• Published 28th Jun 2012
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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 Trap

Starlight Glimmer dragged me overhead once she was able to remove the jam out of her magic. Of course, that jam was me. Being unable to do anything, I simply allowed myself to be hung upside down by my tail as she moved the precious cargo elsewhere.

I think I ended up in her home, but I was secluded in a bedroom. She released me and stood at the door of the room as I landed with a bit of rough force, but it was definitely nothing painful.

"I can't believe you out of any pony else…" She began muttering as she shot a disapproving look at my upside down face. "You know how much staying here would benefit you? A lot. You'll go from having no cutie mark to having one like everypony else!"

"I'd rather have no cutie mark than some boring equal sign. I want to be my own pony, not the same thing as another." I assertively voiced.

"And did you see where that got you?" She asked, taking a look at our current situation. "Consider yourself lucky. We have a place specifically for ponies like you that do not yet understand our philosophy, but I can't risk leaving you in there with those friends of yours running around."

I shrugged like a rebellious teenager. "Whatever. It's not like it matters."

"What was that?" Starlight stepped closer to me as a vein seemed to appear on the side of her neck.

I finally turned my body around and stood up from the floor so I could face her properly. "You can't keep me here forever, you know. I can get out whenever I want."

She remained silent to look me over. Then, she released a hearty laugh. "Ahahah! Oh you. You're such a cute one. You're telling me that as an earth pony, you can just disappear from here?" She pointed at the windows in the room. "Those windows are too small, and you bet your flank this door will be locked. If that isn't enough, I'll have some pony here to keep an eye on you. Trust me, there is no way you're leaving."

"Yeah, okay." I shrugged carelessly once more, intentionally adverting my eyes away from her.

It seemed I was annoying her with my attitude, but she calmed herself down once she remembered that there was no way out for me. She didn't know about my little secret though.

She released a soothing breath. "Okay. Now, if your friends really are your friends, they'll be sure not to leave here without you. If they try to find help…well…" She thought for a moment. "It's unlikely, but if we come to that, I'm sure we could manage through."

I'd prefer if they didn't leave the area. Alex has to remember that he can't be too far away from me or it's game over for me. I knew I could always leave whenever I wanted, but then what was the point in coming here? They had something to do or fix here, and if I can somehow help by keeping close to the pony in charge, then I'll do whatever it takes.

"What are you so quiet about?" Starlight shot a glare at me.

"Oh." I felt pretty feisty at the moment. "I'm thinking how boring and horrible it'll be trapped here. Whenever will I ever get out?" I obviously feigned a shaky voice.

Starlight did not look amused. "Uh-huh…" She turned and prepared to leave. "I'm going over to the vault now. If there's one place I want to be, it's there to make sure your little friends don't try to break it open." She opened the door and began to step out. "But remember this: Don't try anything stupid. This door will be locked, and I'll have a pony outside keeping guard. If you're stupid enough to try to escape, I'll make sure to demote you to a worse set of accommodations."

She finally finished yapping and left, locking the door behind her. I almost wanted to leave just to spite her, but I had to relax and think things through like an adult. This wasn't going to be easy. Alex and I needed to come up with a plan for what we were going to do, but how could we do that if we're nowhere near each other? If I leave to meet with him, I can't come back. And if I can't come back, Starlight will eventually find out. And if she finds out, I'm sure she'll do everything in her power to keep us from ruining whatever she's trying to do.

"Yeah…" I said to myself as I climbed the bed in the room and laid down. "Just gotta play it cool… Alex will think of something." I smiled as I began feeling myself reminisce. "Hehe. After all, he's always gotten me out of sticky situations ever since…" I stopped myself, remembering the important reason why I never wanted to be reminded about back then. "Haaah…" I sighed.

Starlight had sent some of her goons to look for them. I just hope Alex and the others can come up with something before it's too late.


Alex


We stopped and managed to catch our breath in one of the dark alleys in town. It wasn't the ideal place for hiding, considering we were right by passing villagers, but it was the best we were going to get in such an open area.

"Alex, what are we going to do about Spirit? Starlight Glimmer has her now." Twilight whispered worriedly.

"Remind me to never put my life on the line because Alex here might just leave me too." Rainbow Dash intervened in an upset but hushed tone.

"Shut up, Rainbow." I quietly snapped back, knowing that there have been more than enough times where I had never done such a thing. "Don't you guys remember? Spirit's a part of me. She can send herself back to me in a second wherever she is. The only thing is…" I turned my eyes towards the center of the village where ponies continued to walk by. "We can't be too far apart, and I have no idea how exactly far I can be from her. I'll take a guess and hope that as long as we're in at least the same city or village, it's okay. Last time we got too far, I felt this sort of…tug inside of me. I don't think I feel it right now, so hopefully she's okay."

"Alright, so why doesn't she go inside ya and come back out?" Applejack asked.

"I'm not completely sure. Hopefully, she isn't unconscious or something, but I'm also hoping that it's because she knows it's not the best time yet."

"Best time? What do you mean?" Twilight questioned now.

"I think it's pretty clear what we're supposed to get involved with now, right?" I mentioned. "Starlight Glimmer just tried to trick us into forcefully taking our cutie marks. If it wasn't for Spirit, who knows what would have happened then." I tapped a hoof on my chin. "Didn't it seem a little weird to you guys? Starlight said everypony in this town is equal, but why is she the one that gives orders around here? Wouldn't that make her…better than everypony?"

"You're right." Twilight agreed. "I've been noticing strange things like that. There was something she mentioned back at the vault that didn't sound right. She mentioned about Meadowbrook having nine artifacts with that staff of hers being one of them. I haven't studied Eastern unicorns as much as I should have, but I'm pretty sure Meadowbrook only had eight magical items, not nine. And I don't remember any of them being a staff."

"Even if it was one of those magical artifacts, how would she have gotten it in the first place anyway? I know I hardly know anything about this kind of stuff, but I can't help but find it not adding up."

"I'm with you on that, Alex. There's definitely something about her that doesn't fit right with the other ponies."

"I'm getting the sense she's somehow getting the villagers to practically do her bidding and disguising it as this 'philosophy'. Maybe she's trying to be the queen of her own castle? Or village…"

"Well, we better find someplace else to make a plan." Applejack suggested. "I don't think we should be here much longer. Any pony could find us at any moment."

"I know… But where could we go?" I questioned.

"What about Sugar Belle?" Pinkie Pie offered with a smile on her face.

"Sugar Belle?" Twilight turned her head towards Pinkie Pie.

"Yeah! Wasn't she one of the ponies that wanted her cutie mark?" Pinkie explained. "If she's been keeping things from Starlight, I'm sure she'll help and hide us in her bakery!"

"That's the best we can do." I admitted, actually liking that idea. "Thing is… How are we going to get to Sugar Belle's without being spotted…?"

"I think we're gonna need somethin' to hide us all, but we gotta know where Sugar Belle's is at first." Applejack advised as I carefully stepped closer to the light outside.

"There aren't that many buildings here, so it shouldn't be too hard…" I softly shared as I looked around the place without sticking my head out too much.

"I know they didn't like my muffins…but they didn't have to throw them on the ground like this…" I heard a familiar voice nearby, catching my eye.

While attempting to stay low by lying close to the ground, I slowly crawled until I was able to have a better look to the right, which was the direction the voice came from. I saw a pony picking and sweeping up muffins off the dirty ground.

That was definitely Sugar Belle.

I took a quick glance around to make sure no pony was specifically looking at where the others and I were hiding.

"Sugar Belle!" I whispered loudly.

"Huh?" She looked back, still holding the broom in her hooves.

"Over here." I directed before dashing back in the darkness. I stood still and paid attention to my ears for the sound of hooves heading towards us. Her shadow prepared me to act as I waited for her body to come in sight.

"Hello…?" She called.

I grabbed her hoof and quickly brought her to us. I readied my other hoof as she was about to release a sharp yelp. I muffled the sound with said hoof, and I was sure to calm her down as soon as possible.

"Shh!" I shushed. "It's just us from earlier."

"Hmm?" She answered with a stifled voice and looked around to see the other darkened figures of the girls. Sugar Belle placed a hoof on mine and lowered it away from her mouth. "It's you all… What are you all doing hiding here?"

"We're in some trouble, but we can't explain right now. Could you hide us in your bakery?" I asked.

"U-uh…sure, I guess…" She seemed confused, but the sooner she could get us out of here, the sooner we could tell her everything.

"But we can't go out like this. We need something to hide us as we move to your bakery." Twilight added.

"Isn't her bakery right there?" Rainbow Dash noticed how short it took for Sugar Belle to get to us. "Can't we just run in there?"

"No way." Applejack disagreed. "We'll make a lot of noise, and it'll be too darn risky. So risky I'm sure everypony will see us as soon as we run out."

"Remembering the staring?" I reminded Rainbow.

"Fine, so how are we going to do this?" Rainbow asked.

"Do you have any like boxes or something in your bakery you can hide and move us in?" I questioned Sugar Belle.

