My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
The Cute Mark Clash, Chapter 1
The town of Ponyville.
A lovely settlement in the Equestrian country; home to ponies of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life. Life in Ponyville is as complicated as you want it to be. If you want to be a cowpony, rising with the sun and bucking apples, you're free to do so. If you want to be on the cutting edge of fashion and task yourself with clients and deadlines in exchange for profit and esteem, you can be accommodated. The cornerstone of Ponyville life is love, respect, and knowing the value of friendship.
That last characteristic is what forced one Twilight Sparkle to depart her Canterlot home and is what made her stay. She is no less the knowledge-hungry bookworm and on this particularly fine day, has a full itinerary to work through. She departs the Ponyville library, a hollowed-out tree which doubles as her home, followed closely by her baby dragon assistant Spike. She planned for so much that her nighttime assistant Owlowicious is perched on her back for this outing. Spike carries the wagon of supplies while Twilight hovers a quill and parchment at ready in case any new ideas come along. Shortly into the main plaza, she finds herself surrounded by the energetic Cutie Mark Crusaders, always looking to help a pony out and often ending up causing the opposite. Just as Twilight was about to direct their attention elsewhere, a looming shadow passed over the plaza, grabbing the attention of every pony there.
And that is where this story begins.
The looming shadow was, in fact, not a monster or a demon, but just the shadow cast by an entourage of pegasi. These weren't Celestia's pegasi, and that definitely wasn't Celestia leading the pack, even though it WAS an alicorn. The descending flyers didn't make any movements to show being hostile, but they did convey an air of intimidation with their earthen coats and darkly-colored full suits of armor.
While most of the Ponyville ponies were cautious, including the three fillies that hid behind her, Twilight was narrowing her eyes to look closer at the pegasi. "That emblem on their armor... They're from Clopperfield! And that in the front must be Lady Aremis!"
So much revealed, not much said. The three fillies looked at each other, but it was the owl on Twilight's back that asked, "Who?"
"Lady Aremis?" Twilight repeated, looking as the entourage landed amicably, "She's the current ruler of a far-off land called Clopperfield. Clopperfield... well, they don't have as peaceful a past as a place like Ponyville. Their present isn't looking that good, either. Lady Aremis is an alicorn... one of the very few in all of Equestria that isn't one of the two princesses."
Everypony watched as Lady Aremis approached the center of the plaza, where she was greeted by none other than Ponyville's mayor. Aremis looked like the warrior ruler type: Wine-red coat, silver long mane topped in a helmet, yellow eyes, fierce in appearance and built for battle, almost stallion-like. Her demeanor, however, was all smiles and very diplomatic. The mayor was nodding and gesturing to the stage in the middle of the plaza.
Despite the presence of these newcomers, the stalled ponies eased back into their routines. Over at the apple treats stand, Applejack was watching the entourage mostly because it was something new. Parting his way through the entourage was the only wingless member of the Clopperfield group; a unicorn colt with a steely gray coat, dark blue eyes backed by a magical glow, and a blonde mane thoroughly tied up in braids. In Clopperfield these braids may be proper, but anywhere else they just looked filly-like. In fact, the unicorn was making his apprehensive way straight to Applejack's carriage. He looked around the plaza as he went, humming in confirmation, as if checking to make sure everything was in place like he thought it would. Finally he made his way to the carriage, saying "Ah!" as if it just fell right in front of him.
"Hello, local vendor!" the unicorn greeted. His voice was light, mature, and accented. "My mates and I just flew in - well, my mates were the one who did any actual flying, I just... sat in the carriage and read the entire way. I guess ARRIVED is the better term. Yes. My mates and I just ARRIVED - that's how it goes - and now they're famished. I can only imagine seeing as how we only stopped once from Clopperfield to here, so..."
Applejack just stared back at the stammering colt, dubious look on her face. "Y'all lookin' to buy somethin'?"
