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Casino Battle Royale

by GentlemanJ

Chapter 1


This is a short story in The Journey of Graves.

The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.

IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.

And so, the saga continues...

Casino Battle Royale

By: GentlemanJ

Money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy lots of nice stuff, and that’s about the same thing right?

On this night, far above the glittering cityscape of Las Pegasus, a grand coalition of such like-minded people gathered for the grand opening of the one and only, the magnificent and glorious, the sublimely superb, Balius Sky Palace. Fifty thousand square feet of casino space over three opulent stories. Lavish trimmings of gold and bronze over pearly white marble. The largest crystal dome ever constructed cresting a vast portal to the sea of stars above. Truly, this twenty-eight Hyperion-engined technical marvel would now serve as the central jewel in the Sensational City’s glittering crown.

In the central atrium, underneath a two-ton crystal chandelier that hung suspended in mid-air by invisible spellwork, the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful flitted about in intricate dance known as society. Here, playboy heir of Mane Enterprises bantered with hextech genius entrepreneur Pony Stark over baccarat. There, Baron Kucyk conversed with best-selling author K.L. Rolling about some up and coming series of novels as the roulette table spun. In every corner of the extravagant space, the aristocracy conducted business, formed networks, and built empires, all per usual for an event of this scale.

But of course, there must always be time for pleasure, no? Surely, what social gathering would be complete without fine young dandies making their way about in search of the ever elusive treasure known as love? On this particular evening, Aurelius and Argent, two dashing bachelors with a great deal of time and money on their hands, thought to try their luck not at the tables, but in the crowds.

“Ugh, it’s always the same old lot,” Aurelius frowned as he dabbed at his upper lip with a scented handkerchief. “Honestly, why can’t we ever bring some new-blood to these events?”

“Probably because the price of admittance would bleed them dry?” Argent quipped.

“How true, how true,” his companion sighed. “Still, it would be nice to meet a fresh face every now and then. I’ve probably had occasion to meet every bachelorette here this evening, and I assure you, most are simply not worth the jewels they wear.”

“You might not want to write off the evening just yet,” Argent said as his eyes grew wide in astonishment. “In fact, I think we might have just hit the veritable jackpot.”

Following his friend’s gaze, Aurelius’ eyes grew like his stock portfolio as there, at the opulent bar in the atrium’s center, stood two of the loveliest ladies he had ever seen in his life. The one on the left, a striking beauty with an elegant crown of violet curls, was a rose in full bloom clad as she was in her sensual, wine-colored gown. Her companion on the other hand, was a blossoming belladonna, her graceful tower of coral-hued locks a perfect complement to her soft, celeste gown and gentle radiance.

“Someone call my lawyer,” Aurelius breathed, “because I think those ladies just stole my heart.”

“I know right?” Argent grinned. “You don’t see women like that at every cocktail social.”

“So, how are we going to do this?” Aurelius began, pulling in his compatriot close for a strategy meeting. “We don’t want to step on each other’s toes on the approach, right?”

“No we do not,” Argent heartily agreed. “To be clear, I was going to go for the one in red. She’s got that whole, ‘va va voom’ thing going on, if you know what I'm saying.”

“I believe I do,” Aurelius smiled with a roll of the eyes. His friend could be awfully silly at times, not realizing that a regal, majestic lady such as the one on the right was by far the better choice. But hey, same taste in hobbies, different taste in women is what made for great friends, no?

So with cool, confident smiles, the two affluents glided up to the bar and split to stand beside their prospective targets.

“Evening,” Aurelius smiled, all cool confidence as he ordered a glass of notoriously complex, quadruple distilled, twenty year old scotch. “Come here often?”

“Was your father an investment banker?” Argent grinned as he ordered a movie-esque martini mix, shaken not stirred. “Because ma’am, you have some spectacular assets.”

The obviously great introductions were met with two very surprised looks from two very surprised ladies. Then, the surprise melted into smiles as after exchanging quick but meaningful looks, the genteel beauty on the right made her reply.

“Gentlemen,” she smiled, a very lovely, very warm, and very platonic smile, “while the attention is very flattering, I’m afraid we must decline your... advances. You see, we’re already spoken for.”

