The school bell rang, signalling the end of yet another day in Ponyville Elementary. Most of the fillies and colts in Apple Bloom's class were quick and eager to start shoving the contents of their desks into their saddlebags, but the little yellow filly was still staring at the blackboard, face scrunched up in consternation.
"That's it for today, class,” Cheerilee announced. “Don't forget the upcoming quiz, and remember to ask your parents for permission to join the field trip next week!" she added as the other ponies filed out of the classroom, ready to enjoy the freedom of the weekend. Apple Bloom hardly noticed.
"Apple Bloom?" Cheerilee asked, approaching the ferociously focused filly's desk.
"A hundred'n twelve?" Apple Bloom suddenly asked, looking up at her teacher with eyes big and bright with hope.
Cheerilee blinked and turned to look back over her own flank. She briefly considered the problem posed on the blackboard before chuckling softly to herself, smiling down at the smaller earth pony.
"Close. It's a hundred and ten. Now, unless you're volunteering to help me clean up here, why don't you head out and enjoy the sunny day? It's the weekend, after all!"
Apple Bloom stole a glance at her flank and tried to smile despite the almost automatic sigh of disappointment. A failed mathematics cutie mark would probably look stupid anyway.
"Yes, Miss Cheerilee," Apple Bloom muttered, nosing her pencils and books into her pack before slipping into it. Normally, she'd leave with Twist, but she had no such luxury with her friend gone to visit her aunt and uncle in Trottingham for the weekend.
Apple Bloom refused to let this keep her down, though. The weekend had finally come, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders had lots of crusading to do, as always! She galloped full tilt out of the classroom, ignoring Cheerilee's casual and well-worn comment about running in the hallways. Her short little legs propelled her with uncanny speed out of the schoolhouse. Time for a weekend full of crusading, adventure and—a flash of white and sudden pain.
Apple Bloom's world spun around and around until she finally came to a halt upside-down with her back against a white picket fence. A white pegasus filly with a pale blue mane slowly righted herself nearby and tested her wings.
"Watch where you're going!" the little pegasus said. "Stupid earth pony."
"I was watching where I was goin'," Apple Bloom said, standing up and facing the other filly. "And I'm not stupid!"
A small crowd of colts and fillies had begun to gather near the two, curious, and perhaps expecting a scuffle. The contents of Apple Bloom's bags had spilled all over the area, loose papers scattered everywhere. The pegasus seemed to notice this at the same time as Apple Bloom did, but where the latter sighed and began collecting her things, the white filly grinned, taking off to hover off the ground.
"Well, you look stupid to me now," the pegasus giggled as the draft from her wings sent the papers scattering everywhere.
Apple Bloom glared and dropped the book she was holding in her mouth as she spoke. The book, seeing an opportunity to make matters worse, landed in a patch of mud. "Why don't you come down here and say that?"
"Can't hear you! Too high up. Why don't you fly up here and ask me again?" The pegasus smirked, hovering just out of reach. Her joy was short-lived, though, and her teasing cut short as she spotted something off to the side. Without a word, the white filly bolted off and away from the school as if though her tail had caught fire.
"Just what is going on here?" Cheerilee demanded, marching out from the schoolhouse. Most of the assembled ponies scattered like leaves before the wind, leaving two unicorns as Apple Bloom's only company when their teacher arrived: Snips and Snails. Snips looked like he wanted to bolt, too, but Snails wasn't paying attention. In the end, the smaller unicorn stayed with his friend, rolling his eyes.
"Apple Bloom?" the mulberry-coated mare asked, voice stern.
Yet Apple Bloom was no tattle-tail. Squaring her jaw, the earth pony filly began picking up the things she could find. Her pencils were stuck in the patch of mud, but her favorite eraser was nowhere to be found. Where was the book report she had gotten an A+ on? She had been looking forward to showing that one to her family.
"Apple Bloom, what happened?" Cheerilee repeated, gently this time.
Her Maths book had only gotten mud on its cover. She could probably wash it off. Apple Bloom spotted all the missing papers; they were stuck high in a tree above them. Cheerilee followed her gaze and sighed.