The unicorn's attention snapped back, "Hmm? Oh! Oh, yes. I see you have a good supply with you there and there were no other food vendors in the immediate vicinity, and you know how pegasi can get ornery when malnourished. Ahem... would THIS be enough bits to buy out your stock?"
At that, the unicorn magically lifted a very generous sack full of bits and laid it onto the counter. Any condescending thoughts Applejack felt toward the unicorn was crushed under that pile of money. At least, according to the way her eyes bulged at the sack.
"Are apples sweet!" she called back, swiped the sack, and dove into the pile of apple-related treats to get them ready for delivery.
"Are apples sweet..." The unicorn echoed, "I THINK they are! Ah! I see why you would ask that! You posed a rhetorical question the answer of which matched your answer to the question I just posed. I suppose a citizen of this town would have picked up on that sooner-" He was stopped when Applejack zipped up to him, laying down the handle to the wheelbarrow containing the enormous pile of apple products that ought to have lasted until closing. "AH! That was fast."
Beaming proudly, Applejack recited, "At Sweet Apple Acres, we pride ourselves on customer satisfaction! Keep that in mind when you're headin' on home," finishing with a courtesy wink.
"Brilliant!" the unicorn concurred, "I'll just- erm, yes." He took hold of the wheelbarrow with his magic and made his way back to the pegasi.
By this time, Aremis has made her way to the stage in the plaza. If taking the stage didn't get most of the plaza's attention back, the reverb when she cleared her throat into a microphone did.
"Greetings, ponies of Ponyville! I am Lady Aremis, sovereign of Clopperfield! I apologize if my entourage alarmed anypony coming in, but I was under the impression that my arrival was known well in advance!"
Off to the side the mayor muttered, "I DID pin up a flyer on the bulletin board..."
Aremis gave a forgiving smirk, "We come as guests and as arbiters. With the consent of your mayor, I am proud to announce the arrival of the first ever Ponyville Cutie Mark Clash!"
A murmur spread throughout the growing crowd. They got the impression that this was something to be excited about, but the word 'clash' didn't sound too friendly. Aremis caught the concerned gaze of the gray unicorn that took his place next to her, but she took the reception in good spirits.
"Let me explain... the Cutie Mark Clash is a friendly competition between combatants. It's for athletic ponies who want to try something a little more... physical."
The ponies murmured again, getting it a little bit more. From above, Rainbow Dash called down, "So you're saying it's like a... FIGHTING tournament?"
All eyes turned to Aremis. She bowed her head a little and then looked back up, "I wanted to avoid saying it like that, but... yes. The Cutie Mark Clash is a fighting tournament. We do employ a certain magic that allows any pony to unleash their hidden potential and avoid serious injury. Champions will earn prize money and the honor of facing the previous Clash's champion. The prize money for winning is... well, I can at least tell you it's a generous amount; even by Clopperfield standards."
The new reception rippling through the crowd was very mixed. For every disgusted pony, there was a mildly interested pony. The outright enthusiastic ponies looked around for anypony else who would out-loud express interest. Aremis looked at the increasingly won-over crowd with satisfaction.
"For all ponies interested, we have set up a booth in the plaza. If you want to sign up or have any other questions, please talk to my scholar, Hayley."
Aremis gestured toward the gray unicorn, who said so low nopony heard, "Helloooo..." With the ponies talking amongst themselves, Aremis made her courtesy bow and took leave of the stage, resting her hooves behind the aforementioned booth. At the moment, the ponies in the plaza were keeping a fair distance, waiting for whoever was first to sign up. Without anypony actually approaching, Hayley turned his head.
"Brilliant speech, Lady. Rousing. You did... sorta, you know, trip over the whole fighting tournament thing. Semantics, I know." At Aremis's gesture, Hayley turned around, straight into strong rose eyes. "AH!"
Rainbow Dash hung in the air, keeping level eyes, looking very businesslike. "All right, let's hear it. When you say 'generous' with the prize money, how generous are we talking?"
