& & &
“But I don’t want to go on a dumb camping trip! Especially not with them!” Silver Spoon protested for the hundredth time to Cheerilee as she led her to where Rainbow Dash and Big Macintosh were assembling their campers before setting off for the Whitetail Woods.
“Now, Silver Spoon.” Cheerilee looked at her. “I spoke with your parents about this and they thought it was a wonderful idea, especially since they had to leave town anyway to go on that business trip this week.”
Silver Spoon pouted and looked away. “But why can’t I just spend the week with Diamond Tiara? Why couldn’t *she* come on this trip with me instead of, ugh, those *other* ponies?” She didn’t quite dare call them blank flanks or losers in front of Cheerilee but her feelings on the subject were obvious.
The mauve pony gently smiled. “You can’t always do everything with Diamond Tiara. You have to learn how to get along with other ponies and make new friends.”
Sighing, Silver Spoon gave up. It was hard enough carrying the big pack she was wearing. Her supplies, sleeping bag, and other necessities had been purchased in the week leading up to the trip. Her back groaned under its weight as she regretted bringing quite so much stuff.
Cheerilee gave Silver Spoon a soft smile. “Silver Spoon.” She gray filly looked up at her. “I think that if you give this trip, and your classmates, a chance I think you’ll find that you can make the best of any situation. And you will be so much stronger for the experience. So please give it a try. For me?”
Silver Spoon gave a martyred sigh and mumbled a reluctant sounding “fine.” The way Cheerilee smiled one would think that Silver Spoon and hopped around her in a circle chanting “yesyesyesyesyesyes.” For Cheerilee, this was a start.
& & &
In one of those pointless ironic coincidences, Sweetie Belle was having an almost identical conversation with Rarity as they approached from the other side of town.
“But sis!” Sweetie Belle looked up pleadingly. “Me and the Crusaders had plans to spend this week looking for our cutie marks!”
“Well, you can still look for your cutie mark while you go on your little trip.” Rarity said primly.
“But what about Apple Bloom and Scootaloo?”
“Sweetie, I know it’s difficult, but you can’t spend every moment with your friends any more than I can.”
Sweetie kicked her hoof at the ground. “But it’s so unfair! Apple Bloom’s gonna be alone with Granny Smith since Applejack’s in Appleloosa and Big Macintosh is coming on this trip with me!”
“She won’t be alone. As you said, she has Granny Smith and she’ll have Scootaloo. They can keep each other company.” Rarity smiled.
“But what if they both get their cutie marks without me? W-what if I’m stuck being a blank flank all by myself? What if they decide they like it better without me and—”
“Sweetie Belle.” Rarity pinned her little sister with her eyes. “Your friends are NOT about to forget about you just because you go on a trip for a week. Do you really believe Apple Bloom and Scootaloo think so little of you?”
Sweetie Belle’s ears drooped as she lowered her head. “I—I dunno.”
If Rarity had any doubts about the merits of this little camping foray—what with it being filled with *dirt* and all—they were dispelled then and there.
She gently placed her hoof underneath her sister’s snout and pointed her face up. “Sweetie Belle, look at me.” Sweetie looked up, her eyes moist and wavering. “You are a wonderful sister and a great friend. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom are extremely lucky to have you as a friend.” Rarity laid her head across Sweetie’s neck. “You’re like a diamond in the rough: a beautiful little gem that just needs a little chiseling and polishing so that you can sparkle and shine for everypony to see. Your friends and family will always be there to help you, but there are times when you have to make an effort yourself to grow. No pony can do that for you. You need to see how special and wonderful you truly are. That’s why your friends like to be with you.”
Sweetie Belle sniffled, rubbing her face with her hoof. “O-okay Rarity.” She squeaked.
Rarity gave her a hug. “Now come on. If we hurry we can stop by Sugarcube Corner and pick you up a cookie for being a good girl.” Sweetie Belle gave a weak smile and seemed to perk up slightly.
& & &
Snails blinked slowly as he watched a little snail slowly oozing his way across a rock. He stared without moving a muscle, completely oblivious to the world around him. Snails started staring while waiting for something but had forgotten what he was waiting for. After what might’ve been a few seconds or a few minutes, Snails felt somepony tapping him with their hoof. “Um, what are you doing?”
Snails looked up to see Big Macintosh’s big red face looking down at him curiously. Snails blinked once and then frowned in deep concentration. Then he remembered. “I’m watching the snail!” He said in his low, slow tone.
Big Macintosh nodded “Eeyup?” He prodded. Snails blinked. Then Big Macintosh blinked. Snails blinked back. An outside observer might have wondered if they were communicating via morse code.
