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“WheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” A filly’s high pitch squeal of delight cut through the afternoon sky over Ponyville, accompanied by the sight of a rainbow contrail wrapping stretching across the blue.
“You hanging on back there squirt?” Rainbow Dash shouted to be heard over the noise of air whooshing past. She addressed her passenger who clung to her back, her muzzle buried in Rainbow’s mane.
“Ya huh!” The little unicorn filly nodded, her eyes wide. “This is so coool!” Rainbow grinned.
“Yeah it is, isn’t it?”
“I wish I could be a pegasus like you and mom!” Piped the little voice into her ear. “You’re the best flyer ever! No pony’s as fast as you!”
“Heh, yup, all true.” The cyan pegasus beamed, soaking up the praise like plants being watered. “But your mom’s pretty cool too, right Dinky?” Pause. “Dinky Doo?” A moment of panic gripped Rainbow Dash. “Oh geeze, please tell me you’re still back there!”
“I-I am!” Dinky Doo answered. Rainbow gave a sigh of relief.
“Phew, don’t scare—er, I mean, just don’t do that. What was with the silence back there? You know Ditzy’s cool, right?”
“I-I guess so.”
“Well, I think momma’s cool, but the other ponies at school are always saying things about her!”
“Things.” Rainbow repeated neutrally. She sighed. “Ugh, hold on we’re gonna land for a bit. We need to talk.” Since they were currently over Sweet Apple Acres, Rainbow decided that a nice quiet, secluded area of the orchard was as good a place as any for a pony-to-pony talk.
Rainbow Dash landed and kneeled down, letting Dinky slide off her back.
“Okay, now, what’s this about your classmates saying stuff about your mom?” She asked with a snort. Dinky Doo looked down, pawing her hoof in the dirt.
“W-well, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were calling me ‘Stinky Doo’ and saying how my mom’s eyes are weird and that she’d weird and she talks funny and can’t fly good and—” Rainbow Dash held up her hoof.
“Whoa whoa whoa. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon? Aren’t they those spoiled little brats who gives Apple Bloom and her friends grief for not having their cutie marks yet?” Dinky nodded quickly. “Well, why do you care what they think? They’re just a couple of dumb fillies.”
“But, but…” Dinky’s lip trembled. “But it’s not just them! Other ponies at school say that too! And in town! Everypony says those sorta things! They get all quiet when they see me or mom coming and sometimes giggle. When I’m alone they’re always asking if I’m getting everything I need, if I’m hungry, like, like—they don’t think mom can do it herself!” She started tearing up. “Everypony thinks my mom’s dumb!”
“Aww, Dinky…” Rainbow stretched out her wing, gently bringing the little unicorn closer. “C’mere…” As much as Rainbow Dash generally didn’t like being all touchy-feely she hated seeing kids cry even more. It was just totally uncool. Besides, she thought to herself, Ditzy’s a friend and, you know, Element of Loyalty and all that…
The little filly sniffled as she rubbed her head against Rainbow’s flank. “Listen, Ditzy Doo is at least 20% cooler than just about any other pegasus in Ponyville. You know how I know?” Dinky looked up, shaking her head. “Because your mom once saved my life.”
Dinky looked up, tears still stained her face but she had stopped crying. “R-really?” She gaped. “Mom saved you? You?”
Dash gave a sickly smile. “Hey, you don’t have to shout it quite so loud…but yeah.”
“How? When? Tellmetellmetellme!” Dinky pleaded, her hooves wrapped around Dash’s leg. “Pleeeeeeeease?”
“All right, all right! Sheesh, you’ve been hanging around Apple Bloom too much.” Dash said with a grin. “So, uh, okay. Here’s how it goes: I was practicing this new trick over the Everfree Forest. It was way cool but I might’ve slightly miscalculated this one spin and before I knew it I was on the ground and confronted by the biggest, meanest, ugliest chimera EVER! Well, I put up my hooves and started to duke it out! Showed him a thing or two! But he got in a cheap, lucky shot and had me pinned. But then…”
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“…and then my mom swooped down and dropped a bag full of packages on that chimera’s head! SMACK!” Dinky shouted, stamping her hooves for emphasis as the fillies and colts listening to her tale listened with slack jawed amazement. “That dumb ol’ chimera was stunned and that let Rainbow Dash get out of his claws and finish teaching that monster a lesson!”
“Whoa….” The children all breathed at once. Rainbow Dash smirked. As Dinky was standing in front of the schoolhouse giving Rainbow Dash’s slightly edited version of said events, Rainbow walked into the school from the back. She wanted to have a word with Cheerilee and not get mobbed by a herd of adoring fans…well, maybe later.
