• Published 28th Jun 2012
  • 17,954 Views, 1,427 Comments

A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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Cutie Map

"Let's go through this one more time."

"We've been over it like a million times, Twilight! We found all six keys, defeated Tirek, Night Terror, and some other crazy stallion, saved Rarity, and got this sweet castle! End of story!"

"Uh, Rainbow." Applejack looked ready to scold Rainbow, but she instead changed her focus to taking a glance at me because of that one name that was grown to be unmentionable around me.

"It's fine. I'm fine." I held my hooves up.

In all honesty, I'd prefer to never hear about it again, but I didn't think it'd hurt if it slipped out every now and then.

"Yes, I know." Twilight continued from her discussion. "But I want to know why. Why did this castle appear after all that? I mean…" Twilight turned her head to look over at Spirit. "The last thing that happened before this castle showed up, Spirit made contact with the box."

"So, you think she has something to do with it?" I asked.

"I don't know. Maybe…" Twilight looked around in thought and turned back to Spirit. "Spirit, would you seem to know anything about this castle? After all, you kind of filled us in on a lot of things back when this first came up."

"To be honest…I don't really know." Spirit held her hooves between her legs in her seat next to mine. "I'm actually just as clueless as you are."

Twilight sighed lightly and continued pacing around in the center between all of us, each of us have already been sitting in our own chairs. "I want to know the answer to this puzzle in my head: If I'm supposed to spread of the magic of friendship in Equestria, what are we all doing sitting in a castle in Ponyville? It doesn't make any sense. Are we supposed to wait until ponies come to us with a friendship problem or something?"

"Stop moving around and just sit down, Twilight!" Rainbow Dash rubbed a hoof to her temple. "The sound of your hooves is starting to make my head hurt."

Returning a slightly annoyed look back at Rainbow, she decided to comply and turn to her seat to sit down. However, as soon as she did, an unusual sound occurred in our seats, and this bright light began flashing before us. Immediately after, lights from every chair shot towards the middle and met at the star in the center. After loud vibrations and rumbles, crystals appeared to merge from us to the center as well, and before we knew it, a table presenting what looked like a map formed clearly in front of us.

Spike, whom had been sleeping the entire time Twilight was pondering over the castle, awakened and received an eyesight of the map himself. "Is that new? I like it!" He was the only one who appeared to have not been questioning its existence.

Everyone remained silent in awe until Spike decided to get up and walk over it in his examination.

"A map?!" Spirit almost looked like she was going to get on the table herself. Her hooves almost looked glued onto the surface past the transparent map as she took a close look with her odd eyes. They trailed on from what appeared to be Fillydelphia on the map towards Canterlot castle and finally to the town nearest, which is where we were.

Strangely, every one of the girls' cutie marks flashed on their flanks, and then they copied and detached themselves to join together in the center of the map. They appeared to be the same kind of visual imagery as the map was, and they dropped down to where Ponyville was located. But, they didn't stay there. Instead, they moved off to somewhere out of the center of the map. It was somewhere I believed I'd never been before.

It seemed Twilight wanted a clearer look, so she used her magic to drag Spike off the map.

"What are our cutie marks doing over there?" Rainbow Dash pointed out to the unknown area on the map. "Ponyville's supposed to be right here." She placed a hoof on the town close to Canterlot.

Twilight took a close look herself. "I don't know. Maybe the map is guiding us? Our cutie marks could be serving as a kind of marker or something." She took a moment to analyze it a bit more. "This is so strange. First the tree, the chest, the castle, and now this map?" She glanced over to Spirit. "Even Spirit. Things have sure taken a complicated turn ever since the coronation. No offense." She addressed to Spirit after her last remark.

"None taken." Spirit took lightly. "I've always been a little on the strange side." She shared a goofy grin.

Rainbow Dash had been eyeing the area where the cutie marks were. "If you're going to want to head over here, you better count me in. This route doesn't exactly look 'safe'." She looked proud to volunteer.

"I reckon Rainbow's right. I'm with ya too!" Applejack agreed.

"Well, I was planning on organizing my baking sheets in a little while…but okay!" Pinkie exclaimed in joy.

"What?" Rarity looked surprised to see everyone agreeing on this trip. "We're going now?"

"We should if we want to find more about this map." Twilight returned a valid reason.

Rarity didn't look too bothered to join along as she released a light sign. "Very well. I suppose I didn't have any important plans anyhow."

"I do, actually." Spike mentioned. "They are very important plans." Spike crossed his claws with a smug look on his face.

"In that case, maybe I'll just stay here with Spike…" Fluttershy timidly declined. "I don't like danger."

"That's awesome, Fluttershy!" Spike expressed his joy as he placed on of those soda-drinking helmets and a foam glove to fit his claw. "Me and Big Mac have a huge weekend ahead of us talkin' hoofball, and... and trading hoofball cards, and arguing about hoofball stats..."

Fluttershy reacted in almost a horrific-looking manner. I wasn't sure if it was exactly the hoofball Spike was talking about, but she decided she would retract her answer. "O-o-on second thought, m-m-maybe I'd better go with them." Fluttershy politely declined Spike's offer. "In case they need me."

