It was Ocean that found the first one.
The sea-green unicorn was goofing around, dashing to and fro among the thin trunks of Horsewood Forest, when he accidentally kicked it; it bounced off one young trunk, ricocheted of another, and hit him in the chest. It was covered in dirt, and clearly had been gouged out of the soil; Sweetpepper, who later examined the scene, had suggested that it had grown like a potato, over time.
It was, of course, the first rock.
That it was found in Horsewood Forest seemed strange at first, but Sweetpepper - who had named the tiny stand of very young, carefully planted trees - had a theory about this too. Sweetpepper reasoned that a stone could not have grown in Galloping Gardens because the soil was constantly being worked and churned as crops were grown, harvested, and replanted. But the effort to grow a forest was different; once planted the soil had never been touched, yet earth ponies constantly walked and sang and ran there; the unique magic of their kind permeated the trees and the stable ground both.
Ocean, unfazed by the blow from the rock, picked it up and carried it back to pull a joke on his friends Lightning and Boeing; he hummed a surf tune then spat out his burden "Check it out dudes! ROCK MUSIC!"
While this was perhaps not the best of comedic routines, Ocean's discovery changed how everypony, especially the earth ponies, saw their world, the realm of Equestria.
Careful inspection and judicious digging revealed enough small stones to begin the first true rock farm; Cirrus came down from his growing cloud city eager to discover the secrets of stone. In all of the ten months that the newfoals had lived in the village of Summerland, never had a single stone or outcrop of rock been seen. The soil was perfectly even and consistent in texture as if - as Cirrus once put it - "It had been manufactured, or created, deliberately, to be so."
Cirrus, through meticulous experimentation, discovered the rules of how stones were grown. The seeds of rocks, small grains of stone, formed in uncultivated soil frequented by earth ponies using their special, subtle magics. Such seeds reached a maximum size of two to three inches at most, mere pebbles, then seemed to stagnate.
The small stones would not grow larger on cultivated land, or land that was covered in green growing things. Cirrus suspected that something intrinsic to plants interfered with stone development, and he offered several wild theories ranging from biological interaction to some kind of 'life force' issue. In any case, true rock growth only happened in the most barren of spaces, such as the seemingly infinite desert that surrounded Summerland County.
Beyond the green hills of Summerland, Trotsky, Crescent and Grassdancer had set up the first rock farm. Stones needed to be tended by earth ponies to become rocks, and eventually boulders. However, it was found that once a stone had grown to a certain size, it would continue to grow on its own, much as how seeder clouds worked for the pegasai. Cirrus felt sure that this was indicative of some fundamental law of physics within Equestria itself, but with only two examples, it was hard to codify it.
Stones needed barren land, sun, heat, and occasional rain. They needed to be turned over, and they needed to be moved to new areas, presumably so that they could absorb different minerals to add to their crystalline structure. Properly tended, they grew slowly but steadily; once they became large enough, they could be rolled out to even more lonely parts of the desert, where their growth continued, and sometimes accelerated.
The value of stone could not be underestimated; stone was one of the fundamental resources of a 16th century level of technology, as Renaissance passionately argued. It was his emphasis on the need for a source of stone that led to the creation of the rock farm.
The earth pony newfoals had started their new lives at the San Francisco Conversion Bureau in disappointment. They had almost universally felt let down when they realized they lacked a horn to perform magic, or wings with which to fly. Now they had begun to see just how important, indeed invaluable, they truly were. It was not merely that without them, without earth ponies, there would be no food, no flowers, no trees, no green landscapes; one of the most basic elements of the world itself - stone - depended on their unique magic.
Ocean, in one of his more... mystical... moods had offered "Dudes, what if, like, somehow, earth pony magic, like, made the whole world originally? Whoa! What a mind blower!" The notion may have been wild, even spurious, but something about it settled into the minds of the newfoals; what if earth ponies truly were, in some magical way, the foundation of Equestria itself?
It didn't seem so bad to be an earth pony anymore; gradually pride in being an earth pony grew.
There had been many more changes in the past five months; the remaining pavilion buildings had all been completed; Summerland Village now was truly a village; twenty-five small cottages surrounded the city hall, with an additional four medium-sized tent buildings. One medium pavillion had been allocated as a barn of sorts to the Galloping Gardens farm, another had been set as a general storehouse for all the tools and supplies taken from the crates. The third pavilion became known as the 'Ranch House', it served as a group home for those unattached ponies who had not ended up in a cottage.
The last medium pavilion became the first and only restaurant/kitchen for the community; the teal unicorn named Aurora had found a special talent in cooking, and her creations had become a source of great joy among the colonists. In doing this, she had become the second newfoal to gain a Mark on her haunch. It had appeared one day, in full sight of dozens of newfoals, while she served up the very first haycakes made in the village; three spoons now danced on her flank.
