It was a cool fall morning and the Ponyville school was a bustle with activity. Due to the newly built classrooms and expanded teachers every kid and teen in the entire town was getting a proper education and it showed. In the class of 1a Applebloom, a pale blonde filly with fiery red hair, sat looking out the window and waiting for the teacher as the other foals ran about and caused some havoc, as they do.
Taking her oversized cowgirl hat off she fanned herself with it, smoothed down her hair, and returned it to her head. It slipped a touch and she adjusted that as well. The central heating that many places were now running made the fall and winter months much more enjoyable but they really did need to tweak how hot it made some rooms. The door opened and the teacher walked in. As she did so the entire class took notice, quietened down and started to head to their seats. Mrs Cheerilee loved her students and it showed!
“Good morning class.” She greeted as warm and cheery as the sun.
“Good morning Mrs Cheerilee.” The whole class replied in unison.
“Today we have a very important lesson to get to. We will be talking about cutie marks.”
“Boring…” Diamond Tiara muttered, her own cutie mark matching her name.
“You can all see my cutie mark can’t you?” Cheerilee asked as she turned slightly to show off the three smiling flowers on her flank. “Like everypony else, I was not born with a cutie mark.” She paused to flip over a picture on the board. It showed an adorable picture of herself as a foal laying on a pillow. “My flank was blank but one day when I was your age I woke up to find that a cutie mark had appeared.” She paused again to show another picture of herself as a teenager. Her mane was wild and dyed different colors, her outfit loud and garish, but sure enough she had her cutie mark.
“Look at her hair!” One of the kids called out causing the others to start laughing.
“Yes yes I know but honestly that is how everypony was wearing their mane back then. I had decided to become a teacher and the flowers you see symbolized my hope that I could help my future students bloom if I nurtured them with knowledge. The smiles represented the cheer I hoped to bring to my little ponies as they were learning. Now, can anyone tell me when a pony gets his or her cutie mark?”
“Oh oh! When she discovers that certain something that makes her special!” A white filly with a lisp called out.
“That’s right Twist. A cutie mark appears on a pony’s flank when he or she finds that certain something that makes them different to every other pony. Discovering what you makes you unique isn’t something that happens over night…”
“Psst.” A voice next to Applebloom whispered.
“... And no amount of hoping, wishing or begging will make it appear…”
“PSST” They repeated.
“What?” Applebloom asked quietly as she turned to Diamond Tiara. The purple filly took out a note and reached out to meet Applebloom half way. Looking across to her other side Applebloom found that Silver Spoon was waiting for her. Sighing she leaned over and grabbed the note.
“Applebloom! Are you passing a note?” Cheerilee called out. Applebloom dropped the note on the floor out of surprise. “What could be so important it could not wait until after class?” She asked but looking down at the paper she found nothing. “It’s blank?”
“Remind you of somepony?” Diamond Tiara joked with a sneer before quietly laughing. Silver Spoon quickly joined in and Applebloom shrank in her seat.
After a productive day at school the fillies and colts ran out of the school to find something more entertaining to do. Applebloom threw on her saddlebags and adjusted her hat before going herself. The sooner she got to the farm the sooner she could get her own daily work done and with that she could get her allowance faster.
“I don’t know why we had to sit through a lecture about getting our cutie marks.” Diamond Tiara spoke to Silver Spoon from behind Applebloom. “I mean waiting for a cutie is soooo last week. I have mine, you have yours. We all have them already…” She snickered and rushed past the farm pony before looking back. “Well, almost all of us anyway… Oh but don’t worry Applebloom you are still invited to my cute-ceañera this weekend.”
“It’s going to be amazing!” Silver Spoon added.
“It is a celebration of me and my amazing cutie, how could it not be?” Diamond Tiara said smugly. “Cya there, blank flank!” She and Silver Spoon both added in unison before bumping cutie marks together and running off giggling. Applebloom sighed and started to head home with much to think about.
“It is just not fair I tell yeh.” Applebloom whined to Applejack as she went around collecting loose apples.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, you will get yours soon enough.”
