Sugar Belle watched as her cupcake Cutie Mark joined the several others stored in the Cutie Mark vault, conflicting thoughts ringing in her mind as her new equal sign Cutie Mark spread a stilling feeling through her body.
"Do not despair, my friend," said the light pink unicorn known as Starlight Glimmer, who put a hoof on her new compatriot's shoulder. "It's only natural to miss it at first, but in time, you will find life here among ponies that are just like you, is your ideal home."
"Is that really true?" asked Sugar Belle, looking to the group of ponies who had come to watch the ceremony.
"Oh definitely," said the earth pony, Party Favor. "We all get along here better than any other ponies in Equestria."
"We are all equal here," said Double Diamond, his grin splitting his face. "No conflicts of interest in our little village."
"Come with me," said the dark pegasus, Night Glider. "I'll show you around."
So Sugar Belle joined her new friends in heading back down the mountain, casting one last look at her Cutie Mark among the others. She still felt conflicted about giving it up, but she was so terribly lonely at this point, she would give even more up. Smiling to her new friends, she made her way to the simple village at the foot of the mountains.
"You coming, Starlight?" asked Double Diamond over his shoulder.
" Not yet," replied Starlight, "I need to make sure the Staff of Sameness is still functioning at full capacity."
Double Diamond said his goodbye to Starlight and left the cave, making his way into town as the sun began to set in the distance. Starlight walked up to the pedestal in front of her village's Cutie Mark vault and placed the long, two-pronged staff on it. It sat there, looking regal under the light of the sealed away Cutie Marks.
Despite its uselessness.
It was Starlight Glimmer herself that had the magical aptitude to remove a pony's Cutie Mark, not the 'magic' relic. Turning around to look at her own flank, Starlight saw her left Cutie Mark peeking out under her makeup. It was the real reason she stayed behind.
Starlight had brushed her flank against the pedestal, smearing her makeup and exposing part of her mark.
"Starlight, you clumsy fool," she berated herself.
If word got out she had kept her Cutie Mark, while taking the others, it would not end well. It was not equality like she was trying to spread to others, but she needed her magic to remove the Cutie Marks of her followers. She had a personal mission to accomplish, and she was devoted to it with all her being, even if she had to deceive others to achieve it.
For now she would have to wait until night to return to her house, or somepony might see her exposed flank.
Starlight let out a gasp as she turned to the source of the voice. And there before her, a gelatinous black fluid swirled into existence, black tendrils and a single eye forming from its spiraling depth. It was barely bigger than her head, but still would be considered intimidating to most ponies.
But Starlight Glimmer was not most ponies.
"You're one of those..." she said in awe, her shocked demeanor vanishing to be replaced by one of intrigue. "...one of those strange vortexes that appeared all over Equestria."
"Indeed, youngling," said the voice of the vortex, "As I have previously announced, I am Hermaeus Mora...Daedric Prince of knowledge and memory."
"Lovely title," complimented Starlight, approaching the vortex and bowing. "What can I do for you?"
"I seek to understand the concept of the marks that adorn the flanks of ponies," explained Hermaeus Mora, a hungry tone to his voice. "I have sensed something of great affinity in that regard is somewhere in this location."
"You must mean the Staff of Sameness," said Starlight, gesturing behind her to the wooden rod. "It alone has the power to manipulate a ponies Cutie Mark."
"Do not take me for a fool, mortal," said Hermaeus Mora, slightly irritated.
"What... what do you mean?" asked Starlight panicky, a bead of sweat running down her face.
"The object before you is a powerless branch," answered Hermaeus Mora, Starlight's face contorted in terror. "I sense that the magic that holds those marks... as well as what recently removed the mark from that mare before... comes from you."
"That... that's not true," rebutted Starlight, panic creeping into her voice. " I am not..."
"You can hide nothing from me, mortal," said Hermaeus Mora, "The truth is my domain... and no matter how convincingly done... it cannot be hidden from me."
"Then I will just have to hide you," snapped Starlight, her horn flarng to life and snapping a large glass jar around the swirling vortex, cramming it into its confining interior. "I HAVE WORKED TOO HARD, BUILT TOO MUCH TO LET AN ABOMINATION LIKE YOU GET IN THE WAY!"
Hermaeus Mora just blinked inside the jar.
"What is it do you think you are doing?"
"Protecting what is mine," said Starlight, pushing her nose to the glass of the jar, then moving to pace before it as she held it in her magic. "Now here is how things are going to work, Hermaeus Mora. If you want me to release you, you will do as I say. Call one of your larger brethren here... now!"
