Masky had gotten all the pictures he wanted, and was now just chatting with the others.
Pumpkin left him to it, looking around for her brother. He had been gone for quite a while. She figured he’d take a quick walk around and then come right back, but she didn’t see any sign of him.
It might be nothing, but she had a bad feeling. “Miss Twilight?” Pumpkin started.
Twilight turned to her. “Yes, Pumpkin?”
“I need your help.”
“Oh. Sure.” She stood up. “What do you need?”
“I haven’t seen Pound in a long time. He was bored, so he went for a walk like ten minutes ago. I think he should have come back by now.”
“Mmm…” Twilight frowned. “This is a public area, so I don’t think Pound could have gotten into too much trouble.”
Pumpkin gave a small nod. “I agree, but all the same I’d like to have an adult with me just in case something happened.”
“Makes sense to me. I’m glad to see you thinking maturely.”
Pumpkin smiled. “Thank you, Twilight.”
Cup and Carrot were a little worried as the two began walking away. “Hold on, now!” said Cup, making them turn around. “Pumpkin, it makes sense to take Twilight with you, as she’s an alicorn, but we’re your parents. If there’s a chance Pound’s in danger we want to come too.”
“Same here,” said Pinkie, coming over as well.
Rainbow stood up. “Well, if there’s a search needed I’ll help.”
“Oh, there’s no need for everyone to get up,” said Discord in a bored tone. He disappeared for a few moments before poofing back, holding up a few white hairs.
“Uuuuhhh… okay,” said Pumpkin. “And how are hairs supposed to help us?”
He ran a claw over them, and they began to move around like they were alive. “I took a quick trip to your house and took these from the pup Pound adopted.”
“Ummmm… why?” she asked incredulously.
“Pound plays with the thing all the time, I’m sure. And dogs shed. These enchanted hairs will follow the scent of their brethren and lead you right to him.”
Carrot’s eyebrow rose. “Well, that’s, um…” He couldn’t think of an appropriate word.
Cup put a hoof on him. “Let’s just call it a very Discord-like solution and leave it at that.”
Pumpkin shrugged. “Fine with me.”
So began one of the oddest experiences Pumpkin thought she’d ever had, following a few stray living dog hairs to find her way to her brother. Rainbow Dash stayed, but her parents, Twilight, and Pinkie joined her.
With most of their group away looking for Pound Masky went to work setting things up in his favor. He needed to see what could get him in Mayhem’s good books.
It was incredibly easy to do, as it turned out. He tried several different topics, but ultimately he disregarded them all in favor of just talking about Fluttershy. Whenever her name was mentioned Mayhem would beam and his eyes would twinkle as he gushed about her.
Having figured that aspect out he began to hover around the mare, letting Mayhem see him being nice to her in order to reinforce the notion that he was no enemy of Mayhem’s favorite pony, and that she liked him as well. That would make it easier for him to convince the mini-draconequus to give in to his request.
He sat by Mayhem after a little while to start winning him over directly.
“You really love Fluttershy, don’t you?” asked Masky.
Mayhem nodded hard. “She’s just THE BEST! She’s smart and she’s nice and she smells good and-and-and OOOOOHHH! Oh, there’s just so much to say that I can’t say it all!”
“Well, I really love her too.”
He gasped in delight. “You DOOOOOO? Well, of course you do. How could anyone NOT love her?” He got a thoughtful expression on his face for a moment. “I saw you talking with her before. I like that you give her the respect she deserves for being so awesome.”
“As you said, how could anyone not do that?”
He hopped up, pulling Masky up as well. “Come on, come on! You haven’t experienced how incredible Fluttershy is until you’ve had one of her famous hugs.”
He let himself be dragged over to her.
“Yes, Mayhem?” said Fluttershy.
He pushed Masky forward. “Give him a hug.”
Fluttershy’s eyebrow went up. She had nothing against the colt or hugging others, but it was just a strange request to have out of the blue. “Why?”
His face fell. “Come oooooonnn! You gotta! You give the best hugs.”
She could see her awkward expression mirrored in Masky’s.
“Uh…” Masky looked up at her. “Well, I had a bit of a bad day, and my parents were working at the time-”
“So you couldn’t get a hug from them?”
He shook his head.
