“So let's talk about today,” said Starlight, “where do you want to start?”
Flurry looked up towards Starlight. “What do you think, Aunt Starlight? Do you think I made the right choice? I really care for Mayhem, but maybe he’s too dangerous to be free. Maybe Aunt Twilight’s plan won’t work.”
“Considering I’m only here with you right now because of being pardoned by a princess for my crimes I certainly have a bias when I say I think you did the right thing.”
Flurry got an odd expression on her face, her cheeks going slightly red.
“What?” asked Starlight.
“I…” She looked away, her blush getting deeper. “I… just…”
“Come on,” Starlight said gently. “I told you that I’m here to listen to you.”
Flurry slowly looked up at her, but focused on her snout, unable to look the mare in the eyes. “I have a question, but it’s… uncomfortable.”
“That’s okay. Just take your time.”
“Do… does a part of you ever… wonder about what things would be like if you weren’t stopped?” Her cheeks felt red hot. “Like, do you ever regret Aunt Twilight getting in the way of your plans?”
The question was very disheartening to Starlight, and she understood Flurry’s reluctance to ask. “Why are you asking a question like that now? I thought we just established that you weren’t going to let a fake Starlight dictate what you thought of me, but now you’re asking if I wished I had continued to ruin lives?”
Flurry clenched, tears coming down her eyes. “It’s not… I didn’t…” She took in a breath, still unable to look Starlight in the eyes. “It’s not what you think!”
“Then what is it?” Starlight asked with an edge in her voice. “How did we go from what happened today to my past?”
“I don’t doubt you, Aunt Starlight, b-but… but I need to know while we’re on the subject. Before Mayhem revealed that we used to be friends I was already ready to forgive him, and that was because of you. You told me about Aunt Twilight pardoning you, and I saw how different you were from the pony you told me about, and I felt like Mayhem could do the same thing.”
“If you believe in me then why do we need to talk about it? I suffered enough watching that fake saying such horrible things.”
Flurry finally looked into Starlight’s eyes. “Because I want to understand.”
Flurry squirmed. “We only talked about it once. You told me, and it hurt. I forgave you, and then I forgot about it.
“You… told me that you took me out to see if the way I was with you changed. You were worried that I would start thinking bad things about you.”
Flurry paused, trying to think of the right way to phrase what she was thinking. “I think of you as a trusted member of my family. If there was danger I would gladly put my life in your hooves without hesitation, and I couldn’t be happier that my parents think so much of you that they put you in charge of me in case of an emergency. I respect you as much as I do Aunt Twilight and Uncle Sunny and my parents.”
The praise caused Starlight’s expression to grow more relaxed.
Tears came down her eyes. “I know it hurts, but please believe me when I say that I asked my question, not because I doubt you, but because I’m afraid that I’m going to in the future. And that’s why… why I really need to hear it from you again. I want to hear you fully reject the bad you that you used to be, because I don’t want to start having second thoughts about you either.
“It goes beyond just you, though. When I think of Mayhem I wonder if I really did the right thing, even if Aunt Twilight said she would have done the same. I was the one that chose to forgive him. My friends left that choice up to me on whether to spare him or destroy him or lock him up. That makes me responsible for his actions if he ever goes bad again, and I don’t want to have any regrets over that or feel like I was just being selfish.
“Can you understand what I’m saying?”
Starlight closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, starting to grasp what Flurry was going for. Flurry might have dismissed the idea of the fake changing how she felt about her, but it might be just in the moment. She wanted to preempt negative feelings hours or days from now by putting everything out in the open before it became an issue.
The filly made her position quite clear that she was dedicated to not letting the fake Starlight taint her relationship with her, the real one. Flurry was afraid, not of her, but of her own feelings.
She let out another sigh, knowing if she refused to talk it would damage her relationship with Flurry, a price too high for her to pay. “Fine,” she said in a resigned voice, opening her eyes.
