~ Day 1 ~
"Feelings? I don't care about feelings!"
Apple Bloom arrived at school one morning and saw Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon waiting at the front door. She remembered that for the most part, it would be another tormenting day of enduring painful teasing simply because she had not yet acquired her cutie mark. Despite her friendship with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo helping her stand through thick and thin, her level of depression had still been steadily increasing over time. The rich duo showed no signs of budging, so Apple Bloom decided to face them and get the worst of it over with.
"Well, if it isn't Apple Blank," sneered Diamond Tiara, immensely enjoying herself tormenting the little filly. Apple Bloom snorted.
"You leave her alone!" Scootaloo suddenly appeared, trying to stare Diamond Tiara down backed up by Sweetie Belle.
"You think you're so special, Cutie Mark Losers," said Diamond Tiara. "But all you ever do is cause mayhem in Ponyville! Honestly, I'm surprised the Mayor hasn't signed any eviction orders! Bunch of blank flanks!"
"Why do you always have to be so mean?" asked Sweetie Belle, looking slightly hurt, but doing her best not to show it openly.
"Because you're just a bunch of foals," Diamond Tiara jeered. "Real fillies and colts have cutie marks. Blank flanks have yet to grow out of their diapers!" She and Silver Spoon entered the schoolhouse laughing. The Cutie Mark Crusaders did seem deeply offended by Diamond Tiara's hurtful statement. To top things always seeming to be bad for Apple Bloom, her seat was in between those of Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara. But when the school fillies took their seats, Sweetie Belle started whispering to Apple Bloom.
"Hey, Apple Bloom," she said, keeping her voice low to avoid the two rich fillies hearing in on her. "Do you think we should tell Miss Cheerilee on them?"
"I say we don't need to," said Scootaloo with pride. "One day, we'll earn our cutie marks and show them someday!"
"I don't know," muttered Sweetie Belle. Apple Bloom didn't say anything. She had in fact been tormented by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon longer than Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, even before they met.
Later on, the school day was over and as the bell rang, the fillies quickly left the schoolhouse. But Apple Bloom didn't even budge just yet. And of course, Cheerilee took notice.
"Apple Bloom?" she said. Apple Bloom just sat in her seat as Cheerilee came to her. "Apple Bloom? Is something wrong?" Apple Bloom looked up and saw Cheerilee looked slightly concerned seeing the downtrodden look on her sad little filly face.
"Ah just wish ah had mah cutie mark," Apple Bloom mumbled. "Ah feel like ah'm left out from everypony else."
"Apple Bloom, are Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon bothering you again?"
"Don't worry," said Cheerilee. "I'll talk to them. And I'm sure you're not the only filly in Ponyville who doesn't have a cutie mark. Every pony gets theirs eventually."
"Yeah, that's what they all say," said Apple Bloom, leaving her seat and trudging out of the schoolhouse. "But eventually never seems to come for me." Cheerilee watched with concern as Apple Bloom left. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were waiting for Apple Bloom.
"Hey, Apple Bloom!" said Scootaloo. "Ready for some more crusading? I think today's our lucky day!"
"Ah'm sorry," moaned Apple Bloom. "Ah don't feel like it." Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo just watched Apple Bloom walk on by. They then looked at each other worriedly. Apple Bloom trudged all the way back to Sweet Apple Acres. But once her house was in sight, she suddenly broke into a full gallop, letting out a few tears from her eyes. She was then seen in her room, curled up on her bed and sobbing into her pillow. Applejack soon found her.
"Apple Bloom? What's wrong, sugar cube?" She came over and sat down on the bed next to her.
"It's nothin' you can help me with," Apple Bloom wept. "Just leave me alone!"
"Now, what in Equestria's hayseeds would make ya think ah can't help ya?" asked Applejack, smiling assuredly at her. Apple Bloom didn't answer. "This is about your cutie mark, isn't it?" Applejack then asked. "Come on, Apple Bloom. Perk up. You'll get your cutie mark eventually. Ya just have to-"
"No, ah won't!" bellowed Apple Bloom. "Ah'll never ever get mah cutie mark! Mah only special talent is bein' a blank flank for the rest of mah life!" And she cried harder than ever. Applejack just looked a bit exasperated, but wasn't about to give up.
"Ah wouldn't doubt yourself like that if ah were you," said Applejack. "Sometimes we don't even know our special talents ourselves and we have to dig a little deeper to find out what they are. Ya know what I think? Ah think you and your friends have been tryin' too hard to find the same special talent. Y'all should try branchin' out a bit. Come with me. Ah wanna show ya somethin'." Applejack led Apple Bloom to the clubhouse that the Cutie Mark Crusaders currently used. Applejack had stuck a notice flyer on the door for them to see. "Check it out! Ponyville is hostin' an arts and crafts fair to kick off the summer season! Apple Bloom, ah think you should at least take part in it. Ah'm willing to bet my hoof that this may just be your callin'. If ah remember correctly, ya fixed this tacky ol' clubhouse all by yourself. Don't ya think that's something special?" Apple Bloom just let out a huge sigh.
"Ah'll think about it," she said, and turned around to go back home. Applejack now looked puzzled and concerned.
"Look, Apple Bloom," she said, walking alongside her little sister. "Ah can tell there's somethin' botherin' ya. Ah'd very much appreciate it if ya told me."
"Maybe ah don't deserve a cutie mark."
"What makes ya say that?"
"All mah friends and ah ever did was cause mischief all over Ponyville. We've been to a lot of places and some ponies still hate us."
"So ya made dozens of mistakes," said Applejack. "What are y'all worried about? We all make tons of mistakes. Ah made mistakes all the time when ah first started workin' on the farm and ah was a little filly. But Big Macintosh was always there to back me up. Look sis, ah've already forgiven you for all of your mistakes. Ya don't have to worry about that. Ah know you're still a good little filly at heart. Big Macintosh knows it too." She sighed. "Ah know... we shoulda forgiven you sooner. Ah know you never really mean to bring harm and mah friends and ah shoulda been less uptight. Tell me somethin'. Is it Diamond Tiara? She's the one who made you bring Ponyville to its knees, right?" Apple Bloom said nothing. "Apple Bloom, please!" begged Applejack. "Ah want ya to tell me if something's wrong! Ah might able to help ya." But Apple Bloom's self-depression was slowly starting to eat her alive and doubt had been building up from all the times Diamond Tiara was wicked to the Cutie Mark Crusaders and had succeeded in turning Ponyville against them. She collapsed on the soft grass, curled up into a ball and cried. "Oh, Apple Bloom," moaned Applejack. She got her sobbing sister on her back and carried her the rest of the way home. And that night, Apple Bloom cried herself to sleep with Applejack listening outside her door.
~ Day 2 ~
"Ah'm useless! That's all ah'll ever be!"
Apple Bloom woke up the next morning with a knot in her stomach. All the thoughts of Diamond Tiara's antics doubled up with what she could do to her today was making her uncomfortable and ill. That's when she heard a knock on her door.
"Rise and shine, sis!" Applejack called. "It's your last day of school before summer!" Apple Bloom groaned, but got up out of bed. Applejack greeted her when she came out of her room. "Feelin' any better, sugar cube?"
"Not really," moaned Apple Bloom.
"Well, try not to worry so much. It's your last day and after that, you'll have a whole summer to spend with your friends. Aren't y'all lookin' forward to crusadin' for yer cutie marks?"
"Yeah, we're lookin' forward to gettin' ourselves into just another heap of trouble," Apple Bloom replied sarcastically. Applejack sighed.
"Yer startin' to make me worry. Ah don't think ya should walk to school alone today." She led Apple Bloom to Big Macintosh, who had hitched himself to a wheelbarrow full of apples. "Say, Big Mac, if it's not too much trouble, would ya mind walkin' Apple Bloom to school today? She's been feelin' a little low lately."
"Eeyup," Big Macintosh agreed. "Actually, I was just on mah way to Ponyville to bring these apples to the market anyway."
"Thanks so much, big brother. Ah'll see y'all later!"
"Eeyup." And with that, Big Macintosh escorted Apple Bloom to the schoolhouse.
"Uh... thanks, Big Mac," said Apple Bloom nervously.
"Eeyup." Big Macintosh watched Apple Bloom enter the schoolhouse and after making sure she was okay, went on his way to do his errands. School seemed to go smoothly for Apple Bloom, but after the day was out, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon met up with the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
"Hello, girls," greeted Diamond Tiara deceivingly.
"What do you want?!" snarled Scootaloo.
"We were just wondering if you'd like to be our B.F.F.'s." Now this surprised the Cutie Mark Crusaders. B.F.F. generally stood for 'Best Friend(s) Forever', so for Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon to offer a peace treaty like that was definitely more than unusual. Unless of course, Cheerilee had in fact spoken to them.
"Okaaaaaay..." said Scootaloo. "Meaning..." A wicked grin suddenly spread across Diamond Tiara's face.
"Blank flanks forever!" she and Silver Spoon said in unison, and they gave a hoot and roared with laughter. Scootaloo growled furiously. Sweetie Belle looked visibly hurt and upset, but Apple Bloom was beside herself. She let out a wail and ran home crying. "Have a nice summer!" Diamond Tiara called after her. Silver Spoon on the other hand looked somewhat concerned for Apple Bloom. Scootaloo's rage took control of her and without a second thought, she tackled Diamond Tiara and they both took a nasty tumble onto the schoolyard, where Scootaloo pinned the now surprised Diamond Tiara to the grass.
"Take... that... back!" she roared in her face.
"Scootaloo!" Cheerilee stood over both of them, clearly not looking too happy at all. Scootaloo instantly got off Diamond Tiara.
"I... I'm sorry, Miss Cheerilee," said Scootaloo remorsefully. "But she hurt Apple Bloom's feelings... and I... I..."
"I'll talk to her about that," said Cheerilee. "But as for you, this is not the kind of behavior I will tolerate on school grounds." Scootaloo looked guilty.
Meanwhile, Applejack and Big Macintosh were hard at work apple-bucking when they heard Apple Bloom crying. They then saw her running past them, tears flying from her eyes.
"'Scuse me," said Applejack, taking a temporary break from her work.
"Eeyup," said Big Macintosh. Applejack found Apple Bloom in her room again, crying on her bed, but this time more loudly than yesterday.
"Apple Bloom..." said a worried Applejack. "Ah'm almost afraid to ask what happened..."
"They called me 'blank flank forever'!" wailed Apple Bloom, tears running down her wet cheeks. Applejack was surprised to hear that kind of a name call, but she then realized it had been initialized with B.F.F. and that Apple Bloom had been practically deceived.
"Oh, Apple Bloom. Ah'm so sorry. Ah don't know why they have to be so mean. Ah thought they would have learned their lessons after Twilight and ah mentioned the advantages of not havin' a cutie mark. But ah guess... nopony can teach them a lesson." Meanwhile, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle rode into Sweet Apple Acres on Scootaloo's scooter. Scootaloo halted upon seeing Big Macintosh.
"Hi, Big Macintosh!" they both said. Big Macintosh smiled at the fillies.
"Is Apple Bloom home?" asked Scootaloo.
"Eeyup," said Big Mac.
"Can we talk to her?" asked Sweetie Belle.
"Eeyup." And so, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo went to visit Apple Bloom in her room with Applejack, all three of them trying to comfort their crestfallen friend.
"Come on, Apple Bloom," said Scootaloo desperately. "You can't let Diamond Tiara get to you like this."
"Just ignore those two," said Sweetie Belle. But neither of their words did a thing to improve Apple Bloom's mood. She just kept on crying.
"Ah'm useless!" she sobbed. "That's all ah'll ever be!"
"Stop that, Apple Bloom!" demanded Applejack. "You're not useless!"
"Yes ah am!" cried Apple Bloom. "Ah haven't got mah cutie mark! And ah'm a big failure without it!"
"That's not true and you know it! Look, the arts and crafts fair begins in about eight days from now and ah really want ya to take part. It'll be fun."
"Ah don't even wanna go outside! Ah don't wanna be called 'blank flank' again!"
"Oh, come now. Ya can't just stay cooped up in here because of those two."
"Yes ah can! As long as ah don't have mah cutie mark, ah'm gonna spend the rest of mah life right here if ah have to!" Despite Apple Bloom's sadness, Applejack wasn't taking her words very seriously.
"Okay, sugar cube, yer comin' with me!" Applejack took her little sister and her friends to the Sugarcube Corner where Pinkie Pie always worked delightfully. "Yo! Pinkie Pie! Mah little sister needs an emergency cheerin' up! Pronto!" On cue, Pinkie Pie appeared right in front of Applejack.
"An emergency, you say?" she squealed, bugging her eyes out at Applejack. "One emergency cheering up coming right up!" She pulled out her party cannon and started firing several rounds as some funky phonograph music started up. Pinkie then sang as she grabbed Apple Bloom's hooves and pulled her into a wild dance.
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you up!
If you're ever feeling sad or blue
And you just don't know what to do
Just slap a smile on that frown
And you won't have to feel so down
During the song, Pinkie Pie even gave Apple Bloom noogies.
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you up!
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you
Gonna cheer you up!
Gonna cheer you up!
Once she finished the song, Apple Bloom's face was struggling to put a smile on, which the others could see. Eventually, Apple Bloom gave a wide smile and starting laughing, which made Pinkie laugh too. She even gave the little filly a red velvet cupcake with pink-colored frosting.
"Here's a treat from me!" said Pinkie Pie. Apple Bloom ate the cupcake with delight.
"Mm! Thanks for cheering me up, Pinkie!" she said.
"You're welcome!" beamed Pinkie Pie. "Anything to make my friends smile!" Later, as Applejack was escorting Apple Bloom through the streets of Ponyville, Apple Bloom overheard Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon talking, seeing that they were looking at a flyer for the arts and crafts fair.
"Ponyville Arts and Crafts Fair next week," Silver Spoon read. "Do you think those... Cutie Mark Crusaders are gonna show up for it?"
"That's Cutie Mark Losers, Silver Spoon," corrected Diamond Tiara. "Don't forget that."
"Oh, right. Losers."
"And of course they'll show up. Those three troublemakers are always on the move, making a mess in Ponyville. Let's go to the fair ourselves so we can watch them screw up. All the more reason to laugh at those ridiculous 'blank flanks forever'." They sniggered, making Apple Bloom feel awful and uncomfortable. Silver Spoon took notice of Apple Bloom, realizing that she overheard them, but because she was starting to feel for Apple Bloom, she chose not to say anything to Diamond Tiara.
Back at Sweet Apple Acres, Apple Bloom, Applejack, Big Macintosh, and Granny Smith were all sitting down at the table having a family dinner. Apple Bloom was hardly eating anything.
"Apple Bloom," said Applejack, noticing Apple Bloom eating very slowly. "Ya hardly touched yer food. Come on, you were doin' just fine a few hours ago. Now what's botherin' ya?" Apple Bloom chewed and swallowed a piece of food.
"Applejack," she said. "Ah don't wanna go to the arts and crafts fair." Applejack stared at her.
"Why not? Oh, wait. Ya can't tell me yer not goin' because of those two rich fillies. It's not like they're out to get ya."
"Says you! Ah heard what they said. They wanna come just to embarrass mah friends and ah."
"Look. Ya gotta stand up fer yourself, Apple Bloom. Ya can't just let them push y'all around."
"Ah've tried that! Ah'd be better off with mah own cutie mark, and ah just can't get it no matter what ah do!"