“What, here and now?” Argent asked as he made some very exaggerated gestures of looking about. “Pardon my impertinence, but I can't seem to find anyone who'd fit the bill.”

“They’re currently detained with some personal affairs,” the violet-haired beauty smiled, obviously amused with the whole situation. “But alas, they are here and will join us momentarily.”

“Be that as it may,” Aurelius continued as he pressed on with fully undeterred confidence, “I think that if you give us the chance, we’ll be everything these friends of yours could be and more.”

“I’m sure you’ll try,” the lady on the right replied, her smile now softening into hues of sympathy, “but I’m really not sure that’s a very good idea.”

“Aw, what’s the matter,” Aurelius smiled, now turning up his swagger to eleven, “are you afraid you might like what you see?”

“Actually,” she laughed, “it’s just concern for your general health and well-being.”

“... Huh?”

“You should listen to her. One real smart cookie that one, let me tell you.”

Aurelius was quite surprised to feel that someone had thrown a congenial arm across his shoulder. After all, that was an act for commoners and plebeians, was it not? Turning to seek the identity of the offending party, the young noble found himself staring into the smiling blue eyes of a handsome man with a shock of azure hair.

“Um, pardon me,” Aurelius started, “but what exactly–”

“So here’s how it is,” the man began, neatly cutting Aurelius off even as he gently pulled the youth away from the bar and his intended target. “That lady there? She happens to be here tonight with an Equestrian Guard Captain by the name of Shining Armor. Now normally, he’s a really nice guy, but if he sees an upstanding young man such as yourself moving in too close to his date, that guard captain might just have to order an investigation on the subject. One that involves… probing, if you catch my drift.”

And though the man’s smile never faltered nor did his voice change one wit, the rich one’s blood ran colder than glacial spring water, for in those sparkling blue eyes lay the promise of ten thousand unpleasantries just waiting to happen.

“All this to say, buddy, is that I’m trying to do you a favor here,” the blue-eyed man smiled. “Surely you wouldn’t go around turning down favors, right?”

“Of-of course not,” Aurelius smiled weakly. “I always appreciate a good favor.”

“Capital,” the man beamed, all good humors and cheer once more. “Oh, and I’d probably pass the warning onto your friend there. Fast.”

Argent too, was quite perplexed when he spotted the pair glance his way, even more so when he noticed Aurelius’ eyes growing larger than a pair of Faberge eggs. However, perplexity gave way to apprehension as he felt a trembling chill creep down his spine.

Turning in place, the lad’s pallor drained clear away as he found himself staring into the steely-gaze of death in a fresh tuxedo. Paralyzed with fear, Argent could only shiver as the specter pierced his soul with dreadful, iron-cold eyes, trembling as the grim reaper himself uttered a single, simple command:

“Move.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. Faster than white after Labor Day, Argent vanished, disappearing into the crowd with as much alacrity as his legs could provide. Aurelius wasn't very far behind.

“Really now, probing?” Princess Cadance chuckled as her husband slid into the now vacant spot beside her. “Surely the illustrious Shining Armor would never stoop to such silly antics.”

“Eh, you never know,” the blue-eyed captain grinned as he ordered a gin and tonic. “Probing has a long and decorated history in the scientific community. Twiley’ll back me up on this one.”

“You could have just told him we were married,” the princess replied with a most amused roll of the eyes.

“I certainly could've,” he agreed. “But where would be the fun in that?”

“And speaking of fun,” Rarity laughed as she turned to Graves, already with whiskey in hand, “did you really need to terrify the boy so?”

The marshal blinked, ice clinking in his glass.

“I do something?”

“If by doing something, you mean staring a hole through his head, then yes,” the violet-haired beauty replied with a remarkably accurate impression. “Honestly, you don’t need to get jealous of every single young man who tries to catch my eye, do you?”

“I was not jealous,” the marshal scoffed in completely believable denial whilst pulling at his collar. “It’s just this blasted bowtie. Feels like I’m being strangled by breezies.”

“Of course, of course,” Rarity smiled as she reached up to straighten his neck wear. “I, for one, think it looks very good on you.”

“I look like a blighted penguin,” Graves said in what was definitely not a sulk. “Can I please take it off?”

