“In sameness, there is peace. Exceptionalism is a lie. Free yourself from your cutie mark. 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.“
That same speech kept droning over and over in that dirty, dull room with me and my friends. We were hungry, thirsty, tired, but equal. We had done everything we could to try to escape, but since we had to be no better than the other ponies in this town, we became helpless and weak. Twilight had been trying her hardest to rally our spirits, but even then, we were still no closer to getting our cutie marks back than before. Even through the night, those same calm words kept trying to drill right into our minds.
I couldn’t help but toss and turn while trying to sleep, looking at my flank just hoping I’d see those three butterflies again, only to be met with the same dull equal sign every time.
I had never felt so betrayed before. All these ponies seemed to be so friendly and hospitable and happy, but to learn they were all brainwashed by that Starlight Glimmer...How could someone so cruel make a town so nice and organized?
But...maybe they weren’t brainwashed. Maybe they willingly gave it up, and we’re just the nuisances trying to change something we shouldn’t. I mean, they did look happy there… Were we trying to force our belief that our cutie marks should be different and we can still live as friends? Were we wrong?
No, it couldn’t be. Our cutie mark is what makes us special. And there’s nothing wrong with being different. We learn from each other and our differences, and that’s what makes us grow.
Day finally broke, and I managed to get some dreamless sleep. I was tired, bitter, and a touch on edge. But I was still with all my friends, so I felt a little better. Somehow, being with those I care about and those that care for me made me feel like there wasn’t a problem in the world.
The only thing that made the current situation better was that loud screeching feedback from the loudspeakers. It was very annoying, but it definitely beat what kept repeating over and over when we tried to sleep. I let out a small sigh in relief when I heard Starlight Glimmer’s voice say “Good morning!” instead of her brainwashing speech.
In sameness, there is peace.
So why did I keep hearing it?
The door opened, and the entire town was there, with Starlight Glimmer opening the door to the outside world we longed to see. I wanted to run, I wanted to just run as fast as I could to get my cutie mark back. But I knew I couldn’t. I was too tired to run, and even if I wasn’t, I would only be as fast as everypony else.
“I trust you had a pleasant night?” She said innocently, as if she didn’t know this was nothing but torture. “This way, please. There are some friends who'd like to see you.”
Exceptionalism is a lie. Free yourself from your cutie mark.
We all lined up outside our prison, barely able to stand upright as the whole town just stood there and smiled.
“Gather round, friends, gather round! We've come to ask if any of you are ready to join us!” She rallied the town, “There are so many friends to be made once you realize you don't need your cutie marks...or the talents that come with them...“ Starlight said that specifically to Twilight, probably just to anger her. I knew she would never join them, none of us would.
Choose equality as your special talent.
“We have a welcome ceremony for new friends!” One of the ponies said, I think his name was Double Diamond...I was too tired to remember. “The whole village joins together to build you your own cottage-”
“Not interested!” Rainbow Dash suddenly snapped, “You may have them now, but we’re going to get our cutie marks back!” She said with determination. I wish I had some of the confidence that Rainbow had, my life would be so much easier with it. I wanted to be even half as brave as she was.
Difference is frustration.
“Y'all don't understand, do ya? You can't force nopony to be friends! It don't work like that!” Applejack tried to explain, but I think it fell on deaf ears.
“Please join us!”
“We love new friends!”
To excel is to fail.
“It's alright, everypony. This is a perfectly normal part of the equalization process for those who haven't... quite seen the light yet.”
Be your best by never being your best.
“We'll try again tomorrow once you've had a bit more...time to consider our philosophy!“
Conformity will set you free.
It was completely out of reflex, but just then, I had the confidence that Rainbow Dash had.
“I’d like to join!”
I gasped, covering up my mouth, maybe nopony heard that. Maybe I could just sneak back into that room and help think of another plan…
It wasn’t any good, they started surrounding me, cheering as my friends either shook in terror or in anger.
“Fluttershy? How could you!?” Twilight asked me in shock. To be honest, I was as horrified that I said that as they were.
“If giving up my cutie mark means I get to stay in this lovely village with these lovely ponies, then I'll do it. “ I said. It was too late to try to back out. I simply had to keep going with it.
As Starlight Glimmer approached me, I saw my friends glaring at me as they were shoved back into that room. I really did feel sorry for them. I didn’t mean to say it, but I just couldn’t stand another second of being trapped in there, that I just had to do anything to see and hear something else.
“We have a new friend, everypony!” she announced, making them start crowding closer to welcome me.
“Now, there's one more order of business. It seems some in our midst might be... dissatisfied with the village life!”
They gasped, and I gulped, I knew exactly who she was talking about, Sugar Belle, Night Glider, and Party Favor. I wanted to find them in the crowd, but I was afraid that my eyes would give them away.
“Unfortunately, it's all too true, my friends! Will you kindly tell us the names of those friends who so desperately miss their cutie marks that they would sneak around in the shadows talking to strangers about it? Just so we can be sure your intentions are indeed pure.“
I smiled nervously, maybe I could lie and spare them for going into that room. ”I...I don't know who they were. Ehe, I’m sorry. I don't know your names and faces yet. “
Starlight shook her head, “Oh nonsense! Obviously these ponies must have asked you directly. Kindly point them out!”
I started to sweat, I looked around, and I saw those three in the back, cringing and silently begging me not to call them out. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to do this...but I just couldn’t go back into that room again. I-
“It was me!” Party Favor blurted out. I froze in shock. “It was only me! But I only wanted it back for a little while!”
