“Ah did it! Ah got my cutie mark!”
Sweetie Bell and Scootaloo turned, surprised at the stunning admission from the familiar voice. They were nearly bowled over by the yellow filly as she came barreling down the road, her face wide as a country mile.
“How? When? What is it?” The questions came flying out a million a minute, and Applebloom couldn't help but show off a little bit. She turned to the side, exposing her flank to her two friends and fellow Crusaders. There, instead of a blank piece of fur, was unsurprisingly an apple. The surprising part was that it appeared to be made of wood, and painted red, as opposed to a natural piece of fruit. "Ah was workin on redesignin some of the old out buildings on the farm, just mindin my business when mah sister came up. Ah explained what ah was doin, and when she said ah oughta go into business for mahself in the future, that got me thinkin about it and how much ah wanted ta do it. Next thing ah knew, this appeared!"
The three ponies continued to converse, all abuzz with the success of one of their members long into the autumn night.
/ - / - / - /
The train continued to roll through the countryside, chugging along through the night towards its destination. It was actually relatively quiet on the train, with few passengers taking the journey this late at night. The few who were traveling at this late hour were fast asleep in anticipation of arriving at their next destination.
One pony, however, was not asleep. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't seem to let rest overtake her. Sighing, she turned over in her seat, watching the stars in Luna's nightsky. She quickly began pointing out the constellations in her head, a familiar voice who had taught her about stargazing all those years ago when she was just a filly coming back to her memory. She sighed, leaning against the window. “I can't believe it's been so long...” she told herself, the sights of so many stars bringing back even more memories of her past.
/ - / - / - /
Sweetie Belle lay in the sun, reading a book that Twilight had given her in anticipation of the upcoming performance in Ponyville Square. Overcoming stage fright was her new goal in life, at least it in the last few weeks it had been. Scootaloo had been off practicing for flight school that she was about to enroll in, while Apple Bloom had been busy on the farm.
She was just about to place her bookmark and go off to see her sister, who needed help in the Boutique, when an orange blur came rushing by her. Sweetie Belle was thrown off balance and went crashing into a nearby tree, leaves falling off into her mane. She looked up to see Scootaloo standing over her, nearly dancing on her toes as she smiled like a mad pony. “Uh...hi,” Sweetie Belle said in a shocked voice, not quite certain of what to make of this.
“Notice anything different?” Scootaloo said proudly, standing there with her wings unfurled. Her wings had finally started to grow with the rest of her over the last few weeks, and though she could only lift herself off the ground for a few seconds, time spent training with Rainbow Dash in preparation for flight school had improved her flying skills immensely in a short span of time. Sweetie Belle squinted in the sunlight, trying to see what her friend was talking about, before Scootaloo turned the side, drawing Sweetie Belle's attention to her flank.
“OH MY GOSH!” she exclaimed in excitement, before hugging Scootaloo on the accomplishment. Her cutie mark was a pair of checkered flags crossed over a pair of wings, unlike anything that Sweetie Belle had ever seen before.
“I got challenged to a race by a couple of other pegasi who were from out of town. We raced around the outskirts of Everfree forest, and I couldn't believe how much fun it was. I just kept wanting to win more than anything, and when I did, it just happened!”
Sweetie Belle couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement her friend felt, although a part of her felt ashamed and embarrassed as well. Both of her friends had gotten their cutie marks before she had, and though she felt great for them, she was a tad jealous as well.
/ - / - / - /
She sighed again as the rolling hills of the plains of Equestria gave way to the hoofhills a few miles south of Canterlot. In the continuing moonlight, she could make out the shadow of the Everfree Forest in the distance, wild and untamed as it always had been. She smiled as she remembered being afraid of the forest as a filly, and then going into it looking for adventure as if it had been nothing. Fear was never an issue when it came to her and her fellow crusaders.
She smiled, and Sweetie Belle remembered fondly when they had helped her overcome her final fear.