Hayley fumbled around in the books, "Well, technically, Lady Aremis was the one to mention the money, so your question ought to have been phrased, when SHE said 'generous' wi- AHA! Here we are... this year's Rules and Stipulations booklet. Freshly quilled. The amount should be... here."
Dash read the page. "Well... that's not bad."
"Oh. Well, those last few zeroes ARE part of the number. Clopperfield punctuation and all that."
Rereading, Dash blurted, "SERIOUSLY! Hey, Applejack! You should take a look at this! You could buy your grandma like... THREE new hips with this kind of money!"
Applejack stopped folding up her display to look over her shoulder. "Might kind of ya to point that out, Rainbow Dash, and I do think we could use the money... but we're earnin' it the old fashioned way... by buckin' and sellin' apples."
"Fine! More for me, then!" With that, Dash picked up the quill and signed at the top of the list. The crowd swooned at Dash's daring and moved in.
"That sure is bold, even for you." Twilight finally spoke up, walking over, "I thought your thing was racing, not fighting."
"I can see how you'd think that, but let me tell you, growing up in Cloudsdale can get pretty rough at times. I've seen my fair share of throwdowns." With a growl, Dash flexed her dominant front leg, managing to pop up a muscle. Twilight reeled back, not quite sure if pony limbs are supposed to be able to do that.
Continuing along, Twilight checked items off her list. "Well, that was interesting. Back to the day!"
Spike had kept quiet the entire way over, but he did look back at the plaza since leaving. Finally, the baby dragon had to ask, "What do you mean, 'that was interesting?' Aren't you going to sign up?"
"Sign up...? You mean for that Cutie Mark Clash thing? ME? Fighting!"
"Yeah! You've got the most powerful magic anypony has ever seen! At least that's what I was told whenever I ask about the day I was hatched."
Twilight faced forward to hide her sheepish grin and blush. "I know you think highly of my magic and I appreciate that you want me to explore what else I can do with it... but I don't think I can bring harm to another pony... even for sport. You saw it; Rainbow Dash was the first one to sign up! I can't even begin to think what would happen if I had to fight her. It... just doesn't seem like something that friends would do. I would NEVER hurt Dash... or Fluttershy, or Rarity, or..."
"Yeah, Pinkie P-" In the next moment, Twilight heard a primal yell and a sudden flash of pink. "AIEE!"
When Twilight felt no impact, she opened her eyes and saw the bottom of a pink hoof directly in front of her eyes. She heard a familiar giggle, then felt the hoof bonk her on the head once and again. "Two for flinching!" Pinkie Pie called out.
"Haha... yeah... So, uh, Pinkie Pie... you've heard about the Cutie Mark Clash, too?"
"Yup! Heard about and joined!"
"Joined? YOU signed up for the Cutie Mark Clash!"
"How could I not! The Cutie Mark Clash is only going to be the biggest, most exciting party EVER!"
"Uh... I don't know if I'd call it a party..."
"Twilight! Think about it! Everybody's going to be there, there's going to be tons of excitement, and Lady Aremis is sending out invitations!" Pinkie Pie very seriously pulled the nearest poster, "Invitations, Twilight! Invitations! Add in a cake and some streamers and I'd call that a PARTY!"
"You... have a very broad definition of what you'd call a party, Pinkie Pie..."
Spike added, "And kinda troubling..."
Despite their comments, Pinkie Pie was still talking. "OOH! You have a list! I should make a list of thing I'll need for the Cutie Mark Clash! Okay, I've already mentioned the cake and the streamers, and then I'll need... ooh! Hats! Party hats! And cowpony hats and fezzes! Fezzes are cool! OOHHH! Tambourines! I'll need backups too and I know where I can get some! I'll see you later at the Clash, Twilight!" And with that, the pink pony bounced off.
Twilight realized that last sentence and called after, "W... what! I'm not GOING to the... Oh, what's the point?"
