My Little Mages: The New World Map

by Foxhelm

First published

After returning from another venture and setting into the new castle, Twilight and friends learn of the next step in the Princess of Friendship quests. Where will this new map lead? A My Little Mages retelling of The Cutie Map

Nightmare Moon; reformed into Luna
Discord; Work in Progress
Chrysalis; Haven't heard from in a while
Sombra; Stopped and body destroyed
Sunset; Turned over a new leaf
Tirek; Banished to Tartarus
The Sirens; Transformed and missing

Twilight and her friends have returned to the recently constructed Castle of Friendship, and Twilight's new home, with an ever-increasing list of accomplishments. But as they finally get to look the place over as they should, they summon a map of the world and it calls them to a spot in the middle of no-where.

What will they face there?
A harmless road trip?
Another world-threating force?
Only traveling there can tell.

A My Little Mages AU retelling of The Cutie Map

Off The Beaten Trail

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Prologue: Summoning the Map

Six young women between the ages of 20 and 22 entered into a room with seven thrones, one much smaller and on the right-hand side of the throne with a rendering of a purple six-pointed star that seemed to rest on an inverted white four-pointed star surrounded by five smaller white stars. The other five thrones had renderings of either a cluster of three stylized apples, three sapphires cut into kites, three pink winged butterflies, a stylized lightning bolt that looked like a rainbow of red, yellow and blue coming from a stylized cloud and/or three balloons, one yellow and two blue.

The first of the six to enter had dark sapphire hair with two streaks, one was rose and the other was violet, with violet eyes, and metallic wings purple and gold in color which seemed to float behind her and yet also come from her back with two amethyst six-pointed stars functioning for the wings like her arm's shoulder balls. She wore a headband with a horn-like amethyst focusing gem on her forehead, with a dull blue robe with large golden cuffs, pink pants and brown boots that went up above her ankle. Around her neck was a triangle-like amulet that was colored like a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple. This was Princess Twilight Sparkle.

The next to enter, flying towards the throne with the rendering of the rainbow lightning bolt, had hair that was like a rainbow in color and that was done in a high ponytail with a hairpin that looked like a stylized cloud and a tri-colored rainbow of red, yellow and blue, with cerise eyes. She wore black sock-like boats that went above her knees, with a dull purple skirt and light a dull blue shirt with white and gold wing styled sleeves. On her waist was a quiver and a bow and from her ankles came ethereal wing. Also on her shirt was a pin of a stylized lightning bolt with wings, the wings were gold in color while the lightning bolt had the coloration of a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple. This was her youngest closest friend, Rainbow Dash.

The next woman had had long deep-magenta hair with a small tiara on her head with three sapphires cut as kites, this was Rarity, she had azure eyes, and she wore a long alabaster gown with some pinkish-purple with a long shawl that was composed of two rainbows in color, a traditional rainbow going the length of the shawl save for the width of one of the shorter edges which running perpendicular to the rest of the shawl was a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple, going around her back and hanging from her elbows.

Next was a blonde woman with green eyes, named Applejack. Her hair was done in a low ponytail and was dressed in brown pants, brown boots, a red leather jacket with some pieces of armor most notably pauldrons with stylized apples, brown gloves, a scabbard with a longsword in it. Around her neck was a black cord that had a coin with a rendering of apples on both sides but looked like a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple.

After her, was a woman shorter than all the others with bouncing cotton pink hair, blue eyes, this was Pinkie Pie, she wore a bear legged leotard with blue cruelly toed shoes a pink jester coat and a dark pink jester’s hat with three balloons, one was yellow and two were blue and on her jacket’s waist was a rubber chicken called ‘Boneless’, unlike other rubber chickens his right leg wasn’t the regular orange but a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple.

The last woman in the room, and the oldest of the six, also had pink hair and teal colored eyes, but her hair was lighter shade of pink and her eyes were teal, she was Fluttershy she was dressed in a green, yellow and light blue dress with a stylized pink butterfly as a brooch for her hood, and above her left ear was a blue flower but one of its pedals was a rainbow of orange, yellow, cyan, alabaster, pink and purple. Rarity was the first to speak, “It’s nice to be back, granted this place still takes some getting used to,” Rarity said as she took her seat, the depiction of her Aura Mark starting to glow. “But it was nice to see the Shadowbolts again, even though we had another set of power-hunger world conquerors to deal with, and without either the Elements of Magic or The Rainbow of Light to help us. I almost got split ends with all the drama.” She was looking at her hair.

“Yeah, but who would have thought Fluttershy’s song was the perfect counterspell. That was awesome, Flutters!” Rainbow cheered her friend as she took her throne, causing its insignia to glow as well.

“Sunset did, Sugarcube.” Applejack countered as she too took her throne and the rendering of her Aura Mark also glowed, “but all in all it was a nice vacation. Even got the portal to Midnight Castle moved to this castle and Twilight here has a new pen pal.”

“Well, it’s a good thing that Sunset was pardoned and her sentence commuted allowing her to stay there and yet come here too.” Pinkie Pie added her two cents as she sat down, the depiction of her mark glowing, “but honestly I don’t think the best band actually won, the Dazzlings were technically a trio of singers and we didn’t have half our band in our performances for most of the contest.”

“It really doesn’t matter, it was nice to see how much Sunset had changed, looks all she needed was a real chance.” Fluttershy pointed out as she took her seat and her Aura Mark’s rendering glowed.

Twilight then went to her throne, “Hey everyone, do you all see that your thrones rendering of your aura marks are glowing?” still have not taken her seat.

“That’s bizarre. I wonder why. Perhaps if you take your seat we might figure out why.” Rarity offered.

“Yeah, maybe will learn this faster than what happened behind-stage with the Survivor of the Universe?” Rainbow joked. No one found it funny as they all gave her bemused express.

Twilight groaned, “What happened or didn’t happen is none of your business. But why would our thrones be glowing?” Twilight cautiously took her seat and the rendering of her Aura Mark glowed. At that moment a rainbow much like the Elements’ of Harmony merged with a rainbow like the Rainbow of Light left from each of the Aura Marks and traveled down the thrones to the floor that they encircled and from the floor a circular table that occupied most of the empty floor space the thrones encircled. The tap was crystalline and the crystal looked like a cross between the Tree of Harmony and the chest that housed the Rainbow of Light. Once it stopped raising from the floor it flicked the rainbow of the Elements of Harmony and the Rainbow of Light and a map of the part of the planet where the nation of Mystica is located. Over the location of Magiville were images of Twilight’s et al Aura Marks floating over the town. The images then floated over to an area on the map that was in a desert were the Mystican train system tracks didn’t reach fully.

After the map finished its arrival a purple-scaled bipedal reptile with green spines along his back, about the size of a twelve-thirteen-year-old boy came in and headed to the smaller throne with a stack of letters and newspapers. This was Twilight’s familiar, Spike the dragon, “Sorry I am late, just got the…” as he noticed the map before he took his seat, “That’s new! I like it!”

Chapter 1: Off The Beaten Trail

Spike climbed onto the table, much to Twilight’s disdain and walked on it as looked over the map the table rendered. “This is incredible! It's got all of Mystica! And Gryphonstone, The Crystal Mountains, Yakyakistan, Nyika, Magetonia and so many other places!” The dragon continued his survey.

Pinkie Pie spotted her family’s rock farm, “Hi, Mom and Dad!” she shouted as if she was some sort of giant looking down on them and trying to call to them just before Spike stepped on the projection which gave the sound of him stomping on the farmhouse followed by Spike giving a shriek like roar that lasted about twelve seconds and resonated in the room. The stomping on the rock farm caused Pinkie to whimper and cry for a second before she and the other jumped back as Spike roared, even Rainbow hid behind her throne, shaking in fear. Once the dragon’s roar was done Pinkie started giggling, “Good one, Spike,” she appalled the young dragon.

“Thank you,” Spike bowed to the pink jester a smug grin on his face, “I’ve been working on my various roars, and that’s me right now, can you image what it sound like when I am fully grown,” turning to see Twilight with a look that said, ‘there’s more to it and if you don’t tell them I will’ but it wasn’t in a threatening or ‘I’m better than you’ way, more of a ‘you kept me up doing it and I am really tired’. Spike gave a nervous chuckle before he continued, “and I have been seeing some of those monster movies from the same nation Fluttershy gets those graphic novels from. And honestly, the subtitled versions are better than the dubbed.”

As everyone else was still recovering from Spike’s roar Fluttershy took another look at the map noting the locations of both Magiville and where their aura marks were hovering, “But if this is Magiville, why are our aura marks over there?”

Twilight looked at the map as well, trying to solve the riddle she perceived, “I don't know. But it seems like the map wants us to find out. Think about it, we are connected to the Elements of Harmony and thus The Tree of Harmony, the chest that came from the Tree housed the Rainbow of Light, which we are also connected to, both the Rainbow of Light and the Elements of Harmony were involved in having this map appear. They are clearly connected to it and thus we are now connected to the map. How can we not follow it?”

“That’s a mighty big leap in logic, Sugarcube. How do wah know this ain’t Discord messing around with us.”

“Discord or not, there's a ton of room for adventure along that route.” Rainbow Dash pointed out as she called attention to the actual route they would be traveling, “Count me in!”

Applejack shook her head, “Someone has tah Rainbow from makin’ a fool out of herself, Ah reckon Ah’m in.”

“Well, I was planning on organizing my baking sheets so that I can make my grandma’s fifteen layer cake, but okay!” Everyone turned to see Pinkie wearing a baker’s apron and a chief’s hat which weren’t there previously only to take them off stuff them into her pockets as she pulled out a piece of paper and marker and drew a map of the area from the end of the line to where there Aura Marks hovered.

Rarity sighed as she got up, “Well alright, let’s get this over with. I am definitely hitting the spa when we get back.” Every one of the ladies started out save one. Noticing the absence of the last one they all turned back to see Fluttershy still at the table.

“Um, maybe one of us should stay here,” the timid druid offered only to get a series of groans from the others, “Well I might have a nice time with Spike.”

“Awesome!” Spike cheered at that, “Thunderlane, Rumble, Pipsqueak, Time Turner, Big Mac, a few of the other guys in town and me have a huge weekend ahead of us, we’ll be talkin' football, both forms, rugby, baseball, cricket, mixed martial arts, boxing, judo, karate, kendo, fencing, volleyball, just to list a few of the sports. We’ll also be trading cards and be discussing stats. You’ll really get a kick out how much Big Mac dominates the discussion and how he predicts every result, I mean he is on the ball with everything, from the number yards the first kick-off will cover before being caught, to where which outfielder will catch the failed grand slam, …” Spike continued to list things off of what he and the guys were going to do. Fluttershy, feeling like this was too much for her too soon, sneaked away leaving the door open.

As Fluttershy meet up with the others, “On second thought, maybe I'd better go with you,”.

“Looks like it's time for a road trip!” Twilight declared earning a cheer from most of her friends.

“Hopefully it’s not that trip to Goldie Delicious to see if the Pies and the Apples are related.” Pinkie commented.

“Well if ya ever want tah put the debate tah bed once and for all yah or one of your sisters could marry Big Mac even it goes against that Choosing Stone thing.” Applejack commented.

This earned a groan from Twilight, “No, I am not dealing with a Cripps Pink again I forbid it!”

“Yah do know that culvert of apples is also known as ‘Pink Lady’, Sugarcube? And also it ain't yahr call.” There were a few laughs as the headed to train station.

About the same time the following day, “End of the Line! End of the line.” The conductor said as he walked into the car the six were occupying as the train started to decelerate and come to a stop.

“But we aren’t at our destination!” Twilight pointed out as she looked out the window to see the actual train stop, knowing there was still a ways to their goal.

“Sorry your highness, but the tracks turn here. They don’t go any farther this way because there are smoother and safer ways to get to the other side by rail. If you wanted to get where ever you're going you either should have chartered a skyboat or go on foot unless you have a land boat, not that the terrain is conducive. But feel free to take it up with Princess Celestia, Princess Twilight.” Twilight pouted as she and the rest exited the train. “Make sure to read the schedule. And I hope you all had a pleasant ride. Hope to see you soon.”

“Hey whatever happened to your spellbook, the one that had your skyboat in it?” Rainbow asked.

“The book survived the explosion of the Golden Oak...barely, but the page with the image of my skyboat was one of the pages lost,” Twilight answered dipping her head at the memory of seeing the remains of the Golden Oak after Tirek blasted it.

“Well, let’s get moving.” Pinkie said as she pulled out a map she drew from the train station to the location they were heading and they all started to walk, well hover in the case of Rainbow Dash.

After an hour they arrived at a ledge and down in the gorge there was a town of a handful of two-story houses arranged as an equal sign with one house at the right end of the ‘equal sign’. Upon seeing this, “Tha must be it! That must be the place on the map!