The first Mark, however, had gone to Sweetpepper, the diligent farmer who had worked from the very beginning to provide the newfoals with fresh and tasty foodstuffs. Three bell peppers, two yellow and one red, appeared one day, while he was busy singing to his crops; Goldrivet had been watching at the time, frankly admiring his lover's rump as he worked.
The story had delighted the ponies at the time; the first 'Cutie Mark', as the Guidebook For Newfoals designated them; and Goldrivet had been excited to describe the moment while the community gathered in the city hall pavilion to stare at Sweetpeppers picturesque posterior.
"Alright, alright... let me explain how it happened. Settle down, Ocean! According to the guidebook, every pony will get one, eventually." Goldrivet stood close to Sweetpepper's sweet cheeks, not unlike a teacher standing next to a blackboard; this blackboard however was firm, rounded and featured an image of bell peppers. "We were working on the farm; Sweets here was working a hoe into the furrows, plowing them for all he was worth. I was trying to help, of course, but I just had to stop and watch for a while; I wasn't being lazy, it was just pretty hot, and well, so was he."
The crowd laughed at this; their tenderness towards each other was very inspiring.
"Anyway, I was just kind of running my eyes over this delicious lump of rump here," Sweetpepper looked back over his body at Goldrivet in mock embarrassment at this 'Goldrivet!!' and stuck his tongue out as punctuation "and as I watched there was this kind of... not light exactly, but, a kind of brightening. Then the three bell peppers just appeared, and I swear I heard a sound when it happened too. Kind of a 'fwooping' sort of sound, it's hard to describe. Almost like a kiss, sort of. Strange sound, really. But there it was."
"I felt it happen, too!" Sweetpepper craned his neck back to look at the audience "It didn't hurt or anything, it felt... I don't know, kind of electric, kind of 'zap! Here I am!' and it almost tickled too. Actually..." Sweetpepper blushed "it felt kinda good, if you know what I mean."
"Sweetpepper!" Goldrivet seemed shocked, but he wasn't. "We kind of wondered what it was. If you take a close look, you can see that it's made of hair; the picture is just there, like his coat had been painted or dyed somehow. But it's also more than that; the hairs that make it up are really shiny, really reflective, like they're special, somehow. And if you look down, between the hairs, you'll see the pattern is in the skin, too."
"It's kind of like a tattoo that makes the coat on top grow special shiny hairs that match the image below!" Sweetpepper swung his head around and bent his spine to see his own Mark. "Only the hairs aren't just one color. Some are more than one color, so that the fine details are there. It's like magic!"
"I kind of think that's all it could be, Sweets, considering." Goldrivet gave Sweetpepper a kiss on his peppers, which made the pony jump slightly. "Apparently, they're kind of sensitive, too, somehow."
"Yes, they are, Goldrivet!" Sweetpepper was genuinely embarrassed now, and this produced a chuckle in the assembled crowd.
"Why do we get them? What do they mean?" Dragonfly was always curious, and this was a curious thing.
"I've been reading about that." Caprice had ended up with the job of being the village translator; it was a task she was well suited for. In her human life her father had taken her all over the Earth, and she had found a natural inclination for learning languages. She had boosted this with numerous augmentations. While the augmentations were no longer a part of her, Caprice's natural ability was still present, and she had spent the last several months learning proper Equestrian - not just the magic script she had thought was Equestrian - all from the provided library of books and records.
An old-fashioned Victrola-like record player had been found in crate twenty, along with a supply of 'Introduction To Conversational Equestrian' records; a supplement to a thick textbook printed in North Amerizone English and the native language. With these tools she had made excellent progress, and so had everpony else; classes were held every other day, and already the newfoals speech was more than half proper Equestrian. The goal was nothing less that total linguistic assimilation; status in the community was now partly based on just how correctly 'Equestrian' a pony could speak and write.
"Apparently, they are indeed magic, they usually appear when ponies are still fairly young - so we are a little late to the gate here, sorry everyone - and they always represent something about a pony's purpose in life. Or, if not their purpose exactly, the thing they are truly good at, the thing that... is their specialty." Caprice had been the first pony Sweetpepper and Goldrivet had gone to; she had been studying the manuals, after all. "So, if you are good at building things, you might get an image of a hammer or something. Or if you were an artist, maybe you would get a paintbrush, perhaps. But it isn't always literal. The image could be anything; but it will mean something to you. Oh!" Caprice remembered one more element. "They tend to come in groups of three symbols, but not always."
Everypony thought Sweetpepper's Mark was amazing, and soon the community was excited at the thought of earning their own. Cutie Marks were clearly some kind of 'coming of age' or 'badge of achievement' in Equestria, a rite of passage matter. The newfoals saw getting a Mark as evidence of truly belonging to the world, of truly being real Equestrians, and not just lost former humans, forgotten and separated forever from the rest of society.
