CHAPTER 2: Orion's Big Day
From the moment the first rays of sunshine flowed through his bedroom window, Orion Sparkle woke up without a single ounce of hesitation, threw off the warm covers that enveloped him, and jumped out of bed. The room was cold and the world outside looked even more frigid, but instead of returning to the toasty embrace of his dreams, he only felt more awake than ever. His sister Andromeda often joked that it would usually take nothing short of magic to pull him out of the peaceful comatose he called sleep, but this was no ordinary day.
Life and enthusiasm rushed through his body in great vigor this morning because today was his birthday. Even more important, though, was its significance. All night long, he dreamed of finally getting his cutie mark and showing it to his friends. The “oohs” and “aahs” still reverberated in his mind as he rushed to a mirror, unable to contain his excitement any longer. With a quick turn, he spun his flank towards it to see what he got.
When he saw his reflection, a feeling of unforgiving disappointment rushed through the blue-violet colored unicorn’s body like icy water. There was no cutie mark to welcome him this morning. Instead, all he could see was the cruel nickname of the merciless teasing from other colts and fillies; "blank flank." Orion blinked a few times to be absolutely sure, but upon seeing that his mirrory doppelganger was telling the truth, the wondrous joys of last night’s dreams began to come crumbling down to the rocky earth of “reality.” His heart broke in devastation at the sight. Everything in him wanted to just look away and move on, but his eyes remained fixated on the empty patch where the invisible tombstone of his hopes now lay. It was as if he was physically unable to move on from the depression.
"It's not fair," he grumbled to himself. "Another year and still nothing! Why don’t I have my mark yet?”
A light creak of his bedroom door interrupted him and saved him from the hypnotic trance of the mirror when he turned to find the source of the sound. At the doorway stood his mother, whose deep purple eyes watched his enthusiasm with love and affection.
"Good morning, Orion," Twilight said sweetly. "Happy Birthday."
Orion made his way to her and gave her a hug. Part of it was out of habit, but this time, he really needed it.
"Thanks mom," he sighed as she held him in her arms.
Twilight could sense his unhappiness and saw the shattered look on his face. She knew what it was because she once shared the same feeling of failure. It was the same despair she felt when she nearly flunked her magic entrance exam on the day she applied for Princess Celestia’s School of Gifted Unicorns. What he needed was somepony to console his anxious impatience.
"It’s okay if you still don’t have your cutie mark,” she said soothingly. “A lot of colts and fillies don’t find out their special talents until they’re your age or older. It took me a long time before I discovered mine.”
Orion pouted pitifully. He heard, but didn’t listen, and Twilight hated seeing him like this. She remembered her obsession over getting a mark, but despite her own experiences, there was no way she could train him to get one of his own. They were entirely dependant on the host pony, so all she could do now was encourage him.
"But it’s just not fair!” he cried. “All of my classmates keep calling me ‘blank flank!’ It's embarrassing! I got mad last week and I told everypony at school that I’d get my cutie mark on my birthday, but since I didn’t get my mark, now all the other kids will laugh at me when they see! I feel like I’m the only one left.”
Twilight twirled his navy blue hair with her magic while she listened, just as she used to do when he was just a foal. It was a motherly tendency of hers, but he didn't mind as long as it was in private. Ever since he was little, the feeling calmed him, but only when she did it. As he began to relax, Twilight smiled.
"What about Applejack's boy?” she asked. "Bucky doesn’t have his cutie mark yet.”
Orion thought for a moment and did feel relieved that he at least still had his oldest friend to understand what it was like. Just as Applejack and Twilight had been remarkably congruent in their own friendship, it was clear from foalhood that Orion and Bucky would be best buds forever. They had stuck with each other through thick and thin all of their lives and there wasn’t anypony in the world who could change that. Both were born with a love for fun and adventuring and, together, they were an inseparable duo.
“Yeah,” Orion reluctantly admitted, “I guess he doesn’t have one either.”
“And don’t forget Peach Cobbler,” Twilight added. “She’s just as impatient as you are to get hers, if not more.”
