Glimmer in the Snow

by Emperor

Chapter 2

Double Diamond found himself well enough by the next morning that he could even hobble out of bed. It was very slow going making it to the washroom, but he was desperate to retain at least some small bit of his dignity. He had to give Starlight his compliments, however; she had done a good job at binding his lame limb up so he couldn’t stress his injury any further.

He was flexing his other three limbs, checking to see if there were any unexpected aches or sores in them, when Starlight Glimmer came up inot the room. “Oh. I see you’re doing better today. Good morning, Double Diamond,” Starlight said as she greeted him. She looked out the window. Not seeing a cloud in the sky, she said, “Do you think you are up for a walk today, then?”

“Y—yeah,” Double Diamond said. He followed Starlight’s eyes and gazed longingly outdoors. Having been cooped up in the house for a full day and a half, he was desperate to get some fresh air.

Starlight smiled. “OK then. Let me find some wood to make up some crutches out of, and we’ll be off.”

As they left the house, Double Diamond was able to see the area around Starlight’s house for the first time. It was the same dull smattering of brown and grey that he had seen from the second-story window the day before, but now he could see in all sides. With a careful eye, Diamond found that they were at the bottom of a small valley, with a dirt trail leading up a rocky hill to one part. Going the opposite way from the house, which Diamond would more generously call a cottage, was another path. It would be too generous by half to call it a path, even; instead, somepony, Starlight most likely, had treaded a trail into it over the course of many journeys.

The going was easy at first, as Starlight had over time cleared out most of the big rocks that cluttered the road. The way was kept clean of snow as well, so there was no mud. Double Diamond hobbled slowly, but Starlight was there every step of the way to catch him if he fell.

Soon, however, the road got more treacherous. It wasn’t any rock or other obstacle that presented Diamond with difficulty. Rather, the road took a steep incline, something that was impassible to the stallion on three legs. Fortunately, Starlight was able to levitate him up the occasional junction.

Just as Double Diamond was ready to call it quits, saying he didn’t want to risk damaging his leg further, Starlight stopped. “We’re here,” she said.

“We are? Oh, we are!” Double Diamond exclaimed as he looked up. He had been so busy looking down to make sure he wouldn’t trip over something that he had failed to keep his eyes ahead. Sure enough, there was a cavern carved into the mountain. Diamond wondered how it had gotten there. Was the cave created when the mountain range was formed long ago, as a natural void in the gigatonnes of rock, or had it been made later, by wind, water, or sapient hooves?

“Careful, it gets a little rockier inside. Or I can carry you, if you want,” Starlight offered.

Double Diamond gulped. He was beginning to feel a little tired. He looked over at Starlight. He didn’t wish to impose on the kind unicorn’s generosity, but she barely looked strained from the effort of helping him that far. “Yes, please.”

Starlight cast, her horn glowing a light blue, and picked Double Diamond up. While he was hovering, Double Diamond felt his weightless body move into the cave alongside Starlight Glimmer.

The unicorn doublecast while holding Diamond, using her horn to light up the cavern again. After taking several steps deep into the cave, she set him down. “So, what do you think?” Starlight asked.

Diamond found himself at a loss for words.

“Impressed, huh?” Starlight giggled.

The stallion just nodded, not trusting himself to speak coherently. He was certain if his words came out garbled when he wasn’t heavily dosed on painkillers that Starlight was the sort of mare to tease him over it. The entrance into the cavern had been relatively small and unobtrusive, but the actual inside was expansive. With a little bit of clean-up work, he could see a pony turning this into a home, even, if he or she was into that sort of habitat. Cold in the wintertime unless you sealed up the draft, Diamond mentally added.

Looking around, Double Diamond found a large, smooth rock that was almost like a table, and sat on it. “It’s a very nice place,” he said.

“It is, isn’t it?” agreed Starlight, pacing around, using her magic to sweep tiny pebbles into larger piles that could be walked around.

The soft blue glow of Starlight’s horn cast the cavern into an entrancing light. Double Diamond found himself fascinated. No matter how long he laid eyes on his surroundings, it still captured his romantic imagination.

Then he remembered he was here in a cave, alone with a mare who he had thought cute and had to be single if her hermit status was anything to go by. He bit his lip, fidgeting as he thought of something to talk about. Chatting about caves and spelunking would only hold a pony’s attention for so long, and Starlight had already proved not to be an exploring enthusiast.

“About yesterday, the staff you mentioned,” Double Diamond said, suddenly catching Starlight’s attention. “Sorry if it’s a bit personal, but what happened to your old Cutie Mark?”

Starlight raised her head slightly in acknowledgement of his question. “Oh, that. It’s a little odd, actually. Nopony’s ever really done very much research into what a Cutie Mark really is, and how it ticks, and now I realise I’m getting side-tracked, sorry, I like to ramble.”

