Twilight was beaming. Fluttershy had made a great point. If the twins could help resolve Flurry’s issues there was no reason they couldn’t bring Mayhem back to the party. She had been feeling rather self-centered in asking the twins to keep Flurry Heart and her issues around instead of keeping their friend Mayhem there and having a great time, but now it was a win-win situation. They could have both Flurry and Mayhem there if they got through to Flurry.
She didn’t doubt their potential to do so, either. As she had said to them before the three friends they had were all forged in difficult situations. Tree Leaf taught Pound about betrayal and reforming a bond. Peppermint Swirl met Pumpkin through a bad family situation where she had ran away from home, and Pumpkin’s persistence won her over, allowing her to make up with her parents. Mayhem had similarly been dealing with a bad home situation.
If the twins could help those three through their issues there was no reason they couldn’t do the same for Flurry.
“You ready, Pumpkin?” asked Pound.
Pumpkin got a thoughtful look on her face. “I think I have an idea.”
“What’s that?” asked Twilight.
“I think we should postpone trying to party right now and just have all us kids go play in our room.”
“Why’s that?” asked Pound.
“Because obviously we’re not going to be able to let go and just have fun so long as Flurry is being a grumpy sourpuss. If she’s shy or whatever then the more ponies she’s surrounded by the more anxious she’s going to be, especially if she’s expected to act like she’s at a party.”
“I get it,” said Fluttershy. “The middle of a party room isn’t the best place for an emotional breakdown and opening up with true feelings.”
“So you take the pressure off by going to a quieter place with less ponies around and acting like it’s just a gathering of friends,” finished Twilight. “That is a smart idea.”
“Thank you,” said Pumpkin, smiling.
Going back into the dining area of Sugarcube Corner they saw that their friends were giving Flurry a wide berth. The alicorn had an even more downcast look on her face now, making them wonder if her parents had scolded her.
“Is everything alright?” asked Carrot as they passed.
Pound nodded. “It will be soon.”
They walked over to Pinkie Pie, and after gesturing her closer Pumpkin whispered to her what her plan was.
Pinkie looked disappointed. With a sigh she shrugged and said, “I know there isn’t a better way of handling this, but I just feel bad you have to deal with such distress on your birthday. Can’t we just do this another day?”
Pound shook his head hard. “No!’ he said firmly. He put a hoof to his chest. “Twilight shared her heart with us, telling us how much she was hurting because of how her family is hurting. As a friend, and as ponies who will be the next Elements of Friendship in the future, we can’t just ignore Flurry, even if it means less time to party.”
Pumpkin nodded. “It will be easy for you to throw us another party. It’s what you’re best at, after all. It won’t be easy to get Flurry to agree to come back since she was so reluctant this time.”
Pinkie beamed, hugging them both. “Listen to you two. You’re growing more mature all the time.” Releasing them she said, “Go and do it. I’ll be rooting for you.”
Both of them smiled. “Thank you, Auntie Pinkie!” they said simultaneously.
Next they had to get their friends on board. Masky had no objections. He had done some terrible things while his heart was in darkness, so he was willing to give her another chance since Fluttershy and the twins had given him one.
Peppermint also had little resistance, since she had also been drowning in despair before Pumpkin helped her to change.
Tree Leaf, however, was a little more reluctant. He had been hoping to see more of Mayhem’s reality-breaking magic. He was pacified by pointing out that once they helped Flurry there was no reason Mayhem couldn’t come back.
Their friends convinced and on board with the plan all that was left was Flurry. She was still standing near the entryway hanging her head.
“Hey there, Flurry,” said Pound as he stood in front of her.
She barely gave him a glance before looking back down at the ground. “What do you want?” she asked emotionlessly. “An apology? Or to tell me I’m a jerk? My mother already told me what she thought of my behavior. You can’t make me feel any worse.”
“Look, we all started off on the wrong hoof. Let’s just start over and try again.”
“Okay,” she replied, still not looking up.
Pumpkin put a hoof on her shoulder. “Come on. Perk up a little. Maybe you’re not much of a party pony. Why don’t you just join up upstairs and we can play in our room?”
She shook her head. “No thanks. Then you’ll just be mad at me for ruining your whole party. I’ll just go sit in a corner or something so I’ll be out of the way.”
“A party is just a gathering of friends with music and lots of snacks and games. We can still have a bunch of fun in a quieter place.”
