• Published 3rd Jul 2016
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My Little Universe: Season 4 - EquestrianKirin

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Here In Our Town

"No ... No, no ... no, no, no, UGH!"

Twilight Sparkle was having some little trouble with figuring things out. It hadn't been too long since the storm had passed through back in Beach City, but that Thunderbird that they encountered was something she was not going to slip by. She consulted the old castle library rather than her own, since that library had more ancient literatures on monster studies than her own books at the library. She had plenty of books, sure, but this wasn't in any books she had read up on in her library, so maybe the books from the Alicorn sisters could give her some more answers. So far though, she wasn't having too much of luck in her little knowledge hunt, even with the rest of the Mane Six looking through as well. Twilight, Rarity, and Fluttershy were looking through more carefully, but Rainbow and even Pinkie were just skimming through the books.

"Anypony else starting to think that this is a lost cause?" Applejack said at one point. It was starting to look like it as it was, considering they had a number of piled books well beyond fifty each. Quite a bother. Rainbow Dash went through another book and tossed it aside, the book bouncing off Pinkie's head. The Pegasus was about done, and landed down on the floor, grumpy as ever.

"Ok, I'm done."

"Come on, there's got to be some answer to this," Twilight said, finishing another book and placing it aside.

"Are you sure about that, dear? We didn't find our storm bird in Equestria," Rarity pointed out as Twilight tried to get another book and see if it had anything in it.

"But there was nothing like that before. We've been visiting Steven's world for over a year, and this is the first time we saw something like this," twilight explained, finishing through another book that gave them nothing.

"What if this was just another Gem monster? I mean, it's not the first time we saw one of those before," Rainbow brought up. However, Fluttershy was the one who had to disagree.

"No, she's not. She would've kept trying to fight us blindly if that's right."

"Doesn't every animal angry do that?"

"Oh come off it. Y'all know that you're just trying to get an excuse to go off on us," Applejack finally pointed out. Rough, but honesty can be that sometimes. Rainbow Dash herself got a rather rough big from that.

"NO! ... Well, maybe. But like you said; we're getting nowhere here. Can't we go do something else?" Rainbow complained, although she was still tossing books time and time again from a lower shelf. As she grabbed one book ...

"Rainbow Dash. Is that you?"

"AAAAHHHH!!"

One wing beat, and Rainbow had her back slammed to the opposite bookshelf. Turned out that book covered the face of one of their friends! It at first looked like a talking detached head on a shelf, but after a bit, the rest of her came out in better view. The Mane Six did not see this coming for a mile, but the only one who knew who it was was Pinkie Pie herself.

"Connie Two!"

Pinkie bolted forward to hug her, but Pinkie ended up flying right through Connie II, landing in a book pile. It was Connie the Second, though in a projection of herself rather than actually being there.

"Wait. Connie ... Two?" Questioned Applejack.

"I don't have a lot of time to explain, but I need your help, please!"

"Okay, calm down. What's the matter?" Twilight asked.

"I tried to help some ponies in this town, but they locked me away, and are trying to rehabilitate me. It's north east of the Canterlot Castle, south of the Crystal Mountains, Please, the town needs you - I need you -"

Before Connie II could finish, she began to look hurt, like a migraine just struck her, as the projection started to fade and shift. Connie II tried to tell them, but she disappeared before she could finish. Well, to put it blunt, that got everypony rattled. That did give them a sure fire objective, and they were all for it.

