The Cutie Mark Inspector

by Blueshift

Chapter 1: The Cutie Mark Inspector

“Point forty-two: my incredible modesty and open-mindedness to all, no matter who they are. Spike, display slide five hundred and eleven please!”

A collective groan went up in the town hall as Spike queued up another slide, and a list of 'Important Study Techniques' was replaced with a blurry photograph of Twilight standing next to a camel, grinning awkwardly. It filled the back wall of the stage, which was empty apart from a tiny podium at which Twilight Sparkle stood, clutching a terribly imposing stack of cue cards.

“This is a camel I met once. He came down from Saddle Arabia. I don't know his name, but we became great friends! That is just one more example of the magic of friendship!” She looked up from her cards and smiled at the audience. Nearly everyone in Ponyville had turned out for her talk on 'How to be a Success', and despite the slightly daunting length of her presentation, no-one had left.

Of course, the fact that she had locked the town hall doors had helped slightly with this.

“Spike, slide five hundred and twelve please!” she called down sweetly, shuffling her cards. The projected image kindly changed to reveal a confusing mess of letters that looked like someone had tripped over with a big bowl of alphabet spaghetti.

“And there we have it!” Twilight proudly proclaimed, waving a hoof in the direction of the image. “In just four and a half hours, I have taught you all the secrets of my success, and it can be all yours too if you just remember this simple acronym I've devised - Punctuality, Observation, Organisation, Skill, Learning, Dedication, Friendship, Work-Ethic, Achievement, Planning, Confidence, Magic, Motivation, Belief and Modesty, or more easily remembered, 'POOSLDFWAPCMMBM'!”

A silence descended upon the room as over a hundred pairs of eyes looked up at her. “So, uh, any questions?” she ventured.

Applejack's hoof shot up. “Is it over? Dear Celestia, is it over?” She started pawing at her bloodshot eyes.

Twilight shook her head. “Oh, Applejack, you are silly! No, this is just section one! There are four more to go! How else can you all learn from my lifetime of accumulated wisdom? Now, any more questions?”

“I-is it time for the free food and drink?” Berry Punch waved her hoof in the air weakly. “Th-the poster said 'Free Refreshments', and it's been so long since I've eaten!”

“Ah. Well...” Twilight gave a little shrug. “When the poster said 'Free Refreshments', what it actually meant was that my talk would refresh your minds. It's a metaphor.”

The audience was filled with wailing and weeping at this point. Several ponies collapsed. In fact, the only ones who did not make a fuss were Mayor Mare, Doctor Whooves and Noteworthy, who had formed their own escape committee and were in the process of secretly tunnelling out.

“Now, do we have any questions about the presentation so far?” Twilight called over the increasing din. “Come on, let's get back on track!”

Rarity's hoof shot up. “I have a question, Twilight!” she snapped, rather curtly.

This got everyone's attention, as the noise quickly abated. “Go on?” Twilight smiled. “I'm always happy to share my wisdom with a friend!”

“Well...” Rarity pouted. “Twilight dear, you've done this whole presentation on how you've become successful, but it was really mostly luck, wasn't it? You've just been in the right place at the right time all your life.”

“What? No!” Twilight flared her wings. “This is one hundred percent me! And if you follow my example, all of you could be a princess!” She looked out across the audience and noticed Scootaloo, staring up entranced. “Well, almost all of you,” she corrected herself.

“So why haven’t Ah been made a princess for mah hard work on the farm?” Applejack scowled up. “Did Ah make a mistake concentratin' on apples instead of magic, which is impossible for an earth pony anyhow?”

“No no, it's not like that...” Twilight shook her head quickly. “You see...”

“You're Princess Celestia's star pupil!” Rainbow Dash called out. “You had loads of opportunities from a young age! If I were her pupil, I'd probably be in the Wonderbolts right now!”

Twilight's face fell. “You too, Rainbow Dash?” she exclaimed, searching out for a friendly face in the increasingly angsty audience. “Fluttershy, tell them!”

Fluttershy's eyes bulged in panic, and she tried without success to hide herself underneath Blossomforth's wing. “Me?” she squeaked. “W-well, I um...” She looked about herself and bit her lip hard. “Well, um, like, Elements of Harmony and princess stuff, it's sort of... sort of your cutie mark destiny. And no-one else has that.”

“Yeah! Cutie mark destiny!” Sea Swirl reared up, pointing directly at Twilight's flank. “Don't go lording your cutie mark over us, Twilight! Just because your cutie mark is all about being the best at magic, guaranteeing you wings and a horn and a magic tree-castle, it doesn't mean the rest of us are somehow deficient!”

“What? No!” Twilight cried. “Come on, there's no such thing! I'd be in the same place I am now even without my cutie mark because of my determination and drive! POOSLDFWAPCMMBM!”

“Well what about when you swapped our cutie marks with a spell and changed our lives?” Pinkie Pie piped up, an unusually annoyed frown etched across her face. “And Celestia rewarded you for that!”

Twilight waved her hooves in front of her as if to ward off the bad feelings. “No, no! That's different, that was magic! I'm talking about free will here! A cutie mark doesn't dictate what you can or can't do in life!”

“Well!” Applejack barked back. “Are you tryin' to say Ah shouldn't be an apple farmer? Twilight, for someone so smart, you've got a lot to learn! There is so such thing as cutie mark destiny, an' you've got an easy ride 'cos of it. Now, Ah still think of you as a friend, but you've gotta learn not to rub other's faces in your good fortune. That ain't polite!”

