Pound and Pumpkin Tales 1

by Never2muchpinkie

First published

Set a few years into the future, six year old Pound and Pumpkin have a lot of growing up to do. They fight and make up, make mistakes and learn lessons, and love and protect each other as much as they get on each other's nerves.

Set a few years into the future, this story focuses on the adventures of the older Cake Twins. Much like Friendship is Magic itself this story has no true conclusion, and is always ongoing so long as I have the ideas for it.

Six year old Pound and Pumpkin have grown up a little from the babies they used to be, but there is still much to learn about maturity, working together, and friendship. Working together they protect and love each other, and some days they can't stand each other and get into horrible fights. At the end of the day they always come back together, hating being away from their other half.

Pound is very impulsive, acting without thinking, with an ego to match Trixie's, even when he can't back it up. He has no hesitation at attacking others for picking on his sister, insisting that's a privilege only he can enjoy. The unofficial leader, he's usually the one to think of idea's, and also the first to sulk or get depressed when things don't go his way.

Pumpkin is the more rational one, the voice of reason. However, she's still apt to go along with Pound's ideas simply because its better than being alone, and she doesn't want him to get hurt if she's not around.

Together they can overcome anything that comes their way.

1: A play for Auntie Pinkie

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Pinkie Pie slammed the door to Sugarcube Corner as she walked in, her mane drooped. How could this have happened? She had given the Pinkie Party Promise that she would give Lyra the perfect party. The PERFECT party. PER! FECT! But she had made a mistake. A MISTAKE!

Lyra had wanted a banner of alternating pink, purple, and then yellow. But she had made the banner in alternating purple, pink, and then yellow. How could she have made such an error? Throughout the whole party Lyra hadn’t said anything, but she was surely disappointed on the inside. Yes, all her laughing and enjoyment had to have been fake.

She stormed in past the Cake twins, muttering to herself. “This was the worst party ever. And I’m the worst party planner ever. I wish I’d never been born, so nobody would have to deal with my terrible parties.” Tears streamed down her eyes. She headed up to her room, flopping on her bed.

The Cake twins were no longer babies. They were six years old.

Pound and Pumpkin Cake looked at each other. “Didja hear that?” asked Pumpkin.

“Yeah,” replied Pound. “Auntie Pinkie is really sad.”

“But she’s a great party pony. She’s so much FUN!”

“I know!” The two of them slumped. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know… but Auntie Pinkie is great. If she was never born then we wouldn’t have the most amazing parties ever!”

The two of them thought it over for a while, wondering how to cheer up their Auntie Pinkie. Suddenly Pumpkin lit up. “I got it!” She let out a mischievous laugh.

“What, what?” Pound asked, smiling now as he leaned forward. He began laughing too as she explained her idea.

A short time later Pinkie Pie heard a knocking on her door. She could tell right away from the bangs that it was the twins. She sighed, forcing herself up.

Opening the door she saw the two of them smiling up at her. “Auntie Pinkie Pie!” cried out Pound Cake. “You gotta come here.”

“We’re putting on a show, and we need you to watch,” said Pumpkin.

Pinkie suppressed another sigh. She wasn’t in the mood but she always had had a soft spot for the two of them. If they wanted her then she would go with them… though she’d probably screw that up too in some way.

She went downstairs to the living room, where she saw they had set up some toys in the middle of the room. They directed her to a seat to watch, wondering what they were up to.

Pumpkin looked over at her, saying, “This is a play that we call, 'Auntie Pinkie Pie wasn’t borned.'

Pinkie’s eyebrow rose. What kind of play was this going to be?

Pumpkin and Pound sat on the floor on their stomachs, grabbing a few stuffed animals and toys. “Woohoo!” said Pound Cake, moving a yellow bear. “We won the big game.”

“I know!” replied Pumpkin, waving a purple cat. “Let’s go celebrate.”

“Yeah.” “Let’s go.” “I wanna come too.” The two of them pushed a few more animals to a rug in the middle of the room.

“Alright, we’re here at the party place. Let’s have some treats. We have lettuce, grass, apples, and hay.”

Pinkie, despite her own sadness, looked weirdly at the two of them. What kinda party fare was that?

“Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum,” said the two of them, digging in.

“O-KAY!” said Pound. “It’s time for some party games.

"Game number one. Push a rock with a stick.” He and Pumpkin grabbed a pair of straws, pushing a set of bits around.

“Game number two!” said Pumpkin. “Crumpling paper.” The two of them handed some paper to the animals, and began mashing it up.

Pinkie Pie had a very confused look on her face now. What was this? Who would ever play party games like that? Hadn’t she showed them how great a party could be?

“Game three!” said Pumpkin.

“The quiet game,” whispered Pound. “You have to keep quiet as long as possible.”

Pinkie’s mouth was now hanging open, in utter disbelief. Was THAT what they considered fun? She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was like the past six years of their life had been spent under a rock. Surely they couldn’t be serious.

The two of them were being totally silent, for so long that Pinkie began getting really antsy. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. She jumped out of her seat, saying, “Oh, come on! What kinda party is this? No music, no sweet treats, no great party games? That has to be the worst, most boring party ever! That’s not fun at all!”

The two of them looked over at her, and Pound said, “But this is tons of fun.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is!” replied Pumpkin.

“No, it’s not!” Pinkie replied strongly.

Pumpkin turned back to her cat, saying, “Gee, this party IS pretty boring. It’s too bad there isn’t a super-duper party pony around.”

Pound shook his teddy bear, “Yeah, you’re right, Too bad there isn’t someone who can teach us how to have the most fun parties ever. But…she was never borned. This stinks.”

Pinkie was struck dumb, speechless for one of the few times in her life. A few tears came down her eyes, and then she left without a word.

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other, tears beginning to well up in their eyes. It hadn’t worked.

Just as the two of them were about to start sobbing they were distracted by a blur that came flying into the room. With a creaking of the floorboards Pinkie slammed down her record player, putting on a catchy tune, and then rapidly placing appropriately sized party hats on all the little animals.

Holding onto a pink rabbit Pinkie said, “It just so happens that a super-duper party pony who knows all about how to throw a great party WAS borned. Can I join you?”

Pound and Pumpkin’s faces lit up. “Sure!” they said in unison, giving the rabbit a hug with their own animals.

Pinkie put out cakes, cookies, and muffins for the animals, and some of her choicest party games.

“There we go!” Pinkie said happily. “We have good music, good treats, good games, but there’s only one thing missing for the superest, duperest party ever.”

“What’s that?” asked Pound Cake.

“You two!” Pinkie responded, pulling the two of them to her and giving them each a big hug, “I love you two!”

They laughed, snuggling in and nuzzling her. “We love you too, Auntie Pinkie Pie!”

2: The storm

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It was a dark night, the wind howling and lightning flashing.

In Sugarcube Corner a tiny, trembling filly was slinking her way through the house towards her parent’s room.

She suddenly squeaked in fright as a familiar voice called out to her. “And just where are you going?”

Pumpkin Cake let out a nervous laugh. “Um… nowhere, Auntie Pinkie.”

Pinkie Pie said in a bit of a scolding voice, “You wouldn’t have been trying to sneak into your parents room, would you?” Pumpkin let out a small gasp. Pinkie had hit it on the head.

“Didn’t they tell you they didn’t want to be woken up anymore because of this fear of thunderstorms?”

“Yes, I know! But… but… I’m scared.”

Pinkie picked her up and began walking. “Your mom said she didn’t want you sleeping in their bed anymore.”

Pumpkin began struggling in her grasp. She didn’t want to go back to her room. She was too scared to sleep alone. Of course she shared a room with her brother, but he was so annoying. He was always teasing her and made her practically beg to be able to sleep in his bed with him so she wouldn’t feel as scared. That was why she had stopped waking him up and began going to her parent’s room whenever there was a thunderstorm.

She suddenly stopped her struggles when she noticed they were heading up some stairs, which could only mean they weren’t going to her room.

Pinkie opened the door to her own room, grabbing a blanket and wrapping it around the two of them as she sat down in a rocking chair. “Your mom said she didn’t want you sleeping in her room, but she didn’t say anything about sleeping in my room, now did she?”

Pumpkin immediately began crying, hugging her tightly. “T-thank you, Auntie Pinkie! I love you!”

“Shh, shh, shh,” said Pinkie, rubbing the filly’s back. “It’s okay, Pumpkin.”

When the filly settled down there was a large rumbling of thunder, and once more she began panicking, trembling as she held tightly to her favorite aunt.

“Pumpkin, why are you so scared of thunderstorms? They’re a lot of fun!”

“F-f-fun?” asked the filly in disbelief.

“Yeah! It’s all about in how you think about things.” She pulled Pumpkin away, struggling for a second against her iron grip, and turned her around towards the window. “When I was young just like you I was afraid of a whole bunch of things. I was scared of the dark, and the night.”

Pumpkin looked up at Pinkie, shock on her face. “You were afraid of things too? I didn’t think you were scared of anything.”

“My Grammy Pie was the one who taught me how to face my fears. Just find something funny in your fears. If you can do that they lose all their power.

"Now what is it that scares you about thunderstorms?”

Pumpkin looked down, shaking a little again. “I don’t know… I keep hearing a whole bunch of weird noises because of all the rain hitting the house, and then there’s a tiny bit of light from the lightning and the room lights up for just a second, and I think I see monsters. And then all of a sudden BOOM!” She began trembling harder, tears coming down her eyes. “Every time I heard that I can’t help it. I get so scared. It feels like something is attacking the house.”

“Is that all?” asked Pinkie. “Let me tell you what I see. If you just change your thinking those dumb old fears become something funny. To me rain is like some beautiful music. Imagine playing an instrument made out of rain.”

Despite herself that made Pumpkin laugh. She thought of having a violin that, every time you plucked the strings, made rain instead of sounds.

“And as for the thunder, just imagine that you’re near the world’s biggest bowling alley.”

“Bowling alley?” asked Pumpkin, confused.

“Yeah. Just imagine the world’s biggest bowling alley. The pony playing is the very best in the whole world, and he always gets a strike. He’s so confident that he tells other ponies to flash a light at him so he can throw the ball blind, and the rain is to make the lane really slippery. He throws the ball… it goes left, it goes right, nearly going into the gutter.”

A bolt of lightning lit up the room, and Pinkie knew the thunder wasn’t far off. “And then…” When it came she yelled out, “Strike!”

Again, though Pumpkin still felt scared, that made her laugh as much as it terrified her.

“You see, Pumpkin? If you can find something to giggle and guffaw at in anything you fear you take away almost all its power. That’s when it becomes funny. That’s what my Grammy Pie taught me.”

Pumpkin closed her eyes, resting against Pinkie. It was true. She didn’t feel nearly as scared as she did before as the two of them continued rocking. Her heart wasn’t hammering in her chest as hard. The silly images of a rain making choir playing for a giant bowling alley was so ridiculous that it was hard to take it as something to fear.

She suddenly heard Pinkie say, “Here’s the lightning. You know what’s next!”

Pumpkin felt a jolt of fear, anticipation building up in her. But when the thunder began crashing close by she called out, “Another strike!” She was surprised by how little the sound actually frightened her this time.

“There you go. You got it now.”

Pumpkin found herself nodding off, the sound of the rain now being relaxing to her.

“Come on, Pumpkin. It’s time to go back to bed.”

“Aww, do I haveta? Can’t I just sleep with you?”

“No, Pumpkin,” she said gently. “Like I said before, your mom didn’t bar you from sleeping with me, but if she finds out she might say that. So we need to save the nights you stay with me for when you really need it, okay?”

Pumpkin sighed. “Okay, Auntie Pinkie. I just wish I didn’t have to rely on dumb old Pound!” She crossed her hooves, huffing. “Every time I ask to sleep with him he always gives me a hard time.”

Pinkie smiled. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Pumpkins bad mood immediately passed as she looked up with interest. She loved secrets… though she did occasionally blab them on accident. “Sure!” she said in an excited whisper.

“Your brother is just as scared of thunderstorms as you are.”

“No, he’s not. He mostly sleeps right through them. When I wake him up he makes fun of me for being a baby.”

Pinkie laughed. “Oh, Pumpkin. You just don’t understand boys yet. They have a lot of pride and have trouble showing their true feelings. Your brother is a heavier sleeper than you, so that’s why he can sometimes sleep right through the storm, but that isn’t always the case.

“On one of the nights when you left your room to sleep with your parents he came to sleep with me.”

“He did?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t he just come in to our parents too?”

“Because of his pride, silly. You have to listen. He makes fun of you for getting scared of storms, so how could he just show up and say he was scared of the storm too?

“And do you know what he said to me then?”

“No… what did he say?”

“He told me, 'I hate being alone during storms, so I’m actually kinda glad when Pumpkin wants to sleep with me. If she hadn’t gone to sleep with our parents then I would have protected her. I don’t like to see her all upset, so I pretend I’m not scared at all so that she knows she’ll be safe.'”

Pumpkin tilted her head, giving Pinkie a quizzical look. “He didn’t say that!”

“Pinkie Promise,” she responded, going through the motions. “You two are brother and sister, and you need each other. You’re scared, and he’s scared, so when you stick together you each feel stronger and able to weather the storm. Literally.” She let out a laugh. “But he’s too proud to come right out and say that he’s scared. And also, he’s upset when you’re upset, so he pushes his fear down so that you will feel safer with him. He really does care for you. He’s just good at hiding it.”

She stood up, placing Pumpkin on the floor. “Now go on. Time to go back to bed.” She gave Pumpkin a kiss on her forehead. “Good night.”

Pumpkin gave her a hug. “Good night, Auntie Pinkie.”

Pumpkin left the room, pondering what she had heard. Pinkie wouldn’t lie to her, especially if she made a Pinkie Promise. She knew Pinkie took those very seriously. She just couldn’t see her dumb brother like that.

As she neared their room she heard the cocky voice of her brother. “Hey there, baby. You cowering over there yet?”

Pumpkin frowned, feeling annoyed.

She heard his voice again, not sounding nearly as brave. “Pumpkin?” And then a few seconds later, again, “Pumpkin?” There was a flash of lightning, and a few seconds later Pound’s voice came out like a strange squeal as he called out her name just as the thunder crashed almost like it was right next to the house.

A quick jolt of fear made her heart start racing, but when she automatically whispered “Another strike” her terror quickly passed, a smile forming on her face. A sense of smug satisfaction was in her, hearing his fright and alarm after all the times he had made fun of her.

Her smile faded when she heard Pound crying in fear, and tears started coming down her eyes as she thought about what Pinkie had told her. He had always been just as scared as she had been, but he had suppressed it for her sake. Now the situation was reversed. He was scared and alone, and she wanted to be there for him now. After all, he was her brother.

She opened the door all the way. “Pound! You awake?”

She heard him stifling his tears. “Where did you go?”

Pumpkin could clearly hear the relief in his voice. No longer did she feel the desire to mock him. Deciding to let him keep his boyish pride intact she put on a scared voice. “Mom kicked me out. I’m too scared to sleep alone. Can I stay with you, please?”

He gave an exaggerated sigh, “Okay, fine. I guess. If you have to.”

Lifting up the covers she laid down in her brother’s bed. “Hold onto me tight so I won’t feel scared.”

His usual arrogant response didn’t come off that well as he said, “The things I have to do for my sister.” He placed his hooves around her.

She put her hooves around him too, with all her strength, wanting him not to feel scared either. She could feel him shaking in her hooves. He had probably been trembling all those times before, but she had never noticed before because she, herself, had been quivering.

“Thank you, Pound. You’re an awesome brother. I love you.”

He hesitated before responding, “I love you, too. N-now just go to sleep already.”

She gave him a warm, unseen smile. He had gotten his conceited attitude back in a hurry. But now she knew why he acted like he did, so it didn’t matter to her anymore.

He had protected her when she was afraid, and now it was her turn. She didn't like to see him upset either, no matter how much he annoyed her.

The half-asleep filly kept a tight hold on her other half, and unconsciously her horn started to glow a light blue, a small blue bubble surrounding the two of them, muting out the sound of the storm.

Pound felt puzzled at the sudden quiet, opening his eyes to see the barrier around them. He smiled at his sister, grateful to have her with him tonight. He closed his eyes again, snuggling in closer to her, smiling as the two of them drifted off to sleep.

3: Don't mess with my twin!

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Pound and Pumpkin were laughing excitedly, their manes being whipped backward as Pinkie Pie ran, pulling the wagon the two were sitting in. The three of them were heading to the park to hang out with their friends.

“Faster! Faster!” cried the twins.

“You got it!” said Pinkie, amping up the speed to their delighted cheers.

After a minute she suddenly said, “We’re here!” She stopped short, and the twins squealed in surprise as the two of them went flying in the air.

Pinkie ran forward, catching the two of them before they hit the ground.

After a brief period of shock they said, “Again! Again!”

“Nope! Sorry. No more of that. You two go play on the playground for a minute while I go find the girls. They should be close by. Are you gonna stay out of trouble for me?”

“Yes, Auntie Pinkie!” they responded in unison.

“Good. I see some cupcakes in your future.”

“Woohoo!”

Pound and Pumpkin walked over to the sand box. There was only one other foal there, an orange colt. “Hey, maybe we can go play with him.” said Pound.

“That’s the spirit!” said Pinkie Pie. “Have fun, you two. I’ll be back real quick.” With that she ran off.

Pound ran up to the earth pony. “Hey, there. I’m Pound Cake, and this is my twin sister Pumpkin. Who are you?”

“I’m Orange Mango,” he responded gruffly. “I’m not in the mood to play, so can you just leave me alone, please.”

“Oh… okay. Sorry.”

Going off to the other side the two of them began making a sand castle. Each of them worked on their own. Pound quickly saw that Pumpkin was making a bigger and better one than him. His face went sour, but then a mischievous smile came to his face. He got up and walked over to her.

“Wow, Pumpkin! That’s a great castle you’re making there.”

“Thanks, Pound.”

“Can I just-WHOA!” Pretending to trip he landed straight on her castle, flattening it.

A brief bit of shock crossed her features before her face scrunched up in anger. “Pound, you DUMMY-HEAD! You ruined it!”

“Whoops,” he said in a sarcastic voice, a smug grin on his face as he stood up. “Did I do that?” He made a point of slowly stepping off the former castle, stomping down whatever was left before giving one final kick back, sprinkling Pumpkin with sand.

Pumpkin growled. “Pound, you jerk! I can’t stand you!” Picking up a big pile of sand she threw it at him.

He laughed before jumping out of the way, sticking his tongue out at her. “You missed!”

“Hey!” cried out Orange Mango, turning around and trying to rub the sand out of his mane.

“Oh, sorry!” Pumpkin said sincerely. “My dumb brother made me mad so I-”

Before she finished the colt shoved her hard, knocking her on her back. “Now I bet you’re sorry, pumpkin head!”

Pumpkin sniffed, about to cry. Why were boys such jerks? She suddenly gasped as Pound turned around and bucked the colt, sending him flying a few feet before he landed hard in the dirt.

Pound had a furious look on his face. “Don’t you EVER put your hooves on my sister! You got that?”

Orange Mango was holding back tears as he stood up, saying, “You’ll be sorry! I’m gonna tell my brother on you!” He ran off, the sound of crying getting fainter as he faded from sight.

Pumpkin looked over at her brother, wondering what had gotten into him. “What was all that about? First you ruin my sand castle and kick sand in my face, and then you bucked someone else for picking on me?”

The serious look still on his face, Pound responded, “You’re my sister and my twin. Of course I love to tease you and make you mad. But I’M the ONLY one allowed to do that. I won’t let anybody pick on my sister while I’m around. I don’t care who they are.”

Mixed feelings were going through Pumpkin. A part of her felt touched, a part of her felt amused, and a part of her still felt angry. She sighed. He had gone to the trouble of protecting her instead of joining in or doing nothing. She had to at least give him that. Reluctantly she placed a hoof around him, saying, “Thanks, Pound.”

“No problem! How about this time we make a castle together so that we can make one big one?”

“Okay,” she said, her negative feelings already fading.

They had only been working on their new sand sculpture for a minute when they heard the voice of the colt from before. “I told you you’d be sorry. I brought my big brother Sun Glaze, and he’s not happy with the way you hit me.”

“Oh, so what?” said Pound, but his cocky attitude quickly faded as he saw not just one older earth pony, but four. They all looked to be four or five years older than him and Pumpkin.

“Whoops,” said the colt sarcastically. “Did I forget to mention his friends were here?”

Pound gulped as the four ponies approached. His eyes turned to his sister. He didn’t care what happened to himself, but he didn’t want Pumpkin to get hurt. The colt might still want revenge for when Pumpkin accidentally threw sand at him. Grabbing her hoof he whispered, “Get out of here. I’ll distract them.”

Pumpkin’s heart was racing. “No!” she whispered back. “I’m not leaving you alone. You don’t have to be so brave. We’re in this together!”

The four ponies stood in front of the twins. A pony who looked like an older version of Orange Mango said, “So, you’re the little troublemakers? The sand thrower, and the brother kicker. Now I have to waste my time teaching you a lesson about being respectful.” He gave Pound a shove.

Speaking much more bravely than he felt Pound said, “I guess your little brother is such a wimp he can’t do anything unless he’s got four older ponies to help him.”

The colt and his brother both got angry frowns on their faces. “You better watch your mouth!” said Sun Glaze. He gave Pound a harder shove, knocking him to the ground.

Pumpkin jumped forward, biting down hard on his hoof. He began to yell in pain, crying out, “Get off!” He shook his hoof rapidly, but he couldn’t get her off. He finally gave her head a hard smack with his other hoof, and she let go and fell to the ground.

Rage flowed through Pound, obliterating all thought. Getting up, he jumped into the air, headbutting Sun Glaze. The pain when their heads collided was barely felt through his adrenaline. While he was stunned Pound kicked his legs out from under him. When Sun Glaze fell to the ground Pound went to buck him in the face when he was suddenly grabbed by Sun Glaze’s friends, holding him still.

Sun Glaze rubbed his head with his hoof. “Darn brat! That hurt!” He punched Pound in the stomach. Pound gasped out in pain. “You’re gonna pay for that!”

Pumpkin knew that the two of them were in big trouble. Her brother was being hurt, and she didn’t know how to save him. She couldn’t leave him all alone to go get help. She felt like she couldn’t breathe for the fear going through her. She wanted to help her brother. ‘I have to save my brother!’ she thought desperately. ‘I have to!’ As Pound yelped in pain again fear began being replaced by anger. “Stop it! Leave him alone!

“I said STOP!” A strange sensation went through her, and all of a sudden with a burst of blue energy the four foals went soaring way up into the sky.

The four earth ponies were shaking and squirming, trying to escape the magic. As they looked down and saw how high they were they changed their minds and stopped struggling.

Elsewhere Pinkie Pie had located the rest of the gang. Applejack was the one who noticed it first. She rubbed her hooves against her eyes before saying, “Um… is it or just me, or is there a group of four kids flyin’ in the air?”

“It’s not that unusual,” replied Rainbow Dash. “They’re probably just early learners like I was.”

Pushing Rainbows head up she said, “Flyin’ without wings or a horn?”

Pinkie Pie looked up at the soaring ponies and a nervous expression came to her face. That was around where she had left Pound and Pumpkin.

“I’ll go check it out!” said Twilight, and she ran off, Pinkie Pie right behind her.

“Apologize!” said Pumpkin angrily. “Apologize for hurting my brother right now or I’ll drop you!” The four scared ponies quickly rushed to say sorry, and some of her anger faded.

A few moments passed, and then she laughed nervously and said, “Um… I… I don’t know how to control this. I just did it because I was angry.” Her magic began fluctuating, getting weaker, the four ponies dropping down rapidly. “Um, um, um, um… what do I do?” She tried to focus on keeping them airborne, but it wasn’t working. Then suddenly the glow faded entirely, and they began plummeting to the earth.

Pound and Pumpkin had no idea what to do. There were only two of them, and four ponies to catch. They could only hope the sand would soften the fall enough that they wouldn’t be seriously hurt.

All four ponies became enveloped with a red glow, stopping their descent before they were gently placed on the ground.

“Twilight!” Pumpkin said in relief.

“What in Equestria is going on over here?” Twilight asked sternly.

At once every one of the ponies began talking together, making a great cacophony of an unintelligible mess of words.

“Quiet!” Twilight said loudly, and the chatter stopped. Walking forward she sat in front of Pumpkin. “Pumpkin Cake. What happened?”

“She’s just going to lie!” Orange Mango protested.

“I will hear both sides of the story and then I’ll decide who was in the wrong.”

Pumpkin looked over at her brother. She didn’t want him to get in trouble because he was trying to be a good brother for her.

Pound met her eyes. “Just tell the truth. It’s okay. All this started because of me anyway.”

“Is that right?” said Twilight, glancing over at him for a second. Returning her stare to the filly she said meaningfully, “Pumpkin?”

Pumpkin hesitated again, before saying, “Auntie Pinkie left us by the playground so we could play while she went to find you guys. We got into a fight, and I threw some sand at him, and it hit that kid.” She pointed at Orange Mango. “He got mad at me and he pushed me, and then Pound… Pound…” She couldn’t finish her sentence. How could she sell him out after he had tried taking on a fight he knew he couldn’t win for her safety?

Pound saw she wasn’t going to talk, so he spoke up. “I hit him. I gave him a kick. And then he ran off saying he was going to get his brother to teach me a lesson. All five of them came back, and I was trying to be brave for Pumpkin, and that one pushed me to the ground.” Pound pointed at Sun Glaze. “Pumpkin bit him, and he hit her to get her off, so I attacked him too.” He said it with no remorse, glaring at the older boy. “Then his friends grabbed me and he hit me back. Pumpkin got upset, and the next thing I knew all of them were flying up in the air. She made them apologize, but she didn’t know how to get them back down because she can’t really control her magic.”

“Is all this true?” Twilight asked. She looked around at the group. None of them responded or moved, but their faces said it all. “Every one of you acted irresponsibly and childish.

“Pound Cake. Responding to violence with more violence is never the answer and won’t get anything fixed. You should have tried to work things out before even thinking of resorting to such a method.”

Pound mumbled something under his breath, averting his eyes.

“What was that?” asked Twilight.

He turned to look at her now, saying in a clear voice, “I said you’re a liar!”

Pinkie Pie gasped. “Pound Cake! How-”

“Pinkie!” interrupted Twilight. “I offered to let him speak, so let him say what he’s thinking.

"Why do you think that?”

“Auntie Pinkie has told us all about your adventures. Nightmare Moon, Discord, Queen Chrys-alys-i-iss, and Tirek. Each time you went and fought them instead of trying to solve things with words. So don't try and tell me that using violence is something bad.”

“I won’t deny that we used violence to stop them, or it really would make me a liar. But those were situations of dire danger and peril, with many lives on the line and the safety of Equestria in jeopardy. This was just a small disagreement that could have been handled a whole lot better. If you hadn’t gone and attacked that boy the rest wouldn’t have happened. It doesn’t make it right that he shoved your sister because of an accident, but if talking with him didn’t work you should have asked an older pony to help settle things.”

Still Pound met her eyes remorselessly. “I’m not letting anyone hurt my sister while I’m around, and that’s final! He deserved what he got.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. She walked closer to him, sitting down in front of him. She saw that confronting his actions directly was only making him defensive, so she’d have to use a different route. Stifling her irritation she asked, “Pound Cake, who do you think is the most fun and awesome pony in Ponyville?”

The sudden change of topic confused him. “Auntie Pinkie…”

“That’s right. Auntie Pinkie also loves to make ponies smile and make friends, right?”

“Yes…”

“So don’t you want to be just like her and be seen as just as much fun as she is?”

“Yes…”

“Do you see Auntie Pinkie right now?” She saw Pound’s eyes automatically look over. “Is she smiling and happy right now? I know she’s taught you better than that, and making enemies when you could be making friends goes against everything Pinkie Pie stands for. If you had stopped to try to work things out you could have had a new friend today and brought joy to your Auntie Pinkie. But instead you’ve made her upset. Is that the kind of pony you want to be?”

Pound took in Pinkie's expression. He hated seeing Auntie Pinkie upset, and she looked so disappointed. The iron mask of his frown shattered as her words finally got through to him. “I’m sorrrrrrryyyyy!” he cried, running over to Pinkie and hugging her. “Please don’t ha-ha-hate me!”

Pinkie Pie placed a hoof around Pound, saying, “I could never hate you, Pound. But I do wish you had made a better choice today.”

Twilight looked over at the rest of the culprits. She chastised Orange Mango for not listening to Pumpkin’s apology and getting physical, and Sun Glaze and the other older boys for picking on the younger ones when they should know better, and for setting a bad example for Orange Mango to follow. Sun Glaze responded that he was only planning to be intimidating and give a few little shoves before they started berating his family and attacking him. Then he got mad.

“I think apologies are in order, all around. Each and every one of you did the wrong thing today. This is not what the magic of friendship is about. If all of you make up and work things out between you then I’ll forget about any punishment for your actions, as I think for some of you the guilt of what you’ve done is enough.”

Pound left Pinkie’s side and went over to Orange Mango. “I’m sorry I kicked you. I… I just got so mad when you shoved my sister.”

“Well… I shouldn’t have shoved her in the first place. I was mad too because my brother had said we were going to spend some time together, but he left me to go play with his friends.”

“Friends?” asked Pound, putting his hoof out.

“Friends,” he responded, meeting Pounds hoof.

“Wanna go play together and make the most epic sandcastle ever?”

“Yeah! With the three of us I bet we could make something much cooler than my brother can.”

“Is that a challenge, pipsqueak?” asked Sun Glaze.

“You know it!”

“Well, then. I guess it’s on!”

Pumpkin strained, but she couldn’t feel anything.

“What’s wrong?” asked Twilight.

“I was trying to give him a flower as a present, but I can’t make my magic work.”

“Magic takes a lot of work and practice. It can sometimes come out in bursts when you’re feeling strong emotions, but you’re too young to control it all the time right now.”

“Come on, Pumpkin!” said Pound, running over towards her. He tripped over the edge of the sandbox, heading face first to the ground.

“Pound!” said Pumpkin, her horn glowing again as she froze him in place and pulled him back to his hooves.

“Cool!” said Pound. “You saved me.”

“I don’t know how I did it. I just did. And you saved me too before.”

“Maybe,” said Twilight with a smile, “your special magical gift is protecting your brother. That’s why it comes easier for you when you see he’s in trouble. That would be a wonderful gift.”

“Wellllllll… Pound may be an annoying, loud, dumb, dumb, dummyhead, but he’s MY dummyhead.” She hugged her brother, feeling her love for him despite all the times he drove her crazy.

“Right back at you… dummyhead,” Pound said with a laugh.

4: Separation

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“Jerk!”

“Dummyhead!

“Idiot!”

“Ugly!”

“RRAAHH!”

Pound and Pumpkin were in a huge fight, the two of them hitting each other and yelling insults. It was just one of many they had gotten into recently.

“That’s enough, you two!” Pinkie Pie said fiercely, pulling the two apart. “What is going on with you two lately? You’re arguing more than ever.”

“She broke my truck!” said Pound.

“Well, he ripped all the hair out of my doll,” said Pumpkin, the two of them glaring at each other with all the contempt they could muster.

“Be that as it may, there is no excuse for the two of you hitting each other. How many times do I have to tell you to come to me when there’s a problem?”

Pinkie Pie had fallen in quite nicely to her role as disciplinarian. Though she always desired to be laughing and smiling and helping to bestow that gift on others she knew that couldn’t happen when the other party was boiling mad. Thus, she strived to keep the peace between the two kids so that they would be friendly to each other once again.

Mrs. Cake heard the commotion and came into the room, grabbing Pound Cake to help Pinkie split them up. “Oh, what are we going to do with you?”

“Well, time-out doesn’t seem to be doing anything for them,” said Pinkie, frustrated. “I think it’s time we use a new strategy.” Her face lit up with a mischievous smile. “I think I have an idea.”

“Oh, what are YOU gonna do to us?” said Pound Cake defiantly. He usually never took that kind of tone with Pinkie but he had had it with Pumpkin and was just venting.

“Let him go,” said Pinkie. After a few seconds of uncertainty Mrs. Cake released Pound. “I want the two of you in front of me NOW! And no fighting, because I’m going to give you exactly what you want.”

Pound walked over and sat in front of her, giving his sister a dirty look, but not doing anything else. Pumpkin returned the gesture.

“It’s obvious to me that the two of you are tired of each other, thus the constant fighting. So fine. Like I said I’m going to give you exactly what you want. I need a volunteer.”

Pound rolled his eyes before raising his hoof.

“Good. Go grab some stuff to bring with you, because you’re leaving the house for the rest of the day, and neither of you are allowed to talk to or see each other.”

Pumpkin gave a haughty laugh, “You call that a punishment?”

“Maybe for Mom,” said Pound, “because she has to be stuck here with you. I’m so glad I don’t have to see your ugly face today.”

Mrs. Cake went to scold him, but Pinkie shook her head quickly.

Pound went and grabbed a few toys and a coloring book, before saying he was ready. He went over to Pumpkin, a smile on his face, and said in mock politeness, “See you later, ugly.”

Pumpkin responded back in the same tone, “Have fun, booger breath.”

“I’m going to take him over to Fluttershy’s place,” said Pinkie. “She’s good with kids. Let Pumpkin do whatever she wants to.”

“Are you sure about this, Pinkie?” asked Mrs. Cake.

“Yep,” said Pinkie. “I’m sure. I’ll see you later.”

Pinkie left the house with Pound, who let out a huge sigh of relief. “Woohoo!” cried out Pound. “I’m free! Free of my dumb sister.” He began running around, rode on Pinkie’s back for a bit, and was just a ball of energy until they arrived.

Pinkie knocked on the door of Fluttershy’s cottage. After a short time the door opened. “Oh, hi, Pinkie Pie,” said Fluttershy. “How’s it going?”

“Good,” she replied. “Are you free?”

“Sure. Oh, I just made some tea. Would you like some?”

“Yes, indeedy!”

“Hi, Fluttershy!” said Pound, grinning joyfully up at her.

Fluttershy gave him a nuzzle. “Why, hello there, Pound Cake. How are you today?”

“GGGRREEAATTT!” he said, stretching out the word. “I’m being punished!”

A confused look came to her face, making her blink a few times before she looked over at Pinkie questioningly.

Pinkie answered her stare with, “He and Pumpkin have done nothing but fight lately, so I told him that today he’s not allowed to see her at all.”

“I know! Isn’t it wonderful?” Pound ran into the house.

“Um, Pinkie… he doesn’t seem that broken up about it,” said Fluttershy.

“Give it time, my friend,” said Pinkie, giving Fluttershy a few pats on the head as she walked in.

Fluttershy closed the door behind her. She couldn’t suppress a smile as she saw Pound excitedly greeting all of her animal friends. An hour passed by as he rode the bear and played with the animals.

Back at Sugarcube Corner Pumpkin was alone in her room, playing a game with all her stuffed animals. As she looked at Pound’s stuff she felt the desire to wreck more of his things so he’d really have something to be mad about when he got home. She even got up to do it, but ultimately decided against it. Not for Pound’s sake, but for her Auntie Pinkie. She knew that would only upset her. Without Pound there most of her anger had gone away anyway.

She grabbed her toys and went out to the living room, looking for her mom. She found Mrs. Cake manning the cash register. “Hi, Mom!” she said.

“Hello, Pumpkin,” Mrs. Cake said distractedly. There were quite a few customers in the store.

“I know you can’t play because you’re working, but can I help out?”

“I’m sorry, Pumpkin, but you’re still a little young for that. Maybe in a few more years. Go off and play on your own for now.”

She returned to the living room and sat down with a sigh, feeling a little bored. She looked over at the clock. If her mom was busy her dad would be too, baking the stuff for them to sell. She wanted a playmate. She began wishing that Auntie Pinkie had just dropped stupid Pound off at Fluttershy’s and came back so the two of them could play together. How long WAS a day anyway?

At Fluttershy’s cottage Pound had grown bored of the animals, and he went and grabbed the toys he had brought. He sat down at a table and Fluttershy gave him a few pieces of paper to draw on. At first he drew some silly things, weird monster type creatures. On the next page he began laughing as he drew some bad things happening to Pumpkin. One of them had a bucket of water being splashed on her head. Another had her falling into a pit of yucky food while he got to eat cupcakes and pie.

His laughter faded, and a weird feeling went through him. He began drawing again without really thinking about it. When he was done he stopped to look at his latest work and saw he had drawn a picture of him and Pumpkin hugging. A heavy breath escaped him, memories assaulting his mind; of the times they had waited until everyone was asleep and just jumped on one of their beds for a time; or the times the two of them had snuck some extra treats after dinner, with one of them being the lookout while the other snatched up the goodies.

Tears began running down his eyes. He missed his sister.

Without anything else really to do Pumpkin was feeling extremely bored. With their parents working and usually Auntie Pinkie too, there were plenty of times where Pound was her only playmate. She kept looking at the clock every few minutes, wondering when he was coming home, wishing that the day would be over soon. Her memories of the past began coming to her too, of Pound always sticking up for her when she was afraid, or protecting her from bullies, or how he could make her laugh when he did something silly.

An anxious feeling in her chest, she decided to take a risk. Her parents were busy. They wouldn’t notice. She went to the sales floor, heading around the counter. She saw her mom turned around to get something for a customer, and she began running. She made it out the door without being seen or called back.

She knew the way to Fluttershy’s place. Pinkie Pie had had Fluttershy foal-sit the two of them often enough.

Pound was likewise running towards his house. He had made a claim that he was tired and wanted to nap and Fluttershy had taken him upstairs to her room and tucked him into her bed. He had waited until he was sure she was back downstairs before deciding to sneak out. He had heard Fluttershy say that she was going to take the animals outside so he could nap in peace, and Auntie Pinkie had gone with her. It was perfect.

Five minutes later the surprised pegasus suddenly stopped short as he saw Pumpkin coming towards him. Pumpkin screeched to a halt as well, the two nearly colliding.

“What are YOU doing here?” Pound said nastily.

“W-well, what are YOU doing here?” responded Pumpkin angrily.

“Well, I… um… I missed you,” Pound admitted, his façade of rage quickly fading. He was just too happy to see her. He threw his hooves around her

“I… I missed you too,” Pumpkin said, also coming clean as she hugged him back. “It’s so boring when you’re not around.”

They broke apart, and Pound said, “I’m sorry I ruined your doll.”

“And I’m sorry I broke your truck. Forgive me?”

“Yes. You forgive me?”

“I do. Twins?” she asked, putting out her hoof.

“Twins!” Pound responded back happily, meeting her hoof before they hugged again.

“Pound Cake! Pumpkin Cake!”

The two foal’s jumped at the voice of Pinkie Pie. “Uh-oh,” said Pumpkin. “We both broke the rules and ran away from our punishment.”

“And just what is going on here?” asked Pinkie Pie, a reserved look on her face. “I thought I told the both of you that you weren’t allowed to see each other the rest of the day, and now here I find you, both disobeying me.”

Pound spun around to face her, interlocking one of his front hooves with Pumpkins. “I don’t care what you do, but you’re gonna have to cut my leg off if you want me to let go of my sister, because I love her and don’t want to be separated from her again.”

“That’s right!” said Pumpkin. “We’re twins, and I hated not having my brother around. You can’t do anything to split us apart. So do your worst, because no punishment you give us can be as bad as that.” She tightened her grip against Pound’s.

“I see…” Pinkie walked forward, seeing the twins frightened but determined expressions. She gave each of them a kiss, before smiling warmly at the two of them. “Good job.”

“Huh?” the two of them responded.

“I split you guys apart so you’d see what it’s like to be alone. Obviously being separated wasn’t as glorious and happy as you thought it was, huh? And now, after just an hour, here the two of you sit, determined not to be apart again.

“I was following you, Pound. I already knew where you were going, and what was on your mind. So now that you’ve learned your lesson I think we can cut your punishment short. So why don’t you hop on and let’s go back home. I already told Fluttershy where I was going, so now we need to tell your mom so she doesn’t worry.”

“Okay, Auntie Pinkie!” responded the pair.

“You first,” said Pound, gesturing towards Pinkie.

“No, no. You first,” said Pumpkin.

“You.”

“You!”

“YOU!”

“YOOOOOOUUUU!”

“Guys!” cried out Pinkie.

“Oh, right,” said Pound. “Let’s just do it together.”

“Okay,” replied Pumpkin.

So the two of them crawled up onto Pinkie Pie. “Run really fast, Auntie Pinkie!” said Pound, sitting in front, holding her around the neck.

“Really, really fast!” said Pumpkin right after, holding her brother.

“You got it!” replied Pinkie, rearing up a little before running as fast as she could to the twins delighted cheers.

5: Children of Daring Do

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It was a bright sunny day in the jungle. We were traveling deep into the heart of the largest and most dangerous jungle of all, but we were not afraid. I am Braveheart, a pegasus colt. My sister is Strongheart, a unicorn filly.

We’re not just ANY ponies. We are the children of Daring Do herself. Almost from the moment we were able to walk we were trained in her ways. Following her meeting with a pony who taught her not to always rely on herself our mother stopped being so shut in and found a good pony to settle down with, and she got married. We were born after that.

Our mother’s tales of heroism and bravery always inspired us and amazed us. That’s why we try to follow in her hoofsteps. She said that Ahuizotl finally got what was coming to him shortly after the adventure where a blue pony inspired her. That was why she felt safe enough to start a family. She said she could never be sure if Ahuizotl had other friends who would be after revenge. That was why she trained us, so if need be she could send us out on our own to hide. We may only be eight, but our skills are second only to our mother for being able to survive in tough situations.

Today we’re on a quest for the most rare and elusive treasure of all… the Golden Cupcake. Our mother had always planned to get it, but she wasn’t able to do it alone. And after she got married and had us she decided to retire from the explorer game to care for us and her husband. As her children we have to finish her work. The two of us together will surely be able to do what she alone couldn’t.

So now here we stand, the temple in sight. We only have to cross the alligator infested river.

I turned to my sister. “You ready for this?”

She turned back to me. “I was born ready!”

There were a bunch of taller rocks in a set pattern leading across the water. We only had to jump across. One slip, and it could all be over.

I jumped across the gap, landing on the first rock, then the next and the next. When I was halfway across I suddenly heard the scream. I turned around to see Strongheart falling into the water.

She yelled out to me for help. “Aahhhh!” she screamed out in pain. “The alli-alli-hee hee-g-ga-gator-HEE HEE-has m-me.” She continued laughing.

********

“Pumpkin!” said Pound angrily. “You’re ruining it!”

Gummy was chewing on the filly’s leg. “S-sorry,” she replied. “It t-tickles!”

The two children were dressed in safari gear. Pound had a whip.

The living room of Sugarcube Corner had been set up for their adventure story. The two of them were putting on a play for the Cutie Mark Crusaders and their parents, with assistance from Pinkie and her friends. Rarity had made costumes for them. Twilight was in charge of helping with the magic effects. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Spike, and Pinkie were all performers as well. At first Rainbow Dash wasn’t interested… at least until they told her what part she’d be playing and what she’d get to do.

Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle had been put in charge of the twins before, when they had calmed down and stopped being so hyper and became a little more mature. On one of those days Scootaloo had introduced the twins to the Daring Do series, which the twins were quite taken with. They loved the adventures and the characters and were constantly pestering Scootaloo to read more of the story. After a time they decided they wanted to do a pretend story of their own.

On the floor was a group of small upside down tubs representing the rocks, along with a bunch of pieces of blue construction paper representing water.

Pound was in a bad mood now. He had been making it sound so COOL, and stupid Pumpkin had to mess it up. He sat heavily on the floor, scrunching his body into a ball, his hooves crossed, and his mouth a thin frown.

“Come on, Pound Cake,” said Apple Bloom. “Don’t stop now. Yer doin’ great.”

“No!” he said shortly. “It’s ruined!”

“Hey!” said Scootaloo. “I came here to see a play. I introduced you to Daring Do, so you owe me. Don’t be such a sourpuss, Pound, or I won’t read you any more stories.”

“Come on,” said Pumpkin. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. I’m drowning and being attacked over here. You gotta help me. You’re my hero, Pound. Only you can save me.”

Pumpkin’s praise spoke to his ego, and his mood was already improving. He stood back up, saying, “Fine! But no more laughing. This is serious!”

“I’ll try.” Turning to the little alligator she said, “Gummy, stop gumming me so much.” The gator only blinked in response.

“Can we just get back to it already?” said Pound impatiently.

“Okay, okay! Keep your hooves on.” She sat down as Gummy chomped down on her back hoof, but this time he didn’t keep on chewing like before, so it wasn’t nearly as tickly. “I’m ready.”

“Finally!”

****

“Braveheart! Help! An alligator has me!”

Strongheart could see his sister was in big trouble. With a grin he pulled out his trusty whip, and with a single well placed strike hit the gator right in the middle of his face, making it release his sister.

“Catch!” he said, whipping towards his sister, who grabbed it. With a yank he pulled her back up onto the rocks. “Are you okay?” he asked, looking over at her leg.

“Yeah,” she responded. “His teeth weren’t that sharp.” Taking a bandage from Braveheart’s pack she wrapped her leg. “Let’s go.”

Together they finished jumping across the rocks towards the Temple of Deliciousness. “Mom will be so proud of us. The Golden Cupcake will be the best treasure ever.”

The two cautiously approached the temple, looking out for traps. “Hey,” said Strongheart. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Look out!” she suddenly said, pushing her brother out of the way as something went flying past them.

A sinister looking owl was perched on a tree, letting out an ominous, “HOO!”

“Just an owl,” said Braveheart in relief. “I thought it was going to be-”

He didn’t get to finish. A terrifying looking creature came running towards them. It had three heads; one a cat, one a dog, and one a turtle.

Strongheart laughed. “I should have known. Ancient Temples always have a guard animal.”

“Let’s do it! We’ll show it that we’re not scared of it and our Momma taught us well.” Braveheart gave the monster a lash with his whip. Strongheart pulled down a vine from a nearby tree and jumped on top of it. Making a lasso she threw it around their heads and pulled, making the monster come to a stop. “Get on!”

Strongheart jumped on next to her brother, giving the monster another lash to make it go forward, the two kids cheering. It jumped over pits and brought them right to the tower.

The two of them jumped off. The dog head gave Braveheart a lick. “Good girl!” he said, rubbing its head. It gave out a happy bark, before running off.

The Temple of Deliciousness rose up before them in the shape of a giant cupcake with a fountain of chocolate running under it.

Entering the temple they slowly walked through. Braveheart suddenly heard a click, feeling his hoof sinking into the floor a bit. From up above came a rain of stuffed animals. “Oh, no! It’s a trap! Run!”

Braveheart was almost to the next room when he heard his sister cry out for help. One of them had fallen on her. And now a whole mountain of them was descending on her. Taking out his trusty whip like before he flicked it towards her, pulling her out of danger just in time. “That was close!”

“Thanks, bro!” She gave him a hug.

“Be more careful!”

“Hey, this is why we’re doing this together.”

They continued through the temple, avoiding traps like the Pit of Broccoli. Working together the two of them were unstoppable.

Finally they made it the center of the temple. There, on a podium shining with light, was the Golden Cupcake in all its glory.

They walked up the stairs sitting over a deep pit. Braveheart picked up a nice sized rock. “Ready?”

“Yes,” said Strongheart. “One… two… three!” She suddenly picked up the trinket, and Braveheart quickly placed the rock down.

There was a tense feeling in the air. The two of them waited for something bad to happen. They looked around, seeing if anything had changed.

After a short time, when nothing happened, they let out sighs of relief. “We did it!” said Strongheart, the two of them slapping hooves.

They headed down the stairs, and suddenly heard a voice. “Thank you, children of Daring Do. I’ll be taking that.”

A hooded figure walked into the room, accompanied by an orange pony and a dragon.

“Who are you?”

She pulled back her hood, revealing a pink face with blue pointed ears. “I am Quetzalcoatl, daughter of Ahuizotl. Your mom drove my father to his doom. Now I have risen to take his place. I will have the Golden Cupcake. I will use it power my Delicious Cannon, and then all the world’s cupcakes will be mine. Not a single chocolate, vanilla, nor tub of icing will survive except in my home. Then I will be the supreme cupcake queen.

“Now, make it easy on yourself and hand over the Golden Cupcake. NOW!”

“Never!” said Braveheart.

“I expected as much. Go, my servant.”

The orange pony raced at them.

Strongheart and Braveheart looked at each other, smirks on their faces. “Just one pony against the two of us?” said Braveheart. “She underestimates us.”

The orange pony whipped a lasso back and forth, throwing it towards the pair. Strongheart grabbed the lasso out of the air, giving it a hard pull, making her trip onto the floor. With a quick bit of effort Braveheart tied up her hooves, leaving her hogtied.

Quetzalcoatl gasped, before growling. “You’re a bit better than I thought for your ages. Your mother taught you well.”

“Got that right!” the proud colt said.

“Oh, yeah!” agreed the filly.

“Enough of this. Dragon of terror, go retrieve my prize, and you’ll receive your own gift.” She rubbed her pink hoof slowly against a gem set around the dragon’s neck.

The dragon’s face lit up with joy. “You got it.”

He charged at them as well.

Again, the two of them just grinned smugly at each other.

The dragon jumped at Braveheart, who simply dodged out of the way and the dragon fell into the pit behind them.

Quetzalcoatl looked furious now. “You little brats!” She suddenly began laughing. “You’re much better than I thought. However, what are you going to do now?”

“We’re going to fight you and get out of here,” said Strongheart.

“No, I mean what are you going to do about THIS?”

With a whisper of wind Strongheart screamed as she was suddenly lifted up into the air.

“Sister!” yelled Braveheart.

In front of Quetzalcoatl landed a yellow pony with bats for a cutie mark. She had two fangs, one sitting right on top of Strongheart’s neck.

“Now, then. My bat pony here has the ability to suck all the moisture out of things. So now either give me the Golden Cupcake, or she will turn your sister into a shriveled up husk. Make your choice.”

“Don’t do it!” said Strongheart. “A world without cupcakes isn’t worth living in. You have to get out of here.”

“I… I can’t,” said Braveheart. “I won’t lose you. You’re worth more than all the cupcakes in the world. I… I’ll give up the Golden Cupcake.”

“Good!” said Quetzalcoatl. The pegasus walked up to her, hesitated, then held out the Golden Cupcake. “Perfect. I’ll be taking that.” She grabbed the treasure out of his hooves. “And YOU as well!”

“What? Hey!”

Quetzalcoatl yanked up Braveheart by his leg. “I need to get rid of the two of you before you become a pain in my side like your mother was for my father. Say goodbye.”

Quetzalcoatl suddenly felt a tapping on her shoulder. Slightly confused, she turned to look, seeing another pony there.

“Get your hooves off my son!” And with that the blue coated pony socked Quetzalcoatl in the face, knocking her to the ground, catching both Braveheart and the Golden Cupcake.

“Mom!” said Braveheart happily, hugging and nuzzling her. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Of course I’m here. You think I’d miss this party?”

Quetzalcoatl stood up. “Daring Do! Today is the day I get my revenge! Now, my bat-pony. Drain her child dry right in front of her!”

“Not today!” said Braveheart. He threw his hat, hitting the bat-pony in the head, which provided enough of a distraction for her to escape. Just knowing his mom was there filled him with courage.

“Good job, kid!” said Daring Do. “You take care of her. I’ll deal with Quetzalcoatl.”

Seeing that things had turned against them the bat-pony decided to flee. The two children were about to help their mom when they heard a roar, and out from the pit came the dragon from before, but much bigger now.

Quetzalcoatl laughed. “Dragons become bigger, stronger, and more powerful when overtaken by greed. I promised him the gem on his chest if he beat you and got me my treasure. Nothing can stop him!”

“We’ll just see about that,” said Daring Do. “Braveheart, Strongheart, do as your names say and be brave and strong. Don’t lose heart. You can win.”

“Right, Mom!” said the pair.

The dragon ran towards them, releasing green fire. The two of them jumped out of the way. Braveheart jumped on his back, grabbing hold of his head hard and twisting, knocking him off balance and onto his back.

Strongheart used all her strength to pull off the big gem stuck to his chest.

The dragon roared, knocking the two kids off of him as he stood back up.

“Here, boy!” said Strongheart. “I have a nice tasty gem for you.”

The dragon suddenly panted like a dog, drooling with anticipation.

“Chase her away,” Braveheart said, pointing to Quetzalcoatl, “and it’s all yours.”

Quetzalcoatl’s eyes went wide as the dragon growled, setting its eyes on her. Realizing she had lost she began running away, saying, “This isn’t the end! I’ll be back, Daring Do! You’ll pay! You and those little brats!”

When she could no longer be heard the dragon walked in front of Strongheart, giving a meaningful growl.

Strongheart laughed, throwing the gem up into the air.

The dragon chewed it down greedily, and then suddenly shrank back down in size. “Thanks. That was yummy.”

“You did good, kids,” said Daring Do, giving them both a hug.

“Thanks, Mom!” they responded.

“Hey, can we keep him?” Asked Strongheart.

“Plllleeeeease!”

“Keep a dragon?” asked Daring Do with a groan. “Well, he might come in handy if we have to fight Quetzalcoatl again.”

“We?”

“That’s right! We! We’re a family and we have to stick together. You were able to conquer this temple when I couldn’t because you worked together, a lesson I needed to be taught. So forget retirement. There’s still plenty more temples that need to be explored, and treasures that need to be kept safe.

“This victory goes to you for fighting so hard. You saved the day. You’re both heroes!

“Now, let’s go home and make some cupcakes!”

“Woohoo!” they both cheered.

As they went to leave the temple the orange pony cried out, “Hey, what about me? Helloooo?”

6: Nightmare

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“Pinkie Pie!” came the stern voice of Mrs. Cake, cutting through the night.

Pinkie mumbled something incoherent, wiping the sleep from her eyes in the dark. “Yeah, Mrs. Cake?”

“What are you doing sleeping at this hour? You lazy thing.”

“Lazy? What?”

“You spend too much time gallivanting with your friends and sampling too much of the products. And here you are sleeping when the store is still a mess. I’ve had it with you and your slipshod attitude. In the morning you can pack your bags and get out! And don’t ever darken our doorstep again. We don’t need a terrible influence for the kids in our house.”

With that she stormed out.

Pinkie was totally speechless. Leave the house? Leave the shop? Leave the twins? Apart from her family on the rock farm this was the place she had always felt accepted and loved.

She felt sick to her stomach, a heaviness pressing down upon her. Shuffling out of bed she felt like each step was an eternity. She finally made it to the bedroom of Pound and Pumpkin. Opening the door she stepped in, a slight smile on her face to see the two of them were sleeping together again. For a second she wished that she had a twin, but then she remembered the Mirror Pond incident and instantly decided it wasn’t worth it. One of her was already too much for some.

She gently shook the young foals awake. “Pound... Pumpkin?”

The two of them woke up, groaning sleepily. “Yeah?” said Pound.

“What is it?” asked Pumpkin.

“Hey, you guys,” said Pinkie in a quiet voice. “How would you like to sleep with me tonight? I’m… I…” She felt a wealth of emotions rising up inside her, and only barely avoided sobbing, a few tears coming down regardless.

The two of them immediately perked up. “Cool!” they said in unison, jumping out of their bed and onto her back. “Sleepover with Auntie Pinkie!” They slapped each others hooves.

Once more her smile quickly faded, as she tried not to think about the coming day. It was almost unbearable to think of having to leave these two balls of joy. She loved being a caretaker for them. They brought her so much joy and happiness. Was she really a bad influence on them? Sure, she knew she could be more lenient when it came to their misbehaving, but she never let them get completely out of control without scolding them and punishing them for it. She had placed them in time outs before. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but… she did the best she could.

Pinkie walked to her room. As soon as she got near her bed the twins jumped off, already beginning to get wild. They began laughing and snorting as they jumped up and down on the bed, which only made a pang of guilt run through her. Maybe she really wasn’t a fit caretaker for them.

“Come jump with us, Auntie Pinkie!” said Pumpkin.

“Yeah!” said Pound Cake, laughing. When he looked at Pinkie he immediately stopped jumping. Even in the dim light he could see the despair etched on her face. “What’s wrong, Auntie Pinkie?”

Pinkie held back her sobs again, not knowing how to tell them.

Pumpkin stopped her jumping too. “Did you have a bad dream? Do you need a hug?”

“Or a kiss?” asked Pound. “Or BOTH!”

The two of them hopped off the bed, holding onto her and planting kisses on her face. “We love you, Auntie Pinkie!”

It was too much for Pinkie. She broke down completely, unable to hold in her feelings anymore. She grabbed the two of them, her heart full of her love for them. On some of the bad days they had been the ones that had got her going again. She didn't want to leave them behind.

They refused to let her go, asking what was wrong. She couldn’t answer them. Pulling down her covers she laid on the bed, holding tightly to the pair until her feelings began to ebb.

Once she was quiet Pumpkin asked, “You feeling better now, Auntie Pinkie?”

“We’re here for you,” said Pound. “You always help us when we’re sad, so now we’ll help you.”

Even knowing the horrible truth of the morning the outpouring of love they were demonstrating for her made her feel calmer.

Putting aside her misery for the moment she sat up, saying, “Thanks, you guys. I needed that.”

“You’re welcome!” they responded joyfully.

For the next hour she told them stories, some a little scary, some funny. For at least this last night she would have them, and she wanted to make the best of it.

Following that she said they could all jump together on the bed if they promised they would go to sleep right afterward. The two of them agreed, so for the next three minutes or so the three of them chuckled and jumped up and down, enjoying themselves.

When Pinkie said it was over they fought her, asking for a few minutes more, but she was firm, telling them no. Disappointed, they still followed her orders, stopping their jumping.

She lay down on the bed, and the two of them got on opposite sides of her, snuggling in.

“Good night, Auntie Pinkie,” said Pound.

“Yeah, good night,” said Pumpkin.

It took a few moments before Pinkie could respond, “Good night.” Now she was wishing she had given them those extra minutes. This was going to be their last time playing together. She held back her sadness. She knew they would pick up on it, and she didn’t want to burden them anymore. It was going to be difficult enough without her making it worse.

The sound of the snoring of the twins brought a strange measure of peace to her. She knew that they were calm and relaxed and happy. No matter what Mrs. Cake may think of her she had always had their best interests at heart. She fell asleep a short while later, a hoof on both of them.

She was woken up in the morning by one of the twins shaking her. “It’s time for breakfast!” said Pound Cake.

“Let’s go, Auntie Pinkie!” said Pumpkin.

The two of them hopped off the bed without waiting for her, running downstairs.

Pinkie sighed, taking a deep breath. She put Gummy in his cage, packing the essentials in a suitcase and heading downstairs.

She debated whether she was just going to leave without saying anything, as she didn’t think she could bear to see the faces of the twins when they heard she was leaving, but… even if Mr. and Mrs. Cake were displeased with her actions they had still housed her during her stay in Ponyville. She wanted to thank them for their hospitality. She owed them that much.

When she entered the kitchen she could see the four of them at the table. “Good morning…”

“Morning, Pinkie Pie,” said Mrs. Cake genially. When she saw the suitcase she asked, “You’re leaving?”

“Yes, don’t worry. I didn’t forget. You won’t have to worry about me darkening your doorstep or setting a bad influence for the twins anymore.” With a big sigh she said, “Thank you for everything you did for me. Goodbye… forever.”

“WHAT?” came the displeased squeals of the twins.

“But you can’t go!” cried Pumpkin.

“Yeah, we love you, Auntie Pinkie!” said Pound, starting to cry.

Pinkie cried a little herself, seeing their anguish. “It’s not up to me, kids. It’s what your mom wants.”

“MO-OM!” screamed the twins.

“How could you?” snapped Pound.

“I hate you!” yelled Pumpkin.

“WHAT?” cried out Mrs. Cake, surprise and horror etched on her face. “Where did you get such an idea?”

“Last night,” said Pinkie. “You came in and told me I was a bad caretaker… that I play too much and eat too much of the products.”

Mrs. Cake looked dejected. “Pinkie Pie, that was only a nightmare! I would never say such things to you. You’re the heart and soul of our shop and a glorious asset to us.”

Pinkie gulped back her feelings. “It’s okay. You don’t have to pretend.”

Cup Cake ignored the twins who were continuing their verbal barrage, and left the room. She came back a minute later. “Here, Pinkie.”

Pinkie Pie took the photo album from her, seeing it was entitled, “Cake Family History.” “What’s this for?” she asked.

“Just go through it, okay?”

Pinkie opened the first page, seeing four photo’s. Two of a baby Cup Cake and two of a baby Carrot Cake. As she continued flipping through the pages she could see that the pattern held. Each left page had Cupcake, and each right side had Carrot Cake. It showed various stages of life, of them growing. After that it started showing them together, when they had fallen in love and began dating. After that was the wedding. And then finally of them starting their life with their new sweet shop. As she flipped to the next page she started seeing herself as a filly, when she had begun hanging around the shop all the time and they had agreed to let her rent out the top floor.

Pages upon pages were devoted to the three of them, and if Pinkie hadn’t known better she would have thought she was their daughter. It brought a smile to her face.

The next few pages were devoted to the pregnancy and birth of the twins, and there were plenty of shots dedicated to just her and the twins, or of the five of them together.

When she was done she put the book down, and Mrs. Cake said, “Do you see it, Pinkie Pie? Before we had Pound and Pumpkin we already had a child. We had you. You brightened our lives and made so many rough days easier. You brought laughs and joy and smiles to us, and we could never replace you with anyone. Whatever you thought you heard last night was just a lie.” She placed a hoof around Pinkie, giving her a hug. “I love you, my wonderful daughter.”

Pinkie was shaking and sniffing, beginning to cry again as she hugged Mrs. Cake back. “T-thank you. Thank you! I love you, all of you, so much! My life just wouldn’t be the same without you.”

“So does this mean that Auntie Pinkie is staying?” asked Pound.

“That’s right!” responded Mrs. Cake.

“Hooray!” The pair cheered. Pound and Pumpkin ran up to her, each of them climbing up her body until they were on her shoulder, hugging her neck. “We love you, Auntie Pinkie!”

She could feel the love of her second family around her, the feelings going through her so wonderful. “I love you too!"

7: Runaways

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“Just look at it, guys,” said Pinkie Pie with pride. “This cake puts even the Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness to shame.”

“Whoa…,” said the twins.

Pinkie walked up to the cake, an accomplished look on her face. “This is a world record for sure.” She looked up and down, taking in every detail of her masterpiece. The cake had ten layers, and on every one she had made every flavor and topping imaginable. “I’d give a name to it, but even I have my limits. It would take about five minutes to list every single detail of this bad boy.”

“So is that gonna be our dinner for tonight?” asked Pound Cake with a giggle.

“Yeah!” said Pumpkin. “With mom and dad away for the weekend that means NO RULES!”

“YEAH! No rules!”

“Oh, is this right?” asked Pinkie, her eyes narrowing. “I may be more tolerant than your parents but there are still rules I expect you to follow. You understand me?”

“Yes, Auntie Pinkie,” they replied, sounding contrite.

Pinkie looked shrewdly at the two foals. “I report to your parents, you know? I’ll make you just a little nibble of dinner so I can tell them truthfully that I made sure you had dinner before desert. Right?” She winked at them.

“WOOHOO!” The two cheered, slapping their hooves together.

“Now you two behave yourselves.” She let out a yawn. “I’m gonna take a little nap . If you stay out of trouble and don’t fight I’ll make sure you get a nice reward later.”

“Okay.”

Pinkie left the room, heading up the stairs to her bedroom.

The two twins looked at each other. “So what do you want to do?” asked Pound.

“We can play tag,” responded Pumpkin.

“Okay.” He poked her chest. “You’re it!” He laughed as he began running.

“Hey!” She started chasing after him around the living room. “I’m gonna get you, Pound.”

“Come and get me, sis!” He slid underneath the couch, coming out the other side. As Pumpkin tried to do the same he hopped up on top of the couch, jumping towards the banister of the staircase, giggling like mad. He slid down, flying into the air a bit as he hit the bottom. Pumpkin intercepted him, jumping and just barely tapping him before he could land.

She ran away, sticking her tongue out at him. “Got ya!”

“I’m coming! Get ready.” Pound only had eyes for his sister, and she kept looking at him, daring him to get her. His sister was slower than him in straight running, so he was catching up to her. He could see she was about to make a turn so he jumped at her, landing on her and the two of them turned over multiple times until they collided into something soft and wet, stopping their momentum.

Pound pushed away from his sister, seeing her covered in something rainbow colored. He looked at his hoof, seeing the same thing. He saw something swaying overhead, and as he looked up he gasped before it fell on the two of them.

Pumpkin pushed her way out of the mess, pulling Pound out too. As she looked over she let out a squeal, seeing the cake Pinkie had worked so hard on was completely ruined. The two of them looked at each other, shaking like leaves. “W-w-what do we do, Pound?” she asked, tears starting to form in her eyes. “Auntie Pinkie is going to be so mad! She was going to have that cake judged by the Equestrian World Record guys."

“I-I-I d-don’t know!” His voice squeaked as he began sniffing. “Um… let’s clean up first, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

“O-okay.”

The two of them quietly headed up the stairs to the bathroom, washing all the cake off of themselves.

Sneaking up to the top floor the two of them saw Pinkie sound asleep. Not knowing how long they had they raced downstairs to the kitchen.

Getting another look at the destroyed cake they quickly came to the conclusion that there was no way they were going to be able to fix it. They didn’t know how to bake.