"Snips, Snails, could you help her get her things? If you change your mind, you know where to find me, sweetie," the older mare concluded, turning around to leave the three of them there.
The very second the door to the schoolhouse shut, Snips let out a loud groan. "Why do we even have to do this? It’s just because you were too slow, Snails!"
"Uuh," Snails began, the gears of his brain churning.
All the while, Apple Bloom ignored them and went about picking up the last of her things from the ground until all that remained were the papers stuck in the tree. Apple Bloom frowned up at them. If only she could grab them with the sheer force of her annoyance, they would have come down immediately, but it was clear her special talent wasn’t withering glares. Nothing seemed to be happening.
"Because Apple Bloom is an earth pony and not a pegasus or a unicorn, and can't get the papers out of that tree without our help?" Snails asked in his oft-used monotone voice, tilting his head.
"I wasn't asking a question because I wanted an answer," Snips snapped, staring up at the offending piece of paper and focusing intently. He closed his eyes and furrowed his brow.
Apple Bloom watched as the unicorn colt's horn took on a faint sheen, and then started glimmering. As Snips concentrated, the sparkle grew to a soft glow, and there was a faint rustle above the three ponies before the errant schoolwork flew free. Apple Bloom was quick to gather them up while Snips wiped his brow.
"Well, uh, there you go," Snips said with a shrug, the stubby unicorn colt glancing about. "Let's go, Snails."
"Yeah, thanks guys," Apple Bloom said, once more slipping into her saddlebags. She still hadn't found her eraser.
"Hey, so is it because she's an earth pony?" Snails asked as he followed Snips out of the schoolyard. The unicorn duo's voices finally faded.
Apple Bloom rolled her eyes and set off in the opposite direction. She could do tons of things unicorns and pegasi couldn't! She just couldn't remember them off the top of her head, was all. Not that it mattered, considering it was weekend and crusading time!
Swift hoofsteps carried the filly down the streets of Ponyville with purpose. After-school hours meant it was time to head to the special spot near Sugarcube Corner. The Crusaders met there every day to plan their adventures next to the rainwater barrels under the awning. Apple Bloom's heart leapt when she saw she was the first one there. Scootaloo was always the one waiting for her and Sweetie Belle. She would totally rub it in her friends’ faces when they showed up! Who said earth ponies were slow?
She was not slow, she was not stupid, and today, she was first, she repeated to herself ten minutes later. Still no sign of her friends. In fact, precious few ponies at all other than Pinkie Pie who poked her head out of a window and asked Apple Bloom if she needed help waiting. The yellow filly was just about to get up and head off when she heard the tell-tale buzz of Scootaloo on her scooter. Sure enough, the orange pegasus was on the approach.
Only, she wasn't stopping. Scootaloo seemed intent on passing Sugarcube Corner by. On a whim she instantly regretted, Apple Bloom yelled out her name and jumped into the middle of the road. It was testament to Scootaloo's reactions and agility that the little pegasus avoided colliding with Apple Bloom.
This did not prove to be a happy thing for the nearby pear cart that Scootaloo slammed into. Scootaloo herself could probably have been happier about the results, too, but it was hard to tell considering she was buried in pears.
"Hey Scootaloo! Where're you goin'?" Apple Bloom asked as she nosed some of the pears out of the way. She was quickly rewarded with a bit of helmet and a dark pink mane. "Uh, and sorry 'bout crashing your scooter," she added, wincing. "You okay?"
"Rainbow Dash is giving me a flying lesson!" Scootaloo yelled as she burst forth from the green fruit heap to hop about. "Rainbow Dash! Me! Flying! It's gonna be awesome!"
"Oh! That's sweet! Maybe I can come watch?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Uh. I think it's kind of a flying thing," her friend stammered, her eyes sliding off to the side. "Like, pegasus thing. Flying, I mean. She was thinking of maybe using her house as a launch pad."
"Oh," Apple Bloom muttered. "I guess you'll have fun. Uh, I'll head over and see if Sweetie Belle wants to hang out. Crusading tomorrow?"