Rarity took a seat on one the boulders closest to her and took off her flat shoes and examined her feet, “Oh thank Celestia!” After she massaged them and put her shoes back on, “Right, now let's go there and find the local spa. My feet are screaming murder.” Rarity then started to what looked like a wind and water erosion made a natural staircase that would take them all down.

Twilight took hold of Rarity’s upper left arm, stopping her, “Wait. We still have no idea why the map wanted us to come, nor do we know what dangers we might face.” She turned to the rest of her friends, “I wouldn’t be wise if we just walk right in.”

Pinkie was in a desert themed camouflage suit, “Stay behind me, everybody! I'm on it!” she then started towards the edge and down the path.

Concern for her friend, “Careful, Pink…” Applejack stopped as she saw Pinkie Pie was safe and sound at the bottom of the stairs and starting to scout the path ahead like a comical rendering of action movie scout, “Oh why do Ah bother?” Applejack then started down with the rest following her.

After reaching the bottom and just about to enter the small village, “This is where we were told to go?” Rainbow asked unamused by how the place looked. The houses looked to be in a style a hundred years older than many of the houses in Magiville, everyone was dressed in very much like the Pie family still on their rock farm, the woman all wore long shirts that went down to cover their ankles, with two equal signs with leather shoes with small heels and long sleeve simple shirts, sometimes with a vest, each one had slightly different coloration, but it was dull. The men were all dressed in black pants similar to the pants Pinkie’s father wears with shirts much like the shirts he would wear but of various colors with equal marks rendered on the upper arms and without the overshirts he wears. In addition to that, all the Magicborn had a band on their heads with a black bar that would be the normal focus gem, the Skyborn all flew low to the ground with their ethereal wings looking like black bars. “This must be the most boring place ever.”

Applejack also looked around, nothing seemed too out of place. To her, it seemed like an ordinary village full of ordinary folk. However, she elected to not comment and shrug her shoulders. An action the was repeated by Twilight.

However, Rainbow was not the only one to voice her opinion as they looked at the town, still walking into it, Rarity’s ever-fashionable eyes were bombarded with the dull and lifeless desert brown of the building’s exteriors and the plain monochromatic brown robes every one wore, “It could use a few more architectural flourishes.” Rarity then took noticed that all the men and women had basically the same hairstyles, styles that were on their way out when Granny Smith was a young girl, which caused her to visibly shake in disgust.

Fluttershy, however, couldn’t help but smile, here there didn’t seem to be any judgment in what people wore and did and they all seemed happy. “Well, I for one think it's lovely.”

This sentiment was not shared by others. “Well, I don’t like it in the slightest,” Pinkie herself, misses Smile, smile, smile, was frowning as she looked that big toothy grins of the town folks. These smiles seemed inorganic, “Look at those smile I know smiles. I have a song about why I go out of my way to help everyone put a smile on. Hm Put a smile on, put a smile on, everyone come on, put a smile on~.” Everyone gave Pinkie a slight scowl, “Sorry, but look at those smiles? They're just not right.” It was then to Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash saw how creepy everyone looked with their smiles. Something that seemed lost on Fluttershy.

“Forget the smiles for a minute, Pinkie,” Twilight, too was unnerved by the smiles, but what got her focus was that on everyone's clothes were equal signs in lieu of the various unique designs and marks that would located in various places on one’s clothes instead along the bottom of the women’s dresses and on the upper arms of the shirts for the men. “Everyone look at the aura marks. They are all the same and located in the same areas of their clothes! An entire town with the EXACT same aura mark? How? How is it remotely possible? How can it be? It doesn’t make any sense, no two people are exactly alike.” Twilight then started to hyperventilate as if she was in the middle of a panic attack.

Rainbow flew up grabbed some clouds flew back down to the ground and convinced them into a ball of water and let it dump on Twilight, “Okay, we get it. That's weird. Now calm down. Or we won’t beat what monster is behind this.” Before anyone, especially Twilight could ask what led Rainbow to that conclusion, “Nightmare Moon, Discord, Chrysalis, Nightmare Rarity, Sombra, Sunset Shimmer or rather Demon Shimmer, Tirek, and the Dazzlings. Fighting these kinds of things is what we do, it’s called pattern recognition.” Everyone in her grouped smiled at this show of Rainbow’s often hidden mind. “Also it would be so super-awesome to fight another horrific monster.” And the moment was gone earning a groan from Applejack and Twilight. Fluttershy just shook her head with a sad smile, Rarity rolled her eyes and Pinkie… well, she was still very comfortable with the smiles the people gave and didn’t seem to care.

Applejack was the first to speak up before Rainbow could complain to the reactions of her last statement, “Well, Ah reckon wah just have tah talk tah the locals and find out what the hay is goin' on here.” Applejack then continued farther into the town. Rainbow gave ‘yes’ as she jumped into the air. Rarity, Twilight, and Fluttershy were much more restraint. All the while Pinkie Pie continued to be suspicious of the smiles, giving a very comical looking scowl. As the six continued to walk further into town they were greeted by multiple residents of the village of both sexes and various ages with the unnerving smiles and the same uncanny expressions all saying, “Welcome!”

Everyone was starting to feel uneasy about the whole place, save Fluttershy, “This is the most pleasant place in Mystica!” The druid could not help but laugh and feel welcomed by the people in the town.

In her happy state, she bumped into another female Skyborn. She had white and bluish-gray hair done into two ponies tails, with cerulean eyes, she didn’t have a vest but a grayish azure dress and shirt, after the two recovered, “Welcome to our town, I am Night Glider.” This greeting gave Fluttershy to giggle a little over being greeted so warmly.

“Yeah.. um, please to meet you Night Glider,” Rainbow Dash said as more or less pulled Fluttershy away from Night Glider as the group continued along the one street in the town, “Thanks a lot, map.”

As they continued the group almost bumped into two men, one was a Magicborn with cobalt blue eyes and grayish azure hair with a streak of duller shade and with his black pants he wore a dull cyan-like gray shirt. The other man was an Earthborn with similar eyes but his hair was very much like snow and his shirt was white. “Welcome!” the Magicborn said before he looked at Twilight, as he noticed her metallic wings, “Pardon my forwardness, but are you a Demigod?”

“Eeyup. This here be Twilight Sparkle, Mystica’s Princess of Friendship!” Applejack answered on behalf of Twilight.

Upon hearing the title Twilight actually held, “Well, you've certainly come to the right place for friendship.”

The Earthborn then spoke up asking the group, “So what brings you all to our little town?”

Twilight was the one that actually answered the question, “Honestly, we don’t know why.”

Both men nodded and the Earthborn continued on, “Well all the same, welcome to our town. I am Double Diamond,” the recently self-identified Double Diamond pointed to himself and then pointing to the Magicborn with him, “And this is Party Favor.”

Applejack the reached her right hand to Double Diamond and was accepted, “Well howdy, Double Diamond,” after they shook she then turned to Party Favor and offered her hand which Party Favor accepted and they shook hands, “Party Favor, pleasure tah meet yah both. Ah'm Applejack,” after ending the shake she gestured to each of her friends in order of her introductions, “This here's Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and the already introduced Twilight Sparkle.”

Double Diamond and Party Favor then looked over each of the six seeing each of the different aura marks, Applejack’s three stylized apples on her two pauldrons, Fluttershy’s stylized butterfly brooch, Rarity’s three sapphires cut into kites on her tiara, Rainbow Dash’s hairpin and the three balloon’s on Pinkie Pie’s hat, “And you all have your own unique aura marks.” The two men were slightly taken aback at this site.

Twilight and her friends, sans Fluttershy, were fairly taken aback as well. However, she didn’t forget that they were here on a mission, “This might come off a little, well odd, but if you don't mind, has there been any sort of... trouble here, lately?”

“Trouble?” Double Diamond asked seemingly to be legitimately confused by that question, “Why, I don't think we've ever had trouble in our little village.” Party Favor silently nodded in agreement with Double Diamond. Double Diamond then looked to the house at the end of the one street in the town, “Perhaps you if speak with the founder of our village and our philosophy, Starlight Glimmer.”

As Double Diamond started towards the house and the six followed, “Well aren’t these the friendly people in all of Mystica.” Fluttershy mused a distinctive grin on her face. Pinkie Pie, in contrast, kept looking at everyone still very much not liking anything.

In a hushed tone, Rarity turned to Applejack, “Starlight Glimmer? Seriously another person with a name like our Twilight.”

“Yah’re questioning our nation’s namin’ scheme now.” Applejack pointed out.

After a few minutes, they all arrived at the house and Double Diamond knocked on the front door and called to the person who lived there in “Starlight,” Double Diamond then opened the front door of the house and stepped in escorting Twilight et al, “we have some new visitors.”

Rainbow Dash turned to Applejack as she drew her bow, “Be ready to fight. We don't know what's gonna come through that door.” Applejack nodded as she drew her sword getting in front of everyone else.

Just then the door opened and a woman about their age stepped out from another room in the house. She had purple hair was done in a slight ponytail with streaks of light purple and pale grayish aquamarine, her eyes were Persian blue. She was dressed liked the other women in town but her long sleeve shirt was a light gray, her vest was pink and her skirt was purple. This was most likely the aforementioned Starlight Glimmer, “Welcome to my little home, I am Starlight Glimmer. I'm so pleased to have you here.” She greeted them with a smile, one that seemed more organic than the smiles of the rest of the town. This caused Rainbow to groan as she put her bow back into her quiver while Applejack sheathed her sword.

She turned to Double Diamond and before she could ask who the six were, the Earthborn man gestured to Applejack and then the rest as he introduced them, “This is Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle.”

Starlight silently acknowledged the paladin, druid, trickster, enchantress, and elementalist. As she turned her attention to Twilight, the demigod’s wings were unmistakable. Looking the princess over, “Forgive my bluntness, but unless I'm mistaken, you are Princess Twilight Sparkle?” she asked. “We don't get many demigods around here.”

“No, she’s Princess Celestia, how did you miss the floating hair and the whole sun motif.”Rainbow Dash retorted borderline sardonic in her tone.

Twilight rolled her eyes before answering Starlight, “You can just call me “Twilight” but yes I am Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“Well Princess Twilight, may I ask how did you hear of our little village here?” Starlight seemed to just ignore the comments from Rainbow Dash and turned back to Twilight, as she pondered how did the six find this place.

“Let's just say we found it on a one of a kind map.” Twilight elected to share as little information as possible, something Celestia, Luna, and Cadance advised when interacting with figureheads she might come across for the first time.

“Well, all the same, we're happy to have anybody who wants to experience true friendship for the first time.” Starlight said as she started towards the door. However she could see the raised eyebrows and questioning looks from five of the six, namely Twilight. “You see that is what our village unique. We don’t flaunt our ‘special talents',” As she said special talents Starlight used her right and left index and middle fingers to make quotes. She continued her speech, “because we have no ‘special talents’,” again she made the same gesture as she said ‘special talents’, “to flaunt.”

One of the many things that Twilight studied was aura marks and how their unique forms signify various things about a person, their talents, their identities, their destinies and any combination of the three and other such concepts, in short, they signified the uniqueness of the person. Recalling this and that each person in this town had the same, “Is that why you all have those aura marks?”

“Perhaps it would be easier to understand if I gave you a tour of the village!” Starlight then opened the door and from what seemed to be out of nowhere a marching drum set was heard. Twilight et al looked to Pinkie Pie and she shrugged her shoulders just as confused as the others. Starlight then projected her voice much like she was calling the rest of the town, “Heads high, people! Marching proud!" At this, the sound of a whistle-blow was heard. “All together now! Every one of you! No one left behind!” The rest of the town came out and headed towards Starlight’s house everyone seeming to march with the beat as Starlight began to sing, “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.”

The rest of the town took over marching as they sang circling the six. “In Our Town, in Our Town
We don't have to wait
To find out that our destiny
Is just to emulate”

“Let's see those big, happy smiles!” Starlight broke in a more spoken lyrics before going back to the song.“Life is a smile in Our Town
Our aura mark's the same
Because we do not separate
Ourselves by more than name.”

The rest of the citizens took over, “In Our Town, in Our Town
We dare not compete
Winning only breeds the worst
Ego-filled conceit.”

“You see? Now everybody wins!” Starlight took over again more like spoken words before going back to singing like the rest.“Life is a joy in Our Town
We're all equal here
No one is superior
And no one shakes in fear”

“In Our Town, in Our Town
We work as a team
You can't have a nightmare
If you never dream” The citizens sang.

Starlight again took over for the singing having stopped her own march while the rest of the town encircled the seven, “Other people argue
Do you ever wonder why?
When you think your talent's special
You don't see eye-to-eye
There's just too many differences
That lead to disarray
But when you learn to act as one
It's like a holiday.”

