Pumpkin had been reluctant to leave Pound, but she went off at his insistence. It took a few minutes for her to loosen up, but Pound seemed alright, relaxing under a tree. She was glad he wasn’t pushing himself anymore. After how sick he had looked before a bit of rest was best for him.
She and Masky had went over to the playground, pushing each other on the swing. When they got bored of that she asked if they could go be alone behind the trees and snuggle a bit. On the way there she was stopped by a wall of ponies. Specifically, the four ponies that always hung around Drill Bit: Sandstorm, Nimbus, Heavy Downpour, and Cumulus.
“Can I help you?” asked Pumpkin dismissively. Now was a time for love and privacy. She didn’t want to deal with these bozo’s.
Cumulus took a step closer to her. “Word on the street is you’re a big fat liar who makes up stories to get other ponies in trouble.”
Pumpkin should have felt nervous, but she felt an odd sort of giddy excitement. She had Masky next to her, and he would protect her if necessary. “Maybe I do. What’s it to you?”
“We heard it from Drill Bit you framed him.”
Pumpkin chuckled smugly, conscious of Masky right next to her. She didn’t want to let him down. After all the crazy things he had done the fact that he was interested in a simple girl like her felt nothing short of miraculous. If she backed down he might think less of her, and she didn’t want that. She wanted to look cool like him, even if she didn’t have all his experience. “Who… me?” she said innocently, but her expression was still dripping with amusement.
“You think this is funny?” Nimbus said angrily.
Pumpkin just laughed again. “No, it’s hilarious.” Her head tilted back and she laughed even harder. She felt a sense of perverse pleasure seeing their incensed expressions. It served them right. “Aw, what’s wrong? The joke not so funny when it’s used on you? I guess without your ‘boss’ to hide behind you’ve been exposed as the pathetic, cowardly chumps you really are.”
Sandstorm looked enraged, advancing on her. On one of his steps down Masky’s horn flashed, and an aura appeared around the colt, holding him in place.
“That’s enough,” said Masky dispassionately. “Let’s not let this descend into violence. I’m sure you don’t want to be expelled, right?” He let the colt go.
Sandstorm wobbled a bit as he regained control, glaring at the pair. “We won’t forget this.”
Pumpkin just rolled her eyes. “What you really mean is ‘I have no brain in my head, so I’m gonna wait for Drill Bit to come back so he can tell me what to do, since I can’t make any of my own decisions.’ Right?”
The colts eye twitched, his face going red.
She could tell how badly they wanted to hit her. With another giddy laugh she said, “I think you’d best be on your way before you get to join your friend in knowing what a suspension looks like. In fact, I feel… so incredibly… threatened… by you four I might start crying and begging a teacher for help. Care to try me?”
They all looked darkly at her, scowling and grumbling for a few moments before walking away.
She felt a sense of exhilaration, a sense of power and control she rarely had. If Masky hadn’t been there she didn’t know how she would have reacted, but she knew she wouldn’t have been so openly confrontational.
Seized by a sudden recklessness her horn lit up and pulled on one of the colts legs as he was about to set it down, causing him to trip and fall right on his face. Masky sure seemed to get a kick out of it, as he began guffawing, and the feeling of freedom and excitement increased.
That was right. She was a unicorn. There was no need to confront them directly. With a brief thought she could do whatever she wanted to them. As long as it wasn’t completely obvious she was manipulating them with magic she had nothing to fear from the teachers.
She panted slightly, realizing how useful her powers really were. If she got them suspended it would just mean she couldn’t have fun with them. She could teach them a lesson bit by bit, and they’d likely just pass it off as clumsiness, never having any idea she was messing with them. She giggled mischievously.
Pound slowed down his headlong run a tad when he saw the others leaving without incident, though he thought he saw Pumpkin’s horn light up right before Sandstorm tripped.
He reached the pair, panting slightly. “H-hey!” he said, breathing hard.
Pumpkin turned around to him, concern tempering her enthusiasm. “Hey, Pound. You should be resting.”
Pound let out a heavy breath, lifting his head. “No way! I saw Drill Bit’s ‘friends’ by you. What did they want?”
Pumpkin chuckled. “Well, I guess they must be actual friends, since they know the truth. And they’d only know if they saw him outside of school.” She shrugged. “Brainless idiots, the lot of them.”
Pound groaned. Instead of targeting him they were now gunning for Pumpkin for taking away their leader. His heart was still beating quickly from his run, and the news he just heard didn’t improve his condition.
Pumpkin looked over at the four colts, some hundreds of feet away, in a circle and looking deep in conversation. Every once in a while they would look in her direction, probably plotting some grand scheme against her. She dismissed the idea in a few seconds. They might be angry at her, but they wouldn’t dare make a move without the brains of the operation. Taking action by themselves was something that wouldn’t even occur to them, being the yes-ponies they were.