Pumpkin was sniffing, on the verge of a breakdown. Shaking her brother hard she said in a strained voice, “What do we do, Pound?”

“Um… um…” His eyes went back and forth a few times, before he began crying too. “We don’t have a choice. We have to leave. We’ll run away. That way Auntie Pinkie can’t punish us. She’s going to hate us anyway. Why should we get yelled at too?”

“R-run away? But where are we going to go? How are we going to eat?”

“I’m… I’m still thinking about that, but do you have any better ideas?”

She let out a groan, looking at the floor. “Nooo.” She fell onto her brother, sobbing a little. “Why are we so stupid?”

“Don’t cry, Pumpkin,” Pound said reassuringly, his natural protectiveness kicking in as he patted his sisters back. Talking much more bravely than he felt he said, “We’ll be okay. We can go to Fluttershy’s house. Or Twilights. Or Applejack’s. We have plenty of friends. They’ll take us in.”

“I… I guess you’re right.”

The two of them left the house. Pound looked around. “Well, I guess we should go to Fluttershy’s. I don’t really know where exactly any of the other houses are.”

“Okay,” Pumpkin said emotionlessly.

As the two young foals walked through town Pound saw his sister barely paying attention to where she was going. He didn’t like to see his sister so upset. She looked so miserable he just couldn’t stand it. “Pumpkin, you don’t have to feel sad. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.”

“That’s nice of you to say, but we both ruined the cake. If Auntie Pinkie or Mom or Dad catch us then we’re both gonna get in big trouble.” Tears poured down her eyes as she begin shaking. “I’m so scared. What if Auntie Pinkie never talks to us again? She worked so hard on that cake.”

“Stop, Pumpkin!” The colt pulled his sister to a halt. Looking into her eyes with all the composure he could muster he said, “She’ll still talk to you. You saw with those bullies that I won’t let anybody else pick on you. I don’t care who it is. No matter if it’s a bully, or Auntie Pinkie, or ever Mom and Dad… I won’t let anybody hurt you, Pumpkin.

I did it! I did it all. I ruined the cake. I got wild and I knocked the cake over. Just me, not you. If anyone asks that’s what I’ll tell them. Pinkie Promise.” He moved his hooves in the manner that Pinkie taught him. “I’ll take all the blame if it’ll make you stop shivering and put a smile back on your face.”

Pumpkin blinked tears out of her eyes. She thought back to when Auntie Pinkie had taught them about Pinkie Promises. “A Pinkie Promise is the most serious vow you can ever make. At least to me. A Pinkie Promise is something you make with your whole heart and soul. Once you make it you can never take it back. Anyone who breaks a Pinkie Promise is someone who can’t be trusted, unless they have a very, very good reason.”

She closed her eyes tight but tears still poured down her eyes. She knew Pound was being dead serious in saying he would take all the punishment for their actions. She threw herself at him, sobbing a little. “O-oh, Pound! You’re the best!”

Pound felt himself smiling. Just before she had jumped at him he had seen a little grin on her face.

When she pulled back she gave him a peck on the cheek. “I love you, Pound.”

“Ugh!” he moaned, scrubbing his cheek with his hoof. “Don’t DO that! I don’t need your dumb cooties.”

“Fine.” She rolled her eyes with a giggle. “Let’s keep walking.”

Pound was beaming. He could see Pumpkin was in much better spirits now. Giving her a warm look he thought that any punishment he would receive would be worth it just to see his sister feeling cheerier.

***

“Hmm? Ow!” Pinkie Pie opened her eyes, feeling something tugging hard at her mane. As her vision focused she could make out Gummy. “Gummy!” she whined. “What are you doing? I’m trying to sleep.” He only gave her another hard tug. “Ugh. Fine.” She sat up and he released her. “What’s up?”

Gummy blinked one eye, the one closer to the door.

“Come oh, Gummy. I’m not in the mood for games.” She looked towards the entrance to her room. “There’s nothing there. I’m going back to bed. I’ll play with you later, okay?” She set her head back down, but only got a few seconds of peace before she yelped as he pulled her mane hard.

Gummy jumped off the bed, giving a small hop and walking out the door.

Pinkie sighed before getting up. Gummy seemed unusually worked up. He was usually so calm and easygoing. She followed him down the stairs. As he headed towards the staircase to the ground floor she noticed a peculiar lack of noise. The twins were never this quiet. Feeling a sense of dread she started to think she understood why Gummy was acting this way. She picked him up, running downstairs to the ground floor. The front door was wide open.

“Pound! Pumpkin!” Pinkie yelled out, getting no response. She headed to the kitchen, and saw the ruined cake. She began shaking, her heart racing. She looked behind her to the open door, her dread hardening into terror. “Oh, no! No, no, no! The twins. They’ve been foalnapped!”

She made a rapid search of the house just to make sure, calling out their names all the while, but she didn’t see any sign of them. Her mane slumped, tears coming down her eyes. Her breathing became short and she was having trouble getting oxygen into her lungs. She thought of Mr. and Mrs. Cake. They had trusted her to take care of their children while they were away. This couldn’t happen! She loved the twins. After that talk just a few days ago she wondered if her nightmare was actually going to become real this time. Mrs. Cake would never forgive her if she lost her precious babies.

She had to get her friends. If there was some kind of attack and someone came after them they would likely go to someone they trusted. Of her friends she thought Fluttershy was the best bet. She was the one who watched them the most, after all.

***

Pound Cake knocked on the door of Fluttershy’s cottage. The two of them waited for a little bit before the door opened.

“Hi, Fluttershy,” said Pound, putting on a smile.

“Oh! Hello, you two,” she responded. “How are you today?”

“Alright, I guess. Can we come in?”

Fluttershy looked up, but didn’t see anyone else. “Are you two alone?”

The two of them shared a quick glance, before Pumpkin said, “We’re… um, we’re... playing hide and seek!”

Fluttershy’s eyebrow went up. “Hide and seek? But Sugarcube Corner is like ten minutes away from here.”

“It’s EXTREME hide and seek!” Pound piped up. “We have to go to one of our friend’s houses, and she has to find us. You can’t tell her we’re here. It would ruin the game. Pinkie Promise?”

Fluttershy could tell that despite their energetic attitudes that they were hiding something. There was a guilty look about them. She knew Pinkie was protective of the twins. Pinkie would never just let them wander alone. Add in the fact they wanted a Pinkie Promise for her to keep silent, and she knew that they had done something bad they were trying to cover up.

“Sounds fun,” she responded. “Pinkie Promise.” She moved her hooves around, and she saw the two of them let out giant sighs of relief. If she had had any doubt before it was gone now. She knew they had messed up big time. Given a little time she would give them some gentle nudges to open up. Once they told her what the problem was she would push them to go back home to remedy the situation.

The two sat on the floor, wondering what to do. Fluttershy came up to them. “It’s feeding time. Would you like to help me feed the animals?”

“Okay,” Pound responded.

“Sure,” said Pumpkin.

For the next ten minutes the three of them gathered all of Fluttershy’s animal friends and helped fill up their bowls.

All three of them jumped as they heard a series of loud bangs on the front door. “Fluttershy! Fluttershy! Are you home? Open the door.”

The twins looked at each other, their hearts beginning to race. “Oh, no,” whispered Pumpkin. "It’s Auntie Pinkie.”

“Run,” he responded. “Upstairs. Fluttershy won’t sell us out. She Pinkie Promised.”

Pumpkin nodded, and the two ran up the stairs to the second floor. Kneeling, they looked down at the front floor, barely out of sight.

Fluttershy opened the door, and saw Pinkie looking a nervous wreck. Her mane was pretty deflated, which was always a bad sign. “Hi, Pinkie Pie. What’s wrong?”

“Have you seen Pound and Pumpkin today? I took a nap, and when I woke up the cake I made was a mess and the front door was wide open. The twins aren’t in the house, and I have to find them.”

Her eyes automatically glanced towards the top of the stairs to where the twins were. She was in an unwinnable position. If she lied Pinkie would futilely search all over town in a panic. If she told the truth she’d be breaking her promise to the twins and break their trust in her. She tried a third option. “The cake? You mean the one you spent all week working on?”

“Yeah! It was completely wrecked. Cake all over the floor. So have you seen them?”

“That’s such a shame about the cake. I know how hard you were working on it.”

Pinkie gave Fluttershy a strained look. “Fluttershy! Why do you keep talking about the cake? Don’t you think there’s something more important than that? The twins are MISSING!”

She began crying, her mane going completely straight. “I can always make another cake, but the twins… the twins are irreplaceable. I love the two of them so much. They fill my heart with joy and love and make the hard days easier. They love to sleep with me and play with me and I can’t imagine a day without them. I wouldn’t be able to bear it if anything happened to them because I was taking a nap. This time Mrs. Cake is definitely going to throw me out of the house. I can’t stand it! I feel like such a horrible pony.” She fell to the ground, her legs too weak to keep her up, and she began sobbing.

The twins both began wailing right along with her, running down the stairs after her. They threw their hooves around her. “We’re sorry, Auntie Pinkie!” they cried out.

Pinkie blinked, hearing the familiar voices. She looked left and right and saw the both of them. “You guys!” Her mane poofed back up. She wiped her face, but the tears still kept flowing. She picked the two of them up, holding them close. “You’re okay!”

“I did it!” Pound said. “I ruined the cake!”

“Me too!” said Pumpkin. “I suggested we play tag.”

“And I tackled her and knocked the both of us into the cake. I’m sorry!”

“Me too! I’m so sorry, Auntie Pinkie!”

“Do you hate us now?”

“Of course I don’t hate you!” Pinkie said, squeezing the two of them. “I could never hate you. You’re more precious to me than my own life. You don’t know just how happy I am to see the two of you.

"Like I said to Fluttershy I can always make another giant cake, but you two Cakes are one of a kind. I can’t make another Pound Cake or Pumpkin Cake half as special as the two of you.” She gave them another squeeze. “And don’t you forget it! If something like this happens again just come to me and apologize. Don’t run away. I may get mad or upset but I’ll always forgive you. Can you promise me that?”

“Pinkie Promise!” said Pound, moving his hooves as he said, “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

“Pinkie Promise!” Pumpkin said, copying her brother.

“Thanks, you guys,” responded Pinkie. “That means a lot to me.”

“Well, we think you’re one of a kind too, Auntie Pinkie.”

“Yeah!” said Pound. “There’s nobody else in the whole world like you, and we’re so happy we have you as our aunt. Nobody else could ever come close to you for fun and love.”

“Thank you,” said Pinkie, a tear coming down her eye. “Thank you.”

8: Divorce???

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Pound and Pumpkin were in their room, building a castle out of blocks. It was taller than the two of them. Pumpkin was holding a block, putting a piece on the top. “Careful!” said Pound. “Don’t knock it over. Gentle… gentle.”

With a frown she gave him a push. “Will you hush up? You’re making this harder than it needs to be.”

“Sorry.”

Pumpkin took a deep breath, slowly lowering the block on top, a bead of sweat coming down her face. Stupid Pound had made her nervous. Just as she put the block up top there was a bang from downstairs, making her jump. The whole tower collapsed.

“Come on, Pumpkin!” Pound said angrily. “This is why I told you to be careful!”

Pumpkin wasn’t worried about the castle. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Pound responded distractedly, then he strained his ears and he could hear it too.

“It sounds like Mom and Dad.”

“Let’s listen,” he whispered. The two of them opened their door a crack, and now they could hear it.

“That’s just stupid!” they heard their mom yelling. “I’m going, and that’s that!”

“And I say you’re not!” their dad yelled back.

“I’d like to see you stop me!”

“And just why are you going to hang out with another stallion?”

“And his GIRLFRIEND! Oh, what? Are you jealous? Someone has to be here to watch the twins. I just want to have a nice day out for a change. Is that a crime?

"Maybe if you stepped up to the plate once in a while and took me out I wouldn’t have to have someone ELSE do it.”

“Well, fine! Maybe I’ll just go hit up one of my ex-girlfriends and see how YOU like it!”

“FINE!”

“FINE!”

A few seconds later the front door slammed.

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other, their eyes tearing up. Pumpkins lip was quivering as she grabbed her brother. “P-P-Pound!” she said, hiccupping. “D-did you hear that?”

Pound was shaking, trying not to break down, but he couldn’t help it. He grabbed his sister back and broke down crying. When she heard him start Pumpkin broke down right along with him. The two of them wailed and sobbed for a good while.

When they finally settled down a bit Pumpkin asked in a shaky voice, “W-what are we gonna do? I don’t like it when Mom and Dad fight. W-what if this was the last straw?” She gasped, shaking Pound hard. “What if they get a divorce and don’t want to live together anymore? W-what if… what if they split us apart too? It would be so sad if I didn’t get to play with you every day.”

Pound tensed up. His sister's questions weren’t doing anything to improve his mood. He had to calm himself down. He knew how much Pumpkin looked to him for strength. “Enough, Pumpkin!” he said sternly. “We can’t be thinking like that. It’s just one fight. They… they’ve had fights before. I mean, we fight all the time. But we always make up, right? Maybe they just need a little time apart.”

“And-and-and what if they decide they like it better apart and start spending more time away from each other and then they never wanna see each other again?”

“Well… we… we’ll just have to do something to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“L-like what?” Pumpkin asked, wiping some tears from her eyes.

“I’m thinking! Oh, I wish Auntie Pinkie was here. She’d know what to do.”

“Why did she have to go hang out with her friends TODAY?”

“Come on! I have an idea.” He took his sister by the hoof, and the two of them walked downstairs. They heard the sound of the shower going in the bathroom. “Good. Daddy is busy. That should give us some time."

“Time to do what?”

He went into the next room, going to the table. “We’re gonna set up a date for them.”

“A date?”

“Yeah. Mommy said that she was going out with some friends because they don’t have enough private time together. So I figure if we can just set up something really special for the two of them they’ll make-up and be all kissy and mushy and stuff and then neither of them will be angry anymore.”

Pumpkin’s face lit up. “Pound, you’re a genius!” She gave him a kiss, making him recoil.

“Ugh!” Pound moaned, rubbing his cheek hard. “How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?”

“Sorry,” she said with a big smile. “So now what about this date?”

“Hmmm. We should make them dinner. A romantic dinner. Go get the fancy tablecloth. I’ll go get the fine plates and silverware.”

“Right!” Pumpkin nodded, going off to the closet.

Pound moved a chair to get up onto the counter. Opening it he pulled out a few plates and glasses. He hopped off the counter. He landed on the chair, but the impact made his knees buckle and the plates went flying out of his hooves, smashing onto the floor. “Oh, no!” he cried out. “This is terrible!” Tears came down his eyes.

Pumpkin came running in. “Are you alright?” she asked in concern.

“No!” he said with a small sob. “I broke the plates into a million bajillion pieces.”

“Don’t cry, Pound. It was just an accident. We still have the table… cloth...” Giving him an awkward smile she lifted it up, showing a big hole running down the bottom. “I… kinda ruined the tablecloth. It must have got stuck on a nail or something on the ground, and it ripped when I came running in here.”

“Oh, great! What else can go wrong?” He sniffed. “This is the stupidest idea ever! Just forget it. I’m such an idiot.” He sat on the floor and curled himself up into a ball, muffled sobbing coming from him.

Pumpkin put a hoof on his head, pulling it up. “Come on, Pound. Stop crying! We can still do something special for them.”

“No! You’re right! They’re gonna get divorced and we’re never gonna see each other again! I can’t stand it. Just leave me alone.”

Pumpkin started feeling discouraged, but then she got an idea. Giving him a devious smile she said, “You’re gonna get up and help me, or else.”

“Or else wha-YUCK!”

Pumpkin planted a kiss on his cheek. “Kissy, kissy, kissy.”

Pound tried to fight her off, but she just kept kissing every open area on his head, completely distracting him. “Alright, alright! I give up! You win!”

“That’s better. Now get up.”

“Fine,” he said, standing up.

As they worked they heard the shower stop, and their dad went upstairs.

“Hurry up!” Pound said. “We don’t want him to come in here and ruin the surprise.”

“Oops!”

“Whoa!”

“Sorry!”

“Ugh!”

Try as they might, the two children kept making mistakes. They put their heart into in though, and they hoped it would be enough for their parents.

They were a mess by the time they were done. Wiping his face with his hoof he said, “Let’s go wash up. And then we should clean up the kitchen to make it look nicer."

While the two of them were in the bathroom Cup Cake came home. Hearing the sound of the door Carrot Cake came downstairs. The two of them glared at each other for a few seconds as their pride flared up, but then their faces softened. “I’m sorry I got so jealous,” said Carrot Cake. “I should have trusted you more.”

“And I’m sorry for being so nasty about it,” responded Cup Cake. “Having to care for the twins and the bakery doesn’t give us a whole lot of time to just have a nice night together. It can be exhausting to do nothing but work and be a caretaker.”

“I understand,” he responded, a tear coming to his eye. “I really do. I thought a lot about it while you were gone. You are more precious to me than anything, and I just want you to be happy. You deserve the best and to have some time for yourself.” Putting a hoof around her he gave her a peck on the lips.

She let out a little giggle. “I forgive you, my favorite stallion. You’re irreplaceable to me, too.”

As Pound and Pumpkin left the bathroom they heard the voices and the two of them began to panic. Although quiet, they could clearly make out the voices of their parents. “Oh, no!”

“Mom’s back!”

“This is bad!”

“Hurry! Before they start fighting again!”

The two of them ran through the kitchen, pushing open the swing doors. “Wait!” screamed Pound.

“Stop!” yelled Pumpkin.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake looked toward their children. “Hello, you two,” said Cup Cake.

Pound ran up to Carrot Cake, while Pumpkin ran up to Cup Cake. “Close your eyes and don’t say anything!” said Pound.

“We have a surprise for you!” said Pumpkin.

The two looked at each other and shrugged, closing their eyes, letting their children drag them.

Pound gave a worried look to Pumpkin, whispering, “The kitchen is still a huge mess.”

Pumpkin winced. “Too late now,” she whispered back. “Maybe they’ll work together to yell at us at least.”

The two of them pushed open the swivel doors, and then they said, “Okay. You can open your eyes.”

As Cup Cake and Carrot Cake opened their eyes they both gasped. There was mushy food all over the floor, as well as broken dishes and silverware. “What is all this?” snapped Cup Cake. “THIS is the surprise?”

“I know! I know!” said Pound. “We promise we’ll clean it all up later. Can’t you just look at the table?”

Carrot Cake glanced over, and his eyebrow went up. There, on their kitchen table, were two plates of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and two bowls of cereal. Underneath it was a tablecloth with a bunch of baby animals that they had used when Pound and Pumpkin were babies, plastic cups with apple juice in them, some crumpled up napkins, and a set of a fork, spoon, and a knife arranged in a haphazard manner.

“What is all this?” asked Carrot Cake.

“Um… well… it’s a date.”

“Yeah,” Pumpkin said sheepishly. “We just want you two to have a good time together.”

Cup Cake walked up, picking up a drawing in the middle of the table leaning against a vase. “What’s this?” she asked, looking at a white blob with a red one up top.

Pumpkin looked awkwardly at the floor. “Well… we know you’re supposed to light candles for a fancy dinner, but you always tell us not to mess with fire. So, um… I just decided to draw a candle instead. I mean, I know it’s not as good as the real thing, but I did my best…” Pumpkins face was red hot as she blushed.

Pound sniffed, tears brimming his eyes. “We know! We stink at making things romantic, but each of us tried our hardest for you! B-because we heard you two arguing!”

Pumpkin sniffed too, also beginning to cry. “We just wanted to do something special so you won’t hate each other, and then you won’t get divorced and then I’ll never see Pound again!” Her eyes clenched tight as she grabbed Pound.

“We tried!” Pound said emotionally, before he grabbed onto his sister and broke down too.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake both started to cry right along with their children. Each of them walked up and grabbed one of them, sitting down at the table. “Oh, Pumpkin… Pound,” said Cup Cake. “Where did you ever get the idea we were going to get divorced?”

“W-we heard you arguing!” responded Pound. “You were going out with a guy. And-and-and Dad said he was going to go out with a girl!”

“Listen to me, you two,” said Carrot Cake. “The two of us were both just angry. We’re a couple. We’re married. We fight just like the two of you fight with each other. But don’t you always forgive each other and become friends again with a little time? Your mother is the only one for me, and she always will be. Nobody can replace her. Right before the two of you burst in we had already made up.”

“R-really?” Pumpkin asked hopefully.

“Yes, sweetheart,” said Cup Cake, giving her daughter a hug. “Do you want to know the most important part of being a parent is?”

“What?” asked Pound.

“That your children always come first. Even if me and your father hated each other and wanted nothing to do with each other we would still stay together for your sake. We know how much the two of you love each other, and it would be wrong to force you to lose your twin because of our selfishness. It would be even more wrong to force you to choose between the two of us. We would never put you through that.”

“That’s right!” said Carrot Cake, giving Pound a kiss on the forehead. “We would never hurt you like that.

“Thank you, Pound… Pumpkin. Thank you for going through all this trouble to set up something special for us. Its true that we don’t often have time to spend together, just the two of us. I’d like to change that.”

“So you’re really okay?” asked Pumpkin. “You’re not mad at each other anymore?”

“No,” their parents replied in unison.

“Great!” said Pound happily, hopping off his dads lap. “Come on, Pumpkin.”

“Right!” she responded joyfully. “Enjoy your date. We promise to be super quiet so you can have a really special night together!”

The two of them ran off, hopping and skipping and cheering all the way until they got back to their room.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake looked with some amusement at their “romantic” dinner. Lifting up her cup of juice Cup Cake said, “To our children.”

“To our children,” he replied, meeting her cup. “Messy peanut butter and jelly and a bowl of Oatio’s. Yummy.” Picking up Pumpkin’s drawing he asked with a laugh, “Would you like me to get a real candle?”

“No,” she responded, her eyes getting moist. “We already have two things that make our hearts burn brighter than a candle ever could.”

“Yeah. You’re right.” He put the picture back in the middle of the table, smiling warmly at it. “We certainly do.”

9: Tragedy-the bond between twins

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Pumpkin sat on her mother’s lap at the hospital, quietly crying. She looked over at her brother, sleeping in the hospital bed. His right front leg was in a cast, and bandages were wrapped around his stomach. There was a breathing tube on his mouth, pumping oxygen into his system. Around his head were more bandages. At various points on his chest were suction cups attached to a heart monitor.

As she looked at her brother she couldn’t help but think about how it was all her fault. The two of them had gotten into a gigantic fight earlier, hitting and pushing and shoving each other. At one point Pound had grabbed her hair and ripped out a few strands, holding it up and laughing at her. She had really lost her temper then. Her magic had burst to life, and everything around her was shoved away. Pound got knocked into a bookshelf.

That was all she intended, to hurt him a little. He had gotten up fine, but then the impact caused the whole thing to topple over. She had barely had time to warn him to move before a cascade of books came down upon him, along with the bookshelf itself. She had tried, she really did, to use her magic to get him out of danger. She was still too inexperienced, her magic only coming in short bursts when she was in very emotional states. She had managed to divert some of the books, but it hadn’t been enough. She could still remember the sickening cracking nose the bookshelf had made when it slammed into the back of his head.

Letting out a yell she screamed for her parents, using her magic to do as much as she could until they ran in and helped her uncover him. There was a large bruise on his head and he wasn’t responding to any of them. She could still remember the expression on his face. His eyes were open, but there was no life in them. They quickly rushed him to the hospital.

“M-m-mommy! I’m sorry!” She sniffed, tears blurring her vision. “I’m sorry! It’s my fault! It’s all my fault!” She sobbed into her mother’s chest. “I shouldn’t have gotten so mad! I didn’t mean for my magic to do that!”

“There, there,” Cup Cake said, holding her daughter closer to her. “It was just an accident. Your brother will recover.”

“No!” she yelled. “I hurt him. I almost killed him! I’m the worst pony ever. You should give me up as your daughter.”

“Shhhh,” said Carrot Cake, rubbing her head. “Stop it now, Pumpkin. It was an accident! I know it hurts, but sometimes these things happen.”

Despite her parents assurances she still didn’t feel convinced. She continued shaking and crying.

A doctor came into the room. “Hello, there. I am Doctor Brown. I just wanted to give you an update on your son’s condition.”

“Okay,” said Cup Cake.

“Is my brother gonna be alright?” Pumpkin asked urgently, her voice cracking.

The doctor walked over to the side of the room, placing up some x-rays. “He broke his right foreleg and sprained a rib from all the things falling on him. If that was all it was we could still expect a full recovery in a few months. However, the biggest matter of concern is that he was brought in unconscious. That bump on his head is worrisome. He’s in a coma right now, which is never a good thing. Until he wakes up his fate is in the air. If he regains consciousness within a few hours and seems to be coherent then I have high hopes he’ll recover, but there isn’t much else we can do until he’s awake. I’m sorry, little one. We’ve done all we can for the time being.”

Pumpkin nodded, looking down at the floor with a frown.

“If his condition changes be sure to let us know.” With that, the doctor bowed his head a little and took his leave.

***

“Where… where am I?” Pound asked, looking around at his surroundings. He was in the middle of Ponyville, but it didn’t look right. Everything was blurry and distorted, buildings were floating, the sky was green, and there was absolute quiet, not a soul in sight. He walked around cautiously, calling out for anyone to help him. “Hello? HELLO! Mom? Dad? Pumpkin? Auntie Pinkie?” He walked through town, feeling discouraged that no one was answering.

“I don’t like to be alone,” Pound said with a sniff, a few tears coming down his eyes. “Why would they do that to me? It’s dangerous.”

“You’re not alone, little one.”

Pound spun around, looking for the source of the voice. There was a unicorn there he had never seen before. He was gray with a long black mane that covered most of his face. “W-who are you?” he asked, feeling afraid.

“Are you lost?” the unicorn responded, ignoring his question.

“Um… yes. I don’t see my family anywhere.”

“That’s too bad. I could help you. Where do you live?”

Pound hesitated, backing up a step. His parents had warned him about talking with strangers. As he looked around though he realized that he was kinda stuck. He needed someone to help him get home. “I… I live at Sugarcube Corner.”

“Ah! That’s that marvelous sweet shop. I’m Night Guide. What’s your name?”

Pound reluctantly told the stranger his name. “I’m Pound Cake. My mom is Cup Cake, and my dad is Carrot Cake.”

“Okay, then, Pound Cake. Let’s get you home.” Night Guide came over and put his hoof out. After a few seconds Pound took it, following the stallion towards his house. He sure hoped his family was home.

***

Three hours had passed. The beeping of the monitor remained steady. Pound was still, his breathing the only movements he was making. Pumpkin had moved to her dad’s lap so her mom could stay by her brother. Her dad was rubbing her back, and she was half-asleep, but every time she felt like she was about to conk out she shook her head so she’d stay awake. If her brother regained consciousness the first thing she wanted to do was tell him how sorry she was. She had never intended to do this to him, no matter how much he annoyed her.

“Pumpkin,” said her dad gently, “You should get some sleep.”

“No!” she said strongly. “I’m not going to sleep! I want to be awake when Pound gets up.”

“How about this?” He moved his hooves the way Pinkie taught them and said, “I Pinkie Promise that if your brother wakes up that you’ll be the first one I tell. If you’re going to talk to your brother you should be awake for it. You’re exhausted.” He gave her a kiss and said, “I’m worried enough about your brother. I don’t want to have to worry about you too, sweetheart.”

Pumpkin sniffed, tears coming down her eyes. “O-okay, daddy. I… I’ll try. I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry for what I did! Please don’t hate me!”

“Shh, shh, shh. It’s okay, Pumpkin. We’ve already told you we don’t blame you. It was an accident. How many times do we have to tell you that? Your brother will be fine. He’s tough. You should know that better than anyone else. Pinkie told me how he stood up to a pony twice his size to try to protect you.”

Despite her turbulent emotions that memory brought a smile to Pumpkins’ face. “Yeah… you’re right. He’ll be fine.” Feeling comforted by her memories and her dad’s promise she closed her eyes, letting herself drift off to sleep.

***

Pound felt so relieved as his house came into view. He raced inside, leaving Night Guide behind. “Mom! Dad! I’m home!” He waited, but no one responded. “Uh-oh. Don’t tell me they’re not here either? Where else would they be? Why would they just abandon me like that?” Tears came down his eyes again as he looked around the ground floor. He went through the kitchen, the bathroom, the living room. Everything looked as it always did, but his parents weren’t there. No Pumpkin. No Auntie Pinkie. Nobody.

“What’s wrong?” asked Night Guide.

“They’re not here!” Pound cried out, wiping his eyes.

“Don’t you worry about that. I’m sure they’ll be back soon. Say... aren’t you getting tired?” The unicorn looked deep into his eyes, and Pound shook his head as drowsiness began to overtake him. “Don’t you just feel so sleepy?” He blinked a few times, trying to stay awake. The unicorn walked up to him, taking him by the hoof. “Come on now, you. It’s time for you to go to bed. Come with me.”

Now that the stranger mentioned it… he was feeling kinda bushed. He began walking with Night Guide towards his bedroom upstairs. He opened the door to his room, seeing his bed. It looked so much comfier than he ever remembered it. It felt like there were lead weights on his eyeballs. He struggled to walk. It would be so easy to just fall to the floor and sleep there, but there seemed to be a light coming from his bed that filled him with peace and comfort. That’s where he wanted to be.

***

Pumpkin’s heart was racing. She had been woken up by a commotion. The beeping of the heart monitor had rapidly sped up all of a sudden. Their mom had jumped up and hit the emergency call button. In what felt like seconds four doctors raced into the room. She didn’t understand everything they were saying, but what she could make out terrified her. The beeping of the monitor, her parent’s panic, the solemnness of the doctor’s words… it all made it clear to her that her brother’s condition was worsening. That realization made her guilt blossom anew. Her brother was dying, and it was her fault. She cried into her dad’s hooves as Carrot rubbed her back more roughly than she was used to. It only showed her that her dad was just as nervous as she was, and that did nothing to keep her spirits up.

She was having trouble breathing. Her breaths came in short little gasps.

***

“Yes… that’s it… just a little more now. Come, little Pound Cake. Sleep and forget.”

He was almost there. The bed was so close. The rest of the room was slowly getting darker, making the light of the bed so much more prominent. He struggled to climb up onto the bed. He just felt too weak. It was so close! So close! Just a little further and he could get the sleep he so desperately wanted. A nice nap would surely make everything better.

“Help, please!” he said to the stranger, his voice hoarse from his fatigue.

“Of course.” Grabbing the colt around the sides he lifted Pound into the bed.

“Finally,” Pound said in a relieved voice. He put his head on the pillow, the stranger lifting the blankets up.

“That’s right. It’s time to go. Come with me to your final rest.”

The stranger’s words didn’t make sense to him, but he didn’t care. Pound had never felt so comfortable in his young life. Nothing could pull him away from this. The warmth and delight washed over him like a bubble bath, the pillow like silk. He smiled as he closed his eyes. Everything else was drifting away.

“Yes, young colt. Don’t fight it. The final sleep awaits you.”

“NO!” came a strong voice, echoing throughout the room.

***

Pumpkin had been afraid before, when the machine had been rapidly beeping, but when it suddenly became a steady one it terrified her all the more, especially when it seemed to send the doctors into a tizzy. They brought in a machine that had two things attached to wires. Putting it to Pound’s chest the doctor said, “Clear!” There was a zapping sound, but nothing happened. A few more times the doctor did this, and still Pound didn’t react.

Her dad was squeezing her so tightly it hurt. When she tried to pull away to look up at her dad’s face Carrot Cake just held her head tighter. Something was wrong. She just knew it. When she heard one of the doctor’s say her brother had stopped breathing her own heart sped up in response.

After another minute or so one of the doctors came up to them. “I’m sorry,” he said. “He’s not responding to the treatments. His life functions are ceasing. He’s not going to make it.”

Pumpkin let out a wail. “No!” she yelled. “Pound can’t be dead! He can’t!” She wouldn’t believe it! She wouldn’t!

Pumpkin pulled herself out of her dad’s hold and climbed up onto the bed by her brother. Sitting down on his good side she gave Pound a kiss. Tears came down her eyes and she had to take several breaths to keep from breaking down. How she wished he would react with disgust as he always did when she kissed him. She would give anything for one of his stupid jokes. She would even settle for him pushing her and making fun of her. Anything other than… than this!

Snuggling up next to him like when they would sleep together she held him close, setting her cheek on his. “Oh, Pound!” She shook with her emotions as more tears came down her eyes. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Please wake up! Don’t leave me!” She broke down, sobbing long and hard into her brother’s face.

Carrot and Cup held each other. The two of them wanted to break down crying, but they tried to hold it back for Pumpkin’s sake. It was going to be hard enough for her without the two of them becoming blubbering babies.

After just a short while Cup couldn’t take it anymore. She got up, running out the door. Carrot followed her, closing the door behind him. She sat on the floor, holding herself as she let out a mournful wail. She grabbed onto her husband. “Carrot! Oh, Carrot! My baby! One of my babies is gone! Pumpkin is gonna hate herself the rest of her life! What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?” She didn’t know how she was going to survive.

Carrot held his wife, forcing himself to be strong for her sake.

Outside the room Pumpkin could hear her mother’s pain. My fault. I killed him. My fault. I killed him. The words kept echoing in her mind until she couldn’t take anymore. Her head was pounding, her heart hurt, and she felt so out of it. She couldn’t stay awake any more. She needed to sleep.

***

“Be gone, knave!” There was a bright glow, lighting up the room.

Pound heard a cry of pain. He had been so close to falling asleep, but curiosity got the better of him. He opened one eye to see the pony that had been helping him had vanished. Into his field of vision came a different pony, much larger than his parents. She was dark like shade, with a wavy mane. “Who are you?”

“I am Princess Luna, the ruler of the night. I sleep during the day, and I felt you and your sister in my dreams. I could see that you needed help.

“Pound Cake,” said Luna gently. “It’s time to wake up.” She walked over and picked him up out of the bed.

He resisted, letting out a whine. “Noooo! I’m tired. I want to slee-ee-eep!”

“I understand, but it is not time for you to sleep yet. Your parents and your sister are worried sick. Your sister has fallen asleep in her worry. Would you like to see what she is dreaming?” Luna’s horn began glowing.

Pound didn’t care about his dumb sister or his parents right now. Rolling over he fell onto the floor, walking back towards the bed. He was too weary to care.

Loud crying reverberated through the space. Their house drifted away in huge chunks like it got sucked into a vacuum cleaner, replaced by a black void. Only the bed and the parts of the floor around it remained.

Pound stopped, his attention slowly getting pulled away. The comfy bed was right there in front of him. He was so drowsy, his head so heavy. He just wanted to let everything fade away and rest. Still… he recognized who was crying. It was Pumpkin.

He looked back and forth between the bed and the emptiness. Pumpkin’s crying wasn’t coming from the direction of the bed.

“Pound!” he heard her voice echo out.

“Pumpkin!” Pound cried out. Turning his back on the bed he shook his head hard, fighting his fatigue. “Pumpkin! Who's making you cry? No one makes my sister cry! I’ll beat up anybody who hurts my sister.”

Pumpkin appeared in front of him, running away from him. “Pound! Pound! Come back! Pound! Don’t leave me! Please don’t go! I’m sorry! Don’t leave me!”

“Pumpkin! I’m right here.” As he continued looking he could see himself far away, making him rub his eyes. Was he seeing things? Why were there two of him?

“This is your sister’s dream,” said Luna. “Pumpkin is being completely crushed with guilt.”

“Guilt?” he asked, looking up at Luna.

“The two of you got into a fight, and you were seriously hurt. Now she feels responsible for what happened to you. Your sister loves you very dearly. In her mind she is running for you, but she can’t catch you. She wants to help you, but you’re too far away. Her heart is breaking in two at the thought of losing you. The doctors say you’re dead and you’re not coming back. She feels that it is her fault for losing control of her magic. Her pain is so heavy it intruded on my dreams. If someone doesn’t come to help her soon then she will never recover, and your parents will lose the both of you. That is how deep your bond runs. She can’t feel complete without you nearby.”

“Pumpkin…” Pound felt tears start coming down his eyes.

“Only one pony can dry her tears. Only you, Pound Cake, and no one else in the entire world of Equestria. She is desperately hoping that you’ll come back to her safe and sound. But… I suppose there is something more important for you to do, isn’t there?” Picking him up she turned him around and set him down, toward the empty house and the bed with the comforting light around it. “Go on, then. Sleep, if it is so important to you.”

“NO!” Pound yelled. No matter how tired he felt he would never abandon his sister. Turning around he started running. “Pumpkin! I’m coming, Pumpkin! You don’t have to cry anymore!”

The blackness of the void began fading away, and a much brighter light than before appeared. Compared to the bed this felt ten times better. “Hold on, Pumpkin!” he yelled as he jumped into the light. “I’m… almost… there!”

***

Blinking in the light Pound opened his eyes. He muttered something incomprehensible. He felt something quivering on his side, and he could see his sister. Pumpkin was shaking like a leaf, sporadic sobs coming from her. Every so often she would let out a miserable, “Pound… Pound...” in her sleep. Her face was stained with tears. Pieces and fragments of his dream were coming back to him. Moving a little he began rubbing Pumpkin’s head. “Pumpkin,” he said weakly. “Wake up.”

She didn’t move at first, so he gave her a hard shake. He was still feeling weak, so he couldn’t do much. Pumpkin blinked, her eyes slowly opening.

“Pumpkin,” he sputtered out. “Don’t… don’t cry… anymore… Pumpkin.”

Pumpkin blinked a few times, unsure if this was real. “P-Pound? Pound? POUND!” He turned to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Hey!” she cried out, backing away from him.

Letting out a weak laugh he said, “Heh. You don’t like it… when it’s done to you… do you?”

Pumpkin let out a laugh that sounded like a sob. “Pound! You dummyhead!” She gave him a strong hug. “I thought I had lost you!”

“No way,” he said quietly. “Princess Luna came to me in my dreams. She showed me what you were dreaming.” Using his good hoof he pulled Pumpkin close to him. “I wanted to sleep so badly, but I couldn’t stand it to see you crying.”

“Thank you, Pound! Thank you!” Her eyes became misty again as she held her brother tight. “Oh! Hold on!” Letting him go she hopped off the bed, opening the door. Her mother stifled her tears. “Mom! Dad! Pound’s awake!”

“WHAT?” The two of them cried out, both of them getting up and running inside. It was true. His eyes were open.

“Hi, Mom and Dad,” Pound said groggily with half-lidded eyes.

Both of them began crying as they raced over to the bed, raining kisses on his face and holding him in relief.

“Enough, enough!” He put up a hoof to protect himself.

“Oh, Pound!” said Cup Cake. “I’m so glad you’re alive! I thought I had lost you.”

“No way, mom.” With a weak smile he said, “If you lost your favorite child all you’d be left with is dumb old Pumpkin.”

“FAVORITE CHILD?” asked Pumpkin, outrage clear in her voice. “HE’S your favorite?”

Cup Cake rolled her eyes. “BOTH of you are my favorite. Now stop fighting. That’s how we got into this situation to start with.”

“Yes, Mom,” they both responded.

Carrot Cake left to go inform the doctors of Pound’s recovery. After giving him an exam the doctors were satisfied he was going to make it just fine.

After they left Pound said, “Hey, Pumpkin?”

“Yeah?” she responded.

“I’m feeling really tired. Sleep with me?”

“If I have to,” she responded, but she couldn’t suppress a grin as she snuggled up with her brother, nuzzling his face as the two of them closed their eyes.

Carrot Cake pulled the blanket up, smiling warmly down at his children.

Drifting off, Pound looked out the window to the full moon outside. “Thank you, Princess Luna,” he whispered, holding his sister tight.

As he fell asleep he saw his sister there waiting for him. They were in a room with every type of toy imaginable. “Come on, Pound! Let’s play!”

“Yeah! Let’s go!”

Luna watched over the pair, letting their dreams meld together so they could both enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company, even while asleep. “Good night, young foals,” she said serenely as the two of them played together. “I shall protect you from the dangers of the night, so play. Play to your heart’s content.”

10: I'll never use magic again!

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Twilight was reading in the library when she heard a knock on the door. She wasn’t expecting anyone. “Now who could that be?” She put a bookmark on the page and shut the book, heading towards the door. She opened the door and saw Cup Cake and Carrot Cake standing there. “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Cake,” Twilight said pleasantly. “How can I help you?”

“Are you free today, Princess?” asked Mr. Cake.

“Please, please!” Twilight said strongly. “I know a lot of ponies see me as royalty but for the ones I’m closest to Twilight is fine.”

“Oh, right. Sorry. Are you free today, Twilight?”

“Yes, I am. What do you need? Oh, we just got a new shipment of books delivered the other day. I know I saw a cooking book that you’d just LOVE!” Her eyes sparkled, but when she saw the serious looks on their faces she tempered her enthusiasm and said in a calm voice, “Sorry. How may I be of service?”

“It’s our daughter,” said Cup Cake. “We were hoping you could speak with her.”

“What’s wrong with Pumpkin?”

“Well, you know that Pound is still recovering from his injuries from that accident last month.”

“Oh, yeah.” She winced a little. “Pinkie has been a wreck lately. She feels partly to blame for having gone out with us that day.”

“Well, Pumpkin isn’t faring any better. Pound really did die for a few minutes. They said it was a miracle that he came back. He dreamt of a pony guiding him to bed, talking about his final rest. Of course he didn’t understand what that meant. I nearly lost my mind when they said he wasn’t going to make it. Pumpkin took it very hard. Suddenly Pumpkin came and said he was alive, and I was so relieved.

“He told us that Princess Luna came to visit him in his dreams. Pound said he wanted to sleep in the comfy bed in his dream but Luna showed him his sister’s dreams. It was seeing her crying and hearing about her pain that made him want to wake up. It’s such a touching sentiment that not even death could split the two of them apart, no matter how much the two of them fight.

“We thought everything was going to be fine when Pound came home. They kept him for a few days just to be sure he didn’t lapse. Through us, as his parents, they tested his skills. He’s coherent, still has all his motor functions, and doesn’t really have any physical difficulties from the few minutes he was fading away. He did lose a few memories here and there. He couldn’t recall some of his birthdays or trips, which is good.” She let out a small gasp, shaking her head. “I don’t mean that it’s good, but just that he’s so young he doesn’t have a lot of memories at this time anyway. It would have been worse if he had been older.

“When we got home things were good. Pumpkin has been sleeping with Pound every night, just in case he needs her. He got out of the cast a few days ago, but he’s still very sore and can’t move that much yet.”

“So what’s the problem?” asked Twilight.

“Well, kids are kids," said Carrot. "They get into arguments. Pumpkin got mad at him for something he said and they began insulting each other. Before we could intervene Pumpkin suddenly froze and went running out of the room yelling and crying. Now every time she starts getting annoyed at him she does the same thing. She’s terrified of having a repeat of what happened last month. She keeps saying that she never wants to use magic again. We’ve tried talking to her about it but she just tells us that we don’t understand. As earth ponies that have never had a horn or magic or know what it feels like it’s not like we can disagree.

“That’s why we thought it best if you speak with her. You’re a princess and you can use magic, so you’d know best how to calm her down. It’s not healthy for her to be this way.”

“Ahhh.” Twilight nodded. “I understand now. I’ll have a word with her. It’s no problem. Can I come now?”

“Yes, of course.”

The three of them left the library and headed to Sugarcube Corner. When they arrived Mr. Cake called out, “PUMPKIN! Come down here!”

“Coming!” came a voice from the kitchen. In a few seconds the swing doors opened up and Pumpkin came into the room. “Hey, Dad. What’s…” She froze as she saw Twilight standing there, and a look of expanding horror came to her face. She took off crying, running upstairs saying, “No, no, no!”

The three ponies looked at each other. “What was that about?” asked Twilight.

“I don’t know,” said Carrot Cake. “It’s not like she’s never seen you before.”

A few seconds later a scream of, “MMMOOOOMMM!” came from Pound upstairs.

The three of them headed upstairs, following the sound of Pumpkin’s sobbing. As they came into the foal’s room they saw Pumpkin crying on Pound’s stomach.

Pound looked furious. “Why are you making Pumpkin cry?” he said angrily.

“Please stop them!” Pumpkin said, clinging desperately to her brother. She turned to the other three ponies. “H-h-how many times do I have to say I’m sorry? It was an accident!” She grabbed her brother hard. “I don’t wanna be banished!”

Pound threw his hooves around his sister, holding her close and glaring at them.

“BANISHED?” Cup Cake said with surprise. “Pumpkin, you’re not being punished.”

“I… I don’t believe you!”

“Pumpkin, I-”

Twilight put her hoof up. “I’ve got this.” Her horn began glowing as her crown levitated over towards them. “Hey, Pumpkin. Would you like to try on my crown? It’s a real royal crown made by Princess Celestia herself.”

“Do you really think that’s going to work?”

It took a few seconds for Pumpkin to look up. She saw the floating crown, and after just a few seconds her sobbing had stopped. She let out a big, “OOOHH!” and grabbed the crown, throwing it on her head. Twilight held up a mirror for her, and she quickly wiped her face as she admired herself. “Wow! This is so cool!”

“How did you know?” asked Mr. Cake.

Twilight thought back to her time as Celestia’s student. “I’m so sorry, Princess. I didn’t mean to screw up. Please don’t give me up as your student. I’m sor-OOOH! COOL!”

She gave the Cakes a knowing smile and said, “I’ve been there.” She sat down on the edge of the bed and said, “Come here, Pumpkin. I’d like to talk to you.”

Pumpkin’s enthusiasm drained, and she looked anxious again. She turned to her brother, feeling tears forming in her eyes again.

Pound looked up at Twilight and said, “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.”

“Pound Cake!” Mrs. Cake said, mortified. “That’s no way to speak to a princess.”

Pound didn’t turn away. He still kept giving her a dangerous look.

“You haven’t changed a bit, have you, Pound Cake?” said Twilight, remembering when she had scolded him at the park. "I fully understand your fierce protectiveness of your twin, but you can’t beat up other ponies simply because you don’t like the way they act. But I’m not here to lecture you. I just want to talk with your sister. She’s not being banished, of course. That’s ridiculous. We all know it was simply an unfortunate accident.”

Pumpkin took a deep breath, letting go of her brother at last and climbing into Twilight’s lap. “S-so if you’re not here to banish me or punish me then what do you want to talk with me about?”

“I wanted to talk with you about magic.” Pumpkin’s face immediately soured. “Your mom and dad told me that you’ve sworn off using it.”

“That’s right!” she replied, crossing her hooves. “I’m never using magic again. It’s too dangerous. It almost killed Pound because I lost control. So I’m never gonna use my magic again! EVER!”

“I’d like to tell you a little story about when I was younger. I lost control of my magic back then too, and it could have had some disastrous consequences.”

Pumpkin was showing a little interest. “What happened?”

“Back when I got my cutie mark for magic I had to take an entrance exam to get into a school for gifted unicorns. They wanted me to hatch a dragon egg. I tried my very hardest, concentrating as hard as I could, but I couldn’t get it to do anything. My nerves got to me. I was so disappointed. All of a sudden there was an explosion. I didn’t know it until I came to Ponyville but that was Rainbow Dash pulling off her first sonic rainboom. I don’t know what it was, but something about the impact pushed me past my fear of failure and shocked me into releasing my magic. I hatched the egg, and out came little baby Spike. But more than that happened. My magic kept building up and up until I couldn’t even control it anymore. I levitated all of the judges, turned Spike gigantic, and turned my parents into a house plant and a cactus. Princess Celestia came in and helped to calm me down, and thankfully everything turned back to normal.

“Princess Celestia made me her own personal student at the school, feeling that I had a lot of potential for using incredible magic, but I had to learn to control it through hard study. I was ecstatic at the time, but later on I began getting nervous. I mean, if I could do THAT while I was out of control, who knew what I would be capable of if I did learn to control it? Maybe I wasn’t going to be capable of using little spells anymore. Maybe I would hurt someone for real this time.

“I’ll tell you the same thing that Princess Celestia taught to me: magic is a matter of will. Even without any lessons at all you can use magic to direct your will when your emotions are strong. I’ve seen it before. When your brother is in danger you’ve never failed to access your magic to keep him safe.”

“Not this time,” she said sadly, closing her eyes as tears came dripping down.

“TWILIGHT!” Pound snapped. “I told you not to make Pumpkin cry!”

“Bear with me for a little while, Pound,” she replied. “This is important.” Speaking to Pumpkin again she said, “The fact of the matter is that the opposite was true: being in control is a great feeling. When you deny your magic you’re denying a part of yourself. Being a unicorn you have a horn and the ability to use magic. When you ignore that and deny yourself and push your magic aside to a corner of your mind and lock it away behind a wall you’re only setting yourself up for failure, because no wall can hold it forever when you have no concept of control of your magic. Eventually what happened to Pound is going to happen again much the same way as before. The burden and strain of constantly holding yourself back is going to cause a buildup of pressure, and at some point something is going to push your buttons in such a way that what could have been something as simple as a shove turns into an explosion of power you never meant to unleash.

“If you truly want to protect your brother and keep him from harm then instead of trying to run away from your magic you should learn how to keep it under your command. If your magic starts going out of control then you can rely on your lessons to help yourself get it back under control.

“You’re about six and a half, so this is a fine time. Your actual magical talent is up to you to discover in time, but levitation is the most basic skill that every unicorn knows. I’m going to teach you to access your magic because you WANT to, not because it’s happening randomly.”

“I… I don’t want to!" She began shaking "I’m scared!”

“You have an alicorn here who specializes in magic. Even if you lose control I’ll be here to help you regain focus.”

“No! I... I can't! I won't!”

“Pumpkin, do you remember those kids at the park who were bullying your brother?”

“Y-yes?”

“Do you remember what happened when you got angry? You lifted them all high up into the air, but you quickly realized you had no idea how to get them back down. And since you only could use your magic because you were angry you quickly lost command of your power. If I hadn't been there to stop their fall they would have all been seriously hurt. What if that had been Pound? Is that what you truly want? To not be able to protect your brother when he truly needs you?”

Pumpkin turned towards Pound. The two met eyes for a few seconds, and then she turned back to Twilight and said in a shaky voice. “O-okay. I’ll try.”

“Good. Now to start with I’d like you to close your eyes and just listen to my voice.” When she did Twilight continued, “Breathe in and hold it. Good.” After a few seconds she said, “Now let it out. Breathe in… breathe out… breathe in… breathe out.” She kept up the pattern for a minute, Pumpkin following along at her commands.

“Twilight?” said Pound.

“Yes?” she responded.

“Pumpkin already knows how to breathe. What does that have to do with using magic?”

“I’m glad you asked that, Pound. Princess Cadence taught me this a long time ago. When you’re anxious or scared it makes it difficult to concentrate, and when you can’t concentrate you’re more likely to make mistakes. Your brain needs oxygen to focus, and when you’re afraid your breathing becomes shorter. So in order to calm yourself the best thing to do is to take some measured breaths. If you can master the habit you’ll be one step closer to gaining stable control of your magic.”

Twilight looked at Pumpkin and was pleased to see she had been continuing her command without her prompting. “How do you feel, Pumpkin?”

“I… I feel… relaxed. I see what you mean.”

“Great.” Picking her up she turned Pumpkin towards her brother. “Now watch me.” Her horn started glowing, and a similar glow appeared around his pillow. It moved a little bit like someone was squeezing it. “Everyone likes to have their pillows fluffed every once in a while. Now you try.”

Once more all of Pumpkin’s happiness left her as she looked at her brother. She tried to focus, but all that came to mind was Pound going flying when she had attacked him. She saw the piles of books that had fallen on his head, and she remembered the pain she had felt when he had nearly died. She started feeling lightheaded. Without even realizing it she was holding her breath.

“Breathe!” Twilight said as she noticed Pumpkin’s face going red. “PUMPKIN! Breathe!” But Pumpkin wasn’t listening to her. She didn’t want to do it, but Pumpkin was going to make herself pass out if she didn’t stop. She gave Pumpkin a light slap on the face. The shock of it made her let out a loud gasp, and she started taking very short breaths. Twilight grabbed the filly’s head, turning it towards her. “Look into my eyes and don’t turn away. We’ll start over. Breathe in… breathe out…”

As she focused on Twilight her breathing slowed down until it was back to normal.

“Well, at least you’ve got that down. Now try again. Don’t worry so much. I told you, I’m here. My magic is stronger than yours, so even if something goes wrong I can stop you. Remember what you’re fighting for.” She pushed Pumpkin’s head back towards her brother. “When you got mad you hurt him with your magic. If you can master this you can PROTECT him with it. Sometimes you’ll need magic, but the situation won’t be dire enough it forces a magical reaction out of you. If that happens your brother could get seriously hurt. Keep your love for him strong in your heart, and it won’t let you down.

“Now try it again.”

Pumpkin’s heart started racing again. She was scared of her magic. Catching herself she went back to her exercises and began breathing in measured breathes like before. Feeling a little more secure she started to concentrate, but it just made her fear flare up again.

“Pumpkin!” said Pound, noticing her difficulty. “You can do this! I believe in you, sis. I trust you. Don’t be afraid.”

She took a shuddering breath. His words made her feel more confident than before. She closed her eyes, speaking softly to herself. “It’s for him. For my brother. I have to be able to protect him. Protect him. Protect!” Opening her eyes she took one short breath and looked over at him with a determined expression. She did still feel a little fear, but it wasn’t as overpowering as before. Focusing as hard as she could a blue glow appeared on the tip of her horn, slowly increasing until it covered her entire horn. The blue glow covered the pillow. She kept looking into her brother’s eyes, seeing his encouraging gaze, and she fluffed the pillow a few times. The glow slowly faded, and she let out a relieved breath when nothing else happened.

“Great job, Pumpkin!” said Twilight, hugging the filly. “I’m so proud of you.”

She put on an awkward smile, feeling a little embarrassed. She saw a flower on the floor, and with a bit of focus she levitated it over to Twilight, putting it in her mane. “Thank you, Twilight.”

“You’re welcome! It’s always a delight to help others learn.”

Pumpkin hopped off the bed, running to her parents. “Mom! Dad! Did you see? I used my magic because I wanted to! I did it!”

The two of them picked her up, giving her a hug also. “Yes, you did!” said Cup Cake.

“Good job, Pumpkin!” said Carrot Cake.

Twilight got off the bed, walking over to the three of them. “If it’s okay with you I’d like to put in a recommendation for Pound and Pumpkin for magic kindergarten.”

“Magic kindergarten?”

“Yes. There’s a school in town to help young fillies and colts to master the basics of magic.”

“Well, that’s fine,” said Mrs. Cake, “but why are you including Pound in that? He’s not a unicorn.”

“Well, it’s not as flashy as unicorns, but all three races possess magic. Pegasi are the only race that can naturally walk on clouds, and their ability to fly also comes from magic.”

“Oh. Well, I guess that makes sense. Sure, then.”

“It would be good for the two of them to meet some kids their own age and make some friends,” said Carrot Cake.

Twilight smiled. “One last thing.” Turning to the two foals she asked, “What do you think about this?”

Pumpkin grabbed her brother and said, “I want to learn to use my magic better so I can protect Pound, so I’m in!”

“Me too!” said Pound. “I’d like to be able to fly, but I’m more interested in making sure no one picks on my sister.”

“Great!” said Twilight. “That settles that. I’ll go down to the school today and see if they have any openings. I’ll see you later.”

“Thanks again, Twilight!” said Pumpkin. With a sigh she took off the crown. “Here. I guess I should give this back.”

Twilight giggled. “Keep it for today. I don’t have any royal duties planned anyway.”

“Yay!” she cried out.

The next day Twilight came to visit them again. “Great news! They have exactly two vacancies. They weren’t too thrilled about the late entry, as usually they like a three month advance notice, but I gave them a push. I reminded them that Princess Celestia was the one funding the school programs, and that I was her personal student. Not quite the method I like to employ, but sometimes being a princess comes in handy. School begins next month on the first.”

“Hooray!” Pound and Pumpkin cried out, grabbing each other’s hooves and hopping up and down. “We get to go to school! We get to go to school!”

Twilight’s grin grew so wide her face almost couldn’t contain it. She knew all too well the joy of learning, and she was ecstatic these two were so eager. “You’re on your way, kids. Do your best.”

11-A: Magic Kindergarten-Pumpkin Cake

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Pound and Pumpkin were jumping up and down on their hooves. Each of them was wearing a saddle bag with a packed lunch and supplies. It was the day they had been impatiently waiting for all month: their very first day of school.

The two of them were eager to learn more about their own unique skills. Pound wanted to learn how to start using his wings, and Pumpkin wanted to learn better control of her magic.

Ever since her lesson with Twilight Pumpkin had been levitating things to get a better feeling of what focused magic felt like. She still had a lot of nerves over the process doing it alone, as without a unicorn there she was afraid of going out of control again, but she kept revisiting what she had been taught. It felt like every time she wanted to use her power she had to do her breathing exercises. It took a lot of concentration to lift even small things when she actually began using magic of her own volition. She was slowly working her way up to larger things, though. She started off with a bit, then a pencil, then an apple, and finally her stuffed animals. She tried lifting a chair in the kitchen, but that proved too much for her no matter how much she concentrated. It was hard keeping them airborne for any length of time, but she was gradually improving. Along the way her parents and brother gave her lots of encouragement.

Seeing his sister’s improvement made Pound want to do better. He tried very hard to at least get off the ground before school began but was unsuccessful. Unlike Pumpkin he hadn’t had a teacher who already knew the ropes, and didn’t think of asking for one.

Pinkie Pie was crying a river of tears, coming out of her eyes like twin waterfalls, as they dropped the twins off at Magic Kindergarten. She was so proud of them for growing up. She was going to miss them.

Pound and Pumpkin were directed to an office, where they saw a kind-looking unicorn sitting behind a desk. As they walked in she came out behind the desk and knelt down to their level. “Hello there, new students! What’re your names?”

“I’m Pound Cake!”

“I’m Pumpkin Cake!”

“We’re siblings!” the two of them said in unison, hugging each other.

“I see,” she replied. “My name is Principal Loudspeaker. As you may have guessed I run this school.

“Are you two eager to learn?”

The two of them both nodded vigorously.

“I wanna fly!” Pound said, fluttering his wings speedily.

“And I want to learn better control of my magic!” said Pumpkin, her horn glowing.

“Wonderful! Come with me. I’ll take you to your classrooms.”

“Classrooms?” Pound said, confused.

Principal Loudspeaker seemed perplexed as well. “You don’t know what a classroom is?”

Pound shook his head. “I know what a classroom is. I just don’t understand why you’re talking like we’re going to be separated. I know when you put an “s” at the end of a word it means more than one.”

Pumpkins face fell. “We’re not gonna be learning together?” she said disappointedly. “We’re twins. I don’t want to be separated from my brother.”

Principal saw all the enthusiasm going out of the pair. “Hey, hey, hey, now,” she said comfortingly. “There’s no need to get upset. There are both specialized teachings for pegasi and unicorns, and then there’s general teachings for all the pony races. There wouldn’t be much of a point in putting Pound Cake into a lesson for unicorns when he really wants to learn to fly, right?”

Reluctantly Pound said, “I guess that makes sense.” A tear came to his eye as he looked at the ground. “I just feel worried that someone is gonna pick on her if I’m not there to protect her.”

Pumpkin looked warmly over at her brother, before looking up at the principal. “I accidentally hurt Pound because I couldn’t control my magic. I tried to erase my magic and pretend it didn’t exist, until Princess Twilight told me that if I really wanted to defend my brother I needed to learn to use it properly. I wanna protect him too.”

Principal Loudspeaker put a hoof on his shoulder. “That is very admirable, Pound, that you want to protect your sister from bullies. But as your sister just said about her own talents you might need yours to protect her. I could put you in the specialized classes with your sister, but then you wouldn’t learn about how to control your wings to help get you off the ground. What if Pumpkin needs your help, and you can’t help her because you never studied how to fly?”

Pound let out a big sigh, before his head popped up, a cocky expression on his face. “Yep. You’re right.” Giving Pumpkin a slight push he said in a dismissive tone, “Let’s go, ugly.”

Pumpkin just rolled her eyes, stifling a giggle. Her brother was so stupid sometimes, but she knew he was acting like he didn’t care because of his pride. She’d seen it before when he pretended not to be scared of thunderstorms because he knew she was.

When they reached one of the rooms Principal Loudspeaker stopped. “This is your class, Pound Cake. Your pegasus training will take place in here, and Pumpkin will get her unicorn training in another room. Once that is done for the day you will be directed to a third room, where the students of all the races are brought together to discuss things like current events, what’s going on in Ponyville, things like spelling and math, and reading stories.

“Mid-day we have lunch hour. Once you are done with your meal you may spend the rest of that time outside on the playground, doing whatever you wish. So, really, you’ll spending more time WITH your sister than you will without her.

“And it’s always good to make some new friends your own age. Believe me, I understand the twin connection, and I would never seek to break that between you, but there are over fifty students here. Take some time to get to know the other students. You likely spend a lot of time together at home after school, and I’m sure there are times the two of you get sick of each other.”

Both Pound and Pumpkin let out knowing laughs and smirked at each other. “Oh, yeah!” said Pound.

“Definitely!” Pumpkin agreed.

Pound threw a hoof around his sister. “But we always come back together, because we love each other.”

“Bleh!” Pumpkin replied in disgust, before getting a naughty grin on her face and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Pumpkin waited for him to recoil and snap at her not to do that like he usually did, but to her surprise he was crying again.

He threw his hooves around her, giving her a kiss back. “Oh, Pumpkin! I’m gonna miss you.”

Pumpkin felt a fleeting desire to mock him for being so childish, but she couldn’t deny she was going to miss him too.

Before she could say anything he pulled away from her, saying dismissively. “Whatever! You’re probably gonna forget all about me and find someone else to protect you. Thanks a lot!”

Pumpkin raised an eyebrow, confused by his sudden change in attitude, before it suddenly clicked in her mind: he was jealous. He thought he was going to be replaced.

She had to fight hard not to laugh because she knew it would make him angrier. Taking a deep breath she elected to appeal to his pride. Giving him a hug she said sweetly, “Nobody can replace you, Pound. You’re my one and only hero, okay?”

For a few seconds Pound’s face remained stony, but Pumpkin’s words slowly got to him, and his expression cracked. “Y-yeah?” he said.

Pumpkin nodded. She gave him a small push. “Get in there and get a whole lot stronger, so you can protect me even better. Otherwise, well… someone might become better at it than you are.”

“No way!” he replied sternly. “I’m not letting that happen.” He quickly went inside the classroom, closing the door behind him.

Once he was out of sight Pumpkin ran about fifty feet before falling to the ground, laughing her head off. She put a hoof to her mouth to stifle it a bit.

Principal Loudspeaker followed her, asking, “What’s so funny?”

When Pumpkin got her laughter under control she stood up, wiping a few tears from her eyes. “My brother is such a dork!” She sighed, smiling widely as she thought of what he had said. “Ah, but that’s why I love him. Nobody CAN replace him.” She looked up at the principal. “I mean, what other colt that age would threaten to beat up some older colts and even a princess because he thought they were picking on me? And…” Her face became somber, tears building up in her eyes. “When that accident happened where I hurt him because I couldn’t control my magic he almost died. He told us later on that Princess Luna had come into his dreams and showed him what I was dreaming. When he saw how upset I was he found the strength to get up.”

“Awww. The joys and privileges of having a twin. Don’t ever lose that.”

Sniffling, she wiped her eyes. “T-that’s why I love my brother so much. He always does so much for me… when he’s not driving me crazy and fighting with me, that is.” She giggled.

“I won’t.”

“Come on, then. We need to get you to your class too, so that kind of accident doesn’t happen again.”

Pumpkin nodded. “I know.” She followed the principal until they reached her own classroom. “Thank you for taking me. I’ll work hard. I promise!”

Principal Loudspeaker smiled. “I hope you keep that attitude.”

Pumpkin went inside, seeing an adult pony at the front, along with about 15 fillies and colts. “Hello!” she said as she walked toward the only empty desk.

The unicorn teacher looked down her spectacled nose at her. “Greetings.” Taking a quick look at the class list she said, “You must be Pumpkin Cake.”

“Yep!” she said with a nod as she sat down, placing her saddle bag in the desk.

“Great. You may call me Ms. Sparkler. Now that all our students are here we can begin your lessons.

“Let’s try a quick question: what is the basic magical skill inherent in all unicorns?”

Pumpkin immediately raised her hoof, shaking it hard.

“Yes, Pumpkin?” she responded.

“Levitation,” she stated, feeling proud of herself. “Princess Twilight told me that when she taught me the basics of magic.”

Whispers and murmurs went through the classroom before one colt asked in wonder, “You’re friends with a princess?”

Pumpkin blushed, grinning widely at the attention. “She’s one of my Auntie Pinkie’s closest friends, and that’s why she recommended me for this school, so I can learn better control of my magic.”

Their teacher called them to order. “Very impressive, Pumpkin, but I hope you understand that being friends with Princess Twilight doesn’t mean I’m going to give you special treatment.”

Pumpkin nodded. “Uh-huh. I understand.” She giggled, unable to stop herself feeling a bit cocky as she looked at some of the other students, gazing at her in reverential wonder.

Their teacher went up to the chalkboard. “As Pumpkin said levitation is a skill that all unicorns have. There are some unicorns, such as the princesses, who specialize in magic, and thus have no limit to the amount of variety they can use in their spellcasting. For a majority of unicorns they only have one specific unique magical talent.”

Raising her hoof, Pumpkin said, “Auntie Pinkie has a friend who’s a seamstress, and her special magical talent is gem-finding.”

