• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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The Fault in Our Cutie Marks

Before Alex even knew I existed, I had been holding this giant weight on my shoulders for the longest time. To think that I could last until the end of time just watching over him was absolutely crazy now that I thought about it. Learning from our past experience with Chrysalis, I figured that if I just stay out of his life while continuing to protect him as much as I could, that would be my place in this so-called life. Obviously, that determination had all but stood strong.

Even when I revealed myself to him, he didn't know a single thing about me, and I had to admit that, even though he had no fault with any of it, I still couldn't help but be furious about it. Maybe I was even furious at him, but I knew I was mostly angry at myself. I started to "befriend" him, but it still burned me up inside to see him treat me as some pony who was just "another friend".

Of course, after the case with Night Terror, our supposed "father" so to speak, every other pony unraveled the first mysterious layer revolving me. To sum things up, I was the "light" that protected Alex to the best of my abilities. I can't say I was destined to be his light, but I was tired of always getting in his way and feeling that I was never really of use to him.

But, that wasn't the end.

You could say it was only half the battle.

While I felt like I could express myself a lot more freely afterwards, there was something that still held me back significantly. I was his sister. The pony he grew up with since we had been both born as twin siblings. We weren't identical, but we were just born at the same time. Personally, I actually like that we look nothing alike. There's just something engrossing about the two of us being compared to day and night.

Going back to the issue on hoof, knowing I was his sister, yet trying to keep him from finding out, was an absolute pain. Some ponies out there might think that I should have just told him straight up, but to those ponies, let me answer your question with another question.

Would you be comfortable telling someone you're their sibling from an alternate timeline? It's just as crazy as telling some pony you're from the future. Then again, with the kind of magic that exists, maybe it wouldn't. Nothing about this has ever made sense to me, but it's just the kind of world we live in. If you know me, I like to live in the world as carefree as I can.

Despite these issues I've had to overcome, I can say that I feel a lot better about myself. There's no more trying to hide certain things from certain ponies because of the fear of how they'll react. I've practically told Alex everything already, so now I don't have to be anxious about slipping something out.

If I had name one thing that still concerned me, it would probably be my cutie mark.

Actually, it was the lack of a cutie mark.

Everypony in Ponyville had their cutie mark, aside from the foals and fillies, of course. I used to get stares in town every now and then, but I think every pony knows me as that "one mare without her mark" by now. Whenever I think about what they could possibly be thinking about me, I get kind of nervous, but I usually just ignore it, especially when it comes to being around some pony else.

Will I ever actually get my cutie mark?

The Cutie Mark Crusaders believe I will.

But, judging from what I've put myself into, I can't confidently agree with their philosophy.

Something about screwing with time and my very existence also had to screw with my very cutie mark. After all, how's a pony who technically doesn't exist supposed to find something that revolves around their purpose? The worst part of this was… I couldn't get a definite answer.

If I was to be told that I definitely wouldn't be getting a cutie mark because of what I did, sure, I would be hurt. But, after fixing practically all of my other problems, I'm sure it's not crazy to think I would get over it soon enough. However, with the idea of my cutie mark still existing up in the clouds, it was hard to completely get over the fact that it may still be possible to earn it, and it didn't help that the Cutie Mark Crusaders constantly tried to motivate me into doing various irrelevant things to earn said cutie mark.

Lately, I've noticed that I've been spending more and more time on the outside like a normal pony. This included going to bed on an actual bed instead of Alex's dreams. When I woke up, I noticed Alex was nowhere to be found. I could have easily found him with one use of my "magic", but I wasn't sure what he was doing exactly. After all, I didn't want to witness things getting "steamy" if he was with Fluttershy.

After leaving the room, the first place I made my way towards was the library, expecting to find Twilight in there. As expected, I not only found Twilight but her "pupil" Starlight as well.

"Good morning, Athena!" Starlight greeted me when she spotted me at the door.

"Morning." I lazily answered, brushing my hoof through my disheveled mane. "Any of you know where Alex went?"

"Oh," Twilight responded, pulling her head away from her books. "He said he was going to go take Fluttershy out for a date. He'll probably be back later in the evening."

"Ah…" I replied with and began to look around the room in search of something to do.

"Do you want to join us?" Twilight asked as if she could read my absent mind. "We're going over a couple of ideas for some new spells."

"No, thanks." I declined, waving my hoof side-to-side as I returned an appreciative grin. "I've been spending a lot of time in the castle. I think I'll go outside for a change."

"Not a problem." Twilight understood. "Just holler if you need anything."

"Will do." I answered with one last smile before I turned and began making my way towards the front of the castle.

I yawned a little as I nearly dragged my hooves towards the main doors. As I placed my hoof and pressed against the crystal entrance, I immediately spotted a group of fillies on the other side. I nearly jumped at the sight of them, but I was quick to question their presence.

"Applebloom? Scootaloo? Sweetie Belle? What are you doing here?"

"We wanted to help you find your cutie mark!" Scootaloo exclaimed with glee, earning enthusiastic nods from the other two.

"I thought I told you three that I wanted to wait and see if I could find it on my own?" I reminded. "I wasn't too comfortable with the idea of literally doing anything and everything in Ponyville just to see if it would pop up."

"We didn't forget, Athena." Applebloom responded. "But, here's the thing. We've learned so much since we got our cutie marks, and I don't know if you've noticed, but we've helped a whole bunch of other ponies find their cutie marks!"

"Not only did we help blank flanks, but we also helped ponies who didn't understand the meaning of their cutie marks!" Sweetie Belle added.

"Right!" Applebloom praised Sweetie Belle's point. "Which is why we come to your aid once again. I know you didn't necessarily want us directly involved with your cutie mark search, Athena, but we honestly and truly believe we can help you!"

"We've helped so many other ponies, and we've never failed with any of them, so I think we have a really good shot at it!" Scootaloo said.

"Besides, you're still a Cutie Mark Crusader, right?" Sweetie Belle mentioned. "It wouldn't feel right if you were the only one without a mark."

"So, will you please let us help you? Please?" Applebloom's pupils filled up the majority of her eyes, and the shine that reflected off them wavered back and forth fragilely. Her gesture was soon joined by the other two, and it was clearly becoming a problem on my end. It was hard to believe that their cuteness rivaled mine, but they were three fillies after all.

With a heavy sign, I decided to surrender myself for the day. I had nothing else to do, and since they were so passionate about their accomplishments with every other pony in town, I supposed it couldn't hurt giving it another go. "Alright, alright. Let's give it a shot."

"Yes!" They clapped hooves together in triumph. "Quick! Let's make our way back to the clubhouse!"

Inside their dedicated spot within a strong apple farm tree, Applebloom began scribbling onto a white piece of paper on the wall directly across the door.

"Alright, Athena. Here's what we know from last time: You said you were different from other ponies, and you gave us reasons why you thought getting a cutie mark was impossible for you. But, here's what I want to get to askin' you. You said that you already knew what your purpose was. In that case, what is your purpose?"

The other two crusaders turned to me as I was forced to dwell within my thoughts to pull out a suitable answer. "Well, I don't think I can give you a professional-sounding answer, but I'm pretty sure my purpose is protecting my brother and his friends. I mean, that's all I've ever wanted to do. In fact, I pretty much sacrificed my normal life to do just that."

"Hm…" Applebloom tapped her marker against her chin with her teeth. Then, she turned back to the blank piece of paper and began scribbling some more. "So, you feel that your purpose in life is protecting others, kind of like Alex, right? Is there anything else?" She turned back to me.

I thought for a moment before remembering the hues of color I'd see from ponies who were experiencing an extreme state of emotion. "Actually, I can also…well…" I paused for a second to think about how I could tell them in a way they'd understand. "I'm really good at being able to tell how a pony is feeling. If they're feeling sad, they can say they're happy all they want. I'll still be able to know they're sad.

"Interesting!" Applebloom commented before drawing it out on her hanging paper. "That sounds like cutie mark material! What do you do with it?"

"Well…" I tapped my chin. "I don't like getting involved with just anypony, but if it was a big issue, I'd try to, I don't know, cheer them up or help fix the problem. Although, I can't say I'm very confident in fixing other ponies problems. I think my job is mostly just sort of finding a problem in the first place, and Alex and his friends can fix it with, you know, the magic of friendship."

"I think we have our lead then!" Applebloom pointed. "You should try helping fix somepony's problem yourself!"

"Erhm…" I thought back to a few days ago. "I think I did do that. Sort of. There was a changeling in the Crystal Empire I helped convince was good using my ability to tell what others are feeling. I mean, the way things unfolded was so dramatic. Even Princess Cadence said it was worthy of getting a cutie mark, but nope, no mark." I pointed to my flank for proof.

"Oh, yeah! I heard about that." Sweetie Belle mentioned.