“Yeah," said Pound. "So come on! We can get away from the crowd and get to know each other. That way it will really feel like a party.”
“Besides,” added Pumpkin, “you want Twilight to teach you that super learning spell, right?”
With a quick exhale of breath she said, “Okay.”
As they headed towards the stairs Pound gestured at their friends to follow them.
When they went upstairs Pumpkin went into the closet and pulled out a few spare blankets for everyone to sit on. Once they were set down all six of them sat in a circle.
Flurry looked miserable. While everyone else was sitting rather casually Flurry was curled up in a ball, holding onto her back legs, her head on her knees.
Now that they were alone they weren’t sure how to start. If they just came out and asked Flurry what was wrong with her she’d likely deny she had any problems.
Peppermint decided to start with a compliment. “I really like your mane, Flurry. The way it’s curled with the blue highlights is very pretty.”
“Thanks.” Her voice came out muffled because her mouth was pressed against her legs.
“What’s life like in the Crystal Empire?” asked Pound. “We’ve never even been there.”
“It’s alright.” Though they waited she didn’t elaborate.
“If you spend most of your time studying then you must know some pretty awesome and powerful spells,” said Tree Leaf, wanting to see another demonstration of talent.
“I’ve been to the Crystal Empire before,” said Masky. “I got to experience being crystalized and I’ve seen your parents, but I didn’t meet them personally.”
Pumpkin sucked on her cheek. This wasn’t going well. Flurry was so shut off she wasn’t giving them anything to work with.
“Alright,” said Pound, “so you’re not interested in any of that. So why don’t you pick the topic? What would you like to talk about?”
“Going home!” Flurry replied.
Pumpkin let out a little sigh. “What’s the rush, Flurry? Don’t you believe in Twilight? She’s the Princess of Friendship. She wouldn’t tell you to make some friends if she didn’t believe it would be helpful to you.”
“This has nothing to do with Aunt Twilight. I just don’t want to be here.”
“Why not?” asked Peppermint. “What’s so bad about it?”
“Hmph!” She lifted her head a little, a slight bit of anger entering her voice. “My parents drag me halfway across the continent to go to some party with some ponies I’ve never ever met before, and are already good friends with each other, and you expect me to be jumping for joy? It never changes. I’m always the odd one out.”
Pound smiled a little. That sounded like an important detail she had just let slip. Flurry felt like she was different from other ponies.
“Do you mean because you’re an alicorn, or is it something else?” asked Masky.
“Why can’t you just be friends with some of the kids in the Crystal Empire?” Tree Leaf asked right after.
Flurry’s eyes narrowed slightly. “You commoners might not get it, but being an alicorn just ruins everything.”
“Why’s that?” asked Pumpkin.
“What’s with all the questions?” Flurry said sharply. “I thought we were supposed to be playing games or something, not interrogating me!”
“We’re not interrogating you. We’re just trying to get to know you. A good friend listens to their friends feelings.”
There was a knock on the door. Pinkie walked in carrying a tray of mini cupcakes, pretzels and punch. “Hey there!” she said brightly. “I thought you guys might want some treats and something to drink.” She set the tray down in the center of their circle. “I’ll let you guys get back to your bonding experience.” With that she left.
Everyone except Flurry started digging in. She just remained in her curled up position.
“Come on, Flurry,” said Peppermint kindly. “Have a cupcake.”
Flurry rolled her eyes before she put her back legs down and grabbed a cupcake and jammed it in her mouth, chewing aggressively. “Are we having fun yet?” she asked, grabbing a cup of punch and downing it. “I mean, this is it, right? Are we best friends yet?”
Masky gave her a meaningful look. “I can tell you’re not being genuine.”
“Was it that obvious?” she said sarcastically.
“I was going through a lot of issues with my life before I met Pound and Pumpkin. I know what it’s like to put on an act and look okay when you’re hurting inside.”
“Well, good for you,” she said dismissively. “Who cares?"
“Real princess material over here,” Tree Leaf said, annoyed, making Flurry give him a dirty look.
“Tree Leaf, please!” said Pound.
“I’m sorry, but if this is the way she treats others it’s no wonder she doesn’t have any friends.”
Flurry averted her eyes.
“Come on now,” said Pumpkin. “Give her a break. I think Flurry is just tired of trying. She said before she always feels like the odd one out. It sounds like the other kids have the issue.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Flurry. “I don’t need friends, anyway.”
