• Published 24th Jan 2016
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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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If You Weren't Afraid

Pumpkin stared out the window as the train raced across Equestria’s landscape. The whir of a crystal drill tickled the edge of her ears as Adagio worked. Several gemstones took shape beside the earth pony, ranging from blood red to lime green. Different minerals for different effects. Pumpkin couldn’t begin to understand them all, but one of them had to work, right?

She wasn’t so sure.

She chewed on her rubber chicken’s neck, hugging him to elicit the familiar faint squeaka. Discord was in the next car over, snoring to beat the band. It seemed losing all one’s magic, then trekking several miles across hill country, really took it out of a fellow. Maybe he deserved a little rest. A little recuperation. Maybe he had it coming to him; just a few minutes unafraid of tomorrow.

Would that they could all be so lucky. “So how’s it work?”

Adagio paused and looked over her shoulder. She flipped up the lenses of her goggles and gave her a cold stare. “Do I bug you when you’re blowing snot? No. Then don’t bug me when I’m carefully crafting a gemstone with facets by the thousand, designed to hold chaos magic of all things.”

Pumpkin propped her cheek on a hoof. “I think if I could blow my nose and pop out a magical enchantment, I’d brag a little about it.”

“You’re a menace to society. I think I like you.” Adagio Dazzle clicked one lens in place and returned to examining a pathway carved into the gem. “But seriously, this is delicate work. Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

“Discord’s napping with a capital ‘Do not disturb.’ Princess Twilight and Pinkie are busy messaging back and forth with Canterlot. I was kicked out of the dining car for excessive pastry abuse.”

“Bit of a sweet tooth, huh?”

“Worse. I was critiquing the chef.”

Adagio held a blue gem up to the light. A strange line of etchings loomed into view, spider-webbed all throughout the core of the jewel. “How old are you again?”

“Just turned ten.”

“You’re a peculiar ten-year-old, Pumpkin Cake.” Adagio scratched her chin before adding the enchanted gem to the stack. “Friend of draconequi, fighter of fairies, judge of delicacies. Is there anything you don’t do?”

Pumpkin wrapped her forelegs around Chewie. Squeaka. “Heal.”

She nudged the rubber chicken aside and lay her chin against the bench’s cushion. “I can fix things, like my chicken. But I can’t heal other people. Or myself.”

“I take it you’ve tried?” Adagio said.

“It’s what got us here.” Pumpkin waved a hoof. “Discord lost his magic, Pound’s kidnapped, Fluttershy’s gone nuts, my parents are worried sick… You had to meet Discord again…”

When Adagio didn’t say nothing, content to work on her devices, Pumpkin skewed her lips to the side. “You really never wanted to see him again, didn’t you?”

“Three thousand years and it was half-a-dozen millennia too soon.” Something popped and caused Adagio to drop a gemstone. A jagged line ran across the surface of the stone, splitting it in two. She muffled a curse and pulled another gem from a nearby bag.

Pumpkin moved from her bench to stand beside the worktable. Fine, multicolored dust coated the area around Adagio’s seat from the drilling, grinding, and other processes she used. “You two were really good friends, weren’t you?”

Adagio grunted an affirmative.

“Which means…” Pumpkin lay her ears across her head, pushing down her messy curls. “The better a friendship is, the worse things are when it ends.”

Adagio grimaced. She held up the cracked stone. “The stronger a friendship is, the harder it is to break. So when it does break, it shatters.” Her eyebrows turned upwards as she sighed. “I’ve had a few of those, over the years.”

Pumpkin squinted. “You and Discord weren’t, like, boyfriend and girlfriend, were you? ‘Cuz that’d be weird.”

“Hay, we were close, but not that way.” Adagio Dazzle chuffed and let the broken gem clatter to the floor. “It’s not like we ever made lo—” She glanced up at the ten-year-old girl, her voice hitching. “Uh… Lava cakes. We never made chocolate lava cakes.”

Pumpkin tilted her head. “Lava cakes are romantic?”

“Oho ho, very romantic.”

Pumpkin’s gaze found the shattered gem. A few similar-colored shards lay beside it. “If a friendship breaks like that, can you heal it?”

“Only if you want to.” Adagio pressed her tool against a green stone, pushing a metallic needle through the hard mineral. A tiny glimmer of magic sparked from within, much less violently than before. “And even then, you might not pick up all the pieces.”