“Hello?” She poked her head into Cheerilee’s room to find the mauve pony straightening up desks and collecting papers from when her eager students had stampeded out when the bell rang.
The teacher pony looked up with a look of surprise and a smile when she saw she had company. “Oh, Rainbow Dash! Good afternoon!”
“Afternoon Cheerilee.” Dash gave a quick nod. “Look, I wanna talk to you about that filly, Diadem Tiara.”
Cheerilee looked confused. “You mean Diamond Tiara?”
“Whatever. Point is she’s been picking on Dinky which is NOT cool with me. Her mom’s a friend of mine and she does not need to be badmouthed by her daughter’s classmates.”
Frowning, Cheerilee nodded. “I’ll speak to her and her father. Thank you for telling me Rainbow Dash.” She sighed. “I just wish Dinky felt comfortable enough to come to me with her problems.”
Rainbow shrugged her wings. “She didn’t even want to tell me but I talked her into it. And it seems like other kids are following Diamond Tiara’s lead and picking on Dinky and Ditzy.”
“Hmm…” Cheerilee brought a hoof up to her chin as she thought. “That’s another problem right there.” Then her eyes widened. “One I think you can help me with!”
Rainbow Dash looked confused. “Um, what’re you talking about?”
“Dinky, unfortunately, isn’t the only little pony who has confidence issues. There are a number of students who simply go along with what their friends are doing and, I’m afraid, are having trouble speaking up for themselves.” Cheerilee looked at her. “Surely you’ve noticed how Silver Spoon always follows Diamond Tiara’s lead or how Snails is willing to let Snips talk him into things he wouldn’t think of himself.”
Rainbow Dash, who really hadn’t noticed anything of the sort, opened her mouth to say something about how little Snails thought *period* but for a change thought better of it and kept listening.
“Even friends as close as the Cutie Mark Crusaders have some ponies with a more…assertive nature than others, such as Apple Bloom and Scootaloo for instance. I’m afraid that Sweetie Belle listens to her friends more often than she does herself.”
“Sooo…what’re you saying?” Rainbow Dash wished Cheerilee would get to the point. “Are you saying you don’t want Sweetie Belle to be friends with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo?”
“Oh my, of course not!” Cheerilee shook her head fiercely. “I would never think of breaking up any of the friendships my little ponies form! I’m just concerned that the less confident ponies are getting so used to listening to and doing whatever their more confident friends are doing that they’re having trouble speaking up for themselves and developing as individuals. And there’s the fact that all the fillies and colts keep together in their own groups that they don’t interact as much with the other children. Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara, Snips and Snails, the Cutie Mark Crusaders…I’m afraid that if they don’t learn to socialize outside of their own little groups that they won’t be able to function on their own.”
“A huh.” Rainbow Dash scratched her mane with her hoof. “Sooo, what do you want me to do about?”
Cheerilee smiled. “I was thinking that it might be nice if you took some of the less confident ponies in town on a little camping trip with you to Whitetail Woods! That way, they’ll have the chance to discover their own strength and initiative without relying on their more assertive and confident friends to do it for them. You could teach them about survival training, learning to work together and it’ll give them a chance to make new friends and have fun!” She clapped her hooves, delighted at her own idea.
“Aw yeah, camping is pretty cool!” Rainbow smiled. Then she looked confused. “Uuuuuuh, yeah, I dunno Cheers….why me?”
“Well, Rainbow Dash, you’re the most confident pony I know!” Cheerilee smiled. “Surely, you can help give these little ponies some advice in learning to be more self confident! Who would be better suited than you?” She added, trying to butter Rainbow up.
It worked. “Heh, well, I can’t really argue with you there…I AM the epiphany of confidence and awesomeness.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘epitome.’ ”
“That too.” Rainbow Dash nodded. “Anyway, who did you have in mind to go on this camping trip?”
“Let’s see…I’d like you to take Silver Spoon, give her a chance to develop some character of her own out from underneath Diamond Tiara’s hoof.”
“I bet she’ll just love it.” Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, imagining the snobby pony roughing it in the wilderness.
“I’d also like you to take Sweetie Belle…she always tries a little too hard to be a good friend to the other Crusaders and a good sister to Rarity that I think she undervalues herself. At the very least, she needs to not be so dependent on Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. Snails needs some confidence too, poor dear. And who else? Oh! You mentioned Dinky has some confidence issues. This trip could be just what she needs! And little Pipsqueak’s a dear but he’s having some trouble fitting in since he just moved here and poor Archer, it’s like nopony even notices her!”
“Blue earth pony, bow and arrow cutie mark?”
