• Published 24th Jan 2016
  • 2,017 Views, 104 Comments

If You Weren't Afraid - MyHobby



Discord's illness is tearing him apart. He must join Fluttershy and two young stowaways on a journey to his birthplace in order to find the cure.

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A Tale of Fairies and Wishes

Tirek the Demon King—Devourer of Magic, Conqueror of Equestria, Exile from the Far Side of the World, and Keeper of the Rainbow of Darkness—let his head thump against the iron bars of his cell. His ruddy hands clenched tight around the enchanted, super-strong metal. His scrawny, magic-deprived chest muscles heaved as he endured his extended imprisonment.

Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!

In the next cell over, there sat a bubbling cauldron of green ooze. Steam rose from its surface. It wriggled and roiled as though it had a mind of its own. Mouths opened and then vanished. Eyes appeared to stare at nothing and everything. Through it all, a constant, eerie voice floated out of the arcane brew.

Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!

Tirek’s eyelids twitched. He ground his teeth together, glaring at the only other sane occupant of Tartarus. “He’s doing it again. Again!”

One of Cerberus’s three heads looked up from his midday meal. A beefy paw removed a waxy earplug. “Woof?”

Tried to eat, tried to move
Then I went and lose-ed
Guess it wasn’t totally true
That nothing can stop the Smooze!

“Again with the sadistic so-called music!” Tirek smashed a fist against the ground. “The blasted blob of toxic mucous can’t even rhyme properly!”

Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!

“This is worse than being eaten alive by fire ants!” Tirek howled. “I would know! I inflicted that particular punishment for lesser crimes than off-tune singing!”

All three of Cerberus’ heads rolled their eyes. The giant mythical dog gestured to the box of enchanted, noise-cancelling earplugs within easy reach of the centaur.

“You can’t ignore that hideous melody any more than I can!” Tirek’s four hooves drummed against the rocky ground. His horns tapped against the roof of the cell as he leaped in impotent rage. “As warden of this prison, you shall be the one to experience the daily horror! It is you who will witness unspeakable pain! It is you who will pay the price for your inaction!”

Cerberus’ middle head snickered.

“Don’t laugh at me!” Tirek screamed. “I shall feast on your magic, and your soul along with it!”

Cerberus huffed. He stood up and made his way steadily into the depths of the ancient prison, where he could find some peace and quiet devoid of megalomania.

“I’ll see you bow before me, Cerberus!” Tirek shook a fist. “And one day, your pups!

Tirek slumped to his equine belly, his strength spent. He stuffed two magical plugs into his ears, which hummed with a soft instrumental. The Smooze’s song faded to a background murmur. Only the slightest hint of its lyrics rose above the orchestra.

Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!

The Demon King slapped himself in the face. “I hate you.”

Here is the Smooze
Bubbling on
Making up a stinky-winky song!

A rock zipped across Tartarus to clang against the Smooze’s cell. Tirek glowered at it, scratching an itch on his flank. “If I wasn’t immortal I could just die.”

“That’s… a pretty profound truth, actually.”

Tirek’s black eyes widened. He turned his head, swiveling his ears for the source of the words. The voice had broken through the plugs as though they weren’t even there. “Who’s there? Show yourself, denizen of Tartarus!”

Shadows surrounded the short reach of the torchlight. Pebbles clattered down the walls somewhere within the bowels of the prison. The Smooze fell uncharacteristically silent as the air stilled.

A pony stepped out of the darkness, wearing a black business suit and a similarly-colored boater hat. The only flash of color was his red tie, which stood out against his gray coat. “Oh. Oh, no, I don’t live here. I’m just visiting.”

Tirek took a moment to study the new arrival, indulging his itch with deliberate scratches. It was a very little pony, with a small voice and a smaller stature. It was an earth pony, lacking anything truly distinctive about its build or face. A nopony. A wimp. Easily cowed.

Tirek rose to his full height. Though he was a far cry from the furious force of nature he had once been, his centaur physique still cut a terrifying figure for the laypony. “Why do you dare to come near the almighty Demon King Tirek?”

The pony smiled. He let out a faint, bubbling giggle. “Yes, you are just as impressive as I had been led to believe. Very amusing.”

Tirek felt his cheek twitch. The itch in his flank intensified, but he forced the feeling from his mind. “You mock me, equine?”

“No. No, no, no.” The pony removed his hat with a flourish. “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry; this is no way to begin a business meeting.” It held the boater hat over its heart, offering the centaur a friendly sort of smile. “You can call me Jeuk.”