“Of course not!” Shining Armor chimed in with a hearty laugh. “If you’re going to look like a penguin, you’d better go full penguin, right Cadance?”

“Absolutely,” the crystal princess smiled. “You two do make the most adorable pair of penguins I ever did see.”

“Ooh, I know!” Rarity laughed. “Do you think we could find them matching top hats?”

Fortunately, before the pretty dressmaker could make good on her diabolical plans, something happened. Well, actually several things happened, though in what particular order nobody could be sure. Maybe the first things to happen were several doors bursting open to reveal masked men with state of the art weaponry in hand. Or maybe it was the massive crystal dome shattering into a million pieces, raining glittering debris on the crowds below as more armed men rappelled down from an airship overhead. Or perhaps it was the arrival of their eye-patched leader, rising out of one of the luminescent fountains like a mermaid from the sea.

In any case, let’s just say that a lot of interesting stuff happened in a very short span of time.

“… Well this is different,” Graves remarked as he looked over the growing chaos around them. “Never figured C.O.B.R.A. would crash a fancy party like this.”

“I hear they’re hurting for cash,” Shining Armor remarked after a slow sip of his drink. “Probably an… 'aggressive-marketing fundraiser,' as the PR folks would call it.”

“Huh. I’ll be.”

“Dear,” Cadance said as she turned to her husband with a much too sweet smile on her face. “I thought you said this was going to be a relaxing, uneventful double date with Rarity and Graves tonight. You wouldn’t happened to have gotten us tickets here by volunteering as undercover agents for a potential terrorist attack, would you?”

“Who, me? Of course not,” the guard captain laughed in an almost believable manner. “Besides, it was his idea, not mine.”

“Hey, don’t rope me in here,” Graves warned with eyebrow arched. “I only joined your 'interesting evening' 'cause Rarity said I never take her anywhere nice.”

“Aw, you do care,” the young lady beamed.

“Oh yeah… Sorry about that Cadance,” Shining Armor replied, turning to his wife with an apologetic grin. “Tickets cost a bloody fortune and I really thought it was gonna be a quiet one. Never thought it'd all go belly up so quick.”

“You never do,” the princess sighed, doing her best to stay mad at him and failing miserably. “But then again, I suppose I can forgive that oversight. Just this once.”

“Isn’t she great?” Shining Armor laughed, aquamarine eyes sparkling as he planted a fond kiss on her the cheek.

Sadly, the universe refused to take pause for this moment of sweetness, because just as Cadance began to playfully swat her husband away, two men carrying spell rifles and masks emblazoned with hissing serpents marched over and began barking very rude orders.

“YOU! ON YOUR KNEES NOW!” the first one yelled, brandishing his rifle in the marshal's face. Graves peered down the rifle barrel, looking idly amused like a cat who’d just discovered a new species of mouse.

“Hey,” Graves called, turning to his comrade in arms. “You wanna take this or should I?”

“I was actually hoping to canoodle just a little more,” Shining Armor replied. “Would you mind?”

“Not at all,” the marshal shrugged, draining the contents of his glass–

– before dropping the two unconscious criminals to the floor.

“Sorry, Rarity,” Graves said as he knelt to pick up the spell guns, actually sounding regretful at missing an evening of socializing and society. “Know you were looking forward to tonight.”

“Think nothing of it,” the sapphire-eyed beauty smiled as she straightened his coat. “You two have fun now, but don’t be too rough on them, you hear?”

“Don’t worry, Rarity,” Shining Armor answered with a jovial smile and an even more jovial arm slung over his somber friend’s shoulder. “I’ll make sure Graves brushes his teeth, eats his veggies, and gets back before bedtime.”

“Remind me again why I trust you to watch my back?” the marshal returned, his gaze blander than dry wheat toast. The guard captain replied with the cheekiest of grins.

“Because we're the bestest friends ever.”

With a weary roll of the eyes, Graves (forcefully) handed his colleague a rifle and the two headed off towards combat.

“Dear me,” Cadance murmured as she watched the two release silver spell chains and rappel upwards in swift unison. “I do hope they’ll be careful.”

“I’m sure no harm will come to them,” Rarity said with a soothing touch to the shoulder.