“We all need friends,” said Masky. “What’s stopping you from making them?”
“It doesn’t matter!” she snapped. “I don’t have time for stupid friends. I’m perfectly happy being alone studying, or hanging out learning magic with Aunt Starlight and Uncle Sunburst.”
It was clear to all of them that that was a lie.
“Look,” said Pound, “Flurry is obviously uncomfortable so let’s just leave her be.” He walked over to the closet, opening it up and taking out a few games.
Peppermint tried some small talk again. “It seems like you work really hard at making yourself into a skilled magic-user.”
Flurry looked a little calmer. “I do work really hard. What choice do I have?”
“Magic is important whether you’re a unicorn or an alicorn, but since you have wings do you spend just as much time practicing flying?”
Flurry hopped up, her face going red. “Is that supposed to be funny?" Yelling now she continued, "HUH? IS THAT A JOKE?”
Peppermint blinked, taken aback by her reaction. “W-why would it be?”
“You want to see it, don’t you? So you can just be like most of the kids from the Crystal Empire?”
“See… what?” asked Pumpkin, confused.
Flurry got a twisted grin on her face. “Well, fine. Get a good look and laugh away, you jerks!”
None of them knew what she was talking about until she unfurled her wings.
Pound gasped. Even though she was younger than him her wingspan looked as large as an adult pegasus. Maybe even longer.
With a depraved laugh Flurry said grandstandingly, “Come one, come all. See the big winged freak in all her glory.” A tear came down her eye. “Go on, then. Laugh! Laugh just like the others!”
Pumpkin could see the pain in her eyes behind that arrogant smile. It, and the laugh she had made, reminded her of how Pound and Masky had done the same. It was a defense that shielded them from the pain of their true thoughts.
It seemed like they had already reached the heart of Flurry’s issues. The adults were naturally respectful of Flurry’s position, but the children would be less restrained and more likely to look down on someone different, even if that pony was an alicorn.
“We’re not going to laugh, Flurry,” said Peppermint. “It doesn’t matter whether your wings are a little bigger than other kids.”
“I’m actually a little jealous,” said Pound, hovering in the air. “I am so, so close to really flying. I can hover, and I can go forward, but I can’t flap my wings hard enough to gain air yet. If I had wings like yours I’d be flying easily.”
Flurry looked suspiciously at them, going from face to face like she was waiting for one of them to slip up and reveal how they really felt.
“It’s okay, Flurry,” said Masky. “Why don’t you play with us? You have nothing to lose here. If you have a miserable time Twilight will teach you that spell that makes learning faster, and all the time you ‘wasted’ here will be easily made up. If you have a good time then you not only get the spell, but also some friends that like you for who you are.”
A pained look came to her face, her eyes shimmering with tears. “Whatever!” she said in a high pitched voice, going over to one of the games Pound had taken out and attempting to take it out of the box.
She was shaking so much she dropped the box, causing the pieces to spill out and go all over the place. Flurry let out a frustrated cry before falling to the ground with a hoof over her face, quietly sobbing.
Pumpkin walked over and put a hoof around her. “It’s alright, Flurry. Accidents happen. Don’t cry.”
With a little magic and the rest of the kids help they retrieved the pieces that had scattered.
“See?” said Pound. “Good as new. No big deal.”
"This game is called Hungry, Hungry Parasprites," said Pumpkin, setting down a board with four different colored parasprites with a switch that could be pressed down on the back of them. "You drop the marbles with food designs onto the board, and hit the button to make the head move forward to eat them. The board vibrates so it makes the stuff go everywhere. Whoever gets the most food is the winner."
"Obviously there's only four heads and six of us. So since all of you are our guests we'll sit this one out and let you play first."
Pound wiped Flurry's eyes and pulled her over to the board while Pumpkin grabbed the marbles. "Ready?" With nods from the others Pumpkin dropped the food onto the board, and for the next few minutes all you could heard was the sound of cheering and plastic smacking against plastic.
It took Flurry a little time, but she slowly got into it. As her sadness faded she got swept up in the heat of competition.
"Woohoo!" said Pound, noticing Flurry's expression. "You've got this!"
"Go, Flurry!" Pumpkin cried out, which only seemed to make the filly even more determined, her tongue sticking out of her mouth.
Though they liked winning the other three weren't giving it their all. It seemed like they finally had Flurry's attention. If she came in dead last she might just shut herself away again, and none of them wanted that after how far they'd come.