“It’s alright,” he reassured her.

“Thank you. Anyways, the Cutie Mark seems to be its own separate entity. It...the staff didn’t so much change my Cutie Mark as it removed it and gave me this equal mark in its place,” Starlight explained. “The old Cutie Mark seems to be its own separate entity, and so it lives on even as some sort of ethereal thing. I keep it in a bottle.”

“In a—a bottle?” Diamond asked. He found himself horrified. Cutie Marks are actually a thing unto themselves? Despite both his own horror and the uneasy philosophical ramifications, he couldn’t help but ask, “What did it feel like? When you removed your Mark, I mean?”

Starlight grimace, and Double Diamond flinched, afraid he had stumbled upon a bad memory. Then Starlight spoke. “It was weird. It’s hard to describe. It was like my skin was being pinched, almost. It was a distinctly uncomfortable sensation, but it didn’t really hurt, if that’s what you’re asking. A slight sense of loss that faded away quickly.”

Double Diamond found himself at a loss. He liked Starlight Glimmer, from their interactions over the last few days. However, that was what it had been, just a few days. There was a whole other side to her the stallion was sure he had yet to see. From what little he had heard about her Cutie Mark and Meadowbrook and her staff, there was something disturbing about Starlight Glimmer. Wasn't it nutty to want to actually remove your Mark altogether?

Yet he couldn’t square it with the cute mare in front of his eyes. Instead, he asked, “Is it possible to put your Cutie Mark back on?”

Starlight blinked, and narrowed her eyes, not certain where he was going with this. “Yes, yes it is. I tried it after using the Staff, and it’s quite possible. The Staff doesn’t effect a permanent change.”

Diamond swallowed, and moved quick to temper her perceived hostility. “Would it be...possible, then, for me to try it out?”

Starlight stopped. Double Diamond looked her over. It was as if all her upper brain functions had ceased completely, leaving a brain-dead mare with her eyes glazed over and jaw hung open.

Then she rebooted, and furiously shook her head to wake herself back up. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Diamond said, even though he wasn’t close to being confident. “I, um, I can’t really say I see the attraction in having my Cutie Mark removed. I mean, yes, I’ve seen some ponies having issues over their Cutie Mark in the past, but when it comes down to it, my Mark is a fundamental part of who I am. But you...ah, for you, I’d

Starlight seemed troubled for some reason. “Al—alright. You’ll just have to give me a day, first,” she said.

Double Diamond scrunched his nose. It seemed odd. Why does she need a day first?

It felt odd to him, but he didn’t press Starlight on it as they returned to her cabin.

On the dawn of Double Diamond’s third morning as a guest of Starlight Glimmer, he was up and moving. The stairs were still too tricky for him to attempt to maneuver, but with the crutches Starlight had gifted him the other day, he was able to stand up on his remaining three hooves and walk about.

Then Starlight came up. She knocked on the door this time, aware he was able to walk about and not wanting to intrude on him in a state of half-awakeness.

“Come in,” Diamond called.

The purple-coated mare walked in. Double Diamond noticed immediately her eyes were bloodshot. Was she up late last night? He wondered, but instead turned his thoughts to the object Starlight was levitating at her side. It was a wooden stick, but had a two-pronged fork at one end, and the middle of the stick was carved in a swirled shape.

Even though Diamond had only heard Starlight describe it before, he knew right away. “So this is Meadowbrook’s staff, then?” He asked.

Starlight nodded. “There’s no official name that I could find, just that she had a staff. Maybe it’s a bit on the nose, but I like to call it the Staff of Sameness.”

Double Diamond looked the staff over. Whatever magic Meadowbrook had used to enchant the staff, it had left the wood in pristine form. It looked as if it had been carved out yesterday.

Then he noticed the bottle that Starlight Glimmer was levitating at her opposite side. Diamond swallowed. Well, he had been inquisitive yesterday. Truth be told, he felt like he needed to do this. Starlight Glimmer’s idea to replace her Cutie Mark seemed a bit kooky, but she had helped nurse him back to health. At the very least, Diamond could try it out for himself and then gently let her down. Having a day to think about it, Starlight’s thoughts about all ponies being equal was nice, but it was too idealistic for his tastes.

“Um...are you ready for this?” Starlight asked. She seemed strangely eager. “Sorry if it’s a bit too early. Uh, I can do this later, after lunch or something if you want. If that's alright with you...” she whispered, trailing off as her enthusiasm evaporated within a few sentences.

Diamond’s nose twitched. Heh, she can be cute when she’s shy, he thought. “No, I’m good to go now,” he said.

“Ah, alright then,” Starlight said. “Um, sit still please, I’ve only ever had myself to test this on. I don’t know if you might jerk out of reflex or something and bang your leg against the bed.”