The assembled ponies all gave a firm nod of agreement, mutterings filling the air. All but Doctor Whooves, that is, who stuck a triumphant head out of a hole at the back of the hall.

“We've done it! Freedom!” he cried, waving his spade in victory. “Quick, before she starts section two!”

“Stop, no! Don't go! I'm trying to help you all!” Twilight cried out weakly as her precious audience made a mad dash for the hole. Even Fluttershy joined in the exodus, though she at least had the presence of mind to whisper 'sorry' in her direction.

Twilight slumped to the stage, clutching the podium tight as she watched everyone file out. Soon she was alone. Alone, that is, apart from Spike.

“Do you, uh, want me to carry on?” Spike called from the direction of the projector. “Because it took a long time to load up all these slides, and I don't want it to go to waste.”

“They abandoned me!” Twilight whispered hoarsely to herself. “Th-they dismissed my achievements!” She leapt to her hooves, a new fire burning in her eyes. “Spike, did you see that? They think that all I've done is just a result of my inevitable destiny!”

Spike stood looking dumbly at Twilight. “Uh, isn't it?” he finally replied.

“No!” Twilight began to pace up and down the stage. “I've done so much, Spike! Just because they're not as successful as me doesn't mean they can blame it on their cutie marks not being as good as mine!” She stopped to glance at her flank. “Even though it is a pretty good one! No, if they think that cutie marks are the end-all and be-all, then maybe they should be careful what they wish for!” She turned dramatically in the direction of Spike. “Spike, take a letter!”

Spike sighed and took out his emergency quill and parchment. “Twilight, are you really going to tell on all of them to Princess Celestia?”

“Oh no, Spike. Oh no.” Twilight smiled a dark smile. “No, this letter isn't going to Princess Celestia. If everyone in Ponyville is so proud of their cutie marks, it's time to put them to the test!”


“She did what?” Rainbow Dash screwed her face up in confusion. The horrors of the previous day's presentation had faded from her mind, and she was finally able to start relaxing again in the warm midday sun. She sipped at the hay milkshake she had bought. It tasted funny, though perhaps that was due to it being made from hay and milk. Everyone was out enjoying the sun. Everyone but Twilight, who had apparently returned home to sulk.

Spike sat on the edge of the town fountain, dangling his little legs off the stone lip. “The Cutie Mark Inspector!” he breathed, with a mixture of awe and fear. “She was real mad, Rainbow Dash, and made me write to the Cutie Mark Inspector, telling him how great all of Ponyville's cutie marks were! It was… a really really nice letter! But she was so mad while she was dictating it!”

“There ain't no such thing!” Applejack rolled her eyes at Spike. “She was jus' having you on!” She shook her own flank with a smile. “But if there was, then mah cutie mark would probably be judged the best of all. Jus' sayin'.”

“I don't know, he sounds scary!” Fluttershy gave a little tremble despite the warmth of the sun. “D-do you think we should see if Twilight is all right? She seemed really upset last night.”

Rarity sighed. “No, let's let her big head go down a bit before she starts criticising us again for not being as successful as she is. Is it my fault that my destiny lay in creating beautiful dresses rather than being a princess?”

“But you are a princess!” Spike mumbled dreamily, and then stopped in shock as he realised he had said it out loud. “I mean uh, wait!” He leapt to his feet, pointing behind the group to the outskirts of town. “What's that?”

A queasy greenish-grey smoke started to billow in the distance, tendrils curling along the ground as the mist moved closer to Ponyville. The grass underneath blackened and wilted, and the birds stopped singing.

“What in tarnation?” Applejack stepped forward as the strange smog approach, straining to see what could be causing it. “That ain’t no natural thing… there’s somethin’ in there!”

The mist grasped around the outskirts of the town like claws as it came ever nearer, some dark smudge in the middle of the cloud indicating that there was someone – or something – inside it. Windows opened as various ponies poked their heads out of their houses to see what was going on. A confused gathering started to collect in the town square, all eyes on the mist.

“This is bad!” Spike started gnawing on his nails. “We should get Twilight right away! It could be any sort of evil monster!”

“Just because you live in an evil mist doesn’t mean you’re a monster,” Fluttershy whispered back, unable to tear her eyes away from the smoke that was rapidly enclosing on Ponyville. “Unless it’s a mist monster, of course! But that doesn’t mean you’re evil!” She covered her eyes. “Again, unless you’re a mist monster, as they’re always evil!”

“Greetings!” A voice that sounded like dried leaves echoed out of the mist as a figure emerged from the gloom and stepped into the town square. The smoky haze covered the sun, lending a dark pall to the previously sunny scene.

The newcomer was a tall, pale unicorn with gaunt, raggedy features and sunken eyes that seemed so bloodshot that it was likely their owner had not slept a wink in years. He was wearing a dark, billowing cloak that covered his body completely, giving the impression of gliding rather than walking, and on his head was a wide-brimmed black hat that tapered upwards to almost double his height.

“O-oh, hello!” Rarity gulped, looking around at the rest of the stunned denizens of Ponyville. It seemed to be once more her job to be the polite diplomatic one. “W-welcome to our fair town, Mr…?”

The stranger’s eyes flashed, and a sickly grin broke across his face. “I am the Cutie Mark Inspector!” he proclaimed in his gravelly voice, tilting his head to study Rarity like a tiger would study a helpless fawn. “I have…” He paused to lick his lips. “Been summoned by Princess Twilight Sparkle. She has told me such… wonderful things about your town.”