Tirek’s lips parted in a sneer. “Yolk? What need have I of a chicken farmer?”

Jeuk’s teeth bit into his lower lip as he held back a snort. “No, no, nothing to do with hens. Jeuk, not Yolk.” He placed the hat on his head and pulled a suitcase out of the shadows.

Tirek drew discolored nails across his gaunt chest. “What sort of business?”

“I’m… something of a lawyer, you might say.” Jeuk set the suitcase on its side. He unclipped the latches, one by one, with a satisfying snap. “A bit of a collections agent, as well. I’m here to call in old debts.”

“Tirek is indebted to no one!”

Jeuk broke into light, hiccupping chuckles. “Really? Amusing; most very amusing. Tell me, Tirek, do you call yourself the Demon King because you lead the demons, or because you are a demon?”

Before Tirek could come up with a properly-snide response, Jeuk spoke into the silence. “Because I can assure you that both are quite false.”

Tirek punched the enchanted irons bars of his cell. A shimmering blue shield reverberated like ripples in a pond. “I am an immortal! I have lived for thousands of years! I have toppled empires from the griffon tribes of old to Equestria itself! I have devoured civilizations! I have cowed heroes and imprisoned the one who raises the sun!”

Jeuk’s mirthful expression faded away into blankness. He raised dispassionate eyes to the Demon King. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The proud ruler who has forgotten his place; who knows no longer of his humble beginnings. Who remembers not his friends.”

Tirek pointed a gnarled finger at the little pony. “I will not be mocked by you, worm!”

“Indeed you will not.” Jeuk laughed once in the back of his throat. “We—we haven’t the time!”

He pulled the briefcase open. It lay completely empty. “I have come to collect the gift you received from my clients. A gift given with a promise that you, Tirek, Demon King, have not fulfilled.”

Tirek wrinkled his nose. “I have been given no gifts.”

“No, no indeed.” Jeuk nodded. “Not for the last thousand years. But you remember. The ability to eat magic is not natural born. You were given the Rainbow of Darkness in order to do one thing…”

Tirek’s eyebrows leaped up. He took a step back, away from the little pony. “Is this some sort of joke? I was granted this power. It is mine to wield! To control!”

“You promised my clients that you would use the power to destroy Equestria.” Jeuk lowered his eyelids. “Equestria still stands. We have given you more than enough time. Millennia worth of time. And here you rot.”

Jeuk walked through the enchanted bars as if they weren’t even there. “The Unseelie Court of Fae wants its magic back.”

Tirek stumbled. He fell to his rump and scrambled back. “No! No, you foal! None can stand before the Demon King!”

Jeuk shook his head. He lifted his eyes to the cage’s ceiling. “I don’t have time to argue. Fairies are ever such impatient creatures, myself included.”

He raised the open briefcase and pointed it towards the centaur. “The fair folk have come to collect.”

An irresistible force gripped all of Tirek’s limbs, forcing him to be still. A sickening churning warped his stomach. Black-hued magic poured through his throat and fell from his mouth. It scrambled along the floor as a possessed fog, before rising to settle inside Jeuk’s case.

Tirek collapsed to the floor, clutching his chest and wheezing. He clawed at the air. “Yolk…”

“No, no, no. Jeuk.” The fae clasped the briefcase shut and shunted it away to Nowhere. “Honestly, how you ever got anything done, I’ll never understand.”

“One more chance,” Tirek said, hefting himself to his knees. “Set me free and give me one more chance!

“Ah, yes, yes, that’s what they all say.” Jeuk walked backwards through the bars, turning to mist as he touched the iron. “You’ve had two already. This isn’t baseball, and you are no longer amusing.”

Tirek pulled himself along the dusty floor. “Fairies cannot use the Rainbow of Darkness! You need flesh and blood! You need me!

“Ah, aheh.” Jeuk tipped his hat back. “My clients have already selected a far more appropriate candidate to replace you. Most improved.”

“Who?” Tirek gasped. “Who could possibly replace the Demon King Tirek?”

“Oh. Oh, I haven’t met her yet.” Jeuk shrugged. “Her name is Fluttershy.”

Tirek’s eyes bulged. His teeth clenched. He pounded his forelegs against the ground. “What?

Jeuk sighed. He rubbed his forehead and groaned. “Most very unamusing. I believe this concludes the meeting.”

“No!” Tirek shouted at the top of his lungs. “You cannot defy me! I am forever! I am infinite and indestructible! I am all-knowing and all-seeing! I am—”

Jeuk pointed at his hooves. “You are covered in fire ants.”

