• Published 17th Apr 2019
  • 820 Views, 48 Comments

Mark of Destiny - horizon



When the first portal to Equestria opened, and humans started coming back with Cutie Marks, it forever altered the fate of two worlds. Now, a young man must face the true consequences of that change.

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Destiny

I pause for a moment as I take a lengthy sip of cider.

"… So."

"Mmm?" I grunt back.

"You chose Twilight Sparkle's offer, right? The portal's still open."

I let loose a bitter laugh. "You think I made a choice? Have you even been listening to my story? I'm no hero. I didn't have the stones to tell either one of them no."

"You mean you just walked away?"

"No, I never said that. In fact, while I was agonizing over what to do, I had a moment of epiphany which gave me my Mark. I chose …" I smile wryly. "To punt the decision."

"How'd you do that?"

"Remember the clerk mentioning Destiny smiling? That's a thing, with them. A pony doesn't 'choose' their Cutie Mark like we do. To them — and presumably, their magic — they get the Mark they're meant to have, because Destiny's a real force with real consequences." I drain the last of the cider from my bottle. "So I figured, if the lottery-winning gal could walk into Equestria and get a Mark that aligned her with the force of luck …"

"Wait. Wait … are you telling me what I think you're telling me?"

I glance around the restaurant, shift a bit in my seat, and pull the side of my pants down to reveal the flesh of one hip. There's an image of a pointing finger, the tip shining with light.

"I'm telling you," I say, "that for a month I've been searching Earth for the one who can walk in there, make the decision I didn't make, and satisfy both Twilight and Discord. Make things turn out right. And I know, as sure as I know my name, that Destiny has chosen you as the best hope of two worlds."

I set down the bottle, reach into my jacket, and toss onto the table a signed and stamped form with "Z-225" in block letters across the top. Then I reach across the table, clasp your hands, and stare earnestly into your eyes.

"What do you say?" I ask. "Are you in?"

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Comments ( 37 )

First comment reserved for spoiler-free author’s notes!

This one’s had a long road to publication, although most of the edits since the Writeoffs have been surface polish. I talk a little bit more about that in the story announcement blog.

The low point is the end of Chapter 2. It gets better from there.

Comments below contain spoilers — read at your own risk.

Congrats! You get a like.

Brilliant.

You know what? I liked this ending. You have someone who knows they're not the legendary hero, so instead of trying to get hero powers, they go for "find the hero" powers instead. Surprisingly wise, in my opinion. Also surprisingly wise on the author's part to leave the actual solution ambiguous, and thus not have to make it himself, because anything a mere human could come up with would be inadequate somehow.

Of course, then there's the tragic ending where instead of a month, he waits years and years and never finds someone who can fix things. Please don't actually write that, I like hope better.

"Punting the decision" doesn't mean delaying the outcome. It means ignoring the problem because it doesn't affect you personally.

9572284
Thanks for the kind words! And yeah — given the rest of the story, I felt that it was important for this not to just be a relentless beatdown of hope.

9572327
The way I've always heard it — and what the references say — is that punting the decision means "to give up, to defer action, or to pass responsibility off to someone else". Here it's being used in that last sense.

9571836 9572128 9572145 9572433
Thanks for enjoying and commenting! :twilightsmile:

I thought the first chapter was very strong at setting up how scary this scenario is. Though after that I felt kinda let down. The main character's a bit too passive, that I didn't feel invested in the conflict of his decision.

Second person??!?!?!?! All this for a second person feghoot at the end?!

I thought better of you :rainbowlaugh:

I will certainly have to find a way to deliver my revenge come Babscon. I'm sure I can convince someone to mix you a truly awful drink, worse than bacon vodka by an order of magnitude, in order to achieve justice

9572659
You think you can punish me with bad drinks? I have voluntarily had malort jello shots. Plural. The first one wasn't enough.

Bring it. :rainbowdetermined2:

(I'll bring the tarot deck)

9572549
Thanks for the feedback!

I want to say that if I were rewriting this from scratch, I'd do it differently? Give the main character less cowardice and more agency to make him more relatable, maybe? But I'm hesitating at that. This would be a very different story if Mark were capable of overcoming his limitations.

I think a big part of it is the deconstruction/reconstruction of HiE. Throughout the story it's set up that this isn't a power fantasy because the main character can't handle the power he gets. Not everybody is cut out to be a hero. But at the end, it pulls back the curtain to reveal it was playing the genre straight all along: it's just not about who you thought it was going to be about. Wish fulfillment comes in many forms — and some of those require a dystopia to pit the hero against, to give them deeper odds to overcome. The goal was to worm it into readers' brains with the context shift.

But, y'know, it's about playing around to find what works. It won't always. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I appreciate the read regardless!

Damn that was a good read.

Part of me wants a continuation, but another part of me realizes that this story is probably perfect without it. The ambiguity is what makes this ending so impactful.

I love it. A great fic that reminded me WHY I love fanfiction. :)

9572805
Malort? That's baby poison, as poisons go

9572824
I didn't mind his cowardice that much, I understood that the story was built on that. I think what bothered me is that once he entered Equestria, it had the characters telling him why they were angry and what they want him to do. So he didn't even have the agency to decide his own goals that he would fail at.