"Wow, if Princess Cadence said it was worth getting a cutie mark, I'm not sure how much it would do helping some pony here in Ponyville." Scootaloo added in from her thoughts.

"That is a bit of a pickle alright…" Applebloom messed with the marker in her mouth like a toothpick. "But, it's nothing we can't handle. After all, if you're so sure of your purpose, I say that's a lot of the work done. We just need to figure out the reason why you haven't gotten your mark yet. Like, the trigger or something."

Other than I completely screwed not only time but myself?

"Like I said, Applebloom," I began to disclose, "I'm not really so sure if it's possible to get a cutie mark when it comes to me."

"Nonsense!" Applebloom jumped off from the crate she had been standing on and approached me. "From each of our experiences, cutie marks always come when you least expect it. So, maybe you just gotta stop worryin' about whether it's possible to get one in the first place and start putting your faith to what you feel your purpose in. After all…

You've been searchin' for your cutie mark

For a while now

Tryin' to find out how you fit in" She nudged me lightly as she sung.

"So many ways you've tried before

But you just need to keep on tryin' more"

"'Cause the Cutie Mark Crusaders don't give in" They three of them sung in unison.

"You'll make your mark

One way or another

You'll make your mark

On the day that you discover

The ultimate reward of your cutie mark!" They ended cheerfully.

"I really appreciate how much you believe in me." I stated. "But, what are we supposed to do exactly? I know the answer isn't just going to come knocking on the door."

Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Huh?" Applebloom turned towards the door, clearly not expecting a visitor. "I wonder who that could be." She stepped forward as Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo followed behind out of curiosity and placed her hoof on the handle to open it.

As soon as it had been open, a rather large creature dove in and began squeezing them to death.

"The Cutie Mark Crusaders! I can't believe it's really, really you!" The griffon laughed giddily, very unlike a griffon to begin with. As I watched from the back, I could only imagine how much of a tight grip she had the three fillies in.

"Urk…! Can't…breathe…!" Scootaloo shared through a strange voice.

"How in the blooming apples do you know who we are?" Applebloom questioned.

The griffon released them from her deathly hug and began shaking them around like a group of stuffed animals. "Know who you are? Know who you are?! Why, I've heard about you from everypony in Ponyville! I'm so excited to meet you, I could just explode!" She stretched out her claws as wide as she could before she finally took in a deep and calming breath. "I'm Gabriella, but you can call me Gabby since we're friends now! Pleased to meet ya!" She shook their hooves wildly, juggling their heads in the process.

"Well, howdy... um... Gabby." Applebloom greeted somewhat hesitantly.

Gabby squealed in response, jittering perhaps even more than Pinkie normally would. "I'm just about the most excited any griffon has ever been about anything!"

"Excited? But whatever for?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"What for? What for?! Everypony in town tells me of your amazing assistance! How you help ponies find their place in the world!" Gabby explained.

"It's a calling, but—"

"And that's why I'm here!" Gabby intervened with Scootaloo finishing her sentence. "I need help, too. I want you to give me a cutie mark!"

"Um, can a griffon even get a cutie mark?" Applebloom spoke softly amongst her friends.

"I dunno, but I think we should probably find out." Scootaloo advised.

Chucking nervously at Gabby's anticipating face, Applebloom waved her on in.

"Come take a seat, Gabby. We'll see what we can do."

"Woo-hoo!" She jumped in, finding the table I had been watching the entire scene from. Just as she was about to take her seat, she found me idly watching nearby. "Who are you? Oh my gosh! Are you another Cutie Mark Crusader!?" She immediately extended her claw out for me to shake. "It's so nice meeting you! My name's Gabby!"

As she violently shook my hoof, the three other fillies returned to the table. Scootaloo placed down a couple glasses of orange juice between us.

"This is Athena." Applebloom introduced me. "She is, indeed, a Cutie Mark Crusader. But, we were actually in the middle of helping her find her cutie mark when you showed up."

"She doesn't have her cutie mark?" Gabby instantly leaned her head towards my flank, finding that it was indeed blank. "Oooh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

"Don't be. In fact, you may have just given us a few ideas, but first, we've got a few questions for you." Applebloom mentioned.

"Hit me!" Gabby encouraged, taking a wholesome drink of her juice.


"Gabby, 'kay?" Gabby friendily corrected Scootaloo.

"Gabby, why do you even want a cutie mark?" Scootaloo asked. "It doesn't seem like a very... griffon-y thing to want."

"Right? Right?! Right?!" Gabby leaned her body towards Scootaloo extremely close with every "right" that came out from her lips, eventually causing Scootaloo to fall flat on the floor. "You're tellin' me! I don't know if you've heard, but griffons can be a little bit... unfriendly. Most griffons don't pay much attention to each other. And if they do, it's not, y'know, the good kind of attention. As for me, I'm just a little mail delivery griffon who likes to spread a little bit of griffon-y sunshine on my rounds, which always makes me feel different from the other griffons. I'd do anything for any old griffon in need. But it just always seemed like the harder I tried, the less I fit in. It wasn't until your friends came to Griffonstone that I realized some creatures actually like helping each other, and I saw something so awesomely awesome – how helping spreads from pony to pony and griffon to griffon!" She paused for a second to point me out. "Actually, I think I remember seeing you there too! Anyways, I knew then that I had to find out why I was so different from the other griffons, and I knew the answer just had to have something to do with those wonderful, amazing marks on the ponies' flanks. And I admit, hehe, I became, um, maybe a little obsessed. So, first chance I had to deliver a letter from Gilda, I took it, so I could find the perfect pony to help me understand what those marks are. Everypony here told me one thing – I just had to see the Cutie Mark Crusaders! They've helped everypony here get their cutie marks, and I knew, I just knew, that someday I'd have one, too! A cutie mark of my very own! That's why I flew all the way here! I want to find my own place in the world, and I know you can help me by giving me a cutie mark! So, let's make with the cutie!" After her lengthy story, she rose up in the air and shook her rump, covering her eyes with her claws with a short giggle. "Whenever you're ready." After waiting for only a second, she uncovered her eyes and looked at her flank. "Did it happen yet?"

"Uh, not exactly." Sweetie answered, looking a little dazed.

"Howboutnowhowboutnowhowboutnowhowboutnow?" Gabby circled around, continuously keeping an eye on where she believed her cutie mark would magically appear.

"Um, Gabby, I hate to break it to ya, but it sounds like you might've heard some tall tales about what Crusaders can do." Applebloom stated.

"I mean, we are kinda awesome and all, but nopony can just give you a cutie mark. It just sort of... happens." Scootaloo clarified.

"Though I'm pretty sure it doesn't happen to griffons." Sweetie Belle added. "Or if it does, we've never ever heard of it."

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that." Gabby placed her paws back on the floor, adopting small blue hue before it quickly spiked up to a bright yellow one. "Sounds like a challenge! And who could be up to it but the world-famous Cutie Mark Crusaders? Cutie marks! It's in your name and everything, right? Right?! Right?!" She swung her head across the three main fillies before turning back to her bag. "Now I have to deliver Gilda's letter to Rainbow Dash. I bet by the time I get back, you'll have it one hundred percent figured out! Toodles for now!" She dashed out the door, her voice echoing outside. "Whee-hee-hee! Gonna get my cutie mark!"

"What she wants... It's not possible, right?" Sweetie Belle turned towards her friends.

"You really think a griffon can get a cutie mark?" I honestly felt it was silly into thinking it was even possible. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure only ponies are able to get them."

"I don't know." Scootaloo shrugged, acknowledging my point. "But whatever the case is, I think we all know someone who just might have the answer."

"Sorry, Athena." Applebloom apologized. "Could we put your cutie mark on hold for a while? We just need to take care of this really quick."

"I guess so." I merely replied, unsure of what I felt about this unforeseen circumstance.

I followed the Crusaders back over to the castle, mostly just to see if Alex had gotten back. It wasn't evening yet, but I was thinking it was possible that maybe he and Fluttershy stopped by the castle for some reason. However, all I ever got in exchange was an explanation from Twilight that I had already expected about Gabby.

"I've read every book on the subject, and I've never read a thing about any creature other than a pony getting a cutie mark."

"But, Twilight, Gabby flew all the way here so we could help her." Scootaloo nearly begged. "There's gotta be something we can do."

"I don't get what's so hard to understand about it." I said, feeling a little frustrated over the big deal about this. "Griffons can't get a cutie mark like a pony can, just like a pony can't survive a pool of boiling hot lava like dragons can. There are just things we can't do that other creatures can. It's that simple."

"What are we supposed to do?" Sweetie Belle asked. "Gabby believes in us getting her a cutie mark. She's going to be devastated if we tell her that there's no way she can get one."

"Crusaders, I'm sorry. While I can't say for certain that it's utterly impossible, the chances of Gabby getting an actual mark are... pretty slim." Twilight responded truthfully. "Everything I've ever learned tells me. I have to agree with Athena here, it's just not gonna happen."