“Awww. In that case I’d be glad to give you a hug.”
She lifted her hooves out toward him, and Masky hesitated. Tears formed in his eyes. How long had it been since he’d had a loving embrace waiting for him? Any comfort he got would be temporary, so what was the point?
Before he could think on it further Mayhem gave him another shove, sending him right into Fluttershy’s chest.
“Be gentle, Mayhem,” she told him, before turning her attention to Masky. “I’m sorry about that. He’s still learning.”
“T-that’s okay.” He looked into Fluttershy’s eyes and saw how beautifully blueish-green they were. He could see in her eyes empathy and compassion the size of an ocean that he couldn’t turn away from. When she closed her front legs around him and held him in a gentle embrace he found all his tensions and fears melting away. In that moment the act stopped being an act. He really was finding himself caring for her.
He found himself crying as he lifted his hooves and hugged her back. He had forgotten just what love had felt like.
She hummed a simple tune as she rubbed his back.
Her kindness and honest love made him feel ashamed of how he was trying to use Mayhem’s feelings for her to manipulate him, but what choice did he have? If he could just change things so he could stay in Ponyville he’d gladly spend the rest of his life making it up to her.
She put a little more pressure on him, lifting her wings and wrapping them around him as well. “It’ll be okay,” she said lovingly. “Together we can help solve whatever is troubling you.”
He looked up at her, understanding what it was about her that had won over Discord and Mayhem. Her love was wonderful, but it by itself wouldn’t fix his problem. The only way he could keep experiencing her love, and the only way he could keep Pumpkin as a friend, was to gain the power to change fate.
Mayhem clapped. “What did I tell you? Aren’t her hugs the best?”
Masky nodded. “They really are. I don’t want her to let go.”
Fluttershy nuzzled his head. “Why don’t you tell me what’s been going on? What got you upset?”
She was acting like a parent toward him, and she had only met him a half hour ago. Even through her loving hug he felt anger bubbling underneath the surface.
He couldn’t bring himself to lie to her, and he knew if he was honest about his intentions she would disapprove. “Maybe later,” he said, extricating himself from her grip and starting to walk away. “I’m feeling better now, and I’m ready to play.”
“Okay, then. But you know I’m here for you if you need me.”
Masky bit his tongue to keep from screaming in frustration. Why couldn’t his parents ever say something like that to him? Why did he always have to come second to their work? Well, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore. Not after today. He would make sure of that.
The living hairs turned and went past a patch of trees. That they were leaving the public part of the park made Pumpkin a little nervous. Another minute later they saw Pound sitting in front of a tree, his head buried in his knees.
“Pound!” Pumpkin called out, running over to him and hugging him.
Pound jerked up as he felt her touch. “Pumpkin?” he said, sounding lost.
“There you are,” said Pumpkin. “What are you doing way out-?” She gasped as she noticed the dried blood hanging on his nose, his snout and cheeks looking red.
His mother noticed too. “What happened, Pound?” Cup said angrily. “Who attacked you?”
“Please… please just leave me alone for now," he responded. "I just want to be alone.”
“Fine, you dolt!” Pumpkin snapped. “Just tell us who hit you so we can go punish them, and you can have all the alone time you want.”
“Pumpkin’s right,” said Carrot, stomping a hoof. “I’m not going to stand for this.”
Twilight put up a hoof. “I think we’re all jumping to conclusions. He might just be embarrassed at causing his own injury.”
Cup glanced over at her. “What do you mean?”
“Pound could have not been paying attention and smacked himself in the face with a tree branch, and he’s just recovering. We don’t know that he was attacked.”
Pound didn’t respond. Let them think what they wanted. He was still processing things, and didn’t feel like being interrogated.
“In any case,” she continued, “I think we should just give him a little space until he’s ready to talk.”
Pumpkin looked up at Twilight, wanting to argue, wanting answers right that moment. However, given Pound’s incredible stubbornness it was going to be a futile endeavor. So, instead, she shrugged and went to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing from Pound, and sat down against it to wait. Slowly, the others did the same.
Pound silently thanked Twilight. He needed some more time to organize his thoughts. He felt so overwhelmed with unrecognizable feelings. He gazed at Pumpkin, and felt himself tearing up, thinking of how quickly things had happened and then ended, and now here he was.