The itch in Tirek’s flanks grew maddening. He looked down to see thousands, millions, of the tiny insects crawling over his black coat. He tensed up and swatted them.

They burst into flame beneath his hand.

Tirek rolled as they swarmed. They bit, they sparked, they crawled. The itch turned into fiery pain. Jeuk smiled and faded into the shadows, his ears poised to listen to Tirek’s screams, leaving no trace of his passing.

Silence filled the cavern, broken only by the whimpers of a defeated, singed, mangy centaur. All at once, agony piled atop Tirek’s pain.

Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!

***

The Ponyville Schoolhouse’s bell rang and signified the end of the last day of the year. Not only that, but it was only a half-day; they were getting out early. Fillies and colts literally tumbled out the doors, pushing and shoving to break out into the summer air. The playground was the first target of the horde, but the town was sure to follow.

Only stragglers remained in Cheerilee’s classroom. Pound Cake stuffed his backpack full of the art projects he and his sister had put together over the year. He could already tell a few works would be hung proudly in the windows of Sugarcube Corner, while others would be quietly stored in the basement. He held a zebra-style mask over his face and stuck out his tongue.

“Pound Cake, may I speak with you for a moment?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cheerilee!” he said, putting the mask away. He passed Lackadaisy in the aisle, who whispered that she’d meet him at the front door. Soon enough, he found himself before the desk, looking up at his teacher.

Cinnamon, Cheerilee’s little daughter, peered down at him. “Round! Zeb’a mask!”

Mrs. Cheerilee stepped away from the chalkboard, carrying an envelope in her mouth. “Your sister ran off and left her report card on her desk. Would you mind delivering it to your parents?”

“Yeah. I can do that.” Pound took the envelope and looked it over. It hadn’t been opened. “It’s not bad, is it?”

“Oh, no, of course not!” Cheerilee lifted Cinnamon off the desk and set her on the floor. The filly toddled around, poking her nose where it probably didn’t belong. “I am very proud of the progress you have both made this year. Pumpkin just needs to do a little review on division.”

The teacher chuckled to herself. “And don’t we all?”

“I guess so.” He stuffed the card into his backpack and zipped it up, just before Cinnamon got her hooves on his mask. She pouted at him and muttered something unintelligible. “I wonder why she left it?”

Cheerilee set about packing up pencils and rolling up papers. “She’s been looking out the window all day long. I’ll bet she just forgot about it. She was in such a hurry to leave!”

“Oh.” Pound glanced at the window. Ponyville could be seen in the distance, just down the hill, but off to the side was a particular, lonely structure. The town windmill stood tall, aged and dilapidated, having fallen out of use many years ago.

He sighed through his nose. “I think I know where she went.”

Cheerilee looked over her shoulder. She stepped a little closer and let her daughter fiddle with the crayons. “Is something wrong, Pound?”

“I don’t know.” Pound spread his wings. “Not really. Probably not. I’ll see you later, Mrs. Cheerilee!”

He trotted through the door, his tail flicking back and forth. Cheerilee called out after him. “Alright! Have a good summer, Pound! And happy birthday to the both of you!”

“Thank you!” he said. He pushed the door open and stepped out into freedom. He sent a glance at the old windmill, then flew up to meet Lackadaisy and their friends in the branches of a nearby tree.

Still, his sister’s destination niggled at the back of his mind.

***

Pumpkin Cake hurried herself through the field between the schoolhouse and the windmill. She had to be quick to avoid her schoolmates and any questions they might ask. That would just bring up uncomfortable answers.

Ponies generally gave the windmill a wide berth. The inhabitant was a weird one, no beans about it. Not even a full decade of reformation was gonna change that.

Pumpkin stuck her hoof in her backpack and felt around out of habit. Her rubber chicken, Chewie, was still safe, sound, and silent. His squeaker had broken again. Her mother kept making comments about how she might not need the chicken anymore. How it might be okay to not sleep with stuffed animals. How it would be a big step up in maturity.

She turned her nose up and mimicked her mother’s accent. “Oh when I turned ten I was already workin’ in the local bakery; it’s a yokel bakery, don’cha know.”

Pumpkin grasped Chewie’s foot with her magic and stretched it up to her mouth. She gnawed on the rubbery surface as she mulled over her thoughts. She always thought better when she was chewing something. It was probably bad for her teeth, but certain prices were worth paying. Braces could be cute, right?

A green leaf made its home in the tangled mess of her mane. Her curls were barely restrained by blue ribbons. Twin pigtails bounced just behind her head, beside her alert ears.