"One of the larger creatures," explained Starlight, her face contorting into an smile. "And if it wants you back, it will use that ability to speak all across the country to deliver my message."
"YOU MISERABLE, UNKNOWING FOOL!" shouted Hermaeus Mora, Starlight gasping as he disappeared from her jar, a magnitude of bigger and smaller vortexes appearing all across the cave, "THESE MANIFESTATIONS ARE ALL A PART OF ONE WHOLE, NOT A GROUP OF SEPARATE BEINGS."
Starlight could only stare in horror as multiple vortexes began to close in on her, backing her up to the Cutie Mark vault.
"You dare attempt to manipulate me into doing your bidding?"
"Stay back," she whispered, her horn pulsating with magic. "Stay back, you monster."
Starlight unleashed barrage after barrage after barrage of powerful magic beams, the false staff shattering as one of her spells fazed through Hermaeus Mora and struck it. From outside the cave multiple teal lights illuminated the mouth until a female scream echoed for a second, followed by an explosion that shook the mountain.
The next morning, the denizens of the simple little village would wake up in the morning to find that each and every one of them had their Cutie Marks back. When they sought out their founder for answers, they found her missing from her house and the Cutie Mark vault cave totally collapsed, no sign of Starlight anywhere. She was just gone.
Over time it became obvious she had just vanished without a trace.
As time went on, the ponies began to adapt into a life with their Cutie Mark again, and a few bites of delicious baked confections formed the foundation to happy new friendships that were even stronger than with equality.
"You won't get away with this, Ahuizotl," said Daring Do from her position draped over a henchpony's back, wrapped from shoulders to hooves in ropes.
"That is where you are wrong, Miss Do," said the feline monkey creature. He, his ever present felines, and his henchponies were walking down the decrepit halls of the huge temple they were in. "Though I must say thank you," he continued, looking at the Sapphire Stone he kept clutched in his tail's hand, "For finding both the key, and the door."
Daring Do let out a frustrated growl. The ancient temple they were descending into was the entrance to the coveted Necromancer's Library, an ancient and extensive hoard of the blackest knowledge magic had to offer, sealed away in this place long before Equestria was even founded. Sealed here by scholarly ponies who feared this knowledge, but had too much respect for books to destroy them.
After procuring the Sapphire Stone, the fabled key to unlocking this trove of evil knowledge, Daring Do had spent months trying to discern the whereabouts of this lost place. And after chasing every rumor, every small indication, she had finally come across this place hidden under a hill several miles south of Saddle Arabia, and had found the legendary door deep within.
But Daring had found herself with a conundrum.
She could not figure out how the small two headed dog statue opened the hidden compartment she had discovered. She had thought and thought, but came up with nothing. Even after spending weeks roughing it out here in the middle of nowhere, all of her experience as an archeologist had been no help.
It was only made worse when her hated nemesis, Ahuizotl, had broken into her tent in the dead of this night, having somehow tracked her, and was now dragging her into the depths of the temple, to what waited within.
"I have been working to open the door for weeks, Ahuizotl," snapped Daring Do as they entered they entered the entry chamber to the library. "Do you really believe you could figure it out?"
The entry chamber differed from the rest of the temple in many ways. It was ornate, the walls decorated with carvings of hooded ponies collecting and gathering books that were surrounded in an ominous aura. The four corners of the spacious square room were adorned with a pillar that stretched up to the ceiling that depicted a pony skull that gazed down to the floor below with its empty sockets.
The most discerning feature of the room that contributed to its beauty, preservation, and connection to the Sapphire Stone was that everything in here was carved from large chunks of sapphire gemstone. The bright blue room was a wonderful sight to behold as the henchponies placed the lanterns they had been carrying for light at even places around, everything sparkling a brilliant blue. Nopony could see this and not be awed.
Except Daring Do, who had spent so many waking hours in here that the extravagance had long worn off, and now all this blue only served to give her a headache.
"Oh... Miss Do, I already have figured it out," said Ahuizotl, wiping off the four foot, rounded sapphire pedestal in the middle of the room, then placing the statue upon it.
"Yeah right," shot back Daring Do, looking up to keep an eye on the pedestal. "I have searched every square inch of this place for weeks, you only got here hours ago."
"You were searching in the wrong temple to begin with," said Ahuizotl smugly. " The clues to the keys functionality was not here, but were the key itself was originally."