When the last bit of food was gobbled up all of them took their pieces out and counted them. Unsurprisingly Flurry was the winner.
"You did it!" said Pound. "Way to go!"
At first Flurry was beaming, but then her smile faded. “W-why?” she asked, sniffing. “Why are you being so nice to me? I know you didn’t really want me here. I saw the way you looked at me when I hurt that creature you were friends with. Stop pretending! You should be furious with me.”
“We were mad, sure,” said Pumpkin, “but Twilight showed us how much she was hurting and convinced us to give you another chance. Your Auntie Twilight loves you, just like our Auntie Pinkie loves us. She doesn’t want to see you in pain anymore.”
Flurry pushed Pumpkin away, walking a few steps away from the group and sitting down faced away from them, curling up again. “I’ve been through this before. Half the kids who see me make fun of me for my big wings. The other half are like, ‘Let’s be friends,’ but they don’t really mean it. They don’t see me as a pony, but as a princess.”
“Hmm?” said Peppermint. That sounded familiar.
“Either they become afraid at their every mistake like I’m going to throw them into prison or fry them, or they just want to suck up to me.” Shaking, she continued, “One pony even admitted that he didn’t really want to be my friend. His parents just wanted us to be friends so that his dad would get a more favorable position when he applied for the Royal Guard, or so he could ask for special favors.”
“Oh…” Peppermint remembered now. Twilight had expressed the same sentiments to her when she had been asking Twilight about being a princess. She felt that most ponies she might try to be friends with were either too afraid to be real, or that they were after something.
Even though Twilight had explained things in a way that perfectly made sense to her, seeing Flurry’s pain made it more real for her. Twilight had become an alicorn after she had grown up, when she already had a large number of friends. Flurry had no one but a few members of her family.
She stood up, walking over to Flurry and hugging her. “I’m sorry!” she said emotionally, tears coming down her eyes. “I’m so sorry you have to go through this!”
Flurry was taken aback by Peppermint’s emotional outburst. “W-why are you crying like that?”
“Because now I see what Twilight was talking about. When Pumpkin told me about being friends with a princess I first thought that Twilight was probably a little snobby. I thought she was too different for a normal pony like me to understand. But then I spent some time with her, just reading a comic book together, and before I knew it we were talking and laughing like old friends. I saw she was just a pony like me that needed love and affection like everyone else.”
She squeezed Flurry harder. “And I can see you need it too. You’re suffering because other kids around you feel that same way, like you’re too different for them to understand. But you’re not alone, Flurry. All five of us here don’t care whether you’re an alicorn or not. We accept you just the way you are.”
The other four children helped Flurry up, each of them hugging her now.
“Here, here!” said Pumpkin.
“That’s right!” agreed Pound.
“Ponyville is a town where all races of ponies live in harmony,” said Tree Leaf.
“When I moved to Ponyville Pinkie threw me a welcoming party, inviting me to join the Ponyville family," said Masky. "You can be a part of that family too, Flurry.”
Flurry was a little overwhelmed by their support, but it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough. “Thank you, everyone. I appreciate this, I really do, but none of you can help me.” She pulled away from them and their love, missing it already.
“Why’s that?” asked Peppermint. "What's wrong now?"
“You have no idea what’s it like to be me! Everywhere I go there’s so much pressure on me!” She let out a gentle sob, a few tears coming down her eyes. “That’s why I’m always hiding from everyone.”
“What do you mean?” Pumpkin asked.
She pointed forcefully at them. “Nobody cares what you five do or what you grow up to be. And I’m not saying that as an insult or to be mean. You can be stupid brats your whole life and nobody will bat an eye. I’M not that lucky. Everywhere I go ponies expect me to be a certain way. Everyone expects me to be their new hero or to one day replace my parents. Nobody ever asks me what I want.
“Maybe I don’t WANT to be the ruler of the Crystal Empire. Maybe I don’t WANT to fight horrible monsters and risk my life. Maybe I don’t WANT to have this princess gig. But nobody ever considers that. Everyone just wants me to be exactly what THEY want me to be just because I was born with both wings and a horn.”
“But… you’re just a kid like us,” said Pumpkin. “I don’t think anyone would actually expect you to be on the front lines in an emergency.”
