Glimmer in the Snow

by Emperor

Chapter 1

The crisp morning air was exhilarating, giving Double Diamond the strength he needed to climb the last few steps of the mountainside. His lungs gave him energy, and he felt alive.

At last, Double Diamond stopped. Turning, he surveyed his surroundings. Above him was a blue sky, with only a few grey patches hanging around. In front of him and below was a sea of trees, buried in snow and ice. Double Diamond’s kingdom was as far as the eye could see, the wilderness undisturbed by any other sapient creature. A fresh snowfall had settled in the day before. Though there were a few spots here and there where the snow had small animal tracks, it was otherwise pristine.

He was going to enjoy this.

“This is gonna be so totally awesome!” Diamond said aloud, getting himself hyped up. He had spent a decent sum to get a one-way unicorn teleportation spell to be sent up to the top of this mountain. The temperature was moderate enough that all he had brought with him besides his skis and a small lunch was a single scarf, his helmet and his tinted snow goggles.

Strapping his hooves in, Diamond kicked himself off with his one ski to build up an initial burst of speed. As gravity took over, increasing Diamond’s momentum, he started to bleed off some of his downwards velocity by constantly turning and looping through trees.

“Wheee!” Double Diamond squealed in giddy delight as the air rushed past him. The white-coated stallion was reinvigorated with every turn he made, the sharp edges of his skis kicking up sprays of fine white powder.

Winter was his kingdom.

Double Diamond continued down the mountain. The wind screeched in his ears as Diamond split the air everywhere he went, and Diamond felt his mane and tail tugging at the rest of his body, the air resistance pulling at his coat. No matter. Double Diamond had been born onto the skis, and it would take more than mere velocity to phase him.

Eyes peering ahead down the mountain, Diamond saw a small slope, and angled himself. He bent his knees ever so slightly before he was suddenly airborne. For an Earth pony, Double Diamond felt most alive when he was no longer bound to the Earth, and the few seconds he was in the air was glorious. The stallion exalted at the sense of freedom he felt as he soared through the world of ice. No pegasus could ever feel this way, having become desensitised to it.

Then Double Diamond was back on the ground. He let out a brief grunt, minimizing the shock to his limbs, and he continued, kicking up fine sprays of light powder in his wake.

So it was that Double Diamond continued to swerve and weave down the slopes. Occasionally, he would hit a patch of flat ground, bleeding out speed before he got to the next angled section. Every time he did, Double Diamond would work his legs to push himself forward, but he would always look back. The marks he left in the snow were no scars to the beauty of the winter landscape: if anything, the graceful lines made by his skis accentuated the mountain. Were Double Diamond a painter or a poet, this was where myths would have been born.

At last, Diamond broke for a late lunch. “Hmm, I’m about two-thirds down the mountain,” He said aloud, unable to keep the disappointment out of his voice. The teleportation spell had not been cheap, costing him a few days of his salary, and he had already blown through so much of the slopes. Double Diamond continued to speak out loud, finding it reassuring to hear his own voice, “Well, make it down to the bottom of the mountain, and then it’s a brief walk from there to the tracks. The train should be coming in this afternoon. Hopefully I don’t smell too bad.”

Chomping down on an apple, Diamond swallowed. Having sat out in the cold for hours, the chilled juice of the fruit was heavenly on his tongue.

He got up. The break had been a good one. Even with his tinted goggles on, the glare of the sun bouncing off the pristine white snow was bothersome. Double Diamond had sufficiently rested his eyes from the fatigue they had suffered over the high albedo of the ground.

Tossing the apple core to the side, Diamond strapped his skis back on. With a few kicks of his back legs to build up velocity, he was on his way again.

“Whoo-hoo!” Double Diamond yelped as the wind roared again, carrying his voice along the mountain valley. Deftly, Diamond avoided a pile of rocks that were too large and scattered to have been buried under the snow. Winter was his kingdom, and he would not trade his kingdom for any mere horse or pony.

His high spirits began to flag as he saw the train station where he was due off in the distance. Every second he was skiing was one second closer to having to go home.

Oh well. I guess I’ll have to enjoy what little is left of it.