"Well, suit yourself." Spike shrugged it off. "But he's got a Hock Fetlock rookie card I plan to sweet-talk right into these hot little claws."

"Hold on a second." Twilight closely examined the area we were to scout. "Has anypony realized what's missing?"

"What do you mean?" Rainbow Dash asked, stretching out her hoof in flight.

"All of our cutie marks are there, except Alex's." Twilight explained, presenting the sight once more.

"So what's that supposed to mean?" Applejack questioned.

"I don't know." Twilight shook her head and began to scratch her chin. "Hmm…"

"Don't worry about it, darling." Rarity walked over to Twilight and placed a hoof on her shoulder. "Perhaps we'll find out when we do what this map is instructing us to do."

"I guess so." Twilight turned to Spirit and me before moving on. "Any thoughts?"

"Not really."

"Mm-mm." Spirit shook her head in response.

"Well, I guess it's time for a road trip." Twilight announced, signaling for everypony to ready up for the trip ahead.

We ended up boarding a train that would take us to the closest spot we could get to before we had to get off. During this train ride, I found myself sitting at the window. I was able to recognize how mute I was being, but it wasn't something I could naturally fix at the moment.

"How are you doing?" I heard Spirit by my side. She was sending a smile from my left, causing me to return the favor.

"I'm fine. Why?" I asked.

"I just wanted to know if you're, you know, remembering bad things." She answered truthfully.

"Oh, um." I paused for a moment to look out the window. "Not really. At least, I try not to. I'm feeling better, but I still can't help but feel strange at times, you know?"

Spirit placed her hooves on the sill and looked out with me, holding her motivating smile. The strands of her mane lightly twisted and turned to the wind. "You just need time. You'll be okay." She stated as if she's had the past experience to back it up.

"I hope so." I added. "I could probably use this trip anyway. I think being in that castle…reminds me of…you know. Especially since we got that castle after what happened happened."

"That's what I'm here for." She answered so easily. "When you're alone and start thinking bad things, I'll be sure to distract you. Even when you can't sleep on those late nights, I'll be up for you. We can go on an adventure, even if it's late. We can parade the town and even take a trip somewhere else." I felt Spirit was screening her imaginative and liberated mind to me.

I couldn't help but smile lightly at her optimism. "Maybe we can just stay in the castle and do something there. I wouldn't exactly want to wake the whole town."

Spirit removed her hooves from the sill and looked straight at me, giving me a clear and untimid view of her eyes. "As long as we're together."

I thought to myself for a moment there. Of course, it had always been so obvious that one of the most important things to her was just being together with me. Nevertheless, it didn't feel unusual. After all, I couldn't imagine how long she's had to be alone up until I met her. Honestly, I think it'd only be all the normal to want to stick close to the only pony you've known practically your whole life.

Spirit took my silent thoughts to look out the window again. Her head tilted forward as her eyes observed the passing ground below her. "Hey, do you want to see me jump out this window?"

"What?!" That comment was sure to break me out of the peace of my thoughts.

"I can usually feel pain, but I've never tried to see if I can do any permanent damage to myself."

"Why would you want to do that?!" I inquired, almost raising my voice to the point where it would catch the attention of the others in the train.

"I'm just curious." She proved with the look on her face.

"Well, that's a dumb idea anyway. Remember what you said about not being able to be too far away from me?" I reminded.

"You're right." She peacefully agreed as she removed her head from outside the window. "I guess that was pretty dumb."

Eventually, the train reached its stop, and we boarded off. Twilight began leading the group ahead as she checked the map she made every now and then. At times, Rainbow would look like she wanted to complain about the nonviolent traveling, but I was surprised when she was able to keep her mouth shut.

Nevertheless, we reached a very small village that was located at the bottom of the large cliff we were on.

"That's it! That's the place on the map!" Twilight pointed out as Rarity fumbled with the dust in her hair.

"Let us move along and find the spa." Rarity began stepping forward, continuing to eye her mane. "All this dirt is starting to do a number on my mane."

"Wait." Twilight rushed in front of Rarity to stop her. "We have no idea what's down there. If the map wanted us to be here for a problem, it could be a dangerous one."

"Awesome!" Rainbow Dash excitedly celebrated.

"Stay behind me, everypony!" Pinkie Pie held her hooves out in front of us. "I'm on it!"

"Careful, Pinkie!" Applejack exclaimed before Pinkie merely allowed herself to roll along the slope of the cliff and stop behind a boulder. She took a glance ahead of her and motioned us to follow with her hoof. From there on, she continued to dash under various rocks and boulders. As I walked with the others to follow Pinkie's motions, I wondered why Pinkie Pie was so confident in checking out the place before all of us did, but then I remembered that she used to live on a rock farm.

By the time we reached her, she was looking over the boulder she had been hiding behind. From there, we had a perfect sight of the village we spotted earlier. However, the most noticeable thing about it was that it was very very small. There was only one pathway that led to a single house. There were six more houses on each side of the road, and they looked exactly the same.