She blew dust from the new hole and admired her handiwork. “It’s much easier to start over with a new one.”

Pumpkin fought the sick feeling in her stomach. It wasn’t right that friendship could die like that. Just from a little mistake that nobody could change…

“So,” she said, her voice forcefully chipper, “how do these work?”

“Persistent little nit, aren’t you?” Adagio drilled a new line that crossed the first. A third channel through the stone revealed the beginnings of an etching. “It works on the principle that most magic is ambient.”

Pumpkin furrowed her brow and got a closer look at a gem she’d set aside. “Meaning it’s not directed at anything, it’s just hanging around?”

“In not so many words.” Adagio hummed a little ten-note ditty. The gems twinkled, one by one. “All magic is driven by emotions. They lend power, push, purpose to the spell. But it’s not something you can turn off. All emotions have power. All emotions give off an excess of unused magic.”

Adagio smirked, cocking an eyebrow. “The so-called ‘negative’ emotions tend to be the most… forceful.”

Something nasty clicked in Pumpkin’s head. “Like anger?”

“Anger, fear, jealousy…” Adagio chuckled. “They tend to flare up the fastest and hottest. Not necessarily the most powerful, but definitely the most exploitable.”

She turned a gemstone end over end, admiring her reflecting in the polished surface. “My original design would ‘suggest’ a negative emotion, and then draw in that excess energy as the people around me threw fits. The trick was getting my returns big enough to justify the investment of my own magic.”

An ear tilted down. She snapped the goggles into place and added a new channel to the gem. “Thought I was invincible for a while there.”

Adagio pressed her lips together as the device took the shape of a ten-sided jewel. “These, though, they don’t have the power of suggestion. That was the hard part, see, getting the hypnotism and the absorption spells to intermingle. But they can’t be passive, either. They need to actively suck up the chaos magic from the very core of Fluttershy. Right from her heart. Still song-activated, just with a new boost to the absorption.”

Pumpkin grinned. “So what you’re saying is that they suck harder than ever?”

“Filly after my own heart, you are.” Adagio nudged Pumpkin away with the tip of her hoof. She pressed a button on the side of her goggles, causing a green lens to extend from her eyepiece. She examined the finished gemstones, either nodding to herself, or tossing them into her junk pile. “The trick’s gonna be getting close enough to Fluttershy to use it. If it’ll even work.”

She stood and flicked her tail. She pushed the goggles up just enough to rub her eyes. “There isn’t exactly time or opportunity to test these properly.”

She blew a sigh and coughed up faint traces of gem dust. She glanced over her shoulder and chewed her lip. “Hay… How much do you know about Jeuk?”

“I spent some time running from him while he tried to strangle me with his tongue.” Pumpkin rocked back and forth on the bench, swallowing hard. “Not the best memory. He teased me the whole time. He was super-creepy.”

“No… kidding…” Adagio turned away; probably an attempt to hide the hitch in her voice. “What sort of stuff did he tell you?”

“That he was at the garden when the fairies killed Discord’s family.” Pumpkin watched the way Adagio’s tail lashed. The way her shoulders hunched and her ears drooped. “It’s pretty much all his fault, I think.”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

Pumpkin smirked humorlessly. “Is that where you first met him?”

“It’s when I first learned about him.” Adagio rubbed her foreleg, staring at nothing out the train car’s window. “Him and his cronies. He’s one of the big bads, second only to… eh. That’s in the past.”

“Sure.” Pumpkin pawed at a modified siren’s gem. Sigils, she’d heard Adagio call them. “But history repeats itself.”

Her eyes lit up. “Hay, since fairies are pure magic, and these hold magic—”

“Won’t work,” Adagio said. “Fairies are too much. They’d overload the crystal and blow you straight to Hell.”

She smirked an almighty, Adagio-class, self-satisfied smirk. “Trust me, I tried it. Still got some of the scars, too.”

Pumpkin bit her lip. “Then what makes you think they’ll hold Discord’s magic?”

Adagio shrugged. “Blind optimism.”

Princess Twilight strode in, a bustle of feathers and purple hair. She tossed a notepad onto the table and looked over the results of Adagio’s labor. Her eyes were red, and her throat was scratchy. “So, what do yah got?”

“The modifications you suggested worked great.” Adagio gestured to a page of paper she’d taped to the wall, moving out of the way to let Pinkie walk in. “But you forgot to retain the activation spell.”