The citizens took over the song bring it to a close, ”In Our Town, in Our Town
We don't complicate
When you learn to simplify
Life is oh, so great
Join in our utopia
Come out of the dark
Banded by equality
By our aura mark!”

After the song ended, Rainbow Dash started to laugh, “You're kidding, right? Give up our aura marks? No way!” The elementalist protested.

“Rainbow Dash, don't be so rude” the druid tried to scold the elementalist, but the elementalist didn’t care. “I don't think we should judge them. They all seem perfectly happy with their choice.”

“Don't believe their smiles, Fluttershy.” Pinkie Pie said far from believing the smiles of the villagers.

“I'm sorry,” Twilight said seeming to get in front of both an argument between her friends and a possible breakdown in communications between the six and the locals, “We're just confused by all of this.”

“There is no judgment here in our village. You see each of us was confused once as well,” Starlight began to explain what was the philosophy of the town, “We were blinded by the false promise of our aura marks. That they would guide us throughout our lives only.”

None of the six really seemed to buy what was being pitched by Starlight. Rainbow, Applejack, Rarity were skeptical about this, Fluttershy seemed to be at a loss about it but it was more of ‘let me think about it’, while Pinkie was… comically still turned off by the nature of the smiles of the villagers. Twilight, however, was confused. As the villagers went back to their regular day, Twilight turned to Starlight, “You see when we left to come here, we assumed the reason was to help you.”

Starlight looked over Twilight’s statement and after a second of thought had a counterpoint, “Have you considered perhaps that you might have been sent here so we could help you?” This caught Twilight and the others off guard. It was a possibility they didn’t seem to consider. Seeing this Starlight pressed the matter, “After all, nobody has ever come to our village and wanted to leave. Why would you be any different?” Starlight stopped there, she needed them to want to stay and she knew better than to come on strong, “But that is entirely your choice. Please enjoy our little corner of Mystica. We're all quite fond of it. No doubt you will be as well.” She turned to Double Diamond and looked to him like a general would his lieutenant, “Double Diamond, please help our guests with whatever they might need.” Double Diamond nodded and headed to escort and see to the needs of the six visitors and escorted them back into the main part of town. Starlight turned back and began walking back to her house. Speaking to herself, “Well, this certainly will provide a boost to not only our little community but to message we seek to convey. Soon the rest of Mystica will hear of Princess Twilight Sparkle giving up her aura mark to join us and when that happens they will see, know and understand what I’m trying to achieve… equality.”

The Un-Marking

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Twilight and her friends continued to walk amongst the town in a way that would be aimless if it weren’t a one-street town. As they waved to the locals then came across, “An aura mark is a representation of a person's unique talents, skills, their identity, their destiny and so much more.” Twilight muttered more to herself than address the others, “How is it possible to—”.

There was dramatic gasp that cut Twilight short, a gasp as only Rarity could, as they came to one house, which seemed to function as the village’s tailor, “What in the name of Mystica is that?!” she pointed to looked like potato sack like cloth shaped to look like some sort of cloak in the loosest definitions of the term.

“Welcome!” The shopper keeper exclaimed upon seeing them as he stepped out. “Care to sample some local fashion? We've got cloaks this month!” He was trying to market his wares.

Rarity blinked three times before she fainted in the dramatical way only she can. Pinkie reached into her pockets and pulled out her special blend of smelling salts, “How long has it been since I used these? Well, let’s see if they…”

“Oh good heavens, no!” Rarity exclaimed as she came to and crawled back from Pinkie before getting back on her feet. “Um… perhaps another time.” She then started to push the others away, a feat that caught four of the five by surprised, Applejack, however, gave a bemused expression more or less indicating. ‘Oh, now that fashion is involved you have upper body strength.’ As they left, “Thank you, good sir.” After getting to the next building and as the shopkeeper walked back into his store, Rarity stopped and had the five others huddle with her, “No wonder everyone wearing the exact same thing.” She spoke in whispers. Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie seemed to agree in silence.

“Really, girls!” Fluttershy scolded her friends in a hushed tone as she broke the huddle to have them look at the town. “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 Dash pointed out as the townspeople looked at the six giving them the smiles that even she, Applejack, Rarity, Twilight had to agree with Pinkie about how creepy and unnerving they were. How Fluttershy couldn’t see it was lost on everyone else in the group.

“Need something?” Came Double Diamond’s voice from behind the six. The Six turned and were unsure what to say or do to confront the Earthborn.

“Maybe you could point to where we can get a meal? We haven’t eaten for the better part of the day.” Twilight asked knowing that them having a space to sit down and talk would be much less suspicious than standing out in the open. Double Diamond then pointed to a small little cafe and opened his mouth to speak only for Twilight “We're good now, thank you!” The six then went to the cafe and took two of the open tables, putting them together to form a larger table. Double Diamond went across the street into the building there, the local printing press. After seeing him enter the building as they all sat down Twilight started the conversation anew, “Fluttershy's right. If we're going to get to the bottom of this and figure out why the map directed us here, we'll need the help of these people.”

“Well Sugarcube, Ah think wah ran off to the end of Mystica before wah even knew what that map was.” Applejack pointed out as she took off her hat and fanned herself with it before placing it on the table.

“If we were at the end of Mystica, we'd be sitting on a big 'A'!” Pinkie joked, making a play on the expression getting a chuckle from both Applejack and Rainbow as she herself giggled at it. Turning the Rarity and Fluttershy, both of whom weren’t assumed, Fluttershy was shaking her head while Rarity rolled her eyes. “What, you don’t get it?” Pinkie asked legitimately unsure if Rarity got the joke.

“Oh, please, Pinkie! This is hardly the time for jokes!” Rarity did, in fact, get the joke, but she failed to see how the joke was funny namely given the timing, “We've come all this way and for what?”

Twilight shushed the group as she spoke in a hushed tone, “Maybe you're right, Rarity. But we're here now, and it sure feels like something's wrong.”

Applejack could not help but give a bemused expression, “That and two bits'll get you a mug of cider.”

“Is this a bad time?” The six turned to see the source of the voice. She woman around their age. She wore a baker’s apron over her light gray-like pink dress, with equal signs near the bottom of her dress. Her hair was dark grayish purple and her eyes were cerise. On her forehead was another one of those black stone focus gems the other Magicborns in town were also wearing.

“I am sorry, could you hold on a second,” Fluttershy said to their server before she turned back to her friends, “We shouldn't be bickering like this in front of our new friends. Really, Applejack, you're almost as bad as Rainbow Dash!”

“Hey! 1) We only know like four of their names and that Starlight is the village head, they aren’t our friends yet and 2) Don't drag me into this!” The elementalist countered slamming her hands on the table she was at.

“Is your friendship ending?” the server asked seeming to be scared about what she saw in front of her.

“Are you crazy?!” Pinkie said having seemed to manifest right behind the poor girl spooking her with the focus and emphasis that Pinkie put on the word ‘crazy’. Seeming to teleport right back to her seat dressed with a large lobster bib with her mark on it a large fork and knife in her hands, “We'd never let a disagreement get in the way of food!” Similar bibs each with the other five’s respective aura marks, for lack of a better term, seemed to materialize on them with forks and knives too, well except Fluttershy, she had one spoon in her right hand.

For reasons she didn’t understand, the server elected to not question what she just saw, giving only an “O-kay, “ before she put her pencil to the notepad she had. “Well, my name is Sugar Belle. What can I bring you?”

“What do yah’ve, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked the recently self-identified Sugar Belle as she and all but Pinkie placed their utensils down on the table and took off their bibs.

“My name is …” Sugar Belle started, slightly confused about why the paladin didn’t get her name right.

“She calls everyone ‘sugarcube’, Sugar Belle, darling.” Rarity explained, “So what do you serve?”

“We have muffins…” Sugar Belle informed followed by a couple seconds of silence.

Once it was clear that muffins were the only thing on the menu to eat, “Then we'll take six muffins!” Twilight placed the order. Sugar Belle began writing it down.

“Make that twelve!” Everyone turned to Pinkie, “What? I'm hungry!”

Before anyone of the other four could groan as Sugar Belle started to go fill their order, “Come on, girls,” Twilight said to her comrades, “We've got to stick together. It doesn't matter what happened before, we're here now. Also, it’s an hour back to the station and the next train won’t stop there for three days.”

Applejack picked her hat back up and put it on her head, “Yah're right, the sooner wah figure out what wah’re tah dah here, the sooner wah can go home, assuming it takes more than a day.”

As the other four gave various statements and expression of agreement, Sugar Belle, turned to the six, utterly befuddled at the change among them, “Forgive me for overhearing,” she said as she walked to them, their order having been placed but not ready. “But just a moment ago you were disagreeing, and now it sounds like you're... agreeing.”

Applejack gave a soft chuckle, more so out of pity for the poor thing, “To quote mah big brother, ‘Eeyup’. Granted he ain’t much of a talker as his other go-to response is ‘Nope’. But if yah were tah ever met him, don’t let his size frighten yah, he’s as gentle as they come.” After looking her over, “Ah think he’d like yah, maybe if yah put a little bounce into yahr hair.”

Sugar Belle began to blush a little, after a cough to collect herself, “Well, it's just that you had expressed such differing opinions – and you have such different aura marks.”

Rarity gave a “Pshah,” as she seemed to brush the matter away, “We have differing opinions all the time, darling. I for one, as you can tell,” Rarity stood up and did a fashion walkway twirl of her alabaster gown, “am a woman of form and fashion, while Applejack prefers a more overall functional approach to her choice of clothes. Rainbow has more of a specific functional approach, predominately her aerodynamics. Fluttershy has a more one-with-nature approach, or lack thereof at times. Twilight is still trying to find just works for her given her new status in life and the small town librarian look she had before and Pinkie … well… it’s best to not ask questions," Rarity then stared into the void right in front of her as recalled having made that error her eyes glazed over in horror, "many a night I could not sleep having made that very error." She then snapped out of it she turned to give Sugar Belle a smile as she took her seat, "And that’s on the topic of fashion.”

Sugar Belle was still having a hard time processing all this, “But you look like you are friends.”

“We are friends.” Twilight pointed out, “A simple disagreement wouldn't change that.”

Sugar Belle went to get the order for the six and place a dozen muffins, served on a large plate, on the table, “I'm sorry, I'm just having a hard time understanding. Different talents lead to different opinions, which lead to bitterness and misery. So... why aren't you bitter and...?” The young woman slowly seemed to get it, but was quite a ways from there. As soon as the muffins arrived Pinkie started to eat one of the muffins. One bite was enough for Pinkie to started dry heave, her face greener than a lime. After the last heave, Pinkie turned up and gave a thumbs up. Sugar Belle dipped her head sadden that her muffins brought that much disgust. “It's all right. I know I'm not a very good baker. At least, I know I'm not any better than anybody else in the village.” She looked out the window and saw Double Diamond walk by and looked in the cafe, “Well, I... hope you enjoy our little village!” Sugar Belle then went back to the kitchen, humming to herself. Pinkie tried the muffins again, only to go back to dry heaving. As Double Diamond turned from the window and started to walk away. Once he was out of sight, Sugar Belle doubled back and in a hushed tone, “Come to the back of the house before you go! Meet me downstairs!”

“Okay, that was weird too.” Rainbow commented looking at the other five clearly put off by what just happened.

Before anyone else said anything Double Diamond came in and took a seat at another table, and Sugar Belle then went to get him some muffins.Twilight nodded and the six leaned in, “Let's all sit here and eat these muffins and act normal. I think we're being watched.” As she said this, Applejack stole a glance to see Double Diamond was had the town’s paper, but she could tell that it was a rouse.

Applejack then leaned back in, “Ah have tah agree, Double Diamond seem tah spook Sugar Belle. It’s like whatever Sugar Belle has tah say is somethin’ shah knows somebody doesn’t want to be known by us.” Everyone gave a small nod. Applejack then turned to Pinkie, “Yah ain’t gonna like this, but Ah’ve an idea, actually eat as many of the muffins yah can Pinkie.”

“Why me?!” The jester almost whined, but still in a hushed tone.

Applejack gave her a bemused look before she spoke still in a hushed tone, “Yah the one that got us tah have a dozen of these when Twilight placed an order for just six.” Before Pinkie could protest, “Ah didn’t say yah be eating them alone. Grab a muffin each, girls.” Applejack picked up on and took a fair size bite out of it. After chewing it for a minute, “Yah know, after the first bit, they ain’t too bad.” Everyone followed suit, they could tell that the muffins weren’t the worst thing ever, but they would never give these to Brighteyes… especially if they wanted time-sensitive mail to arrive when it should. As they ate, Double Diamond had his order got up and left, walking away as if his suspicions were misplaced. After he exited, the group finished their muffins, Pinkie was the verge of vomiting again, in fact, everyone but Applejack was sick to her stomach. “Okay Pinkie had six more than any of the rest of us, Rarity’s eats only the finer thin’s, Twi grew up with that fancy Chantalot lack-of food, but Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash?”

