A storm had blown in from the Everfree Forest overnight. Foals ran through the snow, laughing and playing as the older ponies worked to clear the roads. Trees bowed under the heavy load they carried, threatening to dump it on any unlucky pony to pass by. The air was fresh and clear. Every sound seemed calm and muffled.
Scootaloo plodded through the snow with her friends and their sisters, making her way to the train station. She shivered and pulled her wings closer against the chilly morning.
“What are we gonna try first?” Applebloom asked. “Snowpony building? Caroling? Ice skating?”
“We can do all that in Ponyville,” Scootaloo grumbled before stifling a yawn.
“Well, do ya have any other ideas?”
“Canterlot is built into a cliff, right? I heard bungee jumping is fun,” Scootaloo answered. She opened her mouth to say more and got a face full of blonde hair. She fell back, sputtering.
“Y'all care to run that one by me again, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, looking back with the shooting glare of a protective sister.
“Oh, sis.” Applebloom smiled nervously. “Scootaloo's always full of crazy ideas. We wouldn't actually try any of them.”
“Uh-huh?” Applejack asked skeptically. “Y'all better not. What kinda featherbrain told you it was fun?”
Scootaloo was about to answer before a flash of rainbow caught her eye. Rainbow Dash shook her head furiously behind Applejack. “Uh, nopony. Somepony in school mentioned it.”
“Well don't even think about it. I don't want any of y'all getting into trouble, ya hear?”
“Alright,” Applebloom grumbled.
For the next few minutes, they trudged on to the train station in silence. Finally, Sweetie Belle pointed a white hoof towards the roofs ahead of them. “Look, I think I can see the smoke from the train.”
“Thank Celestia,” Scootaloo replied. “I thought I was going to freeze solid. I hope it's warm on the train.”
“We’re a couple minutes early,” Applejack said. “so stay together on the platform and ah’ll come get you when we’re ready to board.”
It wasn’t much warmer on the platform, but at least it was free of snow. Scootaloo trotted in place, shivering against the light breeze.
“Are you alright, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Just cold. I wish the train would board already.”
“Ah saw somepony selling hot cocoa at the front of the station,” Applebloom said. “Let's go get some!”
“Okay.” Sweetie Belle nodded eagerly in agreement.
“Uh, that's all right,” Scootaloo said. “You two go ahead.”
“Aww come on, it'll warm you up!”
Scootaloo mumbled something unintelligible under her breath.
“Sorry, what was that?” Applebloom asked.
“I don't have any extra bits,” Scootaloo mumbled a bit louder.
The smile fell from Applebloom's face. “Oh right. Uh, sorry.”
Scootaloo shrugged, eliciting a groan from her friends. They couldn’t help but feel guilty that their pegasus compatriot never seemed to have money. The fact that she didn’t seem to care just made it worse.
“You girls ready?” Applejack asked, trotting over to them. “Have everything ya need?”
Applebloom glanced toward the front of the station, then at Scootaloo. “Yup.”
Scootaloo smiled at her friends. “Don't worry about me. Go get some cocoa.”
“We're really not that cold,” Sweetie Belle replied.
Applejack looked between them. She'd had one or two hard years on the farm, back before she and Big Macintosh could help with the harvest, and had worn that embarrassed smile plenty of times herself. “How bout all three y'all go get some? Mah treat.”
“Yay!” the Crusaders called, burying Applejack under a group hug.
Scootaloo sat quietly, tuning out her friends as they began to pull out of Ponyville Station. The train’s interior was colored in warm oranges and browns. Each seat was covered with a cream colored cushion and had its own window. She watched the flat land around ponyville fall away as the train began the ascent toward Canterlot.
“And she's the Element o' Honesty, to top it all off,” Applebloom said.
“Well Rarity's the Element of Generosity. I bet she'd have bought us drinks too,” Sweetie Belle replied.
“Unless she was worried we'd spill it on the train. At least Applejack trusts us,” Applebloom said, waving her hooves for emphasis. A third of her drink splashed out onto the seat, drenching the cushion with a dark brown puddle.
Scootaloo turned to stare out the window, wondering if Rainbow Dash would have bought them cocoa. She was the Element of Loyalty; no way would she leave three cold fillies hanging. Not only that, she'd have let them go bungee jumping too. Hay, she'd probably have been right there jumping with them. Scootaloo was about to say something but stopped. It wasn’t like Dash was her sister.