"Of course! Unless I get my cutie mark from flying today. That would be awesome!" Scootaloo beamed, quickly extracting and remounting her scooter. With a quick 'bye' and a buzz of her wings, the pegasus filly shot off like a greased bolt of orange lightning. More to the point, like a filly off to spend her day doing pegasus stuff with her favorite idol.
Apple Bloom kicked a rock in front of her as she headed in the general direction of Carousel Boutique. The rock was a little too big and it hurt her leg, but that was okay. She should probably be kicking herself for not being happy for her friend anyway. Perhaps she could just stand below where Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash were training or whatever they were doing? Would they mind if she just sat and watched?
Apple Bloom snapped to, looking up to see Twilight Sparkle rubbing one of her forelegs with the other whilst levitating up the offending rock, studying it with a confused look.
"Oh. Sorry Twilight," Apple Bloom said, trying to put on her most winning smile. The purple unicorn mare only now seemed to notice her, smiling back down at her.
"Hello, Apple Bloom! What brings you out today?" she asked, flicking the rock over her shoulder with a burst of magic. They both winced at the muted crash that followed.
"I'm headin' to see Sweetie Belle!" Apple Bloom declared.
"Carousel Boutique, then? I'm heading there too, actually," Twilight said as she resumed her walk. Apple Bloom quickly fell in step with her.
"What's it like bein' a unicorn?" Apple Bloom asked on a whim, looking up at the older mare. She knew it was a silly question, but she was curious now. In fact, Apple Bloom was always curious. It was just trying to find the words with which to make the questions that was hard.
Asking Twilight may have been a mistake. Apple Bloom imagined she could hear the rustle of paper and the shuffling of books as the purple unicorn went through her mind in search of a way to answer. Her gaze grew distant even as she walked, and her lips were pursed. When Twilight finally turned to look back down at Apple Bloom, she was frowning.
"Numerous authors have written books on the subject, attempting to discern, quantify and comment upon the differences in the state of being across ponies—" she began. It sounded almost like a rehearsed speech.
"No, I mean, what's it like?" Apple Bloom insisted.
Twilight's face slowly lit up in comprehension. "Oh. Well, it's amazing? I mean, I didn't really appreciate what I had until I lost it, I guess. Like when I first overexerted myself and couldn’t use magic for the rest of the day. I had to use my hooves and mouth for every little thing," she chuckled and shook her head at something. “What a mess some things were.”
"Um," Apple Bloom voiced.
"I mean, that's just part of it!" Twilight enthused with a faraway look, lost in a giddy reverie. "I don't think it's possible to explain how magic feels, but it's wonderful! Reaching out with that special something inside of you? I wish everypony could get to experience that!"
"Uh-huh." Apple Bloom nodded, her ears flat against her head.
"Not to mention linking with another unicorn's magic, that's really special, too. It's more than just convenience or manipulating objects," Twilight continued. "It's about being in touch with everypony and everything else through your magic."
Apple Bloom wished she had another rock to kick. The two ponies came up on Carousel Boutique, and Twilight paused in front of the door.
"Uh, sorry, did that answer your question?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Twilight," Apple Bloom muttered, pushing the door open with her head. If she'd been working up a gloom, though, it was quickly dispelled upon seeing Sweetie Belle sitting atop one of the mannequins in the boutique.
"Hi, Apple Bloom!" Sweetie called, nearly falling off the cloth-and-wood pony.
"Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom galloped over and grinned at her friend, offering Rarity a quick nod by way of greeting. “You ready to do some crusadin’?"
At the mention of hanging out, just like with Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle’s smile vanished. The unicorn filly bit her lower lip and glanced over at Rarity, who was now engaged in conversation with Twilight. Apple Bloom's heart sank.
"Uh, I would like to, but Rarity promised I could watch—" Sweetie Began to say.
"I did no such thing, dear," Rarity casually shot over her shoulder.
"Sis said I could watch as she worked on a spell with Twilight," Sweetie amended. At Apple Bloom's pout, she looked away, her voice taking on a higher pitch. "What if my cutie mark has something to do with magic? I need to find out!"
"I guess," Apple Bloom admitted, sitting down on the smooth, hard floor.