“It all started with good old Uncle Sunburst. I don’t think I need to explain what the joy of a good friend is like. Our relationship was doubtless like the one shared by you and Crystal. We lived close together, spending our days side by side. He was the only friend I had… the only friend I needed. My feelings back then weren’t romantic, but he just filled me with joy every time we hung out.
“Sunburst’s magical ability sparked when a stack of books nearly fell on me, protecting me from harm. He got his cutie mark because of it… and then with that he was gone.”
Flurry bit her lip at the forlorn expression on Starlight’s face. “Weren’t you… happy for him at least?”
“I didn’t have time to be. Our connection had always been strong, sharing everything together, but that changed suddenly. He ran off, so excited by his cutie mark and his magical potential that he left me all alone without a second thought. He wanted to show it off.
“And after he told his parents about what he had done they went with him to Canterlot to enroll him in Celestia’s school. He didn’t even say goodbye to me before he left.
“The feelings I went through at that moment I’m sure you can also understand, that moment right before Mayhem purged your memories. I felt like my heart had been ripped out and stomped on, suddenly finding myself alone.
“No matter what way I thought about it I kept coming to the same conclusion: my pain was a direct result of a cutie mark. If Sunburst hadn’t gotten his cutie mark at that moment he would still be with me.” Tears came down her eyes, finding her emotions back in the past. “Even if he didn’t go to Canterlot he still decided to show off for everyone in public first before sharing his joy with me. It felt like I had suddenly become unimportant to him.”
Flurry had an uncomfortable look on her face. “Did you… did you ever talk to him about this?”
“I’m not a child anymore, Flurry. I understand now that youthful enthusiasm drove him to want to show everyone.
“Well, time moved on. I never wound up making another friend. The few times I tried I was left with a seething fear that my new friendships would end the same way, and so I abandoned them before that could happen. Even if they already had a cutie mark it only meant that our lives were going to be pulled in different directions eventually. I wasn’t ready to face pain like that again, so I just spent most of my time alone.”
Flurry could identify with that. She had basically been the same when it came to her fears. She had also let go of friendships easily. “But… you eventually got your own cutie mark. Couldn’t you have applied for Celestia’s school too?”
“I didn’t see the point. While I eventually found out after we united it was because Sunburst was ashamed he wasn’t particularly good at magic, he didn’t even bother writing me any letters since leaving. What would I gain from seeing him? I certainly didn’t expect our friendship to be renewed just because we were in the same school. If he thought so little of what we used to have he couldn’t even send me a letter I certainly didn't expect him to think any more of me once we saw each other face to face again.
“My thinking slowly grew warped. I began to blame cutie marks for all the wrongs that plighted ponies. And what I looked for I saw, because I disregarded anything that went against what I wanted to see. By making cutie marks responsible for breaking me and Sunburst apart it allowed both of us to be blameless.”
“Blameless?” asked Flurry.
“Meaning that it wasn’t something wrong with me that caused Sunburst to abandon our friendship. And by clinging to the thought that Sunburst was effectively brainwashed by his cutie mark it allowed me not to be angry at him. It allowed me to still care for him as my dear friend who had just been forced to be different, which tied into me not being personally responsible for our friendship ending.”
“I… get it,” Flurry said slowly. “So you were just looking for excuses?”
“I felt like I was doing a noble thing when I created my spell to take cutie marks away and replace them with equal signs. I didn’t get a sense of joy out of earning my cutie mark like so many others. The first thing I did when I got mine was to try and find a way to get rid of it.”
“Mmm…” All the ponies Flurry knew that talked about their cutie marks had always been so proud.
“I first used my spell on myself. My cutie mark came off, floating away for a bit before instantly returning to my side. I found that cutie marks were loyal little things, and had to be kept inside a sealed object or they’d go right back to their owners.
“At first I felt glad to be free of it, but I realized that I could do so much more for others with my spell, and the only way I could use that spell is by keeping my cutie mark. It was an annoying conundrum, but it was the best I could do.”
“So…” Flurry’s cheeks grew a little rosy. “You needed your special talent to bring ponies together, even though you were preaching they drove ponies apart? You... were kinda a hypocrite from the start, huh?”
