"Will somepony please help...!!!" Yelled Apple Bloom, as Diamond Tiara ended up in an undignified heap on the floor, completely motionless.
The farm filly was combating simultaneous feelings of guilt, anger and concern. Could she and her fellow Crusaders have handled the big showdown with Silver Spoon better than they had? Did she come in at an inopportune time? Did they say something wrong? Maybe, they should have given Diamond more space to sort things out herself...
She was also pretty miffed at Spoon for, in her opinion, completely overreacting to the situation. Who cares where Tiara lives, what other ponies call her and what clubs she's a member of, as long as she's safe? Thanks to Silver blowing up in Diamond's face, it now looked like all the good progress the pink filly had made since this morning was to be found at the bottom of the moldy apple bucket.
It wasn't really Bloom's place to say, but maybe if Silver couldn't accept the new changes in her friend's life, perhaps it was best if the grey filly stayed away. Especially if future contact was going to end up with this kind of result. After all, the health and safety of Tiara was paramount above everything else...
Her deliberations were cut short by the appearance of Miss Cheerilee, who'd rushed through the hoards of children surrounding their group to grab Diamond's prostrate form and cradle it with such tender care, you'd think she was a mother herself.
"W-What..." The teacher stammered, temporarily at a loss for words. "H-how did this happen, and why are you all standing around here?!"
"S-she, w-we, S-Silver S-Spoon, D-Di, f-fainted..." Sweetie Belle, now free from the confines of Scootaloo's grasp, tried her best to communicate the situation, but ended up making about as much sense as Pinkie Pie with a mouth full of frosting.
Cheerilee breathed a sigh of relief. "Never mind. If she only fainted, then it can't be too serious. We'd still better get her checked in at the hospital, though. It's funny that this is the second member of this family it's happened to this morning. Maybe it's congenital. Anyway, Scootaloo you're the fastest filly here. Could you please run as fast as you can, and fetch somepony with a wagon, so we can take her to get looked at? "
The orange pegasus didn't need to be told twice, and zoomed off to locate an individual who matched those specifications, pondering all the way what 'congenital' meant.
"Now..." Cheerilee decided to adorn her most authoritative face. "We've all had a bit of excitement this recess, but I think that it's high time we all came inside and settled down. Seeing as how I appear to have my hooves full right now, I'll have to cancel my original lesson plan, so next session will be Free Study..."
The assembled colts and fillies ears immediately pricked up upon hearing those two last magic words, and straightaway interpreted it as 'Do What We Like Hour'. All thoughts of what had just transpired fell from their little minds, and they began a miniature stampede forward that brought forth clouds of dust, while Cheerilee adroitly covered Diamond's nose and mouth.
Soon there was nopony left in the playground, as they were all inside retrieving smuggled-in comics, throwing scrunched up paper missiles at each other, scrawling badly on the chalkboard... Although, Miss Cheerilee would have been impressed by some of the artist impressions of her idealised form.
The only ones missing from this unexpected bonus of a free period indoors were Scootaloo, still on her essential errand, Sweetie Belle, in the middle of picking Scoots fur out of her mouth, Miss Cheerilee, involved in the care of a still unresponsive Diamond Tiara and Apple Bloom, who had returned to her private thoughts.
And of course there was Silver Spoon, who still hadn't returned from her little walkabout from the acrimonious scene she'd instigated in front of so many witnesses. The grey filly had disappeared into the nether, without realising her former bestie was out for the count.
Nopony had much chance to miss her though, as soon Scootaloo came roaring back, travelling in style on the back of a wagon driven by a stallion who, at least from Apple Bloom's perspective, looked very familiar...
"Sorry...*GASP*... This... *WHEEZE*... Was all... *COUGH*... I could find...." Scootaloo was completely out of breath, which was a rare sight indeed, indicating that the orange pegasus must have run quite some distance to find the vehicle she'd guided to the school.
As for the driver, he was a yellow pony with a blue mane, and he wandered over to Miss Cheerilee and her unconscious charge with a courteous smile. "Howdy there, ma'am. I hear one of your little fillies has been taken ill, and I'm here to take her to the hospital. Rest assured, we'll get her there as soon as possible."
"Oh, thank you kind sir!" Cheerilee blushed slightly at the civil tone of the stallion, not to mention because he was quite handsome. "Whatever would we have done without you? And cheers to you too, Scootaloo for being so swift. Not that I would have expected any less from the protege of Rainbow Dash..."
