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“Hup-two, hup-two, keep up the pace ponies!” Rainbow Dash flew over the line of little ponies huffing and puffing as they marched through Whitetail Woods.
Silver Spoon was the first to complain. “My legs huuuuuurt!” She whined. “Can’t we stop?”
While not liking Silver Spoon or her tone, other campers nodded in agreement and echoed her thoughts. “It’s really hot out.” Archer wiped a dirty hoof across her forehead.
“My coat’s all sweaty.” Sweetie Belle pouted. “And sticky!”
Rainbow Dash hovered above them. “Hey, hey no whining!”
“But I’m not whining, I’m complaining!” Sweetie pointed out. “Rarity, says that whining is—”
“NO!” Rainbow Dash held up her hooves. “None of that!” She shuddered. “Look, we’ve still got a ways to go before we can set up camp for the night. You know what makes marching easier?”
“Wings?” Silver Spoon muttered bitingly as she tried to repair her fraying braid.
“A good old fashioned marching song!” Rainbow smiled. “Nothing better to keep everypony marching in step and to get their blood pumping.”
Pip hopped in place. “Wow, a real marching song! Like the Royal Guard sing?” He asked in awe.
“A song does sound nice.” Sweetie admitted.
Archer nodded. “Well, if it distracts us from the heat, I’ll try anything!”
“That’s the spirit!” Rainbow nodded. “And this isn’t just any boring old marching song, this is a song composed by yours truly!”
“Whoa…that means it must be awesome!” Snails nodded languidly.
“Go on Auntie Rainbow! Sing it, sing it!” Dinky pleaded.
Silver Spoon snorted. “Kiss up.” She grumbled, just loud enough for Dinky to hear her. Dinky glared at her. But without further ado, Rainbow Dash launched into her self-proclaimed, epic marching song.
“Sha-nananananana-na-na-na! Goin' on an adventure! Sha-nananananana-nana-
na! Goin' on an adventure! C’mon everypony, sing with me now!”
Big Macintosh barely suppressed the impulse to facehoove himself.
The campers looked at each other and gave a raggedy, lackluster chorus of “sha-nanananas.” Rainbow Dash looked disgusted.
“Is that the best you can do? C’mon I’ve heard Fluttershy sing louder than that!” She flapped her wings indignantly. Big Macintosh stepped forward.
“Maybe they should start with a simpler song?” He suggested. “Something nice an’ easy?”
“Ugh, fine.” Rainbow crossed her forelegs in a sulk. Kids these days…no appreciation for good music. “What do you have in mind?”
Big Mac shrugged. “Nuttin’ fancy, just an’ old tune mah pappy used to sing when he was working.” He cleared his throat. “The Road goes ever on and on. Out from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, let others follow it who can…” Surprisingly, the big deep throated work horse had a powerful but smooth voice. The campers walked ahead in quiet awe, their faces transfixed by something only they could see; some vision given by Big Mac’s song. Even Silver Spoon refrained from making any comments or sneers.
Rainbow Dash felt her jaw drop as she kept her eyes fixated on Big Macintosh’s gentle singing. She was so distracted she flew straight into a tree. Sliding down the trunk, she collapsed into the bushes at the bottom of the tree as her campers and co-counselor marched on without her.
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The camping party was still making its way through the Whitetail Woods. Rainbow Dash had rejoined them shortly after her unplanned stop and quickly zoomed back to the head of the group. They had sung another couple of songs before everypony stopped to rest their throats. It was late afternoon when tempers started to fray.
“Ugh!” Silver Spoon grunted as she bumped into the pony ahead of her when she stopped short. “Hey! Move it!”
Dinky Doo, who was the one in front of her, turned around. “I got a rock stuck in my hoof!” She wiggled her right front leg as she tried to shake it loose.
The gray filly glared at her. “Then move aside and let me go ahead!”
“Hey that’s not nice!” Sweetie Belle, who was behind, Silver Spoon protested. “Why don’t you actually try to help her?”
“Puh-lease!” Silver Spoon sniffed. “As if! It figures you two blank flanks would stick together! Stinky Doo and Sweaty Smell!”
Sweetie Belle glared at her. “You take that back!” She butted her face forward against Silver Spoon’s face.
“Nu uh!” Silver pushed back.
“Then I’m gonna start calling you, um, Slither Goon!” Sweetie shouted.
“That’s not even a thing!”
“It is too a thing!”
“Stop!” The two girls turned to see Pipsqueak standing before them. He lowered his head. “I’m sorry, but could you girls please not fight? Aren’t we supposed to be making friends?”