"Um…well…" She placed a hoof to her chin as she thought about it. "I do have this crate I hold and carry flour in, but I don't know if it's big enough…"

"Could you bring it out here?" I hoped. "If we have to make several trips, I guess it's better than just running out there, right?" I turned towards the others.

They returned a collection of nods.

"But the less trips we make, the better." Twilight mentioned a highly agreeable point.

"Okay, I'll try to bring it out here as fast as I can." Sugar Belle was about to trot on until Twilight stopped her.

"Wait." She caught Sugar Belle's attention. "But act natural. There might be other ponies looking for us, and you wouldn't want to look suspicious."

"Okay, right." Sugar Belle nodded and proceeded to walk with caution.

"Let's hope this works." I anticipated.

"Me too." Twilight added. "As soon as we get to Sugar Belle's bakery, let's collect our thoughts and sort things out to make a plan. We can't waste any time here."

"As bad as this sounds, we don't have to worry about getting Spirit back." I mentioned. "The goal here is to fix the mess we're in and solve the issue with Starlight here. Spirit will be our lifeline, so we gotta do this right."

"I'm ready to kick some tail!" Rainbow Dash pounded her hoof.

"Let's think of something first." I advised and looked back out as I waited for Sugar Belle.

It didn't take too long for her to return. I heard the sound of wheels approaching us, and a big rectangular shadow reached our location. Something then blocked our view of the streets, but the object began becoming adjusted so it was close to us as possible. We saw Sugar Belle squeeze through to us and catch her breath a little.

"I hope I didn't take too long." She turned towards the object she brought. "I brought this crate. It's big, but I don't know if it's big enough to hold you all."

I studied the box for a moment. "It just might if we pack in together pretty tightly."

"Oooh!" Pinkie expressed in interest. "Is this like a game?"

"What kind of games do you play?" Rainbow asked Pinkie.

"We don't have time for this." Twilight reminded them in a hurry. "Let's get in and see if we can all fit."

"Right behind ya." Applejack followed Twilight.

"Whoever's the strongest and heaviest should be on the bottom, and the lightest should be on the top, so…" I began calculating.

"I can take the bottom." Applejack offered.

"There's no doubt about it. I'm definitely being on the top." Rarity confirmed. "I know we're in a sticky situation, but I surely wouldn't want to mess my mane or ruin—"

"We get it, Rarity!" Rainbow hushed out in anger. "I'm pretty light, but I'll be at the bottom since I'm kind of, you know, an athlete." She boasted a little.

"I guess I'll be the last one for the bottom." I suggested and looked over the others who weren't given a place yet. "Fluttershy will be at the top." I mentioned, knowing how she was pretty fragile. "And I guess Pinkie Pie and Twilight will be in the middle."

"Hehe! Sounds fun!" Pinkie cheered.

"Let's see if this works." I began walking towards the crate as Sugar Belle opened it up. She had it set on a pallet dolly, so the wooden side of the crate sort of served as a ramp for us to get inside. "Alright, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, come in here." I directed as I stood in the middle of the box. Applejack brought herself to my right as Rainbow Dash walked into the left. "Now we lie down…" I carefully dropped to the floor, and once the three of us were in the same position, I could feel the structure of my body being pushed against. It wasn't too tight, but if we were to be like this for a long time, it would probably become uncomfortable.

Twilight looked towards Pinkie Pie. "Let's go Pinkie."

"Hehe!" Thinking it was entirely a game, she began hopping her way over to us.

"No hopping!" I almost spat out loud. "You guys gotta carefully get on top of us and try not to break our faces."

Pinkie immediately stopped and didn't question it. She allowed Twilight to move in first.

"Here I go…" Twilight slowly lifted up her hooves and carefully placed them on us.

"You're fine…" I slightly groaned out as I felt her hooves press against me.

"Are you sure this is okay…?" Twilight asked with a lack of confidence.

"It'll only be a really short while." I reminded.

"My shop's only a few steps away." She peeked around the opening she left for her to get out. "It shouldn't take any longer than thirty seconds or so to push you back in. But let's try to hurry. I don't want any pony wondering what I'm doing with a huge box out here."

"Come on, Pinkie." I invited.

"Steady…steady…" Pinkie Pie tried to balance herself as she climbed on top.

Afterwards, all that was left was Rarity and Fluttershy.

"Fluttershy." I could feel that it was becoming harder to talk because of the weight on top of Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and me. "See if you can kind of fit on top by flying so you don't step on us."

"Okay…" She timidly answered.

When she was in, it was just Rarity.

Rarity was always careful when it came to her hooves and mane and what not, so I was hoping she'd be extra careful since she'd be climbing and lying on top of her friends.

"Okay… Are we all in?" Twilight asked.

"Mmm-hmm." Everypony gestured as their answer, seeing as we were packed together tighter than a box of cupcakes.

"Let's get going, Sugar Belle." Twilight said.

"Okay." Sugar Belle nodded. "Hold tight, everypony." She expressed as she closed the side of the crate.

"I think…we're already doing that…" Rainbow Dash slipped out through a few groans and grunts.

We heard the sounds of hooves on the ground walking around the crate. Sugar Belle began to grunt slightly as the wheels below us began to creak. I couldn't imagine how much weight we totaled together, but at least it was on a dolly. Sugar Belle might have had to move heavier things in the past since the crate apparently has been used to carry flour and other ingredients.

"Remember…stay quiet everypony until we're back out…" Twilight advised.

We kept our mouths shut as we listened to the wheels continue to creak in movement.

After a moment, Sugar Belle spoke from outside.

"Almost there, everypony." She mentioned quietly. "Just a little more…"

"Sugar Belle!" We heard another voice shout from outside. It sounded like a stallion's.

"Double Diamond!" Sugar Belle cried out in surprise and the wheels stopped making sound.

"What are you doing? Moving in flour again?" He asked.

"Y-yes! Our guests ate quite a lot of muffins, so I decided it would be best to bring some more in to make more muffins later."

"Do you need some help with that?"

"O-oh, there's no need really! I just need to bring this inside. It's no biggie!"

"Oh, nonsense! Remember, we're all equal friends here in our village. It's only right to help each other when we need it!"

The wheels began creaking once again.

"U-uh…well…thank you." Sugar Belle's voice nervously accepted.

"It's pretty heavy. Is the entire box filled with flour?"

"Well, sort of. There's a lot of flour, plus another things like baking powder, trays, you know, all that stuff. Heh heh."

"I see… Also, about those other guests, you haven't seen them around, have you?"

"N-no! I think the last time I saw them was after they finished their muffins and were continuing to walk through town.

"Well, if you see them by any chance, be sure to let me or Starlight Glimmer know, okay?"

"Sure thing! Why? Is something wrong?"

"Starlight just needs to settle out some things…" Sugar Belle didn't answer after this. "Alright, here you go! I'll be looking forward to some muffins later!"

"Of course! Thanks, Double Diamond!" Sugar Belle thanked and remained silent for a moment before a door closed and a loud exhaling sigh was heard. Soon enough, the side we entered from lowered away from us and brought us a new change in scenery. "You all okay?" Sugar Belle asked, poking her head inside.

Rarity immediately jumped out with Fluttershy gently following behind. Twilight and Pinkie carefully made their way out as Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and I were finally allowed to stand up and take a breath of fresh air.

"Oh, man." Rainbow Dash brought her hoof to her back and began to rub it.

"Glad that's over with." Applejack commented, stretching herself out.

"Yeah." I followed her example with my legs. "Let's go downstairs and get to work."


Spirit


I couldn't lie. Pretending to be the damsel in distress was kind of boring, especially since I really wasn't in trouble. I had taken the liberty to remove one of the books off the shelves to keep myself entertained. But I should have expected for the books themselves to be dull and uninteresting, so I put them back where they were.

I started feeling like I was a little filly left home alone with nothing to do. I decided to think back on what I would do in such a situation, but it was pretty difficult since I never really experienced a situation like that. If anything was close, it would be when I was inside Alex, but when I finally learned how, I started messing around with him again outside.

"I wonder if there's a pencil around here…" I tapped my chin with my hoof and rummaged around the room. I almost wanted to intentionally make a mess during the process of this search as I thought it would get on Starlight's nerves. However, for some reason, I felt a little bad knowing that I'd still be making a mess in somewhere that didn't belong to me, so I ended up against it.

After going through some cabinets, I found some spare paper and a few pencils. Sticking the pencil in my mouth, I began doodling. I had always sort of wished for having magic like unicorns so I wouldn't have to have the pencil in my mouth all the time, but it wasn't too much of a big deal. Drawing was always so nice and relaxing. In fact, it almost made me forget I had been kidnapped and was technically being held hostage in some other crazy pony's house. Eventually, I heard the door open behind me, but I was too busy with my doodling to pay any attention.

"I brought you food and water." Starlight's voice announced as I heard clanks and clatters behind me. I still didn't pay mind. There was a moment of silence before she spoke again. "What are you doing?" The sound of her hooves grew louder as she walked closer to me. I wondered if she was suspicious.

"Just drawing." I casually responded.