/ - / - / - /
“I-I can't do it!” Sweetie Belle panicked upon seeing everypony gathered in the audience. Nervously she hoofed at the dress her sister had made for her specifically for this occasion.
“Sure you can,” came the reassuring voice of Apple Bloom, who smiled at her friend. “There's nuthin to it. Jus like we practiced.”
“Practicing for you guys is different,” Sweetie Belle retorted. “I know you won't laugh. What if? What if they all hate it? I'll be the laughing stock of Ponyville!”
“No way,” Scootaloo returned, before looking at Apple Bloom with a conspiring glance. “Why don't we go over it one more time?”
Sweetie Belle stopped and looked at her friends, who had eager looks on their faces. She bit her bottom lip, sweat falling from her brow. “What if everypony hears me?” she asked, trepidation in her voice.
“Of course they won't hear ya,” Apple Bloom assured her. “They're too busy makin a ruckus all on their own.” Sweetie Belle nodded, noting that the crowd was rather loud. Perhaps if she sung a little quieter than normal, they wouldn't hear.
Closing her eyes as she often did, so that she could better center herself within the music, Sweetie Belle began to quietly belt out the notes of the song she had composed herself. The notes flowed out of her mind, merely becoming an extension of herself. As she sung, she could hear the music playing in her head, a mental orchestra playing along with her every whim. As she reached the final notes of the first chorus, she paused and opened her eyes...
...only to see that the curtain had risen, and everypony stared at her, mesmerized by her voice.
Panic gripped Sweetie Belle for a mere moment, before a quick glance at her friends reassuring her strengthened her resolve. She began to sing again, louder this time, more confident, and with each passing moment she could see the bevy of emotions filling every single pony's face, some of them even moved to tears. As she finished her song, a feeling of joy just enveloped her as the crowd began cheering and whistling for her. It was a feeling unlike any she had ever felt.
Unbeknownst to her, a small purple treble cleft appeared on her flank, it's bottom capped off by a heart.
/ - / - / - /
Sweetie Belle looked down at the Cutie Mark she had earned on that night with a fond memory. Time had certainly passed then. It had been so many years ago, and now here she was a full-grown mare, ready to return home for the first time in...however many years it had actually been since she had set hoof in Ponyville.
Of course, there were ulterior motives to her journey back home, but she tried desperately to set those aside in her mind.
A sudden jerk forward and a slow and gradual stop meant they were nearing Ponyville station. Lifting her saddlebags onto her back with her magic, Sweetie Belle looked out the window one last time, and could almost make out the visage of the Sweet Apple Acres against the rising sun on the horizon. She smiled, a tear in her eye as she remembered the last time she was there...in the clubhouse.
/ - / - / - /
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER MEETING! CALLED TO ORDER!”
Sweetie Belle smiled, but then frowned too when she saw the disappointment on her friends faces. “Don't be like that,” she said quietly, “I know we've got our cutie marks now, but that doesn't mean we won't stop being friends right?”
“O' course not,” Apple Bloom replied with strength of will in her voice. “It's just that Scootaloo will be goin of to flight school in two days, and now yer tellin me that yer parents wanna send ya to Lippiena or somethin.”
“It's home to the Equestrian School of Music,” Sweetie Belle explained. “It's certainly a dream of mine ever since my mother told me about it. And aren't you going to help your cousin Braeburn in Appleloosa?” Apple Bloom nodded, excited by sad nonetheless. Sweetie Belle merely smiled in reply. “But hey, we can write to each other right?”
“Of course we can,” Scootaloo chimed in, her resolve even stronger than her other friends. “Even with me in Cloudsdale, AB in Appleloosa and you in...wherever that place is.” Sweetie Belle glared at Scootaloo playfully. “No matter where we are...we'll be together.” The three of them joined hooves high in the air.
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADER LONG DISTANCE FRIENDSHIP BRIGADE! YEAH!”
/ - / - / - /
Sweetie Belle wiped the tear from her eyes again and shook the nostalgia from her mind. She slowly stepped off the train station and whispered to herself, “I'm home.”