Looking down the slopes, Double Diamond licked his lips in anticipation. A thick grove of trees was coming up. He would be able to make it past the dense forest cover without a problem, but first he needed to find the least-forested part of the tree lines to go through. With sharp mental acuity, his eyes spotted where he needed to go, and he navigated his skis and his body over there.

“And there we-” Double Diamond cut himself off as he saw movement down the tree line. There was a creature walking across a passageway down the slope. Quickly, Double Diamond crossed his skis to bleed off speed. “Look out!” He shouted.

The creature, who Diamond now recognised as a mare from this distance, jumped up at the sound of another pony. She looked around, not quite certain where the voice was coming from.

Move! From above!

The mare turned her head around, and finally spotted Double Diamond. The distance between the two ponies was already shortening. Double Diamond could see her purple coat, and her petrified face. He swore he could even see her blue eyes frozen in fear. The mare was a rabbit, unwilling, unable to move.

Double Diamond swore for getting too cocky about his skiing skills. He wasn’t going to be able to bleed off enough speed before he smacked into the mare.

The rational part of his mind asserted itself. Either way, he was going to be hurt, but there was an out where the mare would come to no harm. Double Diamond swerved, and ran his lower body smack into a tree, halting his movement entirely.

The stallion would later testify he wasn’t sure if he blacked out instantly or not. If he hadn’t, then he was thankful that he had forgotten what would have been moments of agonising pain before he did.

He was slow to return to the world of the living. No matter how long he had been asleep for, it was never enough. Some fundamental part of his being that was laziness ponified actively resisted waking up. Slowly, however, his body insisted on doing something, and he exited his fugue state.

“Oh. Are you awake? I’m sorry, I can’t really tell. You’ve drifted in and out a few times before.”

The voice, whoever it belonged to, was pleasant to the ears, soft and feminine. He already liked its owner.

So of course he let out a groan.

“Hmm, I think that’s a good sign. I wasn’t certain if I made the dose too strong, I only went to medical school for a year and you are an Earth pony.”

Please keep talking, his ears begged. He scrunched his muzzle, struggling to open his eyes. “Imwaaaaake,” he mumbled.

“Slurred speech, well, that’s to be expected. Hmm…”

Suddenly, it was like somebody had wrapped him in a cool gel. The feeling wasn’t precisely uncomfortable, but it was a distinct sensation. Only after it passed did Double Diamond realise how much he desperately needed it.

“Well, your leg is coming along nicely. Thank goodness it was only just that.”

Double Diamond opened his eyes.

“Nnngh,” he said, shutting them closed immediately and turning his cheek away from the light. He tried to raise a front limb. The leg obeyed, but it was sluggish. Eventually, he managed to cover his eyelids with his hoof.

“Good morning,” said the pleasant voice. “I don’t know how conscious you are right now, but if you are, I suppose you want to know where you are, right? Well, you were skiing on the mountain. You saw me, and warned me to get out of the way. I didn’t, and I guess you swerved to avoid hitting me. You ran into a tree instead.”

Oh. Oh, right. Double Diamond remembered that. He just couldn’t really seem to care. I barely feel anything. She said something about a dose. She must have put me on something really strong.

The mare continued. “I took you to my house and did what I could to patch you up, and sedated you in the meantime. I assume you were supposed to head back on the train that comes in twice daily, not very many ponies live out here, so I mentioned you to the conductor. He’ll inform the stationmasters along the route if somepony comes looking for you.

Aww, man, and I just started my vacation time, Double Diamond thought. “Hwow...lung?,” he asked.

“How long? How long what-oh, how long until you’re good to go? Your leg will definitely take a few weeks of natural healing. Magic can only do so much. Um, if it was just that I could have put you on a stretcher and taken to the train. Your leg took the worst of the damage, but I know how bumpy that train is. It could have exacerbated a smaller tear or fracture. Those will only take a few days before you're past the worst of it. Once it’s just your leg, I can help you down to the train.”

That’s not so bad. I’ll lose a few days of vacation time, but at home I’m sure I can find something else to do. Read books, probably. Double Diamond opened his eyes, slowly this time. Once they had adjusted to the light he tried lifting his head up. His neck screamed in protest, but he managed to get a glimpse of the mare he had run into a tree to avoid harming.