This was part of the drive to learn the language, both written and spoken, to study the culture described in the library from the crates; the colonists wanted desperately to be something more than abandoned ex-humans. They wanted to belong, they wanted to be... Equestrians.
Caprice and Renaissance taught classes on Equestrian language and culture in the evenings, just after dinner. The upper floor of the town hall pavilion had been designated the 'library' as well as the 'schoolhouse' for the village, and it was packed to overflowing every other night when class began. Classes had become a social activity in the village; it was something to do, it eased the feeling of collective isolation, and it made everypony feel like they were achieving something.
The unspoken thought was that if, somehow, some kind of contact with the rest of Equestria was ever made, they would be so authentically Equestrian that maybe they just might be welcomed and accepted. Maybe they could prove that Windfeather had been wrong to abandon them.
After dinner and classes, the ponies went to their homes. The twenty-five cottages had been allocated by Droplet first to established families, then to groups of close friends, then to those willing to share a cottage. Each cottage was expected to be the home of four earth or unicorn ponies. The pegasai agreed to live in the sky, in Cloudcastle for the most part; exceptions in the cottages were allowed where a pegasai and a nonpegasaus were mated, and formed a family.
Some ponies did not need a cottage or a cloudhome; Sweetpepper and Goldrivet wanted to live together in their 'barn', the medium-sized pavilion they had been allotted to store food and farm equipment. Dragonfly was comfortable living in her 'kitchen' pavillion, along with Ocean, Lightning, and Kiwi who helped her with both cooking and serving. Together, these four were becoming fast friends, although perhaps this was most true of the latter three - Dragonfly often felt as much their 'employer' as she did their friend.
The strange construction of the crates was finally explained; they had been built in a modular fashion so that the wood that made them up could be used for numerous purposes. According to the manuals, the crate wood could be used to create chicken coops - apparently they were supposed to have had access to regular shipments from other cities, including shipments of livestock. The wood could also be used to make more traditional buildings, once stone and other materials had become available, again something dependent on being within contact range of other towns and cities.
As it was, some ponies had straight up used the empty crates as additional houses as is; a little carpentry had added working doors and simple windows to the large boxes, and thus, for now, there were twenty additional homes in the village, albeit small apartments for couples or roommates.
Thus Summerland Village had a town hall, with a library upstairs, a communal kitchen, a farm with a pavilion barn, the beginnings of a forest (maybe even an orchard!), twenty-five pavilion cottages, twenty couples apartments, a 'ranch house' community home, a communal storehouse, a rock farm out in the desert, and of course a growing city of pegasai overhead, Cloudcastle, now with multiple towers, and over a dozen rooms. Inside those rooms were shelves and platforms made of the heavily worked cloudstuff that permitted the support of physical objects; Cloudcastle had its own pantries and larders, tables and tools in the sky.
The biggest project in Cloudcastle was the development of winter. Cirrus had demonstrated to the new officially elected Mayor and leader of Summerland, Droplet Deluge, that the manufacture of cold was possible; more than this Sweetpepper had backed Cirrus in explaining it's necessity.
Already, simple cloud making machines had been constructed from the same super-compressed cloudstuff that made up the shelves; the material had been formed into vessels wide at the base and small at the top. Inside the vessels was suspended small seeder clouds. As buckets of water were poured in - buckets were another gift of the crates - cloudstuff of controllable quality and consistency could be produced from the top.
The side effect of this process was a dramatic drop in temperature around the vessels; the rooms that the cloudmakers were constructed in became useful as refrigerators; vegetables and fruits kept far longer there, stored on pallets of cloudshelf.
It was there, on the side of the most used cloudmaker vessel, that Cirrus had been able to demonstrate Summerland's very first snowflake. He'd done the carving himself, and he was very proud of the result. Nearly six-inches in diameter, it sparkled like a white jewel.
Sadly, nopony but a pegasus could see it, it would never survive the trip to the perpetual summer below. But Cirrus had drawn a sketch of it on the blank end page of a book he had carried up, the drawing had delighted many.
Project Seasons would probably take a long time to become real. It might take years. It was like reaching for the stars. Certainly it was a dream, but Droplet okayed it, because big dreams are the very soul of a growing society, and, as Sweetpepper had made clear, living things weren't built to have summer last forever.
The first anniversary of their arrival was in just a little over two months. Everypony was excited at this thought; once they had been afraid they would not survive at all, now they had a nice little village, a happy community, and they were beating Windfeather with everything they did. They were proving themselves to be good ponies; diligent, strong, hardworking ponies that knew the meaning of friendship and cooperation. They were absolutely not the monsters that Windfeather had claimed them to be.
A celebration was being planned; Pumpkin was especially looking forward to it.
Because, by then, she would have had her foal, and she was dreaming of them going to the anniversary celebration together.