“Dashie is an athlete and there are just somethings you just don’t eat,” Fluttershy explained while trying to keep the muffin she just ate down.

“How does it not bother you?” Rarity asked. Applejack just shrugged her shoulders.

“Well, we better meet with Sugar Belle, and hopefully not lose our meal,” Twilight said as they all got up and headed to the stairs. All but Applejack using the wall or railing as part of their support.

“I've accidentally eaten cardboard tastier than that…” Pinkie leaned on the railings and swallowed to keep down what would have come up. “These are worse than Applejack’s baked bads.”

“The one time Ah was Applebucking on my own,” Applejack countered.

Not wanting to dwell on the past and focus on the matters at hand, “Hello? Sugar Belle?” Twilight called out as she reached the bottom of the stairs followed by her friends.

That was when Sugar Belle greeted the six coming from the shadows in the basement, “Thank you for coming!” The baker hugged her guests and gave to five that appear to have stomach issues some ginger root. “It should help settle your stomachs.”

The five gave it a shot and while it didn’t get rid of the root cause, it did take the edge off, making the process bearable. For Twilight it actually worked instantly, most likely due to being a demigod. Once she recovered, “Why did you want us to come down here?”

Sugar Belle looked back into the dark area of her basement and nodded before she answered, “So nobody could see what's about to happen.” Just as she finished Night Glider and Party Favor emerged. However, neither gave the creepy almost unnatural looking smiles that rubbed Pinkie the wrong way since the six’s arrival. They looked nervous themselves, Rarity, Rainbow, and Applejack recognized the look, it was one their little sisters have given when they wanted to do something that might get them in trouble, like the whole gabby-gums incident with the school paper.

Party Favor was the first to speak, having swallowed to suppress his fear, “Are you really the Princess of Friendship, Twilight?” he asked. Twilight nodded after raising one of her eyebrow confused that they would still question her but elected to not press the matter.

Night Glider was next as she stepped closer and took Twilight’s hand’s “And you do know Princess Celestia?”

“And Luna and Mia Amore Cadenza, We are even slightly familiar with Prince Blueblood, a textbook example of a spoiled brat.” Rarity huffed the last part turning her nose up in disgust.

“Yah do know Discord did say his last words before charging at Tirek was 'For Rarity,'? Ah think yah left an impression.” Applejack elected to point out.

“And so has he. I wouldn’t forgive that lout of his behavior even if he helped me open a boutique in a hundred cities!”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash shared a half-open-eyed grin and fist bump, more or less saying to each other ‘so there is a threshold number.’ Applejack then turned to see Sugar Belle looking extremely close to the paladin’s pauldrons with a child-like awe smile on her face. While most would find this disconcerting, Applejack brushed it off, Sugar Belle clearly likes her apples. “I love your aura mark!” the baker exclaimed gitty as a school girl.

Night Glider turned to Pinkie and Rarity, noting the vast differences between the two and them and the other four, “How can you be friends with different aura marks? Don't you end up hating each other?”

Sugar Belle turned her attention to Fluttershy’s butterfly brooch, calling Party Favor's and Night Glider's attention to it, “Oh, look at this one! This one's great too!” She almost shouted getting a little too close for Fluttershy’s comfort, (not that such a feat was difficult to achieve). She then turned back to Party Favor and Night Glider, “I'd love to have my special talent back even just for a day!” She gave a Pinkie Pie certifiable smile before she looked down at the floor with a sad frown on her face. “Make something besides those disgusting muffins…”

“So what's stopping you?” Rainbow asked as she took to fly just above everyone else, after waiting for a few seconds and no response from the three, “So go get your aura marks back.”

“Daydreaming is one thing,” Party Favor admitted with a slight sigh before he connected the dotes, then a nervous look grew on his face, “but you mean actually having it put back on?” Rainbow nodded in response, “That seems extreme.”

“I'm not sure Starlight would like that.” Sugar Belle said as the three looked down at the floor forlorn about the prospects, “She wants us all to be happy in our sameness.”

“How do you take somebody's aura mark anyway?” Twilight asked the question that was on

Night Glider held her left hand aloft and waved it as she looked the ceiling, “The aura unmarking is a beautiful experience! Starlight uses the Staff of Sameness to magically take them away and replace them with these.” She then pointed to the equal signs on her and Sugar Belle’s dresses and Party Favor’s shirt.

Twilight was the most taken aback at this, “But nobody should keep you from your aura mark. It represents at least one of so many such essential parts of who you are.”

“Oh, we're not kept from them.” Night Glider said shaking her head with her eyes closed and a smile as if there was in fact nothing wrong. Like everything was par for the course. “They're in the vault up in the caves. We can visit them anytime we like to remind us of the heartache of a life with special talents.”

In that instant Twilight had an idea, “Can we visit this cave?”

About an hour later, Starlight was leading Twilight et al passed her house at the end of town to the mountains beyond that end of town. She turned to look over her shoulder as they just exited the town proper, Applejack and Rainbow Dash in the front of the six right behind Starlight, with Rarity and Pinkie right behind them with Twilight and Fluttershy in the rear, “I’m so delighted you're interested in our aura mark vault. We hope someday everyone in Mystica will make a pilgrimage here to our little village to have theirs removed too, and our message of…” As she said ‘of’ she turned to face ahead and her voice was not as loud allowing for Twilight and Fluttershy in hushed tones to speak over, “perfectly equal friendship can finally spread across the land.”

Twilight turned to Fluttershy, “This must be the reason we're here. To help those people get their aura marks back.”

“Oh, are you sure, Twilight?” the druid countered, “Maybe they miss them a little, but even they didn't seem all that unhappy.” Fluttershy was not convinced that they should be involved here, why fix what isn’t broke, live and let live.

“Then why did they want to meet us in secret?” Twilight called Fluttershy’s attention back to more or less what prompted them to be on this path to the cave where the aura marks were stored. “And why did they ask us not to tell Starlight who told us about the vault?” Twilight asked, further proving her point Socratically as Fluttershy had no answer. After giving a reluctant nod considering Twilight’s point. Twilight turned her full focus ahead as they arrived at a cave entrance, a couple minute walk and less than thirty-second mad dash on foot from the town. “Something's not right.”

Starlight then gestured to the cave and beckoned the six in, “Just through here!” After the six entered following her she pointed to the back wall, “Behold! Our aura mark vault!”

The six were struck with awe. They had known certain rocks could be used to trap various forms of magic, but this was an almost perfectly clear crystal that seemed to box itself into what looked like a bank’s safety deposit boxes section in the vaults. In many of these ‘boxes’ were a wide array of aura marks. If one actually took the time to count they would see that there was one less aura mark than the adult population of the village as the few children in town were far too young to have made the epiphany that is the core of one’s aura mark, “I've never seen anything like it!” Twilight commented as she actually floated toward it, awed by it, like a moth is to enclosed light.

At the base of the crystal-wall was stone alter, much like either of the two at Sweet Apple Temple (well more so the exterior one where the sacrifices were burnt, then the one in the temple used for the services). On the altar was a short wooden staff about the length of the average man’s arm which was forked at the top. Starlight picked up the staff and presented it reverently as if it was a relic. “And this is the Staff of Sameness, one of Mage Meadowbrook's nine enchanted items.” After each of the six had looked it over, Twilight with a degree of confusion, “We are incredibly fortunate to have it here.” Starlight continued as point the staff towards the crystal wall where all the aura marks were stored, “This artifact allows us to free ourselves from our aura marks!” She then turned to the six with a small sinister-like smile creeping on her face, “I'm curious” There was a pause as she pointed the staff in the direction of the six, “– how did the subject of the vault come up?”

Before anyone else could provide an answer that question and not sensing it for the trap it was, “Oh, some of the villagers were telling us how much they missed their aura marks, and—” Pinkie started.

“Pinkie!” the other five yelled realizing the trap and that Pinkie Pie might have set it off cutting her off at the 'and', in hopes that no damage was done.

“Oops…” gave a weak sounding apology as she seemed to shirk under the annoyed looks from her friends.

Starlight gasped as if she was clutching a pearl necklace upon hearing that, “Were they?” She turned her focus to Twilight, “Well, it seems you inspire all sorts of free thinking, don't you?”

As the six slowly started to back away in an attempt to exit the cave, Rarity gave a few nervous laughs before she tried to speak on behave of the group in attempt to defuse the situation long enough for a getaway, “Well, w-we certainly didn't intend to cause any disruptions to your charming little—”

Starlight cut Rarity off there, “Good. Let's just make sure of that, shall we?” she asked as looked behind the six and around them. It was then that they realized that there were others in the cave, actually the whole of the adult population.

Seeing that they were surrounded by the entirety of the town, even Night Glider, Party Favor and Sweetie Belle, “It's a trap!” Twilight shouted and tried to be teleport away but was struck by a beam of light turquoise magic. As she struggled to break free she felt the six-pointed stars in her wings be removed from her as equal marks took their place, severing her from her magic. As the stars were hovering in the two prongs of the staff they merged to be Twilight’s aura mark, a purple six-pointed star that seemed to rest on an inverted white four-pointed star surrounded by five smaller white stars. As Twilight’s mark was stripped from her, the others tried to tackle Starlight, namely Applejack and Rainbow Dash, only for the sheer numbers of the villagers to tackle them and prevent them from stopping Starlight from adding Twilight’s mark to the vault. Once Twilight’s mark was added, Starlight repeated the process on the others, first Rarity, leaving an equal sign on her tiara where the sapphires were, as the three sapphires were followed a similar process as Twilight’s. Then Applejack leaving equal signs were each apple on her pauldrons were, as the six stylized apples on her pauldrons were merged to look like three. Rainbow was next as an equal sign replaced her rainbow lightning bolt pin, then Pinkie’s three balloons on her jester hat were replaced with an equal sign. Finally, Starlight turned the Staff of Sameness on Fluttershy, replacing the butterfly brooch like all the others, as the stylized butterfly that made the brooch became a set of three. All the while as each of the six had their aura marks removed, they struggled but the sheer numbers the town folk made it fruitless.

As Starlight added the last aura mark and seeing the six still struggling, she gave slight chuckle because she knew it was over, “Aw. I don't blame you for what you tried to do here today. You've spent your whole lives thinking those aura marks are a good thing.”

Twilight used her wings to break free of those that held her, but she was tackled and forced to her knees, her arms pulled back, forced so that she could only look up to Starlight and growl, “Give them back!”

Starlight chuckled as she took Twilight’s chin with her left hand as she lowered the Staff on Sameness on the altar it was one before she used it, “Well, now you can spend the rest of your lives here with us! And we'll teach you just how much better life can be without your aura marks! Take them to the education house!” The rest of the town then began dragging the six out of the cave. Twilight, Applejack, Rainbow, Rarity, and Pinkie trashed around while Fluttershy wept.

Equality's Truth

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Starlight’s voice was heard slightly muffled over a loudspeaker in a room devoid of anything save a set of window drapes and a bed. “In sameness there is peace. Exceptionalism is a lie. Free yourself from your aura mark. Choose equality as your special talent. Difference is frustration. To excel is to fail.” In the room were Rarity, who was looking at the window drapes seemingly lost in trying to figure them out, Pinkie Pie who was lying on the bed looking at the ceiling moving her mouth as if she was trying to recite recipes, Fluttershy was in a corner balled up crying over what happened last afternoon, Twilight, who was in another corner sitting down seemingly at a loss of something she was trying to remember. All the while Applejack and Rainbow Dash were throwing their collective weight at the door trying to break it down and bust out. Noticeably Applejack’s sword and Rainbow Dash’s quiver and bow were not on their respective owner, as were all other weapons the group had.

“BULL STRENGTH!” The paladin screamed as she tried to cast the spell only for the equal signs on her pauldrons to flash and the spell to fail as she tried to break down the door once more by herself, as Rainbow Dash stepped to the side. Applejack’s hair, eye and skin tone then shifted gray a shade much the whole Discord incident. “Buck!” She kicked the door angry with the latest failure.

“You almost had it Applejack,” Pinkie tried to cheer on the paladin, but that went over like a lead balloon… “Hey, Foxhelm, you know the Mythbusters proved that a balloon made out of lead foil can still float when filled with helium as long as there are no holes in it and/or doesn’t tear during the ninety-sixth episode of the show, right?” Pinkie reminded the author.