Starlight gave her a dirty look for a few moments, but it faded. “Yes… yes, I was. I felt like there was so much good I could do for the world by getting rid of cutie marks, but that was only possible as long as I had mine.
“I took an abandoned patch of land and set to work, creating my own little ‘utopia’ in the middle of nowhere.”
Flurry’s eyes widened. “You set up that place by yourself?”
Starlight gave a little nod. “Who could I ask for help? I didn’t have any friends, and I wasn’t on the best of terms with my parents.”
Flurry was trying to picture it. “But… b-b-but the amount of wood and materials that would take…”
“Well, it wasn’t like I did it completely by myself. I did pay a company to at least deliver everything I needed, but everything else was all me. It took me a bit to figure out the mechanics, but my magic was up to the task."
“But where did you get the money to buy so much material?”
“ ‘Borrowed’ it.”
Flurry sucked on her cheek. “Stole it?” she asked to confirm.
“Basically. I took out a loan, never intending to pay it back. Of course one of my main reasons for building a place in the middle of nowhere was privacy as I enacted my plans, but it also ensured I would never have to worry about being pestered.
“I told myself it was for the greater good.”
“Mmm… you never mentioned thievery the last time you told me this story.”
“It just wasn’t something that came to mind. It would be like saying I blew up Ponyville after stealing one of Twilight’s books. I was just focusing on the main thing.”
“So, uh… did you fix that?”
“Well, I did offer up a nice magical artifact as collateral when I took out the loan, so it wasn’t like I gave him nothing. Not enough to cover all that I owed, but enough to make a nice bit of money off of.
“By the time I found him again he had basically forgotten me. It’s part of the risk of a loan business that you’re going to have ponies run off with the loot.
"Twilight was with me, and she vouched for me about how I was starting over and trying to right old wrongs. He was, naturally, sore with me, but we worked out a payment plan and over the past years I’ve paid that off.”
Flurry looked away, sucking on her cheek.
“Does it bother you that I forgot to mention that?”
“No… but I just… I feel kinda sad.”
“Wasn’t it lonely? I can’t imagine a day without being around the people I love. To think of you being completely alone for days or weeks trying to figure out how to construct houses… it just makes me feel sad.”
“I see…” She thought back to that time. “The days seemed to fly by. I had a goal clear in my mind, and I intended to see it through. Nothing else mattered to me as long as I could set things up for the ‘proper’ way ponies should be.
“Once it was done I just needed to fill it with ponies. I would get to conduct my own little trial run and show the world how much better life would be without cutie marks.
“I managed to convince a group of ponies of my beliefs. They were uncertain but willing. I had to play like I was also without a cutie mark by painting an equal sign over my own and pretending a worthless stick was the source of my power.
“I was… happy.” Starlight let out a sound of disgust.
“But… were you really?” Flurry asked uncertainly.
“Oh, I thought I was at the time.” Starlight put a hoof to her face, feeling a pit of revulsion in her stomach. “I deceived everyone around me, but covered it up with more lies. I had to lie to myself constantly that I was doing the right thing. I told myself these ponies really were my friends, and things would never end the same way they did with Sunburst.”
She let out a rough growl as her hoof slid off her face. “I sat comfortable on my ‘throne’ with the best house in the village. When people started to veer away from the way I wanted them I’d break their spirits back to my will, all the time thinking it was what was best for them.
“But that was never the truth!” Her voice grew angrier and angrier. “I never cared about them as people! They were effectively just possessions or pets. Oh, sure, I claimed they had freedom to do what they wanted, but I never intended to let them go. They were mine, and what they wanted didn’t matter so long as I got what I wanted.”
Flurry felt a little scared. Starlight’s past thoughts were kinda horrifying.
“And that was why I hatched my grand scheme when Twilight came in and ruined everything I had set up. I hated all of them for taking me away from my new group of ‘best friends,’ ruining the trust they had in me and making me an outcast in my new home.”
The rage left her voice, and she began crying again. “Once again… I was all alone. It nearly drove me mad with grief.” She put a hoof to her heart. “Everything that I had set up, in order to make myself happy, had fallen apart.
