“Good morning, class!” said Ms. Nimble, Pound’s teacher. “Today we’re going to be talking about the Wonderbolts. I’m sure this will be a fun topic for everyone, as any pegasus that hasn't been living under a rock has heard of them.”
She turned around and grabbed a piece of chalk, writing the word “Wonderbolts” at the top of the blackboard, then underlined it. “Their leader is still Spitfire.” She wrote the name down right under. She continued on by giving some personal information.
Pound was sitting in his seat at class. He had shared what Scootaloo told him to his family the night before, and they seemed satisfied because he had been satisfied with it.
Her words had touched something inside him. He was the only one who was gonna make himself fly. His family could offer nice words, but they couldn’t train for him. They couldn’t get him off the ground. That was his responsibility, and no amount of whining and temper tantrums was going to change that.
In the wake of her words and being near his family everything had felt like it was going to turn out alright. However, just like Scootaloo told him, it was a different environment when they weren’t around. He knew he would have to struggle to maintain his confidence in the wake of being made fun of. The only thing he could do is believe in himself, and try to use their teasing to push himself to prove them wrong.
As she said, he only had two choices: every action he took would either confirm their harsh words, or help to disprove them. He wouldn’t allow himself to remain a loser forever.
“Huh?” he shook his head, realizing he hadn’t been taking in a word.
She shook her head. “Since you seem to be so informed that you can’t even pay attention why don’t you share with us YOUR knowledge of Rainbow Dash?”
Pound blinked. “Are you serious?”
Her eyebrow went up. “Why wouldn’t I be? Come on, then. Come up here and share with us why you believe you can just ignore what I’m saying.”
He heard giggles around him, and could practically feel the smirks. He got out of his desk and walked up to face the others. Now that he was facing them he could see them waiting for him to fail. For once, though, it didn’t bother him. He couldn’t believe his luck that she had caught him at that moment.
He cleared his throat, saying, “Rainbow Dash is twenty seven years old, and used to work as the head of the weather team in Ponyville. Her lifelong dream was to be a Wonderbolt, and she started out by going to the Wonderbolt Academy where she amazed the leader, Spitfire, with her integrity. She nearly quit the academy when she felt that reckless behavior was something that was rewarded. Spitfire was so impressed she promoted Rainbow to a lead pony from a wing pony.
“Over the course of the next few years she would interact with the Wonderbolts regularly, whether it be competing against them at the Equestrian Games, to being accused of a crime she didn’t commit by a former Wonderbolt named Wind Rider who didn’t want her to break one of his records. He was found out and Rainbow’s name was cleared, so she could still fly with them as a substitute.
“And then came the day when she got an actual place with them alongside Spitfire, Soarin, Fleetfoot, and others. Even though she flies with them as a stunt pony most of the time she spends the rest of her working time as the new head of the academy because of her tough attitude mixed with a gentle kindness when it’s needed.
“And then, of course, is her most legendary accomplishment: being one of the only ponies in the history of ponykind to ever pull off a sonic rainboom. She first did it as a filly, but mastered it as an adult.”
The teacher looked stymied. He had brought up things she hadn’t even said, showing he really was well-informed. His classmates were similarly stunned, their mocking smiles gone now.
“Is that enough?” asked Pound anxiously.
“Oh, um, yes,” she replied. “You can return to your seat, Pound.”
Pound let out a big sigh of relief when he sat back down. He mentally promised himself he wouldn’t complain about Rainbow’s bragging anymore. It had saved him from embarrassment. He made sure to keep focused as she continued. He couldn’t count on blind luck saving him again.
“Morning, everyone!” said Sparkler, Pumpkin’s teacher.
“Good morning!” came the reply from the class.
“I have some exciting news today: we have a new student joining us!” She gestured with her hoof, and a colt walked into the room.
He was wearing a black vest, and his brown hair was slicked back. All he needed was some dark shades and he’d look like a real tough guy.
“Introduce yourself to the class, please.”
He looked around nervously. “O-oh, um… hi.” He gave a little wave. “I’m Masquerade Ball.” He shook his head, giggling awkwardly. “I know it’s a dumb name, but my parents named me because of how they met one another. You can just call me Masky for short.”
Pumpkin felt a little strange looking at him. She couldn’t help but think he was pretty cute. His outside appearance juxtaposed to his awkwardness made him just adorable. She already knew she wanted to get to know him better.
“What a relief,” said Sparkler. “With your attire I thought you were going to be a troublemaker.”
He smirked, going into the coat pocket of his jacket and throwing shades on his face as he jammed a lollipop in his mouth. “Lady, I can be whatever I want,” he said smugly. “And if ya ask nicely I might just decide to not be a troublemaker. Ya dig?”
Pumpkin giggled. His whole personality had just changed.
Sparkler wasn’t sure how to respond to the change.
He looked above his glasses. “O-oh, no,” he said meekly. He put his glasses away. “I… I didn’t go too far, did I? I just wanted to make a good first impression.” He fell to the ground. “I’m sorry!”