"Oh, no!" Applebloom cried in despair, as if she was already sharing the same devastation that Gabby would sooner or later feel. "Poor Gabby! What the apples are we ever gonna tell her?"

"What else can you tell her?" I mentioned. "Unless you want to lie to her, all you can really tell her is the truth."

"There just has to be some way we can tell her the truth but still help her at the same time." Sweetie Belle searched for her thoughts. "I don't want to see the only not-grumpy griffon walk out the door in shame. It's just not right."

"If there is a way, we gotta think of it fast. Gabby's probably already finished delivering her letter and waiting at the clubhouse right this minute. We don't want her to think we bailed on her." Scootaloo suggested.

"Scootaloo's right. We better get a move on. As for what we're going to do, I haven't the faintest clue."

Outside, I accompanied a group of blue hues. Although I didn't have a particular direct influence on the manner, I still couldn't help but feel a little stressed out about the situation. I didn't want to hurt anypony, or any griffon, but it had to be said. Gabby needed to know that she wasn't going to be getting any kind of cutie mark, just like I needed to convince myself that I probably wasn't going to get one myself.

"Crusaders, this is terrible!" Sweetie Belle expressed in anguish after neither of them thought of any way to relieve the issue at hoof. "Gabby really believed in us. And now, we're gonna let her down."

"But what else can we do?" Applebloom questioned.

"Hmm." I heard Scootaloo hum, turning towards her to find her thinking to herself. "You know what, Crusaders? Maybe we've just been looking at this the wrong way." She placed herself in front of us as if she was ready to give us an important lecture. "Maybe Gabby isn't looking for a cutie mark just to have a cutie mark. Maybe she wants to know what her purpose is in life, and she thinks that having a cutie mark will tell her just that."

"Wait." Applebloom paused for one short moment. "Are you saying that we should still give her the cutie mark treatment without the cutie mark?"

"I'm saying that we can still help her find her purpose in life, so yeah, in a way." Scootaloo clarified. "Everypony gets a cutie mark when they realize their purpose in life. For Gabby, it'll just have to be without the cutie mark. But, maybe that's all she really wants? After all, she's been surrounded by other griffons her whole life, so she might not understand the real deal behind a cutie mark."

"That isn't such a bad idea." Sweetie Belle pointed out. "We just need to explain things to her clearly. Tell her that she can't exactly get a cutie mark, but we can help her figure out her purpose and essentially get a mental cutie mark, so to speak."

"It's definitely better than doing nothin'." Applebloom agreed with a grin.

"What do you say, Crusaders? Everyone in it to win it?" Scootaloo asked.

"Yeah!" They all brought their hooves together, igniting the start to facing perhaps one of their most difficult challenges yet.

Personally, I didn't really care what they did as long as I wasn't involved. In fact, I was itching to take my leave, but I wasn't sure how exactly they were going to handle the issue with the griffon. Were they going to ask Gabby for some time so they could work with me? I didn't want to go home if they were just going to come drag me back later.

"Incoming!" We heard a screeching warning quickly grow louder as we returned to the farm before we were all captured within an extremely tight griffon hug, including me. It didn't help that I had been bigger than the other three fillies, so I was worried that I might have been suffocating them. However, the squeeze was a lot shorter than the first one, so it was only a few seconds before we were allowed to regularly breathe again. "Hiya, you wonderful, wonderful Crusaders! I just know you've figured out how to help me because you're all so incredible!"

"Well, Gabby, we've talked it over, and we think we may just be able to help you out." Scootaloo answered with a satisfied grin. "But not exactly in the way you think. See, here's the thing about you getting a cutie mark—"

"I'm getting a cutie mark!" Gabby yelled out excitedly as she pressed her claws against her cheeks. Before Scootaloo could even finish, she launched upwards in the air like a rocket and began to cheer endlessly, causing any words coming from down below to be ignored entirely. "Woo-hoo-hoo!"

"Wait! You didn't let me finish!"

"I guess that wasn't clear enough." Sweetie Belle mentioned.

All of us continued to stare at Gabby circle around before Applebloom spoke up.

"Maybe we should head inside the clubhouse and wait for her to finish there."

Inside the clubhouse, it seemed they turned their attention towards me as we faintly heard Gabby cheering outside. It was something you could easily ignore as background noise, but it was the fact that all the endless cheering was coming from one griffon that was most distracting part of it.

"Alright, for now, how about we get back to you, Athena?" Applebloom suggested and turned towards the paper she had been working on earlier, which was still hanging on the wall. "Let's see… Where were we? We had a lead…" She studied the paper as she recalled the events out loud. "You feel as if your purpose is protectin' other ponies, and you can tell what ponies are really feeling even if they say so differently."

"I'm curious." Scootaloo mentioned suddenly. "In that case, is Gabby really that happy?" She asked, pointing out the window towards the faint figure in the sky.

"Yep." I answered, finding her intense yellow aura as bright as the sun. "She genuinely thinks she's getting a cutie mark."

"Back to the matter on hoof…" Applebloom attempted to politely get back on track. "You can tell what ponies, or griffons, are really feeling, and we believed that that is a good lead to gettin' you to your cutie mark. We just needed to figure out the trigger behind it. What's stoppin' you from connectin' that ability of yours to your cutie mark?"

"Cutie mark! Cutie mark! Gonna get my cutie mark!" We heard right outside the window, interrupting the current brainstorming occurring inside the clubhouse.

"She's still going." Sweetie Belle noted. "Anypony know if griffons ever get tired?"

"Hey, maybe her cutie mark is lasting the longest when it comes to yelling." I sarcastically threw onto the table.

"What do you think my mark will be?" Gabby's head suddenly poked in through the window. "A lightning bolt? An erupting volcano? I don't care if it's a jar of marmalade! I know I'll love it, whatever it is!"

"Hold on just a hoofstep, Gabby." Applebloom approached her, having me believe that my support ticket for my cutie mark problem just became delayed even further. "There's somethin' we need to clear up. We can definitely help you find your purpose, but that mark's probably not gonna happen."

"What?!" Gabby screamed in horror as she slid in through the front door.

"It's true." Scootaloo nodded hesitantly. "Twilight's never heard of a creature other than a pony getting a cutie mark."

Just like last time, Gabby's bright yellow aura had been taken over by an overwhelming blue, but it had soon been replaced by a radiant yellow once more. For a griffon, her emotions were really off the charts.

"Oh!" She laughed in relief. "Is that all? You had me worried for a second. I-I mean, there's a first time for everything, right? And she didn't say it was impossible, right?"

"Well, not exactly." Applebloom couldn't help but agree with her to some degree.

"Well, then if anypony can make it happen, it's you three. I mean, you haven't failed yet!" She believed enthusiastically.

I wasn't a mean pony, and I didn't want to be a mean pony. But, I couldn't just sit there and let this griffon keep living a lie. I hated to believe this, but she wasn't going to get a cutie mark. Somepony needed to tell her this, and I was afraid it was going to be me. In fact, I felt my lips just about to open in order to spell it out for her, but Scootaloo won the race with something different in mind.

"You know what, Gabby? I promise we're gonna do everything we can to help you get your mark." Scootaloo confronted with a confident furrow of her eyebrows.

"Oh!" Gabby possibly suffocated Scootaloo as she wrapped her claws around her, and at the same time, her yellow glow burned so strongly, it was ironically practically blinding me. "It's gonna happen! I can feel it! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!" She flew out of the clubhouse, repeating her distant cheer outside.

"Aaaaand... she's off again." Sweetie Belle observed.

"Why in tarnation would you promise somethin' that just can't be done?" Applebloom asked Scootaloo with an irritated look. It was something I wanted to desperately know myself. Did they want to dig their own graves?

"I know what it's like to want something that's out of reach." Scootaloo responded, lifting up her small flightless wings. "And just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it can't. Maybe trying for the impossible isn't so bad."

"But there's a difference." I almost cried out. "You have wings. You can fly. Gabby's not a pony, and only ponies get cutie marks."

"Well, maybe we share the same kind of similarities with griffons?" Scootaloo tried to raise a good point. "It's hard to say with certainty that a griffon can't get a cutie mark. After all, griffons have been known for being cranky and mean, and with that in mind, I doubt they ever really did anything to earn a cutie mark of their own. Gabby could honestly be the first case in griffon history to earn a cutie mark!"

Sweetie Belle sighed behind her. "As much as I get what Athena's saying, I guess we'll never know for sure unless we give it a try. You already made the promise to Gabby, so we might as well stick through with it."

Everything about trying to catch a star that wasn't even there to begin with began to annoy me. I was feeling really fed up, and I had only been expecting to do some silly things with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. It was one thing to reach for the impossible when it came to me, but it was another if it was for a griffon who couldn't seem to stop and listen for a second.