He pushed himself up, walking over towards them and wordlessly put his hooves out to his mother. Cup quickly put her own out and pulled him into a hug.
She nuzzled him, asking, “Are you ready to talk, Pound?”
“I… I… I feel… confused.”
“I feel strange. I just feel so weird inside. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Inside?” Pumpkin said loudly. “What about the outside? That bruise you’ve got on your nose.”
He looked at Pumpkin, and let out a small sigh. “I’m sorry, Pumpkin.”
“For what?” she asked, but he didn’t answer.
Instead, he looked up at his mother and said, “I need to talk. I think all of you can help me understand my feelings, but first I need a super-big mommy hug.”
Cup chuckled before giving him all the love she could muster, holding him tenderly, but not too tight.
It felt like she was squeezing out the heaviness holding him back. After a minute she released him and set him back on the ground.
Pound walked a short distance away so they could all see him and said, “I went for a walk and found myself here, and then the bullies in my class found me.”
Carrot’s eyes narrowed. “Wasn’t one of those the one that hit Pumpkin with a stick?”
Pumpkin let out a squeak. “And they did that to you?”
Pound looked at her and said again, “I’m sorry, Pumpkin, but I need to tell the truth. I can’t keep lying anymore.”
She let out a small groan of resignation, giving a nod. “Right.”
“Tell the truth about what?” Twilight said, a slight edge in her voice.
Pound sighed. “Drill never hit Pumpkin. She was angry about the way he treated me, and tried to talk him down. When he didn’t listen she used her magic to hit herself, framing him for attacking her with the hope of getting him expelled.”
Cup and Carrot both gasped. “Pumpkin!” Cup said sharply. “Is that really true?”
Pumpkin nodded wordlessly, guilt shining on her face.
“Of all the-” Cup descended into rambling half-sentences, clearly upset.
“Haven’t we taught you better than that?” Carrot asked furiously. “You got that kid all riled up and now look what happened to your brother because of it.”
Pumpkin grimaced, quietly crying.
“Cup, Carrot,” Twilight said in an even tone, “Pumpkin may have done wrong, but for now I think it would be more prudent to listen to Pound and hear the whole story. We can worry about Pumpkin’s punishment later, as I want to hear how Pound got his injuries.”
Both of them let out sighs. “Point taken,” Cup said, crossing her hooves.
Pound felt bad for Pumpkin, but he had to be honest.
Pound went through the story, telling them about his confrontation with Drill Bit. He could see his parent’s silent rage every time he mentioned the colt hitting him, though he could also see the pride they felt at his own behavior.
When he finished he said, “I felt so strange after he left. It just didn’t feel real.”
Cup stood up, walking over to him and giving him a big hug. “Oh, Pound! I’m so proud of you.”
The rest of them got up and hugged him as well, except for Pumpkin.
‘Again!’ she thought. ‘He protected me again.’ As he always had he put himself in danger for her sake, but he wouldn’t have been in danger in the first place if she hadn’t gotten a swelled head and abused her magic.
“Way to go, Pound!” Pinkie said brightly, kissing his forehead.
“You’re really growing up and maturing,” said Twilight. “I’m proud beyond words that you took my words to heart.”
“You really did good, Pound,” said Carrot.
Pound was beaming from ear to ear as they all complimented him. He felt really good about himself.
When they finally gave him some space Pound was giggling happily, feeling like he had really accomplished something great. The feeling diminished when he noticed Pumpkin sitting off by herself.
He walked over to her. “Hey, Pumpkin. What’s up? Don’t you have something to say too?”
She sighed. “Of course I’m proud of you, but you got hurt.”
Pound shrugged. “So what? Drill Bit isn’t after you anymore. A few hits to the face are a small price to pay for peace.”
Tears formed in her eyes. “Is that supposed to make me feel better? You shouldn’t have gotten hurt at all.”
“Well, in a weird way I’m kinda glad you did what you did.”
Everyone looked at him strangely.
“And why is that?” Pumpkin asked, confused.
“I talk tough sometimes but, well, I’m a bit of a wimp.” Pumpkin blinked. “I was scared of Drill Bit and his words always felt so hurtful, but because of what you did it changed things. When it comes to myself I couldn’t bring myself to stand up to him, but when it comes to you I’ll do whatever I have to in order to protect you. I lose all my fear and feel like I have infinite strength and can do anything.”