“Oh that’s very ni – Wait a minute!” Applejack marched up to the Cutie Mark Inspector, staring him straight in his pale eyes. “How do we know you’re the real Cutie Mark Inspector?”

“My official credentials. I trust they are in order.” The inspector passed Applejack a sheaf of ancient scrolls, the mere contact sending an icy chill down the spine of the earth pony. “Why…” he muttered, flicking his eyes towards the flanks of every pony in the vicinity. “What a… wide variety of cutie marks. I look forward to speaking to each and every one of you.”

Applejack turned the scrolls this way and that, peering at them. “Well, that’s uh. Ah, dagnammit, Ah have no idea what an official Cutie Mark Inspector document is supposed to look like!”

The inspector smiled that queasy smile again, reaching under his cloak to produce a golden amulet emblazoned with the design of the sun. “Will this suffice then?” he rasped. “The seal of Celestia herself, given to me so that I may carry out my duties. With this seal, my word is empowered as law.”

Applejack studied the seal intently. “Well… Ah guess that looks genuine enough!”

“Coming through! Coming through!” There was a furore at the back of the gathering of townsfolk as Mayor Mare pushed her way through, desperately patting down her mane and wiping the crumbs from her mouth in an attempt to bring some dignity to her late arrival. “O-oh, Cutie Mark Inspector!” She gave a gracious bow. “We had not been told you were coming. I am the mayor of Ponyville, and on behalf of all of us, I welcome you to our humble town. Just, ah, what does a Cutie Mark inspector do?”

The inspector’s eyes gleamed. “Princess Celestia has empowered me as the ultimate authority on cutie mark inspection,” he rasped. “When warranted, I travel from town to town, auditing the cutie marks, and ensuring that all ponies make the best of the abilities given to them. I have also been given the power to confiscate cutie marks, but…” he licked his lips again. “From what Princess Twilight had said, your town is a shining example to all of Equestria, and I am sure my official report to Princess Celestia will reflect that.”

Mayor Mare’s face paled. “C-confiscate…” she began, but regained her composure. “O-of course, you’ll not find any problems here, sir! Ponyville is very proud of its cutie mark heritage! But why is this even a thing?”

“Ah, you see…” The inspector gazed into the air, a far-off look appearing in his ancient eyes. Then he started to sing in a croaking voice. “Five hundred years ago, terrible things were a-hoof! Ponies were being lazy, and that’s the honest tru-” He stopped, breaking down into a hacking cough.

“Oh. Wow. Are you okay?” Mayor Mare went to pat him on the back, but recoiled at the chill that emanated from him.

“Yes, yes, sorry.” The Cutie Mark Inspector cleared his throat. “Sorry, I’ve not done that song in a while, I’m getting on a bit. Basically, five hundred years ago Equestria was in crisis because all the ponies were ignoring their cutie mark destinies and taking on jobs they were completely unsuited to. Princess Celestia hired me to redress the balance, and I have walked Equestria ever since. Though work has been quite slow until recently.” He took out a letter and unfurled it. Twilight Sparkle’s signature was displayed proudly at the bottom. “It feels so good to get back to work again.”

“Yes, well, be that as it may…” Mayor Mare glanced about unsurely at the darkening, smoggy sky. “Could you do anything about that scary mist?”

“Oh, sorry.” The inspector’s horn glowed briefly with an eerie purple light, and the mist instantly dissipated. “Force of habit. I look forward to inspecting your town’s cutie marks.”

“Mr Cutie Mark Inspector!” Mrs Cake marched up to the inspector and presented him with the finest cream cake, adorned with cherries and icing. “My name is Mrs Cake, and I run Sugarcube Corner. I hope you enjoy this delicious cake, and will drop round to taste more of our wares, and if you want to mention how nice our little shop is in a letter to Princess Celestia, well…” She gave a little smile.

The inspector lifted the cake and took a bite out of it, taking long, almost crunching, chomps. “Yes, very delicious,” he rasped, looking Mrs Cake over. “Mrs Cake. With a cake cutie mark. Running the cake shop. Yes.” He almost hissed the last word. “I approve, I approve heartily. Well done, young lady.”

“Oh, you!” Mrs Cake giggled with a small blush. Complements were hard to come by these days.

“And we can throw a big party for you!” Pinkie Pie bounced up to the inspector, not put off by his icy aura. “With balloons and streamers and games and everything! Yay!”

“Indeed!” The inspector’s eyes widened as he spied Pinkie Pie’s cutie mark. “Yes, that would be much welcomed. I have not attended a party since…” He pondered this. “Three hundred and twelve years ago. I would very much like to visit your balloon shop too.”

“No, silly, I don’t have a balloon shop!” Pinkie Pie continued to bound about happily. “I work in Mr and Mrs Cake’s shop! I sell yummy scrummy cakes all day!”

“You – ah – you what?” The inspector quivered in shock. “This is irregular, most irregular indeed!” he croaked, reaching a shaking hoof into his cloak to withdraw a large black notepad and a quill, which he started to scribble furiously in. “Tell me, young pony, how did you gain your cutie mark?”

“Oh!” Pinkie stopped her leaping as she thought for a little bit. “When I was young I was really sad because I lived on a rock farm, and rocks aren’t fun unless you’re really into rocks. Anyway, I found some balloons and blew them up, and invented the party!” She took out a party popper and pulled the string. It exploded, sending confetti all over the inspector’s unblinking face.