They're quite rude, wouldn't you agree? Arguing about family in front of somepony without one.
Scootaloo sipped her cocoa, ignoring the thought and her rising anger. “So uh, girls. Any more ideas for getting our cutie marks?”
“Rarity even got all dirty during the Sisterhooves Social for me.”
“Yeah, well Applejack runs the derby with me every year.”
Scootaloo scowled and tried again, louder. “I was thinking, maybe we could try snowpony building, if you really want to.”
“That's because your family organizes it,” Sweetie Belle countered.
“Mah family organizes it because they're more fun.”
Ohoho, she walked right into that one. But they've both got a point, don't they? Loving, caring. Their sisters would do anything for them. I wish I had a sister like that, don't you?
“Nopony cares!” Scootaloo shouted, throwing her half empty cup of cocoa at the floor. It bounced one, splashing the hot liquid across the dark green carpet. Sweetie Belle yelped, pulling her hooves away from the mess.
Scootaloo glared daggers at both of them, her breathing hard and shallow. Sweetie Belle dropped her head, but Applebloom returned the glare with one of her own.
The minutes crept by in awkward silence. The anger in Scootaloo’s eyes slowly faded, replaced by empathy. Finally, she spoke up. “I'm sorry Sweetie Belle, Applebloom. I shouldn't have lost my temper like that.”
Several seconds passed before Sweetie Belle replied, “I’m sorry too.”
Applebloom puffed out a breath as her glare disappeared. “Me too. Me and Applejack get into plenty of fights. And ah know Rarity and Sweetie Belle don't always get along. Having a sister isn’t always that great, if it makes you feel any better.”
“Oh, uh, right,” Applebloom said. A few more minutes passed before she finally asked, “Scootaloo, are you okay? You've been weird all morning.”
Scootaloo shrugged. “I'm just tired.” Her voice dropped slightly as she added, “I couldn't sleep.”
“Me neither. Too excited for today?”
“Uh, not really,” Scootaloo mumbled, barely loud enough for her friends to hear. “Had a nightmare.”
“Oh. Ya wanna talk about it?”
Scootaloo shrugged again. “It was pretty dumb. I dreamt that I'd grown up without my cutie mark. You both got yours and left the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but I was stuck in Ponyville, wearing the cape and trying to find my special talent. I'd never even learned to fly. I'd watch all our classmates zooming around the sky and wonder what I was missing.”
“Aww,” Sweetie Belle said, reaching over and putting a comforting hoof on her friend's shoulder.
“Now, ya know we'd never leave ya behind, don'tcha?” Applebloom asked, an understanding smile on her face. “Even if you got to be Granny Smith's age without yer cutie mark, we'd be right there with ya looking.”
“She's right,” Sweetie Belle said. “We'll always be the Cutie Mark Crusaders.”
Scootaloo broke out in her first real smile of the day. She pulled the other fillies into a group hug and said, “Thanks girls. This means a lot.”
They held the hug a moment longer. “So,” Applebloom asked, finally breaking the embrace. “Ya think snowponies are a good idea?”
“Ok, so maybe snowponies weren't mah best idea.”
Sweetie Belle edged away from the white monstrosity. “Somepony needs to put that thing out of its misery.”
They all chuckled as Applebloom pushed their creation over, turning it back into a pile of white powder.
“Hey, look at that.” Scootaloo pointed to a giant candy cane standing at the side of the road. “Maybe we could be Cutie Mark Crusader Holiday Decorators. Or Cutie Mark Crusader Giant Candy Makers.” She skipped up to the candy cane, winked back at her friends, and gave it a big lick.
Applebloom giggled, “So is it real?”
“Uh, nho,” Scootaloo answered thickly.
“Uh, ah thin' this mah ah been a bah idea.” Scootaloo tried to pull away, but her tongue was securely fastened to the cold metal.
Her friends stared at her for a long moment before falling to the ground, shaking with laughter.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. Suddenly, a familiar voice floated down the street, getting nearer.
“I have an idea. Let's play ‘I spy with my little eyes’ as we walk. I'll go first.” Twilight Sparkle and friends came into view in the street ahead of her, their faces awash with a carefree joy. “I spy an eight foot candy cane.”
Rainbow Dash joined in next. “I spy a snowpony!”
“Tha hay?” Scootaloo asked. “'At's not 'ow you pray tha game.”