"Actually, Sweetie, I think it would be a great idea for you to head out," Rarity called from the other side of the room. "To do some, ah, 'crusading'. We are only trying to synthesize—"
"Sis! You promised!" Sweetie Belle groaned and hung her head.
"I didn't use the word ‘promise’—" Rarity began, but she eventually sighed. “But I said you could watch if you are quiet and sit still. And only if Twilight does not mind," she added, looking at the other unicorn mare.
"Oh, I'm sure it will be fine," Twilight said. "I'm sure Apple Bloom could stay too. I mean, sure, it's magic, but it's actually quite interesting, too! We're trying to synthesize—"
"Aw forget it," Apple Bloom muttered, heading for the door. "Hey, Sweetie Belle, I'll see you tomorrow."
Sweetie Belle called for Apple Bloom, but did not follow. The red-haired filly didn't bother to turn around, instead slipping outside. "Does nopony but me find it interesting that we're trying to synthesize—" she heard Twilight say before the door closed and cut her off.
Four little hooves set course for Sweet Apple Acres, for home and family.
Returning home early meant being drafted for work. Her big sister noted her reluctance to answer the "why" of her coming straight home, and did not press the issue, for which Apple Bloom was thankful. It was easier to try to help as best as she could, keeping her mind on the task.
Except, even that was hard. Every time Applejack bucked an apple tree, Apple Bloom thought of last Applebuck season, when Twilight had helped them in the main orchard with her magic. Whenever an apple was left in the crown of a tree, she wished she had a pair of wings so she could fly up there and pluck it.
They worked the orchards for hours. After the apples were bucked and the corn was checked up on, Apple Bloom helped her sister sharpen the plough, propping it up while Applejack worked the whetstone. Surely Twilight could simply do this with a spell? Could any unicorn do that, or did it have to be your special talent to sharpen stuff?
She realized she had never actually used the whetstone before. Normally, Apple Bloom would jump at the chance to try something new in the off chance that it would lead to her cutie mark, but she simply wasn't feeling it today. The filly kept the plough steady up while her sister did the work.
The sun was just starting its descent in earnest, casting a golden glow across Sweet Apple Acres. Up until now the two sisters had worked in silence, half-way through repairing a fence that had fallen over recently. They were laboriously raising each section and hammering in the nails by hoof in a manner that had never before struck Apple Bloom as inefficient. Not until now.
"Yes, sis?" Apple Bloom asked, looking up at her.
"Big Mac just said dinner was ready, sugar. You sure you're feelin' alright?" Applejack gestured to the house and spat out a few nails she'd held in her mouth. Her eyes were lit with genuine concern that made it that much harder to keep quiet. It would be all too easy to tell Applejack everything, but her worries seemed petty compared to the weight her sister carried on her back on a daily basis. She was not a snitch, no, and she was not weak, either.
Apple Bloom shrugged and started walking towards the Apple family's farmhouse where the faint yellow light promised to hush her rumbling stomach. She was almost at the door when Applejack caught up after squaring away all the tools.
“Think it's apple soup tonight. Your favorite," Applejack said, nudging her little sister in the side to no discernible response.
Scootaloo was probably flying around high in the sky right now, having a great time with Rainbow Dash. Apple Bloom would never be as fast as her. What about Sweetie Belle? She had probably learned lots of magic by now. She would never have to use her hooves again. Unicorns didn't have to deal with the taste of door handles all day. ‘Unfair’ was barely scraping the tip of the iceberg.
The kitchen table was set with four bowls and a large pot that smelled suspiciously like apple soup indeed. Apple Bloom managed to smile at that at least. Big Mac helped Granny Smith into her chair, and Applejack started ladling up soup for everypony.
"So. How was school?" Big Mac rumbled as he leaned forward to sip the still-hot soup.
Apple Bloom muttered something involving the word "fine", content with inhaling the divine scent of today's dinner. Three types of apples went into making this, if not four.
"And I reckon' the reason you're looking more glum'n a pegasus in an apple cellar is why you're home early, huh?" Applejack continued her brother's assault where he had left off.
Apple Bloom said nothing, idly wondering if everypony's siblings were as gosh-darn annoyingly good at sniffing out things like these. She stared into her soup hoping that the questions would just go away. Could unicorns magic questions away?
