and forth as she considered.

When the pegasus closed her eyes, all she could see was that sleek mare in black, playfully saluting her before fading into the dark, and all she could feel was irritation that she hadn't even thought to chase her.

I can't sleep, Rainbow finally decided with a sigh, pushing aside her blanket and glaring at the ceiling. Midnight in Ponyville. Everypony in town dead to the world – all except for her. How annoying.

If her friends were telling the truth and really weren't just trying to mess with her, then it must have been a copycat Mare Do Well, but the costume was too perfect to have been made by anypony other than Rarity, so it must have been one of the original outfits.

Rarity had never had one in the first place. Applejack and Fluttershy still had theirs, but they'd both said that they wouldn't wear them again, and Rainbow doubted that they would've lied to her face. Pinkie's had been eaten, apparently. Twilight had said that she'd returned her costume when she'd finished with it, and Rarity had said that she'd been planning on making it into an ensemble. But if she hadn't made the alterations yet... then maybe somepony had stolen it.

Her eyes flew open. It was possible.

All she needed to do to find out for sure was talk to Rarity.

With a sudden purpose in mind, Rainbow Dash sprung out of bed, ignoring the fact that it was at least two in the morning as she bolted out of her cloud home and flew straight for Carousel Boutique.

• • •

"I can't tell you that."

"Why not?!"

Rainbow Dash pawed at the ground anxiously, wings beating in frustration.

When she'd first arrived at Rarity's doorstep, she'd immediately begun pounding on the door, bellowing for Rarity to answer because it was "really important."

When Rarity had finally answered, the unicorn had been more than a little annoyed at the interruption to her beauty sleep, but when she'd seen how flustered Rainbow Dash looked, her anger seemed to drain away and she'd invited her friend in. But apparently she hadn't been expecting Rainbow Dash to ask her what she did with the Mare Do Well costume.

"Well, customer confidentiality, for one thing," Rarity answered icily. Although she was feeling a little more gracious towards Rainbow Dash than usual due to the burst of sympathy she'd felt earlier, she was still far from forgiving of the disruption, and the venom in her tone reflected that. "I can't just go about announcing exactly what everypony purchases from my shop, you know. It's bad business."

"So somepony definitely bought it? They didn't just steal it?"

Rarity sighed, rubbing her temple with a hoof. "I can tell you that Twilight returned the costume to me, and that I intended to alter it into a new outfit, but before I could, somepony asked to buy it. I can't tell you who it was, though. That would be stepping out of line."

"But it's just a costume!" Rainbow Dash protested loudly, and Rarity winced. She would have expected Rainbow Dash of all ponies to understand how vital sleep could be, considering how much the pegasus seemed to love it, but apparently she had no qualms whatsoever about bursting into a pony's house at all hours of the night and making all kinds of racket. "What's so private about a stupid outfit? If you're planning to wear it, what's the point of buying something you'd be embarrassed if anypony found out about?"

"Well, obviously there are exceptions," Rarity said pointedly.

"I guess so," Rainbow Dash grudgingly admitted, scowling at the ground. Even she had to admit that it was likely that a superhero might want to keep their identity secret. "But it's really important, okay? I want to know who's running around dressed like Mare Do Well. It's weird."

"Why do you care so much?" Rarity muttered. Her cheek rested on a hoof. Her eyes were shut, and she yawned, already half-asleep. Normally she made a great effort to carry herself with as much grace and nobility as possible for a unicorn such as herself, as befitted a proper lady, but when Rarity felt sleepy, she was in no mood to put forth that much effort and it showed.

Rarity opened an eye, ears cocking in interest. "You said you ran into this Mare Do Well imposter, but you never actually told us what happened. How did you see her? What happened?"

"Nothing," Rainbow Dash said quickly. She hadn't mentioned the almost-robbery to anypony else, not even her friends, out of embarrassment, and she certainly wasn't planning to. "I was just flying around like normal, and everything was cool, when I saw her standing on the roof."

"Hmm," Rarity mumbled. She'd already lost interest apparently, and was again slumping in her chair, slowly drifting back off to sleep. "Look, I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash, but I can't help you. Could you go, now? I need my beauty sleep, and I'm in no mood for company. I still have curlers in, for Celestia's sake. You're just lucky Sweetie Belle wasn't here when you barged in."

"Yeah, whatever," Rainbow Dash answered in a faraway tone, already preparing to leave. "Thanks for your help, I guess. I'm gonna go look for clues now."

"What kind of clues could you possibly expect to find at this time of night?"

But Rainbow Dash was already gone.

If somepony out there really was masquerading as Mare Do Well, then chances were that they would once again strike at night. Not that Rainbow Dash actually knew for sure; it was just a gut feeling.

Luckily, she had fantastic guts, guts that could usually be trusted, and she figured that if she flew around for a while, she was bound to run into the Faker Do Well.

• • •

Rooftops were overplayed. So cliché. Time for something new.

Skulking in dark alleyways was proving to be much, much more enjoyable, Mare Do Well found. There was something so fun about seeing the look of surprise on the faces of the ponies she leapt at from the shadows. They always looked so bewildered; it was like the best kind of practical joke. She could only imagine what it must have looked like; it must have been so surreal – to think you're completely alone, only for a mare to emerge from the darkness, seemingly out of nowhere.

In the past, she'd worked only during the day, but the night was quickly proving to be her new favorite time to wander. But she needed to take care. She wasn't doing this for the same reasons as before. Defeating crooks and protecting the weak and helpless was all very well and good, but that wasn't her purpose anymore.

Her purpose was a pegasus, with hair made of rainbows and a coat the exact color of the sky on a clear day. A pegasus that was currently held in the grips of insomnia and circling the village from overhead, apparently scanning the streets. Looking for something. Or somepony.

Mare Do Well watched from the shadows, protected from Rainbow Dash's wandering eyes by her cover of night. Funny how she felt safest while hidden and unnoticed, when she was supposed to be the savior of the town. What kind of superhero felt comfortable only when out of the spotlight? Wasn't the point of donning an identity as gaudy as this supposed to be the attention? The desire for recognition?

It was almost laughable. But not quite.

She watched Rainbow Dash for a long time.

Her eyes were hungry for her. She wanted to know everything about her. She wanted to see everything there was to see. She observed every graceful dip and dive, every powerful beat of her wings, memorizing the way her technicolor mane flowed in the wind.

Mare Do Well slipped from street to street, ducking behind buildings and sneaking from alley to alley as she trailed the pegasus, and Rainbow Dash continued to fly, never once suspecting that the pony she was seeking was much closer than she thought. That she was, in fact, right under her nose.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Stormy Weather Estimated time remaining: 8 Hours, 55 Minutes
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