"I'll be getting out of your hair then." I began heading out the door, feeling I could use a soak in a hot bath to wash the stress in my head away. "Looks like you'll be busy trying to get a griffon a cutie mark."

"Oh no, you don't!" I was suddenly pulled back in by Scootaloo. "Don't you see? This is an amazing opportunity for you to find your cutie mark too!"

"What? How?" I immediately questioned, beginning to feel overwhelmed by so many things I couldn't pinpoint at the very moment.

"Don't you see? Here, we have a griffon who wants a cutie mark that seems impossible. Here, we also have a pony who can get a cutie mark, but she thinks it's impossible. In a way, you and Gabby sort of fit each other like a jigsaw piece, don't you think? What you need is Gabby's confidence, and in return, if she can get a cutie mark, your ability to be able to tell what others are really feeling could probably help out a lot!"

I couldn't wrap my head around her thought process with Gabby's and my cutie mark situation, but it didn't seem like I was going to be able to weasel my way out of their hoof.

"I think I see what you're getting at, Scootaloo, but how do we even start in helpin' the both of them?" Applebloom asked.

"The same way for any filly in need – with a good old-fashioned Crusaders chart!"

Scootaloo began pulling out a blank sheet of paper and worked on taping it onto the wall. However, no matter how enthusiastic they seemed to be about not only helping me get my cutie mark, but Gabby's "mark" as well, I just couldn't share the same enthusiasm. In a way, I wished I could, but for the longest time, I've only told myself that it just wasn't possible. And with Gabby, it really was impossible.

"Look, like I've said before, I appreciate that you all want to help me get a cutie mark, but in this case, I think you should just stick with Gabby for now. I'll come back later when you're finished with her." I started to turn my body over to the door, but I was once again kept from leaving.

"Come on, Athena!" Scootaloo rushed over to me. "You should really take this chance! What are the odds that a griffon wanting a cutie mark shows up suddenly at the same time we're working with your cutie mark? I can't explain how, but it just fits! Almost like fate brought you here together."

Actually, it was you three who brought me here…

"I think we should give Scootaloo's idea a chance, Athena." Applebloom spoke up this time. "You can't ignore the similarities between you and Gabby. I think somethin' good can really come out of this."

"I agree!" Sweetie Belle nodded her head fervently. "There's just so many ways you can help each other. I can't explain it either, but after hearing Scootaloo talk, I honestly feel something amazing will happen!"

I couldn't come up with anything to counter their argument. If anypony loved making miracles happen, it was me, but it was just this particular situation that bothered the heck out of me. I had to admit that when it came to cutie mark stuff, I just wanted to sweep it under the rug and never look back.

"It's time to make a change

This is our chance" The three crusaders gathered together and began singing.

"Don't be afraid to do what's right

She's it! Go for it!" They surrounded me and cheered with their hooves that shot upwards in victory.

"We got an opportunity

We can see the light

Just one step forward, and you can bring the fight" They pointed towards their Crusaders chart and proceeded to march me towards it.

"It's time to take a chance

It's time to make a change

We're here to fight for what we believe

(Go for it!)

Come on, you need to take a stance

It's not so strange

'Cause when we work together

There's nothing that we can't achieve!"

They faced me with bright and eager grins, but all I could do was circle my eyes around the room in hesitation. Because of this, they continued to perform their signature Cutie Mark Encouragement.

"You've gotta go for change

It's calling you to be the leader

Come on and step up

You can see it with her" They pointed out the windows in the direction Gabby flew off in.

"It's now another day

And we believe in what's right

Go for it! Go for it!

Our victory is in sight!"

They stood in front of me once again, eager to hear my decision. Finally, I sighed, but I still wasn't ready to make my choice. Instead, I was filled with buzzing questionable doubts filling the void in my mind.

"How can you be so sure either of us will get anything out of this?" I asked for not only myself but Gabby as well. "How can you be sure that neither of us will walk away disappointed?"

"We're afraid of failing in the first place, Athena." Scootaloo shared expressively. "We'd hate to disappoint either of you, but the thing is, you can't make a change without risking a little effort. If you don't even try in the first place, then you won't ever do anything at all. Sometimes you just got to take the risk of failing and see things through."

"And trust us, we've all been there before many times." Applebloom added.

"Yeah! But, we've always stuck through till the end!" Sweetie Belle cheered. "And you can too!"

"Go!" They reiterated through song.

"Stand strong and don't be afraid

Let's free ourselves from the past

She's it! Go for it!

We'll let heart win against the negativity

And make a change that will last

Go for it!"

They began scribbling and formulating their plan onto the piece of blank paper, filling nearly every white space as much as they could.

"It's time to take a chance

It's time to make a change

We're here to fight for what we believe

Go for it!" They pulled away and allowed me to have a full view of their now completed chart, giving me a notion of how dedicated they were to helping me find my cutie mark.

"Come on, you need to take a stance

It's not so strange

'Cause when we work together

There's nothing that we can't achieve!

Go for it!"

"So, what do you say, Athena?" Applebloom held out her hoof towards me. "Will you give it a shot and try to make that change happen?"

They continued to look at me with the most bright and beaming eyes. At this point, any negativity that flowed within me had died out. How could I just walk out on them after that!? Although they could be really pushy, they were just too darn cute!

"Alright, alright." I submitted, feeling a short giggle escape my lips. "You win. I'll give it a shot."

"Yeah!" They cheered amongst each other for a short while before they turned the subject of the conversation over to Gabby.

"I'm feelin' good about this, Crusaders!" Applebloom shared. "All we need to do is bring Gabby in, and we can go over our plan with her!"

Sweetie Belle walked over to the window and poked her head out to search for her. "Gabby!"

"Right here!" She popped out of nowhere outside the window, startling Sweetie Belle and causing her to fall on her back. "What is it!? Are we ready to make with the cutie?!"

"Come on in, and we'll go over things with you!" Scootaloo invited.

Gabby immediately swung by the front of the clubhouse and dashed in, excitedly looking around the interior. "So, what are we going to do?!"

"First, we gotta tell you somethin'." Applebloom approached her and then looked over at me. "Hope you don't mind a partner in your search for your cutie mark. You've already met Athena, and you also know she doesn't have her cutie mark." I was lightly pushed from behind towards Gabby by the others, and since I was right next to this friendly griffon, all I could do was send a small and somewhat awkward wave. "We figured you'd have better chances of getting both your cutie marks if you work together!"

"Totally!" Gabby picked me up and squeezed me again. "Oh, this is going to be so great! I know you Cutie Mark Crusaders will pull through!"

"The first thing we gotta do is find your purpose." Applebloom walked towards their chart and poked it with a pointing stick, causing Gabby to release me in order to pay attention to Applebloom's instructions.

"Nopony gets a mark without one." Scootaloo clarified.

"All right. Let's do this!" Gabby shook her claws excitedly.

"What are you good at? Do you play any sports?" Scootaloo asked.

"Or like to dance?" Applebloom pointed towards one of the suggested activities.

"Or how about singing? I just love to sing! La-la-la-la!" Sweetie Belle included, ironically reminding me of what they had done just a few moments ago.

"Wow!" Gabby looked at her options on the chart. "I kinda wanna just try everything! I mean, I don't even know what to pick!"

"Don't worry. That's what we're here for." Scootaloo assured.

"What about me?" I raised my hoof up. "Since you all figured that my cutie mark would probably have to do with how I read emotions from others, what exactly am I going to be doing?"

"You'll be doing the same activities together with Gabby." Applebloom directed, tapping on the same chart that they had been offering the griffon in the room. "We said we needed to find your trigger, and you might just do that during these activities."

I didn't know exactly how I was going to do that, but I suppose I was willing to give it a try.

"What do you say, Gabby?" Scootaloo asked. "Ready to find your purpose?"

"You bet I am!" She exclaimed out loud with a raised claw.

With this, the three Crusaders began marching in place. Gabby noticed this and began moving her shoulders to the beat, following shortly after with her claws. Personally, I was always down to join in for a catchy upbeat song, so I followed along with them, erasing me from being the odd mare out.

"Like a racer at the starting line

You're chomping at the bit" Sweetie Belle swung her flank side-to-side as if she was ready to pounce into action.

"You are here to find your purpose

And a place you really fit" Scootaloo added.

"And until you find your place in life

You're never gonna quit" Applebloom directed towards us with an emphasis on Gabby.

"We can help you find the purpose in your life!" They pulled off the chart they had made and swung it over to Gabby.

"A griffon mixes lion's strength

With winged eagle's might" Gabby took a quick glance at the chart, standing proudly afterwards.

"When I finally find my purpose

Then my cutie mark's in sight

Crusaders, I won't let you down

I've just begun to fight

You're gonna help us find the purpose in our lives!" She swung open the door and flew outside, causing each of us to follow on after her to the beginning of our date with destiny.

