The Once and the Future Princess

by Silvermyr

First published

Cozy Glow was a Princess, and she has vowed to become one again. Flurry Heart is and alicorn and destined to become a Princess one day. Can they help one another grow, or are there some gaps that not even the magic of friendship can bridge?

For one day, Cozy Glow was a Princess, and she has vowed to become one again as Twilight's personal student. It may take time and it may not be pleasant, but she is a headstrong filly who never gives up, no matter who or what comes in her way.

Having been born an alicorn, Flurry Heart is destined to become a Princess one day. Such a burden is heavy for a filly, and it is imperative that she learns to carry it. Fortunately, Twilight Sparkle has agreed to teach her and help her grow. With her unending kindness and bright optimism, Flurry is sure to succeed.

One filly who lost everything, and another who was born with everything. But even that's not all. There is a colt too, and whether he realizes it or not, his actions will have consequences.

Can Cozy Glow and Flurry Heart learn to become friends and help one another grow, or are there some gaps that not even the magic of friendship can bridge?

The cover art and proofreading was done by the amazing Vito, who is also on Deviantart.

Chapter 1- Collision Course

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"Aren't we done soon?" Cozy asked. She didn't want to whine, but this friendship lesson felt like it had dragged on forever. "I think my friends are waiting for me."

"I happen to know that Rumble is still occupied with the food for the Crystal Empire delegation, so he is not expecting you yet." Twilight said patently. "And Sweetie Belle would not come to Canterlot on Thursday. She is in school."

Cozy grumbled to herself. "Just one final question," Twilight said. "Then I'll let you leave for the day. Fair?"

"Fine," Cozy said. "Ask away."

"Think of the following: Three friends, Amber, Bluebell and Chrysanthemum, agree to meet for a movie. Chrysanthemum, however, declines at the last minute, stating that she is too tired. Amber and Bluebell go to the movie as planned, and when they are there they see Chrysanthemum coming nonetheless with a fourth pony, Dandelion, who has previously bullied both Amber and Bluebell. What do you think Amber and Bluebell should do, if anything?"

"They should confront Chrysanthemum and Dandelion," Cozy said. "They can't let Chrysanthemum go behind their backs like that with a pony they don't like! It's either them or Dandelion."

"I see. That is a natural reaction," Twilight said neutrally. "But don't you think it might be better to ask Chrysanthemum exactly why she wanted to take Dandelion there in the first place? Perhaps this could be an opportunity to get Dandelion to apologize?"

"Or she will just rub it in their faces that Chrysanthemum chose her instead," Cozy said. "That's what bullies do."

"Don't you think there is more to a pony than that?" Twilight asked. "Even a bully ought to have some reason to do what she does, don't you think?"

Cozy thought about that. "I suppose maybe they could ask Chrysanthemum when she is alone, later. Sometimes, when I'm very angry, I say stuff I should not. Maybe it's better to wait for everypony's mind to cool a little."

"That's clever," Twilight said. "It takes a lot of self-insight to suggest that. Very good, Cozy."

"Can I leave?" Cozy asked.

Twilight nodded with a small smile. "You can, even if I'd love to talk more with you. You are a good friendship student."

"'Cause I'm so good at friendship," Cozy said smugly and left the room. She went to Luna's old room, just next to Twilight's study in the Canterlot Castle. It was her own room now, and since she became Twilight's student, so she had taken to make some improvements. Mainly in going through the castle library and hauling every book she could find on the art of making artifacts. There were precious few of them. To go with it, Twilight had even provided her with a small divan made out of clouds, so the filly could comfortably read the old tomes.

Cozy had actually been reading such a book when Twilight so rudely interrupted her with the friendship lesson. The book laid overturned on her divan, but she did not really feel like reading anymore. She went up to it and put her bookmark down properly before returning the book to the shelf.

So now what should she do? She could bring out one of her puzzles, she had paper, pencils and colored crayons to draw with and she had a telescope. Finally, she had a small table with screwdrivers, tweezers, mirrors and lenses, where she could practice making artifacts. She even had a tiny soldering iron and an engraving pen with a tiny diamond tip.

She was in the process of trying to re-install the light crystal in her little rook statuette. She felt like she should be doing that, but she also didn't feel like doing it right now. Then again, she didn't feel like puzzling or drawing either, and the telescope was not of any use during the day.

Earlier though, Twilight had mentioned something about a delegation from the Crystal Empire, and Cozy had never seen a crystal pony before. She had heard of them, but she assumed the tales must be exaggerated. Ponies literally made of crystal? Such a thing could not exist, could they?

Shrugging, she left her room and went out of Twilight's private wing. She had made it a point specifically not to tell Twilight when she came and went. She didn't get a say in what Cozy did outside of her friendship lessons.

She could sense there was something going on today. Normally just about everypony stopped anything they were doing to stare (or glare) at her, but not today. Ponies were too preoccupied to pay her much mind. Even the guards seemed to stand a little straighter and their armors were even more meticulously polished than usual. Cozy stopped by one of the stoic white pegasi and looked over herself in the mirror of his armor. The guard did not move a muscle.

"Refreshments coming through!" A young voice called behind her. She heard ponies move out of the way, but she stood still, waiting for the owner of the voice to come up to her. "Oh, hi Cozy!" Rumble said, carrying a silver tray on his head.

"Hi," she said. "what have you made?"

"Ramson said I am responsible for one of the desserts, mint-chocolate mousse. It will be topped with candied orange zest later, when they are served," Rumble said. Cozy fell in next to him. He was just about her only friend in the castle and also helped her with flying lessons, as she had never gone to flight school.

"What… what is zest?" she asked. She practically never cooked, and she most definitely never cooked something as fancy as "zest," whatever it was.

"Zest is the outermost peel of a citrus fruit, like oranges or lemons. I boil it to some softness and then add a lot of sugar. It works really well as a topping. As long as the mint taste is not too strong, the chocolate will bring out the best in both the orange and the mint at the same time! I've been working to get the ratio right all morning!"

Cozy nodded politely, even if she really did not understand all the nuances of his cooking. But she did know everything he made in the kitchen was wonderful. She cast a desirous glance at the glass bowls on top of the tray. She might not have known what zest was, but she did know what chocolate was, and she knew she wanted some.

"Well, since you have been working for so long, then there must be some extra mousse left, riiiight?" Cozy asked with an innocent smile.

She saw Rumble roll his eyes. "Maybe," he admitted.

"And it wouldn't be nice to throw it away after you worked so hard to make it, riiiight?" Cozy proceeded, her smile widening.

"I suppose it wouldn't," Rumble said, smiling too.

"Oh golly… if only there was somepony who could have some of the extra. A really good friend who could tell you what to improve before you serve it to the princess."

"Fine, I'll see if I can make some extra for you," Rumble said. "But no promises. I'll have to take them all out to the tables, and if somepony doesn't eat theirs, then you can have it."

Cozy felt her smile wash off her face. "But everypony will eat their desserts!" she protested. "Why wouldn't anypony eat their dessert?! It's the best part!"

They turned away from the corridor and proceeded through some mostly empty rooms before they came to the cold storage. Maintained by magic, this room was used to store certain dishes before they were served for castle banquets. Rumble opened the door. Cozy ruffled her wings a little on her back, as the chilly air washed over her. "I'm a castle chef now, so I'm hired to make desserts. I can't just refuse to serve them even if my friend asks me to," Rumble said and put the tray on a shelf together with three more he had made.

There were much too few for Cozy's liking. The more he could make the better chance she had at snagging one. "Do you think there are enough for me too?"

"I'll really try," Rumble said. "But today is kinda tough. I think the Crystal Empire Princess is coming too, so Ramson is even harsher today. Speaking of, I should get back to work."

"Cadance," Cozy said, as they left the cold storage. "Yeah… I think Twilight ran away to her when I conquered Canterlot. They're pretty close. And her husband, Shining Armor was the captain of the Canterlot guard before he married Cadance. He graduated really high in Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns and last time I checked he still had the record in most consecutive magic duels won in the school's duel club."

"Why do you know so much about them?" Rumble asked.

Cozy blushed a little. "I thought… maybe I'd have to battle them, when I had conquered Canterlot. So I studied them a little."

Rumble looked a little bemused. "You know, sometimes I forget that you did… all that. You're so funny to be around now."

"Well, next time you'll not forget it," Cozy huffed. "Cause then I won't fail."

"Didn't Cadance have a daughter too? The only alicorn ever born?" Rumble asked.

Cozy hid her grimace. "Yes," she said. She didn't really know much about "Flurry Heart" (Yuck, even her name was just cloyingly sweet) but she didn't care to find out more either. Her very existence irked Cozy on a fundamental level. After all Cozy had done, every risk she took, every evil she committed, it just wasn't fair that some prissy filly just got everything she had ever wished for by birth.

No, the less she saw and thought of Flurry Heart, the better.

"Didn't study her as much?" Rumble asked.

"No," Cozy huffed shortly. "It's not like she could be a threat to me." She turned her mouth to a grin. "But never mind her! Care to tell me the rest of the menu? It must be special, right?"

"You bet!" Rumble said and went into a long description of everything the kitchen had prepared. He was really passionate about good food, Cozy noted for the hundredth time. But it was never boring to listen to him. His passion was contagious, even if she could not understand exactly what it all meant.

"Hey, I just realized," Rumble said. "Aren't you going to attend the dinner? I've heard Twilight got to attend the Grand Galloping Gala when she was the Celestia's Student. So maybe Twilight will take you to the dinner if you ask."

"No thanks," Cozy said. "I don't want to spend any more time with her than I have to. And I thought we'd be going out flying when you were done."

"Well… It'd be a sure way for you to get some dessert," Rumble said. "We don't have the whole guest list yet; so it's not like you'd be a late addition if you told Twilight now. Then we'd make a whole three course meal for you."

That did get Cozy's mouth to water. Rumble's cooking was the best she had ever tasted, and to have not one but three courses made by him and his peers would be quite a treat for a pony who almost never got to eat fancy food. Growing up in an orphanage did that to a filly. And It's not like she'd have to stay around Twilight for too long. She could probably just slink back to her room after dinner. "I guess I'll think about it," Cozy said. "But it's not friendly of you to tempt a filly into doing something she doesn't really want to like this."

"I suppose you are rubbing off on me," Rumble grinned.

"I'm an amazing friend though," Cozy said confidently. "Oh! I just realized; since you will be making Twilight's dessert, that means you will spike it for me, right? Like with really spicy peppers or something?"

"No," he deadpanned. "No, that's not what me cooking for her means."

"Awww…" Cozy pouted.

"Cozy, come on," Rumble said, just a little seriousness in his voice.

"Fiiiine," Cozy said and rolled her eyes. "You're no fun."

Tearing her glassy eyes from the landscape rushing by outside the window, Flurry Heart flopped over from her stomach to her back, letting out a long sigh of boredom. Sure, it was nice to leave the Empire at times and see the greater Equestria beyond the seemingly endless tundra that surrounded her home, but oh how she hated the travels. Half a day stuck in a train with only a fraction of her many toys from her castle home. And of course, none of her friends were with her either.

That was the worst part. She was almost never alone. Either she was surrounded by her friends in school, or she had her parents near. Or Sunburst, her Crystaller and caretaker since she was born.

But Sunburst had recently left for a work at aunt Twilight's Friendship School, her friends had not been allowed to travel with her, and her parents were locked in with the rest of the delegates, going through a list of economical issues, social issues, cultural issues and at least fifty more adjectives (she was pretty sure those words were adjectives) that also ended with "-al". Because for some reason those old boors did not understand that Twilight was a friend to Flurry and her parents, rather than a Princess.

So thanks to that, her parents' time was being wasted and Flurry was left bored. She laid still on her back, majestic wings splayed out around her and looked up into the roof for lack of anything better to do.

The roof in the wagon was a lacquered wood with embossed gold leaves running along the edges. There were lamps too, likewise made of gold and powered by magical crystals. Much more expensive than normal firefly lanterns, and also with a much harsher light that Flurry did not even really like. Why would anypony waste money installing lamps that were both more expensive than normal and also worse?

Flurry Heart groaned in exasperation, flopped over again and buried her head in the seat. SHE WAS BORED!

But then, the door opened and both her parents stepped into the train car. As always, when they had been apart for more than an hour or so, her mother came up and hugged her. Flurry was a bit self-conscious about it, especially at school, but when somepony's mother is the very Princess of Love, it was to be expected. At least that's what ponies told her.

"Hey, Flurry. Sorry for leaving you for so long," Shining Armor said. "I'd much rather have stayed with you here, but the delegates wanted us both."

"Aren't we there soon? This train ride only gets longer every time I have to take it!" Flurry asked. She didnt want to whine, but she also really wanted to know.

"Just half an hour or so, dear," Cadance soothed, nuzzling her daughter's cheek and mane.

"Mommy, stop that!" Flurry said and scooted away a small distance. She wanted to ask something that had been gnawing in the back of her mind for weeks now. "Are… are you really sure I can actually study with Aunt Twilight?" She asked for what must be the hundredth time now. She knew the answer by heart, but she never quite managed to convince herself of it.

"Sure you are," Shining Armor said, ever patient. "Your ability surpasses that of every other foal ever born! You have the best starting position anypony ever had with learning magic! It only makes sense that your teacher should also be the best mage in the land! I know you will do fine."

Cadance smiled and put a hoof around Flurry's shoulders. "You know how the very first time you saw Twilight, when you were just born, you already shocked her with your powers. And with Sunburst having already taught you the basics, I have no doubt you will impress her greatly again."

"But… I'm a bit nervous living with her, in Canterlot. It's nothing like the Empire," Flurry admitted. Not to mention she would not get to see her friends back home very often now.

"But you always like visiting Twilight," Cadance said mildly. "This is just a little longer visit. Besides, it's not like mommy and papa is going to just up and leave you! We will send you letters every day if you want, and we will come to visit. And Sunburst will be in Ponyville, just a short train ride away."

"And all your favorite clothes and toys were made in Canterlot too," Shining Armor pitched in. "It's the capital of Equestria. Everything that's the best in Equestria is from there." He booped her nose with a goofy smile. "It's just fair that they also have the best daughter in Equestria."

Flurry blushed a little. Everypony had always said she was special, even if Flurry could never really grasp why it was special to have both wings and a horn. She knew it was rare, but just because it was rare didn't make it better. Everypony else, barring mommy and Twilight, had one or neither, and they all did just fine. Still, she liked the praise.

"There is Canterlot now," Shining Armor said and nodded to the window. Flurry shrugged her mother's hoof off of her and sat down by the window. She had seen it before, but the mighty castle and mountainside city still took her breath away. She knew the old castle had been destroyed by three really bad… ponies? Creatures? Yes, creatures, but the new one had been built to look as similar as it could. She really could not see much of a difference from here.

The rest of the ride passed easily. With her parents near and the end in sight, things were a lot more bearable. She also picked up a coloring book she had brought and started to fill in a picture of Aunt Twilight and her friends. One of the earth ponies was all pink, and the other one was orange. Rarity was white with a very purple mane. The brash-looking pegasus was blue and had a rainbow mane and tail. Flurry had already given up trying to remember what order the colors were in. She just added them randomly. The last though was always the one she had trouble remembering. Was she sunny yellow? Flurry decided she was. She just finished up coloring in her tail when the train finally pulled to a stop.

"Let's go, Flurry," Cadance said. "I'm sure Twilight wants to see you."

Flurry stashed her coloring book back into her saddlebags and went with her parents. She was still nervous, but it was still Aunt Twilight she was going to study with. How bad could it really be?

It took about three hours, but in the end Twilight could invite Cadance, Shining Armor and by proxy little Flurry Heart to her castle wing for "private deliberations", while the rest of the delegation could be sent away to freshen up before the dinner in the evening.

"Oh sweet Celestia…" Twilight sighed, as she and her family had retreated into her library. "I thought this would be just like when we usually meet! Do they always bicker that much?" She tried not to sound accusing, but even her patience had its limits, and some of the old coots in the Crystal Empire delegation had worn it thin.

Cadance snickered. "These were the most agreeable ponies I could invite. Most are worse."

"How do you manage?!" Twilight asked, horrified by the mere idea.

"I've been asking her that ever since she took the Crystal Throne," Shining Armor said. "Just another of her many talents, I guess."

Cadance nuzzled Shining Armor quickly for the compliment. "Anyway, let's not talk more about that now. How are you holding up with being acting regent of Equestria?" Cadance asked.

"It's… not that bad," Twilight said and sat down. "Most cities run themselves, and any overarching laws are mostly debated by the experts before they pitch the suggestions to me. I don't need to do more than officiate their advice if I don't want to. And until I've settled in a bit more, I'm content just keeping an eye on things.”

"Like your student?" Cadance asked. "I imagine she is quite a hooffull."

"You'd be surprised," Twilight said. "She is still cross with me, but her friendship with Sweetie Belle and Rumble is really genuine, even if she still has a hard time expressing it in a clear way. But they are understanding, and I'm working to help her too. It's… very rewarding to see her try, considering where she started."

"Good," Cadance said. "I will admit I was a bit worried when I heard of your choice of student… No offense to you or her, but… I suppose an old foalsitter never fully stops worrying about her foals."

"I don't think she would take offense to you worrying she will overthrow me," Twilight said with a small smile. "But I don't think she is the student you are the most interested in talking about." Twilight looked at Flurry, who looked back from between her parents. Her face was open and earnest. A far cry from Cozy's suspicious glare. "Is it, Flurry?"

"My mom said that I should study magic with you, since I'm a big pony now," Flurry said, standing up to show just how big she was. The tip of her horn reached about up to Cadance's cheeks. She really was an adorable little pony.

"I suppose it's about the time to start with that," Twilight said. "Your mom sent me a letter some weeks ago, and if you want to, I'm sure I can teach you to handle your magic safely and efficiently. And if you would like to join my friendship lessons too, then that'd be all the better."

"I have friends already though," Flurry Heart said. "Do I need lessons?"

"It never hurts," Twilight said patiently. "And who knows? Maybe this way you could get a new friend?"

Flurry's face brightened. "I'd like that! All my other friends are back in the Crystal Empire."

"Then it's decided," Twilight said. "I look forward to teaching you, Flurry. In both forms of magic, friendship and arcane."

"I look forward to being taught," Flurry said. Twilight heard how she tried to use an "adult" voice.

"Will she live in the castle then?" Shining Armor asked.

"I planned for that," Twilight said sheepishly, "but then our mom practically demanded that Flurry stayed with them."

"Would you be okay with that?" Cadance asked her filly. "Staying with granny and grandpa?"

Flurry nodded energetically. "It was really long since I saw them!"

"Perfect," Twilight said. "Let me go through what I think could be some fitting subjects to start with, and then we can go down to the banquet after."

"I suppose we have to," Shining Armor sighed.

Chapter 2- A Party

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"Everypony quiet!" Chef Ramson suddenly shouted just behind him. Rumble stiffened and felt himself starting to sweat. The entire kitchen fell silent. "Can you hear that?"

Rumble didn't hear anything.

"Well, Tomtit? Can you tell me what that sound is?" Ramson asked in that encouraging tone that only ever discouraged him.

"I can't… hear anything," he said, fully aware that he just stepped into a hornet's nest.

"Oh? Because I hear something. I think it's the sound of that dish's first inventor turning in his grave so fast he could power the sun!"

"Oh…" Rumble said.

"Oh no," Ramson corrected. "Throw that abomination out of my kitchen and start over."

Rumble nodded and threw away one of his chocolate mousses. He had felt that one being a little looser than most, but he didn't think it was that bad. Then again, Ramson never would accept anything but the very best. Rumble shook his head. He had no time to dwell on that; he needed to remake the mousse from the ground up. To save some time he decided to start on the zest- he'd need it soon. The dinner was to begin within half an hour, and most of his mousses were done. He just needed a few more and then the zest.

Setting the chocolate to melt slowly, he began cutting off long stripes of orange peel with careful, circular motions. One long, narrow strip would look a lot better than many small.

When the Chocolate had melted, he mixed in the mint and prepared milk and eggs. He fell into a rhythm, looking around at his many components and working with each of them quickly, but carefully. This was simple for him now, so he barely needed to think a whole lot. Just let his eyes direct his hooves to what was needed.

It was a near thing, but he got his work done with five minutes to spare and clean up.

"Seems all you sad sods managed to pull through for all three courses," Ramson addressed the entire kitchen. "And thank goodness for it. Now, let's serve the desserts before any of you messes anything up. Get your lists and enter at my signal."

The finest chefs in Canterlot collected their individual contributions and placed them on trays before filing up and proceeding out of the kitchen and into the castle dining hall. Normally events like this one would be held in the garden, but it was now well into autumn and too cold to comfortably do that. Rumble balanced three trays, two on his wings and one on his head. He wanted to get a good look at the crystal ponies, but decided to wait until he was done with his serving duties. The sooner it was done, the sooner he would be safe from dropping something.

He and the rest of the chefs proceeded out into the dining hall and scattered down the aisles between the long tables, serving their food as they went. Rumble knew he was in luck, since it seemed he should deliver two desserts to the main table, where Twilight herself and all the most important ponies were seated. Coming up, he could see a partly bored and partly guarded Cozy Glow sitting by one end of the table, glaring daggers at anypony who stared at her. The contrast between her baleful gaze and everypony else's polite smiles was almost comical.

Rumble was about to head over to her to give her something to smile about when Ramson's fire-red magic began to pull him in the other direction. "Serve from the middle of the table and outwards, you dolt," Ramson whispered under his breath as he passed without even turning to look at him. Rumble swallowed and instead went to the other side of the table, close to the middle, up to a young filly with purple and turquoise mane and a very long horn… and puffy wings, even if they were now folded.

It was all Rumble could do not to trip over his own jaw when he made the connection. He was standing in front of Flurry Heart, the only natural-born alicorn in recorded history.

What… was he supposed to say?

"Hi!" Flurry Heart said for him. "Did you help make the food too? I thought only adult ponies did that."

"I, uh…" Rumble said lamely. He was not mentally prepared to speak with a pony like her! He was just supposed to serve her food and go over to Cozy. But he couldn't refuse to answer, could he? "I'm the only apprentice left," he said. "The others were fired."

"So you are the best one?" Flurry asked.

"I… guess?" Rumble said awkwardly.


"Is… that for me, or…?" Flurry asked bashfully and pointed to the tray he was carrying.

Rumble jumped like he had been struck by lightning. "YES!" he said, loud enough for several ponies to turn and look at him. Feeling his cheeks burn in embarrassment, he placed the dessert in front of the young Alicorn. She smiled mirthfully at him.

"Thank you. This looks really good."

"I hope so," Rumble said, before beating a hasty retreat. He did not feel like making a fool of himself any more around her, or any pony at this dinner. He walked over to Cozy as fast as he could without running. Her glare smoothened slightly when he came near and her wings visibly relaxed on her back. Even if they were not open, any stressed pegasus would tense her wings, and in her mind she was not among friends right now.

"Good golly gee," Cozy sighed. "This had better be the best dessert you have ever made for it to have been worth coming here."

"I'm really happy with how it came out," Rumble said and gave her the dessert.

"Thank you," she said and started eating. Since she did not possess any magic, she dipped her muzzle into the glass bowl and licked the mousse carefully. Rumble could see she was a little out of practice -a small dab of mousse got on her nose, but other than that, she was neater than a foal of her age could be expected to be.

"You are very clean when you eat," Rumble remarked. As of late, he had begun to learn how to best navigate around Cozy's volatile temper, and compliments were something she never tired of.

"I'm a future princess. I can't be sloppy, now can I?" she said and took another small lick.

"I guess so," Rumble said. "Hasn't there really been anything interesting during the dinner? I heard Octavia Melody was going to play."

"Haven't seen her yet," Cozy grumbled. "But I wish she'd hurry up. I can't leave until she starts playing and everypony else looks away."

"Sneaking out, huh?" Rumble asked. "I won't tell."

"No you won't, because you are my friend, and you shouldn't tattle on your friend unless you get a really good offer to rat them out!"

He would have nudged her, but he couldn't really do that at the dinner table.

"I guess it isn't all bad…" Cozy said, the frown on her face now smoothened out entirely. Having somepony to talk to had already improved her mood. "I mean, at least I can spy on that filly Princess. She's just so sickeningly sweet all the time! Like she doesn't even know how to say anything other than 'thank you, this was really good'. Hah, she's just as pathetic as I imagined."

"For your information, I've talked with her a little," Rumble said, rather pointedly. "And I think she seemed nice."

"Oh?" Cozy looked interested at that. "What did she tell you? Anything interesting?"

"Uh… just that my dessert looked tasty," Rumble said. "And that I must be the best of the apprentices, because I'm the only one left."

Cozy's eyes narrowed momentarily. "So she said exactly what I said she always says then?" Rumble decided not to answer. Cozy may be his friend, but he was not going to let her backtalk another pony like that. "Actually, feel like doing me a small favor?" Cozy said, her eyes brightening again.

"What? 'Cause I'm not getting into any more trouble tonight," Rumble said. He had managed this far without any major screw-ups, and he was more than keen on keeping it like that. And knowing Cozy, a "favor" could mean anything from complimenting somepony's mane to slipping a laxative into their drink.

"Could you just ask her what her favorite ice cream is?" Cozy asked sweetly. "It says a lot about ponies. You can't trust ponies who like licorice, for example. Ponies who like vanilla are boring, and ponies who like blueberry are cute and lovable and destined to become Princesses. It's what I have heard, anyway."

"But I like vanilla! Rumble protested. "Where did you even get this from?"

"Experience," Cozy smiled. "I like blueberry the most, by the way."

"You don't say?" Rumble grumbled, but filed that away as a potentially useful factoid. He happened to know that another of Cozy's weaknesses was her fondness for good food and especially sweets. "And for that matter it's not like I can just walk up to Flurry and ask her something. She's a princess! Why would she even talk to me for?"

"Well, I'm going to be a princess, and you talk with me just fine," Cozy said. Her eyes contracted and her smile turned sinister, daring him to imply that he held Flurry Heart in higher regard than her.

Rumble very much did not dare to imply that. "Y-yeah… guess you're right," he said.

"Good," Cozy chirped and took a lick at her dessert again. Rumble backed away to think exactly how to ask Flurry Heart anything… if he just approached, it would look strange to everypony else… a random chef- no, apprentice chef, walking up to talk with one of the five living goddesses among mere mortals. But then again she had seemed kind, even curious enough to actually ask him a few things too. It wasn't certain, but Rumble's gut told him she would not mind him coming up and talking to her. Everypony else might, but…

"Oh, whatever." Rumble shook his head and went over to where Flurry Heart was sitting.

While Cozy did not seem to like her very much, they at least seemed to agree that this dinner was, in fact, a tedious affair. Flurry laid with her head against the table and was now working to discreetly balance a spoon on the edge of her empty bowl while also keeping a wary eye on her father, who sat next to her. He seemed wholly absorbed in a conversation with another pony.

"Hey again…" Rumble said, doing his best to treat this as any conversation, rather than one involving a deity.

"Are you here to tell me dinner is over?" she asked with a sigh as her spoon fell over. "Please tell me you are."

"Sorry… but I heard Octavia Melody is going to perform soon," Rumble said. "You know her? She's the best cellist in Canterlot."

"Oh, yeah! She played for me on my fifth birthday in the Empire!" Flurry said. "Wonder if she remembers that."

It's not like she would forget playing for a pony like you. Rumble thought. "Anyway… just curious, was my dessert any good? 'Cause… you know, grown-ups never take you seriously when you ask."

"Tell me about it," Flurry said. "But it was really, really good. I've never had orange made like that! How do you actually do that? It was so sweet."

"Candied zest," Rumble said. "You boil the orange peel multiple times so they get soft, and then you boil them again on low heat with syrup. Roll them in sugar, and they are done."

"Did you know that I really like oranges, or was that a lucky guess?" Flurry asked.

"Lucky guess," Rumble admitted.

Flurry smiled. "It's rare I get to try anything new. Everypony always looks up ahead of time what I like."

"Sounds good," Rumble said. "Always getting your favorite food, huh?"

Flurry hesitated for a moment, then she looked down at the table. "Yeah, I guess."

Rumble waited politely for her to continue with something. She had seemed rather talkative so far, but now she fell silent. "I had better get going," he said. "Thanks for… liking my food," he finished, a bit awkward.

Flurry smiled again at his clumsy good-bye. "Hey, just one thing; you cook here every day?"

Rumble nodded. "Yeah, I do."

She seemed to brighten a little at that, for some reason. Rumble guessed it was just his brain playing tricks on him with making the Princess friendlier than she was. "Bye… uh, what's your name?"

"Rumble," Rumble answered.

"Bye Rumble. Be seeing you!"

Rumble bowed down, as was customary (he forgot that before… Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid Rumble!) before he backed away, once again as fast as he dared. He did not even care that ponies were looking curiously at him when he stopped to catch his breath by one of the table. The stress of having Ramson keeping track of him all day, then talking to a new Princess, and then finally having to think twice or thrice around everything Cozy said lest he might end up as an accomplice to regicide, had left him exhausted.

He came back to Cozy just as the room began to quiet down. Twilight stood up from the throne in the center of the table. "And now, Octavia Melody from the Canterlot Royal Quartet will grace us with a few pieces. Miss Melody?"

Octavia stepped up on the stage on the other side of the room, carrying her cello. She sat down on the small stool in front of a music stand. "Indeed, Princess. I will start with a piece composed by one of my close friends, called Overture."

"'Over' is right," Cozy mumbled. "I'm getting out of here. You coming?"

Rumble nodded. Since the serving was done, he was officially free for the rest of the evening. He really did not need to sneak though. As the first tones began from Octavia, the two of them crept along the back of the room, behind every pony transfixed by Octavia's music.

"Wait a sec," he hissed to Cozy, who huddled behind a heavy curtain. He went out and casually opened a door out of the room. A few ponies turned to look at him, but took no further notice. He went out with a quick wink towards his hidden friend. They barely got three steps before Cozy dashed out of the same door, closed it behind her and came up next to him with a satisfied look.

"That was easy!" she said. "Heh, Twilight's gonna freak out when she notices I'm gone."

"I hope you're not planning any mischief," Rumble said. "I'm not gonna let you ruin anything for her."

Cozy rolled her eyes. "I know. But I don't need to do anything more than this. She's too much of a control freak to not worry about me. So I'm just going back up to my room. No mischief at all."

Rumble sighed. "So you got me wrapped up in your prank again?" But his voice lacked any real edge. After all, who really got hurt from a prank like this? And while Rumble was not a psychologist, he suspected Cozy needed to rebel a little against Twilight still, for her pride's sake. And if this was how she did it, then Twilight still got away cheaply.

"Aw… but it's much more fun to have somepony to plot together with," Cozy said with a small grin. It was hard to say if her cutesy look was genuine or if she was just messing with him (again). "Besides, I don't let just anypony into my schemes. So you really should just take it as a compliment."

"Great… thanks," he said while shaking his head.

"You're welcome! Oh, I just remembered. What ice cream did that prissy pony Princess like anyway?"

"Orange, I think," Rumble said. "Let me guess, ponies who like oranges are some of the nastiest out there?"

"No," Cozy said, her voice quiet and bitter. "No, orange-lovers are ponies who have everything they want, but they have never deserved any of it."

Rumble sighed. He did not like how she talked about Flurry like that without even giving her a chance, but at the same time he could understand where Cozy was coming from. She had literally gone through Tartarus and back, done things that had a given place in every history book, just to fail to get what Flurry Heart was born with. It had to sting badly for a proud pony like Cozy.

He decided not to comment on it. Flurry was soon leaving again, and they would be back to their flight lessons and friendly talks. No point in angering Cozy over something that was soon going to resolve itself; she was a pony who was quick to anger and slow to forgive when she wanted to. "I think I'm going to hit the hay soon," he said instead. "So… see you tomorrow?"

"Count on it. You owe me a flight lesson for tricking me into this dinner!" Cozy chirped, her mood suddenly much better.

"Yeah, I guess I do," Rumble said and turned away. "Good night."

"Good night to you too!" Cozy said and flew off towards her own room.

Chapter 3- A Once and a Future Princess

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Cozy all but crooned in pleasure when she woke up the next morning. She had slept like a yearling in the virtually endless, Princess-sized bed and the cloud mattress was just perfect for a pegasus like her. She yawned and stretched her legs and wings before she rolled over to her back and rested in the cozy bed for another half an hour, as sunlight gradually began to filter into her room, lighting up the light-blue walls.

Eventually, she stretched again and rolled out of the bed fully. Bangs of her mane fell into front of her eyes and she batted them away. She always removed her ribbons before going to bed, as there was little chance for her to keep her curly locks in check during sleep anyway. She went into her bathroom and started untangling her mane and putting her ribbons back in it with practiced motions.

Once satisfied, she took a sip of water and went out for breakfast. She wondered what Rumble would have made for her today. He always made something good for her. She went into the common room and found Twilight was already there, munching on some pancakes with fresh berries and whipped cream. Another pile stood nearby, untouched.

"Good morning, Cozy," Twilight called. "Slept well?"

"Uh-huh," Cozy nodded. "I went to bed early yesterday."

"I noticed you were gone sometime after Octavia finished her performance," Twilight said. "You know, you could have just asked me to leave. You didn't have to sneak out."

"You're not my mom. I don't have to tell you anything I don't want," Cozy snapped. She would not show any weakness in her independence! She was not giving an inch more control to Twilight.

"But you can always tell me, if you want," Twilight said amicably. "Either way, I wanted to talk with you."

"You already are," Cozy pointed out and bit tenderly into a pancake to lift it over to her plate. She helped herself to a generous scoop of maple syrup to go with.

"You are making good progress in your friendship studies," Twilight began. "Despite it only having gone a few weeks since you came under my wing."

"I guess I don't need your help then," Cozy said. "I'm simply a natural when it comes to friendship."

"Yes, and no," Twilight said. "You have a good understanding of friendship. You know what a good friend should do and how they should act in many cases. That I do not doubt. However, given your history, it is clear that your practical understanding of friendship is not quite as good."

"Is too!" Cozy shouted. "I'm a great friend! If I wanted, I could turn all of Canterlot against you!" Only after her outburst did she realize that bragging about how to manipulate her friends might not be in her best interest.

Twilight looked meaningfully at her. "Your practical understanding of friendship is not quite as good. So, to help you learn that, I have decided to introduce another friendship student. After all, friendship is not a subject one can learn alone. And I understand if if you do not want to make friends with me."

"You're right that I don't," Cozy grumbled. Still, another student might not be a bad thing. While she was really happy for having a friend in the castle and another in Sweetie Belle, having a third would be fun. More friends made her stronger, and happier too.

"So to that end, you will have joint lessons together with my niece, Flurry Heart."

Cozy nearly choked on her pancake. She must have misheard; there was no chance that prissy, goody four-horseshoes was going to come here and try to become her friend. That was… not fair! Of all ponies in Equestria, how could Twilight pick the one filly she hated the most? Was Twilight doing this to punish her?

"Did… you say Flurry Heart?" Cozy asked.

"You know her?" Twilight asked. "You might have seen her at the dinner yesterday."

"Not really," Cozy said, feeling her heart sink. "I've heard of her and… stuff. But I haven't met her."

"Don't worry; you'll meet her soon. I'm sure you will like each other, Flurry is really kind," Twilight said, her naïveté almost palpable. "The two of us will still have our own discussions at times, but I think it's better if you try to get to know Flurry a little. So for the moment, I will draft up some activities you can both do together. Does that sound fun?"

Cozy shrugged. It was not like Twilight was going to listen to her anyway.

Twilight reached forward with a sympathetic look in her eyes. "It'll be fine, Cozy. You don't have to be nervous around her. I just want you to have another friend."

But she had to pick the one pony Cozy already hated, the one pony whose very existence vexed her? She didn't meet Twilight's look. Instead she just stared at her plate of pancakes. They suddenly felt a lot less appetizing. She had just barely begun to accept, if not enjoy, Twilight's presence in her life. Now she had to see and talk to Flurry Heart, the living testament to her own failures, every day?

"It'll be fine, Cozy. I promise." Twilight patted her on her mane a little before leaving the room.

"Good golly," Cozy moaned and felled her ears backwards.

"Are you quite certain you have everything? Shouldn't you take just one more sandwich?" Twilight Velvet asked. Without waiting for an answer, she put a whole box of sandwiches and some fruits in Flurry's saddlebags.

"I'm fine. Honest," Flurry said and inched closer to the door. She didn't want to be rude to her grandparents, but she also didn't want to be late to her first day. Or have to haul the entire pantry with her, which was an all too real prospect unless she could get on her way soon. "I don't need anything more; I'll be back in the afternoon anyway."

"Now, now, little miss. You are still a growing filly, and I will not have you go hungry," Twilight Velvet said and pushed an apple into Flurry's hooves. "Or cold. Night Light dear, don't we still have Twilight's old scarves somewhere in the attic? Could you bring it down here?"

"I don't need a scarf! It's just fifteen minutes up to the castle and it's not even winter!" Flurry protested as Night Light took off to the second floor of the house. "I'm fine! And I really need to go now! I can't be late for my first day!"

"Tsk, you won't be late dear; this will not take any time at all," Twilight Velvet said. "It is autumn, and little fillies should not go outside without a scarf."

"I'm not little!" Flurry snapped. She felt her wings flare in annoyance.

Twilight Velvet only smiled at her. "Well, same goes for big fillies too."

A turquoise scarf came floating down from the attic, enveloped in Night Light's yellow magic. "There we are," Twilight Velvet chirped and quickly tied the far too long scarf around Flurry's neck.

Then she magicked the saddlebags over her back. Flurry Heart had to actively brace herself for when the weight landed on her shoulders. Even when Flurry had arrived last evening with all her stuff from the crystal empire, her saddlebags had not been half as heavy. But she didn't have time to complain. She had to leave, right now!

"Bye! I'll be back later!" Flurry said and backed out of the door.

"I'll have a meal ready for when you get home!" Twilight Velvet waved from the door.

The moment she was out of sight, Flurry Heart broke into a gallop. The heavy saddlebags bounced uncomfortably on her sides, but she could not afford to slow down. She would have flown, but with such a heavy load it wouldn't be any faster.

So instead she ran.

Up the street, past pedestrians, through the castle gate, across the courtyard and park, past the throne room and the surprised guardponies, and then finally up the stairs where she and her parents had gone yesterday. She had to crawl up the last steps, her chest heaving and her lungs screaming for more oxygen. Uncaring to if anypony saw her, she let her hooves fall out from under her until she laid splayed on the top of the stairs, her legs and wings pointing in every direction with her heavy saddlebags pressing her down. There she caught her breath and promised herself that tomorrow she was going to get out of bed half an hour earlier.

The door opened in front of her.

"… huh?"

She jumped up on her hooves again, her whole face feeling hot with embarrassment. Rumble looked at her, slack-jawed and frozen in the middle of a step. He had a few empty plates and jars of berries balanced on his head and wings.

"Uh…hi!" Flurry said, studying the floor intently. "Good… morning."

"Yeah… good morning," Rumble said. "Uh… I'm just going to… go now," he said and trotted around her.

Flurry Herself waited a little more until the worst of her panting and deathly embarrassment had passed before going into the wing proper.

There were a few doors here. One was at the far end of the corridor and shut, and to her right was another one, also shut. The one where they had met Twilight yesterday was ajar, as was the one closest to her, just to her left. She shrugged and pushed the closest one open. She found herself in a small library, oaken bookshelves towering around her and with just a few small tables along the far wall for furniture. There were no windows. Instead, the light came from a cluster of strange, glowing spheres that hung in the middle of the room. Some were larger than her and some barely larger than her hooves. Most of the floor was bare, probably to leave room for their magic training.

"Oh, hi, Flurry! Welcome!" Twilight chirped from one of the tables, behind a small pile of books. Purple magic caught them and floated them away to the bookshelves. "Are you ready to begin your magic training?"

"Sorry I'm late, auntie," Flurry said.

Twilight giggled. "You're not late. I counted on my mom not letting you get away for a while. You're still here earlier than I thought you'd be."

"I ran all the way," Flurry said morosely.

"Then let's take a moment for you to catch your breath," Twilight said. "Please, come and sit with me, and we'll see what can be a good way for you to learn."

Flurry put her saddlebags down and took the indicated seat across from Twilight. She was both curious and a little apprehensive to learn from her. She really liked Twilight, but she did not actually know how her teaching methods were. Hopefully she was not too strict… Twilight probably thought Flurry was already really good at magic, and she didn't want to disappoint. Even if Sunburst had taught her a little, she did not know how good she really was.

"So, since I don't know your skill or power, I thought we should start with something simple, just to see what we are working with." Twilight ignited her horn, and one of the smallest glowing spheres came flying down. "The changelings made these for me as a coronation gift. They are made from a glowing ore found underneath their hive. It's really hard, so to get an idea of your power, I want you to try and hold it down."

Flurry cocked her head to the side. "Why would I need to hold it down? Does it fly?"

"No. But I will try to lift it. You will just have to hold it down for as long as you can.”

"Oooh… I get it!" she swallowed nervously, but this was not hard. And something in her aunt's face and voice calmed her down too. Twilight placed the unassuming glowing sphere down on the table between them and placed her hoof on it to stop it from rolling away. A lilac field of magic surrounded it and lifted it just a little.

"Whenever you are ready, push it down," Twilight said.

Flurry swallowed and took a deep breath. She needed to be absolutely clear in her head to do magic. Feeling stabile, she grabbed the ball with her magic and pulled it down so it rested against the table. Almost immediately she felt it pushing back, like she had tried to force two of the same poles of magnets together. She willed more power into her horn to make it stay. Twilight replied in kind, making it push back even harder.

The power increased quickly. Soon Flurry was pushing more into her horn than she could remember ever doing. She felt sweaty and her breathing was a bit off. She had to hold her breath so as to not be distracted. In the meantime, Twilight just looked back at her with an encouraging smile. Her horn was glowing strongly, but she did not seem the least strained.

"Uhh…" Flurry grunted and squeezed her eyes shut, but it was all for nothing. She felt the small ball lift, and she could do nothing to stop it. She let go of her magic, and then her eyes shot open as a loud smack came from the roof. She looked up just in time to see a little bit of glowing dust fall down like snow from a small indent in the roof.

Flurry blushed in embarrassment. "He he… I guess I shouldn't just let go of my magic when you are not expecting me to…" she said sheepishly, praying Twilight wasn't too cross with her.

"I suppose this presents a good opportunity to teach you one of the most important rules with magic," Twilight said. She did not sound angry, but there was a certain sharpness to her voice. This was not a joke, and definitely something Twilight expected her to learn, remember, and apply on her own. "Before you involve your magic for anything, be it to use a spell or to cancel one, always think of the consequences. Magic, at its core, is power. It is your ability to enforce your will on the world around you. It must be handled with extreme caution and respect, always. Some of the greatest dangers Equestria has faced have been magical in nature, and often not due to malice, but through mistakes or disrespect for the powers at play. Do you understand?"

"Uh-huh," Flurry nodded, feeling stupid. "I'm sorry, auntie. I really am."

Twilight smiled and put a hoof on her shoulder. "Don't be. You are here to learn. I made similar mistakes too, when I was learning under Celestia. Every unicorn does. But this lesson is one of the most important ones I will teach you, and one you will learn to hate me reminding you about. Because I will remind you often."

Flurry nodded. "Okay, auntie."

"Now, let's proceed with what all young students at Celestia's school hate the most: the endurance test." Twilight levitated down the thickest book Flurry had ever seen. "Hold this for me, will you?"

Cozy manipulated the tweezers with her mouth to carefully place the enchanted gemstone in the middle of the intricate filigree mesh that made up the core of her Rook artifact. Loosening her jaw just a tiny bit, she retracted the tweezers from the gemstone slowly, glancing in the array of mirrors every now and then to be sure she was not accidentally hitting something from another angle.

She released a breath when the tweezers were successfully out of the way. She spit them out on the table and reaffixed the artifact's cover. It was a rook, looking just like her cutie mark. In fact, making this little artifact had given her her cutie mark.

It was a simple little thing. When you held it and said the magic words, it started glowing. Hardly something that would help her conquer the world, but it had been the start of her understanding of how artifacts worked. And that knowledge had, in fact, helped her to conquer the world (almost).

Cozy picked up her rook. "Cozy glow," she said. The top of the rook started to shine. Cozy smiled, happy she had been able to repair it successfully. She put it away and jumped down from her stool.

Only then did she notice her door was slightly open, and that a certain small alicorn filly was standing just inside, hesitation written all over her face.

Cozy flicked her ears backwards and glared at the intruder. "What are you doing here? This is my room!"

"Uhm… Twilight said you would be my study buddy for the friendship lessons," Flurry said, though she had retreated out the door at Cozy's angry greeting. She tried a smile, but Cozy could see she had been caught off guard by her hostility. Good. "I'm Flurry Heart. What's your name?”

"Cozy Glow," she answered. She didn't want to answer, but it wasn't like she had a choice. Twilight had decided these were her friendship lessons now, and Cozy was not going to give her the satisfaction of complaining.

Flurry looked quizzically at her. "That's weird. My mom once said a pony named Cozy had been really really mean to auntie Twilight."

"I suppose she didn't tell you how your aunt was really mean to me first, did she?" Cozy spat. She did not have to defend her actions to this prissy filly. There was no chance she understood what it was like for Cozy. Not when she had been born with everything Cozy had struggled so hard to get. This prissy orange-lover had no moral high ground here.

"Auntie Twilight isn't mean!" Flurry bristled. "She has always been kind to me, and everypony else loves her too!"

"Hah," Cozy laughed without mirth, then nailed Flurry Heart down with her glare and started to advance on her. "Everypony loves her, huh? Well I don't. I hate her. I don't want anything to do with her, and I don't want anything to do with you either!”

Flurry shrunk back and wrapped her tail around her for protection. She looked at once confused and distressed. "What- what have I done? Why are you so mean?"

"It's more the fact that you exist at all," Cozy whispered to herself. Then she turned her back on Flurry. "Since Twilight wants you to spend time with me, I suppose I'll let you into my room. But I don't want to be your friend."

"But… how will we learn friendship then?" Flurry asked. Her voice was quiet and submissive. Cozy was a bit surprised that an alicorn could be such a pushover. Even Twilight behaved with more dignity than this.

Cozy glanced over her shoulder. Flurry was still outside the room. "I don't need to learn friendship with you," she said. "I have other friends."

"But I don't!" Flurry protested. "I don't know anypony here."

"Oh golly gosh, poor you," Cozy said sarcastically. "Then why don't you run back to your aunt and cry? You probably expected me to adore you just because you're a princess, didn't you? Well, I don't. Perhaps you just have to work to build friendships for once? Perhaps you have to work for anything, for once!" Flurry's ears laid plastered against her skull and she looked down into the carpet. "Are you going to come in or not?"

Flurry smiled shakily. "Twilight said you liked chess."

