Pound and Pumpkin Tales 2

by Never2muchpinkie


6-21: Starlight's answer

Flurry was bawling, lost in her emotions.

Starlight couldn’t even muster up a response, fully expecting Flurry to bail at any moment. At that moment she felt like she’d rather be sent to Tartarus than have to see the dismay Flurry was feeling.

Just as she was about to begin sobbing herself her emotions got derailed by confusion as Flurry suddenly threw her hooves around her. “HUG!” Flurry cried out pitifully, barely understandable through her crying. “H-HUG!”

Starlight was so thrown off she didn’t move, trying to figure out Flurry’s behavior. Things grew even more worrisome when suddenly Flurry grew quiet, as if her emotions had shut off.

Flurry looked up at her, a dead look on her face. “Disgusting…”

Again Starlight didn’t know how to respond. Flurry yelled at her, seeming furious, then she asked for a hug, and now the filly was calling her disgusting.

Flurry sniffed. “I… I really am disgusting, aren’t I?”

Starlight’s head jerked back. “Wha-”

“I-I s-said that I believed in you, but n-now I betrayed you and hurt you. It’s not surprising you don’t want to hug me anymore.” Flurry’s hooves fell away from the mares sides. “I wouldn’t want to hug me either.”

If Starlight had thought she couldn’t feel worse she was sorely mistaken. As Flurry’s words processed she realized that the anger Flurry spoke with earlier was actually directed, not at her, but at herself.

The realization of Flurry’s true inner turmoil made her entire body feel cold. The filly had seemingly found an unresolvable contradiction: despite professing absolute faith in her Flurry was finding doubt in her heart, and she found it unbearable.

Seeing Flurry’s vacant, numb expression made her wish that Flurry had been raging at her rather than feeling the self-hatred she was going through at the moment.

Much like before she had to fight not to succumb to despair. Flurry desperately needed her love and guidance at the moment, and if she broke it would only make Flurry feel worse than she already did. She had to be strong, no matter what. For the sake of her darling Flurry she would do that.

“Forgive me,” Starlight said, pleased that her voice came out fairly normal. She pulled Flurry into a hug. “I wasn’t sure what you really wanted from me.”

Flurry didn’t respond at all.

Starlight wasn’t sure where to start. Even if she answered Flurry’s questions it still wouldn’t resolve the filly’s guilt over feeling doubt in the first place.

She glanced around the room aimlessly, trying to think of what to say. Her eyes focused on the brush by the vanity. Maybe a little personal care would show that she wasn’t mad.

When Flurry felt the brush going through her mane she finally reacted, letting out an anguished cry as she slapped it away and it fell to the floor. “Stop it! I’m not worthy!”

Starlight simply lifted the brush again. “Don’t be silly, Flurry. I can tell you need this right now. Can’t expect to be as good as your mom though, since I know that’s her special thing with you.”

Flurry felt the soothing brush, but she didn’t want to be comforted at the moment. She wanted to feel guilty. “W-WHY? Why are you… being nice to me?”

“Because you did nothing wrong, Flurry.”

“Of course I did! I-”

“Shhh. Far from being wrong, you did a very good thing.”

Flurry had no clue how to respond to that. It felt like Starlight was just lying to her to make her feel better. That doubt only made another jolt of guilt go through her, and despite herself she sat still, wanting to feel the calming sensation even as she felt so unworthy of it.

Since Flurry was at least being quiet Starlight felt she could start talking. “Listen, Flurry. Any relationship goes through snags. That doesn’t mean the relationship is worthless or should be given up on. Today a friend betrayed you simply out of boredom, putting you through terrible experiences, and yet it ended with you friends once again.

“This is no different. You saw what seemed to be an inconsistency in my story, and feel like I lied to you about how bad I actually was. I don’t blame you for feeling a little suspicious.”

Flurry groaned and squirmed. “I shouldn’t!” she said angrily.

“And yet you do,” Starlight responded calmly. “Our feelings are something beyond our control. We may be able to control what we do with them, but the feelings themselves are something that are going to happen whether we want them to or not. Rather than hating and resisting your feelings you should try to work through them.”

“How?” Flurry said shortly. “And before you said it was a good thing that I was doubting you? What possible good can there be in that?”

