After Pumpkin’s promise to do better Pound felt like things were finally starting to stabilize. It was a huge relief to him. Perhaps his nightmares wouldn’t become reality after all.
He stayed and rested another fifteen minutes or so, trying to keep his mind empty and just savor this small step forward. Along the way, though, was one particular thought that wouldn’t stop popping into his head: Masky was a threat.
Whatever was the truth about him, the colt had started the process of Pumpkin’s lust for power. He didn’t concern himself with Masky’s pretend love for Pumpkin. He wanted to ask an adult about that. However, he couldn’t stand by as someone corrupted his sister.
Filled with a sense of purpose he knew he couldn’t just stay in the nurse’s office. He had to go to the enemy before the day ended.
The nurse looked him over one more time, then had her aid take them to class.
The teacher asked about his health when he came in, and he responded that he was fine.
He only half-listened as they were instructed on some things, glancing at Masky every once in a while.
After what felt like an eternity later they were given their free time to play together. He wasn’t going to wait around for a convenient excuse this time.
“Hey, Masky,” said Pound.
“Hey, Pound,” the colt responded. “You alright?”
Ignoring him he said, “Could I talk to you in private?”
Pumpkin looked at him questioningly. “Why? What do you have to hide from me?”
Masky jumped right in, rubbing her head. “Hey, baby, relax.”
And she did. She got that dreamy look on her face.
“Nothing to get upset about. We’re just working on a surprise for you. Just hasn’t been easy.”
“Oooh,” Pumpkin said, her eyes lighting up.
Pound bit his lip. The way the colt lied so naturally was now setting off red flags in spades. If he didn’t know the colt wasn’t going to be around for long he thought he wouldn’t have any problem spilling the beans about how fake he was right then and there.
He took a breath through his nose, reminding himself to focus on the main issue. That could wait until he got advice from someone more knowledgeable than him.
Leaving Pumpkin to her adoration the pair went off to the other side of the room, sitting down across from each other.
“So what would you like from me, Pound?” asked Masky neutrally.
“I haven’t decided whether to tell Pumpkin the truth about your feelings or not, but that’s not why I’m here.”
Masky smiled. “You get right to the point, don’t you? Just like before. I like that about you.”
“Another lie?” Pound asked indifferently.
“Not this time.” He shrugged. “But does it matter? Even if I told you the truth you’d wonder whether it was, just like you did now.
“But whatever. You didn’t bring me here to discuss my opinion about you.”
“Correct. I’m here for one reason only. I will not allow you to taint my sister.”
“Is that right? And what have I done to her?”
A flash of anger pulsed inside him, but he restrained it. He had to maintain control. “You told me that you were the one who fed her the idea about what happened yesterday, and she confirmed it for me a little while ago.”
“I did. And what of it? Don’t you think he got what he deserved?”
“And all it took was Pumpkin getting a giant bruise on her face.”
“I told you that was her idea.”
“So what if it was? It still wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t plant the idea in her head in the first place.”
He shrugged again. “Well, I guess I can’t argue that.”
“And then there was today.”
“Hey, hey, come on now. You were there for that. Pumpkin made her own decision today. I had nothing to do with it.”
“Yes, you did!” He felt another surge of anger. “It’s all been you! My sister’s crazy about you, so she’s been acting stupid for your sake. You could have stopped it at any time. She would have listened to you the way she wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Why would I stop it? I don’t care about those dolts, and they weren’t getting seriously hurt. You telling me you never played a prank?”
Pound’s eyes narrowed. “It wasn’t a prank. It was revenge and a loss of control.
“You can’t even do a good job of pretending you care for her. She doesn’t see it. She’s too in love with you to realize how shallow you are. If you actually cared about her like I do you would PROTECT her doing things that could hurt her instead of just standing by and watching, or encouraging her to do things that could get her in trouble.”
Masky giggled. “How sweet. It must be nice to have someone care for you. Pumpkin is really lucky to have a brother like you.”
Pound gave no credence to his words. “It’s obvious you don’t actually care about what I’m saying. I’ll just say this. If you manipulate my sister into doing bad things again I’ll make you regret it.”
Masky expression turned to great interest. “Are you challenging me, little pegasus?”
“Don’t tell me you’re a racist, too.”
“Oh, no, no,” he replied with a tut. “It’s just that there’s nothing you can do to me.” His horn sparkled, an aura surrounding Pound’s body. “Even if you tried something I could just hold you in place like this, and then what would you do?” The glow faded. “Or are you gonna set me up like your sister did to that other boy? And then your words would ring hollow.”