Peach was Orion’s other best friend. Despite being the daughter of Fluttershy, her tomboy personality hid any connection to her mother’s timidness. After months of bugging Orion and Bucky to be a part of their team, she finally got in. Taking it a step further, she proved to them that she could run with the colts by being “one of the colts” and had a fire in her unlike any filly they knew. Bucky joked that it was because she didn’t act like one in the first place, a statement that would often warrant a patented Peach Cobbler “love tap” on the shoulder. Being some of the last ponies their age to get their marks, the three had become a close-knit group and eventually formed the newest Cutie Mark Crusader club, just like Bucky's aunt Apple Bloom had done years ago.
“Besides,” Twilight continued as she walked towards his closet, “if you had your cutie mark by now, you wouldn’t need to go out and get yourself in trouble time and time again anymore, would you?”
Pulling out a red cloth with her magic horn, she lifted it towards him. Though somewhat worn, the sapphire blue and gold CMC emblem of Sweetie Belle’s old cape still glimmered like pure gold upon a sea of ruby-colored cloak. Twilight kneeled down to his eye level and tied it lightly around his neck.
“You may not have discovered your special talent yet, but you do have two of the best friends a colt could ever ask for and a mother who loves you no matter what.”
Orion looked down at the red cape and began to feel a bit better. If nothing else, at least he had his family and the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
"I guess you're right," he said, giving her another hug. “Thanks mom.”
"Any time," Twilight winked lovingly as she let go and stood back up.
While Orion started to get ready, Twilight picked up the updated “to do” list that she would post on her children’s’ walls each morning.
“Now then,” she said, characteristically switching back to business mode, “we’re going to have to prepare for your party tonight. We need to hand out the invitations, check on the birthday cake, make sure the snacks are ready, and ready the house for the guests.”
Orion jumped up and down excitedly like Pinkie Pie on a sugar rush.
“Oh! Oh! Can I do it? I can go into town and do all that stuff!”
“You’re going to do all the errands by yourself?” Twilight asked with a lighthearted smirk.
“Yeah! I’m old enough. I can do it!”
“Without getting distracted or forgetting?”
“Well,” Orion said, pondering on it another moment, “maybe could you decorate for me? I’m not very good at it. I can do the other stuff, though! Can I go by myself this time? Please?”
Ever since he was a baby, Orion was always a do-it-yourself kind of colt, even when he had no idea what he was doing. If his older sister Andromeda was Twilight made over, then Orion was a smaller version of his uncle Shining Armor, minus the foresight. He had an endless supply of spirit and courage, but tended to get in more trouble than he bargained for, which unfairly labeled him by some ponies as a troublemaker.
Whether it was the romantic stories of Canterlot knights of old that had intrigued the young colt from an early age or the immense admiration and awe he had for his uncle, a fire for adventure burned within him like nothing else Twilight had ever seen. Worse for her, when he had his mind set on something, he was not so easily deterred. Still, it was his birthday and running errands for her hardly seemed like asking for much.
“Oh alright,” Twilight answered softly. “You can do it by yourself, but not before breakfast.”
"But I’m not really hungry,” Orion whined. “Can’t I just get some cookies at Sugar Cube Corner?”
Before Twilight could say no, Orion widened his red eyes to the size of saucers, hoping to catch a moment of pity. Even she had to admit that it was hard to resist.
“Pleeeeeeeeaaaaase?” he begged, adding a small lip quiver for the final effect.
Twilight merely pretended to ignore him and turned towards the door.
"Nice try,” she chuckled, “but birthday or not, you’re not going to guilt-trip me into giving you cookies this early in the morning. You’re not leaving without eating first, either. I’ll get you a bowl of cereal since you’re not very hungry.”
The will of the mother was absolute and Orion knew this battle could not be won, birthday or not. Instead, he sighed and followed after her, mumbling something inaudibly. Not long after Twilight had left, the sound of hooves pattered from the hallway, followed by a loud thud and the fluttering sound of flying papers. Orion ran towards the source of the crash to find his big sister picking herself up slowly. Seeing that her amethyst hair was a chaotically tangled wreck of unbrushed confusion, he tried his hardest to hold back a big grin, but failed as he giggled at the cluttered sight. Andromeda was not amused.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she said as she began picking up the spilled sheets off of the floor with her magic. “My hair looks absolutely ridiculous.”