"Well what're we waiting for, let's head out!" Rainbow announced.

~~~~~~

The instructions and direction were, more or less, vague. However, it was just enough for the Mane Six to follow and head off on their way to help Connie II out. They really had to work with what they got as best as they could muster, but the group were heading the right way after a train ride. Their main concern was for Connie II; Nopony would just go and give that kind of message if it wasn't too serious. As they continued going, the terrain turned dry, grayish, and rocky. It truly was practically in the middle of nowhere when all was said and done, but at least there was a road to easily go along, even if the road was a bit rocky and more rugged than an average road. There wasn't many trees, or bushes - just rocks and boulders going along hills.

"You girls see any town around here?" Twilight asked.

"This is where Connie said it would be," Applejack replied. Rainbow flew up for a bit to check on things, and soon, the keen eyed Pegasus got her eyes set on something further off in the distance. It was still a bit ways away, but the ponies were up on high-ground, giving them a better view of the place in question. A town not too far off, and a small one at that. Since it was the only town they were seeing, and the only town they came across on their walk, it had to be it no doubt. Pinkie Pie though suddenly jumped in front of the crowd, getting all serious, front hooves out to her side.

"Stand back everypony! I'M ON IT."

"Careful Pinkie!" Applejack said, just before the pink mare suddenly began a tumble down the deep hill until her back met another large boulder. For Pinkie Pie, this was an extreme stealth mission, despite the fact that nopony was even present aside from the Mane Six. The others didn't really feel like the super spy approach was needed, so they just walked on casually as Pinkie stuck with her stealth. She leaped to one boulder, then scurried towards another boulder, and she was suddenly underneath it, waving her hoof for the others to follow (the boulder crushing her, yet her hoof was still doing the motion). The boulder scooted slowly a few times until the rest of the Mane Six caught up with her, Pinkie peering out from the same side the Mane Six was. From here, the group of Ponies could get a better view of the town they were coming across.

They weren't too far from the entrance to the small town, which was mainly made up of two evenly placed buildings, equally side by side in shape and space. Nothing really seemed to pop out or seem different from one side to another, and the ponies themselves that they could seen. The ponies looked different from eachother, but the colors were a little dulled down. They all had smiles on their faces, but these looked far more forced than any regular happy grin, almost like Emerald's own messed up grin when they first met him with his cracked Gem; a wide smile stretching across their faces that almost seemed to hurt.

"This looks like a nice little town," fluttershy noted.

"I don't like it. NOT ONE BIT." Pinkie replied, quick and firm in tone. It was rare to hear Pinkie not like anything, but Pinkie Pie had a pretty good reason for it.

"Look at those smiles. They just don't look right," Pinkie pointed out, a hoof aimed at a random pony in the town. She wasn't exactly wrong, as all of the ponies had a similar look to them in smiles. After a little bit, Twilight began to see something else with these Ponies.

"That's not all. Look at their Cutie Marks, they're ..." Twilight didn't need to finish what she had to say. The Mane Six looked to one flank after another, seeing the Cutie Marks the Ponies had. The first pony had simply an equal sign ... And the next ... And the next ... They all had the exact same Cutie Mark.

"OK. THAT'S weird," Rainbow commented.

The group of Ponies then ventured off into the town in question, coming up to the front of the town's entrance. The Mane Six went on around for a bit, seeing Earth Ponies, Unicorns, and Pegesi living in the same place like Ponyville would have it. They're all still a bit dulled down though, and they all were looking at them with the same wide smile and happy expression.

"Welcome," one pony said.

"Welcome," said another.

The welcomes each pony made tot eh Mane Six arriving into town was sweet, monotone, but non-threatening in anyway. Still, the Mane Six had their own vibe to it. Pinkie Pie was the most suspicious of the six, yet Fluttershy was very content. No matter the case, they can't forget why they went out here in the first place. Connie II was somewhere, and they had to get her before things could get worse for her.

"Welcome," A Pegasus said, to Fluttershy in particular. The yellow Pegasus smiled sweetly, though the others remained a little skeptical. Soon, the group were then found by two Stallion ponies. One Stallion had a white coat, and silver mane and tail. Both the mane and tail were equally cut, much like the other stallions in town. Same thing can be said for the other one next to him, though his coat was less white, and more of a dull blue, with a crudely knitted vest on, tied together by rope. They both shared the same wide smiles, and Cutie Marks, as with everypony else.

"Welcome. Pardon me for my forwardness, but are you an Alicorn?" One of the ponies asked. Twilight looked to her wings, and simply nodded. It had been a while since her Alicorn status had actually been noticed.

"This is an honor. And you all have your own cutie Marks," he added, seeing the Cutie Marks they had on them. He kept the smile, but his eyes turned to a worried look for just a quick second before shifting back.

"Sure we do. And you are?"

"Double Diamond. And this is Party Favor," The stallion introduced. Well, they got two ponies in this town anyway. Odd though - his name didn't exactly fit him well since there wasn't much clue on him for any "diamond" anyway. Party Favor was this as well.

"Nice to meet you two," Fluttershy said.

"Same to you. What brings you to our corner of Equestria?" Double Diamond said. The group didn't forget for a minute about why they came out here, and decided to ask the questions up front.

"Well, we got a message from one of our friend - A human friend. She's trapped somewhere, and told us to come out this way. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you? ..." Twilight asked. Double Diamond and Party Favor glanced to eachother before answering.

"Excuse me, but, what exactly is a human?" Party Favor asked, grin still there, and trying not to sound insulting or anything. Well, if these ponies didn't even know what a human even was, then Connie II couldn't be here many of them figured. If Connie II did show up and get trapped here, then they would've at least got an idea of it. Connie II would tell them what a human was at least. Applejack and Pinkie began to get suspicious as well, but didn't say anything.

"Oh. She's about as tall as we are, brown skin, brunette, on two legs with hands and fingers," Twilight explained.

"Apologies, but we hadn't seen one of those. But, how about we show you our mayor, perhaps she'll know," Double Diamond offered, pointing a hoof to the other end of their town. There was one building that wasn't actually apart of the two sets of houses, one that the Mane Six didn't even notice before. Sure it matched the style of the other houses, but it was by itself. The Mane Six glanced to eachother for a bit.

"Can you give us a minute?" Twilight asked. Double Diamond and Party Favor nodded, and the group went off a few feet, discussing with eachother on if they should. The two Stallions waited for a minute, smiling still, but Double diamond nudged Party Favor, having the other Stallion walk off before the Mane Six returned.

"We'll go and talk to your mayor," Twilight decided.

"In that case, right this way," Double Diamond replied, walking along ahead.

~~~~~~

It didn't take very long, but Double Diamond did end up bringing them over to the mayor's house, even going as far as to inviting them right inside. The interior of the building was cozy enough with the average furniture inside, though they did note a picture of an equal symbol over on the wall. Other than that it was your typical pony home. There was one closed door though that Double Diamond went over to, which the others were thinking that it might be where the mayor was in.

"Starlight, we have some new visitors," Double Diamond said.

"We don't know what's behind that door. Get ready," Rainbow warned quietly. Even if Connie II wasn't here, this was no ordinary town by any means.

After a short while, the door began to open up, and another pony started to step out into the light of the room. This was a unicorn, a female unicorn with a smirk on her face and a calm, confident look to her eyes. Her main fur coat was a pale pink, not as dark or as prominent as Pinkie Pie's pink. Her mane and tail were as bland as everypony else in this town, though the colors of her mane and tail were a deep purple with a light green highlight in each. As with many other ponies in town, she too had the equal Cutie Mark on her flank.

"Welcome! So nice to meet you," she said.

"You must be the major?" Twilight said. Starlight nodded her head, as Double Diamond moved aside.

"Starlight Glimmer. Interesting to see a Alicorn come to visit our little town," Starlight said, a hoof extended in friendship. Twilight gave her a hoof-shake. Pinkie and Applejack glanced to eachother for a moment as Twilight spoke again.

"Twilight Sparkle," Twilight introduced.

"I assume it's princess Twilight Sparkle," Starlight complimented.

"Twilight is just fine," Twilight replied, modestly.

"We're happy to have you here. We're always happy to have anypony visit and experience true friendship for the first time."

"... Say what?" applejack questioned, eyebrow raised. True friendship? The first time? Ok, there's obviously something up here. They know friendship, they've been friends with Humans, Ponies, and Gems, so what was with that comment?

"Oh, indeed. That's what is so unique about our town," Starlight began, taking a moment to equally line up the picture of the equal symbol on the wall, which was slightly tilted when the group arrived. Starlight continued saying "You see, we don't try to flaunt our special talents, because we don't have any special talents to flaunt."

"Is that why you all have those Cutie Marks?" Asked Twilight, pointing to Starlight's own Cutie Mark. Starlight nodded.

"Indeed. These may not seem like much at first to visitors like you, but over time we all come to understand that we're all happy living together once we're all equal. As such, we all agreed to give up our unique talents, and all become equal amongst eachother."

"Why would they do that? Give up our cutie Marks? Yeah, right!" Rainbow commented. Fluttershy nudged Rainbow, not wanting to come off as rude to seemingly happy ponies.

"Rainbow! They may do things a little differently, but that's no reason to be rude," Fluttershy said.