"I think she makes a good point, Twilight!" Spike spoke up with an opinionated skyward point, "Pinkie Pie knows what's going on and she's setting out to have fun with it! I'm pretty sure Rainbow Dash thinks about it the same way... Well, MOSTLY the same."
Twilight defiantly levitated the handle to the wagon back into Spike's hand. "I'll think about it. Let's just get back to the research for now."
Spike reluctantly held his hand out, "Fine..."
After making a few stops, Twilight's itinerary brought her to Rarity's shop for one thing or another. At the door, Twilight gave a little knock, only to be met by the other unicorn's sing-song call of "Busy...!"
Despite Rarity's apparent business, her door was left unlocked, so Twilight pushed her way in. "Rarity, it's me. I just want to pick up a... what are you doing?"
Rarity was currently stitching together a very... different sort of outfit. Not her usual glamorous dresses and formal wear, but something much more form-fitting and perhaps not modest enough. Rarity herself turned around from her sketch, "Why, stitching together my Cutie Mark Clash outfit, of course!"
"Your..." Twilight shook her head, "Okay... Rainbow Dash was predictable, Pinkie Pie... well, she's UNpredictable, but Rarity, why are YOU of all ponies joining this thing!"
"Isn't it obvious?" Rarity asked, magically pulling an eye mask from the model and placing it on her own face, "The Cutie Mark Clash is a VERY big deal to these Clopperfield ponies and I have yet to even GET a client from Clopperfield! So imagine Lady Aremis's face when I, Rarity, dash onto the field of battle, wearing the most glamorous yet practical costume of all the participants! I can only IMAGINE that everypony else will just be going as they are for this event. How drab!"
"But Rarity... do you actually know how to fight?"
"Do I know how to fight? Oh, Twilight, darling, you don't give me enough credit! Every pony knows how to fight, somewhere deep down inside. Just like how every pony has a zodiac stone, or a certain season really brings out their innate charm! And besides...! Well, I shouldn't have to tell you. You're the pony who knows everything about everything, aren't you?"
"Um... what? I'm not following you."
"In that case, you trot yourself back down to the plaza and talk to that handsome scholarly colt. I need my outfit to be PERFECT... Oh, to project my bust in this outfit, or not to...?"
"PROJECT!" Spike cheered, and then was quickly dragged along. Twilight was out the door before she started wondering what a 'bust' is.
While Twilight continued to resist the apparent allure of the Cutie Mark Clash, the event was the buzzing topic all over Ponyville and anypony remotely close to it. For instance, Rainbow Dash was just so pumped about it that she had to tell somepony, and found her old friend and confidant Fluttershy to be the best pony to gush to.
"I am SO pumped about it!" Dash repeated for the umpteenth time, not even looking at the birdfeed she was filling, somehow putting in the correct amount to the very grain.
"It sounds like fun," Fluttershy muttered sincerely, while meticulously repositioning a lily pad at the instruction of a very particular frog, "I hope you win."
Dash took her perch on a nearby tree branch, "No doubt! And you know why? I've been looking through my playbook of tricks and I could make at least HALF of them into fighting techniques! I'll be all over the place and take a pony down before they even notice I'm not there any more! Omigosh, and I also saw that there's team battles! What if one of the Wonderbolts joins and then I get to team up with them! No... wait. That's bad! I need to practice team attacks! Fluttershy! You have to help me practice!"
Fluttershy froze for a moment at the thought, conveniently leaving the lily pad right where the frog wanted it. Fluttershy quickly thought of a change of topic, "Won't it be too small in the arena to pull off such big tricks?"
"Arena? Hah! The Cutie Mark Clash isn't being held in a single place! That would probably be cheaper, but not as fun. Clashes can take place anywhere two ponies meet up! I could wake up, go to the rainbow factory and BAM! Some pegasus wants to fight!"
"Even in, um... the Sugar Cube Corner?"
"That would be hilarious!"
"She'd throw a fit! Haha!"