I felt her look over my shoulder and then lightly scoff. "How cute." She turned back around to attend back to whatever she was doing. "You're taking this awfully well. I was afraid I'd come back to a mess in the room." That almost did happen… "I have to say, I'm quite impressed with your behavior. Keep it up and I might just totally make your stay here a lot more pleasant."

"You don't have to do that." I responded.

I wasn't trying to be polite. I was trying to be witty and keeping my word about escaping easily.

"Your manners seemed to have improved…" Starlight noticed, but it didn't feel like she took it too seriously. "I don't know when you've last eaten, but you might want to get something in your stomach. I don't want you miserable in here."

I placed the pencil down on the paper.

Was she saying that in a kind and caring way? Or did she mean that she didn't want me to be any more trouble?

I turned and looked over the stuff she brought me. I wasn't expecting the food to look great, and it didn't. After Pinkie Pie had a hard time trying to swallow the muffins back in town, I really had no appetite for anything here. Staring at this food reminded me of something.

Did I really need to eat and drink like any other pony? I never thought about it until now since the Tree of Harmony brought the castle up. Ever since I was visible to every pony else and felt more like an independent pony, I wasn't sure if I needed to eat to stay healthy. At times, I remembered feeling the symptoms of an empty stomach, but it never really seemed like I needed to eat to live. After all, I was a part of Alex, and as long as he takes care of himself, I should be fine.

"Are you just going to stare at it all day?" Starlight asked.

"You're not going to watch me eat, are you?" I retorted.

"If I have to, I will." Starlight furrowed her eyebrows.

I sighed and lightly messed with the oats on the plate. "How'd things at the cave go?"

"Still haven't seen any of them around." Starlight answered. "I'm not sure what they're going to do, but if you're that important to them, I'm sure the first thing they'll try is getting you back."

"Uh-huh…" I responded as I dropped my eyes to the floor. I noticed the bucket of water Starlight had placed down that was at my side. My eyes turned towards Starlight's hooves, and I suddenly felt the need to be the cause of a mischievous prank.

"Right now, I'm going to keep an eye around here. I'll have a few ponies by the vault watching for them." As she continued talking, I brought my eyes back on the food and used the corner of my field of vision to slowly move the bucket closer towards Starlight's hooves. "If they end up going for the vault first, maybe I can try trapping them in there again. If they think I'm with you and not there guarding the vault, they might just use their magic to try to break through, but as soon as I get word that they're there, I'll be ready with another ambush. And I'll make sure to take their cutie marks this time…" She chuckled lightly. "You won't be there to take another hit."

"Sure…" I focused more on trying to move the bucket without making a sound.

Starlight noticed that I still hadn't touched the food. "Are you going to eat or not?"

"Actually…I don't really have an appetite right now… Maybe later." Once I felt the bucket was close enough to her forelegs, I quickly brought my leg back. "Thanks for bringing me something anyway." I decided to end with a little sweetness.

"Hm-hm." She almost presented a warm smile. "You're very welcome. I'm going to head out, but remember. Don't try anything stupid. When this is over, I'll feel more comfortable in giving you your own personal space here in the village."

"Okay then." I kept my answers short.

She sent an approving smile before she began to turn around. My eyes shot towards the bucket and watched as she began to lower the back leg that would make the plan a success.

"Aaah!" She cried out as the bucket flipped over and drenched her with water.

I was just about to burst out laughing until I had to force a hoof to my mouth. I didn't want her thinking that I intentionally moved it for that to happen. I didn't need any more threats from her. I decided to continue the good little filly act and ask about her.

"Starlight? Are you okay?" I faked shock and worry.

"Ugh! Starlight, you clumsy foal!" She angrily scolded. She searched the cabinets for a towel and began to dry herself clean. At first, I didn't notice it, but I soon realized something off when she removed the towel and hung it by the end of the bed.

"Wait a second!" I pointed out clearly. "You still have your cutie mark! What's the deal with that?!"

Starlight gasped and turned to me as it seemed she had forgotten that I had been in the room. "Oh shoot."

"Didn't you say everypony is supposed to be equal in this town?" I brought up. "Why do you still have your cutie mark?"

Starlight sighed and shook her head. "I'm sorry. That was my fault. I should have been more careful." She neatly folded the towel and placed it on top of a flat surface. "It looks like I'll have to find some sort of spell in one of my books that'll wipe your memory of what just happened here. Maybe it'll wipe your whole memory. Who knows."

"Wha…what?" I questioned. I still felt safe enough to not worry since I'd still be able to get out easily. However, I might have just shortened Alex's time because I didn't know when she'd do this spell, and I couldn't stay for her to perform the spell. No way.

"Forgive me. But if you're to stay, I must do it for the sake of the village." She brought out some makeup and covered her cutie mark. Then, she brought out a stencil and used the makeup to brush back on her fake cutie mark. Afterwards, she prepared to continue leaving. "Don't worry. I'll wait until our little mess is over and done with." She opened the door and walked out. However, she peeked in before completely leaving. "Remember, don't try anything dumb, okay? I'd really hate to end up having to take some drastic measures." She shut the door and a lock was heard turning.

I narrowed my eyelids in anger and muttered under my breath. "What a meanie."


Alex


We gave a brief explanation of our situation with Starlight Glimmer to Sugar Belle. We told her how after we had gotten approval for a tour of the cave, she tried to trick and trap us in there. Once we mentioned how Spirit had saved our flanks, she widened her eyes in realization to just notice that she had been missing from our group.

"So, what are you going to do?!" Sugar Belle asked worriedly. "Your friend is stuck with Starlight, and there's no way she's going to just give her back. Every pony in this village will be on her side. You're, you're outnumbered here!" She looked like she wanted to start panicking. "Oh my! This is all my fault, isn't it? If I never told you to come inside, you never would have asked to go to the vault and your friend would still be here!"

"Shh, shh." Twilight attempted to calm Sugar Belle. "It's okay. We're here because apparently there's a pretty big problem that we need to solve together."

"About that…" I began. "Sugar Belle, haven't you and the other ponies in this village noticed something strange?"

"What do you mean…?" She questioned back.

"Everypony in this village is supposed to be equal, including Starlight, right? So, why does it seem that Starlight is better than everypony to the point where she gives out the orders and practically makes others scared of disobeying her? I mean, the three of you that were down here seemed pretty terrified of her finding out. If everypony was equal, then shouldn't anypony be calling the shots?"

Sugar Belle thought about this for a moment as her eyes scanned the dusty dark floor. "I…I don't know… I think we are equal… It's just we need somepony to make sure nopony is better than anyone else…"

"Forgive me, Sugar Belle." Twilight added in. "But if I were you, I certainly wouldn't want somepony claiming they're just as good as me bossing me around. To be honest, I could never give up my cutie mark in the first place."

"Well, if she really is 'not equal' to everypony, what are you going to do?" Sugar Belle asked.

"I think our best lead is trying to get everypony else to realize this." I stated. "Maybe then, everypony could get together and sort of cause a mutiny, you know?"

"But, won't that destroy the whole village and philosophy we live under?"

"If you ask me, darling, I feel every one of you would be so much happier somewhere nicer than here." Rarity decided to share. "Ugh… I couldn't imagine living one day with the absolute bland and terrible fashion you all have to deal with here."

"In other words…" Twilight tried to rearrange. "I think we feel that you all are missing your cutie marks and pursuing your dreams, but you're letting your fear of this Starlight Glimmer stop you from doing that. After observing what she just tried to do to us, I can honestly say it wouldn't be right staying here."

"Well…" Sugar Belle rubbed the tip of her hoof against the floor. "I guess I'd be lying if I said I never wanted to be something more than just an average no good baker…"

"I think it's safe to say we pretty much just have one shot at this." I announced to everyone in the room. "We need to convince the other ponies of how unequal it really is here, if we can't, then we might not be able to slip away this time."

Twilight nodded. "We need to think of the best idea of what to do. Something foolproof."

"Given the circumstances…that may take some time…if possible…" I scratched my chin with my hoof and sighed. "I wonder if Spirit has anything on Starlight…"


Spirit


I was back to the desk where I was drawing and tapping the pencil on my chin. Starlight keeping her real cutie mark hidden is something Alex could definitely use. But how can I tell him without leaving Starlight's sight?

I lowered my sight to the paper in front of me.

Could I write him a note and throw it out the window?

I turned towards the window and noticed all of those weird ponies outside.

No way, that would be the end of me if I did that. It's more likely one of those other ponies would find it and show it to Starlight.

I turned my legs back to the desk and sighed in slight frustration.

Back inside Alex, I was able to send him messages, but that was from being inside him. Come to think of it…I never did try sending him messages while being outside with him because I never needed to… I don't know how it would work, but is it possible that I can telepathically still send him messages while I'm outside? I can see it working since I'm linked to him, and if I have to suffer under the consequence that I can't be too far away, I should at least be able to do this.

I looked around the bare room.

"I don't have many options…" I said to myself. I lowered my head in thought and gave a light pound to the floor with my hoof. "But it's worth a try. Let's just hope it works…"

I closed my eyes and focused my mind, attempting to follow the same process as I would inside Alex.

Alex. Alex, can you hear me? Please, please hear me. You need to know something important!