"Let me try to explain for you. You see, Cutie Marks represent a unique talent a pony has. And ponies with unique talents would go out in the world to flaunt and show off their talents, just to simply show what they can do. Different talents lead to different opinions, which leads to bitterness and misery. With our marks equal, no unique talents, therefore no bitterness," Starlight explained. It sounded a little bit troubling to some of the Mane Six, and Rainbow Dash found it a little too familiar, especially the 'showing off' part.

"Uh, speaking of which, what brought you to our little town?"

Now, Applejack got right to the main point, and stepped in. It was about time they cut to the chase, and figure out about Connie II.

"Alright, listen. We've showed up here, because our friend needed our help, and she told us to come out to this little town of yours. Y'all know anything about that?" Applejack asked, ready to hear what Starlight had to say. Starlight Glimmer took a moment to think, hoof to her chin.

"We didn't have visitors arriving in our corner of the world before you and your friends arrived. My apologies for that. You're free to stay here if you wish to."

"That is kind of you, thank you," Fluttershy said. Starlight nodded, and turned to Double Diamond.

"Double Diamond, please help our guests with whatever they might need," Starlight instructed.

"Of course!" replied Double Diamond.

Troubling, but it'll give them time.

~~~~~~

Pretty soon, the Mane Six were out of Starlight's house, and basically waiting around town. They all were sitting at an outside diner table, similar to the ones back in Ponyville but without the umbrellas. They still kept hearing 'welcome' from passersby, be it from older ponies, or from young fillies and colts. Fluttershy found it alright, and a bit sweet, but the others were having different thoughts on the matter.

"Well girls, what do you think?" Twilight asked.

"I dunno about the rest of you, but I'm getting a feelin' that something's up," Applejack said.

"Me too; I know my smiles, and these smiles just aren't right," agreed Pinkie, her peering, and suspicious eyes darting back and forth at the local ponies, who still gave their wide smiles to them. Fluttershy had enough with it.

"Come on, girls. They're just doing things a little differently, that's all. Maybe we just got the wrong town," Fluttershy insisted.

"You seen any other towns on our way here, Fluttershy? I think this is the one, if anywhere," Rainbow said.

"Connie didn't say exactly where she was, remember? It could be anywhere," Fluttershy pointed out. As far as the yellow Pegasus is concern, these ponies were the nicest group of ponies she'd met in a long time.

"Maybe we should ask around a little bit. Somepony might've known something about her," Twilight figured. There was quite a number of ponies in this town, despite its size, so perhaps at least one pony would know something about Connie II, somewhere. Before their conversation could continue -

"Need anything?!"

Double Diamond was across from them, pass the plaza on another table.

"We're alright!" replied Twilight. Soon, another pony then came into the picture, this time a mare unicorn pony. She was the waitress, and she matched the other looks of the other ponies fairly well; dulled out colors, and equal cutie mark. The mare noticed the group discussing to one another before she showed up.

"Is this a bad time?"

"No, no, not at all, dear," Rarity insisted. The mare gave a sigh of relief.

"But, you were disagreeing ..."

"Oh, that's not much trouble darling. We can disagree on things now and again, it's not too bad," Rarity explained. The mare though seemed confused, but didn't push the subject any further.

"My name is Sugar Belle. What can I get you? We have, muffins ..."

And apparently that was it.

"Twelve please!" Pinkie Pie beamed. Might as well get her share of sweets before exploring the town. The other girls looked over to her.

"What, I'm hungry," Pinkie defended.

"Can we try to focus please? I'm sorry, but, our pal's getting brainwashed out there, and here we are ordering muffins. This town's got something messed up with it," Rainbow said.

"Don't trust their smiles. Something rotten's going on in - ... Whatever the name of this town is," Pinkie agreed.

"Alright, everypony. Y'all can relax for a bit, I'll go and check things out, ok?" Applejack decided. She wasn't trusting this town anymore than Pinkie was, so she might as well take this time to look around herself.

"Sure about that?" Twilight asked.

"Sure I'm sure. I'll pop right back once I get things sorted out, ok? See y'all in a bit," Applejack said, walking off from the others. It wasn't until AJ was out of sight when Sugar Belle came back with a plate of cupcakes. However, they weren't well done, and looked more like burnt chunks of bread than actual muffins. Pinkie went on ahead and tried one, only getting taste as bad as it looks. She hacked for a moment, only to see her friends turning to her. Embarrassed, Pinkie quickly changed her tone.

"MMMMM. Good," Pinkie said, trying to hide the fact how bad they tasted.

"It's alright. I know I'm not a good cook. Well, I'm not better than anypony else in town," Sugar said, still smiling. However, her eyes darted back to where Double diamond was at, who was looking at a newspaper to pass the time. That glance seemed a bit odd, but Double Diamond took no notice. Pinkie hacked a little more, trying to actually swallow the muffin given to them. All of a sudden though, Sugar Bella went rather close to them.

"Come inside before you go! Meet me downstairs!" She whispered, quickly changing to her wide smile, looking to Double Diamond. The white stallion did glance over, but paid her no mind, as Sugar Belle went away. What the hay was that about?

~~~~~~

It took a little bit, but the rest of the Mane Six went on down to the area in question. This would normally be suspicious in a bad sense, but the tone in Sugar's voice was more urgent than suspicious. Plenty less suspicious than Starlight Glimmer anyway. The downstairs room was dimly lit, with one lightbulb lit up in the room. It was open, and Nopony else seemed to be around the place, except for the Mane Five, and Sugar Belle who stepped into the light.

"So ... Why did you want us here?"

"Oh. So Nopony will see what's about to happen," Sugar Belle said. Suddenly, two other ponies stepped out of the shadows; one was Party Favor, and another was a dull colored Pegasus. They were surrounding them, eyeing them for a bit. The ponies there got extremely uncomfortable, and prepared themselves for the worst. They expected anything ...

"Awesome marks!"

"What does yours mean?!"

"Do you know Princess Celestia?!"

Except that. Turned out these three had a liking for Cutie Marks, even if they don't have ones themselves tecnically. The three marveled at the group's Cutie Marks, until Rarity spoke again.

"Oh. Uh, this is surely charming ... And unexpected," Rarity said.

"I thought you were against these Cutie Marks. You are, right?" Asked Twilight.

"Sorry. It's just been so long since I had my Cutie Mark, I just got so excited when I heard you came to town. Oh, I wish I had mine back," the Pegasus said. Even if that came from nowhere, it did peak their interest.