“Because it means you’re not a braindead idiot!”

The answer caught Flurry off guard, confusion overtaking her feeling of self-loathing as she looked up. “Huh?”

“Any relationship worth something needs to go through evaluation from time to time, Flurry, and just like you said about my own feelings it’s not something I want you to obsess over.“

“What… do you mean by evaluation?”

“A strong relationship requires trust. Sometimes things happen which can harm that trust. If the foundation of that relationship is weak then the relationship will naturally crumble, but if the foundation is strong then it will only crack and can be repaired with time.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but maybe I’m NOT trustworthy.” Flurry’s eyes clenched shut as she groaned. “Maybe I AM deceiving you or I did so in the past. The test of a relationship is whether it can stand up to scrutiny. This goes beyond just your relationship with me. It applies for all of them.

“For example, do you trust your dad completely?”

“Yes!”

“What if, one day, you were walking around the castle and you saw a mare kissing and hugging your father?”

“B-but why? H-he’s married!”

“See right there?”

“Huh?”

“Just bringing up a fictional scenario causes doubt, doesn’t it?”

Flurry winced. “D-darn it!” she cried out. “I’m such a stupid hypocrite!”

“Flurry!” Starlight said firmly. “You’re NOT a hypocrite.”

“B-but I am! I can’t even-”

Starlight put a hoof to her mouth. “Just listen, Flurry. Please. I wasn’t trying to upset you with my statement. I was trying to make a point. It may sound contradictory, but your doubts come from your trust."

"I'm doubting people because I TRUST them? What sense does that make?"

“You know your father. You know the kinds of things he’d do and the things he wouldn’t do, so when you spy him seemingly doing something that he definitely wouldn’t do it naturally sets off little alarm bells in your head. It makes you want to know the truth.

“I was a little tactless before to get your attention, but the reason I said you’d be a ‘braindead idiot’ for not questioning anything is because that’s how betrayals happen. Maybe it’s a shapeshifting spell, a Changeling, mind control, a misunderstanding, or a genuine choice to do wrong… whatever the case may be, you shouldn’t just dismiss something strange you see in a trusted persons behavior.

“The other point to make is that, just because you can’t think of a reason someone seemingly acted differently doesn’t mean that there isn’t a perfectly reasonable explanation to account for it.”

Flurry pushed Starlight’s hoof away. “So let’s hear it, then!” she said doubtfully. “I see my dad making out with some random mare. What ‘perfectly reasonable’ explanation could he possibly have?”

“Those weren’t the words I used. I said that she was hugging and kissing him.

“And? What’s your point? He’s clearly not pushing her away.”

“You see how your mind assumes when you don’t have all the facts?”

“I don’t see a single fact you could give me that would make it okay. Even if she’s just forcing herself on him she knows he’s married. They both seem like the bad guys to me.”

“Tell me, Flurry. While you were staring at your dad and this mare did you happen to glance down and see the filly next to them?”

Flurry’s mind felt scrambled. “Whaaaaat? I don’t care about some other stupid kid when I’m watching my dad cheat on my mom.”

“Which is exactly why you don’t get it. The mare was a visitor to the castle with her child. Naturally curious, the poor kid got separated from her mother when she went off on her own. By the time either of them realized what had happened they went into a panic.

“The filly quickly got herself even more lost as she started running around at random until she grew overwhelmed and just started bawling her eyes out.”

Flurry’s head titled, wondering what any of this had to do with her father being romantic with some random mare.

“Your father, kind pony that he is, heard the noise and found her. He comforted her, offering to find her mother, and the grateful filly jumped onto his back. It wasn’t long before he heard there was a flustered mother looking for her missing child.

“A few minutes later he finds the worried mare, and mother and daughter quickly hug and cry. When she releases her daughter she looks up at Shining, and is so overcome with gratitude at having her child returned safely that she gives him a tender hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“Imagine walking in the room at that very moment. It feels like a totally different situation without that knowledge, huh?”

“But… b-b-but you… you said…”

“Yes? What did I say? When did I ever say that romance was involved, or that they were ‘making out?’ All I said was you walked in on your father being hugged and kissed by a mare you didn't know. Everything else came from your assumptions.”