Alex


"Why don't we just take the entire village…" Pinkie Pie suggested, facing one side of the room. "…and push it somewhere else?" She turned to the opposite direction, facing her hooves outward.

"How on Equestria is that going to solve anything?" Twilight asked with cautious curiosity.

"If we put it somewhere nicer, maybe ponies here will all want their cutie marks back so much that they'll side with us!" Pinkie reasoned.

"Uhh…" Applejack commented. "I'm not so sure we can even move a whole village."

"Besides…" Rainbow Dash added. "No offense, Pinkie Pie, but that plan's kind of lame."

"Ooh! Ooh!" Pinkie continued. "We could always bake a giant muffin, hide inside, sneak our way into the cutie vault, and BAM! Break it open and everypony will realize how much better it is once they have their cutie mark!"

"Those are certainly…interesting ideas, Pinkie Pie." Rarity managed to raise a compliment. "However, we need something that certainly takes us to our goal and has little chance of failing in the process."

"Maybe we need to get some help outside from the village?" Fluttershy offered.

"I don't know…" Twilight rubbed her chin with her hoof. "I mean, I'm not against that idea, but why would the map call only us to fix the problem here? Do you think it knows that we're the only ponies we need?"

"Alex and Spirit are here, and the map didn't call them." Rainbow brought up.

"True…" Twilight shared a short glance with me. "But he belongs with us in the castle. I don't understand why the map just called us, but we've surely faced problems together in the past before. Either way, let's just focus on trying to figure out what to do right now. I don't know how much time we have, and in that case, I don't even know if we'll be able to get out of the village to go get help without being seen."

"Plus, I can't be too far away from Spirit." I reminded.

"Right." Twilight agreed. "And I certainly don't want anypony left behind. If we were to separate, Starlight might just have a better chance in finding one of us and we'll lose another part of the group to her. However, with us, it's not so easy to escape like it is with Spirit, so I think we should stick together and stay in the village."

"I think our main goal is that we need to find a way to expose—"

Alex…hear…? Please…know…important…

"Huh?" I paused to focus on the voice inside my head. It was really distant and a bit unclear. I was only able to make out a few words, but it wasn't enough to put together easily. I needed to write this down.

"What's wrong?" Twilight asked after noticing my behavior.

"Give me a second." I placed a hoof to my head and tried to keep a solid memory on what I heard. "Sugar Belle, you have anything to write on and with?"

"Sure. I'll be right back." She took a moment to leave upstairs.

As she went to look for something, I closed my eyes and focused on this message.

The first thing I thought of was Spirit. Nothing else didn't make as much sense. Was it possible that she was trying to tell me something? She wasn't inside me right? No…if she was…then she might as well would have been here with us…

Spirit, is that you?

I attempted to send if my theory was true.

Alex…! Hear you…! I…tell…something…!

"Here you go." I felt Sugar Belle approach me with some paper and a pencil.

"Thank you." I expressed and began writing the dialogue being exchanged within.

Spirit, what are you saying? I can't hear you very well.

Saying this inside my mind made me wonder if she couldn't understand well enough on the other side either.

Starlight…! She…cutie…hidden…!

Huh…?

HER…MARK…FAKE…!

I heard certain words much louder as if she was practically screaming them in my head.

Hang on.

I wrote everything exchanged inside on the paper and turned around to see everypony staring at me a little weirdly.

"What?" I questioned.

"…you okay?" Applejack inquired.

"Yeah, yeah!" I trotted towards the table we worked on and placed the paper on there. "I think Spirit was somehow able to talk to me, but she sounds so fuzzy. I wrote down our messages to each other, but I wanted to go over them with you guys to see if we could figure out what exactly she's trying to say together."

"Seriously? Let's take a look." Twilight moved over to my side and leaned in to take a look. "Alex. Hear. Please. Know. Important. This is what you heard?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "It had to be Spirit… Who else could it be?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I should be getting back up." Sugar Belle notified. "Some ponies might have noticed that I was gone for a pretty long while. If they ask, I'll tell them that I was unloading flour and stuff."

"Sure. Thanks a lot for helping us, Sugar Belle." Twilight expressed.

Sugar Belle nodded her head. "I just hope this turns out for the best…" She shared worriedly and walked up the stairs.

Twilight turned her eyes back to the paper. "Hm… If you ask me, I'm sure she's trying to get your attention in this sentence. This must be what you say…" She skips over my sentence. "Alex! Hear you! I. Tell. Something!" She studied carefully. "If we try to connect this sentence with the one before, I think it's very likely and probably even obvious she's trying to tell you something. After all…" She turned to look at me. "In our situation, what else could she be saying? She just wants to say hi?" She lightly smirked.

"Right…" I agreed.

After skimming through my response, she analyzed Spirit's next fragmented sentence. "Starlight! Cutie. Hidden."

"She has to be talkin' about cutie marks." Applejack immediately guessed.

"Or maybe she found a cute little critter that Starlight's hiding." Fluttershy brought up.

"Really?" Rainbow Dash leaned over the table to face Fluttershy with disapproving eyes.

"I would say it could be a possibility…" Twilight admitted. "Maybe Starlight is hiding an animal for some secret reason…?"

"No…" I shook my head. "I'm pretty sure it has to be about cutie marks. Look at the next thing she said." I pointed at her last response.

"HER. MARK. FAKE." Twilight read out loud. "Huh…" She looked up to me. "She must have been trying to be clear about these words, huh?"

I shrugged. "I guess so."

COVERING!

I heard as my eyes widened in surprise.

"What?" Twilight noticed.

I quickly wrote it down.

"COVERING?" Twilight questioned. She then borrowed the pencil and begin rewriting Spirit's words. "Let's go ahead and say she's talking about cutie marks." She wrote Starlight first and then added "mark" after "cutie". In the end, she had: Starlight…Cutie mark…Hidden. She tapped the pencil on her cheek. "Let's add the second part since that's where the mark came from."

WITH!

I quickly grabbed the pencil and wrote the new word.

"Another one?" Twilight noticed and studied it. "WITH…" She shook her head and focused back on her previous strategy. As she rearranged more of the words, she ended with: Starlight. Her…cutie mark…fake…hidden. Then, it was: Starlight. Her…fake cutie mark…hidden.

"Is she actually tryin' to tell us about Starlight's cutie mark?" Applejack asked after carefully studying Twilight's notes.

"I would believe so." Twilight hardly took her eyes off the words. "If I'm putting these words right, is she saying that her cutie mark is fake? And it's hidden?"

MAKEUP!

I snatched the pencil and wrote the word.

Twilight quickly read the new word and analyzed the previous ones. "COVERING. WITH. MAKEUP. Aah!" She cried out lightly as if she realized something and quickly wrote down the word "hidden" once more. Then, she drew three separate lines from the word and added the latest ones. "Covering with makeup. Hidden. Hiding by covering with makeup." Twilight turned to the previous sentence she worked on. "Starlight. Her…fake cutie mark…hidden." It appeared she began to tie up everything together as she wrote out a new sentence. Starlight's cutie mark is fake. It is hidden (covered) with makeup.

"Oooh." Pinkie Pie shared her expression on the matter when there was a moment of silence from everypony.

"Her cutie mark is fake?!" Rainbow Dash questioned. "So that means she doesn't have a cutie mark?"

Twilight tapped her chin with her hoof. "By the way Spirit puts it, it sounds like she's covering up something with makeup. I think she's trying to say that Starlight is covering her cutie mark with makeup. We've seen her have that same cutie mark as everypony else, so could it be that that equal cutie mark is painted on? If she didn't have a cutie mark, she wouldn't be needing to cover anything up. She would just need to paint it on…"

USE WATER!

I wrote this down immediately.

"USE WATER." Twilight repeated.

"That must be it." Rarity planted her hoof on the table. "Of course, water tends to wash off makeup. If Spirit is truly trying to tell us that Starlight is using makeup for her cutie mark, then she's also telling us to use water on her to wash it off."

"This is good." I mentioned. "If this is right, nothing else doesn't really matter. If she's faking her cutie mark, then she's faking being equal. I think this goes more with the idea that she's bossing other ponies around. If we can reveal the fact that she's been lying to everypony here and explain how she hasn't really been treating the others equally, we might just gain the support of everypony here."

"It's definitely better than nothing." Twilight accepted. "I'm not exactly so sure it's 'foolproof', but it's certainly not bad."

"So what now?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Rarity says that Spirit wants us to use water to wash off her makeup. But in order to do that, we need to carefully come up with a way that'll surprise her. I'm sure we won't get anywhere if we just run up to her with a bucket of water."

"I love surprises!" Pinkie Pie felt the need to shout.

"Remember how I said Spirit was our lifeline?" I reminded. "I think I might have just found her use. Starlight doesn't know what Spirit can do, so Spirit can definitely catch her by surprise when she returns back to me." I thought for a moment and proceeded to share these thoughts. "We need to get this message out to Spirit, but I'm not so sure she can hear me clearly. I'll trying talking to her the way we've been doing so far, but we might have to come up with another way to send the message."

I closed my eyes and slightly lowered my head.

Spirit? Am I coming in loud and clear?