Be your best by never being your best.” Starlight’s voice continued to come from the loudspeaker and sounded more suppressed.

“Ugh,” Twilight growled as she started to strike the wall, “We've gotta find a way out of here! I can't take much more of that voice!” She screamed trying to conjure a ball of magic to blast the speaker system, only of it to fizzle out because she was more or less cut off from her magic, much like the rest of her friends.

Rarity finally spoke up shedding tears, casing her eye-liner to run (and it should be noted that she wears only oil-based) in what could be considered borderline whining, “Oh, this is horrible!”

Fluttershy got up from sulked in the corner, finished crying and thought she was over what happened and could, therefore, comfort her friend, “There, there, Rarity…” She said while she hugged Rarity and pat the enchantress on her back, “It's not so bad…”

“Yes, it is!” The fashion savant decried as she broke the hug. As she pointed to the drapes, “Look at those drapes!” She grabbed one and held it in front of her for Fluttershy to get a good look at the drapes, “I have no idea if they're tacky or not!” she was on the verge of breaking down into tears.

“Well, I think they're nice,” Fluttershy commented with a sincere smile.

Rarity’s tiara’s new equal signs pulsated and Rarity’s eyes, hair, skin tone went a shade gray and started to cry again, “So do I!”

Fluttershy looked away from after patting Rarity on the shoulder when she saw a bird on the windowsill and heard it tweeting. She gasped in delight and went to it,“Oh, thank goodness! Can you help us, little birdie?” The bird, a blue jay, tweeted back at Fluttershy. As Fluttershy tried to understand what the bird chirped her equal sign brooch pulsated and her hair, eye and skin tone took a shade of gray. Not noticing her change, “Go on, now! Fly away and get us help!” The bird just tweeted and then flew off, however, Fluttershy didn’t know if the bird understood her or not as it seemed to fly away, like it didn't care, “Oh, even tweets don't make sense anymore!”

Applejack had gone back to try forcing the door open, “Did they ever?” she asked with a few grunts. After a few more shoves nothing, “Ah give up. This is hopeless.”

“I don't know!” Pinkie leaped from the bed with a smile on her face, clearly trying to find some laughter in their predicament, “Maybe it'll be super fun to be all the same!” The equal sign on Pinkie’s hat pulsated and her hair, skin, eyes, etc went on shade gray as she gave a slight frown, “Sort of. More pleasant than fun, I guess…” the jester trailed off.

Twilight shook her head as she finally could articulate what has been on her mind, “Something odd about that staff. I know I haven't studied all the forms and types of magic as much as I should have while I attended Princess Celestia’s School for The Gifted, but I'm pretty sure Mage Meadowbrook only had eight magical items, not nine. One of the reasons for that is that eight is the only consistent perfectly symmetrical single digit non-zero number in a base nine or a base ten system…” Everyone else then glared at Twilight, and scowled with the unspoken message of ‘get to the point,’. “Sorry, but as I was before the tangent, not a single one of those items was a staff. And there is the title of the staff to consider. ‘The Staff of Sameness’, that sounds more like a botched literal translation of an item used by people, namely the Magicborns, from the Far East, you know the homeland of the another legendary, Mistmane.”

“You mean the old woman from the story with the flower?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Rarity gave a huff, “There is so much more to the Mistmane-no-Ryokō than just woman and a flower. Honestly Dashie, you would go ballistic if anyone grossly simplified the Salvantio Flashis Magnis to a soldier with a shield. As Applejack would also lose it if someone was to write off the Rockfoot Saga as just story about a man with a shovel.”

“Okay, wah get it, Rares.” Applejack pointed out trying to end the tangent discussion, “Can wah get back to Twilight’s point? Ah really don’t want to repeat any more of bein’ trapped under the stage when the Sirens were tryin' tah take our power than wah currently are,” The others nodded. “So Twilight what have yah come up with, or will yah had and have plenty of time to try to think about it.”

Starlight’s voice was again heard over the speaker system, as the recording went on it faded in and out and seemed to echo as well, “...Choose equality as your special talent. Difference is frustration. To excel is to fail. Be your best by never being your best. Conformity will set you free. Accept your limitations, and happiness will follow. You're no better than your friends.” There was an abrupt end to the messages before the group looked to each other, sans Twilight as she was in thought.

Twilight then smiled as her eyes opened up wide happily with a clear ‘eureka!’ on her face and in her eyes, “I've got it! I know how we can get out!”

Rainbow sighed before she expressed the thoughts that she and the others had on trying to get out, “Forget it, Twilight. That door's not opening. Applejack and I would have busted it down by now.”

Rarity then taped on the window getting everyone’s attention to focus on it and showing that the window was not wide enough for anyone of them to try to squeeze through… maybe Pinkie, but there are things that even she just cannot do, “And I'm afraid the windows are much too small for escape.”

Twilight raised her left hand with her index finger up, “But there is a third way.”

“Of course!” Pinkie exclaimed as she jumped to the wall and started to examine it extremely closely in a cartoonish manner as only she could, “Eventually the wind and the weather will wear down the walls until they start to crumble! Then all we have to do is wait for a big enough hole to form and we can just walk out! It's the perfect plan!” She cheered as she pulled everyone into a group hug and gave one of her signature smiles. The equal sign on her hat then pulsated again. Her hair, eyes, and skin tone then took another shade closer to gray. She ended the hug and more or less let everyone else fall to the floor and in a bored tone, “I guess.”

As the other five got back to their feet and brushed themselves off, “Okay a fourth way out.” Twilight had to concede that point as it was a possibility, not probable, but still possible. “But we don't actually have to escape,” she continued as she looked at her friends, “They'll just let us out when they think we've accepted their philosophy!”

“But they're never gonna believe wah all switched over in just one night.” Applejack pointed out.

Twilight placed her hand on the paladin’s shoulder as she gave her reply, “There's one of us they might believe.” There was a moment of silence as Twilight turned to look at Fluttershy and one by one the others did likewise.

Fluttershy looked at herself confused. She was thinking that they were looking at someone else, “Oh!” only to realize that they were all looking squarely at her, “Me?!”

“I am with Fluttershy on this,” Rarity called out as everyone turned to look at her, “I am by far the better actress and much of my differences can be written off as due to my dramatic nature.” Rarity then leaned against the wall in her signature dramatic way.

“If this is a debate, Ah vote for sending Pinkie Pie,” Applejack challenged as she threw her two cents in. “She grew up on rock farm much more strict than this here cult.” Pinkie turned to challenge Applejack’s comment, “Ah talkin’ about Limestone as the eldest child and sister, not your parents, Sugarcube,” Pinkie closed her mouth and stepped back as if to say, ‘never mind.’

Rainbow hovered over to and stood beside Fluttershy, “Those facts might be true, but Fluttershy has been saying how great this place is since we got here! If anyone is going to get past their initial suspicions it would be her.” Rainbow, like the others, didn’t know what Twilight was planning, but she was going to support it.

“But that's because everyone seemed to be so nice and their village is so pretty, and, and…” Fluttershy trailed off as she herself connected the dots along with Applejack and Rarity. “Oh, you're right. They probably would believe me.” She looked down to the floor, “I hate to lie to them. They've been so welcoming and friendly…” she then noticed the frowns on all her friends’ faces as they each pointed to the equal signs that had replaced their aura marks, weakly she looked to the floor again, “aside from locking us in here and trying to brainwash us into abandoning the things that make us special…” After a few seconds of thought, Fluttershy looked back up to her friends and with a breath to collect herself, she knew she was the realistic option, it was time for her to step up, “Okay. I'll do it.”

“Woo-hoo!”, Pinkie cheered only for the equal sign to pulsated again as everything took on another shade of gray, “I mean, cool.” she said flatly.

Fluttershy turned back to Twilight as everyone was clearly nervous about the gray-shift that befell Pinkie Pie, and sought some sort of guidance, “But what do I do once I'm out?” the druid asked.

“You've gotta find a way to get our aura marks back, I don’t know how. Once you are let out, you’re on your own until you find something out and can sneak back to tell us. I am sorry but there is nothing else I can tell you at this point.” Fluttershy then gulped at Twilight's answer, as it was clear she was even more on her own than she could imagine.

Outside of the house, Starlight stood next to apparatus that allowed her to speak into the house, have since turned off the pre-recorded readings of captions of her manifesto. She took hold of a radio handheld microphone attachment to the apparatus and spoke into it as Double Diamond removed the series of door bars and unlocked a series of locks that kept people in the education house, “Oh, good morning!” Once Starlight finished, Double Diamond opened the door to let the six out. After putting the handheld microphone attachment, “I trust you had a pleasant night?” Starlight continued. The six scowled at Starlight. Starlight nodded and Double Diamond went inside and more or forced them out of the house, “This way, please. There are some friends who'd like to see you.” As the last of the six were more or less forced out of the house, Starlight called to the rest of the town and they went to gather in front of the education house, “Gather round, friends, gather round!” She gestured to the six still speaking to the villagers, “We've come to ask if any of our new arrivals are ready to join us!” As she turned her attention to the six and gestured to the villagers. “There are so many friends to be made once you realize you don't need your aura marks or the talents that come with them.”

“We have a welcome ceremony for new friends!” Double Diamond tried to pitch idea of joining the village, “The whole village joins together to build you your own cottage—”

“Not interested!” Rainbow cut him off right there, “You may have them now, but we're going to get our aura marks back!” She continued to challenge.

Applejack added to the vocalization of the group’s defiance to join the village at this point, “Y'all don't understand, do ya? Yah can't force anybody to be friends! It doesn't work like that!”

“Please, join us!” One of the villagers called out.

“We love new friends!” another one shouted as if desperate to get the six to join them.

Starlight saw the slightly growing panic, and then began to calm them, “It's all right, everybody.” As everyone else was unsure, Starlight continued, “This is a perfectly normal part of the equalization process for those who haven't…” she trailed off for a second to articulated her next point, “quite seen the light yet.” They all waited a few seconds, and it seemed that none of the six wanted to join, she turned to Double Diamond and nodded for him to direct the six back into the education house, “We'll try again tomorrow once you've had a bit more time to consider our philosophy!”

Fluttershy, who was the last to exit the house and was going to be the first forced back in, “I'd like to join!” she declared and turned to face the villagers. The people began to chatter happily that one of the new arrivals wanted to join them.

Twilight and the other four gasped in horror and terror at what was just said, “Fluttershy? How could you?!” Twilight started to tear up, “What about all the talks we had about Spike and his maturing? When you and Rainbow found the right pet for her? What about the Vampire Fruit Bat incident? The times you modeled for Rarity? Our book-club? Don’t they mean anything?”

Fluttershy stepped out of the line and to the side, “Magiville while pleasant, has never been all the welcoming to me, many a time the people there overwhelmed me and tried to make me what I’m not, especially with Nightmare Night. But these people, they don’t care about forcing me into situations that make me panic. And if giving up my aura mark means I get to stay in this lovely village with these lovely people, then I'll do it. I hope you’ll see the truth soon.” Fluttershy then forced the others in, Twilight being the last and the druid slammed the door right in Twilight’s face.

Fluttershy turned to the villagers and was embraced by Starlight before she too turned to the village, “Another has accepted the truth of aura marks! We have a new friend, everybody!” Starlight declared with everyone chattered and cheered almost blissfully that their commune has grown by one more. However, Starlight raised her hand and everyone fell silent. She turned back to Fluttershy, and then back to the village, “Now, there's one more order of business. It seems some in our midst might be... dissatisfied with the village life!” Everyone gasped at the accusation, who would dare to want to go back to the the life of an aura mark, of having your destiny tied to one thing, to be identified with only one talent, to end up only to find others better at what you believe you were the best at or to never be acknowledged for what you could do, who would dare wish to be crushed by the unforgiving world they all left. Starlight closed her eyes sadly and looked at the ground for a second as everyone was still getting over the initial shock, “Unfortunately, it's all too true, my friends!” She raised her head and wiped away a tear before she turned to the recent convert, “Will you kindly tell us the names of those friends who so desperately miss their aura marks that they would sneak around in the shadows talking to strangers about it?” The way Starlight emphasized the word ‘friends’ caused Fluttershy to have a slight shiver, almost as if her act was almost seen through. “Just so we can be sure your intentions are indeed pure.” Starlight finished informed as she focused her full attention on Fluttershy.

Fluttershy gulped, she had no idea how to proceed, she wasn’t expecting identity purity test, “Um, I don't know who they were, exactly. Um, I'm sorry. I don't know your names and faces yet.” she tried to not answer the question. It was a lie, but given how little time she actually interacted with Party Favor, Sugar Belle and Night Glider, just maybe Starlight would believe it.