Flurry huffed. “Of course not! But it doesn’t stop them from pushing everything onto me. ‘You’re going to be a great ruler like your mother someday.’ ‘One day it will be your job to keep this empire safe.’ ‘I expect great things out of you.’” Flurry shrank as her body clenched up, tears dripping down her eyes. “Everyone’s already decided what I should be, and as a princess it’s what I’m expected to do.”
Masky asked, “So then what DO you want?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” she screamed, kicking the dresser behind her and knocking it over with a loud bang. “THAT’S THE POINT!” She was panting again.
“Uh-oh!” Applejack said from downstairs, looking up towards the ceiling. “That don’t sound good.”
Twilight said, “I’ll take care of it.”
“I’m coming too,” said Cadence as Twilight headed for the stairs. “That’s Flurry’s voice.”
“Me too,” said Shining.
All of the kids ignored the overturned dresser.
Tears were swimming in Flurry’s eyes. “I’m… I’m scared.”
“Scared of what?” asked Peppermint.
“I’ve read and heard about our past. How King Sombra enslaved the crystal ponies and sealed the Crystal Empire away for a thousand years. How I lost control of my magic as a baby and broke the Crystal Heart, nearly dooming everyone to freeze to death."
As the trio neared the twins room Twilight put her hoof up, stopping the others. "It's quieter now. Let's just listen for a little while."
Shining and Cadance both nodded.
Flurry started pacing around. “And all the time I’m reminded of the possibility of dangers like that happening again. Mom is an alicorn, and Dad is the captain of our Royal Guard. If war breaks out then they’re always going to be the first to fight. And… a-a-and because of that I always fear that I’m going to lose them. And… it would be my fault for not being strong enough or smart enough or didn’t work hard enough to protect them.”
Pumpkin let out a heavy breath. “Auntie Pinkie and Fluttershy and Twilight are really close friends with us, and we know there’s always the chance they won’t come back home when they go out on missions in Equestria. But you can’t blame yourself if something happens. Like we said before you’re just a kid. Even if you were out on the battlefield your parents would definitely send you away to protect you.”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it? I’m NOT ‘just a kid.’ I’m an ALICORN kid, blessed with more magic and power and talent than you regular ponies. I never asked to be born an alicorn. I just was. And because I was I have the responsibility of looking after others. And now that I have a baby sister there’s even more pressure on me, because I have to make sure to keep her safe while mom and dad fight.
“I’m not like my mother or Aunt Twilight, who were granted alicornhood because they did some amazing feats. I know I don’t deserve to be a princess, but I am, whether I like it or not. That’s why I’m always studying. It lets me avoid all the ponies that remind me of how far I still have to go to make anything of myself, while helping to make me a little stronger every day.”
Her breathing grew a little shorter. “You have no idea how terrified I feel every day.” A few tears came down her eyes. “But I have to hold it in so I don’t worry everyone else. That’s why I didn’t want to come here. In the time I’ve wasted here I could have worked on three new spells, and those spells just might be the ones that will save my life or someone else’s if we’re in danger.”
She began trembling. “I… I can-can-can’t take it all, but I have no choice. Friends? I don’t have time for friends.”
She hugged herself. “I didn’t ASK to be born an alicorn! I didn’t ASK for all of this to be thrown on me!” She grimaced. “Sometimes all I want is to just be a normal kid like all of you. But-but every time I slack off and just try to have fun I always feel horribly guilty about it, because I may be dooming everyone I love! Especially Skyla.” She whimpered, tears streaming down her eyes. "My baby sister is so helpless, and if my parents are fighting it will fall on me to keep her safe.
“W-what am I even doing here?” She sounded lost, like she had left the room and gone to some other space in her mind entirely. Her eyes were little dots. “I… I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I need to study! I-I-I need to learn. I-I-I-I n-need to… t-t-to…” She hugged herself harder, shaking like a leaf. Her breathing grew so fast she was nearly hyperventilating.
She let out a yell. "I feel like I'm going crazy!" She slammed her front hooves onto the floor repeatedly, before falling to the ground and sobbing.
All the children were lost for a response. They didn’t know what to say. They thought she was just feeling ostracized from other children. Now that she had revealed her true pain they knew this was too big for any of them to reassure her and settle her fears.
“Flurry,” came a voice from outside the door, making all of them jump. Cadance walked in, followed by Shining Armor and Twilight. All of them had distraught expressions on their faces.
“We need to talk,” said Shining.
Flurry gulped, turning away from her parents with a look of shame.