Pumpkin knocked on the door of Peppermint’s house, glad she had gotten the filly’s address before they had parted.
The front door opened, and a stallion stood there. He had a green coat and eyes, his mane a fiery red. “Hello. Can I help you?”
“Hey there!” Pinkie said, bouncing once. “I brought you some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.”
The stallion slowly took them. “Well… thank you. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Pumpkin took a step forward. “Hello, Sir. Is Peppermint home?”
He looked down at her, and recognition flashed in his eyes. “Ah, you’re that filly that helped Peppermint out the other day. Come on in.”
She followed the stallion in, Pinkie right behind her. “Excuse me, Sir, but I never got your name the other day.”
“Salad Dressing,” he replied.
She stopped when he did, as he knocked on a door.
“Peppermint, you have a visitor.”
After a few seconds they could hear hoof steps approaching, then the door opened. “Who is it?" When she spotted Pumpkin her eyes lit up, and she practically tackled the filly as she hugged her. “It’s you! I’m so glad you’re here!”
Pumpkin hugged her back. “I’m glad to see you too. I need to talk with you.”
“Yeah?” She let go and backed up. “About what?”
Pumpkin gazed at Peppermint’s dad out of the corner of her eye. “Let’s just say I’m having a problem, and I need a friend to talk with.”
Peppermint grew concerned. Did someone hit Pumpkin too? “Yeah… sure. Come on in.”
As Pumpkin walked into the room Pinkie called after her. She turned back, and Pinkie said, “I’ll be around for a while, whenever you want to go home.”
Pumpkin sighed, her head drooping. “I don’t know if I want to go home.”
“Hmm?” Peppermint grew more worried.
“I’m sure everything will work itself out soon enough,” said Pinkie in a consoling tone.
“I sure hope so,” Pumpkin replied.
Pinkie closed the door, engaging Peppermint’s dad in conversation. Their voices slowly faded.
When it finally felt like just the two of them Pumpkin let out a heavy breath, going to sit on Peppermint’s bed.
Peppermint instantly joined her, putting a leg around Pumpkin’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, Pumpkin? It sounds like you’re having a problem like I did last week. Were you hit?”
Pumpkin shook her head. “No, it’s nothing like that. Me and my brother are just in the middle of a big feud right now. I’m feeling so stressed out.” She looked over at Peppermint with a somber expression. "Like I said before, I just need some time with a friend to sit and relax.”
“Well, you know I had a ‘fight’ with Pencil that led to my dad hitting me, so I know how it feels to be mad at your sibling. What did he do?”
Pumpkin flopped backwards onto the bed. “He got into a bad mood and started bugging me, and he just wouldn’t stop until I finally snapped and yelled something really mean at him. I just wanted to get him to shut up, but I went too far.
“Now he won’t even talk to me. Worse, every time I walk into a room that he’s in he’ll leave it and won’t come back until I’m gone. It’s really frustrating.”
Peppermint lay back as well. “Do you regret what you said?”
Pumpkin sighed. “Sort of. I think he deserved to be yelled at, but the problem is what exactly I said to him.”
“What was that?”
“Mmm…” With her anger at Pound she hadn’t really thought about how mean-spirited her words were. “I… I called him… a stupid, pathetic, flightless loser…”
Peppermint sat up. “Wow! That was really mean!”
The guilt that had been bubbling up inside Pumpkin turned defensive, and she grew angry. She sat up as well. “Hey!” she snapped. “I didn’t judge you for hitting a baby, did I? Could you at least try to be a good friend?”
Peppermint’s face flushed, clearly hurt.
Pumpkin could see things were going south quickly, and backpedaled. “I’m sorry. Look, I just… need a little time. I’m stuck between feeling guilty and feeling angry, and I… I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I don’t want to start fighting with you too on our first time hanging out.”
Peppermint sighed. “No. You’re right. You didn’t judge me when I told you about hitting Pencil, so I should listen to you too. You didn’t even know me, but you supported me wholeheartedly. It really meant a lot to me, and made me believe I was a good pony again.”
Pumpkin maneuvered herself so she was on her back, her head hanging over the side of the bed so everything was upside-down. “Things have been so quiet lately it’s almost scary. I got Pound to shut up, but now he won’t talk at all. At least to me.”
Peppermint joined her, copying her position. “Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it better that he’s not talking if all he does is bother you?”
Pumpkin said after a few moments, “Sometimes it’s nice to have a little peace and quiet, but as annoying as he is he’s still my brother.” Absentmindedly she lifted up a stuffed animal on the floor with her magic, amused at how weird it looked upside-down.