Cozy huffed, but she could not exactly deny that. Besides, beating the living daylights out of Flurry Heart at chess should be satisfying. She went to find her chessboard and pieces.

Chapter 4- Teacher and Students

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After maybe an hour or so, Flurry Heart had lost three times over and barely gotten ten words from Cozy, despite repeated attempts. After the fourth loss, Cozy simply picked up the rest of the chessboard and pieces and turned her back on Flurry. She took the hint and started out the door. "I'll see you tomorrow…" she tried, one final time to get a response.

Cozy glared, and Flurry flinched back. She went out quickly and kicked the door shut behind her. She stopped in the corridor, mulling over what had just happened. She twisted and turned it over and over in her head, trying to make sense of something she had never seen before.

When Cozy glared like that… it hurt, somehow. It felt like a small ember had singed her, deep inside her chest. She could not put her hoof on the feeling, but it was there all the same. She had never felt it before with any other pony. Come to think of it, nopony had treated her like Cozy had either. The coldness and indifference she had displayed was completely new. Nopony had ever just declared that they did not want to be her friend without feeling the need to state a reason.

Why did Cozy hate her like that? They hadn't even met until now, so Flurry couldn't have been mean to her, or accidentally destroyed something that was hers. But she also knew that sometimes a pony could be really angry for the silliest things. Her father got really mad at her once, when she had helped him open some old comics that he had on a shelf. But then he had explained that they were supposed to be unopened, because collectors wanted that. Flurry still did not really understand, but it did showcase that sometimes a pony could be angry for something that does not even look like a mistake to you.

But it was still mean of Cozy to refuse to tell her what she had done wrong! How could Flurry apologize properly then?

She pondered this as she slowly went towards the exit. Her lessons were done, so she was going to head home and see her mommy and daddy off. They were going back to the Crystal Empire on the evening train.

"Flurry? Are you leaving?"

Flurry startled out of her inner rumination and looked at Twilight, sitting inside the library. "Uh-huh."

"Would you please just come in for a moment. I wanted to hear your thoughts on Cozy Glow, if you would tell me."

Flurry hesitated. She had been sent to learn friendship, and she most definitely had not done that. She did not want Twilight to think she was sloppy; she just needed to try again and get through to Cozy first. But if Twilight asked she could not refuse to answer. Twilight was her teacher, and one should not disobey a teacher. So she went inside the library and sat down across from Twilight. "Well… I tried to be nice to her, I really did, but she didn't… She wasn't friendly back at all."

Twilight's expression fell slightly. "I see. Well, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised, even if I hoped for more from her."

Flurry cocked her head to the side. "Uhm… auntie, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, Flurry. Ask away."

Flurry lifted her hooves and tapped the tips together, looking everywhere but at her teacher. She did not want to pry in what was probably grown-up stuff, but she was also curious. "Mommy said a pony named Cozy was really mean to you. And that she destroyed the old Canterlot Castle. Is that her you wanted me to be friends with?"

"It is indeed, Flurry," Twilight said. "I suppose I should explain my reasoning?"

Flurry nodded energetically.

"Cozy Glow has done terrible things, but she is not all bad. Personally I forgave her quite a while ago, because in that story I was not innocent either. I took her on as my student to help her learn and grow into a better pony, both for her own sake and all of Equestria."

"Okay, but why was she so mean to me then?" Flurry asked. "If we are both your students, shouldn't we be working together?"

Twilight looked over at Flurry and gave her a soft smile. "I wanted you to do just that. But, as you have seen, Cozy is still a bit… difficult. I'm not sure why she didn't like you, but you shouldn't mind her too much. I will talk to her and figure it out, if you'd let me."

Flurry Heart almost flinched. "If I'd let you?"

Twilight smiled. "Of course. I'd never force you to take lessons with a pony you don't like. Just tell me, and I'll make sure you see each other as little as possible."

"But you don't want that, do you?" Flurry asked.

"What I want is less important than what you want," Twilight assured. "You are the student; I'm just here to help you learn, and you won't learn if you feel bad every day because of Cozy. However, I will admit that I hope, and believe, that the two of you can become friends. I like to think I have a feel for that sort of thing now, as Princess of Friendship."

"Then I will not give up!" Flurry stood up on her chair. She straightened her back and puffed out her chest, just like the soldier-ponies back home did when her dad asked them to do something. "I won't let you down, sir!"

Twilight burst out laughing. "That's good, Flurry. I see my brother has rubbed off on you."

Flurry grinned herself.

"I will talk to Cozy later," Twilight said. "And we will see each other later too, to send your mom and dad off."

"I'll see you then," Flurry said and left.

Her magic lessons felt good, if tiring. Twilight was not strict at all. She was patient and kind and it looked like she was having fun teaching too. And even her friendship studies weren't that bad. Sure, she would have hoped to have a new friend in Cozy, rather than a pony who seemed to dislike her, but she was also sure Twilight knew what she was doing. Besides, since she had made Cozy her student, it couldn't be that bad, once they got to know each other. And mommy always said that friendship was something that one had to fight for.

She left the castle and took a deep breath of the clear fall air, the too-long scarf wrapped around her neck once more.

Incidentally, she happened to look to the sky, and in the corner of her vision she saw a grayish thing zipping about. Looking over, she saw Rumble from earlier flying above the castle garden. Cozy was flying next to him, seemingly listening to something he was saying.

Flurry grinned as a plan appeared in her head.

She just had to spend some time with Rumble! If he was Cozy's friend, and she became his friend, then she was sure to get close to Cozy too, eventually! When Cozy saw she was a good friend with Rumble, she would understand they could be good friends too!

It was the perfect plan! She would not only get one friend, but two! She was a genius!

Rumble undid the straps around his right foreleg to remove the fruit knife he had held and slipped the blade back into its holder. Then he washed the straps carefully and put them in a drawer. He carefully balanced the bowl of shredded vegetables on his hooves to bring it into the cold storage for later. If he had been at home he would just have carried it in his mouth, but when cooking for somepony else that was strictly forbidden.

Finally, he tossed his white chef's hat up on a holder and left for break. Now that he had prepared a bit of the dinner, he would have a few hours of freedom. And like any pegasus his age, he was going to spend them flying.

Like he had half expected, Cozy stood waiting outside the door to the kitchen. She sure was a hooffull, that filly. But then again, it was not like he did not want her around. Many colts his age would probably love to have a filly wait for them like that, even if there was nothing like that going on between them.

"Did you have to wait?" Rumble asked.

"No," Cozy answered tersely. Rumble glanced at her, surprised by her snappy tone. He knew Cozy had a volatile temper, but usually one had to set her off somehow. "Let's go fly."

Cozy fell in next to him and they started out to the castle statue garden. It was the largest open space in Canterlot. "Aren't you gonna say what's happened?" Rumble asked after walking halfway there in silence. "You don't quite act like yourself."

"No I'm not gonna say what's happened. I want to fly and not think about it. Twilight's gonna give me an earful later anyway," Cozy said sharply.

"Okay… but if you wanna talk about something, just tell me," Rumble shrugged. "Anyway, think you want to practice your loop again, or something else?"

"Maybe I'll just fly a little for fun first," Cozy said. "But I'll definitely practice some later."

"Okay. I'll do my own practice first then. So I can help you later."

"Heard anything from your brother yet?" Cozy asked. "Is he going to try for Wonderbolt trainer?"

"Yeah, he's practicing whenever he's not on weather duty!" Rumble said, his wings buzzing excitedly. Thunderlane was a great teacher! If he landed this spot as coach for the Wonderbolts, not only would he be one of the youngest ever in that position, but the best too, Rumble was sure. "But I'm not worried! He's a great flyer, and really good at teaching ponies! He even was in the air-sprinter team in Ponyville's team for the Equestria games, and he's the one who's taught me everything I know! They've just got to accept him."

"And then he can get you into the Wonderbolts," Cozy said. "And then you will make them help me if I ever need to overthrow somepony, right?" Cozy's rust-red eyes looked at him with a mischievous sparkle.

"No promises," Rumble laughed. At this point he was almost used to her antics.

"Aww," Cozy pouted.

"Anyway, we'll talk a bit more later," Rumble said and readied himself for takeoff. "Gotta make the most of my break time, you know."

Cozy nodded. "See you soon! I'll be around!"

The two of them took off towards different parts of the garden. If Rumble knew Cozy as well as he thought, she would be flying around the castle spires above them. Rumble remained closer to the ground, so he could warm up by flying a course inside the large hedge-maze. As long as he stayed off the right path he should not have to worry about colliding with anypony, and the maze had plenty of sharp turns and narrow corners, which made for a perfect warm up. After that he would have to practice some tricks at a higher altitude to be sure he didn't crash. He was going to try a corkscrew, he had decided.

When they reconvened some time later they were both tired from training and resting on a nearby cloud. Cozy was making progress, Rumble was happy to see, even if she still had a bit left before one could say she had mastered the simple loop she was striving to learn. At least her anger seemed to have cooled off during practice.

"You've really improved a lot since we met, you know," he said. "It's not a simple trick to learn without even having gone to flight school."

"I have a good teacher," Cozy chirped. "Just a little more and I'm sure I'll have it down." She looked over to him. "But you will still help me after that, right? There will still be a lot of things I don't know."

"You should consider going to flight school," Rumble said. "They've got professionals to teach you. I can only help you with tricks and stuff. They could teach you a lot more about flying in general."

"No thanks," Cozy said. "Besides, Twilight's not going to let me go to Cloudsdale for flight school."

"I suppose she wants to keep her star student near," Rumble said, half teasing and half serious.

Cozy grumbled irritably and snapped her tail at some imaginary fly.

"Hey, come on now," Rumble nudged her lightly. "if you want to learn of her weakness, you have to study her, right?"

Cozy was quiet for a few seconds. "I'm not sure I like how you use my own way of thinking against me," she said before nudging him back, playfully. "I bet you really just want me to get along with her."

Rumble offered her a lopsided smile. "I guess I still have ways to go before I can trick you like that, huh?"

"Yeah, I'm too smart to fall for stuff like that," Cozy said with a satisfied grin all over her face.

Rumble looked over at his companion. She looked completely relaxed and happy. Maybe he could try to ask her again. With her good mood and a little luck maybe he could get her to answer why she was so snappy earlier. It could be nothing, but if there was something that rubbed Cozy the wrong way, then it should be addressed sooner rather than later. Before she decided to do something about it on her own.

"Say, Cozy… you don't feel like sharing what ticked you off before you came to see me right?" He asked while bracing himself for a Cozy-sized eruption. "Maybe I can help you?"

Cozy's eyes narrowed. "Oh, that. Well, turns out Princess Twilight," she made exaggerated quotation marks with her hooves, "decided I needed a study buddy for my lessons. And in her dumb self she decided it should be that prissy orange lover from yesterday! Of any pony she could have picked SHE HAD TO PICK HER! OUT OF EVERY CREATURE IN HER STUPID SCHOOL SHE HAD TO PICK LITTLE MISS GOODY TWO-HORSESHOES!"

Rumble lowered his wings and relaxed only once her frenzy spell had subsided. "Twilight asked Flurry Heart to be your study buddy?"

Cozy sighed and flopped down on her back. "Yep. And I already don't like her."

"I mean… I don't get why you hate her so much, but I guess some ponies just don't work together. And if you feel like that with her, then you should absolutely tell Twilight about it," Rumble said, careful as to not trigger another tantrum.

"If Twilight had to pick between me or her prissy niece to make one of us happy, it's not like she would pick me," Cozy said.

"Well, she agreed to make you her student, right?" Rumble said. "Then you have the right to demand she treats you the same as her niece! You should tell her that!"

Cozy mulled over that and pushed herself up. "Yeah… yeah, I should! I'm Cozy Glow, and I'm not gonna let Twilight play favorites with anypony else! I'm way better at friendship than some prissy orange-lover! Huh... I really must be out of it to need you to tell me that."

"That's the Cozy Glow I know," Rumble said and nudged her again. "Go get her."

"I'll make Twilight regret the day she thought she could brush me aside! I'm her best student," Cozy said. She jumped up excitedly, wings flapping.

Twilight returned to her castle in the evening, after having seen Shining Armor and Cadance off at the train station. Flurry was there too, and Twilight's mom and dad. Really, now that everything was said and done, Twilight longed to go back to her bedroom and read for the rest of the night. But as Princess her duties were not all done yet. She still had to talk to Cozy Glow about her behavior with Flurry Heart, and how their lessons were going to proceed.

She expected this to take a while, with Cozy always being reluctant to compromise.

When she came through the door to her private wing, her ears picked up a faint scratching sound from Cozy's open door. Good. That meant she was in, at least. She went up to the door and knocked.

Cozy sat on the floor with a blue crayon in her mouth, making long, sweeping motions over a paper. At the knock, she looked up and spat the crayon out. "Oh… is it now you are going to scream at me?" she said. She did not sound very regretful. Rather, she sounded like she had resigned herself to being lectured and wanted it to be over as quick as possible.

"That should not be necessary," Twilight said, keeping her voice mild despite the irritation she felt. She knew Cozy could have befriended Flurry if she wanted, and it bothered her that she had not even tried. But that did not matter right now. Before she could proceed, she needed to know what had made Cozy so belligerent towards her niece in the first place. "Can I come in?"

Cozy shrugged. "Sure, I guess." She rolled up the drawing and put it away, before sitting down on the floor again. Twilight sat down across from her.

"I wanted to ask what you thought about Flurry Heart. First impressions go a long way, after all."

"You can stop with the act," Cozy huffed. "I know what you want. But I'm not gonna be her friend."

"Can I ask you why?" Twilight said. "While we often don't see eye to eye in matters of friendship, I thought we both agreed that friends make us better. You have never not wanted to make a friend before. What makes Flurry Heart different?" She hesitated a moment, before she continued. "In fact, I was worried you'd try to get close to her to use her. Surely she could be a powerful friend, in your mind."

Cozy, for once, looked genuinely surprised. Twilight allowed herself a small smile. "What? Didn't you think I'd consider your view on friendship when I introduced you to Flurry? I know you better than that at this point, Cozy."

"Wait, if you thought I was gonna use her, why did you even put her with me?" Cozy asked. "It doesn't sound like something you'd do."

"I thought you might try to use her," Twilight corrected. "But I hoped you wouldn't. And if you didn't, then I'd known you have come far in your studies already. Sadly, while you didn't try to use her, it wasn't for the reason I hoped, now was it, Cozy?"

"No," Cozy said with a pout. She crossed her arms. "I don't want to be her friend, simple as that. And if you were serious about taking me on as a student, then you can't force me to make friends with a pony I don't like."

Twilight swallowed her disappointment. She knew, of course, that Cozy was right. She could not force a friendship, and she was not going to harm her fragile relationship with Cozy by trying. But it still felt like a defeat, especially since she felt like they could have helped each other grow as ponies. Flurry's sweet honesty could have tempered Cozy's manipulative side and Cozy's ambition and perseverance were valuable traits for a future princess.

But it seemed none of that was going to happen. "Very well, Cozy," Twilight said. "You are right. A friendship must come from inside. If you don't want to study with Flurry, then you won't have to, and I will not make you."

"Good," Cozy said. She tried to maintain her grumpy posture, but Twilight could see she relaxed just a little.

"Will you at least tell me why you are so against her?" Twilight asked.

Cozy looked into the carpet with a cloven expression that Twilight could not quite read. "No. You wouldn't like it."

"Maybe, but I would still appreciate you telling me," Twilight offered, keeping her irritation down. "We are two different ponies, it's natural that we don't always agree. But that doesn't mean we should be afraid to share our faults with each other. A good friend can help you see yourself in a new light, and make you a better pony."

"We aren't friends," Cozy said. She nodded, as if to reassure herself. "And I don't want to tell you anything."

Twilight sighed and stood up. "Very well, Cozy. I can't force you. But you should know that if you don't take your friendship studies seriously on your own, then I will have to make you take them seriously. You have agreed to become my student, and I fully expect you to study."

Cozy narrowed her eyes. "You said yesterday that I was good at friendship. I agreed to study friendship with you; not to become friends with your niece."

"And I meant what I said," Twilight said with authority. "You do understand friendship, but you still must learn to apply it. I did not introduce you to Flurry because she is my niece, I did it because you needed to make a friend. And you did not even make an honest attempt."

Cozy too stood up, her tail swishing this way and that, ears folded down. "Well I… I would have tried," she said. "I love making friends. But not with her. Anypony but her."

"Couldn't you at least have told me in the morning then?" Twilight asked. "Before you had to bully poor Flurry to get your way?"

"Tsk, like you would have listened to me over your lovely, perfect little alicorn niece," Cozy spat.

"Of course I would," Twilight said, her irritation suddenly being drowned out by hurt. "Really, Cozy, I would! You are my student! Of course I listen to you!"

"You say that," Cozy said. "But I don't believe you."

Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She pressed all her feelings down. For the moment, she had to concentrate on what to do for Cozy's next few friendship lessons. Working out what had happened between her and Flurry and improving her own standing in Cozy's eyes would have to wait. "Cozy, will you be okay with just continuing our lessons alone, while I try to find somepony else who can be your friend?"

Cozy nodded.

"Then let's decide that," Twilight said. "And I will work to show you that I care about what you want. Okay, Cozy?"

"Okay." Cozy hesitated for a moment. "If you find somepony else, I really will try to make friends with them. But not your niece."

"I have understood that," Twilight said, then fixed Cozy with a stern stare. "But just because there is nothing more I can say about that right now, don't think you are off the hook. I'm still disappointed in how you treated her."

Twilight turned around and left without listening to Cozy's complaints. She had to hammer her last point home. Like it or not, Cozy was not a pony Twilight was going to win over with only carrots. She would need a little bit of stick too, lest she would never listen or take anything Twilight said to heart.

She returned to her own study and opened the golden cage to pet Owlicious a little. "I really thought she trusted me enough to let me know if anything I did made her angry," Twilight said quietly.


"Cozy Glow," Twilight replied, mostly out of habit. "But how do I earn her trust if she won't even tell me when I make a mistake with her?"

"Who-ho!" Owlicious said and patted her hoof with his wing.

Twilight smiled at the gesture. "Thanks. I suppose it's just one more thing to work on. But if I let my heart guide me, I'm sure it will work out, one way or another."

After all, that was how she had built all the friendships that made her the pony she was. She had to trust in her own abilities, and not overthink things. After all, if she could not trust herself, why would Cozy or Flurry trust her to teach them?

Twilight nodded to herself, and then went to bed for the night.

Chapter 5- The Best Laid Plans

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It was a funny thing how Flurry actually had the self-discipline to go to bed early and rise half an hour earlier the next morning, only to still end up about as late as yesterday. When she stumbled into the castle the saddlebags felt like lead on her shoulders and she was panting heavy enough that the guards looked concerned. One of them even moved to help her.

"No, I can manage," she said and waved him away. Hefting the saddlebags up again, she began to climb the stairs. The tall steps were a challenge for a foal like her in normal cases, and the load on her back did not help. Once up, she leaned against the cold stone wall and began to consider if it had been a mistake to stay with her grandparents. Living in the castle might be more comfortable. Or at least involve less running.

The door opened.

"Oh, good day, Princess," Rumble said, balancing the breakfast dishes on his head. He did not quite manage to hide his bewildered expression. Not that Flurry could blame him. Yesterday he had found her on the floor, and now he saw her with her head against the wall. She just had to look at him to feel the confusion he felt. He must think she was a bit loopy by now.

"This isn't what it looks like," she hurried to clarify, turning to him. "My grandmother never let's me leave on time, so I must run here every morning! That's why I'm always so exhausted when I come here. I'm not loopy," she added the last part for emphasis. She was already late for her lesson and should go, but she also didn't want to leave too bad an impression on a pony she needed help from.

Rumble brightened. "Your grandmother… sorry, I just never really considered that a princess like you had an overbearing grandmother, just like the rest of us."

"What do you mean 'like the rest of us'?" She ruffled her wings irritably. "Why does everypony think I'm different, just because I have both a horn and wings? I'm still a pony, you know."

"Yeah, I know that but…" Rumble flushed and shifted on his hooves. "It's not like you are just any pony. You'll grow up to do things nopony else can, right? You'll be a princess."

"Well, nopony asked me if I wanted to be…" Flurry mumbled. She knew it was unfair for her to say that. Her parents had tried to hide it from her, but Flurry knew virtually every pony wanted to be her. Everypony wanted to have what she had. For her to say she did not want it felt like a betrayal to everypony else. So she quashed those thoughts and hid them deep inside her heart, like she had ever since she found out how different she was.

"Sorry, what was that?" Rumble asked.

"Never mind," Flurry said. "You're Cozy's friend, right? I saw you flying with her yesterday."

Rumble nodded. "Yeah, we are friends. And I help her with flying too."

"Good, good," Flurry said. "Twilight wants me to be her friend, but it didn't really work out when I tried yesterday. I thought that maybe you could help me."

"Help you how?" Rumble asked.

"I want to be your friend too! So then she will want to be my friend when she sees I'm good!" Flurry explained. "So then we all get new friends!" Twilight must be getting impatient. She had been late two days in a row. "Uh…Just think about it, and we can talk more about it later. I've got to go! I'll see you later today okaybye!” She made her way past him and into the library. Her cheeks felt hot in embarrassment. He definitely thought she was loopy. She would think she was loopy if she had acted like that.

Twilight sat by the table, just like yesterday. She smiled brightly at Flurry. "Good morning," she said. "I take it my mom was not any easier on you today?"

"I got up half an hour earlier today, and she still made me late!" Flurry huffed. Twilight only smiled ever wider. "It's not funny!" she growled, her wings extending a little by reflex. It was not really nice of Twilight to sound so happy about this!

"Well, then you must be eager to begin your training now, aren't you?" Twilight asked warmly.

"I'm ready to learn!" Flurry said obediently and folded her wings down and joined Twilight by the table. A row of maybe ten rectangular boxes stood in front of Twilight, all made of wood.

"Good," Twilight said. "Now, you evidently know basic levitation from your demonstration yesterday, and there is no doubt about your magical power. Also Sunburst must have started to train your endurance a little, at least. However, before we start our lessons for real, there is still one thing about your current skill I want to determine. Can you guess?"

"Uh… something you still don't know about my magic?" Flurry asked. Twilight nodded. "If… how many spells I know?" Flurry guessed, even if her insides squirmed a little at the thought of that line of questioning. Flurry did not actually know any spells other than levitation. She had asked Sunburst to teach her once, but he had refused.

"No, I already know that," Twilight said. "Most unicorns only know levitation, and maybe one or two other spells related to their cutie marks. Studies of spellcraft are often extremely difficult for most ponies. If you had known anything other than levitation at your age, then it would be nothing short of a miracle."

"Oh… but you know a lot of spells. And mom and dad too," Flurry pointed out.

"And we have all trained very hard to learn," Twilight said. "I did not learn any spell other than levitation before I was older than you."

"So what is it you want to know about my magic then?" Flurry asked.

"Well, mages call it 'spell-splitting', which is just a fancy name for multitasking," Twilight explained. "That is, I want to know how many separate objects you can control at one time. Like this." Twilight lit up her horn, and the wooden boxes lifted from the table and arranged themselves in a floating ring. "This is not one spell, but ten. One for every box."

Flurry nodded. "Okay, I can do that."

"Wonderful," Twilight said mirthfully. "Please take your place."

Flurry Heart hopped from the stool and stood in the middle of the room. Yesterday she had to stand here for thirty minutes, just holding up the thick book.

"We will be using these," Twilight said and removed a small marble from one of the boxes. "Ready?"

"I think so," Flurry said and braced herself. She had never really tried to do this with more than two objects before, namely her two favorite dolls back home.

"Catch," Twilight said and threw a colorful marble at her. Flurry caught it easily in her topaz-yellow magic. It was not heavy. "And again," Twilight said after a few seconds and threw another marble. Flurry sent her magic to catch it, while still maintaining the psychic grip around the first marble. They both waggled a little in the air before she managed to stabilize them.

"And next," Twilight called and threw out a third marble.

It was not long before Flurry had to shut her eyes just to concentrate on the marbles. Her magic was flying in every direction, trying to keep all the marbles in place. It had gone just fine up until maybe five or six marbles, but now she had just caught the eighth, and it felt like her mind was torn between all of them, trying to keep them all afloat.

"Now for marble number nine."

"Oh, no…" Flurry thought. She did not even have the last one in control yet! Her system was shaky already. But despite her prayer, the ninth marble flew into her carefully constructed magic web with all the grace of a charging yak. She caught the marble, only to have another slip from her mind and tumble in her grasp. In wild panic she grabbed onto that one.

A soft tinkle let her know that all the other marbles had fallen to the floor. She opened her eyes and saw one of them roll against her hoof.

"Eight marbles," Twilight said and magicked them all up and back into the box. She made it look so easy, and her marbles were moving whereas Flurry just had to hold them still.

"Is that good?" Flurry asked.

"It's in about what most unicorns can do at your age with this trial," Twilight said. "No need to worry. It's something one must practice." She smiled. "Now, then. I like to think I have a good idea about what level you are at. Now your lessons can begin in earnest."

"Before we do that," Flurry piped up. "Did you find out why Cozy dislikes me so much? I still want to be her friend."

Twilight's face fell. "No… she didn't tell me."

"Oh…" Flurry was disappointed and hurt. Having a pony dislike you out of the blue like that was something Flurry had never experienced before. Sure, her parents had berated her when she did bad things, but with Cozy it felt more like a lingering ember of hate. It did not ignite because of something Flurry had done, and didn't go away with time. It was just there, searing and hurting inside Flurry's heart. And Cozy's too. Flurry could sense that Cozy too wasn't all happy about what had happened yesterday either.

All the more reason to enlist Rumble's help. Something inside her compelled her to get through to Cozy. Everypony wanted to make friends deep down. Cozy too. She just needed a little push to see it.

"Sorry, Flurry," Twilight said. "But don't give up hope. I think Cozy will come around in time, but for the moment she has asked to study alone, and as her teacher I will abide by what she wants."

"Don't worry, I'm sure she will come around," Flurry grinned, suppressing a giggle.

"But while your friendship lessons with Cozy might have to wait, why don't we start working on the other type of magic? While not as powerful as friendship, the arcane arts are still a natural part of a young unicorn's growth."

"But I'm an alicorn," Flurry heart said.

"And as an alicorn you have all the needs of a unicorn your age," Twilight explained. "Don't worry. Learning magic can be fun! Now look here…"

Well, this was awkward. Rumble looked down at the head of a cauliflower he had picked out for his dish, but he didn't lift the vegetable knife.

Flurry had taken off so fast from their meeting, he had not been able to tell her that talking again later today was not great for him. After work he had to catch an afternoon train to Ponyville, and his bags were still unpacked. But he could not leave if she wanted to talk! In fact, he was pretty certain that Equestrian law explicitly stated that refusing a meeting with an alicorn was an offense punishable by being sent to the moon.

"Tomtit, if you don't want to make somepony sick I'd suggest you start working before that cauliflower rots," Ramson snapped behind him. Rumble jolted awake from his rumination and started chopping up the cauliflower. Once done, he added it and a broccoli to the broth where some carrots and potatoes were already simmering, and started to work on a leek, peas and fresh sprouts.

He had to add everything at the right times, so that all the vegetables were cooked to perfection at the same time. It was a new recipe, so hopefully Cozy would like it. He did not know how long Flurry would be occupied, but he didn't think she would be done with her lesson yet. Hopefully that meant Cozy's mood had not been ruined by Flurry's presence.

There was another issue: he had to do something about her opinion about Flurry. If Flurry was going to stay in Canterlot, then the problem would not resolve itself like he had hoped. Clearly the young princess did want to befriend Cozy, but she seemed kind. It wasn't fair that Cozy refused to give Flurry a chance. Sure, he meant what he said to Cozy yesterday: some ponies just don't mix. Not everypony can be friends with everypony. But he still wanted Cozy to put in a little effort. If Flurry did, then it was only fair she tried too.

That was all well and good. The issue, as always, was to get Cozy to see his side of the story. Unless there really was something to Flurry's plan. The way Rumble understood it, she wanted to befriend him, so that he could act as a link between Flurry and Cozy. It sounded sensible… it was essentially what he already tried to do, only now he would have direct help from Flurry as well.

Or maybe that was just his adolescent, hormonal colt mind that had misunderstood Flurry's divine intellect… yeah, that was probably it, honestly.

No matter: he could still try to make Cozy see his side of things. If it didn't work, he could hear Flurry out later (hopefully without having to miss his train). Besides, he wouldn't say no to another friend himself, and Flurry seemed nice enough.

The soup was done, so he picked up a ladle and poured some into a bowl. Then he started up to Twilight's wing. He heard Flurry and Twilight talk behind a closed door, but did not intrude. Ramson handled their lunch and dinner personally today. He tiptoed past and instead knocked at Cozy's door.

"Huh? Come in," she called. Rumble pushed the door open.

Cozy laid on her divan with a book by her elbow and a sheet of paper in front of her. She had a crayon in her mouth. She looked up at him.

"I brought you something to eat," Rumble said and put the food on her bedside table. "What are you doing?"

Cozy spat out the crayon and stood up, stretching her back and her wings. "I'm going to show that goody four-horseshoes that she's not the only pony who can use magic!" She beaconed him over with a flick of her wing. "See this?" she asked with glee and passed him the sheet of paper she had been working on.

It was something of an anomaly. Written in blue crayon and a foal's clumsy hoofwriting was a schematic of some sort. Rumble came to think about the toy planetarium his brother had given him for his birthday. It looked like a hollow sphere made up by three rings, each one perpendicular to the others. At the crosses where two rings interlocked, there seemed to be a gemstone of some sort.

"That's… great," Rumble said. "Uh… what does it do?"

Cozy rolled her eyes, but her smile remained in place. "It's a a spell-lens! A magic trap. Normally artifacts use runes and magic stored in gems to do their stuff. A spell-lens is a way to trap a unicorn's spell and use it directly, without needing a gem or runes."

Rumble looked back to the schematic. The basic shape looked simple, but there were a lot of arrows painted in around it, pointing here and there with small notes around each. A small segment of the paper had also been closed off by a line, and on the other side was a table of symbols that Rumble had never seen. They were notoriously pointy, while normal ponish used smooth, squiggly letters. He guessed those were the runes Cozy talked about, but he decided to humor her. "What is this?"

"Unicornian runes. They're what we use to give artifacts their powers!" Cozy said. "For example, this one," she pointed at one of the symbols. It looked like a downwards pointing triangle, with a horizontal line at the tip. "This means 'light'. If I inscribe it on something that conducts magic, it will shine!"

"How…?" Rumble asked. "But they're just shapes! What do they have to do with magic?"

Cozy smiled wistfully. "Nopony knows. And nopony knows if there are more runes than these. The greatest artificers are those who discover new runes. But it was really long since that happened, and nopony knows how they did it. A pegasus named Scripted Thinking was the last discoverer, and that was almost a hundred years ago. He discovered these two runes." Cozy pointed at the two last small symbols, neither of which told Rumble anything.

"You really like this stuff, don't you?" Rumble said instead. He had never heard Cozy sound so passionate about something before.

"Golly yes! Now that I have books about it I'm getting better all the time. I've never tried to build something like this before, but I'm sure I will get it eventually! I have it perfectly clear up here!" She tapped her temple. "Even if I couldn't draw it very well…" she blushed and snatched back her schematic. She looked at it for another moment before stashing it in her mane. "So that's what I'm making. Now let's see what you have made!"

"It's a vegetable soup. I wanted to try something new with it." Cozy nodded and sniffed at the soup. Then she lifted the bowl and took a small sip, sitting on her large bed. Rumble knew he shouldn't stare, but he also wanted to see her reaction. The first, unfiltered impression was important. She glanced at him before picking up a spoon and started eating in earnest.

She looked like she was enjoying it. Satisfied, Rumble sat down and waited for her to be done.

"All the vegetables were really crispy," Cozy said. "How did you do that?"

"I added them at different times," Rumble explained. "So they all get to cook just long enough to be perfectly done."

"That makes sense," Cozy said. "It was really good. Thank you." When she did not say anything else, Rumble decided it was time to do what he came for. Hopefully he did not ruin her mood too much.

"Hey, Cozy… I've got some news you aren't going to like," he began carefully.

"Hmph," Cozy scoffed dismissively, but she did meet his eyes.

"You know how we talked about my brother's trying to become a Wonderbolt coach, rather than an active member?"

"Yeah, what about it?" Cozy sounded irritated, just like Rumble knew she would.

"Well, they've scheduled the first tryouts for next week already, so now my bro's had a meltdown and even took out some holidays to practice. And he asked me to come help him… and when I say asked, I mean that the letter looked like it had tear stains on it."

"Oh… is he that worried?" Cozy asked, even if she really did not look too sympathetic. Then again, Rumble could not remember Cozy ever being sympathetic to anypony.

"He worries a lot, but once it starts he'll do fine," Rumble said. "But I wanted to say I'll be gone for the weekend. Leaving this afternoon, actually."

"Hmm… okay, I guess," Cozy shrugged, even if she looked none too pleased with the idea of being alone for the days when they could normally fly together the most.

"And one more thing…" Rumble said. The most important part, and the one Cozy would be the most reluctant to. "About Flurry Heart."

"What about her?" Cozy snapped.

"Look, I get that you don't like her, but can't you at least put in some effort to make friends with her? At least then you can tell Twilight you tried. Maybe you'll even end up liking her."

"Or maybe she will stab me in the back and try to steal away my friends," Cozy said, venom dripping from every word.

"You mean me?" Rumble asked, tilting his head slightly. "You think she'd steal my friendship?"

Cozy opened her mouth, hesitated, then shrugged. "I mean… it could happen…" she mumbled, mostly to herself by the looks of it.

"No. No it couldn't," Rumble deadpanned. ”You can't steal friendships Cozy. For being so clever, you really say the strangest things sometimes, you know that?"

"Why does everypony want me to make friends with her anyway?" Cozy mumbled with an annoyed flick of her tail, like she was trying to bat away a particularly irritating fly. "I'm fine with my friends, and I don't need her!"

"But maybe she needs a friend?" Rumble said. He hoped he was right in that; he certainly did not have any business guessing what an alicorn needed and not.

"Tsk, then she can manage without me," Cozy huffed. "Are you done? I'm not going to talk more about her."

"A pity, because I will," Rumble snapped back, silently hoping he would not end up with a black eye. He knew he was treading a dangerous line when arguing with Cozy Glow. "Look, Cozy, you are my friend, but that doesn't mean I'm going to put up with you treating other ponies badly for no reason."

"Well, I have my reason!" Cozy bit him off and rose. Her voice had taken on a slight growl and her wings extended. "You have no idea what it feels like! I did… everything! I got trapped in stone just to get what she has! And she just… was born with it! And now she is trying to take away you too! And Twilight!"

Cozy covered her mouth with her hooves, as if to prevent the last words from leaving it. But it was too late.

"Twilight?" Rumble asked. "I thought you hated her. Why do you care about her?"

"I don't!" Cozy roared. "I misspoke, that's all! I don't care about her! Not one bit!"

"Now I know you are lying," Rumble said. "One good thing about your tantrums is that you tend to say what you really feel. Come on, Cozy. What's going on?"

Cozy glared, but she did sit down. "If you tell her what I tell you, I will murder you in your sleep," she said. Rumble was about forty precent sure she was joking.

"You know I can keep a secret, right?"

"Last time you ended up telling Twilight where I was hiding during my escape," Cozy pointed out.

"And thanks to me everything worked out," Rumble countered. "Come on, Cozy. I'm your friend. Just trust me on this, okay?"

Cozy took her glare away from him and instead looked straight ahead. Since she sat on her bed that meant she was looking over his head now. "I don't… like her. Twilight, I mean. I really don't, but… I'm her student. She actually listens to me. Even when she doesn't agree, she at least considers what I'm saying, and she never just dismisses me. She actually sees me for a smart pony, not just a silly filly. I didn't… expect that from her."

"Everypony who knows anything about you knows you are smart," Rumble said. That was nothing less than the truth.

Cozy flashed a thankful expression before she looked away again. "Not only has Flurry Heart stolen my dream, but she is trying to steal this, too. This," she swept with her hooves over the room. "This is all I have now. I don't want to like Twilight… and I'm still not sure I do, but she is the only pony who… sees me for what I could be. I know I'm smart. I know I can do big things! And she is the first pony to give me a chance. But she'll not pick me over her niece. I know she won't."

Rumble listened, then looked Cozy over. She was the same pink filly with off-white ribbons as when he came in, but somehow she felt a bit more… deep, now. This was the first time she revealed something about herself to him just because he asked and she trusted him. It must be a big step for her, trusting a friend like this. "Respect," he said. "Is that what you feel with Twilight? You don't really like her, but you can at least respect her for trying to help you?"

Cozy was thinking. Rumble could all but hear her brain whirr with activity. "That's… not wrong, I guess."

"You know," Rumble continued carefully. He felt like he was stepping out on a minefield. One wrong move and Cozy might well consider it a betrayal of this new trust. "None of those things are really Flurry's fault. She didn't ask to be born a Princess, and I can promise you that she doesn't want to steal Twilight away. She is just minding her lessons, like you are. If you only talked to her, I'm sure you could make it work."

Cozy was silent, but Rumble felt like he shouldn't interrupt her anymore. "Just… think about it, okay? Until I come back. Flurry is not your enemy."

Cozy sat still. "Okay. I'll… think about that…"

He nodded, and smiled. "Thank's Cozy. See you monday then, I guess."

"Yeah… be seeing you," Cozy said absently. "Thanks for the food. I really liked it…"

Her handbook on artifice did not give her the peace she had hoped for. It was twenty minutes since she had picked it up, and she had been reading the same three sentences over and over again. She still could not even say what they were about. She shook her head and tried again, keeping her eyes wide open and sounding the words out clearly in her head.

"It is important to master the most fundamental principles of magic stability in gemstones in order to handle the connection mechanism between the gemstones and the focusing array. Most precious gems can store only magic with a fitting magic resonance. This resonance depends on the type of magic and its power, in accordance with Silver Laurel's second law of Geomancy…"

Rumble was not a stupid pony- quite the contrary, actually. If he thought there was more to Flurry Heart than a rival and friendship-thief, then there might well be something more. And if there was, then she'd be a fool not to look into it. Friendship with Flurry Heart, if such a thing was possible, would be a powerful asset to have someday.

But even so, Cozy was still not wrong! It was not at all silly to think a friendship could be stolen. One could argue that she herself had stolen nearly every friend in Twilight's school that one time. She knew better than most how easily a friendship could be twisted on its head, if a pony put her mind to it. In that, she was certain she knew more than Rumble did.

"It is important to master … spell stability in gemstones in order to handle … and the focusing array. Most precious gems… on the spell type and power … Silver Laurel's second…"

Come to think of it, Rumble had spoken with Flurry during the dinner, and since then he had continued to tell her how kind Flurry was. He evidently wanted Cozy to accept Flurry as a friend. She trusted him, of course, but… what if, what if Twilight had put him up to this? She knew that if there was one pony Cozy listened to, then it would be Rumble. And he had already chosen Twilight over Cozy once before…

No! She could not doubt him. Down that path laid only madness! She had to trust everything he said was his own thoughts, formed by his own mind! That was what a friend should do, and they were friends.

"… Important … gemstones … focusing array… spell type … Geomancy…"

But a small voice in her head continued to whisper. She had never just blindly trusted like that… she had always strived to double-check her facts herself and move things in her favor herself if possible. She wanted to have control. Blind faith made her just that- blind and vulnerable.

But… perhaps there was a way to test all this.

Cozy could read ponies, and she had already deduced how nasty Flurry was. But Rumble was not wrong when he said she hadn't given Flurry an honest chance… If she were to try again, and really try to keep an open mind about it…?

She chewed on the inside of her cheek, her eyes glazed over. "I suppose it can't get worse from trying… and if she is a nasty orange-lover, then I had better make sure I know that soon, right?"

She put away the book and left her room, still filled with doubts. If Rumble was going to leave for ponyville, then Cozy had the weekend to see if she could not form a new opinion on Flurry. She had better start soon.

She left her room and peeked inside the common room. Twilight was alone, eating a sandwich and reading something. Hers and Flurry's lesson must have already ended. Twilight looked up. "Oh, hi Cozy. Can I help you?"

"Aren't you busy with your other student?" Cozy asked. She did not quite manage to keep the sharpness from her tone.

"No, I decided to let her go for the weekend," Twilight said. "Same with you. Since I heard Rumble was out of town for the weekend, I thought you should have today with him instead of discussing friendship with me. That can wait until tomorrow."

"Golly… thanks," she said, and she meant it too. Cozy was surprised Twilight would do that to her after their argument yesterday. "I'll go out a little bit then." If Flurry was already back home, there was little point in looking for her today.

"Sure," Twilight said.

Cozy waited for a few moments to see if she would say something else, but Twilight just returned to her book. Cozy decided to just follow Twilight's advice. She should tell Rumble that she was going to try to give Flurry a chance over the weekend. Maybe they could even squeeze in some flying time too before he left.

Cozy made her way to the castle annex on the other side of the castle gardens. It was a low, rectangular building with one wall entirely covered in roses. Originally it had been a bunkhouse for Princess Platinum's honor guard, but today it was where most castle servants from out of town lived.

She made her way inside quickly and started down the corridor to Rumble's room.

His door was open, and she heard his voice.

"Good that you came this early, I've got to leave in half an hour. Ramson kept me in the kitchen for way longer than I thought."

So then he was here. Good.

"So have you thought about what I said? Do you think we can be friends?"

Cozy knew that voice.

"I mean… I don't see why not, if you want to," Rumble answered.

Ponies, by their nature, were a forgiving bunch. The three tribes had founded their nation on the principles that they are stronger together than alone. The idea that they, together, had brought an end to the blizzard was the single most important idea in pony culture. Forgiveness was readily offered and readily received by most ponies.

Cozy Glow was not most ponies.

She nurtured an ember of rage in her heart that was more than eager to flare into a pyre of fury if given just a little nourishment. Indeed, if anypony had asked how she would act if she found out a friend had betrayed her they would all say the same thing: then her rage could blot out the sun with its radiance.

And very, very deep inside her mind, Cozy too was surprised by her reaction to hear Rumble accept Flurry's friendship. She did not shout. She did not tear Rumble's door off its hinges. She did not swear horrible vengeance.

She barely even moved. A weak sound of disbelief made it past her lips, but other than that, she stood stunned as if caught in the brights of the Friendship Express.

"Great! Twilight even let me have the weekend off! Perhaps we could meet up in Ponyville tomorrow? I've got to visit Sunburst anyway, so then maybe we could hang out in the afternoon?"

"I've got to help my bro with his flying but he can't overexert himself either, so afternoon would be fine."

"Great! See you then!"

Cozy did not remember how she got back to her room, but when lucidity returned to her she was laying in her cloud bed, staring up at the roof.

She had been right after all! Flurry was looking to steal Rumble from her! Her closest friend! The only friend she had in Canterlot! She had not been paranoid like Rumble though. It was he who had been naïve. So naïve that he did not even see what Flurry was doing.

But Cozy was not going to let it happen.

With that thought, her resolve seemed to crystalize. It became clear and sharp and cold as ice. A wall of frigid resolve that encased her heart. She was not going to lose his friendship. Cozy may be Twilight's student, but she was not going to sit idly by when Flurry tried to steal Rumble's friendship away.

She was still Cozy Glow, a pony who once struck fear even in the immortal alicorns.

And she promised herself that if necessary, another alicorn would learn why.

Chapter 6- Two Fillies and Their Friends

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"Rise and shine! We don't have too much time little bro!"

"Mglrp?" Rumble asked, bleary eyed and dazed as he tried to get his bearings. He recognized the room he was in. It was his room back in Thunderlane's house in Ponyville, and the same room he had gone to sleep in the night before. In fact, the only thing wrong with it was the fact that the bright white cloud walls now went in a hue of purple and gold. Rolling over, he peeked out the window and saw the very first rays of sunlight barely peeking over the horizon. "Wh-what time is it?"

"Almost five in the morning! Gotta train, train, train today. We don't have much time left!"

Great. This was his weekend, and he had to get out of bed earlier than when he was working. Hugging the warm blanket close for another few glorious moments, he left the bed for the cold, unforgiving room.

"There's some porridge left if you want it for breakfast," Thunderlane said. "I've already eaten. When you're done, I'll be by the Cloud Silo."

"Right, sure," Rumble said. He shook his head to banish the most immediate tiredness, then took a deep, sobering breath. By the time he opened his eyes again, Thunderlane was already gone.

Well, if there was one good thing to be said about this, then it was that with how early Thunderlane was starting there was no chance Flurry would be done before him. That lucky filly probably was still sleeping.

He warmed up the porridge a little and started eating. It occurred to him that he did not know which one of the four main Wonderbolt teams was even holding this tryout. They all had different specialities, so the training to join one of them, even as a coach, would depend on what team was hosting the tryouts. Rumble did not even know what sort of training he was even supposed to assist with. Hopefully it involved some flying, at least.

He ate quickly and then flew off to meet his brother. Ponyville was nearly deserted, aside from a few enterprising ponies. He recognized Pinkie, who was bouncing down the street with a wagon of baking supplies behind her. She stopped to wave at him when he flew by. He waved back.

The Cloud Silo stood in the outskirts of Ponyville, and was used to store any special clouds sent to the town from Cloudsdale. With the untamed weather of the Everfree Forest, Ponyville could make many types of clouds on their own, but not all. Clouds for snowfall had to be made in Cloudsdale for example, and with winter slowly but surely approaching the silo would start to be filled up.

But there were still most of autumn before winter, and the place around the silo would be deserted for a while yet. So why in Celestia's name had his brother woken him up this early just to practice in a spot that would be free all day long?

Upon approaching the silo he saw Thunderlane had already moved plenty of clouds from over the Everfree out to an empty part of the sky next to the silo. Rumble flew closer and landed on the cloud his brother was pushing into place. "So what do you need me to do? 'Cause you know I said I had a thing later today."

"Yeah, I remember," Thunderlane said. "So, the retiring coach asked all participants to draft up a training schedule that we are going to present to him, and a Wonderbolt cadet will follow the schedule to see how good it is in practice. The best ones are asked to make another schedule which the Wonderbolts will use for a whole session, and then they vote for the best. I've already prepared some schedules, and I'd like to try them out on you, and then you can help me pick the best one."

That made sense, Rumble thought. Thunderlane would want somepony he trusted to say what he really thought. "Okay… I can do that. How many schedules have you prepared?"

"Just twelve! I'm halfway done, almost."

Rumble stared at his brother, hoping he was be joking. When no such indication came, he just shook his head. "No, you're done now. Pick… four of them, and I'll help you with those."

"Only four?!" Sweat broke forth on Thunderlane's forehead. "But… I don't know which ones I should pick! What if I choose the wrong ones!"