“Oh no, not at all,” Orion replied, his eyes struggling not to give away his true opinion on the matter. “Your hair doesn’t look that bad. It’s very…”
Andromeda raised a sarcastic eyebrow and waited for his “compliment,” but words escaped Orion as he tried to pull one out of thin air. With a shrug, he gave up.
“I’ve got nothin’,” he said in a very Spike-like manner. “Sorry.”
“Well, that was pathetic,” Andromeda teased before returning to cleaning up. “Now would you mind helping be out here? These are important documents that I’ll be bringing to the Canterlot Academy later today and I don’t need them disorganized.”
Orion nodded and began gathering up some of the sheets. Watching Andromeda levitate the numerous documents while she scanned them for correct organization, he decided to follow her lead and use his magic instead. While some young unicorns were indeed capable of very basic magic, full telekinesis was uncommon for his age group, a limitation that frustrated Orion to no end. Planting his legs firmly at his sides like Twilight taught him, he focused all of his energy into his horn and grimaced at the recoil magic created. Andromeda stopped what she was doing to watch as red sparks flickered at the end of his horn. With a mighty push of strength, Orion was finally able to lift a single piece of paper off of the ground for a few seconds.
“You did it!” Andromeda exclaimed, impressed by his determination. “That’s pretty good for somepony your age. Perhaps magic will be your special talent.”
The words “special talent” echoed through Orion’s ears, leaving him in a thrilled state once again.
“Really?” he asked excitedly. “Do you really think so?”
“Why not? Mom got hers in magic and I’m not too shabby at it either. You very well could get a cutie mark in magic.”
Orion’s crimson eyes grew larger and larger with every word.
“That would be awesome!” he nearly shouted. “Maybe it is my special talent! I have to tell Peach and Bucky!”
While her brother bounced up and down once more, Andromeda spotted one last sheet and went to pick it up.
“By the way, happy…”
Turning back towards where Orion was standing, she realized that he had taken off without another word.
“Birthday,” she finished.
Seeing that he was gone, she returned her attention to the final draft of her time travel spell and sighed.
“Why do I feel like I just made a mistake?”
In the kitchen below, Orion’s breakfast was a messy blur. Milk and cereal flew to the sides of the clinking bowl as he hastily ate and ran out the kitchen with a quick "love you mom, gotta' go, bye!" Before Twilight could protest, he was gone like a flash, bowl still spinning from the force of his exit.
Twilight's teeth ground together in mother’s aggravation softly as she looked upon the disaster of a table before picking up a rag and cleaning the mess. With a deep breath, she exhaled and decided to remain calm for his sake.
'He's just a colt,' she thought to herself. 'He gets a free pass today because of his birthday, but that's it.'
Despite her frustration, Twilight felt more forgiving today because she knew exactly why he was behaving this way. Her boy was approaching the age to get his mark and he was determined to get it, now more than ever before. Looking out the window, she could see Orion happily running in the distance with a book bag full of invitations around his neck.
The morning was still young and the deep blue sky seemed extra azure on this particular day, with only a few cottony clouds covering some of the early sunlight of dawn. Long trails of warmth and light spilled through their cracks and bathed the earth in a warm glow. Applejack often said how Ponyville could never change and would remain as beautiful as it had years earlier. Even Orion, who preferred the excitement of Canterlot to the monotony of his hometown, had to admit that there was always something about the small town that was...magical.
Reaching his destination, a light ring-a-ling of the doorbell chimed when he entered Sugar Cube Corner. Right away, the smell of cakes and pastries hovered in the air, each scent tantalizing him with their savory aromas. If Pinkie Pie hadn’t already represented the Element of Laughter, Orion would have thought that she was the first example of the Element of Baking. He always loved dropping by to visit and rang the counter’s bell in happy anticipation.
"Hello?” he said loudly. “Is anypony here?”
"Just a minute!" a bouncy voice that was unmistakably Pinkie Pie called out from another room. "Berry, can you get that for me? I've got my hooves full right now. And I need some help with this cake, too! Can you help me, Cherry?"
"Okie dokie lokie!" two simultaneous voices rang out somewhere in the house, bringing a smile to Orion's face.