Her anger was replaced by uncertainty. "That temple in the jungle?"
"Why yes, Miss Do," said Ahuizotl as he leaned in to observe the Sapphire Stone closer. "For once your assumption was incorrect, the key to the key was hidden with the key, not with the door it opens."
"You're bluffing," said Daring Do, slight panic in her voice. "You're trying to trick me into blurting out the real solution, it won't work."
"Miss Do, I don't need you to blurt out anything," said Ahuizotl, lifting up his arm and pinching his thumb and index finger together. "I know how to use the key, and it is so simple it's no wonder you overlooked it."
Right then and there, Ahuizotl flicked the large faceted gem on the statues chest.
A high pitch whine filled the air as the two heads of the statue vibrated like the prongs of a tuning fork. Daring folded her ears against her head as the whine grew to an almost unbearable level, even Ahuizotl looking uncomfortable with the noise.
Then a low rumbling joined the whining sound, Daring noticing that the four large pillars were shaking, resonating with the sound bouncing off the walls.
Then a cracking sound filled the air, all present looking ahead to see the far wall spider web cracking.
Daring Do could only watch as the wall tumbled to the ground in mighty sapphire shard, simple stone double doors appearing in its place. She could not let this happen. Ahuizotl could not get his sticky claws on the contents of this place. The Necromancer's Library was hid away for a reason.
"You can't do this Ahuizotl," said Daring Do as she was dragged towards the doors on the back of a henchpony. "The books contained within that room are too dangerous."
"Which is precisely why I want them," said Ahuizotl, stroking his house cat with his tail hand as he arrived at the doors and gripped the handles. "With those books, I can really do some damage."
"You won't be able to control it," said Daring Do, looking to the pony she was draped over. "Don't any of you realize the danger these books pose."
But the tribal pony said nothing. What was with henchponies, did they have no brains of their own? They were still ponies, should they not comprehend what was happening here?
"Face it, Daring Do, you have lost," said Ahuizotl triumphantly, swinging the doors open with a flourish. "And after I discover which of these books can provide something painful and lingering, you can be assured that I will..."
But he stopped when he noticed that the room before him was completely illuminated.
Book shelves went on before them in all directions, packed full of books as they extended to the expansive opposite wall. But torches cast a light from wall sconces, everything visible, clear as day. Both Ahuizotl and Daring Do came to the same conclusion at the same time.
Nopony had been in this place for thousands of years, it would not be fully illuminated like this.
Until Ahuizotl, Daring Do, and the dozen or so henchponies saw the tentacled creature up ahead of them, examining a book in its boney hands.
"STOP!" shouted Ahuizotl, pointing forward, his face contorting with rage. "This place is mine."
The Seeker paid them no mind, just continued to examine its book.
"DESTROY THAT THING," Ahuizotl ordered his henchponies.
Without hesitation, the pony warrior tribe hurled the spears they had been holding at the offending creature. It looked up in time for a half a dozen spears to pierce it in multiple places, dropping the book from its grasp, a spear impaling its chest a second later. All was still for a few seconds, then the Seeker crumbled into dust.
"What an insult," said Ahuizotl, walking up and swiping away the dust with his foot. "Who did that thing think it was, reading my books like..."
But he was interrupted when a splash of black liquid erupted from below, pushing him up to the air and landing him on his back before his henchponies. He sputtered a little, then stood up, looking ahead to see what had happened. He joined the henchponies and Daring Do's slack jawed expression.
The hulking form of a Lurker towered over all of them, its fish like qualities sending all their nerves on end.
"Destroy it," said Ahuizotl, pointing to the Lurker frantically. "DESTROY IT QUICKLY."
The henchponies flashed each other a worried look, before carrying out their orders, the one holding Daring Do dropping her to the ground with a painful crunch, then joined the assault.
Daring watched as the dozen henchponies charged the hulking terror, some jumping up to dog pile it, others advancing with spears. The Lurker sidestepped the lunging ponies and lifted its leg and stomped its foot in the direction of the others. A tremor spread from the point of impact, knocking all spear holding ponies up into the air and onto their backs.
Daring Do felt her stomach churning as a welt squelch sounded, one of the henchponies having landed on his own spear. Blood ran from his still body, the spear impaling through his chest and out his back, having gone through his heart. Death was quick.
All the other henchponies stared in shock at their deceased comrade.
"Get your flanks in gear," snapped Ahuizotl.