"Look, Apple Bloom," sighed Applejack. "Ah'm startin' to lose mah patience with ya. Yer actin' ridiculous, ya think a couple of fillies are pickin' on you especially, and ah've tried everything ah know to make ya feel better, but yer just makin' this worse on yourself by gettin' all cynical." Apple Bloom did not want to hear any more of it. She got up from her seat.
"Ah can't finish mah dinner anymore." And she trudged upstairs to her room.
"AJ," said Big Macintosh. "Ya think yer bein' a little hard on our sister?"
"Tut! Of course not," said Applejack, almost pouting. "She's growin' up and we can't keep stickin' our necks up for her like this. Besides, she always wants me to stop treatin' her like a foal anyway."
"But she's still just a little filly. Quite frankly, ah think her problem is somethin' that's too big for her to handle on her own. Wouldn't you agree, Granny Smith?"
"Oh, yes!" Granny Smith, holding a mug of apple cider proud and high, as if she was ignorant of the conversation. "Ah quite agree! Here's to ya, Apple Bloom! Good luck getting yer cutie mark!" She then took a mighty swig of her cider, leaving froth behind on her lip and set her mug down with a loud clunk. Applejack and Big Mac had nothing more to say. They both did a facehoof instead. Later that night, while the Apple family slept, Apple Bloom crept out of her room with a sack on a stick. Ah'm tired of being called 'blank flank' all the time, she said to herself. If ah can't find mah special talent in Ponyville, ah'll just have to go somewhere where ah can. As she left Sweet Apple Acres, she took one last look back over her shoulder and then sadly left. At first, she wouldn't know where she could go, but one place did come to mind...
~ Day 3 ~
"Blank flank forever!"
Morning soon came as the rooster crowed. Applejack yawned and hopped out of bed, ready to start another day of hard work. She decided to check on Apple Bloom first, so she knocked on the door to her little sister's room. There was no answer.
"Apple Bloom?" said Applejack. "Up and at 'em, little sis! We got chores to do." Again, there was no answer. "Huh. Is she still sleepin'?" She carefully opened the door, only to find that Apple Bloom was not even in her bed. "Apple Bloom?" Applejack was wide-eyed for a minute. "Maybe she got up early." She went downstairs to check with the rest of her family. Granny Smith was asleep and drooling at the table, holding a mug of coffee while Big Macintosh was getting ready to start his day. "Big Mac? Granny Smith? Have you seen Apple Bloom this morning?"
"Nope," answered Big Mac.
"Wha...what?" stuttered Granny Smith, as she woke up. "Eh... no, ah don't think ah've seen Apple Bloom this morning. Musta got up extra early." Applejack looked suspicious and decided to search the whole farm.
"Apple Bloom!" she called out. "Apple Bloom!" She searched from one acre of land to the next. "Apple Bloom!" With each acre she searched, she grew more worried. "Apple Bloom!" Within only a few minutes, she had searched half of the farm already. "Okay, Apple Bloom! This isn't funny! You come here right now before ya scare me!" But Apple Bloom did not turn up. "Apple Bloom? Apple Bloom?!" After searching the entire farmland, Applejack started to panic. "Oh, no. Where could she be?" Applejack came back into the house. "Ah can't find Apple Bloom! She's nowhere on the farm!" Big Macintosh and Granny Smith were surprised to hear this. "Big Mac, get a head start on those chores! Ah'm gonna search all over Ponyville!"
"Eeyup," agreed Big Mac. So Applejack started to search Ponyville for Apple Bloom. She started at Fluttershy's cottage and knocked on the door. Fluttershy answered without a word.
"Fluttershy, have you seen Apple Bloom?" Applejack asked.
"No," answered Fluttershy. "I'm sorry, I haven't." Applejack then went to Sugarcube Corner to ask Pinkie Pie.
"Pinkie Pie, have you seen Apple Bloom?"
"Nope," said Pinkie, shaking her head. Applejack let out a sigh. She then went to the Carousel Boutique to ask Rarity.
"Rarity, please tell me you've seen Apple Bloom."
"Oh dear, I'm sorry," Rarity replied. "I'm afraid I haven't."
"What?" Sweetie Belle then came to the door. "You haven't seen Apple Bloom? Where is she?"
"Ah don't know," said Applejack. "That's what ah'm tryin' to find out! Doggone it!" She left in a huff and then found Rainbow Dash relaxing on a cloud. "Yo! Rainbow Dash!" Rainbow's eyes snapped open and she turned around to see Applejack staring up at her. "Have you seen Apple Bloom?"
"No," answered Rainbow. "Sorry." And finally, Applejack came to the library and knocked on the door. Twilight Sparkle answered, but was surprised to see Applejack looking quite frantic.
"Twi, have you seen Apple Bloom? Is she here? Please tell me you've seen her."
"I...I'm sorry, I'm afraid I haven't seen her," said Twilight.
"Oh, no! Ah've looked all over Ponyville and nopony's seen her. She's gone!"
"Apple Bloom's missing?!" said Twilight in surprise. "Quick, let's get the others and meet in the park." So the six friends along with Spike, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo met up at the park to discuss the apparent situation on Applejack's hooves. Applejack was starting to get nerve-wracked.
"This is terrible, y'all!" she moaned. "Mah little sister's nowhere to be found! She could be anywhere! She musta snuck out while ah was sleepin'! She could be cold, hurt, and scared!"
"Applejack, calm down," said Rainbow. "We'll find her."
"Let's think about this first," suggested Twilight. "Applejack, when did you last see her?"
"Last night," said Applejack. "Ya see, yesterday she was so upset that a couple of fillies called her hurtful names and such, so I had Pinkie Pie here cheer her up."
"Oh yes, oh yes!" said Pinkie, bouncing up and down. "I remember! And it worked!"
"Ah'm afraid it wore off, Pinkie," said Applejack glumly, causing Pinkie to stop bouncing and fall flat on the ground during a mid-bounce. "Ya see, she was tellin' me she didn't wanna go the arts and crafts fair just because she heard that those rich fillies were goin' just to humiliate her. Ah told her she had to stand up for herself, that she just can't let them push her around, and ah also told her that she was makin' things worse for herself because she wouldn't stop bein' so cynical about herself..."
"Whoa, whoa, wait, slow down," said Twilight Sparkle. "Say that again?"
"Ah said... Apple Bloom was making things worse by bein'..."
"No, no, before that."
"Oh. Ah was sayin' that ah told her she had to stand up for herself, that she just can't let a couple of fillies push her around..." Twilight groaned and did a facehoof.
"Applejack, I know you probably didn't want to treat her like a foal, but that wasn't the smartest thing to say."
"Why do ya say that?"
"Because what if these fillies are bullies?"
"What does that got to do with anythin'? It's not like they're out to get Apple Bloom and it's certainly not like she's the only filly in Ponyville without a cutie mark."
"Applejack, dealing with bullies is very much different than just anypony who's just treating somepony else like a pushover. You see, it sounds to me like these fillies are picking on your sister especially because they know it hurts her on the inside. And if I know Apple Bloom, she's always been upset over not having a cutie mark. So yeah, I'd say those two fillies might be bullies. I think what you told Apple Bloom last night gave her the impression that nopony was about to help her with her personal problems."
"But ah've done all that ah could, and... Wait a second... Do you mean to tell me that you think... Apple Bloom ran away?!" Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo gasped loudly.
"Oh, no!" cried Sweetie Belle. "Where could she have gone?"
"She couldn't have gotten far on her own," said Scootaloo.
"Unless she went into... the Everfree Forest!" shuddered Sweetie Belle.
"Noooooo!" cried Applejack. "Apple Bloom!" She instantly darted in the direction of the Everfree Forest.
"Wait up, Applejack!" called Twilight Sparkle.
"Don't you dare tell me to wait!" snapped Applejack. "Mah little sister's run away and ah'm gonna get her back no matter what it takes! Ya hear me?!"
"Applejack! Wait!" But Applejack was already at the forest and she rushed in without even thinking.
"Apple Bloom!" she called out desperately. "Apple Bloom! Where are ya?!" She stopped to look around and the other five caught up to her.
"Applejack, this is crazy!" said Rainbow Dash.
"Yes," agreed Rarity. "We don't even know if she's here or not."
"Ah don't care," said Applejack. "Mah sister needs me!" That's when they all heard rustling sounds and the howling of wolves.
"Oh no..." whimpered Fluttershy. "What's that sound?"
"Timberwolves," said Applejack. "Ah don't like this one bit. If they got to Apple Bloom first..." That's when a pair of Timberwolves jumped out of some nearby bushes, startling the six friends. Fluttershy and Rarity instantly took off running, but more Timberwolves intercepted them. Soon, they were all surrounded by a whole pack.
"We're trapped!" said Twilight.
"What do we do?" cried Rarity.
"Looks like we're gonna have do things the hard way," said Rainbow Dash, preparing to fight the Timberwolves even if the odds were against them. But just as the Timberwolves were closing in on their prey, a bright green apparition descended and struck the ground, causing green smoke to billow around the Timberwolves, scaring them off.
"What was that?" asked Fluttershy. That's when Zecora stepped out of the shadows, smiling warmly at the six friends. Evidently, she had created the green smoke to scare away the Timberwolves.
"Zecora!" exclaimed Twilight. "Are we glad to see you!"
"Timberwolves can cause quite a fright," said Zecora. "Be glad none of you were around here at night. But what brings you to the forest so dark and deep, full of intimidating things that creep?"
"We'll explain back at your place," answered Twilight. And so she filled her in on the details of Apple Bloom having disappeared from Ponyville at her hut. "I know if Apple Bloom really has run away that she probably wouldn't even bother to enter the forest," said Twilight to Zecora. "But would you mind searching the whole forest and see if she's anywhere?"
"Search the forest, I certainly will," complied Zecora. "And hope that little Apple Bloom is not ill."
"Thanks so much, Zecora. We'll be waiting back at Ponyville." Zecora searched the forest all afternoon, but found no trace of Apple Bloom anywhere. She even sniffed the ground.
"No scent to pick up, but I guess I need not fear, for little Apple Bloom was never here," she concluded. The afternoon turned into evening and Applejack was even more worried. And when Zecora showed up with no Apple Bloom, she felt sick to her stomach. "Sorry, my little ponies, but Apple Bloom was nowhere to be found, yet I believe she was never trespassing on the forest ground." Tears came to Applejack's eyes.
"So Apple Bloom never went into the forest?" said Twilight. "I guess that's... good."
"Good? Good?!" complained Applejack. "What's wrong with y'all?! Mah sister hasn't turned up all day! She could be anywhere in Equestria!"
"I know, Applejack," said Twilight. "But it's getting dark out and there's nothing more we can do. Apple Bloom didn't exactly leave any clues behind."
"Oh, Twi... What am ah gonna do? What if this is mah fault? If anythin' happens to Apple Bloom, ah'll never forgive mahself." Applejack shed a few tears, barely able to hold back sobs.
"It's not your fault, AJ," assured Twilight, putting her hoof around Applejack. "Apple Bloom's just had a lot of problems with her life and nopony really noticed. It's just one of those things that happens when fillies are growing up."
"Ah wish she told me sooner."
"I'm sure she wanted to," said Twilight. "But I think she was just too scared to say anything." Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were miserable.
"Rarity, I'm scared," murmured Sweetie Belle. "What if this is the end of the Cutie Mark Crusaders?" Rarity pulled her little sister into a warm embrace as the filly let out tears from her eyes.
"Of course it's not!" said Scootaloo. "She'll be back, I know it! ...I hope..." But even Scootaloo started to come to tears.
Meanwhile, Apple Bloom was on board a train headed for Apple Loosa, where Applejack's cousin Braeburn lived. Apple Bloom had not gone through the Everfree Forest at all. She had gone around it by train and all the while she was missing, she had been on the train the whole time. At least ah have family at Apple Loosa, she thought. Ah hope cousin Braeburn can help. Back at Sweet Apple Acres, nighttime fell and poor Applejack had worried herself sick over her sister's disappearance. In fact, she was crying. Big Macintosh and Granny Smith were just as worried. Applejack's pet dog Winona kept nuzzling her owner, but she too was sad and she started whining.
"Our poor little apple filly," mourned Granny Smith. "She's too young to fly from the nest." Even Big Macintosh started to cry.
And manly tears were shed that day.
~ Day 4 ~
"If ah can't find mah special talent in Ponyville, ah'll just have to go somewhere where ah can."
The next morning, the train that Apple Bloom had secretly boarded soon arrived at Apple Loosa, which had the appearance of an old western town. Once Apple Bloom got off the train, she was immediately seen by Braeburn, Applejack's cousin.
"Hey! Apple Bloom!" Braeburn trotted over to greet the little red-haired filly.
"Cousin Braeburn!" They nuzzled heads.
"I haven't seen you in a long time! Look at you! You sure have grown! Oh, almost forgot. Welcome to A-a-a-pple Looosa! So, what can I do ya for, little cuz?" Apple Bloom's tummy growled, causing her to giggle sheepishly.
"Ah... guess ah'm hungry."
"Well, there's nothin' like startin' your day with a good breakfast! And I think I know just the thing for ya!" Braeburn led Apple Bloom to the town's apple orchard and took her to Bloomberg, Applejack's recently transplanted tree, which sat on top of a hill. "This here's Bloomberg, brought from Sweet Apple Acres to our town by your sister Applejack! And she's got some mighty fine apples just freshly grown." With his own apple-bucking rear hooves, he was able to knock several apples out of the tree, which fell into a basket. Apple Bloom immediately started eating the apples, one after another. Soon, she was sitting in the basket, patting her now plump belly, full of apples. "I'm glad you could come and visit, Apple Bloom," said Braeburn. "I can't wait to show you around Apple Loosa."
"Actually, Braeburn," said Apple Bloom hesitantly. "Ah gotta tell ya somethin' first." Braeburn looked perplexed, but at the same time sensed that Apple Bloom had something on her mind. "Ah came here because... ah wasn't happy in Ponyville."
"Huh? I don't get it. But you're lucky, Apple Bloom! You live with Applejack on Sweet Apple Acres, well known for the finest apples in all of Equestria! That there's got a mighty fine farm life for ya! How were ya not happy?"
"Oh no, ah was always happy with mah farm life. Applejack is the best sister ah could ask for!" She looked down sadly. "It's mah school life ah'm not happy with."
"Cousin Braeburn, i-it's like this..." And so Apple Bloom told Braeburn what exactly had been troubling her this entire time.
"Cutie marks, huh?" said Braeburn, looking at his own and sighing. "Well, I'm afraid I really don't know much about 'em to be honest. I didn't think much about them when I was a colt. I just got mine when I got mine, I guess."
"It's okay. Ah didn't think you'd know much."
"I'm so sorry, Apple Bloom. You know, that... things just aren't working out well for you. I know life throws us curveballs, but..." He sighed.
"Ah just thought maybe ah could find my callin' here or somethin'," Apple Bloom continued. "Ah came here to start because ah knew ah at least had family here." Braeburn smiled warmly at Apple Bloom, hearing this.
"Apple Bloom, cousin, you're always gonna be welcome here at Apple Loosa with me. Now make no mistake, I understand why you're not ready to go back to Ponyville, but I'll feel mighty bad about myself if I don't tell Applejack you're at least safe and sound." Apple Bloom looked guilty. "How 'bout at least I show you around?" offered Braeburn. This cheered his cousin up. And to her surprise, Braeburn put his hat on Apple Bloom's head. "Why don't you wear this for a while, pardner?" They both beamed at each other.