What actually did go away was her soup.
"Hey! Gimme a break, give it back!" Apple Bloom called, trying to stretch over the table to retrieve her dinner. Applejack had snatched it away and sat with her forelegs crossed, frowning at her little sister over her two soup bowls.
"Hooves off the table!" Granny Smith snapped, even though she was grinning toothlessly at the whole debacle.
"She took my dinner!" Apple Bloom whined.
"And you ain't answerin' me. What's up, sugarcube? You want your dinner, you be honest with me now," Applejack said, glancing askance at Granny Smith. Their grandmother simply nodded and looked at Apple Bloom expectantly.
"That ain’t fair," the filly muttered, turning to her brother with a quivering bottom lip. She looked for help, for any trace of sympathy. Big Macintosh dipped his muzzle into the soup and did not so much as look up at her.
"Fine!" Apple Bloom said, leaning forwards to rest her head on the table. "Scootaloo is too busy doing pegasus stuff flying around, and Sweetie Belle is with Rarity and Twilight doing unicorn magic, so I don't have a lot to do today what with bein' a stupid boring earth pony! You happy now? Can I have my dinner back now, sis?"
The dinner table was quiet for a few seconds before Big Macintosh spoke up. "And your books bein' all muddy, what's up with that?"
"I fell," Apple Bloom snorted, blowing her mane out of her face. "'Cause I'm a dumb and clumsy earth—"
"You finish that lil' sentence of yours in that tone and I know one lil' filly what's sleepin' in the barn tonight," Granny Smith said. Despite her words, the wizened old mare was smiling still, and there was a twinkle in her eyes. Apple Bloom huffed and held her tongue.
"I think it's about time I told you a little story, Apple Bloom," Granny muttered, leaning back in her rocking chair. In her voice and her eyes both, the little filly could see and hear the wisdom of a lifetime's worth of experiences. The old green pony closed her eyes, reminiscing for a long time.
For an awful long time, in fact. The entire table was waiting for her next words, whatever they may be. Here sat three members of the Apple family ready to learn from one whose many and long years had taught her so much. The illusion was somewhat broken after a minute when Granny Smith snored.
"Consarn it, I know how the story goes anyway," Applejack said, puffing out her cheeks. "She didn't mean nothin' about the barn, I'm sure, but I do mean what I’m about to say. You listen to me now, okay? You close your ears to me and it’s straight off to bed."
Apple Bloom nodded dutifully at her big sister, which rewarded her with a warm smile.
"Right, so this story goes back to when Equestria was young and such," Applejack said, looking up at the ceiling. Apple Bloom thought her big sister looked for all the world like a real storyteller right then, like the ponies who spoke at the festivals. Even so, curiosity got the better of the little filly.
"Like when Granny was young?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Nah, older. I reckon' this was before any of us," Applejack said with a shrug. "It ain’t important. Never is with these things. Doesn’t even have to be Equestria. Anyway, there were three sisters—"
"Way I heard it, they were brothers," Big Mac commented, wrapping his lips around the soup ladle to get a second helping. Applejack tapped him on the nose with a hoof.
"Will the two of you hush and let me tell the darn story?" she snapped.
"Sorry AJ," Big Mac muttered, echoed by Apple Bloom.
"Right, so, world, sisters, where was I? Right. Three sisters, and no they didn't have names so don't ask, that's not the gosh-darn point. One was a pegasus, brash and strong. The other was a unicorn, wise and clever. The last of the sisters, she was an earth pony."
"And what was she? The earth pony sister wasn't smart or strong?" Apple Bloom asked, voice full of suspicion. Applejack completely ignored her.
"So these three sisters stood in the fields, and no, I don't know where," Applejack said, frowning dangerously. How had she known Apple Bloom was about to ask?
"The sisters were mighty hungry because there weren’t enough nuts and berries in the forest for them all. So one day, they wondered what all the things in the sky really were, 'cause nopony really knew about the clouds, the sun and the moon back then.”
“But the Hearth’s Warming play says—” Apple Bloom began.