“Very good. That is just one of the many skills one may have.

“Now, this year is going to be devoted to making you better at magic. Perhaps along the way you will discover your special magical talent, or maybe it will come later. Becoming more competent at magic requires both study and practice.”

“Teacher?” Pumpkin said, raising her hoof again.

Her teacher giggled a little. “I wonder if I’ll be able to get off more than one sentence today before you have something to say, Pumpkin.”

Pumpkin flushed, lowering her hoof. “N-never mind,” she said in a small voice.

“Now, now, Pumpkin. I was just messing with you. What’s your question?”

“Well… how come we get worse with magic as we get older?”

Her head tilted. “What do you mean, Pumpkin?”

“My Auntie Pinkie told me about the first time she babysat me and my brother. She told me that I was levitating myself, walking through the walls of my playpen, and lots of other stuff. How could I do that stuff as a BABY but I can’t do it as a kid?”

The classroom muttered in assent. “Pumpkin’s right,” said a filly. “My parents told me about doing crazy stuff with magic when I was younger too.”

“Me too!”

“So did mine!”

“That’s a very good question, Pumpkin," said Sparkler. "I think the easiest way to explain it is with a simple experiment. Stand up please, Pumpkin, and walk to me, and then back to your desk.”

Pumpkin complied, unsure what this had to do with her question.

“So that was pretty simple, right?” She nodded. “Now let’s try it again. Now, Pumpkin, which legs do you usually start walking with? Your front right and back left or your front left and back right?”

“Ummm… I don’t know,” she replied. “I never really thought about it.”

“Well, don’t stand around. Walk over to me.”

Pumpkin looked down at her legs, starting to lift her left leg, before appearing stumped and starting to lift her right ones. Now that she had asked it was really bothering her. She kept lifting first one set, then the other. Was there a “right” choice of legs to use? Was one better than the other? Did it really matter?

Her voice interrupted her thought patterns. “Thank you, Pumpkin. You can sit down again.”

Pumpkin was red in the face again. “No! I’m… I’m coming.”

“There’s no need. You already accomplished what I was trying to demonstrate.”

Pumpkin sat down, asking, “I did? How? I don’t get it.”

“I want you to apply using magic to what just happened with Pumpkin, everyone. Walking is something that comes naturally to all of us. It’s such a normal thing that we don’t think anything of it. It’s just something that happens, because you want it to happen. That’s how it works with magic when you’re a baby. You want something to happen, and so it does.

“Now think about what happened with part two of the test. When I pushed you to actually THINK about walking it stopped being automatic. Your head got caught up in thoughts of wondering and questioning a process you’ve used your whole life, and thus you stopped being able to walk at all, because you were so preoccupied with it. And that is why, once you’re more grown up, you have to actually work at your magic.

“As a baby you’re too unintelligent and inexperienced to worry about stuff like that. All you want is what you want, and if that includes using magic then you just do it. As your minds grow you begin to wonder and question everything around you, and that includes your magic. Once you start wondering how it works and how you’re doing what you’re doing you stop being able to do it spontaneously because your thoughts aren’t about USING magic, but HOW you’re doing it. Hence why you then have to study: to have your questions answered. Once the distractions are out of the way then you can once again use magic as you will.

“Did that make sense to you, Pumpkin?”

She nodded. “Yes. I understand… but I don’t know if I’m ever gonna walk again.”

The class laughed.

“Oh, I’m sure in a few days you’ll go back to doing it automatically.”

Pumpkin paid close attention as she continued his lesson, Pound in the back of her mind. ‘That’s never gonna happen again!’ she thought strongly as she recalled how she had hurt him. ‘Never!’

When the bell rang for their lunch hour Pumpkin’s head was considerably fuller. She had learned more about herself as a pony, and especially as her specific race of pony. Her parents were earth ponies, and her brother was a pegasus. That had never bothered her before. Ponyville was a place where all three races of ponies belonged and were friends with one another. However, not being unicorns themselves her parents had never really been able to… teach her what being a unicorn meant.

Her parents had at least gotten Twilight to begin instructing her on keeping calm and using magic, because they knew Twilight would understand her. She thought of how Twilight told her about that time in her past when she lost control and was afraid of her magic for a while, but she overcame it with a good teacher.

She didn’t want to push her magic away. She wanted to use it, and use it a whole bunch. Her magic and horn were as much a part of her as her tail and legs, and she was starting to appreciate that she loved what she was.

A part of her got scared at that thought. Did that mean she thought she was BETTER than the rest of her family, because she was different from the rest of them? Was she looking down on her brother for not having a horn like her? She didn’t like the sound of that.

‘Well, Pound has his own unique talent too,’ she reminded herself. ‘He has wings and can fly. Well… WILL fly eventually.’

As they reached the lunchroom she had a strong ache inside her, her worries that she was becoming arrogant wiping away her joy of self-discovery. All she knew was that she wanted to see her brother. They could talk about it, and then maybe she’d feel better.

11-B: Magic Kindergarten-Pound Cake.

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Pound felt an empty feeling inside as the door closed behind him. Even though they got in fights all the time he was still closer with Pumpkin than any other pony, even their parents and Auntie Pinkie. It just didn’t feel right not having her there with him.

He was still worried about her. He could take the meanie-pants just fine, but Pumpkin was more fragile than him. He didn’t want her to get hurt.

Her words came back to him. “You’re my one and only hero, Pound.” “Get in there and get a whole lot stronger so you can protect me better.”

Taking a deep breath he tried to calm himself down. If he wanted to keep being her hero then he had to work hard to become better. Pumpkin was already pretty good with magic and was practicing. He couldn’t even get himself off the ground yet. If Pumpkin needed him then he couldn’t even do what needed to be done, and that was unacceptable. He took a quick look around at his classmates, imagining Pumpkin being stuck in a tree or falling from a great height. He was fluttering his wings while they swooped up easily and grabbed her.

“Oh, wow!” Pumpkin says, her eyes shining with gratitude. “You’re so much more amazing than Pound! YOU should be my new brother!”

His stomach began burning and he tapped his hooves a few times as he pictured that. No one was stealing his fire!

“Hello, there!” said their teacher, a pegasus mare. “I'm Miss Nimble. What’s your name?”

“H-huh?” Pound said, shaking his head as his daydream faded.

“What’s your name, Sweetheart?”

Pound forced himself to focus. “I’m Pound Cake,” he said respectfully, though his insides were still burning with humiliation from his fantasy.

He was directed to a seat, where her got to chat with a few other pegasi while they waited for a few last students to arrive.

Pound’s class was a bit different than Pumpkins. Unicorn classes were focused more on theory and books. Pegasi classes were more about practical demonstration and exercises to strengthen wing muscles and retain concentration for once you were up in the air.

Like Pumpkin he found the whole process fascinating, having more of a concept of how he was different from his family. Even though they were all ponies, he’d never really thought about how they incorporated all three pony races. He was a pegasus, but his sister was a unicorn and his parents were earth ponies. Not that it mattered that they were different. He still loved them just as much. He was just coming to appreciate the difference.

He paid close attention to everything the teacher said, but he still couldn’t fly just yet. He had homework to practice the skills he had been taught so his wings would get strong enough to let him fly.

Once his lesson ended and the bell rang he was taken to the lunch room. When he got there he looked around for Pumpkin. When he spotted her he ran over to her, almost knocking her to the ground as he gave her a big hug. “Hey, Sis!” he said happily. “I’m so glad to see you again!”

Pumpkin held him back unenthusiastically. “Hey, Pound,” she replied in a dull voice.

“What’s wrong, Pumpkin?” he asked, concerned. “Nobody picked on you, did they?” Rage began to enter his voice. “Who was it? Who was mean to you?” He looked around at the unicorns.

“No one,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s just go get our lunch and I’ll tell you about it.”

Pound let her go. “Okay. Did you stink in your class or something?”

She shook her head. “Later.”

Pound decided to let it go for now. He and Pumpkin joined the line of students getting trays of lunch. When they got theirs they headed to a table that was pretty empty. Pound began digging in right away, but stopped when he noticed Pumpkin wasn’t touching hers.

Swallowing the food in his mouth he said in a cautious voice, “Come on, Pumpkin. What’s troubling you? You really wanted to come to school. So what’s wrong with it?”

Tears began to fill her eyes, dripping onto the lunch tray. “Pound, ” she started with a sniff, “d-do you think I’m bad?”

“Bad?” Pound responded. “Why would you think that? Did your teacher say that? Do you need me to go have a few words with him? Like “kick?” Or “karate chop?”

Despite herself Pumpkin began sniggering. “Pound, you dope!” she said, giving him a light shove. “You don’t need to beat anyone up. This has nothing to do with my teacher or the other students.”

“So what’s the problem?”

Pumpkin sighed, resting her head on her hoof as she grabbed an apple piece and shoved it in her mouth. “I guess I was just thinking…” She chewed and swallowed. “This is one of the few times we’ve HAD to be apart, because we’re different. No matter what you’re never gonna be able to use magic, and I’m never gonna be able to fly, and our parents aren’t going to ever do either of those things.”

“Okay. And?”

“I don’t know… I guess I just feel it’s wrong. I’ve been using my magic all the time and you guys will never get to know what that’s like. I-I really like who I am. I love being a unicorn, and being able to do magic.” She hugged herself as she took a hiccupping breath, her tears falling freely over her tray. “I-I-I’m ju-just scared that you’re gonna think I’m just showing off and you won’t like me anymore.”

Pound quickly grabbed her, turning her toward him. “Hey, hey! Pumpkin! Don’t be silly. You’re a unicorn! That’s what you are. Using magic is a part of you, just like Princess Twilight told you. You shouldn’t NOT do magic because of me or Mom and Dad. I mean, the whole point of cutie marks is that all of us have a unique talent that no one else can do. It’s our destiny, because all of us are unique and can do different things. Just look at Auntie Pinkie. No one can throw a wild and crazy fun party like her. And someday I’m gonna be an amazing flyer like Rainbow Dash, because my wings and flying are a part of ME.

“There’s a big difference between using your natural talent and showing off. If you were going 'Ha ha! I can do magic and you can’t!' that would be one thing, but you’ve never done that. So you shouldn’t feel scared or upset that you’re getting good. You should be proud.

“I realized during my lessons today too how different we all are, but no matter what we’re still family, and I’ll love you no matter what.” He smiled at her. “So cheer up, okay?”

Pumpkin leaned forward, resting her head on his shoulder and gently hugging him. “You’re the best, Pound.”

“I know!” he said in a smug voice, making Pumpkin roll her eyes.

She pulled herself up, wiping her face. “I’m getting hungry now, so let’s eat and then go play outside.”

“Sounds good!” he said happily.

In brighter spirits now Pumpkin cleaned her plate, and the pair dropped their trays with the other empties before heading to the door leading to the playground.

As they were walking to a swing set a voice called out to him. “Hey, Pound! Let’s go play.”

Pound looked over, seeing some of the other pegasi from his class. He looked unsurely at Pumpkin.

Pumpkin gave him a gentle shove. “Go on, then. Go play with your new friends.”

Pound stayed where he was. “I don’t want you to just say that, Pumpkin. Are you sure you’re okay now?”

“Hey, like the principal said we have each other all day usually, and we SHOULD make some friends so we don’t get sick of each other. That’s how we always wind up getting into fights.”

Pound still felt uncertain. “Are you sure you’re okay with it? Pinkie Promise?”

Pumpkin sighed lightly, rolling her eyes again before giggling. “Yes, Pound,” she said exasperatedly. “Pinkie Promise.” Moving her hooves in the motion she said, “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

That was enough for Pound. Nopony breaks a Pinkie Promise, so he knew she was telling the truth. He gave her a quick hug. “I’ll see you later, Pumpkin. You can tell me about your classes.”

“Okay!” she called after him as he ran. “Brothers…” She shook her head, knowing he did it because he cared about her.

Pound went on a jungle gym with his friends, climbing up as high as he could and standing at the top.

He was hanging upside down with another colt. “This your first day?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Pound responded. “But isn’t it everyone’s?”

“No. This is my second year here. I guess you’ve never gone to school before.”

“No. Princess Twilight got us in here. She’s awesome!”

“Princess Twilight?” he responded in shock. “You know a princess?”

“Yeah, she’s friends with my aunt. She comes over, like, all the time to visit.”

“Lucky!”

“I’m Pound Cake. Who are you?”

“Water Balloon.”

“That’s cool!” Pound said, slapping his hoof.

Getting back to an upright position Water asked, “I noticed you’re struggling with flight a little more than the other kids. Would you like some pointers?”

Pound blushed. “No!” he said sharply, turning away. “I was just pretending to stink. I just didn’t want to show off in front of everyone. I could fly all around the playground if I wanted to.”

“You don’t have to get upset.”

“I’M NOT UPSET!” he said harshly, climbing down.

‘Oh, great,’ he thought, ‘I already got ponies feeling sorry for me. I could TOO fly if I had had a teacher like Pumpkin before this. And Twilight is an alicorn. She has wings! Why didn’t she teach me stuff too?’

When he reached the ground he saw a couple of colts practicing. All three of them keep jumping and flapping, hovering off the ground for various amounts of time before they landed.

He began to have a hot feeling in his stomach. He was getting jealous. Scootaloo had told him that all pegasi learn to fly at different speeds, and that she herself didn’t fly until she was about five years older than he was. That wasn’t acceptable! Pumpkin would need him before then. He couldn’t wait that long.

He imitated the group of boys, jumping into the air and flapping as hard as he could. Almost immediately he fell flat on his face.

“Owww,” Pound said as he got up, holding his nose. His face went beet red as he heard a few of them laughing at him.

“Hey, Pound,” said Water Balloon, “Are you okay?”

Pound forced a smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Do you want me to get a teacher?” he asked, looking towards the other side of the playground where two ponies were keeping an eye on things.

That only made him angrier. “No! I already told you I’m just holding back to make you guys look good.”

“Yeah, right,” said a filly, laughing at him.

“What a loser,” said a colt.

Pound’s face was burning with shame and humiliation. “Oh, yeah? I’ll PROVE that I can do it.”

“Oooohhh,” said a colt with fake wonder. “How ya gonna do that?”

Pound looked around, spotting the flagpole. “Someone go distract the teachers and you’ll find out.”

“This should be good,” said a unicorn filly, walking off towards the teachers. Going around so they were facing the other direction she gestured to Pound.

Pound walked to the flagpole, jumping and wrapping his legs around it. Deep down he knew how stupid this was, but he was angry enough he didn’t care. He shimmied up and up and up until he reached the top. With some careful effort he managed to stand upright on top of it.

Pound gulped, seeing how high up he was. Fear was beginning to temper his anger.

“Come on, then!” a colt called out. “Put up or shut up!”

“You gonna stay up there all day?”

“Jump!”

“Do it!

“Come on!”

Pounds heart was racing. If he backed out now everyone would think he was a total loser and a coward.

“Jump!”

“Jump!”

The kids began to chant together. “Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!”

Pound took a deep breath. “I’m not a loser!” he said stubbornly, unfurling his wings.

On the other side of the playground Pumpkin was making a sand castle with some of her friends. “Why is it getting so loud over there?” she wondered, looking behind her. She saw all of them gathered around the flagpole. “What’s so interesting about a flag?” she wondered aloud.

“Hey, Pumpkin,” said one of her classmates, looking up in wonder. “Isn’t that your brother?”

“Where?” she asked, scanning the crowd.

“No. There!” She grabbed Pumpkin’s head, pushing it upward.

Pumpkin’s eyes widened. “What is he doing up there? If he falls he’s gonna get hurt." When she saw his wings open up she gasped. Surely he wasn’t going to jump?

Getting up she began running toward the flagpole, before letting out a loud scream as he jumped.

Pound felt a sense of exhilaration from his reckless action. The wind whipping past him, being up in the air. The feeling didn’t last. As he fluttered his wings they barely even slowed his fall, let alone let him gain air. Fear was rushing through him. What should he do now?

He tried as hard as he could to stayed airborne, but it was a futile effort. The ground was racing up to meet him faster and faster.

His momentum suddenly slowed down immensely as a blue aura surrounded him. Looking over he saw Pumpkin straining to stop him.

Seeing Pumpkin’s fear wiped out his own. Mentally revisiting his lesson he extended his wings as far as they would go and held it, hoping he could at least glide to safety.

He just barely avoided crashing into his school-mates as he went soaring over their heads before coming down hard and skidding a bit on the ground, panting, as the group surrounded him

“That was awesome!” said a colt, slapping him on the back.

“Totally cool!”

Pound awkwardly waved at them, knowing it was only Pumpkin’s intervention that had allowed him to do it.

Pumpkin forced her way through the crowd. When he saw her she had a furious look on her face. Before he could even say a word she had hit him in the face hard enough to knock him on his back, stopping the chattering instantly.

“P-Pumpkin?” Pound said in shock as he sat up, holding his cheek. “What did you do that for?”

Her whole body was shaking. “Pound, you… you…” Her cheeks were crimson with rage. She began hitting him repeatedly. “You stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!”

Pound put up his hooves to defend himself, but Pumpkin had already stopped. Pumpkins eyes were now filling with tears, and she let out a large wail as she began sobbing hysterically, holding onto him.

The teachers were now breaking the crowd up, trying to figure out what exactly had just happened.

“P-Pumpkin,” Pound said, confused by her sudden change in attitude. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m fine.”

Pumpkin just glared at him, her sobbing abruptly stopping as she pushed him away. “Yes!” she said with disgust. “It’s okay! It’s just FINE! Wasn’t it enough that you almost died ONCE? And then you decide to do something STUPID like that? I thought you cared about me. I thought you loved me. But I guess you really don’t care about my feelings.” She stormed off with one of the teachers behind her, leaving Pound feeling the worst he had ever felt.

11-C: The fight

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Pound got a talking to for his reckless behavior in trying to jump off the flagpole. That didn’t bother him a bit. He was more worried about Pumpkin. He knew she was upset and angry with him. The look on her face, and the words she spoke to him, weighed heavily on him.

When their lunch hour ended they all headed to a classroom large enough for all the students in the school. There was a third teacher there, this one an earth pony.

“Hello, everyone,” she said. “It’s so nice to meet you all. Now, we have about two more hours before all of you are done for the day and get to go home. Being that there are some new and unfamiliar faces here I think this is a good time to get to know each other. This first hour we’re going to devote to social interaction. Smarts and learning are important, but getting along well with others and making close connections is just as valuable. So don’t be shy. Get to know your fellow classmates. The unicorns and pegasi have to have their own individual classes to develop their unique talents, so now that the two races are together here you should interact with them. And, of course, we should not forget the last group: the earth ponies.

“We may not have horns or wings, but we are just as valuable and important as the other races. Earth ponies, specifically the Apple family, founded Ponyville during a rough patch of history, and despite it being a period where the three races hadn't yet been properly unified, and distrust reigned, other races were allowed to integrate into this society, expanding it and creating it into the great town we have today. Earth ponies are the ones usually cultivating the land, creating the delicious fruits and vegetables that you eat on a daily basis.

“The three races each play a part in this, which is why racial unification is so important. The earth ponies cultivate the land, the pegasi create the rainclouds to help them grow, and the unicorns USED to be the ones to raise the sun. Nowadays that role is taken by our alicorn rulers Celestia and Luna. Their magical proficiency is great enough they can do this alone, while in the past it could take as many as twenty to thirty unicorns to muster the energy to do so. The point is that we all need each other, and each race of ponies has something important to offer.

“So now we come back to the beginning. Don’t just make friends with unicorns if you’re a unicorn, or pegasi if you’re a pegasus. Each of the races has something important to offer, and the ways in which you differ as just as important as the ways in which you’re alike.”

The students began to split up, seeking out others to talk to and hang out with. As they weren’t doing any learning at the moment all the desks were stacked upon each other on the sides of the classroom to give them all room to interact.

Pound only had eyes for his sister. He walked over to her, seeing her chatting with another pegasus. “Hey, Pumpkin. I’m really sorry about what I did.”

Pumpkin stopped talking, giving him a dirty look, then she grabbed the pegasus and dragged him away about ten feet, and continued what she was saying like there was no interruption.

Pound sighed, his face falling. ‘Yep,’ he thought, ‘she’s mad, alright.’

There was a knock on the door, and Pound’s teacher came in. “Excuse me,” she said, “but could I speak to you for a minute?”

“Of course.”

She got up and left the room, closing it behind her.

Pound paid no attention to this. He kept trying to get Pumpkin to talk to him, and she just as stubbornly ignored him.

Finally, Pumpkin got fed up. Turning to him she shoved him, saying coldly, “I don’t want to talk to you, so JUST… GO… AWAY!”

Pound was starting to get irritated. “Come on, Pumpkin! I said I was sorry! Why can’t you just get over it?”

Pumpkins eyes widened in disbelief, saying incredulously, “Why can’t I just… get over it? Are you that brainless? I’ve been freaking out day after day at the thought that I almost killed you by losing control of my magic and not wanting it to happen again. And you have this BRILLIANT idea of jumping off the top of the flagpole because a couple of your other stupid friends dared you to do it, when you KNEW you couldn’t do it, and you’re asking me to just “get over it?”” You could have DIED! You just got out of your casts last month. “Get over it?” No! I’m not! You disgust me, Pound! I don’t even want to look at you right now.” And with a contemptuous huff she turned away from him.

“It’s not like YOU’VE never done anything stupid!” Pound replied, his voice rising up. “I never beat you up or held a grudge with you for nearly KILLING me, you murderer!”

Pumpkin gasped, her body and face clenching up as guilt washed over her. She stomped her hoof, rounding on him. Neither of the two noticed that the general chatter was dying out, everyone becoming more interested in their quarrel. “At least I can use my special talent like a pony should.” Her horn lit up, and a blue aura surrounded Pound, lifting him up a few feet before she released him and he fell flat on the ground. “Whoops! Guess even MY magic can’t help you off the ground you flightless loser!” She gave him an arrogant smirk as several ponies began laughing at him.

Pound almost started crying. Pumpkin’s comment was an extremely low blow to him, and his face went red with humiliation before his eyes narrowed. ‘Two can play at that game!’ he thought angrily as he stood up.

“Oh, yeah? Well, at least I don’t still wet the bed sometimes, Puddles!” Renewed laughter broke out, and now all the students were watching them, finding it extremely entertaining.

Now it was Pumpkin’s turn to go red and gasp, not believing that Pound would reveal that to everyone. She recovered quickly, retorting, “At least I don’t play dress-up where I pretend I’m a princess. Did you like wearing a dress?”

The two of them continued exchanging insults until they got fed up, storming up to each other and putting their heads together.

“Aw, sweet!” one of the kids said. “Fight!”

“Fight!”

The doorknob suddenly rattled, and the mood in the room shifted instantly. All the other kids quickly turned away, acting interested in the students around them.

Pound and Pumpkin were a little bit slower to react, not wanting to be the first to turn away.

“Pound? Pumpkin? What are you two doing?”

The two turned to face their teacher, hooves around each other and big smiles on their faces. “Staring contest!” Pound invented.

“Yeah! Staring contest,” Pumpkin agreed.

She didn’t look quite convinced, but she let it go. The second her eyes were off them the two split up, glaring at each other for a few seconds before storming off to opposite sides of the room.

Both of them were fuming, sitting heavily on the floor and curling up with their heads on their knees, angry they hadn’t been able to settle things properly.

“Sisters!” “Brothers!” the pair said with contempt.

Some of their pegasus and unicorn classmates came up to them, being reassuring. “Come on, Pound. You weren’t hurt. She was clearly overreacting.” “Your brother was out of line. He shouldn’t have fallen to their bait.”

Pound looked up. “Yeah! You’re right. I’m perfectly fine, so what’s the big deal? My sister is such a butthead!”

“My sister is a pain too.”

“So is mine!”

“What a whining little crybaby!”

***

“Come on!” Pumpkin said, gesturing with her hoof. “How dumb do you have to be to jump from up that high when you know you can’t fly?”

“Brothers can be so dumb.”

“And smelly!”

“Especially your brother. I never seen something so stupid in all my life.”

***

“Hmm?” Pound and Pumpkin both glanced over at the ones who made the last comment, a hot feeling in their stomach.

***

“So immature-what a baby-stupid-moron-”

The talk continued on, with the pair getting more and more frustrated. Almost simultaneously there were two battle shouts, and they each jumped at the ones making the biggest insults to their siblings. The class, which had been subdued since the teacher had come back in, were worked into a frenzy at not one, but TWO fights going on at the same time. They cheered and whooped as their earth pony teacher tried to work through the crowd to break them up, loudly ordering them to stop all the while as the four rolled around on the group exchanging hits. The loud commotion finally caught the attention of another teacher, who yelled for more help.

After a few minutes they finally got all the fighting children split apart, dragging them to the principal’s office.

As the teachers talked about what had happened and they waited for their punishments Pound and Pumpkin both looked at each other, odd smile on their faces. They knew they were in trouble, but they both understood they had fought for the other despite their disagreements.

Their tiny joy didn’t last long. They all got a big scolding from the principal. When the story finally got completely out that the two of them had instigated both fights, along with the trouble earlier during lunch, the principal told them she felt they weren’t the kinds of students she wanted at her school.

They spent the remainder of the school day in a separate classroom away from the other kids, their stomachs feeling tight as they wondered what their parents would say.

When the day ended and the other students were picked up by their own parents or siblings the two of them had to stay behind while the principal had words with them. When Cup Cake and Carrot Cake, along with Pinkie Pie, came in to collect them they had no doubt they were in big trouble.

“Come,” Cup Cake said in a quiet, authoritative voice. The pair obeyed instantly.

The walk home was terrible. They walked ahead of them at a normal pace, forcing the twins to jog to keep up with them.

When they got home they both got yelled at and punished; no dessert for a week, grounded, how mortifying, not the way we raised you…

Pinkie Pie didn’t say a word to them. She was hurt beyond words.

Dinner was a tense affair, with nary a word spoken besides an almost inaudible “Thank you” from the twins when they were done.

If the pair thought the worst was over they were in for a big surprise. As part of their punishment they were tasked with washing the dishes and cleaning the table. Just as they were finishing up there was a knock on the door.

They were planning to go upstairs to their rooms, but they were stopped in their tracks as they saw who had come to visit: Princess Twilight, and from the look on her face as she glared down disapprovingly at them they knew she had heard what had happened.

The two of them gulped.

11-D: Unwanted

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“Kicked out…” Twilight was pacing back and forth, letting out a loud huff. “Kicked out… on your first day of school.”

Pound and Pumpkin were both looking determinedly at the floor.

“I thought today was going to be a great day. I was hoping to hear about what you’d learned, and if you made any friends. And then I got the letter from the principal, asking me what kind of children I recommended to them.”

Twilight stopped her pacing, turning toward the two of them. “Pound Cake, I’ve come to expect this kind of behavior from you. But, Pumpkin, I really expected better of you. I thought you were better than this.”

Tears began to come down the twin’s eyes, and they started to sniff, but they still wouldn’t look up.

“They wanted you expelled for what you did, but I managed to talk them down. You’re both suspended for a week. The two of you aren’t all that used to playing with other kids your age, so I can understand that new tensions may have overwhelmed you, but that still doesn’t excuse both of you brawling with other colts and fillies.

“As I tried to impress upon you last month, and once before then, violence is NOT the answer when conflict-resolution will do fine. If you were getting upset and anxious over what they were saying you should have spoken to your teacher about what was going on before resorting to that kind of brutish nonsense.

“I’m very disappointed in the pair of you. I expect so much more from you when you have a pony like Pinkie Pie as one of your main caretakers.”

Twilight’s words cut like knives. Without a word the two of them shuffled off toward their room, barely avoiding sobbing.

When the pair had made it up the stairs Cup Cake and Carrot Cake looked at each other before Cup Cake said, “I’m so sorry, your highness, for troubling you like this.”

Twilight took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. “This isn’t your fault. I know both you and Carrot Cake are kindly stern with them when their behavior gets out of hoof. Even Pinkie Pie pushes them to be better selves, even if she is a little more lenient.

“I think this week would best be spent in pushing the two of them to learn better about peaceful problem-solving instead of hitting. I’ll come back here tomorrow when I have the time. I-I…” She let out another heavy sigh, irritably walking in place. “I just can’t deal with this right now. They’re squandering their potential.

“I’ll come back here tomorrow and talk to them again when I’m in a calmer mood.”

Pound and Pumpkin were both sitting on their beds, bunched up with their heads on their knees, quietly crying. For a long time both of them didn’t move from their spots, lost in their sadness and guilt, neither saying a word.

After a while Pound looked over at Pumpkin. Unscrunching himself he hopped off his bed and walked over to hers. “Pumpkin?” he said quietly.

She looked up at him with eyes red from crying. “What is it?” she said emotionlessly.

Looking her in the eyes he said sincerely, “I’m sorry. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t been acting so stupid this never would have happened.” Taking in a sharp breath he put his hooves over her. “I’m really sorry!” he cried out as he began to gently sob.

Pumpkin stared at him a few seconds before she pulled him up onto her bed and hugged him too. “No, it’s not all your fault. I was so mad and upset that when you wouldn’t stop bugging me I deliberately made fun of you not being able to fly yet, just because I knew that it was what would hurt you the most. I’m sorry for that.”

“I forgive you, Pumpkin.”

She looked thoughtfully at the end of her bed. “I just… feel like I finally understand why you’re always threatening to beat up ponies that pick on me. I was so mad at you during our fight, and we were talking about how brothers were stupid and useless. I was okay with that, when we were all talking about our OWN brothers, but when THEY started talking bad about you… I just lost it.” Snuggling him closer some more tears came down her eyes. “No one is allowed to pick on you but me.”

Pound started to laugh, but the brief feeling of humor was quickly lost back into despair. He nuzzled her cheek. “I’m sorry, Pumpkin,” he said again. “Twins?”

“Twins,” she replied, nuzzling him back as they continued crying and holding each other.

“We really screwed up big time, didn’t we?”

Pumpkin nodded. “First the principal chewed us out, then mom and dad, and then Princess Twilight.”

In a self-loathing voice Pound added, “Auntie Pinkie didn’t yell at us, but she didn’t have to. Did you see the look on her face when she heard?”

Pumpkins eyes filled with tears as she sniffed, having trouble forming her response. “Y-y-yes,” she stuttered out. “And she hasn’t talked to us all day since then.”

Pound squeezed his sister tighter. “M-maybe we’re just bad kids.”

Pumpkin held him tighter as well. “Everybody is mad at us.”

“Y-yeah. Twilight hates us for making her look bad, Mom and Dad looked like bad parents and probably hate us too for being so bad. And Auntie Pinkie…” He couldn’t get her hurt expression out of his head.

A black cloud was forming over Pumpkin as well. “By tomorrow Twilight will probably tell all her friends and they’ll hate us too.”

“And Auntie Pinkie is friends with EVERYONE in town. Everybody’s gonna hate us!”

Both of them were now shaking with fright and shame, holding onto each other like their lives depended on it. “I-I guess we’re all each other’s got,” Pumpkin said, sniffing. “I don’t hate YOU, Pound.”

“I-I-I guess so. And no matter what you do I’ll always love you too, Pumpkin.”

“Me too! I’ll always love you too, because you’re my other half. We’re twins, and even though you drive me crazy sometimes I can’t picture a life without you by my side.”

“Yeah, we’re twins. Two of a kind. Just like that time Auntie Pinkie split us apart and we were ready to fight her so she couldn’t separate us again.”

“We have to stick together, because we know each other best.”

The pair had stopped shaking so bad, finding comfort in each other’s presence.

For a time they sat there quietly, just holding on to each other as they calmed down. Pumpkin finally asked, “Do you want to sleep with me tonight, Pound? After everything that went on today I don’t wanna be apart from you.”

Pound didn’t answer. Now he was the one with a contemplative look on his face.

“What are you thinking about, Pound?”

“I think we should leave,” he said quietly.

“Leave?” she asked. “And go where?”

Pound pulled out of her hold, turning away from her and curling up again. “Nobody wants us here anymore. We’re just a burden on our parents and Auntie Pinkie. They’d be better off without us.”

Pumpkin let out a heavy sigh, the weight of what they had done pressing down on her again. “But where would we go?”

“Who knows?” Pound said indifferently. “Who cares?” He picked up one of the stuffed animals on the bed and threw it as hard as he could. “Anywhere but Ponyville. I mean, Applejack and Cheese Sandwich left home when they were about our ages, right? We’ll find a way to make it work.”

Pumpkin opened her mouth to argue, but once again the image of Pinkie’s disappointment flashed before her eyes, and despair began to well up inside her. The angry and upset faces of Pinkie, her parents, and Twilight, all looking down at her made Pound’s words feel too real to disagree with. He really WAS the only one there for her now.

“Alright,” Pumpkin said, a tear coming down her eye. “Mom and Dad already closed up shop for the day and are cleaning up. When they come upstairs we’ll sneak down and take some food, and then… we’re on our own. M-m-maybe we can find someone else who will love us again.”

Pound turned as he heard Pumpkin start sobbing again. He hugged her close, saying, “Don’t cry, Pumpkin. We’ll be okay. I’ll protect you, and you’ll protect me. I trust you completely, so I’m not afraid.”

Pumpkin automatically held him back. “I-I-I trust you too, Pound, but I’m still scared.” She put a hoof over her stomach, her body tensing as she grimaced. “I feel like I’m gonna be sick,” she said emotionally, her voice cracking.

Pound was finding it hard to keep up his act when he was just as scared and his stomach hurting just as much, but there was no other way to escape. The two of them were clinging to each other again, unsure of what to do.

A few hours later Pinkie was sitting on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. She couldn’t sleep. She had felt deeply hurt that Pound and Pumpkin had both gotten violent on their first day of school when she had tried so hard to encourage them to be friendly and make friends. However, those feelings had faded greatly, and now she felt upset at herself for not trying to be more understanding.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake had scolded and punished them for their behavior, then a short while later Twilight had stormed in and scolded them again. The faces on the pair were the lowest she had ever seen them. Their regret over their actions was obvious, and she felt that they were being a little too hard on the two. At the time she was still too caught in her feelings to stand up for them as she usually did. The pair hadn’t come out of their room all night, and it was so unnaturally quiet around the house that it felt deafening.

Hadn’t they been punished enough for one night? She had left them alone because she wanted them to really think about their behavior, but she couldn’t take it anymore. They could address the matter again in the morning, but she didn’t want the twins falling asleep completely miserable.

She got up out of bed, heading down both flights of stairs, the conspicuous lack of noise bothering her again as she passed their room. Taking a few cupcakes and some juice she went upstairs, gently knocking on their door. There was no answer.

She opened the door, walking in and closing it. There was only a little bit of light from the moon. “Pound? Pumpkin?” she said quietly, walking over to Pound’s bed. She could see his shape, covered up with a blanket. Sitting down on the edge she said, “Listen, you guys. I understand that both of you lost control and you did something you wish you hadn’t. I just wanted to let you guys know that I still love the both of you more than anything in the world, okay?

“I brought you some goodnight treats, so let’s just forget about being punished for tonight, alright?” Again, there was no answer.

Pinkie leaned over. “Come on, Pound! I know you’re not that heavy of a sleeper. I’m sorry if I hurt you guys before by not coming in earlier.” She felt a little discouraged as she still got no response. She put a hoof on Pound, and felt confused as she touched something very soft that her hoof sank into. It clearly wasn’t him.

She got up, and ran to the door, flicking the light switch. As the room lit up she could see the pillows placed to make it seem like their beds were full. Confusion and worry started to go through the mare. What was going on?

She looked around the room for a sign of the pair. Was it a prank? Were they hiding just out of sight, laughing? After searching around she didn’t see a hint of them.

When she sat down again she saw something out of the corner of her eye fluttering to the floor. Turning to look she saw a plain piece of paper.

She walked over and picked it up. It only took a few seconds to read the six words on the page, and her face went pale, her heart thumping rapidly in her chest. She began to shake, her breathing getting shorter and shorter, before she let out a loud scream that carried throughout the house.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake came rushing into the room quickly afterwards, wondering what was wrong.

Pinkie’s eyes were filled with tears as she wordlessly handed the note over.


11-E The search party

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Twilight was sitting on her bed, reading one of her favorite books. She had barely stopped reading since she came home. Losing herself in the world of the book she had slowly calmed down.

“Spike,” said Twilight, looking up.

“Yeah, Twilight?” he responded.

“I’m sorry I was a little short with you earlier. I was just frustrated.”

“That’s okay, Twilight. We all get like that sometimes."

She rested her head on a hoof. “I just don’t know what to do about those two.”

“You mean Pound and Pumpkin?”

“Yeah.” She looked at the wall, not really seeing it. “I just don’t get them. They live with PINKIE PIE! I mean, what else do they need to understand what they’re doing is wrong?”

Spike let out a little humph, making her turn toward him. “What?” she said, a little defensively.

“Excuse me, miss princess of friendship, but no pony is perfect. Just because you and your brother never fought doesn’t mean they won’t attack each other. And speaking of, didn’t you go crazy when Shining Armor was going to be married? You only found out she was a fake because you were spying on her, and then flat out called her evil in front of him without thinking about his feelings.”

Twilight averted her eyes as she remembered her behavior back then. She HAD gone a bit overboard, even if in the end she had turned out to be right.

“The two of them are still young, Twilight. You can’t understand them because you never went through what they went through. You didn’t have any friends or family TO defend in class.”

Twilight sighed. “You may be right. It’s not so much about the fact that they got into a fight. I can understand that small children have poor impulse control and make foolish decisions. And from observing others and my own life experiences I can understand the strain of peer pressure and the difficulty of making a niche for yourself.”

She raised her head, looking around at the mountain of bookshelves covering the room. “I was most hurt because they’re wasting their potential. When I first came in to talk to the principal she was initially adamant that she didn’t want them to return, describing several incidents the pair got into, rousing the other children who were being well-behaved before. It took a lot of effort on my part to convince her otherwise. Just think of all the months of valuable life lessons they would have missed had I not been able to persuade her to lower their punishment to a week’s suspension.

“I had such high hopes for them. Some fillies and colts only care about fun, fun, fun, all the time, considering any work or learning boring or a waste of time, or as just a distraction from the REAL important stuff. When I asked the two of them if they were interested in going to school I saw a bit of myself in them. Their eyes lit up, and they hopped up and down in delight, happily and proudly declaring that they were going to school. It made me so happy.” She got a whimsical look on her face as she recalled it, before it soured. “But then I got the letter. It was heartbreaking.

“I really wasn’t all that mad at them. I was more… disappointed. I sure hope they take this time to think more deeply about their actions and the way they affect others.”

BANG BANG BANG!

Twilight and Spike both jumped at the hard, rapid pounding on the door. “Hold your horses,” Twilight muttered to herself at the quick, continuous pounding, standing up and opening the door.

She backed up a step as something was shoved in her face. Moving her head a little she saw behind the piece of paper was Pinkie Pie. “What’s wrong, Pinkie?” she asked, seeing her mane pretty deflated and a look of panic on her face. Pinkie’s response was to shove the paper in her face again.

“Okay, okay! I’m looking.” She took the paper from Pinkie, and read the six words. It was obvious from the misspelled words, the backwards letters, and the messiness of the writing that it had been done by a child. “Running away? Did Pound and Pumpkin write this?”

Pinkie nodded hard. “We need to find them, Twilight. I have no idea how long they’ve been gone.”

Twilight sighed. “I’ll use the summoning function of the Cutie Map.“ The three of them went into the throne room. Twilight sat down on her throne, seeing the cutie mark icon lighting up above her. Pinkie and Spike likewise sat down on theirs. Her horn glowing, she concentrated. A beam of energy shot out of the throne in the shape of her cutie mark, shooting out lights to the other four marks, which began to hum and flicker on and off.

Twilight sighed, her head resting on her hoof. She knew she should be worried, but Ponyville was one of the safest places in Equestria, so they weren’t likely to meet any trouble from other ponies. For the most part she was just annoyed.

Spike noticed Twilight’s impatient, restless gestures, kicking her leg and swaying back and forth ever so slightly. “What’s wrong, Twilight?” he asked.

“Yeah!” Pinkie said, an unnatural edge in her voice. “Are your stupid books more important than the lives of the babies?”

Twilight met Pinkie’s eyes without flinching. “The two of them both chose to run away from their problems instead of dealing with it. If they didn’t want to be scolded and punished then they shouldn’t have engaged in such behavior. Not only did they get kicked out of school they won’t even accept responsibility for their actions.”

Pinkie’s pink face went red. “Well, if it’s such an inconvenience then maybe I should just go if you don’t want to help!“

Spike could see Pinkie looked at her boiling point. “Hold it, hold it, hold it!” Spike yelled, getting in between the two. He turned to Twilight, an odd look on his face. “Twilight, don’t you get how they feel?”

Twilight’s face softened a little bit. “Spike, are you crying?”

He sniffed, wiping his face. “I understand perfectly why they did it. Do you remember when you first got Owlicious?”

“Of course. He showed up one night and grabbed a piece of paper that had flown out my window in a breeze. But what does that have to do with anything?”

“And… do you remember what happened with me?”

Twilight looked at him questioningly for a few seconds before her eyes widened as the realization hit her. “Oh…” She drifted off in a small voice, her anger gone.

“I… I ran away because you scolded me for being jealous and trying to frame Owlicious.” His throat felt tight as he tried to swallow. “I thought you didn’t love me anymore and were replacing me, so I left just like they did.”

Twilight let out another sigh, heavy with a tinge of guilt. “Was I too hard on them?” she said to herself, a tear coming down her eye.

Pinkie walked up to her, putting a hoof on her shoulder. “No, Twilight,” she responded, a few tears in her own eyes. “The two of them got hit on all sides with disapproval and disappointment. We were all so mixed up that not a one of us tried to be understanding. Not having any source of comfort from the adults in their lives its no surprise they felt they weren’t wanted anymore.”

Twilight hugged her. “I’m sorry, Pinkie Pie. I was being pretty cold. I guess I still have a lot to learn about little kids.”

Pinkie hugged her back. “Well, I do too. I should have come to them earlier, then they wouldn’t have thought their only choice was to leave.”

They heard the sound of running, and a few seconds later Rainbow Dash rushed in. “I came as quick as I could. What’s wrong?”

Twilight explained the situation to her. To their surprise Rainbow Dash started laughing. Aware that she hadn’t been taking the situation seriously herself just a short while ago she said shortly, “Is there something you find amusing about this, Rainbow?”

Rainbow saw the hurt look on Pinkie’s face, and quickly straightened up. “No, no. It’s just that they won’t be gone long.”

‘Why do you say that?” asked Pinkie.

“Captain of the weather patrol, remember? There’s a thunderstorm scheduled for tonight. Trust me, once they start getting soaked and hearing the sound of thunder they’ll be begging to come home.”

Twilight and Pinkie looked at each other unsurely. “I sure hope so…” Pinkie looked at the ground, wanting to just melt into a puddle of tears right there. Pound and Pumpkin adored her, and she adored them. Even though they called her Auntie, to her they were like her very own children. She would die to defend them, would do anything it took to keep them safe and protect their innocence.

This was the second time the two had run away from home. Luckily they had only gone to Fluttershy’s the first time, but this habit of theirs of running away from home whenever they felt scared they weren’t going to be wanted anymore was troubling. She didn’t know if her heart could take it. She had realized later on that they needed a little bit of positive affirmation, and that was why she had come to their room. If anything had happened to them, and she could have prevented it…

Rainbow noticed Pinkie’s mane steadily deflating, and dropped her jokey demeanor entirely. Grabbing her friend she gave her a quick shake and said sternly, “Pinkie Pie! This is not the time for despair and giving up! This is a time for action! We’re going to need you in the search, and if they’re in trouble you need to be in the right state to defend them. Do you understand me? Save the tears and anguish for if they’re seriously hurt.”

It took a little while for Rainbow’s words to sink in. She felt so heavy with guilt for driving them away. In her heart, though, she knew Rainbow Dash was correct. Taking a heavy breath she lifted her head, her mane snapping back as she looked back determinedly at her friend. “You’re right, Rainbow. I can’t afford to fall to pieces. They may need me.”

Rainbow turned to Twilight. “I’m gonna fly around and see if I can spot them. If I find them I’ll summon you guys with the Cutie Map.”

Twilight nodded. “Spike, you stay here until our other friends get here and tell them what’s going on.” Getting up she said to Pinkie, “Rainbow got here quickly, of course. Rarity is the next closest, so she should be here soon. If we’re lucky one of them will spot the twins on their walk here. It would be best if we could find them before the storm starts.”

Pinkie nodded, directing all her energy into her desire to find the lights of her life. “Let’s go!”

“Good luck, you guys!” Spike called out after them as the three left.

As Twilight said they ran into Rarity as they were all going their separate ways. Her mane was done up in curlers and she complained about the map being so inconsiderate to her need for beauty sleep. Once she saw the note and heard the story her attitude quickly shifted into action mode.

The four of them each picked a direction and fanned out, hoping that it wasn’t too late.

11-F Kindness and compassion

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Pound and Pumpkin had been walking aimlessly for a while. They were so lost in their own thoughts and pain that neither of them was being the leader. They were only partially aware of each other, unconsciously changing direction when they noticed the other did.

“Do you think they know yet?” Pumpkin asked in a small voice.

“Maybe,” Pound replied emotionlessly.

“What do you think they’ll do when they find the note?”

“Get mad and come looking for us so they can punish us and yell at us some more. They already hate our guts. They’ll only be mad that they have to waste their time getting us back.” A trace of anger entered his voice.

“Yeah. You’re probably right.” Pumpkin let out a sigh. “So where should we go? We can’t just wander around all night. We need to sleep eventually, and once its morning it will be easier to find us.”

Pound let out a weird, high pitched laugh.

“What?” Pumpkin asked, confused.

“This is great!” he said, a note of excitement in his voice. “Just think about it! No rules! No bed time! We can do whatever we want whenever we want and nobody can tell us what to do.”

Pumpkin looked uncertain. “I don’t know about that. We still need a place to sleep and what not.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

“We need to do that NOW!”

Pound rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a killjoy. The entire world is open to us. Don’t you want to explore?”

Pumpkin looked behind her, her stomach still feeling tied in knots. “But… Mom and Dad…”

Pound glared at her. “Just shut up, Pumpkin!” he said nastily, and she looked back at him, hurt. “Forget about them! They don’t want us anymore! Don’t you get it? They hate us because we were horrible kids, so now they don’t have to worry about us bothering them anymore.

“I’m just trying to make the best of things and enjoy our new freedom. If you’re gonna be such a stick in the mud then I’ll just go off on my own and leave you too.”

He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. The pained look and the tears forming in her eyes killed his bad mood in a heartbeat. He quickly hugged her. “I’m sorry¸ Pumpkin. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

She was shaking in his hooves, gently sobbing. “You’re-you’re all I’ve got left.” She sniffed a few times. “Don’t ever say that.”

He squeezed her tighter. “I understand, Pumpkin. I was just being a brat. I wouldn’t really leave you all alone.”

She hugged him back. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Oh!” came a voice ahead of them. “Hello, you two.”

Their heads whipped around, seeing Fluttershy walking toward them.

The twins hearts began racing. Putting on a bright voice he said, “Hi, Fluttershy! How are you?”

“Just fine.”

Pumpkin forced a smile on her face, asking, “What brings you out so late?”

She turned a little, showing her blinking cutie mark. “I was summoned by the Cutie Map.” She shrugged a little, saying lightheartedly, “I don’t know why it couldn’t have requested us in the morning.” She raised her head a little higher and looked around. “Where are your parents?”

Pound did some lightning quick thinking. He turned his head, pointing with his hoof. “What do you mean? They’re right-” He broke off as he saw no one there. He turned back to Fluttershy. “Oh, no! We were on a nighttime stroll, and I guess we got too far ahead of them.”

Turning around and curling up he began to fake cry. “I’m scared! It’s so dark!”

Pumpkin hesitated before following Pound’s lead and freaking out too.

Fluttershy felt concerned over the two. The map may have something important it wanted her to do, but the kids were a higher priority right now. She walked up to them, pulling them both to her. “There, there,” she said comfortingly. “Don’t cry now. I’ll protect you.”

Stifling his noises Pound said thickly, “You will?”

“Of course I will,” she said lovingly. “After all, I’ve foalsat you guys a bunch and love you very much.”

Pound flinched, feeling like he just got struck in the gut. How was Fluttershy going to feel when she heard what they had done? She wouldn’t still want to hug him then.

Pumpkin was likewise flushing with shame and guilt.

Pound guiltily pulled away from her comforting hold, not feeling he deserved it. Forcing a sense of calm he said, “No one is going to be home at our house since our parents are out, and Auntie Pinkie probably got called by the map too. Do you think we can go to your house? You have a bunch of animals and even a big bear that can protect us and keep us company.”

“Hmm.” Fluttershy felt a little torn, still feeling the sporadic vibrations coming from her cutie mark. Did she have time to wait around for Cup Cake and Carrot Cake to come home? They would be expecting the twins to be around.

She looked over at them, and she felt a pain in her heart. There was something… off about them. They just didn’t seem their usual cheerful selves. She could tell it was about something more than just losing their parents. She had watched them enough to be able to tell that, at least. They both had a thousand yard stare, looking like the weight of the world was on their shoulders. They were far too young to look so old. “Pound, Pumpkin, are you two all right? You don’t look well.”

The two of them just kept staring off into space. “Hey!” she said a little louder, and still nothing.

She walked up to them, pulling them close again. “Come on, you guys. I know something is troubling you. Talk to me.”

This time when she pulled away the two of them were looking at her like they were about to begin sobbing. Their mouths opened and closed a few times, like they were struggling to say something important. She leaned down to their level. “Come on. You can tell me.”

Pound and Pumpkin felt like they were about to explode. Both of them wanted so bad to just cry and fall into her hold, to tell her everything, but they were too scared… too afraid. Fluttershy was the kindest pony they knew… even more than Auntie Pinkie Pie. If she found out, and she gave them the same kind of look Auntie Pinkie did… it would only mean that they were completely unlovable, and that was completely unbearable. It was more than they could take. They both wanted comfort at the moment, and they didn’t want Fluttershy to know their secret just so she could hate them too.

Something came to Fluttershy then. She recalled a similar scenario a few months ago where she had seen the twins on their own, scared and anxious. That time they had come to her to hide because they had ruined Pinkie’s big cake and didn’t want to get yelled at. They had panicked, unsure of what to do.

This was a little bit different. They didn’t seem scared. They looked disheartened and emotionally exhausted, holding in something far too big for them to handle. A sympathetic tear came down her eye.

Making up her mind she picked the two of them up and began flying back toward her house.

“H-hey!” Pound complained. “What are you doing?”

“You said you wanted to come to my home, right?”

“O-oh,” Pound said dully, sighing heavily. Neither of them protested the rest of the way.

When they arrived she shifted the twins so she could get her door open. Most of her animals were already asleep. She flew up to her room, setting the two down on her bed before turning on the light. She helped them out of their saddle bags so they'd be more comfortable.

“There we go!” Fluttershy said cheerfully.

Pumpkin feebly waved with her hoof. “Well, goodbye, then,” she said in a grim voice, her head on a hoof.

“Y-yeah,” said Pound, tears brimming in his eyes as he curled up. “Thanks.”

Neither of them were looking at her.

Fluttershy felt a few more tears come down her own eyes. She couldn’t stand to see how heavy the weight was crushing them. She shook her head. “I’m not going. I’m staying here with you.”

With mild interest they turned slightly toward her. “But you have to go,” said Pound. “That’s your job.”

“Yeah,” added Pumpkin, “The map sends you places so you can spread friendship across Equestria.”

She shook her head again. “I understand that, but I wouldn’t be worthy to teach others about friendship if I could just ignore those who need my help right in front of me. Whatever the situation is it can wait until I’ve helped you solve your problem.”

The two of them finally looked directly at her, starting to shake as her words washed over them. “Y-y-you really mean that?” Pumpkin asked, having trouble catching her breath.

“Of course I do,” Fluttershy said tenderly, “because I love you two. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I abandoned you now when you’re both screaming out for help.”

The two of them threw themselves at her, squeezing her tightly as they gently cried. Fluttershy had basically just told them she considered them more important than the rest of Equestria. In their pain and despair it was like a breath of fresh air, making them feel like maybe things could turn out alright after all.

Fluttershy hugged them back, closing her eyes as she put all her love and kindness into her hold. “See? You’re starting to feel better already.” They looked up at her, tears streaming down their eyes. She knew there was more work to do. These were only little cries. They had a huge cry inside them wanting to come out. She hadn’t yet truly reached into their hearts, but she was at least thankful that the blank, expressionless faces they had were gone. If she kept gently pushing them she was sure they would gradually open up.

After a few minutes she gently sat them back on the bed. “Are you ready to talk to me yet, or do you still need some time? When I found you two you looked like you were crying.”

The two of them looked at each other, before Pound looked at the floor and began kicking his legs restlessly. “Me and Pumpkin got into a fight. She got me mad, so I said if she didn’t stop bringing me down I was going to leave her all alone. When I saw how sad that made her I got sad too, and I apologized.

“T-t-that’s all that happened.”

“I see.” Fluttershy noticed that the new information he had just shared contradicted their earlier story about being out with their parents. If they really had thought their parents were close behind them as they walked then saying he was going to leave his sister all alone didn’t add up. She didn’t dispute the inconsistency. They were starting to open up to her, and she didn’t want to lose the momentum by doing something that would cause them to shut themselves away again.

They began to do it again, looking at her and opening their mouth like they wanted to say something, but they didn’t have the courage to.

Fluttershy knew she needed to phrase her words very carefully. The right words might help her get to the bottom of the matter, but the wrong ones would get them defensive or angry. “Do you guys trust me?”

“Of course, Fluttershy!” Pumpkin responded instantly.

“Yeah!" said Pound. "You’re the nicest pony around, and you never try to hurt anyone.”

“Do you remember some time ago, when you guys ran away from home?” There was a jolt from the twins, and they suddenly grew stiff, their eyes growing wide. Their reaction was all the confirmation she needed. They had definitely done a repeat of the last time.

Continuing as though she hadn’t noticed their response she said, “When you came to me you asked me for a Pinkie Promise to not tell anyone you were here. When Pinkie Pie came to my door looking for you I felt stuck. I didn’t want to leave Pinkie freaked out, but I had given my word to you that I wouldn’t tell you were there, and I considered your feelings and emotions as important as an adults. I don’t feel it’s right to treat children as less important or valuable as someone older, just because they’re not as mature or intelligent.

“I want to help you two, but I can’t help you solve your problem if you won’t tell me what it is. I promise you that I’ll be understanding. Whatever it is you’re going through we can work through it together, but only if you’re willing to put some faith in me. I kept my word to you the last time, didn’t I? Will you trust me again this time? I can understand if you’re not ready to tell me yet, though. I’ll wait up the whole night until you ARE ready.”

It was getting to be too much. The pain was becoming overwhelming. They didn’t know how much longer they could endure. Fluttershy was giving them such an empathetic expression. Maybe… if it was true… then perhaps things could get better. Fluttershy could put in a good word for them.

She patiently waited while they struggled, shivering in fear as they slowly worked up the nerve.

After about ten minutes Pumpkin finally began talking. She was staring hard at the floor. “M-m-me and Pound had our first day of school today.”

“Magic Kindergarten,” Pound added.

“That sounds lovely,” Fluttershy said serenely, still not wanting to talk much.

“M-m-most of the day was a lot of fun, but me and Pumpkin got into a big fight because I did something stupid. She was really mad at me, and she wouldn’t accept my apology.”

“We both got into a shouting match,” Pumpkin continued. “We started saying the meanest, worst things we could think of to hurt each other, and we would have begun hitting each other if our teacher didn’t come in right then.”

They were quiet again. Fluttershy held back from saying anything. The two of them weren’t crying yet, so she knew they hadn’t yet reached the big event, the thing weighing them down so much.

Minutes passed, and still Fluttershy didn’t intrude upon the silence. She was going to let them come to her on their own. She had done as much as she was able. It was up to them now.

The both of them were breathing heavier, their breaths coming in sharp little gasps. “F-F-Flut-t-t-tershy?” Pound stuttered, his eyes filling with tears. “D-d-do you promise you’re not gonna hate us?”

She gave a nod. “I give you my word.” She kept her response simple, doing her best to hold her emotions in check. She didn’t want them to hold back because they were upsetting her. This was about them and their pain, not about her. Such a question made that hard. She so wanted to just grab the two of them and tell them she loved them a million, billion times until they believed it, but there was a poison in their souls they needed to relieve, and all the kind words in the universe wouldn’t make a difference until they got it out.

Pound wiped his face as the tears came down. “After we separated we both started talking about how annoying our siblings are. Our classmates agreed, talking about how annoying THEIR siblings were. I started feeling better until they began making fun of Pumpkin.”

“Same with me,” added Pumpkin, “When they started calling him stupid and other stuff I got really mad.”

Both of them were being quiet again, those blank expressions coming back. Fluttershy saw they needed a little push. “Okay, then. So you two began fighting in school, and then you split up and were upset at each other. But when some other kids started talking bad about them your anger transferred over to them.” They both gave small, jerky nods. “Okay, so what happened next?”

She saw them both clench up a little, moving away from her a bit. “I made a promise to you two that I would listen without judgment. I need you both to trust me not to lash out. You’ve spent enough time with me to know I’m not like that, don’t you?”

She could see the fear flitting across them, looking up hesitantly at her. Not for the first time she could tell how badly they wanted to just let it out.

Pound put a hoof over his stomach. It was hurting, feeling like worms were crawling around in it. His head went down, slowly curling up into a ball to protect himself. “We… we… I…”

As Pumpkin saw him getting close to spilling it she moved her body so far away she was almost horizontal. She sputtered out a few incoherent words herself.

Finally, Pound couldn’t take it any more. In a rush he said, “MeandPumpkinattackedtheotherkids.”

An eyebrow went up. “What was that, Pound?” she asked gently.

He buried his head into her knees. In a muffled voice he repeated, “Me and Pumpkin attacked the other kids.”

Pumpkin flinched as the words finally came out, looking anywhere but at Fluttershy as her body filled with fear. Quietly she added, “We both got kicked out of school.”

Fluttershy looked curiously at the pair. While she didn’t condone violence a part of her couldn’t help thinking, ‘Is that all?’ The pair had got into tons of fights, both physical and verbal, in her house or when she had visited. What made this one so special?

Holding his legs he closed himself up as much as possible. “The principal got really mad and yelled at us.”

“Then Mom and Dad and Auntie Pinkie came to pick us up. They got mad too. When we-we-we got home Mom and Dad yelled at us too.”

Pound’s head popped up, tears pouring down his eyes. “Auntie Pinkie didn’t yell. She didn’t say anything at all. She just… just…”

Pumpkin was crying now too. “She gave us this look. She was so disappointed. She wouldn’t talk to us all day.”

“She wouldn’t even look at us.”

“And when she did it was always with that look, like she wanted to yell at us.”

“And-and then Princess Twilight came to visit, and she was REALLY mad, even more than our parents.”

“And she yelled at us too.”

“EVERYBODY was yelling at us.”

“Everyone hates us now, and we don’t know what to do!”

“How do we make things right when nobody wants to talk to us?”

Fluttershy felt sympathetic tears coming down her eyes. Now she understood. It wasn’t the fight that had got to them. It was the repeated negative reactions that had overwhelmed them. Without anyone to turn to for comfort they had felt out of options and lost.

She lifted her front hooves, pushing their chins until they were both looking up at her. They didn’t put up any resistance. “Listen to me, you two,” she said gently. “Are you listening?” They both gave little nods. “I don’t approve of your actions,” she started, and both of them jerked away from her. They both clung to each other, shaking like she was about to attack.

She let out a little sigh. That was not the reaction she was trying to invoke. Maintaining the distance between them so as not to scare them further she said, “I understand that you made a mistake. You lost control of yourselves. Actions have consequences. When you do something bad there has to be a consequence.

"However, the consequences for this were too much for you to handle. I just want to let you know that no matter what kind of hijinxs you get into, or what you do when you misbehave, I will still always love you at the end of the day.”

Just like before, when she had put her duty on hold to care for them instead, her words had a powerful effect on them, cutting through the layers of fear and defenses. It was just what they needed to hear. They had stopped shivering so badly, and they slowly released each other, half-hopeful looks on their faces.

“Do… d-d-do you really me-me-mean that?” Pound asked.

“You still-still love us, even after you heard what we did?” Pumpkin asked.

“Yes!” she said firmly, nodding. “I still love you very much, just as much as before.”

Finally, finally, they broke. Standing up they both threw themselves at her, wailing and sobbing and clinging to her. Fluttershy knew this was the big one. All they were looking for was to feel they were still lovable despite their unsavory behavior.

She held onto the two as she flew to a rocking chair she had in the room. The twins sobs grew in escalation as they released all the pent-up feelings within them. It almost felt like a contest to see who could be the loudest.

Fluttershy could feel the moisture soaking her coat, the twins desperate clinging, the feel of their fur against hers. She closed her eyes, rocking back and forth with them, not saying a word. They probably wouldn’t hear her over their crying anyway.

She didn’t know how long they kept on, but it was probably around ten to fifteen minutes before they finally peaked and burned out their emotions and truly began to settle down. Their grip slowly loosened as their bodies relaxed.

She began to slowly and gently rub their backs as she continued just rocking. “There now. That’s much, much better, isn’t it?”

Their breathing was still shaky and jerky, but it was slowly returning to normal. It felt so wonderful to just be in some comforting hooves, to know there was still someone out there willing to accept them for their faults.

Making sure to keep an accusatory tone out of her voice she said, “You two weren’t really traveling with your parents, were you?” They both tensed up a bit. “Scared and feeling down and unsure of what to do you chose to run away from home just like the last time, right?”

Lies and excuses began running through their minds, but Fluttershy had been so understanding and compassionate that they didn’t want to lie to her.

“Yes,” Pound admitted.

“We left a note,” Pumpkin added.

“I see,” Fluttershy said. “I have an idea I’d like to run past you two.”

“What is it?” Pound asked.

“I’d like the two of you to sleep here tonight. I’ll go tell your parents and Pinkie I’ve got you, and then in the morning the three of us will go to Sugarcube Corner and talk things out.”

Pumpkin began to shake again, shaking her head. “No! I… I don’t want to go back.”

“Shhh,” Fluttershy said soothingly. “I’ll stick by you two while we resolve things. I’ll protect you, just like I did today.”

“You… you’d really do that?” asked Pound, sounding surprised. “You might get yelled at too.”

Fluttershy shrugged. “If I do then I do. However, if this issue isn’t resolved then everyone will just be unhappy.”

Pumpkin let out an uncertain sigh. “I… I guess so. It would be nice to see them again.”

“Great.” She pushed herself far back, using the forward momentum to hop out of the chair while still holding onto them, flapping her wings to stay upright as she set both of them onto her bed. Almost instantly they closed the distance between them and hugged each other. She pulled the blanket up around them, giving them each a kiss. “You two have a good sleep.” She went downstairs, bringing up a few of her animals, one of them her bear. “This little guy will protect you, won’t he?”

The bear let out a small roar, hugging her.

“Goodnight, you two. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Goodnight, Fluttershy,” they both said as she shut off the light.

She flew off towards the main area of Ponyville. As she neared the main square she became aware of her still vibrating cutie mark. She decided to go to the castle first. Everyone was probably wondering what was holding her up. She’d give them a quick explanation, then go to Sugarcube Corner to have a discussion with Cup Cake and Carrot Cake.

She flew towards the Crystal Castle, opening the front door and heading towards the throne room. When she got there she saw Spike was the only one there. She sat down on her throne, and the vibration finally stopped. “Hi there, Spike. Listen, I have to go do something real quick. Where is everyone else?”

“They all took off already,” Spike responded. “Twilight was the one who did the summoning. The Cake twins have run away. Everyone’s out searching for them.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy said, throwing a hoof over her face. “Well, call all of them back. They’re sleeping over at my house.”

“WHAT?” Spike said, jumping up. “Are you serious?”

“I ran into them on my walk over here. I took them back to my place and they told me about what happened. I got through to them.”

Spike let out a sigh of relief, wiping his forehead. Closing his eyes and focusing a beam came out of his throne, connecting to the other cutie mark symbols.

“I’m going to go get Cup Cake and Carrot Cake,” said Fluttershy. She went to Sugarcube Corner, assuring the panicking parents that their babies were just fine and encouraging them to come back to the castle with her.

It took a few minutes for all of them to assemble.

Once everyone was there Fluttershy explained what had transpired.

“I asked them to spend the night at my house. Right now they’re still uncertain and releasing all those pent up negative feelings inside themselves. I’ll bring them around tomorrow so we can work all this out."

Pinkie Pie’s face was heavy. She had been just a little too late in figuring out what they needed.

Twilight was likewise feeling pretty guilty herself. She had been angry, but her intention was never to make the twins hate themselves.

She stood up. “I think we should resolve this tonight. If they want you to be their shield then that’s fine, so long as they listen.”

Cup Cake nodded. “I agree. I don’t ever want my kids to think that I hate them.” Carrot silently gave a hard nod.

Twilight looked around. “Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash. You three can all go home. Thank you for your help.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Rainbow Dash. “Night, you guys.”

“I’m just happy they’re safe,” said Rarity, touching her curlers. “Mmm. My mane is going to be a mess in the morning.”

“G’night, y’all,” said Applejack.