Applejack had not slept well last night. Business at Sweet Apple Acres was running slow, as both Applejack and Big Macintosh were not at the top of their game, worried sick over their little sister Apple Bloom. They did know that they would have to step things up, but they would not stop worrying until they would at least hear of her whereabouts. Winona watched the ponies with worry. In Ponyville, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were so sad that they didn't want to do any crusading. Perhaps even earning their cutie marks would not make them happy without Apple Bloom by their side. But their misery was doubled up with the occasional denizens glowering at them and turning their noses away.
"So... you're missing your little friend, are you?" said a rather grumpy elder with a golf club cutie mark. "Well, I hope you've learned your lessons, you miserable little fillies. We got no more privacy in Ponyville thanks to you." This, if anything, stung Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo hard. It became clear to them that nopony in Ponyville would be liable to help search for their lost friend. They cried in each other's hooves.
Back at the Golden Oaks Library, Twilight was looking through some books using her magic.
"Twilight!" said Spike all of a sudden. "How can you think of reading at a time like this? Applejack's heart is breaking!"
"I know what I'm doing, Spike," Twilight insisted. "I'm pretty sure one of these books mentions everything there is about bullying." Spike rolled his eyes.
"Okay, so some jerk fillies poke fun at Apple Bloom who knows how many times and she runs away. What's the big deal?"
"The big deal is the possible number of consequences that can come from bullying," said Twilight. "Being bullied is a very big deal, especially if somepony is constantly targeted again and again. Ah, here it is! Spike, it's imperative that Applejack should hear this too. See if you can bring her here."
"You got it, Twi!" And so Spike left the library to find Applejack immediately.
Meanwhile, at Apple Loosa, Apple Bloom has having a lot of fun sightseeing with Braeburn, having temporarily forgotten her problems in Ponyville. She even took part in sketching horse-drawn carriages, helping with construction work, wild west dances and mild west dances. Even Little Strongheart from her buffalo tribe had paid a visit and was dancing alongside Apple Bloom.
"Y'know, Braeburn," said Apple Bloom while dancing around, still wearing Braeburn's hat. "Ah don't think ah wanna leave this place. Ah wanna stay here with you!"
"Well," chuckled Braeburn. "That's mighty flattering of you, cuz, but I wouldn't want you to worry Applejack and your real family."
"But ah don't wanna go back to Ponyville," Apple Bloom protested. Braeburn just looked at her. Soon, they had hunkered down in the apple orchard to talk privately. Braeburn was back to wearing his hat. "Ah don't wanna be called 'blank flank forever'," Apple Bloom went on, almost in tears. "Ah don't wanna be picked on cause ah have no cutie mark. Please, cousin Braeburn... please! If Applejack finds out where ah am, ah know she'll come and bring me back to Ponyville and ah don't wanna have to go back to livin' mah old life!"
"Well, uh, do you still have friends back in Ponyville?" Braeburn asked. This realization nailed Apple Bloom hard. She realized that she not only abandoned Applejack and her family, but also Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Cheerilee as well. Here at Apple Loosa, she was just starting fresh. While this thought stung her, she also remembered what was keeping her from going back to Ponyville. Her head was spinning over everything.
"Ah just don't know what to do anymore," she finally said and broke down sobbing. Braeburn stayed by her side and put his hoof around her, feeling sorry for her.
Back in the Ponyville library, Twilight read the article she found on bullying to Applejack.
"It says here that bullying can lower a pony's self-esteem, cause severe depression, increase anxiety, and can even drive a pony into doing irrational things. Victims of bullying tend to suffer from chronic psychological harm."
"Eh... can I get that in English?" said Applejack, not quite understanding the last words Twilight said.
"Meaning recurring depression and emotional pain."
"Wait, there's more," Twilight continued. "It says here that bullying itself can be considered a crime and if steps are not taken to prevent bullying, then it would be considered violating a law."
"And here it says that in worst-case scenarios, victims are lead into so much unshakable depression, that they are driven to..." Twilight suddenly gasped upon what she then stumbled across.
"What is it, Twi?" Applejack asked, as if ready to hear the worst. Twilight swallowed the lump in her throat and continued.
"Victims of bullying can be driven to... take their own lives." Applejack let out a terribly loud gasp.
"Oh, mah poor Apple Bloom!" she cried. "This is all mah fault! Ah didn't see the signs! And all she wanted was her cutie mark! What if Apple Bloom ran away to... leave us forever?" Applejack broke down completely and cried on the library floor.
"Calm down, Applejack. I'm sure Apple Bloom isn't that insensible."
"She has so much to live for here," Applejack wept. "Why would she ever run away?!"
"Hmm..." Twilight pondered for a minute. "I'm gonna go talk to Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Maybe they know something." So Twilight went walking around Ponyville until she found the two rich fillies she was looking for and proceeded to question them.
"Excuse me, girls," she said. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon looked round. "Can I ask you a few questions?" Diamond Tiara opened her mouth to speak first, as if to refuse possible interrogation, but Silver Spoon spoke up quickly first.
"Certainly, Twilight Sparkle," she said politely. "What can we do for you?"
"I heard you two are disrespectful to fillies and colts who don't have their cutie marks," said Twilight, narrowing her eyes a bit. "I want to know why this is."
"Pfft," snorted Diamond Tiara. "Oh, don't get me started on blank flanks. They're such babies!" Twilight was aghast, but was able to retain her cool.
"Well, that's not very nice. And I think you two should be more respectful to everypony. If you hurt somepony else's feelings, that's really not a good thing."
"Who cares about feelings?" sneered Diamond Tiara, starting to walk away. "You're wasting my time. Now this made Twilight angry and rightfully so. She used her magic to bring Diamond Tiara back to her and hold her aloft.
"You listen to me!" said Twilight. "Those are the meanest words I've ever heard coming from anypony's mouth! And of all the ponies of Equestria, it had to be you! Now I mean it! This needs to stop!"
"And if I don't?" said Diamond Tiara with defiance. "You're not my dad!" Twilight breathed heavily through her nostrils, but released Diamond Tiara from her magic grip.
"Apple Bloom's gone," said Twilight. Silver Spoon gasped but Diamond Tiara just looked surprised. "She's run away from home. Applejack and I think you two might have something to do with this."
"Well, then I finally got to that blank flank, didn't I?" There was a hint of pride in her voice and she didn't feel sorry at all. "Diamond Tiara, you've just made one less blank flank for Ponyville to worry about."
"How can you say that?!" growled Twilight.
"Oh, don't be so uptight. Everypony in Ponyville doesn't like those three Cutie Mark Losers anyway. So I'm doing them a favor. Come on, Silver Spoon! One down, two to go!" Diamond Tiara walked away laughing. Silver Spoon hesitated at first, but soon left with her. Twilight was furious, but she simply turned away, unable to look at the fillies anymore.
"I thought there was good in everypony. I guess I was wrong..." A single tear rolled down her cheek.
That night at Apple Loosa, Braeburn got a mattress ready for Apple Bloom to spend the night.
"At least ah had fun today," said Apple Bloom. "Ah don't care that ah didn't get mah cutie mark. Ah can always try again tomorrow."
"Yeah, that's the spirit, cuz," said Braeburn, tossing his hat on a bed post for the night. "Look, I know why you don't wanna go back to Ponyville, but it is your home... your real home."
"It doesn't feel like home," said Apple Bloom miserably. "Home is where ah feel welcome for who ah am and those bullies don't even care for blank flanks at all."
"Well... if you really feel like you wanna stay, I'm always glad to have you around." Braeburn's kind words make Apple Bloom smile. She would definitely miss her old home, family, and friends, but she didn't want to be tormented for not having a cutie mark. She curled up into her mattress and went to sleep. Braeburn stroked her mane before jumping into his own bed to hit the hay. Tomorrow would be another day.
~ Day 5 ~
"Why does Ponyville hate her? Why won't anyone help me?"
"Ah can't stand Apple Bloom bein' gone no longer," said Applejack the following morning as the sun went up to start a new day in Ponyville. "Ah want her back so badly ah'm gonna get everypony in Ponyville to find her if ah have to."
"Applejack," said Twilight. "Don't drive yourself crazy looking for her."
"She's mah little sister and she's out there somewhere! Ah just hope she didn't decide to take her own life. Ah'll never forgive those filly bullies if that happens!"
"AJ, calm down. You've already got our help. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy are ready to search outside of Ponyville. We will find Apple Bloom."
"Ah hope so."
"Oh yes, Applejack," assured Fluttershy sweetly. "Now where should I start... I know! I'll search my old home, Cloudsdale!" But this just earned her weird and awkward looks from her friends. "Oh, uh... Was it something I said?"
"Cloudsdale, Fluttershy? Really?" said Applejack. "Apple Bloom is an Earth pony, not a Pegasus!"
"Oh my," said Fluttershy. "I forgot. Sorry." Rarity did a facehoof and shook her head.
"How far do you think you can fly?" Rainbow Dash asked Fluttershy.
"Well, I... I guess I could try to make it to the Rambling Rock Ridge."
"Now why would Apple Bloom go there?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought Applejack wanted us to search all over Equestria.
"Rrrrrr... this is crazy, Applejack!" shouted Rainbow Dash, beginning to lose her patience. "We don't even know where to start looking!"
"Do you think she could have taken a train somewhere?" asked Twilight.
"She's too little to take a train all by herself!" snapped Applejack.
"Well how else could she have disappeared without a trace? Let's ask if anypony at the train station has seen her before we start searching. That might help us a bit."
Meanwhile, in Apple Loosa, Apple Bloom was staring off into the prairie, her mane and tail blowing in the soft wind. She looked sad and worried.
"Apple Bloom?" Little Strongheart suddenly showed up behind her and walked up to the young filly. "Are you worried about yourself? I wish I could help you... but..." Apple Bloom just shook her head.
"It's okay, Little Strongheart," she said. "But... the more times ah fail to get mah cutie mark, the more times ah wonder ah'm supposed to do with mah life. It makes no sense livin' just to be picked on and bein' called 'blank flank' all the time."
"Are you thinking of leaving? Where will you go if you do?"
"Ah don't know. Ah don't know what to do anymore." Braeburn had been watching the two of them talk with a somewhat saddened look on his face. Apple Bloom was just a little filly and the thought of her not being able to figure out her purpose in life was hard to grasp. Being bullied by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon didn't help her either. It had just made her self-esteem drop severely to the point where she felt useless and possibly unwanted. Although she had fun yesterday, her self-depression and lack of self-esteem was kicking in again, making her miserable. She turned around and decided to go back to Apple Loosa. Little Strongheart and Braeburn accompanied her. Apple Bloom showed a weak and small smile, knowing she was at least wanted by a few ponies, which was way better than nothing.
Twilight and Applejack arrived at the Ponyville train station and started asking the ponies on duty if they knew of Apple Bloom's whereabouts.
"Sorry, Twilight," said one of the station guards. "We haven't seen Apple Bloom around. If she took a train, she must have snuck aboard one somehow."
"Do you know where the last train departed to?"
"Not really. I think one left a couple of nights ago, but some of us are off the clock during evening hours."
"Well, thank you anyway," said Twilight. "Come on, Applejack. Let's see if anypony in Ponyville is gonna help search for Apple Bloom. And so they started asking.
"You what?" said Time Turner. Applejack had started asking ponies to help her search.
"Please, Time Turner," she begged. "Ah need your help. Ah haven't seen Apple Bloom for at least two days. Ah'm asking y'all to help search for her. Ah don't know where she could have gone."
"You know, I think this Apple Bloom conned me into buying an apple off her hooves and wouldn't leave me alone until I did. I think she and those other two fillies are just looking for trouble."
"Well that doesn't mean we should just leave poor Apple Bloom hangin'! Please! Ah'd really appreciate all the help ah can get."
"Then you're gonna have to ask somepony else. I don't think Ponyville can handle any more triple trouble." Time Turner left in a huff, leaving Applejack crushed.
"Please, Golden Harvest!" Twilight was asking another pony.
"Are you kidding?" said Golden Harvest. "Do you have any idea how much trouble those three fillies have caused?"
"That was then and this is now. Apple Bloom is just a filly. If anything has happened to her, she won't make it on her own."
"That's not my problem. And I don't think it's Ponyville's problem either. I'm not helping." Twilight snorted.
"Fine. Be that way."
"You're out of your mind," said Minuette, whom Applejack tried asking.
"I'd much rather not see them together again," said Shoeshine, whom Twilight had tried asking. Twilight and Applejack quickly met up in the town square.
"I can't believe the citizens are behaving this way," said Twilight, exasperated.
"Why? Why does Ponyville hate her?" Applejack asked rhetorically. "Ah don't even know why in the hay they hate the Cutie Mark Crusaders! Sure they got into trouble loads of times, but their hearts have been in the right places every time. Oh, ah don't care how much Ponyville hates Apple Bloom! Ah just want her back! Ah'll be there for her to make sure that nopony lays a hoof on her!" That's when they saw Granny Smith talking with Filthy Rich.
"...and when we woke up the next mornin', she was gone!" said Granny Smith, visibly saddened. "We don't know why in Equestria she would leave her happy li'l farm life behind."
"Not to worry, Granny Smith," said Filthy Rich. "I'll run a search for your missing granddaughter immediately. It's the least I can do for all the good businesses we agree to."
"In that case, I thank you most kindly, Filthy."
"Um... I still prefer Rich, if you don't mind."
"Hey, I know a few ponies we can ask," said Twilight to Applejack. They first found Cheerilee in the town square.
"Cheerilee, have you heard?" asked Twilight.
"Oh yes, Twilight," replied Cheerilee. "I've already started looking wherever I can. Some of my students have volunteered, even though they're on summer vacation." Next, they came to Sugarcube Corner to ask Mr. and Mrs. Cake.
"Oh dear, yes, we heard about what happened," said Cup Cake. "I'm most awfully sorry, Applejack. "We'd be only too happy to help try and find Apple Bloom, but..."
"But I'm afraid we don't have too much time," said Carrot Cake. "We have an enormous number of businesses to attend to, and we really aren't able to put them on hold. Catering is such a tough job sometimes."
"We do have a few minutes to search all of Ponyville, if it helps," said Cup Cake.
"Just do what you can, Mrs. Cake," said Twilight. After the Cakes began their search, Twilight and Applejack came to the house of Mayor Mare, Ponyville's elected top official, in hopes that she would at least be courteous.
"Oh yes, I heard all about it," said the Mayor. "I'm truly sorry, Applejack. You've done so much for Ponyville already that I just can't say no. I know those three fillies can be... mischievous as a group. But they are just fillies and Apple Bloom certainly doesn't deserve what she's been through. I'll see what I can do." She then accompanied Twilight and Applejack as they started another search throughout Ponyville.
"Do you have any idea why many of the ponies are being so stubborn?" asked Twilight.
"It's always the same, I'm afraid," said the Mayor. "Some ponies come to me and demand restraining orders. Some even want me to sign eviction orders."
"The nerve!" said Applejack. "Ah can't believe everypony's goin' around actin' like a bunch of mules!" At that time, they just happened to walk past that mule who just seems to show up when his kind is mentioned. Realizing it, Applejack quickly turned her head to face the mule and giggled sheepishly. "No offense."
"None taken," said the mule.