"This is where the map sent us? It looks like the most boring place in Equestria." Rainbow Dash commented on the sight.

"It's just an ordinary village full of ordinary pony folk." Applejack added.

It was difficult not to notice something off about their smiles. In fact, they all had the same exact large grin on their faces. Their mouths were stretching so much, it looked pretty obvious that they were forcing themselves to be happy for some reason.

"It could certainly use a few more architectural flourishes." Rarity mentioned. "…Or any architectural flourishes."

"I think it's lovely." Fluttershy somehow expectedly responded. At least she didn't look so scared like she did before anymore.

"I don't like it!" Pinkie immediately called out her analysis of the sight. "I don't like it one bit. I know smiles. And those smiles? They're just not right."

"Forget the smiles! Look at the cutie marks!" Twilight pointed out, leading me to notice something I had unbelievably missed before.

"Okay…that's weird." Rainbow Dash said before anyone else.

"Everypony looks like they have it." I added, continuing to scan the center. Weirdly, this village looked uninteresting as Rainbow Dash had mentioned, but now that we saw those unusual cutie marks, there was no way we could leave at that.

"Not a different one in sight." Spirit joined, almost sounding depressed by the view of this puzzle.

"An entire village with the same cutie mark?" Twilight stepped back to think to herself. "How can that be?"

"There's gotta be a monster behind this." Rainbow Dash suggested as she continued to observe the village with untrusting eyes.

"What would a monster have to do with this?" Twilight asked.

"'Cause fighting a horrific monster would be super-awesome!" Rainbow Dash excitedly dreamed of.

"I reckon we just ought to head into town and talk to some locals, find out what's goin' on." Applejack suggested.

"Great idea, AJ. Let's go!" Rainbow agreed in a dash.

"Those smiles are bad news." Pinkie Pie shared suspiciously before joining others whom were already walking down the slope to approach the village.

I was about to join them before Spirit grabbed a hold of me. I stopped and turned to see what she wanted. "What?"

"We should go on a little investigation." Spirit's eyelids lowered mischievously as her eyes sparkled with curiosity.

"…investigation?" I questioned. "Aren't we already doing that?"

"I mean we go do a little of our own exploring like at that old castle. Maybe we can find some things the others can't." She reasoned.

"I don't know…" I honestly didn't really see the temporary separation as a good thing to do. "I don't think it's such a good idea to move away from the group. We don't know if this place is dangerous or not. We should stick together."

"I hope you don't think that there's really a monster there." Spirit placed her hooves on the rock hiding us and looked back past to the village. "Worst thing there are creepy smiles from what I can see."

I turned around and joined her observation. I could see the main group were being surrounded by a lot of the residents. I felt my stomach turn from how uncomfortable the sight made me feel, but it was definitely not like they couldn't handle some strange ponies.

"What were you expecting to do?" I asked. "There are only a few buildings in this tiny village, and I highly doubt we'll be able to sneak in one to check things out."

"We don't have to sneak in." She responded. "We can just pretend we wandered into the village and happened to be taking a look around."

At that moment, I felt my eyes narrow. I turned to face Spirit with an unamused look. "You don't really have a plan, do you?"

"What do you mean?" She asked, her eyes wandering around strangely.

"It sounds like you just want to be with me." I sighed. "I get that you're not exactly comfortable with the others yet, but at a time like this, Spirit, we need to stay together. Even if this town doesn't look like it, we still don't know for sure if there's something we need to watch out for."

She didn't seem to bother trying to worm her way out of that. "Fine." Her ears flopped down and she walked ahead of me for a few steps. "I'm sorry. I guess I still need to learn to focus on the big picture." She turned her head and presented a gentle smile. "Haha, no wonder I stayed inside of you all this time."

Even though I wanted to go the safest way about this trip, I still hated seeing her so disappointed. After all, she was the one trying to talk with me during the train ride over here. "Look, we can do something after this, alright? We just need to focus on the important thing here right now."


With that, I patted her, offered her a smile, and began walking towards the village. However, during the way, I noticed the group was gone. Some of the ponies that had surrounded them remained in the area while the others had disappeared. I stopped in front of the village to question this. "Where'd they go?" I asked as I looked around.

"I don't know. I didn't see them." Spirit responded. I had actually been expecting her to make a silly comment instead, but it seemed I accidently bummed her bubbly spirit out.

I thought for a moment, and their creepy smiles flashed back in my head. "I'm really hoping they didn't kidnap them and are planning to gobble them up."

"And you said I'm weird." Spirit returned towards me for once.

"Sorry." I apologized as I turned back to her. "My mom's had the bright idea to prank me a couple of times with some really weird dreams."

Spirit managed to giggle lightly to herself, holding back a smirk. "Oh, did she?" She slipped out quietly as she held a hoof in front of her mouth.

I wanted to dive into what she meant by that exactly, but I realized I was getting badly off track. "What am I doing?!" I turned back to the village. "I'm supposed to be looking for the others. Even if they're not being 'gobbled up', I'm still worried about what kind of 'danger' there might be here."