“Oh, I’m not worried about them,” the crystal princess laughed. “I’m more concerned–”

–a thunderous explosion, and a trio of screaming masked men flew through the air to make a literally impressionable introduction to the floor–

“–for the structural integrity of the ship.”

“Ah,” the pretty seamstress smiled wryly. “I see what you mean.”

“Well, I’m sure everything will work out,” Cadance said with a warm sigh. “After all, your Graves is here to act as the voice of reason.”

“Now don’t sell Shining Armor short,” Rarity rebounded merrily as a crashing chandelier accented her laughter. “That positive attitude of his will probably be the only reason most of these villains can still walk by evening’s end.”

“I suppose,” Cadance chuckled before lulling into thoughtful silence. “… Those two are pretty different, aren’t they?”

“About as different as night and day,” the violet-haired beauty agreed as she slowly caught on to her companion’s meaning. “… Which does make you wonder how they ever became friends, doesn't it?”

“I know they were in the same year at Academy,” the crystal princess offered over the rattling of gunfire, “but beyond that, Shining Armor doesn't talk about Graves much.”

“Probably out of respect for both his privacy and military protocol,” Rarity agreed, her comment eliciting a curious look from the coral-haired woman. “Needless to say, Graves doesn't talk much about it either, as you can probably imagine.”

For a moment, the two ladies stood there, mutual sympathies shining in their eyes for having to deal with such needlessly complicated men.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let this evening go to waste,” Rarity said as she took her friend by the arm. “Care to join me for a drink?”

“I could go for a tasty beverage,” Cadance smiled. “But no alcohol. Got to take care of my baby, right?”

“Yes, about that,” Rarity began, sapphire eyes lighting up in delight. “Have you found out if it’s a boy or girl yet?”

Returning to the bar, Rarity ordered a classic long island and Cadance requested a virgin daiquiri from a clearly frightened, yet even more dutiful bartender. And though the explosions bloomed and the cries of terrified nobles and villains alike rang through the Balius, none of this did much to deter the two from sharing the latest gossip, which included everything between likely baby names and the dating scenes of both Ponyville and Canterlot alike.

After all, girls have to do what girls have to do, right?

*****

“Well, that went well,” Graves sighed.

“Was that sarcasm?” the guard captain asked. “’Cause I think I'm detecting a hint of sarcasm here.”

“Yes, Shining Armor, that was sarcasm.”

“Oh. Gotcha.”

To be fair, both the marshal and the officer had reasons for their prospective opinions. On one hand, the pair had dealt with nearly two score of very energetic – if not exactly well trained – C.O.B.R.A. members already, so that was good work there. On the other hand, their last shootout, while rather stylish and exciting with its leaping through the air while shooting and tumbling dives, had gotten them pinned down behind an overturned craps table while a dozen or so masked minions rained magical fire upon them. Which was bad. Hence, sarcasm.

“… Hey, Shining Armor.”

“Hmm?”

“Could I ask you something?”

"You... just did?” the guard captain replied, brow furrowed in not quite understanding. “But I assume you meant something else?”

“How perceptive of you,” Graves said with a roll of the eyes.

“Is now really the best time?” Shining Armor asked, peeking around their protective wall. “I mean, we are getting shot at.”

“Meh, we’ll be fine,” Graves shrugged as he reached over and fired, his shot rewarded with a minion's despairing cry. “Aim like theirs, I'd be more worried if they were aiming elsewhere.”

“Good point,” the azure officer agreed. “Alright then. What’s it you wanted to ask me?”

Graves didn’t speak immediately. In fact, between his brooding frown and the way he scratched at his nose, one would almost think he were being… pensive.

“… How are we friends?” he finally blurted out.

Shining Armors was – needless to say – quite surprised, and not from the spray of charred wood from the table splintering around them. I mean, having Graves asked about friendship was about as expected as hearing two mountain trolls holding intellectual discourse on Immaneuel Kant’s theory of inviolable human autonomy. Which is to say, not at all.

“Graves… you’re not dying are you?” the captain asked with very serious eyes. “Because if this is some kind of deathbed confession, I’m just telling you–”

A swift chop to the head ended that train of thought.