Twilight frowned, rubbing the corners of her eyes. “Right. Sorry. My design—” She tapped her purple necklace. “—has to be active all the time. Guess I got my wires crossed.”

“No prob. Worked out fine.” Adagio rubbed the back of her neck, pulling her goggles from her head with her other hoof. “I’m still not sure if this’ll actually, you know, work.”

“We’ll try. We’ll try until we either make it or break it.” Twilight sighed through her nose, casting a glance at Pumpkin. “Pumpkin, would you please step out? We’re going to be doing a little testing, and I don’t want you hurt.”

“Sure.” Pumpkin Cake headed for the door, stopping to get a firm hug from Pinkie Pie on the way. “Don’t blow up the train.”

Adagio chuckled. “No promises.”

He made her way through the cars, passing soldiers and rail workers on the way. Most didn’t notice her, save for the captain of Twilight’s guard. Skyhook waved to her in passing, caught up in a conversation with Coldstone. Before too long, she found herself in the observation car; its four walls filled with windows to watch the world roll by.

Discord sat on a couch in the corner, reading the Elysium and the Tree of Life. He balanced the tome in his right paw, while his left talon cupped his cheek. He glanced up when she opened the door. “Hello, Little Miss Cake.”

“I thought you were sleeping.” Pumpkin took the seat opposite his. Canter Mountain could be seen in the distance, covered in clouds and flocks of pegasi.

“I was. Then I wasn’t. I tried to help Twilight, but she said I should stay out of it. Rest and let her sort things out. So I thought I’d catch up in ancient history.” He toyed with the fluffy tip of his tail. “I also realized I needed to apologize.”

Pumpkin laid her head on the back of her couch. “To who?”

“You.” He lay the book across his lap and drummed his fingers on the cover. “I’ve not been the best of friends. I didn’t really understand you, or what you were trying to do. I was being my usual know-it-all self. But…”

His shoulders slumped. He slid out of the chair and placed the book on a table in the center of the car. “Pound told me you didn’t need me to fix your toys.”

Pumpkin’s heart sank in time with her ears. She looked down at her hooves, unsure of what to say. Maybe she shouldn’t say anything.

“Which I really should have guessed. The ability to phase through walls tends to have a variety of uses.” He ran a paw through his mane, scratching at the salt-and-pepper hair. “And now I’m useless to you, but you still care.”

He groaned, letting his arms hang slack against his sides. “You deserve better friends than me.”

Pumpkin swallowed hard. She stood up and walked over to the draconequus, fighting the lump that refused to leave her throat. She wrapped her forelegs around Discord’s middle and hugged him tight. “I don’t want better friends, I want the friends I have to feel better.”

Discord hugged her back, blinking away tears.

“And I wanna help you get better,” she choked, “but every time I’ve tried, it just makes things worse. I’m scared what’ll happen when I try again.”

Discord shook his head, giving Pumpkin an extra squeeze before he released her. “I know what I have to do to fix things, but I’m scared of what’ll happen if I succeed. And if I fail. And anything else that could happen. So I don’t know what to do.”

She looked up at his worn, weary, yellowed eyes. Too old, too tired, too unsure. Too much like a mirror. “I don’t…”

She reached into her saddlebags and rested a hoof on the familiar form of Chewie. She listened to the soft squeaka of an old friend lending comfort. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Discord coughed in the back of his throat. “What would you do?”

She took a deep breath in and made her ears face forward. “Find Pound and stick by his side; for once in my life.”

Discord crossed his arms. He coiled his snake-like body and sat on the floor. “There’s only one way to save Fluttershy, and Las Pegasus, and Pound, and stop Jeuk once and for all.”

Pumpkin’s voice shook as she powered through the words she knew she had to speak. “I know. B-but you gotta promise me something.”

She pressed her hoof against his arm and shook. “Afterwards, we’re gonna keep looking for a cure. We’re gonna get golden apples, even if it takes a hundred years. Even if it takes the rest of my life.”

Discord raised an eyebrow. “Others have tried and failed.”

“I’m not Adagio.” She pressed her lips together in a tight smile. “I’m Little Miss Cake. And I’m scared enough to do something about it.”

“Well then,” Discord said, cracking his knuckles. “What say we make some noise?”