"What do you think they're going to do?" Spirit asked. "Hold them against their will and forcefully switch out their cutie marks for the same one they all have?"

It was a little strange to hear that coming from her. "Um… It's…possible…?"

"Alright, let's go." Spirit began skipping, appearing to regain her bubbly personality. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can go and do something fun!"

It took a second to realize something unique about that sentence. "What's with the rhymes, Zecora?"

She soon laughed out loud. "Haha! I'm a poet! And I didn't even know it! Haha!"

"Okay, you're seriously starting to scare me." I returned a tilted head with a flinching expression.

Spirit turned her head towards me as if she was about to make a snarky remark until another pony's voice exclaimed out at the other side of the village. "Heads high, ponies! Marching proud!" A whistle pierced through the dusty and uncomfortable air. "All together now! Every one of you! No pony left behind!"

The pony that apparently called everyone else began marching down the middle of the road with everyone else on the side and began singing proudly.

"Life is so grand in Our Town

We're always filled with cheer

We never have to look around

To know that we're all here"

She allowed the others to join in chorus and they all marched around a particular group. Taking a closer look, I realized that it was the group of girls that had disappeared from sight, and out of all them, Fluttershy was the only one who ironically looked content.

Well, it's nice to see that they're okay…

The main pony of the song appeared to keep watch of the others as she bobbed her head up and down to the beat. They continued to sing about their song and village as the main one kept a bossy but calm eye on the villagers. Eventually, she made sure to express how equal they were, going so far to correct a filly's mane to where it was the same as all the other fillies.

At one point, this main pony grew closer to Pinkie Pie, and it was very clear to see Pinkie wearing an immensely suspicious face. In fact, I wondered if I had ever seen such a look on Pinkie's face like that before. Usually, she was so friendly to everyone.

Fluttershy began to bob and move her head to the beat as well, but Pinkie immediately intervened by sharing the glare she had been holding the entire time.

"Join in our utopia

Come out of the dark

Banded by equality

By our cutie mark!"

The ended their song and left a moment of silence until Rainbow Dash burst into laughter. "You're kidding, right? Give up our cutie marks? No way!"

"Rainbow Dash, don't be so rude!" Fluttershy softly scolded. "I don't think we should judge them. They all seem perfectly happy with their choice."

"Don't believe their smiles, Fluttershy." Pinkie warned sternly.

"I'm sorry, I guess we're just a little confused by all of this." Twilight honestly pointed out.

"We have no judgements here in our village." The main pony, which I was already getting a strong sense was the leader, explained. If she was indeed the boss of everyone, that itself already struck me as odd as it was sort of a clear contradiction to their song. "Each of us was confused once as well, blinded by the false promise of our cutie marks."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Is she for real?" Rainbow Dash pursued, continuing to be unable to believe such apparent nonsense.

As they proceeded with their conversation, I decided we should go on ahead and join them.

"Come on." I faced towards Spirit and began walking towards the group. "I'm kind of with you on one thing though. I mean, we've faced some pretty frightening stuff. I don't know what it is about this place, but all those smiles are just…ughhh." I shuddered.

"Then, hurry up!" Spirit placed her hooves behind me and pressed forward to make me walk faster.

Their voices soon became clearer as if we were a part of the conversation. However, it didn't seem they had noticed us yet until we were close by.

"Have you considered perhaps that you might have been sent here so we could help you?" The main pony continued, responding to the last statement given by Twilight.

Before Spirit and I could introduce ourselves and merge into the group conversation, Rainbow Dash pointed us out first in a way that made it look like we were trying to sneak up on them. "Yo, Alex! There you are! You mind explaining what this is all about?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked, having no clue to why Rainbow Dash was expecting me to have a complete explanation for the pony and village around us.

"Uhh, have you checked on your sister lately? Because I think she's gone kind of coocoo." She emphasized with a twirling hoof by her left ear.

I couldn't create a response right away as I had no idea how to comprehend what Rainbow Dash was trying to tell me. The silence allowed the other pony that had been talking to them to speak to me as it seemed that Spirit and I had caught her attention.

"Are you two with these fine fillies?" She asked, producing a welcoming smile. "Oh, joy! It's so wonderful to have new guests! And two Alicorns at that!" She paused after admiring our sight for a second and proceeded speaking. "Before I get ahead of myself, let me introduce myself. I'm Starlight Glimmer. It's nice to meet you!"

Starlight Glimmer? That must explain why Rainbow Dash was expecting me to know what was going on. But there's no way this is the Starlight back home. This Starlight is like the complete opposite of the one I know. It's just another pony that happens to be a unicorn too and have the same name…

"I'm Alex…" I felt a little hesitant to return the mutual feeling, especially since we were in a town filled with creepy-looking ponies. "And this is Spirit." I presented a hoof towards my companion.

Starlight Glimmer took a good look over her as Spirit uncomfortably looked around and backed up a step. Usually, the area ponies seemed to stare at when first meeting Spirit were her eyes, but Starlight Glimmer seemed to pay extra attention elsewhere.