"Well, you're gonna have to choose all but one or two at the end anyways! Besides, if you just spend time coming up with new schedules instead of training how to present them, you're not going to get very far."

Thunderlane looked like he had been struck by lightning. A small, forlorn peep made it past his lips and his eyes began to tear up. "Uh… but we've got plenty of time to practice! The tryouts aren't until next week!" Rumble hurried to say.

"Okay… okay!" Thunderlane swallowed. "Right. I'll just need a few minutes to pick the first schedule and… then we can train. Right. Good. I've got this. No problem."

Rumble rolled his eyes. He knew his brother was a skilled flyer, and he had taught Rumble much of what he knew too. He would make an excellent coach, if only he could keep his nerves in check.

Flurry made mistakes sometimes, but she had resolved to at least not make the same ones twice. Or three times, in this case. The first morning she had risen in time, and her grandmother had made her rush to the castle. The next morning she had tried to rise half an hour earlier, only to have the same result.

So this morning she groggily left the warm, snug embrace of her bed one and a half hour before the train left. That left her with seventy minutes to make her bed, eat breakfast, brush her teeth and preen her wings a little. All of these things took at the most half an hour back home, so there was no way she could be late now.

At least, that's what she said ninety minutes ago. Now she wasn't saying anything; she was gulping down air while sprawled on a train seat. She did not even have the strength to reach up to the window and wave to her grandparents as the train left for Ponyville. It was scheduled to arrive at nine in the morning. But Twilight Velvet had still insisted she brought both lunch and a snack, plus plenty of bits to for even more food in Ponyville!

"How… much does she think I eat every day?" Flurry panted to herself.

It had been quite a while since she visited Ponyville. Twilight had lived in Canterlot ever since she ascended Equestria's throne, and then Flurry had stopped visiting. She had thought about seeing Sunburst a few times, but it never happened.

Well, that was changing today… after she had recuperated some of her lost sleep during the train ride. She made herself comfortable and folded her tail around her for warmth. She fell into a drowsy, cozy type of torpor, rocked by the train.

"Next stop, Ponyville!" The conductor called through the wagons after a while. Flurry sat up and dug around in her overstuffed saddlebags to find a packet of orange juice. That would help her wake up a little. The door slid open and the gray earth pony poked his head inside. "Ponyville station in five minutes, little miss. Follow the corridor to the back of the train and you can leave through the VIP exit. It's faster for you. Can I get you anything more? Something to eat or drink, perhaps?"

"No thank you," Flurry said, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. "But thanks for offering."

"Of course, little miss," the conductor dipped his head and left.

"I've already got enough food for a week," Flurry continued to herself while glaring slightly at her overstuffed saddlebags. Nonetheless, she crawled under the straps and hefted them up. She left through the VIP exit, as suggested. She'd rather spend her morning with Sunburst than stuck in the crowd around the train.

She discreetly made her way to the Friendship School by flying. The bags were heavy, so she had to flutter quite a bit, but she made it work. As friendly as the town was, she did not feel like stopping to chat. She had a Crystaller to find, and if Flurry knew him as well as she thought, he would be in his office even if it was Saturday.

She landed by the entrance to the school building and pushed at the door. As she had guessed, it was open, even if the corridor behind the door was deserted. No student would be here today if they could help it.

Flurry had never actually been here to see Sunburst, so she did not know where his office would be. But he was the Vice-Headmare (Headstallion?), and that was almost the best job he could have in a school. And if schools were built like the Crystal Empire or Canterlot, then his office would be in the middle of the school in the tallest part of the building, and have a nice, big door.

Satisfied with her logic, she started looking for a room with a nice door. She found the gymnasium soon enough, then the library, then a stair up to the school ramparts.

She still didn't find Sunburst, but she did see Starlight Glimmer through a window. Flurry waved. Starlight responded by igniting her horn and suddenly appear next to her.

"Flurry Heart! It's been a while."

"Yeah, it has," Flurry said. She didn't know Starlight that well. She had been with Twilight sometimes, and she was Sunburst's friend, but that was nearly all she knew. "But I live with Twilight now, in Canterlot, so maybe we can see each other more often?"

"I'd like that," Starlight said. "But I think I know why you would come here on a weekend. Sunburst and I were correcting exams in my office. He should still be there."

"Great! "Where do I find-"

Starlight ignited her horn again, and before Flurry could finish her sentence, they had already disappeared and reappeared someplace else.

"-your office?" she finished lamely, her head turning this way and that to orient herself.

"Oh, Flurry Heart, what a pleasant surprise." Sunburst looked up from a stack of paper and smiled warmly at her. He looked just like he always did. He wore his teal cloak even if it was warm inside, and the scruffy beard and mane looked like he had just styled it with his hooves again. It made him look kind. "I was thinking to come visit you in Canterlot, but it seems you beat me to it. Some Crystaller I am, huh?"

"You are a great Crystaller!" Flurry said. "Twilight was even impressed by how long I could levitate a heavy book, and we have only just started our magic training!"

"Ah, the classical endurance test," Starlight smiled with that thinking-back expression grown-up ponies get sometimes. "I still remember how bad that was… even if I aced it myself, of course."

"Tsk, speak for yourself," Sunburst said, half a huff and half a smile.

"And I'm going to take friendship lessons too soon, with Twilight's other student," Flurry said proudly.

"Right… Cozy Glow," Starlight said, looking pensive. "I suppose Twilight knows what she is doing, but still…"

"I was surprised by that announcement as well," Sunburst agreed. "Personally I was just waiting for her to take you on as a friendship student, Flurry. I never expected her to take on Cozy. Though I suppose she needs friendship lessons pretty badly."

"I'd say," Starlight said with some edge to her tone.

"Actually, Twilight wants me to make friends with Cozy. But she hasn't been very kind to me… do either of you have any ideas for how to make friends with her? Since you are the Headmare and Vice-Headmare of the school of friendship, that means you have some secret way to make everypony love you, right?"

"Uh… I've not really met her myself," Sunburst said.

"And I'm not the best pony to ask for advice on how to handle Cozy Glow… Last time we met didn't go so well."

"Oh… what happened?" Flurry asked.

Starlight blushed. "Perhaps you can show me some of your magic? Maybe I could even give you some pointers. I'm quite good at magic, you know."

"Okay!" Flurry said. "Look at this! I can levitate six things at once easily!"

She grabbed some inkhorns, a couple of books and decided to challenge herself by picking up the large plant on the desk too.


Having had an afternoon, night and morning to really consider the issue, Cozy Glow was certain Flurry Heart was a greater danger than she had first thought.

Everything she had determined yesterday was still true, of course: Flurry, for all her sickening sweetness,was a Princess, and no pony with a head on his shoulders would say no to being friends with a princess. That already made Flurry dangerous, but her mentality must also be considered.

Flurry had been born with everything. Her toys probably cost more than what a normal pony family made in a year. Cadance, the Princess of Love, would have spoiled her filly rotten. From being raised like that, it stood to reason that Flurry considered herself entitled to everything she wanted. Friends included. Rumble included.

Cozy's stomach twisted uncomfortably at that thought. Flurry clearly was not an adversary to take lightly. Realistically, even if it hurt to admit, the only thing Cozy had over Flurry was her smarts. Flurry was a princess. She was prettier than Cozy. She had magic. She had infinite wealth. Even her coat color was similar to Cozy's, only brighter, crisper. Flurry's wings were beautiful and much fuller than her own as well.

Cozy looked down on herself, for the first time angry at her coloration. She glared at her small, stupid wings.

And even aside from all that, Cozy recognized a shrewd manipulator when she saw one. Clearly Flurry had asked Rumble to meet her here in Ponyville to spend time with him alone. It was the same tactic Cozy herself had used to ingrain herself near Twilight.

Always be near your mark, always offer help when needed. Make sure you are seen, make sure you are always considered. Eventually, they will start to come to you even when you are not around, and then you have won.

If Flurry was as manipulative as Cozy suspected, then Cozy's best bet would be to catch her by surprise. But how could she surprise a pony who acted just like Cozy would have? The answer had come late last night: she had to surprise herself, and do something she had not considered.

So she had to get help from somepony else, somepony who did not think like she did.

She knew who to ask. Sweetie Belle was the most naïve, most trusting pony Cozy knew. Whatever advice Sweetie Belle gave, it was going to be something Cozy herself would not have thought about in a million years.

Cozy pondered this as she went off the midday train and into Ponyville proper. She knew the way to Rarity's boutique: she just had to "…follow the largest street from the station to the market, with Town Hall. Then take to the right. Her house is a round, white building." Cozy smiled when she remembered Rumble's directions from that night.

Granted, Sweetie Belle might be with her parents, but at least then Rarity should be able to direct Cozy there.

On her way to the boutique plenty of ponies stole glances at her, but at least they were much less hostile than she was used to. In Canterlot, ponies would sometimes even turn around and walk away rather than pass too closely to her. Here, ponies just looked curious. A few even waved uncertainty. She was surprised by how much her spirits lifted from such a small gesture. So much so she was brought out of her grim mindset and waved back. Twilight's tenure as resident Princess of Friendship had clearly left its mark on the ponies here.

The sign in the Boutique window said it was open, so Cozy guessed she could just walk right in since that's what the customers would do. But she also knew Rarity was finicky with the details sometimes, so she decided to knock like a proper guest.

"Come on in, please! I will be right with you!" Rarity called from the inside. Permission granted, Cozy opened the door just as Rarity entered from the kitchen. "Oh my! What a surprise to see you here, Cozy Glow. Twilight gave you the weekend off?"

Cozy nodded. "I haven't run away again, I promise. I thought I could see Sweetie Belle! Is she here?"

"She is, actually," Rarity said. "In her room."

"Golly, what luck!" Cozy chirped. "Thanks, Rarity."

"You are welcome, dear," Rarity said.

Cozy nodded and flew up the stairs. She already knew which room was Sweetie Belle's. She had spent plenty of time there when she was sick and on the run from Twilight that one time. She pushed the door open and found the filly in question sitting by a table with a pot of tea in front of her and a few stuffed animals on stools.

She turned to Cozy with a slight look of annoyance, but it softened when she saw who it was. "Oh, Cozy Glow! I didn't know you were going to come visit today or I'd have set the table for one more," she brightened. "But then again, Sir Alfonso was just about to leave anyway. You could take his place." She indicated a stool with a teddy bear.

Cozy debated whether she wanted to waste her time with this nonsense, but decided to play along. It was a friendly thing to do. "Thank you, Sweetie Belle. Sorry for being late to your tea party." She flew over the table and pushed the teddy bear off of her chair. Sweetie Belle put six bags of tea in a cup and poured hot water.

"I didn't know you were going to come, or I'd have waited for you," Sweetie Belle said.

"I didn't know I was going to visit until last evening," Cozy explained. "Twilight gave me the weekend off."

"That's great! That means the two of you are really starting to get along, right? She trusts you!"

"Tsk… I guess I don't hate her quite as much as I did before," Cozy conceded, even if she had to spit out the words. "But she is still not my friend," she assured, mostly for her own sake. Sweetie Belle looked dejected at Cozy's hostility. And, since she had already admitted to Rumble that she did, at least, respect Twilight, it was not more than right she let Sweetie Belle in on some of her deeper feelings too. "But… I suppose she isn't that bad all the time... she's better than I thought..."

Sweetie Belle brightened. "I'm sure you will be great together soon! Now that you've given her a chance, you will soon see she is a good pony." Cozy decided not to bicker anymore about it; Sweetie Belle had always thought Cozy should forgive and forget. But forgiveness was going to be a slow process. And even if it came, she knew she would never forget what Twilight had done to her.

But Sweetie Belle was a special friend. Aside from Rumble, Sweetie Belle was the only pony Cozy considered a real friend at all. And she was the only pony Cozy had ever apologized to. That was how much she valued Sweetie Belle's friendship. "Actually, Sweetie Belle, I didn't just come to play. I want to do that too, but I also need to ask something."

"Uh-huh?" Sweetie Belle looked up from the dozen sugar cubes she was about to dump in her own cup of tea. "What?"

"I need some help… It's kind of a friendship problem, but not really. It's weird."

"Shouldn't you ask Twilight?" Sweetie Belle asked. "I mean… friendship problems are pretty much her thing."

"Golly... and here I thought you, as an honorary graduate, would be just as qualified..." Cozy said. No way she involved Twilight in this. She was already on Flurry's side. Cozy needed friends, not enemies.

"I mean... sure I am," Sweetie Belle said with a bright smile. "How can this friendship graduate help you, Cozy Glow?"

"Well…" Cozy suddenly felt a twinge of discomfort. While not as biased as Twilight, Sweetie Belle was still not going to approve of how she had treated Flurry Heart, even if Cozy explained why she did it. But that did not change the fact that she needed Sweetie Belle's help. "… do you know of Flurry Heart?"

Sweetie Belle nodded. "That's the Crystal Empire Princess's daughter, right? She is an alicorn too, and since Twilight's brother is the father, that means Flurry is Twilight's… uh…"

"Niece," Cozy supplied. "That's her. Twilight asked me to study friendship together with her."

"So cool!" Sweetie Belle said. To Cozy's chagrin, there seemed to be quite a bit of envy in Sweetie Belle's voice. "Studying with the youngest alicorn ever! And with Princess Twilight as your teacher!"

"Well…" Cozy flicked her wings and squirmed. "I said I didn't want to study with her… and then I never spoke to her again. Twilight was really mad about that too."

Sweetie Belle cocked her head to the side. "Why did you do that? Did she do anything to you?"

"Not… really," Cozy had to admit. "But I can't study with her, I just can't,” she added when she saw Sweetie Belle's mouth twist into a frown the way it did when she was getting mad.

"And why not?"

"It's…” Cozy shook her head. "You won't get it, but… whenever I see her, I just get so… angry. Like I want to hit her. Because I did things no other pony has done just to try and become an alicorn. And whenever I see Flurry Heart, or hear her name… it hurts, because she got everything I've ever wanted just because she was born in a nice bed. I worked so very hard, I did so many bad things that will always be with me... and all I ever got was to be locked away in a pit and then inside a block of stone."

"But it isn't her fault she is a princess," Sweetie Belle said. She did not look angry anymore. "It's not fair that you are angry at her for something she didn't do, is it?"

"Rumble said that too," Cozy admitted. "And… and I really wanted to try! I was going to try and give her another chance! But I overheard something yesterday. She is going to try and steal Rumble from me! And that's something she is doing and that I can be angry with!"

"Uh… how does one steal another pony?" Sweetie Belle asked. Then she suddenly gasped and put her hooves in front of her mouth. "She didn't kidnap him, did she?"

"What? No, of course not! She is trying to make friends with him!" Cozy explained. "And she took him here, to Ponyville today!"

Sweetie Belle sighed. "That's not stealing, Cozy. It just means that she is looking for a friend too." Her voice had taken on a lecturing tone, like she was trying to explain something to a stubborn filly. It irked Cozy to no end. "And even if you don't like Flurry, that doesn't mean Rumble mustn't. In fact, since you are silly in hating Flurry just because she is an alicorn trying to make a friend, that means Rumble is right and you are wrong."

Cozy bit back a sharp answer. She could not afford to snap at Sweetie Belle; she needed her help. So instead she took a deep breath and tried to calm down. "I only have two friends. That's all I have. You don't get it, because a friend means more to me than it does to you… and Flurry is a Princess. If…" Cozy hesitated. She suddenly found the wall behind Sweetie Belle's right shoulder very interesting. "If they become friends, why would he ever even look at me?"

Something seemed to spark to life in Sweetie Belle's face. "Are you jealous of her?"

Cozy really wanted to say she was not. Jealousy was petty and stupid. Cozy knew she harbored traits many ponies considered evil. She was, or at least she had been, a megalomaniac. She was deceitful. She even harbored downright sadistic and sociopathic traits, deep inside her heart. She knew that, and she had accepted those sides as parts of her, even if she had vied to never let them lose again, for her friends' sakes if nothing else.

But jealousy was nothing she identified with. It was so silly next to her calculated scheming. Jealousy did not belong in a world-conquest strategy, it belonged on the schoolyard.

And yet… and yet…

Jealousy meant you wanted something another pony had, right? And you could not like that pony because she had it and you did not? Well, that sure sounded like what Cozy felt with Flurry. She wanted to be an alicorn… she wanted those full wings.... she wanted that crispy clear coat… and she wanted Twilight and Rumble to see her, think of her.

"I suppose I am," she admitted quietly. She sighed and laid her head to rest on the table, ears folded down. "Golly, this must be a new low… jealous of a prissy orange-lover…"

"A what?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"She likes orange ice cream," Cozy explained. "Only nasty ponies like orange ice-cream. Is what I have heard."

"Oh… what about pistachio?"

Cozy looked up at Sweetie Belle. "Pistachio lovers… can help you get your feelings straightened out when you don't understand them yourself."

Sweetie Belle smiled, but it was not her open, genuine smile. It was like Sweetie Belle tried to smile like a Con Mane villain. Secretive and sinister. Cozy recognized that sort of smile very well. She had worn it herself plenty of times. "What are you smiling about?"

"Hmm… I'll tell you later," Sweetie Belle said. "Right now, I think we need to find more information about Flurry and Rumble! You said they were here, right? Come on, I've got some spy gear!" She crawled in under her bed and started pulling at a large box.

"Wait, what? But… you just said Flurry could make friends with him if she wanted! Why do you care about them?"

"Cause I just realized something!" Sweetie belle called from under the bed. "Do you want my help or not?"

"Sure, but-"

"Then help me with this! I'll tell you what I think about this thing with Rumble after I have all the facts, okay?"

Cozy hesitated for a moment, then shrugged to herself. Sweetie Belle may be naïve and a little silly at times, but Cozy had meant it when she said she understood feelings almost scarily well. That uncanny understanding was the only reason Cozy herself had been freed from her statue prison in the first place.

And Cozy had always known to make use of other ponies' talents when they offered to help, and she was not about to stop now.

Chapter 7- Friendship and More Than That

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There comes a time in every foal's life when they realize that grown up ponies are not always as smart as one would think they are. For Flurry Heart, that insight came in the form of Starlight screaming like a possessed pony and leaping over her desk, scattering every paper on it in the process. Her banshee-wail also spooked Flurry into dropping her items, including the plant. Starlight caught it narrowly, but the hard landing brought tears to her eyes. Suffice to say, Flurry decided to leave Sunburst and Starlight alone after that. They probably needed some time to reorganize their office.

Besides, it was about lunch time anyway, so hopefully her new potential friend was soon free to come see her. She decided to wait outside the schoolhouse, watching the leaves from the nearby trees float down into the water outside the school entrance.

As she followed the leaves in their flight, she spotted a pegasus in the sky behind them. He was gray and coming towards her. She rose from her haunches and waved to catch his attention. Rumble stalled in the air and dropped down on the stone path. He had a pair of saddlebags with him.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. My brother had a breakdown in the middle of our training," Rumble said, blushing and scratching the back of his head.

"No, it's fine. I didn't have to wait long at all," Flurry said. "So… what do you think we should do? Eat something? We've got several hours before I have to take the train back to Canterlot."

"Okay, you tell me when you have to leave. I'll stay here tonight and return tomorrow," Rumble said. Flurry felt a small sting of jealousy. She had never gotten to have a sleepover. Her parents didn't want her to know, but Flurry had heard no parent dared to be responsible for having a princess for their foal's sleepover. It wasn't fair.

She beat those thoughts out of her head. She still had a few hours here and she was going to have fun!

Rumble suddenly brightened. "Hey, I know what to do!"


"In Cloudsdale, colts and fillies who behave well get candy one day a week, on Saturday. And Ponyville just so happens to have a really nice confectionery."

"I don't think Twilight Velvet is going to like it if I eat candy for lunch though…" Flurry said.

"But she isn't here, is she?" Rumble asked. "Besides, what she doesn't know doesn't hurt her."

Flurry was about to protest, but then she thought about it. Her granny had caused her a whole lot of grief with her doting, and while she always strived to be a good little filly, she was not above taking out her annoyance with a little bit of rebellion. Also, eating candy for lunch was definitely not something a little princess should do… which was exactly why she really wanted to! She felt like she had butterflies in her stomach when she nodded, a huge grin on her face.

"Okay, let's do it!" Flurry said. They started walking side by side, even if she went just a little bit behind him, since he knew the way. "You're only allowed candy once a week? Why?" Flurry asked. She could eat a little whenever she wanted, but mother always glared when she tried to take more than a few pieces.

"Old pegasus thing," Rumble explained. "Back before the unification, Saturday was when every soldier in Hurricane's army got their salary. To mold their foals into fine soldiers, they also got their 'salary' on saturday."

"Huh… I didn't know," Flurry admitted. "I should buy some for Cozy then. Maybe that'll make her warm up a little to me."

"Good call," Rumble agreed. "Don't tell her I tipped you off, but she really likes sweets… and mischief."

"Sounds exciting," Flurry admitted. "I never do mischief... I don't think mom and dad wants me to."

"It's fun. Sometimes. Except for when Cozy makes you her scapegoat," Rumble said. "She is really smart when she wants to be. And pretty silly at other times, but don't tell her I said that."

Flurry made a zipping motion over her mouth with a hoof. "I won't tell. But does she really scapegoat you? That's not really kind, is it?"

"I… guess not," Rumble said. "But it's not like she does it to be bad. It's more like she just wants to cause some mischief to see if she can. And it's not like her pranks are anything dangerous, just some harmless fun."

"But… is she really kind?" Flurry asked. "She was mean to me, and she doesn't seem too nice to you either… sorry I've got to ask that, but I don't get it. But I really want to get it though.”

"I mean…" Rumble rubbed the back of his head with a tentative expression. "I see where you're coming from. When I first met her, we didn't really start out great either… and I'll admit she has a nasty temper. But she's got good sides too. I don't think I've ever seen a braver pony than her. Even with the entire world against her she doesn't give up! And when she has set her mind on something, she'll never stop trying to get it, no matter how many setbacks come in her way! She just gets up and tries again, even more determined! She is really smart too. I promise, once you get to know her a little, she is really fun to be around! Even if I've had to take a tongue-lashing for her sometimes, she makes every day exciting!"

Flurry looked quizzically at Rumble. He was really excited about defending his friend. And he looked happy when he continued to talk on and on about all the things they had done. As she listened, she felt her resolve strengthen. She had seen that Cozy Glow could be a mean pony when she wanted, and Rumble too testified to her nastier sides.

But he also talked passionately about a pony Flurry found herself wanting to spend time with. The Cozy Glow he described was brave and exciting and determined, like a little hero-princess from one of Flurry's fairytales. Flurry wanted to be like that too!

A warm feeling washed over her as she listened to Rumble talking.

Hearing this from somepony close to Cozy, Flurry did not want to befriend her because Twilight had said she should. No, she wanted it for herself too. She wanted Cozy as a friend because she seemed fun to be with.

Rumble guided them through Ponyville, talking about some of Cozy's more memorable antics. Once, she had somehow managed to sneak through the castle and into Twilight's throne room and then slather glue all over the seat. Another time she switched the salt on Twilight's table with some of the white sand used for the castle garden paths.

Flurry was not sure if it was okay to giggle at Twilight's expense, but she could not deny it was funny to hear. Her own greatest act of mischief was that she had sometimes not cleaned up her room. Flurry didn't even know if she could find it in her to do some of the things Cozy had.

"Ah, here we are," Rumble said and nodded to a building on their right. A sign in the shape of a candy proclaimed in elegant, blue and pink letters: Bon-Bon's Confections and Sweets. Flurry had never been here before, but now that she thought about it, there was an unmistakable scent of sugar in the air.

They stepped inside the shop. Several ponies were already there, browsing the delicacies on display behind the glass counter, or picking up neat arrangements of chocolate and candy. The heavenly scent was even stronger in here, making Flurry's wings twitch with delight.

The two of them moved over to the back of the queue. "Which ones are the best?" Flurry asked. There were a lot of options behind the display case. Gumdrops, colorful jawbreakers, lollipops, chewing gums and several pieces of chocolate. Much to Flurry's displeasure, most of the chocolate was of the dark, bitter kind that her parents liked so much and that Flurry did not like at all.

"Since you like oranges, I'd recommend the orange gumdrops and some chocolate. Also, get the watermelon gums; they're just the best. I know I'll take some of the mint chocolate, gums and a cherry-lollipop. Other than that… we'll see. But if Bon-Bon made it, you can be sure it's the best candy bits can buy, and that's a fact."

"Orange chocolate sounds nice," Flurry said. But then again, everything she saw in the glass display case looked wonderful. Her eyes fell on a tray filled with chocolate roses. Every petal looked thin enough to break from just the slightest breeze. It was just like the real flower, only rich brown. She wanted one of those, just for how pretty they were!

"Next! Oh, Hello, Rumble! Long time no see!" Flurry tore her look away from the flower-chocolates and instead concentrated on the cream earth pony mare behind the counter. She had a neat, two-toned mane and kind, blue eyes.

"Hi, Bon-bon. Yeah, I live in Canterlot now," Rumble answered. "Got the weekend off and came to help my bro train for the Wonderbolt tryout."

"I heard he was going to participate," the store owner said. "Tell him I wish him luck. But what can I get you today?"

"It'll have to be the usual," Rumble said and produced some bits from his saddlebags. Bon-Bon nodded and picked out an assortment of sweets for him and put them in a colorful paper bag. Rumble took it and stepped aside. It was Flurry's turn to order now.

"I'd like... the same as him, but also some orange chocolate, and one of those pretty chocolate roses you have there, please. Oh, and one other bag too, just like Rumble's." The extra candy would be a small present to Cozy. Her master plan to enlist Rumble's help to get close to her was already paying off!

"Princess Flurry Heart?" Bon-Bon asked. "Are you here with Twilight, or…?"

"No, with my new friend," Flurry explained and pointed at Rumble. "We met in Canterlot."

"Oh, right," Bon-Bon said. "It's an honor!" She ducked into the counter and began picking out her candy. Her motions looked quicker than before, like she was stressed about something. Flurry rolled her eyes. Why did ponies always bend over backwards for her like that? It wasn't like she would dislike them for being themselves. She picked out the right amount of bits and pushed them up on the counter, then took her bag of sweets before Bon-Bon could offer them for free. Flurry did not like it when ponies gave her stuff for free. She was royalty; if anypony should be paying for something, it should be one with many bits.

The two of them left the shop. Flurry magicked Cozy's candy into her saddlebags, but kept her own out. "Say, Flurry, have you ever gone bowling before?" Rumble asked.

Flurry shook her head. "We don't have an alley in the Crystal Empire. But I have seen it in the newspapers and stuff."

"I'm not very good at it either," Rumble said. "But if you want to learn, we have an alley here in Ponyville."

"I'd like that very much," Flurry said. She opened her candy bag and magicked up a gum in the shape of a small watermelon. Shrugging, she plopped it in her mouth. It was fresh and fruity, but still much sweeter than a real watermelon. Then she fell in after Rumble.

This was fun!

Spying was not something new to Cozy. Already before the orphanage she had learned to always keep an ear open to anything ponies said around her. There was no such thing as useless information. Eventually, when she got older, she refined her passive listening into actual eavesdropping and sneaking. That was how she found the way down under Twilight's Friendship School, and that was how she and her "friends" Chrysalis and Tirek had stolen the book that taught them how to use the Bewitching Bell. In fact, Cozy considered herself pretty good at sneaking and spying.

So why didn't Sweetie Belle listen to her when she told her to remove those cheap glasses and mustache!? How could anypony think they made for a good disguise, and what dimwit would not recognize Sweetie Belle in them?

Cozy had asked those exact questions, and Sweetie Belle's only answer had been that she had adopted her "Shimmering Spectacles" persona before when spying.


In the end, Cozy just shook her head and decided to let Sweetie Belle play dress-up if she wanted. At least with her silly "disguise", nopony was going to notice Cozy Glow doing the actual spying. She did borrow a pair of binoculars though. That might be useful.

Thus equipped, the two fillies left Carousel Boutique in search of their quarry.

"Do you know where Flurry and Rumble might be?" Sweetie Belle asked.

Cozy thought. The only thing she knew Flurry was here for was to see Rumble, but he might still be practicing with his brother, and Flurry was probably not with them then. Other than Rumble, Flurry was Twilight's niece, and Twilight was from here. So maybe she would be with Twilight's friends?

Starlight Glimmer. Flurry probably wanted to brag about her magic lessons to her.

"Do you know where Starlight Glimmer is?" Cozy asked back.

"She lives in Twilight's old castle and works in the school. I guess we could check them, since they are just next to one another."

Cozy nodded and started off to the school. She didn't know most of Ponyville, but when she was a student she had lived in the school, so she knew the way there perfectly well. They went on in silence. Cozy looked down on the street, mulling things over. There were too many questions for her liking.

Why did Flurry even want to steal Rumble from her anyway? Just to spite her? Maybe, but it didn't match well with how meek Flurry had appeared. Did Twilight set this whole thing up? No… She knew that much, at least. Twilight wouldn't do that.She would never try to use Cozy's friendships against her.

That felt good… she felt a little safe, knowing that.

"Ohmygosh! Look!" Sweetie Belle squeaked and bodily tackled Cozy Glow off of the road and in between two houses. She landed hard on her back before she bounced back to her hooves and glared at her friend, wings raised. Sweetie Belle, however, didn't look back. She was, in fact, peeking around the corner, up the street they had just been walking on. "Cozy, you can fly, right? Get up on the roof, they might have seen me before I got you in. And we can't let Rumble spot you!"

Cozy didn't stop to consider, she spread her wings and quietly fluttered up to the roof. The thatched straw crunched under her hooves, but felt stable. She tucked her legs in under her body and started to carefully drag herself forward.

Clearly, Cozy had misjudged how soon Rumble's brother would be done with his practice. It must be Rumble and Flurry coming down the street right now! If so, Cozy would be hidden from them by the side of the roof until they passed her. So she made her way forward, but did not peek out. She laid herself flat against the straw and looked straight ahead.

There they were.

They were walking side by side at a leisurely pace. Cozy narrowed her eyes and picked out her binoculars.

They were walking close to each other… if he wanted, Rumble could hold his wing over Flurry. He was looking away, so she could not see his expression. But his head was turned towards Flurry, and his ears were perked up and attentive, wholly focused on her.

Then they suddenly broke off from the street and went into a building. A large sign with a bowling ball striking some pins sat over the door. Cozy fluffed up her wings irritably. Now she couldn't see what they were doing, and going inside the bowling alley was out of the question. Somepony would comment on Cozy Glow coming inside, and then Rumble and Flurry would know she followed them. No, she had to find another way to keep track of them. Maybe Sweetie Belle could go inside and then report back?

She stowed her binoculars and hopped down from the roof. Sweetie Belle still had her silly glasses on her. She saluted Cozy. "We've lost visual contact with the target. Primary objective is to reestablish visual and resume intelligence gathering operations. Failure is not an option."

"Don't you think I know that?" Cozy snapped. This was not some silly game, so why did Sweetie insist on treating it like one? "They went inside the bowling alley. Think you can go inside and spy on them? They'll see me for sure if I try."

"Uh…" Sweetie Belle fidgeted. "Negative. I've been sort of… banned from the bowling alley."

"Banned?" Cozy deadpanned. "How did you even do that?"

"Cutie mark crusade," Sweetie Belle said, as if that explained anything to Cozy. She continued to deadpan and waved her hoof encouragingly. "We were trying to get our cutie marks," Sweetie Belle clarified.

"In bowling? You must be really lousy if you got banned for that," Cozy said.

"Oh, no, we weren't trying to get a bowling cutie mark... well, not that time. We wanted to use the bowling balls as ammunition for our catapult. Cutie Mark Crusaders siege engineers!"

Cozy looked for signs that Sweetie Belle was joking with her, but could not find any. She shook her head. All the questions about Sweetie Belle's life prior to their meeting (and her sanity) were going to have to wait until later. Right now they had to figure out how to get more info.

"Hey, I know!" Sweetie Belle chirped. "The alley has roof windows! I bet you could spy through them!"

Cozy thought about that. She grinned. "I've got a better idea…"

A few minutes later, Sweetie Belle crouched on the roof and peeked through the window while Cozy sat on the solid part of the roof a little bit away. "Can you see them from there?" Cozy asked.

Sweetie Belle nodded. "Uh-huh, but why do I have to be the one looking? If anypony spots me they'll tell mommy I climbed up on the roof and I'll be grounded."

"Golly, how about because spying was your idea in the first place?" Cozy suggested. "Or because you are an amazing friend who agreed to help another filly with her troubles?"

"I like that last explanation more," Sweetie Belle said. She looked down through the windows. "Uh… they look like they have just selected bowling balls… Rumble is starting… he is throwing… He hit a few of the pins. Second throw… some more, but I still see some of them standing."

"Then it's the orange lover's turn," Cozy said.

Sweetie Belle nodded. "She is using her magic- no, wait, Rumble stopped her… She is lifting the ball with her hooves instead now… Rumble is showing her how to throw."

"He is touching her?!" Cozy growled and moved to look for herself.

Rumble stood with his back to her, seemingly explaining something to Flurry, who was listening intently. Then he took her hoof and held it out in front of him. Then he let go, lifted the ball and placed it in her hoof. She kept it steady with her other foreleg, flapping her wings for balance.

Cozy narrowed her eyes and focused on Flurry, willing her to drop the ball on her hooves.

"Cozy? Are you okay?"

"Yes, peachy, why do you ask?" Cozy hissed.

She heard Sweetie Belle approach and felt a hoof on her wing. "I don't think we need to spy more. I've learned all I need."

Cozy didn't move. She felt like she was rooted to the spot… like if she let them out of sight, Flurry might try to… do even more. Cozy didn't really know what she'd do, but she would not allow it!

"Come on, Cozy. Let's go. I think I get it!"

Cozy still didn't move. Flurry moved to throw. It was a pretty slow, weak attempt, but the bowling ball did stay on the lane and hit a few pins at the edge of the formation. She didn't get to see anything more before Sweetie Belle pulled her away from the edge with her magic.

Cozy nearly felt like she was waking up. When she was glaring like that, everything around her seemed to disappear. She knew that feeling.

It was her legendary rage. It was worse than her easily agitated anger. Her tantrums may be loud and sudden, but they were often brief. Her rage though… that was the emotion that had led her to plan and execute her scheme to wipe out all magic. It had led her to ally with some of the most dangerous villains the world had ever known and stand with them as an equal.

Her rage was dangerous because it was cold and calculated. It was not impulsive, and it was not brief.

Cozy shook her head and shoved the darkness within her back into a closet before throwing away the key. She did not want to become like that again. She was not going to become an alicorn through hatred. She knew that now.

Giving in to her rage would only lead her to despair and, most likely, death.

The first time she gave in to her rage she got jailed in Tartarus, never to get out if not for Discord's prank.

The second time only Sweetie Belle's unfailing belief saved her from an eternity in stone.

She was not going to get lucky a third time.

Cozy grabbed Sweetie Belle's hooves and lowered her down from the roof. They went in silence back to the boutique. Sweetie Belle was skipping happily though, and she kept looking back at Cozy with a glint in her eyes. Cozy could not quite read what it meant, but it was a happy type of look.

"Okay, Cozy," Sweetie Belle said with a mature voice once they were back in her room. She started pacing, while Cozy laid on the bed, watching. "You said you wanted to get your feelings straightened out. Well, thanks to our thorough research of all the objects, my great understanding of friendship and my friends, as well as having lived with Rarity, I can now ask you the final question that will determine everything!"

Cozy nodded apprehensively. Somehow she had a feeling whatever Sweetie Belle said was going to miss its intention completely, but she had gone to Sweetie Belle to get another perspective on things, and she was definitely going to get that, at least.

"Here is the question," Sweetie Belle all but sang happily. "Do you like Rumble?"

Cozy sighed and planted her face into the bed. "Well golly, I don't know? Do you think I like one of my two only friends? The one I came for advice about?"

"Nonono, you don't get it," Sweetie Belle said. "Do you like Rumble? As in, do you like him like him? Or do you just like him."

Cozy looked up again. "Huh?" was all she could say.

Sweetie Belle skipped over to her and looked up at her from the floor. She was smiling with her whole face, from the pistachio-green eyes, through the upturned lips to the perky, attentive ears. "Do you like Rumble, Cozy? Is that why you are so mad at Flurry? You're just jealous she will take away the colt you like."

"No! Or… I don't… know?" Cozy finished lamely. "How would I know? He's my friend! I don't know what it's like to like like somepony."

"And that's where having lived with my sister comes in handily," Sweetie Belle said. "Rarity says that when you are just friends with a pony, then you like to spend time with them and you feel comfortable with them. But when you love somepony, Rarity says it will feel like you both want to be with that pony forever, and yet it also feels like you want to run away and hide when he is near. Whenever you are with that pony, you never want to leave! Whenever you are not with that pony you wonder what they are doing! Love can drive you mad, in the best way possible!"

Cozy shook her head. "Doesn't sound like what I think about Rumble."

"Oh…" Sweetie Belle sounded disappointed. "What do you feel when you think about him then?"

Cozy had to think about that.

Well… he made her feel relaxed. That was the most important thing. A pony who thrived on manipulation could never feel entirely safe. All her life, Cozy had looked over her shoulder for somepony to stab her in the back. So she walled her feelings for other ponies off and made sure not to let anypony come close enough to hurt her.

Not anypony, aside from one. Rumble was the first pony she dared to be just herself around… the first pony who she had let see Cozy Glow, rather than one of her many masks.

That made him special. But did it mean she loved him?

Probably not… but around him, she felt soothed. Around him, her rage was further away.

"He makes me a better, happier pony, just when he is around," Cozy mumbled. It was the closest way she could describe it. "Even if I wronged him once, when I met him, he really gave me another chance… even when he had to choose between Twilight and me, he still chose to help me. I didn't think… anypony would do that to me. It felt nice, knowing he was looking out for me. It still feels nice..."

Sweetie Belle cocked her head, then she smiled bright enough to light up the entire room. "Cozy… you're blushing!"

Cozy's first instinct was to hide behind her hooves. But Sweetie Belle had already seen. There was no point in hiding it. So she nodded instead, a part happy, part embarrassed smile growing on her lips. "Golly…"

"Golly indeed," Sweetie Belle said. "Now we just need to figure out how to get him to say yes when you ask him out. Fortunately, I already have a couple of ideas…"

Chapter 8- Six Letters and a Quill

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It was a confused Cozy Glow who got out of her bed back in Canterlot the next morning. On the one hand, she was happy she went to Sweetie Belle and understood just what her relationship with Rumble was and, more importantly, what she wanted it to be, deep down. On the other hand, she still did not know what to do with Flurry Heart's attempts to steal Rumble from her. And thanks to her new insight, that problem had only gotten more important to solve.

No matter what she wanted, first of all she had to get Rumble's focus away from that prissy orange lover and back on herself. That shouldn't be too hard. Cozy knew how to play ponies.

But then what? How does one go about courting another pony? Cozy had no idea, and while she had initially been hopeful for Sweetie Belle's advice, she soon understood that she was better off on her own. No matter what Sweetie Belle said, Cozy did not think old fairy tales were meant to be instructions for how to make somepony love you. In fact, sneaking up on a sleeping pony and kissing them sounded like it might be illegal. Normally that would not necessarily stop Cozy, but even she had her limits, and this was not okay.

No, she had to figure this out on her own.

The old Cozy would have improved her chances by sabotaging the competition, but she could not do that anymore. Rumble may not be as wily as Cozy herself, but he was far from stupid and he knew her better than anypony. If he figured out she was bullying Flurry for any reason at all, he'd never want to be her special somepony. However much it stung, she had to treat Flurry with (cold) courtesy from now on.

But what to do? How do fillies go about courting colts?

Well… what would she like in somepony courting her?

That it was Rumble who did the courting. That's what she would want.

Cozy grumbled to herself as she brushed her mane. Why was this so hard? She had planned world conquests with less effort than this! She needed ideas!

Were there books on this subject? "How to make a colt love you for dummies?" If there was, Twilight should have it in her library… but then Twilight would have read it, and Twilight was still single. Never mind the books then.

She shook her head to get rid of all her half-baked, stupid thoughts and took a deep breath for good measure. She decided to think about it as a friendship problem. She was good at those. If Rumble did not know her at all and she wanted to make friends with him, what would she do?

Well, she'd be kind, obviously… but she also had to be impressive. She had to be useful. That was how she got close to Twilight, and that had worked.

So how do you impress Rumble?

Cozy grinned. This was a far easier question.

So easy, in fact, that she already had some ideas! She tied her mane up with her ribbon and gave her tail a quick brush too. Then she went out of her room. Once she knew what she was looking for, the ideas just kept coming!

Rumble was coming back this afternoon, so she had a little while to prepare. Cozy fluttered over to the library. Even if she didn't need the dating books anymore, there were suddenly plenty of other ideas to investigate. It was a testament to her good mood that not even Twilight, who sat and read by a table, could dampen her spirits.

"Cozy? Good morning."

"Good morning," Cozy replied. She flew around the bookshelves and traced the back of the books with her hoof, looking for what she needed.

"Will you come and sit with me for a few moments? I have been thinking, and I'd like to give you a special friendship assignment for the next few days."

Cozy "tsked" quietly and allowed herself a frown while she was still turned away. She had more important things to do than Twilight's lessons! But she was not going to give Twilight a chance to be angry with her. Cozy was already on a short leash after the fiasco with Flurry Heart and could not afford any more problems with her teacher. Hopefully this wouldn't take too long. She flew over to Twilight and sat down on a stool across from her.

"As I said last time, what you need to take your studies to the next level is some practical experience in being a good friend."

"Have you found somepony I can make friends with?" Cozy asked. Maybe Cozy could use this new friend to help her with Rumble somehow?

"No, not yet," Twilight said. "However, I have thought of something else you should do. Come with me, please."

Cozy was surprised when Twilight led her back to her own room. What practical friendship lesson could she do there?

Twilight ushered her over to the desk where she practiced making artifacts. Her tools and materials had been moved away, and instead there was a pile of papers and envelopes, a quill, and a few ink pots on the desk. Why hadn't she noticed that when she came back home yesterday? Or when she got up. She was usually so attentive. Cozy sat down.

"There are seven envelopes there," Twilight said. "Can you guess what they are for?"

Cozy shook her head.

"Your practical friendship lesson is going to be writing one letter each day where you apologize to those you have wronged. I want you to write one to Starlight Glimmer, one to Sandbar, one to Ocellus, one to Gallus, one to Silverstream, one to Yona and one to Smolder. I also don't want you to write more than one per day. They must be genuine, not just something you write to be done with them."

Cozy grimaced. "Golly… you're punishing me for what I did with Flurry, aren't you? You know how hard it is for me to apologize."

"All the more reason for you to practice," Twilight said. Her voice was stern. "Every good friend must be able to apologize when they make mistakes."

Cozy looked up at Twilight without bother hiding her dejection. This assignment already made her feel miserable. For a prideful pony like her, apologies were something that would never come without pain. Twilight's face softened. She put a hoof on Cozy's shoulder. "I don't want you to think of this as punishment though," she said. "I don't think foals learn from punishments. I just want you to face your past so you can leave it behind with no regrets, and maybe even start over with everycreature."

"I already have left it behind…" Cozy tried, even if it was a futile effort. There was no chance Twilight was going to let her out of this until the letters were written and delivered.

"No, Cozy. Not in the way a friend would."

Cozy sighed and resigned herself to a few depressing hours every day for the week to come. She bent forward to pick up her pen when she realized an all new problem. "Uh… Twilight, I can't write with a quill. I need a pen."

Twilight visibly balked. "Oh, how silly of me. I'll… uh…" she silenced. "I… don't know if I even have a normal pen… I always write with magic. Do you have a pen?"

Cozy shook her head. "Just my crayons."

"You can't write this with crayons," Twilight said. "Sorry about this. Let me look around and I'll get you a real pen."

"No need to hurry," Cozy mumbled to herself once Twilight had left the room.

She knew she probably should think about how to start the letter, but she soon found herself spacing out. She picked up the quill in her mouth and tried her best to balance it on the tip. She knew it wouldn't work, of course, but it was still more fun than thinking about how she was going to humiliate herself in writing these letters.

The quill fell over softly on the paper. Cozy looked at it.

Involuntarily, her mind began wandering to the field of artifacts.

Balance was not a difficult property to imbue to artifacts… in fact, balance was a so-called basic rune. To make sure something remained in balance, all one needed to do was inscribe a single rune onto a material that could conduct magic, and then hook that up to a strong enough source of magic.

And if one could make the quill stand upright, making it move shouldn't be too hard either. Motion was also a basic rune, only one needed some way to control the movement. That meant she had to link two runes together- one for the motion itself and another to command it.

Of course, many artifacts could be activated with nothing but the thought of a pony… it just required sufficient force of will.

Cozy felt her heart beat faster. She just had a great idea! Something that would not only solve this problem, but perhaps also show Twilight just how smart Cozy was! She lifted away the papers and looked around her little workspace.

She had a small piece of copper wire, her soldering iron, some small gemstones for power and her diamond-tipped engraving pen…

Really, with a little bit of work, this should definitely be possible!

She'd not have the time to finish it now, due to Twilight's silly letters, but she could definitely start. In fact, she felt like she might burst if she didn't! It was long since she felt this inspired.

She placed the piece of copper wire in front of her and then put the shaft of the quill on top of it. Then she picked up a pair of tweezers and gently bent the wire into a somewhat crude ring around the shaft. Using a pair of small nippers, she cut the wire to an appropriate length.

Now for the hard part.

She pulled over a small tripod with a tiny vice at the bottom and a host of movable lenses above it. It was a so-called artificer's microscope, used to help her engrave runes on really tiny things. Carefully, she fastened the wire in the vice and began aligning the lenses.

Once she was satisfied with the acuity, she picked up the diamond-tipped engraving pen and tied it around her hoof. She could not write this with her mouth, since she had to look through the microscope at the same time.

Luckily the rune of balance was pretty simple- just one vertical line and then one slightly slanted line crossing it, almost like an old balancing scale. She pressed the diamond tip carefully against the wire ring and made a slim chip. She'd press a little harder for the next chip, and then a little harder again. That way she could slowly make the lines she needed without risking to ruin them. The rune had to be exact to work.

It must have taken her ten minutes at least just sitting there, peering through her microscope and slowly carving the simple rune into the wire. Looking at it without magnification, it was barely visible. But it wouldn't need to be big to keep something so light as a feather standing upright.

She leaned back with a satisfied sigh. It was just the first step, and it hadn't really been difficult, but it had been her idea! That thought settled into her chest like a warm hearth. It had been her idea!

"Are you done?"

Cozy jumped at Twilight's voice. She had not heard her return. "When did you come back?" Cozy asked.

"Five minutes or so," Twilight said and stepped up to Cozy's workplace. She looked at the quill and the microscope. "What have you been doing?"