“Sugar, it’s a story, not history,” Applejack sighed. “So anyway, they figure that surely things so grand had to be able to help them find something to eat! The pegasus sister takes off saying she's going to find out what all those things are, bein' all brash and loud. Quicker'n the eye can see, she flies up into the sky. The other sisters nodded at this and sat down to wait."
"A year later, the pegasus sister returns from the sky, grinnin’ wide. She says she’s touched the clouds in the sky and learned all about them. Now, they couldn’t much eat the clouds, but wouldn't the sisters just love to hear to hear all about these wonderful things in the bright blue above?" Applejack asked. The easy smile she wore vanished as she briskly shook her head and slammed her hoof on the table.
"No way, no how, says the unicorn sister. She was proud, so she wouldn’t hear none of it, saying that nopony cared about the clouds. Instead, she would seek out the sun, the moon and the stars. Something so amazing and far-away had to help them find food, she figured. So just like that, she closed her eyes and lay down, castin' herself off into the heavens with her magics. The two other sisters nodded at this and let her be, laying down to wait for her.”
“For another whole year?” Apple Bloom piped. Applejack frowned at her and continued.
"Next year, yes, the unicorn sister wakes up. She smiles, saying she's seen the stars for what they are. Now, you couldn’t very well eat them, but she knows what they’re made of and how to work them 'cause of her magic and all that other fancy mumbo jumbo that unicorns have, and she’d of course love to tell her sisters all about it."
Apple Bloom tensed up in anticipation, waiting for Applejack to slam her hoof down on the table again, but her sister merely smiled.
“So the pegasus and the unicorn both look at their earth pony sister waiting for her to make some daring claim. After all, it was her turn to prove her worth. The pegasus sister proudly strutted around telling tales of how she had mastered the sky, and the unicorn sister did the same because she knew the stars. What did the earth pony sister have to say to that? What could be grander than the clouds and the stars, they asked?”
Applejack scratched at her muzzle and grinned, leaning forward in her seat. “It’s quite alright, says the earth mare. She would love to hear what they had discovered. She wasn’t so bloated on pride that she’d ignore them, but she would like to show them what she had discovered. While her sisters mucked about, she had learned something just as important.”
“Now, her sisters, they get all angry at this. The pegasus sister says she doesn’t have wings, so she can’t have flown up and seen anything she herself couldn’t, now could she?” Applejack shook her head. “Of course not, the earth mare agrees, she had not flown.”
“And earth ponies don’t have horns either, the unicorn sister cried. She can’t exactly have used magic to find answers either, could she? Again, the earth pony sister said no, she hadn’t. All quiet-like, she reaches out and puts her forehooves on the muzzles of her sisters, and where they’re starin’ up into the sky, she guides them down to look at the ground. There, she says, she’s discovered the biggest secrets.”
Applejack grinned. “Acourse, her sisters get all up in a tizzy. They say she’s lying.”
“But she is!” Apple Bloom protested. “She was lying. She couldn’t have flown or used magic!”
“What she says is, while the pegasus played with the clouds, she watched the flowers and the grass of the meadow as they drank of the rain. While her unicorn sister visited the stars, she watched how the plants turned to face the sun and how the tides listened to the call of the moon. She does not need to touch them to understand them, she says, but she’s kept her ear to the ground and listened. With her hooves on the ground, she learned how to make things grow and how to feed them all,” Applejack concluded, smiling at Apple Bloom.
“That’s it?” Apple Bloom asked, blinking.
“Just about. She told them that if they were truly wise, then they would help her. Put to use what they themselves had learned. They worked out how sun, moon, wind, rain and earth could all be used together, that’s how Granny Smith told it.”
Apple Bloom stared at her and swallowed, working all she’d heard around in her head whilst Applejack stared at her, but whatever her sister was looking for, it was evident she didn’t find it.
Applejack poked the inside of her cheek before she shook her head. In one swift move she got up and collected her hat. "C'mere, sugar. Big Mac, can you do the dishes? Don’t clean up mine and Apple Bloom’s food just yet."
Big Macintosh muttered an affirmative as a confused Apple Bloom was ushered out the door by her sister. Within the minute, the two earth ponies stood outside the farmhouse. The sun had barely set, and the first few stars were beginning to light up the night sky.