***

Pound splayed his wings to keep his balance on the edge of the cliff. The displacer beasts clung to the rock wall, their eyes wide in the bright sunlight illuminating their bodies. The trees were thinner at this altitude, though quite hearty to be able to survive where the soil was this barren.

Dozens of meters above, he could see the entirety of the Las Pegasus strip. It began from a cave in the mountainside and spanned across a road paved with clouds. Rainbow bridges joined cloudscraper buildings, while streams of enchanted water carried boats filled with tourists. Homes and businesses were carved into the mountain, or held aloft by clouds, or some combination of the two. Brilliant neon signs advertised c-list celebrity appearances, casinos, high-priced hotels, and the odd replica of a famous landmark.

At the far side, the cloud city encircled another mountain top. A bridge spanning a mountain range. A massive feat of magical engineering. A wonder of the world.

Today, Jeuk’s target.

“Now isn’t that lovely?” the fairy said, resting an itch-inducing hoof on Pound’s shoulder. “They look like ants from where I’m standing. Most very amusing.”

Pound rolled his eyes. They looked like ants to Jeuk no matter where he stood. He glanced over his shoulder at Fluttershy, who remained still as she floated above the mountain, buffeted by wind. Pound brushed his mane out of his eyes and bit his lip.

“I think now’s as good a time as any, boss,” Lacer said. He tugged on Fluttershy’s rope, the thin whites of his eyes appearing at the edges of his lids. He licked his lips and gulped a breath of the thin air. “We’re in the perfect position for her to launch some sort of magic attack.”

Jeuk sighed. He tilted his head back—too far to be natural. “Lacer. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps his mouth shut.”

The fairy’s neck cracked as he brought it back into position. “We need to get closer. We’re too low. They might escape the effects of Fluttershy’s upcoming outburst.”

Lacer clawed at the rocks in an effort to gain the slightest bit of a secure hold. “Outburst, boss?”

“Does she look like a willing participant, you mental catastrophe?” Jeuk snapped. He jerked his head down the makeshift pathway, gritting his teeth. “Follow me, and keep your head down. I don’t want you spotted by the populous. And you—”

He pointed to Pound. Every muscle in the young colt’s body tensed simultaneously.

“You keep your eyes open.” Jeuk giggled in his maddening way. “You may learn something about life. And death.”

‘Kiss my cutie mark,’ Pound thought. He crept carefully towards the city-state above, keeping half an eye on Fluttershy. What was Jeuk waiting for? A certain time of day, when everybody was unable to respond to emergencies? A new minion? Some high official he was specifically targeting?

All of them at once?

“Fluttershy?” he said quietly. “Do you know where we are?”

She smiled, her eyes hidden behind a brilliant white glare. “Las Pegasus is such a lovely city.”

“Yes it is.” Pound nodded, his brow firmly set. “Yes it is.”

***

Twilight Sparkle walked down the line of Royal Guards stationed at the Las Pegasus train station. Each one of her squad wore a specially-designed gemstone necklace with the power to absorb magic with the hum of a simple tune.

Coldstone saluted with a glistening blue foreleg. “Ma’am, we’re all equipped and prepped.”

“Good.” Twilight Sparkle shot a look at Skyhook, who gave her a nod of agreement. “We are entering one of the more dangerous missions we’ve undertaken. Fluttershy will not have control of her magic, and she will be guarded by a member of the Unseelie Court. Do not—I repeat—do not use the sigils on Jeuk. He will overload them and it will hurt. It might even kill you. We have very few spares, so take care of those necklaces.”

Skyhook spread his bat-like wings, his purple armor glistening in the noontime light. “The Las Pegasus garrison is already shuttling civilians to secure locations, but it will take some time. Time we don’t have. Our priority is shutting down the chaos magic before it can spread to the city. To do that, we need Fluttershy unharmed.”

Twilight turned to Pinkie Pie and wrapped a wing around her shoulders. “If you see Pound Cake, keep him out of harm’s way. I’ll try to find a way to defeat the fairy, but for now, our main goal is to thwart the plan.”

Pumpkin pressed her ear against the far side of the train car’s door. She gritted her teeth. “He’ll just escape and come up with a worse plan.”

“Hay, them’s the breaks.” Adagio munched on a bag of chips, reclining on a bench in the dining car. “Until they can bring the Elements of Harmony to bear, he’s out of our league.”