"I… had an idea," Cozy said. "And I couldn't wait to try it out." She peered at the pen Twilight held in her magic. "But I suppose I'll have to…" her ears dropped in displeasure. Why couldn't those stupid letter wait!? Cozy wanted to see if her idea worked!

Twilight gave a sympathetic look. "I know how it feels to have a great idea… how you just feel like you can't sit still unless you get to test it. So… go ahead. I suppose if Starlight and the others have waited for this long, they can wait a little longer."

Cozy could not stop her grin, even if it was Twilight she grinned at. Right now, that didn't matter.

"Okay! I know what to do! I just need to make the rune for movement, and then I need to add the power source!"

Twilight nodded and laid down next to Cozy's workstation. She looked on with curiosity as Cozy continued her inscription. Cozy didn't mind her presence. In fact, she rather liked to have Twilight's full attention like this.

Once she was done, she picked up the soldering iron in her mouth.

"Light," she mumbled, and the tip of the iron began to glow. Now she had to be careful. While the magic in the soldering iron helped reduce the melting point of anything it touched, so the soldering iron didn't need to be extremely hot itself, she still could not touch the quill itself or she would ruin it. She needed to melt the wire carefully to make a solid ring around the quill shaft. This would need a light touch and steady hooves. She looked through her microscope again.

She crept closer with the glowing tip, focusing on the small gap in the wire where she'd need to apply the heat.

Closer… closer… There!

She jabbed the soldering iron forward quickly and precisely before withdrawing it.

It was a bit uneven, but the copper had melted. The shaft of the quill was a little bit blackened behind it, but it would definitely work. Now she had to be quick. She picked up a tiny gemstone with a pair of tweezers and placed it in the drop of molten copper, sealing the copper ring with the gemstone.

"I need…!" Cozy didn't even bother finishing the sentence. She hopped off her stool and flew over to her bedside table. She always had a cup of water next to her bed. Then she returned to her workstation and dipped the quill inside, quenching the copper with a small hiss.

"Is it done?" Twilight asked.

Cozy nodded with the quill in her mouth. She dipped it in the ink pot and placed it on one of the paper sheets. Is shivered a little, but remained standing upright on the paper. Now to see if she had really done it. Even if she always had a penchant for artifacts, she had only ever made one from scratch- her rook- and this final step was the single hardest part.

It was not only her innate understanding of artifacts that made Cozy a prodigy in the craft. It was also her iron will.

To make an artifact, one had to want it. One needed to put their very soul into it, bond with it so much it became like a part of you. Else it would just be a quill that could move and stand- but with nothing to tell it when to move or how. Nearly all artifacts needed ponies to tell them what to do, but there was no way of accomplishing that aside from a link between maker and artifact. There was no scientific answer and no spell that could help. The only way to make an artifact work was for it to willingly accept the wishes of ponies. And if it didn't accept its maker, it would never accept anyone.

Now it was time to see if Cozy still had her gift.

"Cozy Glow!" she said, the first thing she could think of. She said it like a command, but in reality it was just a request.

The quill quivered again, as if considering. Then it quickly, neatly spelled out the words Cozy Glow in curly, sweeping letters. The kind of letters Cozy had always wanted to write, but never did. The kind of letters that made reading more enjoyable all on their own. She exhaled in relief. Just to really hammer her point home she had the quill write Twilight Sparkle too. The penmanship was simple, yet exact, every line straight and every angle sharp, making the script look plain, even boring.

"Very impressive, I must say," Twilight said. There was a nuance of seriousness in her tone now that had not been there before. "For you to make something as… useful, I guess, like this in less than an hour after you had the idea…" Their eyes met. "Your ability really is an amazing gift, Cozy. You can do a lot of good if you want."

"Golly, just think of all the good I could do as a Princess," Cozy said innocently. Twilight rolled her eyes, but smiled nonetheless. Then she magicked the stack of papers back onto her workstation.

"Well, now you won't need a pen anymore," she said. "Get to it, Cozy."

Cozy glared, but she did feel a little bit better. She had made an impression for sure. That silly orange-lover could never have done something like this! Soon Twilight would have to admit that Cozy was her best student, and Rumble would not even bother looking at Flurry Heart anymore!

It was good that Thunderlane was Rumble's brother, because if he wasn't, he'd be asking himself if Thunderlane had been dropped as a colt. Really, that was about the only reason Rumble could think of for how Thunderlane could fly so well and explain things so clearly, but still have a breakdown at the end of practice. Sure, Rumble could understand being nervous, but this was getting ridiculous.

At least Rumble had done his part now. With just a week left to the tryouts, his brother would make the final changes to his schedules and then practice them on his own. Hopefully then they would be good enough.

Rumble thought about these things as he stirred a creamy and smooth tomato soup. He felt Ramson stalk past him, but he did not say anything. That was about as high praise one could hope for from him. Good. He wanted this to be perfect. Cozy might have made an effort with Flurry over the weekend, and if it had not worked out well, then she'd be furious, and if it had gone well, then he'd present this as a reward. Either way, it was probably a good idea to come bearing gifts.

Some good food and attention, and then a round of flying together. After that he just had to see where things lead.

He dipped a small spoon into the soup to taste it, then poured some up in a bowl. Finally, he put a sprig of basilica on the top. Not only did it fit, but it looked really pretty as well. It was time to bring it up. He balanced the bowl on his head and flew up to Cozy's room. Her door was open, so he went in.

She sat by her desk and in front of her a quill was swishing back and forth. It didn't even have an aura of magic around it.

He balked and nearly dropped his soup. Balancing carefully, he rubbed his eyes, just in case he was seeing things somehow. It didn't help. The quill stopped, but stayed upright, and then with a grimace from Cozy, it scratched out whatever it had just written. Cozy huffed angrily, picked up the quill and dipped it in a nearby pot of ink before putting it back. It still remained standing.

"What… did I miss?" he asked. Funny how nearly every time he came in here, his first words always seemed to be "what", "how", or "when". Did that mean he was stupid, or that Cozy was smart? Probably both.

Cozy jumped from her chair and started flying before she looked at him. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but didn't. She slowed her wingbeats until she landed on her stool, then took a deep breath. Rumble didn't like staring, but since when was she so jittery? "Oh… uh, hi! Nice seeing you again." She smiled widely. Strange. He had assumed she would be at least a little chilly towards him since he made her give Flurry another chance.

Rumble decided to write it off as Cozy being Cozy. Maybe she was happy about something else. "Yeah, it's nice to be back too. I mean, I miss my brother, but he really does know how to get on my nerves."

"I know that feeling," Cozy said. "Twilight's been really annoying today. I had a great idea for a self writing quill, and she wants me to use it to write these stupid letters! I DON'T CARE ABOUT THOSE SIX LOSERS OR THEIR LOSER HEADMARE!" She flared her wings in anger as she growled and a vein pulsed on her forehead. In fact, she looked quite ready to beat him up. It was only because he was accustomed to her episodes that he did not back away.

True to form, she heaved for a few more moments, before her brow smoothened and her wings returned to her sides. "Feeling better?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes." She looked back at her letter with a glare. "For a little while, at least."

"I've got you something to eat," Rumble said. "So I think a break is in order. And then we should go fly after."

Cozy looked down, ears against her skull. "Hmm… golly, I really want to, but Twilight said I had to do this letter today, and... I can't afford to mess it up. Normally I'd just ignore her, but today isn't… I can't do that today."

"What sort of letter is it?" Rumble asked. "The loser headmare" was probably Starlight Glimmer, Twilight's replacement for her school, but "the six losers" didn't ring any bells. Twilight's friends were only five ponies if Starlight was excluded.

Cozy grimaced. "Apology letters to some creatures who got caught in the crossfire when I tried to remove all magic from the world. I hate apologizing… and it's even harder when I have to write it. Twilight said it must be genuine, but they'll never think anything I write is genuine."

"Oh, okay," Rumble said. "Well, I always think better with some food, so maybe you could start there?"

Cozy smiled and looked at him… a little while longer than he expected. He found himself fidgeting a little. "Sounds good. What have you made?" she asked.

"Tomato soup," Rumble said and sat the bowl down on her table. He caught a glimpse of her pile of papers. Everything was scratched out. She had evidently started many times but never been satisfied. Cozy sniffed at the red soup and then began lapping it up.

Cozy finished her food quickly and put the bowl away. "Thank you," she said. She sounded strangely shy when she said it, and she ruffled her wings again too.

Rumble cocked his head to the side. "Is there something wrong? Didn't you like it?"

"Yes, I did!" she hurried to answer. "I like tomato soup, it was great, promise! No secrets and lies here!" She smiled again. It was that type of smile that meant she was up to something. But what?

"Right…" he said and decided to not serve her tomato again. It was strange that she didn't say it if she disliked it though. She usually was not shy to make her displeasure very widely known.

"Hey, think you can help me with this?" she asked with another glare at her letters. "Else I'm never going back outside."

"Didn't Twilight want you to write them?" Rumble asked, but he did step closer.

"Well… it was supposed to be a practical friendship lesson, and you are a friend, right?" Cozy said. "So really, if you help me, it's just a better lesson." She smiled the same wily smile. At least this time he knew why.

"I guess," Rumble resigned and went to stand next to her. It wasn't like anypony got hurt from Cozy taking a small shortcut. Especially since she didn't seem to make much progress on her own. Really, he was mostly just curious about Cozy's quill. Did she make that herself?

It looked just like a normal quill, aside from a small ring of metal around the tip. "So… are you going to explain how your quill can write on its own?"

Cozy cocked her head backwards with a superior smirk. "Well, let's just say that your best friend did not get to be Twilight's student just by being cute and loveable, but she's also really smart too."

"So you made it yourself? that's so cool! Hey, can you make one for me too?"

"Good golly yes!" she all but squeaked with a smile that could have lit up the entire room. Weird… were they that fun to make or something? Or maybe she just liked to rub it in his face that she could? Yeah, that was probably it...

"So… did Twilight say anything more you should write?" he asked.

Cozy shook her head. She sat so close he could feel her mane tickle the side of his neck. In fact… she was sitting very closely. He looked over, only for her to suddenly look away and pick out a fresh paper. Then she stared intently at it. "I just don't know how to start," she said before he could ask anything. "How do you apologize in a letter anyway?"

Rumble shrugged. "You could just start with 'I'm sorry', right?"

Cozy looked up, hesitant. "Is that really a good beginning?"

"I dunno… but at least it's honest. And then you can write why you're sorry, and that you are trying to make things better now."

Cozy nodded. She picked up the quill, dipped it first in a glass of water to get the old ink away, then dipped it in the ink pot. Then she put it down on the paper. Again, Rumble stared at the quill balancing on the tip somehow. Then it started to move.

I'm sorry, Starlight Glimmer.

Maybe Twilight told you that you were going to get this letter from me, so then you already know who I am. But if she didn't, this is Cozy Glow writing.

The penmanship was flowery and elegant, with looping, floral letters and small hearts above the i's.

"Is that a good start?" Cozy asked. She didn't sound very convinced.

"Well… Twilight didn't say it had to be, right? It just has to be genuine. I think that as long as you make an honest attempt and apologize properly at the end, she will be happy. And this sounds like how you would apologize."

Cozy sighed in relief. "I… why didn't I understand that?"

"Also, when you make my quill, can you make it not dot the 'i's' with hearts? I guess that's a filly thing, right?"

Cozy visibly stiffened. "Oh golly… uh, yeah! Totally a filly thing. 'Cause, you know how I like cute and lovable things like me? So I made my quill write cute. On purpose!" Her wings twitched again, and her voice was quick and flustered. "But I'll make sure yours doesn't do that! Easily! Cause I'm so good at this! I… I have everything under control!"

Weirder and weirder... Cozy was never this scatterbrained. Even when she let her mood get the best of her, she still behaved with an unwavering determination. This uncertainty was completely new. He wondered what might have prompted it. Did these letters make her question herself by bringing up a sore past?

Cozy cleared her throat and shook her head. He saw her forcefully press her wings down against her sides. "How should I continue? Something like… You probably don't even believe me when I write that I am sorry, do you?' I don't think I'd have believed me. But I am sorry! Really!"

The quill copied down the text as she was speaking, forming every letter like a small work of art. Rumble was transfixed, just looking how it flew over the paper. A heart went over every "i" still.

He stayed next to her all until her letter was done. For having been so furious with her assignment earlier, she really didn't seem to mind it very much.

Chapter 9- Second Time's the Charm

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Flurry Heart smiled brightly when she opened the door to Twilight's wing. After her return from Ponyville yesterday, grandmother Twilight Velvet had given her so much food she thought she'd burst, but it had been the spark Flurry needed to test her grandmother's limits. Or maybe hearing about Cozy's guile and bravery had inspired her?

Anyway, Flurry had decided not to get out of bed in time this morning. It was weird, seeing the clock tick forward and know she had to rise, but instead just pull the covers back over her head. It was weird, and exciting… the thrill of mischief. It was a thrill she was starved for.

Eventually she heard Twilight Velvet's hooves outside her room, and quickly pretended to be asleep. When Twilight Velvet "woke" her up, she was stressed enough to quickly usher Flurry down to the kitchen and quickly make some toasts for her before sending her off.

In short, Flurry had managed to stay in bed for another forty-five minutes and still not be a minute later to her lesson than normal. In her own humble opinion, she was a genius. She had even remembered to bring her saddlebags, where her little gift to Cozy laid in waiting. Today was going to be a good day, she just knew it.

Like always she found her teacher waiting for her in the library. This morning Twilight was reading a letter of some sort. She looked happy about something. Flurry was about to give a holler, but then remembered that the guards back home always pretended to cough instead. And since Flurry was a big pony, she should probably do like the big ponies did. So she faked a cough. It felt silly, but Twilight did look up.

"Oh, good morning, Flurry. Did you enjoy your day in Ponyville?"

Flurry nodded vigorously. "Sunburst was really happy to see me again, and I think Starlight would have been really impressed with my magic too, but she didn't like it when I tried to show her. But I swear I'd have been careful! Her plant would have been just fine!"

Twilight nodded. "I see. Well, she can be a bit protective of her Phyllis, but maybe you could return to Ponyville sometime so you can show her your progress then instead." Twilight folded the letter she had been reading and stood up. "But for now I think it's time we continued your lessons. Now that I have a clear idea of your current level, we can proceed with the actual training."

"More spells?" Flurry asked hopefully. Both of her parents could do really amazing things with their magic, and Flurry wanted to learn. So far, all she could do was to levitate stuff. Her parents had told her that when she was little she also used to send blasts of raw power around her, or protect herself with a shield, but now she was not able to do those things anymore. Sunburst had explained that they were defense mechanisms, just like how pegasus ponies took flight when they were surprised.

Twilight shook her head. "Spells are still too difficult. You will learn to master levitation first, and then, slowly, I will teach you more advanced magic. But not before you have your cutie mark. No doubt it will reveal more about what type of magic you are the best at, and that will help us determine what type of spells can be fitting for you."

"Oh…" Flurry dropped her ears.

"Don't worry, levitation can be fun too," Twilight smiled. She retrieved the same marbles they had used for her tests and levitated one up, alongside a ceramic plate with concentric rings painted on it. "Throw the marble at the middle of the plate, as hard and fast as you can. This will train you to aim with magic." Twilight sent the small ball in a lazy arch over the room and Flurry caught it effortlessly, then she sent it rocketing back at the plate, as hard as she could.

Despite reaching the target in just a fraction of a second, Twilight caught it easily just before impact. Then she moved the target a small distance upwards before sending the marble back to Flurry. "Good. Again."

They continued back and forth for a while. Twilight moved the target between almost every shot, forcing Flurry to use her magic to redirect her own shots in midair. Just as she started to feel tired from the bursts of magic, Twilight didn't throw the marble back. "I think it's time to change exercise. This next one is a classic unicorn lesson, aimed to improve your precision." She moved the target, so it hovered just in between them and then gave Flurry the marble. "Put it against the plate, in the middle."

Flurry obeyed. The plate clinked brightly when it touched the marble.

"Now, try to keep the marble in the center of the plate." Twilight levitated the plate upwards, and Flurry tried to follow it with her marble. Twilight moved in slow arches and long curves, always keeping the target aimed at Flurry so she could see it but it was still difficult. Either she was too forceful or too slow, or she was caught by surprise when Twilight made the target curve.

"I think that will do for today," Twilight said after maybe an hour or so. "As your magic develops we can do longer sessions, but it's better to take it slow in the beginning. But I'd love to demonstrate some more magic later, if you are interested."

Flurry nodded. "Okay. I'll be back a bit later then! I've got some… things to do," she said. Twilight looked curious at that, but nodded without asking. Flurry left the room and glanced back at her saddlebags before proceeding to Cozy's room.

The door was ajar, so she peeked inside. Cozy sat by a low table and was peering through a microscope of some sort. Flurry shied back a little. She wanted to talk to her, but she could not disturb her when she looked so concentrated. Just as she was about to leave and come back later, Cozy stretched and hopped down from her stool.

Flurry took her chance and knocked. Their eyes met through the gap between the door and wall.

"Oh… it's you," Cozy said. She sounded disinterested, but not openly hostile. She gave a curt flick with her wing as an invitation. Flurry opened the door quietly and went in. She stopped just a few steps inside, unsure if Cozy would allow her to come closer. Her eyes were just a little narrow, her body position just a little turned away, enough to create a feeling of distance.

"Hi, Cozy," Flurry said. Her voice felt loud in the room. "I… I brought you a gift. So we could try to be friends again, if you want."

Cozy's face betrayed nothing of what she thought. She nodded once, her neck stiff. "Yeah… I was really rude last time so… we could try again, if you want."

Flurry nodded and dug out her pouch of candy. "I was in Ponyville for the weekend, with Rumble. He said you liked sweets." She offered the bright, colorful paper bag to Cozy.

"He did, huh?" Cozy said. "Well, he isn't wrong. Thank you." She took the paper bag and picked out a piece of gumdrop. Then she put the sweets on her bedside table.

Flurry looked at Cozy, but still could not decide on what she might be thinking. Her tone was cordial, but not really friendly, and her eyes looked completely devoid of emotion. No anger, but also no happiness. The two fell silent. Flurry wondered what to do now, and Cozy simply looked at her impassively.

"Do you want to play some chess?" Cozy suddenly asked. "I'm pretty good at it, so maybe I could teach you something, if you want."

Flurry felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She had managed to break through to Cozy, at least a little bit! "Yes please! I'd love that."

Cozy turned away to fetch her board, and Flurry took the opportunity to finally walk further inside. She sat down on the rug in the middle of the room and glanced around. The bed was large, far too big to have been intended for Cozy. It was also still unmade. On the other side of the room stood the strange microscope she had found Cozy by. Also on the table there was a feather.

"Do you want to be white or black?" Cozy asked, causing Flurry to snap back to her. She didn't want anypony to think she was looking through their room, especially not Cozy.

"I'll be white," Flurry said. "Mommy says white fits me."

"You know, the white player is thought to represent Princess Platinum, last of the unicorn Princesses." Cozy said. "Nopony really knows who the black player is, but it's usually held to represent a dark king who wanted to get rid of her and take her title."

Flurry didn't actually know that, but it only made it fit even more. Since she was a princess, it made sense that she played as Platinum. Though it was silly to think that Cozy would want to get rid of Flurry to be a Princess herself. She smiled at how silly it sounded. Cozy smiled too. Then their game began.

"How do you like studying with Twilight?" Cozy asked after a few turns.

"It's great! Twilight is a good teacher. She really likes magic, and teaching, doesn't she?"

Cozy nodded slowly, studying the chessboard. "She's always been good at magic, even when she lived in Ponyville."

"But you're her student too, right? Do you like studying with her?"

Cozy shrugged. "Some parts are good… I already know just as much as she, but it's good to have somepony to speak to. To get another point of view on stuff." Cozy moved one of her knight pieces forward.

"Uh-huh. Even when I think I have a good idea, it becomes even better when I ask a friend what they think! They see things I missed, and stuff."

"Or if you have some problem you don't even know where to start, a friend can bring you up to speed," Cozy pointed out. "Also, it's your turn."

"Sorry," Flurry said and looked over the board before making her move. "You know… Actually, I asked Rumble for advice about how to get closer to you," Flurry admitted. Hopefully Cozy didn't think it was weird.

"I figured," Cozy said. "Since he knows me, it makes sense you went to him... especially since I didn't help at all, last time you tried to be my friend."

"I'm really happy I went to him for help. Now I won't only get you as a friend, but him too. He even helped me to learn bowling when we were in Ponyville. I think he enjoyed it too."

"Golly, it sounds like you are really getting along well, aren't you?" Cozy smiled, but there was something in her eyes that made Flurry uneasy, even if she couldn't put her hoof on what.

She beat the thought away. Cozy was just asking to be friendly. She nodded. "Yeah, we're getting along really well."

Cozy nodded and looked down on the chessboard again so the bangs hid her face. They played on in silence for a little while. Flurry was doing great. She captured plenty of Cozy's black pieces while steadily moving her battle-line forward, except for some pawns to the back, which protected her Princess. Flurry wondered if maybe Cozy was letting her win, but she had kept her head down since they stopped talking. Then again, chess was a thought intensive game, so it made sense she didn't want to talk a whole lot when they were playing.

"Check," Cozy said suddenly.

”Oh…” Flurry studied the board and bit the inside of her cheek. From what she could see she was suddenly almost defeated. In her eagerness to push forward, she had accidentally left a clear path open for Cozy's rook to sneak all the way back to threaten her Princess. The pawns in front of it suddenly blocked her escape rather than protecting her. She had only one space where she could move, so she did that. Cozy kept the rook where it was and moved her last knight instead, threatening Flurry's Princess again.

That was the beginning of Flurry's end. She was forced to hop around with her Princess Piece most of her turns just to avoid losing, and in the meantime Cozy managed to pick off most of her pieces. And eventually, Cozy had her caught.

"Checkmate. But it was a good game."

"You're really good at chess," Flurry offered. She had hoped to win, but at the same time she could not be too surprised. With a cutie mark like that, Cozy would not want to lose on purpose.

Still, she must be much closer to being Cozy's friend now than she was this morning! And when she was, then her teacher would be really proud! Then Flurry would have made a friend all on her own- no, two friends, with Rumble as well! She just had to be patient and keep working on Cozy, and it would all be perfect!

Flurry waved a few short moments before stepping out of Cozy's room and closing the door behind her. Cozy heard her hoof steps recede outside her room. When she couldn't hear them anymore,she opened the door and peeked out, just to be sure Flurry was actually gone.

Only when she had confirmed the coast was clear, she allowed herself to drop her mask. She exhaled heavily and was left panting to herself back in her room. Then she went up to her bed and allowed her face to twist into a grimace of fury as she bucked her cloud mattress as hard as she could, a growl tumbled over her lips. Then she kicked again, and again, before she felt the most explosive feelings run off from her, leaving only her rage.

As always, the rage served to sharpen her mind. She sat down on the middle of the carpet to think. She would have preferred to sit on her bed, but if she touched the cloud when this angry, it would become a thundercloud, and it would be hard to hide from Twilight.

It had been humiliating and hard, but she had managed to learn some useful things about Flurry from their chat. By far the most important was that she absolutely was still a threat to stealing Cozy's best friend (and hopefully soon-to-be more than that). Cozy already knew they spent the time in Ponyville, but she didn't know that Rumble seemed to enjoy it so much! If he did, soon he'd seek out Flurry of his own volition.

No more flying together! No more just spending time and talking and… letting her guard down. She couldn't talk to Rumble as freely and as safely as she wanted if he might tattle to Flurry Heart! And she definitely could not…

Cozy blushed, even by her lonesome, just thinking about it.

Ask him out.

She couldn't do it, if Flurry was that close to him. What if he rejected her? What if he started seeing Flurry Heart instead? Cozy didn't know what she'd do then. The mere thought left her feeling nauseated.

She could not allow it.

But then what should she do?

Well, the quill he had asked for was a good start. But she'd have to start over. The one she made earlier was not good enough. It was just a plain goose feather and the metalwork was still geared to function, and nothing more. She had to make it pretty. Cool looking and sleek. And she needed a new feather... or something. But where would she get that?

Of course, in theory, she could use a pegasus feather, but plucking one was painful and nothing Rumble would do. She could use one of her own feathers, but then he'd certainly become suspicious of her… and it was probably kind of gross to use pieces of herself for this.

That meant she had to find a pretty feather someplace else. She made a mental note to look around in the Canterlot market someday soon. An eagle or falcon feather would be so cool...

But even that would not be enough. If she wanted to compete with an alicorn she had to keep up the offensive! She needed to do more! And she knew exactly what she would be doing. Best of all, since she had already written a letter today, Twilight was not going to interrupt her this time.

Cozy opened her balcony door and hopped out in the air. If Rumble was not working, he'd be in the castle annex. She glided in gentle spirals down towards the rectangular house. Fall had started to come in earnest to Canterlot. The leaves began to shift into yellow and red, and some of the ponies down below had already broken out some heavier clothing. But Cozy didn't need that yet. Pegasi had thicker coats than unicorns.

She tapped down on the garden path and went into the annex and knocked on the door to Rumble's room. Just the thought of seeing him made her feel warm inside.

"Who is it?" his voice asked from inside.

"It's me! We should go fly now, before it gets dark!" Cozy said. If there was anything that could catch the eye of a pegasus, it was a skilled flyer. She just had to impress him.

"We should? But I was just-"

"NO! YOU ARE COMING WITH ME, RIGHT NOW!" Cozy shouted, her calm evaporated. She did not know how long she had before Flurry came and tried to throw a wrench in her plan. She was not going to let Rumble's loitering ruin this. Besides, it was for his sake too. Cozy was obviously a better match for him than Flurry was.

She heard some grumbling from inside. "Yeah, yeah… I'm coming." He looked rather peeved when he opened the door. That is, until she bodily pulled him away. Then he just looked surprised.

"The weather is great" So I thought we could have a race!" Cozy chirped. She felt like she could race the Wonderbolts themselves right now.

"A race? But we've never raced before," Rumble said.

"'Cause I didn't want to humiliate you," Cozy said. "But then I thought it could be fun for you to see just how great I am, so I decided it'd be worth it, even if you got completely humiliated."

Rumble's still somewhat sour look turned into a competitive smirk. "Oh yeah? Think you have a chance against me, do you?"

"I was just about to ask you the same," Cozy smiled. "But if you want to walk away, I suppose I wouldn't blame you."

"Oh, you are on!" Rumble said. "So what track are you gonna lose? Around the castle?"

"Pff, I could win that in my sleep," Cozy said with a dismissive gesture. "How about we race through the hedge maze? First pony who gets out on the other side wins."

Rumble looked a little dubious. "Is that really safe?"

"Chicken," Cozy said and swatted him with her tail.

Rumble nudged her back. "Fine. Just don't cry when you lose."

The two of them lined up at the entrance to the Canterlot Castle hedge maze with Cozy to the left and Rumble to the right. It was a pride and joy of the gardeners, and the largest of its kind in Equestria. It had been started soon after Canterlot's foundation and slowly expanded ever since. But some parts still followed the original design, even if all the hedge plants had died and been replaced many times.

They would not have to worry about getting lost though. A red band had been hung up through the maze to guide ponies through. Cozy and Rumble would just have to follow it.

"I'll count to three, and then we start," Cozy decided.

"No, I will count," Rumble said. "Else you're just gonna cheat."

Cozy huffed, but she really could not deny the accusation either. She adopted a low, smooth stance to quickly get into the air. She was smaller and lighter than him, so hopefully that would help her.

Oh, Cozy had no illusions about actually winning. He was a better flyer than her, and also plenty stronger. But goading him like this and then having him win was going to make him happy, and that was a victory for her. Furthermore, if she did well enough he'd still be impressed, especially since she had learned from him. Win or lose, she'd still get what she came for.

"Ready?" Rumble asked.

"Are you?" Cozy asked back and unfurled her wings halfway.

"One…" Rumble mimicked her stance. Low and with the wings slightly lifted and arched.

"Two…" She flicked her tail once.

"Three!" They both jumped into the air, neck in neck. Much to her delight, she saw the first turn was going to be to the left, which placed her on the inner curve. Maybe she could take the lead already!

Rumble was close though. He almost touched her as they entered the curve. Cozy felt her heart flutter a little, not all from the flying. The moment they passed the curve, she turned down to the new direction and beat her wings like mad. She wanted to conserve as much of her speed as she could, but she also had to change direction before she flew into the hedge wall.

Rumble was flying next to her, which meant he had a smoother curve to follow since she blocked the immediate path around the corner. Cozy saw him from the corner of her eye. He glided into the curve, smooth and natural, then pumped his wings in a few furious strokes. He all but shot forward, nearly passing her before she managed to pull up and follow.

Cozy maintained the inner position, but Rumble was about half a body-length ahead of her, and the next curve was already coming up. She flapped like mad, gaining on Rumble ever so slightly. She could not let him pass this curve ahead of her, or she'd never catch up again. She zeroed in on the corner and readied herself for the turn. If she was not careful, she was going to careen straight into Rumble instead.

A pony stepped out behind the hedge.

Both him and Cozy yelped in surprise. He threw himself on the ground the same time Cozy tried to gain some height and fly over him. She passed over his head close enough to feel his mane brush against her belly. But her concentration was broken, and she was too late to take the turn. Instead she flew straight into the thick foliage. She barely had enough time to throw up her forelegs to protect her face. Leaves and twigs scratched and swatted her all over and tangled up her mane and tail.

Then she was falling and landed on her back, hard. She kept her eyes closed for a few seconds, just to fight back the tears. Her forelegs felt like she had rubbed them with poison ivy and her back throbbed from the landing. She swallowed down her cries and opened her eyes.

She had flown straight through the hedge and landed on another path. She pulled herself up and looked herself over. She had plenty of small cuts and bruises, but nothing seemed too serious from what she could tell. Her tail looked like a bird had nested in it though, and while she couldn't check, she had a feeling her mane was just as bad. Thank goodness she had managed to protect her eyes, or she might well have needed magical surgery.

"Cozy?! Are you okay?" Rumble flew over the hedge and landed next to her. He winced. "We should get you back to Twilight. You need to wash your wounds!"

"And comb myself," Cozy said. Her voice was a bit shaky. She stretched her wings slowly. They felt sore and stung a whole lot, but it didn't hurt any worse when she tested to flap them. Good.

"I knew it was stupid to fly a race through the maze!" Rumble said, stomping a hoof in irritation. "It was just luck you didn't hit him! You could have hurt both him and yourself badly! Why did you even want to do this?"

Considering her real motives, Cozy didn't really have a good way of answering that truthfully. She felled her ears. "I figured that since you help me with my flying all the time we could do something you might like too... and with your brother a Wonderbolt, I figured you liked racing," she said. Hopefully he'd buy that excuse. "Are you mad?"

"No," Rumble said. "Come on. Let's get you patched up."

"Before that guy finds us and we get in trouble," Cozy added.

"That too." Rumble said and took wing. Cozy followed. They flew above the maze and back to her balcony. She had left it open, so they just went in. She went into the bathroom and washed her forelegs off in warm water. A glance in the mirror confirmed her mane was indeed a mess hours away from being presentable. She undid the ribbons in her mane and tail.

"Do you need help with anything?" Rumble asked from her room. He had not followed her into the bathroom.

She didn't want to appear weak. She wanted him to know she was a tough pony who could take care of herself. But on the other hand she didn't want him to leave. She deliberated for a little bit before he spoke again.

"Hey, is this the quill you were making for me?"

Cozy went back out to him. "Yeah… but it's not that good yet. I want to get a better feather, and stuff," she said, blushing a little. She didn't want him to see that quill! It wasn't good enough!

"Oh, okay," Rumble said. "But does it work?"

"Not yet," Cozy lied. She knew it did, but if he tried it and found out it worked then he'd wonder why it wasn't good enough to give him yet, and she couldn't answer that. "Uh… I think I messed up one of the runes and… stuff. I need to remake it. But It's easy. I'm really good at this. It was just a silly mistake," she was forced to add. She could not have him think she was stupid!

"Oh, okay," Rumble said. "I'll wait though. Having a self-writing quill is going to be so cool. I wish I had that for school."

Cozy nodded absently. A small twig fell from her mane as if to remind her that she was still a mess.

"Uh… I think I can manage myself," Cozy said. She still didn't want him to leave, but she didn't want him to see her like this either. She wanted to look cute and lovable like usual. "You were lucky, you know. 'Cause I'd totally have won."

Rumble rolled his eyes."Then how about a rematch later? I've got to get back to the kitchen now, after we could have a race around the castle."

Cozy nodded. Another few leaves fell from her mane. She batted them away angrily. "Okay. I'll… just clean myself up. You'll find me later, when you're done?”

Rumble nodded. "Sounds good." He looked her over with a small smile. "One thing's for sure. It's impossible to be bored when you're around."

With that, he left the room through the balcony. When she was sure he was gone, Cozy let out a small squeak of happiness. She had won! Even with her mane and tail full of leaves, she had still made a positive impression! This was great! It was easily worth it!

With a skip in her step, she returned to the bathroom and started combing through her curly tail, humming a tune to herself.

Chapter 10- Maze of Feelings

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On her way back home from the castle Flurry was left thinking. It had been hard to pinpoint, but now that she was alone with her thoughts she realized that her time with Cozy had left something behind, like an aftertaste. Even if Cozy had been pretty kind, it did not feel entirely right either. Like all her kindness wasn't genuine. The talk with Cozy had made her feel empty. Normally, everypony she met would make her feel... something, at least. Just a tiny little mote of feelings inside her chest. But not Cozy. It was like there was some dimension to the concept of kindness that Cozy had lacked. Flurry didn't want to think that, both because it was mean and also because it meant her progress with Cozy was gone.

But at the same time, mommy had said she should trust her feelings. That was how young ponies often found their cutie marks, and Flurry wanted to get hers soon. Everypony had one, and then nopony would treat her like a foal anymore.

Her feelings told her there was something more to Cozy than she was seeing, and it probably had to do with Rumble. Nearly everything they had talked about was related to him, so he, or something about him, had to be related to what Flurry sensed, or rather did not sense, with Cozy.

She nodded to herself. While she didn't remember exactly what he said, she remembered that Rumble and her had talked plenty about Cozy too when they were together in Ponyville. The two of them were clearly very close friends.

So maybe it was time for her to make use of Rumble's trust. If her hunch was correct and Cozy really was hiding something from Flurry, and it was related to Rumble, perhaps she could just ask him if he knew what it might be.

And besides, she was not hungry yet. If she came home now she would get a stomachache from all the food her grandmother would make her eat. As such, she decided to turn back and see if she could not find Rumble somewhere, preferably alone.

She started with his room, but the door was locked and nopony answered, so she decided to try for the kitchen instead. She started off in the direction of the castle before she slowed her steps gradually until she stood still, thinking.

Where was the kitchen? Whenever she ate in the castle, somepony delivered the food up to Twilight's wing.

She looked around, but could not see anypony around to ask. She shrugged and continued to the castle. She'd find a guard pony somewhere. In fact, she saw one just next to a door.

"Excuse me, sir guardpony, but do you know where I can find the kitchen?" she asked.

The pony did not even look at her. He continued to stare straight ahead as he nodded and lifted one of his legs to point down a hallway.

Flurry cocked her head to the side and wondered if it was rude to ask if there was something wrong with him. The guard ponies back in the Crystal Empire sure did not behave like that. His blank, stoic stare was so still it was almost unnerving.

She slowly started down the indicated hallway, glancing back every so often just to see if he had reacted. When she rounded the nearest corner, she still had not even seen him breathe.

She continued down the path and hoped she'd recognize the kitchen when she found it. Instead she came to a larger hallway with plenty of doors. But she recognized the gray colt trotting quickly towards her.

"Rumble! Rumble, can we talk?!" Flurry shouted and galloped up to him.

"Uh… are you sure it can't wait?" Rumble asked. He looked over her shoulder towards one of the doors as if he was afraid some wild animal was going to come out and attack him. "I'm already sort of late, and Ramson doesn't like it when I'm late… as in, last time I was late he had me taste-test the shipment of Sunfire Chili."

"Oh…" Flurry didn't know what Sunfire Chili was, but it didn't sound pleasant, if Rumble's voice and fearful glances were any indication. "Okay, but I really need to talk later. I think I might have upset Cozy somehow… but I'm also not sure. I was wondering if you know what I might have done. All I did was try to be nice! And we even talked a bit, but there was something off about her and-"


Rumble mumbled a word mommy had told Flurry to never say. "Okaygreatgottogo!" He said and then galloped away.

Flurry looked after him. So far so good, probably, but she didn't want to wait either. And there was another pony who might have some insight in how Cozy thought and acted: their teacher, Twilight Sparkle. But if she asked Twilight, then she would have to tell her she had tried to be friends with Cozy on her own accord. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Flurry would have preferred to surprise Twilight when they were already friends. Then she'd definitely have been a good student, right? If she succeeded even where her teacher had failed.

Flurry stood in the corridor and thought, shifting her weight subtly from one hoof to the other.

"Well… I suppose the responsible thing to do would be to ask for help. That I get a friend is probably more important than if I can do it on my own, right?" she asked out loud to herself.

Nopony answered, of course. She shrugged and made her way back up to Twilight.

For once, she was not in the library. Flurry saw her in the room furthest from the door into the private wing, behind a desk. Flurry had never been inside that room before. Twilight spotted her when she approached.

"Hello, Flurry. Can I help you with something?"

"Yeah, I think so," Flurry said. "Uh… I need some advice. On Cozy Glow."

"Oh?" Twilight looked curious and pushed away the paper, quill and ink pot she had in front of her. "Has she been mean to you again?"

"No! Not at all!" Flurry hurried to say. She shook her head for emphasis. "No, I… wanted to try and make friends with her, so I asked Rumble for help when we were in Ponyville together, and he said I should give her sweets, so I did, and then she wasn't… not kind and we played some chess together and talked, but… I don't know if she really liked me?" Flurry finished explaining. She looked expectantly at Twilight. Surely the elder alicorn would know what to do.

"But you did manage to talk to her?" Twilight said after a small pause. "She did not snap at you?"

"No," Flurry said. "No, she didn't do anything mean. It's just… it's probably silly, but when I thought back about it, I didn't really remember feeling like she was my friend."

Twilight's ears picked up and swiveled forward. "And how does it feel when you talk to a friend? Describe it to me."

"Uh…" Flurry had to think about that. It was hard to describe. "Like… soft. And warm. In my chest, right here," she tapped a hoof just between her forelegs. "It's weird, because often I can feel that after just a few minutes of being with somepony. Or I can feel something else, if they are sad and lonely and stuff. But with Cozy I can't feel anything. It's like she is trying to hide from me."

"Hmm…" Twilight said. Flurry could almost hear her mind hum with activity. "Have you told your mother about this way you can feel ponies?"

Flurry nodded. "She said it's probably because I have part of her magic. Since she is the Princess of Love, she is good with feelings."

"That doesn't make sense…" Twilight said, almost to herself. She looked intently at Flurry. "Cadance's magic is nearly unique. The number of ponies that can create feelings- real feelings- like she can, could be counted on my four hooves. While not impossible, given that you too are unique, I find it highly unlikely that you have inherited that ability."

"Oh… but then why can I feel stuff in ponies, like she can? And what about Cozy?" The last question was really what she wanted to talk about. Flurry didn't want everypony telling her how special she was. She just wanted to make a friend and learn magic. All this talk about how she was destined for greatness or whatever was tiring.

"I don't know what it is you feel, or why Cozy is special," Twilight said. "But if I were to hazard a guess, and I must stress that this is just a guess, then I would say it is related to whatever will be your cutie mark. What you describe is something I have never heard anypony else talk about. It's unique, just like cutie marks."

Flurry smiled brightly. "I want a cutie mark! Are you saying that if I just learn to understand what these feelings are, then I can get my cutie mark?"

Twilight shrugged with a smile. "Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Nopony have ever been able to predict when a cutie mark appears or what it will be."

Flurry decided to focus on the "perhaps" part. She just needed to figure out what the stuff she sensed in ponies meant. And that meant it was suddenly even more important to understand Cozy! She was the only pony who Flurry could not get a grasp on. The only pony who could teach her more about her own ability.

"Oh!" Flurry exclaimed. She suddenly remembered something. "When Cozy was mean to me that one time! Then I could feel her! But it didn't feel good at all. It was like… hot, instead. Not warm like snug. But warm like burning!"

Twilight creased her brow. "It sounds then like you can, to a limited degree, read people's emotions then. And you can differentiate different feelings?"

"Differiwhat?" Flurry asked. She didn't know all the difficult words adult ponies liked to throw around.

"You can tell the difference between a pony being sad, happy and angry, for example?"

Flurry nodded. "Yeah. That's not hard."

"But not with Cozy just now?"

"No," Flurry said. "It's the first time I can't remember feeling anything at all, even if she tried to be nice."

Flurry felt at a loss. She wanted to talk more with Cozy both to be her friend and also to try and figure out this new thing about herself. But would Cozy want that? The fact that she was hiding her feelings like this could not be a good sign, right?

Twilight must have read her mind, for she continued. "You know… for her friendship lessons, Cozy and I usually take an hour or so to discuss various friendship problems. Do you want to join the two of us for our next discussion?"

"Yes!" Flurry said. It was perfect. That way she could certainly get a feel for who Cozy was, even if she hid her feelings.

Twilight nodded. "Then I will ask her if she is okay with it. But I cannot guarantee she will agree to it."

Flurry again decided to focus on the positive part. "Okay. Then you'll tell me when we all can sit down and talk, right?"

Twilight rolled her eyes a little, which Flurry thought was a little bit rude. "Of course," Twilight said.

It was a testament to Cozy's single-minded determination that she woke up as early as she needed the next morning. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes and yawning, she reluctantly cast off the blanket and peeked out through the curtains. The sky was still dark, with a smudge of violet just over the horizon. It was probably an hour at the very least until sunrise. Good. That should be enough time for Cozy to do what she needed to do.

She went to one of the books on her shelf and withdrew a small paper note. It was a recipe she had found last afternoon after she had managed to undo the mess of her mane and tail. She had some time before Rumble was done in the kitchen, and Cozy had not wasted it.

She still needed to impress him even more. And what better way than to try a hoof at his own game? Yep, this morning she was going to make him breakfast, instead of the other way around. It was not going to be as good as what he made, but she hoped he would appreciate it anyway. She put the recipe in her mane and quietly made her way out of Twilight's wing and down the stairs to the kitchen. She closed the door behind her, just in case some guard pony would try to interrupt her. She doubted they would, but there was no point in taking unnecessary risks.

"Golly, this is going to be good," Cozy smirked to herself upon seeing the many stoves, tables, cupboards and shelves in the room. There were racks of cleavers and knives along the walls. From the roof hung dried herbs in clusters and braids of garlic. The whole room smelled slightly of spices that Cozy could not name.

She pulled out her recipe and looked down on it. It was not the most ambitious breakfast, just pancakes. But everypony liked pancakes, so at least she didn't have to worry about him not liking it.

"Let's see… eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter…" She made her way back towards the pantry to gather what she needed. To her pleasant surprise, every box and sack was labeled and arranged by letter. Everything was easy to find. It was hard to resist taking some raw sugar for herself when she was in there, but she decided against it.

She gathered her stuff back by one of the stoves and read the next part of the recipe.

It looked simple enough. Just mix the salt, flour and half of the milk and whisk it until the batter is smooth. It took some hunting through the cupboards before she found a whisk and bowl, but then she could do the rest easily. She held the whisk in her mouth and stood next to the bowl while glancing at the recipe sheet.

Now for the eggs and the rest of the milk. She sat the whisk down. This was going to be the hard part. She was not good at cracking eggs. It was hard to just get a grip around one!

Finally, after several frustrating minutes, she managed to carefully pick one up between both her fore hooves. Still, she didn't know how to actually crack it like this without spilling half of it outside her bowl.

But maybe she didn't have to do this in the most efficient manner? Instead she retrieved another, smaller bowl, placed the egg inside it and crushed it with her hoof. After wiping her hoof clean, she just had to pick out the pieces of eggshell. Then she could just pour the whole thing into her bowl of batter.

It took a while, but she did get all the ingredients mixed in her bowl. She didn't know how it was supposed to look, but it was smooth like the recipe said.

Now to actually bake the pancakes. She lit a small fire underneath the stove. Through clever use of magic, the stove barely needed more than a candle to be warm enough.

Cozy was just about to pour the batter into the pan when the door opened.

The pony in the doorway was a brownish yellow unicorn with a messy blonde mane and green eyes. He wore a chef's clothing. Cozy swallowed down her shock and instead adopted a cute, innocent smile. "Oh, good morning mister chef. I am Cozy Glow. Who are you?"

The other pony stepped inside and fixed her with a stern look. "I am the head chef of the castle, Ramson. What are you doing in my kitchen at this hour?"

"Pancakes!" Cozy chirped.

Ramson's stare narrowed to a glare. Cozy swallowed. "Uh… Actually, I wanted to surprise somepony with breakfast," Cozy admitted. "So I thought I'd get here before him and surprise him… really, it was pretty mean of you to come and ruin everything."

Ramson didn't answer. Instead he stalked past Cozy and looked critically at her bowl. He dipped the tip of his hoof in it and licked it. "Too little salt," he said. "Add seven twelfths of a teaspoon and whisk it for at least three minutes. Also…" He ignited his horn with a dark-red aura and opened the pantry door. A black stalk floated out and landed next to Cozy. She recognized it- a vanilla bean.

Cozy cocked her head to the side quizzically. Ramson gave her a terse type of smile. "Tomtit likes vanilla."

"Oh-! I remember that! He told me that!" Cozy exclaimed. "Thank you! This will be great!"

Ramson's smile softened, just a little. "I was never here."

Then he left. Cozy stared after him while she tried to catch up to what had just happened. According to Rumble the head chef was supposed to be terrifying, but this pony had been kind. What was up with that?

Then again, it didn't really matter. She measured up half a teaspoon extra of salt and gutted the vanilla bean to add the small seeds. Then she started baking.

Rumble knocked on the door to Princess Twilight's wing. Today was his turn to make her breakfast. "Princess?"

Twilight opened. She looked bright-eyed and lively as ever. Rumble secretly wondered if being able to get up early and still be as perky as she was another benefit of being an alicorn, or if she just was just eerily disciplined... "Good morning, Rumble. I think I'll go with… hmm…"

"Pancakes?" Rumble guessed.

"No, no. I can't today…" Twilight said. "Just some sandwiches will be fine. I'm sure Cozy would like some pancakes though…" She leaned closer. "Actually, just between the two of us, I need to ask her something today, and it'd probably help if she was in a good mood…"

"The castle intrigue that the mystery novels don't include…" Rumble thought. "Sure. Pancakes it is."

"Great." Twilight said. "Make them first, would you? She hasn't come out of her room yet, so if you are quick she can have them on the bed."