"But seriously," Twilight went on. "The worst that could happen is that Apple Bloom could take her own life and we can't let that happen!"
"Oh, gracious, no," agreed the Mayor. "I'll see if I can persuade the citizens, but I can't promise you anything."
"Don't try too hard." So the Mayor stood in the town square, addressing a group of ponies. Applejack, Rarity and Rainbow Dash were standing with the Mayor.
"It is of utmost importance that I ask for your cooperation," said the Mayor to the ponies. "The little filly Apple Bloom is missing and the least we can do is double our search here in Ponyville."
"Come on," said Noteworthy. "At least we have one less prankster to worry about."
"Yeah, I'm surprised you haven't filed any criminal records against them," said Lemon Hearts.
"I don't care what they've done to us," said the Mayor defiantly. "They are only fillies. They have much to learn. Apple Bloom deserves to come home safely."
"I say we just throw out those troublemakers," said Twinkleshine.
"Yeah, we've only got two with deal with, so why not?" suggested Lyra Heartstrings. The Mayor was taken aback.
"B-because... nopony deserves that," she tried to argue.
"We don't care!" argued Goldengrape. "Because of them, our private lives are all gone forever."
"All that matters is that those three fillies get the heave-ho and not bother us again," said Cherry Berry. Applejack, Rarity, and even Rainbow Dash got upset.
"But... they're just fillies..." said Applejack. "Ya can't do this... ya just can't..."
"How can any of you even think of doing something so... horrible!" said Rarity, in tears.
"And you think they're doing bad things?!" said Rainbow Dash. "Look at what you're doing!" But their words just made the other ponies, except the Mayor, leave in a huff.
"It's no use," sighed the Mayor. "I can't force even my own people to do this. I'm sorry." Applejack slumped to the ground and cried bitterly, leaving Rarity and Rainbow Dash to comfort her.
"Ah just hope she's okay... wherever she is..." Applejack wept softly.
"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness!" Fluttershy suddenly zoomed overhead and Rainbow Dash looked up.
"Huh? Hey, Fluttershy! Wait up!" She took off and caught up to her. "Fluttershy, what is it? Did you find Apple Bloom?"
"Oh no, Rainbow," she replied. "It's not that. I've missed Angel's feeding time! Oh, he's going to kill me!" Rainbow Dash watched Fluttershy fly away in disbelief over her words and did a facehoof while groaning.
Eventually, sundown came and Fluttershy had just returned from an aerial search. Apparently, she had gone to Rambling Rock Ridge after all, but had no luck.
"I'm sorry, Applejack," said Fluttershy softly. "I couldn't find Apple Bloom anywhere." Tears fell from Applejack's eyes out of sheer disappointment. "Oh, poor Apple Bloom," Fluttershy moaned.
"It's mah fault..." whimpered Applejack. "It's mah fault..."
"Oh, don't say that," said Fluttershy gently.
"Ah knew she was always bein' bullied. Ah knew how badly she wanted her cutie mark. But ah wasn't prepared for this. Oh, please Celestia, please let Apple Bloom be all right. Ah'll do anythin' to make her happy! Ah just want her back!" And Applejack began to cry again. Meanwhile, Twilight Sparkle came to Filthy Rich's estate and knocked on the door. Filthy Rich answered.
"Yes, Twilight Sparkle?" he said. "What can I do for you?"
"Filthy Rich," said Twilight. "We need to talk."
~ Day 6 ~
"Now I know the real reason why Apple Bloom wanted her cutie mark so badly..."
The following day, the few ponies who actually volunteered to help search for Apple Bloom were up and about looking all around Ponyville and its outskirts. But none of them were having luck because what they didn't know was that Apple Bloom was still at Apple Loosa with Braeburn. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were casually walking through Ponyville, apparently on their way to the Sugarcube Corner.
"Ah, what a great day," said Diamond Tiara, seemingly proud with herself. "Still can't believe those ponies are driving themselves crazy with a namby-pamby search party. Well, I'm going to have myself a real party with that apple-sucking blank flank gone. I'm sure Pinkie Pie won't mind." But these words had a strong impact on Silver Spoon. Her friend wanted to manipulate Pinkie Pie into throwing a party to celebrate Apple Bloom's disappearance? As many times as she had hurt Apple Bloom for teasing her alongside her cohort, something about a party didn't seem right.
"Diamond Tiara, wait," she finally said.
"What?" said Diamond Tiara.
"This... this isn't right."
"What are you talking about, Silver Spoon? It's a party! We're gonna have fun!"
"But why? Why are we doing this? Why are you doing this?"
"Oh, don't get soft on me now! We agreed that blank flanks are for babies, remember? Only real fillies and colts have cutie marks! Those Cutie Mark Losers couldn't get those even if they tried! That's why I turned the Foal Free Press into a gossip column. My plan was to get the scoop on all the private lives of Ponyville and make them miserable and then those three dumb fillies would take the heat for it. If there's anything I love, it's making those ponies suffer!" Silver Spoon looked hurt.
"No. I... I don't believe what I'm hearing," she said, on the verge of tears. "I... I can't do this anymore! I won't do this! If you wanna throw a party, do it yourself! I'm not your lackey! I care about feelings! And I'm not heartless like you!" Diamond Tiara gasped.
"How dare you!" she snarled.
"Look, if all you wanna do with your fillyhood is make others miserable, then I'm not gonna help you anymore." Silver Spoon then started to shed a few tears. "If this is how you think your friends should behave, you don't have any!" And she ran off crying.
"Silver Spoon!" Diamond Tiara called. "Wait!" But Silver Spoon was gone, causing Diamond Tiara to frown. She walked up to the Sugarcube Corner door anyway, but the door swung open and Pinkie Pie suddenly popped out from upside-down while inside, startling her.
"Oopsie-doopsies!" she said cheerfully. "We're closed! Come back later!" Diamond Tiara gave her a weird look, but Pinkie only grinned at her, blinking a couple of times. She then dropped and crashed on the floor.
Meanwhile, Apple Bloom was on the outskirts of Apple Loosa carrying her sack and stick, with Braeburn and Little Strongheart ready to see her off.
"You sure this is what you wanna do?" asked Braeburn. Apple Bloom nodded. "Well... good luck, Apple Bloom. And be careful out there."
"Ah will," said Apple Bloom. And then she left Apple Loosa on her own. Soon she was out all alone on the prairie, not knowing where she would go, but believed that maybe her destiny would guide her.
I'm just a wandering loner
All alone in this outside world
Just another country filly
Tryin' to find meaning in this world
Tears came to Apple Bloom's eyes as she sang on.
Oh, I don't know just what I'll find
Now that I'm on my own
But I'm tired of being a nopony
I wanna prove how much I have grown
I'm just a wandering loner
Looking for my destiny
Been hurtin' on the inside too long
Tryin' to find talent just for me
The tears dripped from Apple Bloom's face as she finished singing and trudged on across the San Palomino Desert. By mid-afternoon, her hooves hurt so much, she had to stop and take a rest, though out in a desert would not be such a good idea. She then spotted a cave up ahead.
"Maybe ah can rest in there," she said to herself. She went into the cave and found huge red lump sticking out of a pile of treasure. She got up on the lump, curled up and dropped off to sleep in a matter of seconds.
Back in Ponyville, Silver Spoon was looking for Applejack. It was time for her to fess up for picking on Apple Bloom alongside Diamond Tiara all those times. It was fun at first, but seeing as it just made Apple Bloom sink into depression, Silver Spoon's heart softened and now she wanted Apple Bloom to be okay just as much as anypony did. That's when she suddenly heard Diamond Tiara's voice.
"But dad!" she shouted in what sounded like protesting. Her father was apparently forcing her to help search for Apple Bloom.
"Diamond Dazzle Tiara," said Filthy Rich. "You are going to come with me to help search for Granny Smith's granddaughter, and when we find her, you are going to apologize to her! Do I make myself clear, young mare?" Diamond Tiara snorted, but she had no choice.
"Yes, dad," she said reluctantly. And of course, Silver Spoon saw the whole thing, but didn't even bother to bail her out. Meanwhile, Snips and Snails had been wandering in the Everfree Forest searching for Apple Bloom, not knowing that she wasn't even there.
"Remind me again why we're doing... what we're doing," said Snips.
"We're looking for Apple Bloom because she's lost," replied Snails.
"I thought she ran away. Something about being called a blank flank."
"Then why hasn't she run away before?"
"Beats me." Suddenly, Snips realized that he and Snails had been wandering in circles after stumbling upon a twig. "Uh... Snails? Does that twig look familiar?"
"Yeah, we passed it three times now."
"Should we stop and ask for directions?"
"Don't be stupid! There's nopony out here!"
"Nopony? Uh... I think we're lost." Snips and Snails trembled.
"HELLLLLLLLP!" they both screamed at the same time. Fortunately, they were heard by Rainbow Dash, who came to their rescue in the blink of an eye.
"Oh, you douche bags!" she cried, doing a facehoof. "I told you not to go into the forest!"
"Eh, what's a douche bag?" asked Snails. Rainbow Dash groaned and did another facehoof.
"Forget it," she complained. Back with Silver Spoon, she soon found Applejack crying in the town square. Her mane was slightly messed up due to lack of sleep and she also looked like she had hardly eaten anything for days.
"Applejack?" said Silver Spoon, approaching her slowly. Applejack turned and saw the face of one of the two rich fillies that always bullied on her little sister.
"What do you want?" she asked in an upset tone.
"I... I have a confession to make." And so Silver Spoon filled in Applejack on everything she and Diamond Tiara did to Apple Bloom, but also mentioned that Diamond Tiara was ultimately responsible for throwing Ponyville up in arms with her gossip column and pinning the blame on the Cutie Mark Crusaders just because they didn't have their cutie marks.
"Ah can't believe it," sulked Applejack. "Should have known... Ah got mad at the wrong fillies! Ah'm so stupid!"
"I'm so sorry, Applejack," said Silver Spoon remorsefully. "I never meant to cause Apple Bloom so much grief that she would run away. I don't want her to take her own life either. But... I can't say the same about Diamond Tiara. She... wanted to have a party this morning."
"She what?!" Applejack's face twisted with animosity as Silver Spoon flinched.
"I know, it was too much for even me. So I broke up with her this morning."
"All this... just because mah little sister has no cutie mark?!" Applejack slumped. "Now ah know the real reason why Apple Bloom wanted her cutie mark so badly. You two fillies wouldn't leave her alone just because she didn't have one!" she suddenly bellowed.
"I'm sorry!" cried Silver Spoon. "I'm so sorry! I never meant for this to happen!"
"You should have thought about that before," snarled Applejack. "And here ah thought Twilight and ah taught you girls a valuable lesson on the advantages of not havin' a cutie mark. You never didn't learn your lesson, didn't you? Ah'm very disappointed." She lifted one of her hooves up and stomped the ground.
"What's going on, AJ?" said Twilight Sparkle, approaching the situation.
"Twi, it was them!"
"Those two rich fillies! They're the reason Apple Bloom ran away!" Twilight looked down at Silver Spoon, who was now quietly weeping.
"I don't understand," said Twilight. "Why did you two do it?"
"I don't know," sobbed Silver Spoon. "Diamond Tiara was always disrespectful of fillies without cutie marks. She would call them babies... make fun of them..." Twilight sighed and shook her head.
"That Diamond Tiara is the real reason everypony's private life is no more," said Applejack. "And she made mah sister and her friends take the full brunt."
"I can't believe this," said Twilight Sparkle. "How could one filly be so... dangerous? Now I feel awful that Spike and I wouldn't even talk to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. All those problems... they weren't them, they were you two!" Twilight rounded on Silver Spoon. "Looks like I was right to tell Filthy Rich about Diamond Tiara."
"What are we gonna do?" moaned Applejack.
"Well, as long as everypony is still mad at the Cutie Mark Crusaders, we need to tell them the truth." Applejack's eyes suddenly widened, looking past Twilight.
"Twi... Ah think they already do." Applejack pointed out to Twilight that somehow a lot of ponies in Ponyville overheard what Twilight and Applejack had been saying. They were now talking amongst themselves, mentioning their stupidity for being played for fools.
"That little filly's the one who played us?" said an exasperated Amethyst Star.
"And she pokes fun at fillies with no cutie marks!" exclaimed Rose Luck.
"That Filthy Rich failed to raise Diamond Tiara properly!" said Daisy. "The horror, the horror!"
"Let's give 'em a piece of our minds!" declared Caramel.
"Hold it!" shrieked Twilight, getting everypony's attention. "You're all going about this the wrong way! Losing our tempers and getting angry is not the answer, nor is it an option. We need to handle this calmly."
"What about Apple Bloom?" asked Applejack.
"Oh... right. Listen, everypony. Finding Apple Bloom comes first. Let's not go pointing hooves just yet." Fortunately for Twilight, everypony agreed and continued their search, within and outside of Ponyville. Twilight let out a sigh of relief and then noticed that Silver Spoon had been hiding behind her. "It's okay, Silver Spoon. But I think it's best if you just go home. I'm proud of you for coming forward and telling the truth. I know it must have been hard learning your friend's true colors. And the sad part is, maybe she wasn't really your friend." Silver Spoon shed a few more tears and then turned around, crying as she walked away. Twilight felt sorry for her.
~ Day 7 ~
"I understand what I have to do, but how can I make things better?"
Apple Bloom woke up, still in the cave she found out in the San Palomino Desert. She came out of the cave and drank some water from a river she stayed close to during her travels. After quenching her thirst, she looked in the water's reflection and shed some tears.
"Ah'm homesick," she muttered. "Ah miss my family and friends... Sweetie Belle... Scootaloo... Big Macintosh... Granny Smith... Applejack..." She started to cry. "Ah wanna go home... but ah can't." She sat by the river crying for a good part of the morning as she remembered all the good times she had with her friends and family.
Back in Ponyville, while Filthy Rich continued to drag Diamond Tiara on his search for Apple Bloom, he noticed that several ponies were giving him and his daughter the cold shoulder. He then remembered what Twilight talked to him about earlier, but he still didn't know about Diamond Tiara's evil deed regarding the Foal Free Press.
"Diamond Tiara," he said to her. "Do you know why everypony is behaving this way towards us?" Diamond Tiara gulped, but kept her mouth shut. "Diamond Tiara," said Filthy Rich more sternly. "Tell me the truth. What happened? What did you do?"
"I'll tell you what she did, mister!" snapped Rainbow Dash, coming down from the sky. "That jerk filly made fools out of us running her stupid gossip column and destroyed our private lives! She's the mastermind behind 'Gabby Gums'!" Diamond Tiara looked very afraid. "Because of her, I... I took my revenge out on the wrong fillies..." Rainbow Dash was trying to hold back tears. "We all... should have been more forgiving."
"Is this true, Diamond Tiara?!" Filthy Rich snapped. Diamond Tiara quivered and nodded her head. "Diamond Dazzle Tiara! I did not raise you to behave this way! It was bad enough when Twilight Sparkle told me of your disrespectful behavior towards other fillies and now you did this to three of them?! You really don't care about other ponies' feelings. That much is clear. What you've done and said is unforgivable! Now you march yourself right home while I think of a suitable punishment for everything you've done to Ponyville." The saddened Diamond Tiara turned around and did what her father told. But when nopony was looking, Rainbow Dash pushed a raincloud over Diamond Tiara's head and kicked it hard, pouring rain on her.
