Though she'd made the trip to the clubhouse countless times before, there was something truly special about Scootaloo's journey there that day. She no longer felt like she was merely riding her scooter. Usually she'd just been worried or hopeful about her activities for the day with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, but now she simply felt exhilarated. She always had added a few tricks here and there along her ride, but that day the whole trip was one long series of intricate maneuvers and tricks. To her it was like she was dancing all the way there, just at high speed.
She hadn't seen either of her fellow Cutie Mark Crusaders for quite some time. It had been a week since the adventure Twilight Sparkle had concocted for them that had ended with all three of them earning their cutie marks. The ensuing cute ceañera had been attended by dozens of ponies and had lasted deep into the night. After taking time to recover from it all, Scootaloo had found herself accompanying Rainbow Dash for something that had gone from exciting to downright momentous for her. She was now speeding to the clubhouse to tell her friends about it. As the clubhouse came into view, she slowed down and parked her scooter easily at the base of the tree before heading up the ramp and inside. As usual, she found Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle already inside and both also looking particularly excited as well.
"Guys, I've got something amazing I gotta tell you about!" Scootaloo said excitedly.
"So do I!" Sweetie Belle added, grinning like mad.
"Me too!" Apple Bloom also added, bouncing up and down in place. "Who should go first?"
"You go first, Bloom," Scootaloo told her. "The Cutie Mark Crusaders was the name you came up with for us after all."
"Scoot's right, it's only fitting," Sweetie said in agreement.
"Alright, well…" Apple Bloom said, taking a deep breath to calm herself before sharing her news. "Y'all know Ty Quillington, right?"
"Of course we do, he's that celebrity home renovator right?" Sweetie Belle said with Scootaloo nodding as well.
"Apparently he's an old buddy of Big Macintosh's, an' the two of 'em got to talkin' during and after the cute ceañera," Bloom told them giddily. "He said he'd take me on as his apprentice! I'm gonna learn all 'bout fixin' and buildin' stuff from a real expert!"
"Wow, Bloom! That's awesome!" Scootaloo told her. "Okay, you next Sweetie!"
"Okay," Sweetie said, fidgeting a bit as her turn now came. "Well, my big sis brought me along to meet Sapphire Shores since she was filling an order for her yesterday. She told Sapphire about my singing and I ended up singing something for her. She wants me to sing with her as a backup singer, and she said she'd even introduce me to a vocal coach!"
"Holy moly, that's incredible Sweetie!" Bloom said in surprise. "Guess that leaves you, Scoot. What's yer news?"
"Oh nothing," Scootaloo said, trying to play cool. "Just that Rainbow Dash took me to get signed up for Flight School and we happened to meet Spitfire of the Wonderbolts there. Oh, and Rainbow Dash let it slide to Spitfire about my dancing and they're gonna let me take some extra lessons from their own choreographer. So yeah, nothing major there."
"Are you kidding?" Sweetie Belle said with eyes wide. "That's incredible, Scoot!"
"How cool is this?" Apple Bloom said as she and her two best friends gathered close. "We all got our cutie marks on the same day, and now we're all gonna get to chase our dreams like we never imagined!"
"I know!" Scootaloo added. "It's gonna be off the hook!"
"Our futures are so bright, we're all going to need shades," Sweetie also added slyly.
The three girls took a moment to come down off of their excitement, their gazes slowly falling to the floor of their beloved clubhouse.
"I leave for Flight School in two days," Scootaloo said. "And I won't be back in Ponyville for a while. Plus, I'm gonna be practicing dance pretty much every day that I'm not in school from now on."
"Rarity's got another order for Sapphire she's working on now," Sweetie Belle said. "As soon as she's done with it, I'm going with her to deliver it. I probably won't be around for a couple of months, and even when I'm back all my free time is going to be spent in singing lessons."
"My apprenticeship starts tomorrow," Apple Bloom said. "And there's a lot of stuff around the farm that needs fixin' up too. I'm gonna be a might busy for quite a while."
"Looks like we're all going to be busy from now on, then," Sweetie said darkly.