She grinned as she arrived at the entrance to the windmill. The dilapidated wooden door jiggled on its hinges with every breeze. The windows were dark and empty. For all appearances, the building was completely abandoned.

Pumpkin, of course, knew better. She pulled the latch and stepped inside.

The windmill became a world of complete chaos.

Her hooves sank into the sticky carpet, which appeared to be made of colorful molasses. Lampshades fluttered around her head on bat wings. The coat rack reached down to pull her backpack from her shoulders. She ducked as a firework sprinted past, trailing candy canes.

She stuck a cane into the side of her mouth. She grasped Chewie with a bubble of telekinesis and trotted deeper into the mill. “Discord! Diiiscooord!

She glanced into the kitchen to see the plates beating the spoons in a game of euchre. There was no sign of the Spirit of Chaos—aside from the zaniness of the entire mill, but that wasn’t really helpful.

“Discord, I need your help again!” She wiggled Chewie as she marched around his living room. The fireplace bubbled and the armchair hummed a cheerful tune. “Chewie lost his squeaker and Pinkie can’t replace it!”

“I’m not seeing callers nowadays, Little Miss Cake.”

“The heck you aren’t!” Pumpkin curled her upper lip. “I’m calling and you’re answering!”

Discord appeared before her in a puff of green smoke. He turned yellowed eyes downward; they were tinged at the edge with red. “I’m tired.”

“You’re always tired these days.” Pumpkin gave him a tight smile. “Help me with Chewie and I’ll get out of your mane.”

Discord scoffed. He picked her up by the scruff of her neck. Her eyes widened; did she even have a scruff?

“I’m afraid I’m indisposed at the moment.” Discord shrugged. “Indecent, you might say.”

Pumpkin tilted her head. “Huh? What does ‘indecent’ mean?”

“It means they would pull me from prime-time radio.” He opened a door that wasn’t there a minute ago. “Hasta luego.

Pumpkin hit the ground with a thump. Her backpack and Chewie followed close behind. She rubbed at her rump and glared at the creaky old windmill. She tried the latch and found it locked. “Creaky old Discord, that’s what he is.”

She smirked to herself. She lit her horn, calling on a super-special spell saved just for the occasion. She had come to think of it as her special talent, blank flank notwithstanding. The magic spread across her whole body, from her horn to her tail. She held Chewie close and walked through the door.

She saw Discord sitting in the humming armchair. He was flipping through a book with large pictures; probably a scrapbook. As he touched each picture, it moved on its own, replaying a few seconds from his life.

She propped herself on the armrest and got a closer look. “What’s that?”

He slammed the book shut. He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “How did you get in here?”

“Magic.” She crossed her forelegs and leaned on them. “What’s in the book?”

“Magic,” he said. He tossed it into the fireplace. It exploded with a violent bang! “And none of your business. You may go now.”

“You promised you would help me.” She wiggled the rubber chicken’s head in Discord’s face. “Aren’t you supposed to keep your promises, Mr. Reformed?”

“That would be true. If I actually promised I would help.” Discord nodded firmly, his eyes closed. He popped his leftmost eye open. “I didn’t, did I?”

Pumpkin did her best to keep her face neutral. She kept a snarky comment on the backburner. “You did. You totally did.”

Discord sighed. He cracked his knuckles, his neck, his back, and the lamppost beside him. “Alrighty. Let’s see the little delinquent.”

The room faded away to pitch-black. A single light clicked on in the middle of the windmill, illuminating a white operating table. Discord pulled on flower-themed scrubs and snapped a glove onto his paw. “What seems to be the matter with Chewie this time?”

Pumpkin placed the rubber chicken on the table. “Same as always. His squeaker got loose or busted or something.”

Discord pulled forth an enormous, nearly house-sized, magnifying glass. He held it over the chicken and muttered to himself. He scribbled nonsense onto a notepad. “Hmm. Hmm. Nurse! Bring me anesthetic!”

He put on a pair of glasses, just so that he could look over them. He coughed. “That means you, Little Miss Cake.”

“Oh. Okay.” Pumpkin Cake swiveled around in place, but all she could see was shadow. “Where is it?”

“Right behind you. Yes. No, over to the left. Forward three steps. Back five. Twenty degrees north… there. That’s it.”

Pumpkin picked up a large rubber mallet. She passed it to Discord with her magic. “Seriously? This old gag?”