Though Pinkie Pie no longer lived with the Cake family since she had gotten married, the crazy pink mare still worked the shop just as she had for years. Business was very good thanks to her twin children, Berry and Cherry, who helped in their mother's work. Along with the Cakes, the two families’ combined efforts proved to make quite the pastry and desert delicacy team. Though they had become regular caterers to the Canterlot palace, they still held that small-town hospitality that made visiting a delight to colts and fillies everywhere.
A few moments after Orion had rung the bell, Pinkie's son Berry arrived and made his way to the other end of the counter. If anyone knew anything about Pinkie Pie or her reputation, they would spot the family resemblance in her children immediately. In the most ironic of coincidences, where Pinkie once babysat the twin son and daughter of the Cake’s, she herself would have fraternal twins of her own. Both looked like slightly darker versions of their mother, complete with pink coats, wavy magenta hair, and sky blue eyes.
"Hi-ya Orion! How are you doing?" Berry exclaimed in his characteristic happy attitude. "Happy birthday!"
"Thanks, Berry. I’ve been good. And you?”
“I’m pretty good, though some weird things have been happening.”
‘Weird’ was always a relative term when speaking about Pinkie Pie’s family, but the sound of Berry’s tone intrigued Orion.
“Really? What is it? What happened?”
“There’s been a strange new trend of naming the things we’ve been baking here. Today I had a big chocolate cake called ‘Orion.’ The name was funny, but the cake was delicious!”
“Nooo,” Orion laughed, “that was my cake!”
Berry placed his hooves onto his pink cheeks in playful shock.
“Wha? It was yours? Oh, I’m so so sorry! I’ll give it back, I promise.”
“You can’t give it back because you already ate it!”
“Sure I can. You may have to wait for, oh…”
Berry looked at his invisible watch.
“A few hours or so. It’ll be ready in time for your birthday!”
Orion let out a long “eww” and giggled at the pink stallion’s over-the-top goofiness. Berry always was a jokester from the day he was born and there was nothing in the world he loved more than making others laugh. Whether it be his impeccable wit, endless supply of jokes, or his ability to turn any situation into a more pleasant one, he truly was the physical embodiment of the Element of Laughter.
“We haven’t made your cake yet because we have a big order that needs to be taken care of first,” Berry explained, “but it’ll be ready in plenty of time before your party.”
“Okay, that works. Thanks,” Orion replied. “By the way, where’s your dad today? I don't hear him singing."
"Mr. and Mrs. Cake are making a big delivery to the palace today, so he’s helping them out. That’s the tall order I was just talking about. There's some kind of big event happening soon, so the princess asked for our help with the events! Since they’re gone and will be busy until late, they asked me to say happy birthday for them."
As the last words left his lips, Berry's face suddenly lit up.
"Oh!" he said. "I almost forgot! I thought I'd give you your present early, if you don't mind opening it now."
Orion bounced with excitement. Berry and Cherry always had fun and creative ways of giving their gifts, which Orion loved regardless of the gift itself.
"What is it this time?" he asked, wide-eyed. "Where is it?"
"It's already in your satchel," Berry replied with a playful smirk, referring to Orion’s book bag.
“Satchel? What’s a satchel? Isn’t that a purse?” Orion asked, embarrassed at the thought of him being in public with a mare’s hoofbag.
Berry shook his head leaned back towards the kitchen.
“No, no, no,” he laughed, speaking loudly for his sister to hear. “A satchel is not a purse at all! It’s kind of like a book bag for anypony to use!”
“Daring Do wears one!” Cherry shouted from the backroom.
Berry chuckled at his sister’s ability to catch the pop culture references he loved so much and beamed with a look of pride. The twins’ randomness often confused Orion, but he had learned not to question things when it came to the Pie family, so he instead rummaged through the bag with his hoof.
“I don’t see anything in here. All I have in here is a bunch of invita…”
He stopped for a moment when he began to feel something underneath the letters and spun his head back up at Berry.
"How?” he exclaimed in surprise. “How did you do that?”
"Shhhhhh," Berry hushed with a wink, pretending that somepony was listening at that very moment. "Trade secret. I am very very sneaky!”