“I’m not going to hit you or set you up.” He pushed his head forward so they were nose to nose. “I just won’t tolerate what you’re doing. I’m sure a visit from Princess Twilight will wipe that smug expression right off your face.
“There are few things in this world that I won’t stand for, and hurting my sister is one of them. Just keep that in mind the next time you decide to talk to her.”
Masky was lost for a snappy comeback. He tried to play it off, but he was put off by Pound’s glare. “Whatever you say, boss,” he replied.
“I’m glad we understand each other.” His expression softened slightly. “Well, let’s not keep Pumpkin waiting.”
Masky followed behind Pound, annoyed. By the time they got back to Pumpkin he had mastered himself and returned to his usual persona.
“Hey, guys,” she said as they approached. “So what’s this big surprise, huh?”
Pound struggled for a moment to think of something interesting to say, but couldn’t come up with anything. “Well… the surprise is… the surprise is that we love you!” And he threw his hooves around his sister in a big hug.
Unsurprisingly, Masky didn’t miss a beat. “That’s right!” And he hugged her too.
“Awwww,” Pumpkin said happily, “I love you both too. Although, it’s not much of a surprise if I already knew you both loved me.”
Letting go Masky said, “So, why don’t you two entertain me?”
“Entertain you how?” asked Pound, doing his best to appear normal.
“I got an idea how to entertain you,” said Pumpkin, blowing him a kiss. “Pound would feel kinda excluded though.”
“Tell me a story,” said Masky. “I already recounted two of my adventures across Equestria. Surely you’ve done SOMETHING exciting in your lives.”
Pumpkin chuckled. “We sure did! And I can guarantee you that you’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Masky put his hoof under his chin and rested his head on it. “I’ll be the judge of that.”
“For a short time we were the most powerful ponies in Equestria, and fought an army of Changelings.”
He shook his head. “Come on, now. I know you’re trying to sound impressive, but that’s so obviously fake that it’s barely worth thinking about.”
Pound wasn’t interested in interacting with Masky like a friend, but he did want to show the smug colt up a bit. “Oh, no. It’s one hundred percent true.”
Masky looked between the pair a few times, skeptical. Finally he shrugged. “Alright, then. I’ll bite. But unless you’re talking about a game of pretend, or some play you put on, what you’re saying is blatantly impossible.”
“Well, we just so happen to know someone who makes the word impossible a joke. You ever hear of Discord, the spirit of chaos?”
“Vaguely. Isn’t he made up of all sorts of different creatures?”
Pumpkin nodded. “Yep. He used to be evil, but our friend Fluttershy redeemed him and made him nice.” She paused. “Well, he’s still got a mischievous side to him, but he’s a lot better than he used to be.”
Masky scoured his memories. “I know he was some sort of powerful enemy the princesses had to use the Elements of Harmony on a long time ago, but I didn’t really hear anything about why he was so dangerous."
“Speaking of the Elements of Harmony,” Pound said in a boastful tone, “we’re friends with all the wielders. Former wielders, rather, as they had to return them to stop the tree they came from initially from dying, but they embody the traits that allowed them to use them in the first place.”
“Mmm!” Masky said, his eyes sparkling a bit. “Interesting. That would make a lovely new picture for my photo album, me with the heroes of Equestria.
“Ah, but we’re not supposed to be talking about me. Go on with your story.”
“Discord’s power is to break reality,” said Pumpkin.
“Uh-huh… and that means what, exactly?”
“It means that he can break all the rules. And we’re not talking about things like not stealing or anything like that. He can literally change the rules of the world as he sees fit. He can reverse gravity, or change a pegasus into a unicorn, or split himself into a hundred pieces like a cartoon.”
Masky blinked, his mouth open slightly. He leaned forward. “Okay, now you’ve really got my attention.”
Puffing himself up a little Pound said, “During Fluttershy’s birthday party we got to meet Discord for the first time. She’s a pegasus who was the Element of Kindness. Discord wanted to liven the party up, but he felt that everyone already expects him to be a trickster so they’re always on guard with him. But then… then he saw us by our lonesome.”
Pumpkin’s eyes lit up. “He gave the both of us a piece of his magic, and we got to have the power to change the world for a few short hours.”
Masky’s eyes widened. “Get outta here!” he cried out, nearly jumping out of his seat. “No-that’s… wow…” He leaned back in his seat.
Pound and Pumpkin both had self-satisfied grins on their faces. Pound was certain that Masky’s reaction was the real deal. Who wouldn’t love to have that kind of power?
“We played a few pranks at first,” said Pound, “but then we clued everyone in to our power when I deliberately pretended I lost control when I was flying and crashed into the ground, separating all my body parts from each other. My mother freaked!”