Applebloom finally got back to her feet and helped Sweetie Belle up. “Ok, uh, here,” she said before biting down on Scootaloo’s tail and pulling.
“Ow ow ow!” Scootaloo cried before finally jerking free and crashing into her friends.
“So what now?” Sweetie Belle asked as she pulled herself out from under the orange and yellow pile. Scootaloo gave herself a quick once over before helping Applebloom up.
“We should probably get to the play. Looks like the sun'll set soon, and ah don't wanna be late.”
“Look, it's Derpy,” Applebloom whispered. The grey mailmare was waving from the stage with a cross-eyed smile.
“I didn't know she was in this,” Sweetie Belle said.
“Ah guess she's part of the crew backstage.”
“Oh Celestia help them,” Scootaloo muttered. The lights dimmed and all talking stopped.
The curtains opened to reveal Spike standing in front of a red brick fireplace. He wore a purple shirt and hat with a large orange feather. “Once upon a time, long before the peaceful rule of Celestia and before ponies discovered our beautiful land of Equestria, ponies did not know harmony,” he said in a stuffy voice. Scootaloo heard her one of her friends giggle and had to fight back her own smile. “It was a strange and dark time, a time when ponies were torn apart... by hatred!” Scootaloo gasped with the rest of the crowd.
Ah, those were wonderful times.
Scootaloo glanced over her shoulder. “Shhh.”
Spike continued his tale of pony selfishness. His words began to run together as Scootaloo blinked sleepily. She'd been fine outside, running and laughing with the girls, but now, in the dark and quiet, she felt herself drifting off.
The ponies gathered around her, pushing towards the ugly stone building in which the grand summit would be held. Once inside, the three tribes stood on raised balconies around a wooden table.
Scootaloo realized all the pegasi around her wore fancy clothes or armor, and she suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. She ducked her head hoping no one would notice her.
Horns blared below, announcing the arrival of the leaders. Rainbow Dash entered, head held high. She wore black armor, rather than a dress like the rest of the pegasi women. She stepped up to the table with the other leaders.
“Who'd ever make Pinkie a ruler?” Scootaloo asked herself.
The three rulers began shouting at each other at once. After a moment of confusion, Rainbow Dash made herself heard. “All I wanna know is why the Earth Ponies are hogging all the food,” she said, slamming her hoof on the table.
Scootaloo's stomach rumbled. It was a good question, why were they hogging it? She was hungry. She couldn't remember ever being this hungry.
“It's only because you mean old pegasusususus are making it snow like crazy!” Pinkie shouted back.
Were they making it snow? Scootaloo realized how cold she was then, an aching chill that cut down to the bone. She pulled her wings closer, almost crying out in surprise.
“It must be the unicorns! They're doing it with their freaky magic!”
Scootaloo didn't care who was responsible. She just wanted it to stop. She looked up at the white flakes falling from the chamber's ceiling. It was the pegasi who controlled the weather. Why couldn't they stop it?
“Oh, it's not fair, is it?” A voice behind her said. She jumped, turning to see a grey and brown pegasus behind her. “No food, no shelter against the cold. Could you imagine living like that?”
The pegasus smiled at her, showing off a single fang and mismatched eyes. He had two horns, also mismatched. She glanced at his flank to see a pair of dice as his cutie mark. “Uh, yeah, I guess I can.”
“It's always the leaders’ faults, isn't it?” the grey pegasus asked, looking down at Dash.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, just look at them down there, so sure of their self-righteousness. Their stubborn pride brings the Windigos.” He turned to look at Scootaloo, a glint in his eye. “Do you hate unicorns or earth ponies?”
“Of course not. My best friends are a unicorn and an earth pony.”
“Then why do they get to decide that we're enemies?” He pointed down to the center of the room.
“It isn't just them. Oh, Scootaloo, just imagine how much better things could be. Celestia's ancient, set in her ways. Why does winter come each year? Why does it snow? Because our ruler, the one who controls the sun itself, believes it must?”
“Well, yeah. What, you want to just get rid of winter?”
“Why not? Farmers could grow crops year round. There would be so much food that nopony would go hungry again. Nopony would freeze either. Do you see a downside?”
Scootaloo frowned. The grey stallion made a lot of sense. “Who are you?”
“Me?” he asked, gesturing to himself with a hoof. “Nopony of importance. The real question is, who are you?”
“Uh, it is?”