“Well… I… I thought… I mean, the way you worded it made it seem…”

“I’ll say it again: your mind tends to assume when you don’t have all the facts. It may not feel good to think lesser of those you love, but that’s why it’s important to bring up those feelings. You may find out that what you thought was going on was completely different than what it appeared to be.

“Secrets kept, which suggest someone you respected acted inappropriately, only tend to fester and grow worse with time. The whole point of bringing these things up is to get an answer on whether or not they can be trusted.

“In my scenario your dad was who you expected him to be. When you question him about it he explains the situation and you move on from it. But… what if the opposite happened? What if he denied it ever happened, got real evasive, and either threatened you or bribed you to keep you quiet? Clearly, that’s not a person you want to respect.”

“No… but… he’d still be my dad.”

“True enough, but it’s better to see the truth with your own eyes than keep it hidden within you. Again, you only have to look at your own life to know that.

“It all comes down to trust. Without it, any relationship is doomed to failure. That’s why you shouldn’t feel guilty for having doubts so long as you give the other person a chance to explain themselves. If their explanation is fishy it gives you cause to be less trusting of them. If the explanation is good then it shows you had no reason to doubt in the first place and the relationship remains strong.

“In fact, the only reason you exist right now is because of those doubts.”

“Huh?” Flurry had no idea what that meant.

“Your dear Aunt Twilight saw something was very off about the Cadance she knew and loved as a filly. While she didn’t know it was an impersonator at the time, she was suspicious about the fake Cadance and confronted her. It turns out that she was able to cover herself and make Twilight look paranoid or just possessive over her brother, but it did make Chrysalis nervous enough to send Twilight to the same prison she put your mother in.

“If Twilight had dismissed her feelings just because she didn’t want to doubt a person she loved then your father would be a mind-controlled zombie married to a Changeling and you’d be Changeling Heart instead.

“I’ll say it again that your feelings are not an issue. What matters is what you do with them. If you kept what happened with your dad a secret you’d feel like you were lying to your mom and you’d feel like a phony being affectionate to your dad. And if you went right to your mom and told her what you saw you’d have created unnecessary strife. That’s why it’s good to allow the other person to explain themselves before gossiping about it or just dismissing them outright.”

Flurry nodded. “I understand.”

“So now we come to me. I do have an answer for you, Flurry. Whether or not you’ll accept it I don’t know, but, as we saw with that fictional scenario with your dad, just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean there is no explanation.

“So be honest with me. I know you already said your position, but you were too wrapped up in your emotions before to actually have a conversation about it. I want you to ask me again, guilt-free. If I’m truly the person you believe I am then I shouldn’t have any fear of being questioned, and you shouldn't have any fear in asking.”

Flurry stared at her for a long while before gently tugging the brush away with her own magic and setting it back on her dresser. She felt calm enough now she didn't need it anymore, and she didn't want any distractions during such a critical discussion.

There was a reluctant tone to her voice, but it was steady now. “I… I trust you, but what you said seems like a lie. If you were studying Aunt Twilight while plotting your revenge, then how can you claim you didn’t know what was going to happen when you changed the future?”

“Your statement makes logical sense, but the thing you’re missing is a big assumption on my part.”

“Which is?”

“That Twilight was unnecessary to the world.”

Flurry gave her a perplexed look. “Why would you ever assume that if you knew what she did?”

“It was a huge flaw in my reasoning that Twilight herself wasn’t actually special. It was just her connections that made it so. If we removed Twilight from the equation then somebody else would step up and take her place. Effectively, the only change I expected is that Twilight and her friends would be strangers to each other, and, um… Sparkly Twilight and Flapjack and Blueberry Pie and so on would be the new heroes who took their positions up.”

Flurry was quiet for a little bit. “But… did you really think it was so easy? Did you really think that just anyone could use the Elements of Harmony?”

“I don’t think they’re so cheap that any random group of ponies could use them, but it all started with Twilight as the central pillar. Her element, magic, had been lost to time once Celestia left them behind in her old castle.

"Celestia trained her because of her magical potential, but it isn’t like Twilight is the only powerful unicorn out there. She does have an entire school dedicated to training those skilled in magic, after all.

