When they were all ready Discord teleported them to the park.
It was the first time Masky had experienced teleportation, and it took him a few seconds to get his bearings. Once he had settled down he saw they were at the park. On a polka-dot blanket nearby sat four mares, as well as a dragon.
His interest soared as he noticed the purple-coated one had wings and a horn. Undoubtedly this was Princess Twilight.
“There you are,” said Rainbow. “We were beginning to think you got lost.”
“Aw, they weren’t gone that long,” said Applejack.
“Hello, everyone!” said Pumpkin. “I want to introduce my friend Masky.”
“Masky?” Rarity said questioningly, sitting under an umbrella that blocked out the sun. Nearby, Spike was fanning her. “A bit of an odd name.”
“It’s short for Masquerade Ball.”
“That makes more sense.” She looked him over. “Hmmm. A colt of mystery, then? Very chic.
“I am Rarity. Pleased to meet you.”
Applejack went next, then Rainbow Dash.
That caught Masky’s attention. “Wait-wait-wait! THE Rainbow Dash? The leader of the Wonderbolts Academy and the only known pony who pulled off a Sonic Rainboom?”
You could practically see the ego oozing off of her as she smugly grinned. “Oh, that old trick?” she said, flicking her mane as if it was no big deal.
He pulled out his camera again. What with Discords antics he had missed out on his shots before, but he didn’t want to pass this up. “It isn’t every day you get to meet someone so cool! Can I get a picture of you?”
Unsurprisingly she agreed. She adopted several poses, and he got a few pics alongside her.
When that was done he went next along the line, completely unafraid of the dragon in front of him. “So what’s your name?”
“Spike,” he replied.
Masky’s eyes widened. “No way!” He bounced up and down a few times. He gave a small bow. “The Great and Honorable Spike, the Brave and Glorious! I saw that giant statue of you in the Crystal Empire.”
Spike tried to be humble about it, but he wasn’t as good at pretending as Rainbow. “Oh, yeah! I totally saved the day. If it wasn’t for me the entire Crystal Empire would have been overtaken by King Sombra.” He rubbed his knuckles against his chest. “Yeah, even Twilight couldn’t do anything about it.”
“Alright, Spike,” said Twilight. “Enough bragging.”
He turned to her. “It’s okay to be jealous there isn’t a giant statue of you sitting in the Crystal Empire.”
“I’m not jealous,” she said sincerely. “Besides, I have a few portraits in Celestia’s Castle. That’s enough.”
Masky gave her a quick bow. “And of course you would be Princess Twilight Sparkle, prized student of Princess Celestia. It’s an honor to meet you.”
“Likewise,” she replied. “So you’ve been to the Crystal Empire, huh? That’s quite a trip.”
“He’s been EVERYWHERE!” Pumpkin said. “He even told us that he outsmarted Princess Celestia herself.”
“Is that right?” asked Twilight, amusement in her eyes. “You’ve met her too, huh?”
“Did she ever tell you about the fake invasion training simulation?” asked Masky.
Twilight looked up thoughtfully. “She might have mentioned it, though I don’t quite remember…” Her eyes lit up as she looked back down. “Aha. I remember her saying a colt got past their defenses by pretending to be upset about losing his parents.”
“That was me!”
“You think quick on your hooves. It’s a good trait to have.
“So Pumpkin said you’ve been everywhere. That sounds like a bit of an exaggeration.”
He shook his head. “Oh, no. It’s true. I’ve got photos from around the world. My parents travel for business a lot.
“Speaking of, all of you are Equestrian heroes and I’d love some new shots for my scrapbook, if that’s alright with you.”
“Sure. Why not?”
Pinkie joined in with the group, even though she didn’t like the way he was manipulating Pumpkin. She thought that maybe some time with them and some encouragement might help improve his disposition. She mentally blocked his deception and decided to focus on his positive traits.
He went around taking shots of all of them, so excitable and throwing compliments to all of them. He only asked them to pose once so he could get a shot of all of them together, with him at the front.
Pound tugged on Pumpkin. “Let’s go play a game,” he said exasperatingly.
“What about Masky?”