"Got a job that's just no fun?

Call on me, I'll get it done!

Cauldron's stuck and needs a mix?

I'm the one who's got the fix!" We started with working with Zecora's cauldron, but I failed horribly when a violent poof came out from the stir, causing Gabby to come and somehow fix it for me.

"Help you teach pre-calculus" What are words?

"Scrub the floors, won't make a fuss" This spot isn't coming out!

"Clearing kelp? Just give a yelp" It's not coming off my hooves!

"Raring to go, ready to help!" How do you do it, Gabby?

"That's the spirit

You ought to see what you do best

Try it all, pick your fave

And leave behind the rest" The Crusaders seemed to sing us lyrics of encouragement as they checked off various items on the list, and for a short moment, the light inside me rekindled. After all, I can't win them all, right…?

"I'll try anything

To get my cutie mark

Keep up with me, Crusaders

We're just getting our start!" Gabby nudged me along, motivating me to keep going.

"Rock your little ones to sleep

While hanging up the sheets" Seeing as I was good with emotions, I tried to put the baby to sleep first, but all I ended up doing was making the baby cry, having Gabby miraculously put him to sleep while fixing up the wrinkled sheets I had hung up.

"I can help you with your heavy load" It's too heavy!

"Walk Granny 'cross the street" I'm not slow enough!

"I'll run you 'round the bases fast

It's really no big feat!" Gabby smacked the ball nearly out of the field, allowing me to run on ahead, but I ended up tripping over and stuffing my face into the dirt. A pony came up to me and touched me with the ball. You're out! Haaah.

"Can we help her find the purpose in her life?" I heard the Crusaders ask nearby and worried that they were talking about me.

Gabby tried cheering me up, but it was all for naught when she only continued to show not only the Crusaders but me as well how perfect she was at everything.

"Cheer you if you're feeling low

Plant your garden, make it grow

Write a piece for your quartet

Filling in on clarinet

Bake that cake as fast as lightning!"

All the while she successfully did all the things on the list, the Crusaders were having anxieties of their own.

"She's so good at things, it's frightening

Cutie Mark Crusaders,

I think we've got a problem!" Athena, I think you are the problem…

"Build a boat

And sail it out across the sea

Need some help?

You know that you can count on me!" If seeing her do everything so perfectly was enough of a killjoy for me, it was the fact that practically everypony in Ponyville already adored her. She had only been in Ponyville for a short while, yet everypony loved her! H-How was she so perfect?!

"CMCs, you're gonna help me find my purpose" She gathered us together before merrily rising up in the air and eventually being carried away by everypony who found her amazingly amazing.

"The purpose in our lives!

In my life!"

"Now how we gonna do this?" Applebloom asked frantically, carrying the chart that Gabby succeeded without a hitch, yet I failed each one miserably.

"Gabby's special purpose can't be everything, right? Sweetie Belle wondered anxiously.

"It may as well be. I don't know how we find what she's supposed to do when she can do it all." Applebloom sadly admitted.

"Maybe her cutie mark is being perfect at anything…" I muttered underneath my breath.

Scootaloo sighed. "And if finding her purpose seems impossible, we can just forget about the whole griffon-getting-a-cutie-mark thing, which is actually impossible. I never should've gotten her hopes up!"

"I did... it... all!" Gabby returned in an ecstatic manner. "So, lay it on me, Crusaders. What's my purpose? And how do we get a mark on these here haunches?"

Three Crusaders looked sadly amongst each other before Scootaloo decided to step up to deliver the bad news. "Gabby, we... we don't."

"Wait. What are you saying?" Gabby's grin disappeared, the vibrant yellow aura within her manifesting into a cold blue.

"We're sayin' that since you can do everything so amazingly well..." Applebloom began.

"We just can't figure out what one thing you're supposed to do." Sweetie Belle clarified.

"Gabby, we can't help you." Scootaloo reluctantly concluded, her voice lightly shaking as if she was about to cry.

"But, but... you're the world-famous Cutie Mark Crusaders!" Gabby stammered, tears welling up in her eyes. "I can't believe it! I... I... I won't believe it!" She bitterly snapped before rising up and disappearing beyond the sky.

"Gabby, wait!" Applebloom called.

"We're sorry! We're so, so sorry!" Scootaloo tried to apologize as loudly as she could, but I was more than sure Gabby couldn't hear it. "This is just awful. For the first time ever, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are cutie mark failures."

All this time, I had been feeling frustration reconcile with my mixed emotions. In a way, I was confused. In another, I was angry. At the same time, I was sad. In fact, I was so frustrated, I honestly felt like I could scream out loud. Instead, I focused my internal raging emotions on a heavy rant.

"Just what's her problem?!" I belted out. "Why does she care so much about a stupid cutie mark? She's perfect. Everypony just loves her. Everypony wants to be her friend. And that's because she's a griffon! You'd think everypony was scared of her! She has all of this, and she's still obsessed about a cutie mark?! At least she can do so many amazing things! I failed at every one of them, and I'm still standing here without a mark!"

"Athena, take a breather!" Applebloom quickly approached me, sending me the vibe that she was worried about losing both of her pupils. "When we were searching for our marks, we failed at everything too. It's what happens when you're trying to find your mark."

I was able to calm down a little after blowing off some steam with my rant, but I was still a little bitter. "I did all those things with her and nothing happened. I thought she was supposed to be the key to 'getting my cutie mark', but all it really did was just bum me out."

"Let's get back to the clubhouse and look into your cutie mark a little more." Sweetie Belle offered, taking a glance at the direction Gabby had fled. "I don't think Gabby will be coming back…"

Although I was on the brink of quitting, I decided to follow them back. I didn't expect to be paired up with a griffin in "finding my mark" in the first place, so I thought I should still give it a solo shot like I thought it was supposed to be in the first place.

They were supposed to be working together to figure out some kind of "Plan B" in regards to my cutie mark back at the clubhouse, but it seemed all they mostly did was think back on how things were handled with Gabby. Out of the three of them, Scootaloo was the most affected out of all. Considering that she was the one who raised Gabby's hopes in the first place, I guess it wasn't a surprise.

This didn't help when it came to my confusing mix of emotions. I started feeling angrier because the Crusaders made a big deal when it came to helping me with my cutie mark problem, but when Gabby came by, it was almost like they had forgotten about it. Now, they weren't exactly taking it seriously because they were too busy moping about the griffon that got away.

I want to feel bad for them. I really do. But, dragging me away to work on a problem I always found extremely sensitive, for some reason, only to let that same problem drag on because of an impossible case with a griffon, it's a really big pill that's hard to swallow.

"I can't concentrate." Scootaloo shook her head. "I can't stop thinking about Gabby. I really thought we could help her."

"I thought we could help anypony." Sweetie Belle responded.

"Maybe that's just it – maybe we can only help ponies." Applebloom speculated.

"Or maybe we just plain failed." Scootaloo threw the chart they had used for both Gabby and me across the floor in a fit of anger.

I began to be heavily reminded of what they had told me earlier in the day. About how they were afraid of failing yet were still willing to take the risk. This was the worst-case scenario. Proof that not everything always has a happy ending. Seeing as they weren't in any kind of state to help me whatsoever, I sighed lightly and decided I would come back another time.

Just before I could tell them, the door to the clubhouse slammed open, and in came a creature we least expected to see at this very moment.

"Failed? Then what do you call this?!"

It was Gabby, and she had been pointing excitedly and heavily at her flank. However, as soon as I got a good look at her, I could immediately tell something was contradictory about her emotions.

"A cutie mark?!" The Crusaders screamed out at once and immediately raced towards her.

"What?" Sweetie Belle questioned profoundly in a fit of confusion. "You got your mark after all! Even though we couldn't find your purpose? But– What? Huh?! How?!"

"And what does it mean?" Applebloom leaned in closer to Gabby's apparent mark. "A cauldron?"

"Uh... I don't know." Gabby retracted her wings, using them to cover up her mark. At the same time, I began lowering my eyelids somewhat aggressively as I took particular notice of the black splotches in her jumpy emotions. "Maybe it means my purpose is, uh, helping Zecora with potions. That was the first thing I tried. I guess it just took some time to appear. But here it is!"

"This is awesome!" Scootaloo cheered, hopping jubilantly. "We're not failures! Whatever we did worked! I had a feeling we could help you, and we did!"

To see them believing the lie right in front of them began to burn me up. And, it wasn't just that. It was the fact that the creature responsible for perpetuating this lie was everypony's favorite perfect griffon.

"Oh! We've gotta go see Twilight right away!" Applebloom pushed. "She'll wanna know about this!"

"Correction – she needs to know about this!" Sweetie Belle revised while uneasiness from Gabby began to grow immensely. "I bet she'll want to write a whole book about the very first griffon to get a cutie mark of her own!"