Silver Spoon looked over the top of her glasses at the diminutive pinto and was about to make some snide remark about his size or lack of a cutie mark (or both) when she stopped. The way his eyes, almost too large for his head, seemed to water as he pleaded with them. And his accent…Silver Spoon felt her face heat, dimly noticing a red flush across Sweetie Belle’s pale white face as well. Her eats heated. Silver Spoon shook her head and backed away, mumbling something that MIGHT’VE been an apology.
Sweetie followed her as they continued on. That just left Dinky, who was staring with confusion at what had just happened. First somepony she didn’t know had stood up for her, then another pony stopped a fight that seemed to be brewing and implored them all to be friends. What was going on?
Pip made his way over to Dinky. “Hello! You’re Dinky right?”
“Y-yeah.” Dinky nodded as she sat back on her rump. “And you’re Pipsqueak?”
“Sure am! But you can call me Pip. Here, let me help you with that.” Pip took his smaller hoof and gently started trying to pry that stone that was caught in Dinky’s hoof. When that didn’t work he leaned his face in and carefully closed his teeth around the errant rock.
Dinky felt herself shudder as Pip’s warm breath wafted on her hoof and she couldn’t figure out why she was flushing. After a moment of wiggling, Pip popped his head up with a rock between his teeth. “Ta da!” He mumbled before spitting the rock out to the side. “You okay?”
“Yeah…” Dinky said numbly. “Never better…” She blushed.
Pip was oblivious “Great! C’mon let’s go catch up!”
Dinky blinked, her knees feeling all shaky and twitchy like Miss Pinkie Pie. Then she shook herself and called out. “Hey, wait for me!” She ran after him, laughing.
Silver Spoon sulked as she kept her head down on the march, trying to shut out the noise of Pip and Dinky laughing as they raced on ahead. “It’s not fair.” She grumbled. “Everypony’s ganging up on me! I wish Diamond Tiara was here…then at least I’d have somepony to talk to on this dumb trip.”
She gave a sad smile, imagining just what Diamond Tiara would say if she were here. “Like, what do you care if a bunch of dumb blank flanks stick together? Who needs them?”
That was Diamond all over. She was so strong and confident…Silver Spoon wished she could be more like her. After all, she came from one of the oldest families in town and everypony listened to her…why shouldn’t she? At least Diamond Tiara noticed her. It was more than anypony else did—including her parents! Just going off on some dumb trip and leaving her to rot in the wilderness. If it weren’t for Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon didn’t know what she would do.
Besides, she and Diamond Tiara were BFFs! They had their own secret hoofshake! And it was waaay better than that lame club the blank flanks put together. They probably were just copying them. Silver Spoon nodded. Yeah, that was it. Sweetie Belle and her friends just copied what her and Diamond Tiara had. What they had was special and those no-account blank flanks just stole it!
Lashing her braid like a coiled viper, Silver Spoon gave an unlady-like snort. Well, Diamond Tiara wouldn’t let herself get all worked up over what the blank flanks were doing. Let them plot and plan and scheme, Silver Spoon didn’t care! She didn’t need them.
She didn’t need anypony. “…Then why am I so upset?” Silver Spoon wondered as she rubbed her face, not wanting anypony to have the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
It was about a half hour later, just as the shadows were growing long, that Rainbow Dash came down from the air and called a halt to the march. “Okay sports! Fall in!” One by one, six little ponies and one big pony stood in a half circle around Rainbow. “All right, champs. See this?” She waved one wing at a small clearing. “This will be our campsite.”
There were six relieved sighs as a half dozen tired fillies and colts slumped down on their rumps. Rainbow couldn’t help but give a little smile. “Yeah, I know you’re tired. You squirts did good today. But it’s not bedtime yet. You’ve got to set up camp, pitch the tents, collect wood for the fire, refill the canteens…” A chorus of groans fill the air.
“Perhaps we should help them out this one time Miss Dash.” Big Macintosh suggested.
“Hmm…” Rainbow thought about it. Then she shrugged her wings. “Okay, Big Mac will help you guys set up the tents and I’ll show you guys the way to the river so next time you’ll know what to do. But first thing’s first.” She gave Big Macintosh a nod as he started pawing around his saddle bag. Dash looked back to the group. “Each of you will be getting a hat and a whistle.” As she spoke, Big Mac walked around, placing a baseball cap on each filly or colt’s head and a whistle on a string that he put around their neck. “The whistle is in case any of you get lost. If you do get lost, don’t run around. Stay where you are and whistle until someone finds you. And the hat is to show that you are an awesome camper.” She smirked.
Dinky beamed as Big Macintosh put her hat on (with a special hole for her horn). “Neat!”