"My, my!" Starlight Glimmer rubbed her chin with gusto. "I see that you don't have a cutie mark!"

"Yeah…? So…?" Spirit uneasily returned, looking a little hesitant to hear what was to be said next.

Starlight Glimmer pulled back her gaze. "Forgive me if I'm rather…direct…but I assume you've felt pretty self-conscious when the majority of other ponies back where you come from have their cutie marks?" Spirit's eyes dashed left to right. It looked like Starlight Glimmer was causing that self-consciousness right now. "You don't have to answer!" Starlight Glimmer placed a hoof forward. "What I'm trying to say is that our village would be perfect for you! You don't have a cutie mark, and as long as you don't have one, you'll fit right in and won't be judged at all!"

Even though it was completely impossible for Spirit to stay if we were to go, I decided to bring up a question about that subject. "And what would happen if she one day did get her cutie mark?"

"Well…" She looked away a little oddly in thought. "There would have to be some changes…but it can be fixed in a jiffy!"

"No thanks." Rainbow Dash immediately declined. "I have no plans in giving up my cutie mark, and I think it's safe to say the rest of us don't either."

Starlight Glimmer turned towards Rainbow. "How about you just spend a little time looking around and making yourself at home? You don't have to give up your cutie marks if you're just visiting. Please, take your time. After all, nopony has ever come to our village and wanted to leave. Why should you be any different? But that is entirely your choice. Please enjoy our little corner of Equestria. We're all quite fond of it. No doubt you will be as well. Double Diamond, please help our guests with whatever they might need."

A pony with a coat as white as snow walked up. "Of course." As Starlight Glimmer returned a satisfied nod, turned around, and walked away, the pony she left us with began pointing out the direction for all of us to walk in. "Right this way! You'll get a whole tour of the town."

I looked forward and realized the layout of the town. "There's like only one way to go…" I muttered softly under my breath.

I never thought it was a bad thing to feel welcomed until we came through here. Literally everypony that lived in the village continuously shouted out greetings to us, and it made me feel like we stepped into some kind of horror story. The one where a group of ponies seem friendly but actually eat others in the end.

"I'm not going to lie…" I started sharing my thoughts out loud to Spirit whom stayed at my side. "I almost feel like I should have stayed home. After all, everyone was on that map except me. Does that mean I wasn't supposed to come?" I turned to Spirit. "Or…we…"

"I don't know…" Spirit anxiously looked around her. "I'm actually not so much in a mood to investigate anymore… I can't tell if they're staring at me, or my…you know…"

I didn't know how to answer that, so I tried to regain our focus forward. "Let's just try to ignore it, I guess…"

A sharp gasp cried out. "What in the name of Equestria is that?!"

Rarity had pointed to a stand of rugged dirty cloaks. Definitely something she wouldn't approve of.

"Welcome! Care to sample some local fashion? We've got cloaks this month!" The shopkeeper advertised.

Rarity looked like she forced herself out of being sick to her stomach with a gag. "Ooh, er, perhaps another time, good sir, thank you."

The group appeared to take a break at an old and plain wooden table that stood outside of what looked like a bakery shop. It was definitely a change of scenery when comparing it to Sugarcube Corner. Spirit and I managed to scooch in with Rainbow Dash since she was the only one holding an entire seat. I sat by Fluttershy's side while Spirit sat by Rainbow's.

"No wonder nopony's wearing anything!" Rarity whispered loudly between us.

"Really, Rarity!" Fluttershy scolded once again, appearing to hold an appreciation for the village we were visiting. "They may do things a bit differently than we're used to, but that's no reason to be rude."

"No, the reason to be rude is that they all keep staring at us!" Rainbow refuted with a gesture towards everypony around us that continued to gawk endlessly as if they were staring right through our souls.

"I have to admit, Fluttershy…" I began throwing my two cents in. "I'm wondering why you aren't as freaked out as we are. Aren't you usually afraid of ponies…you know…staring and looking at you?"

"It's different here." She said and turned towards the creepy ponies around us. "You heard Starlight Glimmer, didn't you? Here, no pony is judged or made fun of because they're all equal!"

"Which reminds me." Rainbow planted her hoof on the table and turned to me. "What's your sister doing here? Didn't you say she's different now or something?"

"Rainbow…" I gave her half-lidded eyes. "That's not my sister. That's some other Starlight. I mean, really, does that look anything like the Starlight we know? Just because they have the same name doesn't mean they're the same pony. I'm pretty sure there's some other pony with Rainbow in their name too. Actually, aren't you supposed to be a waterfall? Or a rainboom?"

"Alright, Alright." Rainbow Dash backed off. "Point taken."

"Either way, I think Fluttershy's right." Twilight began speaking. "We still don't have an exact idea why the map wanted us here." She glanced over to me. "Well, the most of us. If we want to get any clues, I think a start would be getting to know the area and the ponies that live in it."

Around this time, a mare walked out of the shop and approached us, but the conversation between the girls seemed to keep them occupied and distracted.