“Are you good at magic, Pumpkin?” Peppermint asked.
Pumpkin was moving the bear toy in gentle arcs. “Huh?” She set the bear down. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I’m okay for my age. I’m no Twilight, that’s for sure.”
Peppermint opened her mouth to say something, stopped, and then said, “I want to ask you some stuff, but I don’t want to just change the subject. You came here asking for help, you know.”
“To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a bit if you did. We can talk about Pound later.”
“I know you said some stuff about her before, but I was in a bad mood when we were talking so I don’t really remember some of the stuff you said. How did you meet Princess Twilight?”
“Oh! Well, that’s simple. My aunt Pinkie Pie has been her friend since before me and Pound were born, so she considers us like family. Back when they first became friends Twilight was still a unicorn. She was only really special because she was Princess Celestia’s personal student. But then she did something that made Princess Celestia turn her into an alicorn and made her a princess."
Peppermint hesitated, then asked, “But isn’t she scary? Isn’t it terrifying to think that a princess could just walk in your shop at any time? What if the shop was a mess, or-or-or the line was too big and she couldn’t be served? She might shut the whole thing down!”
Pumpkin wore a knowing smile as she chuckled. She turned over onto her stomach, Peppermint doing the same. “Twilight is a really cool pony. She’s taught us both really important lessons about friendship.”
Peppermint hesitated again. “Um… before you called Princess Celestia by her title, but you don’t do that with Princess Twilight. That seems kinda disrespectful for someone you say has taught you important things.”
Pumpkin was so used to seeing Twilight that the questions were odd to her. “Twilight is a very humble pony. Even though she’s a ruler she absolutely hates being in the spotlight. She knows that other ponies look up to her and will bow to her and stuff, but it makes her uncomfortable. That’s why she doesn’t want us treating her like royalty. Auntie Pinkie and her other friends all talk to her like she’s just another pony. Our parents are still uncomfortable about it, though. They still call her ‘your highness’ and stuff like that, but Twilight tries to get them to stop.”
Once again Peppermint paused before asking her next question. “Well… what do you think about that? Don’t you think it’s kinda rude? It’s her job to rule and make new laws and settle fights and stuff like that. But it seems like you’re saying she’s more interested in being liked than anything else.”
“Huh? What do you mean by that?”
“Princess Twilight is the ‘Princess of Friendship,’ right?” Pumpkin nodded. “But it sounds like what you’re saying is that everyone else is more important than her friends. She’ll go out of her way to help strangers, but she wants to pretend she has no duties to her friends.”
Pumpkin’s eyebrow went up. It took her a few seconds before it clicked in her mind what Peppermint was getting at. “Peppermint, you’ve got it all wrong.”
“Why? You said for everyone else she acts like a princess and does princess stuff for them, but when it comes to her friends she just shakes her hooves and says, ‘just pretend I’m not here.' ”
“No, no, noooo! That’s not how it is at all. Just listen to me.”
“Twilight loves to help all ponies, including her friends. She just doesn’t like ponies treating her like she’s better than everyone else JUST because she’s a princess.”
Peppermint still looked unconvinced.
Pumpkin said, “Trust me, you just don’t understand her. If you met her face to face you’d see how kind and generous she is.
“Mmm…” She put a hoof to her face, rubbing her chin. “Let me try to explain it this way. Twilight wants everyone to find their own value. Twilight feels like every pony has something important to teach. Because of what happened when we ran away Twilight learned that she didn’t understand little kids very well, and so she began spending more time with us and visiting our school to learn.
“And then she let us write down the important lesson I taught you, about how even a good pony makes mistakes. She let us put words on the page opposite hers because she thought our words could be just as valuable as hers. Twilight’s words wouldn’t have helped you through your problem, because what she learned had nothing to do with what you needed to hear.”
“Okay, I can get that, but it still doesn’t explain why she likes to pretend she’s not a princess when you’re around.”
Pumpkin thought for a few seconds. “I think it’s because she feels lonely.”
“Lonely? With everyone praising her?”
“Everyone may like her, but they only care about her so much because she’s royalty. Twilight doesn’t look down on anyone, but as soon as ponies see the horn and wings they stop seeing a pony and only see a princess. Now they’re bowing on the ground acting like they’re nothing. It just makes her uncomfortable because she sees all ponies as equal.”
“But she’s a princess! How is that equal?”
“It’s like I said before! She may have a fancy title, but she thinks every pony is equally important, no matter if they’re an adult or a baby or a baker or a royal guard.”