“Oh, nonsense!” Starlight countered with a slight laugh, like a school-teacher that caught a student in a lie, while also clever enough to not call it out, but instead afforded the student a chance to set the record straight, “Obviously they must have asked you directly,” She turned back to the villagers and gestured to them so that she could see whom Fluttershy would lead her too, she had to know who the weak links were less the chain breaks, “Kindly point them out!”

Before Fluttershy could respond, “It was me!” Party Favor shouted making everyone turn to him, next to him were Night Glider and Sugar Belle. He took a few steps forward as the commune parted for him to walk up to Starlight and Fluttershy and fell to his knees clearly pleading for forgiveness, “It was only me! But I only wanted it back for a little while!”

Starlight was not fully sold on this confession, with her left eyebrow rosed she questioned Party Favor, “And you're quite certain it was only you?”

Party Favor cried in remorse, “I just wanted to remember what it was like.”

“And no thought to the pain you'd cause your friends.” Starlight’s voice was calm but firm and sad, as she stepped back. She shook her head before she turned to Double Diamond. “Such selfishness,” she nodded and the Earthborn walked over to behind Party Favor.

“I'm sorry, everybody!” As Party Favor spoke he was taken by his shoulder by Double Diamond and dragged towards the education house. Double Diamond opened the door and threw Party Favor into the house before Party Favor could speak. Once in the house, Party Favor got back to his feet and called out to the villagers, “I never wanted to leave the village! I love all of—” Double Diamond slammed the door right in his face before Party Favor finished.

Inside the room, after he recovered from having the door slammed in his face, Party Favor started to have something that seemed to be a cross between a nervous breakdown and a panic attack, “What was I thinking?!” He began to run around the room breathing heavily trying to collect himself, “I can't believe I even considered asking for my aura mark back.”

“Don't worry. Fluttershy will have us out of here in no time!” Rainbow Dash said as she tried to calm the guy down.

“Didn't you see what just happened out there?!” He shouted as he tried to beat at the door trying to get out again. He turned away from the door hyperventilating all the while, “Your friend has accepted our way! You will all accept our way! It's only a matter of time!” only to break down into the joyless laughter of those whose minds had snapped.

Rainbow looked at Applejack and Rarity, “Well, this guy's a barrel of laughs.”

“Laughs don't come in barrels.” Pinkie pointed out flatly, her hair slowly began to lose its bounciness, still a long way from the ‘Pinkamena flat’ but still a telltale warning of how little time the five in the education house actually had, “They come from inside you via the rapid constriction and expansion of your diaphragm and lungs and various other physiological activities as part of your body's response to delight.” After a second, “I am sounding more and more like Maud if not more monotone.”

Applejack walked to Twilight, and kept her voice hushed so not to be heard by Party Favor as his panic attack and mental breakdown continued, “So what are we gonna do while Fluttershy's out there lookin' for our,” Applejack then leaned into Twilight’s right ear to whisper the last part of her question, “aura marks?”

Twilight turned to look at Applejack, “We have to stay as positive as we can. If Party Favor sees how much we really do like each other, even though we're all different, maybe we can use him to spread our message to the rest of the village.” Applejack half-closed her eyes and raised her left eyebrow and did not believe that for a second. Twilight gave a nervous laugh which confirmed the paladin’s suspicions that Twilight had not planned for Fluttershy having to call any of the three that spoke to them out or having any one of them joining them in the education house. Before Applejack could counter the lack-of-a-plan the loudspeaker crackled getting all five of the women to look to the loudspeaker.

Starlight’s voice was heard again over the loudspeaker.“To excel is to fail,” the voice continued to recite various lines and verses of from her manifesto on equality through the rejection of the aura marks, under the voices of the five women’s voices.

“Let's hope they don't convert any of us first.” Rarity more or less panicked as she and the others witnessed Party Favor huddling in a corner speaking some sort of montage to collect himself.

“And tah think Ah was tempted tah introduce that harlot Sugar Belle tah Big Mac.” Applejack bemoaned

At that same time, Fluttershy and Starlight walked towards what was Party Favor’s house from the education house as most of the residents went about their day two of the female and one of the male town’s folk said women and a man greeted the recently converted druid with a “Welcome!”

“Goodness,” Fluttershy giggled as she waved back with a big open mouth and closed-eyed smile, much like a happy blissful child. Once they passed a few more, she turned back to Starlight, still smiling, “you really are the nicest people I've ever met.”

Starlight smiled in response, her suspicions about Fluttershy’s conversion gone, “Normally all new friends stay with me until their cottage is completed.” Starlight informed as she gave a copy of the key for Party Favor’s cottage to the druid, “But with Party Favor in the Education House for re-education following your friend’s arrive making him question our philosophy. At least for tonight, you are to utilize it.” At that point, they arrived at Party Favor’s house, and Fluttershy opened it, as the two walked in, “Let's get you settled in, and then you can enjoy all that our little village has to offer.” Fluttershy smiled with her eyes closed and mouth shut before she gave her signature, ‘yay’, which gave Starlight a good and hearty laugh.

Later that night, Fluttershy shuck out of the home she was staying in, through the flume of the chimney. She coughed a few times as she floated down to the ground, “Brrrrrr!” she shivered, and rubbed the sides of her chest. She had forgotten how cold nights can get in a desert, but remembered that while rubbing one’s arms gives a superficial feeling of warmth, it’s the torso that people need to be concerned about with regards to hypothermia, a sufficiently warm core will radiate enough heat to overcome the stings of cold on the extremities. She sighed as she tried to creep and sneak into the cave where the aura mark vault was, “Get the aura marks back. That's all you've gotta do, Fluttershy. Just sneak through the dark up to that spooky old cave with the scary magical staff and get the aura marks back,” she whispered to herself trying to maintain her psyche for what she was striving to achieve as she did her best to keep to the shadows and remain unnoticed. As she reached Starlight’s house, “Okay, you're doing great. The cave's beyond this house, just a four-minute walk, so a fifteen-second flight if I…” She stopped when she thought she spotted something and hide behind Starlight’s house. Cautiously she crept around and looked to see the front door. There she saw Double Diamond take off a backpack and take out of it six mason jars, in one was her aura mark and in the other five were her friends’. In the doorway was Starlight.

“Excellent work, Double Diamond.” Starlight said as she examined each of the jars and handing them back to Double Diamond, with Fluttershy’s first and Pinkie Pie’s last as she examined Twilight’s aura mark.

“Of course,” Double Diamond said as he accepted them and began to put them back into the pack, “but I don't understand why you wanted me to bring them here.” He pulled Fluttershy out utterly confused as to why these six had to be separate from the rest. “Fluttershy is one of us now. Surely she can be trusted.” He countered before he placed back into the pack.

Starlight shook her head as she called Double Diamond’s attention to Twilight’s aura mark as she took the pack and placed it into the bag, “This one belongs to a princess. It could be very important to our cause.”

“But if Twilight Sparkle becomes our friend, then why do we care about this old aura mark?” Double Diamond pointed out not able to reconcile Starlight's unstated intent with the messages in her manifesto and their philosophy, they just seemed to run contradictory to one another.

Starlight gave a frown as she took the pack from Double Diamond, “I just want to keep them close until everything is…” she trailed until she found the right word, “settled.” Double Diamond seemed very much unconvinced but before he could question farther, “You may go, Double Diamond.” and she shut the door in front of Double Diamond. Reluctantly he left and headed back to his house.

“Oh, dear. How am I ever going to get the aura marks back now?” Fluttershy panicked, the aura marks were no longer in the cave, which was a good thing as they were much closer to her and her friends, but with them in Starlight’s house, it meant having to sneak in and get out with all six aura marks. She was not stealthy, maybe if she took the form of an animal like a badger or something that would live in the area that could get in and out and wouldn’t raise any alarms. But given what she saw befall Twilight and Applejack when they tried to use their magic, it was doubtful she could use her own without her aura mark. She then hard a crash.

After she heard the crash, Fluttershy hovered to see into Starlight’s bedroom as Starlight exclaimed an “Ow!” followed by a bucket rolling. As Fluttershy peered into the room she saw, look at her dress seeing that it was almost soaked. “Ugh! Starlight, you clumsy fool!” She took off the skirt of her dress with light turquoise colored magic coming from the focus gem, just like the magic that came from the Staff of Sameness when Twilight’s aura mark was removed. But Fluttershy was focused more so on what else was in front of her. Without her dress Starlight skin tone, hair color and eye color were in truth a shade or two brighter than everyone else, much like how Fluttershy and her friends were before their aura marks were removed. Starlight was mostly focused on her dress and the equal signs on it. The water from the bucket seemed to wash one of them away revealing a four-pointed star purple in color over a white four-pointed star perpendicular to it with two glimmering streams both having the similar two tones of blue. Starlight happened to have some paint and an equal sign stencil and paint of over the reveal mark, after she used her magic to dry the dress, utterly unaware that her secret was found out before she undid her ponytail and slipped into a nightgown and then into her bed, ready for a night’s sleep.

Fluttershy then ducked under the window, as she remained quiet for longer than she thought she could. She then crept to be behind the house on the farthest side from the rest of the village. Once there and in the clear, she finally gasped “Oh, no…” she muttered as she kept as low as she could, she had to tell Twilight and find a way to reveal the truth to the villagers.

Re-Earning The Mark

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The next morning the entire village gathered in front of the education house. Starlight was in the center with Fluttershy just to her left, for Starlight it was to be used as a sign to the five other newcomers of that she is welcoming and willing to accept them into the commune. For Fluttershy, this was part of the plan to expose the truth of the situation and Starlight for her fraud. Double Diamond was next to the door, with Sugar Belle and Night Glider not far from him. Starlight nodded to Double Diamond as a silent command to open the door and let those in the house out. Double Diamond obeyed as he removed the last door bar and the last lock. “I've got a good feeling about today!” Starlight announced to the village as Twilight, Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and Party Favor all stepped out of the house in that order. The five women were each taking slight galops as their throats were dry, having been denied water since they were locked in the house following the removal of their aura marks. They also looked slightly thinner, as if the last thing they had to eat was one of the muffins that Sugar Belle made the day they arrived. Yet even in their dehydrated and hungry state, they scowled at Starlight in defiance, even Pinkie who was a few steps closer to crack than the others clung to her stance adamantly. Party Favor was in much better condition physically, having only been in the house for just the one day, but even then he looked terrible. However, he seemed to fare the worse psychologically, as if he could not believe something the five others told him yet they provided evidence to support their claim. In addition what he was told almost shook him and his beliefs to the very marrow. This current identity crisis that Party Favor was going through seemed to be lost on most of the people, but not Night Glider, Sugar Belle and even Double Diamond. Starlight’s focus was on the five women, she smiled in an attempt to get them to join, she nodded to Double Diamond and he gave each of them a full waterskin. Reluctantly the five accepted the water given to them. After they returned the now empty waterskin, “So, do any of you have anything you'd like to say?” Starlight asked. The five remained silent. After they had all waited about two minutes as it was clear that none of the five were going to join the commune. “Aw, pity.” She said with her head slightly dipped. She then rose her head, with her eyes closed and a shrug of her shoulders, “Well, let's try this again tomorrow, shall we?” The five started to walk back to the house, “No new friends today, I'm afraid!” Starlight continued as she turned to the rest of the village. She then turned back to six that were in the house, but her focus was on the one male that was in the education house that night, “Party Favor, will you rejoin us, please?”

Party Favor walked forward and fell to his knees, embracing Starlight’s leg, clearly frightened and remorseful, in a very childlike manner, “I'm sorry Starlight! I'm sorry, everybody!” Slowly he loosened his hold on Starlight’s legs and still on his knees turned to the rest of the commune. “ I've seen the error of my ways! I never want to look at my aura mark again!” This brought a smile to Starlight’s face. Unbeknownst to her and all but Night Glider and Sugar Belle, Fluttershy had taken this chance to go to Twilight and the others and spoke in whispers. Night Glider and Sugar Belle kept silent on that as they focused on Party Favor’s rejoining.

Starlight patted Party Favor on his head, glad to see that he was back, which prompted him to get back on his feet. “It seems there's cause for celebration after all!” Starlight declared feeling that the link had been successfully reforged and will not break. Everyone else, however, cheered with a massive “ Hooray!”

Party Favor, however, turned back to the house with his eyes partly closed and a frown on his face and pointed to the five accusatively, “They tried to break me! They wouldn't stop talking about how different they are, and that somehow makes their friendship stronger!” This caused all the others in the commune to gasp in horror, but Night Glider and Sugar Belle noticed something, Party Favor had said that with more force than he normally would. This was an act. The two however elected to keep quiet, as they choose to wait and see.

Starlight turned to the five that had not accepted what she deemed to be the truth of Aura Marks. She clutched the top of her shirt not unlike if she was wearing a string of pearls, “Such backward thinking.”