"Speaking of which…" Applejack began. "I think we ran off to the end of Equestria before we even knew what that map was!"

"If we were at the end of Equestria, we'd be sitting on a big 'A'!" Pinkie Pie giggled joyously, taking a break from almost looking at everypony here with contempt. "Get it?"

"Oh, please, Miss Pie! This is hardly the time for jokes! We've come all this way and for what?" Rarity's disagreeing remark caused the waitress waiting to shift around the table.

"Maybe you're right. But we're here now, and you have to admit something just doesn't feel right." Twilight shared.

"That and two bits'll get you a cup of cider." Applejack added.

"Is this a bad time?" The waitress carefully but happily asked.

"We shouldn't be bickering like this in front of our new friends." Fluttershy continued to defend the villagers as if they were her animals. "Really, Applejack, you're almost as bad as Rainbow Dash!"

"Don't drag me into this!" Rainbow objected.

"Is your friendship ending?" The waitress oddly asked. She seemed like a normal pony at first until she raised that unexpected question.

"Are you crazy?!" Pinkie Pie energetically exclaimed. "We'd never let a disagreement get in the way of food!"

"O-kay, well, my name is Sugar Belle." The waitress introduced herself. "What can I bring you? We have: muffins..."

We were expecting her to list more items off the menu, but her silence apparently confirmed that that was completely it.

Twilight looked around the table, mentally counting us for the order. "Then I guess we'll take eight muffins!"

"Make that fourteen!" Pinkie Pie shot out her hoof. However, her addition was met with disapproving glances. "What? I'm hungry!" She excused.

Twilight proceeded to lower her voice to keep our game plan between us and away from unwanted listeners. "We've got to stick together. It doesn't matter what happened before, we're here now."

"I guess you're right." Applejack accepted. "And the sooner we figure out why, the sooner we can go home."

I felt movement on the left side on my body. I glanced towards Spirit to see her worriedly looking back and fixing her tail to where it was covering both her flanks.

Nevertheless, everyone's attention was brought to the center of the table when a plate of muffins clanked on the sound of the wood.

"Forgive me for overhearing," Sugar Belle mentioned. "…but just a moment ago you were disagreeing, and now it sounds like you're... agreeing."

"Uh-huh...?" Applejack returned with crossed hooves.

"Well, you had such differing opinions – and cutie marks." Sugar Belle continued to speak with such confusion and incomprehension.

"We have differing opinions all the time, darling." Rarity answered this one.

"But you look like you're friends." Sugar Belle pointed out.

"We are friends. A simple disagreement wouldn't change that." Twilight's response seemed to cause a look of nervousness to appear on Sugar Belle's face for a second.

"I'm sorry, I'm just having a hard time understanding." She proceeded to recite something in an unenthused tone. "Different talents lead to different opinions, which lead to bitterness and misery. So... why aren't you bitter and...?"

Her sentence was interrupted when Pinkie Pie choked and retched out after having taken a bite out of one of the muffins on the table. With everypony's eyes on her, she proceeded to quickly feign a positive attitude. "Mmmm... good..."

"It's all right. I know I'm not a very good baker." Sugar Belle admitted. "At least, I know I'm not any better than anypony else in the village." She took a glance behind her before quickly darting back with a sense of anxiety. "Well, I... hope you enjoy our little village!" She began walking back inside the shop as Pinkie loudly scraped the bits and pieces of muffin off her tongue. However, Sugar Belle suddenly stopped between Twilight and Pinkie with a voice of distress. "Come inside before you go! Meet me downstairs!" Before returning inside the building, she gave one last forced grin in the direction where our guide had apparently been sitting reading a newspaper.

"Okay, that was weird too." Rainbow Dash stretched her hoof out across the table and claimed.

"Let's all sit here and eat these muffins and act normal." Twilight lowered her voice once more. "I think we're being watched."

"You think?!" Rainbow sarcastically replied after taking a small look at the villagers around doing their daily business.

"No, not like that!" Twilight corrected. "I mean somepony here doesn't want us talking to Sugar Belle." She gestured her head towards the guide that seemed to have no problem biting into his muffin.

Applejack took a gander at this fellow and scratched her chin. "I got an idea. But you gotta eat all of them muffins, Pinkie."

"Me?! Why me?!" Pinkie Pie cried out in fearing protest.

"You got a stronger stomach than any of us, and that filly in there might be our best chance at findin' out what the hay is goin' on round here." Applejack reasoned with.

"Does she really have to eat all those?" I asked, feeling dreadful for Pinkie. "I've seen Pinkie eat a lot of things without a problem. You know something is bad if even she doesn't like it."

"Not unless you wanna help her." Applejack practically placed me on the spot.

I felt my face flinch when I looked over to the muffins Pinkie Pie had immediately gotten sick of at first bite. If she could barely stomach it down, it'd probably come right back out for me.

"You want Pinkie to eat all these muffins so we have an excuse to go look for Sugar Belle?" Spirit unexpectedly questioned towards Applejack.

"That's the plan…" She responded, unsure of where Spirit was looking to go with that.