When the three of them left Twilight put a magic aura around the rest of them, teleporting to Fluttershy’s cottage. When they went inside Fluttershy could see Pinkie fixing to run right upstairs to them. She put a hoof out. “I think it would be best if I spoke to them alone right now. I don’t want them to start freaking out again. Remember, at the moment they think you don’t want anything more to do with them."

Pinkie sighed heavily, losing her spirit. “Right,” she said, her head down.

She went upstairs to her room, opening the door. In the moon light she could make out her sleeping animals. “Pound. Pumpkin. Are you guys asleep?” She flicked on the light switch, and she gasped, seeing the empty bed.

She quickly looked around, biting her hoof. On the bed there was a piece of paper that looked out of place. She flew over and picked it up, seeing a tearstained note.


A cold chill went through her. They had gone running off again. She really thought she had helped them over their issues. She didn't cherish having to tell Pinkie and their parents the bad news.

11-G: Thunderstorm

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Pound and Pumpkin kept looking behind them as they walked, a continuous feeling of guilt smoldering in their stomachs. Both of them were quietly crying.

It hadn’t been easy deciding to leave. Even after everything they had done, even though everyone else had turned against them, Fluttershy took what they had done without any anger or judgment. She had told them she still loved them and held them close as they had sobbed and cried. She still cared for them very much.

To leave her house, knowing that it was going to hurt her, was painful. They knew she was going to worry, to be scared, to cry, to panic. They were fully aware a simple note wasn’t enough to convey just how sorry they were. They had betrayed her, throwing her kindness in her face, and neither of them were proud of it.

Pound sighed. “This stinks!” he said in a down voice.

“You said it,” Pumpkin agreed.

“But we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t stay. Fluttershy isn’t even part of our family, and she loves us more than our parents and Auntie Pinkie. H-how does THAT happen?” He sniffed.

Pumpkin had trouble swallowing, her mouth dry. “Parents are supposed to love their kids. And Auntie Pinkie has ALWAYS been nice to us, even when our parents were mad at us. We can’t go back. We can’t go see them.”

“If she had taken us back they probably would have just pretended to be understanding, and then when she was gone they would have yelled at us again and locked us in our room for a month.”

The two of them sighed. While they didn’t like to hurt Fluttershy they couldn’t deny that their hearts weren’t sitting so heavy on their souls. Just knowing that there was one pony out there who still loved them, who was understanding and kind and accepted them even for all their faults, meant a lot to them. The shame, the feeling of being completely worthless, that no one could love them, had faded greatly. Their heads were a little clearer than before.

Closing the distance between them so that their bodies were touching they put their heads against each other, gently nuzzling each other for comfort.

“We’ll make it through this, Pumpkin,” Pound said encouragingly. “Together. Fluttershy… she’ll understand one day. We’ll make it up to her.”

Pumpkin nodded. “We will.” A hint of a smile crosses her lips.

***

Fluttershy slowly came downstairs, tears already coming down her eyes. Each step felt like an eternity. She already knew that the rest of them were going to be upset about the twins disappearing again, but that wasn’t the main source of her discomfort.

She reached the bottom of the stairs. feeling the heads turning towards her.

“Uh-oh,” said Twilight, seeing the expression on her face.

Pinkie jumped up. “Don’t tell me they’re gone again!”

Fluttershy just nodded, tears coming down her eyes. The life in the room died instantly.

“I thought you said they were over their issues!” Cup Cake said in a scolding voice. “My babies…”

She went to the couch and sat heavily on it. “How could I have let this happen?” she said to herself. Where had she gone wrong? She had been so patient, so understanding. She had given them their space and given them gentle encouragement to talk. She had made sure they knew that she still cared for them no matter what. That had both broken down crying like there was no tomorrow. She gave them a place of safety for the night, so they wouldn’t have to confront their family until the morning. She thought that it would be enough.

She gasped, a hoof going over her mouth. Her eyes grew dull. “I… I don’t believe it,” she said thickly. “How did I miss it? It was so obvious.”

“Miss what?” asked Twilight.

Fluttershy curled up, holding her legs as her crying grew a little heavier. “They left because I didn’t do a good job of caring for them.”

“What do you mean?”

“They finally broke down and opened up, releasing a lot of pent up feelings inside themselves, but I began to give them new stress before they had properly recovered. I hadn’t gotten them to smile or sleep, and I set them down when they still really needed me.”

She buried her face in her legs as the image flashed in her mind. “When I had set them on the bed the two of them instantly clung to each other. There was no delay. They were still in sore need of encouragement and hugs.”

Her head lifted a little before she set it on a hoof. “I should have done more! I should have seen that they still needed me. Then they’d still be here.

“I-I-I was too distracted to notice it at the time. My cutie mark kept buzzing and I knew you guys were waiting for me to show up. And then when they confirmed to me they had run away I knew Cup Cake and Carrot Cake were probably going crazy looking for them.

"I only wanted to set your minds at ease, but I wound up driving them away and letting them get swept up in their childish emotions again. How could I have been so stupid?” She began to gently sob.

Pinkie walked over, putting a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Come on, Fluttershy. Not you too. We’ve had enough negativity and self-hatred today. Like Rainbow Dash said to me earlier now is a time for action. Save the tears for if the worst happens.”

Fluttershy looked up into her face, tears still blurring her vision. She wiped her face, taking a deep breath. The truth of those words was impossible to ignore. “You’re right. Crying won’t get them back.”

Twilight spoke up. “This is actually a little bit better than earlier, as we now have a center point of reference.”

“Huh?” said Cup Cake.

“Before when we began our search we had no idea when they left or where they went, so we left from near the center of town in all directions. Now we’re leaving from Fluttershy’s cottage, limiting the amount of directions they can go. The majority of land around her house is comprised of the Everfree Forest. I don’t believe they’re foolish enough to enter the forest, especially in their state.

“We also have a better timeframe of just when they departed. Between Fluttershy leaving and returning was roughly about fifteen minutes. Concerned for Cup Cake and Carrot Cake she rushed as fast as she could over to Sugarcube Corner, then to the castle, where it took us about five minutes for all of us to gather.

“I highly doubt the twins left immediately after Fluttershy did. Once she left they were probably thinking about how thankful they were for Fluttershy’s assistance, hence the note. 'Thank you, Fluttershy.' And then 'We’re sorry.' That and the tear stains makes me think they really hadn’t wanted to leave, so it probably took a while to debate their choice. They may have been gone as little as five minutes. In which case there’s still ample time to catch up to them.

“Let’s all split up and go searching. Whether you find them or not let’s all meet up back at Sugarcube in an hour.”

There were nods all around.

Fluttershy went up to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake and hugged them both. “I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to find them again.”

They held her back. “Just do what you can, Fluttershy,” said Cup Cake. “You’re not to blame.”

“Thank you,” she responded, letting them go.

The five left the house, splitting up in all directions away from her house. As she flew into the sky to scan the area she couldn’t help looking behind her. She sure hoped that Twilight was right, and they hadn’t headed into the forest. Time after time she had warned them to stay away from it at all costs. She told them about the monster turning Twilight to stone, the timberwolves nearly killing them a few times, and the other crazy creatures they had encountered. They seemed to have taken her words to heart, never straying too close to it.

“Oh, Pound… Pumpkin. Please be safe.” She turned away, flying around and scanning the ground.

***

“So you got any plans?” asked Pumpkin.

“Well… I’ve got one…” Pound talked slowly, uncertain.

“What’s that?”

“Well, you said before that we have to think of something now and we can’t wait for later.”

“Yeah… and?”

“We know we can’t stay in Ponyville, so we find the train station. If there’s a train there we’ll hide in a rear car or something, and get some sleep. In the morning it will get loud and wake us up when they’re preparing to leave. We’ll just wait for the first stop in a new town and sneak off.”

“Okay,” she replied, nodding. “That sounds good.”

“It’s a plan, then.” There was a brief flicker of joy in his eyes. There was a funny feeling of excitement going through him, of getting to experience something brand new, and the uncertainty of it all was a bit wondrous.

“The train station is near Rarity’s house.”

“Ooh!” Pound squealed, the feelings getting stronger and stronger. “That’s brilliant!”

“What?” Pumpkin asked, his feelings starting to infect her. “What’s got you so excited?"

He smirked over at her, a devious smile on his face. “We’re gonna go to Manehatten.”

“Why there?”

“Hey, it’s like you said. We can’t just go on without a plan. Do you remember who lives in Manehatten? Applejack’s family. Her Aunt and Uncle Orange, and Bab’s Seed. We go to their house, knock on the door, and act all bright and cheery, asking if they’re ready for a fun time. They won’t be expecting us, so we get all sad and scared.”

Getting all dramatic he continued, “What? What do you mean you didn’t know we were coming? Applejack sent you a note.” He giggled loudly, feeling very satisfied and still with his conceited grin. “Of course that never happened, but we’re just little kids. They can’t just leave us out all alone.”

Pumpkin gave him a flat look. “Pound, you’re so stupid sometimes.” She let out a huff. “I can’t believe I expected you to come up with something clever.”

Pound gave her a dirty look. “Oh, yeah?” Giving her a light shove he said, “Then YOU tell me what’s wrong with it.”

“The whole point of running away is so that our parents and Auntie Pinkie can’t find us. So even if those Orange ponies take us in they’re going to send Applejack a note asking about us being there, and then she’ll tell Auntie Pinkie and we’ll be caught.”

Pound shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Duh! Of course they’re gonna do that. We just have to watch the mail, and rip up the note when they try to send it. Problem solved.”

Pumpkin let out a thoughtful, “Hmmm.” She couldn’t find a fault with that idea. “So long as we don’t miss the note then we’ll be safe and they’ll have no way to find us.

“Okay. I take it back. This is a great idea.”

Pound got his cocky expression back in a hurry. “Thank you, thank you. I try.”

The night was quiet as they continued walking. There were the usual sounds of crickets and the occasional breeze, but they encountered no one else as they walked. Having traveled back and forth from Fluttershy’s house on numerous other occasions they had no trouble finding their way back towards the center of Ponyville. They just had to be sure to avoid their house so their parents couldn’t spot them.

“Hey, Pound,” started Pumpkin.

“Yeah?”

“We can’t stay at the Oranges forever, you know. No matter how many letters we rip up they’ll eventually try to just take us home themselves.”

Pound skipped a step, nearly tripping flat on his face before recovering. Pumpkin had a real good point. Adopting a show of bravado he said, “Well, duh! Obviously I already knew that. This is just to buy some time for us to make a better plan for what we’re gonna do. We can also send Fluttershy some letters to let her know that we’re okay.”

He sighed, the excitement draining out of him. “It really was crummy what we did to her, wasn’t it?”

Pumpkin nodded. “We wouldn’t have done it if there was another way. She couldn’t have kept us a secret forever.”

“Once we’re grown up a little more and can defend ourselves we’ll come back. By that point it won’t matter if our family sees us. We’ll be big and independent and we won’t have to listen to them. Maybe Fluttershy will let us move in with her and we can make everything up to her by doing her tons of favors.”

“I sure hope she forgives us for hurting her like that.”

“She will,” Pound said confidently. “She brushed off everything else we did. That’s why she’s the Element of Kindness.”

Pumpkin nodded again. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”

The pair continued to walk, feeling relatively normal. Having talked with Fluttershy and releasing most of their feelings had freed them from a lot of the shame and guilt they had been feeling. They had one pony who they knew would always be there for them. That was enough to give them hope.

It was a couple of minutes later when they heard it: Off in the distance came the sound of the clopping of hooves. They heard a voice that made their blood run cold, wiping away that feeling of security. Someone was calling out their names.

“Oh no!” said Pound, panic written across his face. “It’s Auntie Pinkie.”

“Oh, great!” Pumpkin replied glumly. “They’re looking for us now.”

“Hide!”

They quickly looked around, knowing time was short. There wasn’t much around suitable: a fence, a thin bush, a tree, a mailbox. They were completely exposed. Even if they hid behind the tree she might look back and see them.

Pound suddenly got an idea. He pushed Pumpkin toward the tree. “Go!” He took off his saddlebag, scattering the contents around, before joining Pumpkin behind the tree.

“What did you do that for?” Pumpkin asked in a hiss. “Now she’s gonna know we’re nearby.”

“She would have spotted us otherwise,” Pound nastily replied back. “Run when I tell you to.”

Their little hearts were racing as Pinkie closed the distance, looking frantically around for any sign of them before her eyes caught the saddle bag and the cupcakes and sweets on the ground. She came to a stop in front of it, temporarily distracted. “Oh, what a waste of good treats,” she mused, before her eyes caught the design of the saddle bag, and she let out a huge gasp.

She picked it up. “Th-th-this is Pound’s. I bought it for him. I…I hope he hasn’t been…” She didn’t want to finish the sentence. She hugged the bag to her, tears coming down her eyes.

“Now!” Pound said, and the two quickly slinked away to a more secure spot. Once they were a few houses away they slumped against a house, letting out sighs of relief.

“That was too close,” Pumpkin said, wiping her forehead.

“If Auntie Pinkie is out here that means Mom and Dad must be too, and maybe even Twilight or her other friends. Oooohhh, this could make getting to the train station impossible.”

Pumpkin groaned. “Maybe we should just give up.”

“GIVE UP?” Pound said a little too loudly, slapping his hooves over his mouth. He swiftly looked around, before lowering them and saying in a quieter voice, “We can’t give up now. Do you know how much more trouble we’re gonna be in for running away after we were grounded?”

“We could always… just go back to Fluttershy’s house. “

“No!” Pound said firmly. “We can’t stop now. We just have to be more careful, make sure we always have a hiding spot ready." He looked behind himself, feeling annoyed. “Ugh, I had to give up my saddle bag. I really liked that thing. We only have one more distraction like that left, so unless you want to lose yours too then lets go quickly. The sooner we’re there the sooner we’ll be in a safe place and then we won’t have to worry about anything else until the morning.”

Pumpkin shook her head. “I definitely don’t want to give mine up.”

In a wistful tone Pound said, “Auntie Pinkie got that for me. On our sixth birthday’s she each got us our saddle bags so we could travel places with stuff easier.” Though he couldn’t see anything but a wall he still turned toward the direction they had left Pinkie from.

“Come on,” he said quietly, slowly plodding away. “Let’s just go.”

They slunk around houses, trees, and bushes, still hearing Pinkie’s voice from time to time. They spotted their house after another few minutes. Although they wanted to avoid it their house was their reference point for how to get to Pinkie’s friend’s houses.

“Okay, from here we have to get behind our house and go at a diagonal,” said Pumpkin.

“Yeah.”

Being even more cautious than before they made a wide berth around their house before heading in the direction of Carousel Boutique. They did spot one night owl walking around, and they hid until he had passed.

They could still hear Pinkie’s voice calling for them, but it was off in the distance, allowing them to relax. Heading past Rarity’s house they could see the tracks, shadowy outlines even with the moonlight shining upon it.

They both looked at each other, giggling to themselves. They had done it. They were home free. Foregoing caution they both began running toward the train station.

They ran up the set of stairs to the platform, rounded the corner, and… they both came to a halt, their hearts sinking along with their enthusiasm. There was no train sitting in the station.

“W-where is it?” Pumpkin asked.

Pound let out a groan. “I guess the conductor leaves the train at the last stop for the night, or maybe it has a place they’re stored-“ he gave a humorless laugh “-so that ponies can’t do exactly what we were thinking."

Pumpkin began to walk rapidly in place, her hooves out of sync. “Well, now what? What do we do?”

Pound eyed the tracks. “I guess… I guess we’ll just have to walk it.”

“WALK?” Pumpkin replied incredulously. “Do you not get why ponies takes trains? It’s too far to walk.”

“Umm… oh!” he exclaimed, eyeing her horn. “Magic!”

“Magic?” She glanced upward, though she couldn’t see it that well. “I’m not like Twilight. I can’t just teleport us there. I would die if I tried to use that much magic.”

“Let’s look around. All we need is a few things we can use as wheels and something to sit on, and your magic can do the rest. It’ll be just like sitting on a train, only breezier. That sounds like a lot more fun, anyway.”

Pumpkin envisioned them flying along the tracks, their manes being whipped back by the night air, and she got a slowly expanding smile on her face. “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

Pound recoiled a bit. “Say it, don’t spray it.” He wiped his cheek of the moisture.

“That wasn’t me!” she complained.

“Whatever! Let’s just look around for some stuff that can get us moving.”

They split up, searching for some scrap wood or something they could use as a wheel.

Pumpkin gave a sarcastic laugh. “Why don’t you follow your own advice?”

“What are you talking about?” Pound replied before again feeling moisture on his cheek. “This isn’t funny, Pumpkin. Knock it off!”

“You first!”

Pound rounded, intending to start arguing, but he saw that Pumpkin was too far away for her to be spitting on him. He looked up at the alcove, wondering if a bird or something was above them. Was it just his imagination, or was it getting darker?

There was a rumbling of thunder in the sky, and Pound froze stock still.

Pumpkin looked up as well, more annoyed than scared. “This isn’t good.”

Pound looked over at her as the raindrops began to come down heavier, the gaps between them getting shorter and shorter. He was shaking, but he couldn’t let his fear stop him. He trotted over to her. “Don’t be scared, Pumpkin! I’ll p-protect you.”

“Scared?” she replied in a perfectly even voice. “I’m not scared.”

Pound saw her calm face, and that she wasn’t trembling like she always did during storms. “Y-you’re not?”

She shook her head. “I don’t care about thunderstorms anymore. It just stinks that we’re gonna be stuck in the rain. Like it or not we need to go back to Fluttershy’s. The rain isn’t THAT bad yet. If we hurry we might not get totally soaked.”

Pound felt crestfallen. When had Pumpkin suddenly stopped being scared of thunder? When did she suddenly take charge and be the leader? As another round of thunder started Pound shuddered, feeling disgusted with himself.

“What’s wrong, Pound?” Pumpkin asked, concern in her voice.

He was glaring at her, a very sour look on his face. His body tensed, before he shoved her hard, knocking her over. “Just shut up, Pumpkin!” he said nastily before running off, tears in his eyes.

Pumpkin gasped as she hit the floor of the platform and pain shot through her side. “Pound!” she called after him as he took off. Now she was really getting afraid. She didn’t want to be all alone in the dark. “Wait! Come back!” She ran after him, following the sound of his sobbing.

She could already feel the moisture seeping into her coat. She took a quick look up, feeling like it was only going to get worse from here. They had a nice, dry spot before. Now he was running off to who knows where.

“Pound!” she yelled, not caring if anyone else heard her anymore. She just knew that she didn’t want to be alone.

The sporadic lightning bolts were the only real illumination. How long she ran she didn’t know. In the almost total darkness she nearly ran straight into a tree until a lightning bolt lit up the area. She pulled to a stop, taking a few breaths to steady herself before realizing that she had lost Pound.

She was all wet, alone, and no idea where she was. It couldn’t get any worse.

She slowly plodded along. The rain felt kinda good. It was a warm night, after all. She told herself over and over if she just kept walking everything would be okay. She hoped and hoped and hoped, knowing it was the only thing that was keeping her from freaking out.

Her prayers were answered a short time later. She could hear the distinct sound of crying nearby, and she knew it was him. She followed the sounds until she spotted him curled up against a tree, sobbing into his knees.

“Pound, you dummyhead! Why did you run off like that? You scared me.”

He looked up at her, giving her a dirty look. “Good!” he said remorselessly.

She wanted to smack him one, but held himself back. “Good? So now you like hurting me? You SAID that you weren’t going to leave me behind no matter what. You broke your word.”

Pound just let out a huff, turning his head stubbornly away. “So what? Just go. I don’t-EEEEKKK!” He squealed as the sky seemed to explode right above him. He felt a flush of embarrassment at Pumpkin’s lack of reaction. He stood up and began hitting the tree. “Darn it, darn it, darn it!”

“What’s the matter with you, Pound? Why are you acting like this?”

He spun around at her, his eyes on fire as he tackled her to the ground and began to hit her.

“Hey!” Pumpkin cried out, putting her hooves up defensively but not retaliating. “Knock it off!”

“Not gonna… make a fool of… not better than…” He kept spitting out half sentences, totally out of control.

Focusing her energy her horn glowed blue, grabbing his tail and roughly pulling him off of her. He fell onto his back, and Pumpkin jumped on top of him, pinning his hooves with the aid of her magic. Pound struggled fruitlessly, straining his back off the ground but unable to free himself. Unable to attack her physically he began to use his vocabulary, spitting out the worst words he knew.

When his nasty words failed to get him the reaction he wanted he stopped fighting, grumbling for a bit as he lay still. Pumpkin sighed, believing the worst was over. She could feel the soreness from being knocked down twice and being hit.

Pound looked up at her arrogantly, giving a mirthless laugh. “You got me good, Pumpkin. I can’t move. Better be careful with that magic, though. You wouldn’t want to, you know, almost KILL ME again, right?”

Pumpkin felt like she had been socked in the gut, tears brimming in her eyes. The distraction weakened her focus, dispelling her magic, before she got hit in the stomach for real as Pound jammed his back legs into her stomach and flipped her over him.

Now she was mad. Three times she had been knocked down. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” she yelled. She hated when he brought up the accident, especially when he used it to hurt her.

“I hate you, Pumpkin!” he said in a rage. “You’re not better than me! Just because you got your little fancy magic and you don’t care-” he shuddered as thunder crashed nearby “-a-a-about the thunder. I-I-I’m still better th-than you.”

Pumpkin found it taking all her self-control not to just slam him into a tree, but his recent comment made her too nervous about being too strong with her magic. Something finally clicked in her mind. “Is… is that what this is all about?” she said cautiously. “Because of the thunder?”

He was holding back tears as he said shortly, “You can do everything! You’re talented with magic and you’re not afraid of something that I am. It’s not fair! If we hadn’t gotten into trouble Mom and Dad would have been so proud of you! They already were.

"You got trained by a princess. I didn’t get anything! I can’t fly and I’m scared and you’re just growing up too fast. It’s… it’s just not fair. I don’t want to be a loser! You’re just getting better and better and I’m getting left behind.” He turned away from her so she couldn’t see his tears. He laid down on the trunk of the tree, quietly crying into a hoof.

Despite all the pain he had just put her though over the past couple of minutes she found herself unable to stay mad, now that she understood him. He was jealous of her. It was a strange feeling. Pound was the go-getter of the two of them, the unofficial leader. Now he was scared of being replaced.

Pumpkin sat down next to him, not relishing the loose feeling of the soil slowly turning to mud. “The last thunderstorm we had I went to try to sneak into our parents room, but Auntie Pinkie stopped me. She took me up to her room, and she was the one who taught me not to be afraid of thunderstorms. It worked really well.”

“Good for you,” he said emotionlessly.

“Pound, you’re not a loser! Auntie Pinkie told me what you did that night.”

Pound responded indifferently, “Oh, yeah? What was that?”

She put her head on her hooves, looking out thoughtfully onto the rain pouring down upon the world. “Thunderstorms used to scare me so bad I couldn’t sleep. When our parents told us we couldn’t sleep with them anymore I was stuck with you.”

“I’m glad you sound so excited.”

Ignoring him, she continued, “You always annoyed me because you gave me such a hard time. You would laugh at me and mock me and make fun of me, because you weren’t scared and I was just a baby.” Pound shifted position a little bit, but didn’t respond. “Eventually you’d let me sleep with you, and I’d feel just fine as you held me, because even though I was really scared I had you to help me, and you would hold me nice and tight so I wouldn’t be so afraid. You were my hero.”

Pound turned his head a little toward her.

“That night Auntie Pinkie told me you were even more afraid of thunder than I was, and that you would go to sleep with her on the nights I stayed with our parents. I didn’t believe her at first, until she did a Pinkie Promise that it was the truth. She told me about how you would always pretend you weren’t scared at all so that I wouldn’t get even more scared.”

With a small smile she felt a happy tear come down her eye. “That meant so much to me. It showed me just how strong and brave and powerful you really were. You’ll fight much older ponies for me, and you won’t let anyone else hurt me. That’s why I know I can always count on you. It’s too bad you’re not a few years older. It kinda feels like you shoulda been my older brother.”

Pound fully turned himself toward her, a frown on his face. “Pumpkin,” he said gently, “I’m really sorry for hitting you. I’m…” His eyes filled with tears. “I’m just scared that everyone will start liking you more than me because you’re getting better than me, and then maybe you won’t need me anymore. Ow!”

Pumpkin gave him a solid whack on the head with her hoof. In a self-satisfied voice she said, “Apology accepted.”

Pound rubbed his head. “Ow. I guess I deserved that. I have been pretty bad to you tonight.”

Even huddled under their tree it wasn’t a perfect shelter. “P-Pound,” Pumpkin started.

“Y-yeah?” he replied, feeling thoroughly soaked.

“I-I-I do-don’t care if we get-get-get yelled at again. I-I wa-wa-want t-t-t-to go home. I’m fr-fr-freezing.”

Pound didn’t want to admit it, but they didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. “Flu-Flu-Flut-t-t-t-ter-sh-sh-shy still loves us. That’s go-good enough.”

Standing up, Pumpkin lit up her horn. A strong breeze passed by the area, making them shiver hard and hold onto each other. There was a flash of lighting. Unbelievably, their trek had led them right by their home. They began running without care. They only wanted relief from the elements.

11-H: Venting

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Fluttershy was sitting on an armchair in Sugarcube Corner, a raincloud over her head. She was soaked, but she didn’t even care. She welcomed the chill; the sadness. She deserved it for failing the twins so bad.

None of them had seen hide nor hair of Pound or Pumpkin. Pinkie had found Pound’s saddle bag, abandoned and the contents scattered all over. She couldn’t help but feel a sickening twinge in her stomach, hoping against hope that they hadn’t been abducted. If anyone had hurt them or taken them she didn’t think she would ever be able to forgive herself.

She kept thinking over and over about the obvious sign she missed in her distraction, the sight of the two holding each other for relief the instant she set them down. If she had only waited ten… maybe even five minutes, it might have been all over. They would have felt secure enough to stay, sleeping contentedly and unafraid. Now, maybe it was too late. It was raining hard, none of them had any idea where the kids were, and she could only imagine how scared and miserable they had to be. Even if the worst hadn’t happened and they weren’t abducted they were still out there all alone.

Twilight, Pinkie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake weren’t faring much better. Each of them was thinking about how they could have acted better, and how they drove the kids away with their attitudes. The storm probably wouldn’t blow itself out until the morning, and finding them in the dark, and in the pouring rain, was going to be next to impossible without some sort of direction, even if they did go wake up their other friends. They were all at a loss at how to proceed.

There was a sudden frantic knocking on the front door. The sounds were coming in an odd rhythm, not in sync at all. The banging on the door barely penetrated their consciousness, so lost all of them were in their own thoughts.

Dimly, Fluttershy felt a need to do something. Forcing herself up out of the chair she slowly plodded toward the front door, still hearing the punctuated pounding.

Opening the door she said in an unfocused voice, “Hello?” But there was no one there.

Pound and Pumpkin almost wept with relief. It was Fluttershy! If anything could have made things better it would be her.

Before they could convey their joy they each felt a pit of guilt at the dead look on her face.

Fluttershy suddenly felt two weights clinging onto her front legs, and as she looked down her eyes widened in surprise.

“We’re sorry!” Pound said, looking up at her with tears in his eyes.

“Me too!” said Pumpkin, squeezing her leg harder.

“We didn’t want to hurt you.”

“We were just so scared.”

Fluttershy took some shallow breaths, disbelief on her face. It was them! They were both alive and well. It was beyond anything she could have hoped for. Pulling her hooves free she sat back on her haunches, grabbing the two of them and pulling them hard to her, crying in happiness that they looked none the worse for wear beyond being a little muddy.

“Oh, you guys are okay! Thank goodness!” she said thickly, tears pouring down her eyes. “I forgive you. I’m just happy to see you aren’t hurt. When Pinkie told me she found your saddlebag I feared the worst.”

She snuggled with the two, feeling them shaking with their emotions. After a time she tried to pull them away, but they wouldn’t release her. “Come on, guys. I’m happy to see you too, but there are things we have to do.”

“I-I-I-I’m c-c-cold!” Pound said, his teeth chattering.

“M-m-me t-t-too!” Pumpkin agreed.

“Oh!” Fluttershy said in mild surprise. “I should have guessed that. I’ll get a fire started. Now that we’re all here it’s the perfect time to settle up all the issues you’ve been having.”

They didn’t look too thrilled with the idea, but they were too focused on wanting some warmth they didn’t fight it.

Holding them tight she flew to the living room. “You guys!” she called out brightly. “Look who showed up.”

A distinct lack of interest met her statement. After a few seconds they sighed, glancing over. Once they saw the twins each of them perked up.

“Pound! Pumpkin!” said Twilight.

Even through their needs a distinct chill went through them knowing that Twilight was there.

As they saw the others approaching they began to shake hard in fear, clinging even harder to Fluttershy and pulling themselves up by her head, looking at her imploringly for aid.

Realizing that they were getting overwhelmed by everything Fluttershy said loudly, “HOLD IT!” The three of them paused in their steps. “These two can’t take all this at once. Let’s take one thing at a time. Please go sit down for now.”

She could see that none of them cared for that idea, but seeing how badly the twins were shaking reluctantly they went back to the couch.

“Thank you.” Turning to face her friend she said, “Twilight, these two are freezing. Do you think you could…?”

“Oh, right,” Twilight said. They began to freak out when Twilight lifted them into the air, losing the security of Fluttershy’s embrace, but they couldn’t deny it was such a relief when she used a spell that pulled all the water and mud out of their coats, leaving them as dry as if they hadn’t been in the rain at all. She similarly did the same for Fluttershy and the rest of them, wanting them to be at their best for their talk with the twins.

As Twilight set them back down they immediately sought out the safety of Fluttershy’s hold. She shot a blast of magic at the fireplace, and a comfy fire lit up the room.

“Cup Cake,” said Fluttershy, “would you be so kind as to get a blanket for us? Twilight may have gotten rid of the water, but these poor things are still ice cold."

“Oh, right. Of course,” she replied, leaving the room and coming back a minute later with a blanket to wrap around the two of them. Seeing her children shudder and looking so fearful as she approached made her feel terrible inside. She sighed as she returned to her spot on the sofa.

Fluttershy bundled them up, holding them close. With the fire, the blanket, and her own body warmth the two quickly stopped shivering. Ten, twenty minutes passed with nothing happening but them all sitting quietly. Until the twins felt warm and comfortable they couldn’t proceed with resolving the issues between them.

Fluttershy was the only one who seemed completely comfortable. She was so happy her blunder hadn’t led to something terrible happening to the kids. She slowly moved back and forth, trying to set their minds as ease as they all waited, humming gently to herself.

Pound and Pumpkin felt relaxed on the outside, enjoying the heat and warmth and safety, but inwardly they were afraid. On the other side of the room were all the ponies that didn’t like them, and it was only Fluttershy that was keeping them from yelling and snapping at them.

After half an hour had passed and the twins began to fall asleep she knew it was time to begin the negotiation and mediate for both groups. “Pound, Pumpkin?”

“Hmm?” Pound said distractedly. He was so warm and comfortable that he didn’t want to leave that happy place yet.

“I know that you two are tired after your adventure, but you can’t go to sleep yet. There are a lot of negative feelings in the air that need to be cleared up first.”

Both of them suddenly went still. They knew exactly what she meant, and they didn’t want to face it. Pumpkin put on a very unconvincing act of being asleep.

She knew they weren’t going to cooperate easily, so she would have to push things along. Turning to the others she said, “Twilight, Cup Cake, Carrot Cake, Pinkie. I’d like all of you to go into the kitchen for a moment. I need to talk with you in private.”

They glanced at each other for a moment, before shrugging and getting up, leaving the room. Once it was down to just the three of them she could see the twins looked a little more relaxed. Moving her position so she was sitting on the edge of the chair she said, “I’m going to put you guys down now. I need to talk to you too.”

Getting up she set the two of them on the chair. She could see the fearful looks on their faces.

“Now, I need you two to listen to me very carefully, okay?” They both nodded. “I want to end tonight with everyone happy. And for that I need you to work with me and trust me. I need to go in the other room and talk to them and set up some rules about the best way to resolve your issues. Now, I’ll Pinkie Promise to protect you no matter what, if you do the same for me that you’re not going to run away again.”

The two of them looked at each other uncertainly, shaking just a little.

“You both know that I still care for you, and you really scared me before. It hurt me so badly that I hadn’t been able to truly help you past your fears. I don’t want to make that mistake again.

"Please? I don’t want to cry anymore.”

Letting out small groans they wordlessly went through the gestures. Fluttershy did the same. “Thank you,” she said, giving each of them a kiss on the forehead.

Going into the kitchen she addressed the others. “Okay, everyone. I have one important question: do you want to resolve this tonight?”

“Of course!” Pinkie responded.

“Naturally I want to put this behind us,” said Cup Cake.

“It’s gone far enough,” added Twilight.

Fluttershy looked at the four of them seriously. “Then it’s very important that you listen to me. Young children may not be as big or strong as older kids or you, but their feelings are just as big and just as important as yours. I was able to get through to them before because I was patient and listened to them without judgment. Right now they trust me more than any of you, making me their 'safe place.'

“I’m going to encourage them to open up and really speak their minds. When they do they’re probably going to explode emotionally and say a lot of things you’re not going to like hearing. I’m asking you to do your best not to respond at all and just LISTEN to them. They want to be heard right now, not lectured or scolded or given a shallow 'I understand.' You don’t have to agree with anything they say, but they need to vent.

"Also, stay put and maintain the distance. Let them come to you if they choose. Let them express their feelings and get them out, and once they’ve burned themselves out THEN we can work on resolving their issues.”

They each somberly nodded, Pinkie and Cup Cake crying slightly.

The five returned to the living room. Keeping to their promise the twins were right where she left them. They were both restlessly kicking their hooves, still shaking a little. They looked up at Fluttershy as she approached.

Picking them up she sat down, holding the two of them. They squeezed her back. “Okay,” she said in a quiet voice, like it was a secret, “I talked to all of them. You two have the floor. Just say whatever you’re feeling. Be honest and let out whatever is on your mind. I give you my word that they’ll do their best not to respond and just listen to what you have to say.”

Adopting a quiet voice too Pound asked, “What should we talk about?”

“That’s your decision. Tell them about today. Talk about your feelings and why you decided to run away. Tell them how you’re feeling about them.”

They both looked at each other again, shaking harder.

“Listen, you guys. I already Pinkie Promised you that I would keep you safe. If you start getting scared while you’re talking then just come back to me and I’ll hold you until you’re ready to start talking again. If things get too crazy or out of control then I’ll take you back to my house for the night, and we can try again in the morning. I’m asking for your trust, even though it’s hard after all you’ve been through.”

She held them a little while longer, until they stopped shaking. Not wanting to make the same mistake as before she made sure to ask this time, “Is it okay if I put you down?”

Almost in sync they each took a deep breath, nuzzled her one last time, then nodded.

Fluttershy set them on the floor. Taking a few tentative steps away their heads whipped back to make sure Fluttershy was still there. They looked around at Pinkie, their parents, and Twilight. Their expressions were cautiously neutral.

Pound started off, hesitant in his words. “We… I, um… we… we’re not… happy.”

“Y-yeah,” Pumpkin added, still shaking. “It… it doesn’t feel… right… inside.”

“We…” He stopped, just staring at the floor as he felt that same heaviness from before start to take over. It felt so pointless.

Pumpkin began pacing around, while Pound just stood there, unmoving.

As he thought about everything they had been through that day a flush came across his cheeks, and anger suddenly wiped out his fear and hesitance. He looked up furiously, not looking at any of them in particular. “It wasn’t right what you did!” he snapped. “We try really hard to be good. SOMETIMES WE CAN’T DO THAT!”

As Pound began to talk Pumpkin found herself joining in. “Yeah! We’re just little kids. We make mistakes!”

“How many times is enough? Huh? HOW MANY? First the principal kicked us out of school and scolded us.”

“Then we came home and you punished us too and scolded us!”

“And Pinkie wouldn’t even look at us all day, except when she gave us a look like she WOULD have yelled at us too if Mom and Dad didn’t beat them to it.”

Pinkie felt a sting that she had been stripped of her “Auntie” title, but nonetheless kept quiet.

“And if that wasn’t enough then Twilight came in to yell at us too.”

The both of them were shaking hard, furious tears coming down their eyes. “How many times can we be yelled at for the same mistake? We screwed up. WE… GET… IT!”

“Yeah!” Pumpkin said strongly. “We get it! We’re bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Everyone just wants to tell us how bad we are, and how terrible we are.”

“It’s not fair! Haven’t we been punished enough?”

“You and Dad get into fights too! I don’t see YOU getting punished for it over and over.”

“You’re a bunch of bullies! Does it make you feel good to pick on helpless little kids?”

The accusations stung deeply. Cup Cake began to speak up, to defend herself or explain, but she caught Fluttershy’s wildly gesturing hoof. Meeting her eyes she saw Fluttershy shaking her head. It was hard to stay silent when they were lobbing such painful words at them, but she followed Fluttershy’s advice, hoping that letting them vent would allow them to patch up the differences between them.

They closed the distance between them so their bodies were touching. Sadness was beginning to reign again, overriding their anger. “We… we-we do our best,” Pumpkin said despondently, hanging her head as the tears fell.

Pound was likewise looking at the ground again and crying. “Fluttershy shouldn’t have been the one to save us. That’s what you’re supposed to be there for.” His legs feeling weak he sank to the ground, burying his head in his hooves as he gently cried.

Pumpkin followed suit, resting her head on Pounds side.

The four adults were all burning with guilt. Unintentionally they had all failed the ones they were supposed to protect. Cup Cake and Pinkie especially wanted to get up and hold them, despite Fluttershy’s words.

Pound’s weeping ceased abruptly as another spark of anger surged up in him. He hopped up, wiping his face before saying angrily, “Well? What do you have to say for yourselves?”

There was an odd trace of humor in the question. The situation wasn’t funny, but the role reversal, of hearing those words come from a child to an adult, was a tad funny.

Pumpkin stood up too. “Yeah! What he said!”

Carrot Cake was the first to speak up. “Pound, Pumpkin, we know that we upset you. We couldn’t reward you for doing something you knew was wrong. Perhaps we did go a bit overboard so it’s understandable you’d feel overwhelmed and wanted to escape, but it was never our intention to make you feel so bad. So, for that, I’m sorry.”

Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t come to you guys earlier. I actually went to your room, I guess shortly after you left, because I didn’t want you to be miserable before bed. I was just a little too late.”

Pound’s face puffed up. “Yeah! You were! You’re too late! We told Fluttershy all about what happened, and you know what? She didn’t yell at us. She understood it was an accident. SHE didn’t yell at us and punish us. She was understanding and let us know that she still cared about us. AND SHE’S NOT EVEN PART OF OUR FAMILY!

"You’re our parents. You’re supposed to love us the most. And Pinkie has always been there before for us even when we messed up, but not this time.” Turning his back Pound gestured hard at Fluttershy. “Why was SHE more understanding and loving to us than our own family? How come? Huh? Why?”

His face was bright red with the intensity of his feelings. “I DON’T FORGIVE YOU! I… I… I DON’T LIKE YOU ANYMORE!” he yelled, turning and stomping his hooves with every step as he headed back to Fluttershy, pulling himself up into the small couch and settling himself into the crook of her front leg.

Pumpkin looked between Fluttershy and Pound to the other four, before agreeing with Pound and heading to Fluttershy too on her other side.

Cup Cake, Carrot Cake, and Pinkie were lost for words. Pounds words had hit particularly hard.

Pound huffed heavily, snorting and panting, his body clenched up, his eyes narrowed and his hooves crossed.

Pumpkin was just holding quietly to Fluttershy, feeling almost numb. They had yelled and cried, but it didn’t really make her feel better. None of them seemed too sorry. She was dreading the moment when Fluttershy went home, knowing that it would be what they needed to start yelling back.

Pound had worked up a good head of steam, and he wasn’t content just sitting there. He hopped back off the sofa, stomping back toward the couch, looking up at his mother. He wanted to see her hurt like he had hurt, to suffer like he had suffered. He was shaking he was so furious. “Mom… you… you’re…” His cheeks were puffed up, his face red with his fury, seemingly struggling for the words to describe just what she was.

Cup Cake looked down at her son, and felt like her heart was breaking, to see him look at her with such rage, such vindictiveness, and maybe even some hatred. His words and accusations had hurt, but she had gotten defensive and had mostly been brushing his comments off.

Faced with the reality of his feelings she had to admit that she couldn’t ignore just what had happened. Beaten down mentally and emotionally with no outlet of relief, she couldn’t deny that she was at fault for them running away.

Inside she had been mortified at their behavior, embarrassed that they had made a bad impression. Even though Twilight always insisted she didn’t want her close knit companions to treat her any differently than before her ascension Twilight was still a princess, and she had been embarrassed that Twilight had gone out of her way to get them into school and they had ruined it, reflecting badly on Twilight’s reputation and on hers as a decent mother.

Now her son was glaring at her, looking for all the world like he wanted to tell her that he hated her guts and never wanted to see her again, and she couldn’t help wondering if she had looked down at HIM like that when she had scolded them earlier. He was reflecting back at her what she had helped to teach him, and that was unbearable.

Past the layers of defensiveness and residual anger of them scaring her and their behavior earlier she found compassion and empathy for what she had pushed her children to. They should never have felt so hopeless they thought the only way they could survive was to run away somewhere.

Tears began to stream down her eyes, and all she wanted was to just hold her son tight and tell him how she loved him, but she couldn’t see that he’d want her to touch him, thinking that she hated him. “O-oh, P-Pound,” she said thickly, her voice cracking as she tried to keep from sobbing. “I-I-I’m so so-sorry.” She put a hoof over her face, wiping her eyes but more tears just replaced them. She was shaking and sniffing. “P-Please don’t hate me.” Her breath was coming in little gasps.

Pound felt off put at his mother’s reaction. She was looking at him so tenderly, thoroughly diminished. He could see intense guilt in her eyes, and it cut through his anger, his and Pumpkin’s words coming back to him. He and Pumpkin had yelled at them for attacking him and his sister over and over, asking when enough was enough. He was doing the exact same thing that he was angry at them about.

A sympathetic tear came down his eye to see his mother so upset. He just wanted to feel like they understood him… that they were actually listening to him. He finally got what he wanted, but seeing what he had done to his mother, making her cry and hurting her heart, it finally broke the hardness of his own heart, making him want to offer her some of his.

“M-M-Mom,” Pound said, finding it hard to talk with a lump in his throat, “Y-you really hurt my feelings.” He suddenly jumped up onto her lap, hugging her as he cried out, “B-but I still love you so much!” He began bawling in her lap, squeezing her hard and never wanting to let go.

Cup Cake broke down right along with him, and they held each other tightly as they cried.

Fluttershy saw Pumpkin staring at the sight of Pound and their mother hugging, a look of longing on her face.

Carrot Cake was also looking. Almost at the same time the two of them looked at each other. He awkwardly held out his hooves toward her.

“Go on,” Fluttershy said encouragingly, setting Pumpkin on the floor.

In seconds Pumpkin was running right to her dad’s outstretched hooves, and the crying doubled as Pumpkin and Carrot lost themselves in just how happy they were to see each other and how much they still loved one another.

Fluttershy smiled. “Good. Now the healing can begin,” she said contentedly.

11-I Aftermath

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Pound and Pumpkin were sitting in their parents laps, feeling their loving hold. Their eyes were closed, feeling alright with the world. Their parents didn’t hate them, and they didn’t hate their parents either.

Pound looked up into his mother’s eyes, red and tearstained like his own, but loving and kind all the same. “I love you, Mommy,” he said contentedly, giving her a little squeeze.

“And I love you too, my little Pound Cake,” she replied lovingly, holding him tighter.

Pumpkin was nuzzling her father, just enjoying the relaxing feelings.

Coming off the high of their second huge emotional breakdown of the evening they felt like they were all out of tears to cry. They were getting exhausted from all the negativity that had been going on, and it was already past the time they would usually be going to sleep.

Pound felt like he could just drift off, but in the back of his mind he knew he couldn’t go to sleep just yet. There were still some other ponies waiting for them.

With great reluctance he fought his rising desire to drift off, missing his mom’s hold immediately as he pulled out of it.

He crawled over to a forlorn Pinkie Pie, hugging her too. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I know we scared you and upset you.”

Pumpkin heard Pound’s words, and turned her head toward him. Just like her brother she was loathe to part from the comforting hold of her parent, but she also owed Pinkie an apology.

She joined Pound on Pinkie’s lap, hugging her also. “Yeah, I’m sorry. We just got so scared.”

Pinkie didn’t react at first, guilt overtaking her. “It should never have been this way,” she said quietly. “This was my fault. I got so upset that I completely failed you and led you to think I didn’t love you anymore. I was too late. If only I had realized sooner I could have stopped you and then you wouldn’t have had to suffer.”

Pound heard the dull tone in her voice. “It’s okay to cry, Pink-” he coughed, before correcting himself “-AUNTIE Pinkie!”

“Yeah!” Pumpkin agreed. “It helped us, Auntie Pinkie.”

She had gotten her family title back. That was a relief, but it also just added to her guilt. “Thanks, you guys, but haven’t we had enough crying for one night?”

“No!” they said simultaneously.

“Not if it’s making you sad,” said Pound.

“Just let it out!” said Pumpkin.

She looked down at the two of them, so eager to help her now. Once again she couldn’t help but think of how different things would have been if she had only come to see them a little bit earlier, and suddenly her emotions broke. “I’m so sorry!” she said in a broken voice as she pulled them hard to her and broke down crying.

Pound and Pumpkin both held onto her as she let her feelings go, not saying anything and just letting her vent. They just tried to put their love into their hugs, hoping that it would help to free her of her bad feelings like it had for them.

After a few minutes Pinkie began to compose herself. “All better?” Pound asked with a smile.

Pinkie sniffed, releasing her hold on him to wipe her face. “I guess so.”

“We all screwed up today, Auntie Pinkie, but I still love you,” said Pumpkin.

“Me too!” Pound added right after.

“Do you still love us?”

She squeezed them hard again. “Oh, of course I do! I’ve always loved you guys since the day you were born and I’ll love you until the day you die. Nothing is ever going to change that!”

They sank into her hold, just letting her come down from her emotional high, knowing how much of a relief it was to get it out.

Just as they were starting to drift off again there was that same nagging feeling from before, knowing there was still some unfinished business to attend to.

“Auntie Pinkie, are you feeling better now?” asked Pumpkin.

She let out a long, slow breath. “Yeah. I think I am. I’m just happy that you two are alright.”

“We’ll be back. We have to do something.”

Pumpkin looked at him, not wanting to leave Pinkie. She caught his eye, and saw him gesturing with his eyes. Pumpkin turned her head, and saw understanding go through her. She nodded. “We’ll be back.”

They both pulled away, getting onto the floor. Pinkie was reluctant to release them, but they had said they would come back to her.

Fluttershy had her head back in her chair, her eyes closed and gently humming to herself as she heard the sounds of reforming bonds. She felt like she was being watched, and opened her eyes, looking down at the twins. They were both looking anxiously at her, and she wondered what was causing their distress now.

Pound wordlessly gestured with his eyes a few times. When she followed his eyes they landed on Twilight. She could see they were a little more worried about their relationship with Twilight than their parents or Pinkie, as Twilight wasn’t part of their family. She gave a hearty nod, repeating her Pinkie Promise gesture and winking at them.

Looking slightly reassured the two walked up to Twilight, hanging their heads.

“Twilight,” Pound said quietly, “do you think we’re just bad kids?”

Twilight felt a pang in her heart to see the way the twins were looking at her. They seemed like they were still expecting her to explode on them. She thought they were past all this. They had settled things with everyone else so easily, and thought only an apology, some hugs, and maybe a few tears would be enough for her to do the same.

She mentally brought herself back to her center. It wouldn’t do to lose her head now. She had to remain focused. “Why are you asking me that?” she said in a patient voice. “You went to your parents and Pinkie Pie and made up with them easily. What makes me so different?”

They looked at each other, letting out little sighs. Wasn’t it obvious?

Despite wanting to avoid getting emotional she couldn’t help feeling a bit discouraged that they didn’t seem to want to give her a chance.

Fluttershy could see they were all having trouble knowing where to start. “Pound, Pumpkin. Can you come here, please?”

Relieved to be able to do something else for the moment they both turned around and went back to Fluttershy, sitting on her lap. They were both being restless, Pound holding her tightly and Pumpkin nuzzling her.

Lowering her voice to a whisper like before she asked, “What’s the matter, you guys? What’s stopping you from talking to Twilight?”

“She’s a princess,” Pound whispered back.

“And she’s not part of our family,” Pumpkin added.

“She doesn’t have to forgive us, or love us, or apologize.”

“I want you to listen to me very carefully, you two,” said Fluttershy. “Just do exactly what you were doing before. Speak your mind honestly, and don’t hold back. Twilight may be a princess, yes, but she’s also a pony just like you and me. She isn’t so arrogant as to look down on others because she’s royalty. She tries to treat every pony equally.

“I understand that it can be a little scary, but I already gave you my word that I’d help you and protect you no matter what. I’m one of Twilight’s oldest friends, and she’ll listen to me if I speak. She wants things to end peacefully as much as you do.

“Now, I’ll hold you guys for a little while longer, but then I want you to go talk to Twilight. She hates the ponies closest to her treating her different because she’s a princess. It’s very uncomfortable to her. Just talk to her like you would talk to me. If you trust me and believe in me then just say what’s really on your mind. It’ll be okay.”

She set them down on the floor, and with a trace of reluctance headed back to Twilight.

“Come up here, you two,” said Twilight, determined to make things right. The pair looked at each other uncertainly before complying. “Please, I‘m begging you. Just talk to me honestly. I want to follow Fluttershy’s example here and just avoid judgment or punishment. Why are you finding it so much harder to believe that I can let things go than Pinkie or your parents?”

Pound shrugged noncommittally. “You have a lot more power and importance than they do. Our parents can ground us, but you could have us banished from Equestria.”

His matter of fact tone hit her hard in the gut, like he had no doubts that that was one of her planned courses of action. Did they really think that she was that kind of pony? “I’ve never banished anyone!”

Pumpkin shrugged as well. “It’s never too late to start.”

Twilight found herself perplexed. It occurred to her that her experience with friendship largely was with ponies around her age. She’d also had to deal with Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle on occasion, but it seemed that even that small age difference between the girls and the twins was huge. She’d never had to deal with extremely young kids before, and she was starting to realize that they thought and acted very differently. She thought that this was a huge gap in her education as a harbinger of friendship.

She mentally shifted her thoughts, realizing that she really was different from everyone else in the room. They all had more experience dealing with the little ones than she did. She looked at Fluttershy, thinking about how she had gotten through to them: listening without judgment.

“I understand now. You think I go by a 'might makes right' philosophy? I’m a princess, so I can override your parents?” They both nodded. “Okay. I can understand why you might feel that way, but I’m not like that. Your parents are your authority over you. I wouldn’t interfere with that because it’s not my place to. I’m the Princess of Friendship, not a dictator who orders others around.

“It was never my intention to cause you such pain. I’m no different than any of the other ponies here. I want to make up and be friends again.” They both looked at her blankly, and Twilight wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Pound sighed. “Why would you want to forgive us? We made you look bad in front of the principal.”

“Yeah,” Pumpkin said. “You already told us you think we’re bad ponies.”

“No, I didn’t!” Twilight said quickly. “I never said anything like that.”

Pumpkin narrowed her eyes. “Oh, don’t lie. When you came here before you asked what kind of ponies were you sending to the school.”

“Ah!” Something clicked in Twilight’s mind, and she felt like she finally understood what was going through their minds. “The principal asked me that, yes, but is that what you were thinking? You think that I was mad at you because you 'made me look bad?'” More nods. Twilight felt relieved. “Pound, Pumpkin, that had absolutely nothing to do with why I was mad at you.” Skeptical looks followed that statement. “Honestly.”

“So then why WERE you mad?” Pound asked, his cheeks puffing up again.

“I wasn’t mad so much as I was disappointed. Do you remember why I recommended you to Magic Kindergarten in the first place?”

Pumpkin spoke up, sounding a little scared. “B-because I hurt Pound with my magic, and I didn’t want to ever use it again.”

“Yes. And I helped you to see that your magic is a part of you just like your legs and eyes. Not wanting to force anything upon you I asked the two of you what YOU thought about going to Magic Kindergarten and learning about your special gifts and it made me so happy to see your reaction.”

“Huh?” Pound saw her looking at them with that same bright, tender look his mother had given him, a tear coming down her eye. Although he didn’t understand why he stopped feeling so defensive.

“The both of you were hopping up and down in excitement, ecstatic to think of going to school and learning all that you could learn. You wanted it badly, and just seeing that made me feel so happy, my stomach churning with excitement and joy, because you reminded me of myself when I was your age.”

“We did?” Pound asked in surprise.

“Really?” asked Pumpkin. Both of them were shocked, interest wiping out their apathy.

“Yes.” Twilight nodded. “I studied hard to learn all I could about magic, reading all that I could with the hopes of getting into Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. One of the most important duties of being a princess is to watch the next generation and make sure they’re growing up and learning well. Seeing how eager you were to learn filled me with great joy, and I knew that you two could handle it.”

Her smile faded, and she let out a small sigh. “I had a busy day, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you two, wondering what you were up to. Then I got the note telling me you got into a brawl with the other students and they didn’t want you in the school anymore.”

The twins felt their guilt returning, before Twilight suddenly held the two of them to her. It felt strangely comforting.

“I wasn’t mad at YOU. I was upset because I was worried about your future. They really wanted to expel you and not take you back. It took me almost an hour to convince them to lower your punishment to a week’s suspension. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better prepared you are to make intelligent decisions and the better the chances that you’ll live a great life.

“On the flip side, not knowing anything and a lack of knowledge leads to inexperience and the likelihood of making bad decisions and others looking down on you.”

Twilight sniffed, and the two of them looked up at her, surprised at the tears brimming in her eyes. “I’m so sorry!” she said emotionally. “I never meant to make you feel so horrible. I just want to see you excel and grow into your best selves. I didn’t want to make you feel worthless and bad and think that you should be banished. Please forgive me!”

They had made a princess cry. That was bad. “C-come on, Twilight,” Pound said, shaking a little. “It’s okay.”

“D-don’t cry,” said Pumpkin, patting her shoulder.

It seemed like she was going from bad to worse with them. They looked more nervous than ever. Getting an idea she wiped her eyes. “That’s it. I know what to do.”

They both shrank away from her, hoping the answer wasn’t banishment.

Picking them up she flew over to Fluttershy, setting them down in her lap. “Hold onto them for a minute. I’ll be right back.”

With a flash she disappeared. About a minute later she teleported back into the room, holding a book, a quill, and some ink.

Lying down on the floor she said, “Come here, you two. I have something to show you.”

Curiosity overtaking them they hopped off of Fluttershy’s lap. They saw a book with a horseshoe on the front. On the side were mouth written letters saying, “Friendship journal volume 6.”

“What’s that?” asked Pound.

Twilight flipped through about half of the book before coming upon a set of blank pages. “Would you like to help me?”

“With what?” asked Pumpkin.

“How can we help YOU?” asked Pound. “You’re bigger and stronger and smarter than us."

“That doesn’t matter,” Twilight replied. “I need your help for this.”

Looking at each other for a moment they both got down on their bellies like Twilight. “Okay.”

“When I first came to Ponyville I knew very little about friendship, and it wasn’t very important to me. It was by working with Pinkie and the rest of our friends and stopping Nightmare Moon that I came to learn the importance of friendship, and Princess Celestia had me write letters to her telling her important things I’d learned about the magic of friendship.

“Later on, after a certain incident, my friends began to join in the letter writing. After I became a princess the letters to Celestia stopped, as I was now a teacher of friendship instead of a learner. When investigating the old castle of Princess Celestia and Luna I found their diary, and we decided to continue the letter writing ceremony, keeping it as a reminder of where we’d come from and where we were heading.”

She flipped backwards to various entries, showing several distinct writing styles. “By checking this book from time to time we remember the ponies we used to be, as well as the ponies we became. We see the mistakes we made, and the way we improved. By reading entries made by others we may see our own similar mistakes made by others, or we may see something we never dealt with ourselves, but may come up in the future. By learning from something that someone else went through it may very well help us avoid making their mistakes.”

Pulling the book toward themselves she saw them flipping through and reading some of the entries. They looked completely captivated.

After giving them some time she gave a gentle tug to the book and they looked back up at her as she returned the book to the blank pages. “You two have taught me something important today, and so I want to add to our friendship journal.”

Twilight used her magic, dipping her quill into the ink. As she began to speak she directed her quill to the page, writing the words. “Dear diary, as a princess a lot is expected of me. As the years pass I begin feeling comfortable with where I’m at, sometimes feeling like I’ve learned all I need to about friendship and what it means. Naturally, every time I start to think that I’m proven wrong shortly afterward, and I’m taught that there is much I still have to learn.

“Today, I learned that I have remarkably little experience with very small children. As my good friend Fluttershy told me, their tiny size hides the depth of their hearts. They feel and love and hurt just as much, if not even more, than we adults do. In a world where they’re still learning their place, Pound and Pumpkin Cake taught me that I need a greater understanding of what it means to be an effective leader to ALL ponies of EVERY age, not just those around my age.

"From the big to the small, from the elderly to the toddlers, every pony deserves respect and understanding. And in that regard I failed to do that with the two of them, conveying an impression of hatred and not being clear enough on how I felt to those least able to understand.

“My experience with the two of them makes me want to work even harder to grow my understanding of those I have the least interaction with, so that I never wind up making other ponies feel the same way again.

“Signed, Twilight Sparkle.”

She saw the both of them looking at her uncertainly. “You two have helped me see I still have a long way to go, and I bear you no grudges. So now… as I said before I need your help. Do you still want to help?”

They hesitated for a few moments before nodding. She pointed to the other blank page. “I’d like you to add an entry to the friendship journal and tell others what you learned today.”

Their eyes almost bugged out of their heads. “US?” Pound sputtered out.

Pumpkin just stared at her open mouthed.

Twilight nodded. “That’s right.”

“B-b-but we’re just little kids!”

“And you’re a princess!” said Pumpkin.

Twilight nodded again. “Correct, and I value your words as much as my own. I became a princess through observing and listening and interacting with others, and learning the lessons those events brought about. You are just as important as me, princess or not. We’re all ponies, regardless of race, and each of us has great value and lessons to teach, and I want to save your words and lessons for future generations to benefit from. Even the smallest and weakest ponies have something important to teach, just like you taught me today. Now I’d like you to help out others with the words of your heart.”

Tears began to brim in their eyes. Even though they thought they were out of tears to cry they still began to bawl once again as they ran over to Twilight and hugged her.

Twilight shifted her position so she could hold them back, hoping that she had finally gotten through to them. Now hopefully they would listen to her.

When they began to settle down Twilight said, “Listen up, you two. In response to your question earlier my answer is no. I don’t think you’re bad ponies at all. There is a big difference between a bad PONY and a bad ACTION. Every pony in this room, me included, has done a LOT of bad things in their lives. We’ve gotten angry, said nasty things, lost our tempers, fought with friends and loved ones, made wrong assumptions, held grudges, and so on. No pony is perfect, and we all screw up many times. What separates a bad pony from a bad action is one very important thing. Do you know what that is?”

Pound shook his head.

“W-what?” Pumpkin asked, wiping her eyes.

“Guilt and remorse. It might not come out right away, but so long as you feel bad for hurting others you’re not a bad pony. You’re just a good pony that lost control.”

The two of them seemed intrigued by her words. “Just a good pony… that lost control?” Pound said slowly.

“So… it’s… okay… for us to screw up?” asked Pumpkin.

“Yes.” Twilight nodded. “However… that DOESN’T mean you’re not going to get punished for your actions. When you do bad things there need to be consequences, otherwise you wouldn’t have to care that you hurt someone else.”

Neither of them seemed bothered by that last bit. They liked her explanation. Pound put his hoof over his heart, feeling a strange excitement. He wasn’t bad. He just made a mistake.

Pumpkin was feeling much the same. She let out an innocent giggle.

Twilight put them down. “Are you ready?” They both nodded heartily, their cheeks bright with passion. “Well, I hope this won’t bother you, but if you want to teach others they need to understand what you’re saying. Your writing still needs some work. Would it be alright if you say the words, and I write it down?”

They both nodded, not caring. “I’ll start!” Pound said excitedly. “Hi there! It’s me, Pound Cake.”

“And Pumpkin Cake!” she added.

Twilight began to write.

“Today was a big day. We got to go to school, but we wound up getting into a fight and kicked out.”

“We got yelled at by, like, everyone, and we thought we weren’t wanted anymore.”

“We ran away from home, but we ran into Fluttershy, and she taught us that even if you screw up really badly, that ponies can still love you even if you do a really bad thing.”

“And we learned that even your parents and princesses aren’t perfect, and they can make mistakes too.”

“But we can all still love each other even though we get mad and upset.”

“And we learned that being a bad pony is different than doing something bad.”

“So long as you feel bad and apologize and cry together you can still be friends and you’re not a bad pony. You’re just a good pony who made a mistake.”

“And you still deserve to be loved and hugged and kissed and tucked into bed.”

“Signed, Pound Cake!”

“And Pumpkin Cake!”

As Twilight finished she couldn’t help but feel her heart soaring. The two of them had the biggest, purest grins on their faces. Their eyes were alight with joy, their cheeks still red with happiness and contentment.

She closed the book. “Thanks, you guys. This could come in very handy to a filly or colt who wonders if they are a bad pony.”

They both blushed, Pound rubbing his head bashfully as Pumpkin giggled again.

“Our words are right next to a princesses,” Pound said blissfully.

“And one day we might help some other pony in need of help,” Pumpkin replied in the same tone.

The pair looked on top of the world, having finally resolved all their issues.

Pinkie got off the couch, heading to the two of them and nuzzling them. “Hey, you guys. Now that everything is alright I think it’s time we go to bed. You have to be pretty wiped out. You can sleep with me tonight. It would make me feel better.”

They both looked at each other and gasped in delight. “Sleepover with Auntie Pinkie!” They slapped their hooves together, running to their parents, Twilight, and Fluttershy and giving them a quick “Goodnight!” before zooming away, bounding up the stairs in a manner reminiscent of Pinkie and laughing their heads off.

Twilight playfully rolled her eyes. “Wiped out nothing. I doubt they’re going to go to sleep any time soon.”

Fluttershy walked over to Twilight and gave her a hug. “That was genius, Twilight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the twins so happy.”

She hugged Fluttershy back. “I’m a little surprised myself how effective it was. I guess at that age the only thing that really matters to them is feeling valued and loved. Feeling so powerless compared to older ponies it’s probably the only thing that keeps them going.”

Letting her friend go she turned to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake. “I’d like to spend this week of their suspension getting to know them better, if that’s okay with you.”

“O-oh, of course, Princess,” responded Cup Cake.

“As I said in my note I have very little experience with the very small ones, and I can’t let that gap stay unfilled. If I had known more about their age group I would have been more tactful. It would also be prudent to teach them about more effective means of resolving their issues so they don’t turn to violence to solve their problems.”

“That would be better,” agreed Pinkie.

“I think with all the terrible feelings that have been going on tonight that they’ve been punished enough for their actions. It would be a much more effective 'punishment' to teach them how to behave better and to funnel their feelings into more productive areas. I’ll be back tomorrow when time permits.”

“I should go too,” said Fluttershy. “Good night, everyone.”

"I'll take you home, Fluttershy. It's still pouring outside." With a burst of magic the two of them disappeared.

"Uh-oh," said Pinkie.

"What uh-oh?" Cup Cake asked. "Please tell me there aren't any more disasters."

"I helped Pumpkin to stop being afraid of storms, but Pound is probably still terrified and my room is on the top floor. I better go check on him."

Pinkie went upstairs to her room, hoping to see them hopping up and down on the bed. When she got there she could see Pound shaking on the bed, and Pumpkin talking to him.

“Bowling alley?” Pound asked.

“Yeah,” Pumpkin replied. "If you make your fear into something silly like that it's impossible to still be afraid of it."

Pinkie gently giggled to herself as she saw Pumpkin helping Pound past his fear of thunderstorms the same way that she had taught the filly. She elected to watch to see if it would work, so that Pound wouldn’t have to rely on her for comfort.

When the next rumble of thunder rang out and it got a little laugh out of Pound she smiled contentedly as she entered the room, thinking that he wouldn’t be afraid anymore.

12-1: Anger management

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Pinkie was pacing rhythmically back and forth, a green general helmet upon her head. “Pound Cake!”

“Yes, ma’am!” he said in a gruff voice.

“Pumpkin Cake!”

“Yes, ma’am!” she replied in the same tone.

“Front and center!”

“Yes, ma’am!” they replied, marching until they were right in front of her, standing almost unnaturally still and straight, serious looks on their faces.

“We’re on a mission today! Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to go to the beach. While there, you will do your best to have fun and be good little kids.” She stopped her marching, turning directly toward them. “Do you think you have what it takes, little foals?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“I can’t hear you!”

“YES, MA’AM!” they replied strongly.

“Hmmm? Is that so?” She leaned over, squinting at Pound Cake, who met her gaze without backing away. “Well, then. I guess you might be able to handle it.

“NOW! As we discussed, what are the most important RULES you are to follow while there?”

“Rule one!” said Pound. “No swimming unless there’s an adult in there with you.”

“Rule two!” said Pumpkin. “Be kind and try to make friends.”

“Rule three! Be respectful to other pony’s personal space.”

“Rule four! Do your best not to get into any fights.”