"You had one?" Rainbow questioned.

"We all did. Me, Night Glider, and Sugar Belle. Starlight showed us what the problem was with it though. Still, it would be nice to see my Mark," Party Favor said.

"But how'd you get those?" Rarity asked, pointing to her Cutie Mark.

"Starlight Glimmer removed our marks in a cave nearby here," Sugar Belle answered. The fact that one could even remove a Cutie Mark was baffling enough. How the hay could one even manage to do that?! To remove one of a Cutie Mark. If Connie II was here, she was in deeper trouble than they thought. Not just her, but everypony in this town ...

"Can we visit this cave?"

~~~~~~

"It's so nice that you'd be interested in this process of ours," Starlight said, as she was guiding the Mane Five off to the spot. Twilight found Starlight after a bit, and the unicorn was more than happy to oblige and show them the cave. The area in question was further away from town than Sugar Belle's downstairs, taking them out of town and down a path leading off to the mountains nearby. The Mane Five were on their guards as they followed Starlight Glimmer off to the cave. Pretty soon, they began to see the entrance to the cave in question. The cave was worn down from constant hooves flattening the bottom of it.

"Everypony. Welcome to the Cutie Mark Vault!" The sight as they passed the corner shocked them to their core. In front of them was a huge wall, encased inside various Cutie Marks. The types vary, the talents vary, but of all things, they all were encased in their own boxes, blocked by strong glass like trophies. Over at the center of the room, there appeared to be some sort of item. It appeared to be a stick, long as a staff, and two points at one end to make a fork shape. The lights of the Cutie Marks themselves illuminated the room of the cave. Starlight walked over to the stick, and her magic levitated it off the ground.

"And this, is the Stick of Sameness. One of the great Mage Meadowbrook's nine magic items," Starlight revealed. Despite the situation, Rainbow couldn't help but snicker at the stupid sounding name. Seriously, the Stick of Sameness? Starlight got a bit annoyed, but didn't let it bug her too much, and she continued.

"We're so fortunate to have it here, as this took was what freed us from our Cutie Marks ... I'm curious. How did the subject of the vaults come up?" A smart pony, that Starlight Glimmer. The Ponies here didn't want to rat out on their friends back in the village, and their suspicions didn't want to put anypony else in trouble either.

"We, uh ... We heard about it on the way here," Twilight lied.

"Is that so?" Quizzed Starlight.

"Y-Yes. We don't want to cause any trouble for -"

"Then let's be sure about that."

As if on cue, coming out of the shadows, more villagers of Starlight's village began to walk out from the tunnel behind them, starting to surround the group. Starlight aimed her stick right over to the ponies. Now there was no doubt in their minds anymore.

"It's a trap!" Twilight gasped. The equal ponies were surrounding them right away, and Twilight quickly tried to take action. She made a fast teleport, and was soon up in the air, but Starlight only needed one proper aim and proper shot, and Twilight was quickly caught in the magic beams! Twilight screamed in pain, and her Cutie Mark began to distort and stretch, until it suddenly was ripped out from her! The others didn't had time to react, when Starlight shifted her beam to hit them as well! The pain was horrific, and their cutie Marks met the same fate as the one Twilight Sparkle had. Once all five were removed, the proud Unicorn brought each one of the Cutie Marks over to a opened slot in the Cutie Mark vault. Once the pain ceased, the five weakened ponies looked over to where their Cutie Marks would be, only to find a equal sign in replacement.

"Aw. I don't blame you for what you tried to do here today. You've spent your whole lives thinking those marks are a good thing. Well, now you can spend the rest of your lives here with us! And we'll teach you just how much better life can be without your Cutie Marks."

The group of ponies were surrounded, and now powerless to do much of anything to stop Starlight Glimmer. The unicorn felt victorious over them, but after looking them over, she noticed something.

Somepony's missing.

~~~~~~

"Twilight?! Where'd y'all head off to?"

Applejack was kinda left out of the trouble, but she didn't had a clue on where they went off to. She went around town, and didn't had much luck, only to come back and find her friends pretty much missing from the town. She didn't get much information on Connie II, and now she had five other friends to go out and find. She asked a number of ponies already, but nopony seemed to know. In fact, not many ponies were around for some reason. The orange pony continued walking about, trying to find her friends.

"Oh ponyfeathers, why did I go off alone, WHY didn't I just wait to get the others?" Applejack thought in regret of her own decision. This town was simply strange all and all, and the orange pony had the stupid idea to go off, only to find the others had disappeared on her. There was NO WAY they would've simply just get up and left without a good reason. Applejack continued on for a while longer, looking up and down through the town here, there, and nothing seemed to show up. Pretty soon though, Applejack came to the conclusion that they were nowhere. It was easy to look around in a town with one main lane. Each house had no clue, but as she passed one ...

*thump**thump*

Applejack stopped herself once her ears caught that noise. The orange earth pony turned around, hearing the thumping again, coming from one of the buildings. Applejack didn't exactly see what sort of source it would actually be from. Applejack kept walking for a little bit, until the noise brought her to behind one of the houses, to a small window. The window was too small for her to fit inside, but she got up on her back hooves and peered in.

"Anypony in there?" Applejack asked. Looking in, the room was solid brick, like a prison cell, with a few books over to one corner, a speaker on the ceiling, and AJ could see someone in the corner, head to her knees, looking miserable. Once she heard the voice, she looked up to Applejack, and she felt immediately hopeful.

"Applejack!"

"Connie two? Tarnation, I knew that Starlight was a lying snake in the grass. You ok?" Applejack asked, as Connie II went right to the window. On her cheek, now in the light, Applejack could see the same equal sign mark on her.

"I think so. Can you get me out of here? The door's locked and the windows are too small."

"Say no more, I'll get ya free in no time," Applejack promised. AJ looked around the brick wall, and tried to think on a way to get the girl free. The orange pony was ticked as any that they were lied to, but she needed to stay focused. She found Connie II, and she had to get her out. After a closer look in the built of the house, Applejack got an idea. She turned around, aiming her back hooves to a brick in the wall under the window. Connie II stepped aside, as the brick jutted forward from the strong kick. AJ made a few more kicks until the brick slid completely through.