Masky began to laugh, slapping the table. “O-oh, man! That was something I would have loved to have seen.”
They told him about putting on their special version of Equestrian history, the Changeling invasion, and how they had turned themselves into alicorns before fusing their bodies together into one pony and wiping out the enemies with a gigantic lightning tornado. The whole time they had the colt’s undivided attention, and Pound continued to believe that Masky was not faking his reactions.
They finished up by telling him about their rebellious act of taking Discords magic, being taken over by Mayhem, how he had used them to nearly kill everyone at the party, how they had wrested control back at the last moment to protect their family, how they were willing to give up their lives to end the threat, and finally about Mayhem, the living embodiment of Discord’s magic.
Masky looked speechless at the end. He let out a big breath. “That… I gotta admit it. I’ve never had an experience that even comes close to comparing to that. I’m actually a little jealous.”
Pumpkin let out a little squeal, smiling from ear to ear. She had impressed him, and didn’t have to do anything questionable to achieve it.
Masky started acting strange as they continued talking. His ever-present smile wasn’t hitched on his face, and he seemed distracted, his mind somewhere else. When they tried getting his attention it took a few tries to get him to respond. He’d give a response or two, but as soon as the focus wasn’t on him he’d return to his stoic silence.
Pound felt a little haughty. The story about Discord sure seemed to have knocked Masky down a peg or two. Unlike Pumpkin he didn’t let it consume him. He remained aware of the danger Masky posed, and didn’t seek to provoke the colt. He might retaliate out of spite.
Pumpkin expressed concern for him, and he claimed he just wasn’t in the mood to talk. And so they stopped chatting and played a game instead. It was a simple word game. One person said a word, and the next had to come up with a word that started with the last letter of the previous word and not reuse a word.
The spirit of competition pulled Masky out of his funk, and soon enough all three of them were straining their brains to the max. Occasionally, when they were stuck, they’d just make up a word and even a definition for it if questioned.
In the end Pumpkin was the victor. Pound had been the first out, and Pumpkin suspected Masky deliberately let her win.
The school day ended, and the trio said their goodbyes. Pound and Pumpkin left with Pinkie Pie, while Masky went by himself. It wasn’t a very long walk for the colt. Only a few minutes.
Masky entered the door of the inn they were staying at, greeting the woman at the reception desk as he passed by. When he got to his door he took off his saddlebag and fished around for his key before opening it up.
“I’m home!” he said sarcastically. “Mom! Dad! How are ya?” As he expected his parents weren’t there. Like always he had had to walk himself to ‘home.’
He picked some food out of the cupboard and made himself a snack. "You’re always so independent." He heard his mother’s voice in his mind. "So responsible. Now you’re getting old enough to take on even more responsibility."
“Feh,” he said derisively. “Responsibility… more like another word for abandonment.” All it had really meant was they had stopped picking him up and dropping him off at school, and that he had to entertain himself during the day.
They’d be home within an hour or two, but most of their time would be spent working on paperwork. He was lucky if they both had some free time before he fell asleep and they weren’t too exhausted themselves to play with him.
He jammed a cookie in his mouth, growling.
He didn’t want to think of his parents. They were too busy with their business lives to really pay attention to him. He shrugged. What was he to do it about it? If they didn’t work they’d be on the streets with no food or place to sleep. So what else was there to do?
“Nothing,” he said out loud, “except to just deal with it and be their precious ‘big boy.’”
He dipped a cookie in some milk and stuffed it in his mouth. When he swallowed he said, “Well, time to get some acting practice in.” He grabbed a few items and set them up.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he said in a grandstanding voice. “Thank you for your patience. It’s time for the show you’ve all been waiting for. It’s one of my favorites. It’s called ‘The parents who were actually there.’ Please, please, hold your applause for the end of the show.”
He sat at the kitchen table, pretending to do his homework.
Using a high pitched voice he moved a glass cup he had doodled a face on and said, “Well, son, how was school today?”
He glanced up. “It was pretty interesting. My friends told me about a crazy adventure they had with a mythical creature. I’m glad you asked.”
“Come on, son,” he said in a deeper voice, moving a plate he had similarly drawn a face on, “you can do homework later. Let’s play a game of catch.”
“Sound great, Dad!”
He stood up, picking up a plastic ball. He reared up, and chucked it, slowing it with his magic before it hit the plate.
“Great throw, slugger! What a leg you’ve got!”
“Thanks, Dad! Now throw it back.”
He trotted to the other side of the room, hurling the ball towards himself and catching it.
Dropping the ball and setting the plate down he said, “And… scene! Great work, everyone! Autographs and pictures are available for a small fee.”