“Like threatening a princess?” Twilight said good-naturedly as she rubbed his head.
Pound chuckled awkwardly as the memory came to him. “You better not make my sister cry again. I don’t care if I am still recovering or that you’re a princess. I’ll still beat you up.”
He turned to her. “I’m sorry about that, but I thought you wanted to inflict some terrible, horrible punishment on her because of an accident.”
“Oh, I understand. It would be wise to keep in mind that no matter how determined you are there are obstacles you can’t overcome with willpower alone. That’s one of the reasons talking things out is one of the things I impressed on you.”
Pound rubbed the back of his head. “Well, yeah. I don’t think you’d even need magic to take me down if I actually tried to fight you.”
“Probably not, but I wouldn’t fight you to start with. An adult fighting a child is terrible.”
“Okay, then,” said Carrot, slapping his front hooves together. “Everything’s fine over here, so let’s get back to the group before they start thinking something is actually wrong.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Pinkie.
“The only thing left to deal with is Drill Bit,” said Cup.
“Twilight, you’ll handle this, won’t you?” said Carrot.
She nodded. “Of course. I’ll drop by their school and get Drill Bit’s address from the records.”
“NO!” Pound said angrily. “No, you won’t!”
Twilight looked at him strangely. “And why wouldn’t I? He assaulted you several times and hit you hard enough to make your nose bleed.”
“Because I don’t want you ruining everything.”
“I finally got his attention. He dropped his crusade against Pumpkin and agreed to teach me how to fly.”
“Yes, you said that already. And that doesn’t explain why I shouldn’t confront him about his behavior.”
“He was framed and kicked out of school for something he didn’t even do! I’d be angry too if that happened.”
“True, but what does that change? It doesn’t make his need for revenge right. Considering you told me that it was my advice that helped you understand why vengeance is bad I thought you’d get that most of all.”
He stomped over to her. “You don’t get it!”
She blinked. “Apparently, I don’t." Sitting down she said, "So why don’t you explain it to me?”
“Drill Bit’s been teasing me for quite a while, and I couldn’t do anything about it because I was scared. I didn’t know how to deal with him. But that changed today. We didn’t part as friends today, but it wasn’t as enemies either. I believe that with a little more time I can make a friend out of him.”
Pinkie spoke up now. “And no one would be happier about you making a friend out of a former enemy than me or Twilight, but nothing of what you’re saying explains why we should just let his behavior slide.”
Pound growled, frustrated beyond words. “Why can’t you people understand what I’m saying?” he shouted into the air.
“Because it doesn’t make any sense!” his mother replied. “Why are you standing up for him?”
“This has nothing to do with standing up for him!” He began stomping around in circles, needing to move before he started saying things he’d regret. “Like I said before, anything you do now will ruin all the progress I just made with him.”
“How do you figure?” asked Twilight, unable to figure out what was running through the colts mind.
“I told him I wanted to be friends… that I could use his help in getting off the ground, something that’s really important to me. And even though he called me a bunch of names and said it didn’t make us friends as he left I’m pretty sure he was just showing off because the others were there.”
“And then right after that, after we settled things between us, you want to get right in the middle of things and punish him? He’ll think I was just faking… that after everything I said that I sold him out to get him in trouble. He’ll be furious! You think he’ll want to help me fly after that? You think he won’t go right back to thinking of me as an enemy?”
He stopped his pacing, turning to them. “NO!” he yelled. “NO! You’re not ruining everything I worked so hard for today. If you really think he needs to be punished then just let him serve out the rest of his suspension. At least this way he’ll be punished for something he’s actually done.”
Twilight moved her head around, mulling it over. “I… suppose that’s true, but still-”
Pound pointed an accusing hoof at Twilight. “Me and Pumpkin looked through your memories for our play of Equestria, remember? Princess Celestia put you in dangerous situations, like that time where she sent you to the Crystal Empire to fight King Sombra. She did that because she BELIEVED in you. She trusted that you could handle it, and you did! With Spike’s help you got the Crystal Heart and saved the world.