“Twilight’s story shows that you don’t have to be longtime friends to make them work. Twilight summoned the power of the elements the very day she met her five friends after just traveling together in a dangerous situation for a few hours.

“And you did the same yourself today when Mayhem messed with your memories. You awakened a great power simply out of the desire to protect your friends even though you initially dismissed them.”

Once more Flurry was silent for a bit before speaking. “You… make it seem so simple. Like…” She gestured around her blue-coated room. “Like you changing the future, and acting like it’s just a different coat of paint. Oh, what would it matter if my room was now green? All the furniture and stuff is still here, so no problem, right?”

“What are you trying to say, Flurry?”

“Let’s say you were right, and some other group of ponies did take up the Elements of Harmony and stopped Nightmare Moon. That doesn’t mean that things wouldn’t be worse. The ponies wielding them wouldn’t be the same, and maybe they wouldn’t solve the same problems Pinkie and Fluttershy and the rest solved.

“There probably would be a lot of ponies that suffered because the element bearers weren’t the same, not because of the elements themselves, but because they’d live in different houses, and have different special talents. Some of them only came to Ponyville because of what happened after they got their cutie marks.

"Look at Pound and Pumpkin. They only have Pinkie Pie in their lives because she left her home to spread joy. It feels like without her they would be much worse off.

"Or what about Pound's dog? The mare who brought her to Fluttershy's house because she couldn't afford a proper vet bill would have no one to turn to since Fluttershy would probably still be in Cloudsdale."

“I can acknowledge that point,” said Starlight, “but in return wouldn’t just as many others be helped that weren’t before because of those different talents?”

“I… I don’t know.

“What about my parents? And the Changelings? And King Sombra? They were only beaten because Aunt Twilight was there. She noticed that my mom was a fake because of her suspicious behavior, and if the new Twilight didn’t happen to have a dragon assistant with them AND was smart enough to get past Sombra’s spells then she’d be done for.”

“If Twilight flunked her entrance exam then she’d likely just stay at home until the time of the wedding. Even if she moved out in that time, her being an Element bearer is insignificant here since I’m sure your dad would invite his own sister to his wedding no matter what. She’d still become suspicious and be sent to your real mother.

“I don’t think anything would change in regards to the Changeling invasion.”

“But in one of those futures the Changelings DID win.”

“That’s true…

“I don’t have an answer for King Sombra either. Considering the family connection, Shining might ask his sister for help alongside the new Elements of Harmony, but he also might not because of the danger.”

“Soooooo…”

Starlight took in a deep breath before slowly letting it out. “I never said that I accounted for every single possible change that might happen when I started my revenge plan. I didn’t particularly care about who was helped and who wasn’t as long as I got what I wanted.”

Flurry groaned. “Isn’t that exactly what I complained about at the start? You just admitted you didn’t care about what happened to the future as long as Aunt Twilight was miserable.”

“And I didn’t… mostly. I did make some bad assumptions about what the state of the world would be like when I broke Twilight’s friendships, but I never intended to drag the entire world into things. I thought others would become the element bearers in Twilight’s place, which is why I felt okay with what I was doing. It turned out that that wasn’t the case.

“All the major things, like Sombra and Nightmare Moon, I expected to be taken care of by the other element bearers. And for the little things… it shouldn’t only be up to six ponies to help everyone, so if someone else didn’t step up it was beneath my concern.”

“But that’s…” Flurry averted her eyes. “That’s a terrible thing to say, Aunt Starlight.”

“Look, we’ve already established I was a massive jerk, if time-travelling repeatedly to make someone suffer didn’t make that obvious, but that has nothing to do with this.”

“Nothing to do with it?” Flurry replied, looking a little angry. "You're basically confirming all the bad things I was thinking."

“You’re losing focus, Flurry. We can sit around and nitpick every bad decision and assumption I made, but it's completely off-topic to what the main issue is. We aren’t here to debate whether my actions in trying to change the future and hurting Twilight were bad. We’ve already established that.

"I can’t help what my thought process was seven years ago. Those are past Starlight’s thoughts. It’s not how I feel today. All I can do is try and improve who I am in the present.”