“I didn’t want to face the wrongness of my actions, so the only thing I could do is keep pushing forward. I felt like I would drown in my emotions of sadness, and the only thing that gave me some sense of purpose was when I began to focus on Twilight.
"The weight of depression that left me immobile would fade, and rage and revenge became the only things that gave me strength. It was the only thing that got my hooves moving. I didn’t have anything else to live for at the time so I’d return the favor to Twilight by taking her friends away from her.”
Flurry couldn’t really understand Starlight’s feelings. She had never felt a desire for revenge before. At least, nothing that wasn’t spur of the moment. She couldn’t imagine being so filled with rage she’d want to ruin someone’s life over it.
However, she did understand the feeling of loss. When Mayhem stated his intentions to get rid of her memories of her friends it had been one of the worst feelings of her life.
In a quiet voice she asked, “But why time travel?” She felt uncomfortable putting it forward, but she had to ask. “If you… if you wanted to make Aunt Twilight suffer couldn’t you have just…” She squirmed around, her stomach twisting in knots.”…k-killed them?”
Starlight sighed. “I was a bad person, but I wasn’t out to be a murderer. I still fancied myself a good individual.”
Again Flurry felt it tough to bring up what was on her mind. “But you were planning revenge. How is that good?”
“Because morality is different based on what side of the fence you’re on. Most everyone wants to think that they’re good. Probably even Sombra would have called himself a good pony.”
Flurry’s eyes narrowed. “He ENSLAVED all his subjects and forced them to do whatever he wanted! He probably would have killed my parents if he wasn’t stopped!”
Starlight gave a little nod. “True, and most anyone would call that evil. However, you’re seeing it from your mind and your perspective. In his mind maybe he had his own reasons for doing what he did, and justified them much in the same way I did. His reasons might disgust you if he told you about them, but to him they would be enough.”
Flurry crossed her hooves. “I don’t care WHAT his reasons were. Nothing he ever said could convince me he was doing the right thing.”
“And that’s fine. You don’t have to agree or understand him. We’re not talking about him anyways.”
“Right…” Flurry bit her lip. “So now… now we come to…”
“Yep.” Starlight was glad it was almost over. She didn’t like wading through these old bad memories.
“I studied Twilight for a while after that, despite that Twilight wasn’t the only one to ruin me. Without Twilight’s magic to protect them I could have gone back and attacked my former friends but I put all my focus on the alicorn. I wanted to know what made her tick. I studied up on her history, and followed her around at times, trying to come up with the perfect revenge plot.
“It all came together during a lecture she gave on friendship when she talked about forming a connection with her friends before even meeting them. A sonic rainboom caused by Rainbow Dash caused all six of them to get their cutie marks the same day.
“When Twilight was away I tinkered with the map, fortifying Starswirl’s temporary time travelling spell with something more stable. Then when Twilight returned I struck, sending us both back in time to the moment of the rainboom and disrupting it before sending her back so she could see the results of what it felt like to lose her friends.
“I left the scroll with the spell to travel back in time behind, knowing she would use it. I knew Twilight wouldn’t just accept losing her friends, and so I also knew she would return, over and over and over. I had set it up so that whenever Twilight went back to the past I would be sent back too, a few moments before her.
“I had opportunities to destroy her if I so wished, but I wasn’t after her life. The very first time she came back I hit her with a spell that froze her in place, simply so I could spell out what I was doing.
“One time when she came back she found me talking to the one who had set this all off in the first place: Fluttershy. I put her in a rough predicament by talking her bullies into being nicer to her.
“Since the race that caused the rainboom only happened because of Rainbow standing up for her friend, the only way she could ensure history took its proper course would be to encourage bullying.”
“In the end it became a game to see how long Twilight would last before her heart shattered. We would keep going and going and going, each pass hurting her heart a little more.
“At first she’d be determined, but with every failure to stop me she’d feel like she was letting down her friends. That mental strain would start to create doubt, and eventually it would become too much for her to handle.”