“He’ll probably fanboy over them for a while. Might as well enjoy ourselves until he gets bored of his hero-worshipping.”
“You’re probably right, but it would be rude to just go off on our own.”
He rolled his eyes. “Ugh. Then I’ll be rude. Come find me when you’re ready to have fun.”
Pumpkin watched him storm off, confused. “What’s his problem?” she said to herself. Masky’s excitement at meeting their towns heroes wasn’t unusual at all. Why couldn’t Pound just give him some time to bask in it?
Pound walked for a few minutes, silently fuming. They didn’t even realize he was a huge fraud. He knew Masky’s excitement was real, but it mattered little to him. He just didn’t like that this was delaying the moment he spilled the beans. The longer he had to wait the harder it would be to make himself do it.
He made a turn and walked into a copse of close-together trees, grumbling under his breath as he maneuvered between them, glad for the almost obstacle course like activity of snaking his way between the trees.
He ended up in a small clearing that looked like it would make a good camping spot. He sat down against a tree, letting out a frustrated sigh. “What a mess!” he said, picking up a branch and throwing it.
A short while later he heard the sound of multiple pairs of hooves coming toward him. “Oh, good. Did Pumpkin finally decide to find me?”
He didn’t bother looking up when the hooves stopped until he heard the last voice he wanted to hear. “What did I tell you? It was him. I’d recognize that loser anywhere.”
Pound gulped, his head snapping up. Drill Bit and his four goons walked into the clearing.
“Well, well,” said Drill, a cocky expression on his face. “What do we have here?” He chuckled. “What’s up there, flightless wonder?”
Pound’s eyes narrowed a bit as he stood up. “What do you want? I’m not in the mood for you. I’ve already got enough problems to deal with today.”
Drill gestured with his head to both sides, and the other four surrounded him. “Aw, we just wanted to talk. Can’t you spare a minute?”
Pound inwardly groaned. There was nowhere to go and he couldn’t fly. Even if he could they were better fliers than him anyway. “What do you want with me?” he said coldly. “I get enough of you at school.”
Drill closed some of the distance between them. “Well, let’s just say I don’t much care for your family. You’re a pathetic loser, which is sad and all, but your sister set me up and got me in trouble for something I didn’t even do. My parents were quite… irritated about that. They know I wouldn’t do something like that.”
Pound’s groan was audible this time. He knew it was a bad idea for Pumpkin to do what she did. “So is that what this is about? Revenge?”
“Well… a little bit. I already received a punishment so I might as well do what I was framed for, don’t you think?”
Pound glanced around, but didn’t see anything that might help him in this situation. Talking more tough than he felt he sneered and said, “Five on one, huh? After all your tough talk you won’t even confront me without four others backing you up? Are you that weak?”
Drill just laughed at that. “Hardly. These guys are just here to stop you from running away like a coward. I’ll give you a little credit for not just screaming for help. Juuuuuuust a little.”
Pound backed up a step as Drill approached, but there was no more room behind him. He was right up against the tree, his heart hammering.
“Come on, then,” said Drill, turning his head and pushing it out towards Pound. “I’ll even be nice and let you take the first swing.”
Pound’s eyebrow went up. “W-what are you talking about? I thought you wanted to beat me up.”
Drill waved his hoof dismissively. “What fun would that be? I want you to defend yourself. That’s one of the most annoying things about you. You’re such a whiny little baby that it makes me sick. Every little bad thing you hear makes you break out in tears. The world has no place for crybabies like you, so why don’t you be a stallion for once instead of a colt? Hit me! Show me there’s something about you that isn’t totally pathetic.”
Pound just stood there, not doing anything. Was Drill actually being serious? Maybe he was just waiting for him to make the first move so that they had an excuse to gang up on him.
“No?” Drill said, shaking his head. “Oh, well. Pumpkin’s the one who started all this. She’ll eventually come looking for you, and maybe we’ll ‘play’ with her instead.”
That statement cut through his fear, and he growled. “Don’t touch my sister or you’ll regret it!” Pound said sharply. “You got that?”