"Try now," AJ said. Connie II got herself ready, and began to squeeze her body through the hole. It was not easy for her to get through for how narrow it was, but it was better than earlier. Applejack brought her front hooves out, and Connie II grabbed her, the two working together to pull Connie II out. In one good pull, Connie II was free. Thank Celestia for that.

"Thank you, Applejack. Let's get out of here before anypony notices," Connie II suggested, already starting to run. AJ though was hesitant. Even if she had found who they were looking for, the others were still missing.

"Hold on, sugarcube, my friends are still -"

"I'm sure you'll understand overtime," a voice suddenly said. Both heard the voice, and quietly peered pass the corner of the building. A few buildings down, AJ and Connie II saw Starlight Glimmer, levitating the stick of sameness, and putting the rest of the Mane Six in another rehabilitation building! Guess that answers her question.

"Let us out of here!" Rainbow yelled.

"Don't fret, my friend. Soon you'll all understand what we're trying to accomplish," Starlight reassured the ponies inside. Applejack grew angry, but Connie II quickly pulled her back before she could try anything crazy.

"Applejack, hold on."

"But my friends -"

"We can't rush in now; Starlight took their Cutie Marks, she took away my mark, you can't charge in. She'll try to talk to them tomorrow, we have until then to try another approach," Connie II explained. She knew from Starlight talking to her about it already, so Applejack would have to wait until then to actually try anything without as high of a risk. So long as Starlight had the stick, she can do the same to AJ in one blast.

"Y'all don't worry. I'll be back for ya," AJ thought. She and Connie II then hightailed it out as fast as they could, without getting caught by any of the locals. They're gonna help, but they can't do it now.

~~~~~~

The night turned a bit of a rough one for both sides. Either from Applejack and Connie II outside of the town, or the Mane five waiting in the rehabilitation building, it was a waiting game on what they had to do. The good news: Connie II was free. The bad news: The Mane Five were now trapped and powerless. Out of the Mane Six, Applejack was the only one unaffected, and the only one with her Cutie Mark in tact amongst the town. Applejack and Connie II both had a pretty big feeling that Starlight would be after them both, so they were sure to set up a camp a good distance away from the town, much to AJ's dismay. Connie II and Applejack had a basic campfire made up, lit up in the night. The orange pony and human doppelgänger were sitting across from another, the fire in between them. The wait did give them time to talk anyway. Connie II was going over with Applejack on how much she'd had gone through during her travels in Equestria since first being pulled out of the mirror pool.

"Well I'll be hog-tied. You've been going about, haven't ya?"

"It's fun to explore, but it's nice to relax time to time," Connie answered.

"So, you got a Cutie Mark too, Connie?" AJ asked. Connie II nodded.

"And just a few days ago too. I visited Canterlot one day, and it just appeared after I taught some unicorns a few magic spells," Connie II said. Course she can't show any examples for AJ, thanks to Starlight's hex on her.

"You know, couple of others had been gettin their Cutie Marks; Jasper has a shield, Peridot has a metal flower -"

"The Gems?" Questioned Connie II.

"Yep. First time any non-Pony got a Cutie Mark, no doubt," Applejack answered. To think that this even happened was a mind-boggle, never mind the idea behind the Thunderbird as well. Connie II did think a little bit.

"Applejack? Had you or your friends noticed anything else that could've been like something from Equestria?" This conversation may be nice, but AJ was still troubled over her friends. Here she was out and safe, and her friends were still trapped in the town. Connie II could tell right away when looking at her.

"AJ, I promise you we'll help your friends out of there. We just have to wait."

"No, this is wrong! I can't sit here while my friends are being brainwashed by a mad mare," Applejack finally said, getting up to her four hooves. What better time then now while Starlight was sleeping? Applejack had to get going now while the night was young. She took a few steps until Connie II got up.

"Wait, you don't know what you're doing!"

"Course I do; I'm gonna get my friends out, get their Cutie Marks back, and get out of dodge before that Starlight can make us to nothing Ponies," Applejack stated, still going off towards the town.

"But Starlight's much stronger than you think, especially with the stick of sameness of hers. We gotta think on a better plan."

"I gotta do something other than sit here. The sooner they're out, and with their Cutie Marks, the better. Any idea on where those Cutie Marks ended up?" AJ retorted. Connie would try to keep her away until a better thought out plan, but the doppelgänger began to think a bit on something that crossed her mind.

"I think I do," Connie II realized.

"What then?"

"There's a cavern outside of town to the mountains. Starlight has a Cutie Mark Vault there with everypony's marks. If they're anywhere, it'll be there!"

"Well why didn't you say so?! You saw how worried I was back there!" Applejack exclaimed. Talk about information so late.

"Sorry, I didn't want you charging in so fast. At least now Starlight should be asleep so we'll have a better chance at it," Connie II explained. Applejack looked simply bemused, but at least she can take action now. The orange pony tipped her hat, looking more determined than ever.

"Let's get those Cutie Marks."

~~~~~~

Back in the town, the Mane Five were not having anything close to a good time in their rehabilitation home. There wasn't much of stuff inside the room, similar to the one Connie II was stuck in. Nothing but brick walls, some books with equal signs on every page (seriously), a lightbulb, and a constant voice from a loudspeaker giving them all sorts of equality messages like "In Sameness, there is peace" or "Exceptionalism is a lie". Things like that were constantly being echoed in the ponies heads, but the Mane Five constantly kept trying to ignore it as best they could. Pinkie Pie was checking out the books, Rainbow Dash was still trying to bust down the door, Twilight was just pacing, and Fluttershy was trying to comfort Rarity, who was crying up a storm.

"There, there Rarity, we'll be okay," Fluttershy said, trying to comfort her crying friend.

"Not just that! Those drapes! I can't tell if they need improving or not!" Rarity said in dismay, pointing to the rather dull drapes at the window.

"I think they look nice," Fluttershy said. Rarity's equal sign suddenly started to glow a little bit, as Rarity kept looking at the drapes ...

"SO DO I!!" Rarity wailed, tears pouring from her eyes. Rarity's judgement on design was deeply halted by the equal mark. It was like a deeply engraved case of designer's block had grabbed the grieving unicorn. Fluttershy backed up to avoid some of the tears, only to nearly get hit by Rainbow Dash, as the Pegasus was trying to bash the door down. However, her now normal speed wasn't doing her any well in her attempts.

"What's with this door?" Rainbow groaned.