And it could just be me, maybe I went into this with a different set of expectations for the horror. I still thought it was an interesting idea.

Imagine if the human was Tommy Wiseau.

"Oh, hai, Cutie Mark."

9572896
Thanks!

I had a private chat with 9572914 about the ending scene — with a suggested fix that would make the story more satisfying, but also breaks some of the themes — and I'm halfway convinced that there needs to be a sequel just so I can show Mark taking this approach now, and then realizing that he has to do it right, the second time.

Unfortunately, there's so much on my plate I strongly doubt it'll ever come to pass :fluttershysad: but it's a nice thought!

9573105
I think the ending is perfect as is. In my opinion at least.
I think NOT knowing what happens next and it being left to the readers imagination is what makes it so good.

I just can't resist a story with a good twist at the end. Now you've got me thinking about how I'd go about fixing this crazy mess... :applejackconfused:

Reading this story it does make you realize that humans getting cutie marks would be disastrous. Yes their would be a few that would work for the betterment of mankind but their would be way more who would abuse it that off sets the benefits. The princesses letting any tom dick and Harry get one would be beyond dumb. Waiting lists .... ugh ... should be screening lists. Doctor ... ok .. scientist .... ok ... farmer ... ok. Diplomat .. nooooo .. Why would you give anyone the ability to talk themselves outta trouble or convince people what you say is right or bamboozle the princesses thats probably what would really happen. Luck ... noooooo ... theres like 50 ways that could go pear shaped. Lawyer .... hellll no .. don't need every criminal getting off on technicalities the lawyer would suddenly know. Good example them killing Harry the bear ... wtf ... animals are sentient in equestria twilight should've charged the humans with murder. If humans couldnt get cutie marks id go with twilights idea but since they can I'd have to agree with discord here. You can't out diplomacy a diplomacy mark against a diplomacy mark. It'd be a infinity diplomacy loop nothing would get done.

I think it would kinda be nice to know what exactly our hero is expected to save Equestria from. There was explicitly mentioned 1 dick who got to Crystal Empire and strong indication that Ponyville's community is deteriorating. But Twilight is an actual government. She could ask humans to play nice or GTFO. Did they answer "Make us"?
Also I'm curious why Lyra is valuing her job that much? Are there problems with employment in Equestira?

I have a Cutie Mark symbol of Infinity...

*snaps fingers...*

:trollestia:

9573260 I don't really think it would matter.

People are insane A-holes... just because they can be, in some cases. In others, they're certifiably nuts. Telling a terrorist he has a Cutie Mark in blowing up the Trade Towers... yeah... wouldn't have made any difference, ya know? People who are wicked sometimes just LIKE it. They wallow in their sadism, without any magical butt-stamp telling them to do so. Did Stalin, Mao, Pinochet, Mussolini, Saddam, Osama Bin Ladin (etc.) need a Cutie Mark to do terrible things? Many others wander into crime because they have no other direction in life... Cutie Marks might actually aid the bulk of them.

So it might help more than it hurts, if nothing else, ensuring college-age kids aren't spending $100K in worthless studies they're neither suited for, nor have any possible job prospects.

9572509
My brain suddenly lost a few cells and I got royally confused. Could you add that as an end chapter A/N? Possibly in spoiler tags with "If you didn't get it" and the definition?

Nice ending.
Really liked it.

So wait, is this a self insert or something there at the end?
You got me there at the end the magic "Find someone else to do the job for me" :derpytongue2:

Hah! A bit like wishing for more wishes, but the way human marks (mal)function, that fits. Love the way you wrote Discord!

Awesome story.

Okay, that ending was both totally appropriate for the character, clever, and satisfying. Excellent work. :D

9573628

I think it would kinda be nice to know what exactly our hero is expected to save Equestria from.

Being out-competed by a superior species. If Discord is telling the truth, then ponies in this story are inherently inferior to humans. Cutie Marks "lift ponies onto an equal level with" unmarked humans. But humans are getting Marks, and that's game-breaking.

But Twilight is an actual government. She could ask humans to play nice or GTFO. Did they answer "Make us"?

Humanity sent in marked diplomats who can "out-think and out-talk even the most gifted pony a hundred times over". One marked diplomat solved the Middle East peace problem. How much of a chance does Twilight have against that?

9585003
Thank you! :twilightsmile:

9585557
Exactly this.

9585557

How much of a chance does Twilight have against that?

Quite a few by preemptively sticking earplugs in her ears, shooting first anyone who's trying to pull that on her and assuming that direct act of war on behalf of human government --- the point of making ultimatum is that it isn't something to discuss. If humans accept, all further diplomatic communication is through e-mails that are scrambled twice with translate.google.com and are not read by princesses themselves for starters.

9586199
Two big problems with that:

1) Then she loses anyway, by no longer being the Princess of Friendship.

2) She's not negotiating with James, who — to put it in D&D terms — has an astronomical Bluff skill. She's negotiating with someone with a cutie mark in diplomacy. Bluff is about making people within immediate earshot believe whatever you want them to believe. Diplomacy is about leveraging mutually beneficial agreements to your maximum benefit. Twilight wasn't tricked into signing the agreement — she was tempted with amazing benefits and convinced with logic, and it wasn't until well after those benefits started flowing in that the drawbacks became clear.