"But hey, I'm sure we won't always be so busy," Scootaloo said hopefully. "We're bound to have days off here or there. We'll get together on those days and we'll totally go crusading and-"
"Scootaloo, we don't need to crusade anymore," Apple Bloom told her. "We all have our cutie marks now. The whole point of bein' the Cutie Mark Crusaders was so we'd find our true talents and earn our cutie marks. We did just that. So what'd we be crusading for?"
"Apple Bloom is right," Sweetie Belle added. "We had a good, long run, but…it's over now. We aren't Cutie Mark Crusaders anymore."
"I guess you guys are right," Scootaloo said, both sounding and feeling defeated. "I just…I don't wanna lose you guys is all. I don't have a family of my own, and…well…you two…"
It was a rare sight to see Scootaloo showing an emotion that wasn't excitement or sarcasm, so Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were surprised to see tears beginning to form in their Pegasus friend's eyes.
"You're not just friends to me…" she said, her voice quivering. "We've all been through so much together. All the adventures, the hardships, the teasing...you guys are like sisters to me. I just…I love you both so much and…and I don't want to lose you…"
"Oh Scoot…" Sweetie Belle said as she nuzzled her friend. Apple Bloom immediately joined them, poking her head up between them both.
"Just 'cause we can't be together all the time doesn't mean we'll stop bein' friends," Apple Bloom said. "I meant what I said that day we were walkin' up to the Holy Oat Pail. You gals will always be my best friends. Nothin's gonna ever change that."
"Best friends forever," Sweetie Belle added. "I'll always care about you both."
"Ditto for me," Scootaloo also added. "And then some."
After a good, long session of nuzzles and hugs, the three fillies then turned their attention to taking down many of the various things they'd set up in the treehouse for their time as crusaders.
"Still, it is a shame to see all this stuff go to waste," Apple Bloom said as she looked around. "I did a lotta work on this place to get it this nice."
"Yeah, not to mention the awesome cloaks you made for us Sweetie Belle," Scootaloo told her. "As well as the theme song. It's too bad there's no use for this stuff anymore."
Sweetie Belle nodded as she continued cleaning up, but as she did a thought occurred to her. As the thought stuck in her head and grew, so too did a smile on her face.
"Maybe," she said thoughtfully, "just maybe it doesn't have to go to waste after all."
"What're you on about, Sweetie?" Apple Bloom asked.
"Hear me out here, girls," Sweetie told them as they huddled up. "I just had a crazy but kind of neat idea…"
Many years later…
School was out once again that day and colts and fillies alike poured out of Cheerilee's schoolhouse as usual. A fair number of them already had their cutie marks, but two fillies in particular – one unicorn and one earth pony - who were still without their cutie marks were taking some extra time that afternoon to prepare before they headed out.
"Moonshine! Summer Breeze!" a young earth pony filly called out to the two. She was dark brown in color with a two-tone green mane and tail. "You guys wanna come to Sugar Cube Corner? A bunch of us are going to try out Twist's latest candy canes."
"Thanks, Gardenia," said Moonshine, who was a dark blue earth pony filly with a light blue mane and tail. "But we've got something else to go do today."
"Moonie's right," added Summer Breeze, who was a light orange unicorn filly with a strawberry blonde mane and tail. "We've got somewhere to go to sign up for some summertime activities."
"Oh," Gardenia said, a bit disappointed. "Well, I'll be sure to pick up some candy canes for you then. I'll give 'em to you at school tomorrow."
The two fillies thanked Gardenia again and set off on a trail away from the school and out of Ponyville. It was a well-worn path that led through some light forested area into a secluded section of the renown Sweet Apple Acres farm. They crested one last hill and saw their destination: a magnificent treehouse that stood above a field that had several cabins, a barn and a flagpole. Atop the flagpole flew a maroon-colored pennant that bore a gold and blue crest.
"You nervous, Summer?" Moonshine asked her friend.
"Uh huh," Summer Breeze said with a gulp. "How about you, Moonie?"
"You think? I mean, we're gonna be meeting three superstar ponies for crying out loud."