There was moment of silence.

NOT!

Uh-huh…

CLEAR!


Okay… It seems she has been using short bursts to get a better message across.

"I don't think she can hear me well either." I added.

"What do you need to tell her? What's the plan?" Twilight asked.

"I was thinking we get Sugar Belle to tell Starlight that we're hiding around the bakery. You know, just obeying orders. Starlight will definitely have to come to us knowing that she's the only one that can really do anything. She'll confront us, but I was thinking of having Sugar Belle keep a bucket of water by the bakery. When Spirit comes back and sneaks around towards the bucket of water, she'll splash it over Starlight from behind unexpectedly. Her makeup should wash off and whatever she's hiding should be exposed to everypony else. What we need to figure out now is how to get the message across to Spirit without having to spend a long time sending this to her and hoping that she'll decode it on her own."

"You said Sugar Belle was going to tell Starlight about us." Twilight pointed out. "What if she somehow got past Starlight before this and talked with Spirit?"

"Hm…" I thought about it. "It's a little risky. Even if Starlight allowed Sugar Belle to see Spirit, I have a feeling she'd accompany her."

"Don't forget we can hide in a giant muffin and sneak over to Spirit!" Pinkie Pie included with an energetic waving hoof.

"She's supposed to come to us, Pinkie Pie." Applejack argued. "There's no point to the plan if we end up where she is. That's IF that plan works."

Something popped in my head when I thought about hiding something in a muffin. "That's not a bad plan actually."

"Huh?" The rest of the girls turned quickly towards me, surprised to see me agreeing with Pinkie Pie.

"I'm not talking about hiding us, but we could hide something else." I tapped my hoof on the paper we had been working on. "Our plan. We make a quick and short note, have Sugar Belle bake some muffins, hide the note in one of the muffins, and have her take it over to Spirit."

"What if Starlight eats the muffin with the note?" Twilight brought up a good question.

"Hm… Maybe we can get Spirit to ask for muffins. I would think Starlight is kind enough to at least feed Spirit, so… We'll probably have to hide the muffin under a bunch of other muffins to hopefully make sure Starlight doesn't accidently pick the muffin with the note in the case she decides to eat one."

Twilight wasn't totally confident about this. However, she looked like if she had faith in the idea. "That sounds like it can work."

I nodded. "Let's give it a shot, I guess…"

I closed my eyes and lowered my head to focus. Alright, Spirit…let's hope this works…


Spirit


I felt my eyebrows furrow from potential frustration. I tapped my hoof on the desk with light uneasiness. I had been having to rub my temples in hope it would ease the soreness. I was practically screaming…but in my thoughts. It was starting to wear me out.

"He better had gotten my message…" I muttered to myself.

ASK FOR MUFFINS.

"Huh?!" I was surprised to hear such a bold statement. Hah. Looks like screaming works better, but it's a lot more tiring. That's for sure. When I thought the message over, I realized how odd Alex's request was. Why did he want me to ask for muffins?

I didn't know what that had to do with fixing the mess we were in, but I was more than willing to go along with it as I immediately placed my faith in him.

I was about to go bang on my door until I noticed the oats she had given me to eat. She's going to wonder why in Equestria I would want muffins if I hadn't even eaten the oats yet. I decided to take the plate and wander over to the window. I opened it slowly and lightly until there was a decent amount of space outside. I looked over to make sure no pony was there and flipped the plate over to dispose of the oats. I shook the plate lightly for good measure and brought it back inside.

There on, I took a deep breath and then faced the door.

"Starlight!" I exclaimed and banged the door lightly. "Could you come up here, please?!"

I placed my ear against the door and attempted to hear any sounds indicating that she heard me. It was silent for a moment until I began to hear faint steps coming my direction. I backed away from the door and waited for Starlight to turn the locks and open up.

"Yes?" She looked a little agitated, but I wasn't so sure if it was me who caused that.

"Um…" I began faking the cutest and most innocent act I could work out. "…I…I was wondering if I could have some…muffins…?"

"Did you finish your oats?" She asked, peeking in towards where she last placed the oats.

"Yes, I did. Thank you." I nodded my head. "It turns out I was actually pretty hungry. I just remembered that I hadn't even eaten breakfast. I just thought maybe I could get some muffins…please…"

After Starlight took a look over me, she smiled gently. "My, oh my. Look how calm and sweet you are! I suppose keeping you here yet expressing kindness was the way to go. You were so fussy at first, but now…" She sighed in both relief and content. "You know what? I will go get you those muffins. Take it as a reward for being so well-behaved. Keep it up!" She praised and proceeded to leave the area to grant my request.

I trotted over to the window to keep an eye on where she went. I rested my head on the windowsill as my eyes remained glued to her body.

"What's in your mind, Alex? What do you have planned?" I thought out loud in a calm voice.

I remembered the odd request and began wondering if he was hiding out at Sugar Belle's. This town had no good hiding areas as it was mainly open and dusty. If there was any pony they could trust to help them, it would be Sugar Belle since she was the pony who confided in us to begin with.

I felt my hoof lightly tap the windowsill.

Let's see what happens next… I have to admit. This has been weirdly fun so far… Working together all secret-like with him… Like old-times…

I didn't realized I had dozed off until I heard the familiar sounds the door made when it was being unlocked. My gasp was small, and I quickly turned around to face at who was coming through the door.

"Here you are!" Starlight cheerfully announced and placed a plate of familiar muffins on the same surface she had placed the oats. "Fresh right out of the oven too. Anything else?"

"I'm fine. Thanks!" I closed my eyes and beamed with joy as much as I could.

"Awww!" Starlight reacted towards my expression. "That's more like it! Let me know if there's anything else you'd like."

"Okay!"

She walked out and closed the door. Once, I made sure she was gone, I turned toward the plate of muffins and looked over them.

Alright. I asked for muffins and she brought them over. Now what?

FIND X

My body shivered. So sudden.

I shook my head.

"Okay. Find an 'X' apparently?"

There were two layers of muffins. I guess Starlight wanted me to be satisfied, so she brought a whole lot. If there's an 'X', it would be some place that wasn't so obvious. I spread the muffins out to where I could see all of them and took a careful look.

"Maybe it's on the back end or something?" I took a few and proceeded to look at the bottom, but after searching through all of them, I didn't find any. "What the hay, Alex?" I hope he didn't make some kind of complex puzzle out of this.

I sighed and looked over the top. I noticed that each muffin had a sort of indention, but this was normal, especially since these muffins weren't perfect. There were indentions that looked like they were curved lines, separate and connected parallel lines, and other kinds of weird marks. However, my eyes stopped when I noticed a certain mark on one of the muffins. It was dab smacked on the middle and could only appear obvious to me since I knew what I was supposed to be looking for. On this one muffin that had been in the center of the bottom layer of muffins, there was an indented 'X'. And it looked completely unsuspicious since it's not something a pony would even consider wary in the first place. If anything, it'd only be a mere coincidence.

"Hehee…" I giggled almost defiantly and picked it up. I could almost hear an orchestra of ponies singing in harmony to my success. "I found 'X'." I looked it over and remained silent for a moment. "…now what? I'm not supposed to eat it right? Alex knows how bad these actually are too…" I stared at it for a silent second. "Welp, only other thing I can think of is tearing this bad boy open." I crushed the muffin with my hoof on the surface and slowly brought my hoof back up. "Ooh…"

Pieces of bread crumbs lightly fell off the bottom of my hoof and there was something odd in the midst of the pile of muffin pieces in front of me. I felt my mouth open slightly as my eyes sparkled with interest. I slowly pulled this white piece that first felt like a napkin. After I shook off the breadcrumbs still stuck on it, I found that it was a folded piece of paper. I unfolded it and proceeded to consume the words present before me with my eyes.

Sugar Belle is going to tell Starlight that we snuck into her bakery.

Wait to see Sugar Belle and Starlight heading back to the bakery.

When you see them and us outside the building, this is when you get ready.

Make sure to notice the bucket of water that'll be nearby the bakery.

When everypony else in the village is out to see the scene all of us will cause, come back to me and sneak back out and around to where the water is. Grab the bucket and pour it over Starlight from behind to reveal what she's hiding.

Profit!

"Yes!" I cheered out loud and jumped in joy.

This is awesome! I'll surprise her and show her whose boss! Everypony will see her cutie mark and freak out! Then she'll be bombarded by the others who'll realize she'd been lying to them the entire time! No way is she getting out of this one!

I ran over to the window and proceeded to keep an endless watch over the dusty road.


Alex


It felt like a lengthy while for Sugar Belle to return, and I couldn't help but think it was because of my nerves. I suppose I had to admit that I wasn't so sure the plan was "foolproof", but I did think it was the best we were going to get in the time we had.

I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't okay with just calling Spirit back and completely leaving, but I knew I'd feel guilty otherwise by a majority of things. In the end, I just really didn't want Spirit to get hurt. She had tricks no other pony knew, but she was still pretty vulnerable, especially if somepony knew about these tricks.

"I'm back." Sugar Belle announced at the top of the stairs. "I don't think she suspected anything. She seemed in a good mood to me actually."