Pumpkin narrowed her eyes and stuck her face through the door. There were two ways into Las Pegasus: The hot air balloon rides, and a long, snaking pathway through the mountains. One was an arduous journey through unstable terrain, the other cost bits. She muttered darkly to herself when she realized which one she was equipped for.

Pumpkin pulled back and regarded Adagio with a cool stare. “So you’re gonna just sit back and let things play out, huh?”

Adagio crunched noisily. “Duh. I’ve done my part.”

Pumpkin waited until Princess Twilight’s hot air balloon took off. Once the guardsponies were out of sight, she allowed herself a confident grin. “Good. See you around, Asiago.”

Adagio growled. “It’s Adagi—”

Pumpkin vanished through the door with a twinkle of magic.

“—Oh crap.”

Pumpkin prowled around the loading platform. No adults in sight. She knocked three times on a nearby barrel. “All clear.”

Discord popped out of the top, wearing the lid like a wide-brimmed hat.

Pumpkin leaned against the barrel with her legs crossed. “Did you get the thing?”

Discord produced an amber-colored sigil. “I don’t think this is gonna be much help.”

“Better to have and not need.” Pumpkin pushed off and trekked towards the mountain path. “How else are you gonna get your magic back from Fluttershy?”

“Good point.” Discord craned his neck to look way, way, way up the mountain. “Ugh. I just got rested up from our last rigorous climb.”

“Think of it as an incentive.” Pumpkin winked. “If you get your magic back, this is the last time you’ll have to climb anything.”

Discord wrinkled his forehead, giving her a long, quiet look. “I think that was more morbid than you intended.”

The train car door slid open and Adagio tumbled out. Her hooves skidded on the wood floor of the platform as she raced for them. “Hay, kid! What do you think you’re doing?”

Pumpkin increased her pace up the mountain. “Going on an unsupervised adventure! With my draconequus best friend! We’re gonna save our friends and family, so see you!”

“No, you dummy!” Adagio scrambled over a rock, her breath short. “Argh! Twilight’s gonna kill me if I let you wander off!”

“Then try to keep up!” Pumpkin’s hoof slid on a damp stone. She carefully maneuvered around a tiny waterfall cutting its way through the mountainside. “And we’ll see you at the top!”

Adagio let her chin rest against the path, glaring after the two of them. “One of you is a child, the other is a freak. Right now, I’m not sure which is which!”

***

The air chilled Pound to the bone. His breath spread from his mouth in a tiny cloud, vanishing in the breadth of a moment. Two-o’-clock in the afternoon, judging by the position of the sun. He looked back at the tree-line far below, the last vestiges of Whitetail Wood, the end of a long journey.

Jeuk paused, holding up a hoof. He scuttled around to face his subordinates. “This is the spot. Create a perimeter around Fluttershy, if you would.”

Pound could look down over the Las Pegasus strip, now. Glints of gold herded great swaths of color to the buildings: Soldiers evacuating the civilians. His message had gotten through!

Pound smiled. “Wanna give up now, or wait until after the Royal Guard beats you senseless?”

Jeuk giggled. A fire ant crawled its way up Pound’s hoof until he kicked it off. “The Royal Guard will be my audience, Ounce Cake.”

He grasped Pound by the cheeks and pointed his head northeast, towards Canterlot. Pound could just see Canter Mountain through the cloudy mist. “Remember last year’s horrendous tragedy between Canterlot and Cloudsdale? How both cities found themselves embroiled in a conflict that left them mere ruins and rubble? It was a tragedy that united Equestria in sheltering refugees. Coming together to rebuild. To defy the forces that would see them hurt.”

Jeuk smiled, his jaw unhinging just the slightest bit. His ears flicked to pick up the displacer beasts’ nervous shuffles. “No such tragedy shall befall Las Pegasus.”

He patted Pound’s cheek and let the colt scramble away. “Because this tragedy shall be wrought by one of the greatest heroes in Equestrian history.”

The fairy approached Fluttershy, who blinked as if trying to see clearly in low light. “Las Pegasus will watch as one of the vaunted Element Bearers wreaks havoc on their homes, their businesses, their petty frivolities! Their prideful engineering and crumbling economy shall collapse beneath the weight of dark matter and entropy! Their lives will be snuffed out by the very one they look to for safety!”

Jeuk sighed, grinning at Fluttershy like a proud father. “Five bearers cannot call upon the Elements of Harmony. Lacking their protection, lacking the might of Discord and Celestia, Equestria will not survive.”