Peppermint sucked on her cheek. “Well… if you’re telling the truth… what would you say… if… if I said I’d like to meet her?” She was faintly blushing now.
Pumpkin’s eyes lit up. “That sounds like a great idea! I can show her my first friend. This is so exciting!” She hopped off the bed. “Come on!”
Peppermint shadowed her as they followed the sound of laughter toward the kitchen. Pinkie was still around, chatting it up with Peppermint’s dad.
“Hi!” Pumpkin said brightly.
Both of them turned toward her. “What’s up, Pumpy?” Pinkie asked.
Pumpkin gave her an incredulous look. “Pumpy?” she said flatly.
Pinkie giggled. “I could do worse.”
“I bet.” She shook her head. “Auntie Pinkie, can you do us a favor?”
Pumpkin gestured with her head toward her friend as she said, “Peppermint would like to meet Twilight.”
Salad blushed, squirming in discomfort. “Peppermint, that’s pretty rude, asking for such a thing. She’s got better things to do than meet anyone that shows up on her doorstep.”
Pumpkin sighed, extending her hoof toward him. “Exhibit A. Imagine everyone else in town thinking like that, and I think you’ll understand better why she doesn’t want us to treat her special.”
Peppermint did indeed start feeling a little discomfort.
Salad felt weird hearing Pumpkin talking about him like he wasn’t in the room. Before he could say anything Pumpkin rounded on him.
“You don’t know anything about Twilight!” she said, stomping a hoof. “She’s not the kind of pony you think she is. I grew up around her, and I know she loves meeting and making new friends. When my brother was having trouble with another pony Twilight personally went to his house to talk to him because she didn’t want to show special treatment to the ponies she was closest to. You only see her as a PRINCESS, and not an actual PONY.
"Twilight is an amazing pony, which you would know if you actually tried to get to KNOW HER instead of thinking she’s some stuck up jerk that looks down her nose at others just because they’re not as high status as her!”
Salad backed up slightly, blinking in surprise. He didn't know where Pumpkin’s outburst was coming from.
Peppermint wasn’t sure how to feel.
Pinkie couldn’t suppress her grin, feeling so proud of Pumpkin. “That is correct, Salad. Twilight really does love making new friends and interacting with the public. Twilight feels alienated from pony society because of her status at times, but she’s not the type who’d shut others out.”
Salad was still subdued. “W-well, if she wants to do it I guess I won’t object.”
“Good!” Pumpkin said with a bit of a haughty air. “Let’s go, Peppermint.”
Peppermint hesitated a moment, then followed Pumpkin as she headed for the front door.
Pinkie trotted to get ahead of them, opening the door.
Peppermint felt funny as they left the house, wondering what kind of pony Twilight really was. It felt strange that she was going to meet a princess face to face, never mind the fact that her new friend was close to her.
As the castle grew closer in the distance Peppermint’s misgivings intensified. She remembered her feelings from the previous week, when she told Pumpkin a princess would never want to meet her after what she did. She barely felt worthy of such a large meeting.
She forced herself to take a deep breath to calm down. If Twilight was everything Pumpkin said she was then things would go smoothly.
“Have you been here often?” Peppermint asked.
Pumpkin responded, “Actually, no. We’ve met Twilight a bunch of times, but I think I’ve only been to the castle like two or three times.”
“So this is kinda new for you too, huh?”
“You could say that. So let’s face it together.” Pumpkin gave her a quick hug.
Peppermint smiled, feeling more relaxed.
When they arrived Pinkie knocked on the door.
Peppermint was slowly trotting in place, nerves eating at her now that the moment was at hand. When the door opened, revealing Spike, she let out a loud shriek, cowering behind Pinkie.
Spike looked nonplussed. “What’s that all about?”
“I don’t know,” Pinkie replied.
“Are you okay, Peppermint?” Pumpkin asked.
Peppermint looked between Pumpkin, Pinkie, and Spike. Neither of the girls seemed to be bothered by Spikes presence, so she had to assume that meant they had seen him before. She blushed slightly, coming out. “U-uh, hello… um, Sir!”
“Sir?” Spike replied, looking pleased at the title.
Peppermint bowed her head. “I’m sorry. I guess I just wasn’t expecting a dragon to open the door. Are… are you also a friend of Princess Twilight?”
“That’s right!” he replied. “And who might you be?”
She looked him in the eyes now. “Uh, my name is Peppermint Swirl. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” He put his claw out towards her, balling it into a fist.
Peppermint looked at his outstretched arm with some trepidation. She didn’t want to be rude, but she felt that extending any part of her body towards a dragon was a bad idea, even though he was only about her size. Her logical brain was telling her that he wasn’t a threat if Pinkie and Pumpkin weren’t treating him as one, but her emotional brain was sending off red flags and danger signals.