“And yet you work in a cake shop?” the inspector hissed, drawing back a breath that rattled so hard those close to him thought he was about to collapse. “Cakes are not balloons, young pony. Your cutie mark specifically states balloons!” His expression hardened, and he loomed above Pinkie Pie with a swoosh of his cloak, horn glowing with an ethereal light.

Pinkie stepped back, unsure as to what was going on. “B-but I like working in Mr and Mrs Cake’s shop!” she squeaked. “I do parties as well!”

“Well, Ah did think it was a bit weird,” Applejack piped up, slightly unhelpfully. “Ah guess Ah always thought you weren’t one hundred percent dedicated to parties. But that’s okay!”

“Oh dear!” Mrs Cake looked between Pinkie Pie and the inspector. “I hope we haven’t got you in trouble, Pinkie! Mr Cake and I always thought you were just working in our store until you saved up enough to start your own party shop!”

Pinkie’s face fell. “I like cakes!” she whispered, her usual joviality drained away by the tall spectre in front of her.

The inspector’s face softened. “No, it would not be right to punish one so young! Go, little pony!” He swept his hoof out, cloak curling around him. “Rage against your cutie mark no longer! Do not squander your life, embrace your true destiny!”

“I… I guess…” Pinkie mumbled, looking around at her fellow townsfolk for any hint of support. “I… I guess I could go full-time into parties – ”

“Balloons,” the inspector clarified.

“…Balloons.” Pinkie fell silent.

“There we go, this lovely inspector has already helped you, Pinkie Pie!” Rarity trilled, giving Pinkie’s shoulder’s a little squeeze. “You’ve got to do what you’re best at!”

“Indeed!” The inspector glided closer to Rarity, wisps of ice-cold mist curling up from under his robes. “And what are you best at, little lady?” From beneath his robes he plucked a jeweller’s eyepiece, affixing it to his eye and studying Rarity’s cutie mark. “How did you get your cutie mark?”

“Oh, well!” Rarity flicked back her mane, puffing out her chest. “I was just a little filly when I discovered my magical talent for finding gems! I found a large rock, and when it cracked open it was full of the most beautiful sparkling diamonds and at that moment I got my diamond cutie mark!” She finished preening her hair. “Now I own the Carousel Boutique and make the most exquisite clothes. You should come by, I could sort you out!”

She reached out to run her hoof through the inspector’s coarse fabric but instantly recoiled at the chilly aura that throbbed through it. “S-something more summery, perhaps?”

“A dress shop,” the inspector stated, removing his eyeglass. He turned to the rest of the crowd. His dry voice started to shake, rising slightly. “What am I hearing? I was told Ponyville was an exemplar to all, but I find this! A dress shop! Can anyone see the problem?”

All around was silence. Then Coconut slowly raised a hoof. “It’s not… a mine?” he ventured nervously.

“Yes!” The inspector exclaimed, turning back as quick as lightning, thrusting his wizened face into Rarity’s. “Why must you deny the gift that has been given to you? This precious gift of a cutie mark, bestowed by the forces of the universe! Gifts that are not appreciated - ” his horn began to glow and his demeanour darkened, “ - can be returned.”

“Well, uh, oh!” Rarity started to sweat, backing up as far as she could. “W-well I’m sure that won’t be necessary, sir! One would not want to defy one’s destiny!”

“Be sure that you do not!” The inspector took a deep breath, casting his eyes about the town. “It seems that I have a lot of work to do! I hope for your sakes that the quality of cutie mark compliance in this town is better than what I have seen here!”

“Oh, it is, it is!” Mayor Mare blurted out. “We’re sorry for Pinkie Pie and Rarity, really, but they didn’t know any better! They do now!”

“Maybe. Maybe…” The Cutie Mark Inspector seemed to think for a minute, before looking up into the sky. “This modern world is so full of cutie mark corruption! I pray I will not have to take punitive measures! Be warned, I will be watching!”

With a flash of lightning and a lingering laugh, he vanished, leaving the citizens of Ponyville standing about awkwardly, slightly confused and a bit worried.

Rarity slumped to the grass. Someone passed her a pickaxe.

“Well, crap.”


“So, I hear the Cutie Mark Inspector is making quite the impression!” Twilight poured out another cup of steaming hot tea for Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash just stared at the cup sullenly.

“He’s nuts, Twilight, and I don’t mean that in a fun way! You’ve got to stop him!” Rainbow Dash picked her cup up, blew on it, and set it down again. “He’s only been here a day and already half the ponies in Ponyville have been told they’ve been living their lives wrong! I mean, maybe he’s right but…” She shrugged.

Twilight sat back in her crystal chair. The whole sitting room of her magic crystal tree-castle was very plain and crystally. She had tried to put some drapes down, but so far that only accentuated the starkness of the rest of the room. “Well, cutie mark destiny is an important thing, remember! I wouldn’t be where I was today without it.”

“That’s not what you sa-” Rainbow Dash gave a gasp. “Wait! You knew this would happen! You set him on Ponyville to teach us all a lesson or something! Twilight, he’s crazy! Look, I mean – ” She stood up and began to walk to the nearest window, but as she stepped near it, the room lurched violently.

“Whoa, no, wait!” Twilight shouted in panic as her pot of tea flew across the room. “Come back, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow Dash moved back to Twilight and the room became horizontal again. “What the?”