Double Diamond complied, sitting down on his bed. Then Starlight lifted the Staff of Sameness, as she called it, and magic shot out at him.

Diamond closed his eyes. The magic...tingled, like if he had fallen asleep with his head resting on a limb and cut off blood circulation. His whole body had that pins-and-needles sensation, but it was centralised around his thighs, where his Cutie Mark was located.

Then he almost stumbled. He didn’t really stumble, having already been laying down, but it was like the sensation of falling he sometimes had right before waking up. I think they call it a hypnic jerk, he thought, right before he had the sudden feeling of emptiness Starlight had mentioned. It was like he had voided his bowels, except it was a more profound, universal feeling of emptiness.

Then even that sensation passed.

“Hoh,” Diamond gasped, letting out a deep breath. He brought a hoof up to his head, wiping off a slick sheen of sweat. He hadn’t even realised he was sweating. He made to mention that to Starlight Glimmer, only to stop.

Three blue snowflakes floated in the air. It was an outline that Double Diamond was intimately familiar with: his Cutie Mark. It felt like the passing of time immemorial as Starlight twisted open the bottle, and put his Cutie Mark inside. Now Diamond could see what Starlight meant when she had said Cutie Marks were a tangible entity that physically existed on their own.

“Is it over, then?” he asked, then answered his own question by looking down at his side. “Oh, so it is.”

“Here,” Starlight said, hoofing the bottle over to him. “Your Cutie Mark, whenever you want to put it back on.”

“Ah.” He wasn’t sure what to do with it for now, so Diamond just set it on the bedside table for the moment. The Earth pony hopped off his bed, then walked over to the small mirror, examining his thighs from a better angle. The equal sign felt out of place...yet it also felt right. Like now that he had the same Cutie Mark as Starlight, he could see what she meant.

Having different Cutie Marks is something that always divides us, he realised. Maybe it’s an easy way to start a conversation, but when you have the same Cutie Mark, there’s fewer things to artificially separate us.

“What do you think?” Starlight asked.

Double Diamond wrinkled his nose. “I don’t feel that much different,” he said. It was a lie, but one he could convince himself of otherwise. It was like all his senses had dulled out, the colours just a little less vibrant, the sounds a little less pleasant in the world. On the other hoof, it wasn’t noticeable either: only if he actually stopped to think about it would Diamond even realise or remember it. “ I can see what you mean now about having the same Cutie Mark,” he said, looking over at her own thighs where an identical equal sign mark laid. “Maybe that’s what Meadowbrook was thinking? That if we have the same Cutie Mark, we’ll be equal, and all that jazz?”

Starlight opened her muzzle to speak, only to snap it back shut. She had a thoughtful look. “Equality, hmm? That sounds nice.”

Equality? Equality, to be equal. The more Double Diamond thought about it, the more he felt there was no way he could take his former Cutie Mark back on and simply go back to the city, back to a normal, mundane life, where even with his Cutie Mark, he was simply one pony in a mass of several hundred thousand.

He took the dive. “Starlight, do you really like living out here, all on your own?” He winced as he realised how poorly the words came out. “Sorry, that was a little rude. Um, you said city life wasn’t for you, but that doesn’t preclude villages.”

Starlight narrowed her eyes. “What are you getting at? Do you want me to leave here or something?”

Double Diamond shook his head, attempting to ward off her mood. “No, no, not that. I was just thinking, I’ve only been standing here for five minutes with this new mark, and already I feel...well, not great, but different. More alive, in a way. Like so many of the things I worried about before going on that skiing trip don’t matter anymore. I—I don’t think you should leave to move to a village, so much as you should build a village here.”

“Wait, I’m lost now,” Starlight said.

“The Staff,” Diamond said, looking over at the piece of wood still in her magical grasp. “I’m certain there are other ponies who share some of the same thoughts as you do. Some ponies might not like their Cutie Mark, and others might simply be disaffected by how fundamental our Marks are to us, to ponies. What if we invited them here instead, to form a village on that ideology?”

He could tell Starlight was entertaining the idea, sudden as it was. Still, she resisted. “That’s...actually a good idea. But can we really found a village on an ideal? We’d need ponies to be able to build houses, run plumbing lines, and grow food.”

“How did you get this house here, then?” Double Diamond counteracted.

Starlight’s ears drooped. “I built it all by myself, with my own four hooves and my horn,” she admitted.

“Then we should be able to find a way,” he said. “We’ll have strength in numbers, and if something is hard, we’ll get through it.” Double Diamond paced around a little bit, awkwardly as he was still on three hooves. The stallion turned back to Starlight and tried to give her his most charming smile.

“Hmm, maybe…” Starlight trailed off, then had a look of epiphany. “Oh, I know! I’ll be right back.”