“But I don’t want mine ‘soon enough’ I want it now! I can not go to Diamond Tiara’s cute-ceañera without one either. I just can't!”
“Of course you can.” Applejack spoke up as she stopped her work to focus on the young filly. “Listen, I was the last one in my class to get a cutie mark, same with Big Mac and well everybody in our family but we have always known what our cutie marks mean and what we want to do. Pretty good trade off.” She explained.
“And what does your cutie mark mean again?” Applebloom asked as she pointed to the pair of playing cards stamped with apples on Applejack’s face. She seemingly went pale for a second, lost in thought as a bead of sweat ran down her brow.
“I know when to raise and when to fold, so trust me when I say that you need to hold your cards close to you right now. It will be alright, you got your entire family to support you so that has to be worth more than some filly’s opinion.”
“My family…” Applebloom’s ears shot up as she realized. “You have a cutie mark with apples and you were living in the city so apples must run in the family!” She called out happily as the plan started to come together in her head. “I just need to do everything apple related.” Applejack bit her lip. She did not have the heart to tell her little sister that she had already tried practically everything on the farm due to chores or playtime.
“Why don’t we hang out together and see what works? I do have to tend the market stall soon.” Applejack spoke up as she started to get some ideas together on how to reconnect with her sister.
Later at the market stall. Applejack was doing her usual haggling and already managed to sell several bushels of apples for more than they were worth. Applebloom at first was paying attention and even helping out with her cute innocent looks however she found herself becoming bored. Looking around she noticed that many of the poneis around the town square were doing something far more interesting. Painting, playing tennis, tossing a disk around… On top of all the shoppers it did make for quite a hectic scene.
Leaving Applejack to man the cart for a while Applebloom grabbed a canvas that had been left out and a bunch of apples. If everybody in the family had apple themed cutie marks and Applejack had playing cards then that means anything could be apple related! A decent idea in practise but as she tried to mash up and create some art with the fruit it just started to make more and more of a mess. There is not much color you can make with mashed apples after all. Giving up her artistic career before it began she grabbed a tennis racket instead. Swinging it a few times Applebloom tossed up an apple and smacked it hard. It exploded and in turn a rain of apple juice went everywhere! Apologizing to the other shoppers he left her mess where it is and hummed to herself. Getting a cutie mark was not as easy as it seemed.
“Have fun?” Applejack asked her sister but she got a sad glance back. “Oh…”
“I am going to go home.” Applebloom sighed as she tossed her apron into the cart.
“Fudge muffins… There has to be something I can do.” Applejack muttered to herself.
“Heya Applecore.” Rainbow Dash spoke up suddenly causing AJ to flinch.
“Celestia’s fucking wings, don’t sneak up on me like that!” AJ called out.
“Ooo sorry, you just looked like someone replaced your apple juice with pear juice.”
“Hmm, nothing wrong with me. It is my sister, she is fretting over getting a cutie mark.”
“Darn, I was hoping she had invented a fruit based sport.” Rainbow said while holding up the tennis racket AB had left behind.
“Eesh. I just don’t know what to do Rainbow, being supportive did not do much and I am too busy to hang out as much as I should.” Applejack said sadly as she sat down.
“Durr. Applebloom needs to find other fillies that are cutie impaired, so they can all go make the fruit based sport of my dreams.” Rainbow explained.
“That is… Actually a good idea… I didn’t know you were so good with foals.”
“I am a mare of many talents. Oh oh, could dewy be one such friend?” Rainbow asked with a small flutter of her wings.
“That colt from your library? Hm a bit too old I think for Applebloom… But that is still a great idea, thanks Rainbow you really pulled me out of a pickle.”
Applebloom was feeling down and even after getting most of the afternoon free come the next morning she was not feeling any better. A cutie mark was such an important event in any young fillies life and if she had to wait years more it would drive her insane. Burying her face into the bed’s pillows she huffed.
“Maybe I could get a cutie mark for sleeping forever…” She whispered to herself.