“I’ll have you know that it is a cliché, but it still works.” Discord took the mallet gingerly in his talon. He opened a hatch in its head and removed a flask before downing its contents.

Pumpkin lowered her eyebrows. “What’s in that bottle?”

“Blended orange juice, chocolate milk, and anchovies,” Discord said. “A wonderful pick-me-up. Want some?”

“I’ll pass.” Pumpkin tilted her head to the side and looked off into the distance. “But if you happened to have cookies, I couldn’t possibly say no.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Discord snapped his fingers. A legion of brooms marched out of the darkness, bearing plates full of chocolate chip cookies. One by one, they dumped their payloads beside Pumpkin. Discord stretched his arm long enough to snatch one. “Something’s wrong with the cooks. Beware of cookies bearing raisins.”

Pumpkin took a huge bite. “I like raisins.”

“Then you may have as many shriveled grapes as you desire.” Discord wiggled his talons over the soundless chicken. Magic sparks drifted from the tips of his nails. “Hmm. Hmm, we could try a placebo. That has potential…”

He squeezed Chewie. A klaxon rang out with an “Awooga!” He shook his head and cupped his chin. “Nope. No, it just isn’t the same.”

“Back the way he was, please,” Pumpkin said with her mouth full. “With a squeaker that actually squeaks.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Little Miss Cake!” Discord chuckled to himself. “No improvements? I could do such wonderful things with him! He can walk, he can talk, he says ‘Momma!’”

“No!” Pumpkin stomped a hoof. “No. Not even.”

Discord pinched his talons. “Just a little animating of the body?”

“It’s my chicken.” She rolled her eyes. “You can take over Ponyville with an army of your own rubber chickens.”

“You wound me, Little Miss Cake.” Discord put a paw on his chest. “I haven’t tried to violently overthrow any governments in… Well, it’s been a few years by now, hasn’t it?”

“Uh huh.” Pumpkin propped her chin up on the operating table. “Can we get some more light in here?”

Discord reached up, flipped a switch, and brought a pair of welding goggles down. The darkness became light in a flash, causing Pumpkin to cover her eyes. She rubbed them and blinked. “Ow.”

The windmill had shifted. Bronzed gears and dials lay all around her. Wires trailed up, up, up to the top of the mill. Rain poured down everywhere except onto her. “What the—”

“Eye Gore, bring the electro-emitters!” Discord hovered over Chewie, rubbing his gloved hands eagerly. He cackled. “Lightning shall strike soon enough!”

Pumpkin Cake looked down to see that she was dressed in sackcloth. She snorted. “Beige is not cute.”

“The electro-emitters, Eye Gore!” Discord twisted his goatee with a talon. “We shall bring this squeaker to life!”

Two hefty metal prods hung on the wall beside her. She blinked and looked around. “Hay. Where did the cookies go?”

“What cookies?”

“Never mind.”

Her horn glowed blue, and the prods leaped from their hook to his outstretched hands. The draconequus laughed, throwing his head back. “It’s alive! Alive!”

Lightning streaked between the tips. Energy flowed throughout the entire windmill. The wind kicked up, the rain washed, and thunder crashed. The “electro-emitters” touched together, and then lowered to Chewie’s rubbery little heart. There was a pop and a flash.

The light vanished with a tiny squeaka.

The fireplace bubbled behind Pumpkin. Discord leaned back in his armchair, putting up the footrest. “Well, what do you think?”

Pumpkin took Chewie in her hooves. After a moment’s hesitation, she squeezed. Squeaka! “He’s perfect.”

“Surprising absolutely, positively nopony!” Discord lifted his finger into the air, pointing at the ceiling. He let his arm fall beside him. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have important business to take care of.”

The door opened behind her. She took Chewie in her mouth and walked slowly. She spoke around the chicken. “Like what?”

“Important stuff. Magnitudes above stuffed-animal repair.” A bubble floated out of the fireplace and drifted up to Discord. He reached out a talon and popped it; the scrapbook fell out. “Head and shoulders. No comparison, really.”

“Uh huh.” Pumpkin backed out the door, her brow furrowed. “Thanks, Mr. Reformed.”

The door slammed the instant she had cleared it. She looked at the windmill, watching it slowly turn in the breeze. She glanced both ways down the path. Seeing no one, she lit her horn and stuck her head through the wood.

She saw Discord hunched over the scrapbook. Magic poured from his open palm. Fairy dust and light danced through the air, coming together in one shining cluster. It shifted its shape, slowly becoming a solid gold rectangle. An image appeared on its face; that of her, leaning on the chair’s armrest.

