In another part of the woods, another pair of fillies found comfort in one another.
Sweetie Belle hadn’t been this scared since the cockatrice incident. She closed her eyes and ran and ran…not the best of plans as she soon found herself colliding into something. Hard.
“Ow! Sweetie Belle!” It was Archer. She got up and dusted herself off.
“Archer?” Sweetie hopped to her hooves in delight. “Oh thank goodness! I was so scared! What do we do?”
“Um…” Archer looked around. All she saw was the woods at night, each direction looking more or less indistinguishable from the other. “I—don’t know.”
Sweetie looked around nervously. “W-well, where are the others?”
“…I don’t know. I guess we should look for them.” Archer looked around. “I wish we still had those whistles Rainbow Dash gave us. Can you light your horn up?”
The white unicorn flinched. “Um, actually I can’t do any magic with my horn yet.” She moped, looking down at the ground. “I guess I’m too young.”
“But Snails can…” Archer clamped her muzzle shut a moment too late. Sweetie’s eyes welled with tears.
“You’re right!” She started to cry, all the tenseness of the situation finally getting to her. “I’m a blank flank, I’m lost AND I can’t do magic!”
“Aww, c’mon Sweets, I didn’t mean anything!” Archer rubbed her back. “I mean, it’s not like your friend Scootaloo can fly or Apple Bloom can applebuck yet, right?”
“Then stop worrying about it.” Archer mussed up her hair. “You’re way too concerned about all the stuff you can’t do. How about you and I focus on what we can do, and find the others, okay?”
“M’okay…” Sweetie Belle sniffled. “Thanks.”
“Heh, no problem. C’mon.” The blue filly started to trot up ahead. “Let’s go find everypony else and get out of here already!”
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS WILDERNESS EXPLORERS AND PONY RESCUERS!” Sweetie Belle shouted. Archer just blinked. Lowering her ears, Sweetie mumbled an apology. “…it works better when Scootaloo and Apple Bloom are around.” She elaborated.
“Um, I guess?” Archer hazarded. As the two of them walked for a while, the silence started weighing down on them. Eager to fill the void, Archer voiced a thought that Sweetie’s exuberant shout had raised. “So…Sweetie Belle?”
“Um, I was just wondering…about the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”
“What about us?”
Archer thought about the best way to put it. “You’re all trying to get your cutie marks, together right?”
“Right!” Sweetie smiled, the happy thought seeming to pull her out of where she actually was at the moment.
“So do you really think the three of you are going to end up with the same cutie mark? At the same time?”
“W-well…” Sweetie’s smile seemed to wane, the brightness in her eyes wavering. “I guess not…but…”
“What if I can’t get my cutie mark on my own?” Sweetie looked at her, afraid. “Maybe I’m just not special enough to get my own! So if that means sharing a talent with my friends or never getting a cutie mark…”
“That’s not how it works!” Archer yelled suddenly.
“Easy for you to say!” Sweetie Belle shouted back. “You already have your cutie mark! Everypony knows that you’re special!”
“So what? I don’t care!” Archer demanded and was rewarded to see Sweetie’s mouth hanging open.
“W-wha…?” Her eyes grew to half the size of her head.
“You heard me! So I have my cutie mark, big deal!” She snapped. “Guess what? I was Archer before I got my cutie mark and I’m still Archer now! I didn’t learn magic, didn’t become smarter or faster or stronger…in fact all my cutie mark did was give ponies ONE thing to remember me by! ‘ Oh look! It’s that pony who’s good at archery!’ ” She rubbed her forehead. “Grr…before I thought it was just Silver Spoon who had this weird hang up but I guess you do too! A cutie mark is just a cutie mark! It’s a reminder of who you *already* are!”
Archer took a hitching, shuddering breath. “Y-you think a cutie mark is the answer to everything! Well it’s not! Even without a cutie mark you’ve done so many cool and amazing things! All I’m known for is archery and maybe for playing some arcade games.” She started rubbing at her eyes. “Everypony knows who you and your friends are…you’re the fillies that can do anything. No pony knows me…except as that blue filly that can do ONE thing.” She sniffed, turning away to rub her muzzle with the back of her hoof.
Suddenly she felt something pressing against her back that was full of warmth and compassion. “I’m sorry.” Sweetie Belle said as she hugged her from behind.
“…T’anks.” Archer hiccupped. “Sorry. I just…I don’t know. I got my cutie mark, everypony was happy for me, and then…nothing. I looked forward to getting my cutie mark as much as anypony but I never thought about what would happen after that…and it’s like nopony else cares either.”