“Sorry,” Flurry said quietly.

“The purpose of this discussion is one particular point that bothered you. You asserted that I forged ahead doing something I knew was going to cause massive death and pain simply because my desire for revenge was so strong that I just didn’t care who got caught in the crossfire.

“The reason this bothers you is because it feels like I duped you about how terrible I was in the past. I made a confession to you about my past, but it feels like I left something crucial out that painted me in a bad light. It would be like telling you I took your sisters stuffed animal, while not telling you that I kidnapped your sister as well.”

Flurry tensed. “Even as an example please don’t!”

“Duly noted, but I’m sure you get my point. It feels like I told you about something bad I did while hiding the much worse thing I did. It wasn’t an outright lie, but that omission certainly feels deceptive.

“I understand how you came to your conclusion, but I hold to my stance. I thought there would be replacement heroes, and never meant to turn the future into a giant mess. I was ignorant and stupid, but I promise I didn’t go into things that day fully expecting those bad futures and not caring about their pain. I wasn’t out for collateral damage.

“After all, what did I have to gain with the world belonging to others? If I had broken Twilight then my plan was to return to a slightly different Equestria. I guess, to use your euphemism, an Equestria with a different coat of paint. And then I would start my plans anew. With no Twilight confrontation there would be no memory of my true nature since she never came to visit.”

“Mmm…” Flurry didn’t look satisfied. “But wouldn’t the new Twilight be sent in her place, then? I don’t think anything would have changed there. Would you have gone back and broken them up too? And then the NEW new Twilight, until eventually no friends would exist and Equestria would be doomed anyway?”

Starlight got an awkward grin on her face. “Hmm. Well... when you put it like that I guess my plan was doomed from the start.”

“Pretty much.”

The two of them looked each other for a minute. Finally, Starlight said, “Well, I’ve told you my story and tried to explain myself as best I can. The only thing I can do now is wait for your judgment.”

Flurry looked uncertain. “You’re gonna put this on me?”

“Is there anyone else here? All anyone else can do is give you advice. You’re the only one who knows what you feel in your heart.”

Flurry looked into a corner of the room. “I remember… the details are fuzzy now, but I remember when you first told me about things. You… weren’t the Starlight I knew and loved. It was so different from the pony you were that I couldn’t recognize you.”

A few tears came down her eyes. “When you told me about how you basically enslaved ponies it made me think about King Sombra. One day I saw that huge statue of Spike, and my parents told me about him and how he saved the Crystal Empire from Sombra by delivering the Crystal Heart to my mother.

“Then that feeling grew worse when you told me about how you tortured Aunt Twilight. I hated to think about you as a villain. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. It went against everything I thought about you.

“I really fought with myself for that next week. A small part of me…” She let out a little sob. “No. If we’re supposed to be being honest with each other then I can’t lie. It wasn’t just a little part of me. It wasn’t even close to fifty-fifty. At that time it was closer to eighty or ninety percent that I really felt like I never wanted to see you again. Hearing you talk about how badly you had hurt my family almost completely outweighed all the kind things you had done for me.” She sniffed, tears coming down her eyes.

Starlight forced her voice to remain as neutral as possible, even though it hurt to know how badly she had upset Flurry. “I stayed away from you because I didn’t want you to feel obligated to forgive me. I wanted you to make your own choice.

“I didn’t know the scale was tipped that heavily against me, since we never went into the specifics of things, but… in the end you did forgive me and put it behind you. What made you do it?”

“The one who changed my mind was Uncle Sunny.”

Starlight let out a growl, catching Flurry’s attention and making her look up to see Starlight looking into the distance. “Darn it! I told them all to stay out of it!”

“Does it really matter?”

“You’re darn right it does! The same way I avoided you I didn’t want everyone else pushing you to forgive me either.

“And what did he say? ‘Oh, Starlight is nice. You should totally forgive her after being so great to you. She's just so miserable right now.’ I didn’t want forgiveness out of manipulation and guilt trips.”

“Oh,” said Flurry. “Is that what’s bothering you?

“Uncle Sunny didn’t push me. He didn’t even say anything about forgiving you, and we didn’t talk that long. I asked him whether he knew about your past, and if my parents knew too, and he said you all did.