"Right," Rumble nodded and started down to the kitchen.

Twilight was starting to conspire against Cozy too now… add to that that he still had to balance both Cozy's machinations and Flurry Heart's friendship and he'd soon have a heart attack from the stress. He thought he'd be cooking when he signed up for this job! Not trying to keep some of the most powerful ponies in the country from doing… well, whatever Cozy planned to do. He actually didn't know if she even had some endgame in sight. Then again, maybe that was for the best…

He went into the kitchen.

"Good morning!"

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected voice. Up on the counter stood Cozy Glow, her coat matted with flour and, judging by the stack of pancakes on a platter next to her, pancake batter.

"Good… morning?" he said. "What are you doing here? Did you want to poison Twilight, or…?"

Cozy giggled. "Golly, that's the silliest thing I've heard! I wouldn't waste my time baking stuff for Twilight! I made them for you!"

As if he already wasn't confused enough, her last statement just rendered him speechless. Cozy Glow, usurper of Canterlot, ex-ruthless villain and probably mildly psychotic, had made him pancakes.


"I… I made you pancakes," she said again. Her smile was wavering just a little. "You do like pancakes, right?"

"I mean… sure, but why did you do that for me? I'm supposed to cook for you, right?"

"Well, today I wanted to cook for you instead," Cozy said. "Try one! I mean, they are probably not as good as yours, but… I think you will like them!"

Rumble wanted to say he had to prepare Twilight's breakfast, but something in Cozy's expression that made him hesitate. For once, she looked… earnest. Besides, Twilight had asked him to make Cozy happy, right? Well, this could only help. "Sure! Thank you."

He flew up onto a stool and sat down, reached for a pancake and took some blueberry jam. Cozy all but stared at him. In fact, he felt like a deer caught in the brights of a train. Was she going to look at him eat…?

Cozy's eyes told him yes.

Did Cozy actually know how to cook? She had never indicated knowing anything about it.

What if her cooking turned out to be a bust? If he didn't like it, would she then murder him?

He tried his best to ignore her and took a bite, secretly bracing himself.

"Sweet Celestia!" He said before he could stop himself. "Cozy, I didn't know you could cook like this!"

Cozy's smile seemed to relax just a little. "Well, of course I can," she said. "I'm just a natural."

"I'll say. And with vanilla! You remembered I liked that."

"Sure did," Cozy said.

Rumble took another pancake. "Don't you want some too?"

"I… made them for you though," Cozy said. She looked a bit bashful.

"Then I'll make you some," Rumble said. "I've just got to make Twilight some sandwiches too. She wanted to ask you something, by the way."

"Okay," Cozy chirped. "I'll go ask her myself!"

Rumble nearly choked on his third pancake. He had wanted to make her happy, but to think Cozy wanted to seek out Twilight. He must have made her ecstatic.

He watched her curly tail disappear out the door. Weirder and weirder… He took another pancake and mulled things over. As of late, Cozy's behavior had definitely changed. She had always liked ponies noticing her or complimenting her, but lately she had begun to return that kindness. Making him a breakfast like this, making a self-writing quill, racing him… All of those things told him she wanted his attention. But why did she care about that more now, all of a sudden? Since when did his approval matter to her?


Since when. That was the whole thing, wasn't it?

It was not just a rhetorical question. Her changed behavior coincided suspiciously well with Flurry's appearance in Cozy's life. And if a pony like Flurry appears, one who has everything Cozy dreams of… then maybe Cozy feels threatened? Jealous?

Yeah, jealous. That felt like it fit into Cozy's persona. She had even confessed to worrying about Flurry stealing his friendship. Maybe that silly fear was more real to Cozy than he had understood? It had sounded so silly to him he had not even considered Cozy might need more than just a quick assurance from him.

If this was true, then he had to speak with Flurry as soon as she could. If they only went together to Cozy, and Rumble said, loud and clear, that he did not intend to abandon her to Flurry, and then Flurry said that she just wanted to be Rumble's friend so Cozy could learn to accept her, then this could all work out. Maybe this assurance from him and Flurry together might be just the thing Cozy needed to give Flurry an honest chance.

He stood up. He should see if he couldn't find Flurry Heart as soon as he could. The sooner this could be resolved the better, especially with Cozy's complete lack of emotional control. But where would she be now? Was she even here this early? Besides, he still had his job to do, and he did not want Ramson to get cross with him today after just barely avoiding his wrath yesterday.

Nodding, he put away the dishes and started on Twilight's sandwiches. He'd find Flurry as soon as he was done with his morning duties.

Chapter 11- Friendly Discussion

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Cozy went up to Twilight's wing, feeling like she was on the very top of the world! Indeed, even when she had been an alicorn, when her entire body felt energized with unlimited power, she still had not felt half as good as this! It was like her heart was swelling like a balloon in her chest, letting her float upwards!

Just a little more. If she only gave him the quill, and made it just as cool as she wanted to make it… then maybe, just maybe she would be ready to ask him. The very thought of it made her grin. She peeked into the library. Twilight usually started her day off there. Today was no exception. She was there, but she was not alone.

"Good morning, Cozy," Twilight said. "Perfect timing. Please, come in."

"Good morning, Cozy," Flurry Heart echoed. She sat on a stool and watched Cozy carefully.

"My niece has told me the two of you tried to resolve your difficulties, and made some progress yesterday," Twilight said. "Is that right, Cozy?"

Cozy nodded. Her good mood had been replaced by wariness.

"Splendid! Then would you be okay with Flurry joining us for our friendship discussion today?" Twilight asked. "I am sure you could learn a lot from each other, and it might help you to understand one another even better."

Cozy made sure to keep her face neutral even if she felt like wincing. She had just barely managed to keep herself together last time, and she could not afford to lose her temper with Flurry in front of Twilight. But then again, this was a good chance to show both Twilight and Flurry why she was the better friendship student. And backing down would make Twilight doubt both her friendship abilities and that she and Flurry had made any progress.

"Maybe we can try a little bit, and you can see how you feel?" Twilight offered. "Then you can leave and we will continue later, just the two of us. But I really hope you will try. You usually have so much to contribute when just the two of us talk."

That was strange. Twilight was letting her choose like that, even if it was at the expense of what Flurry must want. Just the very idea to have Twilight look out of her felt alien, almost as scary as it felt good. Twilight had trapped her in stone! Jailed her in Tartarus! It didn't make sense that she would look out for Cozy like this! But she still did.

"Alright, I guess," Cozy said, though she was not sure it felt "alright," at all.

Twilight smiled. "Thank you, Cozy. Please, take a seat."

She sat down on the closest stool, which incidentally was the one farthest away from Flurry.

"Right," Twilight said optimistically. "Consider this: your friend… who we can call Spectrum Rush, is one of the best buckball players in town. Every team wants her to join them, and she practices almost every day for several hours. You love hanging out with her, but as time goes by, you find it starts to get annoying. No matter what you are doing or where you are, she always talks about buckball, or wants you to join in on a game, even if you don't want to. What do you think you should do, if anything? Do you care to start, Cozy?"

Cozy nodded and glanced at Flurry. "I should tell her… uh, in a friendly manner, that even if she likes buckball a lot I don't want to talk about it all the time. I have my own interests, and then it's not more than right if she gives them as much time as I give her buckball."

"I see," Twilight said. "And Flurry? Do you agree? Disagree?"

Flurry looked both at Twilight and then at Cozy. "Hmm… I guess that if it really bothers you so much, then you could let Spectrum know…" she said carefully.

"Buuut…?" Twilight prodded. She, like Cozy, must sense that Flurry had at least one more thought about it.

Flurry fidgeted a little. Cozy guessed she must be nervous about sharing, even if she was not sure why she would be. Or did she see through Cozy's act when they played chess last time? Did she know how angry Cozy really was with her?

"I… I think you should wait before you ask your friend to stop talking buckball with you!" Flurry said really fast. "Doing that makes your friend happy, right? Shouldn't you be able to endure a little grief for your friendship? Else you are not really a good friend, right?"

"An interesting thought," Twilight said. "And a good lesson in its own right- sometimes a friend can do things that look strange or annoying to us, but one should always try to find out why they do that. Perhaps their reason is more significant than you think. But I digress. Cozy, do you have anything you want to add, in light of Flurry's idea?"

Cozy felt her insides squirm a little. Flurry's answer had been a more friendly approach, and Twilight almost certainly liked that idea better. It was probably what Twilight would have done herself. She had to be better than this! She could not let Flurry overshadow her at friendship! If she did, then why would Twilight even keep her as a student for? And Cozy had to be her student; it was her only chance at someday becoming an alicorn. She had to step up her game. She could not fail here!

"I… suppose Flurry has a point," she conceded. She could not let Twilight sense animosity or stress, or she might stop the lesson, and then Flurry would have won! She felt like a weight was slowly crushing down on her back. Coming up with logical reasoning for friendship problems was a lot more difficult when she had to wage an internal war with her temper and also keep anypony from finding out about it. "But it's still not fair that she annoys me with her buckball talk and I just stand there and take it! Maybe Spectrum Rush does not even realize I am annoyed by it! And once I tell, she will stop of her own accord."

"Very good," Twilight nodded. "Sometimes it's hard to remember we are all different ponies. What is just a joke to me might make another pony sad. It is important that we always open up to our friends to avoid silly mistakes like that."

Both Flurry and Cozy nodded.

Maybe she recovered a little bit? Twilight liked humility, right? But Cozy was not going to win like that. She had to come up with her own solution to these friendship problems, not just say that Flurry was right and then elaborate.

"Do you have anything more to add, Flurry? Else we can proceed to the next question."

"No, I think I'm good," Flurry said.

"Then my next question is this: what do you think makes you find a friend in somepony you meet? We walk by dozens of ponies every day, but you don't make friends with them. Other times, somepony just comes up and talks to you, and they become a friend for life. Why do you think that is? You could start this time, Flurry."

Cozy looked away, thinking of her answer. This was not a good question. She had only ever made two real friends, and she couldn't say either of those friendships were her doing. It was more… both Sweetie Belle and Rumble had refused to give up on her, for some reason, and eventually that made Cozy consider them her friends. But then what could she answer?

"I just feel it!" Flurry chirped. "When a pony is lonely I ask if they want to talk. If they are happy, I ask if I can join them playing. It's not hard for me to make friends… usually. I am just kind to other ponies, and then they are kind to me."

Cozy grumbled and felt her tail swish in irritation. It wasn't enough that she threatened to take everything Cozy wanted and had been born with her greatest dream, she had to flaunt her mystical powers too? She forced herself to sit still. Don't let them see… don't let them suspect anything.

"Kindness goes a long way, for sure," Twilight said. "It's hard to be friends with somepony who isn't kind. Hard, but not impossible."

"Right!" Cozy said, grasping the lifeline Twilight cast her. "I know I wasn't very kind. But my friends could see past that, and eventually that made me see past myself too. I decided that I wanted them around. Because if they can look past me at my worst, then I really know they will always stick by me, right?"

It wasn't really an answer to the question, but Twilight would probably like the reply.

Twilight nodded. "I know how you feel, Cozy. While I can hardly believe it myself when I think back, that was really how I made all friends. I didn't care two shakes of a tail about friendship when I came to Ponyville. But my friends thought differently… they had to drag the friendly me out, kicking and screaming under the threat of eternal night. Celestia knows I didn't make an effort to make them like me, but they did, all the same."

"That's so sweet," Flurry said. "Like something out of the hearthswarming stories."

Twilight blushed.

Still, for having started with such a poor question, Cozy could not complain about how she answered… Twilight was probably a little impressed at least. She usually liked it when Cozy drew on personal experience like that.

"Alright, moving on," Twilight said and cleared her throat. "For the next question, picture this: You are having a test in school that you have studied hard for, so you feel confident. You answer the questions, but when there is just five minutes left, the teacher is called to help with a schoolyard emergency. Your best friend then asks you if she could copy down some answers, since she has been away with her parents and couldn't study. What do you answer, and why? Also, I want to stress that I in no way condone cheating in school- this question isn't about that. It's about the friendship dilemma. Cozy, I think it's your turn to start.”

"Golly…" Cozy said. This was not a good question either, because she definitely would let her friend cheat. It didn't matter to Cozy if she did, and that way her friend would like her more. But Twilight wouldn't like that answer. And lying was risky too. Twilight would like it even less if she found out. "Uh… I'm not sure," she said.

"Take your time," Twilight said.

"I… think I'd let her copy down my answers," Cozy admitted. At least that way she could argue for something she believed in, rather than have to lie to both Twilight and herself. "If she didn't have the time to study, then the test isn't fair to her."

"I see," Twilight said. She didn't seem too angry. "Flurry, do you agree?"

Flurry shook her head. "No, cheating is wrong. It's not fair for everypony who studied hard that my friend can just cheat her way to the right answers."

Cozy huffed irritably. How dared Flurry even say that! Then how was it fair that she was an alicorn and not Cozy? Cozy who had worked so hard for it!

"I think my friend is more important than everypony else," Cozy said. "Of course I look out for my friend! Besides, if nopony knows she cheated, then nopony is going to care what grade she got anyway."

"But just because you care about your friend it doesn't mean you can't… not care for everypony else! Then you are not kind to them instead." Flurry argued.

"Girls, let's calm down a little," Twilight interjected before Cozy had the opportunity to reply. She snapped her mouth shut, but didn't quite manage to hide her glare at Flurry.

The door opened. Rumble entered with a pair of plates on his wings. His eyes seemed to dwell on Cozy for a moment. She took a breath and smoothened out her look. "Perfect timing," Twilight said. Cozy saw her send a sidelong glance her way. She shrunk back a little. Twilight had of course seen her glare at Flurry. "Let's have our breakfast first, and then maybe we can proceed after?"

"Okay," Flurry said quickly and started out the door. Her hasty departure sounded weird, even to Cozy, but she didn't complain. She needed some time alone to simmer down and regain her balance. This was not going well. She was all too aware of that.

"Cozy, would you stay and eat with me?" Twilight said. She magicked both the plates from Rumble and put one in front of her. The other went to Cozy. "I'd like a word with you, if that's alright."

She absolutely did not want that. Not one bit. Not only was she going to get an earful now, but she also wanted to be alone in her room and just calm down for the next round of discussion. Or spend the time with Rumble. But running away from Twilight now would only cement the idea that Cozy was a poor student. So she nodded.

"I'll see you later," Rumble said with a wave before he left. Cozy decided to hold him to that promise. She needed something to look forward to right about now. Twilight closed the doors behind him with her magic.

Cozy involuntarily came to think of that time when she saw the great adamantine gates of Tartarus close and lock her in.

Rumble left the room as soon as he could. This was his chance to talk to Flurry when he knew Cozy could not see them. He wouldn't have had to worry. Flurry was waiting to pounce the moment the door closed. "We need to talk," she said. Her normally chirpy voice sounded serious. Rumble involuntarily straightened his back and neck a little. When an alicorn spoke like that, it was not the time to slouch.

"Yeah, I've got something to say too. But you start," Rumble said.

"Right…" Flurry said. "So, I told Twilight the other day that I've got… a feeling. For ponies. So I can sort of sense when they are happy, sad, lonely and things like that. But for some weird reason, Cozy is really hard to read. It's like she is hiding from me somehow."

Rumble just nodded. Honestly, that ability was a little bit creepy, but she was an alicorn… they probably had loads of mystical powers that background ponies like him didn't know about. Mind reading was probably a really lame ability to them. "Okay…? But what can I do about that?"

"Tell me what you think she really thinks of me," Flurry said. "She was actually pretty friendly to me once, but I can't feel any friendship! So I'm not sure she really was."

"Ah…" Rumble said lamely. Why did it have to be him who had to reveal to Flurry just how much trouble he had gone through just to get Cozy to give her a chance? Rumble was nearly certain Cozy had just been playing Flurry for some reason he probably didn't want to know. "Nice weather we are having," he tried. He felt his artificial smile waver the moment he tried to put it on.

"Hey, I'm serious!" Flurry said. For being such a small pony she suddenly had a lot of authority.

"Uh… I don't think she likes you very much…" Rumble had to admit, even if the words took considerable effort. "I've tried to get her to give you a chance though, I really have! But lately she's been acting so weird around me too! I don't even get her at all anymore."

"Oh…" Flurry dropped her ears.

"But I thought of something too, just now!" Rumble said. "Maybe she is jealous of you and thinks you want to steal my friendship."

Flurry looked quizzically at him. "You can steal friendships?"

"I actually don't think so, but Cozy said something like that once," Rumble explained. "Look, it doesn't matter if you can or not. If she thinks you can, then she will be suspicious of you."

"Hmm…" Flurry looked thoughtful. "I suppose that makes sense, sort of. But what do we do then?"

"We've got to convince her you aren't going to steal my friendship away. That might at least make her less angry with you."

Flurry nodded. "And I need to figure out how to make friends with her too."

Rumble sighed. "You really do, huh?"

Flurry tilted her head quizzically. "Sure?"

"I mean… It took me some weird things before I made friends with her, but she never treated me as poorly as she does you. I… guess I don't really get it, why do you still even want to make friends with Cozy after this. I don't think I would want to."

Flurry looked surprised for a moment, then suddenly troubled. "I… don't know? Maybe because Twilight wants it so much, or because you made her sound so exciting when we talked in Ponyville. I'm not sure. But I know I want to be her friend! I… think I have to."

"Have to? Why?"

Flurry just shrugged. "It's just a feeling…"

Probably another of her divine powers then, Rumble decided for himself. He didn't understand how or why Flurry might have come to this conclusion, but decided it was not worth adding that mystery to everything else now too. "You know, it should probably be Cozy who says this, but I'm really sorry about this mess." Rumble said instead. Divine powers or not, somepony owed Flurry an apology, and it wouldn't come from Cozy. "Cozy is… just weird with this whole thing. She is usually so smart. I don't get why she is suddenly so stupid whenever you are concerned. Look, what I'm saying is that she really isn't like this to her friends. She is really fun to be with."

"Hm…" Flurry got something shrewd in her eyes all of a sudden. She looked almost like Cozy did before she set him up as a scapegoat to some prank or another. "Speaking of how she usually is…If my methods of making friends with her doesn't work… How about we try her methods? How would Cozy Glow make friends with somepony who didn't like her?"

"Uh…" this is not a good idea. This was definitely not a good idea. "She'd probably figure out something that pony wants and then get them that…? Maybe you should ask Twilight? She has dealt with Cozy's antics more than me."

Flurry glanced at the closed door. When they were both silent, Twilight's and Cozy's muffled voices could be heard.

"They might be a while…" Flurry said. "Let's look through her room!" Flurry suggested excitedly.

"No! Nononono, absolutely not, bad idea!" Rumble said, his voice several octaves higher than normal. "If she finds you in there she is going to go through the roof!"

"But nothing else I've tried has worked!" Flurry argued. She smiled. "Besides, isn't it exciting to do things you are not supposed to? That's what she does, right?"

"Well, yeah…" Rumble was forced to admit. "But her pranks just gets me on chili-testing duty for a few hours. They don't get me killed if they fail!"

Flurry giggled. "Don't be silly. She can't be that bad."

"You have no idea how bad she can be," Rumble said.

"Then stay here and keep watch! I'm going!"

Then she went with determined hoofsteps towards Cozy's door.

"You don't know what Ursa Major you are poking right now!" Rumble pleaded. "If she finds you in there she will never want to be your friend! Cozy doesn't forget things like this. OH PLEASE LISTEN TO ME!"

"I can't heeear you," Flurry chirped. She seemed to enjoy his torment. Great.

She pushed Cozy's door open, then slipped inside. Rumble hesitated for just a moment, suppressed the urge to cry, and ran inside as well. Standing guard was not going to work. Cozy would easily see straight through his attempt to misdirect her anyway. His best bet at avoiding hideous disembowelment was to just get Flurry out of there before Cozy came back, and make sure they didn't leave any tracks.

"Be quick about this," Rumble begged her.

"Yeah, yeah, I know." She rolled her eyes and continued to look through the books on a bookshelf, tracing a wingtip over the backs of the books as she went. "Maybe I can get her a book on artifice?"

"I think most of them are hers already," Rumble pointed out. "As Twilight's student, she can read nearly any book she wants."

"Oh… right," Flurry said. Flurry proceeded to Cozy's bedside table. Rumble nearly passed out from stress when she picked up Cozy's rook, but then she put it down again after a few moments. Then she went on to Cozy's little workshop. "What's this?"

She picked up a goose feather in her magic.

"She's making that for me," Rumble said, feeling a little proud. "It's a self-writing quill. But she said she wanted another feather."

"Another feather?" Flurry looked at the quill, then at Rumble. She flicked her wing open and looked at it. "Did she say what sort?"

"No," Rumble said. "But… you're not thinking what I think you are, right?"

"I thought she might want one of mine," Flurry said.

"But that will hurt, won't it?" That was a stupid question, really. Every pegasus learns the pain of getting a feather plucked when they try how to preen themselves for the first time in flight school. Suffice to say, it is a mistake one endeavors to only make once. It didn't help that your wing also looked disheveled and untidy for weeks after when the feather grew back.

"Not to me," Flurry said. "Mommy has said it's an alicorn thing. When I get hurt playing it just hurts for a little while, and then it's fine again. I once scraped my knee when we played back in the Empire, but I didn't notice until somepony pointed out I had blood on my coat. But by then the wound was already gone."

"Huh…" more divine powers. He was learning a lot about alicorns today, it seemed. "Well, it's not right if you hurt yourself. There must be something else you can do, right? That's not in this room."

Flurry looked back at the goose quill. She extended one of her wings and plucked a colorful feather from the tip, wincing a little as she pulled it out. A shiver went through Rumble's spine just seeing it.

"Are… you alright?" he asked.

Flurry put the feather down. "It'll just be a few minutes," she said and folded the wing away. Rumble saw she held it a little strangely, reflexively trying to cover the part she had hurt. "I just hope this works." She put the feather down on Cozy's workbench. Then she nodded decisively. Well… so much for not leaving any tracks, but maybe, just maybe, if they phrased it like they just went in to leave her a surprise gift, Cozy might forgive them.

The door opened behind them.

"What are you two doing in here?"

Rumble felt the blood drain from his face.

If there had been any question about Cozy's mood before, they certainly disappeared when Flurry left. Twilight helped herself to a sandwich and subtly studied her student while they ate. Cozy's posture was stiff. Her tail was not quite still, but wagged slowly, this way and that. Shoulders were slumped and she kept her eyes downcast. Her ears were not hanging, but Twilight suspected she deliberately kept them up to appear calm. They still flicked and swiveled sometimes.

"I'm happy you agreed to join the discussion, Cozy," Twilight said mildly. Cozy didn't like being pressured, but if Twilight could just soothe her a little, she might open up on her own. It was a long shot, but if her feelings for friendship didn't lie, then Cozy had thawed a little towards her since their bout about Flurry. Time to see if that could be something for them to build on. "I know you still have disagreements with my niece."

"Sure, I'm your student," Cozy said. She took a bite of her own sandwich, still keeping her eyed down.

"And you continue to impress," Twilight said. "You think about your answers, and you stand for them… really, many times, I see you answer the same way I did when I faced similar decisions."

That got Cozy to lift her eyes. She looked at once hopeful and wary. "I do? But Flurry's answers were… friendlier, weren't they? And if she can sense what ponies think, then she must be a better student than me."

Twilight smiled quickly. "She isn't a better student than you because she has an easier time making friends. You are both here to learn, and you have gone from being one of my greatest enemies to being a student with two loyal friends that you made all of your own. You have come very far in a very short time, and that proves your potential, even if you still have plenty to learn. You still don't like Flurry very much, do you?"

Cozy hesitated, but then she shook her head. Good. At least she trusted Twilight enough to tell her directly. "She wants to steal Rumble's friendship from me. And I… can't let that happen. I'm not going to."

"Cozy… I can promise you Flurry doesn't want to steal his friendship," Twilight said with certainty. "She actually told me she asked him for advice on how to get closer to you. I'd wager that's what made her want to befriend him in the first place. She wants to be your friend, Cozy. She really does."

"Then she could have just asked him for advice! She didn't have to go to Ponyville and walk close to her, or hold her hoof when they were bowling!" Cozy growled. Her belligerence was back.

"How do you know they did all that?" Twilight asked. She barely had to finish the sentence before she knew. "You spied on them, didn't you?"

Cozy hesitated, then nodded. She looked more sad than ashamed though. "And I don't think it was the wrong thing to do. Friendship is power, remember? I look out for my friendships, no matter what."

"Looking out for your friendships isn't wrong," Twilight said. "But going behind your friend's back and telling them who they can and can't make friends with is. I don't think you would like it if I said you couldn't make friends with somepony who was kind to you and wanted to spend time with you."

Cozy was silent. "Even if she didn't want to steal his friendship… she still is. Rumble is spending a lot of time with her and… and that's time he can't spend with me."

"You can't demand he spend all his time with you," Twilight said. "You are smart, Cozy. You know that isn't reasonable. Besides, you aren't complaining that he is spending most of his time in the kitchen rather than with you."

"Golly…" Cozy squirmed on her stool. Twilight wished she knew what she was thinking. There was clearly some other aspect as to why Cozy remained so angry with Flurry, but she refused to reveal what it was. But still, talking to her like this was leagues ahead of what she had been able to before. Maybe Cozy really was beginning to slowly change her ways? The thought made Twilight's mind feel a little lighter. She had the potential to become a great pony one day, and the sooner she could tap into that potential, the better for herself, and Equestria too.

Their conversation faded away after that, but the silence wasn't awkward. It wasn't friendly either, but Twilight decided to consider this a win, for now.

"If you are done, I'm going to get Flurry and we can continue our lesson," She put a hoof on Cozy's shoulder when she went past. "Don't doubt yourself, Cozy. You are doing great."

Cozy nodded. "Thanks."

"I'll be back in just a few moments." Twilight left the room and spied up and down the corridor. No sign of Flurry. Strange… she knew it wouldn't be a very long break, so why would she run off?

A voice caught her ears.

"Are… you alright?" That was Rumble's voice. But where was he?

"It'll just be a few minutes. I just hope this works."

And Flurry too. Twilight looked at the door to Cozy's room. That's where the voices came from. Strange… Why would Flurry go there? Cozy surely had not given them permission to go through her room. It was a strange streak of rudeness on Flurry's part to do that. She must know she wasn't supposed to do that.

And, if so, Twilight had to be stern. While Flurry probably had good intentions, it was still wrong, and Cozy was Twilight's student. She had to make sure Cozy's boundaries were respected.

She arranged her face in a frown and quietly opened the door. They were standing next to Cozy's desk, looking at something Twilight couldn't see.

"What are you two doing in here?"

Chapter 12- Introspection

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The thrill of mischief was wonderful. It made her heart beat faster, her stomach tingle and her legs shake just a tiny bit as she prepared to, for once, do something she knew she was not supposed to. And when she was done, it was... unlike anything else. When she knew she had gotten away with doing something bad, it was all she could do not to burst out laughing.

Now, however, it was easy not to laugh. Twilight sounded really cross with her. She couldn't even remember last time Twilight was legitimately angry with her. Her confidence disappeared in the blink of an eye and she felled her ears submissively.

"Flurry Heart, what are you doing in Cozy's room?" Twilight asked again, her voice level and decisive.

"I… I wanted to see if I could find out what she was interested in," Flurry admitted. She risked a glance up at Twilight's face.

She glared, and her mouth was set in a hard line.

"And did you think it was a friendly thing to sneak into her room uninvited to find out what that might be?"

No, it didn't sound friendly at all. This whole thing suddenly sounded like a very poor idea. She shook her head. "No, auntie."

Twilight nodded. "Do you know what you have to do now?"

"Apologize," Flurry squirmed under Twilight's glare. "To Cozy, right?"

"Uh… Princes, I don't think that's a good idea," Rumble said. Both Flurry and Twilight turned to him. He seemed, if possible, even more uncomfortable than Flurry, shifting on his hooves and looking every which way except for at Twilight. "She's not gonna like this."

"Then you should have thought about it before you decided to sneak into her room," Twilight huffed. "And you will never be friends with her by keeping secrets."

Rumble looked like he had just bitten a lemon. He carefully raised a hoof in the air, the way Flurry did in school to get the teacher's attention. "Yes, Rumble?" Twilight asked.

"Please don't be mad," he said.

"I won't be mad," Twilight said, even if her voice was still stern. "But that doesn't mean I have to like or agree with whatever you say."

Flurry could hear Rumble swallow. "Princess… I think that if Cozy kind of…learns that Flurry went into her room… then she's sort of not going to let your niece be her friend… basically ever…" he said. "You know Cozy is pretty slow to forgive, right?"

"Don't I know it," Twilight sighed. "But I also know she is just like that. She is slow, but not incapable. And I will not see this friendship built on secrets. Come with me, both of you."

Flurry and Rumble fell in behind Twilight as she guided them back to the library. Flurry felt like she was going to be sick. This wasn't supposed to happen! She had just wanted to find a way to get closer to Cozy, to finally get through to her and show her that she just wanted to be a friend! She had even pulled out a feather! It hurt to do that.

But all Cozy would see was a sneaky little filly who wanted to go behind her back! This wasn't… fair! It was just one mistake! This… this stupid little thing couldn't set her and Cozy's fragile relationship back like that!

But when the door to the library opened, and Cozy looked at her, eyes slightly narrowed, Flurry felt like somepony had sucker-punched her. Because this little thing could and would do exactly that.

"Flurry and Rumble have something they'd like to say to you Cozy," Twilight said.

"Golly… what?" Cozy asked. Her expression was hostile… but also worried. She kept glancing at Rumble.

Flurry swallowed. "Well I… wanted to find some way for you to like me more," she said. "So I… I thought that maybe I could look in your room to see if I could get some clues…"

Cozy's glare intensified. Flurry met her eyes… and when she did, Cozy's facade seemed to collapse. For the first time, Flurry could feel everything Cozy had tried to hide from her. This was the clearest she had ever felt another pony. Flurry stared, stunned. Cozy's feelings were…

A mess.

That was the best description.

A maze of interlocked emotions that interlaced into a massive network without a clear beginning or end, too large for her to dissect at a glance. Flurry had never felt something remotely like this before. If most other ponies showed her their emotions through a window, then somehow Cozy's mind now laid open like a kaleidoscope.

Anger, uncertainty, spite, jealousy, vanity… all her negative emotions were connecting to such a degree that Flurry could not begin to say where one emotion ended and another began. They were feeding from one another. Her anger fueled her paranoia which fed her anxiety, which made her even angrier! So much negativity, so much darkness…

And inside her swirling cage of emotions, the beating heart of her feelings was surprisingly gentle… it was not a bad emotion, but it was very strong. And it lent its power to all her worst sides.

She couldn't recognize that emotion. It was wild, but also soothing. Meek, but also bold. Gentle, but also forceful. It felt a bit like friendship, but even that was a poor word to describe it. This felt… deeper, somehow. It reminded her of her parents a little bit, but that wasn't right either.

Cozy looked away, down at the table. The bangs hid her eyes.

Flurry jerked back as if waking up from a nightmare. Cozy had shielded herself again, hiding her feelings, but it was too late. Flurry had seen it.

Cozy was under extreme emotional stress somehow. Flurry had never felt anything half as complex in one pony before. Just sensing the emotional turmoil was enough to make Flurry dizzy.

"I was right," Cozy said. One did not need Flurry's mental perception to hear the undercurrent of rage in her voice. "You were not my friend. And you never wanted to be either."

"That's not true!" Flurry said, though she took a few steps back from the furious pegasus filly. "I did this because I wanted to be your friend! Honest!"

"Hah!" Cozy laughed, but it was a madmare's hateful bark. "That's exactly what the old me would have said! I know of your tricks, you orange lover! I know them all like the back of my hoof!"

"Cozy, it's not like that," Rumble said with a placating gesture. "She's honest, she really is! I promise-"

"NO!" Cozy snarled and jumped from her stool. Despite being so small, her presence seemed to fill the entire room. Even the two alicorns found themselves backing off as she advanced. Only Rumble stood firm, though his ears were cast down and his posture slouched. A clear sign of submission. "NO, YOU LISTEN! I'VE HAD IT WITH YOU BEING HER LAPDOG! I THINK IT'S TIME YOU CAME CLEAN! ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH HER, OR ME?!"

"Cozy, be reasonable-" Twilight said.


"You know what," Rumble snapped back. "If that's how you're gonna treat me and my friend, then I think I'll just stick with her." Rumble backed away and put a wing over Flurry's back. "'Cause I'm not gonna be friends with a bully!"

Cozy's entire face seemed to redden, and her face contorted into a downright demonic visage. Flurry had never believed a pony could make such a face. Veins appeared on her forehead, she was frothing at the mouth, the eyes had contracted to pinpricks and seemed to bulge unnaturally.

And yet when she spoke, her voice was calm, and all the more unsettling for it.

"Oh, golly gosh… this seems like a friendship problem, right, teacher?" she asked Twilight, who looked like she was on the verge of tears. "So, since I'm so good at them, how about we try my solution. You get to pick one of us to be your student. Flurry or me."

"N-no, Cozy… don't do this to yourself," Twilight whispered. It was nothing short of a plea. "I won't choose… you both are too important-"


Silence reigned in the room. Rumble stood with extended wings and his head bent forward next to Flurry, almost like he was ready to fight with Cozy. Twilight just stared pleadingly from one foal to the other, tiny tears dropping from her eyes.

And Cozy… just stood and heaved in rage.

But something about her seemed to change. The emotions around her seemed to cool. Instead of the blazing rage, Flurry felt like the anger condensed, crystalized into a sharp, pointed emotion. It was kin to anger, but not… quite the same. It felt even worse somehow. It was controlled, directed. It was anger mixed with sheer, deliberate malevolence. It was the first time Flurry could remember seeing a pony wanting, deliberately, to hurt another pony. But right now, that was exactly what Cozy wanted.

She started advancing on them, and even the alicorns, who never had to fear another living creature, found themselves making way for her. When Cozy passed Flurry, their eyes met briefly. And Cozy cast Flurry Heart a glare so filled with hatred she stumbled in nausea.

Then she was gone.

Cozy made it back to her room, feeling like both her head and heart was going to burst. The moment she was inside the familiar safety of her room, she clutched both sides of her head with a pitiful sound. There were so many things she wanted to say she didn't know where to begin. The fury seemed to make the words congest in her throat, rendering her mute.

But she wanted to say to Rumble that she was sorry. And then she wanted Twilight to just pick her as her student.

She wanted to go back in time. Back to when it was only herself, Twilight with her friendship lessons, Rumble with his cooking and kindness, Sweetie Belle with her smiles and silliness… It was so strange, looking back on those days. It was just a week or so ago, but so much had changed so fast. And Cozy Glow had been left behind.

Just like when her parents left her at an orphanage.

Just like when the princesses and Discord decided to cage her in darkness.

Was it just her fate? Whenever she was about to win, whenever things were starting to look up for her, they would come crashing down? Just one week ago, she had a home again. Her first real home since she left the orphanage in Cloudsdale. One week ago she had a caretaker who she could respect, if not... love. One week ago she could pursue her special talent for making artifacts in a serious manner. She had even found a colt who made her feel…

Light, happy. Good. He made her feel like she could be a good pony.

She had everything going well for the first time in her life. Then Flurry came. In one fell swoop, that one pony had cracked the foundation to all her happiness and sent her falling down to obscurity again.

Her anger began to subside, being replaced by a maelstrom of sadness.

This… wasn't fair. Hadn't she suffered enough pain and disappointment in her life already?

Was this her destiny? What if she was not meant for greatness after all? What if all she was meant to be was just… a pony, a background character to legends like Flurry and Twilight? The only thing she accomplished in her life were a couple of foals, and they would be the only ponies to remember her when she was gone… and in a hundred years or so, Cozy Glow would just be a footnote in history, as one of three who failed to take over Canterlot.

No... that mustn't be true. If there was one thing that had let her persevere against all odds, it was that she believed in her own destiny. Her marvelous destiny was, and always had been, her guiding star, the one thing she looked up to and took solace in. She knew she was meant for something great. She had always known that, somehow.

She could not lose that too. She had to hold on to the belief that she was meant for something more than just mediocrity.

But if she was, then she could not fail here. She had… to do something, anything to save herself from losing that. But what could one little pegasus pony do when all of her friends had just been conspiring against her this whole time?

Even… Rumble, too. When the chips were down, he had picked Flurry over her. He had even hugged her with his wing, like he wanted to protect her. Protect her from Cozy. Protect her from an enemy.

She felt like somepony had plunged a knife through her heart, just thinking about it. The image of him, wing over Flurry and leaned forward to launch at her was seared into her retinas. She couldn't get rid of it! Wherever she looked Rumble glared back, furious. She hiccuped a few times, feeling tears run down her cheeks. With shaking hooves, she pulled up a corner of her carpet and dabbed her eyes and muzzle.

She wanted to sit like that, and just cry for a while. She was a filly in distress; crying was a natural response. But she could not afford it now.

She hadn't lost everything yet. Twilight had not kicked her out yet, had she? No. There was still time. She pushed her sadness back and gathered up just a little bit of confidence. She even managed a threadbare, wavering smile to herself. She had done the impossible before, hadn't she? She just had to do it again.

She had to convince Twilight and Rumble to choose her over Flurry. She wiped a few more tears away and took a deep, shaky breath.

Her eyes fell on her workplace. On something that should not be there. Anger began to simmer again as she went up to it and picked up the intrusive feather in her mouth. She spat it away and it landed on the floor. Good. She did not want it anywhere near her precious artifacts.

She went over to it and sat down. Then she fixed it with a glare, as if she could intimidate the feather into leaving her life, and take the pony it came from with it.

"Dumb feather…"

Looking back to her now feather-free workspace, she realized she still had the quill for Rumble to make. She still needed a better feather though.

Or did she really? He still glared at her from the shadows, and his face told her with any and all clarity that he did not want anything to do with anything she had made. He had made his choice. Flurry was his friend, and Cozy was not.

The knife in her heart twisted. She winced, feeling an almost physical pain from the realization.

Rumble was already lost to her.

And Twilight was soon to follow.


No, she wasn't.

She was meant for greatness, meant to be a princess, adored and loved by all. Each and every pony in the whole wide world was going to see her and when they did, they would wish to be her, Cozy had decided.

And to make sure that happened… She had to do something about Twilight. Save what could be saved. Cozy began to pace around her bedroom, looking absentmindedly on different things, but not seeing them, as different ideas and scenarios played in her head.

How do you convince a naïve, slightly awkward prodigy of magic that her perfect little niece was, in fact, a poor student?

You couldn't. Twilight was not going to pick Cozy after her outburst earlier. There was no way.

There was no fair way.

But… really, since when had Cozy let herself be constrained by what was fair and not? In fact, why did this have to be Twilight's choice in the first place? Why not simply force Twilight into doing it?

Cozy yelped and jumped back. Suddenly she stood face to face with a mirror. The other filly was cute and lovable, with a salmon coat and sky-blue curly mane done up with cream ribbons. Rust red, smiling eyes, and a demented smirk splitting her mouth open. Her twisted, evil smirk quickly melted into an expression filled with shock and fear.

No, nononoNO! NO! NO! She was… not that pony anymore! She had changed! She was better now! Twilight, Sweetie Belle and Rumble, they had saved her!

But… Rumble was gone. And Twilight was leaving. Only Sweetie Belle was left, and she was not here.

But she was still a good filly! Right? She just… she wanted things to be like they had before Flurry came! She didn't want to hurt anypony; she had learned not to do that!

The rictus grin returned to the filly in the mirror. She could almost hear herself whisper in that poison-laced voice.

"Oh golly you, for sure you just wanted to give Flurry a big, warm hug just before, riiiight?"

Cozy held her breath as a sudden realization hit her like a huge boulder. She had wanted to hurt. She had wanted to jump on Flurry and beat her with her bare hooves.

With a squeak in fear, she jumped back, away from the mirror and huddled up in the middle of her room. She turned around so she didn't see the mirror image. She didn't dare to look again.

"Cozy? Are you in there?"

Twilight's voice was soothing and caring. Enough so that Cozy wasn't even spooked by it, even in her unraveling state. She nodded for an answer, before remembering Twilight couldn't see her through the closed door. "I'm here!" Cozy's voice was shriller than she thought.

"Cozy, please don't do this to yourself!" Twilight called. She sounded desperate now. "You have come so far! You have such talent! Don't waste it all on hatred! You are better than that, Cozy! I know you are!"

No. Up until just a few days ago she had been better than that, but not anymore. She could have been. If her friends had been by her side and helped her, then she could have been. But she had been left behind, again. Betrayed. And the mirror didn't lie. It had shown what truly dwelled inside her heart.

"You don't think that!" Cozy shouted back at Twilight. "All you want is that I should be friends with your niece! That's all you want me to be! A friend to that orange lover! You never thought I was anypony special, did you?! You just thought I could be a good friend to good little Flurry Heart!"

"It's not like that at all, Cozy! You are special to me! You are my star student! You are already the pride of my life! Because I did so many bad things with you, but you are still doing so well! You are even accepting me, even if you hated me before!"

Cozy was crying again. She knew she was special. She knew how hard she had worked to be a good student.

Hearing Twilight say something like that should have been an important moment. A moment of pride, a moment to remember forever. Nopony had ever said something like that to the real her. "I am proud of you, Cozy," or "I'm happy to have you as a student."

But this was all a ploy, just a trick to get Cozy to do what Twilight wanted. She didn't mean any of it. It was almost like Twilight was trying to torture her by taking such a special moment and squandering it like this.

Because Cozy wanted those words to be real! She wanted Twilight's approval! She wanted the praise! She wanted somepony to just say she had done good!

She… couldn't ruin this, could she? She couldn't go back to her old self anymore, could she? She had changed under Twilight's tutelage and Rumble's kindness. She didn't want to hurt them.

But they were hurting her by choosing Flurry…

Betray her friends, or betray herself. It was a choice no pony could make.

She wanted to scream. She did not know what else to do. She was at a loss, faced with an impossible choice. Out of sheer desperation she fixed the alicorn feather with a truly hateful glare before picking it up. She could almost feel the magic inside it.



A tiny mote of the strongest, purest and most powerful magic there was in the world. The magic of an alicorn.

And through the haze of her overloaded brain, an idea came to her.

She took it over to her workbench, and she started making something.

A quill. Same simple runes like the ones she had already made. But this one would be different. Before, she had infused her artifacts with her passion for creation, and her love for the colt who was sitting next to her.

She could not even hear Twilight anymore. Maybe she had just left too, like everypony else? There was no warmth, no love, no sweetness for her to draw upon now. Now she called upon other forces. The only one sitting next to her now was her own twisted mirror image. Cozy Glow poured all the rage, all the fear, all the delirium she felt into her artifact.

She did not know exactly what it would do to the quill, but this would not be a good thing. It would be an artifact created in immense sorrow, fueled by her stress and nurtured by her hatred. She did not want this to be an artifact that helped other ponies… this was going to be an instrument of pain, one way or another.

An evil artifact… it was her one hope for scaring Twilight into submission. A desperate gambit made by a desperate pony who saw all she desired being snatched away. Or maybe she wouldn't complete it. Maybe she would find herself before it came to that.

She didn't know what she was going to do. She felt so very lost.

She smiled through her tears. Sobs and laughter fought in her throat. The sound that made it over her lips sounded almost insane, even to her own ears.

Cozy swept past them, out of the room, and Rumble glared after her. He was her friend, but he had his limits, and Cozy had passed it.

Oh, sure, he understood where she was coming from. He too would be angry if somepony he hated had been sneaking about in his room. But he was not going to let her dictate who he could be friends with. No chance. He may not be a friendship student, but he still knew she was wrong.

He wasn't the one at fault this time. He was sure of it.

But that didn't make it any more fun to see Cozy storm off. Once her frenzy spell wore off, she was not going to be happy about this.

He should probably be there to talk to her then. When she was afraid or angry, she was at her most dangerous and her most crafty. He had seen that when she tried to escape from Twilight that one time. It would be better for everypony involved if somepony could help her pick up the pieces, once she had calmed down.

But… would she then relent? Ask for forgiveness? Sadly, Rumble doubted that. And if Cozy stood by her demand that he and Twilight choose between her and Flurry, then what? Would she ask the same the next time he wanted to make a friend? It wasn't impossible with her.

He could not live his life like that, bent to Cozy's every whim.

"Poor Cozy," Flurry said, ears drooping.

"No," Rumble corrected. "Poor you. This wasn't your fault. It was hers." No matter what happened to Cozy, Flurry should not have to think she deserved this. She didn't. Rumble knew she had tried hard, extending hoof after hoof to Cozy, only to be batted away every time.

"But she isn't herself," Flurry argued. "She is… confused. She has so many feelings she doesn't know what to do with them."

"Did… you at least learn something more about Cozy then?" Twilight sighed forlornly. She sat down on her haunches. "I will… talk to her. I'll make her reconsider somehow," Twilight said. Though she sounded tired and disappointed, there was no mistaking her resolve.

"It won't be easy, you know," Rumble said carefully. It wasn't his place to speak back to an alicorn, but… Twilight had to know.

"I know. But I have to. It's what I must do as a Princess, but more importantly because Cozy is my student, and my… friend. I have to get through to her. And I will."

"Good luck," Flurry said and put a small hoof on top of one of Twilight's. "I'll try to help too. If I could just understand her…"

Twilight smiled weakly and put Flurry's hoof between two of hers. "Thanks. I suppose we'll just cut our lesson short today then."

Rumble guessed that meant he was supposed to leave, so he stood back up and plodded to the door. Flurry followed, and Twilight didn't protest.

They left the private wing together in silence. He realized Cozy would probably explode again if she saw them like this.

"Twilight asked if you learnt something from her" Rumble broke the silence. "I guess she meant your mind reading ability. So… did you? 'Cause I think Twilight's gonna need all the help she can get."

"It's not mind reading," Flurry said, though she hesitated conspicuously after. "Or… well, I did see something bigger than ever before just now… like… much bigger. A whole web of what she felt and… stuff. But I don't even know where to start with it."

"Do you want to go flying a little?" Rumble proposed. "Always helps me think stuff through."

"Sure…" Flurry said, though she sounded a bit absent. She followed him, slowly, looking at the ground with a frown on her face.

He wanted to help. But how do you help with something you have never seen, and something you cannot quite imagine what it even looks like? What did Flurry "see"? An image? Or was it just something she herself felt somehow, and then she visualized it?

They came out of the castle and Rumble took wing, hovering a little bit over the ground. Flurry just stood still, lost in her own world. He didn't want to interrupt, but he couldn't just leave her standing there on the garden path, could he?

He nudged her, carefully. She jumped back with a surprised expression.

"Oh, sorry," she mumbled and flew up after him.

"I've never seen you this… concentrated before," Rumble remarked, hoping it was not rude.

"I've never had to do something like this either," Flurry said.