"I-it's f-fine, M-Miss C-Cheerilee. A-all i-in a-a d-days w-work..." The orange pegasus looked proud at the comparison, even as she was ready to do a Diamond Tiara and collapse of exhausion there and then. She just managed to hold it together, though.
"You're telling me..." The yellow stallion was also effusive in his praise for the speedster "This little missy came out of nowhere, like a bolt from the blue, telling me one of her friends was in urgent need of medical care. So, even though it was peak business hour, I dumped my cache of fruit immediately to make my way down here. Sure, I'll lose out on profits, but that's nothing compared to the well-being of a child. Now, shall we get her loaded onto the... what?!"
The stallion's mood suddenly changed from amiability to shock, and then irritation in a heartbeat, and after having a closer look at him, Apple Bloom soon realised why. This fellow before them was no other than Green Grapes, the same pony who'd helped pinpoint Tiara's location earlier inside Sugarcube Corner when the pink filly had done a runner...
And also the same pony who Diamond had cost a day's takings when she flipped his barrow full of apples over, to try and stop the Crusaders during their pursuit of her through Ponyville a few days earlier. Oops.
This was the exact point Green Grapes was making to Cheerilee that very moment "... Then she spilled my produce all over the ground, and without so much as a how's-your-father, she ran off! I've just sacrificed ANOTHER batch of fruit, to carry this spoiled little brat to where she needs to be! Tell me, why should I help anypony like that..."
"Sir, please!!" Cheerilee, stroking Tiara;s mane in her hooves, was beginning to get a little fed-up of this stallion's bellyaching. "What she did or didn't do, and what she cost you is somewhat irrelevant right now. What you're looking at here is a filly in desperate of attention, and if you won't transport her to the clinic, I will! So, if you'd kindly move aside, I'll take it from here..."
With her first duty always to her pupils, the teacher didn't hesitate to shove Green Grapes out of the way, before depositing Diamond safely in the back of the wagon, and beginning to attach herself to the front.
Taken a little aback at the brusque response from the seemingly docile mare, the yellow stallion realised he had no choice. "Very well..." He shook his head in bewilderment. "I'll do it. But I'll be wanting a little word with this filly when she wakes up. She owes me for a day worth of apples, at least. I think she can afford to replace them, after all..."
"Actually, I don't think she could, now..." Apple Bloom felt like it was her turn to step forward. " Her circumstances have changed somewhat recently. I'll tell you about it on the way to the hospital. After all, it'll be nice for her to see a member of her new family when she eventually comes to..."
Green Grapes was surprised enough at the sudden emergence of the farm filly, but when she started spouting on about the little snob being a member of Bloom's family, he was more confused than ever. "What...?" was his plaintive reply.
"I told you, I'll fill you in on all the details on the journey." Bloom climbed into the wagon next to Tiara, propping her head up with her hooves. "We better get going. Miss Cheerilee, is it okay if I accompany Di to the clinic? I promised Applejack I'd keep a close eye on her all day, after all."
The teacher was about to object, but then realised that the farm filly's suggestion was probably the best idea all round. She couldn't go there herself, having a class full of rowdies to supervise, and unable to get cover at such short notice. Plus, what with it just being a 'study period' Bloom wouldn't really be missing much in terms of education, and it was apparent that among all the new friends Tiara had made, her kinship with the youngest Apple was the closest that had been formed.
"Okay, that's fine. But, you two are going to stay here!" Cheerilee didn't need Zecora's crystal ball to know that the next words out of Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle's mouths were going to be Can we come too?!
So, instead the duo made do with crossing their hooves in a moody pout, while exclaiming a simultaneous "Aaawwww!"
Cheerilee grinned at their petulance. They obviously cared deeply for their new friend, but she feared three Crusaders in the vicinity of such a sensitive building could lead to disaster. Operations being cancelled, recuperating ponies being made sick again, the whole future of Ponyville healthcare could be in jeopardy...
She wouldn't be responsible for such wanton destruction.
So she tried the tact of distraction." I just thought of something. Scootaloo, weren't you constructing that brilliant ramp out of paper-mache just last week? I'd love to see it, and if possible, get a demonstration later. Sweetie Belle, what about that new spell you were working on? The one that lets you change the colour of your fur? It sounds unlikely, but I'm always prepared to be convinced..."
It worked like a charm.The unicorn and pegasus looked at each other with excitement, all thoughts of accompanying Apple Bloom on her trip banished from their minds.
"I'm first!" Scootaloo shoved Sweetie to the side as she rushed to the front door, her stamina apparently fully recovered.