He removed his hat with a flourish and bowed to Pound. “All that’s left is for you to pull the trigger. Tell her how both Pumpkin and Discord died horribly due to her antics. Go on. Tell her, Ounce.”

Pound shivered from head to tail. He spread his wings as he stalked towards Fluttershy, his head low. “Fluttershy? Fluttershy, can you hear me?”

Fluttershy shook her head, her ears swiveling.

“Fluttershy, it’s me, Pound.” Pound reached up to touch her shoulder. His hoof tingled with the might of her magic. “I have something important to tell you.”

The glow in her eyes dimmed. The faintest hint of her pupils focused on his as her forehead creased. “Is that you, Happy?”

“No, it’s Pound.” Pound Cake gritted his teeth. He inhaled, let it out in a whoosh, then spoke breathlessly. “Discord and Pumpkin are both safe and they’re getting our friends and they’ll rescue us before you know it so just hold on!

Fluttershy smiled, her voice airy and dreamlike. “Discord’s okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, he is.” Pound growled at Jeuk, laying his ears flat. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it, fairy.”

Jeuk simply smiled at Pound. His ear twitched. “I was hoping you’d say that, Pound Cake.”

Pound lowered his eyebrows. “Wha—?”

The rope around Fluttershy came to life. It unraveled like a tatzlwurm, zipping along the ground to loop itself around Pound’s middle. It burned as it slid across his skin, scuffing his wings and scraping along his belly. It cinched tight and knocked his legs out from under him. He hit the mountainous ground hard.

Fluttershy gasped. “Happy! Are you alright?”

“Ow. Ow. Ow!” Pound found himself dragged to his feet. Jeuk’s grinning face hovered over him. Pound sucked in a deep breath, reeled back, and threw a punch right at the dark fairy’s jaw. He connected with a bone-rattling crunch, and was rewarded with a piercing, unearthly squeal.

Jeuk stumbled back, a hoof on his chin. He worked it back and forth, his eyes flickering between Pound and the ground. “Well. Well! You have quite the strong spirit, boy.”

“I’m alright, Fluttershy!” Pound stood tall, though the rope grew tighter by the second. “I’m alright, and there’s nothing this monster can do to hurt us!”

Fluttershy hiccupped. “Please be okay, Happy.”

The skin around Jeuk’s teeth cracked and split. His mouth opened far, far too wide as he leered at Pound. “You think it’s that easy, boy?

Lacer reached a tentacle over to a fellow displacer beast. “Yo, let’s scram before things get too real—”

“You!” Jeuk’s hind legs stayed in place as his fore half twisted around to point a hoof at Lacer the Displacer. “You stay where you are! You’re on a contract job.”

Jeuk’s body completed its loop, bringing Pound back under his scrutiny. “We also have a contract. You do as I say, and Pumpkin comes to no harm.”

“The deal’s broken!” Pound stomped a hoof. “Pumpkin’s with Princess Twilight now! She’s way too smart to fall into your traps!”

Jeuk pointed into the ether. Pound followed the hollowing hoof to see a distant, purple dot coming from the far mountain. “Princess Sparkle’s over there.”

The hoof curled downward, towards the tree-line. “And Pumpkin’s down there.”

Pound choked as he leaned over the edge. Pumpkin trotted along at a brisk pace, followed closely by Discord and some old mare he couldn’t recognize. The old mare shouted, but Pound couldn’t make out the words.

Jeuk let the hoof drape across Pound’s shoulders like a dried up, dead leaf. “Keep watching, Ounce Cake. This is where things start to get amusing. Most very amusing.”

***

Adagio’s breath came up short in the thin air. “Oh my gosh, would you please just listen to me?”

Pumpkin continued to ignore the old mare, plodding along on her trek to the top of the mountain trail. “Are all your friends this obnoxious, Discord?”

Discord snickered. “Just the ones with orange manes.”

“Okay, I walked right into that one.”

“Are you two screwloose?” Adagio quickened her pace just enough to catch up for the moment. “Jeuk’s out of your league! He’s Pro, see, and you’re batting with the Pee-Wees! He won’t even notice before he squashes you like one of his stupid little fire ants!”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “Keep back a few meters and at least you’ll get a good show.”