"Can you… describe it to me?" Rumble asked. "My brother always walks me through anything he wants to show me. He says it helps him understand it better too if he has to explain it."

"But I can't explain it," Flurry said with an annoyed huff. "It's just… everything! One pony shouldn't have that many emotions! She should explode!"

"Well… she basically did," Rumble reminded.

"Uh… yeah, I suppose," Flurry said dejectedly.

They fell into a rhythm of flying around the spires of the castle. Gentle spiralling turns, upwards and downwards in a comfy mix. It was perfect for that mindless type of flight where one just wanted to move the wings a little while focusing on something else.

"Just try to explain, please," Rumble begged. "She's my friend. I want to help if I can. Just… start telling me what you… uh, saw. Just with one line, don't go into any details. Just tell me."

"Well… her feelings then," Flurry said. "I saw what she felt in a moment, and how her feelings connected to each other."

"Okay, feelings, gotcha," Rumble said, even though he still had no idea what that meant in practice. "And what were some feelings you saw?"

"A lot of bad stuff," Flurry said. "Like… she is angry, and sad, and really anxious about something, and I think she felt like she wasn't good enough too, and then she is jealous and… everything was jumbled together in a huge tangle, feeding off one another!"

Rumble nodded. While he could not imagine how that actually looked, he felt like it made some sense. "Yeah… Remember how I told you Cozy might be jealous of you? First because you were a princess, like she wanted, and then because she thought you were trying to steal my friendship away. Then the anxiety could be because she thinks it is already happening."

"I guess that makes sense," Flurry said. "But there was something else too. In the middle of everything… like, snared by all her bad feelings, there was another emotion too. I think she wanted to hide that the most, behind all the bad. But everything came from there! It was like... the middle of everything!"

"What emotion was that?" Rumble asked, intrigued. With Cozy, there was more often than not another layer to her thoughts, another dimension to her plans. Perhaps she really was so stuck in her old ways that her mind had adopted a similar approach. Layers of feelings, where you only saw what she wanted to show, whereas she kept the bigger picture a secret? It certainly sounded like Cozy, sad though it was to admit.

Was she really still so paranoid that she kept her true feelings such a closely guarded secret, even to her closest friends?

Flurry shook her head. "That's the thing… I couldn't tell. I haven't felt anything like that before. It didn't feel like… anything I've ever felt! But it wasn't bad, is the thing! It was a good emotion, only she surrounded it with so much bad. It kinda reminded me of friendship. And of my parents."

"Hmm…" Rumble rubbed his chin. "So a good emotion that she hides under a lot of bad stuff then? And friendship… but it isn't friendship? But what emotion can't you recognize? Everypony must have felt everything at some point, haven't they?"

"That's what I thought too!"

They flew on in silence.

What emotion could one not recognize? What good emotions could Cozy have felt that Flurry had not? There were probably plenty of bad emotions, given that she had tried to conquer the world, but what good?

"Do you think we should ask Twilight?" Rumble suggested, finally. "She knows another side of Cozy than you and me… maybe she has some idea? And if this strange emotion is like friendship, then maybe she could tell us what it means?"

"I guess…" Flurry said. "My mom always says Twilight will know what to… what… to…do…"

Flurry halted her flight and hovered in midair. Rumble had to turn around, lest he'd leave her behind.

She looked… strangely tense. Her eyes were wide open and locked on something very far away, and she had a hoof over her mouth. Her faraway stare flicked to him, then towards the castle… more precisely a certain balcony, to a certain room.

"Rumble… I think I get it," she said. He could almost feel the weight of her words like a physical impact. "I'm so stupid! Come on, I know what we need to do!"

Chapter 13- Cozy Glow, Redeemed

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Twilight sat outside Cozy's door, staring at the handle. She wanted to open the door, rush in and just… hug Cozy. She was a panicked filly lashing out at everything she held dear just from fear and paranoia. Clearly Cozy's dislike for her niece went far deeper and was far more important to her than Twilight had ever realized.

Some teacher she was! She was supposed to teach Cozy Glow about the values of friendship, laughter, loyalty, generosity, honesty and kindness! She had not done any of it. In fact, the Cozy she had seen inside the library before had not looked like her student.

It was another Cozy, one Twilight had thought was gone. The power-hungry, twisted filly who had almost conquered Equestria twice.

Cozy had not become a better pony under Twilight's care. All she had done for Cozy had, yet again, ended in misery for the poor little filly Twilight had sworn to help. Bitter tears burnt in her eyes.

She had promised Cozy to make things right! She had promised to help her, guide her and make her happy! Why could she never succeed with Cozy Glow?! Why had this happened again?! HOW COULD SHE LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN?!

Should she not have made Cozy her student after all?

The question hit the inside of her head like a hammer. Had all of this been a mistake? One could argue she had not given Cozy much of a realistic choice… Did Cozy even want to be her student? Twilight stared at the door. The silence around her did not answer her sudden questions.

Maybe Cozy was just unhappy here with her? Why wouldn't she be, after all Twilight had done to her?

Should she… let Cozy Glow go as her student? Just let Cozy go out to find her own fame and fortune somewhere else, with somepony who did not unwittingly torture her with every attempt to make things better?

The thought made Twilight's heart clench in her chest. This was just too much, too big for one little pony, Princess or no.

"I want… my friends," she whispered. "I don't know… I can't do this alone…"

If she did let Cozy Glow go… she could never take on another student after Flurry's tutelage was complete. She knew now that she could not handle that responsibility. It was not right that she took the risk of putting another pony through the distress she had led Cozy to. Never again.

But she wanted to. She wanted to be to other ponies what Celestia had been to her! A beacon of hope and inspiration. A pony who brought out the best in the colts and fillies under her wings. She wanted to do all things good. She had tried to do it with Cozy too! She had tried to mediate between Flurry and Cozy without favoring either of them! She really had done her best.

But she was not Celestia. She was just a pale imitation. Her best was not good enough. This was far beyond the reach of her understanding and abilities.

A tiny clatter sounded behind her. She looked listlessly over her shoulder.

"Who-ho!" Owlowiscious said, tilting his head slightly. "Who?" The Owl wobbled forward and put a wing on Twilight's hoof, just like Flurry Heart had done earlier.

She smiled, though remnants of tears still dropped. "Thank you… you have no idea how much I needed that," she whispered. She didn't think her voice would carry if she tried to speak any louder. She held out her foreleg, and Owlowiscious obediently fluttered up. She enveloped her wings around the owl.

It was not quite like her friends' group hugs, but it did lift her heart, just a little bit.

"Not yet… I'm not allowed to give up yet. I owe it to Cozy to try again… and again. At least until she asks to leave."

"Whoooo…" the owl replied. He sounded thoughtful.

"After all I did… I can't give up on her. Or I'd never forgive myself."

Owlowiscious leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. Twilight decided to take it as a vote of confidence.

She carefully sat her feathered friend down and rose to her hooves. She faced the door handle again, but this time there was a resolute look on her face. She had to do this.

She was going to face her student, and she was going to fix whatever was eating away at Cozy Glow, once and for all.

And she was not going to leave until she had done it, or until Cozy said with clarity that she did not want to be Twilight's student anymore.

She pressed the handle down.

The sight beyond the door made her quail.

Cozy sat by her workbench, shaking with sobs and, more disturbingly, tiny fits of laughter. She had a manic, static grin on her face and tears welled down her eyes. Her eyes were open wide, unblinking and glassy and remained completely still on a tiny little feather in front of her.

She had expected fury. She had expected Cozy to scream and shout and cry, but this was somehow worse. This was not even an emotion at all, it was just… wrong. All of it was wrong. It was so strange and disturbing it rendered Twilight momentarily stunned halfway through the door before she got a hold of her own mind again. "C-Cozy! Cozy, what's wrong?!"

Cozy jolted from her stupor and grabbed the quill in her mouth. "Stay away from me!" She shrieked in wild panic, brandishing the quill like some outlandish sort of weapon.

Twilight froze mid step. Cozy's pupils had shrunk to pinpricks and there was a twisted type of glee in her smile. "You're not getting rid of me so easily this time! It's me or Flurry! Make your choice! And I promise I'll make you regret it if you pick her over me!"

This was not her student. This was the old Cozy Glow. The pony she had locked inside Tartarus. The pony Twilight had failed like no other.

This was a chance to finally do right, even to Cozy's darkest, most destructive side.

"Cozy, I am not going to get rid of you," she said slowly, clearly. She did not know what that quill Cozy held was, but the way Cozy held it seemed to indicate it was not just a harmless trinket. "You are my student. My very first star student. And I swear on Celestia's name that I mean it when I say it. I promise, this is what I really think about you."

"LIES!" Cozy screamed. "You were planning to use me from the start! Just so Flurry could have a friend!"

"Never, Cozy. Never," Twilight kept her voice soft and soothing. She had to calm Cozy down from her fury. "I value you, Flurry and the very concept of friendship far too much to ever do something like that."

Cozy let out a barking laugh. Had Pinkie Pie heard it, she would have clutched her ears in pain, for this laughter signified only madness, born from ashen despair. Twilight too winced at the sound.

This wasn't working.

Cozy would never believe her without proof. And there was only one proof she could give.

To give up Flurry as her student.

But how could she? She had promised Flurry to teach her just as much as she had promised Cozy. And how could she face her brother and Cadance after doing something like that? How could they ever understand that Twilight had chosen Cozy Glow, the dangerous, insane criminal over their own sweet little daughter?

They couldn't.

And while the friendship they shared with Twilight was too strong to break over such a thing, it would still drive a wedge between them that would never truly go away. How could Twilight choose Cozy Glow over her own family?

A tiny thought came to her.

"Because you promised Cozy Glow you would help her, any way you could."

And as wrong and as painful as it was, there was only one thing that could help Cozy now.

"Cozy, will you give me a week to make some arrangements and then… I will find another teacher for Flurry, if you want."

Cozy's maniacal stare disappeared. She fell back on her haunches. Lucidity returned to her face. Lucidity and dread. She started to shiver.

Twilight did not wait anymore. She couldn't. She did the only thing her instincts had been screaming at her to do from the moment she went in. She galloped over to Cozy as fast as she could and scooped her up in her hooves.

She was small, even for a filly her age. She felt so very vulnerable, held against Twilight's chest. So soft and warm, her mane smelled like roses. She was still shaking. Twilight felt her coat become wet under her tears.

"Cozy, what's happened? Please, you've got to tell me! I will help you Cozy. Please, Please believe that! Please believe I want to help!"

Cozy wasn't hugging her back.

"T-Twilight… I think there is… something wrong inside my head," she said in the tiniest, most fearful of voices. "I'm not… What if I can't be a good pony? I don't want to make you sad, but I just can't… think, when Flurry is near me. She is… making me go back to a pony I don't want to be."

"That's not possible, Cozy," Twilight said. "We both know you can be a good pony. You have made friends, all on your own. Sweetie Belle, Rumble and me. We all know you can be a good pony. Like I said before, you are doing great at your friendship lessons. Believe in yourself, Cozy, and believe that your friends really want to help you."

Cozy shook her head. "You don't get it. I wanted… I wanted to hurt her! I wanted to jump at her and just beat her up! Normal ponies don't think such things!"

Twilight frowned. Something like that went far, far beyond normal friendship problems. Wishing harm upon someone was reserved only for well and truly hated enemies, and even then it was only to be done in defense of herself and others. Twilight herself had only ever done it to threats like Tirek, Chrysalis and Sombra. Was that how Cozy saw Flurry? As a mortal enemy and threat to her very life? How could Cozy think that?

But pointing this out would not make Cozy feel any better.

"No… that's not a good thing to want, Cozy," Twilight admitted. "But this is not the first time you have felt this, is it? When you sat in Tartarus… and when Sweetie Belle first convinced me to let you out, you wanted to hurt me then, didn't you?"

After a moment of hesitation, Cozy nodded.

"And did you ever think that was wrong? Did you ever start crying in shame because you wanted to hurt me?"

"No," Cozy admitted quietly.

"And that's why I still think you are a good pony. You wanted to hurt somepony… but you didn't. Because deep down you knew it was wrong. That's the most important part. You are my student to learn about friendship. I knew there would be things you wanted that were wrong. I took you in to help you, Cozy, not because you were already perfect. And by controlling yourself even when you wanted to give in to the darkest parts of yourself, you have proven that I am helping you. The old Cozy wouldn't have cared. But my star student began crying for something she didn't even do."

Cozy was silent. She didn't look up. She just sat with her head burrowed into Twilight's chest, but her breathing was a little calmer.

"Why would anypony want to help me?" she whispered. "Nopony… nopony has ever wanted me. Not even my parents. And nopony wanted to adopt me either, even if I was cute and lovable."

For a moment, Twilight fell silent. Was that why she became who she was? Was this why she had wanted friends so much? Was she so starved for love and connection with somepony that she had resorted to manipulation and lies to feel like she had friends?

And Twilight was likely the first pony Cozy ever revealed this to. The only pony she trusted enough to show what must be some of her deepest fears.

The idea made Twilight's heart quail in sympathy. She quietly folded her wings over Cozy. A small gesture of warmth and affection for a filly who, Twilight now realized, had grown up with a deep-seated idea that she was not wanted.

"I may still be inexperienced as a mentor, Cozy, but anypony could see the potential you have. You have a very special gift. One I consider myself lucky to help you develop…" Twilight sighed. "But… that's not why I wanted to help you. Not anymore. It was at the beginning, but it's not the reason anymore."

"Then what is?" Cozy finally looked up.

"Because… knowing that you trust me, even just a little, it makes me so very happy." Twilight felt her own eyes become misty. "When you just talk a little to me, or when you just listen to me talking… you don't understand how much it means to me. To every day see a filly who wants to learn, to grow, to be better. I know, perhaps better than any other pony, how far you have come. Just to see you smile, or just to see you play with your own friends… it makes me feel so proud, like I have finally, finally done some things right with you."

She gently brushed through Cozy's mane with a hoof.

"You are my student, Cozy Glow… and I am proud to call you that. And I can promise that wherever you go, you will always be wanted here."

Cozy squeezed her eyes shut and then, at last, put her forelegs around Twilight and hugged her. She was shaking with silent sobs, but Twilight liked to think they were not only of sorrow.

Flurry Heart explained her idea on the way to the closest spire roof. The two of them tapped down. Rumble knew it was rude to stand on roofs, but this was too important to wait. "What? No, you're wrong. That doesn't make sense, not one bit!" Rumble said, shaking his head. "She does not… like me like that!"

"Yes, she does!" Flurry insisted. "Think about it! She was looking back at you in there, and you said it yourself that you think she is worried about me stealing your friendship! But what if it wasn't just friendship she was worried about, but something way bigger!"

"Hah! What? You think she thought you'd try to make me like you or something?!" He snorted in laughter, right before he realized what he was saying and that he was, in fact, talking to a deity. That thought shut him up good. "Uh… I mean… You know Cozy is still… Cozy, right? Like… she isn't really a lovey-dovey sort of filly. Actually, I can't even imagine her doing that sappy sort of stuff. At all."

"Well, I have seen mommy help ponies with love stuff before, and she says that when you like somepony, you don't always let them know that."

"Yeah, I know,” Rumble scoffed. He knew how crushes worked; that wasn't the issue here. The issue was that Cozy was brash, tenacious, and probably mildly psychotic. She did not care about mushy stuff. Imagining Cozy in love was about as easy as imagining his own brother becoming an alicorn. "I'm not saying she doesn't keep secrets; I'm saying this is not the secret she keeps!"

"But what about the stuff I felt in her then? A good feeling than I haven't ever felt! Something that was a little similar to what I feel around my parents! Well, my parents love each other, and I don't think I've ever had a crush before! That part fits! And love isn't that different from friendship either! You can't love somepony you aren't friends with, right?"

Rumble considered. Those points did have some merits, actually… and it wasn't like he could argue against something only Flurry could really ever determine. She was the one who could sense these feelings and draw conclusions from them, not him. He was basically just along for the ride.

"I still don't think you're right," he said.

"I do… but that leaves us with another problem," Flurry said and flicked her ears downwards.


"Well… if Cozy likes you, then… what do you think about that? Do you like her back?"

If there ever was a question to render him completely gobsmacked… how was he supposed to know? She was his friend! Sure, he liked hanging out with her… she was fun to be around.

But loving somepony meant… going on dates. Holding hooves. Lunches. Long talks. Sitting on benches together! Marriage, foals, getting a house and living together forever! He felt sweat beginning to pour down his forehead. How was he supposed to make a commitment like that? He did not even have his cutie mark yet; he could not be making life choices right now?!

Why was he even thinking about this? Cozy Glow could not be in love with him! It didn't make sense! Not one bit!

"She doesn't-"

"But do you?!" Flurry asked, raising her wings a little. The display of her alicorn splendor, even from such a little pony, was enough to silence his protest.

Did he love Cozy?

By instinct, "love" was not how he would describe what he felt with her. She was a friend, not a love interest. But then again, she was a cute pony and he enjoyed being with her. And he had never even entertained the idea of Cozy loving anypony, let alone him. He had never thought about her as a potential mare-friend and never analyzed her from that perspective.

Hypothetically however… if he had to imagine himself with a marefriend… well, Cozy was basically the only filly he had any deeper contact with aside from Flurry, and so much as thinking about dating her was probably heresy.

So by that logic, if he had to imagine himself with a marefriend… then Cozy was, paradoxically, his first choice. Weird.

Did he love her? No.

Could he learn to love her, if they were together?

Well, going from enemies to friends was a bigger step than going from friends to special someponies, wasn't it?

"I don't love her, right now," Rumble said. "But… maybe I could. You know… if she wanted to try."

"Great!" Flurry chirped. "Okay. Then all we need to do is get up to her room, and then you have to ask her if she wants to be your special somepony!"

"What? Now?" Rumble asked, flummoxed. This… was not how he had imagined he'd ask his first maybe-fillyfriend. He had imagined… well, the standard fare. Inviting her to dinner, talk, laugh, let the time pass until the sun was coloring the sky just so. Then he'd pop the question, and then they'd probably kiss. That's how it was supposed to work, right? That's what his brother said.

None of that included him and his maybe-fillyfriend having a shouting match just twenty or so minutes before he asked her, right out of the blue.

Also, there was still the problem that Cozy was not in love with him. In fact, given said shouting match, she was most likely going to beat him up if he even came near her right now, let alone asked if she wanted to be his special somepony. He'd sooner guess that asking right now would just make her even angrier.

But, Flurry Heart was the daughter of Cadance, the Princess of Love. It stood to reason that her idea on this matter should not be completely written off, asinine as it sounded.

"Yes now! Cozy needs our help right now!" Flurry said. "Come on!" She spread her wings and hopped down from the roof. Rumble followed.

"This will never work, you know! She's just going to be even angrier at us if she thinks we are playing with her feelings!" Rumble nearly shouted after Flurry, who was diving fast towards the ground.

"Yes it will! I know what I sensed in her. This is it!" She landed and broke into a fast trot inside the castle.

Rumble's protests evaporated. How could he argue against the divine powers of an alicorn? Him, a common pegasus colt. "I really hope you know what you are doing," he said instead.

"Don't worry, I'm sure this will work out just great!"

That's when it began to sink in.

He was going to ask a filly out for the first time in his life.

And it was Cozy Glow he was going to ask. The one who had tried to conquer the world twice, and nearly succeeded, twice.

And he was going to ask her on the advice of Flurry Heart herself.

Speaking of which… how do you ask a filly to be your fillyfriend?

Did you just ask? Shouldn't he have a gift or something? A serenade? A firework show…

Twilight's head on a plate?

"Okay, here we are."

Rumble swallowed. No door had ever looked that intimidating.

"Just go on in and… ask her if she wants to be your special somepony," Flurry said. It was probably meant to be soothing, but Rumble just felt even more like he was about to ruin his relationship with Cozy all the more. This… didn't feel right. But Flurry was an alicorn, and his friend. She wanted to resolve this mess with Cozy more than anypony.

He just had to trust her now.

Rumble opened the door and silently went in. He heard Flurry follow behind him. Still present, but as nonintrusive as she could make herself.

Cozy was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Twilight sat with her back to the door, wings unfurled and wrapped around herself. Her head was lowered and he could faintly hear her whispering something to somepony. But there was nopony else here. What was she doing? The mood in the room was… heavy. The very air seemed abnormally thick and pressing, almost like a physical weight on his back.

"Princess? I wanted to say some things to Cozy…" he said quietly. Something about the mood in the room made him lower his voice.

"Cozy?" Twilight's voice was mild and soft, like she was speaking to an especially shy animal. "See? Your friend is here. It's fine, okay?"

Rumble nearly fell backwards in shock when Twilight got up on her hooves and went around the small, ruffled form of Cozy Glow. Had Twilight been hugging her? Did Cozy allow that?


Cozy Glow looked disheveled. Her wings were half lifted and quivering. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying, though right now she looked much more guarded than sad.

In her mouth she held a very familiar feather, now outfitted with the same tiny mechanism Rumble had seen in her self-writing quill. However, by the way she brandished it and by look in her eyes, it was a sooner a weapon than anything else.

Despite just being a feather, Rumble felt shivers run down her spine from seeing it. He did not know what it could do, but given who made it and the mood she was in, he was certain it could do something and that he did not want to be on the receiving end of it.

It was a minuscule consolation that she did not seem to direct her hateful glare at him, but rather at somepony behind him.

Rumble swallowed again.

"Hi, Cozy," he said carefully.

She did not answer. She just redirected her death-glare to him.

"Uh… I talked a little to Flurry Heart-"

It was a mistake to say her name. He knew it the moment the words left his lips.

"Get… out…!" Cozy spat, nearly choking with rage. The quill fell from her mouth when she talked and dropped to the floor. It landed upright, quivering as in anticipation. Rumble's attention switched back to Cozy's angry face, and then he noticed a purple wing gently resting on Cozy's back. Surprisingly, the filly didn't bat the wing away, as he would expect.

Briefly he looked up at Twilight's face, and now he also noticed her cheeks and eyes were wet from tears. There was no alternative. Now it was all or nothing. He marshalled his courage and stuffed his worries into the nearest closet inside his mind. Then he stuttered out his question, looking into Cozy's glittering eyes.

"Cozy, do you… do you w-want to be my very... very special somepony?"

He had to force himself to remain on his hooves rather than cowering when he said it.

The air in the room itself seemed to hold its breath. Twilight looked at him like he had just grown several extra heads. She opened her mouth in silent shock. Clearly this sounded just as sudden to her as it did to him. His heart was racing in his chest. His legs felt weak.

And Cozy… well, she looked at him as if seeing him for the first time in her life.

The quill in front of her was vibrating, like it was trying to decide what it was supposed to do.

Then after several seconds, each one that felt like an eternity, it fell over.

"Oh g-golly…" Cozy wheezed. Her entire being seemed to crumble in front of them, and she broke down, crying.

"Cozy!" Everypony in the room shouted and converged on the distressed filly. Twilight reached her first and scooped her up in her hooves. She looked dazed, staring without seeing. Twilight fixed him with a most peeved glare. She, like Rumble, evidently did not think this was the right time.

"Hey, I get it if you don't wanna be my special somepony," Rumble hurried to clarify. Even though he had never really believed in this idea, he had still hoped his first confession had gone a little better than this. "It's cool, Cozy. We'll just stick to being friends."

"No…" Cozy said with a thick voice. "No… I really, really w-want to. But you can't like me! I'm not… I'm n-not a good pony! I'm bad! I'll just end up hurting you too!"

Rumble felt his heart take a leap in his chest. This stupid Idea… might actually work! Flurry had been right!

He was… going to have a very special somepony. A silly grin spread over his face.

"Really?" Rumble tilted his head. "'Cause that doesn't sound like something a bad pony would say. Trying to protect a pony you like, even if it makes you unhappy. Besides, I've stuck by you this far, right? I think I can handle your episodes at this point."

"You really like him," Flurry said carefully. "I know you do. I have seen it."

"Oh..." Twilight gasped. Her eyes flicked over to Rumble, then to Flurry and finally they came to rest at Cozy again. One could almost hear how the realization clicked in her head. "It wasn't friendship… It was love… all this time, it wasn't his friendship you worried about losing… it was..." She bent down to nuzzle Cozy. "I should have understood it sooner. I could have prevented all of this..."

Cozy shook her head. She held her eyes clenched hard, but tears still found a way to leak through. "No… I should have been honest from the start. Just said what I felt. Instead I took it out on all of you… e-even the pony I liked." Cozy hiccupped a few times… the look she gave Rumble was nothing short of pleading.

"Uh… It's… cool. Really, Cozy, we're cool," he said, awkwardly.

"We're all here for you, Cozy," Twilight said. "And we don't see a bad pony when we look at you. We see a filly who is really trying to be her best. She just needs a little help sometimes. We see a wonderful filly we all want more of in our lives."

"Me too!" Flurry pitched in.

Cozy looked up Flurry from Twilight's hug. Aside from her puffy, bloodshot eyes, she seemed to have regained a tiny bit of composure. "Was it you who…?" she asked, quietly.

"Yeah…" Rumble answered for her. "Flurry was the one who told me you wanted to be my special somepony. I… sorta didn't believe her, at first."

Cozy grimaced as if in pain. "Golly… after all the bad stuff I did…?"

Flurry walked up closer. "But it wasn't really you, was it? It was because you were afraid to lose a colt you really liked?"

"No, I was… j-jealous, too," Cozy admitted. She looked down in shame. "Since… I wanted to be an alicorn too. I did so many bad things, ruined so much and… and then you just got it by being born… I'm…I'm… sorry." The last word was barely more than a whisper, but Rumble could still catch it. He saw Twilight did too, by the way her expression softened and how she squeezed the filly just a little closer to her chest. Maybe Flurry did not realize how important the apology was, but Twilight and Rumble both knew how hard apologies were for Cozy.

Flurry asked. "If you want, we could start over, again."

"Would you?" Cozy looked genuinely stunned. "Would you still want to be my friend? After all I did?"

Flurry nodded energetically. "Yes!" She held out her hoof.

Cozy looked around to Twilight and Rumble, almost like she wanted to ask permission.

"Go ahead, Cozy," Twilight said, giving her a little nudge. "I know you will be great friends. I have always known that."

"Uh… yeah, what she said," Rumble added.

That sounded way better in his head. Good going Rumble, you grade-A dolt…

Cozy smiled at him. A warm, open smile, even if her cheeks were still matted with tears.

He had never seen her smile like that before, but he rather liked seeing it.

Finally, Cozy reached out a shaking hoof and bumped it against Flurry's.

A flash of light sparked to life from where their hooves connected. The light shot up Flurry's hoof and seemed to flow over her body. Flurry Heart lifted into the air. She began to shine stark white. Rumble, had to avert his eyes from the radiance.

A surge of magic detonated around the filly and washed over Rumble like a tidal wave of power.

Even before he knew what had happened, some primal instinct made him fall to his knees in reverence.

Chapter 14- Flurry Heart, The Redeemer

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It was not really late, but it was late enough that Curio decided he could close his shop without missing out on much business. He went out from behind his counter and opened the door to his little antique store. A quick look up and down the street revealed that there were no customers coming to him right now, so he hung out the "closed" sign on his door handle.

Of course, just because his store was closed it didn't mean his workday was done. He went into the back of his shop and up a narrow stair to his living quarters above his shop. Compared to the cramped space below, where various oddities and trinkets fought for space on his shelves and in the display cases, his living quarters were surprisingly neat. A wooden table with two armchairs, a bookcase and some smaller tables with potted plants and some especially interesting curios he had bought. Two doors led to his kitchen and his bedroom, respectively.

On the table there was an album next to a candle and a magnifying glass, and a few letters regarding a certain deal he and his colleagues were working on.

While he officially only had his antique store, Curio had plenty of other skills to his name, for those who knew the right ponies.

Blueblood was one who did know the right ponies, and he was also one who wanted his sigil collection evaluated by a professional. So he came to Curio.

Curio sat down in the armchair and opened the album. He tied the magnifying glass to his hoof and started working. He had to check the seals for any damages in the wax, and any imperfections in the sigil itself. And, of course, he had to make sure they were authentic.

Several of Blueblood's sigils were indeed rarities, and nearly all of them were flawless in quality. The Blueblood family was ancient and had always been one of the finest in Canterlot. And every one of them had contributed to this magnificent collection of sigils. Including the current Prince, who had managed to get ahold of both Princess Cadance and Princess Twilight's sigils somehow.

A ripple of magic washed over Curio, causing him to nearly drop his magnifying glass straight onto the fragile wax sigils. It was a soothing, invigorating feeling… if strange. What was this magic? Where was it coming from? Blinking in confusion, he left the table and opened his windows.

The street looked normal… but a few other ponies were walking by, all in the same direction.

"Huh…?" He mumbled. He went down the stairs, out the door and locked it, then he followed the herd. By instinct, he knew to follow the herd if there was something strange afoot.

They congregated on a larger street leading directly up to the castle.

He looked up at it. At one tower, specifically, waiting for… something. He didn't know what, but he knew something was coming.

If the last stream of magic had been a ripple, then what he felt now was an entire ocean. A prodigious burst of magic washed over him, and it felt… wonderful. It felt like his entire spirit had lifted and bloomed like a tree in spring. A smile appeared on his face, and he fell to his knees, bowing his head in the direction of the castle.

Coco Pommel brushed an errant strand of her mane out of her eyes with her hoof and allowed herself a deep breath as she pushed away from her sewing machine. Picking up a pair of scissors, she carefully cut the pieces of thread still connecting her latest creation to the sewing machine. Once the garment was free, she carefully carried it in her mouth over to a waiting rack where the rest of her costumes hung, waiting to be collected by the producer of Bridleway's latest show: A high-end production of "The Kirin King".

"Another job well done," she said to herself, looking at the fruits of her hoofcrafts with a proud smile.

Suddenly she felt a pleasant tingle in her hooves. It traveled up her legs and made her shiver slightly, a hum of comfort escaping her lips. She balked slightly, surprised by the sensation and it's sudden appearance. What was happening? Why was she feeling this?

Then… a pulse of magic struck her, almost like a gentle, warm wave of water. It felt invigorating, like her very heart was swelling in the gentle embrace that tickled her inherit earth pony magic in a way she had never felt before.

She knew what to do. It was an instinct she had since birth, and just as natural to her as eating, drinking or sleeping.

She turned towards a corner in the room, and she fell to her knees, bowing.

While she never reflected over it until she read the newspaper the next day, her bow was directed towards Canterlot.

"Hmmm… And thou art quite certain that 'moonshine' is indeed slang for illegally produced alcohol today?" Luna asked her sister, feathers ruffling in annoyance.

"Everypony knows that, Luna," Celestia said. She levitated up a fruit drink and took a sip, barely moving a muscle from the deck chair where she laid, soaking up the warmth of the sun at the beach. Luna knew that her sister, being the Sun Princess, rather liked sunbathing. In fact, it was what she did the most nowadays.

"Tis an insolence to my beautiful moon!" Luna huffed. "We shall have to write a strongly worded letter to Princess Twilight to make sure this is rectified! Moonshine shall once again signify the soothing, beautiful light of my moon! Not… not alcohol!" she stomped her hoof into the sand, hard.

"Fine, sister," Celestia said. "Now, if you are done, would you please stop blocking the sunlight?"

"We had hoped for some support from our elder sibling," Luna grumbled. "Your former student is more liable to listen if you too support me in this endeavor."

Celestia sighed and ignited her horn. At first Luna did not notice any difference.

Then she saw her shadow move as the sun suddenly changed position. "Fine, I will sign whatever letter you send." She took another slurp of juice. "You know, it's nice to not have to care about such silly things anymore. Now it's Twilight's problem."

"Tis not a silly thing," Luna mumbled. "But I agree with your sentiment, dear sister."

Luna was just about to go back to their mansion and start drafting her letter, when she felt something. Or a premonition of something. Something she had only felt once before, so long ago it felt like another life. She had not thought about that feeling for many centuries. It was as close to being forgotten as something can be! And yet, now there was no mistaking it. She let out a little gasp in surprise as she understood the implication. Behind her, she heard her sister stir from her deck chair.

"Sister, do you feel it too?" Luna asked.

"I do, Luna." The innocuous frivolity in her voice was gone. This was Celestia, the sovereign immortal Princess of the Sun, Stewardess of Equinity. "We must go to Canterlot and-"

The wave of power washed over them.

And they too, like every other pony, fell to their knees.

"What…happened" Flurry asked when the strange light receded. It had come so sudden! Just when she touched Cozy's hoof.

It hadn't felt threatening, in fact it had felt pretty good, but it… had never happened before! Also, what was up with everypony around her? Both Twilight and Rumble had their heads pressed against the floor, bowing to her, and Cozy looked about as confused as Flurry herself felt, looking around this way and that for some explanation. She still had her hoof outstretched.

"Oh… golly," she summarized. Her voice was still wavering a little, but now it was mostly just confused. "What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything," Flurry said. She went up to Twilight and poked her on the shoulder. "Hey… what are you doing?"

Cozy gasped next to her. Flurry turned to the other filly. She was covering her mouth with both forehooves and was staring in shock at Flurry's flank. "Uhm… Mommy says that's rude," Flurry pointed out.

"You-you…" Cozy stammered, still without taking her eyes off Flurry's flank. "Your cutie mark..." She pointed.

Flurry's heart felt like it took a leap straight up into the air. Almost as if in slow motion, she turned her neck to look over herself.

And on her flank, where there had previously only been her blank coat, she now had a cutie mark, like all the grown-up ponies did.

Two branches, crossed at the bottom and curled around. But aside from the slim, green leaves, she also had a few black fruits of some sort on the branches. She didn't know what it meant, but it didn't matter. A smile began to tug at her lips. It grew and grew… and grew until it felt like it took up her whole face!

"I got my cutie mark! I GOT MY CUTIE MARK!" She flew forward and embraced Cozy. She just had to. If she didn't find an outlet for her happiness she was going to explode! "MY CUTIE MARK! I GOT MY CUTIE MARK!"

She saw Cozy wince from Flurry shouting in her ear, but right now she barely even cared. Nothing bad could happen now! This was the best day in her life!

Twilight gathered her wits and rose to her hooves. She leaned sideways to look at the mark. "Flurry… you… got your Cutie mark for making friends with Cozy?"

"No." Cozy shook her head. She looked back at Flurry. "I think it was for… making me a better pony."

"Olive branches," Twilight said. "A laurel made from olive branches…"

"But what do olives have to do with me?" Flurry asked, tilting her head in confusion. "Am I going to be a farmer?"

Twilight laughed, even if Flurry didn't really see what was so funny.

"No, Flurry. An olive branch is a symbol of peace, forgiveness and redemption. And the laurel is an ancient Pegasus emblem, signifying their greatest leaders."

"Commander Hurricane once had to best a Windigo in a flying contest, and when he won, he was given a laurel of rime as proof of his victory," Rumble pointed out. "The North Wind Laurel is a pegasus legend! And the best student at flight school every year is still given a laurel."

"Oooh…" Flurry said, looking at her cutie mark with sparkling eyes. Then, she frowned in confusion. "...what is redemption?"

"It's when you make a bad pony good," Cozy said. "It's… what you did to me. I'll be… better, now."

"I like that word," Flurry decided. "It sounds nice. Redemption."

The four of them sat in silence, but it was a familiar, nice kind of silence. Flurry couldn't feel anything bad from anypony. Things were going to be just fine from now on, she was sure.

"So… do you want to go fly a little, Cozy?" Rumble asked. "I've got to get back to the kitchen soon, but…"

Cozy wiped the remaining tears of her cheek with a forehoof. Then she took a few, somewhat choppy breaths to calm herself. "Aren't you mad at me?"

"Nah," Rumble answered. "If you apologize, I know you're really sad about what you did. Besides, I don't want to start our relationship by being mad at you. So, you up for a short flight?"

Cozy nodded, her cheeks flushing red. They stood up from next to Twilight and went together to the balcony, a little bit closer to each other than usual. Even if Flurry didn't really know the ins and outs of love yet, she understood that she should probably leave them alone for a little while. Sometimes, mostly in the evening, her mom and dad really wanted Flurry to go to bed for some reason. Maybe this was the same sort of thing? Rumble even held the door for Cozy. Outside, they both stopped and looked at something below the balcony.

Rumble spoke first. "That's… weird."

"Uh-huh," Cozy nodded. "Twilight, you might want to see this… and Flurry too." She waved them over with a hoof.

"What do I want to see?" Twilight asked and made her way over to them. Flurry followed, curious.

When she came out on the balcony her jaw dropped.

The entire Canterlot statuary garden… and the way up to the garden… and the streets surrounding the castle… every nook and cranny was packed with ponies, looking up towards her. The pegasi of the city had made their way up on the surrounding roofs. She was used to crowds, but this was on a whole new level from anything she had experienced before. It looked like the entire city had gone out on the streets.

And the moment she stepped outside and put her forelegs on the railing to see better, a deafening cheer from the sea of equinity below her nearly knocked her off her hooves again.

"For getting your cutie mark," Twilight whispered.

"Why would anypony…?" Flurry Heart mumbled. She shrunk back behind Twilight. Used to crowds or no, she did not want everyone in the city to be looking at her and cheering for her. It felt… strange and overwhelming.

"Last time an alicorn got her cutie mark, it was probably the single most important event in pony history - when Celestia and Luna learned to raise the sun and moon," Twilight said. "It's the basis for ponykind's way of living. I suppose this event must have triggered something in these ponies, to come and pay their respects."

"Just imagine the cute-ceañera," Rumble said and flashed her a smile. Flurry tried to smile too, but felt her stomach twist at the idea of everypony bowing down to please her… again.

Twilight looked down over the railing. "Well… I guess you don't want to handle this on your own, do you?" Flurry shook her head vigorously. Twilight chuckled. "Then I will prepare a press release and take care of it for you. Then I am going to get in touch with your mom and dad. I'm sure they will want to come and congratulate you… and I would recommend that maybe you should play inside today? If you want to stay here overnight, I can try to get in touch with my parents."

Flurry felt her anxiety lessen by every word Twilight said. Her teacher had this under control. She didn't have to worry.

"I'll stay inside too then," Cozy said. "We could play something, or lay a puzzle. I have loads of puzzles!"

"No flying?" Rumble asked.

"I want to! I really do," Cozy hurried to say. "But can't you see our friend doesn't want to be alone right now? Golly, Rumble, good thing I'm here to show you how real friendship is supposed to work."

"Yeah, yeah…" Rumble rolled his eyes behind Cozy's back, making Flurry giggle. "But can we at least do something other than puzzles? I'm lousy at them."

"Hide-and-seek?" Flurry suggested.

Cozy beamed. "Okay! Rumble, you're it! Come on, Flurry, I know just where to hide!" Cozy took her hoof and pulled her up. They ran out the room quickly, leaving a confused-looking colt behind.

"Hey, that's not fair!"

Cozy giggled. Flurry giggled too.

"Princess, can you please tell us how you think Princess Flurry Heart's new mark will impact her future in Equestrian politics?"

The fifty or so reporter ponies, representing just about every major newspaper in Equestria, all looked away from the pony who had asked the question and back to her, their notepads and pencils ready to copy down her answers. Again Twilight had to consider every word she said three times over, for they were going to be repeated, analyzed, discussed and dissected by her own political advisors, the mayors in every city, and by the common pony. Any mistake or poor choice of words could potentially be blown way out of proportions and then take far too long to set right.

As it often was, Twilight decided that too little information was better than too much, especially since she could barely even fathom a guess to the question herself.

"It is still too early to speculate in that, but it is my sincerest hope she will put her unique talents and gifts to use for the wellbeing of us all! In this age of friendship and tolerance, her cutie mark is sure to only strengthen Equestria's bond with her neighbors."

The ponies began writing. By the looks of it, they were writing something much longer than what she had said. Hopefully they would not print something too outlandish…

"Any further questions?" Twilight asked.

Everypony in the room raised a hoof. Twilight pointed at Featherweight, who had flown here directly from Ponyville to represent the Foal-Free Press. He would probably ask an easy question.

"Princess, rumor has it that you have been mentoring both Princess Flurry Heart and Cozy Glow. Have they interacted at all? Are they friends, enemies? What is their relationship?"

Twilight winced, but hid it quickly. Not only was it wrong of her to give everypony in Equestria even more reasons to dislike Cozy, but if the truth about what her student had done right under Twilight's nose ever came out, it would cause a scandal.

"Their relationship is good," Twilight said. "They have grown to respect and appreciate one another, even if their start was a little rocky. Cozy has proven a very talented student in her own right, and one I am proud to have taken on." Hopefully the last part would help Equestria put Cozy's past transgressions behind them. Twilight knew she was still disliked by most ponies outside the castle.

Featherweight followed up with another question before Twilight could stop him. "Allegedly Princess Flurry Heart and the apprentice chef Rumble were seen in Ponyville some time ago. They went bowling and were seen together for several hours. Is it possible that the young Princess may be having her first crush?"

"N-no!" Twilight almost shouted. "I can tell for a fact that there is nothing going on between the two of them." She did not even want to invite the idea of something like that, not now that everything had finally been resolved.

More scribbling. Twilight had a feeling that some editor was going to make assumptions based on her hasty answer. Hopefully nothing came of it, but if things got too out of hoof she would have to publicly deny this rumor in the future… and pray any lingering doubts in Cozy's mind were soothed by Rumble's and Flurry's own assurances, despite what the press said.

She had to resist the urge to glare at Featherweight. If he had just asked something simple like he was supposed to, this potential headache could have been avoided.

"That is all the time I have," Twilight declared. "The press conference is over."

She left the meeting room through a discreet side door to the shouting and talking of the reporters. Now they'd all hurry back to their offices and have their notes written into proper articles, just in time to appear on every front page in Equestria tomorrow.

But that was an issue for Future Twilight to deal with. Present Twilight had one last thing to take care of, before this whole business was completely over and done with. She retreated to her private wing and looked into Cozy's room.

The filly in question was sitting in front of a half-finished puzzle of Cloudsdale. She had managed to piece together the frame and some of the cascading rainbows.

"Cozy? Can I come in?"

Cozy looked up with a puzzle piece in her mouth. She spat it out and felled her ears. "Uh-huh."

Twilight entered and laid down in front of her student, on the other side of the puzzle. Cozy did not meet her eyes, but by the way her ears were flat against her head and her legs tucked underneath her barrel, it was clear that she felt uncomfortable. "You're angry with me, right?" Cozy asked silently, still avoiding Twilight's eyes. The shame and resignation in her voice was palpable.

"Do you think I should be, Cozy?" Twilight asked. "Do you think your actions deserve me being angry?"

She nodded. "If it hadn't been for Rumble standing up to me… I think I would have hurt Flurry. Or tried to."

Twilight nodded sagely. "And had you done it, I would have had to give you a lecture." Cozy swallowed, just hearing how Twilight said that word. "Even now… I could be angry and disappointed at your behavior, but... you are clearly regretting what you did and what you felt. And if I had been more watchful… or more understanding of what a filly your age might be going through, this might not have happened. But even regardless of that, you didn't hurt me. Flurry, and to some degree Rumble, were the only victims of your… episode. I talked with them, and none of them wants you punished. If I was angry with you or punished you, it would not make you learn your lesson any better, and it would not make any of them happy."

"You can… choose when you're angry?" Cozy asked. By her look, that was the strangest, most wondrous thing she had ever heard.

"No, but given some time to think things through, I can usually control my anger and replace it with something more useful," Twilight said. "I have never found anger to help me deal with my problems."

Cozy hummed uncertainly. "So… I'm not getting punished?"

Twilight shook her head. "No, Cozy, but I hope I don't have to say that I expect you to have learned your lesson." She fixed Cozy with a stern look. The little pegasus fidgeted under her stare.

"I don't want Flurry to go," Cozy said. "I want her to stay here, so I can be her friend for real. So… you can continue teaching her. Us both, if you still want to, after what I've done."

Twilight's eyes softened, and she smiled at the small pegasus. She had already assumed that's what Cozy wanted, but it felt reassuring to hear her say it. Hearing her say it made it feel final, somehow.

"Like I said, Cozy, both of you are my star students. You don't have to worry that I will ever change my mind on you." Twilight put a hoof on top of one of Cozy's. "But I hope that the next time something makes you angry, or sad or just confused, you will come to your friends for help rather than carry it inside you. We will help you carry your burden, Cozy, if only you let us help."

Cozy looked down."Golly… I've always faced my problems all alone. I'm not… weak."

"I know, Cozy. A weak pony couldn't have done a fraction of what you have," Twilight said. "But you know there is power in friendship. But you don't need to trick ponies into giving it to you. I promise… when you have real friends, all you have to do is ask."

Cozy gave a small nod. "I'll try. But if it doesn't work, then it's your fault!"

Twilight chuckled. "Deal." She reached a hoof forward.

Cozy bumped it.

Satisfied, Twilight nodded. "But that's not all I wanted to talk about," Twilight said, ruffling her wings and standing up, scanning the room for the object of her interest. "I was wondering…" She spotted it on Cozy's desk. The strange quill she had held before. "About this."

She approached the desk to pick it up.

"Don't touch that!" Cozy screamed, just as Twilight brushed her hoof against it. The quill vibrated, stood on the tip and then lifted into the air. Twilight barely managed to pull the hoof away before the quill darted down again with enough force to lodge the tip into the wooden table, just where her hoof had just been.

Cozy galloped over and took the quill in her hooves. "Oh golly! I didn't know that would happen! Honest, I didn't know!"

"Can you explain that to me?" Twilight asked. She kept a wary glance at the quill. "Since you made it… isn't artifice an exact science, just like normal magic? The runes imbue the artifacts with certain properties, directed by its maker. That's… all, right? Artifacts aren't alive. They can't just… do stuff because they want to." Even as she spoke, she realized how little she knew about this particular form of magic. She had no research at all to back up what she just said… and besides, Cozy was a prodigy in this craft. Arguing with her about this was like Twilight telling Applejack how to buck trees.

Cozy shrugged and grimaced at the same time. "Golly… you're not wrong, but you're not right either… Do you know how pegasus and earth pony magic works?"

"Pegasi has weather magic, and earth ponies are uniquely connected to the soil and plants," Twilight said.

Cozy shook her head. "That's not all. When we do things with our hooves and wings… When we connect with the stuff we do, we put a little bit of magic in them too. When an artist paints a picture, she puts a little bit of herself, heart and mind and… stuff, in it. Or when a Wonderbolt flies, her passion for flying makes the trick a little bit easier. So when I make my artifacts... I put part of me inside them as well." She lifted the feather. "And this… I put all my worst parts into. I don't know what it does, but it will try to do whatever I would have done when I was… bad."

Twilight glanced at the quill again. It looked normal. "Should it be destroyed then?"

Cozy turned away as if to protect the quill. She could hold it without problem. "I think I want to keep it. As a reminder of… how my friends helped me become a better pony. It's not dangerous to me."