“He told me that you were putting it all on the line out of a desire to be honest with me, and repeated what you said about being afraid of one day learning the truth from someone else.

“And he finished up by saying that you truly loved me, and that if I believed in him that I should believe that.”

Starlight let out a little groan. “Better than I thought, but I still wish he didn’t interfere.”

“It really means that much to you, huh?”

Starlight looked her in the eyes. “Of course it does! I told you earlier what my relationship with you means to me. I want our relationship to be genuine. It shouldn’t only exist because of expectations and the desire not to hurt feelings.

“You may not have said it openly, but I could tell you held me up as a role model with the way you praised me. I put it off for a while, not because I was afraid of you not looking up to me anymore, but just that you’d sever our relationship entirely.

"I could take you losing your hero worship of me and taking me off the pedestal you put me on, but losing that relationship completely felt like it would have broken me just like losing Sunburst did when I was a child.

“I had no idea who might spill the beans or why anyone would have a reason to, but I had to ask myself what my relationship meant to me. I knew it would hurt much deeper if it came from someone else. Maybe you’d overhear Twilight talking about some new foe she redeemed, and bring me up as an example of how people can change.

“Whatever the case may be, I couldn’t stand hearing you praise me anymore without feeling like I wasn’t worthy of it so long as I was keeping such a big secret from you. As expected, you got mad and upset, hitting me and running off crying.”

Starlight’s eyes faded out. “That… was the worst week of my life. It may have been necessary for our relationship to be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had to hurt you badly. I spent a lot of time beating myself up before reminding myself it was necessary.

“I could barely focus on anything because I was so afraid that I had shattered our relationship, but I forced myself to stay far away from you. I knew you were thinking about it too, but I felt like seeing me in person might just influence you if you saw how miserable I seemed. Or maybe it would go the opposite, and seeing me would stir up those feelings of anger and betrayal further.

"It was also to stop myself. If I had seen you I probably would have bowed at your hooves and begged for forgiveness, something I desperately wanted to avoid."

Tears came down her eyes. “Stupid Sunburst,” she said in an emotionless voice. “Why did he…”

Flurry hugged her. “You know why, Aunt Starlight. He did it because he loved you and didn’t want to see you hurting anymore. The same way that I love you.”

Starlight turned her head away, wiping away some tears. “Darn it,” she said to herself. “Stop crying.”

“What’s wrong with crying?”

“I just want you to make your own decisions.”

“But I am making my own decisions, Aunt Starlight. I can see with my own eyes how strongly you feel about valuing me. You’re a lot like Aunt Twilight in that regard. She treats kids with the same level of respect as adults.

“It’s the same now as it was back then. I didn’t forgive you just because Uncle Sunny told me that you loved me. I looked at all the people in my life and thought about how they treated you.

“Whenever Aunt Twilight stopped by she always treated you friendly and with the highest respect. Uncle Sunny always treated you with love and care. And then there was my parents, who put you in charge of something they hold dear to their hearts.

“If I hadn’t heard about what happened I never would have thought you ever did something like that, because they treated you without any suspicion. I believe in the people I love, and I know they would never want to see me get hurt. If you were any sort of risk to me they would have separated us long ago. It was that that finally started getting me thinking about your good points again.”

Flurry pushed at Starlight’s head until they were eye to eye. “What became the deciding factor was how much you risked just to ensure you remained one of the best role models in my life. As Uncle Sunny said, you risked having me hate you forever because you wanted to be truthful to me.

“I was still a little cautious around you at first, but as we went about our lives I saw you were still the same Starlight I always loved. I didn’t give it another thought after that until now, because you never gave me a reason to doubt you.”

Flurry gave her a warm smile. “I’m sorry I didn’t trust you more. I believe that you didn’t intentionally try to hide something from me, and I hold to my own stance that says I don’t want anything to come between us. I’m satisfied with your explanation.” She nuzzled Starlight’s chest.

Starlight let out a breath, releasing the stress that had built up as she hugged Flurry close, happy tears coming down her eyes. “I love you, Flurry.”

“I love you too, Aunt Starlight.”