"Take that, Danger Tiara!" she roared. "I hope you've learned your lesson, you creep!" Soaking wet, Diamond Tiara ran home crying, but Rainbow Dash did not look sorry at all.
"Rainbow Dash," said Fluttershy, entering the scene after seeing what her friend did. "That wasn't very nice."
"She tricked us all," said Rainbow. "That one filly is the reason 'Gabby Gums' got Ponyville into that upheaval that ruined our private lives." But before Fluttershy could protest, she heard Applejack shouting at Filthy Rich.
"Why couldn't you keep that little filly of yours under control?!" she bellowed. Her mane and tail had lost their hair bands and were an absolute mess, her hat was somewhat tattered, her eyes were red and slightly swollen and her face was stained with tears from four days of crying.
"Applejack, stop it!" ordered Twilight, who was trying to calm Applejack down.
"I'm said I'm sorry!" said Filthy Rich. "I underestimated my own daughter. I didn't think she would be so cruel to everypony."
"This is all yer fault! You've raised a monster! Ah hope you're happy! And you can forget about any future business deals with Granny Smith!" Filthy Rich gasped. If Applejack was serious, it would mean the end of Barnyard Bargains! Applejack swiftly turned around and raised her rear hooves to kick Filthy Rich.
"STOP!" shrieked Fluttershy. And in a swift move, she swooped in and took the full brunt of Applejack's kick, saving Filthy Rich. Fluttershy tumbled to the ground from the impact of the kick and slid a few feet. She clutched her aching sides and whimpered. Applejack stared in horror.
"No! Fluttershy!" Applejack rushed to her side.
"I'm... I'm okay..." Fluttershy moaned, still clutching her sides in pain.
"Ah'm so sorry!" said Applejack, crying her eyes out. "What have ah done?!" Twilight came up to Applejack looking severely displeased. Applejack turned and saw Twilight glowering at her. "Ah'm sorry!"
"You should be," scolded Twilight as Rainbow Dash flew into the scene. "This is not the Applejack I know and love. You've gotten yourself so frantic that you've driven yourself to become somepony you're not. The reason Apple Bloom ran away is because she was bullied and you haven't shown enough awareness to her problem. As her sister, you need to take her worries more seriously. I thought Celestia taught all my friends this valuable lesson. Well, maybe I was wrong. Applejack, if you keep up with getting everypony involved in this silly search, Apple Bloom is not going to come home. I suggest you call off your search before anything else extreme happens. You have to find Apple Bloom yourself and have a heart-to-heart talk with her." Applejack was devastated.
"You're right, Twi... we should call off that search. Ah worried mahself too much. Look what ah nearly did... look what ah've done! Ah've hurt one of mah friends! Ah'm so, so sorry, Twi." Twilight nodded her head to approve Applejack's sincere apology and then left to find Mayor Mare. Fluttershy moaned as Rainbow Dash helped her to her feet and looked over at Applejack.
"No, Rainbow!" cried Applejack. "Don't say anythin' more to me! Ah can't take this anymore! Ah can't!"
"No, Applejack, it's okay," said Rainbow, coming to Applejack. "I don't wanna make you feel any worse than you already do. Just calm down and take some deep breaths. It's gonna be fine." Applejack threw her front hooves around Rainbow and cried on her shoulder.
"Oh, Rainbow!" she wept loudly. Rainbow stroked Applejack's mane, trying to comfort her, while Fluttershy tearfully looked on. Meanwhile, Twilight consulted with Mayor Mare to cancel the search for Apple Bloom.
"Are you sure about this, Twilight?" the Mayor asked.
"Yep," said Twilight. "I'm positive. At this point, Applejack needs to be the one to find her."
"But nopony knows where Apple Bloom is! Applejack doesn't have a clue where to start looking for her! She's been missing for five days now. The worst could have already happened because we've all been searching in circles!"
"I know. And I hate to think about it."
"This is terrible. I cannot believe that in our fair town of Ponyville, we are dealing with a serious issue that has been overlooked this whole time. Something must be done, but what?"
It started to get dark out in the San Palomino Desert, so Apple Bloom trudged back towards the cave. That's when a scrap of paper blowing in the wind got caught on her face. She pulled it off and looked at it. A picture of a pretty young filly was on it and Apple Bloom read the words on it.
"'We will always remember... Smiling Princess'. Huh... Who's Smilin' Princess?" Having not given it much thought, Apple Bloom made it back inside the cave and curled up on the red lump again. Maybe ah shouldn't have run away, she thought, as she drifted off to sleep.
~ Day 8 ~
"I wanted a cutie mark... because they picked on me... for not having one."
Applejack did not show up in Ponyville the following morning. Twilight feared that with Apple Bloom gone for five nights straight, Applejack's condition was more than likely beyond grief. She and Spike hurried down to Sweet Apple Acres, where she found Big Macintosh and Granny Smith in a state of depression. She noticed that other strong ponies were helping with the apple-bucking that needed to be done, as Applejack and Big Macintosh had been unable to do much in their depressed conditions.
"Big Mac," said Twilight. "Where's Applejack?"
"She's upstairs in her room," he replied. "But ah should say it's not a pretty sight."
"You've seen her?"
"Eeyup." So Twilight and Spike went into the house.
"What do you think could have happened?" asked Spike.
"Poor Applejack has been worried sick," said Twilight. "Apple Bloom's been gone for five days and five nights."
"This is bad," murmured Spike. "I wish we could do something."
"I know." They headed upstairs and came to the door of Applejack's room, where they heard Winona whining. "Applejack? Are you in there? Applejack?"
"I'm not about to wait," said Spike, entering Applejack's room first. Twilight was about to go in after him, when suddenly... "Aaaaaaah!!!!" Spike ran out of the room screaming. "Zombie pony! Zombie pony!"
"Spike?" Confused, Twilight went into Applejack's room herself. "Applejack? It's me, Twilight. Are you..." But when she saw her, she let out a loud gasp. Applejack was lying on her bed looking like a complete mess. Her mane and tail were more messed up than ever, still missing her hair bands, her face was coated in tear stains, she had dark circles under her swollen red eyes, and she looked somewhat starved. The poor cowgirl pony could barely move or talk. She was living as one already dead.
"Apple... Bloom..." she moaned. Poor Winona was in tears over Applejack's condition. Twilight Sparkle also came to tears and hurried to her friend's side.
"Oh, Applejack," she cried. "What's happened to you?! You look terrible!"
"Twi... Where's... Apple... Bloom...?"
"I'm sure she's fine, AJ, but you need to take care of yourself. You look like you haven't eaten or slept in days!"
"C... can't... Apple... Bloom... Please... come home..." Twilight shed tears and nuzzled Applejack's decrepit body. Winona cried. Out on the streets of Ponyville, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were crying heavily and Cheerilee was doing her best to comfort them, but she too was beginning to cry herself. Silver Spoon was also crying seeing them, so she bravely came to them.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Cheerilee," Silver Spoon wept. "Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, please forgive me!" The fillies must have because they pulled Silver Spoon into a group hug, all four now crying their eyes out. Diamond Tiara saw them as well, but her sympathy meter was practically empty, so she turned around and walked the other way.
"Freaks," she said to herself. She still didn't feel sorry for Apple Bloom, though she was likely upset that Silver Spoon didn't want to be friends with her anymore. All the flyers that had photos of Apple Bloom declaring her missing were being taken down by sad ponies, due to Twilight and Mayor Mare's request. Although the Cutie Mark Crusaders caused mischief and mayhem several times over, the denizens of Ponyville finally realized it was all unintentional and they were still good little fillies at heart. And now that they knew who had talked the fillies into scandalizing Ponyville, they were greatly saddened that Apple Bloom from Sweet Apple Acres was gone.
Back at Sweet Apple Acres, Twilight had left Applejack's house and found Big Macintosh and Granny Smith in a state of mourning. Other ponies were starting to get tired of doing all the work for Applejack and Big Macintosh and Twilight realized they couldn't keep doing this forever.
"Ah reckon we may be closin' down the farm soon," said Granny Smith.
"Oh, don't say things like that," said Twilight. "I know it's been five nights since Apple Bloom ran away, but we have to make sure Sweet Apple Acres stays in business. Ponyville needs the food it provides."
"How do we do that?" asked Granny Smith. "Applejack is in no condition, Big Mac is too depressed, and ah sure as hay ain't no apple bucker." Twilight sighed. Soon, she came to the streets of Ponyville and found Cheerilee crying.
"Cheerilee?" Twilight walked up to her and put her hoof around her.
"Oh, Twilight," she wept softly. "I feel that this is my fault."
"I was there when Apple Bloom was teased for not having a cutie mark. I'm the one who appointed Diamond Tiara as editor-in-chief of the Foal Free Press. Some ponies hated me for a while because of that. But I never imagined things would become so bad. I... What kind of a teacher am I?" She cried.
"Don't say that, Cheerilee. You're a wonderful teacher. But bullying is just something that Ponyville hasn't been aware of much. I just wish there was some way of fixing that, if Apple Bloom missing hasn't done that already." That's when Spike came to Twilight and for some reason he was holding the hat Cheerilee gave him as a birthday gift.
"Have you sent any letters to the Princess?" asked Cheerilee.
"One," said Twilight. "She was very sympathetic about Apple Bloom, but there really isn't much she can do at the moment."
"Uh, Cheerilee?" said Spike. "Do you want your hat back?"
"No thanks, Spike," said Cheerilee, rubbing her eyes with her hoof. Spike sighed.
"I miss Apple Bloom too."
Apple Bloom was still sleeping on the red lump in the desert cave, when all of the sudden there was a loud thump. She stirred for a few seconds before groggily waking up. And with another loud thump, the red lump she was on started to move towards the cave exit. Taking a second look, she soon realized this wasn't just any lump she had been sleeping on for two nights. It was a dragon! Apple Bloom squealed in fright, but before she could get off, the dragon quickly left the cave and took off in seconds, leaving her no choice but to hang on for dear life. Apple Bloom also realized she could be killed if the dragon saw her, so she tried not to scream in terror. But it was such a long way down while the dragon was airborne, so she shed tears out of fear and clung hard to the dragon's back as it soared across the land of Equestria.
Meanwhile, at Fluttershy's cottage, a group of animals had gathered around the garden for feeding time, even her picky pet bunny, Angel. As always, Fluttershy was happy and eager to get started.
"Now be patient, my dears," she said sweetly, holding a large sack. "Mama Fluttershy can only do one thing at a time." She started digging into her sack with one hoof, but she and the animals suddenly the heard the sound of giant wings flapping. The dragon from the San Palomino Desert flew overheard, and even though it flew so fast that it was gone in a flash, the animals still got spooked and ran off. "Oh, no! The animals!" Fluttershy started to look frantically for them. "Please... please, little animals. Please come out. I-it's all over now. Y...you can come out. Please... Please... Oh... oh my goodness..."
The dragon was nearing the capital city of Canterlot when it realized that Apple Bloom was hanging on its back. It growled menacingly and tried to shake her off, but she held on tight. Eventually, the dragon did a barrel roll, which caused Apple Bloom to let go, but only a few feet away from one of Canterlot's towers. She managed to grab ahold of the tower's pole and clung hard. She was safe, but trapped up high. And when she looked down, terror flooded her face.
"HELLLLP!!" cried Apple Bloom. "HELLLLLLLLP!!!" Her screams were so loud that some denizens of Canterlot down below happened to look up and notice, including Princess Celestia herself. Now Celestia was quick to take action, so she used her magic to easily retrieve Apple Bloom from the top of the tower and bring her down safely. Apple Bloom then realized who saved her and gasped. "Princess Celestia!" She instantly bowed.
"You're... Apple Bloom," said Celestia. "How did you get up there?"
"Ah was sleepin' in a cave, not knowin' ah was on a dragon's back and it carried me all the way here." Apple Bloom answered.
"Aren't you the little filly who's been missing for six days now?"
"Yes, Princess," said Apple Bloom, looking sorrowful. Princess Celestia could tell that something was wrong.
"What's the matter?"
"It's just... Ah don't wanna go back to Ponyville."
"Why not? Everypony must be worried sick about you by now. I hate to think of poor Applejack worrying herself the most."
"Ah'm afraid if ah told ya why, you wouldn't believe me." Hearing this, Celestia lowered her head closer to Apple Bloom and smiled warmly. Despite her position, she was still a very kind-hearted pony who cared about everyone she ruled over.
"Try me," she whispered. Later, they were both in Celestia's room sitting by the fireplace. Celestia had heard Apple Bloom's story and felt sorry for her.
"So ya see..." Apple Bloom finished after having poured her heart out to Celestia. "Ah wanted a cutie mark... because they picked on me... for not havin' one."
"You know," said Celestia. "If I remember correctly, you once delivered a friendship report to me on the importance of patience." Apple Bloom hung her head. "But I also remember Twilight Sparkle sending me a friendship report on how something that may make you feel left out can actually be something special. But I guess not everypony could see that in the same way. Apple Bloom, it seems to me that these two fillies you mentioned are just having a hard time understanding the importance of everypony in our wonderful land of Equestria. They see themselves as better than others because they are wealthy and they apparently believe that cutie marks are everything. Believe me, I know all about wealthy ponies. But you too are a special little filly, Apple Bloom, with or without your cutie mark. Never forget that."
"But what if ah'm not really special? What if ah don't even have a special talent?"
"Nonsense, dear," chuckled Celestia. "Everypony has a special talent. You've just had a hard time figuring out yours. You know, I'm willing to bet it's been right in front of your face this whole time and you haven't realized it yet."
"But ah really want mah cutie mark!" whined Apple Bloom. "Ah went so far as to runnin' away from home because ah couldn't stand being pushed around like a nopony!" She came to tears. "Ah thought ah could find out who ah am by tryin' mah luck away from Ponyville. Ah wanted to be somepony special! But ah just got mahself nowhere!" And Apple Bloom began to cry. Celestia wrapped her wing around Apple Bloom to comfort her.
"Shhh... Hush, little filly," she cooed gently. "You are strong, Apple Bloom. And you always have been." Celestia got up and walked towards her balcony. She gave a nod, gesturing Apple Bloom to come onto her balcony with her. It was evening and the stars were twinkling in the sky. Celestia then sang to the little red-haired filly.
Look to the stars, see how bright they shine
The sky may be dark, but we see their light shine
And I'm sure there's one shining just for you
We are each of us unique and even though you're small
You can help to make the biggest differences of all
And you'll find your destiny waiting for you
As she sang these lyrics, Princess Luna was flying above Canterlot when she took notice of Celestia and Apple Bloom. So she gracefully landed on the balcony beside Celestia and they nuzzled heads. Luna then looked up to the stars alongside Celestia and Apple Bloom.
So as long as you keep your hope shining through the night
Like the stars in the sky, you can shine
Never lose hope, let your dreams glow so bright
Don't be sad, just let your light shine
Apple Bloom had tears in her eyes, but she managed to smile and wiped her tears away. Celestia then lowered her head to allow Apple Bloom to get on her back to get a better view of the stars.
The sun beams so bright and the moon always shines
The day and night keep balance, all the while their light shines
Every day's a new beginning just for you
The night casts its spell and we all go to sleep
And we dream of our hopes like the ocean very deep
So believe and your dreams will come true
So as long as you keep your hope shining through the night
Like the stars in the sky, you can shine
Never lose hope, let your dreams glow so bright
Don't be scared, just let your light shine
Celestia carried Apple Bloom back inside her room. Apple Bloom slid off her back.