"I’m not trying to do anything so big or dangerous as saving the world. I’m just trying to redeem one pony that thinks the way I used to. If Princess Celestia can believe in you, then why can’t you believe in me?” He sounded hurt now, on the verge of tears. “Am I that pathetic to you that you can’t even give me that chance? After what I did today, and showed you how much I grew, you still think I'm useless?”
Twilight felt a tear come down her cheek. Was that the message he felt she was giving off?
Princess Celestia had sent her around to various places, and quite a few times there was danger involved. Even though at times she doubted herself, she never doubted Princess Celestia’s belief in her that she had the ability to get things done if only she could think of the right solution. And time after time she proved Celestia’s faith in her correct by passing every test that was thrown at her, no matter how difficult or dangerous the situation.
Here before her was a child of the next generation, one that she was responsible for helping grow into a mature pony. And just like Celestia had given her the tools she needed to succeed and sent her out in the world, she too had the responsibility to do the same for him. After all, he had already shown that he had taken her words to heart. He was no longer a hothead with the need to hurt others. He had demonstrated his progress magnificently and took the first steps toward bridging the gap between enemy and friend. What became of him next would be partially dependent on the way she reacted to him now.
She walked up to him and hugged him. “I understand,” she said gently. Backing up she looked him in the eyes. “I do believe in you, Pound. Things might be tough, tougher than they’ve ever been for you before, but I know you can do this. Because nothing will stop you from doing what is necessary to keep your sister safe.” With her magic she gently pulled on one of his front hooves, lifting it and putting it atop her own. “I leave to you the task of redeeming Drill Bit and helping to make him a better pony. As the Princess of Friendship, can I ask you to do this for me?”
Pound’s face brightened. “Yes, Ma’am!” he said determinedly, nodding. “I will!”
He walked over to his parents. “What about you? Will you believe in me too?”
Cup said in a resigned voice, “If Princess Twilight has given her blessing then it doesn’t matter what we say.”
Pound frowned. “You know Twilight hates it when you talk like that.”
She sighed. “I know that, but you’re my son. Of course I’m worried that things will go bad. You always try to take too much on your shoulders. Don’t you have enough to deal with without making this troublemaker your personal project?”
Carrot put a hoof around her neck. “Keep in mind, honey-bun, that most of Pound’s issues stemmed from this kid. If he can win him over then won’t Pound’s stress and pain go right along with it? The alternative of doing nothing will only lead Drill Bit to start right in on him again and leave him in the same place as before.
“After the way Pound acted today I believe he’s ready to take this on. How about you?”
She looked at Carrot, knowing he was right. She turned back to Pound, who was waiting for her response, his eyes boring into hers. Like Twilight, she understood that this was a crucial moment. If she expressed doubt in him he would start doubting himself.
“Pound… can you just promise me one thing?” she asked.
“Twilight assigned you this task, but you don’t have to accomplish it alone. If you need help then ask for it. Even Twilight never saved the world completely on her own. If things get too crazy or you feel overwhelmed don’t take it all on yourself. Even if you don’t want us to get involved personally at least come to one of us and talk to us about it.”
Pound nodded. “I promise.”
A few tears came down her eyes, her urge to protect him from everything battling with the desire to see him grow up. In a croaky voice she said, “In that case, all I have to say is… go get ‘em, Pound. You can do this!”
Pound hugged his mom. “I will!”
“Alright, then,” said Twilight. “Now the only thing to settle is what to do with Pumpkin.”
Pound pulled himself from his mother’s hug, his happiness fading again. He felt an icy chill in his chest. “If it’s alright with you, can I be the one to punish her?”
Pinkie said flatly, “No, Pound. We all know you’d give her a little poke and call it enough. This is something serious.”
Pound hung his head. “And I’m being serious too. I’m tired of holding in secrets and lies, so I’m going to tell Pumpkin the truth.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “Pound, are you sure this is the right time for it?”
The others glanced between Pinkie and Pound, unsure what they meant.
Pound nodded. “It had to be done sooner or later.”
Pinkie looked deflated as she sat up against a tree. “Very well. Do what you feel is right.” She didn’t feel ready for this.
Pound took a deep breath, steeling himself for one of the hardest things he felt he would ever do.
Back by the rest of the group Rainbow Dash and Applejack were busy hitting a volleyball back and forth. Rarity and Spike were drinking tea and having a snack. Fluttershy was helping a squirrel gather acorns. None of them were concerned about the others with Twilight being part of the group.