She was a unicorn. She looked young, about his own age, with a soft purple colouring and a mane with a darker shade of purple. Double Diamond decided the mare, whose name he still didn’t know, was pretty, then dropped his head back down.

“Thnkrslot,” he managed to say.

“No, thank you. I found myself unable to move back then,” she said. “If you had run into me, you wouldn’t have hurt yourself as badly. Oh! Are you thirsty? Do you need any water?”

Now that she mentioned it, his throat was dry and raspy. “Yssshpleeeeez.”

Fortunately, Double Diamond was slowly regaining his muscle control, so he was able to sip from the straw the unicorn mare gave him for his cup of water. Diamond drank slowly. The agony in his neck had faded as soon as he laid back down. He didn’t want it to flare by drinking too fast and choking on water, sending himself into a coughing fit. He was no fool to recklessly incite pain.

“Oh, I guess I never introduced myself. My name is Starlight Glimmer,” said the unicorn. She was close enough that Diamond was now able to see she had nice blue eyes. Watching her eyes flicker, however, Diamond decided she was a bit flighty.

At last, Double Diamond felt his thirst was quenched. He tried hard not to think about how his hygienic needs had been met as he returned Starlight’s favour, giving him his own name. “Double...Diamond,” he said.

“Good to meet you, Double Diamond,” Starlight Glimmer said, beaming. “Tell me, can you move your upper limbs?,” she asked.

Diamond tried. His left hoof responded, but flailed around. He had more fine control over his right hoof.

“Hmm,” Starlight hummed aloud, looking around. Double Diamond couldn’t see much of the room, but it was clearly a bedroom of sorts, with wooden walls, though the decorations were sparse. Starlight walked out the room, leaving Diamond to wonder over the mess he had gotten himself into.

Fortunately, Starlight didn’t leave Double Diamond much time to wallow in his misery, as she returned with a bell in her hoof. She laid it on a small bedside table next to Double Diamond. “It’s getting late. I’ve been looking after you for the last few hours, and I’d like to get to sleep soon,” Starlight Glimmer admitted. “I’ll stay here though. If you need anything during the night, just ring the bell to wake me up if you can’t speak too loud yet. If you’re in a bit of pain, please try to bear with it unless it gets really bad. I can give you more painkillers, but I don’t want to overdose you.”

“Alrrrerrrt,” Double Diamond mumbled. He was feeling drowsy anyways. Thankfully, the mare was staying in this room, if the couch she was curled up on now was any indicator. With a flicker of her horn, all the lights in the room were extinguished.

Sleep came blissfully quickly for the stallion.

Both ponies were woken up by the bright morning light washing in through the windows.

It took Double Diamond a few seconds to place where he was, and then remember how he got there. He lifted his neck a little, to his pleasure finding that it no longer pained him to move his head. Diamond took the opportunity to lift himself up and adjust his posture.

Starlight Glimmer was already up, holding a book in a telekinetic grip. She flipped the page, again using her magic. From the way her eyes darted back and forth, Double Diamond estimated her as a quick reader.

“Good morning,” said Double Diamond. His tongue still felt a little odd in his mouth, but it was good to know he wasn’t slurring anymore.

“Oh. You’re awake,” Starlight said, looking up. Putting a bookmark in her text, she shut it close and levitated it onto a shelf. “How are you feeling?”

Double Diamond considered the question. She said something about my leg...which leg was it, even? Was it broken? I don’t really feel much, a little bit of pain but I can handle that. In fact, the most annoying sensation was the heat on his backside. He had clearly been sitting in one position for too long. “Hurting a little bit, but it’s manageable,” he admitted. “You said something happened to my leg, but I never did catch what.”

“You have a torn ligament right below your lower left fetlock,” Starlight said, walking around to the bedside. “Not too much pain, then? I gave you a mild dose again last night, but I can give you some more painkiller if you really think you need it.”

The Earth pony shook his head. “No, I should be good,” said Diamond. “A torn ligament? I guess as long as it’s not my ACL.”

“No, that would be truly bad,” Starlight agreed. “Give it a few days to heal, and then I can jury-rig up some crutches for you. For now, take it easy and stay in bed. Do you want some breakfast, perhaps? Any allergies?”