Remember, just let your light shine
As Celestia finished singing, she and Apple Bloom nuzzled heads affectionately. Apple Bloom then yawned and crawled onto a mattress Celestia prepared for her.
"Good night, Apple Bloom," said Celestia. "Tomorrow morning, I will personally bring you back to Ponyville. Don't worry, I think I know how I can help." She tucked Apple Bloom in by putting a blanket on her. "Oh, one more thing." Using her magic, she levitated a teddy bear over to Apple Bloom. "Here. It used to belong to Princess Luna, but she really doesn't want it anymore. You can have it now." Apple Bloom took the teddy bear and held it in her hooves.
"Thank you so much, Princess Celestia," she said.
"You're welcome... my little filly. Sleep well." And as Apple Bloom drifted off into a more peaceful sleep, Celestia opened a scroll and started writing a letter. A shooting star drifted through the night sky.
Back in Ponyville, Twilight, her friends, Cheerilee, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders were all looking up to the stars, as if hoping and praying. Applejack was also there with them, and although she somehow didn't look like a wreck anymore, she was still very, very sad. Apparently, Twilight had sent Fluttershy to Sweet Apple Acres to help nurse Applejack back to health, because now Fluttershy's mane and tail were a bit messy.
"It's been six days," said Applejack. "And Apple Bloom's still gone."
"Applejack," said Twilight. "We have to believe that she's okay."
"But ah'm losing mah hope. Ah don't know how she could last this long on her own." That's when Spike suddenly belched up green fire, and out came another letter from Princess Celestia.
"A letter?" said Twilight. "From the princess?" Everyone gathered around to hear what news Celestia had to say. "Dear Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student, I am happy to report that Apple Bloom... is safe with me and completely healthy and unharmed! She's all right! Apple Bloom's all right!" This joyous news made everypony happy, especially Applejack, who practically collapsed with relief. "It's... it's a miracle!"
"She's all right..." murmured Applejack happily. "Apple Bloom's okay... Ah'm so happy... Thank Celestia..."
"Literally!" Rainbow Dash agreed.
"What's the rest of the letter say, Twilight?" asked Spike.
"Oh? Oh, right..." Twilight cleared her throat began to read the rest of Celestia's letter. "I will personally bring Apple Bloom back to Ponyville tomorrow morning, but I will also be visiting for the day, so be sure to inform the Mayor, as I wish to discuss a matter of importance with her. Your loving teacher, Princess Celestia." Twilight heaved a sigh of relief, but then realized... "Wait... Princess Celestia's coming here?! Tomorrow morning?! All day?!" She then started going into a needless frenzy. "Gotta tell the Mayor... I have to get ready! Oh... this is such short notice! Do I look okay?" Spike groaned and did a facepalm, while the others laughed, including Applejack for the first time in almost a week. Diamond Tiara had been watching them, but she then turned around and walked away.
"Hmph... Namby-pambies..." she muttered.
~ Day 9 ~
"How will I know this won't happen again?"
The next morning at Sweet Apple Acres, Applejack was wolfing down apples and pastries trying to make herself full from eating bare bones for nearly a week. She finally knew that Apple Bloom was in capable hooves and was coming home soon after being gone for six days and six nights, quite a long absence for a little filly without a cutie mark.
"Can't you just take it easy a little?" asked Granny Smith. "You keep eatin' like that and you're gonna get a stomachache."
"Sorry, Granny Smith," said Applejack with her mouth full. "But ah was wastin' away yesterday."
"Well, just don't eat us out of Sweet Apple Acres for land's sakes!"
"Ah still think we're a long way off from that," said Applejack. Winona was all smiles seeing Applejack fully recovered. Meanwhile, Apple Bloom and Celestia were riding in a carriage pulled by Pegasus guards flying through the sky.
"Hey, Princess," said Apple Bloom. "Can ah ask ya somethin'?"
"What is it, dear?" said Celestia.
"Do ya know who Smilin' Princess is?" Celestia looked a bit saddened.
"Once I bring you back to Ponyville, I guess I will have some explaining to do."
"If ya mean to tell me later, that's okay. Ah can wait." Soon, Ponyville was within sight and the Pegasus guards touched down and galloped towards the outskirts. "Ah guess ah should be glad to be home."
"Yes you should," Celestia agreed.
"But ya understand why ah ran away, right? Ah just felt useless, that's all. How will ah know this won't happen again?"
"Don't you worry, Apple Bloom. I am arranging a meeting with the Mayor to address your problem and make sure Ponyville is more aware of bullying in the future." Twilight and her friends, as well as Spike, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo, were waiting at Ponyville's town border.
"Applejack, they're here!" said Twilight.
"Oh, heavens to Betsy!" cried Applejack, seeing her little sister before her eyes. "Apple Bloom! It really is you!"
"Applejack!" cried Apple Bloom. The carriage stopped at the town border. Apple Bloom jumped out of the carriage and the two sisters shared a tearful reunion with a big hug. "Ah'm sorry ah ran away and worried y'all. Ah was just feelin' so sad and scared."
"Don't be sorry, Apple Bloom. It doesn't matter now. You're here. You're safe. Ah missed you."
"Ah missed you too, big sister." The other five friends came to tears seeing this joyful reunion. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, both crying with joy, also gave Apple Bloom big hugs along with Twilight and her friends. Even Spike and Apple Bloom shared a warm hug. And with the sound of barking, Winona bounded over, tackled Apple Bloom, and gave her loads of doggie kisses.
"Winona!" cried Apple Bloom, laughing from all the doggie kisses she was getting. "Ah missed ya, girl!"
"And she missed you, little bumpkin," said Applejack. Then Celestia got out of the carriage and walked into Ponyville, accompanied by her royal guards, and met up with Mayor Mare as planned.
"Welcome, Princess Celestia!" said the Mayor, bowing respectfully. "As usual, it's an honor. We've been expecting you."
"Thank you, Mayor," said Celestia. "We have a lot to go over." Apple Bloom returned to Sweet Apple Acres and reunited with a crying Big Macintosh and Granny Smith and soon after Apple Bloom told her family of her adventures, they were all eating a picnic lunch together.
"So what did the Princess say she was doin' again?" Apple Bloom asked Applejack.
"The Princess and the Mayor are settin' up some kind of presentation on the awareness of bullying," answered Applejack. "Apparently, accordin' to Equestria's track record, Ponyville hasn't taken the issue too seriously. However, Vanhoover, Los Pegasus, and even Applewood have had the awareness raised. Ah suspect we'll find out more later this afternoon."
"Eeyup," agreed Big Macintosh. Soon that time came and everypony in Ponyville was going to the park, where the Mayor and Princess Celestia were setting up the presentation. At the moment, only a film projector and its props were being set up, including a big projector screen. The park was chosen as the place for the presentation so that everypony would be able to attend. The Cutie Mark Crusaders seemed eager to come to the presentation spot. Either that, or they were just three stooges fooling around.
"Apple Bloom!" It was Silver Spoon and she seemed happy to see Apple Bloom. "It really is you! I'm so glad you're okay!" She hurried up to the three fillies, but they all looked confused, despite that she had cried with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo over Apple Bloom's disappearance.
"What do you want?" snapped Scootaloo. Apparently her forgiving of Silver Spoon had been her acting on a subconscious level when they had cried together. "You're the reason that Apple Bloom ran away."
"I know," said Silver Spoon, nervously pawing the ground. "I said some things I really shouldn't have. Apple Bloom, I'm really sorry. I was worried about you. You're not a blank flank. And neither are your friends. Do you... think... we can be friends?"
"This isn't a trick, is it?" asked Scootaloo.
"Yeah, what about Diamond Tiara?" asked Sweetie Belle.
"Well..." said Silver Spoon. "I'm sorry for what I've said, but I can't say the same about her. I didn't want to be her friend when I saw how mean she was becoming. She didn't seem to care when you were gone, Apple Bloom."
"That's what ah was afraid of," murmured Apple Bloom. "Because of her... ah didn't wanna come back."
"But you are back," said Silver Spoon. "And I'm sure the Princess is gonna take care of things." She stuck out her hoof. "Friends?"
"Yeah. Friends," said Apple Bloom. Silver Spoon happily did hoof-bumps with each of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. That's when they heard Diamond Tiara's shrill voice complaining.
"No buts, Diamond Tiara," said Filthy Rich, pushing his daughter into the park. "Everypony in Ponyville is required to attend. Now behave yourself."
"I hope she learns her lesson one of these days," said Scootaloo.
"Ah hope so too," agreed Apple Bloom. That's when Cheerilee came up to Apple Bloom.
"Apple Bloom!" she cried, nuzzling her. "Oh, thank goodness you're all right! I was so worried!"
"Ah'm sorry, Miss Cheerilee," murmured Apple Bloom.
"No, Apple Bloom. I owe you an apology. I should have understood you better." Soon, every single denizen from Ponyville had arrived at the presentation spot, where Twilight Sparkle was helping get everything ready. Applejack was talking to Princess Celestia.
"Princess Celestia, ah can't thank you enough for bringin' Apple Bloom back safe and sound," said Applejack tearfully.
"You're most welcome, Applejack," said Celestia. "It was my pleasure. I just hope our presentation goes well."
"Ah'm sure it will," assured Applejack. "And ah'm sure everypony's gonna learn a thing or two from it." Celestia smiled. She then lowered her head down to speak to Apple Bloom.
"Apple Bloom," she whispered. "Come on up to the front."
"Me?" said Apple Bloom.
"Yes. You're being featured tonight."
"Well, ah'll be, Apple Bloom," said Applejack proudly. "You should be honored to be recognized by the Princess herself." Celestia led Apple Bloom to the front where the Mayor stood in front of a microphone stand.
"Attention, everypony!" said the Mayor, speaking into the microphone. "Mares and gentlecolts, may I have your attention, please? Thank you. Today, all of Ponyville is here today to become aware of a problem, a problem that has more of a serious impact on each and every one of our lives than we could ever know. So as Mayor of Ponyville, I welcome you all here today to our first bullying awareness presentation!" The ponies all stomped their feet in applause. "And now, it is at this time we all welcome, here to speak for us on this subject of importance, from Canterlot, Princess Celestia!" The audience let out cheers as well as more applause, as the Mayor allowed Celestia to stand in front of the microphone stand to speak.
"Thank you, everpony," said Celestia. "It is with great privilege that I am here to speak to all of you today. It is important that Ponyville should now be aware of problems with bullying. Our magical land of Equestria may be peaceful, but that doesn't mean there aren't any occasional problems and conflicts from time to time.
"While bullying may not seem like much more than teasing or some ponies who are trying to get a good laugh, it is actually more serious than we realize. After all, words can be hurtful too and hurt feelings take a lot longer to heal than body pain. Depending on what choices of words are used for teasing or even deliberate insults, they can have a strong emotional impact on a victim. As my faithful student Twilight Sparkle was gracious enough to read for me, bullying can cause severe depression and lower a pony's self-esteem to a point when somepony feels that nothing good can out of life and it can affect that pony quite badly.
"And standing with me here today is a young filly who has experienced such tough times trying to find the meaning of her own life. She went missing from Ponyville for six days and six nights and when she ended up in Canterlot, she was miraculously and completely healthy and unharmed. Mares and gentlecolts, please welcome, from Sweet Apple Acres, Apple Bloom!" The audience applauded with their stomping feet, but Diamond Tiara's eyes widened and she then got angry. Apparently, Princess Celestia herself introducing this blank flank was not pleasing to her. So Filthy Rich gave her a warning look as if telling her to put on a straight face. Up front, Apple Bloom blushed and waved nervously to the crowd with one hoof while Applejack watched with a warm smile. "Today," Celestia went on. "Apple Bloom has finally returned home. She is one of many young ponies without a cutie mark, and although it means that her possibilities in life are endless, unfortunately there are some of us who have yet to understand this meaning. For a long time, despite the benefits of not having a cutie mark, Apple Bloom has felt secluded and other fillies have taken advantage of her because of it. This is why Apple Bloom was bullied and it is very sad that some fillies and colts with cutie marks at young ages may think lowly of those without cutie marks.
"But what's important to understand is this. We are all ponies of Equestria. It doesn't matter how different we are. Our colors, size, species, abilities and whether or not we have cutie marks means nothing to us. Unfortunately, not everypony may agree. That is why as princess of Equestria, I urge everypony to help contribute in any way possible to make our wondrous land of Equestria a home of true harmony.
"Apple Bloom's story is liable to become an inspiration for fillies and colts without cutie marks, to help them realize they never have to feel left out. Everypony in Equestria has a special talent that helps make a difference in our lives and makes our land a better place." Again, there was more applause. "Now at this time, I would like anypony in the audience who has a story to share regarding any hurtful or humiliating experiences to please come forward and share with all of us. This is a time for us to show more love and support to remind us that we will always be a circle of pony friends. Mares and gentlecolts, I invite any of you to come up front and pour your heart out to us." And of all the ponies to start, Twilight Sparkle stepped forward first. So Celestia stepped aside and let her have the microphone.
"Hi," said Twilight. "You may already know me, but my name is Twilight Sparkle. I am Princess Celestia's personal protégé and the librarian of Golden Oaks Library here in Ponyville. When I first came to Ponyville, I remember that I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of making friends, as I always chose to put my studies up front first and foremost. But of course, that all changed.
"Things were different when I was just a little filly. Since the day I saw the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot for the first time in my life, I devoted myself to studying all kinds of magic by reading books to no end. That's when the teasing started. Other ponies began to notice how many times my muzzle was always stuck in a book and called me names... like 'bookworm' or 'egghead' even. I guess I was just different from them. The only pony who understood me was my brother, Shining Armor, captain of the royal guards and now prince of the Crystal Empire.
"Once I started taking personal school lessons from Princess Celestia, the real tormenting began." At this point, Twilight started to get sad. "Other unicorns from the school, probably out of jealousy, would taunt me..." A flashback shows a scene of Twilight being tormented by older ponies while she is next to a book and hugging Smarty Pants in fear.
"Twilight Sparkle, teacher's pet!" was the sound of the jeers coming from the ponies. "Twilight Sparkle, teacher's pet! Twilight Sparkle, teacher's pet!" Their laughter was heard as the flashback ended.
"Twilight Sparkle... teacher's pet..." said Twilight Sparkle, for the audience to hear. She now had tears in her eyes. "They ridiculed me for being... different..." She even sniffled. "Now that I think about it... maybe that was the real reason I wasn't interested in making friends here in Ponyville. And the night I thought I lost all of my friends... brought it all back... when my heart broke." She shed a single tear. Celestia put her hoof around Twilight and smiled and her.
"Thank you for sharing with us, Twilight Sparkle," said Celestia. They hugged and the audience applauded in response.
"Hey, Fluttershy," said Rainbow Dash, inspired by Twilight's back story. "Why don't you go on up and share your stuff."
"Um... I..." stammered Fluttershy, clearly too nervous to even try.