“Screw you, brat!” Adago threw her hooves up. “You know what, I’m just gonna lay it all down. If you keep going up that mountain, you are dead!”

Pumpkin whirled on her. “Says who—?”

Pumpkins eyes popped as she caught movement behind the tree-line. A brilliant glow shone even in the midday sun. Piercing yellow eyes glared out from underneath a fireball set to devastate.

“Look out!” Discord tackled her from the side. They rolled head-over-tail down the mountain, trading a batch of bruises for a slightly extended lifespan.

A pillar of heat and rage boiled a hole in the rock they’d been standing on. A centaur strode froth from Whitetail Woods, discarding his cloak to expose his nigh-skeletal chest to the open air. “Discord! This is the end for you! I, Tirek, Demon King, shall retake my Rainbow of Darkness and cast your ruin upon the mountainside!”

Discord picked himself up. He pressed a talon against Pumpkin’s flank to shove her behind his back.

Munchy peered out from behind Tirek. He clapped his hands and jumped down. “Munchy help! Munchy take care of little filly!”

Tirek pressed his forefingers against his temples. “Why thank you, Munchy. I had so hoped that I wouldn’t have to deal with the small child.”

He glared at Adagio, who stood with her mouth closed tight, rooted to the spot. “You there! What business have you with Discord?”

Adagio threw up her hooves and screamed, racing for the trees.

“Coward.” Tirek turned back to Discord with an imperious raise of his eyebrow. “Now Discord, we shall see who is the better…”

Discord ran side-by-side with Pumpkin, their legs pounding as they made their way towards the peak. Tirek sighed as he watched Munchy hobble after them. “Nobody properly fears smiting anymore.”

***

Pound gasped out as he saw Pumpkin narrowly avoid being incinerated. “No! Pumpkin! Run!”

Jeuk laughed, slapping Pound across the back. “I’m afraid I can no longer ensure her safety, Pound. Seems today’s not her lucky day.”

“You freak!” Pound thrust his hoof Jeuk’s way, but the fairy ducked. “You had this planned all along!”

“Most of it!” Jeuk giggled and waved his limp hoof at the displacer beasts. “It helps to have multiple plans, one for every potential result.”

“Hay, boss.” Lacer cleared his throat. “We never signed up to destroy Equestria. I like sticking it to the man now and again, but this is—”

“Shut! Up!”

Jerk shook his head. It flopped limply on his neck. “Fluttershy. You want Happy to be well, don’t you?”

Pound stepped forward. “I’m not H—”

“Shh!” Jeuk shoved a hoof in Pound’s mouth. “Shh, shh, shh.

He turned back to Fluttershy, concern tracing his torn, toothy smile. “You want Happy to be well, don’t you, Fluttershy? You want to see him alive, with his family.”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. The light faded enough to where Pound could make out the baby blue irises gleaming at him. “Of course I want him well.”

Jeuk gripped the rope around Pound’s middle, giving it a little tug. “Watch… carefully.”

He shoved Pound off the mountain, into open air.

Pound’s legs pinwheeled. Up became down as he scrambled to open his wings, shout for help, grab onto a ledge, anything! Razor-sharp rocks raced up to meet him halfway. The rope cut into his wings, a noose tied too low.

Happy!

Fluttershy’s scream filled the space between the two mountains. An explosion of color and light blasted forth from the peak, radiating chaos magic. It struck Pound right in his heart—a cry for help from him and Fluttershy, both. He shut his eyes and whispered a silent prayer that somebody, anybody, would help Fluttershy and Pumpkin.

He bounced.

His eyes popped open to see a pile of green gelatin break his fall. He sprung into the air, twirling out of control. What were once deadly crags were now bouncy-houses of various foodstuffs.

That and open space. He continued his plummet towards the valley.

The magic did not stop at him. It rolled across the landscape, swallowing the mountain whole, wobbling through the Las Pegasus strip, and ending with a kiss on the far peak. Clouds became taffy, rocks turned to pillows, trees uprooted themselves and braided their branches together. The strip bowed and warped, the buildings collapsing under their own weight as they became cheese blocks.

Strong forelegs wrapped around his middle. He found himself carried across the shifting landscape. The mountain melted underhoof, taking the form of wool comforters, then papier-mache, then a roiling ocean suspended in midair. He was set down on a less volatile portion of the mountain, stable enough to stand.

He found himself standing face-to-face with Ponyville’s plumber. “Miss Wishes?”