Orion hastily opened the bag, pushing though the invitations to find a small, tightly wrapped present. Ripping the outer layer apart, he came across another layer of paper. Ripping through the second layer, there lay a small wooden box. In the box was stuffing and finally, after digging through the stuffing, a small note with two words scribbled on it was found.
"Look up," Orion read aloud.
Hanging above his head, a big bag of various hard candies, chocolates, jawbreakers, gummies, and other sugary items dazzled brightly before Orion’s eyes.
"I didn't see that there when I got here!” he exclaimed with mouth agape. “How did you...?"
"Trade secret!" Cherry yelled from a back room.
"I do believe he underestimates our sneakiness, sis!" Berry shouted back.
"I'd say so," Cherry replied, suddenly standing next to Orion.
The shocked colt jumped so high in the air, he ended up clinging onto the brass chandelier that hung from the ceiling above and looked down at the two twins below with a baffled expression.
“Okay, now you guys are just showing off!”
“It’s what we do,” Berry said, acting like it was no big deal.
Cherry stood below him, ready to catch him.
“I’ve got you, Orion. Just let go.”
Orion plucked the candy bag that was hanging from the lights and let go, falling onto her back with a surprisingly soft landing. The young mare turned her head towards him and smiled brightly. There were few ponies in the world that Orion knew of that were as joyful and caring as she was and he had a particular affinity for her because she was once his foalsitter. Even now, the two remained just as close as ever, partially because there was something about her aura that just brought joy to things.
"Happy Birthday,” she said in a voice as sweet as the frosting that caked her nose and ears.
Orion lowered himself from her back and placed the candy into his bag.
"Thanks, Cherry,” he replied. “And thank you for the candy. You guys know me too well.”
“So what are you doing here by yourself?” Cherry asked. “Are you preparing for your party all by yourself?”
“Mostly. Mom is getting the house all ready, but I’m doing everything else. By the way,” Orion added, reaching into his bag, “I was going to give you guys these.”
Pulling out two hoof-drawn invitations, he gave them to his friends with glee.
“You’re both invited, of course. I hope you guys aren’t too busy to make it tonight.”
The twins looked at each other for a moment and then back to Orion and smiled.
“We’ll definitively make it,” they said simultaneously as Pinkie Pie walked in, covered in flour.
"Happy birthday, you crazy colt!" she said with a hearty exclamation. "Don’t worry about us. We won’t be baking for much longer, so Berry and Cherry will have plenty of time to enjoy your party. Sorry about the delay. I’ll let Twilight know when your cake is finished, okay?”
"Thanks Pinkie Pie," Orion said, giving her a big hug. "You're the best!"
The grown-up nature of Pinkie’s words wouldn’t seem out-of-the-ordinary for a young colt or filly in Ponyville, but anypony who had known her for a lot longer would immediately see the maturity she had acquired over the years. While still the happy, party-loving, random earth pony that she always was, having children of her own brought out a responsibility in her that few ponies knew existed.
"You’re very welcome!” Pinkie giggled. "So then, are you headed over to Sweet Apple Acres now?"
"That’s exactly where I was going next,” Orion responded. “How did you…” The bluish colt stopped in mid-sentence when he remembered who he was talking to. Sometimes he wondered if Pinkie senses also included mind-reading. "Never mind. Yeah, I'm just about to leave to pick up some food for the party and give Bismarck and Bucky my invitations!"
“Perfect. Give me just a second.”
Pinkie Pie disappeared behind the counter for a moment before returning with a small bag of bits.
"I borrowed a little money from Applejack last week, but she’s been sick in bed recently and I've been way too busy to drop by. Could you bring this to her for me?”
Orion's eyes widened as if Princess Celestia herself had asked him to do the task.
"You really mean it?" he asked in excitement.
"Of course. You're old enough and I trust you. You think you can do this for me?"
Orion stood at attention and saluted with a loud “yes ma’am.” Placing the money in his bag, he felt like a heroic explorer, ready to set sail for the great unknown. With his final goodbyes, he trotted out the door with a sense of grown-up pride and took off towards the green acres of the Apple family farm.
So far, everything was beginning to look up for him and now the possibility of discovering his mark seemed closer than it had ever been before. Maybe this would be his big day after all.