“So what do we do?” Pip asked, sounding excited.
Rainbow Dash nodded to Big Macintosh, who cleared his throat. “Ah need two of you to stay in camp and help me set up the tents. Any volunteers?”
“I’ll help!” Pip raised his hoof immediately. Snails raised his too.
“All right then.” Big Macintosh nodded. “Two of you will go with Miss Dash to the river to get fresh water for our canteens and for our dinner.”
This time Dinky was first to raise her hoof. “Me! I wanna do it!”
“I’ll help!” Sweetie Belle added.
“Next, I need somepony to gather some small branches for firewood.”
Archer stepped forward. “I’ve got that.”
“Good, stay in sight of camp though.”
Silver Spoon looked around. “Well, it seems like that’s everything. I guess I’ll unroll my sleeping bag and…” Big Mac put a giant red hoof down in her path.
“Not so fast little lady. Ah need some pony to go fifty paces and dig us a trench.”
“Dig? No way!” Silver Spoon shook her head. “Besides, what do we need a trench for?”
“Business.” Big Macintosh answered.
“Huh?” Silver Spoon looked confused. So did one or two of the other ponies.
Big Macintosh sighed. “Ya might’ve noticed that we ain’t in a place with running water. S’why we gotta fill up our canteens if we want a drink.” Not seeing the message sinking in fast enough, he elaborated. “So since there ain’t no bathrooms out here, you’ll need a trench when nature calls.”
“EWWWWW!” The campers squealed, Silver Spoon loudest of all. “There’s no way I’m doing THAT!” She shrieked.
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Then I hope you can hold it for a week. In the meantime, get digging.”
“No!” Silver Spoon stomped her hoof. “That’s gross! And besides, you can get any pony to dig! Make somepony else do it!”
The cyan pegasus narrowed her eyes, no give within her. “No way. You had a chance to volunteer sooner but you didn’t because you hoped that you wouldn’t have to do anything. Next time we’re assigning camp jobs, you’ll know better.”
“You can’t make me!” Silver Spoon protested. “One of the blank flanks can do it!”
Rainbow stomped her hoof against the ground. Hard. She snorted and flapped her wings in an expression of anger. Silver Spoon, sensing too late that she’d gone too far, crouched down low to the ground, trying to make herself smaller. “I don’t want to hear you say that EVER again.” Rainbow Dash ground out, keeping hold of her temper with all four hooves. “Now get this through your head kid. It doesn’t matter who you are or who your parents are. Out here, I call the shots and I make the rules. And the rule is this: if you don’t work, then you don’t eat. I seriously doubt you wanna try your luck walking back to Ponyville.” She tucked her wings aside and turned away from her. “You’re stuck here for the next week, so you might as well try to make the best of it. You see these campers here?” She waved one wing demonstratively. “They’re your only peers for miles. So maybe you’re gonna want to make nice with them. Because if you’re not willing to have THEIR back when things get rough, you can’t count on them to have YOURS.”
Silver Spoon sniffled, looking down at the ground in shame.
Rainbow Dash looked around at the silent campers. “What’s everypony staring at? You know you’ve got jobs to do. Now let’s hustle!” She took to the air and slowly started making her way to the river with Dinky and Sweetie Belle hurrying after her, laden with canteens and a cooking pot.
Pip and Snails started pulling out the tents, still wrapped around their poles. Pip was wobbling from side to side as he tried to carry one on his own. Big Mac gingerly picked up the pole, Pip and all, with his teeth with as little effort as another pony would use to pick up a quill.
“Whoa…” Pipsqueak’s eyes were wide as he dangled in midair. “You must be the biggest, strongest pony ever!”
Big Mac gave a modest shrug as he walked over to a bare patch of ground that would be a good spot for a tent. He turned around to see Snails stuck headfirst in an unrolled sleeping bag and sighed.
Archer, left alone with the despondent Silver Spoon, gave her a gentle nudge with her snout. “Um, I guess that just leaves us. Want me to come with you?”
“Go away.” Silver Spoon covered her head with her forelegs. “Leave me alone.”
“C’mon, Silver Spoon, it’ll be okay.” Archer paused as Silver Spoon looked up.
The gray filly sighed. “…Fine. At least you’re not a blank flank.” With a disgusted look on her muzzle, she picked up a small shovel with her mouth and followed Archer as she collected small branches and twigs to put in her saddlebags for firewood. The blue pony worked in silence, not really knowing what to say or do. She may have been in the same class as Silver Spoon and the others, but she wasn’t really part of any group and generally went unnoticed.