Sparkler walked over to him, giving him an encouraging pat. “It’s alright. There’s no need to get upset.”
“Really?” he asked hopefully.
“Really,” she replied.
“Woohoo!” he cried out, going into another pocket and setting off a party popper. Confetti rained over him. “Isn’t school grand?”
Sparkler’s smile got a little strained. “Well, Mr. Masquerade, I think I’m starting to see you’ve embraced your name. Would it be too much to ask that you use just one personality in my class?”
“But it’s my ambition to be an actor when I grow up.” He got on his knees in a dramatic pose, one leg up high in the air, the other on his heart. Melodramatically he asked, “Would thou stifle my creativity? Tell me that I can’t be who I truly am?" He turned his head to the side, the hoof in the air now going to his face. "My heart aches at the thought.”
His horn glowed, and a sphere of light appeared above him. He stood, leaning his back against the teacher’s desk so he could lift both front legs. “Is it not every ponies dream to soar towards the sun?” The sphere grew whiter, and now it was joined by a bunch of smaller objects twinkling. “Or to rise among the stars and moon?”
Two more spheres appeared beneath it, and as the middle one rotated the sun and moon also rotated around them. “As time passes, grains falling from the eternal hourglass of time, we grow and mature, becoming who we are meant to be. And that all starts here in school. With that revelation we are finally gifted with the symbol of our destinies. The sign… known as… a cutie mark.” He sank to his knees, bowing, as he created a transparent curtain closing upon him.
Pumpkin clapped at his performance, and the rest of the class joined in.
Sparkler allowed herself to join in as well. When things settled down she said, “Very impressive. It’s nice to see you have such a nice grasp of magic at your age. Of course I don’t wish to stifle your creativity, but I also cannot allow you to be disruptive or distracting in my classroom.”
Masky gave a big smile. “Oh, I know that, teach. I was just hamming it up a bit.” He winked. “I’ll be good.”
She good naturedly rolled her eyes. “I sure hope so. So why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? According to your file you’ve been to several kindergartens and preschools over the past year. I'm hoping you haven't transferred around so much because of bad behavior.”
He snickered. “Well, Ms. Sparkler, that would be because my parents like to travel, so they got a job to accommodate that. They took a break from things once I was born, but when I was around three they got right back into it. I don’t mean to brag, but-” he made a show of wiping dust off his coat “-well, let’s just say that I’ve been to places you wouldn’t believe.
"Canterlot, the Crystal Empire, Yakyakistan, Los Pegasus, Trottingham, Manehatten.... You name a place in Equestria and I'll have a story to tell you. We also met a lot of strange creatures. It’s been quite an intriguing life."
“How exciting,” Sparkler replied, the class muttering their assent. “Would you mind sharing one of those stories with us?”
He shrugged like he didn’t care, but he was clearly pleased. Pumpkin was liking him more and more.
“I’m seven now, but two years ago my parents decided they wanted to do a study on dragons, so we rented a boat and crossed the sea during the time of the dragon migration. Dragons of almost every color soared overhead, their scales shining in the sun. From what my parents told me dragons used to be a lot more violent towards pony-kind, but some event happened where they got a new ruler who didn’t mind ponies so much.”
“Oooh!” Pumpkin squealed, drawing his attention. “I was told about that. In fact, I know that dragon personally.”
“Is that so?” asked Masky, an odd expression on his face.
“Spike is the assistant of Princess Twilight. They had a contest to decide who the next ruler of their kingdom would be, needing to locate the Bloodstone Scepter before any of the other dragons. He succeeded with the help of a dragon named Ember, the daughter of the former dragon lord. Even though he earned the right to lead the dragons he didn’t want it if it meant he had to leave behind his friends in Ponyville, so he allowed Ember to become the new dragon lord in his place, using their friendship to foster good feelings between the races.”
“That’s correct, Pumpkin,” said Sparkler.
Masky chuckled. “Well, give the girl a hoof. If I was a creature with independent digits I’d be snapping them in your direction. Unfortunately, I’m not, so I’ll just say good job.
“Well, as Pumpkin said dragons have become friendlier towards ponies ever since that event. Our boat landed, and we brought with us several suitcases full of gems as an offering. It took a little persuading, a little bribery of jewels for information, and even more just to get the opportunity, but we eventually stood before Princess Ember herself.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience. We were surrounded by hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dragons. It was a little scary, as not every dragon was over their prejudices of ponies. They held back using force out of respect for their leader, but their mouths could be pretty foul, letting us know exactly what they thought of us having the nerve to come to their land. Whenever we ran into one of those kinds of dragons I’d follow my parents lead. We’d bow down to them, offering a sizable amount of gems for peace.”
“Did it work?” asked a filly, sounding frightened. She held herself. “I can’t even imagine how scary it would be being in front of a dragon that’s mad at you.”