“How did you do that?”

“Magic. What’s in the book?”

“Magic.”

“One more memory for the vault,” Discord sighed. He placed the photograph on an empty page. He closed the book and slumped over. “They’re just making this harder.”

Pumpkin withdrew her head from the mill. She looked at the dirt road and mulled over her thoughts. Discord wasn’t well, that was obvious enough. But why? What sort of sickness would make Discord so… gloomy?

She turned around, shouldered her backpack, and came face-to-face with a pair of brown eyes.

“Yah!” She tripped backward and fell to her rump. “Quit sneaking up on me!”

Pound Cake rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t. I was just walking.”

“Then quit walking so creepy!” Pumpkin turned her nose up. She peered at him out of the corner of her eye. “What do you want?”

“I was just making sure you were okay.” Pound’s eyes trailed up, up, up the windmill. “Visiting Discord again, huh?”

“Chewie’s squeaker was busted.” Pumpkin pouted. “Discord’s the only one who knows how to fix him right.”

She pressed her snout against his. “And if you tell Mom and Dad I was here, I’m gonna—”

“I’m not gonna tattle, Pumpkin.” Pound scratched his neck. He blew a long breath through his nose. “But you know what they’d say.”

“Yeah.” Pumpkin widened her eyes and stuck her chin out. She clenched her throat a little to approximate her dad’s nasally voice. “Now candy button, Discord is weird, and we don’t like weird stuff despite the fact that Pinkie Pie lives with us.”

“Dad doesn’t sound like that.”

“He totally does.” She tossed her curly mane. “Whatever. Discord’s funny. He’s funny, and cool, and…”

Pumpkin chewed on Chewie’s foot. “And he’s a really sad for some reason.”

“Sad?” Pound spread his wings and hovered beside his sister as they made their way into town. “What’s he got to be sad about?”

“I dunno. Maybe he’s worried about something.” Pumpkin looked out over the town. She could see ponies leaving work to go to lunch. “He acted like he didn’t want me there, but I think he was having fun.”

Pound tapped his hooves together. “Maybe he wasn’t, and you were just being—”

“Come on, I know what a happy person looks like.” She reached up and grasped Pound’s cheeks with her magic. She stretched until his teeth showed. “It looks like that.”

Pound swatted her horn. The magic dissipated. “Ow! Don’t!”

“Don’t be a baby.”

“I’m not a baby.” Pound grinned. “I was born first.”

“Were not!”

“Was so!”

“Were not!”

“You know I’m right!”

They continued down the road to Sugarcube Corner, bumping and shoving each other. They left the creaky old windmill and its occupant behind, quiet and peaceful.

***

“Happy birthday to both my favorite twins!” Pinkie sang, hauling a massive cake on her back. “Now is the time when your tenth year begins!”

Patty Cake and her little brother Rice ran around Pinkie’s hooves as she hauled her payload. Cup Cake raced to scoop them up before they could trip her. “Now, now, kids. Let’s give Pinkie some room to breathe!”

Pound gritted his teeth behind tight lips as his little sister and baby brother bumped against Pinkie and, by extension, his birthday cake. Pinkie was not to be deterred, and danced around the children with something between a waltz and a samba. She tossed the cake to the tabletop, balancing on one leg. “Ta-da!”

Pumpkin clapped her hooves, a half-smile on her face. “Bravo. Bravo. Encore.”

Carrot Cake held a slow-burning match between his lips. He lit the candles one by one, until ten flames danced above the frosting. The light illuminated the words “Happy Birthday,” lovingly scrawled by Cup, Carrot, and Pinkie.

“Okay, kids,” Cup said from beside a camera tripod. “Make a wish and blow out the candles!”

Pound’s eyes widened. He hadn’t thought about his wish. Not that it was really all that important, but it was a nice thought. The wish could be granted, assuming there was some sort of… “birthday magic” at work. Even if that was a little silly.

He glanced at Pumpkin. She glanced at him with a twitch of her ears that said “Hurry up, slow poke!” He blinked at the candles. No time to think. He sighed and resigned himself to a half-baked wish.

‘I wish,’ he thought to himself, ‘that I could… make a new friend, I guess. Sometime soon. Maybe. If it’s okay.’

He took a deep breath, and his sister took one to match. They blew together, each taking out five candles. The applause from the rest of the family was immediate.

“Yes!” Patty said, her wings fluttering. “Now we can finally have cake!”

“Blurshaga!” Rice said.

Pumpkin leaned on her forelegs. “Yeah. If somepony hadn’t been dragging their hooves, we would already be eating.”