“I do.” Sweetie buried her snout in the back of Archer’s shoulder. “And I don’t think you’re just good at archery! You’re really strong and funny and nice…you got Silver Spoon to stop acting so mean to everypony and you’re friendly…everypony on this trip likes you! And when we get back to Ponyville, I’ll tell everypony I know just how cool and smart and fun you are!”
Archer cracked a small grin. “Thanks Sweetie…” She turned around and gave the unicorn a hug in return. “Maybe your cutie mark should be for being a good friend.” The two of them laughed. “So, I guess we should get going again.” The blue filly rose to her hooves. “Just take it easy with thinking that your cutie mark is gonna be the most important thing about you. It isn’t. You are.”
As Sweetie Belle’s spirits were starting to rise, Silver Spoon’s were sinking lower and lower. By the time she had run out of steam and had to stop, panting for breath, she realized just how alone she was. No Diamond Tiara, no Cheerilee, no counselors, no campers, nopony.
Silver Spoon was spooked by sudden noise. She leapt around until she realized it was the sound of her own knees knocking. “A-anypony there?” She called nervously. “Archer? Pipsqueak?” A faint orange glow appeared in the bushes. “W-who’s there?!” Her voice broke as the orange light spread, the sound of bushes rustling, revealing… “SNAILS?!” Her voice broke in surprise.
“Where?” Snails looked around, turning in a circle. “Oh no, that’s just my cutie mark.” He said with a weak smile.
Silver Spoon facehooved. “Great, not only am I lost in the woods at night, I’m lost in the woods at night with the most *annoying* colt in the world!”
Snails shrunk down. “Um, sorry?”
“What did I ever do to deserve this?” She moaned softly to herself. Then she winced. “Oh yeah…”
As if to rub it in, a spatter of water landed on her head and dripped down her neck. It was so cold and so sudden that she let out a little shriek of surprise and gave a sudden start. “EEEEP!” She shook herself dry only to feel the pitter patter of more rain drops starting to fall through the gaps in the trees and roll down the leaves. “Oh no…” She moaned. It wasn’t a particularly heavy rain, more like a light drizzle, but it was cold!
Suddenly, the rain stopped. Silver Spoon looked up to see a large leaf hovering over her like an umbrella. Clutching the end of the left in his mouth was Snails’ giving her a sheepish look.
“Um, fer ou?” He said around a mouthful of leaf, his own mane starting to grow heavy with rainwater.
Despite herself, Silver Spoon felt herself give a little smile at Snails’ chivalrous gesture. “Thank you…”
Snails beamed with pride. The two foals kept walking a ways when a hoof at the end of one of Snails’ long lanky legs caught on a rock and he fell forward. “Wooah!” He managed to call out right before he fell forwards onto Silver Spoon. She let out a sharp squeal before she was pressed face first into the soggy dirt.
“Pwuh! Eeew! SNAILS!”
“’owwy!” came the muffled response, his face pressed against her flank.
Silver Spoon flushed. “Get off!” She said, shaking her hips as she tried to get out from under him. Snails stood up. Silver Spoon scrambled to her hooves a second later, furiously wiping the soggy dirt and mud from her face and from her mane. “Ugh! Watch where you’re going!”
Snails lowered his head. Silver Spoon sniffed and started off again, Snails walking a few paces behind her. Dead silence reigned for the next few minutes until Snails couldn’t help but make an observation. “It wasn’t made of sugar lumps.”
With a baffled look, Silver Spoon stopped and turned around to regard her traveling companion. He, in turn, was regarding her rump. “…” It took Silver Spoon a moment then she blushed crimson. “Snails!” she cried out once again, making a habit out of it.
“Well you and Diamond Tiara…” He started, then quailed as the angry-looking, red-faced silver filly *glowered* at him, her eyes seemingly magnified by her glasses. “Never mind.”
“Hmph!” Silver Spoon hiked herself up and started marching away with a stiff, proud demeanor, her face still streaked with red.
There was a tense silence as the two of them walked now that hung in the air, growing heavier all the time. Silver schooled her face into her best scowl and trudged forward doing her best to put as much distance—both physical and mental—from her companion. But between Snails’ longer gait and the fact that she had nothing else to think about, she failed on both counts.
Then the silence or the tension (or both) finally grew too much for Snails and he suddenly blurted out “I’m sorry!”
Silver Spoon stopped and looked around. “You should be!”
“I didn’t mean to make you mad.” Snails sounded apologetic, his ears lowered. “I—I…” he stammered, falling silent.
“You what?” The annoyed filly demanded.
“I always mess things up.” He finished morosely.
“For once you’re right.” Silver Spoon turned around and walked back towards him. “You—” She stopped short, her voice trailing off as she saw the tears welling up in the corners of his eyes, looking all the more pathetic for being waterlogged and tired and dirty and…she hated the way he looked at her. It was like a cowering puppy expecting a kick. She didn’t want to see that look anymore. It made her feel like an ogre.