Pinkie gave an authoritative nod. “Very good. And? What is the biggest, superest, most important rule?”

Pound and Pumpkin recited together, “Even if we do something bad and you get mad it DOESN’T mean you stopped loving us. You only hate the behavior, and not us!”

Pinkie took a shuddering breath, her act breaking as she looked down at the twins. “R-r-right,” she said in a quivering voice. Forcing a smile on her face she said quickly, “Okay! I’ve gotta go pack, so you guys get ready too.”

As Pinkie left the two of them looked at each other, gloomy expressions on their faces. They both let out a little sigh. “Auntie Pinkie is sad,” said Pound with a little groan.

“She’s been like this all week,” Pumpkin said, a bit of guilt in her stomach.

The night they came back from running away they had slept with Auntie Pinkie because they had wanted the comfort and love. The night afterward they kept getting woken up by her quickly opening the door and rushing in, making sure they were both in their beds. Even though they insisted they were fine and weren’t upset it didn’t make a difference. After the fifth time this happened Pinkie just straight up grabbed them out of their beds and took them up to hers. The whole week she had taken them to her room to sleep.

They adored sleeping with their Auntie Pinkie, so they didn’t object. However, they were growing worried over how anxious she had been lately. Pinkie usually alternated between helping out in the shop and periodically checking in on them during work hours, but now she was spending almost all her free time with them, saying oodles of positive things to keep their spirits up. She was still feeling responsible for not being supportive enough and driving them to run away, and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

They walked upstairs, past their rooms, and up the second set of stairs toward Pinkie Pie’s room. As they approached they could hear the sound of crying, and the heaviness inside them increased. The door was open a crack, and Pound knocked a few times before pushing the door open.

Pinkie tried to stifle her crying, bursting up with an overly happy expression that didn’t meet her eyes. “Hey, you guys. Shouldn’t you be getting ready?”

Pound shook his head. “No. We need to talk to you.”

“We know that you’re upset and feeling guilty,” said Pumpkin.

“You think it’s your fault that we ran away.”

“But it’s not!”

The twins had her dead to rights. She couldn’t deny it when they already knew the truth.

The two of them came up on the bed with her, both of them hugging her. “It’s not all your fault. None of this would have happened if we didn’t lose control and start a fight with those other kids.”

Pumpkin nodded. “It was just… everybody. No one was on our side. Getting yelled at so many times for the same thing.”

“So it’s not all your fault. Please stop blaming yourself.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek. “We love you, Auntie Pinkie, and we don’t want you to feel sad anymore. It’s over, and we forgive you.”

Pinkie’s eyes clenched shut as she sucked in a sharp breath, holding the both of them and letting her tears fall again. “It’s not that. It’s not that!”

“What is it then?” asked Pound.

“You two were very lucky not to be hurt, and that you ran into Fluttershy. This is the second time, though. Both times Fluttershy was able to help you out, but still this makes two times.”

“Two times what?” Pumpkin asked, her head tilting.

“Two times that you ran away from home. When you accidentally destroyed that cake I made you felt too afraid that I wouldn’t love you anymore and ran away to someone you trusted. And this time you just so happened to run into Fluttershy on your walk, and she took you in and helped you through most of your issues so you could talk to us and we could resolve things.

“Both times I felt so terrified, feeling like it was my fault for not being there for you. And what about the next time? What if you’re not so lucky next time? When I found Pound’s saddlebag abandoned I was horrified that someone had foalnapped you.”

She looked down at them with teary eyes. “You two are a big part of my life, like my very own children. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you because of my negligence. “

“W-well, we just won’t do that anymore,” Pound responded, starting to move his hooves. “Cross my heart-”

“NO!” Pinkie said, slapping his hoof. The two gave her confused looks. “P-please. Don’t do that.”

“Why not?” asked Pumpkin.

“You two are still young, and you don’t have good control of your emotions yet. If something happens and you DO decide to run away from home I don’t want you to be scared to return because you think I’ll hate you for breaking a Pinkie Promise. J-just please understand that I will always love you no matter what. No matter how badly you screw up I will ALWAYS be there for you. That’s why I’ve been pushing so hard for you to know that important rule.

"The only thing I will ever hate about you is bad behavior, but I love both of you from the bottom of my heart, flaws and all. Like the rule goes, I may get angry or upset when you break the rules, and I may avoid you for a time because I don’t want to lose my temper on you, but all of that is only temporary. Once I feel better my love will always be there waiting for you, and that’s a Pinkie Promise for life.”

She pulled the two of them tight to her. “I promise that to you. Even IF you somehow turned evil I would still be there for you always, because I’d always know you were still the same sweet kids I knew deep down, and I’d do all I could to turn you good again. I will never give up on you guys, and I really need you to believe that and not run away anymore.

“I know that things will be tough, and may sometimes get overwhelming, but if you feel like you can’t take it anymore just tell me. If I don’t feel safe to handle it I can take you to Fluttershy’s house. There is always another way and ways we can work things out without resorting to trying to leave town. I just love you so much, and I don’t want to feel that horrible guilt for being too late like I did last week.”

The twins held her back with all their strength. “W-we’ll try, Auntie Pinkie!” Pumpkin said strongly. “B-because I love you so much too.”

“Me too!” Pound added.

“Great,” she responded. “That’s all I’m asking for.

“Now, I think we’ve all had a little too much negativity for such a fun day. After all, we’re celebrating the fact you get to go back to school tomorrow, and you’ve both been working so hard to improve, so I propose a nice round of jumping on the bed.”

Their faces lit up. “I’m game!”

“Me too!” said Pumpkin.

Releasing them and standing up she began to hop around, the kids quickly joining in with her, and within seconds they were laughing and giggling and smiling, their sadness quickly vanishing. After a few minutes she called a halt to the activity, telling them they still had to get ready to leave.

Once they were all packed they headed downstairs, Cup Cake and Carrot Cake waiting for them. Climbing up on their parent’s backs the five of them went to the castle to meet up with Twilight.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pound and Pumpkin said cheerily.

“Hey, you guys,” said Twilight. She inclined her head to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake. “And hello to you too. I bet you’re eager to be back to having some free time again, huh?”

Cup Cake shrugged. “Not much free time. We still have the shop to look after, after all.”

“Of course.”

Pound leaned over his mom’s mane, saying, “Auntie Pinkie is still feeling bad about last week, so she tries to make sure that we know that she’ll always love us, even if we do bad things.”

Pinkie let out a little sigh, nodding in agreement. “I just keep thinking that if I had only come to them a little earlier we could have avoided a lot of trouble.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Twilight responded. In a politely scolding voice she continued, “There’s no point in harping on about the past. What’s done is done. They might not have believed you if you did come to them earlier. The only thing you can do from here is learn from the experience and try to act differently the next time, which it sounds like you’ve been doing. So have I.”

She sighed again. “I know, Twilight. You’re right, but I just worry about what could happen the next time.”

“We promised we would try not to run away anymore, because she promised she’ll always love us no matter what,” said Pumpkin.

“Are you listening to them, Pinkie? I think they get it. Now smile. Don’t ruin today’s happiness with tomorrow’s worries. They’re here now, so let’s enjoy ourselves.”

She gave a weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. “Okay, Twilight.”

While they waited for the others Twilight looked thoughtfully at the pair. As she had said she had pushed her other royal duties back or rescheduled appointments or meetings to devote her whole week to spending time with the two of them. It was a real learning experience for sure. That four year gap in age between when she had started to interact with the Cutie Mark Crusaders and when she had begun to interact with Pound and Pumpkin was indeed huge. The way they thought, the way they acted, the way they responded to things… so much was foreign to her, and she realized how wrong she was to think they were so similar.

She instructed them on the reasons for healthy communication, reasons to avoid violence, how enemies could become friends if you just put in the effort. She knew that some of what she was saying was beyond their understanding at their age, but she hoped it would make more sense in the future.

After giving them a lecture she tried giving them tests on keeping their cool, and there the big differences between the two of them quickly became apparent.

After getting the complete story of what their first day of school was like she thought their greatest weakness was a lack of experience with peer pressure. All the problems that day seemed to stem from it.

Using her magic she created illusion ponies. Solid enough to interact with their environment, but extremely fragile. Working to create as close as possible to their situation she set up a number of fillies and colts, who could act independently, and tested them on their willpower. They were both understandably nervous about having a repeat of the previous day. Twilight was insistent that she had learned her lesson and was going to remain calm, as she was just there to observe and learn. Far better for them to fail in practice than in an actual situation.

Pinkie Pie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake, also wishing to avoid another fallout like they had the day before, were instructed to just observe and learn as well, and avoid any judgment or scoldings so they could learn better ways to respond to them.

Twilight put them through their paces, preparing a number of “programs” for the illusion kids, to see how the twins would respond to various situations.

Pumpkin was relatively coolheaded. She could get annoyed easily when Pound acted stupidly, but mainly responded well and quickly to the lessons, adapting to the challenge. Pound, on the other hoof, was far more impulsive and had greater difficulty keeping his cool, especially when Pumpkin was involved. Even while interacting with the illusion kids they were somewhat aware it was a fake situation, and their observers were simply seeing if they gave the expected, appropriate responses. When one of those scenarios included a colt having a disagreement with Pumpkin and shoving her to the ground Pound completely lost his cool and immediately ran over and tackled him to the ground.

The impact broke the spell, and it vanished, leaving Pound breathing hard. After a few seconds he thought he could feel the stares of their watchers, and he began cowering, afraid of what they were going to do to him.

Twilight walked over to him, putting a hoof on his trembling shoulder. In a perfectly calm voice she said, “Don’t be afraid, Pound. This is a lesson. You’re not going to get it right away. Let’s just try again. Repeated exposure to a certain stimulus can make it lose its power.”

“Huh?” he said, looking up at her like she had three heads.

“If Pumpkin having troubles with other ponies is a powerful trigger that makes you lose control then going through it over and over will eventually dull that reaction.”

He frowned at her. “Then I’m not doing it!”

“Why not?” she said, curious.

“You’re trying to tell me I’m eventually not going to care when other ponies are being mean to my sister?”

Twilight shook her head. “No. Not at all. The goal is for you to stop letting your emotions control you. As I said before when there’s trouble you should try to get an older pony to help settle things. You react so quickly, acting before you think, that you don’t have time to do anything but lash out.

“Wanting to protect your sister is good. It’s the method you use that we have a problem with.”

“Just… let you handle everything?” he asked, not sounding very enthused.

She nodded. “Correct. As we’re older and more experienced we are better able to maintain control over our emotions and set the rules.”

He sighed. “Alright, I’ll give it a shot.”

Pumpkin easily got used to turning to one of the four adults when there were problems. When Pound was being picked on by them he sometimes got confrontational verbally, and sometimes he would realize what he was doing and turn to the adults too. When it came to Pumpkin, though, it was another matter entirely. It was a definite trigger for him, and he would violently lash out each and every time the bullying kids got physical with her.

He would realize what he’d done shortly afterward when his hot head cooled, and quickly become filled with a seething guilt, desperately wanting to avoid being yelled at, but no bad words came his way. Twilight didn’t get angry despite his many failed attempts, and so he slowly became less afraid of screwing up. Not being bullied for not doing it right he resolved to work harder, but it always went right out the window as soon as Pumpkin was hurt, even if it was just pretend.

When Twilight wasn’t testing them she was conversing with them, trying to learn more about their lives and what kinds of things they thought about and did during the day. Sometimes she would just quietly observe them in their natural lives, seeing both the good and the bad sides of them. She found it oddly amusing that despite how fiercely he protected his sister from others the two of them could snipe and yell and sometimes even fight with the best of them.

On the fifth day it seemed that Twilight’s theory was at last coming into play. Repeated exposure to the same situation was finally showing some effect. Seeing his compulsive nature Twilight had shifted things just a bit to try to give him more time, holding him in place with her magic for ten seconds as he went to lash out. She hoped that by stopping him at the greatest emotional point they could bypass the worst of it and give him a chance to cool off by himself.

It was an effective method. Sometimes it still wasn’t enough, but sometimes it was. She could sometimes see him shaking with fury, but staying in place, glaring at the illusion child. With more time and practice he actually managed to keep his head enough to complain to her about the bullying. By the end of the day she was shortening the amount of time she had to hold him back.

They had a small party that night, praising and rewarding him for doing better. Pound was kinda bashful, clearly enjoying the attention. He was happiest that throughout everything Twilight never lost her temper or raised her voice. When he messed up she just encouraged him to try again. It allowed him to make mistakes without being afraid.

On the sixth day she gave it a few practice runs to be sure Pound was in the right mindset before she chanced giving him full rein and not stopping him with her magic.

It was a long day. Without Twilight’s interference it was almost like starting from square one, but little by little he began to conquer his impulses. He tried to think of how happy everyone had been the previous day, and used that as his motivation to try to beat his natural inclination to lose his temper.

Hours later he finally made real progress when he not only didn’t lash out, but didn’t seem nearly as furious as usual, when he’d have to spit out his words through gritted teeth because he was so annoyed.

Twilight was overjoyed, holding him and spinning him around as she praised him for his hard work. He felt that light inside of him like he did yesterday, and he was eager for more nice things.

By the end of that day he was becoming pretty consistent about quickly turning to Twilight when things turned sour.

When Cup Cake, Carrot Cake, and Pinkie got off work later Twilight eagerly took them to show them what all his hours of practice had done for Pound. When they saw Pound completely keep his cool all three of them clapped hard for him, and Pound felt so overjoyed.

As a reward for their tremendous progress Twilight suggested they spend their last day of being suspended at the beach, where she hoped they could demonstrate the same progress in a real-life situation as they did in practice.

12-2 Lesson learned?

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When the others showed up the whole gang gathered around Twilight as she teleported them to the beach.

Once they were all comfortable they began to do their own thing: Rarity rested in the shade as Spike put suntan lotion on her, Applejack and Rainbow Dash gathered a few other ponies to play some volleyball, Twilight took out a book to read, and Fluttershy and Pinkie took the excited children toward the water to swim, while Cup Cake and Carrot Cake set up the cooler so they’d have plenty of drinks to enjoy.

Pound and Pumpkin were both wearing inflatable swimmies. They didn’t care for them, feeling they weren’t babies anymore, but none of the adults thought they were good enough swimmers that they would allow them not to wear them.

The water was pretty chilly, giving them a nice bit of relief on that hot day. They each splashed at each other, having a blast as they swam around and played.

When they grew bored of swimming they got out and dried off on a towel, gently dozing in the sun. Their mini nap was interrupted a few minutes later by Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s return.

The two of them were laughing and slapping each other’s hooves, having beaten the other team by a fair amount by working together.

Pound got up, grabbing his shovel and pail and going a short distance away to make a sand castle. Pumpkin at first made to rise and join him, but she was still far too comfortable, and Rainbow and Applejack were quieting down already.

Pound scooped his bucket into the wet sand, only getting close enough to the water that the bottom of his hooves got wet. Moving away from the water he turned the bucket over, and began constructing a castle. Using his shovel to cut off pieces and hitting it to flatten some areas he thought he was doing a great job.

With a couple more bucketfulls of sand his castle was getting bigger and bigger. He used his hoof to make circular windows and kept shaving pieces off with his shovel. He laughed at how awesome his castle was. When he thought it was as good as it was gonna get he picked up a stick and jammed it into the top, declaring it a masterpiece. He’d like to see his dumb sister make something that awesome.

He heard a loud yell from behind him, quickly getting louder as it approached. Pound turned and saw a colt running toward him, his hooves flailing like mad and a look of panic on his face. He seemed to have some sort of weird hair decoration flapping around with his running.

The colt crashed into him, knocking both of them to the ground, and something red flew into the air, landing in the dirt a few feet away from them.

“Ow!” Pound complained. “What are you doing, stupid?”

The colt put a hoof to his ear. “Oh, good," he said, obvious relief in his voice. "It’s gone.” He jerked as he looked down at the ground, hiding behind Pound. “Make it go away.”

“What?” Pound replied angrily, checking to make sure his precious castle was unharmed before glancing toward where the boy was looking. He spotted a crab, and he realized that THAT was what had been fluttering in the wind before. He began laughing. “How in Equestria did a crab get your ear? Was it a dare or something?”

“N-no! I was just relaxing by the water. I must have gotten too close to it when I laid down.”

Pound shook his head, waving at the crab. “Shoo, shoo.” The crab made a few ominous gestures with its claws, but sidled away regardless.

“There. Problem solved,” Pound said with a giggle. “The big bad meanie is gone… ya loser.” Pound winked at him.

“Loser, huh?” the colt responded with a cocky grin. “What’s your name, brat?”

“Pound Cake. How about you?”

“Name’s Tree Leaf.”

Pound rolled his eyes. “How original. You’re two shades of green, and you’re named after something green.

“Oh, and I prefer major brat, thanks.” He gave the colt a shove.

Tree Leaf glared at him, and Pound returned the gesture. They stared hard at each other, daring the other to blink, but their little competition got ruined a few seconds later when they both cracked up laughing.

Tree Leaf spun around to the side of him, putting his hoof around Pound’s neck and giving him a noogie. “Come on, then, major brat. Show me what you got.”

Pound kicked at Tree Leaf’s back legs, knocking him off balance as he fell to the ground. Pound sat on him victoriously. “The winner!” he called out, pumping his hooves.

“Not likely!” Tree Leaf called out, grabbing Pound’s back legs and pulling them up hard, causing him to fall backward. Tree Leaf turned over, getting up and sitting on Pound’s back. “Who won now?”

Pound grabbed Tree Leaf’s back legs with his front, turning over and taking the colt with him. “Not you!”

The two continued to roughhouse, having a blast as they began to get sweaty. They were both panting but neither wanted to be the one to give up first.

The two of them had their hooves locked around each other’s, staring at each other as they each strained to overcome the other. They were in an awkward position, their legs folding around like pretzels, but they both ignored the discomfort.

“H-hey,” said Pound, panting a little. “W-why don’t you j-ju-just give up? It’s… okay…”

“I agree,” Tree Leaf said, panting as well. “So just… let me… win… and we can… end this.”

“No way!”

The two of them pulled on their opponents captured hooves until they felt like they would break, but both boys pride wouldn’t let them surrender. Despite the agony they both wore confident smiles, each looking for the slightest sign of weakness in the other.

“Hey! What are you doing?” came an angry voice from nearby.

Pound and Tree Leaf both turned to look, seeing Pumpkin coming toward them. “Go away, Pumpkin!” he said nastily. “We’re having a contest of strength over here.”

“You shouldn’t be fighting!” she said scoldingly. “You’re lucky no one else is looking over here or you’d get in big trouble.”

Pound sighed. The moment was broken. Even if he ignored her he wouldn’t get any satisfaction out of winning if he had to listen to Pumpkin’s nagging. Rolling his eyes he disentangled himself from Tree Leaf.

He walked past her, making sure to bump his body hard against her side. “Thanks for ruining my fun, you pest. Were you just jealous I was hanging out with someone else for a change?”

Pumpkin sputtered a few times, incensed. “Excuse me? I’m just looking out for YOU! We’re finally going back to school tomorrow and you want to start a fight near Princess Twilight?”

“Blah, blah, blah. You’re talking too much. Come on, Tree Leaf. Let’s go do something else.”

“Must be hard to learn to fly without a teacher,” Pumpkin said coldly, “but if you don’t care about ever flying then fine. Do whatever you want.”

Pound halted in his step, one hoof still in midair, a sour look on his face. He took a few deep breaths before arranging his face in a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Okay, okay. “ He turned around. “I guess you’re right.” He let out a little groan, then spat out, “I’m sorry, alright?”

“Apology accepted,” Pumpkin said coolly, not having forgiven him yet.

“We weren’t ever fighting, you know? We were wrestling. Two totally different things.”

“You’re right, but if Twilight saw you after you just spent the whole week learning to control your temper she might decide you’re not mature enough to go to school yet.”

“That would stink.” Pointing with his hoof he said, “This is Tree Leaf. Tree Leaf, this is my sister Pumpkin Cake.”

“Nice to meet you,” Pumpkin said kindly, extending her hoof.

“Charmed,” he replied in a bored tone, not even looking at her as he quickly tapped her hoof. Grabbing Pound around the neck he pulled the colt forward, ignoring Pumpkin completely.

Pumpkin felt a little aggravated, but she was sure his mood would blow over. He was probably just mad like Pound for interrupting their wrestling match.

Pound went back to where the rest of their friends were and grabbed a beach ball before running back over to them. “Who’s up for a little game?”

“Sure!” said Tree Leaf. He loved competition.

“What do you have in mind?” asked Pumpkin.

Pound replied, “We take turns hitting it to each other, and see who drops the ball first. Whoever drops it five times is out, and then the remaining two do the same until there’s only one left. Got it?”

They both nodded, getting into a triangle position. Pound threw the ball up into the air, before jumping up and smacking it towards Pumpkin. She gave it a whack toward Tree Leaf, who quickly slammed it back toward her. Not expecting the swift return she fumbled the hit and it fell to the ground.

“You got one point, Pumpkin,” Pound said in a cheery voice.

“It’ll be your turn next,” she said confidently.

They passed the ball around a couple of times, Tree Leaf giving a high hit over to Pound, over to Pumpkin, who shot it toward Tree Leaf. Knowing better now this time she was prepared when he shot it back to her. It went way over her, and she made a running dive to save it, missing it by inches as she skidded against the sand.

It felt like every couple of rounds of tossing a sudden quick shot by Tree Leaf got her, to the point where not only was she the first eliminated, the other two didn’t even have any points yet.

Pumpkin sat down in the sand, watching them with a thoughtful frown on her face. She had thought that everything was fine now. All playing together, making a new friend; it seemed the exact sort of thing Auntie Pinkie would be proud of them for. However, she had her misgivings about Tree Leaf. Looking back, she saw that all her points had been a result of Tree Leaf. It looked like Pound had gotten high, lazy shots that were easy to hit and return, while she had gotten a bunch of tricky shots. Now the two boys were back to playing alone again, and she could see that Tree Leaf’s attitude had shifted. He looked on top of the world, confident and messing around, trash talking with Pound, where before he had been silent.

Inside she wondered if she was overreacting, but she couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed. She lost track of the time as they continued to hit the ball back and forth, and she was starting to get bored. After what felt like an eternity they were tied at four and four. Pound hit the ball hard, and it went sailing over Tree Leaf’s head. Tree Leaf went running for it, and in a split second of vindictiveness Pumpkin put a hoof to her horn to hide the glow as she gave the beach ball a quick boost, and Tree Leaf missed it.

Pound cheered, hopping up and down. “I won! Oh, yeah! The winner!”

Tree Leaf laughed. “All right, all right. You beat me fair and square. You want a medal?”

“You can just bow down to me. That would be enough.”

Tree Leaf gave a playful scoff. “I think not.”

Once again she was being ignored, and Pumpkin didn’t like it. Pound’s words rang in her ears, about how he accused her of disliking Tree Leaf just because Pound was paying attention to someone else than her, and she began to feel guilty. Maybe he was right, and she was just looking at Tree Leaf the wrong way. She resolved to make more of an effort to be understanding. After all, Pound was having a good time, and he always tried so hard for her so she’d be happy. Did she have to ruin his happiness by throwing around accusations and causing bad feelings all over?

Her resolve didn’t last. No matter what activity they participated in Pound always made sure she was a part of it, but Tree Leaf kept trying to find ways to exclude her or ignore her. It quickly became apparent to her that Tree Leaf wasn’t willing to forgive her for interrupting their little wrestling match. If there was any other reason it escaped her.

After playing for a while Pound suggested they all go for a walk while they thought of some new games to play. Pumpkin was silently fuming, but went along with it. Tree Leaf walked ahead of both of them, and Pound’s natural desire to be the leader made him keep pace with Tree Leaf, once again leaving Pumpkin behind them.

Pumpkin growled, starting to become really frustrated.

Tree Leaf seemed to be directing them as they kept walking along the sand. They reached a less populated area of the beach, where the only ponies they could see were walking like them, not sunbathing on towels.

Tree Leaf pointed to an elevated structure a couple hundred feet away. It was something like an arch made of stone. If they climbed up they would have a nice view of the whole beach. “Hey, Pound! I bet I can beat you in a race. I have to make up for you beating me before. Pumpkin can be our judge.”

“Sounds awesome!” Pound declared.

“We’ll run to that thing over there, loop around it, and then come back here.”

“Got it,” Pound said with a nod.

Pumpkin let out a heavy sigh. She was being excluded. AGAIN! Keeping her anger in check she agreed to be their judge.

Tree Leaf and Pound were on either side of her, their bodies bent and ready to start running. At Pumpkin’s signal they both took off. Pound was making great strides, but Tree Leaf immediately tripped and fell flat on his face.

Unable to hold it back Pumpkin let out a loud snort, thinking it served him right.

“Hey, wait!” Tree Leaf said. “No fair!”

But Pound wasn’t stopping. “Not my fault you tripped!” Pound called back.

Tree Leaf didn’t even bother to try and catch Pound. When Pound got close to the arch Tree Leaf turned to Pumpkin, seeing the satisfied look on her face. It was what he had been waiting for. “Look, you little brat,” he said nastily, making Pumpkin’s grin vanish at once. “I guess you just can’t take a hint. We don’t want you around, you killjoy. We were having a great time before you came along and ruined it. So why don't you just run along and stop bothering us?"

Pumpkin stomped her hoof, jerking her head toward him. “You’re still not over that? I’ve been giving you two space to play your stupid boy games.”

Tree Leaf shook his head. “You just don’t get it, do you? GET LOST!” He kicked a hooffull of sand at her, and she let out a cry of pain as a healthy portion of it landed right in her eyes.

She fell to the ground, hooves over her eyes as she scrabbled at them, trying to get the sand out.

Tree Leaf smirked. “That’s much better.” He began to merrily gallop towards the approaching Pound. “Hey, buddy!” he said cheerfully. “Good job on the race. You wanna try climbing this thing?”

Pound glanced around Tree Leaf. “What’s wrong with Pumpkin?”

Tree Leaf moved his head in front of Pounds. “Nothing serious. Probably got something in her eye. Such a silly pony.”

Pound pushed Tree Leaf out of his way. “I’m gonna go check on her.”

“Oh, why bother? She’s out of our hair now. It’s better this way.”

Pound turned sharply toward Tree Leaf. “Why would you say that? She’s my sister.”

“Don’t tell me she wasn’t annoying you too, being such a hanger-on?”

Pound had an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach. “Of course she annoys me sometimes. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about her.” With that he began walking toward Pumpkin, who was still frantically scrubbing at her eyes.

Tree Leaf rolled his eyes. “Maybe I was wrong about you, Pound. I thought you were cooler than this. I took care of the problem. I thought you’d be happier.”

Pound froze so hard mid-step that he fell flat on his face. Getting up in a heartbeat he rounded on Tree Leaf, his eyes narrowed. “Excuse me? YOU did this?”

Tree Leaf let out a derisive huff. “So what if I did?”

Pound felt the sting of betrayal. He thought he had a friend in Tree Leaf, but if the colt was going to bring harm to his sister then the colt was no friend of his. He slammed his hooves together. “Then I’ll beat the stuffing out of you!" he said in a deep voice.

Tree Leaf looked condescendingly at Pound. “Oh, so you want to go at it for real this time? I’m game. At least your useless lump of a sister won’t be able to interfere again.”

Pound felt a strange ringing in his ears as his anger ratcheted up. He didn’t care about Twilight’s stupid lessons anymore. He wanted vengeance! As he began charging toward the colt a solitary sound broke through the haze of his emotions: Pumpkin let out a loud wail, sobbing because she couldn’t see and couldn’t get the sand out. It was stinging like crazy and she could do nothing for it.

Pound paused in his dash. He shut his eyes tight, his body shaking with the desire to hurt the colt in front of him, to make him lose that cocky smile and make him pay for hurting his sister. But… his sister was behind him, howling in agony, and even his tremendous rage couldn’t surpass his desire to do something to stop Pumpkin’s cries.

With a great effort he forced himself to turn around. The first step was the hardest. He was so used to simply acting that he was having trouble not acting now when his mind was calling out for it. The second step was easier, and the third even more so.

When he reached Pumpkin he grabbed her and pulled her to her hooves. “Come on, Pumpkin,” he said roughly. “Take my hoof and everything will be okay.”

Pumpkin complied, and together they began walking.

“Where you going, you stinking coward?” Tree Leaf asked mockingly. “I’ve never seen such a pathetic pair of siblings in my life. Are you just naturally that way, or did you inherit it from your ugly mom?”

Pound paused, once again feeling a flush of wrath so intense it drowned out all thought. How dare that colt make fun of his mother? As he tried to spin around and pull away Pumpkin grabbed his hoof tighter, giving him a little tug to keep them moving.

It took every ounce of his limited skills not to turn around and just go give the colt what for, but the feel of Pumpkin’s hoof squeezing his cooled his head again enough for him to keep walking. Tree Leaf said a few more things but Pound was focusing only on Pumpkin and getting her to their parents, ignoring whatever other words the colt had to say.

12-3: What it means to protect.

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It only took a few minutes to resolve everything. Pound kept a tight hold on Pumpkin’s hoof, leading her back toward where the group was. As they approached Pumpkin’s wailing drew their attention and Pinkie came running over to see what was the matter. He told Pinkie about Pumpkin having sand in her eyes, then went to Twilight, seeing her as the biggest authority figure, and told her about what happened. She was rightly angry, and came with him as he returned to where he had been playing with the other boy, pointing him out. She went up to him, demanding to know where his parents were. Even in his childish arrogance he didn’t dare defy a princess. Twilight told his parents what had happened, and they expressed their disappointment.

Seeing the boy get his comeuppance afforded Pound no satisfaction. He felt a cold anger still dwelling inside, glaring at him from afar, feeling he definitely would still attack Tree Leaf if the boy said anything to him, even in full view of Twilight. Turning around he began to run back toward the others.

His parents and Pinkie were tending to Pumpkin. Pinkie had the filly on her lap, holding her and saying comforting things while his mom dabbed at her eyes with a wet washcloth. Pumpkin was still crying and fussing. Watching Pumpkin’s agony only increased the feeling of rage inside of him.

He stormed off a short distance away, flopping to the ground facing away from them and curled up, holding his legs as he glared off into the distance, not seeing it.

Sometime later he heard Twilight calling out to him, but he ignored her. He didn’t want to talk to her.

Twilight could already tell he was in one of his moods. From what she’d observed of him that week, as well as talking to Fluttershy and Pinkie about him, she could see he was exceptionally stubborn and tended to get depressed or angry easily when things didn’t go his way.

Thinking about her experience with Pound and Pumpkin she had had the practical study. Now it was time for a test on what she had learned. First things first was to find out what he was mad about. As she had seen last week trying to get concrete answers from an angry child was an exercise in patience and not expecting to get results without a lot of hassle.

She sat down next to him. “Hey there, Pound. You left before the end, but Tree Leaf’s parents told me he’s going to be punished for a week for hurling sand at your sister. Maybe he can use that week to improve just like you and Pumpkin did.”

Pound offered absolutely no response. He didn’t even shift position. He was a rock, with no expression.

“In the hecticness of ensuring punishment for his misdeeds I wasn’t able to say thank you before. I was honestly kinda shocked how well you handled yourself. All that practice this week really paid off. You kept in control and told an adult about the problem instead of resorting to violence. I’m really proud of you, Pound Cake! I’m sorry if I didn’t say that earlier. I hope I didn’t upset you by not congratulating you earlier.”

Pound let out a loud breath that turned into a distinct growl at the end.

Undeterred by his poor reaction she continued on. “I’m sure happy that you made a better decision. However, you don’t seem to feel the same way. Is something the matter?”

It seemed she had finally hit his hot button. Uncurling himself he stood up, glaring at her. “Is something the matter? Of course there is!” He pointed angrily toward the rest of the group. “My sister is in pain! How should I feel?”

“I understand that, and I don’t expect you to feel happy your sister is upset, but don’t you feel proud of yourself for doing the right thing?”

His face puffed up, and his eyes narrowed so much they were almost closed. “NO!” he yelled. “I DON’T! Stop talking like you understand how I feel!”

“Why don’t you feel proud of yourself?”

“Because it WASN’T the right thing to do. It’s just what all of YOU want. He hurt my sister and made her cry.” He began to shake in fury. “He deserves to pay. I wish I had beat him senseless. I wish I had hurt him just as badly as he hurt her and made him apologize. But I did what YOU wanted, and it doesn’t mean ANYTHING to me.”

A part of Twilight wanted to get mad and upset hearing him honestly express a desire for vengeance and revenge, and to scold him for his behavior. A part of her was worried and terrified, thinking of a certain other pony that had let those feelings get the better of them and had been banished as a result. However, those parts of her were overridden by the clear, calm headed part of her who had experienced their hurt and pain last week, when they chewed her out and felt she was just a bully using her power to crush them. She was not going to make the same mistake as last time.

Going by both her experience when they returned from running away, as well as Fluttershy’s advice, she knew that punishing, scolding, yelling, or diminishing him might keep him quiet by having authority keep him in check, but it wouldn’t resolve his anger. Listening and understanding was what he needed right now.

She felt she had a better understanding of her own thoughts she had written in their friendship journal. It probably wasn’t that children feel their emotions stronger than adults do, but rather that they are less equipped to deal with them, lacking the power, the strength, or the vocabulary to adequately express them constructively.

As she had seen during the event the previous week what he was saying was stuff on the surface of the real problems. She had to peel off the top layers to get to the real issues he had inside. Empathy and feeling truly understood was what had dissolved his anger toward his mother when he was raging at all of them before. She just had to get to the bottom of his feelings.

Keeping on in a calm tone she said, “And what do you think that beating up that colt would have done? You wanted to see him punished, and he got punished. Is it that important who does the punishing so long as justice is served?”

He growled again before screaming, “SHUT UP, TWILIGHT!” Scandalized looks came his way but he didn’t care.

Cup Cake gasped, dropping the washrag and feeling her face going red, mortified that her son was addressing royalty that way. She turned and saw Twilight looking completely unperturbed. That, plus her daughter’s cries, got her attention back on the matter at hand.

Twilight blinked at his outcry, refusing to be goaded by a child. “Okay, then,” she said coolly. “Why don’t you tell me what the difference is?”

“It’s never enough, is it? IS IT? You always need to have more, don’t you? Auntie Pinkie told me you have murals of you in Celestia’s throne room, you were the personal student of the princess, and YOU’RE a princess. Everyone knows your name and loves you and counts on you and you’re so special and important and amazing, but it isn’t enough. You just have to play the hero, no matter what. Can’t you give someone else a try? Do you have to take away MY chance to shine too?”

Twilight eyed him flatly. That he was accusing her now of administering punishment solely for the sake of glory hunting was frankly so insulting and demeaning to all that she stood for that it was really testing her resolution. She could feel a dull anger creeping up, and for the first time in a long while had to resort to the old standby Cadence taught her of taking a calming breath or two to keep her composure.

She thought they were starting to get to the real issue now. He was mad at her because he felt she was overshadowing him. Another thing she had learned was that confronting child logic with real logic was a fruitless endeavor, so pointing out that HE was the one who had come to HER to punish Tree Leaf likely would do nothing. Even if he had chosen a different pony the outcome would have been the same.

With one more deep breath she felt ready to keep pushing him. “Why is it so important to you to protect Pumpkin?”

An eyebrow went up. “Are… are you STUPID or something? You’re the Princess of Friendship, and you’re asking me why it’s important to protect someone I love?”

Cup Cake winced as she heard Pound demeaning their princess again. It was so embarrassing. She knew Twilight wanted them to treat her like any other of their friends, and she tried her hardest to, but she couldn’t just completely ignore Twilight’s position.

Twilight shook her head. “No, I understand that completely. I’m asking why it’s so important for YOU to protect her. So long as Pumpkin is safe isn’t that the most important thing? So long as she’s okay why is it important who is the one that doles out the punishment? Unless, of course, you’re the one who’s in it for the glory?”

Pound gaped at her, becoming so furious he wrapped around back to calm again. “How dare you?” He slapped a hoof to his chest. “I protect Pumpkin because I never want to see her get hurt. If I beat them up then they’re gonna be too scared to ever pick on her again. That’s why Pumpkin looks up to me as her hero: because she knows I’ll do whatever it takes to help her and stop her from being hurt by anyone else. But now YOU’RE the hero, and you’ll solve everything, so I guess she doesn’t need me anymore.”

Twilight was feeling perfectly calm again. She thought she had a good understanding of his real underlying issue now. “So then, protecting Pumpkin from harm, being a good brother, is your main motivation. Adults won’t always be around to notice if she’s in danger. If you’re there though, and you make it seem like it’s a real bad move for anyone to pick on her, then they’ll be too afraid to do so. And if you go and attack everyone who tries eventually word will spread and you’ll gather a reputation big enough that other ponies with bad intentions will steer clear of your sister.”

Pound gave her a searching look. He hadn’t been thinking of that, exactly, but now that she said it, it did made sense. He gave a big nod, looking a little less angry.

Twilight felt that his emotions had calmed enough that he could start listening to her. “Pound Cake, let me ask you something.”

“Okay,” he responded in a polite tone. He still had this odd feeling in his tummy, thinking about Twilight’s words. He wanted to be seen as so big and powerful that ponies would be scared off by his name alone.

“What do you think it really MEANS to protect Pumpkin? For example, if you protect her today, does that mean you don’t have to do it tomorrow?”

He shook his head hard. “Of course not! I have to protect her every day.”

“Let’s try something else. You told me that you’re not trying to protect Pumpkin just to be a hero, right?”

He gave her a dirty look for a second, but then gave a blunt nod.

“So if you’re not looking to be a hero, then you would be happier if you never HAD to protect Pumpkin, right?”

He looked at her questioningly, trying to figure out where she was headed with this train of thought. “Yeeeessss,” he said slowly.

“You definitely have the right idea, Pound, but it’s only your execution that needs work.”

“Huh?” he said, confused.

“You said that the idea is that if you fight everyone who picks on your sister that eventually there won’t be any more. In other words, you help and protect Pumpkin until you get to a point where she no longer needs your help. Now, the second part of that plan is perfect. That’s just like the role of a parent. They teach you and aid and do what they can to help you grow and mature, and then let you go off into the world strong and confident. So your motivation for protecting Pumpkin is very just and I fully approve of it.

“However, the means you use to go about it is where you fail. If your actions wind up putting Pumpkin in danger then that’s not very helpful, is it?”

“Of course not!” he said angrily.

“Do you remember what happened a few months back when you got into a tussle with another colt? It didn’t wind up in her eyes, but the start of the fight also took place on sand.”

Pound glared at her, but he wasn’t really looking at her.

“You and Pumpkin had a small argument. Pumpkin threw sand at you, hitting another boy. In retaliating he shoved her over, and you wound up attacking him for it.”

“He deserved it!” Pound said remorselessly. “It was just an accident.”

“Do you remember what happened next? The boy wanted revenge. He came back with his older brother and some of his friends. What happened then? Pumpkin was filled with fear. She got hurt emotionally when she saw them hit you. She got hurt physically when she attacked the older brother to get him to stop hitting you. She lost control of her magic, flinging all of them up in the air in an effort to protect you. Without any knowledge of how to control her magic it faded, and if I hadn’t been there they all would have been seriously hurt. Knowing the guilt she felt over what she did to you the weight of their injuries likely would have weighed heavily on her spirit.

“So now comes the question. By attacking that boy did you actually protect Pumpkin at all, or did you indirectly cause her much more pain than you wound up preventing?”

Pound’s eyes widened, her words cutting right through all his layers of defense, making him feel cold inside. A tear came down his eye. “I… I… I only… but…”

“I remember later on you confronted me about my stance on violence by pointing out our use of violence on beings like King Sombra or Queen Chrysalis. My answer still stands, that these were situations with many lives in the balance and with no choice in the matter to try and settle things peacefully. However, I want to add to my answer.

“There is a big difference between justice and revenge. Your desire to keep Pumpkin safe and healthy is genuine, but it’s tainted by your need for revenge. You told me that you wanted him to suffer and hurt. That is not justice. Revenge is only about making yourself feel better. Justice is fair and considers the ponies involved and their circumstances.

“Attacking other ponies might make you feel better in the moment, but what happens when you attempt revenge on a pony that’s stronger than you? Or has a big brother like that other colt? Revenge is a selfish thing only for your own satisfaction, and the consequences of such an action can be felt by the other pony also seeking revenge. Just like you got revenge on that boy, and he returned with others that made Pumpkin suffer.”

Getting a serious, no-nonsense tone in her voice she said harshly, “Now, I’ll ask you again. What does protecting Pumpkin really mean? Are you still adamant that attacking others is actually protecting her?”

Pound’s eyes were filling with tears. He sank onto her, crying onto her leg. “N-no. T-that didn’t help Pumpkin. B-b-but what else am I supposed to do?” he asked in a squeaky voice, looking up at her. “I don’t know.

“I-I-I’m not that strong. I’m not that smart. I can’t fly, and I’m small and can’t do much, but Pumpkin still looks up to me.” He wiped his eyes, sniffing, continuing on in his lost voice. “It’s the only thing that really matters to me and makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I’m not a loser, because I can do something really important. And now you want to take that away from me? You want to be Pumpkin’s hero, and leave me all alone?”

And now they had finally reached the end, the true issue that had fueled his anger. Twilight let out a small sigh. “Pound, you’re wrong. Do you think that I could ever take your place? Do you think that I could ever replace the love Pumpkin has for you? She looks up to you because you’re not afraid to do whatever it takes to keep her safe. You were willing to take on four ponies older than you without any fear. That is true love, and nothing I do could ever replace that.”

He looked up at her, uncertain. “B-but now you’re-”

She put a hoof to his mouth, sitting down and putting him on her lap. “I know that you might not feel this way right now, but you’re very strong and very brave, with a lot of admirable qualities. If you didn’t have those Pumpkin wouldn’t feel so strongly about you.

“One of the biggest qualities of maturing and growing up is learning from your mistakes and doing better the next time. You definitely did that today. In the past you couldn’t control yourself. You HAD to pursue revenge, to hurt others, to make them pay for picking on Pumpkin. Today, you made a huge leap forward.

“We were talking earlier about what it really means to protect your sister, and how it would be better to help her get to a point where she doesn’t need your protection. Today you learned about how to accomplish both: by setting a good example for her.”

Pound sniffed a few times, tears still coming down his eyes. “W-what do you mean?” he asked, wiping his face again.

“You demonstrated self-control. In the face of a real experience where Pumpkin was hurt, you were furious. You were angry. You wanted revenge. But revenge isn’t the same as love. Revenge is selfish, for your own benefit, to make you feel better. We already talked before about how revenge can set off a cycle where the pony you hurt will want to hurt you back. In having to choose between revenge and your sister, you finally chose your sister as being most important to you. Instead of fighting and losing your temper you took her to get help, even though you wanted it so bad you could taste it.

“In addition to avoiding a scenario like the one with that other colt where he may have brought back friends too tough for you to handle, you also made Pumpkin’s safety a priority. By demonstrating self-control in a difficult situation you gave Pumpkin something positive to look to you for. In the future, Pumpkin may be faced with a difficult choice of what is right and what is easy, and it may be your example that helps her make the right choice, if for no other reason than because she doesn’t want you to 'beat her.'” Twilight gave him a wink.

Pound looked down at the ground, his eyes squeezing shut. “But if what you said is right then Pumpkin shouldn’t look up to me at all. I’ve been a terrible brother, and I wasn’t helping her at all."

Twilight put her hoof under his chin and pushed so their eyes met. “Not at all. You just had mistaken beliefs.”

“B-b-but P-Pumpkin got hurt because of me. It’s my fault that everything got so out of control that day.”

“All this time you were simply doing what you thought was the best way to protect your sister. As I said before that desire of yours is pure. You look out for her when no one else is around. Even though you know it’s wrong to fight you still felt you would do anything to keep your sister safe, even if it meant getting in trouble. There was nothing wrong with why you were doing what you did. It was only the way you went about it that was wrong and caused trouble.”

She hugged Pound to her. “I’m very proud of you, Pound Cake, and I mean that. You’re starting to grow up and become a pony your sister should look up to.”

He began to quietly sob against her as he held her.

Twilight rubbed his back as he cried. “You’re on your way, Pound. And I really want to thank you, as well.”

Pound looked up at her, teary eyed. “T-thank me? For what?”

“That note I wrote in the friendship journal and what happened when you two ran away really did help me to see that I had had a huge hole in my learning. Without spending time interacting with children around your age I just assumed they weren’t that different from Apple Bloom or Scootaloo. They’re older now, but at the time you were born they were only ten. Those four years might not mean as much when you’re older, but it makes a big difference when you don’t have a lot of years on you to start with.

“That incident helped me to see that I needed to change my approach, and I think I did a pretty good job learning my lesson about how to solve problems with the younger kids, don’t you think?”

Pound nodded. “M-me and Pumpkin were kinda scared of you before, b-because you were a princess, and you could tell our parents to punish us more. B-but today y-y-you acted just like Fluttershy. Y-you listened to me… even though I was being a brat.” He averted his eyes. “You didn’t yell or raise your voice or punish me.” Looking back up at her he said, “I’m really sorry I was so nasty to you before, calling you stupid and telling you to shut up, and accusing you of just wanting after more fame. D-do you forgive me?”

Twilight gave him a warm smile. “Yes, Pound, I do.” And she hugged him again.

Pound hugged her back, closing his eyes as he shared in her warmth, a joyful feeling bubbling up inside him.

“So there, Mr. Pound. Did I pass my taking care of little kids test?”

He looked up at her and giggled. “A plus!” he said, flashing her a big smile.

“Great. I don’t want you to think that I’m out to abuse my position as princess. Your parents should be the sole decider of disciplinary actions. They’re the ones who know you best. I don’t want to act royal around the ponies I’m closest to. That’s why Pinkie or Fluttershy don’t bow to me or treat me differently. I understand my role, and that the majority of ponies are only going to see me as a princess, but that divide only makes me feel like I stand out too much. That’s why I want you to see me as just another pony when you can. I really need that time of just having my normal life back at times so I can return to the tedium of being a princess. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Um… no?” Pound tilted his head.

“Hmm, let me see.” She sucked on her cheek, trying to think of something to compare it to. “You said to me before that you can’t fly yet, right?”

Pound winced a little, but said, “Yes. Some of the other kids in my class made fun of me for it.”

“What about at home?”

“My parents understand that I can’t do it yet, and they don’t care. Pumpkin only made fun of me once, and that was that day at school, and she was really mad, or else she wouldn’t have said it.”

“So it’s a relief to be at home, away from ponies who stress you out because they treat you differently than you’d like?”

Pound nodded, then she could see the lightbulb go on in his head. “Oh! I get it now.”

Twilight got a cunning grin on her face. “Let me see if you understand the difference between revenge and justice. Justice is about following the rules, and certain undesirable actions get certain responses, like disapproval, scoldings, or time-out and loss of privileges.

“But, if you want to make the rules, then we’ll give that a shot." She lifted him up in the air with her magic.

“What are you doing?” Pound asked as he floated in front of her. She moved into a sitting position, and drew back her hoof like she was about to attack him, and he asked with a note of panic, “W-what are you doing?”

“I’m going to hit you,” she responded in a calm voice.

His eyes widened. “W-W-WHAT?” he responded in disbelief, his voice cracking.

“I all but spent an entire week at your house getting to know the pair of you. In that time I’ve seen that you two are mainly friendly to each other, but you sometimes get into arguments and disagreements, and not just verbally. I’ve seen you shove her, smack her, tackle her, and throw things at her. According to Pound Cake rules ponies that hurt Pumpkin need to be hurt themselves so they learn to stop doing that. You can’t expect to be exempt from your own rules, can you?” She drew back her hoof a little more. “So I need to beat you up. Unless, of course… you DON’T want to play by your own rules?”

Pound giggled nervously, rubbing the back of his head as he blushed. “Um… T-Twilight Sparkle rules are just fine to me.”

“Are you sure now? Maybe you know something I don’t about what rules should be in place? I think I should give your rules a try.” She closed one eye, her tongue sticking out of her mouth as she lifted her hoof a little up and down like she was trying to decide the best place to hit him. “See if they work any better.”

“No, no!” he said quickly, shaking his hooves in her direction. “Your rules are better. I admit it.”

Twilight set him down. “Glad to hear it. The key part of making rules for everyone to follow is that those who make them are bound by them as well. If the makers of the rules won’t follow them ourselves how can we expect all the others beneath us to? And now you see the biggest flaw in your logic: you’d need to be hit and attacked each time you lost your temper with Pumpkin if you expected to be able to do the same to other ponies.”

Pound let out a shaky breath, his little heart racing. “Yes! You’re right! I was wrong! I wouldn’t want to get beat up every time that happened.”

“It makes me happy to hear you understand the problem.”

Pound grabbed onto her leg, asking, “Y-y-you weren’t REALLY going to hit me, were you?”

“No!” Twilight said firmly.

He let out a sigh of relief. Releasing her and getting up he looked out towards the ocean. “Twilight?”

“Yes, Pound?”

“What you said makes a lot of sense. It’s really hard sometimes to stay calm when I see other ponies hurting my sister, but I promise I’ll do my best to try not to get into any more fights. I see now that I was actually hurting Pumpkin by trying to fight everyone. If I became really scary other ponies might go after Pumpkin just to hurt me. I guess I really was just being selfish by trying to fight instead of letting adults handle things.”

He thought again of that day at the park. If he had let Auntie Pinkie or Twilight resolve things Pumpkin only would have had to deal with being shoved. But because he lost his temper he had caused Pumpkin to get hurt and upset and afraid and it almost led to those other ponies nearly dying. He didn’t want to cause those kinds of big problems for Pumpkin.

Twilight felt her heart soaring. “I’m really happy to hear that, Pound. Of course I don’t expect you to be perfect. You might lose your temper once in a while. Just like you we all make mistakes, but then we get over it and apologize and things get better.”

Closing his eyes he lifted his head, taking a deep sniff of the beach air. “Saying that, I actually feel a whole lot better for some reason. I think it’s the right decision. I guess all this time I was wrong, and I wasn’t actually being a good brother to her by trying to fight everyone. That’s why I gotta do better from now on, so she’ll have a big brother worth looking up to.”

“Hmm? I thought you and Pumpkin were twins.”

“Well, my mom told me that I was born first, just a couple minutes before Pumpkin, so even though we were born on the same day I’m still a little bit older than her.”

“I see.”

"I guess I was just scared that Pumpkin wouldn’t need me anymore if I let someone else do the punishing. OW!” Pound recoiled and saw stars for a moment as he got a solid whack to the back of the head.

He turned, rubbing his head, and saw Pumpkin standing there. “P-Pumpkin? What did you do that for?” He looked up at her face, and her expression was as hard as granite. She kept squinting and blinking. “W-what’s wrong?”

“Pound, you’re so stupid sometimes I can’t stand you!” she said in a cold voice.

Pound shrank away from her. He hadn’t heard her use that tone since he had tried jumping off the flagpole.

“Do you not see this?” she said sharply, pointing to her eyes, which were red with irritation. “Do you think I wanted to just sit there and wait around with sand in my eyes while you went to try and beat up that kid? Why did Twilight have to point out how dumb you are before you got it?”

Pound felt his recent joy leaking out of him as he hung his head.

“P-Pumpkin,” Twilight said, a little shocked. She had just dealt with one extremely angry pony. Now did she have to deal with the other one?

Pumpkin ignored her. Grabbing Pound she spun him around so he was in a sitting position, sitting down next to him. She wasn’t in the mood to mince words after that pain. She put a hoof around him, pulling him to her.

Pound was definitely confused. She seemed quite angry, but she was now holding him.

“Darn it, Pound. You’re my hero. I told you that before and I’ll say it again. Twilight’s a big shot, sure, but she can’t ever replace you. I don’t care what she does. You’ve been protecting me most of my life.

“You should really listen to her more. Mom and Dad and Auntie Pinkie have their job in the shop, and Auntie Pinkie also has to plan parties and help Equestria when the map calls her, but you’re always there for me. Together we’re growing up, and I’m glad you decided to listen to the rules instead of fighting. That really hurt, and it makes me happy that I’m the most important pony to you.” She rested her head on his, her eyes closed, more because it helped lower the feeling of irritation than anything else.

Pound rested his head on hers, closing his eyes too as he gave her a squeeze. Smiling a little he said, “Thank you, Pumpkin. I really should know better by now.”

“Yeah, you should!” she snapped at him. “Stupid,” Pumpkin said once more, but in an endearing way this time as she nuzzled him.

Twilight grinned contentedly down at them. Their bond of friendship was incredibly strong. They were opposites in a lot of ways, but they each complimented the other, filling in necessary roles in each other’s lives to help make each other complete.

13-1: Out of control Pound

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It was early in the day, and Pinkie, Carrot, and Cup Cake were downstairs preparing stuff for the morning rush. Pound and Pumpkin were in their room. It was the weekend, so they didn’t have school.

Pound was restlessly pacing around the room, letting out little huffs and unable to sit still.

Pumpkin was on her bed, trying to read a book, and she found the sound of Pound’s hooves incredibly distracting.

“What’s wrong, Pound?” she asked, looking up from her book as he passed by her.

“Oh, shut up!” Pound snapped, giving her a hard shove and knocking her off the bed.

“Ow,” Pumpkin replied as she got up, though she wasn’t really hurt. “What’s the matter with you, Pound? I didn’t do anything to YOU!”

“And let’s keep it that way, you stupid brat!” He hopped onto her bed and grabbed one of her stuffed animals, attempting to pull its head off.

“HEY!” Pumpkin yelled, hopping up there with him and attempting to pull it out of his grip. Pound just laughed, holding onto one side tightly. There was a sound of ripping fabric, and Pumpkin let go in panic, which only led him to finish yanking the head off with a sinister cackle and throw the halves at her.

“POUND!” she yelled, a tear coming down her eye as she grabbed the pieces of her teddy bear. “H-how could you? T-t-that was one of my favorites.”

“Why don’t you just grow up, you baby?” Pound said coldly. “How long are you gonna keep sleeping with stuffed animals, Baby Cake? You gonna wet the bed again any time soon?” He laughed savagely at her.

Tears brimmed the bottom of her eyes, and she ran out of the room crying.

Pound heard the voice of his father calling him down a short while later, but ignored it, going up to Pinkie’s room. He knew she was downstairs in the shop. He went up to the picture frames of their family together. He picked up one of the two of them together, and scowled at it before turning and hurling it at the wall, causing the glass to shatter and the frame to break into pieces.

Picking up one of the pieces of glass he got up onto the bed and began to pop the balloons she had scattered around the place. The voice of his dad was closer now, and he knew his dad was in their room looking for him. He didn’t care.

He went out onto the loft overlooking Ponyville, pacing around. He knew the deal now. He hadn’t seen it before, but now he knew the truth. It was all wrong. All of it.

He walked back inside, heading downstairs. He completely ignored Carrot as he tried to talk to him, skirting him and running downstairs when he tried to grab him.

Pound saw several of the displays already full of cookies and other assorted treats. Going around behind them he took a cookie and stuffed it in his mouth.

Cup Cake said in a grave voice, “Pound Cake! You know better than to have sweets so early in the morning! And you also upset your sister. This is not behavior I expect of you.”

Pound gave her a thoroughly disinterested look before grabbing another cookie and saying under his breath, “Blah, blah, blah.”

Cup Cake heard him. “Excuse me, young stallion? I am not going to tolerate this behavior from you.”

Pound let out a little huff, his eyes narrowing a bit as he grabbed the entire plate of cookies and threw them on the floor. “THERE! Happy now? It’s easy now, right?”

Cup Cake was torn between anger and confusion. “What’s 'easy?'”

“Don’t lie to me! I know! I know, alright? I’m not as stupid as you think.”

Attempting to steer the conversation into brighter waters Cup Cake took a deep breath and said in what she hoped was a comforting tone, “Pound, honey, what’s bothering you? You’ve been in a foul mood since yesterday. I’m here to listen to you.”

His body tensed as he glared at her, a few tears appearing at the corner of his eyes. “Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up! I know! I already know, so stop pretending! I know what you really are.”

Cup Cake’s head tilted, unsure of what he was talking about. “And… what am I?”

“You’re all the same,” he said, his voice coming out almost like a growl. “You, and Pumpkin, and Pinkie, and Dad. Well, it’s not gonna happen! YOU HEAR ME? IT WON’T!”

Carrot came to stand by his wife, also clueless as to what Pound was talking about. “Son, what do you mean?”

His face clenched up, his cheeks puffing up and turning red. “Don’t lie to me. Although I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less. I know now.”

Pinkie came out of the kitchen with Pumpkin, looking concerned. “Pound, why are you screaming? We’re your family. Please talk to us.”

Pound let out an odd laugh, unnatural and wrong-sounding coming out of a child’s mouth. “Well, everyone’s here. Now the show can start.”

All of them were just getting more and more confused. None of them had an inkling of what was setting him off, but he was sure talking like he was expecting them to.

“No?” Pound said, sounding angry again. He grabbed the plate the cookies had sat on and threw it at a wall, making it shatter.

“Hey!” snapped Cup Cake.

“There you go! Now it’s even easier. You don’t even need an excuse now. It’s what you want, isn’t it? COME ON! DO IT!”

In a sharp voice Carrot said, “Pound, that is enough! What is it you want from us? You keep going on and on about us, but none of us know why you’re mad at us.”

“Why shouldn’t I stop? Come on, then. Punish me. Go ahead. I dare you.”

Pinkie felt her stomach aching. “Pound, we don’t want to punish you. We want to understand you. And we can’t help you if you won’t tell us what’s upsetting you.”

“Please, Pound!” Pumpkin said, a tear coming down her eye as she walked over to him. “Just stop this.”

Pound got a devious look on his face before backhoofing Pumpkin across the cheek, knocking her off her hooves and causing her to hit her head on the side of a display case. Pumpkin immediately began wailing as she clutched the side of her head.

“POUND CAKE!” Cup Cake roared as Pinkie ran over to begin comforting her. “If you keep this behavior up you’re not going to be allowed to go to school anymore and you’ll be locked in your room for a month.”

Far from upsetting him Pound got a really twisted grin on his face, and his head went back as he began to laugh that very creepy laugh again. “Thank you!” he said, laughing as if he’d just heard the funniest joke in the world. “I knew I was right. I’m gonna go to my room so I can be 'punished.'

His reaction and his laugh were so unnatural that none of them stopped him as he trotted up stairs.

When he got to his room he closed the door and hopped on his bed. His sense of euphoria vanished after a few minutes, and his stomach began to feel like it was twisted in knots. He began to breathe heavily before he felt a heavy weight on him. He began to stomp around his room, throwing his stuff around. When that was no longer enough he collapsed onto the floor and began screaming as he wailed and slammed the floor with all four of his hooves.

He rolled around on the floor, his legs flailing around as he threw a giant tantrum. For over an hour he alternated between periods of quiet and periods of complete and utter loss of control. Wiping himself out he unwillingly fell asleep on the floor, curled up into a ball.

***

Fluttershy was feeding her animals, humming to herself as she flew around filling up their bowls. She turned her head when she heard a knock on the door. “Now who could that be?” she said to herself. Going to the door she opened it, seeing Cup Cake standing there. “Oh, hello,” she said in a cautious voice. Cup Cake was looking like a wreck. Her mane was frazzled and she looked like the weight of the world was on her shoulders.

“Fluttershy,” she said in a heavy voice, “I need your help.”

“Of course,” she said, setting down the box of food. “What do you need?”

She put a hoof to her head, her eyes closing as she released a sharp breath. “It’s Pound Cake. He’s out of control, and quite frankly I’m at the end of my rope. I-I… I just don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, my,” Fluttershy said, putting a hoof to her mouth. “What’s he been up to?”

“EVERYTHING!” Cup Cake said in a high-pitched voice. “For the past three days he’s been completely unmanageable. I’ve tried… I really have. I’ve tried your method of not scolding at all and just letting him say whatever negative things come to mind so we can get to the real issue. It worked for Twilight when Pound was yelling at her, so I thought it would work for me too.

“He’s been breaking everything in sight, disrupting the customers, and I haven’t trusted to let him go back to school yet because I know he’d just get kicked out again. He’s been absolutely horrible to Pumpkin, destroying her stuff or attacking her. She’s got a nice bump on her head and some bruising from it. He won’t listen to any of us at all, not even Pinkie Pie, and he usually is much more relaxed around her because she’s the most fun of his authority figures. He keeps talking like we’ve all done something to slight him, but he won’t ever say what it is, insisting that 'he knows' and he won’t elaborate when we ask. He seems to be going out of his way to incite negative reactions out of everyone in his life, daring us to punish him. When we try to be understanding he simply does something nasty to try to provoke us to anger, and he gets this incredibly satisfied look on his face and gets this creepy laugh.”

Tears began to come down her eyes. “Do you know how horrible it feels to have to rely on you for this? I’m his mother, but I can’t do a thing for him. My baby is hurting so badly, and whether I’m nice or mean it doesn’t seem to make a difference to him.” She slumped to the ground and began gently sobbing.

Fluttershy felt a tear come down her own eyes, kneeling down and nuzzling her. “There, there,” she said comfortingly. “Sometimes we just don’t have all the answers. That’s what our friends are for. I know I never would have come as far or learned as much as I did if my friends hadn’t been there for me to help me grow. And it’s simply not true that you can’t do anything. If that’s what you really thought then you wouldn’t be here talking to me.”

Cup Cake looked up at her, hiccupping in breaths.

“You said this started three days ago, right? I know that small children, especially boys, can go through rambunctious or rebellious phases, but what you said about him striking Pumpkin hard enough to leave bruises makes me think there was a definite trigger. Overprotective Pound wouldn’t just simply abandon his values for no reason.”

Cup Cake stood up on shaky hooves, shrugging. “We don’t know what started it. We went to the beach, the next day he went back to school. That night he was moody and fresh, a little more than usual, but we didn’t think much of it. The next morning is when he got into full monster mode, and he’s been in that state ever since. According to both his teachers and Pumpkin Pound was perfectly friendly the whole day, and seemed in good spirits. If it wasn’t something that happened at school, though, then I don’t know what it could be.

"We were trying to handle things on our own, but…” She sighed. “Well, you’re our last hope, Fluttershy. You’re the Element of Kindness, and Pound and Pumpkin trusted you enough that they relied on you when they ran away.” She looked thoroughly defeated, beyond any emotion.

Fluttershy nodded. “Unfortunately I can’t promise results. He may treat me just the same as the rest of you. However, I’ll do my very best to get through to him again.”

"Thank you," said Cup Cake, wiping her eyes as she gave Fluttershy a hug.

"No problem," she replied, hugging her back, before she let go and the two of them headed toward Sugarcube Corner.

13-2: Trust issues

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Half an hour later Cup Cake and Fluttershy arrived at Sugarcube Corner. Before they even went inside there was the sound of a crash.

Cup Cake got a strained look on her face, hoping for patience, as a customer stormed out of the shop with chocolate frosting stains on her cheek.

When the mare spotted Cup Cake she said angrily, “Can’t you control your kid?” before walking off without waiting for a response.

Fluttershy entered the shop to see Pound being held by his father and scolding him for assaulting the customer. The colt didn’t look bothered in the least.

When they got close Carrot Cake saw Fluttershy and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.”

Pound looked over and saw her too, giving her a cocky look before saying, “Oh, look, it’s Stupidshy, the biggest coward in Ponyville.” He began to laugh to himself, snorting at his own wit.

“Hello, Pound,” Fluttershy said in a genial tone. “How would you like to come to my house for a few hours?”

He laughed again, sounding almost hysterical. “Sure! If it’ll get me away from all these losers. They’re just a bunch of-”

Cup Cake gasped at his obscenity, which only seemed to make him laugh harder.

“Something wrong, Mom? You gonna punish me again? Or is my punishment to have to hang out with the freaky animal lover? She’s such a loser she probably has to go on dates with Angel Bunny because no one else would want her.”

Fluttershy held back a tear. In a slightly shaky voice she said, “Come on, then, Pound. Let’s go.”

He snickered. “What, you want to go on a date with me instead? Is the bear not available?”

Fluttershy felt a sting in her heart. His words hurt, sure, but she could already see he had it bad. What exactly “it” was she didn’t know yet, but she knew this wasn’t like him.

Leaving Sugarcube Corner the two of them began walking. Pound kept spouting swears and looking at her, as though determined to get a reaction out of her. She did her best to ignore him, even if other ponies gave him dirty looks as they heard his mouth.

When they reached her cottage Pound had a very sour look on his face. Fluttershy wasn’t giving in. He got a good idea as he took off running and jumped right in her flowerbed, stomping the flowers down as he laughed vindictively.

“Pound!” Fluttershy called out in a hurt voice as she flew over and picked him up.

He began to laugh, and Fluttershy heard the distinct laugh his mother had told her about. It just sounded wrong.

“Come on, then, Stupidshy! Do it. It’s easy now, right?”

“Do what?” she asked as she took him inside to the living room.

“Go on and yell at me. I know you want to.”

She shook her head. “No, I don’t. I want to help you, Pound.”

“You can’t help me!” he said, his attitude shifting immediately. “I know! I know what you are! You’re just like my parents.” His face began to turn red as he gave her a contemptuous glare.

“And how am I like your parents?”

“You’re the same as them. You’re a filthy liar just like them. You keep on pretending, thinking that I don’t know. BUT I DO! I KNOW EVERYTHING!”

“Okay, then. You know something. Do you think I know it too?”

“YES!” he yelled. “Don’t you get it? I’m on to you. I HATE YOU!”