Silver Spoon, too tired to walk anymore, just started weakly digging at a spot on the ground. Archer walked around in a circle looking for more wood. Then she stopped behind Silver Spoon and asked, “Why do you care if other ponies have their cutie marks yet or not?”
Letting her shovel drop from her mouth, Silver Spoon turned around. “Well, duh! Having a cutie mark is important. If you don’t have one it means that you totally don’t have any talents, that you’re not special!”
“No it doesn’t!” Archer argued. “It just means that you haven’t found your talent yet. It doesn’t mean that a pony doesn’t have any.”
“Why do you care? You’ve *got* your cutie mark.” Silver Spoon turned her head to look at it.
Archer looked back at her flank and examined her mark. “Yeah and I’m really proud of it! I was SO happy when I got it!”
“See?” Silver Spoon was smug.
“But that doesn’t mean that I make fun of ponies who don’t have their mark!” Archer exclaimed. “It’s just not nice! Why would you want to be mean like that?”
“Mean? I’m not mean.” Silver Spoon protested. “I’m just telling the truth!”
“So ponies who have their cutie marks are just better than ponies without them?” Archer inquired.
“So, why don’t you hang out with Snails more? He has HIS cutie mark.” She pointed out.
“Guh, Snails?! Oh come on he’s such a dork!”
Archer rolled her eyes but let that pass. “Then I guess you can have a cutie mark and not be cool?”
“Totally!” Silver Spoon rolled her eyes.
“Then I guess you can have ponies who ARE cool but who DON’T have their cutie mark yet!” Archer exclaimed triumphantly, proud she remembered Miss Cheerilee’s lesson on logical fallacies. Of course, she only barely managed to stay awake when she brought Miss Twilight Sparkle in as a guest speaker.
Silver Spoon’s mouth opened but no sound came out. She looked at Archer as if she’d grown a second head. “T-that’s not—No!” She stamped her hoof.
“What about that friend of yours, Diamond Tiara?” Archer pressed on. “Was she lame before she got her cutie mark?”
Now Silver Spoon looked appalled. “Of course not!”
“I—I dunno!” The gray pony gave a shiver. “Please stop…”
“So what changed after you got your cutie mark?” Archer stepped forward. “Did you have a totally different ponyality or something? Did you grow wings or a horn?” Silver Spoon backed up until her rump hit a tree.
“So what changed when you got your cutie mark?” Archer asked firmly.
“DIAMOND TIARA NOTICED ME!” Silver Spoon shouted as tears started trickling down her cheeks. “I HAD A FRIEND!” A dead silence reigned in the woods, broken only by Silver Spoon’s sniffling.
“But…” Archer was confused. “You got your mark BEFORE Diamond Tiara did.”
“Y-yeah.” Silver Spoon sniffed. “A-and my parents were away when I got it. I didn’t even get a cute-ceañera for another month when they came back! Diamond Tiara was the only one who—” sniff “—made me feel special when I got it.”
“Aww, gee. I’m sorry.” Archer moved close and leaned against her. “It’s okay.”
“No it’s not!” Silver Spoon sniffed. “Diamond Tiara’s not here and I’m all alone! All the ponies hate me—even the grown ups!”
“Well, I don’t hate you.” The blue coated filly gave a little smile. “And I think everypony else would like you too if you didn’t act all…you know. Snobby and mean.”
Silver Spoon shrunk down. “Sorry.” She squeaked.
“S’okay, everypony makes mistakes.” Archer shrugged and sat down next to her. “Feeling better?”
“I ‘unno.” Silver Spoon mumbled. Archer gave her a nudge.
“Just relax Spoony! I’ll help you get used to this camping stuff and we’ll make this fun! I promise!”
Silver Spoon looked up at her, her eyes shimmering. She opened her mouth but all she could get out was: “…Spoony?”
“What?” Her companion said defensively. “I think it’s a pretty cool nickname! You got a problem with it?”
Shaking her head, the gray filly sputtered. “N-no of course not! Please don’t be angry…”
Archer winked. “Relax silly filly, I was just kidding!”
“Oh.” Silver Spoon giggled. It was actually a pretty cute sound when she wasn’t trying to make her laughter sound insulting or demeaning. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for.” Archer shrugged as they got to their hooves. Then she gave a sudden start and gulped as she looked at something behind Silver Spoon. “Except for one thing…”
“Yeah?” Silver Spoon gulped, looking where Archer’s head was pointed.
“Sitting down next to a skunk’s burrow!” She shrieked, pointing.
The two fillies whirled to see an annoyed looking black and white stripped skunk, its tail arced and pointing towards the two fillies. Their screams echoed through the woods.
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