She took a deep breath and counted to ten, thinking about what Archer would want her to say if she were here. “It’s…okay, Snails.”
“Yes. Really.” Silver Spoon was surprised to find that she actually meant it. “A-and…I’m sorry about, well, all that stuff I said and…about that stuff back at camp, with Rainbow Dash.”
At the mention of the object of his crush, Snails crouched down until Silver Spoon was actually above him. “I’m too goofy and clumsy for somepony as cool and fast and awesome as Rainbow Dash to like.” Snails moaned.
“Oh stop it.” The silver filly sounded cross. “Look, I’m sorry she doesn’t like you the way you do but, seriously, she’s like twice our age! What did you think would happen?”
“I ‘unno.” Snails mumbled. “She’s just so…awesome!”
“Ugh, what’s the big deal with being ‘awesome’ ?” Silver Spoon rolled her eyes.
“Um, don’t you and Diamond Tiara care about being popular and pretty and stuff?” Snails asked, not understanding the difference.
Silver blinked. “Yeah, but that’s totally not the---” She trailed off. Turned out Snails wasn’t the only one. “Horseapples.” She facehooved before starting again. “Being really fast or awesome or popular doesn’t make you a good pony.” Silver scuffed her hooves.
“But you were never fast or awesome—oh wait, you were talking about Rainbow Dash!” Snails started to point out before catching on. Silver Spoon felt a small vein above her eye twitch.
“Yes. I was.” She bit off each word. “ANYway…it’s okay to be all that stuff, but that isn’t what makes you a good pony or not.”
“Oh. Then what does?” He asked in genuine curiosity.
Silver Spoon tapped her muzzle with her hoof. What would Archer say if she were here? This stuff was all new to her…well, Archer wasn’t there nor anypony else Silver Spoon had come to rely on. She would have to figure this out herself.
“Being a good pony…comes from doing good things, like helping other ponies, being nice and stuff. Rainbow Dash being super fast and cool and junk is all nice, but that doesn’t make her a good pony. The fact that she’s really brave and loyal does.” Silver Spoon made a face, as if only begrudgingly admitting Rainbow Dash’s strengths. Silver Spoon really didn’t mesh well with Rainbow Dash. Maybe it was how blunt Rainbow was, or how unrefined she was. She didn’t hate her or anything but she wasn’t about to join the Rainbow Dash Fan Club either. Still, that ride had been pretty neat.
Snails looked troubled. “So I shouldn’t like ponies even if they’re awesome and stuff?”
Finally, some progress. “Well…you can like whoever you want but being awesome doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good pony. I wasn’t, anyway.” She muttered.
“But you *are* a good pony.” Snails sounded confused again. “And you’re really nice and awesome!”
“R-really?” Silver felt her cheeks grow warm. “Thank you…you are too.”
Snails also blushed and gave a goofy grin…then he cocked his head, thinking of something. “Wait…so if you’re an awesome pony you might not be a good pony—” He waited for Silver Spoon to nod. “--but if you’re a good pony then you *are* awesome?”
Silver Spoon opened her mouth then closed it. Darn this was confusing. Why was it so much harder to be nice and helpful than it was to be petty? That wasn’t fair at all.
“Um, well…I…the point is that Rainbow Dash doesn’t like you the way that you like her.” She hurried on. “I mean, I’m sure she likes you, but not *likes* like you, get it?”
“…Yeah, even I know that sounded confusing.” Silver Spoons sighed. “It’s just that Rainbow Dash has feelings for Big Macintosh. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like you or that there’s something wrong with you.”
“Yes there is.” Snails sniffed. “I always make ponies I like mad at me.” Snails blinked and rubbed at one eye with his hoof. “…The Great and Powerful Trixie…Rainbow Dash…” He looked up at her. “You…”
“…I think you’re really pretty.” Snails mumbled, looking away and missing the enormous blush that erupted across her face. “But the ponies I like, don’t like me.”
“Well, I—” Whatever Silver Spoon was about to say was suddenly transformed into a startled squeak as a bright flash lit up the dark forest. After a quick look at each other, the two foals darted towards the unexpected but welcome relief from the dark and gloomy forest. Perhaps it could even be a rescue party!
“Here we are! You found us!” Silver Spoon exclaimed as she pushed her way through some sopping wet bushes, not caring about messing up her mane or coat. “You have no idea how happy we are to see…you?”
“Hmph, I’m not surprised.” A lone mare sat underneath a canopy draped across some tree branches, protecting her and her tent from the rain. “After all,” She tossed her white mane across her shoulders, raising her hooves dramatically. “Who isn’t happy to see the Great and Powerful Trixie?”
& & &