"That's good, I guess." I returned as she walked down the stairs. "Should we wait a while to make sure Spirit gets the message?"

WAITING.

"Never mind." I withdrew and looked around. "I guess we should get started."

"Let's go over this one more time." Twilight announced in our group, causing Rainbow to slap a hoof to her head. "We have no room for failure. One small mistake and our plan could easily break apart. The main goal here is to reveal what Starlight is keeping hidden from the other ponies. Hopefully, everypony here should get riled up once they find that they really aren't equal. Sugar Belle will tell Starlight Glimmer that she found us hiding out in her bakery, having snuck in while she was gone. She'll go tell Starlight and eventually bring her here. Starlight will probably try to call us out and offer us something for coming out peacefully. Whatever it is, we need to make sure Spirit can sneak around with the bucket of water Sugar Belle will leave outside and drench Starlight with it."

"Not that I'm doubtin' it or anythin', but you sure Starlight won't find us hiding in Sugar Belle's bakery suspicious?" Applejack questioned in concern.

"I can't say I'm one hundred percent confident, but Sugar Belle's is the only place we stopped. Sugar Belle is going to give out our location after Double Diamond told her to do if she saw us. She's technically not doing anything wrong." She turned to Sugar Belle. "You haven't done anything mistrustful that Starlight has seen, have you?"

Sugar Belle lifted up her hoof and rolled back her eyes. "I don't think so… There were a few times where I sort of slipped my thoughts out for others to hear…but I don't think she knows anything. Otherwise, she would have came knocking at my door a long time ago."

Twilight nodded. "I don't think she has any reason to suspect anypony… At least not yet…" Her eyes scanned over us. "The longer we stay here, the smaller our chances get. I say we get going as soon as possible."

"Gotcha." Applejack tipped her hat.

"Yes-indeedy!" Pinkie hopped.

"Of course!" Rarity flipped her hair.

Twilight turned back to Sugar Belle. "Sugar Belle, are you ready?"

Nevertheless, I noticed Sugar Belle looked a little worried. "…are you sure this is the right thing to do…?"

"What do you mean?" Twilight asked.

"It's just…" Sugar Belle began. "I've been living this way of life for a pretty long while now. What if things aren't really better when everypony gets their cutie mark? Or what if everything turns for the worst and Starlight does something bad to us?"

Twilight walked up to Sugar Belle and placed a hoof on her shoulder. "I understand your concern. But I think to put it simply, we need to let everypony know the truth. Starlight is faking her cutie mark, and that's not fair, is it? Alex has brought up an important point. If everypony really is equal here, why does it feel like everypony is scared of her? Especially you?"

Sugar Belle lowered her head and adverted her eyes as if she was in deep thought. She sighed and soon nodded her head. "It's true. I feel like I've had to be on edge just to be 'equal' like everypony else. I don't like it. If Starlight is hiding something that makes her better than us, then…I think everypony should know that. I just hope things work out for the best."

Twilight offered an encouraging smile. "I'm sure they will. After all…" She turned towards us. "If you ask us, we've always had to go through the darkest of places to end up seeing the light at the end of the journey."

Sugar Belle managed to smile lightly. "Well…you are a princess… I guess there's a good reason for that." She released a relieving exhale. "Okay. I'm ready."

"We'll be waiting." Twilight removed her hoof.

"Okay." Sugar Belle nodded. "Be back later." She turned towards the door and began walking out.

Twilight turned to me. "We only get one chance at this. Are you sure Spirit is waiting for us now?"

"She said it herself." I tapped my head.

"Alright, everypony." She faced the others. "We need to keep a calm conversation going until Spirit can do what she needs to do. We don't want to make Starlight Glimmer furious and mess the whole plan up by using magic or something." She specifically turned to Rainbow Dash. "So, no agitating or taunting, Rainbow."

"Yeah, yeah…" Rainbow merely accepted.

"Let's head upstairs and wait for Starlight to get here." Twilight mentioned before silence enveloped the area around.

I suppose keeping quiet was something everypony knew to do in our situation. It was possible for somepony else to hear us from outside, so no one wanted to compromise the plan that could be our ticket to finishing up and getting out of here.

Everyone kept to their own until we heard a brash knocking at the door.

"Helloo?" We heard a familiar voice. "We know you're in there. It's time to stop playing hide and seek and come out. We won't hurt you. I promise!"

"Psh." Rainbow Dash scoffed.

"Shh." Twilight shushed and faced her voice towards the door. "Why don't you come inside instead?"

"Ohohoho." The mare outside laughed. "Don't be so silly! I'm not going in there. You all might have some sort of net or trap for me. I just want to have a nice peaceful conversation."

Twilight signaled us to remain quiet.

After a brief moment of us returning no response, Starlight spoke once again.

"Aww. Please don't be like that. Don't you want to see your friend again? I promise, if you come out now, you'll all be living together in real harmony."

Twilight gestured her hoof towards me, signaling me to say something. I was caught in surprise, so I ended up sort of improvising.

"You didn't hurt her, did you?" I asked.

"Oh, of course not! In fact, I've been treating her with the upmost care! I'd never do something so cruel!"

I noticed Rainbow Dash roll her eyes.

"Is she out there?" I questioned.

"No, but if you come out peacefully, I'd be delighted to take you to her so you can see how much she's been enjoying herself."

I could only wonder if she was really willing to do that, or if she was just lying through her teeth to trap us again.

All of us remained silent once more.

"You do know there's no other way out, right?" Starlight reminded. "We're out here, and you're in there. We're not moving until you come out. Come on now. The more you wait, the harder it is for you."

Twilight sighed loudly enough for her to hear on the other side of the door. "We're coming out, but not all at once. If you try to trick us again like last time, we won't hesitate to defend ourselves."

"Alright, alright." Starlight agreed. "Just come out. We just want to talk."

Twilight faced us and began to whisper. "Let's go out two at a time. Who's going with me?"

"I am." Rainbow immediately volunteered. "If she tries anything, I'll be ready with a little payback." She aggressively pounded her hoof.

"Okay, let's go." Twilight directed. "But remember, keep your cool. The rest of you, stay back and out of sight."

Each of the girls took cover behind something. Pinkie managed to excitedly hide under a cardboard box. I decided to go down to the basement since there was more room in there. Cloaking myself in the darkness, I kept an eye out up the stairs and began talking to myself.

"Alright… Just gotta stay calm…Who knows how worse the situation will be if we fail. Can't afford to take that risk. We're so close to fixing the mess we're in…"

"We can almost taste it…" From the silence in the ambience, I could hear a voice whisper into my ear as a breath brushed against my neck. I looked in my peripheral vision to see what appeared to be a tongue sliding against something solid like it was ice cream.

My heart surely jumped, but fortunately, whatever it was, it didn't pull a yelp or scream out of me.

"Pwot! Ugh! Bleh!" I heard light gags and spitting.

After getting a better view in the dark, I realized it was Spirit.

"You're here…!" I almost exclaimed out in surprise, not expecting her to be here this early.

After taking a moment to brush off the taste after she apparently had taken a lick of one of Sugar Belle's muffins, she composed herself to speak with me. "Yeah…" She giggled quietly. "Sorry, I was trying to be funny."

"You're alright, right?" I double checked.

"Yeah, I am. You don't know how much I wanted to break out of character from being a sweet little filly over at Starlight's."

I nodded. "I'm glad you're okay. You came earlier than expected. You know what we're doing, right?"

"Yeah. There's a bucket full of water by the building. I go sneak around and splash it all over Starlight."

"You got it." I praised. "We will probably be heading out in a bit, so get ready." I proceeded to look towards upstairs.

"You understood what I told you right? About Starlight?" Spirit mentioned, beginning to worry.

"She's faking her cutie mark, right?" I repeated. "So we're going to use water to remove the makeup she has?"

"Yeah." She returned. "But I wasn't so sure you completely understood what I said, so I just wanted to make sure you knew that while everypony else had given up their cutie marks, she still secretly kept hers."

It wasn't all that surprising based on what we already had put together. "Figures."

"We're heading out." I heard Applejack announce in a hushed voice from up the stairs. "Be ready."

After hearing the sound of the door open and close, I signaled Spirit to join me upstairs. It appeared everyone was already gone, and I was the last one to walk out.

"Alright, we can't risk you sneaking out like this, so head back inside me and wait until I walk out. I'll try to stand near the alleyway so you have a better time hiding there. There should be a bucket of water when you come out. Tap your hoof on the building wall to let me know you're ready, then find a way around Starlight so you can soak her. Everypony will see that she still has her cutie mark, and there's no way they'll be okay with that…unless they really are puppets." I felt stupid for making myself feel doubt, but I attempted to shake it off. "Anyway, you ready?"

Spirit nodded.

There was an intrusive knock at the door. "Come on out. Your friends are all out here. There's no point staying in."

"Let's do this." I told Spirit before she returned back inside me.

Finally, I walked out on my own, expecting a sea of ponies, including Starlight, outside.

"There you are." Starlight sounded like she was feigning a friendly voice and pointed her head in the direction of the others. "See? Everypony is fine. There's no need for such aggression here."