"Why did you make it anyway?" Twilight asked. "Did you mean to threaten me with it?"

Cozy lowered her eyes in shame and nodded slowly. "I hoped… that maybe I could scare you into picking me over Flurry… since I never thought you would choose me otherwise. But I didn't… know what I was doing. I wasn't myself when I made it.”

"I know, Cozy. I know you weren't yourself," Twilight sighed. She decided not to comment on the rest of Cozy's admission. "However… I cannot in good conscience allow you to keep it without some oversight. It's not that I don't trust you, but what if Flurry or Rumble accidentally touched it? It's a dangerous thing."

"Oh…" Cozy felled her ears. She was disappointed, but not defiant. "In the beginning… it was supposed to be… a present for Rumble. His own magical quill, but then when I got mad so I made it… into this instead," she added silently.

After a moment of silence, seeing how Cozy's expression dropped, Twilight sat down in front of her and smiled. "You know… let me think for a little while, and I could probably come up with something," Twilight said. "Perhaps a box that only you can open, so you can safely store the quill when it's not in use?"

Cozy brightened. "And a lock spell! If you enchant my door so that it can only be opened when the quill is in the box, there is no chance anypony but me can use it!"

"Good idea," Twilight said. "Let me figure out exactly how to do that, and I'll have the spell in place tomorrow, at the latest."

Cozy nodded. They looked at each other. For the first time… Twilight could call Cozy's look friendly. Of course, Cozy was still Cozy, and Twilight knew she'd still be plenty of headaches ahead of her due to this particular filly. But from now on… at least she wouldn't have to carry a nagging feeling in her heart that Cozy was still an enemy, somewhere deep down. No. Cozy was a friend, in her own way. With a sincere, happy expression, Cozy moved closer and nuzzled Twilight's cheek. "Thanks, Twilight," It was quick, but nonetheless just as affectionate as only a little filly could nuzzle somepony.

"You know… I think Rumble is about done in the kitchen for today," Twilight noted, looking down at the little pegasus.

"… Oh," Cozy blushed. "I'll go meet him then!"

She was gone in a flash. Twilight looked after her, fondness in her eyes. She had not expected this when she took the throne after Celestia. In fact, she had not wanted to release Cozy at all. It was all Sweetie Belle's doing.

But seeing Cozy Glow now, made her feel like it was the most important decision she had ever made.

Chapter 15- Family and Friends

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Cozy zipped through the castle as fast as her wings would carry her, dodging and weaving around the few ponies walking about. She arrived at Rumble's room in the castle annex after less than a minute. She had not seen him on the way here, so he must be inside. She lifted a hoof to knock, but stopped.

She set her hoof down and looked herself over. Her tail looked a little too windswept for her liking. Now that she had a special somepony she had to look the part. Cozy sat down and combed her tail quickly with her hooves. It was not much, but it made things a little bit better. Her mane got the same treatment. Only then did she feel ready. She rapped the door with her hoof and felt her heart swell in her chest, just standing there. Was she always going to feel like this around him now?

She wouldn't mind if that was the case.

He opened the door. "I almost expected you," he said. "Come on in. I'll be done in just a few minutes."

"Done with what?" Cozy asked.

"Well, I figured that when you have a special somepony… you're supposed to go on dates and stuff…" Rumble looked everywhere but at her. "So I asked Ramson for tips on restaurants and he gave me a name. I mean, if you want. We could just… do whatever you want, really, but I just figured that maybe you wanted to… I don't know, celebrate a little? It's my first relationship and I kinda want to make it special. You know."

Cozy felt so happy she might burst. She had never been on a date before. She had never even been to a real restaurant before, aside from the local fast-food joints near the orphanage or the Friendship School in Ponyville. And now she got to go with her special somepony!

"Cozy… please say something, I'm feeling like a nuisance. And I'm rambling."

"Yes! I'd love to go on a date!" she said with a squee.

Rumble exhaled. "It'll just be a second!" He went back into his room and Cozy followed. This place looked just like it always had. Wonderbolt posters decorated the walls, the bed was only haphazardly made, books and magazines laid in small piles in the corners. It was messy, but not unclean. Cozy could recognize organized chaos when she saw it.

Rumble ran a comb through his mane a few times, glanced in the mirror, and then took a pair of saddlebags. They jingled with bits.

Right. She had to get some bits of her own, so she could pay for her meal. He'd probably pay for her, but she did not want to let anypony think she couldn't fend for herself, least of all her special somepony.

"Oh, golly… If I'm going on a date, then I need to have a new pair of ribbons! I'll see you by the courtyard!" she said and galloped down the hallway before he could voice a protest.

This time she took the shortcut through her balcony, so she was back in her room after just a few seconds.

She pulled out a small box she kept under her bed. That's where she stored her allowance. Originally Twilight had intended it for her to spend on getting new toys or books, but she had just saved it as an emergency backup in case she had to skip town quickly. As time passed and it became less likely that she would need it, she had still just put her money there, mostly out of stubbornness.

She grabbed a pair of saddlebags and emptied her bits in it. She did not know how much it cost to eat at a real restaurant, but it was better to take too much than too little. Then she quickly undid her ribbons and retrieved a pair of new ones from her drawer. She did not need them, really, but this way she had not lied when she said she went to get new ribbons. She just picked up something else too.

She debated on whether or not she should tell Twilight where she went, but decided against it. Twilight shouldn't think that just because of what had happened, she was going to give up her independence. No, Cozy Glow was still Cozy Glow, and Twilight would have to accept that Cozy did what she wanted in her spare time.

Saddlebags resting comfortably on her shoulders and back, she left through the balcony again and flew to the courtyard. She saw Rumble entering from the garden path.

"Saddlebags?" Rumble tilted his head.

"Bits," Cozy said. "So I can pay."

"Come on, I pay," Rumble said. "I want to treat you tonight! My brother says that you've got to treat your special somepony on the first date."

"Well, then that goes for me too," Cozy said. "So… we treat each other? You pay for me and I pay for you?"

"Hmm…" Rumble's expression told her he would have preferred to pay for the both of them. "Can't I treat you tonight, please? You can pay the next time."

Cozy was about to protest, but for once she managed to catch herself before she said something stupid. This was clearly important to him, for some reason. Would it really hurt her so much to just give him this? Besides, he was trying to give her a gift. Since when was she turning down gifts?

"Golly… I suppose since you said please and everything…" Cozy smiled. "Okay. You can treat me tonight."

"Great!" Rumble brightened. "Let's go!"

He did not take to the air, like Cozy had expected. Instead he started out through the main gate and into the street. Cozy followed.

The congregation had dispersed by now, but there were still plenty of ponies out and about. Not that it was late yet, even if the sun was starting to color the sky in gold and indigo. As fall progressed, dusk came earlier and earlier every day. The expensive magitechnological lamps that the capitol had invested in were lit, showering the city in a bright, piercing type of light. It was not the same homely light as from firefly lanterns, but it was certainly impressive, giving the feeling of luxury and extravagance to the ponies walking under them. No other light was similar to this.

"Where are we going?" Cozy asked. Not that the answer would mean anything to a pony who knew nothing about restaurants, but she wanted to talk.

"The Tasty Treat," Rumble said. "It's specialized in foreign food, so it'll be interesting. Ramson was there the evening it opened, and described the food as 'halfway decent'. That's like… the best thing I've heard him say!"

"Sounds… good," Cozy said. "You'll help me with ordering, right? I don't know anything about exotic foods."

"Sure! If you like anything especially much, I'll even ask for the recipe!"

They proceeded in silence for a little while. "Isn't it a bit chilly?" Rumble asked suddenly. One could hear the shyness in his voice.

"Golly, you're right," Cozy said. She moved a little closer, heart beating fast and hard in her chest.

He put a wing over her back. She leaned closer into the embrace. The faint scent of his shampoo tickled her nose. She had never felt this close to another pony before. For the first time in… forever, she felt entirely at peace.

Of course, she knew that feeling would not remain. She was too ambitious. Too certain of her own destiny to ever stop trying to push herself higher, become even greater. But for just this evening, the world-spanning machinations could wait.

For just this evening she could be content with being a lovestruck filly on her first ever date with her very own coltfriend.

It looked like the crowd of ponies had cleared up from the castle grounds, at least from what Twilight could see when she looked out the window. But she could also see a few ponies still standing around. Probably journalists aiming to be the first to ambush poor Flurry the moment she went outside for the first exclusive interview with the newly cutie-marked princess.

They'd be disappointed. Flurry was going to stay in the castle tonight at least, and then they'd see tomorrow if she wanted to leave in the evening. Like many other newly-marked ponies, Flurry had wanted to be alone after getting her mark. Twilight knew what it felt like. The joy of taking your first step to becoming a big pony, the wonder of your mark on your coat, the anxiety for what it means for you, and what you will do now…

It was a lot of emotions for a young pony to process, princess or no.

Twilight had left her in peace to work on the many letters that needed to go out in light of Flurry's mark. She had already conveyed for her council of governors to meet her in the morning. Suddenly every other issue on her plate had been postponed. Once the evening press hit the stands, all of Equestria was going to know about Flurry's new mark, and Twilight wanted to be prepared for when letters from every major politician in Equestria trickled in. If she knew them right, they'd all demanded the same thing: A princess' mark was a historical event. It had to mean a celebration of some sort. In fact, the letters from the nearby towns had already begun to arrive. Mayor Mare's had been one of the first.

Suffice to say, it was not a decision she could make without consulting her advisors.

But Flurry would not need to concern herself, Twilight had decided. This was stressful enough for her as it was. This should be a happy time for the little filly, not one of endless responsibilities.

She finished signing one of the letters, put it away and started on the next one. The process repeated many times, the pile of unanswered letters getting smaller. When she signed a response to Manehattan's mayor, she heard a sound of small hoofsteps. When she looked up, she saw a certain alicorn filly meekly approaching Twilight's desk. "Yes, Flurry?"

"I was just wondering where I would sleep tonight," Flurry said. "Do you have an extra bed somewhere?"

"I could put you in one of the guest rooms, but they are a while away, in the other end of the castle. Or, if you want to sleep here, I could send for blankets and pillows, and we'll just move a cloud down for you. You will have to be on the floor, but…"

"It'll be like a sleepover!" Flurry chirped. "I'll sleep in here then."

"I'll find you a nice cloud," Twilight said and stood up. No matter how important those letters were, Flurry's smile was more important. Twilight magicked away a couple of hundred books that she had inadvertently let pile up high enough to completely block her balcony door. She really needed more shelving space.

She put the books down by the bed instead. "Do you want to come with and select your cloud?"

Before Flurry could answer, the door to her private wing was thrown open, and two ponies rushed through, one pink and the other white. "Flurry!"

A shock from the sudden intrusion quickly disappeared when Flurry recognized them. "Mom!" She ran out of the room to greet her mother. For it was indeed Cadance and Shining Armor who had barged into her wing, both of them panting like they had been running all the way from the train station. Cadance leaned down for a filly-sized hug, with both of her forelegs, nuzzles and her magnificent wings. Flurry eagerly returned the hug.

"How did you get here?!" Twilight asked. "Did you even know about her cutie mark?! It does not make sense; my letter can't have reached you yet! How did you even get here so fast?"

"Everypony knows about this, Twilight," Shining Armor said without looking at her. He was completely absorbed by looking at his daughter, the wide smile of a proud father decorating his face. "We both felt the burst of her magic. The train company was very helpful to make some urgent rescheduling at Cadance's request."

"Did it reach all the way to the Crystal Empire? Then it was much stronger than I thought…" Twilight mumbled. She also realized that if Cadance and Shining Armor knew, then every other pony did too.

"Oh, Flurry, we are so happy for you! So very proud of you! Now you need to tell mommy everything! How did you get your mark?"

"Thanks to Cozy! I redemptioned her!" Flurry answered proudly.

"Why don't you settle into the common room and talk?" Twilight interrupted. "I'll be right with you. Also, hello, Cadance. Remember me? Twilight Sparkle? Your sister-in-law?" she asked with a smirk.

Cadance smiled sheepishly at Twilight. "Hello Twilight… sorry about that."

Twilight flashed her a smile. "Like I said, I'll just need a moment."

"Right," Cadance said, already inkling towards the common room.

Twilight left the family there and went out on the balcony. Only when she was airborne and well away from any windows, did she let her smile fall.

It wasn't that she didn't want to see her brother and favorite foalsitter again. She absolutely did, but she couldn't help but to be a bit worried about what they were going to say about how Flurry got her mark. Cozy had not been kind to their daughter, and a simple "I'm sorry and I won't do it again" might not soothe their worries. Even if Twilight assured them it was taken care of, would that be enough?

Normally, yes, it would. But this was about Flurry Heart, and they were protective of her. Would they want to talk with Cozy on their own? Reprimand her for bullying their daughter?

If so, what would Twilight do?

She stood by her own reasoning. Only Flurry and Rumble should have any say in any punishment of Cozy, and they had already pardoned her. As far as Twilight was concerned, that was the end of the discussion. Flurry, Cozy, Rumble and Twilight had worked things out so everypony was satisfied, and after what the three foals had gone through, Twilight was not going to risk upsetting anypony just to please Shining Armor and Cadance. If they had any grievances, they would have to take them up with Twilight alone.

But how do you get Flurry's parents to see things like that?

Lost in thought, Twilight nearly flew face first into the clouds she had set out to gather. She shook her head to clear away the wet vapor and started gathering and compressing the fine mist into a more dense, fluffy type of cloud.

When she began flying back, she couldn't help but to feel uncomfortable. She didn't want to argue with her family, but if it came to it, then she knew what she had to say.

For that matter, where even was Cozy right now? Twilight had not seen her since she went to find Rumble some hours ago.

Hopefully she had not picked these few minutes to return. Things would be easier if she kept out of the way until Twilight had said her piece. She bundled up the cloud in a roll, grabbed it between her hooves and flew back down. She put the cloud roll on her own bed. She could deal with that later.

Once she discreetly went inside the common room, Flurry was still explaining, hopping up and down in excitement and turning to look at her mark every other second. "-and then I thought I'd be an olive farmer, but Twilight said olives actually means redemption, so that's my cutie mark. And it's a 'laurel' because a pegasus once had to fight a Windigo to get one, and that was really important, and he was almost like a princess, so that's why I have a laurel!"

"M-my little filly's… all grown up!" Shining Armor sniffled, just barely able to keep himself from breaking down crying with emotions.

"She really is," Cadance said tenderly. "My big filly."

Flurry all but crooned in pleasure and nuzzled her mother.

"She shows great promise in her lessons too," Twilight chipped in, speaking a bit louder to catch their attention. Both Cadance and Shining Armor were practically transfixed by their daughter. "Her raw power has only grown since she was little, and with her cutie mark it's sure to become even more potent."

"I'm not surprised she gained her mark when studying with you, little sis!" Shining Armor said, his voice still a little thick. "I knew you'd be a wonderful teacher for her, and we can all see how right it turned out to be."

"I have gotten better at magic too!" Flurry said. "Twilight has helped me learn how to aim and throw stuff!"

"That's great!" Shining Armor said ecstatically. "Can you show me? When your magic is developed enough, perhaps I'll even teach you some basic combat magic!"

"Yes! I want to be a hero princess!" Furry declared. "Come on! I will show you how good my magic is now! I'll be able to defend the innocent and fight evil kings in no time!" She hopped down from the sofa and tried to bodily push Shining Armor out the door. He chuckled and went with her.

Cadance rolled her eyes. "Colts will be colts…" she mumbled. "But he's right. We both suspected she might get her cutie mark under your tutelage… even if I always hoped I'd be there when it happened."

"Thanks," Twilight said. "For your trust in me, that is." She took a calming breath and continued. "but it wasn't me who helped her get the mark in the end… it was Cozy."

"Flurry told us," Cadance said. Her face did not reveal anything about what she thought or what, exactly Flurry had told her. "Actually, if you have the time, I wanted to ask you a few things about that."

"Okay… sure," Twilight said.

"From what I understood, there have been some problems with Flurry and Cozy. Is that right?"

Twilight nodded. "They have… had their differences."

"Is that something I should know more about?"

"No," Twilight said. "It's resolved. The less it's brought up the better."

Cadance looked quizzically at Twilight. Her brow was minimally furrowed. "That… doesn't really fill me with confidence," she said.

"Trust me on this," Twilight said. "For Cozy's sake."

The two of them held each others' stares for a few seconds. Cadance looked away first. "Okay. I trust you. Flurry clearly is happy with whatever transpired between them… even if I can't say I trust Cozy Glow, after what she did to you."

Twilight was about to protest, but stopped herself. She couldn't really blame Cadance for that, could she? It was only after many misadventures, tears and trials that she herself learned to trust Cozy. She could not ask somepony else to do it, just like that.

That trust was simply something Cozy would have to gain for herself. But with Flurry as her friend, Twilight suspected Cadance would not be very hard to win over.

Twilight nodded. "So… do you have any ideas for her cute-ceañera?"

"No… I haven't given it any thought," Cadance said. "Why?"

Twilight sighed. "Come with me into my office. All of Equestria will be clamoring for it to be a massive event, and I don't know how to make them happy while also keeping Flurry herself out of the spotlight."

Cadance nodded. "I agree, she wouldn't like something like that…"

"But how do I tell everypony that their princess doesn't want them to celebrate with her?" Twilight groaned.

Cadance chuckled lightly. "Let me look at it. I like to think I know how to handle bureaucrats at this point… and I'd like to see anypony trying to argue with me about my daughter's cute-ceañera.”

Twilight brightened. "If you do that, then maybe I can send a letter to Pinkie Pie? I'm sure she could plan something for Flurry, to make her feel comfortable."

Cadance nodded. "That'd be lovely. If anypony can give her a cute-ceañera to remember, it's Pinkie."

"You know… Flurry will probably have to make some sort of appearance, however short," Twilight pointed out. "It's her celebration, ponies will expect it."

Cadance ruffled her wings irritably. "We'll see."

By the time they had eaten and paid it was already dark outside. They went out together, and Rumble realized he had forgotten to bring his scarf with him. It was cold enough that he fluffed up his wings to keep warm. Most ponies still out and about had both scarves and earmuffs.

"Chilly," Cozy said for him.

"Yeah," He said. "I heard the weather office had scheduled for the first snow sometime next week. Just a thin layer of powder snow, to get everypony accustomed to it before they get the large shipment from Cloudsdale."

"Is Canterlot nice in winter?" Cozy asked. "I've never seen it."

"It's really pretty," Rumble said. He and Thunderlane had gone to the Hearth's Warming pageant several times, so he knew how it looked. "A thick layer of snow all over the city, with lights and garlands over every street."

"Any… mistletoes?" Cozy asked, bashfully.

He nuzzled her, carefully. He still did not know if she wanted him to show her affection in public, or even how she liked him to show his affection. "Sure, there's plenty of mistletoes by Hearth's Warming."

"What do you want for Hearth's Warming?" Cozy suddenly asked.

That was not a question he liked. Especially not since there were at least two moons left. Hearth's Warming was something he usually prepared one week before the holiday, not two moons. Also, he had no clue what he wanted. "I don't know… haven't thought about it." That's not a good answer… he had to come up with something! "Maybe a cookbook with exotic recipes? Could be fun to try out a bit more."

"It was really tasty! That noodle soup was spicy, but it worked really well with… everything else!"

"Thukpa," Rumble corrected. "Yeah. I hope Ramson knows how to prepare it… I've never worked with half of the ingredients before. But I'm sure I'll get the hang of it once I get to practice a bit."

"I'm sure you will!" Cozy said. "And if you ever make it for Twilight and me, then you will accidentally make Twilight's serving really, really spicy for me, right?"

Rumble rolled his eyes. "Aren't you supposed to be reformed now?"

"Pah, I'm still Cozy Glow! And I still haven't forgotten what she did to me," Cozy said, sharp enough for Rumble to decide not to pursue that line of questioning.

"Okay, if you say so… but no, I'll not spike Twilight's food. Haven't we already been over this?"

"Nuh-uh," Cozy shook her head, but there was a mischievous glint in her eyes. Rumble found himself smiling. There truly never was a dull moment with her…

The two of them arrived at the castle gates. A guard pony glanced at them but made no further move. Rumble had learnt that was as close to "You may enter" as one got with those ponies. They came to the courtyard and stopped underneath a firefly lamp. Twilight claimed they were better to read by than the magitechnical lamps, so the castle still used fireflies. "Well, I guess it's about time to hit the hay for me. It's been a pretty long day."

Cozy nodded. She kept her eyes downcast, but what little he could see of her face was flushed red. "I really enjoyed myself," she said quietly, gently, even. "Golly… nopony has ever taken me on a date before. Or… even liked me before."

"Hey, Cozy?" Rumble said. His legs felt like rubber. His wings felt strangely twitchy on his back, and his mouth felt like he had just eaten a pound of sand.

She looked up. The firefly lamp made her eyes glitter, and framed her blushing face and sky-blue locks in a golden aura. She looked… well, beautiful.

Rumble took a step forward and gave her a small kiss on the cheek. He didn't dare to go for anything bigger, if nothing else because he had no clue how to actually kiss a filly. He'd probably mess up and then he'd have ruined the moment.

No, better to play it cool.

He hoped.

In fact… Cozy didn't look too thrilled. She looked about like she had just woken up. She lifted a hoof carefully and touched the cheek where he had kissed her. She looked back at her hoof, then up to him, as if to confirm what had just happened.

He managed an awkward, goofy smile, for a whole one second before she flew straight into him and caught him in a hug as hard as she could manage.

"I… I love you. I really, really do," she said. He felt her struggle with the words. "I don't… Golly, I haven't..." he put a hoof over her lips.

"Me too, Cozy. I love you too."

The night didn't feel that chilly anymore.

Chapter 16- Schism

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Cozy yawned when she went into the castle. Rumble was right, it had been a long day for all of them. Sleep sounded like a good idea… time to put her old anger and paranoia behind her and get a new deal tomorrow. Maybe then Flurry had also came down from cloud nine and they could play a bit together… and if Cozy passed it off as a friendship lesson, maybe she could even get out of her normal lesson a bit earlier too.

Also, even if Flurry was an okay pony, Cozy was still almost sure she was a goody-four-horseshoes who really needed to learn how to properly prank ponies before they could really become friends. And since Cozy was not only cute and lovable, but also a kind and patient pony, teaching her the art of making glorious mayhem shouldn't take too long.

And now that Cozy had Rumble as her coltfriend, that should ensure her an endless supply of quesadillas for them to hide in Twilight's room while she was asleep. That'd be good! Or maybe she could switch Twilight's shampoo with tree sap. Or why not take some books in her library and put them at random spots to mess up her shelving. Simple, yet effective.

She spent the rest of the way up to her room thinking of other ideas. Not only did it give her a good laugh just thinking about it, but it also kept her from missing Rumble too much. It was silly, since they'd already see each other again tomorrow, but still.

"Hello, Twilight. I'm back!" She called when she entered the door to Twilight's wing.

Cozy could see Twilight sitting in her office just ahead. But she was not the pony who took up Cozy's focus.

Her good mood dissipated instantly.

Her blood began to boil and her breath began feeling heavy, as if she could not get enough air down into her lungs.

Cozy had hated Twilight for keeping her locked in stone. Her crime was the silent acceptance of Cozy's punishment.

But if there were any ponies she hated more, it would be those who locked her in the statue and sent her to Tartarus. Celestia and Luna - the ponies who had, practically, killed her. It took more than a thousand years before Celestia even considered releasing Discord, and it still took him escaping on his own first. No, Celestia and Luna and Discord had almost certainly meant to keep her in stone forever! Or for so long she didn't even recognize the world she woke up in!

And now both Celestia and Luna stood before her, just next to Twilight.

"Oh, hi, Cozy," Twilight said from between the two elder alicorns. "I just wondered where you went. You know, you could tell me when you leave."

"Cozy Glow," Celestia said. She didn't look remorseful, just curious. Not that it would have mattered; Cozy would still have hated her. "Twilight tells me you have been making great progress in your studies. But if you ever feel she is becoming too strict, you can always send me a letter."

Celestia smiled.

Celestia had the audacity to smile to the pony she had gleefully executed and probably never thought twice about! Cozy felt nauseous. She wanted to… to just grab the white alicorn and bend her spine to the point of cracking and then just… hold her there to see what she'd do! A million words filled her throat to bursting, but not one made it over her lips!

"Cozy?" Twilight's voice managed to reach her… and even calm her just a tiny bit. She sputtered something at Celestia and then ran into her room, slamming the door behind her.

Just getting Celestia's twisted grin out of her sight helped a bit. Anger ran off her.

Worry took its place.

Resignation followed.

She was not redeemed. Not entirely. The demon in her heart was driven back, and her friends could guard against it, but it was not dead.

All it took was enough anger, and she would return. She cast one fearful glance at the mirror. Thankfully she did not see any reflection from this angle.

Somepony knocked at the door.

Please let it be Twilight and not Celestia… she could handle Twilight. She had… almost, forgiven Twilight.

"Cozy?" She had never been so happy to hear Twilight's voice. "Is there something wrong?"

Cozy nodded. No more secrets, not after last time. She turned to her mentor. "I can't… be near Celestia," Cozy said. "Not after what she did to me. She and her sister."

Twilight looked surprised by that. Cozy narrowed her eyes. Surely Twilight understood her… right?

"She…" Twilight hesitated. "Okay, Cozy. I will… tell her that." She looked like she wanted to say more than that, plenty more in fact, but she didn't. Cozy was grateful for that. She knew Twilight well enough to know how much respect she held for the has-been princess. Even though Celestia certainly did not deserve any respect.

But Twilight probably knew just as well as Cozy that if they started arguing about this, they were going to end up ruining much of what they had built up today. This was a subject where they stood worlds apart, and one where none of them could even imagine compromise. This was a subject none of them dared to touch, a line none of them dared to cross for fear of how the other would react. This wordless agreement was for the best. Twilight would not mention Celestia, and Cozy would not either.

That's how it would have to be.

For now. But if Twilight did defend Celestia's actions, then she would pay the consequences, Cozy promised herself. She would never forgive Celestia. Never ever forgive Celestia.

Twilight had never seen the point of profanities, but right now she almost felt like she did. She and Cozy had been so close, so very close to reconciling everything, and then this happened. Of course Celestia would be a sore point for Cozy. With how hateful she had been to Twilight, Celestia must be even worse. Why had she not seen that before? Prepared for it somehow?

Sadly, Twilight knew the answer, and it made her feel ashamed of herself. She had not seen this coming because her own love for Celestia was simply so great that she could not realize anypony hating her. Celestia was like Twilight's second mother… so kind, sweet, intelligent… and just about every other positive adjective there was. The very idea of a friend of hers hating Celestia felt unnatural to her. It was as wrong as rain falling upwards or sunlight being cold.

Of course she should have seen this! Of course she should have realized what Cozy must feel about Celestia!

But she hadn't. And now Twilight felt lost. Torn between two ponies who both represented different parts of her life, her past and her future. Celestia had been her mentor and very first friend, the one who guided her since she was a filly. Cozy was her own diligent student and symbol of everything Twilight hoped to achieve as Princess.

How could she have two such integral parts of her life never come into contact with one another?

"Twilight, you seem troubled," Celestia said when she returned to her own room. Of course Celestia would know… hiding anything from her was impossible. Twilight dragged out on the steps that took her back to her chair to buy herself a few more seconds to think.

"It's just that… Cozy was a bit… tired and…" Twilight grimaced and shook her head. That was not the way. After the theatre fiasco, she knew that lying would only make the inevitable confession all the more painful. "Never mind… Cozy has asked that the both of you stay away from her. Both of you."

She did not even need to look up from the table to know of their reactions. Celestia would be more surprised than anything, and Luna would take offense for her sister's sake.

"Stay away?" Luna asked with that tart tone that meant she was displeased.

"She blames the both of you for her imprisonment," Twilight explained. "And we… that is, she and I, have had some difficulties with each other. It would be easier for us if you… were to stay out of her way as much as possible. Our relationship is still fragile, and I don't want to poke at old wounds when we have just healed the ones between her and me."

Luna huffed. "Tis not my sister who attempted to conquer our kingdom. Her punishment was justified, and our sister need not be ashamed of it."

"No, sister," Celestia held up a hoof. "Remember, Twilight is the princess now. If she deems this right, then we must comply… although, I will admit I had hoped to see how… well, how my student's student was doing."

Twilight nodded. "I know, but it's not my choice. And I know that if I had been your student and asked you to keep somepony away, then you would have done that for me. So I will do the same for Cozy."

Celestia nodded. "If that's what she wants… although perhaps you can tell her that if she has been redeemed like you say, then I was wrong to petrify her. And that I'm sorry I did."

"I will tell her that," Twilight said, though she knew Cozy wouldn't listen. In fact, just by saying that she was probably going to make Cozy furious again. She would have to extend Celestia's apology eventually, but for the moment she would have to wait.

"Princess, you should know, that even if Cozy Glow has redeemed herself, we are of the opinion that her punishments were earned," Luna said. "Redeemed or no, she committed heinous crimes upon our kingdom and put innocents in danger, including several young ponies at thine own school." Luna's statement was as cold and eloquent as one could expect from the Princess of the Night. "We shall defer to your will, as Princess. But thou nonetheless deserve to know where we stand in this matter."

"True… I meant to ask you, Twilight," Celestia said at length. There was a rare hesitation in her tone. "I understand that Princess Cadence… and many others, had expected you to take on Flurry Heart as your personal student. You have saved Equestria multiple times, and Flurry is certainly destined to achieve great things too. It would make sense for her to learn from you. So… what made you pick Cozy Glow over her? I'm not criticizing, I just want to understand your thought process."

Twilight squirmed a little in her seat. It was hard not to feel like Celestia was judging her decision. And why wouldn't she? She had been the Princess for longer than Twilight could understand; it was not strange that she wanted to be sure her successor had some plan for how to lead the nation. And picking one of her mortal enemies to be her student only months after her installation as acting Princess could not be the sort of thing to inspire confidence.

But at least Twilight did have an answer. "Cozy shows immense potential too," Twilight said, trying her best to do the impossible and speak to Celestia as an equal. "Actually, her achievements, for the lack of a better term, far outweigh what I had done when you made me your student. You..." Twilight swallowed. "Just like with Discord, her abilities can make a great change for Equestria, if they are only used for good instead of evil." Twilight felt her voice grow more secure when she spoke. This was essentially the same reasoning Celestia herself had used with Discord. "And as the Princess of Friendship, I feel like she has more need of my help than Flurry does. If necessary, another pony could have taught Flurry Heart magic. Sunburst, or Starswirl, who taught the both of you, could have helped her. But nopony else would or could have helped Cozy! And now when she is making friends, it's just like when I started to become the pony I am today!"

Luna's eyes narrowed minimally. "The way you speak of Cozy… the way you compare her development to your own. Art thou considering… to let Cozy Glow ascend?"

Twilight took a deep breath. That was a loaded question.

A set of hooves interrupted their discussion. All three alicorns turned to the door and saw Cadance stepping towards them, wings lifted.

"Shh," she put a hoof over her mouth to signal quiet. "I know Flurry was supposed to sleep in here tonight, but I wanted to ask if she could sleep in mine and Shining's room instead. It's been too long since I got to have my little one near me." As she spoke she carefully lowered her wings to reveal a barely awake Flurry drowsing on her back. Her lidded eyes briefly met Twilight's, but there was no attempt to talk. She was more asleep than awake.

Twilight nodded, grinning at the cute little filly. "Sure, Cadance."

"I'll just tuck her in, then I'll come and help plan the rest of her cute-ceañera."

Cadance turned to leave, tiptoeing as to make as little sound as possible.

Twilight was thankful for the interruption since it gave her some time to think about Luna's question. Was she considering letting Cozy ascend to alicorn status? True, Twilight had insinuated that Cozy could ascend into an alicorn once, but it had not been a promise. And Cozy was still far from ready for such a position. It would take many years before the question could be considered in a serious manner. But it would eventually have to be considered… and it would be a lie to say Twilight hadn't played with the idea.

Sometimes, on the edge of sleep, when her judgment began to lapse and she indulged in her own little guilty pleasures, she had thought about it. How it would truly be the perfect story of redemption, something that could be told and retold down the ages forever: the story of how Twilight's great adversary had redeemed herself, performed great deeds and finally been granted the utmost reward. That would be a story to inspire ponies forever, just like the hearth's warming stories did today.

A perfect, symmetrical bookend of a story.

Both Celestia and Luna were able to decipher her silence. Of course they could.

"As former Princess of Equestria, we cannot stress enough that we oppose her ascension, completely and utterly," Luna said. Somehow, her finality and complete certainty made Twilight feel guilty just for considering it.

"In this respect, I can only say I agree with my sister," Celestia said, though her voice was soothing… forgiving. "I know what it's like to see your student challenge every obstacle, only to come out on top in the most spectacular of ways… to see her learn, and grow, and to want to reward her. But Cozy is not like you, Twilight. There is a darkness inside her that has never been inside you. You have forgiven her, and that is good. But you should not forget who she once was."

Twilight nodded numbly. "I... promise to consider your opinions, if I ever have to make that choice." she said. It did not feel good. She was so sure she had the right idea with Cozy, to wait and see. Maybe she would deserve to ascend one day, or maybe not. She neither could or would write the idea off like Celestia and Luna had. But how could she ever convince them of that? Especially since Cozy herself evidently had no interest in working with her to do it.

Somepony coughed discreetly. The three alicorns looked up and saw Cadance had returned. Twilight briefly wondered why she had not noticed, but figured she must just have been too deep in thought to pay much attention. She didn't even know how long Cadance might have been standing there.

"Flurry is asleep," Cadance said. "Let's continue drafting up plans for the holiday. If we have a proposal ready by the morning, I'm sure we can have it all ready by this weekend. The sooner everything is over, the better for everypony, I think."

"Right," Twilight said, leaping at the chance to leave the uncomfortable subjects for something much more enjoyable. "I will ask Pinkie in the morning, but I think we all know she will agree to help plan Flurry's private party. That leaves us to figure out how the rest of Equestria's celebration should look."

"I was thinking that perhaps it could be fitting to make this a day especially for foals," Cadance said. "With activities set up to help other ponies find their cutie marks. We could encourage shopkeepers and workers to set up activities related to their trades for fillies and colts to try out."

"I could ask the Cutie Mark Crusaders when I am in Ponyville tomorrow, see if they have any ideas," Twilight said.

"It sounds like a wonderful idea, Cadance," Celestia said. "I'm sure everypony will be so inspired by Flurry's mark, they will leap at the chances to help other ponies find their marks as well."

"Tis will be a day of great enjoyment for both young and old," Luna said. "Sister, what say we ask some of the castle staff if they want to host some activities?"

"Celestia… you know the Hearth's Warming Pageant is closing in," Twilight mused. "I'm sure there are many foals who would love to try acting it out, if they knew the Princess herself was watching and helping."

Celestia's whole face brightened and a small neigh of delight escaped her lips. "Oh, Twilight, you know me so well!"

"Hmmm… then maybe I shall take it upon me to teach the young the secrets to a successful Nightmare Night scare," Luna suggested. "Tis a bit late for the holiday, but it is nonetheless my favorite season of the year."

"I'm sure it will be lovely," Twilight said. "And when the rest of Equestria hears you both are helping out, I'm sure everypony will want to do the same."

"That will be perfect," Cadance said. "And I'm sure my little one will like it more if she sees it as everypony helping fillies like her find their cutie mark, rather than celebrating her."

"Do you think the kitchen could let ponies try out baking?" Celestia asked suddenly.

The four of them continued pitching ideas and writing down suggestions far into the night. Soon the uncomfortable topics regarding Cozy's future felt like little more than shadows in the back of Twilight's mind. They would be questions for other times. For now, she was just a pony surrounded by friends, planning a way to celebrate another of her friends.

And when the day came to face those questions, then she would be ready.

The next morning, Cozy woke up to the sounds of something tapping a tune to the glass pane of her window. She rolled over and groaned into her pillow, willing the intruding… bird? Or Mailpony? Or Invading changeling? Or whoever it was to fall off of her balcony and let her sleep in peace. Sadly, the tapping didn't cease. In fact, it only got more and more insistent.

Scowling, Cozy threw off the blanket and marched up to her balcony door, quite ready to beat whoever was out there up with her bare hooves. This was not how she wanted to start off her day. She pulled away the curtains and fixed the intruder with a searing stare.

Rumble froze up with a hoof lifted to tap against her window. Cozy saw his larynx move when he swallowed. He felled his ears and eyes. In fact, his expression would not be out of place on a pony who had just read his own name on a tombstone.

She opened her balcony door with a huff. "That's not how you wake up your special somepony. That's something you should only do with hot chocolate and breakfast at the bed. So I hope you have a reason for this, or I might have to reevaluate our relationship."

"I… sort of forgot to tell you yesterday that my brother's having his tryout today," Rumble said. "And I've really got to go and see him. You know, offer moral support and stuff. And I wondered… if maybe you wanted to come with? To Cloudsdale."

"Oh." Now it was Cozy's turn to swallow. She had only met Rumble's brother Thunderlane once, very briefly. Would he approve of her? She was not exactly well liked by most ponies… In fact, he'd probably not at all like the idea that his little brother was dating a convicted criminal, no matter how cute and lovable Cozy was.

But she couldn't really refuse either. This was important to Rumble… and she would like to see her tribe's capital again. She had visited the Circus Altus with Twilight some time ago, but other than that, she had not seen it for many years.

"Okay, I'll… I'll come."

"Sweet! The airship to Cloudsdale leaves in ninety minutes, so I'll just grab some breakfast real quick! Ramson's taking my work today in exchange for me working during Saturday instead, so your food should already be done. I'll come up when I'm done."

Cozy nodded, her bad mood already gone. "Okay! See you in the common room!"

They parted ways and Cozy started combing her mane and tail before putting the ribbons in. Then she made her bed -she hated leaving the bed unmade; she didn't want ponies to think she was tardy. Finally she stretched her legs and wings and went to the common room.

Flurry Heart was already there, as was Twilight and... Princess Cadance? When had she arrived? Cozy hesitated in the doorway. There was another pony who might well dislike her. But since Cozy had helped with her daughter's cutie mark, maybe she wasn't too angry? Maybe?

Cozy plodded in warily, keeping an eye on Cadance.

"Good morning, Cozy! Slept well?" Twilight asked.

"Yes, Twilight," Cozy said. Cadance regarded her with mild curiosity, but no hostility from what Cozy could see. Good… she took the risk of looking away to Twilight instead. She looked a bit tired, or as tired as an alicorn could look, anyway. Eyes a little heavier, mane in a frazzle. "Have… you slept well?"

Twilight stifled a yawn. "A bit too little. It was a late night. Cadence and I have been planning Flurry's cute-ceañera."

Cozy nodded. "Rumble asked me to come with him to Cloudsdale, since his brother is trying out to become the coach for one of the Wonderbolt teams," Cozy said. Normally she wouldn't tell Twilight of her plans, but Cadance would probably like her more if she thought she and Twilight were close, right?

"Oh… Do you remember the Wonderbolts, little one? They performed for your tenth birthday?" Cadance asked Flurry.

"I'm not little," Flurry grumbled. "I'm a big pony now. I have my cutie mark! But I remember them."

"Would you like to see their tryouts too?" Cadance asked mildly. "Perhaps you can ask if you can come with?"

"Sure! They were really good last time. Can I come too?" Flurry asked earnestly.

Cozy would have preferred to spend this time with Rumble alone, but saying no was definitely going to make Cadance peeved, and Cozy did not want her as an enemy too.

"Sure," Cozy said with a smile. "I mean… you'll have to ask Rumble too, since it's his brother who's trying, but I'd love to have you with! Because we are friends now!" That was not even a lie. She did want to spend some time with Flurry… get to know her a bit.

"Lovely," Cadance said, with a warm smile.

Cozy decided that Cadance at least was not cross with her yet, so she sat down and started eating. She wondered if she should try small talking, but decided against it. The mood wasn't bad just because it was silent, and since she usually didn't talk too much with Twilight, odds were Cadance would notice something was off if she tried.

"Okay, Cozy, you done?" Rumble opened the door and went in, only then realizing he had the eyes of no less than three alicorns on him. "Oh, uh… good morning, Princess Cadenza," he dipped his head.

Cadance tittered. "What a gentlecolt. You must be Rumble?"

"Yes, he is!" Flurry confirmed. "We're friends."

Cadance nodded. "Well, Rumble. Cozy mentioned something about your brother trying out for the position of Wonderbolt coach. Would it be okay for my daughter and I to come with? It was long since we got to see a show."

"I… sure?" Rumble answered, clearly surprised. "I'm sure my bro will be honored to have you watching."

Cadance nodded. "Then it's decided."

"I can take you there, if you want," Twilight chimed in. "I'll just teleport you there and pick you up after a few hours."

"Yay!" Flurry said. "It'll be great! Do you think they'll do the loop with the spin-around after? They did that the last time I saw them, and it looked really difficult."

"You mean the loop into the corkscrew?" Rumble asked. "No, he's trying for the Gamma team, the weather-manipulators. They'll be doing light shows,cloud sculptures and stuff like that."

"Oh, I didn't know there were different kinds of Wonderbolts," Flurry said.

”There are four main teams,” Cozy said. This was something she knew and liked to talk about. "Team Beta are stuntponies. Gamma are weather-manipulators and Delta are formation flyers. The Alpha team is made up by those who have graduated from the other teams, or those who have really, really special abilities."

"Yeah, Alpha are by far the coolest team," Rumble said. "Plus, they've got Soarin. He's the second best Wonderbolt, after my bro Thunderlane. He's the only pony who's flown from Manehattan to Las Pegasus without landing."

"Pah, don't listen, Flurry, he's being silly again. Fleetfoot's way better," Cozy said. "She's got the record time on the Cloudrush Raceway, and has more derby titles than anypony else."

Flurry giggled, as Cozy and Rumble looked at each other, both bearing the same mix of surprise and slight insult on their scrunched faces.

Cozy and Rumble then spent the next few hours debating the superiority of their respective favorite, while also trying to convince Flurry which choice was the right one. It felt… nice. Really, the fact that she could sit still for hours on end and just… talk like this, without any ulterior motives, with Flurry Heart of all ponies, was enough to make Cozy feel a little proud of herself. She absently noticed Twilight and Cadance talking about something else, even if they both kept sneaking glances towards the foals. Cozy didn't particularly like it, but decided it was not worth bickering about. It made sense they would keep track of how Cozy and Flurry interacted for some time. Once they had seen there was nothing to worry about, they'd stop.

"I think it's time to go," Cadance interrupted. "We can't be late."

"You enjoy yourself now," Twilight said. She looked at Cozy. "Don't worry about a thing. It'll be fun!"

Cozy actually believed her. She could have fun together with Flurry.

Who would have thought?

Everypony huddled up next to Twilight and closed her eyes. Briefly, Cozy felt… strange, all over. She could never describe the feeling of teleportation, but she could recognize it. Then, immediately when the strange feeling ended, the temperature dropped as she transitioned from the warm, dry air that smelt of firewood and books, to the crispy, clean air of Cloudsdale. Her hooves sunk a little bit when she left the hardwood floor and instead found herself standing on a puffy cloud.

Opening her eyes revealed a lot of white and blue. They had appeared exactly where Twilight had taken her the last time Cozy visited Cloudsdale, just next to the Circus Altus, the largest and most prestigious racing track in Equestria. This time it was significantly more subdued though. No Wonderbolt banners decorating the sides, and the plaza where they had appeared was nearly deserted.

"Alright," Cadance said. "Let's go. Hope they will let us in." As the one adult, the three foals followed behind her.

"Have you been in Cloudsdale before, Flurry?" Cozy asked.

"Only a few times," Flurry answered. "But I like this place even more than Canterlot. Everything's so soft. And the air is really clean."

"Have you been here during a thunderstorm?" Cozy asked. "It's really cool! You can watch the storm from above and see how lightning flashes everywhere in the clouds below! And it's perfectly safe! When I lived in the orphanage, thunderstorms were the best thing to watch!"

She almost walked into Cadance, who froze mid-step. She turned to Cozy, looking at once shocked and sad. "Orphanage? You've never… I mean, Twilight has never mentioned… I-I didn't know..."

Cozy bit back her snappy answer and pretended not to notice the shift in atmosphere. She did not want anypony pitying her, least of all an alicorn. They may say they were sorry, but what would they know about it? They, who were adored by one and all, did not understand the first thing about how it felt not to be wanted.

Even Flurry balked at the revelation, eyes wide and sad. "Don't you have a mom and dad?"

Cozy clenched her jaw. "No," she said shortly. Her tone let everypony know what she thought about that line of questioning.

After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Cadance said silently with sadness in her voice. "I'm so sorry, Cozy".

"I'm sorry too!" Flurry squeaked.

"Never mind," Cozy said indifferently, trying to change the subject. "It was a long time ago… and we are here to cheer for Thunderlane! Don't look so sad!"

"Yeah! Big bro's gonna need our support out there! Don't be such downers!" Rumble quickly replied, flapping his wings.

"Whoo!" Flurry cheered, clearly affected by her friend's enthusiasm. Cozy felt Cadance's eyes dwell on her for a moment longer, before they continued their walk. With everypony else's attention diverted, Rumble turned to her and gave her a small, affectionate nuzzle.

Her sour mood dissipated. That gesture meant more than any "I'm sorry" ever could.

Getting in turned out to be easy. The pony in charge of the circus spotted Cadance and insisted she'd use the Princess Loge, just like when Cozy was here with Twilight. It was a special segment of the bleachers, walled off and placed just next to the racetrack, just by the starting line for perfect view.

Cadance sat down next to the cloud railing, directly on the floor so Flurry could sit on the stool next to her. Cozy and Rumble flew up to the railing a little bit away from the two alicorns, and clung to it with their hooves for the best view possible.

There were maybe a dozen other ponies in the middle of the circus, half of them dressed in the blue and yellow uniforms of the Wonderbolts. The rest were huddled up and listening to one of the 'Bolts.

"That's got to be the retiring coach," Rumble pointed.

"So that's the guy your bro's got to impress, right?" Cozy said.

"No, everypony gets to vote for who they think is best," Rumble said.

"Look! They're doing something," Flurry said and pointed with her hoof.

The old coach held out a small bag, and all the participants put something in it. She shook it a few times, opened the bag and retrieved a small object. Cozy could not see what it was, but when she showed it to the others, three of the aspiring coaches took flight and left one behind, an orange pony with white mane and tail.

Cozy settled in for a relaxing morning. She and her special somepony, watching a Wonderbolt event together with a friend and her mother. This was going to be nice, she could feel. Absently, she reached out with one hoof to the side, while holding on to the railing with the other.

When Rumble took it in his, Cozy sighed in contentment. With a warm smile and heart as light as clouds that surrounded them, she completely forgot about princesses, anger and anything that could bother her.