Party Favor turned to face Starlight and as he spoke the rest of the commune, “But I didn't listen!” he dropped his arm and his face soften as if he had returned to a haven after being adrift in a storm, “I knew what they were up to, and I didn't listen!”

“Well done, Party Favor!” Starlight then embraced what she thought was her wayward lamb. “We welcome you back with open arms!” The rest of the commune cheered in replied as they rushed to welcome back the black sheep into the fold. Yet Sugar Belle and Night Glider could tell he was now a wolf in sheep's clothing, not unlike them, but they weren’t certain what he was planning.

“Um, Starlight?” came the voice of the commune’s recent ‘convert’. Starlight and the others turned to Fluttershy who was standing next to Twilight. While the other four had gone into the house, Twilight elected to stay in the doorway, “I think we might have a new friend joining us today.” Fluttershy’s eyes were closed as she gave them a big closed mouth smile. Everyone else gasped at the revelation of Twilight being a possible new convert. Save Party Favor, he just opened and closed his mouth as if he did gasp, this went unnoticed by anyone.

Starlight took a couple steps forward to the education house, “Is this true?” she could not believe it. Fluttershy electing to join after one night, well impressive if she had to say so herself, but Twilight, Princess Twilight Sparkle, the one of the six that tried to escape, the first to have her aura mark removed, the one that challenged her and had to be forced to her knees. Starlight knew she was a convincing woman with the right set of tools and time, but this was almost too good to be true.

“I-I think so.” Twilight stuttered the ‘I’ with her head down and holding her upper left arm with her right hand, nervously as she stepped out of the house and walked a couple of steps forward, “But I just want to be sure.” She raised her head to look Starlight in the face. Her pupils wide, her irises small, like a child that was lost and found her way home. “If I agree to leave my aura mark in the vault, I'll really be happier?” She still held her arm and slightly lowered her head shifting her weight on her feet, not certain if what was told to her was the truth.

Starlight smiled and shook her head, before she placed her right hand on Twilight’s left shoulder and as gestured to the rest of the town with her left hand, “Just look around!” She declared. As Twilight obeyed and witnessed all of the people that made up the commune smiled in a slightly less creepy version of the big open mouth tooth smiles that made Pinkie Pie suspect the place in the first place but were still not Pinkie Pie approved smiles. Starlight closed her eyes and held her head up looking at the sky with her eyes closes confident in her answer, “Equality has given us more happiness than you've ever known!” As Starlight was focused on her emphasis on equality, she didn’t notice that Fluttershy had slipped away from the entire commune.

Twilight then relinquished her hold on her left arm and then held her chin with her right hand, after a second or two contemplation as she looked at the ground she looked Starlight in the eyes and asked, “And you wouldn't let me just live here in the village with my old aura mark?” Twilight’s eyes were wide.

Starlight took a step back and raise her left hand in protest, “That is out of the question.” As she hovered her hand towards all the villagers with what seemed to be a focus on the equal signs on their shirts and dresses, “A person with a different aura mark in our midst would destroy our entire philosophy. We are all equal here!” Starlight declared as she lowered her hand and scoffed as if she was dealing with a troublesome student. The crowd started muttering in reply as if they didn’t believe in Twilight’s conversion. Starlight, too, was starting to doubt it. Unless Twilight was not sincere, then why would she be questioning this, by now she would have heard the entirely of Starlight’s manifesto thrice. Something was not adding up.

“Then how do you explain this?” Everyone then looked at the sky and saw Fluttershy was above them and had a bucket of water with her. She then tossed the content of the bucket at Starlight barely grazing the bottom of her dress. It did not do much but it did enough for Party Favor to see part of the equal sign removed and a part of the purple star and one of the two streams revealed.

Starlight focus was not on what befell her dress, but on the Skyborn druid who hovered just above her and the now empty bucket of water in her hands. She gritted her teeth in anger and pointed at Fluttershy with her right index finger, “I knew you couldn't be trusted!” Starlight only then noticed that Party Favor was on his knees and wiping the area of her dress where the water barely glazed her with his shirt sleeve. “Get away!” she ordered with a kick that forced Party Favor onto his rear. The crowd gasped in horror at what they saw. That at the bottom of Starlight’s dress was four-pointed star purple in color over a white four-pointed star perpendicular to it with two glimmering streams both having the similar two tones of blue, an aura mark. “Wha... What are you looking at?!” Starlight asked as she failed to notice where on her personage everyone was looking at. She gestured to Twilight and Fluttershy, who had since landed and were in turn joined by Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow, and Pinkie, all of them shaking their heads at Starlight, “They're the problem, not me!”

Party Favor got back to his feet, tears started to form in his eyes. He shut them and then open them with a scowl formed on his face as his eyes narrowed, “I wasn’t lying when I said I did believe them. I only went that far to show them that our way… the way you taught us was right. That you were a prophet of a long-ignored truth.” He then pointed his right hand at Starlight with his index finger out, “How could you?”

Double Diamond was the next to fully recover from the shock, “You said aura marks were evil!” he shouted as he walked to be side by side with Party Favor, a scowl matching the Magicborn. You said special talents led to pain and heartache!” The Earthborn continued as the town started to close in on their founder.

“They do!” Starlight tried to sway the slowly encroaching crowd. As she turned back to six that infected her village, “Don't you see?! Look at them!” she continued to order, but her commands fell on deaf ears.

“Then why?” Sugar Belle started to ask as she and Night Glider stepped to stand shoulder to shoulder with Party Favor and Double Diamond. “Why did you take ours and not give up your own?” her hands gestured at first to the rest of the commune before she pointed at the exposed aura mark on Starlight’s dress.

“I... I had to, you fools!” Starlight struggled to form a response at first while she panicked, but as she reached the second ‘I’ her panicked expression gave way to a harsh slightly narrowed eyed glare as she went on the attack, not unlike a cornered animal that realized that while it was outnumbered it could tear apart enough of those surrounding her that the rest would run away. “ How could I collect your aura marks without my magic?!” This was not a question that she wanted to be answered, as her goal in it was to point out that her magic was needed.

“But the Staff of Sameness has all the magic we need!” Night Glider countered as she began to rise in the air.

Starlight gave a groan before she responded to that, they already found out that she still had her aura mark and with it access to all of her magic, it was time for her to reveal how dependent they were on her magic after all.“The Staff of Sameness is not one of Mage Meadowbrook’s nine artifacts, you ignorant!” Starlight confused in wrath. This revelation did not have the impact she expected but she continued. “She only had eight, none of which are a staff!” Everyone took a step back, as Starlight continued, “That 'staff' we used to remove aura marks, is nothing more than a piece of wood I found in the desert!” This almost shattered the others faiths, it was one thing that there was one among them that was false, but the item they believed to be what they used for making their community as it is was a different matter. Starlight stepped forward, prompting the commune to take a step or two back as she asserted herself. “It's my magic that makes all this possible! You'd all still be living your miserable lives thinking you're better than everybody else if it weren't for my magical abilities!” As Starlight spoke she continue to assert herself, each time the rest took a step back, “I brought you friendship! I brought you equality!” She then took a step back and placed her hand on right her chest and almost roared, “I created harmony!

Double Diamond shouted back, “You lied to us!” as he stood took a second to realize that Starlight had much less power than what she let on, while numbers alone don’t convey an advantage, quantity is a quality all it’s own.

“So what?” Starlight countered after she stepped back again. “E-Everything else I said is true!” She pressed on, she seemed to believe that part of her philosophy, at least in part, “The only way to be happy is if we're all equal!”

“Except for you.” Party Favor countered as the commune began to inch forward and encircle Starlight again.

As they approach her, Starlight’s focus gem glowed the light turquoise of her actual magic as she prepared to fight off her cult. Before anything could happen, Twilight stepped forward from her group, still on the other side of Starlight, “Everyone has unique talents and gifts, and when we share them with each other, that's how rea—” As Twilight spoke, Starlight’s spell died before it was cast as she frowned and started to growl in wrath.

QUIET!” Starlight shouted as she turned to Twilight, a vein or artery in her neck extremely close to the surface. This caused Twilight’s eyes to narrow in fright as she took a step back.

“You can't have an aura mark, Starlight!” Sugar Belle stated which caused Starlight to turn back to the villagers. “Either we're all equal,” Sugar used her limited magic to form a circle of light, “or none of us are!” The villagers, Twilight, et al then started to fully encircle Starlight. As she saw no way out, Starlight conjured a shield spell bubble around her and forced everyone back as she bolted to her house and locked the door behind her.

“Come on!” Double Diamond shouted as he started to run towards the cave where the town’s aura marks were being held. “Let's get our aura marks back!” Everyone shouted ‘Yeah!’ in agreement as most of them joined in the run.

As she flew above everyone else, “Come on!” Rainbow shouted as she started to fly towards the same cave and the vault therein, “Let's go get our aura marks!”

Fluttershy flew up and grabbed Rainbow’s right arm, "Wait! Rainbow! Don’t you remember? I told you our aura marks aren't in the vault! They're in Starlight’s house, in her room!”

“Well, buck!” Rarity cursed. The other five turned to her confused, “Well if this is not the time to use the term when is!” she exclaimed as she ran to the house, only to be outpaced by Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie, and Rainbow.

Inside the cave, everyone started to pond at the crystalline vault in attempts to break it. As it seemed that nothing work, “Stand back, everybody!” Double Diamond shouted as he threw the stick that they knew as the Staff of Sameness at the crystal wall at the empty block with all his might. The impact caused a series of cracks to form. Party Favor picked the stick back up and swung it at the empty vault and the crystal shattered as if it was cheaply blown glass. At the moment the aura marks jettisoned from the vault and flew to their rightful owner. Each aura mark circled around each around their owners while the owners' hair brightened and changed to be unique to them, and for some, their clothes also took on a few shades of more color. For Sugar Belle her clothes became a pale cerise, her hair become moderate magenta and it seemed to take on a slight bounce, while a cupcake with purple frosting topped with a cherry with four jellybeans red to yellow in color aura mark hovered around her heart. For Night Glider, her clothes lost the shade of gray and become a moderate azure, her hair changed to look like it was blown back by flying not unlike the Wonderbolts Spitfire and Fleetfoot. Around her chest was her own aura mark, a crescent moon surrounded by two curved feathers. Around Party Favor, a pink balloon animal and streamers aura mark hovered next to his heart as his shirt shifted to a bright cyan and his hair’s two shades of grayish azure become moderate azure and cornflower blue and took on a bounce that rivaled Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich. This was more or less the same for most of the villagers, however for Double Diamond, his hair shifted to be a masculine bangs style and his aura mark, three blue snowflakes in a blue triangle formation, hovered over his heart.

As the villagers that had gotten to the cave returned in a rash while the other aura marks flew towards their own, the effects of the return of the aura marks were not lost on Twilight et al, Rarity smiled “Even without my aura mark, I can tell this is beautiful!”

As she looked out from her bedroom window as aura marks flew towards their rightful person, Starlight finished packing the two bags, one with a few changes of clothes stored in the case of needed escape and one with the aura marks of Twilight and her friends, “They think they can come to my village and disrupt my life?” she asked rhetorically as she turned to the aura marks in their jars as she packed them, “Let's see how they like spending the rest of their lives without their precious aura marks!” She used her magic to throw her bed to the side and opened what looked like a cellar door and ran down the stairs into a tunnel she had set up a while ago.

At the same time, Applejack and Rainbow Dash alternated as they tried to break the door to Starlight’s house in, and it seemed to no avail. Just then the six heard a whistle and turned to see Night Glider, Sugar Belle, Party Favor and Double Diamond.

“Stand back, everybody!” Night Glider shouted. The six scattered so that she could dive bomb the door and forced it off of its hinges and down to the floor. The nine others then ran and flew in, Fluttershy at the front as she led the way to Starlight’s room.

Once she arrived she gasped in horror as she saw the overturned bed and the absence of the aura marks, “They're gone!” As the rest joined her in the room, “They were right over there!” she continued. However, everyone then proceeded to follow the staircase down.

At the other end of the tunnel that Starlight had set up for her house, the arrived at the beginning of a handful of mountain paths. As they all looked to see which way Starlight could have gone, Rainbow squinted her eyes and spotted the aura mark thief, “Look!” as she pointed to what looked a woman with a couple of packs running on one of the paths.

Party Favor and Pinkie both squinted to see but both could barely make out what Rainbow pointed out until Party Favor remembered his aura mark and how he got it and what he was, a trickster mage with a focus on balloons. He had never given up everything from his past keeping a small hand full of balloons in his pocket. He took one out and blew it up and started to bend it like those used at parties, fairs, etc. Pinkie watched in almost jaw-dropping awe as the simple balloon was turned into balloon binoculars. Party Favor then used them and saw what Rainbow point out. “She's headed for the pass!” Party Favor said as he lowered them and turned back to the rest there, “If she makes it into those mountains, we'll never find her!”