Drill laughed. “Ooh, what a tough guy. I’m shaking in my non-existent boots.” The rest of them laughed too. He straightened up, matching Pound’s glare. “I’ll tell you what. If you beat me I’ll forget all about her getting me in trouble. Sound fair enough to you? Go on. Give it your best shot.”
Pound lifted a hoof, shaking with anger. It would be so easy to swing. It was just like the time with Tree Leaf, except Pumpkin hadn’t been hurt yet. He held his breath, his cheeks puffing out. He wanted to attack, to go berserk, to beat Drill Bit to a stain on the floor until he couldn’t pose a threat to Pumpkin anymore.
He wanted it really badly… but not enough to put Pumpkin in more danger. Twilight’s words flitted through his mind about the cycle of revenge. Even if the others didn’t get involved he would either win against Drill and breed resentment in his heart, or lose and get hurt. Either way Pumpkin would be unhappy.
Another thing Twilight talked to him about that day was the difference between justice and revenge. Revenge and hatred might make him happy in the moment, but it wouldn’t solve the problem. What was more important to him: making others suffer, or seeing Pumpkin happy and safe? It was, without a doubt, the second one.
He slowly let out the breath he was holding, lowering his hoof. In a firm voice he said, “No! I’m not going to fight you.”
Drill’s eyes narrowed. “Hmph! You really are pathetic. What kind of brother are you that you won’t even stand up for your own family? Don’t you even care that I threatened her?”
Pound took in a sharp breath, forcing calm through the red haze of his emotions. He did care. Of course he cared. He was furious that Drill Bit had threatened her.
He thought of Twilight's toughest question to him: What does it mean to protect Pumpkin?
He pictured himself attacking Orange Mango at this very park for shoving Pumpkin, the result being Orange coming back with his older brother and three friends. Losing his temper had led to far worse happening to his sister than if he had just kept calm and told an adult.
Pumpkin had chewed him out after the incident with Tree Leaf, pointing out that even if had gone to beat up the colt for throwing sand in her eyes she would have sat there suffering the whole time, her eyes burning.
Twilight told him that his love and desire to protect Pumpkin was pure, but tainted by a need for revenge. Had trying to hurt others ever done anything positive for Pumpkin? No, it hadn’t. If he truly loved her he had to put her first, instead of constantly flying off the handle at the first provocation. Wasn’t that the reason she had put him through all that practice in learning to control his temper?
He closed his eyes, picturing Pumpkin in his mind. He thought of how much he cared for her and never wanted anything bad to happen to her. He let his love for her start pushing down the hatred he had for Drill and the rest.
‘Keep calm!’ he thought, taking a deep breath. ‘For Pumpkin’s sake.’
Before he could open his eyes he felt a blinding pain in his cheek, knocking him to the ground.
“Hey!” Drill said sharply. “Who told you to start falling asleep on me, Wimp Cake?”
Pound put a hoof over his cheek, looking up and seeing Drill lowering his own. He winced, rubbing it.
The others laughed again, two of them slapping hooves.
“Is this a joke to you?” asked Drill. “Because it really isn’t. I hope that woke you up.”
Pound slowly stood up, still rubbing his cheek. “What did you do that for?”
“Well, someone had to take the first swing. Really, I kept hoping that there was something strong about you, but if you can’t even stick up for your own family then you’re just plain disgusting to me.”
Pound glanced at him oddly. It seemed like he was just being insulting, but there was something about his words that got Pound’s attention. It was almost like Drill believed he was just testing him, wanting to see what it would take to get him fired up. Pinkie said Pumpkin had mentioned something similar. “And what’s so important about that? Fighting isn’t the only way to resolve things.”
Drill gave a dismissive tsk. “Have you heard about the kinds of things that have attacked Equestria? This is a world where only the strong survive. Weaklings like you only get to live because you hide behind your parents and the princesses to do everything for you instead of training yourself up to do it yourself. If you can’t even take me down how can you expect to take on anything else? What a terrible brother you are. Family protects family, and the only way to do that is to mow down anything in your path that interferes with their safety.”
While it wasn’t exactly the same as him Pound had to admit that Drill’s words sounded a lot like his justification for attacking others. He could understand the colt’s mindset because it practically echoed his own from a few months ago. But he wasn’t the same pony he was back then. He understood better now.