As subtly as I could, I slowly backed towards the corner of the building so Spirit could hopefully play her part.

"You tried to take our cutie marks and force us to live here…" I recalled bluntly.

"Oh, you simply misunderstood what happened. I really just wanted to give you a taste of what it was like. You know; a free trial." She attempted to excuse her actions.

Two light taps sounded behind me.

"Okay, well, we're not interested. Give us back Spirit and we'll be on our way."

"Ohhh…" She sucked in her teeth as if she was stuck in a complicating predicament. "You see… It turns out she's having quite a lovely time here. In fact, I don't believe she wants to leave. Wouldn't it be wrong to deprive somepony from what she wishes to do?"

So ironic. Better have fun with it.

"I don't think she'd like the idea that you're lying to our faces about how she feels."

"But it's the truth! I may just let you see how she's doing if you calmly follow me."

"You know you're not getting away with this, right?" I mentioned, feeling that Spirit should surprise her anytime soon.

"Just what are you talking about?" Something about Starlight's slightly scrunched expression told me she was beginning to feel impatient.

The color of her creamy-like coat appeared in the corner of my eyes, and I could see her slowly sneak in as if she was playfully trying to crawl behind the water bucket. She'd remain lying down as she slowly pushed the bucket towards Starlight's blind side while moving along with it.

"We don't need to follow you to see Spirit." I prepared.

She cocked her eyebrow in response.

Spirit stood up and lifted the bucket.

"Because she's already here with us."

In that moment of confusion, Starlight failed to respond properly. "What are you—?" She was immediately drenched from a swarm of water. "Aah!"

Spirit's smile stretched out to a grin of accomplishment.

Starlight turned her head to the direction of where the water came from.

"You! How did you—?!"

"Lo and behold!" Spirit interrupted, announcing to every other pony. "For her cutie mark is nothing but a lie!"

Once the crowd took sight of this difference in the community, they immediately gasped. Starlight noticed then and widened her eyes extremely in shock as she covered her flank with her tail.

"Wha... What are you looking at?! They're the problem, not me!" She attempted to pull out the old red herring as she pointed towards us and laughed nervously.

"You lied to us…?" One pony from the crowd questioned with an expression of devastated shock.

"How could you?" Another asked.

"You said cutie marks were evil!" The one that had been following us the majority of the time when we first got to this town joined in. "You said special talents led to pain and heartache!"

"They do! Don't you see?! Look at them!" She was clearly desperate now. "Look at what they're doing to us! We were perfectly fine and happy before they came to town!"

"Then why?" Sugar Belle grew the confidence to confront Starlight. "Why did you take ours and not give up your own?"

"I..." Starlight Glimmer was sweating now. "I-I-I…" Her eyes clenched shut and her eyebrows furrowed. Tension squeezed out from her face before she reopened her eyes. "I had to, you fools! How could I collect your cutie marks without my magic?!"

"But the staff has all the magic we need!" The pegasus that had spoken to us down in Sugar Belle's bakery retorted.

"The staff is a piece of wood I found in the desert!" Starlight Glimmer finally confessed. "It's my magic that makes all this possible! You'd all still be living your miserable lives thinking you're better than everypony else if it weren't for my magical abilities! I brought you friendship! I brought you equality! I created harmony!"

"You lied to us!" Her former loyal follower answered back.

"So what? E-Everything else I said is true! The only way to be happy is if we're all equal!" She stated that last part with confidence as if everything would go back the way it was.

"Except for you."

Starlight was prepared to shoot a fiery glare back at this pony before Twilight stepped forward and spoke up.

"Everypony has unique talents and gifts, and when we share them with each other, that's how rea—"

"QUIET!" Starlight Glimmer bellowed out, actually frightening the majority of us when we especially saw the bulging vein coming out from her neck.

"You can't have a cutie mark, Starlight! Either we're all equal, or none of us are!" Sugar Belle asserted. Technically, it still followed their "philosophy". They would be equal if they all had their cutie marks or if all of them didn't have them just like it should have been in the first place.

Everypony slowly began surrounding Starlight, leading her to anxiously turn her head around to see her becoming cornered.

"Just so you know, Starlight…" Spirit crossed her legs and shut her eyes in triumph. "I don't exactly appreciate you kidnapping me and keeping me locked in your house. That's not how you make friends."

Starlight Glimmer's eyes began shooting daggers in the direction of Spirit's smug face. Her eyes closed shut and a bubble began to form around her. Her horn glowed with magic, and we were soon pushed aside, giving her space to run through.

The next thing I saw was Starlight shooting another ray of magic towards Spirit. Before I could react, Spirit returned a light shriek and appeared to fall unconscious. Starlight carried her with her magic and ran in the direction of the building she had been keeping her.

"Spirit!" I cried with deep worry and began running after her.

"You ponies get your cutie marks! We'll handle this!" Twilight directed the others and followed behind.

As soon as I reached the door, I began banging the sturdy wood loudly with my hooves. "Open the door, Starlight!"

I could hear things being moved around and shuffled inside.

"You think you can come to my village and take everything I worked so hard for and destroy it just like that?!" Her voice angrily sounded through. "Let's see how you like it when I take something from you!"

"You've got nowhere to go!" I answered back angrily. "The only way out is through this door!"

"Open this door or we're busting it down!" Rainbow Dash shouted beside me.

There was no answer.

"Move back, Alex! I've got this!" Rainbow Dash flew backwards. Stepping aside, I allowed her to gain her speed and kick down the door. As soon as the area was accessible, we immediately galloped inside and turned our heads to search in every little area.

"Where are they?!" I felt myself begin to panic. The picture of Spirit growing immensely far away infested my mind.

"Look! Up here!" Twilight called from up the stairs. We followed her voice to come across a bedroom. However, the bed had been merely thrown to the side and revealed some kind of secret escape in the floor.

Sparing no second, I immediately ran in. I didn't plan to stop at all until I could see Spirit with my own two eyes.

Once we managed to find daylight on the other side of the tunnel, we were brought somewhere outside the village near a path towards snowy mountaintops.

"Look!" Rainbow Dash pointed out in midair.

"She's headed for the pass!" Twilight added.

I spread out my wings. "We need to stop her!" I began flying in hopes to catch up. She was only a unicorn, so she definitely had to be at a disadvantage against all of us.

Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Rarity were going to have to run the entire path, but we couldn't spare time in keeping together. We had to catch up and cut off Starlight as soon as possible.

Thankfully, with the advantage of flight, it didn't take long to catch up to Starlight. With Twilight, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and me, there was no way we were going to let her run off. But we had to make sure to be careful as Spirit was Starlight's hostage, and the difference now is that Spirit couldn't return back since she was unconscious.

"I don't care what you do, Starlight!" I tried shouting out towards her as I carefully closed in. "Just leave Spirit out of this!"

Revealing her clenched teeth as she turned her face towards me, she spat out her response. "You better stop following me, or your little friend will be gone for good!"

"Not on my watch!" Twilight claimed and began preparing what appeared to be a beam of magic.

I gasped and immediately threw myself towards her. "No!" Twilight's magic halted instantly as she was rather shocked of my sudden motion. "We can't risk Spirit being hit instead! We need to stop her from both sides!"

"She's getting away!" Rainbow called out as we had been distracted with the use of magic.

"Rainbow, see if you can grab Spirit, I'll try to cut her off!" I worked my wings to the fullest extent once more.

When I found myself at a good distance, I decided to close in and land on a narrow pathway in front of Starlight Glimmer.

"You're only making things worse! Just leave Spirit. That's all we want!" I attempted to plead assertively again.

My interference allowed her to stop for just a moment as she eyed me seriously. "Oh, so you think that's going to stop me? After what every single one of you did to my village? Get out of my way!" Before Rainbow Dash could even try to get closer in, Starlight rested Spirit on the back of her body and worked the magic in her horn. Soon, a spikey aura formed around her and she charged straight at me head on.

I thought about using magic to defend myself, but I was afraid any kind of spell could cause some risk or potential harm to Spirit. The only thing that came across my mind at the time was maybe being able to hold her back myself, despite her using some kind of spell.

I gained a little speed and hoped I could stop her in her tracks or tackle her enough to where I could recover Spirit. As soon as I came into contact with the aura, I immediately felt interfering twitches and spasms all throughout my body. It was as if I was being shocked, but it came more from the inside. I couldn't move, and Starlight immediately knocked me over the narrow pathway.

I was unable to open my wings or even use magic to help with the fall. It was only a short moment before some pony else caught and saved me. Fortunately it was Twilight, and she proceeded to whip out a spell of her own to counter the one I was under in.

"Thanks." I quickly expressed and searched in the direction where Starlight appeared to run off. I was able to catch Rainbow keeping a solid eye on her, but it seemed she was also keeping her distance after seeing what happened with me.

"I think she's headed towards that cave!" Twilight pointed out the jagged hole on the side of the mountain.

From the look of the cave, I was afraid that if she made it in there, who knows if we'd be able to get back Spirit if we were having trouble right now. My eyes caught the white mass all around the mountain pass. "Twilight! C'mon, help me!" I led her towards the snow. She stayed by my side as I headed in a direction that seemed a little off-track from Starlight. "Try to get that snow to fall off onto the path!"