“Hay, wishes are important. Kinda.” Pound leaned to the side so that his dad could ease in next to him. “It just caught me off guard. I didn’t really know what to ask for.”

“The way I’ve always seen it—” Pinkie Pie passed Carrot a knife to start slicing their dessert. “—the birthday wish should be the thing you want to most. The thing that’s laying heaviest on your mind. If you have to think hard about what to ask, you haven’t been wishing often enough, dude!”

“I guess.” Pound accepted a plate. He licked his lips in anticipation of the approaching chocolate. “I don’t really think I have a lot I need to wish for, though.”

Pumpkin took a bite a little too big for her mouth. She chewed as she desperately tried to keep crumbs from escaping. “What’s that thing Sweetie Belle always says?” She lowered her eyelids and curled her lips at the tips. “‘Apple Bloom, you lead quite the charmed life.’” She added a tiny squeak to the end of the sentence, just enough to set “life” apart.

Cup Cake fixed her daughter with a strong stare. “I’m not sure Miss Belle would appreciate you makin’ fun of her.”

Pumpkin swallowed. “And I’m sure Miss Belle would find Miss Cake to be Misstaken.”

Pound cringed. He looked to both his parents, who held similar expressions. That classic low-eyebrow, thin-mouth look.

Pumpkin smiled, shrugging her shoulders. “Not funny?”

“Near miss, Pumpkin,” Pound muttered.

“It was a little disrespectful,” Carrot said. “Please apologize to your mother.”

“Sorry, mom.” Pumpkin lowered her ears. “I’ll be more careful.”

Cup scratched her eldest daughter’s mane. “It’s fine, dearie. I know you mean well.”

Pinkie sucked her lips in. She folded her forelegs behind her plate. “So. Now seems like a good time to go over plans.”

Carrot raised an eyebrow. “What plans?”

“Well, tomorrow’s the town meeting.” Pinkie waved a forehoof. “You guys gonna attend?”

“It’s been a while since we did,” Cup said. “What do you think, sugar snaps?”

Carrot Cake nibbled the tip of his hoof. “This is the meeting where Ponyville officially becomes a recognized city, isn’t it?”

Pinkie’s curls swirled as she nodded. “Yep! It’s taken in a lot of new citizens after—”

Pound let their voices fade into the background. Politics seemed to be the one thing that could put him straight to sleep. It was all money that was already spent, ponies that never got along, property lines that seemed to move every year… Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb—

“—so we’ll need to get Scootaloo to babysit.”

Pound’s head shot up as his ears stood erect. “Huh? What about Scootaloo?”

Pinkie got a sly sort of grin usually reserved for cats and small sharks. “Oh, just that since I have to be at the meeting, we’ve got to get you guys a sitter. We were thinking of asking Scootaloo, but I’ll bet Diamond Tiara would—”

Patty Cake threw herself into the air and hovered over the table like a bumblebee. “Scootaloo! Scootaloo! Scootaloo!”

Cup Cake hopped up to grab her daughter just before she crash-landed into the cake. “Easy, jelly bean! You’ve got to watch where you’re fluttering!”

Carrot Cake snickered. “I think the ‘aye’s’ have it, Pinkie. I’ll speak to Scootaloo tomorrow and see if she’s available.”

“Don’t bother.” Pinkie scooped up her plate and Cup’s, both of which were empty. “I have an early-morning delivery to Quills and Sofas. I can ask her after that.”

Pound smiled as he rested his cheek on a hoof. If politics meant that Scootaloo was gonna hang out, maybe they weren’t so bad.

The chair beside him squeaked. Pumpkin barely said anything as she excused herself, her rubber chicken riding on her back. Pound watched her walk to the front door.

He was brought back to the table by a comment from his mother. “So, Mrs. Cheerilee said you guys were in a hurry to get out of class today. Any special plans?”

“Uh…” Visions of Discord’s house jumped into Pound’s mind. “Not really special. Just fun stuff with Lackadaisy and stuff. We played a couple of games of treetop tag before coming home.”

Carrot Cake made a grumbling noise in the back of his throat. “I didn’t think Pumpkin could play that game.”

“Where there’s a will,” Pinkie said, “there’s a way.”

“She wasn’t playing with us.” Pound plastered a grin onto his face. “She was doing something with her rubber chicken. Fixing his squeaker. Probably planning on ways to torment me. Something like that.”

When nobody else at the table spoke, he added, “Something a heck of a lot like that.”