Flurry felt like there were worms crawling in her stomach, a chill going down her spine. She tried to imagine Mayhem doing that sort of trial with her. He sorta did. All his efforts at the end were mainly to try and prove they weren’t really friends and to get her to give up on them.
Mayhem knew he could easily kill her, but in order to keep things interesting he simply fought to break her spirit and make her give up.
“Were you really that confident?” asked Flurry.
“I was in complete control. It wasn’t like I had to have a magic fight with Twilight every time. All I had to do was stop Rainbow from completing the rainboom. Just a little bit of magic to stop that moment is all it took.
“In one of the trips to the past we did wind up having a fight, but we stalemated. Honestly, that might have worked against me, but the fight drew the kids attention and they stopped the race to watch us.”
Flurry got a curious look on her face. “But Aunt Twilight is an alicorn and one of the best magic users in the world. I know you’re good, but you’re only a unicorn.”
“It’s like I said earlier: I was the one in control. I was perfectly calm in the heat of battle. On the other hoof, Twilight isn’t used to a prolonged fight. I’m sure that concern for her friends blurred her stability a bit, since it was after quite a few passes that she finally tried combat. She didn’t have her usual restraint, being a bit reckless with the power of her spells. As a result she exhausted herself pretty quickly.”
“That makes sense.” When she had gotten serious against the fake Sombra she had used way more power than she probably needed, leaving her completely wiped.
Starlight began to feel sick to her stomach. “I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it. Every time she failed to stop me I knew she’d suffer a little more.
“You… asked me earlier why I used time travel rather than just attack her friends directly. Part of that was just about being pragmatic. I could have done what Mayhem did, and push Twilight into constantly having to protect her friends from my assaults, but I wanted to see Twilight despair. The fake Starlight said that after the grief of loss passes it becomes rage at the one who hurt them. While me and Twilight were pretty evenly matched a rage boost to her power would have overcome me, and there would go my revenge plot.
“Time travel threatened her friendship with her friends, but it didn’t threaten them directly, and thus Twilight’s powers were kept in check. So long as she had hope and the map she would keep coming back for more while still being fully manageable.”
Flurry looked down at her lap. “So it was just supposed to be an endless loop of Aunt Twilight trying and failing?”
“Basically, but that got derailed after only eight or so times when she dragged me along for the ride when we returned to the present.”
Starlight’s horn lit up, and the area changed to match the dead landscape from the final alternate future.
Flurry looked around, impressed at how real it looked, but she could still see all her furniture around her room, and despite the dust blowing around she couldn’t feel the breeze.
“I found myself in an empty wasteland, with seemingly no survivors. I didn’t want to believe Twilight at first when she claimed it was the present. She claimed that this wasn’t the first bad future she had come back to, but this one was the worst.
“I felt like she couldn’t understand me, and so I showed her what happened with Sunburst. She still wouldn’t accept that cutie marks drove others apart. She felt those differences are what brought them closer.
“I went back one last time, now tired of my game. I decided I would rip up the scroll allowing this changing of time entirely, permanently changing the future.”
Tears quietly fell from her eyes. “I still remember that moment as if it was yesterday. Even before I surrendered to her Twilight saw me as a lost soul worth saving. She saw the pain I was in.
“It wouldn’t have been difficult for us to have a magic fight over that scroll, but she believed in the good in me and talked me down, encouraging me to try again to make new friends. Although she didn’t wish for the horrors that came from her not meeting her friends to come to pass, she still risked the world to save me too.”
She sniffed, feeling a little overwhelmed. “She saw how my actions were motivated by fear, and extended her heart out to mine. Despite all the pain and suffering I had put her through she still offered her hoof in friendship with no strings attached. It was the first time since Sunburst that I felt… like I was truly being seen.”
She put her hooves to her face, gently sobbing.
Flurry put her wings around Starlight, crying too. She understood that feeling perfectly as she thought of her seven friends.
When Starlight settled down she wiped her eyes. “Sorry,” she said with a sniff.