"Rainbow Dash, don't try again. You're going to just hurt yourself," Twilight said. That just enraged the already irritated pony even more. Rainbow Dash screamed, charging the door head first.

"LET! ME! OUT! OF! HERE!" Rainbow said, each word in between head bangs against the door. The final slam made Rainbow stop, laying down on her stomach, completely bummed and defeated.

"Let's not forget, everypony, Applejack's still out there. She will figure this out," Twilight said. Rarity took a glance up to the speaker above them.

"Let's just hope that none of us are altered first."

~~~~~~

Meanwhile, Applejack, guided by Connie II, were heading on through the night towards the mountains. It was admittedly a little more troubling to navigate through the dim night, but Connie II's memory hadn't been taken by the spell casted by Starlight's stick of sameness. AJ needed to get rolling as best she could, and she wanted to get this fixed ASAP. No telling how badly this sort of treatment was messing with her friends in the town. When the duo did end up finding it, the light from the vault was plenty enough light to get them seeing the rest of the way. Connie II, despite seeing it already, shared AJ's feeling of dismay. So many Cutie Marks taken from so many ponies.

"Oh my Celestia. Starlight's little equality scheme sure had gone places," Applejack commented, walking out and looking it over. Connie II walked up alongside her, looking through all the varying Cutie Marks.

"I know. Come on, let's get this open before someone notices," Connie II suggested.

"Don't need to tell me twice," AJ said, marching right up to the glass. The pony was ready to get rolling, her hooves ready to shatter some glass. Before she could, she took another look at the vault. She looked at each one, but noticed something; her friend's Cutie Marks weren't there.

"Looking for something?"

Starlight Glimmer! Connie II and Applejack turned around, and saw Starlight standing there, levitating the stick by her side. She appeared alone, but they couldn't be too sure.

"I've been wondering where you were, friend. Your friends are just finding out how much better sameness really is without you."

"Don't give me that, you snake in the grass! I happen to find my human friend being messed with by your equal talking shenanigans."

"Shenanigans? You just haven't seen how wonderful life is without your Cutie Mark," Starlight retorted, sounding insulted, and aiming the stick at AJ. Connie II made sure to stand in the way between Starlight and Applejack.

"Give these ponies their marks back Starlight!" Connie II demanded.

"Out of the question! Giving these ponies back their marks will go against our entire policy. True friendship is equality! Now, allow me to show you first hoof," Starlight said.

The stick of sameness became active, and the shot had fired right for them. Connie II took the hit directly, but since she had already gone through this, it had no affect. Applejack saw her chance, and rushed to the side while the beam was focused. Starlight shifted her aim a number of times, but AJ dodged them pretty good, either jumping over or sliding under the beams.

"Y'all are going at it all wrong! This is complete hogwash!" AJ yelled, dodging another beam. In a quick shot, one beam ricocheted upward, slamming in the ceiling! The roof of the cavern shook on the hit, and some stalactites suddenly began to fall down onto them! Starlight, Applejack, and Connie II had to scatter to avoid the falling rocks as best they could.

"We gotta go!" Connie II yelled.

"But the marks!"

"COME ON!"

Connie II had to grab AJ, and pull her to safety, and out of the cavern. The collapse didn't completely remove the cave, but the distraction was enough to give them a small lead. Applejack and Connie II looked back for a moment to see what happened. They could still see the light from the vault, so it wasn't wrecked in the cave-in. And just as well, they began to hear more hoofsteps charging out. AJ knew who Starlight would be after.

"Connie, hide aside, I'll get her gone," Applejack instructed urgently. Not having much time to protest, Connie II ran off out of sight for the moment. Not a moment too soon either, as Starlight got herself out. She looked a bit shaken up, but alright overall, and the same thing could be said for her stick. Soon as the two saw eachother, Applejack raced off, towards the town in question. She still had her five other friends to get, where else would she go? Starlight galloped right after the orange pony, and as soon as she was far enough, Connie II stepped out of her hiding place.

"Watch her, Luna," Connie II thought, just before slipping back into the cave.

~~~~~~

Applejack raced from the cave, and right on down to the town with Starlight on her tail. The unicorn kept trying to get Applejack over and over, but the Earth Pony kept moving just out of shot. Applejack didn't know how she was dodging every shot Starlight was making, and the unicorn was getting more and more frustrated with this stubborn pony. AJ had to keep Starlight away from the Cutie Mark Vault until Connie II can handle it, so leading her back to town would be the main idea. Many of the residents within the little town were fast asleep, yet Applejack raced right on through, straight to where she saw her friends being held captive. Starlight's trigger happy blasting was enough to quickly wake up many residents in the town. Applejack was just trying to get herself to find her friends. Among the crowds starting to wake up, the Mane Five were woken up by the racket from outside.

"What's going on?" Twilight wondered. The ponies inside couldn't exactly see what was going on, but they for sure could hear it, and even feel it. As for everypony else, they stepped outside to find Applejack running through town with Starlight trying to zap her. Applejack was almost at the house where her friends were when Double Diamond and a few others blocked her way, making the mare skid to a stop altogether.

"Looks like you've caused enough trouble, my dear. And all because you're so different from everypony else," starlight said, aiming her stick of sameness directly at Applejack. Applejack turned around.

"You're messed up, Starlight! First you lie to us bout Connie the Second, and here you are stripping ponies of their own marks! If Y'all had given up Connie II, then maybe we'd go off on our way without giving you any trouble," Applejack retorted.

"I'm not the so-called 'messed up' one. Once I open your eyes to the world of equality, then you'll finally see just how wonderful it is to be the same as we all are," Starlight announced, ready to use the Stick of Sameness upon her. AJ was in dire trouble. Her friends were trapped still inside their house, the locals turned against her, and Starlight was right in front of her with the item in question. She had only one option left to do to guarantee the safety of anypony who'd venture in here again.

As Starlight fired right for her, Applejack made the vital move. She went to the side, charged forward, and snatched the stick in her mouth, right out of Starlight's grasp. Applejack skidded to a stop, dropped the stick down onto the ground, and with a stomp of her front hooves, the stick cracked apart! Everypony watch AJ make short work of their stick of sameness, smashing it into nothing but splinters. Starlight was speechless, as Applejack wiped the sweat of her forehead.

"There. Nopony will be altered again. How do you like them apples?" Applejack said in confidence. Some ponies rushed to what remained of the stick, including the ponies blocking the door. AJ took the moment and went right to the door, unlocking it, and letting her friends free. Her friends didn't see what happened, but they were glad AJ was alright. Starlight just stood there, eyes wide, irises small, and one eye twitchy.