“Oh, okay.” Rainbow tapped her hoof, thinking it over. “Taking six little ponies on a camping trip to Whitetail Woods… hiking, setting up tents, campfires, smores, ghost stories, sleeping under the stars…you know this could actually be pretty fun!”
Cheerilee smiled. “That’s the idea! Oh please say you’ll do it! The little dears really do need a confidence boost and I believe you’re just the pony to do it. Um, just so long as you don’t go overboard.” She added with a weak grin.
Rainbow Dash waved her hoof in front of her. “Yeah, yeah yeah. Oh this is going to be awesome!”
“I’ll speak to their parents and get them to sign onboard.” Cheerilee nodded. “We have a week off coming up. Can you arrange to be away from work for that long?”
“Heh, no sweat. Hrm. I’m gonna check around to see if anypony else wants to come with me. You in?”
Cheerilee shook her head. “I’m afraid I have a teaching conference to attend in Fillydelphia during the break. Perhaps you could take one of your friends with you?”
“Sounds like an idea.” Rainbow Dash nodded. “And I know just the pony to ask…I know she’ll love to do it!”
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“What do you mean you can’t do it?” Rainbow Dash demanded.
“Just what ah said sugarcube.” Applejack grunted as she bucked a tree, apples raining into a basket. “Ah’ve got to go to Appleloosa to help out cousin Braeburn. Seems they’ve got an infestation in their orchard. I gotta go make sure they stop it before it gets to Bloomberg and totally ruins the orchard.”
“Awww, geeze!” Rainbow threw up her hooves as she hovered above Applejack. “This would’ve been so awesome! You and me, showing a bunch of kids how to be totally cool wilderness explorers, we could’ve found out which one of us was the better camping pony!”
“Pff. Hate tah break it to you honey, but ah think we both know who the best camping pony is.” Applejack smirked.
“Oh yeah? Prove it!”
“Wish I could, but ah cain’t. You’re gonna have ta find somepony else. Why don’t ya ask Twilight?”
“The Egghead? C’mon AJ, I want these kids to have some fun. Not to spend all their time doing camping ‘by the book.’ I’d probably go nuts myself.”
Applejack chuckled, imagining Twilight in her outdoor explorer hat, flipping through the pages of Camping 101 looking for the by-the-book way to set up a tent and sleeping bag. “Okay, ah git what you mean. Ah suppose you wouldn’t want to invite Rarity neither?”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and made a gagging noise. “Only if you want to make everypony there absolutely nuts! We’ll be in the woods! The dirt will drive her crazy and her fussiness will drive ME crazy.” She crossed her arms. “And don’t even bother suggesting Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy’s way too timid to teach these kids confidence and she’s busy with her animals anyway. And Pinkie’s babysitting the Cake twins.”
“Hmm.” Applejack tossed her head back. “Seems ta me like you need to find somepony else then.”
“Uh, duh AJ I *know* that! But I can’t just bring anypony out camping for a week with me! I can’t bring somepony who’ll drive me nuts or won’t be able to pull their own weight.”
“Ah think ah know a feller.” Applejack said as she started walking towards the farm.
“You do? Who is it?” Rainbow Dash hovered over her.
“A pony whose strong.”
“A pony who can pull their own weight.”
“A pony who’s strong, dependable and knows a heap of stuff about how ta survive outdoors….”
Rainbow Dash darted down in front of her friend. “C’mon already Applejack, just tell me!”
AJ smiled and looked at something just over her friend’s shoulder. Dash spun around. Pulling the plow through one of the fields was a big strong work pony, complete with a red coat, orange mane and a sprig of wheat between his teeth.
“Big Macintosh?” Dash exclaimed.
Hearing his name, Big Mac’s ears twitched and he looked up. “Eeyup?” He asked as he shook himself free of his plow and walked over.
Rainbow Dash looked at her friend. “Your brother?”
“Eeyup!” Big Mac confirmed as he stopped alongside them.
“He’s a camping expert?”
Applejack nodded and Big Macintosh confirmed with another “Eeyup.”
Dash darted her eyes between the two siblings. “Aaand you think he’d be willing to take a group of foals camping for a week with me?”
“….Does he ever say anything besides that?” Rainbow asked bitingly.
“Ee—” Big Mac opened his mouth but the glare from Rainbow Dash convinced him to just nod and chew his sprig.
Rainbow snorted but felt herself unwind a bit. “Well, all right then.”
Applejack chuckled. “Have fun you two…don’t be doin’ anything ah wouldn’t.” She smirked. “And ah trust you’ll return yer companion in the same condition that they left in?”
Big Macintosh frowned, almost insulted by the insinuation. “Eeyup!” He replied a bit more forcefully than usual.
Applejack didn’t stop grinning. “Ah was talking to Rainbow.”
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