"I think I've got a better idea…" Spirit released the hooves holding her tail to her flanks and stood up on the table. "These muffins look so delicious, I'm going to dive right in!" She shouted for everypony to hear and literally allowed herself to fall forward towards the muffins. From my point of view, she deliberately threw her hooves to the side and forcefully pushed the muffins off the side of the table. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do that!" She apologized as she stared at the crushed and dirtied treats resting on the ground.

"Uhh…" Applejack's eyes were widened. She had been caught off guard by Spirit's move. "That's okay! Let's go ask Sugar Belle for more muffins!"

We stood up from the table and began moving inside the shop. Once we were heading down the stairs as directed, I heard Pinkie graciously thanking Spirit at her side. "I owe you one! I've accidentally had cardboard tastier than that!"

"Uh…" Spirit released a slightly bashful grin. "You're welcome."

"Hello? Sugar Belle?" Twilight called out at the bottom.

"Thank you for coming!" Sugar Belle walked out from the dark and provided a large grin that made me think back to those horror stories thought of earlier.

"Why did you want us to come down here?" Twilight asked.

"So nopony could see what's about to happen." She mentioned in a way that caused me to feel the need for my hooves to start shaking. More ponies emerged from the darkness.

Oh no… Please don't be true.

Despite having magic to protect ourselves, something about an event coming straight from a horror story scared the hay out of me.

Just as Twilight looked like she was preparing her defenses, one of the ponies that appeared suddenly proposed a question in excitement. "Are you really the Princess of Friendship?"

"Do you know Princess Celestia?" The other joined in.

"I love your cutie mark!" Sugar Belle directed to Pinkie Pie.

"How can you be friends with different cutie marks? Don't you end up hating each other?"

"Oh, look at this one! This one's great too!" Sugar Belle presented Fluttershy's. "I'd love to have my special talent back even just for a day! Make something besides those disgusting muffins..." She shared depressingly.

"So what's stopping you? Go get your cutie marks back." Rainbow Dash said.

"Daydreaming is one thing, but you mean actually having it put back on?" The stallion wearing the cloak responded. "That seems extreme."

"I'm not sure Starlight would like that. She wants us all to be happy in our sameness." Sugar Belle mentioned.

Doesn't feel that way to me…

"How do you take somepony's cutie mark anyway?" Twilight asked the question that hadn't raised to the conscious state of my mind.

"The cutie unmarking is a beautiful experience!" The other mare recalled. Her tone still didn't exactly land too far from those stories. "Starlight uses the Staff of Sameness to magically take them away and replace them with these." She pointed out their equal sign cutie marks.

"But nopony should keep you from your cutie mark. It represents such an essential part of who you are." Twilight spoke from emotional experience.

"Oh, we're not kept from them." The same mare answered. "They're in the vault up in the caves. We can visit them any time we like to remind us of the heartache of a life with special talents."

Hearing them express how much a cutie mark was bad never stopped bothering me. There was just something about it that was so wrong, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one that felt this way.

"Can we visit this cave?" Twilight asked.

They exchanged glances with each other.

"You'd have to ask Starlight about that…" Sugar Belle said uneasily. "But…whatever you do, you can't tell her that you heard any of this from us."

"Why?" Twilight inquired.

"Just don't." Sugar Belle took a short look up the stairs. "We've been in here too long. You all should get a move on before some pony finds out!"

Before any more questions could be asked, Sugar Belle pushed us out for the better, according to her. Once we were back out on the streets, it seemed the next pony of interest was Starlight Glimmer. I still felt uneasy about the entire situation, but I guess I had to treat it like any other kind of problem we've had in Equestria.

We made our way to where Starlight Glimmer apparently stayed in this tiny village. It was also the place where the girls had met her for the first time. That one pony that Starlight appointed to us followed us the entire time with a huge eerie grin. He was supposed to be there to see if we needed anything, but after Twilight shared her suspicions, I could only think about how we were being stalked instead.

Despite that, he brought Starlight Glimmer over to us when we were inside the building, and she looked pretty surprised to see us so early.

"Welcome!" She greeted. "Did you find everything to be absolutely wonderful as I had mentioned?"

"Actually…" Twilight responded. "There's one place we're interested in."

"And what is that?"

"We heard there's some Cutie Mark Cave here or something." Rainbow answered.

"Oh?" Starlight Glimmer responded with an odd intrigued look on her face.

"We also heard that it's the place where everypony's cutie mark goes so they're always reminded about how…'bad' it was having it." Twilight added, looking uncomfortable talking about cutie marks like that.

"I see!" Starlight released a beaming smile. "Well, there's no harm in showing you our vault! If it helps you consider joining our sweet little village, I'd be honored to show you all!" She switched her glance over to the pony that had been following us. "Double Diamond, could you come upstairs with me for a moment?"

"Of course!" With all his bare teeth for everyone to see, he nodded his head and followed her up the stairs.

"You know, I'm not feeling so good about this." Rainbow Dash shared once the two were gone. "The only thing I'm hoping for is to fight some gigantic monster in the caves. I don't think I can handle being stared at by weirdos anymore."