"Alright, Starlight, you're beaten. Give these ponies back their marks, and everypony will be happy. I promise you they'll be much happier," Twilight said.

"... Happy? ... HAPPY? NO. No they will not!"

"Starlight, listen, you're method to keeping everypony equal doesn't give them the chance to truly know and trust eachother. True friendship -"

"QUIET!!!"

Starlight was about to ruin everything for herself. She turned around, and suddenly a HUGE blast of magic launched right at the only pony with a Cutie Mark, Applejack! AJ had no time to react this time, and got hit head on.

Her Cutie Mark was taken ...

And it wasn't because of the stick of sameness.

Starlight, now feeling victorious, marched right over to Applejack, a crazed, furious smile.

"HA! NOW you'll see the true friendship that is talentless! You think you actually know anything?! I CREATED HARMONY!" Starlight bellowed, screaming right in their faces. Needless to say, she forgot for that one moment about the town of ponies around her. Party Favor had one theory strike him. He took a cloth, and wiped at the Cutie Mark on Starlight's flank. What happened next was no hiding; the equal sign was wiped away to show a actual Cutie Mark of a star with sea green magic behind it. Starlight didn't had time to stop everypony to see that, and Party Favor backed up.

"W-What?! You have a Cutie Mark!" Party Favor gasped. Starlight's mind scrambled for an answer.

"N-No I don't, I'm one of you! THESE ponies took me and -"

"How did THAT magic come out them?!"

"ARGH. Okay, it's real! But I had to have my magic to show you what it's like to be equal anyway!" Starlight explained frantically.

"But the stick of sameness did that!" Sugar Belle pointed out.

"It's just some branch I found in the desert! Without MY magic, you ponies would've never seen life so happy! I gave you friendships you never could've had otherwise!"

"You lied to us!" Double Diamond said, in complete disbelief himself.

"So what?! E-Everything else I said is true. You can't be happy unless we're all equal -"

"Except for you," Party Favor cut in. Starlight knew now she had screwed up big time as the town closed in on her.

"Either we're all equal, or we're all not," Sugar Belle said.

Rather than complied, a weak pulse pushed everypony back, as she retreated to her house, slamming the door shut. Applejack's Cutie Mark, no longer bounded, flew right back to its original owner, and Applejack was back to her old self in no time at all.

"Come on everypony, let's get our Cutie Marks back!" Double Diamond announced, leading the charge as everypony else ran right behind him, straight to the cave.

"Let's get our Cutie Marks back!" Rainbow agreed, about to go off. However, Applejack grabbed her by the tail, keeping her down.

"Ours are not there, I just came over from that vault," Applejack said.

"Wait, then where'd they -"

They quickly got their answer fast, and they all looked to the door to Starlight's house.

"Stand back, everypony!" Applejack exclaimed, charging right to the door as fast as she could. With AJ's strength back in high gear, one slam into the door rammed it clear off its hinges. Starlight however wasn't there, and the clue to her escape was an opened back door. Guess somepony left in a hurry.

~~~~~~

Connie II was still trying her best to get her part handled back at the vault. While AJ had Starlight away, Connie II kept trying to break the glass that kept the marks inside. The cave-in earlier gave her a bit to work with, but it still wasn't enough to break open the vault itself. As she was trying to do that, she began to hear a stampede of hooves coming right in. Connie II turned around just to see the residents of the town between her and the way out.

"Stay back! You won't take me in!"

"We're with you this time! Come on, Everypony!" Party Favor said, rushing right over, starting to hit the glass with his hooves. Connie II moved aside as plenty of other ponies tried to smash the glass. This turn of events had the doppelgänger smiling, as she them started to join in. One person was nothing, but all this force was doing a ton more damage. Double Diamond looked around, just to find a spear like stalactite right by him.

"Stand back, everypony!" Double Diamond called. The stallion raced forward with the sharp rock, and in one swing the stalactite flew through the air. The stalactite sheeted right through the glass no problem, finally shattering the glass completely! The chain reaction caused the Cutie Marks to fly right back to their owners, and everypony began to feel their individuality, and special talents return to them for the first time in a LONG time. One in particular, one of the last ones, made contact with Connie II, the girl feeling her magic return to her. On her cheek, the Cutie Mark changed from the equal sign, and to that of some sort of spell book, marked with a rounded mirror at the center. Fitting for the doppelgänger and her magic. Everypony else was very happy now with their marks, but as they were celebrating, they head some other steps rush into the room; the Mane Six.

"Guys! You're alright!" Connie II said.

"Connie two! You're free!" Pinkie beamed, getting an actual hug this time.

"We got another problem; Starlight raced off with our marks!" Applejack said. She was mainly speaking to Connie II about it, though some of the other ponies did catch what she had said, Party Favor and Double Diamond in particular.

"She did? We gotta stop her!" Party Favor said, immediately rushing off outside. He was joined by Pinkie, AJ, and Connie II. Party Favor got his special talent up to work, and started to get just what they needed to find her, in the form of a balloon. With quick precision, he got the inflated balloon into a pair of binoculars. Party Favor quickly started to look around from the cave entrance.

"There she is! she's heading to the mountain pass!" Party Favor exclaimed, Pinkie looking through the same balloon binoculars herself to see. Starlight could be seen galloping fast along the mountain trails, a wagon of the Mane Six's Cutie Marks inside.

"If she gets to the cave passages, they'll be gone forever!" Party Favor added.

"What're we waiting for then? After her!" Applejack said. She, Connie II, Party Favor, Double Diamond, Night Glider, and Sugar Belle went off to give chase. While they were going fast, the rest of the Mane Six ...

"Come on!" Rainbow groaned. She was still cutie markless, and as such, not fast anymore. The others were also stuck in just a trot. Looks like they can't really do much to help.

~~~~~~

Farther ahead, Starlight kept running as fast as she could manage while pulling the wagon with the Cutie Marks inside. She missed one, but she still had the other five, and that was plenty good enough for her to have. The nighttime hours, combined with the snowy mountainside made the path risky at best, but if she could just make it to that cave -

"Starlight, stop!"

Starlight Glimmer looked up, and saw Night Glider above her. Looking back, she also saw the other group racing after her.