“Stay here,” she said. “You’ll be safe.”

“Who the heck are you?” Pound sucked in much-needed air as she cut the rope and tossed it aside. “What are you doing here?”

Ribbon Wishes smirked. Her body glowed white, shifting aside overalls for six impossibly huge wings. “You are under the Creator’s protection, Pound Cake. I would have helped you sooner, had you not been bound by word to the Unseelie Fae, Jeuk.”

“One, I didn’t understand a word you said.” Pound tested his wings, giving them an experimental flap. “Two, I can’t stay here. I’ve got to save my sister and Fluttershy.”

Ribbon Wishes might have frowned. It was hard to tell with the pearl-like orbs covering her face. “But you’re safe here. You could die if you go up that mountain.”

“I’ve already died once today.” Pound leaped into the air, his wings aching but otherwise ready to fly. “Thanks for that, by the way. Gonna help out or what?”

“Yes, but…” Ribbon Wishes grew quiet. She stared up at the bright light at the mountaintop, where Fluttershy lay in the midst of her own spell. “Not the way you might suppose.”

Pound frowned. “Well… Well, I guess I’ll see you around. Later.”

He raced off with wings buzzing, his chest heaving as he searched for his sister. He found her ducked beneath an outcropping that was rapidly becoming a plate of limp spaghetti. Munchy closed in, his sharp deep dripping with ichor. He reached out his clawed hands for her, each swipe sliding right through her glowing body.

Pound hit him at top speed. Munchy rolled across the ground and slammed against a tree made from chocolate bark. He slumped with a groan.

“That’s for my neck, you stupid little gremlin!” With that, all the twisting and turning finally got to him. He bent over and faced away from Pumpkin. “Oh blech.”

“Pound!” Pumpkin wrapped her forelegs around him before he was quite done. “Oh my gosh, you’re okay!”

“Uh huh.” Pound blinked as his leavings were swallowed up by the churning mountain. “We need to keep moving before—”

The spaghetti slapped him in the face, ending his sentence. He brushed it aside with a grunt. “We need to get to Fluttershy.”

“I know! Discord’s gonna take his magic back.” Pumpkin glared upwards. “And then he’s gonna take care of Jeuk.”

“Where is he?” Pound stepped out from under the spaghetti before it could smother him. “I just saw him with you.”

“We got separated.” Pumpkin squared her hooves and swiveled her head, looking for the clear and present danger just beyond sight. “We were both running from—”

A beam of hatred and malice turned the spaghetti into charcoal. Pumpkin cast a spell and ran, dragging Pound with her. She stopped with a scream and fell, her hoof gripped to her chest.

Pound dragged her away from the flames, his wings beating back the heat. “Are you okay? What happened?”

Pumpkin sucked on her hoof. Just first-degree burns, Pound could see. Painful, but not too serious. “I burned my hoof. I don’t get it! I was phasing and—”

The tree collapsed beside them, tearing a hole in the soft, soapy landscape. It flared green and filled the air with smoke. They ran away, choking on the toxic fumes of burning paint.

Pumpkin stared wide-eyed as the flames rose, blocking their route upward. “I can’t phase through fire. It’ll… It’ll still hurt me.”

“Fire burns. Duly noted.”

Her response was a sarcastic sing-song, but her smile was sincere as they come. “Shut up.”

A crunching footstep drew their ears. Tirek stumbled as his hoof was swallowed by a cream-filled cookie. He pulled the leg out with a growl. “Curse Discord and all his trickery!”

He glared at the children, a light of recognition entering his eyes. “You two! You were there at the gorge! You humiliated me and defeated my army!”

Pumpkin patted her curls, her horn sparkling. “Mostly we humiliated ourselves and defeated your little gremlin.”

The crack of twigs and faint giggling came from behind them. They swiveled to behold Munchy as he climbed through the flames. The green light lent him an unhealthy, demonic pallor. He grinned with all his teeth as he spread his arms. “Munchy! Is! Morlock!”

“Oh.” Pumpkin bobbed her head, grasping Pound’s hoof. “My mistake.”

They ran towards Tirek, slipping between his legs and hopping around the fire. He roared as his legs tangled up beneath him. “No one mildly annoys Tirek! No one embarrasses Tirek and lives!

Munchy danced on the burning log before leaping off to commence pursuit. “Clever little ponies having climbed so high!”

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