Fluttershy looked all around, "Right... right here?"
"Yes, Fluttershy. I think you get the idea by now."
"That's not it," Fluttershy said upward, "I mean... two ponies could fight here? Where there's delicate ecosystems that could be disrupted, or unwitting little furry creatures that could be caught underhoof? Or... or even used as weaponry?"
Dash turned over from her reclining position, "You worry about some strange things, Fluttershy. But, uh, yeah. I guess that could happen. Though I personally promise you I won't be reaching for any gopher-chuks in the middle of a fight."
"But what about everypony else? They could get so wrapped up in their fights that they don't see a bunny scampering along, or a bird gets caught in the crossfire...!"
Dash landed in front of her friend with a humored smile, "Fluttershy, calm down. Hurting animals isn't going to give extra points, so I don't think anypony will be aiming for them. Just... stop worrying and you'll see."
"Oh... but I have already started! I think I'll go into town and have a word with whoever's in charge."
"Hmh..." Dash followed, thinking off to the side until... "You know... While we're going that way, I have ANOTHER idea of how you can actively keep ponies from harming the wildlife, one or a few at a time."
Looking into Dash's eager grin, Fluttershy lowered her head, "I'm not going to like this idea... but end up going along with it anyway, aren't I?"
The first day in Cutie Mark Clash sign-ups was very busy. Now that the sun had risen on the second day, there weren't so many ponies lining up to sign on, Hayley noticed. Not that it was such a bad thing, heavens no. Hayley would have been WORRIED if every pony in this nice town were clamoring for a spot in a FIGHTING TOURNAMENT, of all things. Yes, the initial rush of the most interested would do nicely for the Ponyville event.
"...se me? EXCUSE ME, sir!"
"Oh dear!" Hayley yelped, stirred from his thoughts. When his hooves landed, he saw the pony trying to get his attention. "Heh- hello there! Ah! You're the local vendor from the other day! Well, I know your name isn't 'Local Vendor,' I was just trying to get to the point. I'm often told I don't get to the point. It would be funny if right now you said that your name actually IS Local Vendor."
Despite Hayley's rambling, Applejack still managed to make an awkward silence of looking at the other, less articulate pony. "My name's Applejack."
"Ah, not Local Vendor, then. Good, good."
Averting the need to awkwardly stare again, Applejack lifted a hoof, "And you are?"
"I am... Oh! Me. Yes, me. I am... ahem... Hayley. I know, I know, a mare's name, but consider the spelling. H-A-Y-L-E-Y. I believe that extra 'Y' in the middle is what makes is so androgynous. That is, fitting for both genders. Ah, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude by assuming you don't know what androgynous means, it's just that most ponies don't-"
"I just have one question for ya, Hayley, and I'll leave ya be."
"That'll save time, yes." Hayley cleared his throat, "Please ask. Your question."
As if having climbed up a mountain of stairs to ask a wise guru, Applejack sighed, "This here Cutie Mark Clash thing. Does it really help ponies get their Cutie Marks?"
"Hold on, hold on," Hayley immediately said, clenching his eyes shut, "No! I mean... well, no. It does not. The Cutie Mark Clash is named after an event in the life of Trotts Clopperfield himself, who earned his Cutie Mark in the field of battle. I believe it was in the civil war of, hm... I should know this..."
"So it doesn't?"
"So what- Oh, yes. I mean no. Yes to the no. The name is just that. There is no special stimulation towards earning one's Cutie Mark in this tournament. That is, unless your special talent happens to be in fighting. Which isn't too likely since A) This town doesn't seem to be the type and B) I can see plainly from here that you are already in possession of a Cutie Mark. If, ah, that's how you put it. Having a Cutie Mark."
Keeping on track, Applejack sighed, "THAT'S a relief. My sister and her little friends were all on about enterin' this thing to see if they get their Cutie Marks from it. Now I can just go on back and tell her exactly what you said. Well, not EXACTLY what you said, just the important stuff."