“Applebloom, come on downstairs I got a surprise for you!” Applejack shouted.
Groaning Applebloom pulled herself out of her bed and slowly trotted down the stairs to find something smelled really delicious. Pancakes with an apple syrup. Slightly burned around the edges but the best ones that Applejack had made yet. A nice surprise and one that took her mind off the cutie mark worries quite quickly.
“Don’t thank me yet. See, Rainbow helped me find some other fillies who I think you might enjoy and I set up a little playdate.” Applejack explained. At first Applebloom was dubious of the idea but having more friends than Diamond Tiara alone sounded like a good thing.
Once she had eaten her slightly crunchy pancakes she got herself tidied up and her hat on straight. Heading out with Applejack they headed through the orchard to a northern spot that housed a small but very run down treehouse.
“What is that?” Applebloom asked.
“An old treehouse that me and Mac once set up before I left. If you want to try new things then why not spruce it up with the others?” Applejack slyly stated. She had a good feeling that having the fillies work together and be constructive would no doubt help them to find common ground. Just on time as well came Rarity and her young sister Sweetie Bell.
“Are you sure you will be alright on your own?”
“I am sure.”
“Ok then sis but make sure you get some lunch.” Sweetie spoke as Rarity used her magic to move the bushes out of the way for the pair. “I will be back by sundown, so no worries?”
“No worries.” Rarity nodded with a small smile.
Sweetie Bell was a young white unicorn with a long pink and purple mane all done up in curls. She bid farewell to her older sister and even waved her off in an odd reversal of roles. Joining up with Applejack she expressed a few doubts about this whole thing but AJ was adamant that it would be good for them to get some friends of their own age. The next pair came shortly after.
“I like the idea but did we have to meet up out here? We have been walking for hours.” Scootaloo sighed. She was an orange pegasis with purple hair all dressed up in a Filly Scout uniform. While simple the design had been changed several times with the budget increases. It sported a visored cap, short skirt, sash of badges and saddlebags full of who knows what.
“I like to take the… scenic route.” Rainbow replied a short distance behind her. She spoke casually but had clearly worked out a sweat compared to the young filly. Spotting AJ she easily passed Scootaloo and gave a look to the other two. “Getting quite the fruit salad going on here I see.”
“Indeed, I think… Um, I left some paint and tools for you girls to use but remember to have fun. We won’t keep you.” Applejack said before giving a nudge to Rainbow and leaving.
Scootaloo dropped off her bags under the tree while the other two looked over the treehouse above.
“Ehck such a filthy thing. Do we really have to fix such a disaster?” Sweetie asked.
“It won’t be that hard if we all do a bit of work. I know plenty about carpentry from helping Big Mac out when I was younger… Hey Scoots what can you do?” She called out.
“What can’t I do!” She shouted excitedly as she showed of her long sash of badges. “Rock climbing, canoeing, first aid, herblore, fire safety…” She listed with each badge.
“Anything about fixing a house?” Applebloom asked.
“Ah… No.” Scootaloo replied with a tint of blush. “But I learn quick!”
With Applebloom taking care of the hardest repairs and Scootaloo doing small stuff Sweetie Bell took care of the insides. It needed quite a clean, several planks to be replaced, and furniture to be replaced but they got to it and had several laughs along the way. Now clean and free of drafts the rug and curtains proved to be nice additions.
“It is a bit small though…” Sweetie fussed. “I could bring in some more hardware if you two would be up to making this place a more respectable boudoir.
“That does sound mighty nice but I think we have done a great job so far.” Applebloom proudly replied but glancing at her flank she found no cutie mark to be found. Leaning on an upturned fruit crate that had a tiny table cloth draped over it she looked out the cracked window to the orchard. “Are you two going to Diamond Tiara’s party tomorrow?”
“Uh please and thank you no. That detestable little filly runs me up the wall.” Sweetie spoke with a flourish to her hair.
“I know that. Her dad once made her join our group and she just spent two days whining to the point we had to kick her out. And she then complained to her dad that we were being mean! If it was not for Twilight’s funding we might have been shut down.” Scootaloo added with a clack of her hooves.
