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        “Cutie Mark Crusader philosophers, go!” The three fillies’s cheered, but each deflating as they

came to the conclusion that philosophers didn’t cheer. A proper thinking pose of pouty eyes, hoof under

chin, and rump on stump was half the battle anyway, so presumed Scootaloo. She sat and squinted with

furious strain.

        Three seconds of incredible silence passed.

         “I think we’re supposed to say important things that don’t make sense to be Cutie Mark Crusader

philosophers.” Applebloom had gone for the crossed hooves, closed eyes approach to enlightenment.

        “Umm, why are we even doing this?” Sweetie Belle had simply sat comfortably, trying to clear her

head to make room for big philosophising. Unless cake really was something to think about, she wasn’t

confident that she was going anywhere with this.

        “Are you kidding Sweetie Belle? So we can get our Cutie Mark’s. Oh, you’re good.”

        “Yeah Sweetie Belle! Keep asking big questions like that.” Apple bloom stretched her limbs.

Sweetie Belle was on a roll she didn’t want to miss. Scootaloo craned her neck closer.

        “Ummm.” Sweetie Belle’s friends’ eyes widened.

        “Ummmmm,” Their jaws unhinged slowly.

        Sweetie Belle sighed. “Why is it so hard to think of something to ask anyway?” The Cutie Mark

Crusaders hung heads low, whining little “awwws” of disappointment.

        “What was I supposed to ask?” she ventured

        “How should I know?” Scootaloo slid to her hooves, letting the dejection filter into her voice.

        Applebloom started excitably. “Oh, Oh! Those were good questions! Anything?” Three heads

turned eagerly to see their flanks. Flanks that were blanks. Another good sigh saw the Cutie Mark

Crusaders sulking in a triangle.

        “Bein’ philosophers was a dumb idea anyway.”

        “Yeah. What’s the point of knowin’ stuff anyway if you only get to know that you don’t know it?”

        “Applebloom, I thought we weren’t being Cutie Mark Crusader philosophers anymore?”

        “I wasn’t being a philosopher there. See, I wasn’t trying to get an answer to that question.”

        “So… so, why’d you ask it then?”

        “Not sure.” Applebloom turned her gaze skywards to consider it.

        Scootaloo threw out her hooves with the full exasperation of not having done anything exciting for

all of six minutes.

        “Guys! This isn’t getting us any closer to finding our Cutie Marks. Let’s stop all this ‘Why’ and

‘How’ and start doing more ‘What’ and ‘Where!’”


        “Yeah, you’re right Scootaloo. Or, are you?” the white filly asked mischievously.

        “Sweetie Belle!”

        “Sorry, Scootaloo. At least we didn’t get covered in tree sap this time.”

        The little pegasus twisted and turned on the stump, prying herself loose from an all too familiar


        “Speak for yourself.”

        With a bit of help from her fellow crusaders, Scootaloo flew; if only to crash into them in a heap.

        “Ugh, all this using my head, I can’t think straight!”

        “Let’s go see what my sister is doin’, she’s always got her head on straight.” Applebloom vaguely

remembered the last apple bucking season. “Most of the time, anyway.”

        Truth be told, Apple bucking season never really started or ended. The colloquial season was

simply the high time for bucking, when many of the apple varieties came into ripeness. Even so, there

were trees heavy with other types of apple that needed a right good kicking from as early as mid-spring,

all through summer and well into the sweet decline of autumn. AppleJack wasn’t bucking trees just now.

Today she was making a round of the orchards, checking up on the health of her orchard. It was as

important as harvesting apples, making sure that no bug or blight could get settled into the orchard, and

all the more important to do with regularity. With hooves that knew every inch of ground and eyes that

knew every branch of every tree, it was a relaxing task to have for the orange mare.


        AppleJack kept to a slow and steady pace, her easy going steps hiding the attentiveness of the

orchard’s keeper. For once, it was an attention to detail that the ever fastidious Rarity would appreciate, if

only she knew. The fashionista would probably get distracted polishing apples to catch the daylight just so 

or rearranging vagrant leaves just so or making decorations of dead wood.

        She took a deep breath. It was much better to feel the honest soil beneath her hooves, the open

sky above, and let the little things just slide.

        Down the side of one of the orchard’s many rolling hills, three little things were doing just that. It

was as much a roll as a gait, every pony’s hooves thrown every which way in the pursuit of gravity.

Sweetie Belle tumbled, only adding to her velocity. Scootaloo and Applebloom were quickly overcome;

together they formed a passable Cutie Mark Crusader dust devil. AppleJack watched with one eye lilted

and her mouth agape as yet another of the fillies’ antics unfolded. She wasn’t totally sure that this hadn’t

been by their design. There was no telling, with them.