Starlight didn’t seem convinced. “And you're quite certain it was only you?“
“I just wanted to remember what it was like.”
“And no thought to the pain you'd cause your friends. Such selfishness…” She pointed to the room, and Party Favor trudged over and was locked in without a word.
“Now that that’s taken care of, I’d like to proudly welcome Fluttershy as our newest member of our little town!”
They cheered again, almost in perfect unison.
“Now, I’d like all of you to introduce yourselves to Fluttershy before the day is done, we want our new friend to be familiar with all of you!”
After a few hours, I began to spend time knowing the local townsponies better. Even though they looked very similar in manestyle and such, I could still identify some of them pretty well.
I really did miss my friends, but even after knowing that my cutie mark was stolen from me, I still felt calm. This entire town was still upbeat and cheerful, and everypony was still as welcoming as the moment we got in here. I almost thought of staying here.
No, I had to get out, I had to get my friends out, we had to go back to Ponyville. There we so many of my critters I had to take care of. I had to get our cutie marks back so we could go home.
But Starlight Glimmer wouldn’t let me out of her sight, like she needed to be sure I had truly joined their cause. I was afraid of what she would do if she found out, so I just had to keep playing along.
Starlight insisted that I stayed in her house at the end of town until mine was built. It would take a while, but she was hospitable enough to share her bed with me.
That night, I almost couldn’t sleep, knowing that if I turned around the pony that took our cutie marks would still be there. I didn’t dare try to escape and try to break my friends out. I was almost certain she would wake up and punish me for trying to sneak away. So I just lay there and kept my eyes shut. I have to admit, despite Starlight Glimmer being right behind me, it was a much more peaceful slumber than last night. I was on a surprisingly comfortable bed, and there weren’t any speeches droning through the speakers.
Yet...I could still hear it in the back of my mind, it had gone so long I memorized practically every word of it. In sameness, there is peace. Exceptionalism is a lie. Free yourself from your cutie mark...
The very next morning, I was awoken by Starlight, who said that we needed to check on the potential friends. I assume she meant my friends. I was hoping that they’d still be the same, and that they would hopefully forgive me.
In that house I was trapped in, they walked out, looking more tired than ever. I hid in the back, smiling along with the rest of the town, hoping they didn’t see me.
Party Favor ran out, begging and pleading for Starlight to forgive him. I was far in the back, I couldn’t hear much, I didn’t want to be seen, but I could tell that they were still fighting. I had to help them somehow.
I looked around town, everypony still being as welcoming as ever. I couldn’t help but smile at how friendly they all were. It made me so happy to just be in a place where there wasn’t fighting.
Soon after I was welcomed again, I then had to fit in with the rest of the locals. First they cut my mane and tail. Then they styled it so that it parted on both sides of my face , the rest put up in a bun like Sugar Belle’s. When I looked at my tail, it reminded me of Twilight’s.
Twilight, I missed them already, even though they were close, they still felt so far away because I couldn’t see them. I hope they weren’t still angry at me, if I could get them out, maybe they could forgive me. Or maybe if I convinced them that this really was a nice town… No! I...I couldn’t do that! I’d have to think of a plan later, maybe when Starlight wasn’t nearby the entire time.
Later that afternoon, we started to build my cottage in town. All the ponies in town came out to help, just like Double Diamond said they would. At first, Starlight and I watched as they worked together laying down the foundation, then setting up the wall frames. They all worked so hard like they were one person, it was very surprising to see how efficient they were. When they were all equal, they all worked with the same speed and strength as all the others. All the while, they were singing a different song about how fun it was when they were equal. It was so upbeat and catchy, just like the last one. I felt so excited, that I just had to ask Starlight to join in. She told me she was impressed by my enthusiasm and gave me permission. Without hesitation, I got to work.
When I lifted the wooden frame with the other ponies, I actually felt stronger. I almost froze in shock, I didn’t even remember being this strong, then I realized, I was finally as strong as everypony else, I was no longer the weakest! I felt so happy!
After all the framework had been put up, Starlight said that we were all done for the day, and that we were treated to some muffins for our hard work. At that moment, Sugar Belle came out with several large trays of muffins.
I cringed at the thought of eating those muffins. Pinkie Pie’s reaction to eating them was enough of a warning to how tasteless they probably were.
Still, it would be rude not to at least try…
I took one in my hooves, and took a small nibble. The moment it hit my tastebuds, I almost spat it out. Pinkie Pie was right, they tasted awful!
I wanted to throw it away, but it’d be so rude to not appreciate somepony’s hard work when the rest of them were enjoying it. So I kept taking small nibbles, hoping that it was an acquired taste.
As I looked around, I saw nothing but smiles everywhere. This place felt so friendly, I felt so accepted here as a new citizen of this town. Then I remembered that all my friends were still locked in that room, I really hope that I could save them soon...
...But I wouldn’t mind staying here for a while, at least until my cottage is done, then I could find a way to help my friends.
It’s been at least two weeks since I joined, and I was finally getting the hang of recognizing all my new friends. I’ve started getting used to living in my new house, it was actually very nice. Well, as nice as all the other houses.
I didn’t need Ponyville anyway, there’s certainly another pony there who’s better at taking care of animals than me.
Here, I was just as good as everyone else. I was just as fast, brave, and strong as the next pony. That made me happy, they’ve accepted me into their group where I was a big part of something. I felt important here.
I was welcome.