"How could you all give up what you had for some strangers?!" Starlight yelled, zapping a magic beam at the mountainside. Night glider ended up toppled down by a ton of snow, stalling her. Night Glider was quick to recover, though it still gave Starlight more distance.

"We gave up everything for you! And we all thought you were our friend!" Sugar Belle called back. Starlight did not even respond to that, trying her best to get away from the group of ponies. Sugar Belle turned back to the snow on the ground, and got her own talent to work. Her magic levitated some snow, and it molded into the shape of a pie, and launched it right at Starlight. In her running, Starlight didn't notice until the pie struck her wagon! The jars that held the Cutie Marks stumbled out, but Starlight quickly got them in her magical levitation. For extra measure, she gave one powerful blast on the path behind her, making it collapse. The path ended up too wide for a simple jump, and Starlight made a quick rush off out of sight.

"Ponyfeathers, now what?!"

"Leave it to me," Party Favor said, as he was inflating another balloon. Rather than just some simple binoculars, the balloons stretched, shaped, and molded into a rather impressive, colorful balloon bridge. It reached just long enough to get them to the other side of the destroyed path. Party Favor took the lead, hopping along the balloons as everyone else did the same (excluding Night Glider, who just flew across).

Starlight looked back, just to see them running right after her still. Now she was starting to act more and more desperate to get away, and galloped as fast as her hooves could carry her. Applejack was up next in her attempt to slow her down. The group was rushing over a rather rocky trail, and so AJ got her strength to work. She quickly grabbed some rocks with her tail, tossed them in front, spun around, and her back hooves kicked them right at Starlight like bullets from a shot gun! Starlight turned back quicker this time, and dodged most of the rocks with some quick turns and magic shots. One sly rock though whacked her in the front hooves, making her stumble and fall to the ground. In the fall, two of the jars smashed open (Rarity and Pinkie Pie). Starlight quickly got the other three and high-tailed it out of there. Two was good, but they wanted all the Cutie Marks back. As they kept going along, Double Diamond looked over aside to the snow, and noticed something in them; a pair of skis, goggles, and a scarf. Double Diamond went over to them.

"Whoa! These are my old skis! This is where I first met Starlight," Double Diamond realized.

"Can you reminisce later, Starlight's getting away!" Night glider called. Then Double Diamond got an idea.

"Feel like an air drop?"

Further ahead, Starlight was getting much closer at this point, with the others still trying to get her for the rest of the Cutie Marks. Starlight could see the cave entrance to the tunnels, looking more and more hopeful that she could make it with what she had managed to get. However, it wasn't going to be her night, for high above everypony, Night glider had just got Double Diamond right on the snowy high slopes just above the trail to the tunnel. With his skis on his hooves, Double diamond took it from there, and skied right along with high speed, making the snowcaps slip and crash down on her! Starlight didn't notice until far too late, and she was soon buried under thick, heavy snow. The remaining jars flew in the air, and shattered against the wall, releasing two more Cutie Marks (Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash). The others caught up and got together as Starlight burst out of the snow in pure rage. Now she had one Cutie Mark left.

And she had enough.

Her horn glowing strong, Starlight Glimmer blasted a few shots right at the ponies.

"No you don't!" Connie II yelled, jumping in the way. With her own magic back with her, she showed her own talent to save her friends. She didn't have a horn to use her magic, but her hands worked just as well, and her fingers traced a square mirror right in front of them. The magic beam bounced off of the mirror, and struck the rock wall, sending down more rubble onto Starlight Glimmer! The unicorn jumped aside, though she couldn't get the jar away, and it smashed up to release Twilight's last Cutie Mark. The Cutie Mark flew up in the air, but it actually didn't land too far away, and soon reunited with its owner. Twilight and the rest of them had caught up now, and everypony was there, and against Starlight Glimmer.

"Great to see you, Connie II," Twilight said.

"You too," replied Connie II.

Starlight charged up an even stronger spell weapon, and the unicorn made one last effort to get rid of her opponent. This time though, Twilight got in the way, and made her own strong shield to fight off Starlight's beams.

"WHAT?! I studied that for years, how did you -"

It was Twilight's turn to talk.

"I studied magic for years too. But what I didn't know then was that studying could only take me so far. Each of my friends has taught me something different about myself! It was their unique gifts and passions and personalities that helped bring out the magic inside of me! I never would have learned that I represent the element of magic without these five! And I certainly wouldn't be here to stop you now!"

Starlight grinded her teeth together, she was so ticked off at them. Her horn glowed again, but instead of a huge beam, the unicorn made a blinding flash of light that blinded them all for a second. Once the light had disappeared, Starlight was gone ...

"We just have to hope that when she's had a chance to think it over, she realizes that you all have taught her something."

~~~~~~

The next morning, the entire town was a lot more lively this time, as a party was getting underway. The entire town was decorated with the help of Party Favor, and Pinkie Pie, and everypony there was having an amazing, and fun time. Possibly the first time they had any true fun in years! As the town ponies were celebrating, the Mane Six, and Connie II looked on from the entrance of town.

"Now those are real smiles!" Pinkie Pie said with her own smile beaming.

"It looks divine!" agreed Rarity. Twilight looked over to Connie II next.

"It's great to see you're okay, Connie. And looks like we've helped the town at the same time," Twilight said.

"It is great to see everypony happy here. Thank you so much for your help," Connie II said.

"If anypony should have the credit, it should be Applejack," Twilight had to admit. Applejack wasn't willing to take all the credit for it, as she rubbed the back of her neck. It wasn't really her thing to do so.

"Nah, tread nothin. Just helping my friends," Applejack said.

"Yes. It will be great to spread friendship throughout our worlds with you guys," Twilight said, as they all went in for a hug ...

"This feels like an ending. Does it have to be? that Sugar Belle can BAKE!" Pinkie beamed. Twilight then smiled.

"Oh, we might as well stay around for a little while. Come on, everypony," Twilight replied, as she and her friends went back into town to join in on the party with friends old and new.

Author's Note:

Long overdue, if you ask me. It's about time we got A PONY FOCUSED STORY! We got Connie II, Starlight Glimmer (AT LAST), and finally getting the town involved with MLU after the longest time. Yeah, it may be a little shorter, but with how much other experiences the Mane Six had (that and their already suspicious vibes to the place), it's come to expect.

:pinkiehappy::pinkiehappy::pinkiehappy: Make way for the starlight!