"No!" I finally shouted, growing sick of the sight in front of me. "Twilight can't write a book about the very first griffon to get a cutie mark because griffons can't get cutie marks!" I stated bitterly as I walked up to the sweating griffon with a lowered head and furrowed brows.

"What are you talking about?" Scootaloo questioned. "She has a cutie mark. It's right there." She pointed it out.

With the angriest glare I could work up, I continued eyeing this griffon, leaving no room for mercy. "Oh yeah? If she really did get a cutie mark, then why is she so nervous right now? Why does she look so secretive all of a sudden?"

"W-What do you mean?" She stuttered. "If you're talking about the shakes I have, it's because I was so excited when—"

Fed up with the fantasy she was trying to present, I grabbed the nearest cloth I could find and aimed straight for where her mark was at. She immediately jumped at my motion but not before I could get a swipe at her flank.

I turned towards the rag and found semi-wet and slightly chipped paint. The mark on her flank had hardly come off, and it would have proved a better point had I had water. Nevertheless, her mark had been clearly smeared, and that was enough evidence to point out the phoniness about it.

"Gabby? You faked your mark…?" Applebloom asked, every one of the Crusaders taken aback by the reveal.

Before Gabby could find the words to speak, I decided to speak for her.

"Of course, she faked her mark!" I angrily threw the rag towards the floor, feeling my own emotions turn blue than red. "Was it not enough that everypony loved how perfect you were when it came to doing everything on the chart? You had to go and paint on a stupid mark to feel better about yourself? How could you do such an insulting thing?! I wish I could do a lot of things as amazing as you could, but I can't! I can hardly do anything right!" I turned and faced away from everyone, shutting my eyes to try to keep tears from running out. "You made so many friends in less than a day, and I'm barely still trying to get to know ponies outside of my brother. How is it so easy for you?! You know what?" I turned back, opening my eyes slightly and my vision being lightly obscured by the water in them. "This is why I hate cutie marks so much. All they do is remind me of what kind of broken pony I really am. It's not fun being the only full-grown mare without a cutie mark! And to see you go and do something like that?!" I felt my teeth grit against each other as I gave a violent shake of my head. "I'm done with this stupid club!"

I immediately ran past everyone in the clubhouse and pushed my way outside.

Behind me, I could hear the Crusaders call out my name and run after me.

I found them following me with every step of the way, and all I could really do was tell them to back off.

"Cutie Mark Crusaders, stay away from me

I've told you all the truth

It's so plain to see"

"Stop!" They fired back. "Come on, Athena, this is not the way!

You know you can overcome this negativity"

Squeezing my eyebrows together, I kicked my legs up a notch and had no plans of stopping.

"You don't even know me at all

Don't understand the meaning of my call

What's the point of even trying if I always

Fail at everything?" Bobbing and weaving through various things on my path, I checked every now and then to find the same fillies still on my tail.

"Look at me – there's no denying it

A pony like me needs to know when it's time to quit

There's nothing left for me to do in the end"

The castle was in my sights. I just needed to go a little further.

"Stop!" They suddenly appeared before me, causing me to quickly pass them and take a short detour. "This is not the answer"

"Wait!" They somehow caught up to me enough to pop up right in front of me, having me nearly trip as I avoided them. "And it's plainly seen"

"Listen!" They managed to get me to skid to a stop. I accidentally fell forward onto the ground, but with tears escaping from my eyes, it only motivated me to separate myself from them. "You can stand strong and pull through

But you can't just quit and stop in between"

As I grew closer to the castle entrance, they galloped backwards in front of me to connect their eyes with mine, providing me with a familiar sight.

"You know you have friends who admire you

Think about how proud they'd be to see what you can do

Trust us, there is still a way, there is still a wa-a-ay"

As they gathered around me and galloped side-by-side instead of trying to directly stop me, I immediately began remembering this same situation. I had witnessed this same sight with my very own eyes not too long ago, just a little while before they had earned their own cutie marks. However, in my place, it had been Diamond Tiara. I never thought I'd see myself going through the same thing as she did…

"There's so much more still left to

Learn about yourself

See the light that shines in you

We know you can be somepony else" They encouraged me with warm and inviting grins before they ran up ahead and reached the castle doors. They positioned their hooves in front of me, blocking my way in and having me stop momentarily.

"You can stop right now

And try another start" They pointed past me, having me turn to find Gabby on the other side. She had this apologetic face, and all I could do was stare back silently before turning back to the Crusaders.

"You'll finally free yourself from the dark

And see the light

And see the light of your cutie mark!"

I actually stood there in front of them, contemplating about their assurance with a lowered head. However, it took only a matter of seconds for me to realize that I wasn't going to be given false hope anymore. Just like Gabby was never going to get her mark, I needed to reinstate the fact that I wasn't going to either.

"No." I finally told them, wiping any tears lingering in my eyes. "I'm done."

Their jaws fell as I simply circled around them and approached the castle doors.

"Athena, you can't just give up now!" Applebloom said.

"You're so close, Athena!" Scootaloo added. "I can feel it!"

I scoffed a little and glanced back at them.

"Oh, kind of like you felt with Gabby, huh?"

They didn't have an answer for that last remark, and I went on ahead and walked inside before they had any chance to say anything else.

It was still early in the day, but I, for one, was absolutely done. I began heading towards the room, passing the library as I stared gloomily at the floor.

"Athena!" I heard a sing-song voice come from Twilight. "Guess who's back?!"

"Geez, you make it sound like if I was gone for a year or something." I heard a comforting voice ring in my ears. Despite my legs stopping and ears actually perking up, I was in no mood to talk to anyone, even with Alex.

"Hey. How's it going?" Alex approached me as I spotted Fluttershy in the background. "Twilight said you were asking about me in the morning."

"Oh, that…?" I responded slowly and without any feeling. "Yeah, it was nothing. I was just curious is all."

"You okay?" He leaned in towards me with concern. "You don't look so good."

I slightly turned my face away from him. "Sorry. I just feel really tired. I think I'm going to go to bed."

With that, I continued walking to the room, definitely feeling his eyes on me as I left.

Once, I reached the solitude of the sweet comforting bed, I closed my eyes and just let every part of me loose in hopes that I could just fast-forward and skip time the natural way.


Seeing her leave like that bothered me. In fact, I almost started worrying that my absence made her upset somehow, but at the same time, I thought against it. It wasn't like she had a problem with me spending time with Fluttershy before.

"Hey. Something happen to Athena today?" I asked Twilight.

"Huh?" She answered. "I don't know. She didn't stay in the castle for long today. Why?"

As I thought a little seriously into it, I heard the sound of a pair of hooves approaching us from behind.

"Is Athena here?"

I turned and found that it was Applebloom who spoke. She was with the rest of her friends, including a... griffon…? "You just missed her, uh, hi?" I greeted the griffon that accompanied them.

"Hello." She responded, shaking my hoof lightly with her claw. "My name's Gabriella, but you can call me Gabby. Can you take us to where Athena is?"

"She said she was going to bed." I told them. "She didn't look so good."

"What are we going to do now?" Sweetie Belle worriedly asked the others. "We can't just leave things like this."

"What's going on?" Twilight asked with concern as Fluttershy followed behind her.

Gabby sighed heavily. "This is all my fault. I only wanted help with getting a cutie mark, but when that didn't work, I tried painting one on my flank. And, it really made Athena upset."

"You wanted a cutie mark?" I couldn't help but request a bit of clarification. I never heard of a griffon wanting a cutie mark before.

"Wait a minute. You're the griffon that wanted a cutie mark?" Twilight questioned.

"Yes, but none of that matters now! All I want is to fix the mess I ended up making." Gabby pleaded.

"Gabby, why did you do it in the first place?" Scootaloo inquired. "Why did you paint a cutie mark on yourself? Did you really just want to make yourself feel better for not having one?"

Gabby shook her head with great enthusiasm. "No! I mean, sure, I was disappointed. But I didn't do it to make myself feel better. I wanted to make you feel better." Her response earned a gasp from each of the Crusaders. "I couldn't bear you three thinking you failed after you tried so hard to help, and I thought Athena would be much more motivated to find her cutie mark if she saw that a griffon got a cutie mark. I guess my plan ended up backfiring." She sighed distressfully once more with a heavy pout. "I'm sorry I wasn't honest with any of you, and I don't want to leave until I apologize to Athena too. Better yet, if I could do something that'd make up for all the trouble I caused, that'd be even better."

"Gabby, you don't need to apologize for carin' about how other ponies are feelin'." Applebloom stated.

"I'm just sorry we couldn't come through for you. Either of you." Scootaloo admitted.

Gabby shook her head. "Getting a cutie mark is the least bit of my worries now. All I want to do is make Athena happy again. In fact, if I can do anything to get her her cutie mark, I won't hesitate for a second."