“You’re wrong. Among our group is the draconequus Discord, who used to be a great threat, and he was turned good not through fighting, but through kindness and persistence.” He looked Drill right in the eyes as he closed the distance between them. “So I don’t care what you do. I won’t fight.”
Pound recoiled as Drill slapped him across the other cheek. “Let’s just see how long it takes for you to give up on that. Let’s see how persistent you really are. Let’s see you stop me with kindness.”
Pound heard the chuckles of his other classmates. “What a wimp,” said one of them. Even so, he only had eyes for Drill.
Ignoring the pain he said, “I know what my sister did, and it was wrong. What you were doing was bad too, but it didn’t make her right for framing you. I understand that you must be furious with her.”
“Funnily enough I actually detest you far more than I dislike her. Framing me like that was a dirty, underhanded trick, but at least she was willing to take action for your sake, and even injured herself to boot to make it look more genuine. I find that admirable.
“But what about you? You just want to stand there and find a way out without sacrificing anything.”
“Can’t we end this?” He gritted his teeth, pushing forward for Pumpkin. He extended a hoof. “You attacked me and got your revenge, so why don’t we put this all behind us and be friends?” The words felt foreign going to a jerk, but another thing Twilight had told him was that if he had kept his composure he could have made a friend of Orange Mango instead of an enemy.
They all looked at him or each other as if he was speaking a foreign language, then almost simultaneously they all broke out into riotous laughter. Two of them fell to the ground they were laughing so hard. Pound felt he could bail now by just leaping over them and running, but he wanted to settle things with Drill Bit if he was able. If he ran now they’d only mock him harder, and Pumpkin would still be in danger. He couldn’t go until he resolved the matter.
Drill wiped a tear from his eye as he settled down. “Oh, boy! Now that was great. Best joke I’ve heard all year.” His amusement faded as he noticed Pound was still extending his hoof as if he hadn’t noticed the ridiculousness of his question. “Hmph! What makes you think I’d want to be friends with a wimp like you?”
“Because I can understand the way you think. I used to lose control whenever I saw Pumpkin being bullied. One time I even threatened to beat up Princess Twilight when I thought she was upsetting Pumpkin.”
Drill blinked. “Well, well. That sounds interesting… although you probably just made it up.”
“Protecting my sister is all that matters to me. I don’t care if it’s from a monster or an animal or a pony. I’ll always keep her safe no matter what.” His expression was gradually getting harder, his hoof still extended.
Now he rolled his eyes. “You say that, but I gave you a chance to end things and you refused.”
“Because attacking you isn’t going to change anything. That’s one of the biggest lessons Princess Twilight taught me: fighting others isn’t the way to solve problems. Her and her friends attacked others only to save the world and protect lives, not to solve a problem that could be talked out.”
Drill’s eyes narrowed, and he smacked Pound’s hoof away. “Oh, shove it!” he said angrily. “That’s just an excuse so you don’t have to get involved. Being number one is all that matters. The world has no place for cowards that can’t stand up for what they believe in. Even your sister demonstrated that better than you. If you want me to listen to anything you say then prove you’re worthy of it.”
Pound slowly lowered his leg. He took in a slow breath, his face like granite now. “Fine, then. We’ll play it your way.”
“Finally.” Drill smirked. “That’s what I’m talking about. Show me something.”
“If you won’t be satisfied without resorting to violence then go ahead and get it out of your system. I won’t lift a hoof to stop you. You can do whatever you want to me, but you have to promise that you’ll leave Pumpkin alone after this.”
Drill growled, turning around and bucking him in the snout. Pound was sent flying backwards, slamming into the tree behind him. “That’s not good enough! Fight back, you scaredy-cat!”
Pound felt the pain in his nose from Drill’s hooves, and his backside from colliding with the tree, but it was muted. There was a small trickle of blood from his nostril. He pushed himself back up, a sense of purpose rendering everthing else unimportant. “Well, that’s too bad, because I refuse to fight you.” His eyes narrowed. “You think you know it all, but you don’t know anything about real strength. Harming others only causes bad feelings for the one hurt, and then they want revenge. And in getting that revenge now the other pony wants revenge back, and it just keeps going back and forth until someone has the sense to stop it.”