“I only wish I had met Twilight sooner. I just gave up after Sunburst. I got lost in fear, and in that fear I turned into a rotten person that would do anything to keep my friends, even at the cost of my conscience.

“I forgot how warm the light felt until Twilight lit up my world.”

Mayhem passed through Flurry’s mind. In the lull between battles with him the draconequus had posed something much the same. He wanted to keep the six of them in his dimension forever. Much like Starlight, he wanted to keep his friends close by force, forgetting that it wasn’t true friendship.

She remembered the look on his face as she told him that he might understand why she wouldn’t give up if he had had any friends to protect, and how he had said his pride wouldn’t allow him to give up. He had forgotten the light too until they shot it at him to wake him up.

"Aunt Starlight?"

"Yes, Flurry?"

"Should it really be that simple?"

"What do you mean?"

"I really am happy that we brought Mayhem back to his senses, but he did something terrible to all of us. In fact, he may be even worse than you. Even if it was an evil reason you at least had a good explanation for what you did. Mayhem just did all this for fun.

"It's like..." Flurry let out a groan as she tried to articulate what she was thinking. "I love him, and I love you, but both of you did disgusting things and then were basically rewarded for it. Aunt Twilight made you her personal student, and while Mayhem was all for punishing himself we all fought to ensure that didn't happen.

"I'm... still feeling uncertain about whether I did the right thing in forgiving Mayhem. I want to keep him as a part of my life. That hasn't changed. But... should I have given him more of a cold shoulder? Maybe in the future he'll act up again because he expects that all he has to do is say sorry.

"The fake Starlight claimed that she basically knew that Aunt Twilight would accept her apology as long as she appeared sorry. She counted on Aunt Twilight's goodness to make her believe that she was truly sorry."

Flurry squirmed restlessly. "Am I... just being gullible too?"

A tear came down Starlight's cheek. Flurry was starting to doubt herself again. She just sounded so forlorn.

She moved Flurry next to her and stood up so they were face to face. "When I first surrendered to Twilight I expected the worst. Having to come face to face with the wrongness of my own actions I thought I deserved nothing less than to be thrown into the deepest dungeon and forgotten about.

"But the opposite happened. Rather than hold onto my past she looked towards my future, and the mare I could become if I started over.

"Twilight followed her heart when she came at me with love rather than hatred. Much like you, she doesn't act because of her title or status, but because it's what she genuinely wants to do.

"And THAT'S why the way she acts is so powerful."

"Powerful?"

"Impactful! Twilight acts in a genuine manner which is inspiring. At the end, I'm sure Twilight didn't forget for a second that I could finish destroying the scroll that would ruin the future forever, but she didn't choose to focus on that. She didn't try and force it from me, or attack me. She focused on me instead. Like I said before, she risked the world to save me as well, addressing my fears and encouraging me to find a new path.

"And that's why her words hit so hard. Someone who could be so kind to a person that sought to ruin their life... that felt bad for that enemy despite the pain... it made a huge impact on me.

"As for you, I think you're forgetting that you didn't forgive a friend, but an enemy."

"What do you mean?" Flurry asked, confused. "Mayhem is a friend."

"True, but you didn't know that at the time.

"I got to see your mind working. When it came down to it, you were already leaning strongly towards forgiveness before you began to remember Mayhem in your heart.

"I doubt most people would have objected to us never surfacing again, but you and Twilight didn't offer blind forgiveness. In both cases, forgiveness was offered because it was clear we showed regret over our actions. Mayhem questioned this concept, but he didn't need to directly say he was sorry for you to see it.

"Something else you took notice of is that you didn't remember Mayhem like you did your other friends until after he had some sense knocked into him and began returning to the person you recognized."

Now that Starlight mentioned it Flurry had to agree. All throughout her adventure Mayhem remained firmly a stranger. Her heart didn't start to reach out to his until after his defeat.

"Twilight told me that every friendship is important. The greater the love in Equestria the stronger we all grow. It's much like the Crystal Heart that keeps this empire safe. When a crystaling happens everyone gathers together in celebration and love, and a new shard is added to the heart, increasing it's power.

"Feelings tend to perpetuate themselves. Hatred and cruelty breeds more hatred, like that of King Sombra. Although it was overshadowed by their fear, I'm sure everyone in the Crystal Empire would probably agree that they hated him.