Double Diamond was suddenly aware of pressure on his bladder. “I could use some help getting into whatever you have for the bathroom around here,” he said, cheeks burning with embarrassment.

The mare took it with grace. “Of course. I can help levitate you there.”

“This is good,” Double Diamond complemented Starlight’s cooking. He had salivated at the smells coming from outside the room as Starlight made them both a breakfast of toast and eggs, and it had been all uphill from there. “Very good. Much better than hospital food, but that’s not saying much.”

Starlight giggled at that. She looked out the window, having since moved the curtains aside. “So what were you doing out here, anyways?” The unicorn asked. “Well, you were skiing, that was obvious, but what for?”

“Start of my two weeks off, actually. I love skiing. I got a one-way teleportation spell from a unicorn to the top of the mountain.”

“Oh. I saw your Cutie Mark when I was bringing you in. Did you get it in skiing, then?” Starlight Glimmer asked.

Diamond shook his head. Asking about the meaning of one’s Cutie Mark was a common way to break the ice between two strangers, though the mare’s question came on the tail end of an unusual introduction. “Not quite. It’s more about my love of all things winter. Not just skiing, but skating, luge, and other winter sports. Even the sight of fresh snow is exciting.” He frowned. “Not that I’ll be getting to do much of that this winter.”

Starlight looked guilt-wracked. “I’m sorry for that.”

As you should be, Diamond thought, but he held his tongue. It had been a freak set of circumstances. Double Diamond wasn’t certain he wouldn’t have frozen up either had he been in Starlight’s position. “It’s alright,” he said instead. His were weak words, but they were better than watching the unicorn sulk. That Starlight had taken him to safety was something any pony with basic empathy should have done, but it was still a mark in her favour.

“So, what are you doing living all the way out here, then? I’m assuming this is your house,” Diamond said. He hadn’t even seen Starlight Glimmer’s Cutie Mark, so it would have been awkward to ask the same question she had in turn.

“You could say I’m a hermit, I guess,” Starlight said with a shrug. "City life simply wasn’t for me, so I went and built a place to live out here."

He raised his eyes. It wasn’t common for a pony to live on her own, especially this far out in the Equestrian hinterlands. “Doing what, then?” Diamond asked, immediately wincing at how insensitive his question sounded.

Starlight took no offense at this question. “Oh, no. Studying, magic mostly, and doing some research and spellcrafting.”


Double Diamond awkwardly ate the rest of his breakfast in silence. This was the most unusual bed in breakfast in his lifetime. Once he finished, Starlight Glimmer took his plate, carrying it out of the room in her magical grasp.

As Starlight walked out of the room, Double Diamond saw her Cutie Mark for the first time. It was a mark of an equal sign. Huh. Maybe she got her Cutie Mark in mathematics, then? I suppose it could be magic or alchemy-related too.

With the mare gone, Diamond found himself bored. The pain was still there at the back of his mind, but it had practically become an old friend, a mere nuisance instead of something actively bringing him to tears. He looked out the window. Diamond found himself unimpressed. There was flat dirt in every direction, with the mountain range off in the distance. There was a reason this was only a few ponies lived out this far, and it wasn’t because of fertile farmland or amazing scenery.

It was a relief that Starlight came back upstairs when she did, as Double Diamond was beginning to feel itchy hooves. “Sorry, I don’t really have much casual reading,” Starlight said, seeming to sense his boredom. “I don’t suppose you would be interested much in magical theory?”

Double Diamond wasn’t sure if she was making a joke or not. He decided to err on the side of caution and merely shake his head. “No, not really. Uh, just curious. I wasn’t really in my right mind last night, but did you say you went to medical school?”

Starlight Glimmer nodded. “I did, yes. I only lasted for about a year. I didn’t really have that temperament that’s necessary to work in a hospital, though.”

“I can imagine,” Double Diamond said, nodding in agreement. He had had the fortune of never breaking a bone, even with some of the high-octane sports he participated in, but Diamond did have to go the hospital on occasions. The amount of blood he saw on his one visit to the emergency room was enough to turn him off. He couldn’t fathom actually working there full time.