The red stallion broke his gaze first. “You lookin’ forward to having fun, pardner?” He said at last.
Snails gave a slow lanky nod. “I sure am!” Stretching out the ‘sure’ until it sounded more like ‘suuuuuuuuuure.’ He gave a goofy looking grin. “This is gonna be totally awesome!”
“Shore hope we kin live up to yer expectations.” Big Mac nodded. “You ever been camping before?”
“….” Snails scratched his head as he thought about it. Then he nodded. “Nope!”
Big Macintosh quirked an eyebrow at the lanky young colt but said nothing.
Snails went back to watch the little snail makes his way across the rock.
& & &
From their home, a gray pegasus and her blue-gray unicorn filly walked to town square. The pegasus wore a sad smile, but daughter’s face was full of dejection.
“But momma…” Dinky Doo rubbed her head against her mother’s flank. “I don’t want to go! I want to stay with you!”
“Muffin…” Ditzy’s unfocused eyes teared up as she hugged her daughter fiercely. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine. You just worry about having fun and making friends, okay?”
“These are the ponies who make fun of me!” And you, she added silently.
Her mother nuzzled her mane. “It’s okay, you’ll have Auntie Rainbow and Mr. Macintosh to be with you. You’ll have a fun week of camping and exploring and other good stuff. And what’s more, you’ll make friends your own age!”
“I don’t want to make friends my own age!” She protested. “All the fillies and colts say bad things about you! I don’t want to be friends with anypony that doesn’t like my mommy!”
Ditzy sighed in equal measures of pride and sadness. “Muffin, you can’t go through life without any friends, not for me.”
“I have friends!” Dinky protested. “You and Auntie Carrot Top and your friend Raindrops and Auntie Rainbow Dash and Doctor Whooves—”
“Those are grown ups honey. You need to make friends your age: friends you can talk to about things you’re going through.” She wrapped a gray wing around Dinky who sniffed loudly. “I’m proud that you feel like you can be so open with me, but everypony needs friends who are their peers. I can’t do that for you, be that for you. Now, you don't worry about silly ol' mommy.”
Dinky looked up, her eyes wet. “Are you…sure you’ll be okay?” Her voice cracked. She trembled.
“I will.” Ditzy assured her.
“P-rromise?” Dinky hiccuped.
The pegasus smiled. “I promise I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about silly ol’ mommy. And *you* promise to have fun, okay muffin?”
“You promise to be a good little muffin for me?” Ditzy asked gently.
“Yes momma.” Dinky promised.
“Because I’ll know if you don’t…” the gray mare smiled. “I see ALL!” She let her eyes spin in lazy circles, one clockwise the other counter-clockwise. Dinky giggled. Ditzy beamed. Perfect.
& & &
Pipsqueak wobbled under the weight of his enormous knapsack. The small pinto pony looked like a bag with tiny legs. “Want some help?” Looking up he saw a blue coated filly with purple eyes.
“Sure would!” He piped up with his Trottingham accented voice, sitting down to let her sort through his pack and rearrange its contents. “What’s your name, miss?” Pip asked as he put his knapsack back on.
The filly giggled as she helped him adjust his pack to make it easier to carry. “I’m not a miss! My name’s Archer. What’s yours?”
“Pipsqueak at your service!” Pip nodded, giving a sort of half-bow that one would give to royalty. “But you can call me Pip if you want. Thank you so much for helping!”
Archer flushed, her hoof coming up to her mouth to hide a giggle. “Wow, you’re a real gentlecolt aren’t you?”
Pip scuffed the ground with his hoof as he looked away modestly. “Gosh, it’s just how I was told to treat a nice filly.”
“You think I’m nice?” Archer smiled. “Wait until you get to know me.” She snickered as they both started walking to the center of town. “So you’re going on the camping trip too?”
It was then that Pip noticed that she was also carrying a backpack. “Sure am! I bet it’s gonna be loads of fun!”
“Same here. Do you know any of the other foals coming with us? I mean, they’re in my class but I really don’t know any of them.” She admitted.
Pip thought. “Well, I only moved here recently from Trottingham. I spent time collecting candy on Nightmare Night with Sweetie Belle and her friends. But that’s about it.”
“Well, I guess we’ll find out all about them by the time this week ends.” Archer said brightly, but this was belied by the sickly grimace that she wore in place of a smile. She sighed. There were some ponies who were always being noticed, like Diamond Tiara’s cute-ceañera or whatever the Cutie Mark Crusaders were up to. Nopony ever noticed her or invited her to anything.
If Pip noticed her melancholy mood, he didn’t say anything about it. All he said was, “I bet we’ll be great friends by the time we get back!”