Masky felt like he had won enough brownie points to push Mayhem for what he wanted.
“Hey there, Mayhem,” Masky said brightly to get his attention. “I need a favor from you.”
“You love Fluttershy, right?” He nodded. “You want to make her proud of you?” He nodded again. “Well, helping others will do that, don’t you think?” Yet another nod. “Well, I need some help.”
“Sure! What’cha need?”
He took a swift breath, his heartrate increasing a little. “Do you think I could borrow a little of your power?”
Mayhem’s face contracted, eyeing the colt suspiciously. “Why?”
“Pound and Pumpkin told me about how you, or Discord, gave them some of your power.”
“That went horribly!” the draconequus protested. “A lot of people nearly died, including Mommy!”
“Shhh!” Masky said quickly, gesturing downward with his hoof. “Not so loud.”
“This power is dangerous!” Mayhem said, a little quieter.
“I know that, but it wasn’t Pound or Pumpkin that made it so. They were just messing around and having fun. It was you-” He stopped right there. The last thing he needed was to accuse Mayhem of being the one to nearly kill Fluttershy, as he had been in control of their bodies. It would only upset the draconequus, and make it harder to convince him, so he’d have to use an indirect route. “At the time you didn’t understand what love was, so you didn’t care what you did. You know better now. You wouldn’t do the same again.”
“Of course not. I would never put Mommy in danger.”
“And I wouldn’t either. You’ve seen us together. I care for her too. So what’s the problem?”
He glanced toward Fluttershy. “What do you want with this power?”
“The same thing that you want: love and friendship. I want to change some things in my own life so I’ll be happier.”
Mayhem sucked on his cheek. “I don’t know…”
“My parents have to move from place to place for their job. If you don’t help me then in a few weeks I’ll have to leave Ponyville and I don’t know if I’ll ever return.
“Can’t you understand what I feel? Fluttershy is your favorite pony, but what if one day Discord decided he was tired of Equestria and left, and you never got to see her again? What if he decided he never wanted to let you out again?” The draconequus shivered, hugging himself. “Well, that’s just how I feel. I don’t want to lose her either, or the friends I have here.”
Mayhem looked over at Fluttershy again, and he envisioned a diabolical looking Discord bearing down on him. “We’re leaving Equestria forever! You’ll never see Fluttershy again!” Then Discord let out an evil laugh.
He shivered again, crying. “I… I understand, but I still don’t know if I should.”
“Come on! She never told you NOT to share your power with others, did she?”
“If she was against it you’d think it would be something she’d tell you early on.
“Please! I know Fluttershy would be proud of you for helping others.”
Mayhem rapidly looked around, uncertain what he should do. He suddenly got up. The only way to know was to go to the source.
Masky watched him go, uncertain of whether to try and stop him.
Mayhem walked up to Fluttershy. “Mommy!” he said in a firm voice to get her attention.
She turned to him and smiled. “Yes, Mayhem? What can I do for you?”
“I have a question!”
“Okay, then. What’s your question?”
“Would you really be proud of me sharing my power to help someone?”
Fluttershy rubbed his head. “That’s a silly question. Of course I would.”
“You would?” he asked, a little confused.
“Why wouldn’t I be? Rarity creates dresses emblazoned with jewels to beautify ponies. Applejack grows apples to feed others. We all share our gifts with others to make their lives better. Why would I be against you doing the same?”
“Oooooohhhh,” Mayhem replied, smiling now. He gave her a hug. “Thank you, Mommy! I understand.”
He returned to Masky's side, all doubt gone. "Okay, sure. I'll give it to you."
Masky let out a joyful sigh. Success!
Masky chewed on his cheek. "Only what?"
"Well... I don't want Pound and Pumpkin getting jealous, so would it be alright if I gave it to you before we leave?"
Relief flowed through Masky. "Oh, sure. That's fine." If that was Mayhem's only stipulation he was fine with that. Admittedly, he didn't know if he'd be able to resist the urge to play around with his new powers if he did get them right then. The last thing he wanted was to make the others aware he had those powers.
He was in a bright mood as he and Mayhem joined Applejack and Rainbow in their game.