The other henchponies snapped out of their terror and made to resume the attack, but not before a huge foot landed on the back of another, his spine snapping like a twig. The Lurker roared as it stepped over the dead pony, charging the others with its wibe stride.
They moved to defend themselves, but before they could raise their spears four tendrils extruded from the Lurkers mouth and grabbed four of the henchponies. They were hoisted up as the Lurker drew its head down, slamming them into the ground with a sickening crunch. They lay still, and moved no more.
The remaining henchponies stared at their dead comrades, blood flowing from their gaping mouths...and dropped their spears and made a beeline for the exist, screaming in terror.
"Come back here," said Ahuizotl, his feline guard the only thing around him now. " I demand that you..."
A large foot slammed in front of him. Ahuizotl and his cats slowly followed the leg up to the Lurkers intimidating face, its jaws parting enough to slightly show the tendrils wiggling within. It stared at Ahuizotl, Ahuizotl stared back. Until he and his cats took off as fast as their legs could carry them.
Daring Do struggled in her ropes as the Lurker approached her. She was not deluded, she knew she was no match for this creature, even if she was not bound. The ropes held tight, she had no hope of getting out of them. A foot landed before her face, and Daring Do cringed her eyes, waiting for the end.
She felt herself get flipped over...and the tension of the rope completely vanished.
Opening her eyes, Daring Do saw the creature above holding the rope that had bound her. But before she could question, the monster vanished in a splash of black liquid, the rope falling to the ground. Daring could only lie there, stunned at all that had happened.
"Greetings Daring Do," said a voice, Daring flapping her numb wings to lift up as half a dozen black vortexes sprung up, a single eye and tendrils extruding from them. "...or is it A.K. Yearling?"
"Hermaeus Mora," said Daring Do quietly, recognizing this thing from a week ago. "I...it's you?"
"Indeed I am," said Hermaeus Mora, his tone humorous. "I am honored you recognize me."
"How could I not," said Daring Do, flapping closer, "You made quite a lasting impression."
"That I did."
"So this was your doing?" asked Daring Do, extending a hoof to the slain henchponies still bleeding on the ground.
"Yes," said Hermaeus Mora plainly. "That fool interfered with my study of these ancient tomes... I will tolerate no interruption to my pursuit."
"Did you have to kill them?" asked Daring Do, looking to the still ponies sadly.
"It is unwise to draw a Daedric Prince's ire."
Daring Do wanted to argue further, but then she forced herself to remember who it was she was talking to. Plus, he saved her from Ahuizotl, who would have shown no mercy on his part . Besides, now was not the time, they were in the Necromancer's Library.
"Thank you, Hermaeus Mora," said Daring Do, bowing before his tentacles. "Thanks for saving my life."
"I didn't come here to save you, mortal."
" Even so," said Daring Do, looking around at the multiple dark tomes. "What will you do now?"
"I will continue to study these ancient books," answered Hermaeus Mora. "After I am through with them, you may share your discovery with your kingdom."
"Can you take them away?" Asked Daring Do, looking up at Hermaeus Mora hopefully. "Can you take these books somewhere were nopony can find them?"
Hermaeus Mora paused.
"It is well within my power," Hermaeus Mora said, "But why?"
"The books in this place are too dangerous," said Daring Do. "They contain dark magic that is best left forgotten. The ponies who built this place knew that, but coveted books to much to destroy them. If you are interested in studying them, take them, take them all. Equestria would be better off if they were gone for good."
Daring Do stopped and took a breath.
"You're going to want to leave... mortal."
Daring Do cast Hermaeus Mora a look, one of the eyes in the left portals winking. Smiling, Daring Do raced out of the door as fast as her wings could carry her, grabbing the Sapphire Stone from the pedestal on her way out. It was not until she stopped on a cloud above that she dare look back.
The temple below was sinking into a huge body of black liquid that had appeared below, bubbling as it swallowed the last of the temple. Daring smiled as the liquid below faded, the sand below flawless, as if the temple was never there at all. She had never given much thought to Hermaeus' appearance in Equestria, but was glad he did, from where ever he originally came from.
Though she still wished he had not sent that thing to massacre Ahuizotl's henchponies.
She cast a look at the Sapphire Stone she held and smiled. Ahuizotl did not get his hands on the Necromancer's Library, that was the most important thing. Now this statue could become something other than the key to a store of evil knowledge, it can be a reminder of what happened to her this night.
Daring Do took off into the night, clutching the artifact to her chest.
But she was unsure if she should make this adventure into her next novel.