The pegasus put a wing around her, marching forward. The room fell away around them, shattering into glittering shards and leaving them in a black void. “Of course it is. It’s the most important question you will ever ask yourself.” He pointed to her blank flank.
“Yes, that. Scootaloo, you have a wonderful thing working for you.”
“Uh, I do?”
“You can be anypony you want. Do anything you want. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing. All you need to ask yourself is, 'what do I want?' You can spend your days tired, cold and hungry, or you can do something about it.”
“Like what?” Scootaloo's head was rolling from the sudden change in topic.
The grey pegasus smiled at her. “Only time will tell. Oh, and one last thing.”
“You're about to miss the song.” Time to wake up...
Scootaloo's eyes snapped open as confetti began to fall. She was only half a beat behind the rest as the song began.
“The fire of friendship lives in our hearts,
As long as it burns we cannot drift apart,
Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few,
Laughter and singing will see us through,
We are a circle of pony friends,
A circle of friends we'll be to the very end.”
Hmhm, we'll see.
Scootaloo spent the ride back to Ponyville in a daze. She just couldn't get his voice out of her head. It was like the stallion from her dream was standing behind her, whispering into her ear, asking again and again, “What do you want?”
In what felt like no time at all she was back in the clubhouse, drifting off to sleep. Her breathing slowed as she relaxed.
And then she was awake. Very, very awake. Pinkie Pie on a sugar binge awake.
“I know you're there! I heard you! I ain't afraid of you!”
The silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, a deep, smooth chuckle sliced through the cold night air, sending the hairs on the back of her neck standing.
Oh , Scootaloo. I wondered when you'd notice.
She turned in circles. “Wh-who's there? Where are you?”
My name's Discord, Spirit of Chaos. Perhaps you've heard of me?
Scootaloo's heart tried to jump from her chest. She fell back on her haunches, mouth hanging open. “Th-this is some kind of trick, right? Applebloom? Sweetie Belle?”
Bah, really Scootaloo? You'll hurt my feelings.
“This isn't happening. Discord is trapped in stone.”
Ah, don't remind me. You wouldn't believe how boring it is, being stuck like this.
“Stuck? So, you're not here?”
Scootaloo's eyes scanned the room again, hoping to see her friends, or maybe Dash and Pinkie, pulling a prank on her. “What do you want with me?”
I want to help you, Scootaloo.
“What do you mean?”
I know what you've gone through. Foster parents that don't care, lonely nights, hunger. It just isn't fair. I want to help you make things better.
Scootaloo shook her head. “You're evil. All you want to do is spread chaos.”
Discord laughed again. Is chaos really a bad thing? Did anypony get hurt when I was free?
And what about the changes I made for the better? Chocolate milk falling from the sky? Cotton candy clouds? Is there anything wrong with free food for everypony?
“But, Celestia said—”
Celestia said it, so it must be true? For goodness sake, this is the same ruler that lets her subjects starve and freeze. The only pony Celestia cares about is herself.
“Why me? There must be tons of ponies worse off than me.”
To say thank you.
It was you and your friends that helped me before, when you came by my statue. The seal had already weakened, but you three fillies pushed it the final bit.
Scootaloo's front legs went weak and she sank down, a defeated grimace on her face. She'd sometimes wondered if the Crusaders had anything to do with Discord's return, but she'd never been brave enough to ask anypony.
“Oh, Celestia, what have I done?”
Freed somepony from thousands of years of loneliness. Is that something to be ashamed of?
The question caught Scootaloo off guard. She'd never thought about what it would be like, being trapped in stone. It must have been horrible. And she'd freed him for a few hours. Was it really so surprising...
...that he'd want to thank me?
Scootaloo shook her head. She wasn't sure which thoughts were hers anymore.
Sleep, Scootaloo. It'll be more clear tomorrow.
That actually sounded like a good idea. She crawled over to her blanket and covered up, letting out a content sigh as the soft warmth of her blanket enveloped her.
They say everypony has a special magical connection with their friends, even before they've met. Why, I think it's fate that we should meet like this.
Twilight had said something about that, Scootaloo remembered. Dash believed it. She'd been responsible for all of her friend's cutie marks. Maybe... maybe Discord was right.
Sleep found her moments later.
The night dragged on silently, but for a single moment. A light breeze circled, tugging at the filly's mane, and then fading as quickly as it came.
Sitting on the table was a collection of plates and bowls. Hot soup, fresh salads and sandwiches, and a card.
“Happy Hearth's Warming Day.