They broke apart from their conversation, and went about their business. Sandstorm began doing wing-ups, while Nimbus and Cumulus began hoof-wrestling. Heavy Downpour unfurled his wings and began to practice his flying, doing slow loop-de-loops.
Pound was worried. “Pumpkin, you’re not going to do it again, are you?” he asked seriously.
Pumpkin gave him a sidelong glance, that look of whimsy on her face again. “Why would I do that? It wouldn’t be as fun if they were gone.”
He had a bad feeling. “What do you mean?” Her resultant chuckle and exceedingly smug expression only worsened his trepidation. “What are you gonna do?”
“Oh, nothing serious,” she said dismissively as she looked backed towards the colts. With a flash of her horn she pulled on Sandstorm’s wing, knocking him off balance and causing his head to hit the ground.
The other three laughed at him and mocked him.
Sandstorm got up and dusted himself off. “Oh, shut up. I think I was infected with loseritis from hanging out with the flightless wonder’s sister.”
Their voices carried over to the trio, and Pumpkin shook her head. “Losers, are we? We’ll see.”
Nimbus and Cumulus abandoned their hoof wrestling to challenge each other to a flying race.
Pound stood there, his body taut with tension and apprehension. “Pumpkin, please don’t-” He winced as, with another flash from Pumpkin’s horn, Cumulus' body suddenly tilted, sending him crashing right into Nimbus, causing the two pegasi to tumble to the ground.
One of the teachers had observed the crash, and trotted over to the pair to check on them.
Nimbus rose to his hooves with her help, shaking his head. He shoved Cumulus as the colt rose, sending him right back to the ground.
“Hey!” the teacher cried.
“What’s wrong with you, you dork?” Nimbus said angrily. “What, you didn’t think you could take me in a fair race, so you tried to knock me out? Well, good job! You knocked yourself out too!”
Cumulus rose again. “I don’t know what happened. I must have caught a hard breeze or something.”
As the two argued Pumpkin and Masky both chuckled. “Now, that is rich,” said Masky. “Look at the puppets dance.”
Pumpkin blushed at his praise. “I’ve just thought of a wicked idea.”
“What’s that?” asked Masky.
Pound’s heart felt like it might pop out of his body. “That’s enough!” he said firmly.
Ignoring Pound she responded, “They’re fighting with each other. With a little bit of effort I could put a giant wedge in their friendships, and that’ll break this illusion of power they’re under. Even if Drill Bit comes back they’ll hate each other so much by the time he does they won’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity of their former friends.”
“Ooh, that’s brilliant. Without his goons by his side Drill Bit is just another pony.”
“You have to stop this!” Pound said, stomping his hoof. Again, Pumpkin ignored him. With subtle means she messed with them a few more times. He groaned. She wouldn’t even answer him anymore. Eventually, enough ‘coincidences’ would clue the quartet in that their bad luck was not natural.
He was feeling lost again. Pinkie’s words came to him. ‘Isn’t detention or a few days of suspension better than Pumpkin being hurt?’
He put a hoof to his forehead, a few tears coming down his eyes. Was that all he could do? Rat her out to a teacher? He had to stop her, and if she wouldn’t listen to him then he would have to get someone who would. He hated it. He hated the thought of it, but she wasn’t leaving him with any choice.
He’d give her one last chance to stop her actions. He wiped the tears from his eyes, set his face, and walked around to her front, slapping her horn. “Pumpkin, if you do that again-” he paused for a moment, then he forged on, “-I’m going to tell on you.”
Pumpkin’s delight faded, and she regarded him with an odd expression, like she was considering whether he was worth her time or attention. Then her amusement returned.
As Heavy Downpour went to sit down at a table she pulled his front hoof back a slight bit as he went to put it on the tabletop. Without the expected resistance his momentum carried him forward until his nose hit the tabletop, and he whimpered as he clutched it.
“Well?” Pumpkin said sweetly. “I don’t seem to be in trouble, do I?” She leaned her head forward until it was inches from his. “Don’t try to pretend, Pound. We all know you wouldn’t have to guts to sell me out. You’re too fixed on keeping me safe to go and get me in trouble.” Lifting a hoof and aided by her magic she gently pushed him out from in front of her. “You really should be rejoicing here. Those punks are finally getting what they deserve, and it feels SOOOO satisfying.”
Pound was feeling more and more scared. In the beginning he had been afraid that Drill Bit would pursue revenge, but this was far, far worse to him. The twisted expression she had flashed him when he made his threat, and her obvious glee in tormenting the four, was more terrifying than anything they or Drill Bit had ever done to him.
He felt like he didn’t even recognize his sister anymore. She was being cocky and reckless and stupid. He had been those things himself, but he never expected it from Pumpkin. It was like she had taken his old personality and thrown it on, and it disturbed him.