"It's the only lead we got." Twilight reasoned. "If going up to this 'vault' of hers brings us closer to knowing what we have to do, then I say it's worth it. After all…" She proceeded to examine everypony's faces. "…we've dealt with worse things before, am I right? We've dealt with monsters that could have completely changed Equestria from what we know of it now. What's a couple of 'creepy' ponies going to do? I'm sure our strength in numbers and magic is enough to keep us from being overpowered."

Mumurs from each one of them sounded as they all seemed to come to an agreeable understanding.

"Please excuse us!" We heard Starlight Glimmer's voice come closer, grabbing our attention towards the stairs. She stopped in front of us as Double Diamond walked past us and out the door. "Shall we get a move on?"

"Of course." Twilight returned with a friendly smile.

Starlight Glimmer lead us up some mountains that were behind her home. Most of the walk was pretty silent as everypony seemed to anxiously wait to see what laid for us in the caves.

"Well…I'm glad to be away from all those staring ponies…" Spirit whispered to me, brushing her tail with her hoof. "I hope I don't feel the same way once we get back home…"

"Don't you still have to introduce yourself to a bunch of other ponies back in Ponyville?" I asked.

"Do I have to…?" She whined softly. "I'm barely trying to get to know your friends better…"

"Alright, alright." I accepted and apologized. "Sorry, take your time."

"You owe me an oatshake for that." She teased.

"Whatever you want." I returned with another smile back.

"I'm delighted you're interested in our cutie mark vault." Starlight Glimmer announced in front of us as we grew closer to the entrance of the caves. "We hope someday every pony in Equestria will make a pilgrimage here to our little village to have theirs removed too, and our message of perfectly equal friendship can finally spread across the land."

Spirit and I heard Twilight whispering something to the others in front, but we were a little too far back to hear clearly. It didn't interest me as much, especially since I wasn't exactly directed to come here in the first place.

"Just through here!" Starlight pointed ahead and led us inside a dark cave. Once inside, she stopped and presented a wall with a bright bluish glow. "Behold! Our cutie mark vault!" On this wall, there were many different kinds of cutie marks kept inside and separated from others. It was like some kind of display in a museum. It made me wonder what would happen if you touched it.

"I've never seen anything like it!" Twilight commented at the sight.

"And here is the Staff of Sameness." Starlight Glimmer walked up to some kind of ancient-looking stick on display in front of the vault. She grabbed it with her magic and brought it closer for us to see. "It was one of the great mage Meadowbrook's nine enchanted items. We are incredibly fortunate to have it here. This is the tool that allows us to free ourselves from our marks!" She paused to admire the look of this staff before switching her glance over to us. "I'm curious – how did the subject of the vault come up?"

"Oh, some ponies were telling us how much they missed their cutie marks, and—" Pinkie Pie immediately spilled the beans.

"Pinkie!" Twilight exclaimed at.


Starlight released a sharp gasp, but it didn't sound very genuine. "Were they? Well, it seems you inspire all sorts of free thinking, don't you?" She twirled her staff and stepped closer with glaring eyes.

By the tone her voice took a turn into, I really started not liking where the situation was going.

Rarity laughed nervously at this behavior. "Well, w-we certainly didn't intend to cause any disruptions to your charming little—"

"Good." Starlight interrupted boldly with an approaching face, causing Rarity to back away. However, she bumped into some other pony behind her. "Let's just make sure of that, shall we?"

I turned back to see this pony was Double Diamond, and some other ponies had emerged from the darkness of the cave.

"It's a trap!" Twilight warned out loud as multiple ponies began to surround us.

"Let's take em!" Rainbow Dash pounded her hoof.

"W-we should get out of here!" Spirit spoke up with shaking voice.

"Don't worry, I've got this!" Twilight braced herself to cast a spell.

"No, you don't!" Starlight Glimmer pointed the end of her staff towards Twilight as it began to emit a glow.

The only thing I could think of during the moment was to fire another spell towards her staff, but I didn't know if it would be quick enough to stop it. Nevertheless, a voice suddenly cried out.

"Twilight, watch out!"

I saw Spirit jump out and become trapped by this spell Starlight shot out. Afterwards, her eyes shut close as she began groaning in pain.

"Wha?" Starlight was surprised by this move and tried vigorously shaking her staff. "Get off!"

Through her groans, Spirit's right eye turned towards me. "Hurry! Go!"

For the first time, I actually felt no hesitation to leave. Had this been any of the others, I definitely would have argued to stay, but I actually felt the confidence to take her order and leave. I faced towards the others and passed the order on. "Come on! Let's get out of here!"

"But what about—"

"It'll be fine! Come on!" I stopped Twilight and managed to bring her and the rest of them with me as I used a couple of spells to push the others trapping us out of the way. As soon as we were out of the light, we quickly ran and kept a watch behind us.

Even though we were in the middle of running from danger, I couldn't help but wonder if the other girls had thought I had gone crazy for leaving one of our special friends behind so easily. But they had to remember that Spirit wasn't just any kind of pony.

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