The stallion decided not to linger on that topic, so he decided to change it. “You asked about my Cutie Mark earlier. I saw you have an equal sign mark, so, what? Did you get it in mathematics?” Double Diamond asked.

Starlight pursed her lips, and she shook her head. “No, not quite. That’s...hmm, how to put it? It’s not my Cutie Mark at all.”

Double Diamond blanked out at her words. “What.” He couldn’t even phrase it in the tone of a question.

“Have you ever heard of Cutie Pox?”

He nodded. “I read about it once. In a story though, so I’m not sure how accurate it was. It’s a real thing, then? That’s what you have?”

Starlight shook her head. “Not quite. But with Cutie Pox, it’s possible to get a new Cutie Mark if you have a Mark already. What I did wasn’t anything like that, but I got myself a new Cutie Mark.”

“You what? Why would you do that?” Double Diamond asked, both fascinated and horrified. The way Starlight spoke, it sounded like she actively sought out a new Cutie Mark. “Did you not like the Cutie Mark you got?”

“Not even that,” Starlight said, furrowing her eyebrows. “It was more...well, it’s personal, sorry.”

“Ah. OK,” Diamond said.

The mare left the room immediately after. Double Diamond felt awkward, wondering what it was that had caused Starlight to seek out a new Mark.

He heard hoofsteps downstairs as well as an occasional heavier sound. A few minutes later, Starlight came back up, a couple of books in tow. She looked sheepish. “I have a few Daring Do books, if that’s alright with you.”

“Oh. That’ll work, thank you very much,” said Double Diamond. From what little of them he had read, he enjoyed the Daring Do books. While Daring Do was a mare and a pegasus, far from what Double Diamond himself was, they shared the same initials. That always gave him a little thrill to think about.

He read in silence, sorely aware of Starlight Glimmer sitting in the same room, who was also reading. From the occasional aside glances, Diamond could tell it was a doorstopper of a tome. The stallion could practically smell the ‘ye old booke’ quality of it.

The Daring Do book was good. It was one of the ones he hadn’t read yet, and was the first time she encountered the nefarious beast Ahuizotl. He found himself so engrossed in it that he was startled out of his reading reverie at a sudden sound. Looking up, he saw Starlight close her book. “Lunchtime,” she proclaimed. “Would you like to try coming downstairs? I’d give it another day before actually walking, but I can lift you downstairs.”

“That would be great,” Diamond agreed. A few seconds later, he found himself feeling strangely weightless. It was an odd sensation, being levitated. Being from an Earth pony family, it was unusual for others to ask to levitate him. He knew that in some unicorn families, the foals would practice their levitation on willing volunteers instead of inanimate objects.

Starlight Glimmer walked behind him as she lifted him up out of bed, then carefully took Diamond down the stairs. Soon, they came into an open concept kitchen and dining room area. The main table in the room was littered with many more books, several of them open to different pages.

“Ah, sorry about that,” Starlight apologised as she set Diamond down on a chair. “Let me clear that up,” she said. Using her magic, she put bookmarks in the open books and closed them up, before separating them all into a couple of piles against a wall.

“That’s alright,” Double Diamond said. He took the opportunity to actually look around. Beside the pile of books, the lower level of Starlight’s household was sparse. There was a picture of a younger Starlight with two ponies he assumed to be her parents, and another picture of her with the Royal Palace in Canterlot. Other small trinkets and knick-knacks hung from the walls, such as a dreamcatcher over the front door, but that was it. It looked like Starlight Glimmer was ever hoof-length the hermit she had said she was.

At least being a hermit hasn’t impaired her cooking skills, he chuckled to himself as he smelled the spices emanating from the stovetop. It had been some time since he had potatoes. Looking to the side, he saw there was a bag of potatoes sitting against another wall.

“You grow the potatoes out here?” He asked, curious.

“What? Oh, yes,” said Starlight as she put a lid on the pan. The potatoes began to sizzle under the contained heat. “Lettuce, carrots, cabbages and turnips as well, but potatoes are the best plant to grow out here. They’re incredibly hardy, they grow underground, so I guess that makes them a root vegetable, and unlike carrots, wild animals don’t like eating them. I mean, you could eat them raw, but they lack taste unless you cook them. They work pretty in a stew, too, with some spices.”