Archer smiled. His good cheer was infectious. “Here’s hoping! Oh look, we’re here!”
& & &
The town square was full of little ponies: foals who were going on the trip and friends who wished they were. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were there, as was Snips and Diamond Tiara.
“Like I don’t know HOW I’ll manage without you to talk to.” Tiara was saying to Silver Spoon, clapping her hoof dramatically to her face. “This town is just, SO boring. And to think you’ll be stuck in the woods with a bunch of blank flanks and losers. I don’t know how you’ll be able to stand it!”
“Don’t remind me.” The gray pony muttered. “It’s gonna be just awful without you, I know it!” She looked miserable. “Before I go, can we….?”
“Sure!” Diamond Tiara said. “Ready?”
“Bump! Bump! Sugar Lump Rump!” The two fillies called out as the bumped their hooves, then their knees and finally their rumps together.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes at the display. “Ugh, I don’t know how you’re gonna stand being stuck with Silver Snob all week.” Her wings shuddered in disgust.
“M-maybe it won’t be that bad…” Sweetie Belle said weakly.
Scootaloo snorted. “Yeah right.” She crossed her hooves. “I don’t get why SHE gets to spend a week camping with Rainbow Dash and I don’t.”
Sweetie Belle shrunk down on the ground. “I’m sorry Scoots, I didn’t ask her to take me…”
“She knows that.” Apple Bloom put in, nudging Scootaloo. “Ignore her. It’ll be okay. Anyways, you’ll be with Big Macintosh! He’s the best!” She smiled, putting on a cheery face for Sweetie. “Why, ah’d be surprised if you didn’t get yourself a camping cutie mark by the end of the week!” Sweetie Belle looked up.
“R-really?” She squeaked.
“I jest know it!”
Snips and Snails just stood next to each other, fidgeting slightly and not speaking. Snips was in a quandary. He was obviously going to miss his best friend but he was a guy. How can he express that he’s strong yet sensitive, noble yet caring? Then his eyes gleamed as an idea came to him. Then Snips punched Snails in the shoulder with his hoof.
Snails blinked. “Ow.”
“All right my little campers, gather here please!” Cheerilee’s sunny voice called out from next to Big Macintosh. As the six campers stood in a row she turned to the red pony. “Do you know where Rainbow Dash is?”
He shook his head. “Eenope.”
“Oh dear, do you think she might have overslept? Perhaps we should—” A crack of lightning interrupted her thought and sent the foals squealing in shock. As one, everypony in the square looked up and saw a lone cloud hovering over it. Atop that cloud stood a familiar blue pegasus wearing a hat and had a whistle around her neck.
In one smooth motion she dove off the cloud and landed all four hooves on the ground at once, producing a loud CLACK!
“All right, listen up everypony!” Rainbow Dash marched up and down the row. “I am your Chief Head Awesome Counselor, Rainbow Dash! Some of you know me.” She nodded to Dinky who looked up at her with wide eyes. “Some of you do not.” Rainbow gave Silver Spoon a hooded look. “Either way, by the end of the week you and I will get to know each other very well. You might end up hating me. But that’s fine with me.” She stared down at the six young ponies standing before her. “This isn’t a kiddy romp with your mommies and daddies. This will be grueling week-long challenge for survival against the wilderness! You’re may be leaving as fillies and colts, but when you come back, you’ll be mares and stallions!”
Big Macintosh and Cheerilee traded a strained glance. He cleared his throat.
“Hm? Oh yeah! This is Big Macintosh my Junior Co-Counselor.”
“Junior?” Big Macintosh mumbled.
Rainbow Dash ignored him. “Now, Big Mac here will take a roll call. When he calls your name, let us know if you have any skills that can be of use camping. Oh and um, tell us something about yourself.” She added when Cheerilee cleared her throat.
Big Macintosh consulted a checklist Cheerilee had made for him. He cleared his throat. “Archer?”
“Here!” The blue filly raised her hoof. “I’m Archer and I’m…good at archery.” She shuffled awkwardly and looked down.
Rainbow Dash nodded. “Archery huh? That’s pretty cool.” Archer looked up and smiled. “Okay, glad to have you onboard. You can leave your sleeping bag with Big Macintosh. He’ll carry the tents and sleeping gear.
The red workpony looked at Rainbow Dash as this had not been discussed before. He sighed and said “Eeyup.” Archer dropped her sleeping bag at Big Mac’s hooves and gathered the rest of her belonging back. He checked the list. “Dinky Doo?”
“I’m here!” Dinky hopped in place. “I’m Dinky Doo aaaaand I’m good at making muffins!”