“Want to go camping? I have always wanted to do that but I eh never had others to go with.” Applebloom then asked as put some ideas together.
“Camping? Oh I love camping, where you girls going?” Rainbow Dash said as she poked her head through the skylight. The girls jumped clear off the floor in surprise. “Hmm no wait don’t tell me it's your little party after all.”
“Rainbow, you gave us all a heck of a scare. What you are doing up there?” Applebloom asked.
“I… I was in the orchard nearby when I heard all this hammering and clambering going on so I went over to see what was up when I saw this adorable little house. Very druid.” She explained. “B-but yeah, I gotta go. You girls have some fun now.” Rainbow said with a wink before closing the skylight and fluttering away.
“Anyway… I may be the queen of camping but where do we pitch our tent? The orchard? The Ponyville park?” Scootaloo asked as she pulled out a map and put it over the table. Applebloom shifted around to take a look at it and eventually she put her hoof down on the east side.
“What about the Everfree? I bet there are all kinds of cutie mark adventures we could do!”
“I really do not think that is such a good idea…” Sweetie protested but Scoots and AB both had that telling adventurous look. She sighed and cracked a smile. “Fine but we do it right. Scoots you get me a list of supplies and I will buy them, go crazy. Applebloom can bring the food as I figure she knows what is best.”
With nods all around they agreed to meet up tomorrow in the afternoon. Sweetie told Rarity and Lily that she would be out camping with her new friends and that she needed to buy some supplies. Scootaloo returned to her empty home excited to go camping with other fillies that was not just part of her group. And Applebloom worked with her sister late into the night to get freshly made treats ready. Each one of them told the adults that they would be camping somewhere in the orchard but they had not worked out where yet and amazingly the adults believed it.
Meeting up around the back of Rarity’s Bejewelled Bridle they began to get everything ready. Sweetie Bell sat on a box full of stuff as Scootaloo and Applebloom went over and organized it all into packs. Rope, band aids, trail mix, snacks for roasting over a fire later, a map, about 3 cans of bug spray for Sweetie Bell alone.
“Wow Sweetie this tent is really high grade.” Scootaloo noticed.
“Only the best for my companions… I wish I could have got the automatic pitching one though but your instructions did quite clearly say to not do that… Lovely fetching color of red ink I will say even if the font was a bit big.” Sweetie mocked.
Sharing a laugh and then laughing for a second time as Sweetie seeming deflated under the weight of her saddlebags they set out on an adventure to find something that would give them a cutie mark! Sneaking around the town so that nobody noticed where they were going they headed into the Everfree without a care in the world. Following the map and inspired by what they had heard of the Summer Sun Celebration the girls went along the north path. First around the rocky cliffside and then down into the dense woods before coming out at the river. Not only was this one of the least dense areas of the forest and a place that got the most amount of sun but the river also gave them more activities to look forward to.
Sweetie was not looking the best as well and she was the first to throw down her bags to catch her breath. As she took a quick trot in the river to freshen herself up the other two placed down their own saddlebags and took a look around the area.
“Ooo never seen half of these plants before.” Scootaloo admitted.
“Do you think they are dangerous?” Applebloom asked in return.
“Who knows.” Scootaloo shrugged. “Let's get the tents up first, it will be dark soon.”
Surprisingly Sweetie was good with rope tying and with her organization she had the basic support structure up fairly quickly. Apple Bloom however was in charge of putting up the walls and floor which she rushed and ended up making something akin to an abstract rendition of a pancake. Shaking her head Scootaloo came in for the rescue. The tent was big. With it having enough space to house four adult ponies the three fillies felt like they were camping inside of a padded mansion.
Home base set up they ran out to try everything they could to get a cutie mark. Swimming in the rivers, climbing trees, basic rock climbing, starting a fire… How to quickly put out a fire… Fire safety 101 thanks to Scootaloo. They even managed to get enough stray wood together to form a small raft but with everything they tried they did not a cutie mark. Annoyed but in good spirits they just kept trying one thing after another until the sun had gone down and Luna’s great moon had started to rise over the horizon. With a mighty fine, and extra safe, fire pit also lit they sat warming themselves up.