"Oh, all right. I'll go then. Let me show you how it's done!" So Rainbow darted forward to hog the microphone. At first, she seemed to want to get the crowd's attention, much to Twilight's chagrin as she did a facehoof and shook her head. "Hello, Ponyville!" boasted Rainbow. "Now who's gonna tell me you don't know who I am?" The audience just stared at her. "Okay, I get it. Anyway, my name's Rainbow Dash! You know, Wonderbolt wanna-be, best young flyer in Equestria, harbinger of the Sonic Rainboom! I suppose you're all wondering why I'm up here." Her excited face then drastically changed. "Well, you see, I always loved being fast even back when I was a little filly. But I used to get picked on all the time at Cloudsdale. I don't know if it was because I was fast or just plain different. I mean, how many other ponies in Equestria have colors of the rainbow for their mane? Well... you know, besides my dad."
"The point is, I was teased. Other Pegasi would call me... Rainbow Crash. I guess I took it in stride, though. Then one day, I performed the legendary Sonic Rainboom for the first time in my life, but after that, for some reason I wasn't able to do it again. That's when I took part in the Younger Flyers' Competition and won it all when I brought back the Sonic Rainboom! The jerks who used to tease me started to respect me after that, so I guess my troubles went away on their own.
"But one thing still always bugged me. Despite my endeavors, I'm still on Ponyville's weather management team and I haven't really moved on ahead yet. Then, I was reminded of my fetal position when... that superhero Mare Do Well came to town and... did the things I couldn't. She could use magic and I couldn't. I'm a Pegasus! But the thing is, all my life I've been struggling to be somepony and then just when I think I can do it, something always comes around and I just can't. Mare Do Well has nothing to do with bullying, but what I went through day after day was just public humiliation." Hearing Rainbow's words, Twilight felt tears in her eyes once more and started to walk to the front. "So sometimes, and I know this may sound crazy..." Rainbow then started to choke up. "...I ask myself... Who am I?" Rainbow didn't want to break down in front of the audience, but she couldn't hold back her tears. She lowered her head and wept as quietly as she could. Twilight came up to her and put her hoof around her.
"Oh, Rainbow," said Twilight. "I know it still bugs us whenever you're acting like a showoff, but that's just who you are. And we love you, even when you boast and brag. And believe it or not, we wouldn't change a thing about you." An "aww" came from audience as Rainbow Dash looked at Twilight and smiled with tears in her eyes. And when they hugged, the audience applauded again. Fluttershy shed a few tears out of happiness for her fillyhood friend and then wiped her eyes with her hoof. Now she had the courage to go up front and share her painful memories. She stepped up in front of the microphone.
"Um... M-my name is Fluttershy," she said, still naturally a bit nervous. "And I... I just wanna say... I... I used to be tormented when I was a little filly at flight camp. They... picked on me... because I was a weak flyer... They would call me... Klutzershy..." Saying that name call made her wince. "And that's not all... it got worse... Those words... Those jeers that always put me down..." And in her mind, she could hear the very words the other fillies used to say that haunted her ever since.
"Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Fluttershy can hardly fly! Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Fluttershy can hardly fly! Fluttershy, Fluttershy, Fluttershy can hardly fly! Fluttershy, Fluttershy..."
"Fluttershy..." said Fluttershy, trying to repeat the demonic words etched in her memory while getting choked up. "Fluttershy... Fluttershy... can hardly fly..." The audience seemed a bit shocked with her story and many ponies even felt sorry for her. A few of them even came to tears as they heard Fluttershy begin to weep. Rainbow Dash put her hoof around Fluttershy. "It's okay, Fluttershy. You're much stronger than you've ever been since all those times you've been hurt."
"You were very brave to come up here and tell your story," said Celestia. "Believe it or not, you've changed a lot since the day you were bestowed with the Element of Kindness. And that indeed has made you so much stronger. Fluttershy, we all love you." There was another "aww" from the audience as Fluttershy and Celestia embraced and then there was more applause as a few ponies even shed tears.
"Oh, thank you," Fluttershy wept happily. "Thank you so much." And that's when Ditzy Doo appeared almost out of nowhere, standing at the microphone. Apparently she too had a story to share.
"My name is Ditzy Doo," she said. "Some like to call me Derpy Hooves. But when I was introduced as Derpy... what happened was... some ponies... got mad at me... and called me names. They called me... stupid... retarded... offensive..." Poor Ditzy sounded more and more hurt the more she went on. "They wanted me to change my name... or even go away forever." She then came to tears. "But... I didn't mean to hurt anypony... I never meant to hurt anypony's feelings..." Ditzy started to cry. "I just don't know what went wrong. But... I wasn't respected for who I am... Some ponies... didn't even like my eyes... and it's not my fault..." Many ponies in the audience were wide-eyed and in tears, including even Mayor Mare and Celestia. A few of them even sniffled. "I just wanted... to be loved... for who I am..." Ditzy went on, tears dripping from her face. "And one day, I just felt... all the love I ever had... was gone... I... I... I'm sorry, everypony! This is just who I am." Rainbow's eyes flooded with tears, which streamed down her face.
"Oh, Derpy!" Rainbow cried, pulling her into a big hug, both of them crying in each other's embrace. "We won't let anypony change a thing about you! We all love you!"
"Thank you... Rainbow Dash," Ditzy Doo wept. Ponyville's first bullying awareness presentation was becoming a massive emotional moment for everypony. The Mayor dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief as everypony applauded for Ditzy Doo. Now that a few ponies had shared their stories, it was time to move on. Celestia stepped up to the microphone once more.
"Now then," she said. "I wish to share with all of you the story of a young filly who touched the heart of Equestria when she left us behind. Citizens of Ponyville, I will now tell you... the story of Smiling Princess." Twilight Sparkle used her magic to power up the projector and the image it projected appeared on the billboard behind Celestia. The first image was exactly the same thing that Apple Bloom saw on the scrap of paper she read while out in the San Palomino Desert.
So of course Apple Bloom recognized it. The words with the picture read, 'We will always remember... Smiling Princess'.
"Smiling Princess was an alicorn born and raised in Vanhoover. As a little filly, she dreamed of becoming a nature documentary filmmaker. She would borrow her father's video camera and film herself immersed in natural wildlife and environment." Fluttershy got excited when the projector started showing videos that Smiling Princess had filmed herself in.
"Um, excuse me for interrupting, Princess," said Fluttershy, speaking softly as usual. "But how was Smiling Princess an alicorn like you?"
"Well, that was never figured out. Her father is a Pegasus and her mother is a unicorn, so we believe it happened by means of a very rare case of cross-breeding. But that is a good question, Fluttershy." Celestia then continued with the story. "When she started school for the first time, the teasing started. She was picked on for being different. After all, how many alicorns do we see in our lives? Very few or hardly any.
"One day, one of her films was showcased in Applewood itself and she was soon accepted into their film school, where she would be able to study film and pursue her lifelong dream. Unfortunately, her bullying problems got worse. Some say it was out of jealousy for her and others say it was simply because she was an alicorn as a result of a rare breed. One day, she was bullied and tormented by other students and it ended up on film and was broadcasted throughout Applewood." Already, there were murmurs from the audience. "But," Celestia continued. "By the time the film school director decided to hire security for Smiling Princess, she had already left Applewood in tears and returned to Vanhoover. At some point after that, her parents... found her body..." Everypony in the audience gasped, including even Diamond Tiara. "The young filly, Smiling Princess... took her own life," said Celestia sadly.
Much of the audience was in tears and some were crying and sniffling. Rarity burst into sobs and Twilight, even though she knew Rarity tended to get overdramatic, put a comforting hoof around her. Rainbow and Ditzy Doo were hugging each other and crying. The story itself had been overwhelming for almost everypony, hearing how this rare cross-bred alicorn at such a young age chose to end her life over her inability to cope with bullying and open harassment. Celestia then finished the story. "From that day onward, Vanhoover, Los Pegasus, and Applewood raised the awareness of bullying to an all-time high and drastic measures had been taken to hopefully prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future. And now it is time that Ponyville becomes aware of bullying too. Because what if Apple Bloom had suffered the same fate as Smiling Princess? She too would be gone from our lives and the end of a life is always completely irreversible. Not even the magic of Star Swirl the Bearded can erase it. Once a life is over... that's it."
Now Diamond Tiara started to come to tears as a result of the story. Celestia's words had reached deep within her heart. What if Apple Bloom had taken her own life because of the things she did and said to her? Did she really want Apple Bloom put out of her misery for not having a cutie mark? But just then, she heard Silver Spoon burst into tears as a result of hearing the story of Smiling Princess. Snips and Snails were crying as well.
"That's the saddest story I've ever heard in my life," sobbed Snips.
"Yeah, why do these stories always have to have sad endings?" cried Snails. The sound of a handkerchief being blown into was heard, as Pinkie Pie let loose with a stream of tears flowing from her eyes. Spike grabbed the handkerchief and cried into it as well, dabbing his tearful eyes. Up front, Apple Bloom, who had shed tears of her own from hearing the story, looked a little guilty. Ah didn't think everypony was worried about me, she thought. Ah just thought ah was unwanted after everythin' mah friends and ah did. She then saw Diamond Tiara in the audience, but when Diamond Tiara saw that Apple Bloom was looking at her, she turned her head away and tried to fight back tears.
"And now, mares and gentlecolts," Celestia went on. "Let us welcome the parents of Smiling Princess, now representatives of bullying awareness in Vanhoover." The parents of Smiling Princess came to Celestia and stood beside her.
"Today, they help take a stand in the fight against bullying to help make Equestria a better place for all ponies. And they hope that nopony else should have to suffer like they did." The audience gave a round of applause by stomping their hooves. "Thank you, everypony." Celestia then left the front, allowing the Mayor to take over the microphone once more.
"Princess Celestia?" asked Twilight when Celestia was finished with her speech. "How long ago did this happen?"
"Oh, I believe it was about two years ago from the day I sent you to Ponyville," answered Celestia.
"Well... do you know what became of the bullies who tormented and humiliated Smiling Princess? I mean, did they eventually get punished or something? You know, for their... crimes. Were they at least expelled from film school?" Celestia seemed afraid that Twilight would ask that question.
"It's quite lonely being encased in stone, but you wouldn't know that, would you, because I don't turn ponies into stone."
Celestia for once did not know how to respond to Twilight. But what fate had been bestowed upon the bullies for ultimately being responsible for Smiling Princess taking her own life?
"I... don't think it's for me to say," Celestia finally said to her trusted student. Twilight was a bit puzzled that Celestia seemed to hesitate to answer her question, but decided to let it slide, seeing as the presentation was apparently not over yet, even though it had gone on long through the afternoon and now into the early hours of the evening.
"And now, mares and gentlecolts," said Mayor Mare at the microphone. "To wrap up Ponyville's first bullying awareness presentation, we are proud to introduce a very special guest here tonight. Let us all welcome, here to sing for us, Equestria's musical artist... MandoPony!" Surprised and excited cheers came from the crowd, as MandoPony stepped forward, accompanied by Vinyl Scratch and Octavia from Canterlot.
"No way!" said a very surprised Twilight Sparkle to Celestia. "The MandoPony?!"
"Oh yes, Twilight," said Fluttershy, half swooning. "He... wrote a song about me once," she said blushing at her words.
"He did?!" Twilight was even more surprised, but Celestia just smiled at this. MandoPony himself stepped up to the microphone.
"Good evening, everypony," he spoke. "It's a real pleasure to be here in Ponyville. First of all, even though it's been a few years, I wish to extend my heartfelt sympathies to the parents of Smiling Princess, the little filly who will always be remembered in our hearts. Equestria is a beautiful land and a paradise for ponies, but unfortunately, there are still the occasional disagreements every now and then, sometimes not too bad, but others with more serious consequences. Equestria is the magic of friendship and this alone keeps our hearts together. So tonight, I'm gonna sing a song to all of you... to remind us that we are always a circle of pony friends till the very end. Tonight, I give you... 'A Long Way From Equestria'." So MandoPony started playing on his trademark mandolin while Vinyl Scratch helped provide background acoustics and Octavia played her cello. And as the music started up, the image of Smiling Princess with the words 'We will always remember... Smiling Princess' was displayed on the projector screen once again. Princess Luna also showed up and stood beside her big sister. Apple Bloom rejoined the rest of her family.
He was different from the rest of the world
He chose the lovely every time
With a smile, he would bravely saunter on
Yeah, was that such a crime?
He did not wear cynicism well
He chose the lovely every time
The audience of ponies stood there listening to the song, wrapped in its soothing tune and absorbing the words MandoPony sung.
And they cut him down, the world cut him down
Yeah, being peaceful was his crime
And I don't understand
The way we all behave
In this world of ours..
This world we live in...
We're a long way from Equestria
We're a long, long way
During these lyrics, the audience of ponies began to sway back and forth to the song and its peace-inducing melody. Twilight and Spike did the same while showing smiles to each other.
We're a long way from Equestria
A long, long, way
Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were then seen with Apple Bloom and they snuggled up with each other.
She dared to love everybody
Yeah, she was nothing but kind
And the world told her she was wrong
Yeah, there must be something wrong with her mind
And she was just a child amongst thieves
Just a child looking for love
The parents of Smiling Princess were now seen amongst the audience along with Pinkie's family and even Zecora. Smiling Princess' mother had tears in her eyes and dabbed at them with a tissue.
Yeah, all the grownups in the world told her she was wrong
To believe in something we're all dreaming of
And I don't understand
The wicked things we do
In this world of ours...
This world we live in...
We're a long way from Equestria
We're a long, long way
Celestia and Luna were enjoying the music as well. Luna rested her head against Celestia's shoulder.
We're a long way from Equestria
A long, long, way
And I will never give up the fight.
I will never surrender to the hate
I know this world ain't perfect at all
But the world is just what we create
A group of fillies and colts were seen amongst the audience, swaying their bodies back and forth to the tune. Cheerilee, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake were also seen, although Cheerilee seemed to be watching the fillies happily.
So let's make love,
And let's make friends,
Pipsqueak bounded over to Princess Luna, his favorite princess, who looked happy to see him, and they nuzzled heads affectionately.
And let's take time to make amends,
Even Cranky Doodle Donkey, wearing his blonde toupee, and his love Matilda were present. Pinkie came to them and they all shared smiles.
Let's make this world more like Equestria
During the instrumental part, Diamond Tiara's stiffened heart created from her misdeeds against fillies with no cutie marks finally melted and feelings of love and care seeped in. The tears flowed down her face and she cried. Rainbow Dash and Ditzy Doo were still holding on to each other in an embrace, tears still dripping down their cheeks, and they swayed back and forth to the song's melody. Vinyl Scratch was already wiping her teary eyes with her hoof while trying to work the acoustics at the same time and Octavia was also in tears. Rarity was sitting down and crying, and when Spike came over and stroked her mane, she took the little dragon in her hooves and they hugged tenderly, tears coming from both of their eyes. As for Diamond Tiara, her father saw that love had entered her heart and smiled compassionately at his sobbing daughter. They nuzzled heads and Filthy Rich put his hoof around her as she cried.
We're a long way from Equestria
Such a long way
Moved by MandoPony's song, Octavia cried as well, but still kept focused on playing her cello.
We're a long way from Equestria
A long, long way
A long, long way
After the song ended, the audience cheered uproariously with thunderous applause. MandoPony had without a doubt touched everypony's heart that evening. Fluttershy let loose with a loud cheer, like she did for Rainbow Dash when she brought back her signature Sonic Rainboom.
"I love you, MandoPony!" she squealed loudly. "WOOO!"
"Thank you, everypony, thank you!" said MandoPony. "And good-night, Ponyville!" After the presentation finally ended, the six best friends were talking amongst themselves about how great everything went. And then Rainbow heard a familiar voice talking to her.