He closed the distance between them, his expression like stone. “Well, I’m stopping it right here!" He stomped a hoof for emphasis. "You can hit me and slap me and buck me all you want, but nothing you could ever do would hurt me as much as knowing I did something to put my sister in danger. I’LL take the blows that you want to give to her, and I won’t hit you back so you have no further reason to seek revenge. THAT’S what being a good big brother means to me, doing whatever it takes to keep my sister safe no matter how bad it hurts me.”
His eyes were blazing. “So come on, then! Do your worst! I’m not afraid of you!”
The tension in the air was thick. Drill met his gaze for a short while, but he was the first to look away. He took a small step backwards. He actually felt slightly intimidated, and he didn’t like it.
Pound pushed forward. “I’m willing to be friends for Pumpkins sake, so why not? Mmm... no.” Something came to him. "That's wrong."
During his confrontation with Tree Leaf the colt had gotten angry at him for his over-focus on Pumpkin. Tree Leaf had felt he wasn’t being genuine since he had forced himself to try and make up for Pumpkin’s sake, not because he was actually willing to forgive the colt.
He had to change gears and find a true reason to be friends, otherwise he was only going to be a false friend and their feelings toward one another would never improve. What could they possibly bond over? After deliberating on it for a few seconds the answer became obvious.
His harsh expression faded, and he suddenly bowed to Drill. “You’re right about one thing: I am a ‘flightless wonder.’ I’m the worst in our class, while you’re the best. I am pathetic.” He looked up into the confused colt’s eyes and continued, “I could really use your help in getting off the ground. Someone as talented and skilled as you could surely help me improve.” He let his backside fall to the ground as well. “Please help me... if you think you can.”
Pound had appealed to his ego by complimenting him and emphasizing the difference in skill between them, then made it a challenge by insinuating he might not be up to the task. He thought it was the perfect bait for someone like Drill Bit. He just hoped the colt would take it.
His classmates weren’t laughing anymore. Pound’s restraint in not resorting to force even though he was getting attacked, as well as only using words and a glare to get Drill to back down, made them give him a grudging respect. He was tougher than they thought. Now they were all looking at Drill to see his reaction.
Drill glared down at the colt prostrate on the ground before him, lost for words at the moment. The silence was heavy in the air. Thirty seconds passed, then a minute, and still Pound remained in his submissive pose.
Suddenly, Drill Bit turned around and said dismissively, “Let’s go. I can’t take this nonsense anymore. It’s not even worth it.”
The other four followed him as Pound maintained his position.
After a few seconds Drill’s steps slowed until he came to a stop, looking behind him at Pound. “You’re an odd little brat, I’ll give you that. And someone as pathetic and worthless as you would never amount to anything without someone great like me holding your hoof every step of the way.” He shrugged. “So fine, chump. I’ll help train you, but don’t think this makes us friends. I’m doing this to make ME look good and so you'll stop making our class look bad.”
Pound glanced up at him, a small smile on his face.
“As for your sister…” He paused, then shrugged again. “I’m not interested in her anymore. You’ve shown me your strength, and I think it would be a mistake to cause trouble for her.” He let out a deep laugh. “I’ll have my revenge by giving you the toughest training you can get.
“See ya, loser.”
And with that, the five of them left.
Pound watched them go, an odd feeling in his chest. Had he really done it? Had he really just settled things with them so easily? Had he actually won them over with just words?
He slowly got to his hooves, feeling oddly emotional. He walked a few steps, feeling like he might fall back down any second. He sat down against a tree, looking dazed.
Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Twilight!” he said, his voice cracking as he thought of the advice she had given him, and the hours of practice she had put into training him out of his violent tendencies.
She had shown him the path to true strength. And now here, all by himself, he had demonstrated exactly what she had been trying to drill into him. He had protected Pumpkin by himself without resorting to force. No more vengeance except for having a strict teacher, and he was sure he could handle that. It fit in with his ugly duckling mentality.
He put his head into his knees and sobbed, a feeling of relief going through him.