Twilight mopped her brow. “The magical tree-castle is too top heavy and built on very shallow foundations. When the Tree of Harmony box planted itself in the ground to grow this place it only went about six inches deep. It’s very structurally unsound, please don’t move about much.”

Rainbow Dash pulled a face and slowly flapped her wings, hovering in the air as she moved to the window. “Look!” She pointed at what looked like a pile of hay being erected in the town square. “He’s got anyone with a building-related cutie mark making that thing. A giant pony made from wicker. Why does he want a wicker pony, Twilight? Why?”

“Relax, he works for Princess Celestia!” Twilight sent a reassuring smile Rainbow Dash’s way.

“Yeah, like a million years ago!” Rainbow Dash snapped, pointing at her flank. “I told him about my cutie mark and how I did an awesome Sonic Rainboom, and all he said was that it was clearly a lightning bolt, and now I’m on solid lightning duty! He said that if it wasn’t constantly raining down lightning, I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose in life, and I’m not doing that now so he’s probably going to laser me or something. Kick his ass, Twilight! You’ve got to kick his ass!”

Twilight rolled her eyes with a tinkling laugh. “Oh, Rainbow Dash, always overreacting! He may act a little old fashioned, but he’s a friend of the Princess and he does good work! Give him a chance, after all, everyone in Ponyville made it very clear how important they thought this was!” She smugly dipped a biscuit into her tea.

“Oh, I see how it is!” Rainbow Dash folded her hooves, making the mistake of leaning against the window. The room rumbled ominously. “Just you wait, Twilight! Just you wait 'til he comes for you, then we’ll see who’s laughing!”


“What did she say? Did she say she’d chase that beastly stallion away?” Rarity peered around the leg of the half-built wicker pony that had sprung up in the centre of town, her face caked in dust and a mining helmet perched on top of her once beautifully-coiffured mane. “It might be my destiny, but I can’t take it down there anymore! I’d be happy with not fulfilling my destiny, thank you!”

“She won’t do it!” Rainbow Dash cowered behind the second leg, clutching a miniature storm cloud in one hoof. Every so often she would give it a punch and a tiny bolt of lightning would come out. “She’s being all smug and high and mighty! It’s all because no-one liked her boring presentation!”

“She’s… got… to…” a voice wheezed from behind the third leg. A dishevelled Pinkie Pie poked her head out, gasping for breath. “I can’t… blow up… any… more… balloons!” She wrapped her hooves around the wicker leg for support and slowly sunk down.

“Ah don’t know what you’re all moanin’ about!” Applejack leant against the fourth leg, happily munching on an apple. “Ah think he’s doin’ great work here! Imagine if an Apple went an’ started an orange farm! We’d be goin’ against our destiny, and that’s what he’s here to stop!”

“Yeah, well…” Rainbow Dash snorted. “Just because you’ve got such an obvious cutie mark – ”

“They’re all obvious, sugarplum!” Applejack tipped her hat. “An’ here’s the pony of the moment!”

The air around the town square started to chill as the inspector walked into view, a thin, wraith-like figure. He slowly gazed around the town with steely eyes as he silently judged the populace. “Yes, well done!” he bellowed, seeing the half-finished statue. “The wicker pony is nearly complete! This will bring any remaining destiny-dodging miscreants in line!” He twirled to grab a passing pony by her mane. “You! Beekeeper! Bring me bees!”

The pony blinked in terror. “I’m not a beekeeper!” she squeaked. “I just uh…” She looked at her flank and winced. It showed a jar of honey. “I own a catering company!”

“Bees!” The inspector boomed. “Your cutie mark is clearly bee-based! Your selfish actions could doom Equestria’s bee population to extinction!”

“Okay! Sorry!” the pony yelped. “B-but why do you need bees?”

The inspector looked back towards the wicker pony. “Oh. You will find out!” he hissed. “Maybe.”

Rainbow Dash watched Ponyville’s newly-minted beekeeper run away as fast as she can. “Right, here’s the plan!” she whispered back. “I’m going to convince the inspector to go visit Twilight. That’ll wipe the smile off her face, and she’ll have to kick him out! She’s got royal decree powers too, he can’t refuse!”

“Wait!” Rarity held out a hoof in front of Rainbow Dash, her eye twitching. “I know what’s going on!” she hissed urgently. “I thought this was fishy from the start! Think about it!”

With that, she marched out from the safety of her hiding space to confront the inspector. “Ponies!” she shouted as loud as she could. “Everyone! Come here! This is important! This is about….” She pointed a hoof at the inspector. “This blaggard!”

“What? How dare you!” The inspector’s face darkened, and a rumble of thunder boomed out across the town.

“Sorry!” Rainbow Dash called from under the wicker pony.

“Oh, I dare!” A crowd had started to gather, and Rarity turned to address them. “Fellow ponies! He thinks we’re fools! Fools!” She locked eyes with the inspector. “He comes here, with his old tatty cloak and obviously evil aura, pretending to be the cutie mark inspector? And then he threatens to steal all our cutie marks with his magic? Oh yes, I’m onto you!”

The inspector’s eyes narrowed. “Whatever do you mean?” he croaked.

“What I mean, is that this old, hideous wrinkled face is obvious a mask. A mask hiding the face of… TIREK!” The crowd gasped in horror. Rarity reached out and tugged at the inspector’s jowls.

His skin sagged but didn’t dramatically tear off.

“The face of… TIREK!” Rarity tried again, pulling harder this time.