“Okay…” Shining Armor chuckled, rubbing his noggin as he caught and lobbed back a ticking hextech grenade. “So you’re asking why are we friends, or how did we get to be friends?”

“Both, I guess,” Graves shrugged, acting as nonchalant as nonchalant could be even as a bolt of enchanted fire set the table's top corner on fire. “I mean, it took you almost a full semester of constant pestering–”

“–I prefer the term ‘aggressive friend-making,'” the blue-eyed captain corrected,

“–before I even talked to you,” the marshal continued without missing a beat as he swiftly sent two more shots over the barricade. “Why you’d do all that is beyond me, considering you were you and I was… well… me.”

A loaded question, if there ever was one.

“So, what you’re asking,” Shining Armor began, a mischievous smile coming to his face as he sniped off a grunt trying to sneak up the dumbwaiter, “is why I, Canterlot’s golden child and poster boy of the Academy, Mr. Popular and Citizen Perfect, would spend so much time and energy hanging around a sad-sack like you?”

“Not in so many words,” Graves muttered, “but… yeah. Why?”

“Well the answer’s simple,” the captain grinned. “I thought you were interesting.”

“… Interesting,” the marshal repeated as explosions rocked the ship.

“Like a strange, little bug,” Shining Armor nodded, casual despite the sharp careen of a now unstable aircraft.

“So you’re telling me,” Graves began, skepticism clearly scrawled all over his face as the table slowly began to slide down the incline, “is that you consistently came up to me in the mess hall, tracked me down in the libraries, partnered up with me during exercises, and even joined me for my extra practices because you thought I was… interesting?”

“Yup.”

Graves could only shake his head in disbelief. That and hold on to carpet as the ship went horizontal, but mostly shake his head in disbelief.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re crazy?”

“Aw, come on Graves,” the officer grinned as he led a synchronized spell chain swing to the foothold of a marble pillar. “What did you want me to say, that being young myself, I thought we’d have something in common in a school of old fogeys? Or that I thought the way you always gave a hundred and ten percent was pretty cool? Or how about since everyone was making such a big deal about my powers, that it was nice to be around someone who couldn’t have cared less? That more in the line of what you thought?”

Once again, the marshal was struck by disbelief, but this time of a more open mouth, gaping variety.

“Actually, I always thought you did it out of pity,” he finally admitted as another booming explosion righted the ship back up.

“Being a big brother might have made me want to look out for you. Just a bit,” Shining Armor acceded as the two neatly landed and rushed towards the pile of tumbled terrorists. “But come on, I’m no saint. I put in that effort because I wanted you to be my friend. Simple as that.”

“… Oh.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” the captain chuckled as he launched a jumping spin kick into the first of many more villains. “Now get your rear in gear, soldier. There are two lovely ladies back at the bar that I’d hate to keep waiting.”

*****

“–and that’s when I found out that the real reason Celestia insists on holding her meetings at high noon in because she positively loves sleeping in.”

“No!” Rarity gasped. “Surely you jest!”

“Not at all,” Cadance giggled. “I dropped by once for a surprise visit and found her completely passed out at eleven in the morning, snoring like a buzzsaw and–”

The princess paused as the sound of matching footsteps approached. Looking up from their beverages, the ladies gave a moment’s pause to conduct a general appraisal.

“You know,” Rarity remarked with pursed lips. “I was aware that you didn’t particularly like formal attired, but I didn’t realize the distaste was quite so… extreme.”

“Yeah well,” Graves shrugged as he coughed up a small puff of soot, “what can I say? We just don’t mix.”

“Honestly,” Cadance sighed with pure exasperation as she attempted to wipe some of the scorch marks from her husband’s face. “I take my eye off of you for one second and just look at the trouble you get into.”

“Sorry dear,” Shining Armor chuckled even as smoke gently wafted from his singed coattails. “But on the bright side, I think that everything went pretty well.”

“Could have gone better,” Graves scoffed, “if you hadn't insisted on blowing up their ship.”

“Well I wouldn’t have had to do that if someone had stuck to the plan,” Shining Armor retorted.

“Your plan was terrible.”

“At least I had a plan.”

“So did I.”

“Which was?”

“Shoot them.”