"So, other than helping Gabby, you were also trying to help Athena with her cutie mark problem?" I asked.

"Yes." Applebloom responded.

"We honestly feel like we're so close to getting her one." Scootaloo added. "We can't exactly explain how, but it's like…right on the tip of our tongues. We told her that, but she just…gave up."

"She wants to help other ponies, and we found out she can do that by being able to tell what others' real emotions are." Sweetie Belle explained. "We get a strong feeling that that's her purpose, but we just haven't found out the trigger yet. We don't know what exactly is keeping her from really realizing that purpose and getting her cutie mark."

"Strange, isn't it?" Applebloom brought up. "Wasn't that kind of the same thing with us? When we were still blank flanks, we spent all of our time as the Cutie Mark Crusaders helpin' other ponies in order to find our own purpose and cutie marks. But, it wasn't until we realized that we wanted to focus on helpin' other ponies find their purpose instead of worryin' about our cutie marks."

"I've always felt that Athena's lacked confidence in herself." I admitted as I looked back on our past experiences with her. "I think it's one of the reasons why she was so hesitant in getting to know other ponies besides me, kind of how I used to be a long time ago. After all, I think she probably still blames herself for a lot of things that aren't really her fault. Maybe she secretly believes that she doesn't deserve a cutie mark…"

"But she's really nice." Fluttershy shared. "She doesn't deserve to be left out."

"She thinks she can't do anything, right…" Gabby held her head low with a claw wrapped around her chin as if she was thinking to herself. "But, I know that's not true!" She paused for a moment before gasping in realization. "Crusaders! I think I might know just the trick to fix everything!"

"Huh?" Applebloom immediately turned towards Gabby. "What do you mean?"

"Being a griffon, maybe it's true that I can't get a cutie mark, but that doesn't matter anymore. What I really want to do is help other ponies, especially if that means helping get them their marks. I don't know the answer to Athena's mark, but I do think I can bring the light back into her day. What do you say? Are you ponies with me?" Gabby faced towards them with a beaming and hopeful smile.

"Yeah!" The three Crusaders cheered loudly.

"Just say the word, Gabby! We're right behind you!" Applebloom enthusiastically offered.

"Athena's pretty down in the dumps right now, but I think everything's going to work out just fine!" Gabby bellowed out words of inspiration before jumping into an upbeat song.

"Cheer her up

That's what we need to do

Free her purpose

And I've just got the clue" She dashed into the library and turned to face everyone.

"I want to help and do

Everything that I can

I'm here to show you big change

Listen up, here's the plan

"Quick! I need something to write with and something to write on! Stat!"

"You got it!" The Crusaders exclaimed in unison, each spreading out to find the right tool for Gabby.

They reconvened at the table, and the rest of us were left eyeballing the situation in confusion. We didn't really have any other choice but to witness their apparent plan unfold.

"Thanks a lot!" Gabby cheerfully expressed when she received the necessary tools. She scribbled on the paper for a moment before turning back to the Crusaders. "Now, tell me, if you could imagine what Athena's cutie mark would be like, what would it be?"

"Ooh!" Sweetie Belle raised her hoof excitedly. "She'd definitely have a heart! That's for sure!"

"A heart! That sounds like it fits her!" Scootaloo pointed out.

"She needs something else." Applebloom tapped her chin. "Something to represent her special ability."

"I think I have something in mind!" Gabby mentioned before continuing to make swift motions with the quill in her claw.

Twilight, Fluttershy, and I only looked at each other in curiosity.

"There's so much we can do

To help somepony else" Gabby continued to sing with profound meaning.

"I see the light that shines in her

I know she can be her better self" She wiped the paper she had been working on a bit and then glanced over to the Crusaders surrounding her.

"She can free the past

'Cause now the future's bright for her" Each of them nodded individually as if they approved whatever she had made.

"Her cutie mark will set her free

To do what's right and be the pony she wants to be~" She voiced loudly and proudly.

"And be the pony she wants to be!"

"It's finished!" Applebloom noticed.

"What now, Gabby?" Sweetie Belle excitedly asked.

"Yeah? How do we bring back the spirit into Athena?" Scootaloo added.

"One last thing." Gabby mentioned. "This is the really important part. Who here is the closest to Athena? The pony she completely and absolutely trusts."

There was a short second of silence before every pony in the room turned straight towards me. At first, I could only awkwardly return their looks with confusion before I ultimately saw what they were getting at. Gabby approached me with the paper she had been working on in her claw.

"How well can you paint?" She asked.

Having previous experience with paint, I couldn't say I was horrible. "Uh, pretty well, I guess?" I responded.

"I need you to paint this on Athena's flank!" She quickly pushed the paper towards my face with a bright smile.

I studied the design on the paper for a short moment before facing back to her. "Okay…but I'm pretty sure she's going to know that it's fake."

"Of course, she is, silly, but that's not the point." Gabby informed. "Go on! We need it done as soon as possible while she's still asleep."

"You can trust, Gabby, Alex!" Applebloom supported. "She really knows how to help any pony!"

Having been blind to practically everything that happened today involving them, I decided I couldn't ignore their enthusiasm. They had a really good feeling that whatever they just did would work, so I decided to follow on through with them.


I felt myself being sucked out of slumber when something repeatedly pressed my cheek. I moaned and grumbled a bit, but it didn't stop. Finally, I decided to open my eyes, so I could angrily find out what had been the unnecessary wakeup call. However, the glare that had begun to form on my face calmed when I found Alex at the bedside looking at me with a gentle smile.

"What is it?" I asked, rubbing my eyes a little.

"So, I heard you were out trying to get your cutie mark, huh?" He mentioned unexpectedly.

I sighed and threw my head back onto the pillow, figuring that he found out everything about today. "Don't even remind me. I don't want to talk about it." My voice came out muffled through the pillow.

"Oh. So, you don't want to talk about the thing that's on your butt?" He said, causing me to quickly furrow my eyebrows.

"Stop making fun of me." I told him lazily, believing he was just trying to prank me or something.

"No. I'm serious! Look!" He pointed out with greater emotion.

With a heavy sigh, I rolled my eyes and pulled myself up so I could get a look at my flank.

There, I saw a cutie mark.

"Pretty neat, huh?" He closed his eyes and straightened his back proudly.

I continued staring silently at this mark. There was no way Alex was this dumb. If it wasn't for the stupid wrongly-placed smug look on his face, it was the obvious paint that had been drawn on my flank. But, I couldn't get mad at him for this. Instead…I felt a little…better?

No way… Did Alex do this in order to try to cheer me up? I couldn't lie, I really liked the design. If I had a cutie mark, this one would look really cool. Whatever the case was, it was clear that Alex did this for me. Was he…trying to say something?

The more I thought about Alex's involvement with this obviously unreal cutie mark, the more I began feeling a little sad in a good way. In fact, this entire situation began reminding me of the life we had before. The times I was so sad, I wanted to stay in bed, yet, he was there, pulling some stupid stunt to cheer me up. It was a back and forth kind of thing.

Exchanging a small sniffle, I wiped the tear that began to leak out of my left eye. "You're so dumb." I nearly broke my voice at the end.

"What do you mean?" He continued to pretend like he had no idea what I had been getting onto.

"Come on. I know you're not that stupid." I returned. "You painted this cutie mark on me."

"What?" He feigned a sense of confusion. "No. That totally was there before I came in."

I shook my head as I felt his intentional stupidity heartwarming. Afterwards, I immediately threw my hooves around him and hugged him with all my might.

"Thank you, Alex." I told him.

"What did I do?" He asked, keeping up his act.

"You can stop pretending now. I know you did this to make me feel better." I pulled away and faced him with tear-ridden eyes. "You know…? I think I finally realize something. For all this time, I've been running away from the idea of a cutie mark, pretending that I didn't care about it in the first place. But, I was only really lying to myself. I really did want a cutie mark, but I believed that I would never get one so I kind of hated always hearing about them. I still can't say that I can get one, and I honestly think that I won't. But…" I turned away and began searching the room for something to wipe the mark with. "A cutie mark shouldn't be a big deal in the first place. It's something I learned from Gabby." Finding a rag lying around, I sat and stared at it for a moment. "She doesn't have a cutie mark, yet she can do so many amazing things. Maybe I've been too obsessed with the idea of getting one that I haven't been focusing on what really matters. For one, I still have a purpose, cutie mark or not. And that purpose involves helping my friends, especially you. When I have ponies who like me and support me for who I am, then why should a cutie mark matter?" I pressed the rag against my flank and began rubbing the paint off, watching it smear all over the place. It was still fresh, so it was a lot easier to come out. "I feel stupid for not realizing it sooner, but I know now. I don't need a cutie mark to know who I'm really meant to be."

As I continued trying to scrub whatever was left off, this bright glow appeared all of a sudden. I nearly had to cover my eyes, and when it had faded away, I lifted up the rag I had been using to wipe off the mark.