The inspector stared at her, unamused as she yanked on his cheek.

“I… ah…” Rarity’s bluster dropped a few notches. “Is… is there something under this?”

“Yes,” the inspector snapped. “My skull.”

“Oh.” Rarity shrunk away. “So… it doesn’t rip away?”

“I hope not. I need my face,” the inspector grumbled.

“I see. Yes. Well. Ahem.” Rarity began to back away, picking up her pickaxe that lay on the ground. “Back to the mine for me then! Hurrah, mining! I love it so!”

The inspector patted the side of his face and turned to the crowd. “If that is all,” he grumbled, “then everyone should get back to their business! It is not your destiny to stand about gawping. Unless that is your cutie mark!” He glanced back up to the unfinished wicker pony. “Bees…” he mumbled to himself.

“Hey, Mr Inspector sir!” Rainbow Dash sidled up to the inspector, punching her little cloud as she moved, sparking lightning bolts. “I just want to say how happy we are that you’re helping out Ponyville so much!”

“Yes, yes I am.” The inspector smiled down at Rainbow Dash. It did not look like a friendly smile. “But I am disappointed in the destiny defiance that Ponyville has shown. Is this really the modern Equestria? If so, Princess Twilight has done me a great favour by calling me back into service! I foresee many more years of work in front of me to bring Equestria back into line with Princess Celestia’s divine plan!”

“That’s what I was trying to say!” Rainbow Dash grinned and punched her cloud again. “Princess Twilight! She lives in that magical tree-castle, and she said how excited she was to meet you, so you could inspect her cutie mark!”

The inspector turned to view the magical tree-castle in the distance. “Yes…” he pondered. “Yes, perhaps it is time that I paid Princess Sparkle a visit.” Without another word he turned, cloak billowing impressively behind him as he marched towards the castle, laughing maniacally.

“Oh heck,” Rainbow Dash whispered to herself, punching the air. “This is gonna be epic!”


“What a lovely inspector!”

Rainbow Dash spat her tea across the room, causing Twilight to duck to avoid being scalded in the face. “No, sorry, I misheard!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, sticking her hoof in her ear and wiggling it about. “I mean, I’m sure you said ‘Yes, Rainbow Dash, that inspector is a gigantic jerk, you were right!’ but it came out as – ”

“No, seriously!” Twilight sat back and stirred her tea gently. “We had a nice sit-down and a chat about my cutie mark, and how I had successfully fulfilled my cutie mark destiny, and he told me about the sterling work he is doing in Ponyville to make sure everyone else has the same opportunities to properly see their destinies.”

Rainbow Dash sunk her head into her hooves. “I don’t believe it! I thought for sure…” She shook her head. “I mean, your cutie mark could mean anything! It – ”

“Oh yes?” Twilight gave a smug smile. “This is a turnaround, Rainbow Dash!”

“You know what I mean!” Rainbow Dash scowled. “Okay, so your cutie mark destiny is more obvious! But then again, you’re a princess, it’s obvious you’ve been following your destiny and stuff! He’d be mad to say otherwise!”

“Oh.” Twilight’s smile vanished. “I thought you were going to say there’s no such thing as cutie mark destiny.”

“Well there obviously is!” Rainbow Dash pointed at Twilight. “I mean there’s you, and there’s Applejack, I guess. And the Cakes. But Fluttershy isn’t going to become a princess if she spends the rest of her days tied to butterflies.”

“She mi – ” Twilight paused and shook her head. “Wait, what?”

At that opportune moment, a frantic screaming filled the air, and through Twilight’s window barrelled a yellowish-pink blur surrounded by tiny fluttering wings. It crashed through the room and straight out the opposite window, leaving the tree-castle shaking in its wake.

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash hung onto her chair for dear life. “So apparently when Fluttershy was little and fell off a cloud onto a swarm of butterflies that saved her life, it wasn’t a sign that she was supposed to care for animals, but instead that it was her destiny to use butterflies to develop powered flight for all ponies.” She sighed. “I mean, I guess that makes sense, as I always thought falling on butterflies wasn’t necessarily that caring, but still…”

“Can’t fight destiny!” Twilight punched the air with a smile. “It got me where I am today, remember!”

Rainbow Dash leapt to her hooves, taking a deep breath. “You really are still upset about that, aren’t you?” she snapped. “Come on, Twilight! You’ve got to stop him making us all fulfil our destinies! I’m sorry that your destiny is better and everyone else’s sucks!”

“Let him do his job!” Twilight poured another cup of tea. “It’s what he’s good at, after all!”

“Hey, don’t…” Rainbow Dash began to shout, but then a thought crossed her mind. “Yeah. Yeah. Maybe it is, Twilight. Maybe it is.” A slow smile crept across her lips. “I’ve got an idea. Thanks.”

Rainbow Dash carefully walked to the door, making sure not to tread on any particularly wobbly spots, and then gently eased the door shut behind her. As it clicked, the tree-castle lurched to the side, resting at a forty-five degree angle.

Twilight tumbled head-first into the wall. “I’ve really got to sort this out!” she muttered.


“A town meeting? What does he want a town meeting for?” Sea Swirl tried to control her hyperventilation, but it only got worse. She craned her neck up at the now-complete wicker pony that towered over the town square. “What’s that for? Why’s its mouth full of bees? What’s my destiny?” She lurched over to Applejack, grasping the apple pony by the scruff of her neck and pointing to the mark on her flank, two dolphins swimming.