        The dust settled as the Cutie Mark Crusaders rolled gently to a stop. Giggling and dizzy, the three

friends untangled themselves from one another’s’ legs. Applebloom was first up, her bow still sprung up

with as much vivaciousness as ever, if being something less than red now.

        “AppleJack! We was tryin’ to be Cutie Mark Crusader philosophers, but that was a dumb idea and

now we can’t think of something else to try to earn our cutie marks!”

        The larger sister took a second to sound out the word in her head. She knew the word as well as

any pony, but it was hard to press it into the same brain space as ‘Cutie Mark Crusader.’

        “You wanted to be philosophising ponies?” She was, to say the least, incredulous.

        The other two fillies had got to their hooves and were dusting themselves off.

        “And there’s still no cutie mark!” Scootaloo spun madly on the spot, like Winona did when she

got too excited. It was as if Scootaloo could only chase her flank enough, a cutie mark would naturally

settle into place to warrant all the effort.

        For whatever reason, Sweetie Belle took up the spinning too.

        “I want my cutie mark!” Applebloom bounced in place tossing her head back and forth.

        “Tarnations, girls! Girls settle down!” At least the Cutie Mark Crusaders were paying attention,

fickle as they were feeling. Whatever Fluttershy had done with them, they’d come away with a little more

respect for their elders. It was something that, as of now, AppleJack would remind herself to deeply


        “Look, I know you want your Cutie Marks, I really do. But all this hollerin’ certainly at the way to

get er done.” The fillies we’re apt with listening, when they we’re impressed. AppleJack, you don’t do a

half bad speech, she thought to herself.

        “What I’m seein’ here is that you three little fillies got a lot more energy than you know what to do

with. Go run around and burn that off, than get back to deciding what you’re going to do for your cutie

marks next.”

        They hadn’t moved, but AppleJack could tell she’d congratulated herself too early. She’d dropped

the ball somewhere. Oh yeah, tellin’ the fillies to go running. Oh sure, they’d invariably do that on their

own accord, but tell ‘em to do it? Oh no, that made them intractable as a stick in the mud. She

face-hooved. She was about to lose this, and as much as she genuinely did love the Cutie Mark

Crusaders, she loved them, like curious ‘fine’ art, from a distance. I’ve gone and dropped the ball I really

have… ball. That could work.

        “Look here crusaders. I bet-“ with her most playful tone , mused, “- that you could be…”

impending lies made AppleJack scope the words ahead carefully, “… be very interesting at hoofball,

zipping and flying about all over the place. Oh yes, I’d say you could be the most interesting hoofball

players in all Ponyville.” She gave them a wink for good measure. Inside she hoped the gambit worked.

Cutie Mark Crusader crusades we’re a force of nature, best left alone.

        Each filly’s head clicked its cogs for a drawn out moment.


        “We cooouuuuld be Cutie Mark Crusader hoofball players,” Sweetie Belle admitted.

        “Or we could be Cutie Mark Crusader sports stars more like!” Scootaloo exploded into



“Just imagine what Rainbow Dash would think! She’d be so impressed as we score goals and

beat other teams!”

        “That does sound pretty fun” Applebloom was warming to the idea. The pegasus’ grand fantasy

was working its way into the other two impressionable fillies.

        AppleJack could see the rich young minds ready,  frantically hoping the spark would

catch within them. Then it did, and she sighed, oh how she sighed with relief.

        “Cutie Mark Crusader sports stars go!” the three fillies chorused, instantly charging off towards

the Apple home.

        “The old ball is in the barn!” the older sister remembered to call out. Last thing Granny Smith

needed was excitable young fillies looking for something were it wasn’t.

        They’d faded from sight, and more slowly from mind. AppleJack resumed her check up on the

orchards, finishing another stand of trees. As she’d turned back to head to another, the ball, toughened

and old, careened into the back of her head.

        “Sorry AppleJack!” At least they we’re focusing on it, not her. All the same, it flew out from the

tangle of fillies a second and third time, each earning the orange mare another knock.

        AppleJack knew when a day just wasn’t meant for working. She could fight against the grain, or go

with the flow. Today she didn’t have the patience for the former. Besides, town would be pretty nice this

time of day, coming up on noon as it was.

        With that idea set, she made for the Apple home. A quick word; “Eeyup” had the home front

sorted, and with that she had the day to herself.


        AppleJack strolled into Ponyville at a steady gait. It bustled with busy ponies going about

the daily routines of trading and socialising. An impulsive thought to go get her vending stand and

work the day surfaced, which she quashed immediately. She was going to take the day off, even if

she had to work at doing that. Not knowing what to do was an unaccustomed feeling for


        A sudden chromatic blur flashed by before wheeling on itself to reveal Rainbow Dash.

        "Hey AppleJack, what's up?"