"How's that supposed to help me? Am I supposed to go watch sunflowers?" Apple Bloom whined. "What in the hay is that all supposed to mean?"
"You watch your mouth young lady!" Applejack snapped, jabbing her flank. "Now you apologize. I won't have the h-word outta you like that."
"Sorry," the smaller pony muttered.
Applejack's expression mellowed as she threw a foreleg 'round her sister's neck. "The story might not tell you everything by itself, and I ain’t one for speeches, but how about this: Feel the ground beneath you and don’t look up, look forward. Don’t let anypony tell you what you can and can’t do. And once in awhile, if you think there’s something that’s just plain impossible? Look at your hooves and what’s below."
"Huh?" Apple Bloom said, looking about. She felt a gentle hoof on the back of her head, forcing her eyes to the ground. "My hooves?"
"The earth herself, sugar. That what's under your hooves right there. All of Equestria is beneath you," the older mare said, chuckling. "That's what we got, and that's what the other ponies can't ever take away from you. Sure, you don't have a fancy horn, and sure, you can't fly, but you know what? That’s why we’re strong."
If Applejack's words didn't quite resonate with Apple Bloom, the filly picked up on the pride in her words. The pride and the resolve. When she looked up at her big sister's face, Applejack was grinning, eyes trained on the horizon, and Apple Bloom couldn't quite stop herself from smiling, too.
"I guess that bit makes more sense when you're older, huh?" Applejack asked with a shake of her head. "Just trust me, sugarcube. Sweet Apple Acres and the entire Apple family ain't what it is just 'cause we got lucky. I ain't sayin' them other ponies aren't great and all, don't be getting any big ideas here now, but they sometimes forget to stop and listen. They don’t stop and feel the dirt under their hooves like they ought, and when you can fly, you never learn to climb a steep hill with your own hooves."
Apple Bloom nodded mutely, turning her sister’s words over in her head still.
"I can see you're gettin' part of it at least, 'cause you're listening. But these stories, they don’t matter half as much as what you do with em,” Applejack snorted. “It’s been far too many words, so just keep in mind two things, sugar,” she added, re-adjusting her hat. “One of these is that what you can and can’t do by yourself don’t matter half as much as what we ponies can do together, all of us.”
Once again, Apple Bloom nodded, more earnest this time. For all that she felt bad for having gotten a little mad at her friends, she already missed them, and most of all, looked forward to seeing them again.
“And two?” Applejack grinned, gesturing to Sweet Apple Acres at large. All around them, acre upon acre of apple trees, corn fields and other things besides crowded the horizon. “Don’t you let nopony tell you that you ain’t got magic. This is ours to share with the pegasi and unicorns. Maybe you don’t think it’s fancy because you’ve been able to grow things since you were even littler’n you are right now, but you show me a unicorn farmer and I’ll sprout wings on the spot.”
Applejack took a deep breath and leaned down to nuzzle the top of Apple Bloom’s head. “Now, dinner's probably gone cold, so what say we heat it up again, eat, and then I'll dig up a special little something for you because you’ve been a right helpful filly all day, alright?”
"So, crusaders, time to report!" Apple Bloom declared. Their clubhouse was full of paper and crayons, and all the random tools of their varied maybe-future-trades lay scattered about the room in preparation of a weekend full of crusading.
"I don't think magic is going to be my cutie mark," Sweetie Belle sighed. "I thought I was going to get to try some magic of my own, but I don't know how, and they were just doing some boring 'synthesizing'—"
"Yeah, me too," Scootaloo broke in, dejected. "Rainbow Dash is still awesome, but I don't think there's a cutie mark for being thrown off clouds. If there was, I’d have it now."
"What about you, Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle asked. “And why’re you, uh...”
Apple Bloom scratched at her muzzle. When Applejack had given her a potted tomato plant for the clubhouse, she’d been a little confused at first. After she’d remembered what Applejack said about “feeling the earth under her hooves” she thought she got it, but standing in the pot was making very little difference on anything.
“Well, there’s no way to get a cutie mark for listening to weird stories,” Apple Bloom murmured. “Hey, you guys wanna try dragon catching again?”