“Oh I am famished. Do tell what you packed us for the fire AB.” Sweetie dramatically spoke.
“Big Mac helped teach me an old recipe of sorts he used to do when he was younger.” Applebloom explained as she rummaged around the inside of her bag. Surprisingly, she pulled out several oranges of all things and tossed one to each of her friends. “It’s real easy. Just cut in half and eat the inside of it.” She instructed as she did so herself. “Then you fill the halves up with this muffin mix I got from sugarcube corner. Stick the halves together, wrap in foil, and put over the fire. And you have hot orange zest muffins in minutes!”
“Wow Applebloom, that is quite an impressive idea.” Sweetie complimented as she fumbled with the foil.
“Fair warning to y’all, I have never tried this before.” AB added with a grin.
“I figure they will need time. If you excuse me, I need to use the little filly’s room… Ehm, bush.” Scootaloo said as she quite quickly left the fire and headed into the woods.
“So what should we do while we wait?” AB asked.
“Well, I have been curious about something I saw Rarity doing during one of her tea parties.” Sweetie replied with a touch of blush.
Scoots meanwhile had ended up deeper into the woods than she had meant to go. The moonlight above barely squeezed through the thick leaves and the darkness was closing in all around her. Trees groaned under the whistling wind and small branches snapped. Then she noticed that it was not the tree branches that was cracking but rather the stray pieces that littered the floor. Her trot became a canter. The Everfree sure seemed a lot more friendly when you are by the safety of a river and the light of a hot campfire! Driven by fear and a touch of paranoia Scoots could not tell if something was following her or not but she did not want to find out. Eventually breaking out into a gallop she leapt over logs and crashed through bushes as quick as her tiny hooves could carry her.
“Girls, I swear something is…” Scoots came to a skidding stop as she ran into the clearing. “What are you two doing?” She asked as she came upon the two sitting next to each other and pressing their muzzles together.
“Nothing!” AB called out as she pushed Sweetie clear off the log. “What are YOU doing?”
“Running from the… The…” Scoots stammered, frozen, as she remembered why she was running in the first place. Slowly turning around she saw it. A chicken’s head. It poked out from the bush and had its eyes closed. “That.” Scoots sighed but suddenly the chicken rose up to reveal a scaly and almost dragon like body. Blood red eyes snapped open and the creature balked menacingly. Scoots stood frozen in fear and her legs simply refused to move but the more she stared the more she came to realize that her legs felt numb. Looking down she only caught a glimpse of her body before she petrified completely.
“Scoots!” The pair watching cried out. Looking away from the creature they were too scared to run and instead hid behind a log in fear. The creature however slithered out of the bush and started to slowly creep closer to the fire.
Just as the beast reached the fire Fluttershy pounce from above. She knocked the creature straight through the fire and in turn the clearing was plunged into darkness. Applebloom and Sweetie could not dare to look as the yellow pegasis fought the beast back and even more amazingly started to argue with it! Even as her body was slowly being turned to stone she demanded that it free Scootaloo and if it did not then there would be some seriously dire consequences. She had a look in her eye, a stare that pieced the very soul, and the beast quickly crumbled under her intimidating glare. The petrification across Fluttershy’s legs also fell apart and Scoots was freed. With the beast running off the other pair came out from behind the log.
“Eh… Thanks Fluttershy. I know, I know, we are not supposed to be here…” Applebloom spoke up but Fluttershy shook her head.
“Rarity’s kin and friends are always welcome here.” She explained with a smile that was trying to be kind.
With the fire reignited and a few Fluttershy’s rabbits keeping watch of the clearing the trio continued to enjoy themselves. Even if the Everfree was dangerous this night had been some of the most fun they have ever had. In the end they decided to give themselves a name and while the three of them had several interesting names they all decided on one most fitting. The Cutie Mark Crusaders. Who would adventure and seek out cutie marks together!