Fluttershy closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. If this was what Cup Cake had been going through for three days straight it was no wonder she was at the end of her rope. It was never easy to hear a loved one tell you that they hated you.

“Don’t feel left out though,” he continued. “You’re not alone. Pumpkin and everyone else. I can’t stand them. I never want to see them again. Or you either! I’m not going to do it again. I won’t!” He proceeded to swear under his breath.

Fluttershy took another slow, deep breath, trying to compose herself. She had never seen Pound like this. She’d foalsat them a number of times since they were babies, and she’d thought she’d seen the worst of him. He was never this bad before. Even when he and Pumpkin ran away and the two of them were thoroughly depressed he hadn’t been this bad. What had sparked his feelings before had been getting attacked on all sides and feeling overwhelmed by being repeatedly scolded for the same mistake by several different sources.

She had to guess the difference was that this time Pumpkin wasn’t by his side. He saw her as an enemy like everyone else, so this time he was trying to deal with everything all on his own, and his stubborn streak certainly didn’t help matters.

Fluttershy sat there, temporarily stymied. He wasn’t holding a grudge against her personally, as she had done nothing to him that would make him feel that way about her. It just seemed like he was lashing out at everyone connected to him. Without some kind of clue or direction to go on exactly what was eating at him she wasn’t sure how to proceed. She highly doubted that everyone had done something to him that warranted such feelings. It seemed like whatever was bothering him deep down he was just extending it to all his loved ones, regardless of who they were or how long they had known each other.

“Come on, Fluttershy,” he said nastily. “You don’t have to pretend. I know you’re not Applejack but you should be honest.” He hopped onto his hooves, grabbing a couch cushion and throwing it at her.

She let out a squeak and ducked, and it went sailing over her head.

“THERE! Is that enough? Or do you need more?” He went to the nearby table and shoved a vase off of it, and it shattered, causing several of her animals to let out squeaks of displeasure and run away. “Come on then! I’m waiting! Yell! Scream! Get angry! It’s easy now, right? Now you don’t have to pretend you don’t hate me too!”

Fluttershy just looked at him, tears silently pouring down her eyes. Far from getting angry she only felt her heart breaking over him. What was eating at his young heart so badly? He was acting just as Cup Cake had said, attempting to provoke her into treating him negatively.

“Oh, Pound!” she said thickly. “I could never hate you. I love you so much!”

For a split-second she thought she saw his true self, the boy hiding inside his bubble begging for help, but then he only grew angrier. “SHUT UP! I don’t want to hear it, you stupid cow! Stop pretending!” He let out that twisted, drunken laugh again, getting an evil grin on his face. “I’ll force you to show your true feelings.”

Fluttershy thought he was about to break something else of hers, but she wasn’t going to make a move to stop him. A few broken personal items were nothing to the broken heart she was feeling inside.

She let out a loud gasp as he walked over to one of her cats and raised his hoof. “POUND!” she squealed out, rushing over to him and grabbing him as he attempted to bring it down.

Her heart was racing as she held him tightly, trying to keep him secure as he fought to get out of her grip. “Please stop this, Pound.” She managed to keep her voice neutral with great effort. If she showed any negativity at all it would only confirm his world-view.

“HA!” Pound said. “We’re almost there. That got you moving. You LOVE your animals, don’t you?” He tried to kick at one as it walked by, but Fluttershy pulled him back further.

“Pound, it’s one thing if you don’t like me, but please don’t take your hatred out on the animals.”

“I’m not!” he snapped. “I don’t have anything against the animals. I just want you to show how you really feel about me.”

“That I hate you?” she said in a quiet voice.

“Yes!”

“Why do you feel that way, Pound? Haven’t I always been there for you in the past when you needed me? Isn’t that why you and Pumpkin came to me the first time you ran away from home?”

“I just did that because I didn’t know back then.”

“Oh, I see. So you don’t trust me now?”

His head tilted just a little bit, an eyebrow rising slightly, like he was considering whether to answer her question. “What if I don’t?”

“And I guess that goes for your parents? And Pinkie? And Pumpkin?”

“Yes!” he said forcefully, giving a strong nod.

“I see,” she said calmly. “Is there something I can do to earn your trust back?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Fluttershy maneuvered him around and hugged him tightly. “I love you, Pound,” she said firmly, “and that’s never going to change.”

Just like before it seemed effective for a second or two as he stopped fighting, but then he flew into a rage. He bit her shoulder, making her cry out in pain and drop him.

Pound was shaking in anger, reluctant tears coming down his eyes. “CUT IT OUT!” he yelled. “Stop pretending! I… I won’t believe it. I won’t! I can’t trust you! I can’t trust anyone! You’re just going to betray me! I know you’re just acting like you care. You’re just waiting for the perfect chance to double-cross me, you big traitor!” He looked down at the ground, looking disgusted at his momentary lapse. “That’s… that’s why I have to… to…”

Fluttershy rubbed her shoulder, trying to piece together the puzzle with this new bit of information. He believed that everyone secretly hated him, and was deliberately acting in ways to try to get a reaction that would confirm it. His two slip ups showed that he didn’t completely believe that.

According to Cup Cake his behavior started a few days ago, saying that they had their day at the beach, then they went back to school, and the night of their first day back Pound began to get rambunctious, before it escalated big time the next day. She had also said that none of his teachers or Pumpkin saw anything out of the ordinary in his behavior in school, making it unlikely that it was something at school that had triggered it. If Pound suddenly shifted without any obvious event it had to have been because he had made a sudden connection of two pieces of information that led him to his mistaken conclusion.

Over the past two weeks she had seen Pound and Pumpkin only twice: the day they ran away, and the day they had gone to the beach. She knew that Twilight had spent the week trying to teach Pound to rein in his impulsive temper, and he had passed his test with flying colors when presented with a real challenge when the colt he had been hanging out with bullied Pumpkin and made her cry.

She suddenly gasped, her eyes going wide as the switch went on, the final piece clicking into place. She understood now exactly why he was acting this way. And with that she also understood that she couldn’t help Pound. However, she knew the perfect pony that could. The only one that could truly understand him.

“Well, Pound, you’re right. You can’t rely on me now.”

Pound felt disquieted by her compassionate expression and that she was agreeing with him. “Y-yeah. Yeah! You’re right. I’m glad you admit it!”

“Would it be alright if I took you to someone that CAN help you?”

“I don’t need any help! I’m handling things just fine on my own.”

“Well, you said you wanted to get rid of me, right? As you said to me, it’s easier now, hmm?”

Pound looked at her thoughtfully for a few moments, before he looked toward the corner of the room, sucking on his cheek. “Alright, then. Let’s go.”

13-3: The sting of betrayal

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As Fluttershy and Pound left her cottage she picked him up and began flying.

“Hey!” he complained. “I can walk just fine, thank you.”

“I know you can, Pound, but you can’t fly yet.”

His eyes narrowed as he gave her a dirty look. “What does that have to do with anything, you jerk?”

“Only that where we’re going is someplace you’d have to be able to fly to get to,” she said genially as she took to the air, heading upwards at a diagonal.

“Hey!” Pound said sharply.

“Yes?” she responded.

“I’m not a baby, so don’t carry me like one.”

“Oh! Of course,” she replied, stopping her ascent and hovering in place as she positioned him so he could climb up onto her back. “Happy now?”

“No!” he said dismissively, crossing his hooves. “Let’s just go wherever we’re going.”

“You’ll have to hold on, Pound. I wouldn’t want you to fall off.”

With a huge sigh he leaned over and gripped her neck, and then she continued heading upwards. About five minutes later they were high enough that the ponies on the ground looked like ants.

Pound was leaned over, silently simmering and not paying any attention to where they were going until they suddenly landed.

“Here we are.”

Pound quickly hopped off her back onto a cloud. He looked at where they were, and then he began laughing uproariously. “H-h-here? Rainbow Dash is supposed to help me? The biggest-” Fluttershy winced a little as he cursed “-in Ponyville?”

“You’ll understand soon, Pound. Besides, out of all of us you’ve spent the least amount of time with Rainbow, so there’s less of a risk there, right?”

Pound shrugged. “Whatever.”

The pair walked up to her house, and she knocked on the door.

A short while later Rainbow opened the door. “Yeah?” she said, her nose stuck in a Daring Do book.

Pound sniggered. “Stupid nerd.”

That snapped Rainbow out of her inattention. She snapped the book shut. “What was that, half-pint?”

“I don’t know what we’re doing here. Do we gotta listen to Rain-brag Dash?”

“Excuse me?” she said in a huff. “Who do you think you’re talking to, squirt?”

Fluttershy quickly put some distance between the two of them. Rainbow was looking like she was about to blow. “Pound, can you just wait here for a second?”

“Take as long as you want,” he said dismissively. “The longer I don’t have to see either of you the better.”

As the pair went inside Rainbow said in a snooty voice, “Okay, so what’s his deal? You interrupted my reading time for this?”

“Rainbow Dash, this is very important. I need your help.”

“If you think I’m going to watch him when he’s being such a brat-”

“No, no, no!” she said, waving her hooves. “I just need like fifteen minutes of your time. Pound is having a problem and-”

“And he’s gonna have a bigger one if he doesn’t smarten up and stop giving me lip!”

Fluttershy winced a little. Becoming more firm she said, “I’m serious!” She told Rainbow about his out of control behavior from the past couple of days.

“Great,” she said sarcastically, “so he’s turned into a huge troublemaker. And just what are you expecting me to do about it?”

“Rainbow Dash, I know you don’t spend as much time with the twins as I do, but I’m sure you can understand that there’s a reason behind his behavior?”

“Of course, because every kid just adores being yelled at and punished. Again, what do you want me to do about it? If you can’t do it I can’t see why you’re expecting me to.”

“I took him to you because you’re the only one who CAN help him. Out of all our friends you’re the only one who has truly been through what he’s been through, and just like the other times he’s gotten out of hoof what he really needs is that understanding… to know that he’s not alone and he’s not the only one who’s had to go through these tough times.”

“And just what 'tough times' has he gone through?”

“Do you remember when we went to the beach?”

“Yeah. What of it?”

“And do you remember what happened with Pound there?”

“Uh-huh. Some colt threw sand at Pumpkin, and Pound went and told an adult about it, then threw a tantrum because he didn’t deck the kid when he had the chance. And then he talked with Twilight and he changed his mind because of the possibility of revenge by the ponies he might hurt.

“So what does any of that have to do with me?”

As Fluttershy opened her mouth Pound came in, giving a derisive huff. “Are you done yet, or should I just go pull up a cloud and take a nap?”

Fluttershy whispered in Rainbow’s ear. She tilted her head a bit to hear her better. At first Rainbow got a questioning look on her face, but then she scowled a bit, and finally comprehension dawned on her.

“Okay, then. I got it now.”

Pound eyed them both suspiciously. “Why are you whispering? You making a plan to throw me off the clouds so I fall to my death and then claim it was an accident?'”

Tears came down Fluttershy’s face, her eyes fading out at his words. Even understanding his troubles it still hurt that he’d ever think she’d do such a thing.

Rainbow felt incensed for Fluttershy’s sake. “Hey, you little brat! That’s not funny.”

He turned his back on her. “It wasn’t supposed to be.”

Fluttershy put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. Whispering again she said, “Rainbow Dash, I… I need to go sit down for a little while. Please… go easy on him. He really doesn’t mean what he’s saying. He’s just confused.” She walked away taking some hiccupping breaths, and Rainbow felt sure she was going to start sobbing as soon as they left.

Rainbow put a hoof to her face, feeling a vein pulsing on her forehead. She very strongly felt a desire to yell at the colt for making Fluttershy cry, but she felt that if she heard him give a nasty “GOOD!” she’d probably belt him one.

Trying to regain her composure she took a deep breath and said, “Come on. The two of us need to have a little talk.”

He smirked at her. “You want to lecture me too? I’m sure your stuff breaks as good as anyone else’s.” He let out a laugh before calling her an offensive name.

Losing her patience she picked him up, threw him on her back, and began flying out into the open air before he could protest.

Rainbow Dash gave him a dispassionate look. “Look, kid, let’s clarify our positions here. You’re a little brat, while I’m an awesome adult. I’m not soft like Fluttershy, and I’m not going to take your attitude. So before we go on I want an apology.”

He scoffed. “Oh, yeah? And just what are you gonna do if I-whoa!”

Rainbow gave a sharp jolt with her hindquarters, sending Pound flying forward off her back.

Pound at first just rolled his eyes and crossed his hooves, knowing she was just trying to scare him. As he looked up at her she was hovering in mid-air, her hooves crossed and with a cold expression. She was making absolutely no move to save him.

A dot of fear made him gulp as she got further and further away, still in the same spot. He fluttered his wings rapidly, but to no avail. Looking down, and seeing the ground getting closer faster and faster, even his stubborn pride was being overtaken by his self-preservation instincts, and he yelled out, “I’m SOOOORRRRRRRYYY!”

Rainbow Dash was on him in an instant, zooming down at incredible speed. She grabbed him tight and lightened her flaps to lower his momentum, knowing a sudden stop might cause him a severe case of whiplash.

She threw Pound back on her back as she began to accelerate towards the sky again.

Pound was gripping her back for dear life, panting and sweating as he looked over towards the ground and saw just how close it was.

“So, kid, did you have fun?” Rainbow asked as she looked behind her with the same cocky grin he had been wearing.

Pound’s face went red, anger wiping out his fear. He glared at her, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

“There we go,” said Rainbow Dash, turned forward again. “Your mouth is becoming a little less vulgar now, isn’t it?

“Now, then. I’m gonna tell you a little story, and I just want to make sure I’m going to have your full attention. I’ll know if you’re not paying attention, and then we might just have to give freefalling another try, and I guess we’ll just have to hope I’m fast enough to save you the next time.”

Pound was fuming now, so furious he wanted to let loose with a barrage of nasty words, but as he looked over towards the ground his fear evened out his anger. In as respectful a tone he could manage he replied, “Yes, Rainbow Dash.”

“When I was a filly I was in the Junior Speedsters flight camp. Before I met Fluttershy at Summer Flight Camp I had my very first friend in a griffon named Gilda. She was being picked on by the same jerks that would later on be bullying Fluttershy. Just like with Fluttershy I stood up for her, and we showed those jerks what for when I helped her out of her shell and we began to fly together.

“For those few weeks we were the best of friends. When camp ended we went our separate ways, but I never forgot about her. I wondered how she was doing from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about her. She had grown confident and didn’t take no gruff from anypony.”

Rainbow did a few loop de loops before sinking into a gentle dive. “I didn’t wind up seeing her again until we were grown up. That was shortly before you were born, so about seven years ago then.”

“And?” said Pound, once more struggling to avoid saying something nasty. “Is there a point to this story?”

“I’m getting to it, kid. Keep your hooves on.” She began to ascend again. “The day before Gilda came to visit I had been spending a day with Pinkie Pie playing pranks on our friends. She was up for playing more pranks but Gilda wanted to spend some time with me. After all, it was the first time she had seen me in forever. Pinkie kept trying to make her way into our fun time, and I just found it hilarious the means she would use to try to keep catching up with us, like a ton of helium balloons, or her crazy flying device.

“However… Gilda didn’t feel the same way. Behind my back she became increasingly hostile towards Pinkie to try and get her to butt out.”

“Hmm?” Pound, who had been forcing his attention solely out of fear, now had a genuine look of interest sparking on his features.

“According to Pinkie, while I was off on cloud duty and Gilda was just hanging around she scared Granny Smith by making her tail out to be a snake, stole an apple without paying for it, and, worst of all, made Fluttershy run off in tears just for accidentally bumping into her when she was trying to herd one of her animals and its babies.”

Pound, who had had his hooves crossed and only reluctantly been paying attention, now dropped his hooves to his sides and leaned over her, putting his head on her neck. “Then what happened?” he asked.

Rainbow heard the shift in his tone, and now she knew she had his attention. “Pinkie had been observing all these things, and she decided to get 'revenge' the way only a pony like Pinkie Pie could: by throwing her a party.”

“Huh?”

“By throwing Gilda a party she hoped it would help her lighten up and improve her attitude. Things didn’t go so good, though. What with the fun we’d had the day before I had set up a number of pranks for the party, some of them geared toward Gilda, like relighting birthday candles, but the rest were for the other guests. By an unfortunate coincidence Gilda just happened to set every one of them off.

“She went on a rampage, yelling at everyone and insulting Pinkie, believing she had done them all simply to humiliate her and make her look bad. She diminished all my friends, calling them lame and stupid, not knowing that I had set those pranks up.

“When I saw the way Gilda was acting and she insisted that I come along with her and leave all my 'dweebish' friends behind I knew that I couldn’t let that go. I called her out for her behavior. I wanted to bring my friends together so that we could all get along and have fun as a group. If that was the way Gilda was going to treat my friends then I knew I couldn’t remain friends with her. Insulting me now for not siding with her she stormed out of Sugarcube Corner.”

Pound let out a low groan, then gasped as Rainbow bumped him into the air again. This time she caught him before he began to fall. He gave her an odd look at the expression on her face. She looked almost compassionate, a far cry from the arrogant tough girl she always appeared to be.

“It hurts, doesn’t it?” she said in an empathetic tone. “The feeling of being betrayed by someone you care for?” Pound twitched, his body clenching up. “You gained a friend, thinking you’d be best buddies forever, but then they turned their back on you and stomped on your heart.”

Pound’s eyes clamped shut as tears began to fall. He was trying to curl up into a ball despite the awkward positioning. "WHY?" he yelled. "WHY DID HE DO THAT? IT'S NOT RIGHT!"

“I know that pain. As the Element of Loyalty I expect great things of my friends, and I take personal betrayals very seriously. We’re not perfect, and of course we’re going to have disagreements from time to time, but there’s a certain standard of behavior we require in order to maintain that friendship, and Gilda crossed below that line when she belittled all the friends I loved and went behind my back to make the ponies I love feel bad. If she couldn’t respect what I stood for and actively went against it then there was nothing to be had between us.”

Rainbow landed on a nearby cloud, setting Pound down.

He looked up at her, some small tears still coming down his eyes. “It did hurt! It hurt more than anything else in the world. And that’s why I gave up! I know better now! Your story just now confirmed it even more! If you can’t even trust your fiends then you can’t trust anyone!”

“Come on!” she said, gesturing with her head. “Walk with me, kid. The story’s not over yet.”

As Rainbow began to walk Pound reluctantly joined her. “So what’s next?” he said, his attitude starting to return now that he had freedom of movement again. “Did Gilda send you a big wrapped box of chocolate with a long, sappy apology?”

“No. Of course not. But the two of us are close friends now.”

“WHAT?” Pound snapped, his head whipping toward her, sputtering at her. “Are-wha-why-how-dumb-no-”

“Oh, it didn’t happen right away, I assure you.” She hopped to an adjacent cloud, Pound following suit. “In fact, it never would have happened if not for us becoming the Elements of Friendship. Over a year after Gilda’s visit me and Pinkie got called by the Cutie Map to go to Griffonstone, the homeland of griffons.

“When we got there we saw the place was a huge dump. Buildings were decayed or fallen, and no one took the trouble to clean them up. When griffons crossed each other’s paths they simply gave each other nasty looks and carried on their way. In short, it seemed to confirm what I knew about griffons: they were all like Gilda. By spending time there and learning a little about their history I saw that they weren’t always this way. According to Twilight’s research they used to be as greedy as dragons before they found a source of pride to unite them, the Idol of Boreas. They joined together, worked together, as griffons had never done before. When the idol was stolen by some freaky creature and it fell down into an abyss, taking the idol with it, they lost that source of pride and greed became rampant again.

“While there the only things the griffons cared about were bits. You want some info? Bits. You just want to have a conversation? Bits. You want to ask if they talk about anything other than bits? They want some bits to answer. It came to a head later on when I attempted to descend into the abyss and see if I could find the missing idol. The rope snapped as I went down. When I asked the guide for another rope and told him I didn’t have any more bits he simply walked away, leaving me stranded there.”

Pound gaped at her. “That… wasn’t very nice.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Getting a bit of a running start she leapt to a cloud beneath them. After a few seconds of hesitation Pound did the same. He just barely made it. “Well, the place is called Griffonstone and it’s the griffon homeland, so as you can probably expect I met Gilda there. And looking back now she was actually the least annoying and greedy one of the lot. She actually showed some concern when a fellow griffon got hurt. As she said to me most griffons were just trying to earn enough bits to move out of Griffonstone for good because it was such a dreadful place to live.

“Pinkie helped her improve her griffon scones by giving her a key missing ingredient: baking powder. And her prized recipe actually produced something now worth paying for. She also managed to convince Gilda to come save me by reminding her of our previous friendship and how I had helped her as a filly.

“Gilda tied a rope to herself and descended to get me. Pinkie screwed things up when the little cliff I was stuck on broke, tying the other end of the rope to herself and jumping down. We fell for a bit and Gilda managed to hold onto another cliff further down. While down there we actually saw the missing Idol. When it came down to it, though she did her best to get back both the idol and keep me and Pinkie safe, she chose us when she realized she couldn’t have both. And thus she truly let friendship into her heart for the first time in a long while. When we got to safety we all shared a hug.

“Feeling the light of friendship in her heart she took her improved scones and offered one to the griffon she was concerned about before, and they grew a little closer. Me and Pinkie both told her we were her friends, and we’d be there for her if she needed us, before we headed back to Ponyville.”

Coming to a stop she sat down facing him. Pound turned to her, but stayed standing. “In seeing her life and the circumstances she grew up in I came to understand why she was the way she was. So, while it doesn’t make what she did to me and Pinkie right, she did realize that she was in the wrong for the way she acted. That was why I was able to forgive her for what she did.”

Pound looked uncertainly at her. “So what should I do?” he huffed, sitting down and throwing his hooves in the air. “I don’t want to feel that way again! Never! It hurt too much! I don’t want to hurt like that again.”

“Well, kid,” said Rainbow in a serious tone, “you only have two choices. Either you can give other ponies a chance, or you can just spend the rest of your life on this cloud and never trust anyone. I’ll bring you food and drinks whenever you need it, and then you never have to talk to anyone again.”

Pound wasn’t sure whether she was messing with him or not. “So that’s it, huh?”

“This was your first experience with real betrayal, so I can understand perfectly the sting it leaves. How did I get through that pain myself? With my friends by my side.”

Pound got a frenzied look on his face. “And how do I know who I can trust?” he said hysterically, beginning to pace back and forth. “Gilda was your first and best friend, and she betrayed you just like that. How do I know no one else will do the same to me like Tree Leaf did?”

“You want the honest answer? You don’t. But,” she stood up, “that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Time can change anybody. Bad events can cause a pony to give up, like with you. Good events can lead a pony to great things, like Twilight. I hadn’t seen Gilda in like ten years, so what had happened in her life following the Junior Speedsters may have led her to have a distrust of ponies. I was the exception because I was kind to her and she had a good history with me.”

Taking a few steps toward him she sat down and put a hoof on his shoulder. In a gentle tone she said, “You want a real answer? Don’t close your heart completely because of one bad experience. You’ll end up like Moondancer.”

“Who?” said Pound.

“Oh, right. You don’t know her. Moondancer was a friend of Twilight’s back before she moved to Ponyville. She had a lot of self-esteem issues. With some gentle encouragement she was starting to come out of her shell much like Gilda. She threw a big party, inviting the rest of her friends. She was closest to Twilight at the time because they were both nerds and loved studying. When Twilight blew off her party to study about Nightmare Moon it devastated her.

“From what Twilight said she completely gave up on other ponies then, feeling like if Twilight could just blow off her party and move out without even saying goodbye or checking in on her then she wasn’t worth anything as a pony. She dedicated her life to studying all that she could, but unlike Twilight never DID anything with it. With her extensive knowledge she likely only did the bare minimum to survive, and her house was full of cobwebs, her mane was a mess and her shirt threadbare because she just didn’t care enough to groom herself.

“Twilight eventually made things right with her, but I’m sure that’s not the way you want to grow up.”

Pound looked at the ground, giving a noncommittal noise.

“So my response to you is to be a little less trusting to those you don’t know, or just met. Trust isn’t something that should just be given away at random to anyone that shows you a teeny bit of kindness or shows some similarity to you. Trust is an ongoing process.”

Rainbow looked up thoughtfully. “Let me give you an example. Pumpkin. Your sister.”

Pound looked up at her. “What about her?”

“While you were exploding at Twilight I could see Pumpkin reacting to your complaints that Twilight was trying to replace you in her eyes. However she couldn’t do anything at the time because of the sand in her eyes.

“Pumpkin calls you her hero. Did you get that title out of the blue one day? Did Pumpkin just put a bunch of names in a hat and happened to pull out your name when deciding who her hero was going to be? No, of course not.

“Pumpkin gave you that title because you EARNED it. Because, time after time, you’ve put yourself on the line for her sake. Because, even if it got you hurt, you cared about her more than about yourself.”

Pound squirmed with guilt.

“So where should trust come from? Time, and experience. One kind deed doesn’t mean an everlasting friendship. You have to walk a fine line between trusting too much and trusting too little. If you over-trust someone could take advantage of you. If you trust too little then your relationship will never go anywhere.

“So now let me put forth the question to you: do you have anyone in your life who has repeatedly earned the same level of respect that Pumpkin has for you?”

Pound groaned again, his body moving back and forth as memories came to him.

“Darn it, Pound. You’re my hero. I told you that before and I’ll say it again.”

“J-just please understand that I will always love you no matter what. No matter how badly you screw up I will ALWAYS be there for you. That’s a Pinkie Promise for life.”

“I love you, Pound, and that’s never going to change.”

“Even if me and your father hated each other and wanted nothing to do with each other we would still stay together for your sake. We know how much the two of you love each other, and it would be wrong to force you to lose your twin because of our selfishness.”

Pumpkin, Auntie Pinkie, Fluttershy, and their parents… time after time, experience after experience, they had always been there for him. They might have their fights and disagreements and not want to talk to each other for a while, but they always worked things out in the end and became close again.

Pound was silent for a long time, processing things. He finally looked up at Rainbow Dash and said meekly, “Can we go back to your house, please?”

She nodded, getting down on the ground so he could climb on her back.

It only took a few minutes for them to return. Pound hopped off her back the second she landed, falling on his face. Being a soft, puffy cloud it didn’t hurt any, and he immediately ran inside. It occurred to him that he’d never been in Rainbow’s house before, and didn’t know the layout. “Fluttershy!” he yelled out. “Where are you?”

He heard the shuffling of hooves getting closer. When Fluttershy rounded the corner Pound recoiled a bit. Her eyes were red from crying, her mane was a mess and she had this blank expression on her face. She couldn’t even muster the energy to lift her hooves enough to take a step, moving simply by pushing them forward along the floor.

When she spotted him she sat down, not looking at him as she let out a sigh.

Pound gulped, realizing just how deeply he had hurt her. He trotted over to her, raising himself up and putting his hooves on her chest, much like a dog. “Fluttershy…” Tears began to come down his eyes. His mouth opened a few times, but the words he wanted just wouldn’t come. How could he explain everything he had been thinking? It felt like it would take months to say everything he wanted to say.

Slowly he dropped off of her, averting his eyes like her. “I know I said a lot of mean things and did my best to hurt you, so it’s okay if you don’t like me anymore. I’m really sorry. I’ll… I’ll just go home then, so you don't have to see my stupid-AAH”

As he went to turn Fluttershy moved so quickly he barely saw her, pulling him into a strong hug, squeezing so hard it almost hurt. “I s-still love you, Pound,” she said thickly, tears drizzling down her eyes. “I always have and I always will. Nothing you do will ever change that.”

“H-how can you just forgive me like that? I… I’ve been so horrible to you.”

“I know that wasn’t really you talking to me. That was just a little imposter Pound. Now I have the real one back with me. That’s all that matters to me. Everything else… is just water under the bridge.”

Pound sank into her hold, holding her back. His eyes began to water before he began wailing in her hooves, Fluttershy joining right along with him.

13-4: Making amends

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Pound was continuously nuzzling Fluttershy, both loving the feeling of her warm hold and to let her know that he was happy with her and loved her.

Fluttershy just kept holding him, her eyes closed, content that the Pound she knew and loved had returned. She just didn’t want to let him go. After his suggestion that she and Rainbow Dash were going to orchestrate his death and pretend it was an accident, it was such a beautiful thing to have the real Pound back with her, and she didn’t want to release him anytime soon.

“I love you, Fluttershy,” he said contentedly.

“And I love you, Pound Cake,” she replied in the same tone. “You’re one of the biggest joys of my life.”

“I’m really, really, really sorry,” he said in a shaky voice as he started to cry again. “I-”

“Shhh,” she said gently. “No sadness right now. I forgive you, Pound. I already told you I knew that wasn’t the real Pound Cake with me before. It was probably a Changeling or something.”

Despite himself Pound giggled at that. He closed his eyes as he snuggled with her.

About ten minutes later Fluttershy interrupted his serenity. “Pound, honey?”

“Mmm?”

“You know, I’m not the only one that needs an apology.”

Pound immediately became consumed with guilt, his stomach feeling like someone was squeezing it with all their might. “O-oh… right.”

Fluttershy set him down, and the colt walked over to Rainbow Dash, who had gone back to her reading while they had been cuddling. Hugging her leg he said, “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash, for being a big brat and calling you names.”

She shook her hoof at him, not looking at him. “You made up with Fluttershy. That’s enough for me. Now go on and make things right with your family.”

Pound slowly let go of her, letting out a little moan, unsure if she was actually being truthful.

“Rainbow Dash,” said Fluttershy meaningfully.

“Right, right,” Rainbow said, getting the message before she even looked. Setting the book down she picked him up and gave him a slight hug. “I forgive you, Pound. Is that enough now? I’m almost at the best part of the book.”

He nodded.

“Rainbow Dash, why don’t you come with us?” said Fluttershy.

Rainbow looked at her book longingly. “Do I have to?”

“I would appreciate it very much if you did. I don’t know the specifics of what you said to Pound, so it would help to move the conversation with his family along if need be.”

Rainbow sighed, putting a bookmark in it and closing it. “Okay, then. Let’s go.” She hopped off the couch and helped Pound onto Fluttershy’s back. Once Pound was secure and holding on tight the two took off.

Cup Cake heard a knocking on the door. She had been pacing around for the past hour, unable to commit to anything. She had kept flitting between activities, quickly abandoning them. She had temporarily shut down the shop because she just couldn’t focus on baking and transactions with her worry over her son.

Walking over to the door she opened it, seeing Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. She saw Fluttershy looked serene, and her worries dissolved away. She craned her head a little to the side, but didn’t see Pound on her back, so she looked down, and saw the young colt standing there looking at the ground, gentle as a kitten.

“Hello, Cup Cake,” Fluttershy said genially. “Can you gather everyone in the living room?”

“Oh! Of course,” she said, straining to pull her eyes off her son and comply.

A few minutes later everyone came out from their rooms for the meeting. Each of them had been lost in their own world.

Once everyone had sat down they all got a good look at Pound. He was still just looking at the ground, a miserable look on his face.

“Pound,” his mother said gently, “would you please tell us now what this has all been about?”

The question made his insides burn with guilt and shame, and tears began to drip down onto the floor. He was quiet, once more feeling like he didn’t know the words to say to explain everything, feeling like having a year of uninterrupted talking time wouldn’t be enough to get it all out.

Fluttershy saw he was having trouble. “Pound,” she called out, “would you like me to start things off?”

He looked at her uncertainly for a few seconds, then nodded, going back to staring at the floor.

Fluttershy looked up at the crowd. “This all happened because of his incident with Tree Leaf a few days ago.”

“Tree Leaf?” Pumpkin said nastily. “What does he have to do with this? I thought Pound already agreed it was better that he didn’t use violence to solve his problems.”

“Correct,” Fluttershy replied, nodding. “And that aspect of things doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

“So then what is it?” asked Pinkie. “After he talked with Twilight he was fine the rest of the day.”

“Because the realization didn’t sink in right away. Pinkie, I’m sorry to say this, but I believe that, unintentionally of course, you played the greatest part in this.”

“WHAT?” she protested. “What did I do?”

“Well, let me start at the beginning. Pound has been acting like this because Tree Leaf disturbed his world view. To a kid life is simple, and as they learn about the world they start discovering the basic truths of it: mom and dad are the rule makers, it feels good to be hugged and kissed, etc. Prevalent among those is their take on good and evil, and right and wrong. Good ponies are nice, and rude ponies are jerks. And evil ponies are ones that threaten not just your good mood, but ponies lives and Equestria as well. Though we may get into fights or arguments with those we love those things are only temporary, and so we expect forgiveness at the end of the road when we realize our error and apologize.

“However, Tree Leaf caused an uncomfortable shift in his security. Pound had been having a great time with him. He had finally made a friend, someone besides his sister to hang out with, and someone who didn’t care if he could fly or not. In other words, he was a good pony, and Pound was likely already envisioning all the benefits of that. He was probably thinking that Pinkie was going to be so proud of him for making a friend, as he holds you up as one of his strongest role models.”

Pound shifted uncomfortably.

“But then Tree Leaf showed his true colors. He threw sand at Pumpkin’s eyes to try and get her to leave. Now things became that he was a bad pony who was only masquerading as a good pony. Living with a pony like Pinkie, who is almost infinitely optimistic and has the ability to befriend anyone if she puts her mind to it, only made the first cut deeper because he probably grew up overly optimistic. Pinkie, being friends with basically everyone she knows, even if they’re not super close, probably gave Pound the notion that friendships are easy, and he had no clue that sometimes friends aren’t always what you think they are, so he gave his whole heart away without a care.”

“Okay!” said Pumpkin. “So Pound was upset because he got a fake friend. That doesn’t explain why he’s been a total jerk to everyone the past couple of days!” Pumpkin rubbed the side of her head, feeling the bump from where she had hit her head when Pound had shoved her. “Some hero you turned out to be! You betrayed me too, stupid! And how do you think I feel about that?”

Pound sniffed as he sank to the ground and began crying in his hooves.

“Please calm down, Pumpkin,” said Fluttershy in a soothing voice, getting off the couch and picking Pound up. He tried to fight her off but she was insistent, pulling him close to her as she sat down on the floor, leaning against the couch. “There, there, Pound. It’s okay.”

“Hmph!” Pumpkin crossed her hooves, giving a look so reminiscent of Pounds it was scary. “Why should I care about how he feels? He doesn’t care about how I feel.”

Pound squeezed her tighter, starting to shake as he cried harder against her.

“That’s not true, Pumpkin,” Fluttershy said insistently. “Please just listen.”

She hopped off the couch, pointing angrily at him. “Why should I listen? We all tried to help him before, but he just kept breaking everything in sight and yelling at us and saying nasty things. But NOW he expects us to want to listen to him? He’s such a coward he’s just gonna sit there and hide behind Fluttershy because he’s too weak to tell us himself.”

“Pumpkin, please,” said Pinkie, trying to put a comforting hoof on her shoulder, but Pumpkin threw it off.

“NO!” she yelled. “He got to yell and make a big jerk of himself, but now that I want to complain and let MY feelings out it’s suddenly wrong? Everyone should just care more about Pound because now he’s sorry? Maybe I’ll think about forgiving him when I can slam HIS head into a glass cabinet or give HIM a nice big bruise.”

Rainbow let out a huge huff before flying off the couch and landing in front of her. “That’s enough!” she said sharply over the sound of Pound’s increasingly loud cries. “You don’t understand anything. This isn’t about whose feelings is more important. This is about understanding one another. If you had just sat down and listened like you were told this could have been over already.” Pumpkin gave her a dirty look, and Rainbow cut her off as she went to speak. “No! I don’t want to hear it. I’m sick of your whining. I already dealt with your brother when he tried to smart off at me. Don’t think I won’t throw you up onto the chandelier and wait until you’re ready to be more cooperative.”

Pumpkin gulped, thrown off by Rainbow's threat. Unable to find an effective counter she suddenly turned to her parents, pointing at Rainbow. “Hey! Are you gonna let her talk to me like that?”

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake looked at each other awkwardly, unsure of what to do to defuse things.

Rainbow grabbed Pumpkin’s head, pulling it back toward her. “Don’t be a hypocrite. You just insulted your brother for hiding behind Fluttershy, and now you’re trying to hide behind your parents because you know I’m not soft enough to just let you behave any way you want. If you actually understood what was going on like I did you wouldn’t be saying a word. And the reason you don’t know is because you wouldn’t just listen.

“Now sit down, be quiet, and just listen, and maybe you’ll learn something, brat.”

The two of them glared at each other, but Rainbow was the first to look away. She felt something pulling at her back leg, and when she looked she saw Pound there.

“That’s enough, Rainbow Dash!” Pound said, sounding a little miffed. “Stop picking on Pumpkin. She has every right to be mad at me for what I did.”

“Huh?” said Pumpkin, tilting her head a little to look at Pound curiously.

Rainbow looked at him for a few seconds more before casually releasing Pumpkin and shrugging. “Fine. You want the floor, kid, then it’s all yours.” Hopping up she flapped a few times to get back to her spot.

Pumpkin looked at her brother uncertainly. Was her brother really back to normal? It couldn’t hurt to just listen to what he had to say… would it? Without a word she pulled herself back onto the couch and rested her back against it, her hooves pressed against each other and sitting quietly.

Pound sighed, looking at the floor once again but seeming a little more secure. “Fluttershy was right,” he said in a calm voice. “I grew up hearing about friendship and how it was the most important thing in our world. Auntie Pinkie has tons of friends, and Twilight is a princess focused on bringing friendship to others. Of course I had friends, but they were just friends of friends, like Fluttershy or Applejack. I never made my own friends, by myself. Now that I’m going to school I thought it would be a good time for that to happen. Of course we got kicked out of school on our first day, so I didn’t really get a chance to get to know anyone. And because of all the trouble I’ve been getting in I haven’t been allowed to go back to try.

“When I met Tree Leaf he seemed to be a colt like me. He liked to mess around and be sarcastic and play games. We began to wrestle and show off and I was having so much fun.” He sighed again as a tear came down his eye. “Pumpkin thought we were actually fighting and broke us up, and I got a little annoyed at her until she told me she was just trying to keep me out of trouble.

“The three of us began playing games together, and I didn’t think anything was wrong. I was having fun and he was having fun, and I thought Pumpkin was having fun too. I thought I finally had a real friend just like Auntie Pinkie and Fluttershy had with each other.” He looked up at them, his vision blurry as tears formed in his eyes. “But then he broke my heart by throwing my kindness back in my face and attacking Pumpkin. He tried to get me to fight with him and then insulted my mom and Pumpkin when I decided to leave and tell an adult.

“I thought that because of growing up with Auntie Pinkie that when you meet a friend then you’re friends for life. You’d have little fights here and there, but you’d still be friends at the end of the day. But he betrayed me and hurt my sister. And I thought that maybe he had just gotten bored of Pumpkin or something later on, but Pumpkin told me that night that he had been doing things to exclude her from our fun from the start so he could try to only play with me.”

His face scrunched up, and he yelled out, “THE WHOLE TIME HE HAD BEEN A JERK! AND I DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE! I trusted him and thought he was great, but I didn’t even notice he was hurting Pumpkin the whole time!” He began panting, taking in shaky breaths.

Pound began pacing back and forth, huffing and puffing. “I didn’t notice at all that Pumpkin was getting frustrated. I didn’t notice anything. And it hurt. It hurt so badly when I realized how dumb I was. If I couldn’t even recognize when someone was just pretending to be nice then how could I know I could trust other ponies my own age? I began to get more and more scared, and I didn’t like to be so scared, and so I began getting angry. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I could talk to. I… I just… I didn’t…” His voice faded out as he suddenly sank to the floor.

“Pound,” Pumpkin said quietly, a few tears now dripping down her own face.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake were holding onto each other, starting to understand his pain now.

Pinkie felt a dull burning inside her heart. She was so used to making friends that it was second nature for her to expect the best of them. She had never once warned Pound about the possibilities of fake friends or being hurt by one.

Fluttershy got up and walked over to him, pulling him over to her again. This time he didn’t fight back and just held her as he quietly cried. “This was his first experience with real betrayal. As he said he’s not so oblivious that he expects friendships to be absolutely perfect, but when you’re friends with a pony you expect certain things of them.

“Pound realized that he couldn’t really tell a trustworthy pony from an untrustworthy pony apart, and that was terrifying for him because it shook his world view of ponies to the core. A pony that seemed very nice on the surface and just like him turned out to be betraying him from the beginning.

“With that shift of thought came an even more terrifying question: who can I trust? If someone could put on an act of loving and caring for him then suddenly reveal it was only an act then anyone could potentially be a pretender.

“Do you recall Pound’s most popular phrase since his trip to the beach?”

Carrot Cake said, “That he ‘knows.’”

Fluttershy nodded. “He ‘knew’ that you were all just faking your love of him, waiting for the right chance to betray him, for the time when it would hurt the most.”

“How could he think that?” Pumpkin asked in a hurt voice. “After all we’ve been through together?”

“Quite right, Pumpkin,” Fluttershy said, nodding again. “All of you do have quite a history together, and although Pound was reeling with thoughts of doubt he still couldn’t deny the love you shared. Unless, of course, you ‘proved’ he was right.”

Cup Cake gasped, putting a hoof to her mouth as she understood. “Thus the bad, uncontrollable behavior.”

Pumpkin looked between Fluttershy and her mother, trying to follow along this train of thought. “What do you mean?”

Fluttershy turned to Pumpkin and replied, “He trusted all of you too much to just throw you away. The only way he could give up that trust was to put you in a position where you showed you didn’t really like him. What was the easiest way to accomplish that? By misbehaving. Of course since that incident where you two ran away your household has shifted in their discipline methods, attempting to stay completely calm and just be understanding, and listening without judging. While it may lead to more verbal abuse it certainly solves things faster than throwing you in your room and removing privileges did.

“But,” Fluttershy gave them a sad smile, “your parents, and you, are still ponies, and so you only have so much patience and time to dedicate. Which means, given enough time-”

“He’d wear us down and get us to lose our temper,” Carrot said heavily. “’It’s easy now, right?’ That was another of Pound’s frequent lines. He seemed to be acting deliberately to get negative attention and trying to be positive only led to him acting even worse so he’d finally get the reaction he wanted.”

Pinkie sighed and rested her head on her hoof. “And as time went on we’d come to expect his behavior and so we’d have less patience for it, as we couldn’t just let him destroy everything and hurt Pumpkin or the customers."

Cup Cake spoke up. “That weird laugh of his… every time we gave in to his actions and yelled or punished him he would get this twisted laugh. When he got what he wanted he would feel a sense of satisfaction that he was ‘right,’ but at the same time it had to have hurt even more to think that his family didn’t really care for him.”

Fluttershy turned Pound around so he was facing them, gently rocking her body as she put her hooves around his stomach. “When he came to my house he did the same thing, doing his best to get under my skin. He tried to go after my animals since he knew it was my weak spot, but I didn’t give in. I hugged him close to me and told him I would always love him. He didn’t like that, obviously, as I wasn’t being ‘truthful.’ When he brought up that he didn’t trust me anymore, or any of you, it made me think. He wasn’t specifically targeting me, but everyone in his life. The last time I saw him before the beach was after he had run away, and it was with my help that he made amends with you. When I thought about what could have happened that would make him start doubting other ponies the answer became obvious, and so I took him to Rainbow Dash.”

“Why her?” asked Pumpkin.

“Well, Pumpkin, you weren’t born at the time, but she had had a nasty experience much like Pound did where someone she thought of as a friend turned against her.”

“Gilda!” Pinkie said, understanding.

“Right,” she said, nodding. “I knew the only pony that could truly help Pound was someone who really understood his pain.”

Rainbow Dash grinned. “Yeah. He tried to cop his attitude with me too, but I sure found a way to get him to stop. Didn’t I, Pound?”

Pound let out a nervous laugh. “Yep.”

Cup Cake started to ask what she had done, but then she decided she didn’t want to know.

“His interest only kicked in when he heard about how Gilda had been hurting my friends behind my back. From there it was all smooth sailing.”

Pound pulled out of Fluttershy’s hold, standing up again. “She told me that I should be more careful with who I trust, and believe in those who keep proving to me they earned it.” He stomach began hurting again as he saw the purple-black blotches on Pumpkin’s cheek. Looking around the room it was like he could see the things that used to be there: picture frames, vases… anything he could break to get a reaction from them.

He heard Pumpkin’s hateful words about how he had betrayed her as badly as Tree Leaf had done to him, and he wondered how they felt about him now, after all the horrible things he had done. Maybe he had succeeded in what he had been trying to do. He felt cold seeping into his being. His breaths grew shorter as his fear overtook him again and he began wailing. “I’M SOR-REE-HEE-HEE!” He fell to the ground, holding his hooves on his face. “I’m so sorry! Please don’t hate me-eee-eee!”

As one Pumpkin, Pinkie, Cup, and Carrot hopped off the couch and were on him in an instant, all squeezing him into a group hug, crying just like him.

“Pound, you dummyhead!” Pumpkin said thickly. “I-I-I still love you.”

“Y-yeah!” Pinkie agreed. “I Pinkie Promised I’d always love you, and I could never break that.”

“You’re our son,” said Cup Cake, placing a kiss on his forehead. “And that’s never gonna change. We’re always going to be there for you.”

“Because that’s the most important thing for a parent,” said Carrot

Fluttershy stood up and joined them. “All we want is for you to be happy, Pound. We all knew that wasn’t the real you.”

“Yes, we forgive you, Pound” said Cup Cake, nuzzling his cheek with her own.

Pound looked at all of them in turn, his sobs growing quieter. “T-t-thank you,” he said with a tiny smile.

14-1: Twilight's request

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Pound felt so happy that he had his family back. He had been so foolish. Now he knew the truth. The REAL truth, not that fake truth he had been sticking to for the past couple of days. He had a family that loved him, and they had never betrayed him like Tree Leaf.

He spent the rest of the day snuggling and cuddling or sitting on the laps of his parents and Pinkie, eager to show that he was sorry and still cared for them too. That night he asked to sleep with Pumpkin, and he apologized endlessly as he put a hoof to her bruise and cried for what he had done to her.

Since his behavior had improved he was trusted enough to go back to school the next day. When he and Pumpkin got home they saw they had a visitor.

“Hi, Twilight!” said Pound, running up to her and giving her a hug.

“Hello, Pound,” she replied, putting her wing around him. “Hello to you too, Pumpkin.”

“Hello, Twilight,” Pumpkin said, walking up and hugging her too. “I got homework to do, and I want to get it out of the way. I’ll talk to you later.”

Pound sighed, pulling out of her hold. “Yeah. Me too. Ugh. I hate studying.”

As Pound headed for the kitchen Twilight called after him, “Pound, I’d like to talk to you when your homework is finished.”

He stopped in place, before turning to her. “Auntie Pinkie told you about what’s been going on, right? You said that you don’t want to take over the role of handing out punishments over my parents, so why are you here?”

“Quite right, Pound,” Twilight said with a nod. “I’m not here to punish you. I wanted to ask you for a favor.”

He looked confused, an eyebrow going up. “A favor? What can I do for you that Auntie Pinkie or Applejack or anyone else can't do?”

“Nope. It has to be you, because you’re the only one that can do it.”

His eyes went around a little, his mouth doing the same, until he got a smile on his face. He didn’t know what it was she wanted, but if he was the only one then he was the only one.

Twilight entered the kitchen after Pound, and stood out of the way of the oven and baking preparation area, quietly observing the twins. She was still missing enough quantifiable experience to feel she had the grasp of children their age.

In her observation the two of them largely were opposites in many ways, despite being so close. Pumpkin’s half of the table was pretty neat and organized, and she looked like she really understood the work she was assigned, given how quickly her pencil moved.

On the other hoof Pound’s area was a bit of a mess. Instead of pulling just what he needed out he had dumped his entire saddle bag onto the table. He spent more time making restless gestures and staring at his homework paper, kicking his legs and putting his head on his hoof than actually writing. She thought about offering him some help, but with his pride she was sure he would take it as an insult.

“Hey, Twilight!” he said suddenly, turning to her.

“Oh!” she said, shaken out of her thoughts. “Yes, Pound?”

“Can I just finish this later?”

“I think it would be best to finish your homework, Pound,” Twilight said in an authoritative tone.

“But I can’t concentrate on this. I mean, a princess has got some super awesome task that only I can accomplish. How am I supposed to focus on something boring like homework?”

Twilight’s eyes faded out for a moment as she got a strong sense of déjà vu, bringing to mind her trying to teach Rainbow Dash how to study. She filed the recognition under something to explore later on. Maybe he wasn’t like Rainbow, as it was probably her fault anyway for his distraction. If she knew Princess Celestia had a task for her it would certainly keep her mind occupied until she knew what it was.

“Very well,” she said. “Let’s chat about your mission-”

“YES!” he yelled, pumping a hoof as he hopped off his seat.

“-AFTER you clean up your work area.”

His excitement faded out. “Come on! This is important! The fate of the world could be at stake.”

Twilight goggled at him for a moment, seeing she had given him the wrong impression. Although… to some small degree he was right. It was little things that built up over time that had led to disaster before.

In a firm voice she said, “Clean up your area or I might decide you’re too immature for this.”

He sighed, going back to his seat and putting everything back in his saddle bag.

Twilight’s inner organizer died a little inside as he just jammed everything in haphazardly.

“There!” he said. “Can we go now?”

Pumpkin sighed now. She was finding it hard to concentrate with all the noise. She put her pencil behind her ear and looked at Twilight. She couldn’t deny she was a little curious about what kind of task only her brother could accomplish.

As he walked toward her Twilight's horn glowed, lifting up his saddlebag and arranging the various writing utensils, books, and papers in a satisfactory order and packing them away again. “Not just yet.” Sitting down she said, “Pound, I’m a princess.”

He gasped, clutching his heart and falling dramatically to the floor. “No! Really?”

Pumpkin began to snicker.

Twilight let out a few laughs too. “Well, I suppose I asked for that. Anyway, the point is that in my position as a princess of Equestria I can’t just be small-minded and self-absorbed.”

Pound got up, a blank look on his face. “Can you stop speaking nerd? What does that mean?”

Twilight tapped her hoof a few times on the floor, trying to find a better way to word things. “Okay, then. How about this. Who do you consider family?”

“Pumpkin, my mom and dad, and Auntie Pinkie. And Fluttershy too, kinda.”

“Okay. As a unicorn my answer would be much like yours. My family is the ponies I’m related to, as well as my closest of friends.

“As an alicorn and a princess, though, that answer has changed.”

Pound looked at her, confused. “So you don’t consider us like family anymore?”

“No, Pound. A princess is the ruler of the ponies around her. She is expected to protect the land and be a shield for everyone, regardless of age, relation, or circumstance. And what that means is now I have to consider every pony in Ponyville like a member of my family, and do for them what I would do for my closest friends.”

Pound averted his eyes, looking kinda bored. “Okay, great. So what about my super special awesome task?”

Twilight suppressed a groan. With his difficulty in paying attention and his brash attitude she could just picture him being like Rainbow Dash when he grew up more. “Fine, then,” she said bluntly. “I’ll get to the point.

“What I’m trying to say is that while I can’t be super close with every pony because I just don’t have the time to devote to it, I can’t give you special treatment just because I’ve known you longer. I still have to give everyone a fair chance.”

“Aaannnddd…”

Twilight closed her eyes and sighed quietly. “You and Pumpkin ran away from home because you thought everyone stopped liking you for getting into a fight at school. I felt guilty over things because I never meant to hurt you so badly, and so I spent a week trying to teach you better control of your attitude.”

“I know that already. I was there, remember?”

‘Patience, Twilight,’ she thought. “So what I’m SAYING is that it would be wrong of me as a princess to not offer the same courtesy to another pony in need.”

“And just when are we gonna start talking about ME? Super important task only I can do, right? So why are you talking like this is all about you?”

“Because this is something that directly involves you. And Pumpkin too, but-”

“Oh, so now you’re gonna give HER my job?”

Twilight giggled in a strained sort of way. She had wound him up too much and he was only waiting for his role. “No!” she said.

Pumpkin wanted to ask why she wasn’t being offered a chance to help too if it involved her somehow, but her brother was being a total pain right now. She thought it would be better not to set him off or they’d never hear the end of it.

“You know the incident with Tree Leaf?”

Pound scowled. “What ABOUT him?”

“Do you remember how Fluttershy took you to Rainbow Dash because she thought it was the best way to get through to you? Because you two had a shared experience in a friend’s betrayal Fluttershy knew that Rainbow would be the most understanding of your situation. I’ve noticed it several times that feeling understood with your issues and problems has helped to calm you down and get rid of your anger. So I’ve come to you now because I don’t understand enough to feel I can really resolve an issue. “

Now Pound’s interest was sparking. “Was someone else betrayed? I can tell them about what happened with me. It’s probably a little kid like me, right, or you could just use Rainbow Dash. So who is it, who is it?”

Twilight mentally prepared herself, getting an odd smile on her face. “You might want to cover your ears, Pumpkin.”

Both the twins looked at her strangely. “Why?” she asked.

“Because I know your brother.”

Pumpkin put her hooves near her ears, ready to block them if necessary, but she was really curious just what was going on.

“Now, Pound, I know you’re probably going to freak out but I would appreciate it if you could do your best to listen to me.”

“Why am I going to freak out?” asked Pound.

“Mmm.” Twilight knew she couldn’t put it off any longer. “The pony I want you to help me reform is Tree Leaf.”

The words hung in the air for a moment, and Pumpkin quickly plugged her ears as she saw the fuse light on her brother’s head, even as she wondered just what Twilight was thinking.

Pound’s face went beet red, his cheeks puffing up like they did when he was at his most furious. And a few seconds later he exploded. “WHAT?” he yelled. “NO! NO! NO! FORGET IT! NOT DOING IT! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!”

“Pound-” Twilight started, but she was cut off.

“NO!” he said forcefully as he began pacing around. He kept muttering words under his breath, mainly calling her crazy and deluded. Twilight let him be for the moment. When he had cooled down a bit she could continue to talk with him.

“Twilight?” said Pumpkin.

She turned to look. “Yes, Pumpkin?”

Scratching her head she asked, “Why would you want Pound for this? Or me?”

“Exactly!” Pound said, stomping a hoof. “I can’t believe you would ever ask me that. If YOU have to be all ooey-gooey nice with him because it’s down in your princess rulebook that’s YOUR business. I never want to see that jerk again as long as I live. Look what he did to our family! He scared me and hurt me and made me feel afraid of my own family and be a total jerk to them.”

“I know, Pound," Twilight responded. "But bad behavior, and especially bullying behavior, usually has a source; an event that led them down that dark path. As the authority of the land it is my job to help other ponies see the light of a better path that they abandoned.

"As you yourself said you turned into the worst pony you could make yourself out of fear of betrayal. You did it in the hopes of making your family hate you and give up on you so you wouldn’t have to think about whether or not they actually loved you. In the end, though, the good pony you really were was still there deep down, unhappy about your actions and crying out for love.

“Did they give up on you, Pound, when you were acting like that? Despite all the pain and heartache you put them through all they wanted wasn’t punishment or revenge, but only for the Pound they knew and loved to return. They forgave you for taking responsibility for what you did, and when you felt that someone understood your pain your bad behavior ceased and your good behavior returned.

“What would have happened if they DIDN’T choose to forgive you? What, then?”

Pound began to tremble a little, terrified at the prospect as he had been when he first apologized. His eyes filled with tears, and he just shook his head.

“It hurts and it’s scary to think of being all alone, but, because someone was there to help you, you became a better pony for the experience. As a princess who has to look after the next generation of ponies and help them grow up wise and kind it is my duty to help ponies find their second chance, just like your family did for you.”

“W-well… what do you want ME to do?” He started pacing around again, “You said that you had to give every pony the same that you would give to us, so why don’t you just spend a week with him like you did with me? What do you need me for? I don’t want to see him.”

“Why?” she asked in a calm voice.

“WHY?” he snapped, rounding on her. “You know perfectly well why! He hurt Pumpkin and caused a lot of problems. Why should I go out of my way to help him?”

“I thought you were all fired up for your important task? Did you think it was going to be easy?”

He sucked on his cheek for a moment. “Well, you didn’t say anything about doing stuff like that. And you still haven’t explained why you think only I can handle it.”

“Because I learned long ago that there are things that I can’t do by myself, and need others help to accomplish. I picked you for two reasons: you know him just a little bit better than I do, and you’re around his age. True, I could just spend time with him like I did with you, but the impact of that time would be far less than if I didn’t have you. The main reason for that is part of the reason he snapped is because of his interactions with you. He’ll be much more likely to listen if he’s in a better mood, and the best way to do that is to help get rid of his negative feelings, which stem from his problems with you.”

“NO!” he yelled. “I don’t want to talk to him. EVER! If he feels bad he SHOULD feel bad for what he did. And you can’t do anything about it. I’m not going to forgive him. I don’t want to be his friend, and if you try to use your magic to force us to be friends then you’re just a phony princess.”

Twilight looked down at him seriously. “Have you already forgotten what I just said about your family? If they chose not to give you a second chance where would you be now? Now, I’ll ask you again: why won’t you go talk to him? I’ve started to see how you operate. When you start getting really frustrated and confrontational there’s usually something bugging you that you either won’t say or don’t know how to say it.”

Pound looked at the floor, taking a heavy breath. “I don’t want to,” he said quietly. “After what happened at the beach and what happened after and worrying if my family really forgave me I’m… I’m just tired of bad feelings.” He gulped, a tear dripping down onto the floor. “I’m tired of yelling and screaming and fighting and being angry and mad and upset and afraid.”

“Is that all?” Twilight asked gently.

Looking up at her he said, “If I see him and he says some nasty stuff I’m going to hit him and get into a big fight. I only just got to go back to school. I don’t want to be punished for another week or kicked out for good.”

“Aah!” Twilight remarked, understanding. “I get it. However, as a princess I’m giving you this task. And that means that anything that happens is almost entirely my responsibility. Your principal still kicked you out of school for your behavior, but the majority of her anger and frustration was directed at me for recommending you two for the program.”

She walked up to him and got down onto his level. “I know I’m asking a lot of you, Pound. I can understand that you want to keep a positive attitude after everything that’s been going on recently, but this is a task I can trust to no one else. Please,” she said with the utmost care, “I need you to prove your strength just one more time. This is for both your and his benefit. You refrained from attacking Tree Leaf to tell me what he had done. Now the next step in your maturity is learning to resolve your differences. Maybe you’re not meant to be friends, but it’s always better to make friends than enemies. I told you that before.”

Pound looked away from her, his stomach churning. “I’m not strong,” he said in a quiet voice. “I’m still too weak. I didn’t care about your lessons when Tree Leaf hurt Pumpkin. I was totally about to go over and beat him to a pulp. The only thing that stopped me was hearing Pumpkin start crying.”

Twilight put a hoof on his cheek. “Look at me, Pound.” When he did she said tenderly, “Don’t underestimate yourself. The reason why you stopped isn’t all that important. What is important is the fact that you DID succeed when the old Pound wouldn’t have even tried.

“I wouldn’t have spent my time on you if I didn’t think you were capable of handling it, and I know you can do this.”

“Why?” he asked, tears brimming in his eyes again.

“Because when it comes to Pumpkin’s safety you’ll do absolutely anything, no matter how tough it is. Just because Tree Leaf got punished for his actions doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten about what happened. He probably still bears a grudge against you. Imagine one day you and Pumpkin are playing hide and seek at the park, and Pumpkin’s off by herself hiding, when Tree Leaf and a few of his buddies spot her. Here before him is the perfect chance to get back at you, by hurting your sister to hurt you.”

Pound shivered at the thought.

“That’s why it’s so important to bridge this gap and try to make amends. If you can talk things out and end on a peaceful note, then even if you don’t become friends again then at least he won’t have any hateful feelings toward you, and you can walk with your head held high because you know you gave it your best.

“You’re right, Pound. I am not your boss, and I can’t force friendship between you, but maybe Tree Leaf was suffering with some negative feelings himself that just so happened to be taken out on your sister. I’m not saying it was okay for him to do what he did, but I’m only asking for you to give it a try. If things get out of control I’ll be there to break you up, but I believe in you completely, and I have no doubt you can do this.”

He shrank away from her a little bit. “Do… do you really mean that?”

She nodded. “I wouldn’t lie about this, Pound. I know I’m asking a lot of you, but I need you for this. Be strong, for Pumpkin’s sake, the way you always have been before. Can I count on you for this very important task?”

Pound was reeling with uncertainty. He didn’t know if he could control himself. He didn’t know what he’d do when he saw Tree Leaf. He didn’t know if he would be able to forgive or let things go. However…

The mental image of Tree Leaf and a small group of friends all converging on his sister to beat her up because of their spat was scary. He didn’t want to let that happen if he could prevent it. Thinking about Pumpkin’s health ignited a fire in his heart, and despite his doubts he knew there was no choice.

Raising himself up to his maximum height, he gave a curt nod and said seriously, “Yes! I’ll do it.”

14-2: The sorrowful tale

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Pound and Twilight walked through town, following Pinkie’s directions to Tree Leaf’s house. Pound was being totally silent, walking next to her with a downcast expression as he stared at the ground, not paying any attention to where they were going.

His stomach was churning and in knots. He still didn’t know about this. What if things went horribly wrong? Would he let things go with Tree Leaf simply because he wanted Tree Leaf not to seek revenge on Pumpkin?

The relative quiet of the town and his painful inner thoughts made him want to talk about something, anything, to get his mind off his upcoming visit.

“Twilight?” he said.

“Yes, Pound?”

“Um… uh…” He cast around for conversation ideas until he hit upon something. “Twilight, can you tell me about Moondancer?”

“What!” Twilight stumbled a bit at the totally unexpected question before stopping in place. “Where did you hear about her?”

Pound stopped too. “Well, when Rainbow Dash was talking to me and helping me she told me that if I didn’t trust anyone then I’d wind up like Moondancer. She told me some basic stuff, but Moondancer was your friend, so I thought you could tell me more about what happened between you two.”

Twilight let out a heavy breath, jerking her head. “Come on. Let’s keep walking. I’ll tell you on the way.” As the two began walking again Twilight asked in a blunt voice, “So what did Rainbow Dash tell you happened?”

“She said something like you didn’t come to some party she threw and she was hurt by that and gave up on ponies.”

Twilight closed her eyes for a few moments and sighed. “Before I moved to Ponyville I had a small group of friends. Back then I didn’t care much about friendship, so I spent the majority of my time studying. Even when we went out and hung together I would usually have a book handy to bury myself into.

“We were all part of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. Moondancer was more like me than the rest of them. By some odd coincidence we had the same streaks in our manes and even styled our manes the same.” Her horn lit up as she summoned a mental projection of her. “When she got older she changed things up a bit.” A picture of Moondancer with her sweater and her mane pulled up and held in place by a hair clip appeared next to it.

Pound looked at the filly Moondancer and then the older one. Aside from their mane and coat colors they were basically identical. The older Moondancer had stray hairs sticking out, her sweater worn and faded, and a detached look about her. The difference between the two was stunning.

Dissipating the image Twilight continued, “Moondancer and I were a lot alike in more than just looks. We both had an inordinate amount of love for studying and gaining knowledge, wanting to be the best we could be.

“A few years later things hadn’t changed much. I was still hanging out with my friends on occasion, but I began to put much more emphasis on studying than friends and started to see them less. Being Celestia’s personal student… well, I think it gave me a little bit of an ego. I didn’t show off or brag or anything like that, but I always put Celestia first and strove to impress her, not realizing that my friends were missing me, as they never said anything about it.

“When I read about Nightmare Moon and got the command from Princess Celestia to oversee preparations for the Summer Sun celebration I left Canterlot and headed straight to Ponyville, not saying goodbye to any of them, and as I was living in Ponyville after that I didn’t take the time to tell them I wasn’t returning.”

“I thought they were your friends!” Pound said, sounding offended.

Twilight let out a good-natured sigh. “Before I came to Ponyville I just didn’t think much about my friends, or devote much time to them. It was only after working together to defeat Nightmare Moon’s traps that my heart began to open and I saw the value of what I hadn’t thought was important before.

“After my ascension to princess Spike pointed out how I’d grown into a great friend instead of a terrible one like I was to my Canterlot friends, and that made me realize just how right he was. Even as I was in Ponyville learning about friendship, and the various times I had to visit Canterlot, I never once gave them a thought until Spike pointed it out. I knew then that I had to go make amends.

“For most of my friends it wasn’t a big deal to them. Here I was, giving this big tearful apology about how I had probably hurt them really badly, and they laughed it off.”

“They laughed at your apology?” Pound asked. “Maybe they were mad at you but they were afraid to yell at you because you’re a princess."

Twilight’s smile became strained. “No. As horrible as it is to say they weren’t mad, because they were so used to me ignoring them and snubbing them that it was just another instance of it to them. You might be right that me becoming a princess might have played a part in them getting over it so easily.”

Twilight paused in her steps, looking down at the ground with a sigh.

“Twilight?” Pound said questioningly as he stopped.

It took a little while for her to answer. She looked over at him. “I never said I was perfect, Pound. I saw I was never REALLY friends with them at all. I just thought we were. A friend should never be so used to you neglecting and snubbing them that it’s considered normal.

“And then, of course, there’s Moondancer, the biggest failure of my life.” She shook her head and started walking again, her heart burning just as it had back then. “She was the closest I had to a friend, as we had a mutual love of learning and studying, and would often 'argue' over facts and knowledge, challenging each other to be our best. Moondancer took my leaving the hardest, because she was the least sociable of us besides me. I at least had the knowledge that I was Celestia’s personal student to boost me up when I was down, but she didn’t even have that.”