Double Diamond blinked. Well, at least there’s something she’s willing to talk about, he thought. “And everything else, including the spices? Well, I guess you get them imported on the train?”


Hmm. Wonder where she gets all the money to pay for it, Diamond thought. However, that was something one simply didn’t ask in proper conversation, and hermitry aside, Starlight didn’t strike him as being a shifty character. He was certain she had gotten her bits through legit means.

As she cooked, however, Double Diamond wondered about her Cutie Mark. The equal sign Cutie Mark seemed innocuous, but Starlight had indicated that it wasn’t her original talent. I wonder how she got a new one? I’ve never heard of anything that could do it besides complete memory loss and the Cutie Pox.

The meal was soon ready, and Starlight put a plate of slices, fried potatoes in front of Double Diamond. To his pleasure, she also brought out a bottle of ketchup.

“Enjoy,” said Starlight. Diamond raised an eyebrow as she slathered her own fried potatoes in ketchup, then shrugged. At least it wouldn’t look bad when he did the same.

The potatoes were like heaven in his mouth, with the perfect mixture of spices adding just the little extra kick that Double Diamond enjoyed. To his disappointment, the food disappeared quickly. He felt himself feeling sluggish all of a sudden, the heavy food and oil no doubt leaving him sleepy. At least I don’t have to do the dishes, he thought as Starlight took it upon herself to wash both their plates and the pan. About the only thing this injury is useful for.

At last, Starlight put the cleaned dishes away, and turned back to Diamond. “Do you want to go back upstairs, or would you like to stay down here for a little longer?”

“I think down here for a little longer,” said the stallion. He marvelled at the rows and rows of bookshelves he could see in the open concept room. “You have a lot of books.”

“I do, don’t I?” Starlight asked. It was clear to both ponies that they were each fumbling around awkwardly for a topic, and that Double Diamond had stumbled into something that simply wasn’t very interesting. Nevertheless, Starlight pressed on. “It took a few trips on the train to move them all. I’m thankful I decided to build here instead of further up the mountain range.”

“Oh? Was there a reason you built here?”

“Sort of,” said the purple-coated mare. “There’s actually a natural cave formation nearby. Not that I would actually live in the cave, mind you, but I found it interesting enough to live next to it.”

That was something that got Diamond’s attention. “Oh? Are you able to go spelunking in it?” As he saw Starlight’s blank face, he clarified, “Spelunking is basically exploring caves. Some caves go on fairly deep into the earth, and some ponies like to go exploring how deep they are.”

Starlight licked her lips, looking like she was thinking. “I think so, yes. I’ve found that there seems to be a system of tunnels going out of the cave, which would head underneath the tunnel. I went down a little bit, but didn’t go any further. They seem like a natural maze that a pony could easily get lost in.”

“Hmm. A shame, then. It would be too dangerous to go exploring in until my leg is fully healed, and I’ll expect to be out of here by then,” Double Diamond said, sighing.

“I can take you up there before you leave, if you’d like,” Starlight offered. “Just only to the main cavern, not through any of the tunnels.”

Double Diamond mused over the offer. “I would very much like that, thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome. All I ask is you keep it on the downlow, please. I don’t want droves of ponies to come out and explore the cave if it’s as popular a past time as you make it sound,” said Starlight. She grimaced. “I don’t like having very many ponies around.”

He bit his tongue, sensing this was a touchy subject. “You don’t like living around others, I gather? You don’t seem to have much of an issue with me being here.”

“Oh, goodness no. I don’t mind other ponies,” said Starlight, eyes wide at Diamond’s words. She scrunched her nose up, seeming to grasp for words. “Ugh, I wish I could explain it better..”

The mare paced back and forth in her kitchen. Double Diamond found himself fascinated at Starlight’s agitated look. Suddenly, she stopped, turning back to him. “Do you remember when you asked me about my Cutie Mark this morning?”

“Yes. I asked you if you got it in mathematics or something, and you said it wasn’t your real Cutie Mark?”

“It is my real Cutie Mark,” Starlight asserted. “Just not the one I originally had.”

“I don’t understand,” Double Diamond confessed.

“Well, hmm, how to put it...are you always satisfied with your Cutie Mark?”