Pumpkin could see the conflict on Peppermint’s face. “Sorry, Peppermint. I should have warned you about Spike. I guess it’s not every day you meet a friendly dragon. I can assure you he’s harmless as long as you’re not trying to hurt someone he loves.” To prove her point she stood next to him, putting a hoof around him and nuzzling his face.
That was enough for her. She was still a little anxious but she lifted her hoof, tapping it against his fist. “Oh, boy. This is a crazy day. My heart is still racing.”
Pumpkin let go of Spike. “Hey, is Twilight home?”
Spike nodded. “Yeah. She’s just reading right now. She should be in the library.”
“Cool! Thanks, Spike.” She went running about fifty feet before stopping and turning around, an awkward look on her face. “Ummmm… where’s the library again?”
Spike playfully rolled his eyes. “Come on. Follow me.”
Peppermint stared at Spike as they walked. Pumpkin had scolded her dad for making judgments about Twilight just because of who she was. Wasn’t she doing the same thing with Spike? She just assumed that all dragons were scary and violent, but clearly Spike wasn’t like that. A princess wouldn’t be good friends with someone evil.
“Hey, Spike?” she started. He turned to her. “So how do you know the princess? A dragon doesn’t seem like your typical house pet.”
“Hey, I’m nobody’s pet!” he said strongly. “But… I guess… I do have to do a lot of chores.
“A-anyway, Twilight was the one that hatched me. When she was just a filly she was tasked with hatching a dragon egg: me! And ever since then we’ve been good friends.”
“So do you ever visit your dragon relatives?”
Spike scratched his nose, looking away. “Let’s just say we don’t really see eye to eye. I prefer the company of ponies over dragons.”
“But doesn’t it feel weird, living with ponies even though you’re a dragon? I… I mean… don’t you feel like you stand out?”
Spike turned his head toward her. “What’s wrong with that? Better to stand out than to be an invisible nobody, right? Besides, I have great friends, a great home, and an important job. What more could I ask for?
“So who are you?”
“Oh, I’m just a friend of Pumpkin’s. Pumpkin told me some stuff about Princess Twilight, and I want to see for myself if she’s really like Pumpkin said.” Peppermint looked around. “It feels so weird to be in a castle inhabited by a princess. I never thought it would happen to me, but Pumpkin says Princess Twilight is the kind of pony that would see anybody.”
“Well, you’d be right.”
Peppermint turned back to Spike. “So what is this important job you do?” Her eyes grew fiery. “I bet you’re the first line of defense. If someone comes after the princess I bet you roast them into charcoal!”
Spike blinked, before he began chuckling. “Sorry. Nothing that dramatic. Although… if I came down to that, I certainly would do what I had to in order to protect her. I’m the line of communication between Twilight and Princess Celestia.”
“Huh?” Peppermint turned her head towards Spike’s back. She didn’t notice any wings. She thought all dragons flew, and that would make delivering notes easier, but she didn’t want to bring it up in case it offended him. “How do you do that?”
“Special magic, of course.” Spike stopped, putting a claw out to stop her. He turned his head upwards, breathed in, and then spat green fire that quickly dissipated.
“Cool!” Peppermint said. “Why is it green? I thought fire was supposed to be orange or red?”
“Well, I can do that too, but when a scroll is enveloped in the fire it teleports directly to Princess Celestia’s throne room. When she wants to send it back I belch it out.”
Peppermint began walking again. “That’s… interesting.” She did think it was cool about the letter sending, but the whole burping out a scroll bit sounded a bit gross.
She noticed that she was very comfortable with Spike already, despite her earlier apprehension. She thought she was starting to really see what Pumpkin was talking about now. Without knowing him, she had been fearful of Spike just because of who he was. But, because she had given him a chance, her assumptions about dragons all being horrifying creatures were being replaced by the fact that at least one of them was friendly and kind.
What would her mindset be after meeting with Twilight, she wondered? Would her initial assumptions be correct? Or would she see that Spike and Pumpkin were right, and Twilight really was a pony that would even give someone like her the time of day, just because she asked for it?
“Alright, here we are,” said Spike.
As they stopped in front of the library door Peppermint was feeling a mixture of fear and excitement. What was Twilight really like? She would be able to see for herself what the truth was instead of just taking other ponies at their word. Not that she thought Pumpkin was lying to her, but they might have different opinions .
Peppermint smiled as she lifted her hoof, turning the knob and opening the door.