"I'm sure they're all really nice once you get to know them."
"And how're we gonna do that? We can't just walk right up to them and say 'hi' or something lame like that."
"Actually, it's pretty refreshing to not have ponies gushing when they meet us," a more mature-sounding voice said from behind the two fillies. They both froze as they turned and looked up behind them to see an adult white unicorn with a lavishly styled pink and lavender mane and tail smiling warmly at them. The two fillies both froze as they came face-to-face with one of the singers from their favorite musical group, Celtic Mare.
"Y-y-y-y-you're…" Summer Breeze stammered, dumbstruck at who she and her friend were now meeting.
"Welcome to Crusader's Base Camp," the unicorn mare told them pleasantly. "I'm Sweetie Belle. Are you both here to join the Cutie Mark Crusaders?"
"…yes…" both fillies said weakly.
"Well come on and let's get you signed up," Sweetie Belle told them as she walked ahead to lead them onwards. The two fillies looked at each other nervously but quickly fell in behind her and followed as she walked up the ramp to the clubhouse.
"Hey Bloom," Sweetie Belle said as she poked her head inside. "It looks like we've got two more to sign up for this summer here."
"Hot dang," Apple Bloom said, looking up from her desk. Like Sweetie Belle she was now a full-grown mare as well and had long since traded her pink hair bow for a pink bandana that sat atop her head to keep her unruly red mane out of her eyes. "This is gonna be the biggest troop we've had yet!"
"No doubt," Sweetie replied. "Can you get these girls all signed up? I need to check on the cabin amenities again to make sure we've got enough supplies. I wasn't counting on as big of a turnout as we've had and if we need more stuff I'll need to make arrangements soon."
"Will do," Bloom told her. "Oh and if'n ya see Scoot, remind her that I don't rightly appreciate it when she decides to buzz the clubhouse. This place ain't gettin' any younger after all. While I may be plannin' to rebuild it eventually, I'd still like to get a year or two's more use outta it."
"I'll do my best, but you know how she is," Sweetie said with a giggle as she left the fillies in Bloom's care.
"Yes, unfortunately I do," Bloom said with a sigh. She rose from behind her desk and approached the two fillies. "Hey, don't I know you girls from around town?"
"Yes, ma'am," Moonshine said, still feeling uneasy but not as nervous as before. "We're in Miss Cheerilee's class."
Apple Bloom nodded as she recalled them both now. "Ah, that's right. I thought I recognized y'all from the last time I was out fixin' the windows there. School goin' okay for you both?"
"Yeah, Miss Cheerilee is a fun teacher," Summer Breeze told her. "A lot of our classmates have gotten their cutie marks, but those of us who don't have ours yet don't get teased about it. Well…at least not much."
"Believe me, girls, I know exactly how you feel," Apple Bloom told them. "But you've come to the right place, and I think you're gonna have a blast with us over the summer. So let's get you girls all signed up and get you fitted for Crusader capes."
Signing Moonshine and Summer Breeze up for the Crusaders took only a few moments and afterwards Apple Bloom set to taking a few measurements of them to make sure their capes would fit them properly.
"Miss Bloom?" Summer Breeze said uneasily. "Can I ask you something?"
"You sure can," Apple Bloom told her as she continued her measuring. "And please, just call me Apple Bloom."
"I was just wondering…why do you three do this?" Summer Breeze asked. "I mean, you're three of the most famous and successful ponies to ever come from Ponyville. Why come back here just to help a bunch of blank flanks?"
"First off, don't you ever call yourself that again," Bloom told her emphatically. "It's not somethin' y'all should ever be okay with bein' called. You're all wonderful fillies and colts filled with potential and with futures brighter than any 'o you can even imagine. As for why we do this-"
"Call it 'continuing a tradition'." A new voice said from the doorway, cutting Apple Bloom off mid-sentence. Apple Bloom and the two fillies looked over to see an orange Pegasus with a reddish-purple mane and tail leaning against the door frame. She had a cocky smile on her face as she nodded at Apple Bloom.