While he spoke Pinkie took the balloon binoculars and looked with them, finding that they did in fact work, “These are amazing!”

“There's a whole network of caves up there!” Sugar Belle confirmed Party Favor’s statement and clarified it, “If we don’t catch her before she reaches them, your aura marks will be gone forever!”

“Then let's get moving, Y'all!” Applejack shouted as she ran ahead as Rainbow flew ahead, however, the two were quickly outpaced by the four with their aura marks.

After the dust cleared, as Rainbow and Applejack saw that they were not that far ahead of their friends and eating the dust of the four that elected to help them, “Oh, come on!” Rainbow groaned.

Ahead along the path, Starlight looked over her shoulder to see the four, namely Night Glider, closing in on her, “Are you all so willing to give up everything because of these strangers?!” She shouted as sent a beam of magic that cut through the snow temporarily burying Night Glider, but Sugar Belle, Double Diamond, and Party Favor did not let up.

“We gave up everything for you because we thought you were our friend!” Sugar Belle countered calling that they had already made a similar sacrifice for a charlatan that promised a better life, at least these six were sincere about the chances of things not working out in the end.

Closer to the start of the path, Twilight et al more or less jogged save Rainbow Dash, who was flying at a much slower pace than she was used to, for her she might as well hover, “I can't believe we have to count on others to save our aura marks!” Rainbow could not help but complain. She hated being dependent on others.

“If we hadn't come here to help them, they'd still be living under her rules!” Twilight pointed out as they all tried to pick up the pace. Pinkie even tried to skip and bounce, but to no avail in increasing their speed, “Now it's their turn to help us!”

“And I know they can do it!” Fluttershy commented with a smile, “And if all else fails we can ask Discord to transport them back to us when I meet him for tea in two days.”

That comment brought the six to almost grinding halt as Fluttershy grasped what she said and the others recalled that they had a few more request that they were owed from Discord, “How many of those requests do we have?” Rarity asked as she fanned herself slightly.

“Fluttershy is the only one I know that used hers.” Pinkie Pie answered, “Unless Twilight used one when Discord decided to crash her day with Cadance.”

“Can wah deal with this another time?!” Applejack started to run ahead, slowly joined by the others.

“AJ’s right!” Rainbow shouted as she tried to dash forward, “Starlight's gonna get away!”

Back ahead along the path, Sugar Bella, Party Favor, and Double Diamond continued to chase after Starlight on foot, Sugar Belle looked at her aura mark and the snow on the mountainside. She had an idea. Her black focus gem glowed a strong cyan as she cast a spell on some of the snow making it take the shape of a pie, “My newest recipe –” she said as she prepared her recent creation, “snow pie!” She used her magic to hurl it at Starlight, the force of the impact caused her to lose the bag with the aura marks. As it fell the jars slipped out and were about to hit the ground. Starlight, however, recovered and used her magic to catch the jars and levitate them back up as she finished crossing a narrow bridge. She turned back and saw Party Favor, Double Diamond, and Sugar Belle were on the other end of it. Starlight then blasted the bridge and continued on the past.

Yet Party Favor was not deterred and after inflating another balloon started stretching and bend it all the while it seemed to grow as it a replacement bridge was formed. Just as it needed completion, Night Glider caught up and stepped on the bridge forcing it down so that it could be used. Once Party Favor’s balloon bridge reached the other side, the balloon master started to bounce across the bridge, not unlike Pinkie Pie would, followed by Double Diamond and Sugar Belle.

After getting to the other side the three started to run again, in their haste Party Favor and Sugar Belle did not notice a set of skis. Double Diamond, on the other hand, did see them and stopped as he looked at them, “These are my old skis.” He whispered as he touched one of the skis with his right hand. He then looked around where they were in the mountains, “This is where I first met Starlight.” he realized with a bitter sting of nostalgia.

Night Glider looked back and saw Double Diamond seem to revisit memory lane. She knew this was not the time to look back at the past, they were needed in the present, “Maybe you can reminisce another time! She's almost to the caves!”

Double Diamond looked at his skis and had a thought, “Feel like an airdrop?” He said as he put them on.

Up ahead Starlight was a matter of meter from the caves, but she was taken by surprise when she spotted Night Glider drop Double Diamond, on his old skis uphill in the snow. Double Diamond then started to ski, catching up and passing Starlight, forming a small avalanche in the wake of skis.Starlight was trapped in a matter of seconds and she could not focus anymore on levitating the jars. This caused them to fall to the ground and shatter. The six aura marks then flew to their owners, the apples replacing the equal marks on Applejack’s pauldrons, the sapphires replacing the equal sign on Rarity’s tiara, the series of stars replacing the equal marks that functioned as the shoulders of Twilight’s wing, the cloud, and three colored lightning bolt become Rainbow Dash’s hairpin, the three balloons returned to Pinkie Pie’s hat and the butterfly was once again Fluttershy’s brooch. All the while the six returned to their normal shade.

“Yee-haw! Now that’s more like it!” Applejack cheered as the six closed the distance between them and the four that had helped them reclaim their aura marks.

Starlight dug herself out of the snow and saw the four that had chased her along with the six intruders almost close in on her. She couldn’t escape, but she could fire back which she did, “Azarath Metrion Zinthos!” Before it hit Sugar Belle, Party Favor, Night Glider and Double Diamond, Twilight teleported to be right in front and she swatted the spell with the back of her left hand like Nightmare Moon when Twilight tried to use the spell on the dark demigoddess. Starlight couldn’t fathom what just happened, “Wh– I studied that spell for years! How can you—”

“I studied magic for years too!” Twilight interrupted Starlight as she blocked another spell by batting away like the last one. “Under the personal tutorage of Princess Celestia, the Arch-Mage herself nonetheless.” She continued as she walked forward sending each of Starlight’s spell into the ground and snow, while her five friends joined caught up. “But what I didn't know then was that studying could only take me so far.” She stopped as but up another shield spell that only covered her hand as she ‘absorbed’ another attack. She turned slightly back to allow Starlight to see the five that accompanied Twilight and the four that enable the return of their aura mark. “Each of my friends has taught me something different about myself! It was their unique gifts, passions, and personalities that helped bring out the most powerful magic I have from inside of me! I never would have learned that I represent the element of magic without these five! And I certainly wouldn't be here to stop you now!”

Starlight rolled her eyes, she didn’t care to hear all this, “Spare me your sentimental nonsense!” she protested, “I gave them real friendships they never could've had otherwise!”

“How do you know that?!” Double Diamond countered “You never even gave us a chance!” The ten had Starlight cornered, but she conjured a shield spell which seemed to be bound to a flash spell which allowed her to force them back so that she could escape into the caves.

Once the ten could see that Starlight had gotten into the caves, “She's getting away!” Rainbow Dash shouted as she was about to fly straight to the opening in the mountainside that Starlight used, only for her to be grabbed by her arm by Double Diamond.

Even though Rainbow Dash struggled at first, Double Diamond was able to bring her back down to her feet, “We'll never find her in there, not with the head start she has.” the re-discovered cryomancer said as Rainbow finally stopped struggling and pouted.

Twilight sighed and shook her head before she turned to the nine other Mysticans with her, “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.” Party Favor said as he placed his left hand on Twilight’s right shoulder in a clearly comforting manner, “We all came to this village because we were searching for something missing from our lives.” As he spoke he gestured to the three others there, “We thought Starlight had given it to us, but now... now it seems it was in front of us all along. It's us!”

“Does that mean you'll stay in the village?” Twilight asked as the ten subdivided into the six from Magiville and the four from the town.

“It's our home.” Night Glider answered as she landed and was joined in a partial group hug, more of a line with each having their arms on each other’s shoulders by Party Favor, Double Diamond, and Sugar Belle, “We built it together. Not just us, but everyone there, one person at a time growing it. Sure the whole aura mark thing turned out to be a lie.” That got her a cross of a bemused and an annoyed expression from the others. “Sorry too soon, but we still made it what it is. There are other reasons why we left were we come from. But it’s what we built. I am not going anywhere. And I doubt most of the others will.”

“This is a chance for all of us to get to know each other again for the very first time!” Double Diamond declared as the four pulled into the first real group hug they have shared.

After the four ended their group hug, “And I finally have a chance to bake something besides terrible muffins!” Sugar Belle joked. Everyone then started to laugh at that.

“Yah think those were bad, Sugarcube,” Applejack laughed as she walked to and patted Sugar Belle on her back almost knocking the Magicborn baker over and off her balance. As she regained her balance, “yah should’ve had one of the muffins Ah helped Pinkie bake the last Apple Bucking Season before Twilight came tah our hometown.” As the paladin turned to her five friends, “yah’ll remember it was when Big Mac had to take it easy because he broke a couple of ribs during the Dodge Junction Rodeo Bull Riding. All-time record though and the two of us used that handcart. But that’s beside the point, never before and since has Pinkie ever used the term ‘baked bads’ to describe anything.” Applejack laughed at the memory, the four that lived in Magiville at the same time all groaned in response, will three Pinkie started dry heaving at the very memory of what the two baked that day. “And that’s why Ah ask yall tah let it go.”

About two hours later, as Twilight et al looked down at the village from the top of the stairs and watched as the people were celebrating the return of their identities, talents, etc. Party Favor was making various balloons. “Now those are real smiles.” Pinkie declared pulling from seemingly nowhere a piece of paper with most of the text being unreadable, but what could be made out were the words “CertiPied Smile” with the seal of Mystica and the town of Magiville on it. After she pocketed it, her the balloons on her hat, the apples on Applejack’s pauldrons, the sapphires of Rarity’s tiara, Fluttershy’s brooch, Rainbow Dash’s hairpin and the stars of Twilight’s wings all started to flash and pulsate for a few seconds before stopping.

“Ah'll never get used to that,” Applejack pointed out the near unnerving nature of this flash and pulsation, especially if this would turn out to be something that would accrue if they were to ever do something like this again. This was not lost any of the other five, “Well maybe it’s par for the course and wah’ll just have to accept it, the Rainbow of Light and the Elements of Harmony.”

“Does that mean that the map is calling us somewhere else?” Fluttershy asked the question on all their minds.

After a few seconds of thought among the others, Twilight spoke, “My working hypothesis is that this means our work here is done, the only way to find out is to get back home.”

Everyone just gave a soft smile and shook their heads, ‘typical Twilight’, they all thought. Applejack elected to once more glance down to the village, “Well, as those folks seem to be now, Ah’ve tah say, it looks like yah were right, Twilight.”

“About what?” Twilight asked before she too looked down at the village again.

“About that map.” Applejack started her answer before she turned back to face Twilight, “The map did have a reason for sendin' us here. Wah brought real friendship to these people.” She elected to nudge Twilight in the chest playfully like she and Rainbow would do time to time, “Guess that's why you're the Princess of Friendship.”

Twilight smiled at the compliment, but she then closed her eyes and shook her head still with a smile on her face, “But the map didn't send me.” She then opened her eyes and looked at each of her five closest friends. “It sent us. All of us.” She then started to pull the others into a group hug, which was completed by the others. “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.” They all shared a much needed and welcomed laugh before they all gave a happy sigh after which they enjoyed their group hug in silence for about a minute.

Pinkie was the first to break the hug, “This feels like an ending!” she exclaimed before she started to sniff the air as if she smelled something pleasant baking. After the initial sniff others also started to smell the air, each in turn giving a near-blissful ‘mhmmh’, Applejack licking her lips even. “It doesn't have to be an ending yet, right? Pinkie asked the others looking back at the village her focus on Sugar Belle’s house and bakery, “ 'Cause that Sugar Belle can bake!”

Twilight gave the question a second of thought and looked at the sky, nearby shadows and the position of the sun, “Maybe we can get something for the ro…” Before Twilight was finished Pinkie Pie bolted down and came back up with a wide assortment of Sugar Belle‘s baked good while eating an apple pie, “”

After Pinkie ate most of the pie as they all started towards the train station, “Sugar Belle’s apple pie isn't bad, but AJ’s are way better.”

Applejack took a bite of it, “Maybe she has what it takes tah be an Apple after all.” Everyone then had a laugh, as they were on their way home, and just in time to catch the train to Magiville.


Deep within the cave system Starlight stopped running as she leaned against the wall to collect her breath. “I’ll have my revenge Twilight. A dish best served cold…” Starlight, however, reached into her bag and pulled out a spell book from her childhood, in it were a series of spells developed by many Magicborn of yore, including Star Swirl the Great, one of the spell was his time travel spell, “Oh perhaps before the order is even placed.”