"That was quite the speech you gave." It was Spitfire, captain of the Wonderbolts herself.
"Spitfire!" said Rainbow excitedly.
"We'd like you to come with us for a moment," said Spitfire, smiling. As for the Cutie Mark Crusaders, they were hanging out with Twilight and her friends when Diamond Tiara saw them and approached them nervously.
"Uh... Apple Bloom?" she said weakly. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle just looked a little surprised, but Scootaloo was angry.
"You've got a lot of nerve to talk to us after everything you did to us!" Scootaloo snapped, causing Diamond Tiara to look away sadly.
"I know," she said. "And... I am so, so sorry."
"Oh, you're sorry," said Scootaloo. "Sure, of course you are. This coming from somepony who doesn't give a flying feather about other ponies' feelings! We remember quite clearly what you said that day!" Diamond Tiara's lip trembled and she came to tears. Maybe she didn't care then, but hearing it getting rubbed in her face after her heart softened was now hurting her.
"Scootaloo!" said Twilight. "That's enough. Diamond Tiara apologized. The least you three fillies you can do is forgive her."
"Forgive her?!" said Scootaloo, aghast. "Twilight, she set us up so that Ponyville turned against us that day! Because of her, we took the heat! You put up that shield to keep us out as if we were dangerous criminals!" Now it was Twilight's turn to look away sadly. "And Rainbow Dash wouldn't stop soaking us as if we were monsters! And Applejack, you and Big Mac wouldn't even talk to us! Not even your own sister!" Applejack also looked away sadly, as if hurt. "And for that, you want us to forgive her?!" Diamond Tiara started to cry and this time Twilight and her friends couldn't exactly come up with an excuse for not forgiving the Cutie Mark Crusaders until they made amends. But Apple Bloom, having always looked up to her older sister, decided to show her own honesty.
"Ah forgive you, Diamond Tiara," she said. This made Diamond Tiara stop crying instantly and made Scootaloo's jaw drop.
"You've gotta be kidding me!" she said in shock.
"Come on, girls," said Apple Bloom. "Ah know the things she did before was wrong, but they're gonna be better now. Ponyville is gonna step up to be more aware of bullyin', so there's no way Diamond Tiara is gonna keep to her old ways without gettin' caught. Besides, ya know what ah think? Ah think she needs a real friend." She came up to Diamond Tiara.
"Whaddya say, Diamond Tiara? Friends?" Diamond Tiara was surprised at first, but knowing that Apple Bloom accepted her apology and forgave her, that made the farm filly better than her. Diamond Tiara smiled weakly and shed a few more tears.
"Yeah," she sniffled. "Friends." And then they shared a big hug, which if anything created a brand new friendship between fillies who once despised each other.
"Apple Bloom," said Applejack, coming to tears herself. "Ah'm so... proud of you." But the hug was suddenly interrupted when the sound of somepony clearing his throat was heard. It was Filthy Rich.
"I can see that this presentation was just the thing you needed to hear, young mare," said Filthy Rich, who looked mildly disappointed. "But I'm afraid I'm not about to take any more chances and get into any more trouble with Ponyville. Diamond Tiara, I've decided to enroll you in a private school in Fillydelphia. Apple Bloom and Diamond Tiara gasped.
"You mean... you're gonna send her away?" asked Apple Bloom.
"She's left me no choice," said Filthy Rich decisively. "I heard what she did to you three fillies. Not only that, she had Ponyville up in arms and didn't even care. That makes her dangerous!" Now Twilight and her friends gasped. "And my reputation with Barnyard Bargains is all but ruined. I'm as good as out of a job."
"Fiddlesticks, Mr. Rich," said Applejack. "Ah was just goin' crazy over Apple Bloom bein' gone and all that. And besides, Granny Smith is the pony who can make that decision. Ah reckon Barnyard Bargains is still on, so ah wouldn't worry."
"Please, Mr. Rich," begged Apple Bloom. "Diamond Tiara is truly sorry for bein' such a... Well, anyways, ah forgive her and ah'm willing to give her a second chance as mah new friend. So please, don't send her away." Filthy Rich then smiled.
"Well, I can see that she is sorry," he said. "Very well, Diamond Tiara, but this is your last chance, I'm afraid. So be nice to others and respect those fillies." Diamond Tiara nuzzled her dad.
"I will, Dad," she said. "I promise to be good."
"Do you really mean that?" said the voice of Silver Spoon. She had been listening in and had tears in her eyes, overjoyed that Diamond Tiara was willing to turn over a new leaf.
"Yes, Silver Spoon," said Diamond Tiara. "Does this mean we're friends again?"
"Yeah, you bet," said Silver Spoon, running up to her and hugging her. And then they both did that chant of theirs.
"Bump! Bump! Sugar-lump, rump!" they said in unison and laughed.
"Hey, where's Rainbow Dash?" said Scootaloo, just noticing her absence.
"Oh, she'll be back," said Fluttershy. "I wouldn't worry. Rainbow Dash is always faithful to her friends." Applejack took Apple Bloom back home to Sweet Apple Acres.
"Ah bet yer lookin' forward to sleepin' in yer own bed tonight," said Applejack.
"Ah am, big sis," said Apple Bloom. "It's really good to be home! Apple Loosa was fun, but it's just not quite the same, even if ah was afraid of comin' back." Soon, Apple Bloom was back in her own room at long last. And when she got into bed for a good night's sleep, Applejack tucked her in.
"Good night, little sister," said Applejack. "Ah can't tell you enough, it's good to have ya home again."
"Good night, Applejack," said Apple Bloom. The lights were turned out and Apple Bloom went to sleep, cradling Princess Luna's teddy bear.
But Apple Bloom's story was not over yet...
~ Day 10 ~
"I'm gonna show Ponyville what I'm made of!"
Apple Bloom woke up with a start. In all that had happened, the arts and crafts fair had completely slipped her mind!
"Oh mah gosh!" she said. "Ah completely forgot about the arts and crafts fair! Ah hope ah didn't miss it!" She hurried downstairs and out of the house where she found Applejack hard at work with her apple-bucking rear hooves. "Applejack! Ah just remembered! What about the arts and crafts fair?"
"Don't worry, Apple Bloom," said Applejack. "You didn't miss it. It's today! But ya still got time!"
"Today?!" said Apple Bloom, surprised. "Oh mah gosh! What should I do? What should I present?"
"You can use some old barn parts round the back. Ah reckon you can build somethin' with yer own two hooves."
"Of course, Apple Bloom. You have a knack for buildin' and fixin' things. It's always been you. Ya just never knew it." Meanwhile, at the Carousel Boutique, Rarity was putting the finishing touches on a dress coated with sparkling rainbow colored gems.
"You're entering the arts and crafts fair, too?" asked Sweetie Belle.
"Oh, but of course, Sweetie Belle," replied Rarity. "It's another chance for me to show off my dazzling prowess as a fashionista. Just look at this gorgeous masterpiece! Using gems of specific colors, I whipped up this 'rainbow dress' just for the arts and crafts fair! I can't wait to wear it for display!"
"You do know Apple Bloom's entering the fair too, right?"
"Yes, I know that, dear. But I mustn't miss this golden opportunity. Such is the life of a fashionista after all." And at the Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie Pie had only just finished her own entry for the arts and crafts fair.
"Well, what do you think?" she asked the Cakes. "It's an exact replica of Sugarcube Corner, only this time... it's edible!"
"Oh, Pinkie," said Cup Cake delightfully. "Some days you outdo yourself with your baked goods."
"One bite will surely put smiles on anypony who tries it! And I just love to make smiles!" Just then, Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake, the little foals of Mr. and Mrs. Cake, showed up and reached out to try and nibble on Pinkie's confectionery. "Hey! Hooves off!" Pinkie grabbed hold of both foals in her hooves. "This is for display at the fair. Wait till later and then you can eat it!"
"I wouldn't let our kids eat that," advised Carrot Cake. "It looks far too sweet for them to handle. Trust me, Pinkie. The last thing you'd want is to babysit them when they're on a sugar rush." Back at Sweet Apple Acres, Apple Bloom was just finishing up her own entry. Applejack came to check up on her.
"Howdy, Apple Bloom," she said. "So, what'd you decide on..." She then gasped in amazement at what she saw. "Mah word! That's... that's amazin'! You built this out of old barn parts we didn't need anymore?"
"Yep," said Apple Bloom proudly. "Ah guess ah do have a thing for buildin' stuff."
"Glad you decided to enter. Ah really think this is gonna pay off."
"Then ah'm gonna show Ponyville what ah'm made of!"
Soon the arts and crafts fair began and several ponies were presenting their entries. Mayor Mare and other town officials were looking at the entries and taking down notes.
"I still think you let your stomach do the talking," said Rarity to Pinkie Pie upon seeing her edible model of Sugarcube Corner. "How do you think sweets are considered art?"
"It's the art of design!" insisted Pinkie. "But I'm still totally blown away at your dress! Fashion really is your passion!"
"It's my pride," beamed Rarity, revealed to be wearing the dress. Twilight Sparkle and Spike soon arrived at the fair.
"Hey, Twilight," asked Spike. "How come you didn't enter?"
"Spike, you know me," said Twilight. "Arts and crafts aren't really my thing so much as books.
"So what would you do if you had entered? Make something out of all the books you read?" Spike was of course joking around, but Twilight just gave a dull stare. That's when Apple Bloom and Applejack came in, bringing in a wagon carrying something covered up by a sheet.
"Ah, this must be our last minute entry," said Mayor Mare. "Now then, Apple Bloom, let's see what you've brought today." Apple Bloom nodded and removed the sheet to reveal...
"This here's a model replica of the town of Ponyville!" said Apple Bloom. The Mayor was astounded and Twilight was surprised.
"She did all that by herself?!" said Spike.
"Check it out!" said Applejack. "She put in everything! The Sugarcube Corner, the Golden Oaks Library, the Carousel Boutique and the town hall. She even made the barn from Sweet Apple Acres!"
"I must say this is spectacular!" said the Mayor. But just then, there were excited cheers coming from other ponies in Ponyville. It wasn't about Apple Bloom's model because they were all chanting, "Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo was at the crowd's front and center, staring with excitement and amazement. Twilight and her friends came to see what everypony was buzzing about, and what they saw surprised them to their cores. There stood Rainbow Dash in a Wonderbolt's uniform! She was now an official member of the Wonderbolts, the most talented flyers in all of Equestria.
"What do you think, girls?" said Rainbow Dash proudly, removing her goggles and hood to show on her face how proud she was with herself. Twilight recollected herself first.
"Well, I must say the outfit looks good on you, Rainbow," she said. "But dare I ask how you were able to get on the team?"
"I talked with Spitfire and Princess Celestia last night. Spitfire told me that I had a lot of guts coming forward and telling everypony in Ponyville my personal problems and fears. And when the princess acknowledged me as the best flyer in Equestria, Spitfire knew she had a new Wonderbolt cadet on her hooves. I got signed up in a jiffy!"
"This is so cool, Rainbow Dash!" squealed Scootaloo, rushing up to Rainbow and hugging her around her shoulders. "Now I know you're the most awesome Pegasus in Ponyville! I'm gonna bring your fan club back!" Rainbow Dash chuckled modestly as she got hugs from Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Applejack.
"Congrats, sugar cube!" said Applejack.
"Yeah. I'm not a failure anymore. I never was." Much later, back with the arts and crafts fair, it was time for the fair judges to reach their final decision on the awards. Apple Bloom's family was present to see how well Apple Bloom's model would be amongst the others. The other two Cutie Mark Crusaders, Silver Spoon, and even Diamond Tiara were present with Apple Bloom.
"And now, it is time to hand out our prize medals to the designers of our top models," the Mayor announced.
"Who do you think's gonna win?" Spike asked Twilight.
"I'm not sure," replied Twilight. "Let's just wait and see.
"In third place, our bronze medal winner goes to... Pinkie Pie and her delectable model of Sugarcube Corner!" Satisfied with her medal, Pinkie Pie then proceed to eat her own creation, which made her friends and some other ponies laugh. "In second place," the Mayor continued. "The silver medal winner and runner-up goes to... Rarity!" Rarity's jaw dropped.
"Well, I thought my dress would have been worth the gold!" she said.
"Come on, big sister," said Sweetie Belle. "A prize is a prize!"
"Oh, I suppose you're right." Rarity and Sweetie Belle hugged.
"And now, the grand prize winner to take home the gold medal for this year's arts and crafts fair goes to... Apple Bloom, for her exact replica model of Ponyville!" There were excited cheers all around. Even Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon cheered for Apple Bloom, as the Mayor herself placed the gold medal around Apple Bloom's neck. "Congratulations, Apple Bloom and thank you everypony who participated! Our arts and crafts fair this year has once again been a success!"
"There's no doubt in mah mind," said Apple Bloom, looking at her medal proudly. "This is truly mah special talent." Just then, her flank started to glow and she gasped. Her cutie mark then appeared right on her flank. It was a beautiful blossom. "Mah cutie mark!" she squealed. "Ah finally got my cutie mark! This is the happiest day in mah life!" Apple Bloom bounced around excitedly.
"Well done, Apple Bloom," said Zecora, suddenly appearing as if out of nowhere. "You found out who you are. With your special talent, you will go very far."
"That blossom sure is somethin' special," said Applejack. "It means you can take somethin' that's old and worn down and turn it into somethin' else that's new. The blossom blooms with life and that's what ya have in you."
"Congratulations, Apple Bloom," said Silver Spoon.
"Eeyup," agreed Big Macintosh. "We're proud of you!"
"Ah guess this means everypony in the Apple family has cutie marks now," said Apple Bloom.
"Sure does," agreed Applejack. "Looks like all your endeavors finally paid off." This had been a truly great day for Apple Bloom. The last six days had proven to be rough for her, but in the end, she had finally discovered her special talent. All five fillies, Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Silver Spoon, and Diamond Tiara, got into a big group hug, laughing with joy. New friendships between them had been born.
"Let's party!" shouted Pinkie, firing off her party cannon inside the Sugarcube Corner, where Apple Bloom's very own cute-ceañera had started. Many of Apple Bloom's friends and others had attended, including Zecora, Cheerilee, Mr. and Mrs. Cake, Twist, Snips, Snails, Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, and of course Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Spike, and Twilight and her friends. Rainbow Dash was still in her Wonderbolts uniform, probably milking her own fulfillment for all it was worth. Spike and the fillies were dancing around, including even Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. Pinkie Pie then sang a short song.
It's a happy day in Ponyville
When dreams come true
Applejack watched her little sister beam and smiled warmheartedly, seeing as the little filly went from missing for several days to becoming the happiest filly in Ponyville.
"Dear Princess Celestia..." narrated Applejack. "Again, thank you so much for bringing Apple Bloom home and also for teaching all of us a valuable lesson we'll never forget. And I learned this. Sometimes there are problems that nopony can overcome on their own, no matter what their age or how smart they are, and the best thing we can do for that somepony is always be there to help them out and be more supportive towards them. When Apple Bloom ran away, I learned it was because nopony was paying much attention to her own personal problems and she felt useless. But I think the worst of her troubles now are over, as the fillies who once picked on her so much are now her new friends. I'm proud of my little sister, and I'm writing to you from her very own cute-ceañera. And she's the happiest little filly in Ponyville today! It just goes to show that even a little bit of friendship goes a long way." Apple Bloom then showed off her cutie mark up close one last time.