He sighed, abandoning his plate of cookies and heading to his side of the room. He went in the dresser and pulled out his photo album, one of the few things they always kept from place to place.
He flipped through the pages, memories coming to him with each shot. Hanging out in Yakyakistan, visiting the Crystal Empire and experiencing being crystalized, being able to meet the Wonderbolts…
Just one of those experiences would be enough to blow someone’s mind. The adventures were always fun. He gained a special memory from every place they visited, but he felt he lost far more than he gained. He would trade the pictures and the memories in a heartbeat for parents that had time to spend with him on a daily basis and friends that he didn’t lose.
Looking at the photos he remembered the fun of the experience, but it was tempered by the memory of what wasn’t shown: the friends he had made along the way that he lost contact with.
After their peace offering to the dragons they were provided a place to sleep. He had gone exploring the next day, and he had found a baby dragon named Lava Guard with his tail stuck under a rock. Using his magic and pushing as hard as he could the two of them moved the rock enough for him to escape.
The dragon had been grateful for his assistance, saying that ponies weren’t so bad. Lava’s father thanked him as well when he heard the story, and provided him with a jewel from his hoard. Given dragon’s usual greed and love of hoarding he had treasured the little stone for what it symbolized. During their time there he had romped and wrestled with the young dragon. Even though Lave was only about his size it was obvious that the young dragon was just humoring him, as he was pretty darn tough.
In Canterlot he had spotted several children coming out of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and engaged them in conversation. At first they didn’t seem too interested in him, but that all changed when he flashed the picture of him with the princesses and told them of how he had outsmarted their headmaster. That got their attention, and they invited him to join them for some ice cream at the snack shop. He had eagerly accepted, and they had hit it off. He visited them when school let out every day.
With the aid of a cloud walking spell and a hot air balloon he got to visit Cloudsdale and observe a Wonderbolts show. During the performance a banner came loose and flew right into the path of one of them, and he had been too slow to get out of the way. Wrapped up in the banner he had come careening towards the stands. His teammates were heading for him, trying to save him, but it was obvious they weren’t going to be in time.
The stallion was headed right toward them, and in a moment of instinct his magic activated, pulling at the edges of the banner to get it off him. His momentum was still too strong for him to stop, and his parents followed his lead and the three of them used their telekinesis to pull him to a stop inches from the stands.
In thanks for his help the stallion (he later learned was named Soarin) asked if he’d like to participate in the show. He nodded enthusiastically, and the stallion picked him up, throwing him on his back and told him to hold on tight.
It was both terrifying and exciting beyond words being up so high and knowing only open air was beneath him, although Soarin was a bit restrained in his techniques compared to his teammates to minimize the chance of him falling off.
When he was returned back to his seat a colt and filly around his age engaged him in conversation, asking him about how it felt and thought he was the coolest. He had been flattered, modestly blushing and playing it off as nothing.
Before he left he got one last reward: another picture for his scrapbook of him with all the Wonderbolts.
He got the address of the filly and colt also, and had enjoyed hanging out with them.
There were other stories, other memories, but every single one of them ended the same way.
“GOODBYE!” he shouted, slamming the album shut and throwing it at the wall as hard as he could. He gasped, realizing what he had done, and swiftly pulled it to a stop with his magic, his heart pounding hard in his chest.
Relieved, he pulled it back to him, hugging it to himself. He had carried this album around for years. He didn't want to ruin it. It was the only proof he had that his life had once been fun.
He placed the album back in the dresser with the utmost care, then walked over to his bed, lying down and staring at the ceiling.
Everywhere he went there were new adventures, and he always found a way to make a friend along the way. And then would come the words he had come to dread: "We’ll be leaving in a few days." He would have to bid his friends farewell, dragged along by life. At first he didn’t mind it so much, as there was always something new to take his mind off things, but it began to bother him more and more each time. The wonder of a new town and of a new event was usually just a one-day thing, and then his parents were back to work. The rest of the month or so they were there was also okay at the start, up until his parents felt he was responsible enough to care for himself for greater periods of time. At least back then they had been around more.
He sighed. What was the point of dwelling on it? He couldn’t change the circumstances around his life, so the least he could do was not bog his parents down with worrying about him.
He could hear the ticking of a clock on the wall, and it was almost a hypnotic melody. One after another he counted the seconds, and he spent a few minutes just focusing on that before he grew bored.
He thought of school, and that was enough to peak his interest again. He had been in several schools, showing off his cool persona, but this was the first time a pony had actually fallen in love with him. “Pumpkin Cake,” he said out loud.