When talking to his parents during their recent fight his mother told him that if you poked a beehive enough eventually you would get stung. If Pumpkin wasn’t stopped soon she was going to get stung.
His breath felt like it was catching in his throat. If the four found out that Pumpkin was responsible for all their mishaps they might just decide they didn’t care about rules or getting in trouble, and gang up on her.
He turned away from them, seeing a teacher near the slide, facing away from him. He didn’t want to do it, but she had made it clear that his discomfort wasn’t dissuading her. She was drunk with power. His mind flashed back to his nightmares of the previous night, where increasingly horrible things kept happening to Pumpkin, and his insides felt like ice.
He wouldn’t let it happen. He wouldn’t let it come to that. He would rather Pumpkin be safe stuck at home than to get burned playing with fire.
His whole body felt so tense he could hardly make himself move. Each breath felt almost painful. ‘What’s happening to you, Pumpkin?’ he thought in despair.
There was a stitch in his side like he had been running. The world seemed to be tilting slightly as he trotted. Halfway to the teacher he started to feel lightheaded. He felt like he couldn’t breathe, so absorbed with worry and sadness it felt like someone was choking him.
Spots danced in front of his eyes and he fell to the ground, feeling too dizzy to stand. At that moment time stopped for him.
Pound woke up, a cold sensation on his forehead. He groaned a bit as he opened an eye. As his blurry vision cleared he saw Pumpkin sitting there on a chair next to him, a mournful expression on her face. Her front hooves were sitting on her knees, and she looked out of it. As he looked a tear dripped down her coat.
He noticed they were in the corner of a room, a white divider blocking his sight of the rest of the room.
She stirred as she noticed his movement. Putting a hoof on his chest she said, “Don’t get up. Just… just lay there and rest, okay?”
Pound put a hoof to his forehead, curious about the cold feeling. He felt something squishy.
In explanation she said, “The nurse gave you an ice pack.”
“I’m in the nurse’s office?” he asked, his voice a little hoarse.
“Yeah. You passed out. You were out for about, um, ten minutes.” She put both hooves over her forehead, looking like she was about to break down.
Bits and pieces of things came to him. “Pumpkin-”
She put a hoof over his mouth, tears coming down her eyes. “Please don’t. I know what you’re going to say, and you’re absolutely right. It was wrong of me to do what I did. I was abusing my power. And even though I saw it was hurting you I kept pushing on.” She dropped her hoof. “I’m sorry.”
Pound felt some of the tension leave his body. At least she understood that. “What’s been going on with you, Pumpkin? You’ve been acting so weird lately. Masky may have come up with the idea, but you went along with it.”
She rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know what came over me. I’ve been feeling so odd since I met Masky. Almost from the moment I laid eyes on him I felt that way. He told me to prove that I actually cared about you enough to help you, and even though I didn’t want to do it initially he barely had to say anything to get me to change my mind. It was reckless and stupid, but that was part of what made it fun.
“I felt it was wrong at first, but I guess I just felt guilty about you. I mean, we just had a big fight recently, where I insulted you so badly for not being able to fly. And then he asked what I was doing to help you with your bullying problem, and I felt I wasn’t doing anything at all. Drill Bit kept getting away with so many mean things toward you that I agreed with him when he said it was okay. He would only be getting the punishment he had avoided, so it wasn’t like I was really doing anything wrong.”
“Look, Pumpkin." He lifted a hoof and put it on her knee. "I know… I know you wanted to help me, and I appreciate that, but this is not the kind of help I want. Give me moral support, stick up for me, but don’t go making yourself as bad as the ponies you’re fighting against.” A tear came down his eye. “I don’t want to see that from you.”
She nodded. “About… today…” She squirmed guiltily. “I think… I understand why bullies act the way they do. There was a strange thrill in what happened with Drill Bit. I got away with it, and no one doubted me.
“And then when those other kids started harassing us I got to experience that thrill again, even stronger. I had the power to screw them up from afar, without them being any the wiser. I could do so many things to them to get them back for the way they treated you. Even though, as you just said, it wasn’t what you wanted.”
“No... it wasn’t. You dismissed me when I tried to get you to stop, and basically laughed and mocked me when I said I was going to tell on you." His body tensed, tears blurring his vision. "A-and I really was." He sniffed. "I-I-It was the only way I could think of to stop you.
"Pumpkin, don't you realize that you were being a bully yourself?"
Her gaze grew distant. She could see his pain so clearly now. "I... yes." She felt a tenseness in her stomach. "I was being a bully." With a taste of desperation she leaned forward and said, "I couldn't control myself! I felt like there was a fog in my head, and my conscience turned off. Even your words didn't reach me. I was having too much fun."