Chapter 17- Cadance and Cozy

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"I thought they'd pick Whirly Vortex for sure, her ideas for reducing the danger of the lightning-based tricks were really good," Thunderlane said, a big, goofy grin plastered all over his face. In fact, it seemed like his face might be stuck that way now, for it had not wavered for a second after the competition had ended and he was announced as the winner. Rumble was with him now, listening to his relieved prattle, while the Gamma Wonderbolt team had swarmed Cadance and Flurry after their selection was done. Cozy herself remained a bit in the background with Rumble and Thunderlane. She knew, of course, that she'd have to introduce herself to Rumble's big brother eventually, and that he'd never be in a better mood than now, but… what if he disapproved?

"Hey, bro, I've got some pretty good news myself, actually," Rumble said when Thunderlane stopped talking for a moment.

"Yeah? Something to make this great day even better?" His eyes were sparkling like a yearling's on Hearth's Warming Eve.

"If you can handle the fact that you're now the only pony in our family who's single, then yeah," Rumble said with a certain boisterous flair.

"You've got…!" Rumble nodded, grinning proudly and blushing at the same time. "Well I'll be! Who's the lucky filly? Or is it a colt?"

"She's right here," Rumble said and gestured Cozy over. She swallowed her worries. Rumble probably knew what he was doing, right? He'd not choose to introduce her if there weren't a good chance for her to be approved, right? "You know Cozy Glow, don't you?"

"Uh…" His goofy smile was replaced with a downright flummoxed look. "I… have read in the paper…" he said, while looking over Cozy with a slightly cocked head, like he was investigating some queer flower or something. "Like… you're the Princess's student now, right? You're not…"

Cozy eagerly shook her head. "Golly no! I'm not like that at all anymore, honest! Your brother helped me be a better pony and… and he's done a lot for me." Cozy looked over to Rumble for guidance.

Thunderlane shrugged. "Hey, it's not like I've got any right to butt in on my bro's relationships. If he thinks you're okay, then that's all I need to know. 'Sides, if Princess Twilight herself trusts you, then you can't be too bad." Thunderlane sighed, but there was a playful glint in his eyes. "But still… I've really need to get myself a mare. Can't have my little bro outdo me like that…"

"But that shouldn't be a problem for the newest Wonderbolt Coach, right?" Cozy supplied. Her knack for reading ponies told her Thunderlane was the sort of stallion who appreciated a good joke.

"Hah, I like the way you think," he said. He turned to Rumble. "You know, when I saw you coming to cheer me on, I had thought we'd grab a snack after. But when you're in Cloudsdale with your fillyfriend, you don't spend that time with your bro. 'Sides, I think I'll just take your fillyfriend's advice and hit up some bars on my own."

Rumble playfully nudged his brother. "Go get 'em, bro. I'll see you in Ponyville."

"Gotcha, see you." He nudged Rumble affectionately and waved, somewhat awkward, to Cozy. She waved back, then he left.

"He doesn't dislike me? Right?" Cozy asked, more anxious than she liked to admit. Their relationship would be much easier if Thunderlane accepted it, especially since Cozy did not have any relatives who could butt in.

Rumble shook his head. "Nah, or I think you'd have noticed. My bro doesn't really hide his feelings very well. Like he said, if I like you, then he is okay with it. And I do. You don't have to worry about that."

She knew most ponies didn't like her very much and she didn't want Rumble to get in trouble, but Cozy took the chance to nuzzle him quickly. Even if she had decided not to be too upfront with their relationship in public, she could make some exceptions.

A few minutes past. "Think they're done soon?" Cozy asked. She mostly managed to not glare at the congregation around Flurry Heart and Cadance. Flurry may be her friend, but it still chafed seeing her getting all this attention and adoration. Even if it wasn't Flurry's fault she was a Princess, and it turned out Flurry didn't necessarily want to be a Princess. That last part was just plain weird, Cozy had decided.

But just when Cozy was about to go up to them and ask, Flurry and Cadance emerged from the circus, the latter with her wings slightly lifted to create a barrier between the ponies behind her and her foal in front of her.

As they left, a sharp light and sound detonated just next to Cozy. She yelped and took flight before she recognized it as Twilight teleporting into existence next to her.

"You all done?" Twilight asked.

"Yeah, and my bro got the job!" Rumble said proudly.

"Then give him my congratulations the next time you see him," Twilight said. "Did you two enjoy yourselves?"

Cozy nodded. "Uh-huh."

"Think we could take the small-talk back at the castle?" Cadance asked, casting a wary glance at a pair of tourist ponies, who were firing off their cameras as fast as they possibly could. "Before we get accosted again."

Twilight giggled. "Sure. Come closer."

They all huddled up around Twilight again and Cozy closed her eyes. The feeling of cobblestone under her hooves was her first indication that she was back…

Home. She was back home.

"Actually…" Cadance said once they had arrived. "Could I have a few words with you, Cozy? In private, if you would allow that?"

Cozy bit the inside of her mouth. Being alone with a potentially angry alicorn was not something she wanted. If Cadance knew how Cozy had treated Flurry, then she was going to get the earful of the century… but Cozy was good at reading ponies, and it didn't feel like Cadance was angry with her. She seemed more curious than anything. She could ask to have Twilight stay…

But she also wanted to prove to everypony, herself included, that she was not afraid of a Princess. That she could take care of herself.

She nodded. It was better to put her trust in her own instincts than in Twilight. Friend or no, it was always better to rely on her own abilities than anypony else's. "Okay. We… could go for a small walk?"

"Splendid!" Cadance chirped. "We'll be right with you, Twilight. Also, if Shining has woken up, tell him that if he wants to practice combat magic with Flurry, he will have to do it before her bedtime."

"I'll tell him, but I can't make him listen," Twilight said.

"I wouldn't ask the impossible of you," Cadance said with a resigned smile.

Twilight smiled back, before guiding Flurry and Rumble back to the castle.

"Shall we go then?" Cozy asked, looking up at Cadance. She was taller than Twilight, although not by a whole lot.

"Sure," Cadance said. She was walking slowly so Cozy could follow next to her, despite her shorter legs.

She did not say anything else. They just went next to one another, out of the courtyard and into a private section of the castle park. In summer, this place was filled with flowers of ever color and the most bewitching scents in all of Equestria. Now, in late fall, most plants had already dropped their leaves, which had of course been raked up and taken away by the groundskeepers. A few evergreen trees stood by the path though, giving the garden a fresh feeling nonetheless.

"Would you look at that?" Cadance said when they had gone for a few minutes. She indicated a tangle of green twigs that grew strangely in a tree, off from the path. "Mistletoe."

Cozy hurriedly backed away from the tree, just in case. One should not tempt fate with The Princess of Love. Cadance tittered, broke off a small piece and put it in front of Cozy, on the garden path. "I think you will find a use for that, won't you?"

"Golly… is it that obvious?" Cozy asked before she realized that Cadance of course had seen Cozy and Rumble hold hooves at the circus. One would not have to be a love-expert to make the connection.

Cadance nodded. "It's sweet, if you don't mind me saying. Young love is very beautiful to see."

"But that's not what you want to talk about, is it?" Cozy said and moved to take the mistletoe in her mouth. Cadance magicked it away.

"Not with your mouth, mistletoe is poisonous," Cadance informed her and dropped the sprig into her hooves instead. Cozy stashed it in her mane. "Believe it or not, it is precisely what I want to talk to you about."

"But… Flurry's cutie mark and… and stuff," she finished awkwardly. If Cadance was not angry with her, then Cozy didn't particularly feel like bringing up what had happened between her and Flurry.

"I will admit I am curious," Cadance said patiently. "Flurry was oddly quiet about some parts. But seeing you two now, it's clear that whatever did happen between you is behind you, and that's the important part. I don't want to be the pony to tear open healed wounds with my curiosity, at least not now. My little one has enough to think about as it is, without her mother butting her muzzle where it doesn't belong.”

Cozy looked quizzically at Cadance. That was a much clearer, more logical reasoning than she had expected. Since when did grown-ups believe that fillies could think for themselves? "You are good with foals, aren't you? Twilight wouldn't leave anything like that."

Cadance smiled. "I know Twilight likes to have control, but she means well. I have just had some more experience than her. Foals can't always be controlled, and trying only makes things harder for everypony involved."

Cozy nodded.

"But back to the matter at hoof." Cadance stretched herself a little higher. She could be a stately pony when she wanted to be. "Rumble is a pretty nice colt, isn't he?"

Cozy nodded, feeling a bit wary. She had no idea what Cadance wanted with this discussion.

"You really love him. And he loves you too," Cadance said. "I just wanted you to know that I have seen, more than anypony, how much good loving somepony can do for you. Now, forgive me for assuming, but I am willing to bet that your love for Rumble somehow played into you making friends with my daughter."

"How do you figure that?" Cozy asked. Cadance was not wrong, but Cozy wanted to hear just how she came to that conclusion.

"It's all about how you act around each other," Cadance explained. "Your friendly bickering when discussing the Wonderbolts at breakfast, the shyness when you wanted him to take your hoof at the circus… little things like that tells me you don't fully know each other's boundaries and signs yet. And if so, then the timing of your new relationship coincides too well with my daughter's cutie mark to be a coincidence."

Note to self: Cadance may be the least magically skilled alicorn, but she was clearly the most clever of the bunch. Twilight may know more than her, but Twilight was a control freak and prone to relying on book-smarts before anything else. Twilight was intelligent, but Cadance was… smarter? At least those were what Cozy thought would be the words.

"Golly… you're right. Rumble was part of why Flurry and I became friends," Cozy admitted. "But why do you care about me and him?"

"Two reasons," Cadance said. "First because I love seeing young love grow and flourish between two ponies like you. It fills my heart with happiness."

"Sure." Cozy rolled her eyes. "Anything real?"

Cadance smiled slyly. "Fine. How is this for real: Since Twilight has been very tight-lipped about you in her letters to me, that tells me that things have been… rocky, between the two of you. But now, when I come to visit, you are both friends with each other from what I can see. I suspect your relationship with Rumble is helping your relationship with my daughter and Twilight too."

Cozy felt her respect for Cadance grow. She was, in a way, not too unlike Cozy. The least imposing of her ilk, but with a keen mind for ponies and politics. In a less friendly environment, Cozy suspected she would have been a deadly schemer in her own right. And Cozy respected that.

"Okay… that's pretty real," Cozy admitted. "But why are you telling me this? What do you want with me?"

"Nothing, Cozy," Cadance said patiently. "I just wanted to confirm my suspicions… and one more thing, if you'd listen."

"Well, I've listened this far, haven't I?" Cozy said.

Cadance nodded. "Then I want you to know that if, for any reason, you want advice on love, you can always ask me. Like I said, I want to see your relationship grow and bloom, and I'm ready to help you if you need it."

Now it was Cozy's turn to giggle. "Golly, I won't need that! I'm good with ponies, and Rumble already likes me!"

Cadance smiled knowingly. "Don't be too sure. If there is one thing I've learned about colts, it's that they are all dense as bedrock. Sometime, I can promise Rumble is going to do things that will leave you scratching your head for how stupid it is. At those times, it can be comforting to have a sensible pony to talk to… and when it comes to love, you will have to forgive me for not trusting a pony who's only real love is books."

Cozy laughed at that. "Golly... I'll keep it in mind."

Cadance nodded. "Very well. Good luck with that mistletoe. Nopony forgets their first kiss, so better make it special."

Cozy nodded, blushing a little. Cadance took wing and Cozy started making her way back to the castle, thinking. Of all the alicorns, Cadance was the one she had always written off as a minor concern at best. An alicorn only by name and without any impressive accomplishments or skills. But talking to her, even as short as this, revealed that there certainly was a depth to her. Just like with Cozy herself, Cadance's abilities were not as flashy or tangible as with the other princesses, but still no less respectable.

Rumble went to rejoin Ramson in the kitchen, so Twilight brought Flurry alone up to her wing. While Twilight didn't want to bother her with the preparations for her party, there were some things that needed her participation. She guided Flurry to the library, where Ponyville's resident party planner had set up something that looked more akin to the Equestrian army's command room. A large map of Canterlot laid over the table and small wooden figures had been placed at seemingly random spots. Bulletin boards stood around the table, filled with long diagrams and lists. In the corner stood one of Pinkie's many party cannons, and the chief of staff herself had donned a blue stahlhelm and a field marshal's uniform, complete with several distinctions and orders, most of which went in the shape of various baked goods.

"Mein Fräulein Twilight," Pinkie chirped with a salute. "Just say the word, and I will transform this city into the biggest, bestest cute-ceañera ever! Just you leave everything to good o'l Pinkie Pie! Especially the cakes! So I can eat them after! Oh, and that reminds me, do you have the key to the castle armory? I stacked some confetti in there for your coronation, but then Rarity said it wasn't appropriate, so I figured I'd save it in case of a confetti emergency, but this is way, waaaay more important!"

Twilight had almost forgotten how excited Pinkie could get when planning a big party. Seeing her sweet friend again made her feel like a weight on her heart had lifted. With Pinkie around it was easy to just forget responsibilities and duties for a while, and just be a pony getting ready for a party. "I will get you the key," Twilight said. "But before I do, I thought you should have the time to talk things over with the cutie marked pony herself."

"Oooooh!" Pinkie zipped over the room so fast she left the stahlhelm hanging in the air. She stopped by Flurry's side and stared at her cutie mark. "Leafy!"

"It's a laurel! It's a thing for princesses!" Flurry said with a pout, sounding almost offended at the description of her mark. "It's not… just leaves!"

"Leafy is good though," Pinkie said. "But never mind that. Now…" She retrieved a small table from nowhere in particular and sat down with a top hat and a cup of tea next to her. "Take a seat and tell me everything you want for the party. I mean, except for orange ice cream, blue balloons, laurel decorations, and no dark chocolate, since those things are obvious."

Twilight could see Flurry hesitating. She had met Pinkie before but probably not often enough to not be a little bit intimidated by all her antics. And Twilight could admit that an excited Pinkie was difficult to keep up with, even for somepony who was used to her.

Flurry tapped the table with a hoof, as if to confirm it was really there. Then she sat down. "I… well… I don't really want a big party," Flurry admitted. "Just with me and my friends and parents. Like a birthday party. No need for everypony else to be involved, right?"

"Hmm… hu-hmm…" Pinkie stroked her chin. "I see… a small big party for your closest ponies. Tell me more."

"But still with good food and playing." Flurry said. "Like peekaboo and-"

"-Pin the Tail on the Pony, got it," Pinkie said.

"Yes, I love that game," Flurry said.

"Hmm… in light of this new information, I will have to make some changes to my party plans," Pinkie said and pulled out a notebook from her mane. She scribbled something before she ran back over to her map and started moving the small wooden figures around. Flurry followed her curiously.

She hopped up on the table. "What are you doing?" she asked. "It looks fun. Almost like that board game I have back home."

"Serious parties are serious stuff," Pinkie said, looking over the map with the scrutiny of a battle commander. "Hmm… You like oranges, pink and white coloring and bloom decorations. But I need to ask, should the decorations be orchids or daisies?"

"Uh…" Flurry said. "I don't know how orchids look. But I like daisies."

Pinkie shuffled some more pieces around on her map. Twilight once again found herself wondering what exactly went on in Pinkie's head. Did she have some idea about what she did on the map, or did she just move things around at random? Or did her brain simply work on a higher understanding than most ponies.

Somepony came into the room behind her.

"How is it going here?" Cadance asked subtly. Pinkie and Flurry did not even seemed to have noticed her entry. They were both now absorbed in their party preparations and had long since left Twilight behind. "They look like they are having fun."

Twilight nodded. "Did Cozy talk to you? It took me some time before I got that far. But I suppose she might not have a grudge against you… you are probably the only one of us she doesn't blame for anything."

"And she really wants to be a friend to Flurry," Cadance pointed out. "Anyway, I'll tell you what I learned. In your room?"

Twilight nodded. She doubted Flurry would listen to anything but Pinkie right now, but better not take any risks. They left the room and went to Twilight's study. Twilight closed the door.

"You should also know," Cadance said with a measured tone. "Last evening I heard some of what you talked about with Celestia and Luna. I didn't want to interrupt."

"About what they thought about Cozy?" Twilight asked, though she already knew the answer. And just like yesterday, it was not a subject she looked forward to discussing, even if she knew she had to.

Cadance nodded. "Their stances on it were rather clear, weren't they?"

"You could say that again," Twilight sighed. "I see where they are coming from but… they don't know her like I do. It's not right to write her off as quickly as they did."

"I agree," Cadance said. "I don't know exactly what you see in her, but she appeared pretty clever. Curious and thoughtful. And… well, she really is in love. I refuse to believe somepony who can love another like that can be truly evil."

Twilight had to be impressed. She still found Cozy difficult to read, but Cadance clearly had managed to divulge quite a bit in just her short talk. "It feels good that you say that." Twilight admitted. "I obviously think she is telling the truth about everything, but if the Princess of Love does it too, then nopony can argue she has really changed."

"She still has her secrets, I suppose," Cadance said, looking slightly above Twilight's head. "But from what I could gather, she seems to be the real deal. I think she deserves your close attention, and, if you ever decide to let her ascend, I think I can back that decision. I didn't feel like she was hostile to me or to Flurry… and just like you have always said yourself, the things she have done speaks volumes of her potential. I suppose it's almost like Celestia with Discord. He too learned… mostly, to use his abilities for good. And if you could do the same with Cozy, then I think we will all be better off for it."

"Is that… the whole reason?" Twilight asked. The way Cadance didn't quite meet her eyes led her to believe Cadance might have thought about more than she let on.

Cadance smiled sheepishly. "Well… I suppose being a mother myself makes me want to believe in the innocence of little fillies and colts. And seeing her flustered around a pony she likes makes me… well, hate the idea that she was ever put to stone. Behind everything she did, she is still a filly, just like my own little Flurry. And an orphan too. Did you know?"

Twilight nodded. "Yes. I tried to investigate some of her past before. She lived in Cloudsdale, Spring Rain Orphanage or something like that. I can look it up if you want. But I didn't really learn too much. They didn't know who her real parents were, and I suspect somepony jumped through plenty of hoops to hide it. I guess Cozy might still know, but I'm not going to pressure her into talking about it. If she feels like she wants too, then she already knows I will listen."

Cadance sighed. "It… made me sad to hear. I couldn't imagine growing up without parents. Nopony deserves that." Her eyes dwelled on Twilight. "Do you think… she will ever see you as her… mother?"

That was a question she was not prepared for. Her, a mom? To Cozy? Her mind stopped her before she got any further. She knew the answer. "No. even if she has forgiven me for what I did, and I'm not sure she has, entirely, she will never forget it. She will never love me like that, I don't think."

Cadance felled her ears. Clearly she, like Twilight herself, had wanted another answer. She was silent for a few moments, deep in thought.

"Well, anyway…" she continued, slightly awkward. "I just wanted you to know that knowing where Cozy started from and how long she has come makes me believe she can become worthy of ascension one day. I don't know when or how, but I definitely think she has it in her." She smiled quickly. "An intelligent, socially awkward foal with the potential to become a Princess… Now, where have I seen that before?"

Twilight didn't know if she was supposed to feel proud, offended or just laugh at the notion of being compared to Cozy Glow. Especially since she felt like the comment might have hit a little too close to home.

She settled on a simple "tsk," and nudged Cadance with her hoof. Cadance chuckled.

"AND A GOLDEN ORANGE THE SIZE OF AN ELEPHANT!" came Pinkie's excited voice from the room down the corridor.

Cadance and Twilight both looked at the entrance. "I should never have let Flurry plan her party with Pinkie Pie," Cadance said with a sigh. "Come on. If we don't do something their ideas will cause a financial crisis."

"A hallmark of a good Pinkie Party, I suspect," Twilight said, groaning and laughing at the same time.

Chapter 18- The Party

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One week later, everything was ready. An official holiday had been declared all over Equestria so every foal could go out with their parents. Twilight did not have the details, but her advisors had told her that every big city had followed her instructions and arranged a variety of activities. Just like she had hoped, the spirit of community in Equestria had also inspired individual ponies to set up their own events related to their trades. Today carpenters, candlemakers, farmers, secretaries, smiths, mages, brick makers, masons and just about every other conceivable trade had opened their doors to fillies and colts alike.

Her own castle was no exception. She had seen a few foals earlier together with the groundskeepers. They were going to plant some of the bulbs and prune some of the trees. Apparently trees that were cared for by earth ponies had to be pruned in fall for them to keep their shape neat. Ramson had opened his kitchen for those who wanted to try some simpler recipes and, even more impressive, he had managed to keep most of his acrid temper in check. She hoped it would continue like that.

So far so good. Really, the idea of everypony banding together to help foals finding their cutie mark made her feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Also, Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo had spoken of trying to make the Cutie Mark Crusaders a proper organization all over Equestria with branches in every major city. Slowly but surely, they too were growing up and the organization they had started as fillies would evolve with them.

There was only one problem.

Twilight peeked out underneath the curtains that had been put up in front of the castle main entrance, and could see a veritable sea of ponies waiting, huddled close and dressed up in scarves and earmuffs for the first snow of the season. She had hoped that scheduling this right as the weather office started their snow might deter some ponies, but it didn't seem to have worked very well.

"How does it look?" Flurry asked nervously, shifting on her hooves between Shining Armor and Cadance. She had a long scarf wrapped several times around her neck and a pink jacket. It was stuffed with phoenix down and it was probably more expensive than all other articles of clothing in the crowd put together.

"There are a lot of ponies out there," Twilight said. "But there's nothing to be nervous about, I promise. Everypony just wants to take a look at your new mark is all."

"It'll just take a minute or two," Cadance soothed. "Just say what you practiced yesterday, and everypony will be happy. And both me and daddy will be there with you. We'll handle the magic part. Just concentrate on your speech, I'm sure it's great."

"I still don't get why I have to do this," Flurry huffed. "It's not like I'm… special. Ponies get their cutie marks all the time, but nopony wants to listen to them speak in front of everypony."

"But not everypony is my beautiful daughter either," Shining Armor said. "Besides, the ponies of Canterlot have not seen you in years. You can't blame them for being curious."

"And most ponies don't make everypony in town leave their homes when they get their cutie marks," Cozy chipped in, standing a bit off to the side. Twilight could hear a small twinge of jealousy in her voice. "Golly, it's not hard! They are all here because they love you right? No matter what you do, they will like it! Just go out there and get it over with. Then we can go back to our own party! Rumble even said he'd make chocolate, and he makes the best chocolate."

"Okay," Flurry said and braced herself. "Okay."

She swallowed once more and then lifted her ears a little so as to not appear intimidated. Then she went through the curtains, flanked by her parents. The curtains fell closed behind them, leaving Twilight and Cozy alone. They heard the cheering from the other side though.

"I suppose we might watch as well, right?" Cozy said and pointed up to the battlements.

"Well… if anypony sees me peeking, it might look a bit weird," Twilight said.

Cozy rolled her eyes. "It's not like anypony down there is going to notice anything but miss perfect-" She caught herself. "…but Flurry. Golly, even if Chryssie dropped in with a changeling army, nopony would notice until Flurry's speech was done. I'm going. You can come if you want."

Twilight shrugged and followed. She had to admit she was curious.

They both took position at the battlements and peeked down. Both Cadance and Flurry had their wings lifted, as was common for grand occasions like this. Her parents stayed slightly behind, and Flurry proceeded up to the edge of the platform. The cheering died down.

"Uhm… hi!" Flurry said. The tradition was that she should be using the Royal Canterlot Voice, but none of the younger princesses could do that. Instead, Twilight had developed a spell to let voices travel far without increasing the volume. It was not as awe-inspiring as Celestia and Luna's technique, but it was convenient. This way everypony could hear Flurry as if she was standing next to them. "Nice… nice weather we're having? I like the snow."

A murmur of agreement came from the crowd.

"Uh… I know you are here to celebrate my cutie mark, but I don't want you to think about me right now! It's better if you give some help for everypony who hasn't found their mark yet! It was a really great day for me, and I want everypony to have a day like that! And to get that, ponies will need help! I would never have gotten my mark if it weren't for my friends, Cozy Glow and Rumble! And to all other ponies who need friends to find their mark, I hope that all of you can be those friends! And to everypony who doesn't have their mark yet, I just want to say that sometimes, it will take others around you to help you. You can't always find your mark on your own. My friend Cozy actually told me last night that there are some ponies in Ponyville who are trying to help ponies find their marks. And they always work together. Because it's easier with friends!"

"I… think that's all. I hope you all have a nice day."

She stepped back and waved, somewhat awkward. The crowd stomped their hooves in approval. Flurry looked like she wanted to beat a hasty retreat, but didn't quite know how. She just stood and waved, at least until Cadance stepped up next to her and put a wing over her to start guiding her back behind the curtains.

"Well, that's it," Twilight said. "It was a nice speech. But why did you tell her about the Cutie Mark Crusaders? They never helped you with your mark."

"Sweetie Belle is my friend, so I figured I could try to give them some exposure," Cozy shrugged. "And it seemed to fit with what she wanted to say anyway."

"Huh," Twilight was a bit taken aback. She had thought Flurry had decided on her speech herself. This revelation made her wonder just how much of the speech Cozy had come up with and what was Flurry's own words. She also had a feeling that if asked, Cozy would not answer. Maybe she could ask Flurry later?

"Well… enjoy your party," Twilight said instead. "Pinkie's set up all sorts of fun and games for the three of you up in my wing, and she even strong-armed Ramson onto giving Rumble the afternoon off."

"Aren't you coming?" Cozy asked, tilting her head slightly. "Pinkie is your friend, not ours. She'll want to see you… and you want to see her too, right?"

Twilight nodded. "Yes, I want to. But the Canterlot nobility expects me to join their 'soirée'," Twilight frowned just mentioning it.

"… and if you don't they will complain and compare you to Celestia and things will be a mess," Cozy filled in. "Golly gee, you should abolish them."

"I suppose being a Princess isn't all it's cracked up to be," Twilight mused.

Cozy's only answer was an cold sort of stare. "Well, I'll wait for Flurry up in the tower, I think. It's a bit chilly," she said. Cozy extended her wings.

"I'm sorry, Cozy," Twilight said. "I spoke without thinking! Really, I didn't mean anything by it."

Cozy huffed. "Good. Because I will never stop trying. Never ever."

Twilight tried a small smile. "And I will never stop watching your progress."

Cozy's chilly stare softened, just a little. "Hope the nobleponies don't take too long. I'll... save you some cake." With that, she fluttered off towards her room. Twilight sighed in relief. More than anything, that little exchange had reminded her that Cozy was still completely unbending in her pursuit of her dream. If there was one thing that would never change, redeemed or no, it was her lust for power.

It was all Twilight could do to turn that lust and that drive into something productive. Wanting power was not a bad thing, in and of itself. Twilight just had to make sure Cozy turned her lust into something productive and, if that time ever came, she used her power for good.

"Was it good?" Flurry asked, anxiety coloring her voice. "Didn't it sound boring?"

"It was fine, Flurry. Don't worry." Shining Armor said. "It was way steadier than my first formal address as Prince. You did great," he said the last part with a radiant smile.

"And now your friends are waiting," Twilight reminded. "I don't think you have been to a real Pinkie Pie party before, so prepare to be amazed."

Flurry's anxious ruffling of her wings under her jacket gradually stopped. "You're coming too, right?"

"As soon as we can, Flurry, I promise," Cadance said. "But Pinkie will look after you. She helped out with mom and dad's wedding party, you know."

"Oh… you look like you had fun on the photos of that," Flurry reasoned. "Okay. But don't wait for too long."

After a brief hug from her mom and dad, she took off into the castle.

Cadance chuckled. "I wonder how long she will want her parents to be with her at her parties. Especially you."

"Hey, I can be fun at parties," Shining Armor said defensively.

With a small smirk, Cadance lifted her eyebrow. "You cried yourself to sleep at our wedding night."

Time always went faster when you were having fun. Everypony knew that, including Cozy. By that reasoning, she supposed she shouldn't have been so surprised when she looked out the window after an hour or so and it was, in fact, already dark and the clock said it was evening. How did that make sense? Pin the Tail on the Pony, Pinkie's juggling act, the cake, the hot cocoa, the board game tournament, the card game tournament, the other cake and then finally the charades couldn't have taken that long, could it?

Or maybe it actually had. The last party she attended was at the orphanage, so long ago it felt like another life. Maybe all that fun really could take that long? Stepping into her room, alone for the first time since the party started, she found the quiet, darkened room soothing. She scooped up what she had come to collect and stashed them into her mane. Three things: two gifts and one thing for herself.

Her eyes wandered over to the mirror. She had actively avoided it since she saw her evil side in it that one time, but now, she almost felt ready. She had played with Flurry for hours on end and she wasn't bad. She had even lost a few of the games to her, and she didn't feel angry at all!

She hesitated for a moment before she resolutely went to stand in front of the mirror, keeping her eyes on the hooves of her reflection for a moment and only then slowly lifting her head.

Cozy looked back.

Her coat appeared almost gray in the gloom, and her mane was silvery. On her face was etched a slightly wary look, for a second before she breathed a sigh of relief. She stared at her reflection and gave it a confident smile. It smiled back.

"I wasn't afraid of you," Cozy said to the reflection. "I know I still have it together in the head." She turned away from the mirror and slapped the pane with her tail for good measure.

Of course she didn't have to be afraid. She could become better. She could even be forgiven. She knew, because just hours earlier she had received a letter back from Ocellus the Changeling where she said she wasn't angry at Cozy anymore. While she knew Ocellus was the meekest of that gang of students, it still warmed her heart just a little to hear that one of them had forgiven her. Maybe, with a little bit of work, the rest of them could be won over too?

Now that there was nothing to worry about, Cozy went to rejoin the party.

"Allright everypony!" Pinkie chirped when she came back. "It's time for the bestest of the bestest parts of every party…!" a drumroll sounded, though Cozy had no idea who was playing. "The present opening!"

"Did I get presents!?" Flurry asked with glee, jumping on the small sofa where the three foals sat.

"Pfff, of course you did!" Pinkie said. "Your parents had loads of stuff, but I confiscated it until now! And my Pinkie sense told me that both your friends also have presents for you!"

Cozy and Rumble both nodded. Cozy did her best to quash the unworthy feeling of jealousy. She knew that Rumble's present to Flurry wasn't meant like that, but… her heart didn't listen to logic.

"Help yourself! I'll take a cupcake while I watch!" Pinkie chirped and pulled the colorful cloth away from the gift table which Cozy could not remember seeing before, which was strange since it was pretty large.

Flurry didn't need to be told twice. She flew at the pile of presents and started tearing into the colorful wrapping with all the grace and subtlety of a raging minotaur. Even Cozy couldn't help but to be overcome with her sheer enjoyment. In the end, she opened up a large set of tin soldiers, a quartet of new winter boots, several books, a red and pink striped plush snake (already dubbed Sir Snaky), a box of chocolate pralines, a model of Canterlot Castle, some dolls and a building kit depicting a windmill.

"And now it's your friends' turn!" Pinkie said. "And friends' presents are the most precious of all!"

"You… didn't have to…" an overwhelmed Flurry said quietly.

"You're my friend," Rumble said. "It's not a commitment to do something nice for a friend. Right, Cozy?"

Cozy took a deep breath and nodded. "Especially me. I didn't treat you well and I wanted to… to try and make up for it. A little bit, at least."

"You don't have to do that," Flurry assured. "I'm just happy you are my friend now."

Cozy shook her head, even if she felt warmth spreading in her chest. "But I'm not happy with just that! I want to make it up for real… so I have a small gift, for both of you."

She combed through her mane and produced a pair of thin, long presents. They weren't very nicely wrapped, but it was as good as she could make it. The red one for Flurry, and the green one for Rumble.

"Thank you," Flurry and Rumble said and tore away the wrapping, revealing two of her self-writing quills. Flurry's was made from a fledgling Phoenix feather that alone had cost half her savings from Curio's shop. But she was happy with it, especially since she had managed to harness the natural heat to make it not even need ink! It could just carefully sear the letters into the paper!

Rumble's quill was less extravagant in its construction, using a blue macaw feather, but if just a fraction of what she felt when she made it had found its way into the finished artifact, then she knew it would still be a small masterpiece.

"Oh… I had completely forgotten that…" Rumble mumbled. "And now I feel like a jerk for not having something for you."

"Don't worry," Cozy said with a smirk. "I have something in mind…" she murmured more to herself, with a blush.

Flurry's eyes sparkled with joy, as she looked at her fire-orange feather from every angle. "So nice! I love phoenixes! They are so cool!"

"Yeah… it's really more than I ever thought, Cozy," Rumble said. "Thank you… like, really, thank you." Cozy felt her heart swell in her chest.

"Well, so then it's my turn," Rumble said. "It's not as good as Cozy's but-"

"STOOOOP!" Pinkie shrieked, making every other pony in the room jump out of their skin. In a blur of pink she was standing in front of Rumble, flipping frantically through a large, pink book that smelled strangely like cake frosting. "That's not how you present a gift! It says right here in the Party Planner's Compendium that you should say how great it is! You can't give a bad impression right from the get go! Now do it again and do it right!"

"Uh… okay, here is my gift! It's… great?" Rumble said quizzically, looking back at Pinkie.

Flurry giggled and took his small, square present. It was neatly wrapped with blue ribbons on pink paper. Flurry tore it open. Cozy looked too.

It was a book. Or more a booklet like what students use to copy down notes in. Only this one was filled with what Cozy recognized as recipes. "When we first met, you said everypony always looks up ahead of time what you like to eat so you never get to try anything new. I figured I'd copy down some recipes for you, so you can have the ponies back home give you some new stuff for a while, at least. Uh, most of them are focused on oranges, since you said you like that."

Flurry grinned. "Thanks. You have no idea how boring it gets to always have variations of the same stuff."

"Golly-" Cozy began, only to be drowned out completely by the loudest party favor she had ever heard, courtesy of Pinkie.

"Both of them were great gifts!" Pinkie chirped. "A+ to both of you! Have you been talking to the Gift Givers of the Grove? They give the best gift advice, even the yaks said so!"

All three foals shook their heads. Cozy didn't really know what she meant, but Pinkie had always been a bit random even during their friendship lessons at Twilight's school.

"Uh… if it's not too much to ask, could you two leave us for just a minute?" Cozy asked Pinkie and Rumble. "I'd… like to say some things to Flurry, alone, if that's okay."

"Ohh! A fillies-only secret! I get it!" Pinkie said. "Okay, Rumble, let's go. And no eavesdropping, that's rude! Don't worry, you two, I'll keep an eye on him!"

Rumble glared at the pink pony. "I wasn't going to-" the rest of the sentence was lost when Pinkie scooped him up and left them behind in a pink flash.

Cozy took a deep breath. "It's not anything serious, but do you… do you think you could… just help me with something really quick?"

"With what?" Flurry asked.

Cozy combed through her mane and retrieved the sprig of mistletoe she got from Cadance. It had dried, but the fresh green color still remained. "If you could just hold it over me… when Rumble comes back…" Cozy said. Suddenly she felt like not only her cheeks, but the whole face was burning.

To think she would ask Flurry Heart about this. But then again, without her, Cozy might never have realized her feelings for Rumble in the first place… so in a way, it was very fitting too.

Flurry grinned and lifted her wings excitedly. Then she magicked up the sprig and held it over Cozy.

Cozy took another calming breath. Her heart beat hard and fast and her wings felt itchy. "Okay, we're done!" she called.

Pinkie was first through the door, cast one eye on the hovering mistletoe before flashing Cozy a lightning fast grin and then she dashed out again. "MORE CHOCOLATE!!!" she screamed.

Rumble came after, looking after the running Pinkie.

"That was weird, even for her."

He seemed to turn like in slow motion. Somehow, everything around Cozy seemed to slow down. Everything but her heartbeat, which sounded like a heavy drum in her ears.

His amethyst eyes found hers. At first, he seemed confused. But then his glance found it's way upwards, to the mistletoe. Understanding lit up like a torch in his beautiful, endless gaze.

He approached her, still otherworldly slow, until they were just a hoof's width from one another.

Cozy didn't know what to do! The vastness of his eyes had caused her brain to short-circuit! She just stood there, and stared!

But he did not. He approached, slowly, leaning forward.

His lips brushed against hers.

And her paralysis disappeared. She leaned forward too, pressing lightly against him. He smelled so nice… refreshing like a spring shower.

Their lips met.

Cozy had read somewhere that you were supposed to open your mouth and stuff, but right now she didn't need to. In her mind, this was good enough. Just the closeness, the warmth from his body, and the way he looked at her.

Nopony had ever looked at her like that.

Rumble… liked her! He wanted to be together with her in a way no other pony ever had. She was loved. And that was enough for Cozy.

She felt her eyes mist, just a little, but she was determined to keep her emotions in check. She was not going to make this awkward. Not when it was so perfect.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"You're welcome," she heard his gentle whisper.

She smiled, and broke the kiss.

He smiled at her and put a wing over her back. They went back to the table together. Flurry was almost as pink as Pinkie from her blush, but she nonetheless looked happy.


All three ponies looked back and saw Pinkie peeking from behind the door frame. "So sweet!"

"Who's eavesdropping now!" Cozy said, even if she was far too happy to put any anger in her voice.

"Weeell, it's not just me you know," Pinkie said. "Cause I stopped these ponies from interrupting you! And I got the chocolate!"

Pinkie stepped out from behind the door. Behind her followed Twilight, Cadance and Shining Armor, and a fourth pony. She was bright blue and lacking both wings and horn with a neutral white mane. She wore a black-and white dress with a large pink bow by her chin. Most notorious however, was her large, pink-and-black designer sunglasses. Photo Finish. The same pony who had taken the class picture for Twilight's school.

"Und you zay I can find ze magics here?" The blue pony asked while looking about the room. Even hidden behind her glasses, the critical look in her eyes was somehow clear to see.

"We wanted a picture of our big daughter's cute-ceañera," Cadance explained. "Would that be possible?"

Cozy found the blue pony looking directly at her. "Ja, zhat iz well und good."

"Great! Sorry for interrupting, but could you all switch places?" Cadance asked. "So Flurry is in the middle?"

Cozy didn't like the idea of giving up Rumble's soft wing, but decided to play along. She did not want to bicker. She went around the table. Pinkie handed out a mug of hot cocoa to everypony.

"Ach ja, perfect! Zhat is she magics I zeek!" Photo Finish declared and snapped a photo.

Cadance looked at the camera. "Oh… Flurry, you blinked. Let's do another one."

"Nein. Ze magics has been captured." Photo Finish said, packed up her camera before turning around. " I go." And she did, nearly straight over Cadance.

"Wait, Miss Finish," Cozy said and fluttered over to the departing pony. "Can we all have a copy of the photo? It'd mean a lot for us."

Photo Finish stared straight ahead for a few seconds.

"Ja, sehr gut."

Hours later still, Cozy was supposed to be asleep. But she wasn't. Her own enchanted quill flew over a small paper, jotting down her own declaration.

She was content. She had a special somepony, and a brand new friend. Months ago, she had only herself. Now she had so many other ponies she could respect and care for and… love. She had come far, and she had so much further to go. But she had no doubt she could and would go the distance.

One day, she was going to reach her ultimate dream. Together with her friends.

Her quill finished with a tiny heart above the "i".


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Cozy Glow

You owe me a favor, as you know. It's time that you paid up.

Come see me in my antique store. Come alone.

Cozy had barely finished reading before the letter suddenly felt hot in her hooves. She threw it away with a yelp. After a few seconds, there was nothing left but a pile of ash in front of her hooves.

Bonus Chapter

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Flurry ruffled her wings and yawned. She was sure she had never been up this late before. Actually, she had gone to bed already, but then Cozy came into her room and told her that you could be up as long as you wanted on your cute-ceañera. Flurry had never heard that before, but she supposed it made sense. When you had your cutie mark you were a big pony, and big ponies didn't have to go to bed at nine o'clock. Besides… this was exactly the sort of thing she had wanted to do ever since she heard about Cozy's mischievous sides. Grinning like a silly pony, Flurry hopped down from her bed and followed Cozy back to her room.

They had worked a bit on Cozy's puzzle before Cozy had turned off nearly all lights. So Twilight didn't find them and got mad, she said. Flurry agreed - mischief was only fun until you got caught.

But with no light, they couldn't do any more puzzling.

"Maybe we could have a small candle?" Flurry suggested, whispering just to be sure. "We could read. I got new books from mom and dad, and they are just outside."

Cozy nodded. "Okay. You get the book. Since you are allowed to be up on your cute-ceañera, you won't get in trouble even if you get caught."

Flurry nodded and tiptoed over to the door and- "No, not like that," Cozy whispered.

"What? What did I do?" Flurry asked, looking herself over. She didn't see anything wrong.

"Don't tiptoe! Tiptoeing actually focuses your weight on a smaller point, so the floor is more liable to creak if you tiptoe. Just walk slowly instead."

That… made sense. Why did everypony tiptoe then when they wanted to sneak? Were they all wrong? Flurry decided to ask her dad the next morning. "Okay. So no tiptoeing."

She went up to the door and put her ear to the cool, wooden surface, listening for any and all sounds. Hearing nothing, she pushed open the door and fluttered her way through the open corridor. She landed on the carpet and carefully made her way over to the table where her presents still laid.

She grabbed the topmost book and held it pressed against her belly with her forelegs before quietly flying back to Cozy's room.

She let out a sigh of relief when she tapped down on the carpet. "I did it!"

"Great! What did you bring?"

Only now did Flurry look over the book. It was white and had six ponies around the Equestrian flag on the cover. "The founding of Equestria," Flurry read out loud. "I love that story."

Cozy shrugged. "Eh, I wonder what they're not telling us. No way everypony just become friends overnight. I'm sure there were a lot of problems after, even if nopony talks about it."

"No," Flurry shook her head with certainty. "The fire of friendship lit up every heart so much that nopony has ever had to be alone after that," she said, reciting what her mom had told her. Mommy was always right about that sort of thing.

Cozy rolled her eyes. "Sure." Flurry decided to consider that a win.

They laid down together, but not too close to each other, to start reading in the soft light of a candle. It was one of those enchanted ones that couldn't even burn on their own, they specifically needed candle wax to work. Twilight had banned regular candles from her castle to reduce the risk of fires ("To protect the book- uh, I mean, protect everypony!" as she had said).

"Are you done?" Cozy asked when Flurry was maybe only at half the page.

"No. You must be a really quick reader," Flurry said.

Cozy shrugged. "Somepony had me train until I was really good at it."

"That's nice. With teachers that help you so much. Like Twilight, right?"

Suddenly, Cozy's warm, relaxed mood dipped several degrees, filling Flurry's chest with coldness. "He wasn't really a good teacher," Cozy said at length. "Twilight's better."

"Oh… sorry," Flurry said, not fully understanding the change in Cozy's voice.

Cozy shook her head. "No, Never mind. You can just turn the page when you're done, since I read faster."

Flurry nodded and continued with the text. Cozy's demeanor soon began to thaw again.

They read on. Flurry felt her eyes beginning to sting soon after. The light wasn't great, and while she didn't want to be, she was getting tired. But Cozy also yawned. She should stay here until Cozy decided to stop. Flurry was a big pony now, she could definitely be up for longer than Cozy. She just had to concentrate.

She shook her head and forced her eyes open to read on.

"Are you tired?" Flurry asked soon.

"Are you?" Cozy said through a yawn.

"No!" Flurry huffed loudly.

"Well, me either," Cozy snapped back.

"I bet you are though," Flurry said.

"Am not!" Cozy said. "I bet you are just tired yourself!"

"Nuh-uh!" Flurry said.

"Yes you are!"

"Am not!"

Suddenly, the door opened.

"Girls? What are you doing up this late?" Twilight mumbled, rubbing her eyes and stifling a yawn. Her mane was messy. She had probably been sleeping.

"Cozy said you can be up as long as you want on your cute-ceañera," Flurry said.

"Oh, did she?" Twilight fixed Cozy with a stern look, even if Flurry didn't understand why. Maybe Twilight and her parents had tried to keep it a secret to get Flurry to get into bed earlier, even if she didn't have to? "Well, then I think I'm going to have a talk with her tomorrow."

Cozy swallowed audibly. "We were reading though!" Cozy said, indicating the book. "Keeping the book company and… stuff."

"Nice try," Twilight said.

"Can you read to us a little?" Flurry peeped. "It might help me sleep better! And we are just at the best part, when everypony has been frozen by the windigos and the three friends are about to thaw them!"

Twilight softened her frown, just a little. "Well, I guess since we are all already awake... Fine, if you want."

Flurry tapped the space between her and Cozy with a hoof. "Sit down here!"

Twilight did so, and Flurry cozied up next to her. Twilight was warm and soft, just like mommy when Flurry had nightmares and had to sleep in her bed. Peeking over to Twilight's other side revealed that Cozy had scooted further away than before, almost like she didn't want to be near. That was silly, but whatever; it was her loss.

Twilight took a deep breath, looking at the ornate pages and started reading. Flurry didn't even notice how the combination of warmth and Twilight's soothing voice slowly lulled her into sleep.

She should probably be raising the sun soon. But she also didn't want to move. This was... nice. It was warm and cozy, and the book was a surprisingly good read for being for foals.

The door opened, and Rumble nearly dropped his tray with hot cocoa when he saw Twilight and the two fillies curled up against her.

She shushed him gently. He nodded and slowly went in.

"I'll leave in just a few minutes," Twilight whispered. "I don't think Cozy would... like it if she knew about this."

"I'll keep quiet," Rumble whispered back. "Thought you might want something warm to drink today, since it's chilly outside. I'll get to work on your breakfast."

Twilight nodded and levitated up the mug. After Rumble quietly left the room and closed the door behind him, Twilight looked down for one last last time on the sleeping foals. Flurry was breathing slowly, nuzzled close to her left foreleg, with an innocent, happy expression on her sleeping face. Cozy was leaning against her right shoulder, nuzzled up in Twilight's mane with a peaceful look on her muzzle. At some point, when both fillies drifted off to sleep, Cozy had scooted closer for warmth and Twilight had wrapped both of her big wings over the fillies. After that, she didn't feel like leaving.

But it was time for her to start her day too. Sunrise was already late. With an almost sad sigh, she slowly removed her wings from Cozy and Flurry and pulled two warm, fuzzy blankets from Cozy's bed over them as to not let the chilly air wake them up. She nuzzled Flurry a little on the forehead, and after a moment's hesitation, Cozy too. Then she slowly tiptoed to the door. With a warm feeling in her chest and a heart as light as a feather, she left them to sleep for another few hours.

As she walked to her room with Rumble's mug of cocoa floating in her magic next to her, she realized she still felt the warmth on her sides where they had been resting. It filled her with a deep and a bit strange feeling of contentment, just that lingering warmth.

She smiled to herself. Today was going to be a good day, she was sure.