Look at it this way:

If someone told you that you should go to college, and pointed out that doing so would basically give you a 66% wage increase for the rest of your life, you'd be pretty inclined to say yes, right? Oh, they mention offhandedly, it might mean a few thousand dollars up front. What's that? You don't have $37,000 handy? It's alright, there are loan programs for that! Look at the numbers — factor in how much more you earn, and statistically, you're still paying off all your loans and coming out way ahead.

You only find out two years into your degree that student loans are bigger than auto loans and nearly double that of credit card debt. And that student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy. And that while it's well and good to look at statistics in the aggregate, you've picked a degree program where graduates exceed jobs. (Which is admittedly your fault; if you'd been doing it for the money like they suggested, the statistics on fields in demand were right there all along.) And you start to realize you have a problem.

But what can you do? If you leave school, you're literally worse off than when you started, because you have debt and no degree. If you keep going, you've still got a shot at a less bad outcome, but you're locked into the questionable deal you signed up for. And the folks who talked you into the loan are saying, hey, go for a graduate degree, that's demonstrably where the jobs are, it solves your current problem but it just means a few more loans, and everything they say is perfectly accurate; you can see with perfect clarity how it solves your problem no matter how long you take to think about it and how many holes you try to poke in the logic.

Okay, you say. This is the sunk cost fallacy. You know they screwed you last time — you can't trust them. So you tell them you need some time to think about it, block their phone number for a while, and start brainstorming. But somehow, every solution you come up with on your own, when you do the math it shows that it ends up worse for you than going along with their deal. You know they're making out like bandits on the deal — but you'd still be a fool to say no.

And every time you say, hey, you're making profit hand over fist, could you maybe give me better terms, they just point out how good a deal you're getting, and you find yourself nodding along — and then you go home and freak out, and get all your friends to audit the numbers and point out the holes in their plan, and they shrug and say it looks alright, and none of you can legitimately come up with a deal whose tradeoffs come out more in your favor.

This is why Twilight needs Mark. She knows she's getting screwed, but it is literally not within her capacity to improve on the deals she's getting. Taking the Discord option and unilaterally stopping negotiations means she loses out on the benefits she made the original deals for.

(Including, but not limited to, being able to demonstrate the principles of friendship to a whole new world. What would the people of Earth think if she pulled the plug and said go away? How big of a friendship failure would that be? If they're this bad with her influence, how much worse would they be without?)

9586263
Thank you very much for the explanation! :twilightsmile:
That's exactly the thing "it would kinda be nice to know" I meant


About student loans argument: let's look at similar story of some capitalist/politician guy who wants to instate and make profit from analogous system in Magical Land (for simplicity sake that one guy would be in charge of system and has magical button that can instate whole system in a single atomic action). Magical Land is very similar to regular non-magical one, but has one difference in it's population being a tiny bit psycho: if we give average Joe from there deal you're describing he has 0.1% chance of going berserk and attempting to suicide-bomb us. Now I'm pretty sure that, unless our capitalist guy finds dodging thousands of bombs fun, population of Magical Land is going to systematically receive significantly better deals.

That is kinda logically surprising result: precommitting to conditionally perform action that's not only has negative sum but is directly self-harming (and appears irrational when and if it's time to actually perform it) may actually be rational choice. And also that's direct evolutionary reason for people sometimes going berserk when harmed. In that sense one should always be prepared to harm himself to some degree when engaging in negotiations, otherwise he's just predictably and systematically going to loose to one who's prepared.

9586263
horizon, I really think we need to talk about a wonderful game series called Dominions and how we can make a fimfic club for it

The Hand of Fate! Nice! I suspect if I were given this opportunity, I'd throw away my life on Earth instantly, walk in and get a mark in magic, and never look back. Nor would I want to return to an Earth being tragically destroyed by this problem of special enhancement, but if it really were my job, I'd probably have to. Humanity doesn't have to be The Virus any more than ponies do, and someone who can actually cast magic spells might be able to call Destiny forth on Earth to help solve the issue.

Anyway, when I imagine getting a Cutie Mark here on Earth, this is sort of what I think might happen. Sure, possibly humans go up to superhero levels, where for most ponies their abilities just hover around Pretty Good and they have to study hard to go higher; but then, ponies already have magical powers -- Maud Pie can crush rock with her hooves, for instance, but Rarity is Pretty Good at fashion design (I suspect her mark is more about decoration than any particular form of fabrication). I think marks would probably harmonize with the powers humans already have. So instead of a sudden boost, it's probably more like you know your destiny and get a minor boost in most cases with a few rarities who get a major boost. Just like a dice-rollin' supers RPG.

And now I want to go back and reread some pony RPG stuff.

9619850
Now that's an interesting solution to the problem. Enhance Destiny on Earth.

Because the more Earth runs on the power of Destiny -- the power of stories, and people living up to them -- the more that the universe itself starts pushing to have the good guys win.

I think you might be on to something there!

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