        "Hey Rainbow Dash. I'm taking the day off and don't know what to do with myself."

        "Huh. Well I'm getting some clouds to help Twilight Sparkle since she's reading up on

them now."

        AppleJack pondered for a moment. "She's just gazin' at clouds then?"

        "Oh no," Rainbow quickly replied, "she's got her quills and books out and everything.

Well... sort of. Yeah," Dash admitted. "It's kind of boring actually, but I said I'd help her with it."

        A spark lit up in the Pegasus' eyes. "I know. Go see her," she shrugged in the direction of

the library, "between the two of us we could get her to change her mind and do something fun

instead. Then I wouldn't have to drag the clouds around. If she wants to know about clouds she

should've just asked me. I know everything there is to know about clouds!" Rainbow Dash

declared proudly.

        "What's there to know? They're fluffy and white. Gray and they rain."

        "Oh no no, there's so much more than that, AppleJack. There's big fluffy ones and small

fluffy ones. And they're not all at the same height, and... and lots of stuff. Twilight does have a

book all about them you know. Not that it could tell you anything I don't know. It just uses big

words, so it fills the pages faster," Rainbow Dash said smugly.

        AppleJack smiled. Visiting Twilight Sparkle was a good idea. Twilight was the recognised

recluse of their group of friends, yet more often than not she'd visit AppleJack at Sweet Apple

Acres rather than vice versa. Rainbow Dash would clearly like a way out of her commitment to

drag clouds around as well.

        A shout of indignation down the street drew both mares' attention. One of Rainbow Dash's

wards had gently drifted away from the library window and was now raining on the unsuspecting

passer-by’s below.

        "Whoops. Back in a sec!" In a blaze of colour the pegasus soared off to clear away the

offending nimbostratus. At a much more sedate pace the orange earth pony headed off to meet

Twilight Sparkle.

        In a moment she was there. Clearly the unicorn hadn't caught on yet that anything was

out of place.

        "Commonly distinguished for their impressions on the imaginations of ponies all over

Equestria, clouds are collections of atmospheric vapour formed by the evaporation of surface

water. Many clouds are also made by the industrious pegasus ponies of Cloudsdale as part of

their important duties of managing the weather. Clouds are an integral part of the water cycle,

forming from the ocean, or Cloudsdale, and providing water to keep the streams and oceans of

Equestria running. Clouds-"

        "-Hi Twilight, Sorry to interrupt you there."

        "Oh hi AppleJack," the purple mare said. With horn glowing in a nimbus sheath of light, a

bookmark slid into place and the book closed. A cloud like a sea pony turning away from a cloud

resembling a pony's sad face made up the picture on the cover.

        "I'm just reviewing meteorology. Rainbow Dash is helping me identify the common cloud

patterns over Ponyville. I'm also trying to tell the difference, if any, between Cloudsdale-made

clouds and the few natural clouds we get here. Rainbow Dash says that they feel different on her

hooves. How can I put 'feels different' as an empirical measurement?"

        "Er, sounds migh-tay interestin' Twilight. In a fancy mathematics kind of way."

        "Oh, it is," she concurred, completely missing the inferred sentiment. "How are you,


        "Well, I thought I'd swing by and say hello, since-

        "-Look out!" Rainbow Dash crashed through the thankfully open balcony door into

something soft. Actually, somepony soft.

        "Heavens-to-Betsy, Rainbow Dash!" AppleJack disentangled herself from the mashup on

the floor. A score of books had flopped off of various shelves. One had landed over

AppleJack's eyes. She gingerly shook it off. Her general regard for books was similar to her

regard for foals: They both were to be taken care of and hoofled with care, but better so at leg's length.

        "You alright, Rainbow Dash? What was that about?" Inquired Twilight, always trying to set

down the ground facts as soon as possible. With another glow of magic, the distressed books

drifted from the floor to the shelves. Spike might have to reorganize them again later.

        "Heh heh, sorry. I was trying to race AppleJack here," the blue pegasus said, still tail over head

on the floor.

        AppleJack was a little irritated "You got caught up by one little raincloud?"

        "Hey, I cleared that cloud right out of Ponyville and would have been here too in ten

seconds flat, but those ponies were still soaked. I had to give them a Rain-blow dry. Wasn't going

to leave them hangin'," Dash retorted as she found her hooves. AppleJack nodded consent at

that, and let it drop.

        The last of the books were magicked back into a semblance of order. The cloud book

drifted to the shelves as well, to the mutual relief of Rainbow Dash and AppleJack.


        "I was getting kind of hungry anyway," said Twilight as she smiled a little smile and rolled

her eyes. "And I can't think right at all when I haven't eaten. How about we go get lunch?"

        AppleJack wasn't adverse to the notion. "Sure, sugar-cube."