Applejack was nearly out of earshot when she heard a passing, "Oh, dear."
The orange pony zipped right back to where she had been previously standing, "What?"
"AH!" Hayley yelped again, "I mean, HAH'lo again! Haha! Well, I was looking at the list of participants and I was wondering, what with the similarity in name, if this sister you're referring to is Apple BLOOM?"
Immediately Applejack said quickly, "Why do you ask?"
Nervousness mounted on Hayley's side. By now she must have known, but her glare forced his hoof forward. "Well, earlier, a little filly and her two friends came by, asking to join the tournament. And I told them, 'No! Not even two of you combined could join!' And they asked me 'How about all three of us?' And I consulted the manual - this manual right here - And apparently, a group of ponies CAN compete as a single entry if they lack physical strength but make up for it in coordination." Hayley paused. He hadn't been hurt now, so maybe that was a good enough answer. He looked at Applejack, only to have her unchanging expression back. Hayley gulped, "That filly's name was, ahem... Apple Bloom."
"YOU LET MY LIL' SISTER INTO A FIGHTIN' TOURNAMENT!"
Rapidly, Hayley whimpered, "I cannot refuse a qualified party if he, she, or they request a slot in the tournament and it is not my place to go against age-old traditions if you have an issue please fill out a complaint which will be sent up to Lady Aremis within an hour!"
Stiff-lipped, Applejack backed down from Hayley's personal space. "Darn it, Apple Bloom... I thought just this once you could leave trouble be."
As Applejack looked around for any solution to the issue, Hayley exhaled, calming down enough to show genuine concern and guilt. "I'm sorry for what this tournament - and I, by proxy - is causing for your family. Like I said, it's not my place to say what goes. I'm just the scholar. I mean, Apple Bloom told me not to tell you or you'd buck me into next week. Though I AM skeptical of time travel by any means - much more by the force of a buck - I AM willing to wager that the buck in attempting the time travel would still be very painful. So I decided, after looking at all the facts that I would be best off on YOUR good side, the side that I don't believe can actually send me into next week, but WILL harm me greatly in attempting to do so. So in short-"
"Who are you talking to?"
Hayley opened his eyes to see one of the Clopperfield Pegasi in front of him. He grinned sheepishly. "Miss Applejack, of course. I mean, I was under the IMPRESSION that I was still talking with Miss Applejack and should she still be here that is who I would be addressing."
The Pegasus leaned forward and looked at the parchment with the names of the Cutie Mark Clash participants, "You mean THIS Applejack that just signed up?"
"Hm?" Hayley looked to his side and saw that indeed Applejack's name topped the list as the most recent competitor. Hayley then cast a look to his other side to avoid any gazes, "Oh, dear..."
In just enough time for Hayley to calm down, he stood ready when a young mare unicorn with a purplish gray coat stopped by. She was accompanied by a baby dragon; an odd sight.
"Go on, Twilight," Spike urged, "just ask!"
Twilight rolled her eyes over to Hayley, who bust a grin upon being looked at. "Hi. I'm Twilight Sparkle, and I have a question about the Cutie Mark Clash. Your lady said that you have a way to avoid injury. I want to know more about that."
"Ah! A common question. Not that being common doesn't make it a good question as well, because that question IS very good for a pony who does not know. So common, in fact, that I burned out explaining it and will answer it shortly once I have the proper chapter brought up. Bringing up, bringing, up... Ah! No. No that's meal obligations and your question was not about that. Unless you'd like to know? No, no. You came with a specific- Here!"
Hayley floated the open book in sight, and then lifted what appeared to be a gilded horseshoe.