Double Diamond flinched at the question.

Starlight saw the look on his face. “When I first got my Cutie Mark, I was ecstatic,” she said. “Hmm. Tea or coffee or cocoa for you?”

“Tea, please,” Double Diamond said. He was glad Starlight had suddenly chose to delay whatever she was about to discuss. While Diamond’s father had since gotten over it, he didn’t like to think about the disappointment his old man had had when Double Diamond first got his Cutie Mark. A Mark for all things winter simply wasn’t ‘practical’, compared to the Mark in bookkeeping his father had.

He licked his lips as Starlight put a tea kettle on to boil. It was no good. No matter how much he tried to lick his lips, they kept drying out.

Diamond’s time ran out too soon as Starlight came back with two cups of tea, both steeped. “Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, when I first got my Cutie Mark, I was ecstatic. See, a friend of mine had moved away when he got his Cutie Mark in magic, and was accepted into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns in Canterlot. When I got my Mark, I wasn’t.”

“Was your Mark also in magic?” Diamond interjected.

Starlight nodded, taking a sip of her tea. “It was. When I was rejected, I came back home.” She sighed. Double Diamond thought she looked old in that moment. A look that tired simply didn’t belong on a mare the same age as he was. “However, when I came home, all the ponies my age treated me differently. For those who didn’t have their Cutie Mark, I was no longer one of them, and for those who did, I wasn’t one of them either, I simply didn’t have a relevant. I couldn’t find a spot in any clique.”

“Fillies and colts can be jerks,” Diamond said, not holding back on his tongue-lashing. “So you weren’t able to find any friends?” He took a sip of his own cup of tea after asking the question.

She sighed. “Oh, I tried, and we were sort of friends, but it was all peripheral. That was just the start of it. Growing up, I saw a lot of relationships fall apart because of Cutie Marks, and it soured me to no end.”

“Huh. Yeah, I suppose that would do it. But then, what about your Cutie Mark?” Double Diamond asked, making a gesture at her thigh. “I’ve never heard of something being able to change a Cutie Mark.”

The stallion watched as Starlight Glimmer went through a half-dozen nervous ticks in only a few seconds. First, she licked her lips. Then she licked the gums of her teeth, before softly chewing on her tongue. Next, Starlight’s nose twitched, before she squeezed her eyes shut, eyelids rapidly fluttering. Finally, she let out deep breath, before opening her eyes back up. “In my studies, I found a little-known enchantress, Meadowbrook. She created a few objects of little renown, but I followed the historical records and found one of them, not in a museum, but forgotten long ago in a warehouse of all places.”

Double Diamond didn’t interrupt, letting Starlight continue. “It was a staff, supposedly just a mere stick. I don’t know how Meadowbrook did it, but she enchanted it so that it could remove a pony’s Cutie Mark. In place, it gave me this,” she said, pointing her muzzle at her thigh, towards where the equal sign was.

He found himself troubled at that. Diamond was bursting with a million questions, such as who Meadowbrook was, why she created such an artifact, and how she got to that point. Instead, he asked something that felt minor, but was the most curious. “Why an equal sign, of all things?”

Starlight shrugged. “I can’t be certain, but I think Meadowbrook had a grudge against Cutie Marks as well, in how they segregated ponies from one another. She was born not long after Hearth’s Warming Eve, so in her day it would have been even worse, when despite the Fire of Friendship, Earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns were still at strife with one another. Perhaps she thought having the same Cutie Mark would help to bring every pony together. In a way, if they only had the same Cutie Mark, then all ponies would be equal.”

All ponies would be equal.

The conversation quickly turned from there, going to discussions about possibly heading out to the cavern tomorrow, if Double Diamond’s leg was good enough. Yet those five words continued to tickle his imagination, even as Starlight helped him back upstairs, and even as he read Daring Do again.

The stallion couldn’t imagine being without his Cutie Mark. However, he had also seen the heartbreak others suffered over petty things relating to their Cutie Marks. The most vain were couples breaking up as a mare or a colt believed they were incompatible due to clashing Marks. Markology was as nefarious a magic as astrology, yet some ponies heavily believed it.

Was it truly so awful for all ponies to be equal?