He could always go visit her. That would kill the tedium of boredom. She lived in a sweetshop, so it wouldn’t be hard to find her house if he just asked a passerby for directions.
He let out a mirthless laugh. “Oh, yeah. That would be a great idea after you told her brother that you didn’t actually care for her, and manipulated her just for your own amusement.”
He played the role of her boyfriend because he didn’t want to break her heart. He had experienced enough of that in his own life and didn’t want Pumpkin to have to feel it if he could help it, though it was more of a logical thought process than an emotional one; more of an ‘It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?’ than ‘I would be devastated to break her heart.’
He wasn’t sure what his intentions had been when he had talked Pumpkin into doing what she did. On the one side a part of him really did want to test Pumpkin, as he felt that family should be there for family, something he felt was missing from his own life. Though, again, he didn’t feel it emotionally.
On the other side, though, he couldn’t deny that he had grown indifferent to other ponies. Testing her wasn’t his real motivation. Or, at least, it wasn’t his main one. He had pushed her because he was curious… because he wanted to see what would happen. He wanted to see how far she would go for her brother, and the large bruise on her face was a testament to that. Even though she had told him it was meant to be a softer hit it didn’t negate what she had done. It had really impressed him.
So in a way Pound had been both right and wrong. He told her to frame the other kid for amusement, but he also thought that Pumpkin should prove her worth.
Even though he didn’t love her, he had meant it when he said he liked her as a pony. When she wasn’t fawning over him like a puppy dog she displayed that she was quite intelligent and levelheaded, though he had shown he could change that by manipulating her love for him.
It was a contradiction he realized. He acted a certain way to make her happy, but then his other actions led to her getting hurt, and it didn’t really bother him. He did feel enough esteem for her, and a touch of guilt for setting up the circumstances leading to it, to stay with her the rest of the school day while she recovered from her injury.
Pumpkin’s mouth had been a little swollen, so he did the majority of the talking in the beginning, but he did learn quite a bit about her personally, like that she lived at a place called Sugarcube Corner and she had a cat named Tiger Lily.
His thoughts were pulled toward the conversation the three of them had had at free period. He closed his eyes and pictured in his mind the kinds of things the twins had told him about when they had received a bit of Discord’s power.
He sat up, sitting on the edge of the bed. “The power to rewrite reality,” he mused, “If I had that power…” The possibilities were endless. “Maybe if I could borrow that power I wouldn’t have to leave Pumpkin behind.”
He had grown accustomed to his solo life. He didn't like it, but he accepted it because he felt he had no power to change anything. If there was nothing he could do then there was nothing he could do, and that was that. No options were available to him. But now...
The possibility, no matter how small, that he could change that, that he could have what he really wanted most of all, unsettled him. It offered him a hope that he didn’t have before, and he hated it. He had given up on hope, but now here it was being presented to him. If he could get the power to teleport or the ability to talk telepathically he could chat with Pumpkin whenever he wanted. Or maybe he could mind control his parents to make them hate traveling and want to settle down in Ponyville, or something like that.
He bit his lip as a crashing wave of loneliness overwhelmed him and tears came down his eyes. He hugged himself, his thoughts consumed with Pumpkin: the way she laughed, the way she blushed and nuzzled him, the way she talked and was interested in him, both romantically and as a friend, and he knew just one thing: “I DON’T WANT TO SAY GOODBYE AGAIN!” he yelled.
He was sick of this life. For so long he had told himself he was okay, but that was the biggest lie of all. He wasn't okay. He hadn't been for a while. He had lost so much of himself, putting up giant walls and suppressing everything he wanted to be an ideal son for his parents, all the while just wanting them to be there for him more often.
For the first time in a long while his sealed emotions broke free completely, running rampant, leaving him a sobbing wreck on his bed. It was a tidal wave of emotions that felt like it might drown him, and he had no power to stop the tide. The wall was broken now, and he couldn't resist the pain that ran through him.
He bit his pillow to muffle his screams, pounding his bed repeatedly. Why couldn’t he be lucky like Pumpkin, and be showered with love like her brother showed for her? He had no one to comfort him, no one to hold him and tell him he was alright.
He didn't know how long his tantrum went on for, but by the end of it he felt more drained than he had ever felt. His throat was parched, his head was throbbing, little tremors and sobs still ran through his body. But the worst of all was the ache in his soul.
Forcing himself to a sitting position he looked upon the small room, and it felt infinitely large without another pony or two to fill the space.
"I'm... alone," he said thickly, the words seeming to echo in his mind. "I'm alone."
He thought he was out of tears, but saying those words out loud only reinforced his feelings, and he put his head into his hooves as he started crying anew.