A tear came down her face and she sniffed as she paused again.

Pound looked over at her, and he felt a little embarrassed he had made her cry. “Twilight, I’m-”

“No, don’t.” She shook her head. “This is not your fault.

“She held onto the hurt of me leaving, slowly distancing herself from everyone until she was all alone.”

Pound felt a tingle in his stomach. “That’s… kinda like I was trying to do.”

“I betrayed her, much like Tree Leaf did to you, and she wound up suffering greatly for it.” More tears came down her eyes, her head bowed. “I never meant to do it, but I set her off on a dark path. She spent her days doing nothing but studying and reading. She got some support from her parents, but didn’t care enough about anything to put the effort into it. She didn’t upkeep her house, haphazardly tied up her mane so she didn’t have to put in the work to style it, and the shirt she chose to wear was probably on the brink of tearing apart.”

Pound was feeling really awkward now. A few times he lifted his hoof, wondering if he was going to offend her, before he gently placed it on her head and rubbed it.

Twilight lifted her eyes to him, and Pound jerked back, looking afraid. Twilight put her hooves out to him and hugged him. “Thank you, Pound.”

Relief flowed through him as he hugged her back. “You’re welcome.”

Releasing him she continued on, “I tried to fix things up with her, but she rebuffed all my attempts. I managed to impress her with a spell of mine, and she expressed interest in learning it. I told her I would if she came out on an outing with our old friends. It was… very awkward, to say the least, and she wound up leaving halfway through.

“I was about ready to give up, unsure of how to get through to her, when I got the idea to grab Pinkie Pie and try to recreate the party we never got to have together.”

She stopped talking, and Pound saw she was crying again. “She finally opened up, and really let me have it, telling me just what my leaving did to her and how it made her feel. She told me that I made her feel like she had no value, and that I gave her an expectation that putting trust in other ponies would only lead to failure and disappointments, so she just stopped trying after that.”

She gulped, putting a hoof to her eyes as she began quietly crying. Pound quickly hugged her again. “D-don’t cry, Twilight.”

“I almost ruined her life with my thoughtlessness. Even now, years later, it still chills me to the depths of my soul to think about how much I hurt her. If… if Spike hadn’t brought it up, she might have spent the rest of her life totally empty and avoiding any kind of relationships.”

Pulling him close to her the tears kept falling. “That-” she sniffed “-was the first time I really understood what being a princess meant. I realized that actions that seem little or ordinary to you can have big consequences for others when you don’t consider their feelings. I have to do my best to watch what I say, because I’m now a role model for everyone in town, and they’ll model my behavior as right. That’s why I have to do my best to avoid other ponies growing up like Moondancer.

“And maybe… maybe that’s why I was so focused on helping you, because I hurt you with my actions just like I did to her. Of course you got in trouble before I got there, but my words pushed you over the edge and wound up causing you to run away from home.” She sighed, feeling disgusted with herself.

“B-but it wasn’t all your fault, Twilight,” Pound replied, not wanting her to beat herself up. “Like you said, other ponies got us upset before you got there. If it had been you first it would have been our parents that made us run away, right?”

Twilight shook her head. “That’s not the point. As a princess the lessons I’ve learned are supposed to hone me and make me better. Naturally I was angry and scolded you. That would be expected. But later on, when I first heard you had ran away, I just got irritated. I thought you were only running away from your punishment and trying to avoid responsibility. Once again Spike had to wake me up, reminding me of how I had once drove him to run away by making him feel like he wasn’t needed anymore.”

She suddenly released him and started walking again.

Pound quickly hurried to match pace with her. “H-hey!” he said, but she ignored him.

In a short voice she said, “I can’t be this way, just forgetting the lessons I’ve learned as I grew up.”

She looked to be in a foul mood now, and Pound was feeling more and more awkward. What should he do? What COULD he do? She was so much older than him, with so much more experience and knowledge, and he was just a little kid. He didn’t know how to help solve her problems. He could barely solve his own. At the least he could try the whole listening without judgment thing his parents and Fluttershy had been using on him.

“Twilight, um…” The role reversal of what he was trying to do humbled him, and the words to say just wouldn’t come.

He looked down, feeling lost, trying to think of something meaningful to say. He had one idea, but he didn’t know if it was going to work. It wasn’t directly addressing her problem, but it might help.

He ran ahead a little bit so he was in front of her, and stopped in front of her. “Twilight?”

She showed every sign of being about to walk around him, but then she came to a halt. “Yes, Pound?”

He closed the small gap between them and put his hooves around her. He wasn’t tall enough to reach her neck, so he just splayed his hooves across her chest and said, “I love you, Twilight!

“You taught me a better way of keeping my sister safe, and you’re helping me to grow up. You’re a fantastic princess.”

She grimaced, her body tensing as her eyes filled with tears before she broke down, holding him close to her again as she released her emotions. “T-thank you, P-Pound,” she stuttered out, holding him lovingly.

Pound held her back as tight as he could, wanting her to feel loved. “No pony is perfect. Just like you told me. We all make mistakes and forget things, and then we talk it over and cry and we get over it and be friends again. Right?”

She got a small smile on her face. “Right,” she said. “I… I’m just… I’m still not used to all of this. Ponies all over expecting so much of me, and the knowledge that my actions devastated Moondancer just makes me think of what I could do to some other pony. It can just get so overwhelming sometimes.”

Pound began to rub her back, nuzzling her neck. “It’ll be okay, Twilight. That’s why you have all of us, remember?”

Despite her pain she couldn’t help but admire how Pound understood a lot more than most others would give him credit for. Under his pride and brash, confrontational side was the shape of the hearts she hoped to bring about, and it was calming her down. When he had an outlet for his feelings and was calm he was truly an exemplary pony for his age.

She set him down on the ground, nuzzling his face. “Thank you, Pound. That means a lot to me. I do need my time of being a normal pony. That’s why none of my friends go around calling my Princess Twilight the majority of the time.”

Wiping her eyes she said, “Ah, it’s good to have a nice cry every once in a while. You’re right, Pound. I’m not perfect, and I never will be, but I need to pay more attention to my attitudes and the way I conduct myself around others, especially the vulnerable young ones who need the most guidance. Ponies like you, that need a lot of support when you start getting down. You came close to giving up on friendship much like Moondancer, but you pulled through because of the variety of friends you have and their varied experiences.

“Granted, I don’t know much about him, but Tree Leaf might be going the same way, and I would much rather have him learn and grow like you did than to sit around being punished.”

“You told me that you’re certain that I can handle it,” Pound said, his own uncertainty returning. “But what happens if I do lose it and attack him?”

Twilight let out a laugh as she put a hoof around him and turned him around back toward their destination. “Then you get to tell a princess ‘I told you so’ and brag that you knew better than someone over twice your age.”

Pound giggled too. “That would be funny.”

“I’m sure it would. I’m confident in you, though.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“And that’s all I’m asking for.”

A few minutes later they finally arrived at their destination. Twilight raised her hoof and knocked on the door.

14-3 Pound vs Tree Leaf

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Pound dragged his hoof across the ground anxiously as he waited for the door to open. His meeting with Tree Leaf was getting closer and closer and he still didn’t know what he was going to do when he saw the colt.

“Hello?” came a voice as the door opened. The mare twitched at the site of their visitor and quickly bowed. “O-oh, hello, Princess Twilight. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Twilight had that awkward feeling she always got when she saw other ponies bowing to her. “Please, raise your head.” When she did she said, “I’ve come to try for some peaceful conflict resolution.”

The mare looked a little confused. “Um… regarding?”

Twilight used her hoof to push Pound forward a little, and the mare looked down at him. “This is Pound Cake. He’s the one who got into an issue with your son Tree Leaf a few days ago.”

The mare blushed. “Yes, of course. I’m really sorry about that,” she said to him.

Pound didn’t respond. Of course he didn’t blame Tree Leaf’s mom for what happened, but he couldn’t just say that it was okay and not to worry about it.

Twilight said, “Now that some time has passed and they’ve had time to cool off I’d like for the two of them to try and resolve their differences. It doesn’t do to hold onto grudges and make enemies.”

The mare looked up at her. “Tree Leaf really is a good kid. He can just… get a little out of control sometimes.”

Twilight nodded. “I’m sure. The same with Pound Cake here. He got into a rebellious phase based on some faulty assumptions and then improved dramatically when I spent some time getting to know him better and figured out the way he thinks. And that’s why I’m here today, to give your son the same courtesy.”

The mare blushed deeper, feeling embarrassed. “O-oh, Princess. You don’t have to do that. I can handle this. I’m sure you have much more important business to attend to.”

Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder. “Nonsense. I’m the Princess of Friendship. This IS my important business.”

“W-well, if you’re sure…” She turned around and walked a few steps. “This way, then.”

Pound followed behind Twilight, dragging his hooves along the ground. There was a feeling of irritation and anxiety following after him like he might explode at the slightest provocation. When they stopped at a closed door and the mare knocked on it he felt his heart speed up and the desire to run in the opposite direction. He could only wonder how Tree Leaf’s mom would react if he tackled her son to the ground and began to beat him up.

The door opened a crack. “Yeah?” came the voice of Tree Leaf, gruff and bored. “What do you want? Can’t I just be punished in peace?”

“You have a visitor, Tree Leaf.”

“Oh, yeah? Who is it?” He didn’t sound interested.

Leaning over and whispering she said, “Mind your attitude. We have royalty in the house.”

“Royalty?” he asked, now with a bit of attention. “Really?” He opened the door a little more and peeked his head out to see Twilight standing there.

“Hello!” Twilight said brightly, walking forward. “I’d like a little bit of your time, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” he responded, opening his door enough that his whole body was visible. “Wait,” he said suddenly. “You’re not here to yell at me, are you?”

Twilight shook her head. “Certainly not.”

“Okay, then.”

“Please go sit on your bed. I’ll be in there in a second.” When he complied she turned to his mother. “I’d like for you to just go about your business and let me handle things. He’s your son, and naturally you want to protect him, and I’m afraid your interference might wind up causing a bigger rift between them. I don’t want this to be about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong and taking sides. First and foremost this is about resolving conflict, and as a princess it is part of my duty to be impartial and listen fairly to both sides, regardless of how close I am to either party.”

She looked like she wanted to argue about being told not to be there, but Twilight was a princess and she had to believe that Twilight knew what was best. “Very well,” she said in a bit of a frigid tone. “Do what you wish.” She walked away towards the kitchen, and they heard the clatter of silverware as she began to wash some dishes.

Pound whispered to her, “I don’t think she liked that very much.” Even he had noticed the expression on her face.

She whispered back, “Well, it’s true. This is between you and Tree Leaf, not you and his mother. Letting her fight his battles won’t help him learn anything. And if she got in your face and you got upset I would have to speak up on your behalf, making it seem like I’m only on your side. That sends the wrong message that I care more about the ponies I’m closer to than the ones I don’t know as well. As I said earlier I have to show equal concern and give time to every pony that needs it, not just my closest friends.

“Now, I’m going to start things off, but I mainly want to stay out of things and let you two talk it out. I’m only planning to interfere if it looks like things are getting out of control and you seem like you’re going to get violent.”

Twilight turned her head toward the door, before she suddenly turned back to him, narrowing her eyes. “Pound, you do understand that my impartialness extends to you, right? Don’t expect any special treatment. I meant what I said.”

Pound nodded, nervousness going through him again as Twilight jerked her head toward the room and walked in.

Tree Leaf was sitting on his bed as Twilight had told him. “Hello, Princess,” he said politely. “So what did you want to talk about?”

Pound let out a scoffing noise, thinking he was as fake as the costumes they wore on Nightmare Night.

Tree Leaf heard the noise, and when he saw Pound there his whole attitude shifted. His eyes widened for a moment before he hopped up onto his hooves, glaring at him. “What’s HE doing here?” he said nastily. “Get out of my room!”

“Why don’t you make me?” Pound said dismissively, meeting his gaze.

“ENOUGH!” Twilight said sharply, knowing she needed to nip this in the bud. “Sit down, Tree Leaf. Now!”

Reluctantly he tore his gaze from Pound and shifted his eyes toward her, dislike mounting in his features. Twilight met his eyes. Their stare-down continued for a while before he abruptly sat down and crossed his hooves.

When Pound snickered at seeing him give in she rounded on him next. “Be quiet, Pound,” she said harshly. “That’s not helping.”

His laughter was cut short, and now Tree Leaf was smirking at him.

Twilight suppressed a groan. From what she was already seeing this was going to be a contest between two Pound’s; Headstrong and defiant when they didn’t get their way, with a good dose of provocative humor designed to anger others that observe them. This was going to be tough.

“Good,” she said, seeing she needed to take control immediately or things would quickly dissolve into name calling, insults, and fighting. “Now, then. I’m here to try and settle the feud between you two. Obviously you both are mad at each other because of that incident last week. Now that some time has passed it’s an ideal time to get your feelings off your chest and make up.”

Twilight expected resistance from Tree Leaf, but to her surprise the tension in the room melted away as he began to laugh like she had just told the funniest joke in the world. “What’s so funny about that?” she asked.

Tree Leaf was getting his laughter under control, wiping a few tears from his eyes. “O-o-oh, that’s great.” He hopped off his bed and began walking toward them.

Uncertain of his intentions Twilight put a hoof on Pound’s chest to put a wall between them.

Pound’s body tensed as Tree Leaf came close enough he was on the other side of Twilight’s hoof.

“Come on, Pound,” he said, still letting out little laughs. “Is she serious?”

Pound felt confused to hear Tree Leaf addressing him like they were best pals, and curiosity began to overcome his frustration. “What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? This is pointless. You’re not here because you wanna make nice. You’re just here because the princess ordered you to be here, right?”

Pound rolled his eyes, looking away. “It certainly wasn’t my idea. I didn’t want to see you again.”

“So there we have it. I hate you, and you hate me. This is just a waste of both our times.”

Pound silently agreed, but he knew he had to at least make the attempt to try. “Why did you hurt Pumpkin?”

“Because I felt like it, that’s why,” he said, smirking again. “Your dumb sister is just a loser brat, anyway.”

Pound’s anger returned in full measure, and Twilight put more pressure on him.

Tree Leaf snickered. “Are you so weak you have to hide behind the princess because you don’t have the courage to face me yourself?”

“Anytime, you jerk!” Pound said, pushing against Twilight’s leg holding him back.

“Stop it!” Twilight said. “Pound isn’t hiding behind me. I’m here to act as the mediator between you, and I’m going to give both of you a chance to tell your side of the story. “

“I know what you really want,” Tree Leaf said. “You don’t care about making friends.” He turned his head, pushing his cheek toward Pound. “Go ahead. I’ll give you a free shot. You’re not getting a better deal than that.”

The urge to sock Tree Leaf one, especially when he was flat-out offering, was almost overpowering.

“Pound, remember your sister,” Twilight said simply, not wanting him to fight but also not wanting to take away his ability to make a choice.

Tree Leaf was smirking at him, his face right in his, telling him to go ahead and take a swing. He was breathing heavy with the strain of holding himself back. Twilight’s words began to penetrate the haze of emotions, and his face puffed up as he held his breath, his eyes closed. The satisfaction of striking Tree Leaf seemed so tantalizing, so appealing. Revenge would be so sweet.

His whole body tensed as he gritted his teeth, letting out a long, slow breath. It would make him feel so much better to just slug Tree Leaf, but… that was all it would do. It would just make him feel better. Hurting Tree Leaf now was only going to put Pumpkin in danger. He had told Twilight he was going to do his best not to fight anymore because attacking others would likely make them seek revenge, and it wasn’t really protecting his sister.

Even with that knowledge it was still the hardest thing of his whole life to make himself back away a few steps so Tree Leaf was out of range of his hooves. “I-I’m… I’m not going to hit you!” Pound said, his voice shaky. “I’m not here to fight.”

Twilight beamed with pride, so proud of him.

Tree Leaf looked disappointed. “Oh, well. Guess that didn’t work out. It would have been worth the hit to see you get in trouble too. If the princess wasn’t here and it was only the two of us I’m sure you would have done it.”

Now that he had centered on his motivation he was feeling more confident. “It’s got nothing to do with Twilight. I just love my sister more than I hate you.”

Tree Leaf scoffed. “And what does that have to do with not hitting me?”

“You wouldn’t understand, and I don’t want to give you any ideas.”

“Boys,” Twilight said, getting their attention. “I think it’s time we get to the bottom of this incident. Pound, why don’t you start off with what you remember of that day?”

Pound nodded, determined not to let Tree Leaf provoke him anymore.

“Hey!” Tree Leaf objected. “He’s just gonna make stuff up to make me look bad. You heard him. He hates me!”

Twilight responded, “As I said earlier I will listen to both sides and make up my mind.”

“Liar,” he mumbled under his breath.

“And what does that mean?” Twilight asked calmly.

For a second he looked downcast and fearful, but then his expression hardened and he said angrily, “He’s your friend, right?”

“You could say that. His aunt is one of my closest friends, and I’ve spent time with him to help him improve his attitude when he screwed up.”

A tear came down his eye as he grew angrier. “You see? You’re just gonna take his side no matter what I say. You weren’t even there when anything happened, and you’re just gonna believe everything he says because he’s your friend, when why would you ever want to listen to some kid you never met before last week?”

Twilight stood her ground. “That’s not true. I explicitly told Pound before we came in that he’s not getting special treatment in this because I have to look at situations impartially in my role as a princess. I have to give everyone a sporting chance.”

He let out a derisive huff. “Yeah, right,” he said darkly as he looked at the ground.

“Twilight’s here to try and help you, stupid,” said Pound, stomping his hoof. “I got punished for getting into a fight at magic kindergarten, but she spent time with me to teach me to do other stuff than fighting. The old Pound would have hit you without even thinking about it.”

“Pound is right, Tree Leaf,” said Twilight. “I’m not here to punish you or make you feel bad. I want to help you improve. That’s the sole reason I’m here.”

“So then what’s HE doing here?” he said, thrusting his hoof toward Pound. “Can’t you just do it yourself?”

“Pound asked the same thing, but the reason you’re being punished right now is because of what happened at the beach. If the two of you can resolve your conflict and show you’ve learned something from the experience I’m sure your parents will cut your punishment short.”

Pound groaned quietly, once more forcing himself to move. He walked toward Tree Leaf, who took a defensive stance as Pound got near him. He held out his hoof, the words leaving his mouth as if someone else was saying them. “Can’t we put this behind us and be friends?”

Twilight was surprised that he was taking the initiative.

Tree Leaf eyed him suspiciously before slapping his hoof away. “Why would I want to be friends with you? You don’t care about anyone but your dumb sister. That’s the REAL reason you’re here, isn’t it? Isn’t it?” he snapped, shoving Pound.

Pound felt frustration bubbling beneath the surface, but he held it at bay. “What’s wrong with loving my sister? Don’t you love YOUR family?”

“Hmph. You’re so stupid. You don’t get it.”

“What doesn’t he get?” Twilight asked. “From what I’ve heard the three of you were playing together, and then at some point when you planned to race and Pound got ahead of you then you turned on Pumpkin and kicked sand in her eyes.”

“Prove it!” Tree Leaf said instantly.

“What?” Pound said sharply. “Don’t even try to deny it.”

Seeing the anger on Pound’s face brought the grin back to Tree Leaf’s. “Well, Twilight? You said that you weren’t going to give him special treatment and give both of us a chance. Are you just going to take his word for it? Pumpkin probably just tripped and the two of them made the whole thing up because he doesn’t like me.”

“WHAT?” Pound roared. “Don’t you dare-TWILIGHT!” He rounded on her.

Twilight saw the two colts both staring at her. In a slow voice she said, “I’m afraid Tree Leaf is right, Pound.”

“HA!” Tree Leaf said triumphantly.

Pound’s mouth was hanging open, and he was once again feeling betrayed. “He-you can’t-you… you KNOW he did it.”

“Then prove it!” Tree Leaf said again.

Pound’s cheeks were puffing out and he stomped a hoof in frustration as he said, “I… I can’t.” He turned toward the door and began walking toward it. “Thanks a lot, Twilight.”

“Pound!” came the sharp voice. “Come back here and sit down.”

He looked at her with disgust, a plethora of nasty words hovering on his mouth. He turned around and sat, but moved no closer.

Once more getting authoritative she said, “That’s enough from the both of you. I already told you that this meeting of you two is not about assigning blame and who is right and who is wrong. This is supposed to be about you two resolving your differences. Pound, stop sulking just because I’m not just agreeing with everything you say. You’re better than that.”

His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t respond for a few seconds before hopping up. “If you think I’m just lying then why did you bother going to talk to his parents when I told you what happened?”

“I never said I thought you were lying. I said that there is no proof of what happened. None of us were there to observe it.”

“NO!” Pound shouted. “Either you’re on his side or you’re on mine. If you don’t believe I’m telling the truth then you’re on his side.”

“I already explained to you that I’m on no one’s side.” As he opened his mouth she spoke over him and said, “Be quiet!”

He closed his mouth, looking at her as if she had attacked Pumpkin herself.

She turned to Tree Leaf, who was looking quite satisfied, and said, “You can knock that grin off your face, Tree Leaf. True, I wasn’t there to witness the actual event, but there is enough evidence to me that proves you’re the guilty party.”

Pound’s glare softened just a little.

“Like what?” Tree Leaf said defiantly.

“If Pumpkin really DID just fall on her face then I wonder why you didn’t bring this up before when we first came to talk to you about it. It seems unusual that you would take the blame for something you knew you were innocent for.”

Tree Leaf looked stymied for a second before looking away toward the ceiling. “I didn’t think you’d believe me, being his friend and all.”

Twilight followed up with, “Fair enough, but there is something I DID witness, and it happened today.” Her horn lit up, and a square appeared, playing a memory of Pound and Tree Leaf.

“Why did you hurt Pumpkin?” said Pound.

“Because I felt like it, that’s why,” Tree Leaf responded. “ Your dumb sister is just a loser brat, anyway.”

As the image faded Tree Leaf was standing there meekly, trapped by his own words.

Pound’s anger at Twilight had dissipated. She had Tree Leaf dead to rights.

“Good enough for you, Tree Leaf?” Twilight asked, raising herself up to her full height and saying seriously, “I already said this before, and I don’t want to have to keep saying it. This is NOT about guilt and punishment. I already know you threw sand in Pumpkin’s eyes. That’s obvious and past debate. We’re past that action of yours. The next step is getting to the root of your problems that led to that action. Pound offered his hoof in friendship and you were the one that slapped it away. “

Tree Leaf got some of his attitude back. “Yeah. And? If someone says 'let’s be friends' then that just makes everything better? He’s only doing it because you’re here.”

“Wrong!” Pound spoke up. “I’m doing this for my sister.”

Tree Leaf rolled his eyes, pointing at Pound. “You see what I’m talking about? Pumpkin. Pumpkin. Pumpkin. It’s all about her.” Facing Pound now he asked, “So when are you gonna send me the wedding invitation?”

“Oh, ha ha!” Pound responded sarcastically. “You’re so clever. It’s my job as her brother to protect my sister. Everyone else in my life is bigger and older than me and can look after themselves. That’s why I have to look after Pumpkin and protect her from ponies like YOU.”

Tree Leaf began to laugh again. “Well, you sure did a fantastic job, huh? Excellent big brother material.”

Pound scowled, taking a few steps toward him. “Don’t you make fun of me.”

“Face it. You failed.”

“ENOUGH!” Twilight snapped, her horn letting off a loud bang. “POUND, SIT DOWN!”

Pound was so surprised at her shouting that he complied without thinking about it.

“Tree Leaf, on your bed!”

Tree Leaf looked like he was debating whether to argue, but then he listened as well after a few moments.

“None of this is helping!” she said, pacing around between the two of them. “All you two keep doing is sniping at each other and trying to get each other mad, and I’m getting sick of it. The two of you are so similar in temperament it’s obvious that letting you try and work things out on your own isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

Tree Leaf huffed, crossing his hooves. “Then maybe you should have butt out of our problems. You just show up here out of nowhere and put us in the same room and just expect us to be best pals just like that? I don’t care if you are the 'Princess of Friendship.' You can’t force ponies to become friends. I never asked you to bring him here.”

Twilight looked at him out of the corner of her eye, taking a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe my expectations were too high and I should have talked to you alone first. However, we’re all here now and I’d like for us to make the best of it.”

“The ‘best’ would be if you’d just get him out of here and leave my house.”

“Can’t say I don’t agree,” Pound piped up.

“You see?” Tree Leaf responded, pointing to Pound. “The two of us both agree on one thing: we can’t stand each other. YOU’RE the only one trying to get us to be all friendly when neither of us want to.”

Twilight looked between Pound and Tree Leaf, and she knew her inexperience with small kids was showing itself again. Perhaps they just weren’t mature enough yet to be able to resolve their problems. However, she didn’t want to throw in the towel quite yet.

“Tree Leaf?”

“Yes?” he responded.

“I can perfectly understand what Pound has against you. He’s very protective of his sister, and you chucking sand in her eyes made you an enemy, even if he was trying to befriend you for her sake. The piece of the puzzle both me and Pound are missing is your side of the story. I wanted to let both of you give your own interpretations of your time together, but the two of you spent so much time using verbal attacks and angering each other that we got completely sidetracked from my goal.

“Now, I want you to tell us what your real issue is with Pound. Or Pumpkin. According to Pound you said it was because you felt she was just a bother. Is that all of it?”

Tree Leaf stared at her blankly for a little while before looking at his bed. “Nothing,” he said emotionlessly. “She bugged me, so I taught her a lesson. That’s it.”

Twilight’s head snapped around to Pound, silently telling him to keep quiet, fully expecting him to get all triumphant at hearing Tree Leaf openly admit to his wrongdoing.

“Don’t have to look at me like that,” Pound said under his breath, but otherwise didn’t respond.

When she was convinced Pound was going to keep his trap shut she focused her attention back on Tree Leaf. “I don’t believe you. I’ve had to deal with Pound and his temper tantrums, and he shows a pattern of getting aggressive and belligerent when something is bothering him. Why was Pumpkin bugging you?”

He shrugged. “Just did,” he said in a small voice.

“Why?” she asked again. “Was she doing something you didn’t like?”

Tree Leaf had a very familiar expression on his face, the kind Pound usually had when he was trying to hold back his real feelings. “Just stop asking. I got nothing to say. I didn’t like her, and that’s the only reason.”

Twilight mentally reviewed everything she had heard. Stubborn as Pound, he wasn’t going to budge unless she had some ammunition to make a hole in his defenses. A question came to her. “Who are you really mad at, Tree Leaf? Because I’m a little confused. Is it Pound or Pumpkin?”

He glanced up at her for a moment. “What kind of question is that?”

“You claim that you just didn’t like Pumpkin. And if there was something you didn’t like about her that’s understandable. Not all ponies click together. So what’s your beef with Pound? You seem like you’re furious at him about something and won’t forgive him for it. So far as we know the only thing he did to you was tell his parents about what you did to his sister. Sure, no one likes to get into trouble, but it still seems a bit much to be holding onto a grudge days later for such a small thing.”

Emotion flitted across his features for a moment, something like sadness or pain, before his impassive expression returned. “He wasn’t a very good friend, that’s all.”

Pound had been silently listening, curious as well, but that response made his temper flare up. “AND YOU THINK YOU WERE A BETTER ONE?” he yelled.

Tree Leaf hopped off his bed as Pound stood up. “I sure do! You didn’t care about me. It was only about your sister, your sister, your sister.”

The two of them closed the distance between each other, glaring at each other as they stood in front of one another.

Twilight took a breath and decided to see how things played out. Neither of them looked like they were ready to assault the other yet.

“What are you talking about?” Pound said, tapping his hoof on the floor. “I loved having you in our group because I wanted to make my own friends, but then you turned around and betrayed me! What did you think was gonna happen when you attacked my family?”

Tree Leaf pushed his head forward so his forehead was pressing up against Pound’s. “Just shut up. What do you know about betrayal?”

Twilight used her magic to lift the two colts up and put some distance between them. “So is it the reason, Tree Leaf?”

“WHAT?” he said nastily. “Stop interfering!”

“Yeah!” Pound said. “Just stay out of it!”

“Tree Leaf,” she said, ignoring them, “you just said something very significant.”

“What?” he said dismissively.

“You keep bringing up that you felt Pound didn’t care about you and only about Pumpkin.”

“So?”

“Yeah. So?” Pound said right after.

Twilight let out a pained laugh. ‘Pound in stereo. Wonderful,’ she thought.

Out loud she said, “I’m starting to see the bigger picture. You felt jealous of Pumpkin because you felt Pound wasn’t paying enough attention to you, and so you felt hurt.”

Tree Leaf winced, and once more she saw his pain surface for a moment before he got himself under control.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Pound said sharply. “The three of us were all playing together in EVERY game. Tree Leaf was the one who kept trying to exclude Pumpkin from everything we did, so how did it suddenly become MY fault?”

Twilight went to speak, but Tree Leaf cut over her. “You can play with your dumb sister whenever you want. You live with her! Hello! The two of us were having a great time together before SHE showed up and ruined everything. ‘Oh, don’t do that. You might get in trouble. Ooohh!’”

Pound stomped over to him, saying loudly, “If you wanted us to play together alone then why didn’t you just say that in the first place, you moron? What made you think the solution was to chuck sand in her eyes? Even if I DID laugh about it and join you the two of us would have gotten in trouble anyway once Pumpkin told on us.”

“Because she was just gonna tell on us anyway for wrestling if we tried to tell her she couldn’t play. She seemed like a jerk like that, spoiled and bratty and a know-it-all, acting like she’s the boss.”

“Stop saying stuff about my sister!”

Once more they were butting heads. “Oh, I forgot! No one else matters to you, only that stupid cow of a pony.”

“That’s not true!” he said, pushing against his head and making Tree Leaf back up a step.

“I’m not like YOU!” Tree Leaf said, pushing back. “I don’t have any siblings. I’m not treated all special because I’m friends with a princess. I don’t get to go to Magic Kindergarten. I didn’t have any friends my own age to play with. So when I FINALLY made what I thought was a good friend he wasn’t really interested in me. He just HAD to have his sister intruding on all our fun, because he could care less about anyone else’s feelings. So long as his stupid sister is happy that’s all he cares about.” He pushed hard against Pound, forcing him to back up. “You’re just a selfish, stupid brat!”

“You’re so stupid it makes me sick!” Pound retorted. “Twilight doesn’t give me special treatment. She came here for YOU, in case you didn’t notice, because she was trying to improve your attitude. She cut my punishment short for fighting because she wanted me to learn stuff instead of being punished, and she knew that wasn’t fair to you to not help you out too just because she didn’t know you as well as me. I didn’t even want to come here because I was tired of fighting. I just wanted for us to work things out because I didn’t want you to try to get revenge on Pumpkin.”

Tree Leaf growled, suddenly backing up. Pound fell on his face with the unexpected loss of resistance. “YOU SEE?” Tree Leaf yelled. “YOU SEE? THAT! THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! Oh, I don’t care about you. I just came here for my sister. Can’t you think about anyone else for a change? I don’t even know how you plan on making any friends if you’re planning to just spend all your time with your sister.”

Pound rubbed his nose as he stood up. “My sister IS my friend, and that’s one more than you'll ever have, you loser.”

A hurt look came to Tree Leaf’s face, a tear sliding down his cheek. Pound’s words had cut to the bone. His eyes began filling with moisture as he fought to keep his composure.

“Pound!” Twilight said, shocked.

Tree Leaf ran forward, shoving Pound hard enough to knock him to the ground. “GET OUT!” he shouted. “GET OUT OF MY ROOM AND GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!”

Twilight prepared to step between the two, but Pound got up with a dispassionate look on his face. “I’m done,” he said emotionlessly, turning toward the door. “I’m leaving. If I don’t I’m not going to be able to stop myself, and I don’t want to get into any more fights.” Walking away he said under his breath, “Attacks my sister and expects us to be friends? I wonder how he’d react if I went and socked his mom one?”

“You better not DARE touch my mother, Pound, or not even the princess will be able to stop what I’ll do to you!” Tree Leaf said fiercely.

Pound stopped, turning back to him with that same sort of unnatural calm. “You know something, Tree Leaf? If you had just stopped for a minute and put some thought into it things would have turned out so much better. You wanted some friends, and you got all jealous because of Pumpkin. If you didn’t spend so much time thinking she was such a pain just because she was trying to be helpful then you could have had two friends. And so instead of having two friends to play with you have zero. I hope it was worth it. Hmph.” He coldly turned away and began walking again.

Tears were brimming in his eyes again. “Fine, then!” he said, his voice shaking a little. “Just go. Who needs you? I… I don’t. I don’t need you. I don’t need ANYBODY!” Despite his attempts to stop it despair was creeping into his voice. “F-friends are just a joke anyway! They only pretend to like you until they can hurt you and make you feel bad.” He sniffed, gulping back his sadness. “Who needs friends? They’re a waste of time. So I’ll just stay here. ALONE! With-without anybody else! Because it-it-it’s b-better that way. They’ll just turn on me like you did, so I don’t ever want any more friends!” He spun around and hopped onto his bed, beginning to sob into his pillow.

Twilight looked between the two colts, feeling a sense of hopelessness. She had put too much pressure and expectations on Pound, and she also had just sprung Pound on Tree Leaf. Once more her inexperience was rearing its head. Two headstrong colts going head to head was bound to lead to trouble. She just really wanted to give them the chance to sort things out by themselves, but she hadn’t interfered enough or planned enough for what would happen once they arrived. Now Pound had got upset for nothing and Tree Leaf was swearing off friendship, and it was mainly her fault.

Twilight sighed. She would have to take Pound home and do as he had suggested in the first place: spending some one-on-one time with Tree Leaf. Especially with their talk on the way here it was crucial that she talk to him now, before he spent months dwelling on the idea that friendship was a bad thing.

Pound had stopped walking. Despite himself he couldn’t make himself keep going. Although it annoyed him to no end, as he didn’t want to have anything in common with a jerk like Tree Leaf, he found himself identifying with Tree Leaf’s feelings. Hadn’t he just been feeling the same way recently, even though it was Tree Leaf’s fault in the first place he felt that way?

More than that, though, his thoughts were also on the story Twilight told him of Moondancer. In his mind’s eye he pictured Tree Leaf as a stallion, walking through town and ignoring anyone trying to talk to him, yelling at everyone for trying to get closer.

Twilight walked past him, saying despondently, “Let’s go, Pound.”

Pound took a step after her, but then stopped again. His head turned toward Tree Leaf who was still crying into his pillow, muffling the sound of his lamentation. He saw himself throwing a tantrum in his room because he didn’t know what else to do with his feelings.

The more he tried to dissociate himself from Tree Leaf the more he felt he got it. He didn’t want to forgive Tree Leaf, or understand him, but the similarity between them was slowing melting away the bitterness in his heart, and a part of him genuinely began to empathize with his feelings.

Turning his body to match his head he walked over to the bed and climbed up on it, sitting himself next to Tree Leaf.

Twilight watched his progress, wondering what he was going to do.

“Tree Leaf,” Pound started, “I… I kinda know why you were acting like you were.”

Tree Leaf briefly popped his head up a little. “Oh, is that because I TOLD you how I felt? I only said it like three times.”

Pound didn’t feel bothered anymore by his attitude, and ignored it. “I… I was feeling the same way. I’ve had Pumpkin since I was born, but I wanted to make some of my own friends, and when I met you I felt the same way about you: that I had finally found my dream friend. So when you did that to Pumpkin it hurt so much that I also felt like I never wanted to trust anyone ever again, because I didn’t want to feel that pain again.”

Pound curled up, holding his knees as he remembered the scathing feelings that had overtaken him. Tree Leaf turned his head, an eye peeking out toward him.

“I knew that my family loved me, but I tried to do all the bad things I could so that they would hate me, and then I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. I’d know that they didn’t care about me, so I wouldn’t trust them. It hurt a lot more to be afraid of my family, but I just didn’t want to feel that sad feeling inside.

“They were trying so hard to be nice, even when I was being so mean, but every time I got them to lose it and yell at me I would laugh because it was like proving I was right, but it would also hurt so bad inside that I wanted to cry.”

Pound had a faraway look in his eyes as he stared at the bed, not really seeing it, a tear dripping down his eye as those feelings once more resurfaced. “It’s no fun being all alone, not feeling like anyone cares for you. I guess I just talk about Pumpkin so much because she’s the only one that is always there for me, because my parents and Auntie Pinkie usually have to work during the day, so we only have each other. Pumpkin… just makes me feel strong, that I can do something amazing even though I’m just a little brat who can’t do anything special. I can protect her, keep her safe, and she even calls me her hero. If it wasn’t for her I’d probably feel just like you do.”

Pound hesitated, as his pride was getting in the way. He didn’t feel he had done anything wrong. However, he felt guilty about not noticing Pumpkin was feeling left out, so it was only right that he also accept responsibility for not noticing Tree Leaf’s feelings either.

With a great effort he lifted himself up a little and put a hoof on Tree Leaf, saying, “I’m… I… I’m… I’m sorry.” He let out a heavy breath, the words feeling so freeing, and they came easier the second time. “I’m sorry for making you feel like I didn’t care about you.”

Tree Leaf blinked in shock, slowly pulling himself up to a sitting position. “And… you think that just makes everything better?” he said quietly.

“I don’t know. It works with my family. Do we really have to keep fighting? I don’t want to argue anymore. Twilight got me to come by bringing up my sister, but after everything that was going on with my family I just was sick of the bad feelings.” He sniffed. “I’m sorry! I don’t know what else to say. I never meant to make you feel like that.”

Tree Leaf got an odd expression his face, half a smile lifting up his mouth. “So you’re sorry, huh?” he said, giving Pound a small shove.

Pound blinked, hearing the tone shift in his voice, and gave him a shove back. “That’s right.”

“You gotta give this big sappy friendship speech. Makes me wanna gag. Bleh!”

Pound was smirking. “Well, you’re just a big crybaby.”

“Loser!”

“Jerk!”

“Dummy!”

Pound tackled Tree Leaf, pinning him beneath him.

Twilight was about to intervene, when she heard the clear, crisp sound of laughter erupting out of them as they began to wrestle one another. Her first instinct was to break them apart and not encourage their actions, but she knew she had to be flexible, and laughter was the purest joy that friends could share with one another.

Back and forth they went, just like how they had started, fighting for superiority, grinning and giggling all the while as they trash talked.

“Come on, tough guy!”

“Bring it, wuss!”

“Why don’t you just surrender?”

“Why should I, when we both know I’m just taking it easy on you?”

Twilight sat down, rolling her eyes lightheartedly as she shook her head.

14-4: Two friends

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Twilight sat down and closed her eyes. She didn’t quite get why the two colts considered wrestling that fun, but then again she wasn’t a boy, a child, or the physical type. She had always lost herself in books when she was younger.

She gave them about five minutes of roughhousing before she walked over and pulled the two apart. “Okay, boys. I think that’s enough.”

Panting slightly Pound said, “You’re lucky the princess saved your butt. You were about to give up.”

“In your dreams,” Tree Leaf responded, sticking out his tongue.

“Come on now. Focus,” Twilight said. The two of them moved to the edge of the bed and sat down, but they were both still looking at each other with confidence.

“Listen up, both of you. I’d like to apologize to you guys.”

That broke the two of them out of their staring contest. “What for?” asked Pound.

“Yeah,” said Tree Leaf. “What did you do?”

“Well,” said Twilight, “the two of you had a really good point, and I have to admit that. Trying to spark friendship is good, but I was going about it the completely wrong way. In a way I had yet to really integrate the lesson I learned when I was helping to train Pound to control his temper. I underestimated your feelings because you were younger, and thus I wasn’t treating you both with the respect you deserve. It wasn’t my intention, of course, but I was treating you both as inferior to me.”

Tree Leaf shrugged. “Well, we are, aren’t we? You’re a princess and we’re just little kids.”

Twilight shook her head. “There’s a difference between status and attitude. In terms of status I am above you, yes, but that doesn’t mean I should treat you like you are beneath me. I should respect everyone and treat them as equally valuable.

“Pound.” She turned to him. “I forgot one of the most important things about forgiveness, and in that it showed I was looking down on you as simplistic.”

“You did?” Pound asked, having no clue what she was talking about.

“Forgiveness is something that has to come from the heart. You have to MEAN it and want it. You even said yourself that I couldn’t force you to become friends. However, I essentially blackmailed you into meeting with Tree Leaf by using your biggest weakness, manipulating you into coming by playing on your love for Pumpkin when you told me that you wanted a break from all the negativity that had been going on. I didn’t respect your feelings and thoughts, because I thought I knew best what should happen.” She bowed her head to him. “I’m truly sorry for that.”

Pound saw the guilt on her face, and he started feeling awkward again. “H-hey, you were trying to help me learn stuff.”

“That’s just an excuse for my bad behavior.” She lifted her head. “I will NOT make the same mistake a third time.”

Turning her head to Tree Leaf she said, “As for you, you also brought up a good point. I didn’t take your feelings into consideration either when I planned this meeting. I didn’t give you a choice or ask your opinion or even try and talk with you alone to try to get your side of the story, and so you wound up getting defensive and lashing out.”

She bowed her head to him as well. “I’m sorry for failing you. I’m not going to make any excuses. My lack of experience is still causing me to see ponies your age as older and more mature than they really are, as I’m used to interacting with ponies that are older than you.”

“Princesses make mistakes?” Tree Leaf said, looking a little confused.

“Of course they do,” Twilight replied, lifting her head. “No one pony knows everything, and we all must struggle to control our feelings and do the right thing as much as you do. Being an alicorn doesn’t stop me from having feelings that can be hurt, or anger that can cause me to lash out at others. One of the most important aspects of being a princess is to set an example for others to follow, and that means owning up to my mistakes and admitting when I’ve done something wrong, and striving to do better the next time. How could I teach others to do that if I walk around with this air of superiority that I never screw up and am absolutely perfect?

“I didn’t show you two the proper respect, and largely all the pain and hurt you both suffered today is a byproduct of my ignorance. I didn’t have any sort of plan when I came here. The two of you both called me out for butting into your problems. I just threw you two in the same room and waited to see what would happen. I assumed that you two would argue and shout a bit until you were able to get your feelings out and come to an understanding, basically ignoring what I had gone through with Pound during the week of his suspension.

“Yes, I was hoping to teach Pound a lesson about forgiveness and continue to teach him better means of resolving his problems than resorting to attacking other ponies, but I went about it the wrong way, and so Pound was only pretending forgiveness for the sake of protecting his sister, and Tree Leaf picked up that he was being insincere and rejected it. It wasn’t until the very end, when Tree Leaf finally revealed his true feelings, and Pound felt an understanding due to similar circumstances in his own life that he was truly willing to let go of his anger and apologize from his heart.”

A tear came down her eye. “I’m sorry. I never meant to cause so much pain. I’m still learning myself. I know that’s just an excuse for not doing more research, but I hope you can forgive me.”

Pound felt bad for Twilight. She was only trying to be helpful. Who cared if she made a mistake? Crying a little himself he hopped off the bed and hugged her. “It’s okay, Twilight. I forgive you. If you hadn’t told me that story about Moondancer I wouldn’t have been able to really understand him, so it was with your help that I’m becoming a better pony.”

Twilight put a hoof around him, her head on his as she closed her eyes and said tenderly, “Thank you, Pound.”

Tree Leaf came down as well. “Well… even if it was a total mess until the end at least me and Pound got to talk things out, and I got my first friend back too. I… I was wrong for what I did. I just felt so mad and didn’t know what to do, and I hurt Pound and his sister, and that hurt a lot. I’m… I’m really glad you came here today.” He hugged her leg too.

Twilight unfurled her wings wrapping the two of them in them. “Thank you, boys.

“I think I’m going to devote a month at your school, Pound. It would really help me to understand children better. I don’t want to keep making the same error in judgment of assuming I understand something I really don’t.”

“Sounds good, Twilight,” he replied, nuzzling her.

She nuzzled him back. “Don’t think that means anything is changing. I’m still going to treat you like everyone else.”

“I know, I know.” He giggled.

Pound turned to Tree Leaf as Twilight released them. “You should come to my house. I’m not the only one that deserves an apology.”

Tree Leaf nodded. “I know.” He looked around awkwardly before putting his hoof out and asking hesitantly, “Friends?”

Pound shoved his hoof aside just as Tree Leaf had done before. For a second Tree Leaf felt crestfallen before Pound straight up hugged him.

Tree Leaf smiled as he held Pound back.

Twilight was beaming to see the two renewing their bond.

When they broke apart the three of them left the room, looking for his mother. They found her in the living room, sitting there with her head on a hoof.

When she saw movement she turned her head and saw her son and Pound coming toward her, looking content. “So is everything settled, then?” she asked, her frigid tone from before gone.

“Yes, indeed,” said Twilight.

Tree Leaf walked up to her and sat on her lap. Automatically her legs curled around him, holding him to her. “And what did you learn, son?”

“We both screwed up. He didn’t know how I was feeling, and I didn’t know how he was feeling, so we both did dumb things.”

“I certainly heard you two yelling at each other, although I couldn’t make out the words.”

He rested his head on her chest. “We both apologized to each other and we’re friends again.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“I… I was kinda jealous of Pound because he had a sibling and knows a princess and goes to school. I know it was wrong, so I’ll try not to do that again.”

She closed her eyes, squeezing him hard. “Now that’s the boy I’m proud of.”

He giggled, enjoying her praise. “I gotta go for a little while. I have to talk with Pumpkin too.”

“Alright,” she replied. “Come back when you’re ready.”

She set him on the floor, standing up herself. She bowed her head low. “Princess Twilight, please excuse my earlier rudeness. He is my son, after all, and I feared that he might get overwhelmed if I wasn’t there for moral support.”

“Please raise your head,” said Twilight, that uncomfortable feeling inside again. She wondered if she was ever going to get used to others giving her an elevated status. “I completely understand your concern. We all want to protect those who are near and dear to us. Uncertainty can cause the imagination to picture horrible things, but I had no desire to administer punishment or judgment on your son.” Gesturing with her head she said, “Pound here makes his fair share of mistakes and through lessons and practice he’s improved a lot since I began teaching him.”

Pound nodded. “It’s like my Auntie Pinkie says. Doing bad stuff doesn’t make you a bad pony. It only means you made a mistake. Hate the behavior and not the pony.”

“Right,” she replied, nodding. “I’ll always love my son, no matter what he does.”

Tree Leaf gave her a warm smile before bidding her goodbye and heading out the door behind Twilight and Pound.

During the trip to Sugarcube Corner Twilight had to endure the two of them trading put downs and shoves, giggling all the while. She had to keep reminding herself of priorities. They were getting along. She could work to ease them out of their macho behavior another day.

When they arrived at Sugarcube Corner Tree Leaf’s attitude shifted, and he became hesitant in his steps.

“What’s wrong, Tree Leaf?” asked Twilight.

“I’m… I’m a little scared,” he admitted.

“Of Pumpkin?” Pound asked. “The worst she can do is not forgive you.”

He shook his head. “Not of Pumpkin. Of your parents. If my mom was getting all worked up because Twilight wanted to talk to me about what happened I don’t know how your parents are gonna react when I ask to see her.”

“You’re with me, Tree Leaf,” Twilight said reassuringly. “They already know why I left with Pound, and I’ve known the Cakes personally for years. They’re very sweet and kind, and they’ll forgive you if you show you’re sorry. Pound already told you about how crazy he got after your fight, and they forgave him.”

He let out a sigh. “But he’s their son. Of course they’re gonna forgive HIM.” He let out another heavy breath.

“You’re just gonna have to trust me.” She put a wing around him protectively. “I told this to Pound and Pumpkin before. As a princess every pony is like family. I have to look out for ALL my little ponies, no matter how well or how little I know them. I’ll keep you safe. If things go badly I’ll get you out of there. Okay?”

Tree Leaf felt the warmth of her hold washing over him, and he didn’t feel quite so nervous anymore. “Okay,” he replied, comforted.

As they entered Sugarcube Corner Cup Cake was at the register taking an order from a customer.

Tree Leaf hid behind Twilight's leg as they waited for her to be free. His little heart began to race when the customer got his goods and went to sit down at a table. They approached the counter.

“Hello, Twilight,” came her bright voice. “So how did everything go?”

“Just fine,” Twilight replied, pushing Tree Leaf out from behind her.

“H-hello,” the colt said, nervously raising his hoof and giving a feeble wave. “I was wondering if I could talk to your daughter.”

For a moment her eyes narrowed, but then she got control of herself and worked her face into a more neutral expression. “Of course. I think she’s up in her room.”

Pound heard the same frosty tone he had heard in Tree Leaf’s mom, and he began to think that moms were kinda scary when it came to their kids. He fancied himself a tough customer when it came to his sister, but he didn’t think he could compare to an angry mother. “Let’s go upstairs, then,” said Pound.

“Hold on,” said Tree Leaf, hanging his head. Leaving Twilight’s side was terrifying, as it meant giving up his security, but as he had seen with Pound Pumpkin wasn’t the only pony he had hurt with his actions.

He walked behind the counter, and awkwardly hugged her leg. “I’m really sorry about what I did. I… I know that you don’t like me but I hope you can forgive me.” He sniffed, tears dripping onto the ground.

Cup Cake could hear the remorse in his voice. Her eyes softened, and she rubbed his head and said in a kinder tone, “I forgive you. We all make mistakes. I’m just glad you can admit that you did something wrong.”

Twilight, Pound, and Tree Leaf all went upstairs to the twins room.

Pound pushed the door open, seeing his sister sitting on her bed reading a book. When she heard the door she looked up, seeing the trio. Pumpkin gave Tree Leaf a cold look to rival her mothers. She jammed a book mark into her story, and slammed it shut. “Well, look who showed up,” she said haughtily. “You two all palsy-walsy again?”

Tree Leaf moved in front of them, telling them, “Don’t get involved this time.”

Twilight sat down near the door. “As you wish,” she said in a resigned voice.

Pound looked between Tree Leaf and his sister. “H-hey. There’s no need to fight. Tree Leaf-”

“Pound!” Twilight said sternly. “Let him handle this on his own. A key component of friendship is allowing those you care for room to grow, which means not always saving them from their problems.”

“But-”

“I know, Pound. You understand his troubles now, but Pumpkin doesn’t, and he should be the one to own up to his shortcomings, not just allow you to settle things the easy way.”

Pound looked put out as he walked heavily and sat down next to Twilight. “Haven’t we had enough fighting recently?” he said under his breath.

Twilight rubbed his head. “Just settle down, Pound. This is good practice for the two of them.”

Pound just rolled his eyes and crossed his hooves.

Once it was down to the two of them Pumpkin hopped off her bed and stomped over to him. “You’re a total jerk! You know that?”

“Yes,” he said, not even fighting her claim.

She eyed him suspiciously. “Just because I broke up your stupid wrestling match you hated me? I was trying to protect the two of you from getting in trouble. You ignored me, tried to push me out of our games as much as you could, then flung sand in my eyes as soon as we were alone. I guess you’re a lot less brave now with a princess in front of you.”

She gave him a light shove. “Go ahead. You said you wanted to handle this on your own, so Twilight isn’t going to scold you. Why don’t you just say what you really feel?”

He shook his head. “It had nothing to do with you. Not really.”

“Nothing to do with me? Then why did you tell me to get lost and chuck sand at me? Why don’t you just be honest? Go on! Give me a hit now! Or don’t you have the guts?”

“I don’t want to hit you anymore. I was wrong to do what I did. I was just kinda jealous of Pound for having so much more than I did, and I saw how much he cared for you, so I… I tried to get you out of the way so I could have more time with him.”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “You’re no fun. You’re not even trying to fight back. That just makes me look like the bad pony for picking on you.”

Unable to stop himself Pound yelled out, “That’s because we worked things out and he’s not angry anymore! That’s why I was trying to tell you from the start!”

Pumpkin shifted her gaze to Pound, then back to Tree Leaf. “You caused a lot of problems for our family. You know that?”

“Yes,” he responded. “And I‘m really sorry about that.” He scratched his head. “I, well, I’d never had a friend before, and so I wanted Pound all to myself. But Pound told me something I didn’t even think of before.”

“And what was that?”

“He said that if I hadn’t been so busy being annoyed at you and been nicer to you I could have had two friends, instead of losing my first friend and winding up all alone again.” A tear dripped down his cheek. “I’m really sorry about what I did. I know that must have really stung.”

“Yeah. A bit,” she replied with a touch of sarcasm.

“Do you think that maybe we could start over… as friends?” He held out his hoof. “I’ll try really hard not to hurt you again. It… it can just hurt so much being lonely.” Another tear dropped down. “I don’t want to give up on friends.”

Pumpkin sighed. “You’re such a dork… just like my brother. Hot headed and stubborn and annoying. Buuuut… I have to live with Pound, so I suppose I can give you a try too.” She slapped his hoof with hers, and Tree Leaf wore a genuine smile as he threw his hooves around her. “Um…”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Tree Leaf gushed. “I’ll be the best friend ever!”

Pumpkin found it a little odd to be hugged by a near stranger, especially after what happened the day they met. But she could tell his feelings were genuine, so she ignored her discomfort and hugged him back.

“Wow,” said Twilight. “That conflict was resolved in record time.”

“Hey,” Pound complained. “I did most of the work.”

“Indeed you did, Pound,” she agreed, patting his head.

“Hee hee.” Approaching the pair he said, “So can we play together, all THREE of us?”

Tree Leaf detached from Pumpkin, nodding.

They played a variety of games, from make-believe adventures to hide and seek. It took Pumpkin a little while to really warm up to him, but seeing his shift in attitude toward her with her own eyes she lightened up after a while.

Twilight stayed to watch over the trio, thinking back to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. They even had one of each race in their group just like them. Hopefully their friendship would endure as well as Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom’s would. She certainly hoped so. The blossoming of friendship was a wonderful thing to behold, and she felt serenity washing over her.

Despite not feeling excluded Pumpkin still had to deal with the two of them trying to one-up the other and trash talk one another, which did grow a little wearisome after a while, especially when they’d start getting physical and abruptly challenge the other to a wrestling match or a hoof-wrestle.

After the boys yet again dissolved into a pile of limbs Pumpkin finally get fed up. “Alright, that’s it!” she said, refusing to sit back any longer. She jumped right into the fray. “Bring it on, and I’ll show you who’s really the tough one here.”

Twilight sighed, shaking her head with an amused smile on her face. “Go get ‘em, Pumpkin,” she said in a whisper.

A few hours later all three of them were pretty played out, but with such bright expressions on their faces.

Twilight mentally checked off today as a success. There were some hiccups here and there, but she could tell it meant a lot to Pound that he had worked things out with Tree Leaf.

“Come on, Tree Leaf,” she said. “It’s about time I take you home.”

The colt looked over at her, and she saw that he looked considerably less joyful. “Alright,” he replied in a small voice.

Twilight walked over to him, patting his head. “Come on now. Don’t be upset. You can always visit again another day.”

“I guess so,” he said noncommittedly, getting to a standing position and going over to give Pound and Pumpkin a goodbye hug. “This was the first time I got to play with friends. I just didn’t want it to end so soon.”

Pound squeezed him tight. “Don’t be upset, Tree Leaf.” He understood his friend’s loneliness. He knew how much he depended on his sister.

Pumpkin could also see his distress, and she got an idea. “Hey, Twilight?” she said, letting go of him and turning to Twilight.

“Yes, Pumpkin?” she replied.

“Do you think you could get Tree Leaf into our school?”

All three of them looked at her with surprise. “Get him into your school?”

Pumpkin nodded. “You said that you can’t show anyone special treatment and you have to treat everybody fairly. So it wouldn’t be right to use your authority to get us into Magic Kindergarten and not him. If he goes to school he’ll be around a lot of other ponies his age, and us, of course, so he won’t be as lonely.”

“Aw, Pumpkin,” Tree Leaf said, tears shining in his eyes. “I would love to go to school with you guys.” He turned to Twilight. “So can I go?”

Twilight hated the thought of shattering his hopes, but there were issues that had to be resolved. “I am a princess, yes, but that alone doesn’t mean I can do it.” As she thought his face was falling again. “First of all, the school year has already started, and they gave me a bit of a hard time when I tried to get Pound and Pumpkin in there a month before school even began. And second, there’s your parents. I might be able to get you a spot, but it’s your parents that have to approve it and sign you up. I can only do so much. Just being royalty doesn’t mean I have absolute authority and I can change any rules to suit my whims.

"I’ll do my very best to get you in, though. I’m already planning to take an observatory role at the school to get a better understanding of children your age for the next month. I’ll see if I can take you with me for the interim period. If you behave yourself and prove that you’re eager to learn and work real hard that will go a long way toward convincing them to keep you on.”

Tree Leaf nodded, running over and hugging her as well. “I will, I will. I want to go to school and be with my best friends!”

Twilight giggled, using her magic to place him on her back. “Alright, then. Before anything else, though, we need to get permission from your parents.”

“I know, but I don’t think my parents will care. Why wouldn’t they want me to learn stuff and make friends?”

Twilight headed for the door. “I doubt they’ll mind, but I still need to ask.”

Pound and Pumpkin joined them as they headed down the stairs. “Bye, Pound. Bye, Pumpkin.” Tree Leaf waved to them as they exited the front door.

“Goodbye, Tree Leaf!” they both called out after him.

15-1: Seed of chaos

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The twins were sitting in their wagon, being dragged by Pinkie, a wrapped box sitting in-between them. Pound was wearing a bow-tie and a little black suit, while Pumpkin had her mane in a pony-tail and was wearing a dress.

Their parents were walking along-side them.

Fluttershy’s cottage was in view, and Pinkie elected to run the last few hundred feet to the twin’s delight.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake just maintained their slow pace.

As they came around the back of the house they saw Fluttershy and the rest of her friends walking around and chatting.

Getting out of the wagon Pound and Pumpkin grabbed their present, holding it between them as they run up to Fluttershy. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” they yelled.

Fluttershy smiled down at them. “Why, thank you, you two. What is it?”

“Oh, it’s a-” Pound started, before Pumpkin gave him a hit. He looked over at her, then back up at Fluttershy. “It’s a surprise.”

“Almost got you there,” Fluttershy giggled. She pointed with her hoof toward a table. “You can put it right up there with the rest of them.”

“Okay!” they said, carefully heading to the table and setting it down.

Pinkie came up to Fluttershy and hugged her. “Hey there, birthday girl!”

“Hi, Pinkie!” she responded, holding her friend back. Letting go she said, “Thanks for setting things up over here.”

“No prob! I know you like smaller, quiet parties.” She looked around at the other guests. “I guess that’s everyone, then. Cup Cake and Carrot Cake are right behind us.”

Fluttershy blushed a bit, a curious smile on her face.

“What?” Pinkie asked.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. “I’m gonna go get some punch.”

Pinkie stared at her as she left, intrigued. Was there a surprise guest coming? She loved surprises!

After a round of greetings Fluttershy, Twilight, Pinkie, and the twins were deep in conversation as Applejack and Rainbow competed against each other. Rarity was dancing with Spike to the gentle music.

Pound was having trouble holding in his laughter as he told a story. “T-T-Twilight has been coming to our school every day t-t-to learn more about young kids. But of course the teachers were all like 'Oh, it’s a princess. Panic!'”

Twilight rolled her eyes, partly out of frustration. “It’s been years since my ascension, but still other ponies just don’t feel comfortable around me, like I’m going to cook them up and eat them if they so much as look at me funny. I just want others to act normal with me and be honest and true like you guys are.”

Pumpkin was snickering too as she remembered. “Twilight finally got fed up with their attitude, so she did something to break the ice.”

Pound’s grin was almost off his face. “She stood behind the teacher with this stupid look on her face and began moving her hoof in a mocking way. I couldn’t believe it. I almost busted a gut trying not to laugh. The teacher had no idea why everyone looked so amused by her lesson.

“She kept doing these ridiculous things until the class couldn’t hold it in anymore, and she turned behind her seeing Twilight pretending she was dead.”

Fluttershy put a hoof to her face and giggled. “Oh, Twilight. Really?”

Twilight was grinning now too. “Well, she knew all the kids weren’t laughing at the lesson, so she turned around to see what they WERE laughing at. Her eyes nearly flew out of her face to see me acting in such an unprincesslike manner. I pretended like I was a little kid. ‘Oh, no! You caught me. I’ve been disrupting your class. What are you gonna do about it?’ Poor thing looked like she had no idea what to make of me. The whole class was still in fits of giggles. After she finally got her senses back she drew herself up and told me to go stand in the corner, still sounding completely bewildered.”

Fluttershy snorted. “She made you stand in the corner?”

Pound was hitting the table he was laughing so hard, and Pumpkin was crying. Pinkie fell out of her seat, rolling on the ground.

“It was a novel experience for sure. I certainly never was punished like that in school when I was younger, being so devoted to my studies. I could feel her looking at me from time to time as she continued her lesson. When she gave them all some free time to play and talk with each other I went back over to her. I could feel the eyes of all the students watching me, waiting to see what I would do next.

“I saw a potential problem that I hadn’t foreseen. I didn’t want to make it seem like I was encouraging misbehaving. I explained to her first that I wanted her to see that I wasn’t stuffy or arrogant and I don’t want her to feel she has to be perfect around me, because I certainly am not. Far from it. Understanding crossed her features, and she got what I strived to do. She’s been more relaxed around me since, and I‘m pretty sure she told the other teachers about what happened, as they weren’t as nervous around me either.

“I gave a quick speech to the children that playing around was all well and good, but it has to be done at the appropriate time. As they saw when I acted out I was punished just like any of them would have been. Just like with Pound and Pumpkin I’m not out to usurp their parent’s authority over them, even though I technically could. The teacher is the authority at school, and I don’t want to enforce my status on others unless absolutely necessary. It’s a part of my role as princess to help others, but overriding them and forcing my way on others can deprive them of much needed self-reflection.”

Pound and Pumpkin both had their heads on the table, letting out loud snoring noises.

Twilight shut her eyes, refusing to rise to their bait. “So anyway… I would say it’s been a fun experience to spend time at the school. I feel like I’m learning so much. Like the teachers the kids were all a little hesitant with me at first, but they’ve warmed up to me when they saw I was a pony just like them.”

“I’m glad, Twilight,” said Fluttershy. “Hopefully with your aid the next generation of ponies can be as amazing as you are.”

“WE!” Twilight said insistently. “I couldn’t have done this without all of you. You were the ones who taught me what it meant to be a good friend. What?” Fluttershy was snickering again, and Twilight suddenly realized. She spun her head around and Pound and Pumpkin were a second too slow to hide their antics. Pound was holding his hooves to his throat and Pumpkin was pretending to throw up.

“Cute,” Twilight said, a bit snippy.

The twins were unabashed. “We’re just copying you,” Pound said innocently.

“Yeah,” Pumpkin agreed, nodding. “If a princess does it then it has to be okay.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, turning back to Fluttershy. “This is what I meant.”

Fluttershy was still grinning, but she tried to be serious as she responded, “Well, they have a point. You didn’t think things through.”

Twilight shook her head. “Oh, come on. You know they’re just doing it because of the story.”

“I know.”

“Hey, Fluttershy!” Pinkie said excitedly.

“Y-yes?”

“So is there really a special guest coming?”

Again her face flushed. “W-who told you that?”

“Aha! I knew it!” she said victoriously.

Twilight looked between the two. “Why so shy, Fluttershy?” With a knowing grin she asked, “Is it your coltfriend?”

“What?” She shook her head hard. “I don’t even have one of those.”

“So then who is it, who is it?” Pinkie was hopping up and down.

Everyone was looking at her now. She sighed, knowing it was hopeless. “Discord,” she said quietly.

Twilight’s eyes widened a bit. “Really?”

Pinkie looked a little disappointed. “That’s the big secret?”

Fluttershy was looking at the table, gently pushing her hooves together in little circles. “W-well, he’s become a lot better behaved over the years. I usually have small parties like this as I don’t like a whole lot of fuss, but I feel like it’s so low-key that it must be so boring for all of you. I thought that inviting Discord over might… you know… liven things up a bit. I mean, that’s why Princess Celestia invited us and Discord to the Grand Galloping Gala, right?”

Pound and Pumpkin ran over to her, hopping up onto her lap and hugging her. “Don’t be sad, Fluttershy,” said Pound.

“Yeah,” said Pumpkin. “Your parties are great!”

Pinkie hopped up, hugging her too. “Don’t put yourself down, Fluttershy. All parties don’t have to be wild and crazy. I design my parties to the recipients taste.”

“They’re right, Fluttershy,” said Twilight with a nod. “If every party was exactly the same they just wouldn’t be as special. Having a nice, quiet time to just be together and enjoy ourselves can be just as wonderful as a loud, crazy party. What matters the most isn’t what we’re doing, but who we’re doing it with.”

Fluttershy pulled her hooves up, hugging her friends back. “Thank you, everyone,” she said tenderly. “I mean it.”

“No problem, girl,” Pinkie said, giving her a big squeeze.

“I don’t know when he’s going to be arriving.”

Pinkie giggled. “Knowing him it’ll be when we’re least expecting it.”

“Who is Discord, anyway?” asked Pound.

“Yeah,” said Pumpkin. “We’ve never met him.”

Pinkie rubbed Pound’s head a little. “He was a big troublemaker that Princess Celestia and Luna locked away a long time ago with the Elements of Harmony. When the six of us got them the spell they used on him weakened to the point he escaped, and started to cause a lot of trouble again. Because of his incredible magic the princess wanted us to help reform him. Fluttershy earned his trust to the point that he began to refrain from going crazy because he didn’t want to lose her as a friend.”