Masky nodded. “Oh, yes. It was very scary sometimes. Sometimes they’d roar at us just to startle us. My parents were pretty calm, so I wasn’t too afraid. At the end of the day, a dragon’s top priority is its hoard. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires; they can never get enough. So when someone comes up to you and offers you the thing you love and want the most it’s hard to stay angry at them. While they may not like ponies, they had to at least give us credit for respecting their customs.
“When we met Princess Ember the three of us bowed before her, and my dad took the smallest suitcase that I had been wheeling around and opened it, revealing the biggest jewel I had ever seen. It was half the size of me.”
“That’s pretty big,” said a colt, his eyes going wide.
“Princess Ember accepted our offering, looking positively delighted, asking what we wanted in return.”
“Well, what is it that you could ask for from a dragon?” asked another colt. “You just gave them a bunch of gems, so it’s not like you could ask for that. The only other thing you could ask for is for them to go attack someone.”
“True, but there wasn’t any deeper meaning in it. Princess Ember seemed a little surprised when she was told we didn’t want anything in return. We were just travelers and this was our current destination. That was all. Of course, our gifts of treasure certainly made a lot of dragons bear good will towards us, keeping our relationship with the dragons going strong, so there was that I suppose.”
Masky scratched his chin. “Princess Ember seemed an honorable sort. She told us she wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting such a generous offering without giving some kind of compensation in return. Even though we didn’t go expecting anything but the fun of the experience we eventually took her up on her offer.”
“So what did you get?” asked Sparkler, her eyes bright with interest. “Secret dragon knowledge that’s never before been shared with ponykind?”
He shook his head. “No, nothing that grand.” He opened a pocket, pulling out a folded-in-half photograph. “Come on up and see for yourself,” he said as he unfolded it.
The class got up from their desks, coming up to the front and looking at the picture, letting out “Oohs” and “Aahs” and shocked exclamations as they passed it around.
Pumpkin finally got her hooves on it, and her mouth hung open. Masky was standing between his parents, Princess Ember right behind him. Her arms were wrapped around his parents, all of them wearing a silly grin. Behind the four of them were more dragons than she could count surrounding the area. Up in the air were even more dragons, several of them doing stunts.
She knew Spike was good, and that his friendship with Ember had allowed ponies to bridge the gap between them and dragons, but she still didn’t think she would ever have the guts to be around that many dragons.
As the last one she finished up by letting their teacher get a hold of it. She looked as speechless as Pumpkin felt, her eyes going wide as they glanced all around it.
Sparkler returned the picture to Masky as the kids slowly returned to their desks, quietly talking to each other about what they’d just seen. She let them chat for a short while, then called them to order. “Well, Masky, it’s clear to see you’ve lead quite an exciting life. I don’t think most ponies would be able to just walk into the kingdom of dragons without being scared out of their minds, no matter how good the relations between ponies and dragons are right now.”
“Well, like I said I just followed my parents lead. They knew the dragons weakness for gems, so they were fairly confident there wouldn’t be trouble. And since they seemed so unafraid it allowed me to be brave about things too.”
“I don’t mean to put your parents down or anything,” said a colt, “but why would they take you with them? That was an extremely dangerous place for a kid to be, even if they thought they’d be safe.”
There was some muttering of agreement between other kids.
Masky waved his hoof dismissively. “Well, they might not be the most magically gifted ponies, but both my parents are capable of teleporting if need be. If things got too heated they’d just poof us out of there. My parents care about me, so they wouldn’t put me in danger.”
Pumpkin saw a slight change in Masky’s attitude. He looked a little put-out. She wondered what that was about.
“Anyway, I think that’s enough from me. You didn’t come here to hear my big mouth. Right, Ms. Sparkler?”
“I wouldn’t say you have a big mouth,” she replied, “but you are correct that there are other things to be done this morning. You can take the empty seat by Pumpkin.”
Pumpkin’s heartbeat went up, a warm feeling going through her as he approached. She couldn’t understand the feelings going through her. Why was Masky making her feel so funny? He was just another colt. A suave, worldly, handsome colt. She felt awkward as he sat down. Had she really just thought that?
As Sparkler began a lecture Masky leaned over to her. “Nice to meet you, Pumpkin. You seem like a pony who’s in the know about who’s who.”
Pumpkin whispered back. “I wouldn’t exactly say that. I only know Spike and Twilight since they’re friends of my aunt.”
“Well, pish-posh. Who cares about the reason? The important thing is that you do. And that makes you cool.” He winked at her.
She blushed, letting out an awkward giggle. “W-well, same to you. It’s not every pony that travels to the land of dragons.”
“Well, I can tell you some other stories later. Okay, you little cutie?” He put a hoof to his mouth and blew her a kiss.
Her face grew red-hot. She couldn’t make words come out, and just faced forward toward the teacher again, barely taking in a word.
She let out a small sigh as she put her head on her hooves, feeling the gentle thump of her heartbeat as she kept stealing glances at Masky and giggling.