"You see this? This is the Hoof of War. Again, the Hoof of War. Wearing a pair of these will allow you to summon up a spell also called the Hoof of War. Easy to remember. What the Hoof of War does is, first of all, enhances a pony's fighting ability. Techniques that require years of training or much momentum or energy will be simple under the Hoof of War's effect. Secondly - I think we're on secondly - the Hoof of War detects a pony's position and momentum, and manipulates the gravity and anything else to prevent serious injury. So, say a pegasus decides to get wise and drop you from on high - NOT pleasant, I can tell you - the Hoof of War will make it so you land in a manner that is most shock-absorbent. So you can't, say, fall on your head - spinal fracture - or if you get knocked out standing, twist your legs in UNHEARD OF directions on the way down. Um, just to reiterate, those are things that can NOT happen in the Hoof of War."
"That's, uh... that's good to know." Twilight said in response, still as apprehensive as when she arrived. She looked at the parchment with all the participant names on it, over to Spike, who nodded encouragingly, back to the parchment, back to Spike, up to Hayley, who shirked away in surprise, unaware that he was any part of this, back to the parchment, then to Pinkie Pie.
Before Twilight could properly react to Pinkie Pie's suddenly arrival, the pink pony burst, "Ooh! You're finally signing up! I signed up and then I wondered, 'Hey, where's Twilight on this list?' and then I realized you hadn't signed up yet and said to the pony next to me 'Well that's strange. Usually Twilight is involved in EVERYTHING that goes on around Ponyville!' and the pony next to me asked 'Who are you?' which is a pretty silly question since I know everybody in town but probably not as much as you because you're involved in everything because you're so main-character-like but lately there's a lot of new ponies visiting which is really exciting and I'll bet you'd meet a lot of them if you joined the Cutie Mark Clash which you're going to anyway because everypony else is here to see you join so I have to ask just 'cause you're so tired of pressure are you signing up for the Cutie Mark Clash now? Are ya are ya are ya?"
True to what Pinky was saying (if you could catch all that), the rest of Twilight's friends weren't far behind, approaching expectantly.
"You have to admit," Rarity spoke up, "the six of us HAVE become a package deal for the town in the past year. In fact, I've likened each of us to components of the perfect dress ensemble!"
In turn, Applejack said, "I wasn't keen on joinin', but it'll help me keep track of Apple Bloom throughout the whole nonsense. I might as well have some fun."
The floor turned to Rainbow Dash. "Let me put it this way, Twilight. This is an event that even FLUTTERSHY signed up for. You can't NOT chicken out on something that even FLUTTERSHY is willing to do. Uh... no offense, Fluttershy."
"Oh, none taken," Fluttershy said with a smile, "If it weren't for the animals, I wouldn't have joined. Chickens are adorable creatures, anyway, so if you didn't join, you'd still be okay with me." Fluttershy received light kicks from at least three back hooves, "But it would still be better if you DID join."
Looking over her friends - her trusted, loved friends - Twilight groaned as her reluctance waned. Finally she sighed, "Fine... I'll do it." She magically picked up the quill and signed amid the vocal approval of her friends. "You know... I wouldn't have done this for ANYpony else."
Hayley looked the signature over, "And... it's done! Awe-inspiring, truly. You know, back in Clopperfield, the value of friendship is seen a clichéd thing... hokey to a fault. Seeing you ponies play it straight makes ME want to run out and make a friend! Not- not right NOW, mind you. But the thought is there!"
After a few more pleasantries, the six friends took their leave to move onto other tasks in their days. Hayley watched them go, then as soon as they were out of earshot, saw Lady Aremis emerge from the back of the booth.
"Were those the six ponies we've heard so much about?" Aremis asked.
Hayley, gestured with a nudge of his head, "I can't be entire sure, but I am PRETTY sure those are the ponies."
Aremis hummed thoughtfully, "If they end up treating our tournament like they did the Grand Galloping Gala, things are about to get interesting. I'd go so far as to call it the best Cutie Mark Clash ever."
"Oh, oh, I see what you did there. Actually... actually I don't. No. I lost it."
Disregarding her scholar, Aremis kept her eyes trained, especially on Twilight. Her mouth curved into a grin.