I demonstrated an example by shooting a few rays of magic towards the slope. I was hoping Twilight knew some more advanced kind of magic that had a better chance of making that snow fall. Nevertheless, once Twilight joined in with some heavy assistance, the snow began to rumble and fall like an avalanche. Fortunately for Spirit's case, the amount of snow wasn't as much as an actual avalanche, so it shouldn't hopefully hold much harm for her.

The majority of the slope fell perfectly, and I could see Starlight turn in horror as the snow intervened in her escape. I wasn't sure if Starlight would be strong enough to make her way out of the piled snow on her own, but I definitely wasn't giving it any chances. As soon as I reached the area where she was last seen, I immediately began digging for Spirit.

Once the others caught up, they helped dig with me and occasionally called out for her just in case she was conscious again. After we spent some time rummaging around, I came across a pony standing at the edge of the cliff the mountain pass was on.

"Starlight!" I growled once I identified her. "Where is sh—?"

"Not another step!" Most of her mane, body, and tail were still covered with snow, but a glow of light appeared from the area where her horn was. I wasn't frightened to move any further, but then Starlight stepped to the side to reveal Spirit lying motionless and dangerously by the edge of the cliff.

Most likely hearing the commotion, the others joined me in the confrontation as well, but they stood still once realizing the situation.

"All of you! Nopony move! One step and I'm sending this little filly down this cliff, and I can promise you she'll never be found again!" Starlight Glimmer aggressively threatened. "Don't try any magic either." She added, eyeing especially at the ones with horns. "I can promise you won't have enough time to help the filly before she disappears never to be seen again."

"Think about what you're doing, Starlight!" I exclaimed. "What are you getting out from doing this? You do anything to her, you'll surely find yourself being banished from Equestria! Is that what you want?"

She scoffed loudly. "You think I care about banishment? You want to know how hard I worked to raise that village you all so easily destroyed in a matter of minutes?! I had to go through so much! I had to lose so much to get to where I was, and you all took that away from me! If anypony should be banished, it's you all! I won't be satisfied until I see the look on your faces when you lose something so dearly like I did!"

In order to calm Starlight down, I had to struggle to calm myself down first. "Just…calm down, Starlight." I voiced tensely. "You don't need to do this. If you want somepony to take all this out on, then take it out on me. Just don't hurt her."

"Ah, but don't you see?" She refrained from surrendering her hostage. "Look at how much you care about this filly of yours. Apparently, she's so special that you'd take a severe kind of punishment for her. That only means that I'd receive true satisfaction from pushing her off this very cliff!" She raised her hind leg while keeping an eye on our direction.

"Don't!" Twilight protested.

"Nopony moves or you're going down with her!" Starlight readied her horn as she began to raise the potential energy in her back hoof.

"INCOMING!" A voice cried out from behind Starlight.

Before she could clearly see what originated the sound, she was forcefully pushed towards us. We threw ourselves to the side to avoid this force and looked back to see what had just happened. Somepony on a pair of skies had apparently crashed into Starlight, but once I realized she was of no harm anymore, I quickly turned towards the direction of Spirit. The force must have pushed Spirit just enough to begin slipping under the force of gravity.

"Spirit!" I cried out and quickly jumped off the cliff to my open my wings. Just before her acceleration could increase, I positioned myself under her and prepared my magic just in case I missed. Fortunately, it was over. She landed safely on my back, and I could hear her mumble softly under her breath. I was finally able to release a large sigh of relief and headed back towards where everypony was at.

"Is that how you treat somepony who gave you a loving and unjudging home?!" Starlight angrily asked at the four that were standing in front of our group. They weren't exactly recognizable, but they definitely felt familiar.

"You always said we had to be equal." The pony with skis answered back. "But what I realized is that we had to be equal on your terms. Not something that everypony agreed on!"

"Yeah!" The pegasus added in. "We were always scared of thinking of something and being punished by you for it! If you ask me, that's not equal at all!"

Aggressively tightening and scrunching her eyes, Starlight proceeded to fire a spell towards these four ponies. However, Twilight immediately moved before them and protected them all with a strong steady magical barrier.

"Wh– I studied that spell for years!" Starlight argued to this surprise. "How can you—?"

"I studied magic for years too!" Twilight countered. "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 six! And I certainly wouldn't be here to stop you now!"

Starlight blocked out the lecture coming from Twilight's mouth and rolled her eyes. "Spare me your sentimental nonsense! I gave these ponies real friendships they never could've had otherwise!"

"How do you know that?!" The stallion with skis removed his helmet. "You never even gave us a chance!"

It seemed Starlight was at a loss of words, but that didn't cool down her attitude. Through an angry glare, she fired up a shield-looking aura around her, leading for the others to back away. The next thing we knew, she had disappeared, and sounds of hooves echoed from the caves we had originally kept her from going in.

"She's in the caves!" Rainbow Dash announced.

"We'll never find her in there!" The ski pony mentioned.

Twilight released a sigh, which revealed a breath of ice pushing out from her mouth. A part of that sigh sounded like disappointment rather than relief. "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."

"It's you who have taught us something." The stallion with poofy hair almost like Pinkie's approached Twilight. "We all came to this village because we were searching for something missing from our lives. We thought Starlight had given it to us, but now... now it seems it was in front of us all along. It's us!" He regrouped with the other three and they all shared a group hug.

"Does that mean you'll stay in the village?" Twilight asked.

"It's our home. I'm not going anywhere." The pegasus responded both firmly and proudly.

"This is a chance for all of us to get to know each other again for the very first time!" The snowy-colored pony shared between them.

"And I finally have a chance to bake something besides terrible muffins!" The pink unicorn exchanged gleefully.

No way! Was that Sugar Belle?!

Everypony laughed out loud, and I turned my head towards Spirit once I heard a soft voice.

"Chocolate please… With lots of sugar… Don't forget the sprinkles…"

"Spirit…you alright?" I gently asked.

"Mmmm." She rubbed her head against me, as if she was getting comfortable resting on my back.

Returning a light smile, I poked the tip of her nose with my hoof. Her eyes slowly opened, and she looked around. I was half-expecting her to freak out when she found out where she was, but she actually took it pretty calmly as if she had just woken up from a nice nap.

"Mmm. What happened?"

My smile stretched and I returned one last sigh of relief for her sake.

"Is she okay?" Twilight approached us.

"Did we get her?" Spirit asked, most likely referring to Starlight.

I chuckled and decided to answer Twilight. "She's just fine."

On the way back to the village, I explained everything that had happened to Spirit as briefly as I could. She seemed a little bummed out about it, and she wished she could have seen the look on Starlight's face when she was at a total lost. Nevertheless, I made sure to tell her what was really important. It was the fact that she was still here with us.

Her face grew a light but warm red, and she wrapped her forelegs around my neck as a sign of appreciation.

"Now those are real smiles." Pinkie Pie described as the villagers enjoyed the party they threw in celebration. It was like they all had overthrown a tyranny running the village. I suppose that was technically true.

Soon enough, a sound emerged from everypony but Spirit and me. They all looked towards their flanks to find their cutie marks glowing.

"I'll never get used to that…" Applejack admitted.

"I think it's divine." Rarity sweetly objected.

"Does that mean that the map is calling us somewhere else?" Fluttershy questioned Twilight.

"I have a feeling it means our work here is done." Twilight settled with.

"Looks like you were right, Twilight. The map did have a reason for sendin' us here." Applejack brought up, appearing to understand why they were sent here in the first place. "We brought real friendship to these here ponies. Guess that's why you're the Princess of Friendship." She ended with a wink.

"But the map didn't send me. It sent us." Twilight humbly included. "You're a part of me, all of you. And there's no doubt you're a part of my mission to spread friendship too."

The rest of them squealed and giggled as she shared a group hug.

"But we still don't know why we didn't see Alex's cutie mark on the map." Applejack pointed out after their embrace.

I shrugged carelessly. I was just too happy about Spirit's wellbeing and our success. "It all seemed to end up for the best of everyone, and I think that's what really matters."

"I guess you're right." Twilight agreed. "I just wonder what would have happened if only the six of us came here." Twilight tapped her chin in thought.

"I have a feelin' we would have been cutie mark-less." Applejack sent a pair of teasing eyes over to Spirit, which caused her to blush in embarrassment even more.

"We don't have to go home right away, do we?" Pinkie Pie asked. "That Sugar Belle can bake!"

"I don't see any harm in staying for a little while longer." Twilight mentioned, turning her head to me. "What do you say?"

"I could go for some nice sugary sweets right now…" Spirit shared almost dreamily.

Reacting with a short heartfelt laugh, I nodded my head. "Yeah, let's go."

"Whoo-hoo!" Pinkie Pie cheered as she charged into the nearest table with sweets.

"You don't mind if you get some and put them in my mouth, do you, Alex?" Spirit asked as she continued to rest on top of my back. "I'm feeling really comfy, right now."

"Haha, of course, Spirit." At this point, I'd do anything for her. "Anything you want."

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