“That’s your plan for everything.”

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

“Gentlemen, please!” Rarity exclaimed as she came between the two. “Honestly, listening to you two is like watching two bickering children.”

“Not my fault. He started it.”

The pretty dressmaker froze, then turned away as she sought to stifle the near uncontrollable urge to laugh. She couldn’t decide what was funnier, the fact that the two singed and scorched soldiers had deigned to make such a remark, or the fact that they did so in perfect, stereo-sound unison.

“Well I for one, don’t care who’s fault it is,” Cadance interjected, smiling sweetly even as she swatted the pair upside their equally disheveled heads. “All I know is that the two of you are going to go get cleaned up, come back, and show the two of us a lovely evening, just as we intended. Aren’t you?”

“Yes ma’am,” Shining Armor replied with a crisp salute. “Let’s go, Graves. I think I saw a storage room with fresh uniforms next to the blown summoner’s circle."

“Which one? Pre or post aerial assault?”

“Uh, post, I think.”

“Alright then, let’s go.”

And so the two trotted off, ignoring both the tattered sleeve that fell from the captain’s coat as well as the thoroughly amused looks of the two ladies behind. Ignored, however, did not mean unaware, because as soon as they were out of earshot–

“… Hey, Shining Armor.”

“Hmm?”

“You know that talk we had earlier?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Well… next time I’m in town, I’ll… ah… buy you a beer. Or something.”

“…”

“…”

“Graves," Shining Armor smiled, "has anyone ever told you that you’re absolutely adorable?”

“… Don’t make me punch you.”

**********

To Be Continued...

The Journey of Graves will continue in the next story: The Ugly Side of Right.

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    by GentlemanJ
    13 Dislikes, 3,747 Views

    Though the world sees the Equestrian Royal marshals as a band of heroes, Graves goes on a new mission that shows just how ugly doing right can be.

    Mature
    Complete
    Adventure
    Dark

    1 Chapter, 7,648 words: Estimated 31 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Nov 3rd, 2013
  15. Be a Man

    by GentlemanJ
    24 Dislikes, 6,735 Views

    With his crush on Rarity going the way of the dodo, Spike begins to wonder just what it means to be a man.

    Teen
    Complete
    Romance
    Comedy
    Slice of Life

    1 Chapter, 5,140 words: Estimated 21 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Dec 1st, 2013
  16. Delivery Directive: Do NOT Be Late

    by GentlemanJ
    7 Dislikes, 6,945 Views

    Marshal Graves has simple orders: take the package and deliver it on time. Of course, simple orders never mean a simple time.

    Teen
    Complete
    Adventure

    1 Chapter, 6,755 words: Estimated 28 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Dec 24th, 2013
  17. Winter Wonders, Winter Worries

    by GentlemanJ
    16 Dislikes, 5,123 Views

    Winter's a wonderful time full of fun and festive frolicking. Just be sure not to catch the sniffles.

    Teen
    Complete
    Romance
    Comedy
    Slice of Life

    1 Chapter, 2,901 words: Estimated 12 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Jan 19th, 2014
  18. Marshals: The Next Generation

    by GentlemanJ
    13 Dislikes, 5,171 Views

    Four of Equestria's finest military cadets seek entry into the elite branch of the marshal. However, in order to qualify, they have to pass the test of none other than Gunmetal Graves himself.

    Teen
    Complete
    Adventure
    Comedy

    4 Chapters, 12,221 words: Estimated 49 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Feb 23rd, 2014
    Last Update Mar 16th, 2014
  19. Marshmallows and Cotton Candy

    by GentlemanJ
    15 Dislikes, 4,958 Views

    A collection of fluffy tales around Graves and the best sisters in Ponyville. We start with Sweetie Belle doing business. Serious business.

    Everyone
    Complete
    Romance
    Comedy
    Slice of Life

    6 Chapters, 12,102 words: Estimated 49 Minutes to read: Cached
    Published Apr 13th, 2014
    Last Update Jun 15th, 2014
  20. Old Flames and New Sparks

    by GentlemanJ
    15 Dislikes, 4,023 Views

    When a piece of the marshal's colorful past comes back to town, Rarity starts to wonder whether some things just weren't meant to be.

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