"What the hay have you been up to, Scoot?" Bloom asked, looking mildly annoyed.
"Had to check in with the forecasters on upcoming weather conditions," Scootaloo told her. "There's some rain scheduled a few days from now but it'll be in the evening so it won't interfere with things too much."
"All well 'n good, but did ya need to cut so close to the clubhouse when ya left? Ya shook the windows so hard I thought they were gonna shatter."
"Oh, heh, sorry about that. I've been working on my takeoffs lately. Gotta keep my performances fresh, after all. Rainbow Dash keeps bugging me to try out for the Wonderbolts so we can perform together, but I still like doing my own thing. You know how it goes, right Bloom?"
"Boy do I ever. I got another offer to work for an architectural firm in Manehattan, ya know."
"Are they ever gonna leave you alone?"
"One 'o these days I'm gonna have to actually take 'em up on it, but there's just too much still to do around Ponyville, not to mention Sweet Apple Acres. I ain't 'bout to leave my family an' the people here high and dry."
"I hear you there. So, who're the new recruits?"
"Oh geez, where are my manners? This here's Moonshine an' Summer Breeze. Girls, I'd like you to meet…"
"Scootaloo?" Moonshine said in awe. "THE Scootaloo who opens for the Wonderbolts whenever they perform?"
"Yeah, that's me," Scootaloo said a bit bashfully. Despite having had her present gig for a couple of years now, she still wasn't totally used to the attention she received from it. "But when I'm here I'm just Scootaloo, and what happens here isn't about me or Sweetie Belle or Apple Bloom. This place is all about you guys and helping you find your true talents."
"Thank you Miss Scootaloo," both fillies said in unison.
"I think we're about done for today, girls," Apple Bloom told them. "We'll get your capes ordered from Rarity an' bring 'em to the school once they're in. Summer camp starts in two weeks, but once y'all got your capes you're welcome to participate in any Crusader activities."
"You girls need an escort back to Ponyville?" Scootaloo asked, stretching her wings a bit.
"No thank you, ma'am, we'll be fine," Moonshine told her with Summer Breeze nodding in agreement.
The two fillies took off running back towards town, yelling back their thanks again as they passed Sweetie Belle who was just coming back to the clubhouse.
"Such a cute pair those two are," Sweetie Belle said to her friends as she joined them.
"This is gonna be one full summer," Scootaloo added. "I gotta hand it to you, Sweetie, this has turned out to be one awesome idea you came up with."
"After what everypony did to help us get our cutie marks, I figured it'd be a way we could try and do the same for other fillies and colts who had similar problems as we did," Sweetie replied. "Plus it has the side effect of giving us all a chance to get back together for at least one season out of the year for the summer camp. I just didn't expect things to get this big is all."
"It's gettin' bigger than you think," Apple Bloom told her. "My cousin Braeburn's tryin' to get me to come out to Appleloosa to set up a troop of Crusaders out on the frontier."
"And I've had more than a few high profile Pegasi asking me to make a specialized troop just for Pegasus colts and fillies in Cloudsdale," Scootaloo added.
"I guess I'll just hope Canterlot doesn't come calling for a unicorn troop then," Sweetie Belle said, rolling her eyes.
"Let's worry about that if and when we have to," Scootaloo said, playfully bumping her unicorn friend as she passed her. "Right now I think I wanna hit Sugar Cube Corner for some treats with my sisters here."
"Last one there buys?" Sweetie asked, smiling slyly at Scootaloo.
"You're challenging me to a race?" Scootaloo asked in disbelief.
"What's the matter?" Sweetie Belle replied somewhat mockingly. "You gonna chicken out on me, dodo?"
Before either of them could continue with their tit-for-tat exchange, Apple Bloom shot past them and out the door, laughing madly as she left the two in the dust. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo immediately took off after her, both of them laughing as they caught up to her and ran alongside her towards Ponyville. Though many years had passed since their time adventuring together, the bonds between the former Cutie Mark Crusaders were as strong as they had ever been; and each of them was determined to make sure their friendship persisted for the rest of their days.