Double Diamond wondered where she was going, only for Starlight to return almost as quickly as she had left. “Oh. So that’s what your Cutie Mark was,” he said.

“Yes,” Starlight said as she set the second bottle down by the bottle that had Double Diamond’s mark in it. If Diamond was to describe her old Cutie Mark, he would say it was a several-sided purple star with two trails of stellar dust emanating from it. Astronomical symbolism wasn’t common among unicorns, being more a pegasus thing, but the star-and-stellar-dust seemed to fit Starlight.

It seemed so weird, seeing their old Cutie Marks in front of him. He felt detached, as if he simply didn’t care about them anymore. But something about them tickled his imagination. “You know, it looks like they’re glowing,” he pointed out.

Starlight blinked, and looked closer. “You know, you’re right.” Independent of anything else, the Cutie Marks were radiating their own ethereal light.

Diamond fidgeted awkwardly. “So, what do we do with them, then?” he asked. “Do we just keep them on hoof or something? I don’t think we can just throw them out or anything, either. Truth be told, the very thought makes me ill.”

“The same,” Starlight said with a concurring nod. “Even though it’s been months since I had it on me, it seems blasphemous to simply discard something that was a part of me for so long.”

Suddenly, Double Diamond had his own epiphany. “You know...I might have an idea.”

“That wall, right about there,” Double Diamond said, pointing his hoof at a segment of the cave across from his spot on the rock-table.

Starlight, sitting next to him, tilted her head to view it from an angle. “I can see it,” she said. “Cut out a bit of the rock, support the wall right above it, maybe put some glass over top of it? If we have several Cutie Marks in here, it might even be a profound thing for ponies to see before giving up their Marks. Strength in Equality,” she added.

Double Diamond wondered what the sight of a hundred Cutie Marks glowing in the wall could do to him. He shivered. Somehow, he already felt exalted seeing two Marks sitting next to one another. “With one caveat,” he said.

“What’s that?” Starlight asked.

He licked his lips. “Even if we get ponies coming here, for some of them, their Cutie Mark is a personal thing. Maybe a pony is shy and she doesn’t want her past hanging in plain sight on the wall? So I’m thinking they don’t have to put their Cutie Mark up here. Make it an optional thing.”

Starlight frowned. “Wouldn’t that just tempt them into putting their Cutie Mark back on, anyways?”

Double Diamond shrugged. “If a pony comes here and tries to fit in and doesn’t like it, then we can’t stop her from leaving. If she puts her Cutie Mark back on and likes having it still, I doubt she’d want to stay in a village where we all share the same mark.” In the back of his mind, Double Diamond thought he was being astonishingly blase, but he shoved his scruples aside. He and Starlight Glimmer suddenly had a vision for a village where all were equal, and though the pair were tripping over one another in articulating it, it simply wouldn’t do for ponies who didn’t subscribe to Equality to stay there.

“Hmm,” Starlight hummed aloud. “I think I might take you up on that, then.”

He blinked. “You will?” Diamond asked.

“Yes,” Starlight said, looking at the bottle with her Cutie Mark inside that she had brought along. It shone its blue light all on its own. “ still has some meaning to me.” She held the bottle close to her, tucking it in between her forelegs and her chest, gazing longingly at it.

Double Diamond looked at his own bottle. This has been one odd week, really. To think it all started when I planned on going out for a skiing trip, and now here I am, founding a village. He chanced a side glance at Starlight Glimmer, who continued to obsess over her Mark. She caught him staring, and they both looked away awkwardly. Maybe I’m moving a little quickly, but Starlight has me convinced. Ponies who feel they can’t fit in society will find a place here.

He looked up at the wall that he and Starlight had decided to turn into a Wall of Cutie Marks. Starlight still had some attachment to her Cutie Mark. Though Diamond hoped she would eventually put hers up here, he would set an example and leave his here when the vault was ready. They were just two ponies to begin with, but he knew, Double Diamond just knew that more would come.

In Our Town, they will find equality, and they will find true friendship.

Double Diamond sat at the desk. It would take a few weeks for his leg to be fully healed up before he could help do physical tasks around the house. With his Earth pony magic, he was determined to expand Starlight’s farm. He had already asked so much of her as a host, consuming a large amount of potatoes. Diamond would far more than double the plot, however: he wanted to be ready for an influx of any number of ponies that might come in.

For now, however, he would do tasks that didn’t rely on him having all four hooves in top condition. He and Starlight had discussed a preliminary list of things to do, such as expanding the road out to the train, and creating a better sewage system. Now, however, Double Diamond considered the friends and accomplices he knew that might be interested in coming to this patch of barren land and starting a new life.

Pen in mouth, he laid out a piece of paper and started to mouth-write his first letter.

“Dear Party Favor…”