        "Count me in. Burns a lot of energy, being as fast as me." The pegasus flittered about as

the other two made a stately walk down to the restaurant.

        "I wasn't expecting you today, AppleJack," said Twi, the haughty waiter serving the dishes,

 "I'm glad you came out from your orchard for once."

"What made you do it anyway?" inquired one now happily hay-munching Twilight sparkle.

        "Yeah, what gives?" It was not common to see Rainbow Dash seated. Sure enough she

slouched and lazed when not racing here and there, but the restaurant would have none of that,

and she couldn't eat easily on the wing.


        "Applebloom and her friends are runnin' around the place today, and they were havin'

such a fine time of it for themselves I didn't have the heart to run them off from gettin' in way of

work. Big Macintosh has got more patience for the lot of them and he's well capable of an easy

day without me. Said so himself."

        "Cutie Mark Crusaders," intoned Twilight Sparkle, and both her and AppleJack sighed.

The fillies' were affable and their enthusiasm infectious, but they could be exhausting too.

Ironically of the three present, Rainbow Dash had the most patience for them despite being the

least patient pony amongst her own friends. Not that her measure of patience was exactly the

same as the others'. More often than not the Cutie Mark Crusaders got up their zaniest antics

when Rainbow Dash's own bold excitability was thrown in the mix. You didn't have to be patient

with fillies when they were trying to keep up.

        "Yep. Last I saw they were trying to earn hoofball cutie marks, and that's the most normal

thing I've seen them do all day."

        "Hoofball? I could show them a thing or two."

        "I'm sure you could. Of course, I know thing about a ball myself, or three."

        "Four." Rainbow Dash leaned forwards.

        "Five." AppleJack raised the stakes, both ponies forgetting the half eaten hay sandwiches.

        "Umm," started Twilight. Not usually given to mumbling, she was still inept at handling the

grittier side of social exchanges, as she saw this rivalry.


        "What's hoofball?"

        At least the two were distracted enough to forget the growing contestation for a moment.

Both turned slack faces to the unicorn. Neither could make a start with forming any words. She

might've well asked what a hay sandwich was, or what a cloud was.

        AppleJack recovered first while Rainbow Dash floundered.

        "You're saying," she enunciated slowly as much for her sake as anything, "you, Twilight,

don't know, in the slightest little bit, what hoofball is?"

        "...yes." It was always such an embarrassment to be caught out in ignorance. No matter

how much Twilight learned, it seemed an endless stream of other things slipped between her


        Then Rainbow Dash's pent up disbelief exploded.

"How-do-you-not-know-what-hoofball-is-Twilight, I mean, didn't you get out, like, ever in Canterlot?!"

        She knew the pegasus well enough to know that her assertiveness overlapped with

unintentional aggressiveness. Even so she felt defensive. "I had a lot of studying to do. Princess

Celestia expected a lot from me."

        "Are you kidding me, Twilight?" said the exasperated Rainbow Dash. "More like you'd

never take your horn out of a book for one minute!"        

        AppleJack intervened. "Whoa now, nelly," referring to Rainbow Dash, "Twilight, Rainbow

and I will just have to teach you. You did want to do something fun anyway, Dash. We weren't

much bigger than the Crusaders last time we had a romp with that ball anyway.

        Dash settled down. "The three of us, AppleJack?"

        "Nah, that wouldn't work." Hearing this, Twilight deflated a little. Dash had riled her a bit,

curiosity was burgeoning through her now. She'd have to admit that regardless what happened

next, she'd be certain to have a book on 'hoofball' by nightfall to satiate it.

        AppleJack considered for a moment, hoof under chin. "Not with the three of us. You and

Rainbow Dash, we're too good. No offense meant, Twi," she added hastily.

        Rainbow Dash took up the thinking pose. "Three... how about three aside?"

        "That'd work. Could we get the others in for this though?"

        Mischievousness gleaned in Dash's eyes. "Oh yeah, we'll get them. We'll have a game,

and I'm gonna win!"

        AppleJack smirked. "Oh yeah? Don't you think your getting ahead of yourself?"

        "Oh, I'll admit you're pretty good on the hoof. Pretty good. But you can't beat the best, and

that's me." Smugness radiated from the pegasus like a nova. The two of them glared into one

another's eyes, each with a grin spread across her face. Twilight was transfixed just

watching the tirade.

        "Right then." AppleJack spoke levelly, eye's unwavering. "We'll play it out tomorrow, so

we can get everyone in for it, and that way we let Applebloom have it for the rest of today."

        Rainbow Dash's eyes were equally fixed. "Don't worry Twi, I'll make sure you learn

everything you'll ever want to know about hoofball by my awesome example."

        The purple unicorn muttered under her breath. "That's what I'm afraid of," but it was lost

on the intensity of her friend's rivalry.