“What’s my destiny, Applejack? I’ve been hiding from him, I don’t want to know! I don’t want to know! I like being a hairdresser, and I’m pretty sure that’s nothing to do with dolphins.”

“Shucks.” Applejack simply shook her head. “Don’t be holdin’ back, Sea Swirl. He’s only here to make sure y’all are fulfilling your potential. Why not ask him yourself?”

Sea Swirl turned with a little shriek and tensed, ready to spring into hiding as the becloaked figure of the Cutie Mark Inspector silently crept up behind her. She was too late.

“You! Sea Swirl!” the inspector barked, pointing at her flank. “I’ve been looking for you!” A thin smile broke across his face. “Dolphin farmer.”

“No!” Sea Swirl cried, falling to the grass and pounding her hooves on the ground. “Curse you, Celestia, for making me this way!” she wailed, shaking a hoof at the sky. A bolt of lightning, courtesy of Rainbow Dash, boomed in reply.

“Now you are following your destiny,” the inspector intoned in his gravelly voice, “your success in life is certain. I expect to see you at the town hall meeting tonight. There will be some more… changes.” He looked up at the mighty wicker pony. “And ensure the wicker pony is brought in. I may have… use for it.”

“Boy howdy!” Applejack grinned, winking at the inspector. “Ah’ve gotta say, Ponyville sure has been more productive since y’all turned up, sir! Ah always thought we were doin’ well on living our dreams, but y’all opened mah eyes! Ah’m proud to come from a family with a long line of cutie mark compliance, an’ it’s great to see Ponyville finally following suit.”

“Yes. Thank you.” The inspector turned to bring his full attention to Applejack. “Destiny…” he hissed. “Destiny is immutable!”

“Yup!” Applejack nodded, picking up a basket full of the richest, reddest apples and putting it down in front of the inspector. “An’ for all your hard work, please find this big basket of apples, straight from Sweet Apple Acres. Us Apples have been runnin’ it for generations, and we’ve never let another fruit cross its borders.”

The inspector stared at the basket for a moment. Then he looked at Applejack again, tilting his head this way and that in curiosity. Finally, in a voice that dripped with incredulity he boomed: “Apples? Apples?”

“Yup, apples!” Applejack grinned. “Finest apples in all Equestria, thanks to mah apple cutie mark!” She slapped her flank proudly.

The inspector put in his eyeglass again, twisting his head to look at Applejack’s cutie mark. “Apples?” he uttered again in astonishment. “But that’s not an apple cutie mark!”

“Yes sir, Ah….” Applejack paused, the smile still etched onto her face while it caught up with her brain. “…What?”

“No no no!” The inspector shook his head. “No, that’s clearly a baboon’s ass.”

Applejack’s pupil’s shrank and her mouth started to droop as she processed what was being said. “W-what?”

“Your cutie mark!” the inspector snapped, as if addressing a rather foolish foal who had just asked if Princess Luna was made out of cheese. “Three baboon’s asses. Big and red, clearly defined as in the cutie mark handbook! I daresay you got it in Manehatten, there is a large zoo with a popular baboon enclosure there!”

“B-b-b….” Applejack started to twitch. The cogs in her head started to whir into life, and steam escaped from her ears. “B-b-baboons?”

“Yes!” The inspector sighed, exasperated. “Now, follow your destiny, little pony, or you will never achieve success. Chop chop!” He clapped his forehooves together and marched away. “Soon, every pony will be a princess!”

Applejack just rocked back and forth on the spot. “Baboons…” she whispered to herself again, looking down longingly at her basket of apples. “Baboons…”

“It could be worse!” Sea Swirl shrugged. “Okay. Well, no. No it couldn’t.”


The hubbub within the town hall was reaching fever pitch. Nearly every pony in Ponyville was jammed into the space, all jostling to get a good view of the stage. Somehow, the wicker pony had been maneuvered into the hall as well, its immense bulk adding to the cramped conditions. A faint buzzing noise could be heard emanating from its mouth.

“This is a nightmare!” Rarity whispered to Rainbow Dash, removing her mining helmet to slick back her mane. “I spent all day underground, it’s causing havoc with my complexion!”

“And I’ve still not figured out how butterflies work!” Fluttershy moaned. Little strings had been tied all over her body, and at the end of each was a tiny butterfly wearing a harness. “They all want to go in different directions!”

“B-b-baboons!” Applejack added.

“I’ve never been so glad to not have a destiny!” Spike crouched under one of the legs of the wicker pony, fanning himself from the heat of the room.

“I just… hope… Twilight…” Pinkie Pie wheezed, “bursts… in… and… lasers… his… head… off.”

“Don’t worry girls…” Rainbow Dash nodded, rubbing her hooves together in anticipation as she watched the Cutie Mark Inspector take to the stage. “I think I’ve got this little situation well in hoof!”

The noise of the crowd died down as the inspector took to the podium. Heads craned for a view as he shuffled his cue cards.

“Fillies and gentlecolts,” he began in his old, creaking voice. “I came to Ponyville just yesterday, expecting a town where every pony was in tune with their cutie mark destiny. But I was wrong! So very wrong!” He slammed a hoof down onto the podium, causing it to shake. “How can you expect success if you do not follow your immutable destiny? All here should take Princess Sparkle’s example as inspiration, and follow their cutie mark!”

“Yes, tell us more!” A babble of confusion rippled across the hall as Rainbow Dash leapt up onto the stage, walking very confidently towards the inspector. “Tell us more, inspector, about how important it is to follow your cutie mark destiny!”