"Love, too, is something that breeds more of itself. Twilight showed me love, touching my heart. Those feelings made me want to honor that love by being loving in turn. That's how I found myself with an amazing husband and a darling niece."

That made Flurry smile.

"You could say that I got off too easy, but the results speak for themselves. I've done my hardest to distance myself from past Starlight, not because I'm forced to or I'm afraid Twilight will lock me up, but for Twilight herself. I value the second chance she gave me, and have no inclination to go back to who I used to be.

"I feel it's the same for Mayhem. You could have dismissed him or came at him with hatred for what he did, but instead you offered him a hug and forgiveness. Such acts of kindness don't go unnoticed." She put a hoof to Flurry's chest. "It touches the heart in a special way, giving you inspiration and making you want to rise up from the past.

"That's why I don't feel you or Twilight made the wrong decision in offering forgiveness. It gives a chance for that kindness to be paid forward. Isn't Twilight's plan for Mayhem to offer children wishes to live out impossible dreams? Just think of all the happiness that wouldn't exist if you didn't offer Mayhem his own second chance."

"But if he goes bad again-"

"Then it WON'T be your fault!" Starlight said firmly. "People are responsible for their own behavior. You can guide another person, but ultimately they're going to do what they want.

"Maybe you will find a few fakers along the way, who are only pretending remorse, but try thinking a little smaller. Not every bad thing is going to involve the fate of the world. Wouldn't you rather spread as much love and friendship as possible and have a few fakes along the way, rather than dismiss everyone for possibly being fake and stifle the potential of others to do great things?

"You've said that you trust me as much as you do Twilight. Do you think Twilight made a mistake by not locking me up?"

"No... I don't think so," Flurry responded.

"If Mayhem never goes back to his bad ways then it clearly means you had a big impact on him and made the right decision."

"And if he does?"

"Then it means you made the decision that felt right to you at the time, and nothing more.

"Let me give you one more fictional scenario: you made me a bit sad today with your accusations, so I think I'm going to go to Twilight Velvet, your grandmother, and blame her for your behavior."

"Whaaaaa..." That was so out of left field Flurry didn't even know where to begin dissecting that comment.

"After all, if she hadn't had Shining Armor you wouldn't have been born and I wouldn't have felt those feelings. She's directly responsible for it."

"Wha-but-wha-" Flurry sputtered a bit. "That's ridiculous! I don't even see her that often, but you're gonna..."

Starlight got a smug grin on her face as she chuckled. "You can say you're responsible for Mayhem's behavior if he goes wrong again, but I can say it was your father's fault for causing your birth, and your grandmother's fault for birthing him, and then their parents, and so on. Do you see how ridiculous it sounds when I put it that way?

"All in all, it's misplaced responsibility. If Mayhem slips up again it's on him, not you. Yes, if you take it literally then Mayhem can't commit his new bad actions if he's locked up, but that doesn't mean that you should be locked up right beside him as if you did the deed yourself.

"Pay attention to the way he acts, but don't dwell on it overmuch. That's the best you can do."

"Okay, Aunt Starlight."

Starlight got a whimsical look on her face. “Y’know, at the very end there, right before I gave up, I called Twilight egotistical and arrogant for thinking she mattered so much, but she really does.”

Flurry snorted. “You’re one to talk about being egotistical and arrogant, big mouth. That’s one thing that’s never changed about you since back then.”

“Hey!” Starlight cried out.

The filly began chuckling.

Despite herself Starlight joined in.

Flurry began laughing harder and harder, and Starlight followed suit, both of them setting each other off until they were gasping for breath.

After a minute they began to settle down. Flurry wiped away some tears that had formed, a huge smile on her face. “Ah,” she said calmly. “That felt really nice. I needed a good laugh.”

“Glad you got that laugh at my expense. NOW… can we finally talk about you? Or are there any other delays related to me you want to get off your chest?”

Flurry’s smiled remained but it wasn’t as big. She nodded. “Yeah. Now I really do feel ready.”

“Good! And just so you know, I am so gonna kick your butt in your next magic lesson.”

Flurry chuckled. “Bring it on!”