Carrot made that distinctly dad-ish grumble again. “Okay. Good. Except for the whole ‘tormenting’ thing, but that’s sort of what sisters are for.”

Pinkie squinted one eye. “I find that statement highly disputable.”

Pound shuffled in his seat. Mom was playing peek-a-boo with Rice. Pinkie and Dad were talking about family politics—only slightly less boring than real politics. Patty was digging through Pumpkin’s presents to play with them while her older sister wasn’t looking.

Pound Cake chowed down the last of his slice of cake and excused himself. He tossed the plate into the dishwasher before making way for the front door.

It was a starry, warm night. The purple sky caused the surrounding buildings to become a black silhouette of a skyline. The dark was broken up by porch lights and streetlamps, set at regular intervals. Those, and also the blue light of his sister’s horn as she trotted down the street.

He fluttered after her, floating a meter and a half off the ground. “What’cha doing?”

She looked at her hooves as she walked. Chewie flew beside her, guided by a telekinetic glow. “You ever get the feeling like ‘I need to do something right now’? Like, you think something is a good idea, and you keep thinking about it harder and harder… until you can’t think about doing anything else?”

“I guess.” Pound tilted his left wing down to flit to her opposite side. “Sometimes. Why? What do you wanna do?”

“It’s stupid.”

Pound lowered his eyebrows. “Oh yeah? Prove it.”

Pumpkin pulled a coin from Chewie’s beak. “I wanna make a wish at the fountain.”

Pound dropped to the ground. “Huh? But you just made a birthday wish!”

“It just feels important, okay?” Pumpkin sent a frown his way. “I really want this wish to come true.”

He tilted his head to the side. “While you’re at it, why don’t I go ahead and look for a shooting star? Three-for-three. And maybe a four-leaf clover? How about a nice, fuzzy rabbit’s foot?”

“Those are lucky things, lint-for-brains.”

Pound hurried to catch up with his sister. “You’re lucky I’m immune to name-calling.”

“And you’re lucky I’m smart enough to keep coming up with better ones.” Pumpkin looked ahead and frowned. Pound followed her gaze to the town square, where a pony was rummaging around in the middle of the fountain.

Pumpkin rested her forelegs against the wall surrounding the currently-dry basin. “What gives? Who turned off the water?”

“Hmm?” The unicorn maintenance pony hiked up her overalls and peered at the children. Her headlamp shone in their eyes before she switched it off. “Sorry, kids. Fountain’s shut down for repairs. Something’s clogging the pump.”

Pound looked into the dry fountain bed. The coins ponies tossed into the water had already been collected, used to fund the upkeep of the town’s attractions. Not very magical, if you asked him. “Figures, huh, Pumpkin?”

Pumpkin Cake pouted. She held the coin in the center of her hoof. “It’s still a fountain, isn’t it? It’s still a coin, isn’t it?”

She threw the bit. It clattered to the marble and rattled before settling down.

The maintenance pony smiled. “A bit’s as good as a bar when it comes to wishes. I should know.”

“Yeah.” Pound rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry to bug you, Miss…” He read her nametag. “Ribbon Wishes. Have a good night.”

“You kids keep safe.” Ribbon Wishes flicked on her lamp and stuck her head back into the fountain. “The town’s not as cozy as it used to be.”

Pound hopped back into the air. Wary of the mare’s words, he kept a close eye on the surrounding houses, searching for ponies of ill intent. He continued to keep his vigil until they got within sight of the bakery.

“So,” he said, angling close. “What’s got you in an all-fire hurry to make a wish again? It’s gotta be something big, right?”

Pumpkin wrinkled her nose. “If you say a wish aloud, it won’t come true.”

“But tossing money into a puddle will help?” Pound sucked in his cheek when he saw the skin around his sister’s eyes tighten. She blinked rapidly and pressed her lips together.

Pound sighed. He folded his wings against his back. “Maybe if you tell me what your wish is, I can help make it come true.”

She frowned. She flicked her tail and hopped onto the single step leading up to Sugarcube Corner’s rear entrance. “You first.”

“I didn’t wish for much,” Pound said. “I just kinda wished to meet a new friend. I think it’ll come true whether I say it out loud or not.”

Pumpkin hugged Chewie close. She rested a hoof on the door handle. “I wished that Discord wouldn’t be sick anymore.”

With a flash of magic, she slipped through the door without ever opening it.

Pound stared at the spot she had been a moment before. He hung his head, tapping his hoof against the step. He blew a breath through tight lips before pulling the door open. “Some big brother I am.”

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