“You know it is!” the inspector hissed. “Doing what your cutie mark says is the most important thing in the world!”

“Yes, it is!” Rainbow Dash reached the podium, and lashed out with her hooves, grabbing the folds of the inspector’s cloak. “And I think with all those talk of inspiration, we need to be inspired by your cutie mark!”

“What? No!” The inspector’s eyes bulged as Rainbow Dash tugged hard on his cloak. He twisted, trying to pull against the pegasus, but to no avail as his cloak began to rip.

“And as we can see…” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, turning to the crowd as she gave one final hard tug, causing the cloak to tear off the inspector’s back, “…our dear inspector’s cutie mark is nothing more than…” She looked at the revealed cutie mark and stopped in shocked silence. The mutterings in the room ceased as well as each and every pony got a look at the inspector’s cutie mark.

On the inspector’s flank were the words: “CUTIE MARK INSPECTOR.”

“Wow. Uh.” Rainbow Dash started to back away, rubbing her mane nervously. “Awkward. I didn’t know they even came in words.”

“Well they do!” the inspector snapped, picking up his torn cloak. “And you tore my cloak! My favourite cloak! You don’t even have a cloak-tearing cutie mark!”

The inspector continued to glare at Rainbow Dash as she slunk sullenly back into the audience. He shook his head, returning to the podium. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” he continued. “Destiny, Ponyville! You are now all on course with your cutie mark destiny, and – ”

“There ain’t no such thing as cutie mark destiny!” Applejack leapt up from the back of the audience, newly returned to vigour after her previous shocks. “It’s all a crock o’ horseapples!”

“Yes!” Rarity shouted up at the stage, her previous hesitance forgotten. “We make our own choices! And I choose not to live down a mine!”

The inspector drew himself up to his full height, face reddening with outrage. “But your cutie mark defines you!” he roared. “How can you possibly hope to succeed otherwise?”

“Our decisions define us!” Rainbow Dash cried. “Not stupid destiny! We’re where we are because of the work we put in, not because of some weird destiny concept!”

All around, the ponies in the room looked at each other, nodding and shouting their agreement. “Down with destiny!” they chanted, stomping their hooves. “We choose choice!”

“So!” The inspector gestured for calm, sweeping his eyes across the room. “Ponyville does not believe in cutie mark destiny, does it?”

“No!” the crowd chorused.

“You think that a pony’s lot in life is entirely down to how they act?”

“Yes!” the crowd agreed.

“Well,” the inspector announced. “I am happy to hear it.”

With that, the inspector ripped off his mask to reveal the smug face of Twilight Sparkle. “Now,” she continued, shuffling her cue cards. “Since we have got that little argument out of the way, where were we? Ah yes, section two. Point forty-three. My uncanny understanding of social situations…”

Every mouth in the room drooped open.

“I… wait…” Rainbow Dash stared at the figure on stage in shock. “Seriously? Seriously, Twilight? Are you kidding me?”

“I was sent down a mine!” Rarity wailed. “ A mine!”

Twilight shook her head in annoyance at the interruption. “Yes, and we all learnt an important moral!” she clarified. “We all learnt that there’s no such thing as destiny, only the hard work we put in. Pretty neat, eh? I thought as Princess of Friendship, I needed to escalate our life lessons. Anyway, as I was saying…”

“But you wrote a letter to the Cutie Mark Inspector!” Spike shouted. “I sent it myself!”

“There’s no such thing as the Cutie Mark Inspector; I made it up!” Twilight smiled down at Spike. “It just went nowhere because there was nowhere for it to go. I had to keep it a secret otherwise we wouldn’t all be enriched by today’s moral! Now.” She looked down at her notes. “To achieve success, it is imperative – ”

The audience started muttering. Each pony looked to their fellows, and an understanding passed between them. Perhaps there was another lesson that could be learnt this day.

“Ah’ll give you ‘enrichment’!” Applejack shouted. At this, the stage was swarmed by almost a hundred ponies, who pulled a shocked Twilight down and into the audience.

“Wait, wait!” Twilight shouted in panic. “I helped you develop yourselves! You have a new outlook on life now!” She vanished briefly beneath the jostling audience as slowly but surely she was carried towards the wicker pony.

“And we really appreciate it, darling!” Rarity patted Twilight as she was dragged past. “Let us return the favour!” She turned towards the nearest pony, eyes narrowing. “Fetch the bees!”


In the farthest, darkest corner of Equestria, past the snow and desert and jungle, sat a crumbling castle. It had barely seen life for almost five hundred years. The corridors were coated in cobwebs, and a thick layer of dust hung over everything.

But there was life. Ancient candles flickered on stone brickwork as an old, leathery stallion pulled himself out of the chair he had spent the last three hundred years sitting in, and dragged himself to the once-ornate rotting wooden table where a scroll had just appeared.

It had been a long time since he had received mail.

“Interesting,” he rasped as he unfurled the scroll, reading the words carefully, and then for a second time to make sure he hadn’t make a mistake. “Ponyville,” he mouthed, licking his dry lips. The decision made, he shuffled to a nearby hat stand, picking up a tall wide-brimmed black hat and fastening a dark hessian cloak around his neck.

With that, the Cutie Mark Inspector left the castle, his laughter echoing around the now empty halls. It was time to get to work.

Author's Notes:

Thanks to MaskedFerret and Amacita for editing help!

I regret nothing!

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