There was still a heavy smear across my flank, but the mark showed no sign of leaving. I began to worry that Alex may have used some kind of permanent paint or even went as far as using magic to make the mark permanent, hence the bright glow.

"Geez, Alex. What kind of paint did you use?" I asked. "It's not coming off!" I placed as much pressure as I could and scrubbed heavily, wiping off even the smears remaining from my flank.

"I…I didn't paint that!" He pointed out, staring at my flank in awe.

"Oh, ha ha." I replied sarcastically. "No, but seriously. You didn't use permanent paint, did you? Please, don't tell me you used magic or something!"

"I'm serious!" He genuinely sounded serious, and taking a look at his emotional state, it was clear that he was both shocked and surprised by the unexpected development. "That wasn't me! It's you! That's your cutie mark, Athena!"

"H-Huh?!" I stared back at the mark. There was no sign of paint left. Yet, there was a huge heart still standing clearly in the middle. However, like magic, there were minor things about the mark that changed. I could see, what looked like, a bandage on the upper right of the heart, and everything about it just made even me want to smile. But, I didn't smile. Instead, I only stared at the mark with my jaw hanging wide open at a complete loss for words.

"SHE FINALLY GOT HER CUTIE MARK!" I heard a triplet of fillies run in through the door and shout all together as they jumped in joy. "CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS FOREVER!" They surrounded me and wrapped their little hooves all around as tightly as they could.

"You were searching for your cutie mark

For a while there" They sang once they pulled away.

"Trying to find out how you fit in

It was hard to try before

But you just needed to keep trying more"

'Cause the Cutie Mark Crusaders don't give in!" They pointed my eyes in the direction of the door, having me find a small audience witnessing the entire thing. Twilight, Starlight, Fluttershy, and even Gabby!

"Now we know what it took all along" Scootaloo pushed me towards the door as my legs practically felt glued in place.

"And your journey here is far from being done" Sweetie Belle waved us to a clearer area.

"For it is more than just a mark

It comes from your very heart" Applebloom shared from between.

"Now, your adventure has only just begun" They stated in unison before they led me towards the throne room.

"You've made your mark

Showed the world what you can do

You've made your mark

All you needed was to break through

To the ultimate reward of a cutie mark!"

Inside the throne room, I found the rest of Alex's friends, my friends, gathered together.

As they gasped at the sight of my newfound mark, Pinkie pressed her hooves against the table and lifted herself upwards. "No way! You got your cutie mark! This calls for an even bigger cute-ceañera!" She screamed.

"No no no no no." I finally spoke, shaking my head in disbelief. "This has got to be a dream." I turned to Alex. "I'm going to wake up any second now, and I'm going to find myself in bed cutie mark-less!"

"This isn't a dream, Athena." Alex approached me with one of the proudest smiles I've ever seen him have. "That cutie mark you thought didn't exist? You have it now. And all you needed to do was stop blaming yourself for everything and realize that a cutie mark ultimately doesn't define who you are. You're the boss.

"I'm so proud of you, little sister" Alex began to sing to me, and the sound of both his voice and choice of words began to make me heavily blush as he held my chin upwards with his hoof. "You've taught me a thing or two"

If that wasn't enough, he wasn't the only one. By his side, Twilight approached me.

"You've inspired everypony around you

And you've inspired me too" She added, leaving me wondering if she was referring back to what I did at the Crystal Empire. Nevertheless, they sang together as a duo, making me feel like the most embarrassed filly in the world. It was like the kind of birthday party I could only dream of having.

"You've made your mark

Done Equestria so proud

You've made your mark

And we're here to sing it loud

For the ultimate reward of your cutie mark"

"Well, what do you think, Athena?!" Applebloom excitedly asked me. "How does it feel like now that you have your very own cutie mark?! Was it worth the wait?!"

"I-I don't know what to say!" I felt overwhelmed by the sudden escalation of shock value. "All of this is so much! I'm still having a hard time believing that this is really real!"

"You better believe it!" Scootaloo hopped in.

"You earned it, Athena!" Sweetie Belle clarified.

"We started out just three

Crusaders driven to see

What we find in our hearts

Discover our destiny

Now here you are, our best friend

This is your ultimate win

Your adventure that never will end!"

They pushed me forward once more, and I began to see everybody in the room gather together.

"You've made your mark

You've shown dreams can be a thing

You've made your mark

Think of all the happiness you'll bring

'Cause the ultimate reward is a cutie mark!"

Everyone looked to one side of the room. As I did the same, I noticed a camera being levitated with the use of magic. I was pushed over to the front, joining the Crusaders, Spike, and Gabby. However, just before the picture was snapped, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo made sure to bring my cutie mark into full view. In the end, I was sure they had to take more than a few snaps as it took a while for my lips to relax into an actual smile.

Pinkie promised an amazing cute-ceañera, and she certainly pulled through. Personally, I would have preferred if it was a smaller party with just close friends, but the party wasn't only for me. I found out that this party was meant for Gabby as well. She hadn't received the cutie mark that she dreamed of, but the Cutie Mark Crusaders had a plan for that.

Sitting together during the cute-ceañera, Gabby explained everything to me. She gave me the real reason behind painting herself a cutie mark, and I honestly couldn't help but feel bad about it afterwards.

"You did it to make all of us feel better?" I summed up. "I-I'm so sorry! I didn't know!"

"It's okay." Gabby replied with a cheerful grin. "I'm actually really glad you got your cutie mark, Athena. All I've really wanted to do was help ponies in need, but I guess I sort of just got swept up with having something like a cutie mark to show for it. So, in a way, you've taught me something important too. I don't need a cutie mark to know that." She turned towards the sight of the festivities inside the bakery. "Cute-ceañeras sure look fun though."

Finding Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle return from their ultra-super top-secret mission, I decided to spill the beans to Gabby. "Well, this isn't just my cute-ceañera, you know?"

"Huh?" Gabby questioned before the Crusaders spoke behind her.

"She's right!" Applebloom mentioned as Sweetie Belle hovered a box over Gabby and placed it on the table.

"We racked our brains a little and came up with something for you." Scootaloo introduced.

"Seeing as all you ever did today was help everybody else, we figured that there's no way we'd let you go unrewarded." Sweetie Belle stated.

"But helping just feels good." Gabby responded. "I don't need a reward for that."

"And that's exactly why helping other ponies fits in as your special purpose, and it's definitely something worth a cutie mark!" Scootaloo exclaimed in glee. "As you may have already seen with Athena, finding your special purpose doesn't have to be about being good at something. It's about feeling good about something inside. Athena practically knew what she was meant to do, but it wasn't until she truly believed in herself that triggered the appearance of her mark!"

"Besides," Applebloom continued, "It looks like your destiny is a whole lot like ours – helping others. And you don't need a symbol on your flank to know that."

"But since we are the Cutie Mark Crusaders, we made you one anyway. Behold!" Sweetie Belle focused her magic on the enclosed box and opened it up.

"Your very own cutie mark! Ta-da!" They simultaneously said as they revealed their hoof-crafted gift to Gabby.

"If helping other ponies while looking for your own mark wasn't enough proof, it was the fact that you went above and beyond to help Athena. You weren't thinking about getting a cutie mark as a reward. You just wanted to help her because it was what your heart was telling you to do, so it's only natural that we'd carve this for you!"

"But they look just like yours." Gabby noticed as Sweetie Belle locked them into place onto her saddlebag. "You can't mean...!"

"You bet we do!" Scootaloo confirmed, "You're one of us now! Gabby, today we dub thee..."

"The very first griffon member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders! Woo-hoo!" The three fillies shouted in unison and cheered.

"You may not be able to get a cutie mark..." Sweetie Belle mentioned.

"But you're selflessly dedicatin' your life to helpin' others anyhow." Applebloom finished. "I can't think of anything more Crusader-y than that."

"And now that you have your cutie mark." I added, giving her a smug little smirk. "This is your cute-ceañera too!"

She gasped sharply before launching upwards into the air with a somersault. "Awesome! My very own cute-ceañera!" She cheered loudly as ever. Next, she chuckled a bit wildly before returning back to the ground and hugging the four of us greatly. "I am so grateful! I'm gonna go home and do my very, very best to bring Cutie Mark Crusader values to Griffonstone! I promise."

"Promise us one other thing, too?" Scootaloo brought up, turning towards the rest of us.

"Come back soon!" All of us shouted with glee. Yes, even me.

"After all, you're a Crusader now." Scootaloo added. "Crusaders forever?"

"Crusaders forever!" Gabby confirmed.

The three of them rose up their hooves, allowing Gabby to bring her claw into the group.

For the first time, without any feeling of doubt within me, I brought up my own hoof and joined them.

I could say I was finally proud to call myself a Cutie Mark Crusader.

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