She slowly leaned back, tears coming down her eyes. In a subdued voice she continued, "Then I heard a teacher worriedly calling your name, and when I turned I saw her shaking you, trying to get you up, and the fog went away. You had looked so sick before, and I knew it was my fault. I knew I had made things worse for you by stressing you out and overwhelming you when you were supposed to be resting.
"It's a warm day out today, so they thought you got a touch of heat stroke from exerting yourself too much. I couldn't bring myself to tell them the real reason." It was quiet for a few moments, then she said, "I better tell her you're awake."
She hopped off her chair, and he heard Pumpkin talking with someone before her hoofsteps were joined by slightly louder hoofsteps.
A gray-coated mare came into the corner space. "Hello, Pound," she said kindly, "I am Nurse Radiant Sun. How are you feeling?"
She put a hoof behind his head. "Do you think you can sit up?"
"Yeah." She pulled him to a sitting position. He caught the ice pack as gravity pulled it off his forehead.
"Any dizziness?" she asked.
Pound shook his head. "No."
"Very good." She took her hoof away from his head, holding it close to him for a few seconds in case he grew faint.
She checked his vital signs, took his temperature, and asked him to walk around for a bit. Pound went along with it.
When she was satisfied she said, "I think you're going to be fine. Just be a little more cautious on days like this. Drink plenty of water so you don't get dehydrated."
"Yes, Ma'am," Pound replied, even though his problem had nothing to do with the sun or humidity.
"Would you like to go back to class now, or would you rather rest some more?"
There were still some things he wanted to discuss with Pumpkin, so he told her he wanted to rest so they could have some privacy.
Before she left she got him a cup of water and set it on the table by the bed. "Feel better, okay?" she said, patting his head.
"Thank you," he replied, before getting back in the bed.
Now back to the two of them Pumpkin said, "I know I got a little power-mad, but can’t you understand that feeling that came over me? You got to experience it too, that day at Fluttershy’s party. When we got Discords power we had a blast, being able to change reality and have, like, every super power imaginable.”
Pound sighed. Free from consequences and given the ability to change reality they had pulled pranks, put on elaborate shows, and ended up fusing their bodies together into ‘Super Alicorn Poundkin’ to fight off a Changeling invasion.
“I do remember, Pumpkin. I do understand that feeling of having the power to not care about rules. It was one of the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced.
"And I remember what happened after it ran out, too. He gave us just a tiny bit more, and we weren't satisfied. Then Mayhem started talking to us, and talked us into stealing Discord's power for ourselves. We had to grow to like a hundred times our size just to contain it all without getting overwhelmed. I've never felt so powerful.
“So, yes, I do know that feeling that you're talking about. But you know what? By breaking the rules, and taking that power by force, it led to Mayhem taking over our bodies and nearly killing everyone we loved.”
“Rules are there for a reason. When we break them it may feel fun in the moment, but it always leads to trouble.”
Pumpkins lip quivered. “I just wanted to help you, Pound. D-don't you understand that?”
Pound let out a slow breath. “Maybe you weren’t paying attention to all of it because you were in pain, but you were there while I was talking to Princess Twilight that day on the beach. And she taught me the most important lesson I feel I’ve ever learned.
“What you were doing wasn’t for me. It’s just what you told yourself. This was about making yourself feel superior. This was about vengeance... about revenge. And revenge is WRONG, Pumpkin, because it's selfish. It's not justice. It may make you feel good in the moment, but think about the consequences. Now you not only have Drill Bit out for revenge when he returns, but his goons as well."
A few more tears came down his eyes. “Do you get what I’m saying? I’m scared for you, Pumpkin. I’ve never felt this scared before.” He began trembling. “I’m scared I won’t be able to protect you, especially if you keep provoking them. Last night was all nightmares until I went to talk to Auntie Pinkie, where Drill Bit kept doing worse and worse things to you.
"And now you've been acting so weird and different I felt like you were becoming an entirely different pony." His eyes clenched shut as he tried not to break down. “Please! Promise me you won’t do something like this again. No-” he whispered the next word “-framing other ponies, or pointlessly provoking them.”
She gave him a hug. “I promise. No, wait. I take that back.”
“Pumpkin-” he started, but she interrupted him.
“I take it because I Pinkie Promise I won’t do that again. No repeats of what happened with Drill Bit. And I can't promise I won't ever get angry and lose control of my magic, because no pony is perfect, but I'll try real, real hard not to abuse my magic and use it to hurt others, even if they're total jerks.”
Pound hugged her back, finally feeling like he could relax a little. Even if it was on accident by passing out, he had stopped Pumpkin’s turn to the dark side and made her realize the wrongness of her actions.
There were still some loose ends to tie up, namely the situation with Masky and whether he should tell the truth, as well as trying to get Drill Bit out of trouble. However, he was much too wiped out emotionally to deal with those issues at the moment. He had achieved an important victory. That was enough for the time being.