“Sounds like we’ve got ourselves a cook.” Rainbow Dash grinned. “Welcome to the most awesome camping trip you’ll ever be on! Stow your stuff with Big Red and get ready to have the time of your life.”
Macintosh snorted at the new nickname he had been bestowed with but said nothing but the next name on the list. “Pipsqueak?”
“Pipsqueak the camper, ready and waiting!” Pip saluted his counselors. “I brought a compass and I know all about the stars and constellations!”
Rainbow Dash returned his salute. “Sounds like you’re a useful pony to keep around there Pip. You’re in charge of the map!” The young colt beamed at the praise.
“Silver Spoon?” Big Mac called out.
“I’m here.” Silver Spoon said, looking a bit uneasy. “I’m, um…I’m really fashionable!”
Rainbow Dash facehooved. How Cheerilee talked her into taking her along “…just, give Big Macintosh your stuff.”
Big Macintosh tried his best in giving Silver Spoon a semblance of an encouraging smile, but since she was one of the fillies who routinely bullied his little sister, his best left much to be desired. Silver Spoon quickly ducked her head and dropped of her silver colored fancy looking sleeping bag. “Snails?” Big Mac drawled.
“…” Snails was tilting his head back, apparently looking at nothing. His eyes were glazed and unfocused.
“Snails?” Big Mac said again, a little louder.
“SNAILS!” Rainbow shouted. “Ten-HUT!” Snails head snapped back into place and gave a quick salute that ended up with him hitting his snout with his hoof.
“Oww….Here Miss Rainbow Dash counselor ma’am.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Spare me the ma’am stuff, kid. Now, you got anything you’re good at?”
Snails blinked slowly. He thought about it.
“…Well Snails?” Rainbow asked impatiently, hovering just off the ground.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Snails nodded. There were a few snickers and giggles.
Rainbow felt her face twitch. “Have you thought about what you’re good at?”
“…Oh yeah! I like snails!”
“Snails.” Rainbow Dash repeated, deadpan.
“…still better than Silver Spoon.” Dash muttered to herself. “NEXT!”
Big Macintosh got to the bottom of the list. “Sweetie Belle?”
Sweetie waved her hoof and jumped as if she was one in a throng of thousands. “Ooh, ooh here I am! I’m Sweetie Belle and I’m—” she took a deep breath. “A CUTIE MARK CRUSADER!”
Rainbow Dash and Big Mac leaned away as she belted out her announcement. “Whoa…” Rainbow thumped her ears, waiting for the ringing to die down. “Next time I need a cheering section I definitely know who I’m gonna call. You got any other skills?”
“Um, well, I’m good at sewing just like my big sister!” She proclaimed. “See? I even made the official Cutie Mark Crusader capes! I’m wearing mine now!” Sure enough, she was indeed wearing the red cape with a crudely stitched on blue shield with a golden pony.
Rarity felt a vein in her head throb at seeing her designer outfits and gowns compared with Sweetie’s heartfelt but very amateur efforts.
“Hm, what else ya got?” Rainbow asked.
Sweetie looked down. “Um, I don’t know…”
This got Rainbow Dash confused. “Hey, aren’t you a great si—” She trailed off when she saw Rarity shake her head. Rainbow Dash couldn’t simply tell Sweetie what her special talent was, not if Sweetie was to discover it for herself. “Never mind.” The pegasus sighed. “Okay, looks like we’ve got ourselves a pretty awesome group here. Could be more awesome, but hey, that’s what this trip is for! Now, I’m gonna lead us out to Whitetail Woods. Big Mac will bring up the rear. Stay in a straight line and don’t lose sight of the camper in front of you.”
With a flap of her wings, Rainbow zoomed up and took point. “C’mon troops, follow me!”
“Bye Rarity!” Sweetie Belle waved to her sister as she started walking. “Goodbye Apple Bloom, goodbye Scootaloo! I’ll miss you all!”
“Us too Sweetie!” Rarity waved a silk hanky from her hoof. “Have fun!”
“See ya buddy!” Snips called out to Snails.
“Good luck Silver Spoon! You’ll need it!” Diamond Tiara said in what was meant to be a somewhat comforting send off.
Ditzy sniffled. “Goodbye muffin! Stay safe!” Rarity offered her the hanky. “Thank you…” HONK! The mailmare loudly blew her nose. She offered Rarity back the moist hanky, which Rarity generously let her keep.
Dinky waved as she started out too. “Bye momma!”
Big Macintosh gave Apple Bloom a hug. “Now you mind Granny Smith and take care of the farm ‘til AJ and I git home.”
“Yes Big Mac! You have fun!” The little filly hugged back.
“Eeyup.” Big Macintosh grinned as he took his place at the end of the line of campers as they marched out of town.
& & &