"Hey, that's not fair... You're always first!" Sweetie was most put out by Scootaloo's dirty move, and tried to hold her in place with her magic.
As Cheerilee tried to contain the mini-rivalry, Green Grapes turned to Apple Bloom, just before they set off. "I do wonder, kid. How a salt-of-the-earth filly like you ended up being part of the same family as a well-to-do sort like this. I hope you'll tell me the whole story, because we have a bit of a ways to travel..."
Apple Bloom grinned at the chance to disclose for the umpteenth time the marvelous tale of how she got her cutie mark. "Well, if you really want to know, I'll do the short version. It all started the day me and my fellow Crusaders were at our clubhouse, when we heard a knock on the door..."
And with that, the cart embarked to it's destination, with the well-wishes of Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, who by now had been collared by Miss Cheerilee, echoing behind them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the class had built a sturdy fort made entirely of desks and tables, and were in the middle of a reenactment of that well-known best-selling novel of two warring tribes of young ponies stuck on a desert island together, titled Lord Of The Parasprites.
You'd think Miss Cheerilee would have picked up by now, that rather than free periods being the least stressful of options at a time of crisis, they were by far the most demanding.
Oh well, she'd learn. One day.
Also, there was a nagging sensation at the back of the teacher's mind that there was something she'd needed to tell Apple Bloom about the hospital, but due to the mental strain of having to separate a certain young unicorn and pegasus, she'd completely forgotten to. It was too late now, as well.
Still, it couldn't have been THAT important, or she'd have remembered...
Silver Spoon felt like a little filly lost.
Unaware of the fate that had befallen Diamond Tiara, she'd stopped crying a while ago, and was now just roaming around Ponyille aimlessly, not sure what to do next.
She'd never been tardy from school before, but for the moment her perfect attendance record was the last thing on her mind.
Was this really it? It had been hard enough to reconnect with her best friend after their first break-up, but getting back together after their second big row in less than a week? Hard to imagine.
The irony was, she was probably now in the same position as Diamond Tiara was herself a few days ago. Wandering around the town, friendless, with nopony to keep her company other than herself.
Did she regret anything she said to Tiara? Yes, of course she did. She was angry. Angry ponies have a tendency to express themselves rather too vehemently for their good.
The gist of what she'd relayed to Diamond was still accurate, though. How could her former friend choose that stinky filly above her. How could she just let them call her by that special name as if it were nothing. How could she join their stupid little club after spending so long bashing it. How could she...
Just... Change so much? In the space of one evening?
This had to be the influence of those three. At first, when Tiara had modified her behaviour for the better, and stopped bullying others, Silver was happy. The Crusaders were her own personal heroines. They'd managed to accomplish what she'd failed at for years by improving her best friend's attitude.
Now, she wasn't so sure. Not if that new attitude came with Silver being neglected. Not if that new behaviour came with Tiara spending most of her time with more common ponies.
Yes, Silver Spoon was never as stuck-up as Diamond was at her peak, but she was still raised to have certain standards. And hanging around a dirty farm, watching somepony constantly fail at magic tricks and getting splashed by mud from a speeding scooter all day simply wouldn't do.
The old Tiara would never have gone in for those kind of uncouth, rough activities.
And now, judging by the company she was now keeping, and the closeness of their relationship after just one day, they were among her favourite things.
Silver Spoon just couldn't understand it. In fact, at this present moment in time, she was finding it difficult to decide who was having a more damaging effect on Diamond's psyche, her mother, or the Crusaders.
And, that's when it hit her.
She hadn't called Diamond Tiara 'Di' in her head for the first time since...
She no longer thought of the pink filly as her best friend. They no longer possessed that special connection that once seemed unbreakable.
And, worst of all, never again would the streets of Ponyville, Canterlot, Manehattan and the rest of Equestria resound with that inimitable chant they'd formulated since that first trip away they took together...
How did it go again...
LUMP, BUMP, SUGARLUMP...
She couldn't even finish the line.
A single tear rolled down her cheek.
Despite Spoon's earlier words of strength, despite her ferocity when facing Tiara, despite all of her so-called desire to make a clean break....
She wanted her friend back. Just the way she was (minus the bullying, of course).
Silver didn't care who she'd have to step over to do that. Whether it was the tyrant, Spoiled...
Or those interfering Crusaders, who'd she'd been indebted to, until recently.
But, what to do next. She needed to think...
And, she had the perfectly location in mind.
She sauntered off with a spring in her step, feeling much better than before.
Everything was going to be okay.