“Don’t be sorry, Aunt Starlight,” Flurry replied. “It took me quite a few fakes before I found friends who saw me for all I am. Nothing wrong with crying when you’re happy.”
Starlight took in a breath. “I suppose not.
“As for the rest, Twilight took me under her wing, I screwed up a bunch when I’d slip back into manipulation, and she eventually pushed me to rekindle my friendship with Sunburst. The rest is history.
“What I did in the past is horrible, but at the time it made sense to me. It felt like the only thing I could do. I wound up with a bunch of friendships that were ultimately insincere and only held together by lies and manipulation.
“Past me saw it as a good thing. Present me can’t stand how stupid I used to be, and if it hadn’t been for Twilight I likely would have spent the rest of my life harming others. Good riddance to her.
"Now I have relationships based on love and trust, where I don’t feel afraid and I have genuine connections, hiding nothing. As uncomfortable as it was, that was why I told you about my villainous past, because I didn’t ever want you to feel like I was keeping secrets from you.”
Starlight let out a breath. “So… you satisfied? Can we just leave the past in the past now?”
Flurry didn’t answer, a thoughtful expression on her face. Although some time had passed since she last heard the story it basically sounded the same as it had last time.
Starlight figured it wouldn’t go so simple, so she waited patiently, closing her eyes.
After a minute Flurry suddenly tensed and gasped.
Starlight opened her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
Flurry muttered to herself for a bit before she began shivering and bit her hoof.
Starlight saw the expression on Flurry’s face switching rapidly, as if she was unsure what she was feeling. “What, Flurry? What’s going through that head of yours?”
Flurry let out a heavy breath. “Nothing!” she cried out, her voice cracking.
“Don’t lie, Flurry. Maybe you don’t realize that your inner feelings are plastered all across your face, but you look like you’re about to blow.”
Flurry’s breathing shortened as she began panting slightly. “I noticed....but it can’t… I…”
The filly shook her head hard. “It’s nothing!”
“Flurry!” Starlight said sharply, making the filly twitch. Her voice grew gentler. “Do you remember why we’re talking about this? You said this was an act of trust, not of doubt. If something has occurred to you that seems off then just be honest about it and let me try and explain it.”
“B-b-but you can’t! Y-you can’t just talk your way out of it! And… and…” She took in a sharp breath. “I… I feel like you lied to me!”
“Mmm…” Starlight really wondered what was going through her mind. “Flurry, I have told you nothing but the truth. Just because you don’t have an explanation for something I did doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Maybe you won’t like the answer I give, but you can at least give me the chance to account for myself.
“Whatever it is that’s going through your head just tell me. Please!”
Flurry’s eyes clenched shut, hating the terrible feelings going through her. They were too strong to keep inside, even though she desperately tried to.
She glared up at Starlight, her voice trembling. “Y-YOU said that you didn’t know what was happening until Aunt Twilight forced you to see that empty future, but that’s impossible! This wasn’t something you just did on the spur of the moment when you were angry. This was something you planned after weeks or months of studying.
“HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN? How? If you knew that Aunt Twilight saved the world a bunch of times with her friends then what did you expect was going to happen when you stopped her from meeting them?
“If you stopped my parents from meeting it would be stupid to expect me to still be born, so there’s no way you couldn’t know that stopping the rainboom would lead to the world being ruled over by all these horrible creatures!”
Flurry hugged herself, quietly sobbing. “I don’t like what you did to my aunt, but I can at least understand that. I can understand you were so upset you wanted revenge on her, but what about everyone else? You were willing to let the whole WORLD suffer because of it? Did you not care at all about all the hundreds of innocent lives that were ruined because of that?”
With every line out of Flurry’s mouth Starlight felt worse and worse. It felt like her worst fears were about to come to pass after all.
“And what about ME? Without Aunt Twilight to stop King Sombra and the Changelings I was probably never even born in all those other worlds. They probably died every time, never to have a hero to protect them! And all because of YOU! BECAUSE YOU JUST DIDN’T CARE!” With that Flurry broke down completely.