“Yes,” agreed Fluttershy. “His magic is different than any other creature we’ve met. He can defy reality itself and do magic that surpasses even that of the princesses. Short of the Elements of Harmony or Rainbow Power he’s basically unstoppable. However, since we befriended him now that power is on our side.”

The two of them looked up at Fluttershy with wonder. “Cool.”

Fluttershy beamed down at them. “Thanks, you guys. Now go enjoy the party.”

Getting down from her lap Pound and Pumpkin watched Rainbow and Applejack’s competition for a little while before Pound got an idea. “Come on, Pumpkin,” he said, jerking his head toward the house and walking away.

“Hey, where are you taking me?” she complained as she followed him.

“You’ll see,” he said mischievously.

Pumpkin was curious, and continued after him as he went inside the house and shut the door behind them. “Okay. Now what?”

Pound turned to her a cocky grin on his face. “Fluttershy said she wanted to have a better party than usual, right?”

“Yeah… and?”

“Well, I don’t know who this Discord is, but we shouldn’t let him steal the whole show. Let’s set up some pranks.”

Pumpkin screamed as a claw suddenly appeared around Pound’s throat, attached to she knew not what.

Pound’s heart began racing as it squeezed him. All of Fluttershy’s animals were tame and friendly.

“You don’t know who Discord is?” came a silky smooth voice. “Why, I do believe I’m offended.”

The pressure around Pound vanished suddenly, and he quickly ran to his sister, spinning around to see what had grabbed him. Both the twins were trembling. It felt like all the light had suddenly gone out of the room, a dark shadow looming over them.

There was a bolt of lightning, lighting up an animal or monster of some sort that they’d never heard of before. They tried to scream, but their voices didn’t seem to work.

“My, my,” said the voice. “My dramatic entrance might have been a little too dramatic." There was a snapping sound, and the lights came back into the room.

Popping in front of them he said, “Hello, there.”

The two of them clutched each other, looking up at him with awe. “W-what are you?” asked Pound.

“WHAT am I? I think that’s a little rude, don’t you? Don’t you mean, 'Who am I?'”

Pumpkin shook her head. “No. We’ve never seen a creature like you before. You’re not a pony, or an animal.”

“Ah, well, I suppose that’s true,” he replied, scratching his chin. “I am a draconequus. I am a mixture of a variety of species. The name’s Discord. Perhaps Fluttershy has mentioned me.”

Understanding flooded through them. “YOU’RE Discord?” Pound asked, his fear quickly leaving him as he looked Discord up and down. “Woah!” Stars glimmered in his eyes. “You’re so awesome!”

“Well,” he said contentedly, “I don’t like to brag, but yes.”

Pumpkin looked at him skeptically. “Can you really do all that crazy stuff Fluttershy says? I heard that not even alicorns can do what you do.”

Pumpkin screamed as Discord’s eyes popped out of his head. Pound gaped, laughing and eager for more.

Discord walked over and picked them up, summoning a cloth to wipe his eyes before placing them back in his head. “Now, don’t make me roll my eyes again. I mean, there’s no need to go to pieces.” His body suddenly split into many pieces and fell to the ground in a pile. Pumpkin only stared, a little horrified.

Pound began to laugh harder, already knowing he liked Discord.

Discord chuckled appreciatively. “Oh, it’s always nice to have some fans.” A devious grin came to his face as he put his body back together. “Ah, yes. That’s perfect. That will do just fine.”

“What?” asked Pound, his eyes alight with interest.

“Oh, you two will be very useful to me. You see, this party is pretty dull at the moment. I think there needs to be some more entertainment.”

“So you want us to put on a show?” asked Pumpkin, thinking of the play they had put on where they pretended they were Daring Do’s children. She was overcoming her apprehension of Discord, appreciating his power like Pound already had.

“Oh… something a little better than that.” He extended a claw, and a ball of a glowing purple plaid matter appeared. “Let’s just see what happens when you give little kids ultimate power.”

“Huh?” asked Pumpkin. When he approached her with the ball Pumpkin jerked back, but Discord simply closed the distance with ease, touching her with the sphere.

Pumpkin let out a squeak as her mane immediately stood on end like she was electrified. Icy cold and burning hot sensations were popping up all around her body. She started to shake as the discomfort ratcheted up. She gasped for breath, her vision going dim.

Pound’s enthusiasm quickly drained out of him. “W-what did you do?” he asked, worried.

“Just give it another few seconds,” Discord responded, his arms crossed and sounding unperturbed.

Pumpkin collapsed to the floor, panting and sweating. Her eyes were blank and lifeless.

“DISCORD!” Pound yelled. “Why are you doing this?”

“Up you get, Pumpkin,” he said, using his magic to put her on her hooves. She stood on shaky legs.

“W-what did you d-do to me?” she asked, still panting and anxious, fearful of this weird creature. Her quivering body probably wouldn’t support her weight if Discord wasn’t still assisting her.

“I gave you just a teeny-tiny bit of my magic so you can liven up the party. Go ahead. Think of anything you want right now and concentrate on the space in front of you.”

Her body still felt weak, and her head hurt a little. She was feeling unusually hot, and thought that a nice bowl of ice cream would be so soothing at the moment. As the mental image of the ice cream became stronger she concentrated, a bowl of ice cream almost as big as her appearing.

“Whoa!” said Pound, slightly distracted. “Pumpkin, are you okay?”

Pumpkin rubbed her head with half closed eyes. She felt weird, like there was something inside her that shouldn’t be there. “I… I think so,” she replied, still feeling shaky. Her eyes focused, and she twitched, seeing the huge bowl of ice cream. “Did… did I do that?”

“That’s right, Pumpkin,” Discord said with delight. “My brand of magic is far more adaptable than silly unicorn or alicorn magic. That seed I created will be effective probably until the end of the day.”

Pumpkin felt there was something really weird about all this. However, it was hard to worry too much about anything else when a big bowl of ice cream was in front of her. Having the general idea she thought about how she needed a spoon, and two spoons appeared, one for her and one for Pound. Her eyes lit up. This was so cool. Her head still hurt a little, but she felt like her body was adjusting to the intruder.

“Hey! Hey!” Pound complained. “Me too, me too!”

Discord smirked. “I wouldn’t dream of leaving you out. You seem like the kind of mischievous boy that would be perfect with a little extra power.” Just like before he lifted his finger, and a sphere of magic appeared. As he approached the colt Pound looked a little apprehensive, seeing what Pumpkin had gone through, but he thought it would be worth it to make his imagination come to life.

Pound went through the same process as Pumpkin, his mane puffing up and the alternating feelings of burning hot and freezing cold at random points of his body. Pumpkin summoned a pillow to catch him as he collapsed to the floor. Though feeling pained and panting hard he still gave Pumpkin a thankful smile.

After a minute Pound stood up, one eye closed and his head throbbing a little. He grabbed one of the spoons, digging in without preamble, hoping it would make him feel better. Pumpkin quickly joined in.

Discord watched the two of them with satisfaction. This was going to liven up the proceedings considerably. He couldn’t wait.

15-2: Little pranksters

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By the time the ice cream was done Pound and Pumpkin were both starting to feel comfortable, the throbbing of their heads having faded.

Discord stood over the filly and colt. “Feeling better now?” They both nodded. “Good. Good. So go on and try it out.”

Pound looked down at his hooves. “What do I do?”

“Just focus on a desire of yours and manifest it into reality.”

“Mani-what?”

“Bring it forth. Like so.” Discord shrank to their size, turning into a pony like them. His front hooves popped off, but he remained perfectly steady, as if gravity meant nothing to him. His back legs left too, then his head, and they began to float around in an orbit around him before returning to their proper spots. “See? It’s easy.”

Pound thought about what he wanted most at the moment. His eyes lit up as he got an idea. His brow furrowed in concentration and his wings elongated another foot, becoming as large as an adult pegasus. Flapping them hard he quickly got off the floor, joy on his face. He began to fly around with ease, swimming in the air. “Woohoo!” he cheered. “This is so awesome!” He floated in the air as he began to alter his wings, first to a dragon’s, then a griffon’s.

Pumpkin kept pointing her hoof at objects, making them turn into other things. She poofed a mirror into existence, and began to change her mane different colors and into different styles. She tried on different sets of clothes, seeing which ones she liked best.

Discord patiently let them test their abilities. He knew before long they would want to know the limits of those abilities, and thus things were quickly going to get wild when they realized they could do just about anything with that power.

“We should go outside,” Pound said after a while. “It’s too cramped to fly in here.”

“Okay,” Pumpkin replied, in a dainty voice, wearing an elegant dress that would make Rarity jealous, an umbrella in a hoof and her mane covering one of her eyes as she fanned herself.

Pound laughed, summoning a fancy outfit to match hers, a monocle in his eye and a big mustache. “Smashing, my dear. Might I have this dance?” he said in a gruff hoity-toity voice.

“I suppose,” she replied, taking his hoof as they walked toward the door.

“I’ll get the door,” said Pound.

“No need,” said Pumpkin.

“What do you mean?” Pumpkin closed her eyes and focused, and the bottom part of the door grew transparent, and the two walked right through it.

Discord had turned himself into a bird, the better to observe them. As a master of chaos he knew one of the worst things to be was predictable. Everyone had come to expect him to be wacky and silly and a little bit annoying. Maybe it was time to help along the next generation of troublemakers.

Nobody was looking toward them as they went outside. “Hey, Pumpkin?” said Pound, dispensing with the fancy voice and returning his body to normal.

“Yes?” she replied, doing the same.

“We have ultra-cool powers now.”

“Yeah. And?”

“So it wouldn’t be any fun to just show off right away, would it? We should take things slow, do some things they can’t understand, and THEN we’ll totally blow their minds with everything we got.”

Pumpkin giggled. “You’re right. I got an idea for our first prank.” She whispered in his ear.

Pound began to crack up. “That will drive them crazy!”

With huge smirks on their faces they rejoined the party. “Hi!” said Pumpkin. “We’re back!”

Fluttershy turned to them. “Hello, you two. Where were you guys?”

“We went inside for a little bit.” She waited until Fluttershy’s head had turned and said, “Say, have you seen Pound anywhere?”

Confused, she looked back down. “He’s right beside… you?” Fluttershy blinked, looking around. Pound was indeed gone.

“Oh! There he is.” Pumpkin pointed.

Fluttershy turned to look, bewildered. Pound was clear across the other side of the yard. Had she really seen both of them before? She wasn’t sure now. She put her head onto her hooves, thinking.

“Hey, Pumpkin,” said Pound, slapping her on the back.

Fluttershy and Twilight both gawked at him. “Wait… how…”

Twilight was staring at him. “You were just over there. How did you get here?”

“What are you talking about?” said Pound. “I’ve been here the whole time.”

The two of them looked back and forth between Pound and the other side of the yard, Twilight scratching her head.

Discord snickered lightly, letting out a caw. “Parlor tricks,” he said dismissively, though he wasn’t really annoyed. “The lightest act of chaos. I hope they step things up soon.”

Pound focused. There was a cracking sound, and then Twilight let out a yelp as her chair flew backward and hit the ground.

Fluttershy quickly hopped up and ran over to her. “Oh, dear,” she said with concern. “Are you alright, Twilight?”

Twilight rubbed her head. “Um, yeah. I’m fine. The chair leg must have been weak.”

Fluttershy looked crestfallen, “Oh, no! I should have checked to make sure they were all okay before I asked you to sit down.”

“Looks fine to me,” said Pumpkin, pulling up the chair which was perfectly intact.

“How can that be?” said Twilight, examining the chair herself. “But I… I know I heard the sound of something snapping.”

Pound said, “Well, maybe whatever that was shocked you so much you jumped backward in your seat.”

Twilight was perplexed. “I… suppose.” That didn’t sound right, as it seemed the events had happened simultaneously, but she couldn’t think of any other reason.

Discord let out another loud caw, chuckling to himself. “Oh, this is going swimmingly. They don’t suspect a thing. After all, Discord hasn’t even arrived at the party yet. They’re all going to be so confused.”

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other, suppressing their laughter as they headed back toward the house and out of sight. Once they were back inside they both slapped each other’s hoofs and began to laugh uproariously.

“This is so totally AWESOME!” Pound said excitedly, pumping his hoof as he floated up into the air.

Pumpkin joined him. “I know! This has to be the coolest thing that has ever happened to us. Discord is the best!”

There was a poof, and Discord appeared, holding onto the two foals. “Oh, thank you, thank you. You’re too kind.”

They both hugged him. “Thank you, Discord!” said Pound.

“Yeah, yeah!” Pumpkin agreed, nuzzling him. “You’re the coolest!”

Discord blushed a little, more honored by their praise than he wanted to admit. “Now, now. Calm yourselves. If you really want to thank me then go back out and cause some more chaos. You’re starting out great, but I think it’s time to step things up a notch.”

They poofed out of his arms, landing back on the floor with determined looks. “You got it!” Pound said loudly. Pumpkin just nodded.

Discord turned into another small bird, joining the twins as they went back outside.

As they approached the tables they saw that a few trays of hot food had been put out under metal covers. Pound got a wicked idea. With a flick of his thoughts he turned invisible, walking through objects until he was under the tablecloth.

Pumpkin wondered what Pound was going to do. She suddenly heard something in her head. “Hey, Pumpkin!” came her brothers voice.

Pumpkin didn’t respond right away, amazed that he was talking with her telepathically. “Um, yeah?” she responded.

“Let me know when a pony is going to take off the cover for the food.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see-eee,” came his sing-song reply.

Pumpkin had a curious sense of anticipation as she neared one of the tables. With a flick of her thoughts her eyes obtained x-ray vision. She could see which table Pound was hiding under, and which plate he was by.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash approached the table, Rainbow in a sour mood. “Aw, don’t fret, Sugarcube. It just wasn’t your day, is all.”

“Aw, I only lost the last round because I was hungry. How do you expect me to beat you when I’m starving?”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Then eat away, hun. I’ll still whoop you from here to Sunday either way.”

Rainbow stomped toward one of the trays of food.

Pumpkin lifted her hoof. “Keep quiet,” she said as she moved him over to where Rainbow was headed.

Rainbow lifted the cover, and promptly let out a high-pitched shriek unlike she’d ever let out before. She fell over onto her back, dropping the cover back over the food.

Applejack was guffawing. “W-w-what was that, Rainbow? I never heard ya sound so girly.”

Rainbow was still staring horrified at the tray.

“Are you okay, Rainbow?” asked Fluttershy.

“H-head,” she said in a quivering voice.

“What?” said Mrs. Cake.

“I… I saw… head… Pound…” She couldn’t even form a coherent sentence, her face pale.

Applejack dropped her joking attitude, seeing that Rainbow wasn’t playing around. Directing her attention to the food tray she stepped over to it cautiously, before giving it a quick push to knock it over, hopping back. All that was on the tray were some tofu burgers. Applejack stared at the food. “Okay… so what was all the fuss about?”

Rainbow blinked, her face going beet red as she got back on her hooves and examined the plate. “I… I must have been seeing things. I thought I saw Pound’s head under here.”

Everyone except Fluttershy and Twilight began laughing. “Pound’s head?” said Mr. Cake. “How would it even get under there? Unless you’re suggesting that Pinkie cooked him up.”

Pinkie suddenly stopped laughing. “Hey! Why would you think I’d cook up the twins, Rainbow?”

Rainbow’s face was still on fire, and she kept eyeing the plate suspiciously, as if the apparition would appear again.

Pound and Pumpkin were high up in the air, watching the confused ponies with big smiles. “Today is the best day ever,” Pumpkin said with delight, putting her hoof out.

“Got that right,” Pound replied, meeting it.

“Well, we got Rainbow and Twilight and Fluttershy. Who should we go after next?”

Pound smiled wickedly. “Everyone.”

“Everyone?” she replied, turning to him. “What do you have in mind?”

“Well, it will reveal that we have super-cool powers now, but I think it will be worth it. Why should we keep it all a secret?”

Pumpkin wasn’t sure. She thought it would be cool to keep getting the others secretly for a while, but the expression on Pound’s face was so deliciously evil that she really wanted to see what he had planned next.

Discord was hovering upside down in the air in a longue chair with a fan blowing cool air on him. A bag of popcorn and a soda were hanging sideways. Just as he expected Pound was the more mischievous one of the two. He couldn’t wait to see what the colt would do next.

Pound and Pumpkin poofed behind a tree so they could rejoin the group, forcing laughter as they heard the story of how Rainbow saw Pound’s cooked head. Once they could get a little ways away but still be near the group Pound winked at Pumpkin and unfurled his wings.

He flapped them hard, his face straining. Slowly, he took to the air. “Mom! Dad!” he yelled excitedly. “Look! Look!”

Everyone turned to look at Pound, and Carrot Cake and Cup Cake ran over to their son. “Oh, Pound!” said Cup Cake, giving him a kiss. “You finally got off the ground.”

“Way to go, slugger!” Carrot Cake said, hugging him.

“About time,” Rainbow said with a laugh. “Better hurry and get out of here before Pinkie cooks you up.”

“Hey, everyone!” came a voice behind them.

Pound turned to see who it was, and his smirk grew wider as he saw that Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo had arrived. The more ponies there were to see the better.

He flapped his wings harder, rising with ease, but putting on the act that he was having trouble.

“Whoa!” said Scootaloo, flying over to him. “You’re flying now, huh? Good for you.”

“Yeah,” said Pound, pretending to huff. He rose higher and higher.

Scootaloo kept pace with him. “You might want to be careful. You’re still a new flyer. You don’t want to lose control and plummet from too great a height.”

“Nonsense,” said Pound, now dropping the act and moving much more gracefully. “I’m a natural,” he said arrogantly.

Up and up and up he went until he felt he was at a great enough height, then he began to fly downwards, picking up speed as he went. As he neared the ground he pretended to be struggling again. “Oh, no! I can’t stop!” he screamed out, seconds before reaching the ground. He wanted to make sure none of the magic users could stop him.

With a bang he crashed into the ground, exploding into a pile of body parts.

There was dead silence for a second in time, before Cup Cake screamed and all of them looked at him in horror.

Pound’s head spun around towards his mother, making all of them jump backward. “Sheesh, Mom. Calm down. And here I thought I was the one that went to pieces.”

Pumpkin began to laugh. So did Discord from his couch. “W-well, he did steal my joke, b-b-but I have to admit his execution of it was much better.”

Twilight’s mind began to catch up with her shock. A pony’s body wouldn’t break apart like a toy when they crashed. Rainbow was living proof of that. And the complete lack of blood and the fact that Pound’s disembodied head was talking and cracking jokes brought a strong familiar vibe. “Fluttershy,” she said slowly, gritting her teeth. “When did you say Discord was arriving?”

“Oh!” she said, recognition going through the group. “He’s not supposed to be here for another hour.”

“Ah, but what fun would it be to show up ON TIME?” He appeared upside down, his legs next to his head. “The lord of chaos just couldn’t do things so normally.”

Pound’s body began to float, his head and limbs returning to their proper spots. “That was so cool!” he said, giving Discord’s head a hug. “Did you see the looks on their faces?” The two of them shared a nice chuckle.

“I sure did, little… hmm? I never got your name.”

“Pound Cake! And my sister is Pumpkin Cake.”

“Ah, so you’re the little munchkins Fluttershy told me about.” One of his legs popped off, patting Pound on the head. “I’m so proud of you. You’ll make a good little master of chaos in no time.”

Pound just grinned.

“Discord,” came the stern voice of Twilight.

“Uh oh.” He fell to the ground, holding his chest. “I’m finished,” he said in a wheezy voice. “Don’t ever forget me, Pound.” He let out a final breath, his head hitting the ground and a flower popping out of his hands.

“Discord, get up!” Twilight said sharply, a flat look on her face.

Discord poofed himself back to normal, standing in front of her, mindful of all the ponies glaring at him. “Sheesh, your face is so stony right now I don’t know if even the Elements of Harmony could free you from it.”

In a voice of forced calm she said, “Was that funny to you? Terrifying all of us and implanting ideas into these innocent little kids?”

“Don’t look at me. It was all his idea. I had nothing to do with it… almost.”

“Almost?”

“The ability is theirs to do with what they will. I just gave them a tiny little inkling of my power.”

“You WHAT?” Twilight said harshly, her face getting even tougher.

“Wait a second!” Rainbow Dash said. “So I wasn’t seeing things before?”

Pound and Pumpkin both giggled. Pound disappeared, and in a moment he poked his head out of the table. “Hi, there!” He floated forward until he was free of it.

“Now, really!” Cup Cake said furiously. “What gives you the right to just do something like this? One thing like you is enough with that kind of magic.”

“One ‘thing?’” Discord said with fake affront. “I do believe I’m insulted.”

“Come on now, everypony,” said Fluttershy calmly. “Let’s all just settle down.”

Twilight just rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on! You think this is okay?”

“They were just having a little fun. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash love playing pranks themselves.”

“Oh, yes,” Cup Cake said sarcastically. “The near heart-attack I had from seeing my son explode is just a barrel of laughs.”

“Discord,” Fluttershy said, turning toward him. “Why did you give them some of your magic?”

“Well, it’s like this…” With a puff of smoke a backdrop appeared before him, the sunlight fading out and a spotlight on him. “My dear friend asked me for a favor.” A life-sized plushie of Fluttershy appeared, torn and raggedy.

“Discord,” came the most robotic, monotone voice. “My parties are so boring. Wah. Wah.” It put its hooves to its face, and then a pair of hooves came from above, pouring a bucket of water on her head. “Help make it better.”

“I was stricken… heartbroken… touched…” With every pause he adopted a dramatic pose, the white light of the spotlight turning a different color. “I just knew I had to help her.”

Pound and Pumpkin were both moving up and down on their hooves, having a blast. Everyone else except Fluttershy and Pinkie had the same emotionless look on their faces.

“But what was I to do? You all know me by now. My tricks are tired.” He put his hands together and then pulled them apart, a small flock of birds flying out. “You’re always on your guard. So how was I to liven things up when you already expect trouble from me? That’s when I saw those adorable little foals.” They appeared in his arms. “And then the answer came to me. Yes! I would allow them to provide the entertainment in my steed. They would provide something fresh… unexpected. And, after all, as a master of chaos I can’t just keep doing the same old tricks, now can I?”

Twilight threw a hoof on her face. “Yeah, sure. Why not? Just give small, impressionable children the power to warp reality. What could POSSIBLY GO WRONG?”

“I think you might just be a little too high-strung, princess. Would you like a glass of water?”

“Don’t you dare-” Twilight started, throwing her hoof down and about to yell, but there actually was a glass of water in his hand. She had been expecting a bucket. She looked down at it suspiciously. “What, is it gonna explode when I drink from it?”

“Now, see. That’s exactly what I mean. You already expect disaster when I try to offer help. Honestly, though, what’s the problem?” He snapped his claw, and the stage and water disappeared. “They just had a little fun with you all. No harm done, right? Ooooohhh!” His eyes lit up. “I get it.”

“Get what?” she responded, her eyes narrowed to slits.

“Pound, Pumpkin? I have to take that power back. Twilight thinks you’re evil and going to try and take over Equestria.”

The twins looked over at Twilight, hurt looks on their faces. “Really, Twilight?” Pound said, pouting.

“Yeah! What’s up with that?” Pumpkin said angrily.

“WHAT?” Twilight said quickly, her eyes opening wide. “I said no such thing.”

“Well, you obviously think they’re going to do SOMETHING horrible with it,” said Discord, “or else you wouldn’t be making such a fuss.”

“Give me a break!” she said, stomping a hoof. “I just think it’s too much power for kids to have.”

“It’s only temporary. They’ll burn out that power by the end of the day. Does that make you feel a little better?”

Twilight continued to glare at him, but she seemed a little less wary. “Even so…”

Discord shook his head. In a rare sincere tone he said, “Look, I did this all for Fluttershy, to make her party more entertaining. I just want Fluttershy to be happy. You can understand that, right? If they get too out of control I promise I’ll take the magic away from them. Fair enough?”

Twilight was caught off guard by his change in tone. “Mmm. I’m still not comfortable with this, but… this is Fluttershy’s party. If you’re actually being serious then I suppose it’s alright.”

Fluttershy sat down, putting her hooves toward the twins, who both ran over to her. “Well, now I know we have two mini-Discords here. What are you planning to do with this power for the rest of the day?”

“Well, we’re not going to try and take over Equestria,” Pound said darkly.

“I didn’t think that!” Twilight said sharply. “Don’t listen to Discord.”

Pumpkin said, “Well, we could pull more pranks, but that would get boring, especially now that you know we have this power. I just want to play around for a while, and then we should put on a show for everyone.”

Pound looked interested. “You mean like that Daring Do thing we did where we were her kids?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool!” Pound said, his eyes twinkling again. “This time we don’t need all those fake props. We could make the real thing.”

“And I suppose no one is going to ask what WE think of all this?” came the voice of their father.

Pound winked at his sister, turning into a puppy. Pumpkin followed his lead, turning into a kitten. Facing their parents they put on the most adorable pleading faces they could. “PPPLLLEEEEAAAASSSEEEE?” they begged.

Cup Cake looked mildly amused. With a sigh she had to admit she couldn’t say no to those expressions. “Well… I guess so long as you’re not causing mischief it’s okay.”

“WOOHOO!” They both yelled, slapping their paws together before turning back to normal and flying up into the air, making little figure eights and flying around each other in celebration.

Pinkie giggled to herself, a tear coming down her eye at their jubilance. She remembered back when they were babies, the first night she had foalsat them, when they had done much the same. And, truth be told, she thought it was wonderful for them to have such freedom, even if it was just for a short while.

15-3: And that's how Equestria was made part 1

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Pound and Pumpkin landed on the ground by Twilight. Pound lifted his hoof, two fingers coming out of it just so he could snap them like Discord did. A stage appeared behind them.

“I have a killer idea,” Pound said contentedly. He glanced at Pumpkin, talking to her with his mind.

She got the same naughty grin on her face. “Oh, that is just perfect. Let’s do it.”

“Twilight, we need your help.”

“Oh, boy,” she said, letting out a strained breath. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Huh? Then how am I supposed to help you?”

“You already are.”

“Huh?” she looked down at them perplexedly. They were both staring at her intensely, making her feel uncomfortable. “What are you doing?”

“Reading your mind,” said Pumpkin without a change in expression.

“Hey!” Twilight complained, hopping backward. “Get out of my brain. That’s very rude to go through my personal memories.”

Their faces grew slack. “Well, we can’t put on the play without it. I mean, we were just babies when you did a whole bunch of cool stuff,” said Pound.

"That's right," said Pumpkin. “We want to put on a history play, with our own spin on things.”

“History?” Twilight said, her eyes lighting up for a moment before she registered the second half of what she said. “With you own spin…?”

“Yeah.” Pound nodded. “We’re just looking for villains and stuff so we know what really went on back then.”

A bit of morbid curiosity overtook her. What were they planning to do with her memories leading up to her ascension? She glanced over at Fluttershy, knowing that she wanted her friend to have a good time and a good party. With those two elements combined she felt her reluctance slipping away. “Fine. I’ll let you see about all the bad forces we’ve had to deal with for your little play, but you keep yourselves out of anywhere else.”

They both nodded vigorously.

They went through the rest of the group, trying to see their different perspectives and even the enemies that weren’t world threatening until they felt they had enough information to proceed.

“Okay! And we’re done! Everyone take a seat!”

“Allow me!” said Discord, snapping his hoof. The ground opened up under each of the ponies, but they barely had the chance to let out a cry of shock before they were scooped up by chairs and placed right near the stage.

Scootaloo poked the padded chair. She was wary of anything involving Discord.

“This chair is soooo comfy,” Sweetie Belle said happily.

“And that’s exactly why I’m suspicious!” Scootaloo responded.

Discord chuckled. “I already told you. I’m not here to cause chaos today. From what little I’ve seen of these two this should be a show to remember, and I want you all to be comfortable while you watch. At least physically.” He chuckled again. “I don’t know what you’ll go through emotionally.”

Discord took a seat himself, but his was floating sideways, and he was sitting on its bottom. With another snap a small theater appeared over them, blocking out the natural light much like before. Several spotlights overtook the stage. “You’ve got the floor, kiddies. Don’t let me down.”

Pound and Pumpkin nodded, teleporting onto the stage. Getting rid of the other spotlights only the one focused on them remained.

“This is a history of Equestria, as told by Pound-”

“And Pumpkin!”

“We hope you enjoy it,” they said together, before floating up towards the wings and out of sight.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake wondered what this was going to be about. They hoped the twins didn’t go too far.

Pound’s voice echoed through the room. “A long, long time ago there were two ponies. One was the princess of the day. Her name was Celestia.” A doll of Celestia appeared, and it was clear the twins were copying Discord’s style, as it was just as raggedy and sewn up as his doll of Fluttershy had been. Her horn glowed as a sun appeared, lighting up half the stage.

“Another was the princess of the night,” said Pumpkin, her voice also echoing and magnified. “Her name was Luna.” Luna appeared, and just like with her sister her horn glowed, the moon appearing.

“They were sisters, and the closest of friends.”

“Nothing could tear them apart.”

The sun and the moon grew closer together, creating a lunar eclipse.

Twilight found herself relaxed. This seemed pretty good so far. She found herself growing interested.

Discord, however, was feeling distinctly let down. This was dull as dirt.

“However…” Pound’s voice grew low and dramatic. “Things weren’t meant to last. The two sisters began to fight.”

***

“SUN!” yelled Celestia, raising the sun.

“MOON!” yelled Luna, raising the moon.

“Sun!”

“Moon!”

They both continued to shout at each other, days and nights seemingly passing in seconds. After a short while the two stopped, glaring at each other, before they both just laughed and hugged each other.

***

“And then…” Pumpkin’s voice mimicked her brothers. “There came the day when Luna did something unforgivable. Something Celestia couldn’t overlook.”

As Celestia’s and Luna’s castle manifested Twilight’s gut grew tense. She had seen the moment of Nightmare Moon’s birth and the ensuing fight herself through the potion Zecora had given her.

***

It was dark in whatever room they were in, although they could hear a pony rummaging through something, and then the sound of something like chewing.

Celestia’s horn glowed, lighting up a kitchen. With a yawn she said, “Princess Luna, you must lower the moon!”

Luna giggled. “I sure did. Right into my mouth. Moon pies are awesome.”

Celestia giggled as well as she opened the fridge. The laughter abruptly stopped. “Hey! What happened to that slice of cake I had in here?”

“I ate it, because I was hungry.”

“WHAT?” yelled Celestia, her rainbow mane turning completely red, a fiery aura surrounding her.

Luna suddenly turned into her alter ego. “I am Nightmare Moon, stealer of cake. MOHOHAHAHAHAH!”

“RRRAAAAHHH!” Celestia screamed in rage, and she made some ridiculous flips and acrobatic moves until she landed in front of Nightmare Moon. Her horn glowed, and the Elements of Harmony appeared above her, glowing brightly before a karate pony appeared out of their light, making judo noises before karate chopping her, sending her bouncing around the room, pinball noises echoing with each contact, before she was knocked to the moon.

***

Twilight just stared, her mouth agape. She couldn’t even formulate a coherent thought as to what she just witnessed. She could only imagine how they would change history in the rest of their play.

Discord was in stitches. THAT was more like it. Pinkie and Fluttershy were laughing along with him. Once they had gotten over their shock Applejack and Rainbow Dash joined in. Even Rarity let out a little chuckle.

“Well… that’s not in our history books,” Sweetie Belle said innocently, before she and her friends broke down as well.

Pound’s voice echoed over them again. “A long, long, LONG time passed, and now Celestia had a long, cake filled life ahead of her, and she didn’t have to share any of it.”

Twilight felt her body contracting. She didn’t know how much of this she would be able to take.

Discord snapped his claw. NOW he needed some popcorn. They truly didn’t disappoint.

“Celestia had a school for gifted unicorn children,” said Pumpkin, and the castle disappeared, a school replacing it.

Twilight knew she was about to make an appearance. She could only imagine how they would butcher her.

“There were some good ponies there, but none of them great. However, that all changed one day when a certain unicorn crossed her path.”

A little Twilight appeared, along with her parents, inside a house. Twilight was bouncing around, repeating the word “books” over and over.

Twilight groaned.

***

“Settle down, Twilight,” said her dad. When she stopped he said, “It’s almost your birthday. What do you want?”

“BOOKS!”

“And Hearth’s Warming is around the corner. What would you like?”

“BOOKS!”

Twilight’s mom nodded. “It’s lunchtime. You must be hungry. What would you like for lunch?”

“BOOKS!” She picked up a book and shoved it into her mouth, chewing it and swallowing it.

“You know, that’s not what we meant when we said we wanted you to take in knowledge.”

***

Everyone except Twilight was in stitches.

“Got you p-pegged pretty well. R-right, Twilight?” Rainbow said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Hardy har har!” Twilight responded sarcastically, gripping the arms of the chair hard. The only solace she had was that her friends were likely to get the same treatment.

***

Twilight’s dad leaned over her. “We need to get you a hobby. We’re going to take you to school.” Twilight just stared at him. “There will be books there.”

“Books books books books books books books books books…”

***

“Save me,” Twilight said under her breath, slapping her hoof over her face.

The stage grew dim, and then when it lit back up Twilight and her parents were inside the school.

***

“Okay, then,” came a voice from one of the examiners. “If you want to get into this school you have to pass a test. To start with, can I get your name?”

“BOOKS!” came Twilight’s reply.

***

Everyone bursted out laughing again. The real Twilight pushed her hoof harder against her face. “Can I go home now?”

***

“Her name is Twilight Sparkle,” said her dad.

“Okay,” said the examiner. “Twilight Sparkle. If you pass this test you’ll be enrolled in this school, but it won’t be easy. Even if you do succeed it will mean a lot of study and hard work. You’ll really need to hit the books.”

Twilight became enveloped in a purple aura, her eyes glowing white. “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKSSSSSS!” The aura quickly exploded outward, reducing the school to rubble.

***

Laughter erupted through the room again.

***

The examiner just stared for a moment, coughing, shaking the dust off himself. “Um, okay then. You pass.”

“Yay! I’m just so happy. I get to train with the greatest pony ever.”

***

The real Twilight’s hoof slid off her face. “Oh, did I finally grow a personality?” she said flatly, resting her head on her hoof.

***

Princess Celestia teleported into the room. “Congratulations, Twilight. From now on you will be my personal student. This is solely for your sake, and not so I can just sit on my royal flank while you do all the work.” Her eyes derped. “Now, uh… you go study. I am so not just going to get more cake.”

***

Discord fell out of his seat. “This is priceless! Totally worth it.”

Twilight let out a heavy breath. “Why me?”

Everyone else was just having a good time.

“Years passed,” said Pumpkin, “and Twilight grew up. With her great intelligence and unquestionable talent she mastered spell after spell until a certain event happened.”

Twilight’s rocky expression cracked a little, enjoying the compliment.

***

Twilight and Celestia appeared in the throne room of the castle.

“Twilight, my faithful slave.”

“Yes, master?”

***

Twilight cringed, her small bit of happiness gone again.

Discord poofed back into his chair. “Oh, I have to see this.”

“We’re going to be appearing soon, I guess,” said Applejack.

“I wonder what we’re going to be like,” said Rainbow, grinning.

“Who knows?” said Pinkie. “But I bet it’s gonna be hilarious.”

***

“Twilight, I want you to go to Ponyville.”

“But WWWWHHHHYYYYY?” she whined.

“You spend too much time reading books and studying. Go make some friends.”

“I don’t wanna!” she complained, crossing her hooves. She crouched down, stalking her way toward a book on the floor before pouncing on it.

“No! No! Bad Twilight! No books!” A squirt bottle appeared, spraying Twilight several times.

Twilight hopped away with a hiss, her fur sticking up as she made swatting motions with her hoof.

***

Pinkie, Rainbow, and Applejack fell out of their chairs they were laughing so hard.

“And now I’m a cat,” Twilight said with a blank expression. “Because why not?”

***

Celestia lifted Twilight up, setting her in front of the throne. “You better go, or I promise I’ll take away your library privileges.”

Twilight gasped. “You wouldn’t dare!”

With a poof a small card appeared. “All I have to do is tear this in half, and you’ll never be able to check out a book again.”

“Friends!” she said brightly, getting an overly happy expression on her face. “I… love… friends! Bye!”

The castle disappeared, and then Twilight reappeared in Ponyville, mumbling under her breath. “…princess… lose my library card…”

Five ponies walked into view from the other side of the stage.

“Apples apples apples apples…”

“Speed speed speed speed…”

“Shy shy shy shy shy…”

“Fashion fashion fashion…”

“Parties parties parties parties…”

***

Twilight looked over at her friends, wondering how they felt about being portrayed so one-dimensionally. To her annoyance only Rarity seemed to have any issue, and it was likely it was only because her doll was ugly and tattered.

***

“Oh, they’ll do,” said Twilight. She walked over to them. “Hey, wanna be lifelong friends?”

“Parties?” said Pinkie.

“Whoa,” said Applejack. “Hold on there, Sugarcube. We just met ya.”

“I’ve got cookies,” Twilight responded.

They all glanced at each other. “BEST FRIENDS!” they said together, hugging Twilight.

“Let’s have a party!” said Pinkie.

The group appeared in the library, a party in full swing. Some were dancing, some played games, some were eating.

Pinkie took a book off a shelf. “Hmmm. ‘Moving the story along for dummies.’” Opening the book she said, “It says that things are going too easy. There needs to be something entertaining for this to be a good story. Also, it says you should check the big book on the bottom shelf over there, Twilight.”

“Okay!” said Twilight, taking out a book. “The Elements of Harmony. Big magic stones powered by friendship. Well, that’s incredibly cheesy.” She threw the book behind her, then realized what she had done and dived toward the falling book, everything going in slow motion, with a long, drawn out, “NNNOOOOOOOOOO!”

She missed it by a small margin, and it landed in a bobbing for apples tub. She fell to the ground, screaming to the sky. “WWWHHHHYYYYYYY?”

“Oh, that’s such a shame about your book,” said Fluttershy.

“Why don’t you just buy a new one, darling?” said Rarity.

“I don’t have any money!” Twilight cried, tears falling down her eyes.

“Hey, maybe those Element things are worth some money,” said Rainbow Dash. “We can get them and go sell them.”

Twilight’s head snapped toward Rainbow with a sound like rusty metal. She popped up. “Let’s do it!”

***

“Oh, forget my life,” said Twilight, hanging her head. “Sure. Why NOT just sell the Elements of Harmony, Equestria’s most powerful weapon, to get myself a new book?”

“Oh, lighten up, Twilight!” said Rainbow, nudging her. “This is gold!”

“Yeah, Twi,” said Applejack. “Just go with it. We all know that’s not the way things actually happened. Have some fun.”

Fluttershy didn’t look amused. “Oh, Twilight,” she said emotionally. “I hope this isn’t bothering you too much. I want everyone here to have a good time. Should I have them stop?”

Twilight shook her head, letting out a heavy breath. “No. I think I’ve adjusted now. As they said-” she shook her shoulders with a weary smile, “-it’s the history of Equestria with their own spin on it. It isn’t going to get any less ridiculous from here. I should just stop expecting anything more than the bare basics of truth of what happened.”

The stage grew dim, and Pound and Pumpkin appeared in front of her, looking bothered. “You’re not having fun, Twilight?” asked Pumpkin.

“We’re just messing around,” said Pound.

“No, no,” she replied. “It’s my fault. I forgot that you have Discord’s power and Pinkie Pie as a relative. This is exactly the sort of wacky, nonsensical stuff I should have expected.” She moved her hoof in a shooing motion. “Go on, then. Let’s see what kind of crazy hijinks we get up to defeat Nightmare Moon. I suppose we just bribed Luna to turn back to normal or something like that.” The twins continued to stare at her. “I’m serious, guys. I got the picture now. This just wasn’t what I was expecting when you mentioned doing a history play. Of course it would turn into a comedy.”

“Are you sure? We don’t want to upset anyone.”

“Yeah,” said Pumpkin. “We want to make everyone laugh.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” replied Twilight, patting their heads. “Make things as wacky and crazy as you want.”

“OKAY!” they replied, poofing away.

Twilight leaned back in her seat with a bit of anticipation, wondering what they'd come up with next.

15-4: And that's how Equestria was made part 2

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Twilight and the gang were walking through the Everfree Forest. “So the Elements of Harmony are at Celestia’s old castle, huh?” said Twilight "I wonder why she never told me about them.”

“She probably forgot about them,” said Rarity.

There was a bolt of lightning in front of them, and Nightmare Moon appeared. “Stop right there!”

“Who are you?” asked Twilight.

“If you wish to get to the Elements you’ll have to get past me!”

Twilight summoned a dog bone, waving it around. Nightmare Moon followed it as it moved around, and then leapt after it when Twilight launched it into the horizon. “Well, that was easy. Let’s keep going.”

As they walked Twilight said, “There are supposed to be six elements. I wonder how much they’re worth as a set? Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Kindness, Generosity, and Magic.”

“Six Elements, and there’s six of us? Hmmmm,” said Pinkie, her eyes growing wide with wonder, but they quickly returned to normal. “Probably just a coincidence.”

“Oh no,” Rainbow said with false drama. “A rockslide.”

“Aahhh,” the rest replied in the same monotone.

Twilight was hanging off a cliff, yelling for help.

“Dagnabit,” said Applejack. “If she gets killed we’ll never get those cookies!” She slid down to get her, holding onto her hooves.

“What should we do, Applejack?” said Twilight.

There was a brief pause, then, “Let go.”

“What?”

“I know it’s scary, but I promise you’ll be safe. That’s the HONEST truth.” The word “honest” appeared over her head as she said it, followed by a bunch of signs appearing, pointing at her and saying the same thing, before disappearing.

“Okay. I trust you.”

She let go, screaming for a moment before falling about two feet and landing right in Fluttershy and Rainbow’s hooves, taking her to safety.

“Oh, look at me,” said Applejack proudly. “I’m just so… honest.” Once more the word flashed over her head.

Twilight dusted herself off. “Was there any reason you couldn’t just TELL ME that Rainbow and Fluttershy were going to catch me?”

Applejack got her liar face on, her snout scrunching up as she looked up and away.

***

“Hey!” said Twilight, turning to Applejack. “Why DIDN’T you just say that?” There was immense satisfaction from seeing Applejack lost for words. Finally someone else was getting made fun of besides her.

***

As the group continued walking there was a sudden roar, and out popped a manticore to block their path.

“Oh, no!” said Rainbow. “We have to stop this thing.”

There was a battle scene, where all of them except Fluttershy tried to defeat it, but none of them succeeded.

Fluttershy suddenly landed in the middle of the two sides. “Hold it,” she said gently, a spotlight on her, sparkles following her descent. “We can’t win with violence. We should use kindness.” Like with Applejack the word flashed over her head.

“Well, what do ya suggest?” asked Applejack.

Fluttershy turned toward the manticore. “You’re scared, aren’t you? But it’s okay.” She flew over to it, unzipping its stomach and reaching her hooves into it.

***

Fluttershy nearly jumped out of her seat in panic. She didn’t want this kind of portrayal of her, even if they were joking around. She gasped suddenly, and let out a squee as the Fluttershy on stage pulled out a little baby manticore, revealing that the big manticore was just a robotic suit. She looked longingly as her stage self hugged it close to her, nuzzling the little baby, and cooed at it. Even though it was ridiculous she really wished she could be on stage to hug the little thing herself.

***

“There, there,” said Fluttershy. “Everything’s okay.” She put the baby back inside the suit. “Go on now.”

It let out a tiny squeak of a roar in gratitude before leaping off.

***

“Awwww, that was so adorable!” Fluttershy cried out, holding her hooves to her face and shaking her head, her face bright with happiness. “I wish that’s how things would have actually gone.”

“Next up is Pinkie Pie,” said Applejack. “Right?”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow. “Then Rarity, and finally yours truly.”

Pinkie’s eyes were sunny with delight. She couldn’t wait to see how she would solve things in Pound and Pumpkin’s world.

***

It grew dark as the group continued into the woods, before suddenly lighting up with trees with scary faces. All of them except Pinkie began screaming. Pinkie just played with them, laughing away.

“Ah, this is so great,” she said.

“Great!” said Twilight. “This is terrifying!”

“All you need to beat your fears is a little bit of laughter.” As before, the word popped up above her head.

“Alright, then,” said Rainbow toughly, facing one of trees and pointing at it. “Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“No, no, Rainbow,” Pinkie replied chidingly. “That’s mocking laughter. You need real laughter. Well, that… and a catchy song.” Pinkie turned to the audience with a wink and a smile.

“When I was just a filly, and the sun was going dooo-ooo-ooownnn-“

***

Pinkie felt just a tad disappointed. Slight changes in dialogue aside everything seemed exactly the same. Even her song was coming off the same.

***

Pinkie moved around, hanging upside down, to peeking out of one of the trees as she continued singing. “…and tell that big dumb scary face to take a hike and leave you alone, and if he thinks he can scare you he’s got another thing coming and the very idea of such a thing makes you just wanna… ha ha ha ha ha ha ha-” There was a poof, and Pinkie abruptly stopped singing, looking behind her.

“Ummm… Pinkie?” started Twilight. “I don’t think it was a good idea to start laughing inside of an enchanted tree that is defeated by laughter.”

Pinkie’s front fell to the ground. “Oh, Twilight. You don’t know the… HALF… of it!”

***

Both on stage and off everyone groaned except Pinkie and Discord, who both found the pun entertaining.

***

“What are we gonna do y’all?” said Applejack. “We can’t just work with half a Pinkie.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Pinkie nonchalantly. She put her hoof into her mouth, and blew hard. Her face grew red and her head expanded for a moment before her back half came out. “There we are.”

***

Twilight chuckled. “Honestly, I don’t think that would surprise me if she could do that.”

“Finally getting into things, Twilight?” said Discord, his neck growing until his head was next to hers.

With a slight sigh she said, “I said it before. I know this is a comedy that is only very loosely based on how things actually went. I have to at least give the twins credit for originality, and now that I’m not the only target of theirs its getting more entertaining.”

***

“How did you do that?” asked Rarity.

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Pinkie responded. “I’m half pony, half balloon, and half cotton candy.”

“But that’s too many-” Twilight started before Pinkie sat down and began eating some of her tail. “You know what? Never mind. I’m just not going to question.”

Next they arrived at the river, which was whipping and churning. They came upon the crying sea serpent.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Rarity. “We really need to pass.”

“Just look at me!” he cried out melodramatically. “I lost part of my moustache! I look ridiculous.”

“Oh. I see. I have a generous idea.” Once more the word flashed above her head like the others. “Come down here.”

“Okay.”

When he put his head by hers she pulled out one of his scales. She lifted it up with her teeth, swinging it down. “There. How’s that?”

“What have you done?” he asked in horror, touching his face, the other half of his moustache gone.

“Why, I evened you out, of course.”

“That made things worse!”

“Hmm. I see your point. Well, then! I shall simply have to doll you up so much that no one will pay attention to your moustache.”

***

Rarity watched the stage, wondering what she was going to do. So far the twins had made everything ridiculous.

***

Rarity’s horn began to glow, and all of his scales came off.

“What have you done?” the serpent yelled. “You’re going to make me a laughing stock!”

***

Rarity’s mouth was hanging open. She couldn’t imagine how they were going to salvage this. She would never do such horrible things.

***

“Everyone close their eyes!” said Rarity, and the lights turned off. “I must work… the magic!”

For about thirty seconds the only thing they could see was the soft glow of Rarity’s horn, and mystery objects wrapped in her telekinesis.

When she stopped she said, “Open your eyes, and gaze upon my greatest work!”

***

The lights flashed back on, and the group let out little yells, having to avert their eyes for a few moments. The serpents body was dazzling, sparkling and twinkling like the stars against the night sky.

***

“Oh, wow, Rarity,” said Twilight. “How did you manage that?”

“Oh, silly Twilight. I never leave home without my SEQUIN CANNON!” She moved to reveal a cannon, hitting the switch and spraying his face.

“Ooh-ho-ho-ho!” he exclaimed in delight. “I look absolutely fabulous! Thank you so much.”

“All in a day’s work, my good sir.”

Picking the six up he dropped them off on the opposite shore, wishing them luck as they continued on.

***

Rarity chuckled. She could live with that. She had once said you could never have too many sequins, after all.

“Oh, yeah!” Scootaloo said, pumping her hoof. “Rainbow’s up next.”

“I can’t wait,” Rainbow said, restlessly moving around.

***

They came upon the broken bridge near the castle. “Oh, great,” said Applejack. “What are we gonna do now?”

Twilight stepped up. “I’ll just use my magic to-”

As her horn began to glow Rainbow pushed her aside. “Yeah, I’ll handle this. After all, I’m better than everyone here. I could have handled all of this on my own, but I didn’t want you to feel TOO inferior to me.”

***

Rainbow was cracking up, not insulted in the slightest at her portrayal.

***

Rainbow grabbed the broken bridge and pulled it over to the other side. She roped one of the sides to its corresponding log. As she went to get the second one three ponies came to her.

“Hold on, Rainbow! We’re the Shadowbolts. Abandon your friends, and we’ll make you the greatest athlete in all of Equestria.”

Rainbow began to laugh. “Oh, that’s funny! You think I need YOUR help to be the greatest? I’m ALREADY the best.” She flexed her muscles. “Oh, but let me return the favor. You want to hear something funny too?”

The Shadowbolts glared at her. “What’s that?”

“Rainbow Dash.”

There was a brief silence before one of them said, “I don’t get it.”

There was a bright flash and the sound of impacts. Rainbow was now in the middle of the three of them, an ice cold glare on her face.

The three Shadowbolts collapsed to the ground.

“That’s because Rainbow Dash is no joke!”

***

Rainbow blinked before joining in with Scootaloo in cheering. She was so going to steal that line. “That’s right!” she yelled. “I’m no joke!”

***

She turned her back on the Shadowbolts, tying the second half. “I’m better than everyone else because I have to be. Otherwise, how would I protect all my friends? That’s loyalty that will never be broken.” Like all the rest, the word floated above her head.

***

Twilight was momentarily stunned that there was actually some seriousness in this play, and she found herself clapping her hooves with the rest for a time.

The Rainbow on stage began showboating and blowing kisses to the audience, encouraging more applause whenever they stopped until Applejack grabbed her tail and pulled her down, snapping at her for slowing down the story.

***

At last they reached the Castle of the Two Sisters. They entered it, looking around.

“So where are these Element things?” asked Pinkie Pie. “This castle is falling apart.”

“We’re looking for jewels shaped like a triangle, a diamond, a ruby; things like that,” said Twilight.

“Oh! I found them! Kinda!”

Twilight spun, seeing the round orbs on the floor, the symbols upon them. “A ROCK? They all turned to rocks?”

“Well, there are only five anyway,” said Rarity.

“Hmm. Maybe if we get the last one it will still be worth a little bit of money. The book said something about a spark causing the sixth element to appear.”

Twilight shot a small bit of magic at the Elements. They connected with a thread of magical energy before instantly turning to dust. Twilight’s jaw dropped to the floor with a loud bang.

“Well, shoot, that didn’t work,” said Applejack.

“Tough luck, darling,” said Rarity.

There was a flash, and Nightmare Moon appeared. “You got past all my traps, but you won’t get the Elements of Harmony!”

“Uh-oh!” said Fluttershy, cowering behind Rainbow. “Quick, Twilight, use another bone.”

“I don’t have any more!” she called back.

“The Elements are broken,” said Rainbow, pointing with her hoof.

“Excellent!” said Nightmare Moon.

“No, no, no. Something isn’t right,” said Twilight. “Did I miss something?” Twilight looked around, and the words “Generosity, Laughter, Kindness, Loyalty, and Honesty” were floating above her friends heads. “Oh. It’s so obvious now. You all are just like your Elements. The only one left is Magic. And since I’m the only other pony here that has to mean that I’m the chosen one.”

Twilight began to glow, her friends lifting up into the air with her, as the dust from the Elements began to reform, turning into their respective Elements and appearing on their necks. Once they were in place a crown appeared on Twilight’s head. “Aha! I was right.”

“NO!” yelled Nightmare Moon. “It can’t be. So now you’re planning to defeat me?”

“What?” said Twilight, pausing on their way to the exit. “What are you talking about? I just want to replace my book. The full set should be worth a ton of bits.”

“WHAT? You’re going to sell… oh,” Nightmare said, relaxing. “Okay. Just carry on, then. I’ll just conquer Equestria as planned.”

“You do that,” Twilight said disinterestedly, waving her hoof dismissively.

“And I’ll also destroy every library and every book in the world.”

Twilight paused, before rewinding so that they were all in front of her. “Nobody destroys books on my watch. Let’s get her! We’ll use these Element things.”

“You won’t stop me! I’ll defeat you. The night will last forev-AH!” Nightmare Moon recoiled as Rainbow threw her Element at her head.

“Hey, it’s working!” said Rainbow.

“Ahem!” she cleared her throat. “As I was saying, the night will la-” Bang. “Stop that! The night-” Bang. “The nig-” Bang. “The-” Bang.

Twilight stepped forward. “For BOOKS!” Her Element lifted off her head. “Fastball special.” She threw it as hard she could, knocking Nightmare Moon off her hooves.

Nightmare Moon phased out of Princess Luna, running away crying. “You’re so mean! WAAAHHH!”

“And don’t come back!” Twilight yelled after her.

***

“Well, I guess that’s one way of using the Elements of Harmony ta beat evil,” said Apple Bloom, shaking her head and giggling.

***

Princess Luna stood up, a sad look on her face. “Oh, my. You saved me from that monster. Thank you so much. I am in your debt.” She bowed her head.

“All in a day’s work,” said Rainbow arrogantly. “It would have been a quarter of a day if I didn’t have these slowpokes with me, but hey! They try their best.”

Celestia teleported in. “Princess Luna. Sister.” Her voice was hesitant, uncertain.

“Celestia.” Luna hung her head. “It has been a thousand years since I’ve seen you. I’ve regretted what I’ve done for so long. I mean, it was mainly just because it stinks being stuck on the moon and there was nothing much to do. But I realize that I also hurt you. I knew that one day I’d see you again, so I made you this. I know it’s not much, but I hope you enjoy it.”

With a poof of smoke something appeared on the ground. “What is this?” asked Celestia, looking down.

“Well, it wouldn’t make for good eating, but I made you a REAL moon pie. I know it can’t make up for everything, but I’m really sorry for what I did. I… I love you, Celestia.”

Celestia looked down at the stony pie on the ground, and tears brimmed in her eyes. “I’ve missed you too. May cake never drive us apart again.”

The two of them hugged.

***

Twilight felt herself tearing up… at least until Celestia’s and Luna’s tears became a raging waterfall that flooded the room.

The water receded out the back, all of them totally soaked.

Discord chuckled appreciatively. “Ah, I think this may just be the best day of my life.”

They sputtered and shook their heads, wiping the moisture out of their eyes. Blow dryers appeared, heating up the room and drying them all.

“I guess it would be too much to expect any genuine tearjerker moments to stick,” Twilight let out a light sigh.

“Probably,” said Pinkie Pie.

“Why be sad when you can be happy?” said Discord.

“There are happy tears too, you know?” Twilight replied.

“Hmm. I suppose.”

***

All of them headed back to the library. Celestia said, “Congratulations, Twilight. You managed to get the Elements of Harmony and use them to save Luna. I’m so proud of you.”

“Yeah. Way to go, Twilight,” said Rainbow. “Now let’s go sell them so you can replace your book.”

“WHAT?” Celestia replied with shock.

“Nothing!” said Twilight quickly, her cheeks going red as she smiled wide.

“Okay, then. Are you ready to go back to Canterlot? I have many more lessons and books for you.”

Twilight shook her head. “NO!” she said firmly.

“No? What are you saying, Twilight?”

“I’ve finally found something I love even more than books.” Twilight’s hooves extended, pulling the other five toward her. “My friends!”

***

Twilight wore a half-smile, touched by the truth of that statement, but also waiting for them to undo it. Sure enough, it happened.

***

Twilight gasped. “Oh my gosh. Best idea ever!” Her horn glowed, and a magic aura surrounded the five of them, before they all turned into books.

***

Twilight got a knowing look on her face, and shared in with the laughs of the others. “Old habits die hard, huh?” she said serenely. She really was very shallow back then. Obviously not as much as they portrayed her as, but she wasn’t much better either.

***

“Twilight!” Celestia said warningly.

“I was only joking,” she replied, turning them back into ponies.

“Hey!” said Pinkie. “I think this calls for a party!”

“Sorry,” said Celestia, glancing at her sister, "but the two of us have a lot of catching up to do.”

Luna smiled. “I’ll share my moon pies with you any day.”

“And I’ll share my cake with you.”

The two of them both bowed their heads. “We are in your debt, Twilight, you and all your friends. Thank you for returning my beloved sister back to me.”

“Thank you,” said Luna, both of them hugging her.

***

Twilight waited, but when a curtain began to cover the stage she realized they were letting this one stick.

Pound’s voice sounded for the first time in a while. “And so the two sisters got over their differences and became friends again. Twilight found the magic of friendship in her heart, and was determined to learn all she could about it.”

Pumpkin’s voice came next. “Although things would be hard, Twilight would beat every challenge that came her way, because she had found other ponies to rely on. And along the way their bond of friendship would grow bigger and bigger, becoming an unstoppable team.”

Twilight sniffed, moved by their words, cliché as they were. Perhaps it was because it was so comedic it made the serious parts stand out so deeply. Looking around she saw her friends looking at her, and she put her hooves out to hold theirs.

Pound and Pumpkin appeared in front of the curtain, beaming. “How was that?”

Twilight was the first to clap her hooves, and the rest of them quickly joined in, Applejack whistling loudly.

Discord rained confetti upon them. “Well, aside from the cheesy end that was just spectacular. Exactly what I’d expect from my little protégé’s.”

The two of them bowed, delighted that they had all enjoyed it.

“MORE! MORE!” said Fluttershy eagerly.

“Yeah!” “More!” Everyone began to loudly proclaim their agreement.

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other and nodded. “Ask, and you shall receive,” said Pumpkin.

“We’ll be glad to provide more!”

The two of them disappeared, and everyone was left wondering what was going to come next.

15-5: And that's how Equestria was made part 3

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The curtain on the stage opened, revealing Pound and Pumpkin, a spotlight focused on them.

“Following the defeat of Nightmare Moon, Twilight Sparkle moved to Ponyville,” said Pumpkin.

“Which was totally awesome, by the way, because she has been a great and patient teacher,” said Pound, winking.

Twilight let out an appreciative chuckle, her heart soaring, They poked fun at her a lot in their play, but she knew they really admired her.

“That would come later, though. Before she could become a teacher she had to learn herself.”

Twilight nodded. That was sure true.

“But that would be all boring to go into, so we’re just going to skip a bunch of it.”

“Figures,” said Twilight, unbothered. “We’d be here forever if we went into all of it.”

“We want to get to the next villain: DISCORD!” Pound’s eyes went wide. “I-I mean, he’s good now, but back then you know...” He flushed deeply, looking at the floor and saying quietly, “I guess we’ll just go to the next one."

Discord crossed his arms. “Oh, please. That isn’t even worthy of an eye roll. I’m not like that now, so why would I be embarrassed? I was never really evil, anyway. I just only cared about myself.

“I want my screen time. You sure had no problems making fun of book horse over there.” He pointed to Twilight. “BOOOKS!” he said in a high pitched voice. “Just make sure and do me justice, hmm? I don’t know if I could forgive you for not making me as dastardly and devious as I deserve to be.”

He had a point, Pound had to admit. “Okay,” he said. Floating away they began to narrate again.

“As Twilight lived in Ponyville she learned a bunch of stuff about friendship, sending letters to Princess Celestia whenever she learned important stuff.”

“Sometimes they had to deal with some annoying characters, like Trixie.”

A mini-stage appeared on the show, with Trixie on it, and the rest of them watching. “Gaze upon me, everyone,” said Trixie. “I have the biggest ego in the world! Trixie is the best. Trixie is awesome. Trixie! Trixie! Trixie! Trixie! Trixie!”

Rainbow flew onto the stage. “Nobody is better than Rainbow Dash. I challenge you to an ego-off!”

***

Rainbow Dash was laughing away, slapping the seat of her chair. “An ego-off?” she sputtered out, once more totally loving the way they portrayed her.

***

“Trixie accepts! TRIIIXIE!” Her horn began to glow.

“Okay. Contest start. I win!” She gave Trixie a whack on the top of the head, knocking her unconscious. “I’m Rainbow Dash. That automatically makes me the winner in any competition. Unless it’s a competition on how to be the biggest loser. Though I COULD win that if I tried. Ponies only beat me because I allow them to.” She began posing, fireworks going off. “Oh, yeah!” She flexed her body. “Ah, it isn’t easy being just so amazing and better than everyone else. It’s such a hard burden to bear.”

***

Twilight looked at Rainbow, who was only laughing all the harder, wondering how she didn’t seem to feel even mildly insulted. The twins were just taking their base elements and amplifying them to ridiculously exaggerated levels.

Pound’s voice sounded out as the stage grew dim. “Of course, there were worse things to come. Much worse.”

“An ancient creature, long sealed away, was about to escape,” said Pumpkin.

The stage lit up again, revealing the palace garden.

Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle were standing in front of Discord’s statue.

“I’m so bored,” said Apple Bloom.

“CUTIE MARKS!” yelled Scootaloo. “I mean, go on.”

“Hey, ya wanna fight?”

“Okay!” Scootaloo said.

The three of them wound up in a cloud of smoke, hitting each other.

Discord, though still trapped in stone, had magical strings pulling at them, directing their actions. Cracks appeared in the stone, and then he popped out.

“Marvelous!” he yelled out. “I’m free! Free to cause chaos once again!”

“Hey! A new playmate,” said Sweetie Belle, and the three of them ganged up on him, hitting him.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow! Stop that!” He flew up out of their range. “Maybe I should have turned the fighting spell off first.”

***

“What’s wrong, Discord?” asked Applejack, smirking at him. “Ya can’t handle a couple o’ children?”

“I wouldn’t hurt children,” he replied. “Much,” he added deviously.

“Cool, we got ta beat up Discord,” said Apple Bloom.

***

The scene shifted to Twilight and the rest in Celestia’s throne room. “Ponies! Discord has escaped!”

“OH, NOOOOO!” yelled Pinkie in a panic. “HIDE ME!” She flew off the stage into the real Pinkie’s lap, shivering.

***

Pinkie patted her doll comfortingly as the others on the stage looked around for her. “Shh, my little me. You don’t have to be afraid. It’s okay. You get to enjoy some cotton candy clouds that rain chocolate.”

The doll froze, her eye’s going so wide they expanded out of her head. “That… is… awesome!” She hopped off back onto the stage lickety split.

Rarity let out a strained sigh. “Makes about as much sense as the real Pinkie.”

“You can say that again,” said Applejack. “I sometimes wonder if she’s actually Discord’s child.”

“Could be,” said Pinkie with a giggle.

***

“Princess Celestia, who is Discord?” asked Twilight.

Pinkie raised her hoof. “I heard from someone that there would be chocolate rain!”

Twilight glared at her. “Anyway…”

Celestia directed them to a glass window. “Discord is one of the most powerful enemies we ever fought. It took the Elements of Harmony to lock him away. But now you girls are the owners of the Elements, so it is up to you to defeat him again. Good thing I locked the Elements somewhere super safe.” With a flash Celestia’s bed appeared. She lifted up the mattress and gasped. “They’re gone!”

***

Twilight grimaced and sighed. No one was safe from their mocking. She didn’t think she would ever understand the minds of children if that’s what they could come up with when left to their own devices.

***

Discord appeared. “Hello, everyone! Great to be here. Excuse me for a moment. I need to stretch.” His arms and legs went off into the horizon as his body contorted into all sorts of weird shapes before they snapped back into place. “Ah. That’s better. I was feeling a little stiff! Ah, but you’d know all about that Celestia, wouldn’t you? Turning me to stone like that?”

“Discord, where are the Elements of Harmony?”

Discord moved his head all around, letting out thoughtful moans. “I suppose I could give them back, or I could let you have something else.”

“And that is?”

With a snap of his fingers out came a cake that rose all the way up to the ceiling of the throne room. The Elements appeared on his other side. “You can have whichever one you choose, but only one. “

“Ha ha ha!” Twilight said confidently. “My mentor will make the right choice.”

Celestia looked between the two for a second before diving onto the cake with a very Pinkie-ish squeal of delight.

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight said sternly.

The princess was shoveling down pieces of cake when she suddenly stopped, turning awkwardly to Twilight. “Oh, um… go play with Discord. It’s a, um… a test! Yeah. A secret test! Go make me proud.”

Twilight’s eyes sparkled. “A TEST?” she said joyously. “WOOHOO! I won’t let you down.” She turned to Discord. “Okay, whatcha got? I’ll pass this test easily!”

Discord floated toward her. “Hmmm, let’s play hide and seek. I’ll go hide the Elements somewhere, and you’ll have to find them. Ta ta!” He disappeared.

“I wonder where we should look,” said Applejack.

“Let’s go to the maze!” said Pinkie.

“Why there?”

“I don’t know, but that’s where we go. I read it in the script.”

They all looked at each other. “Uh… script?” said Rarity.

“Uh-huh.” She pulled out a piece of paper. “”Everyone goes to the maze to look for the Elements of Harmony.’”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Okay, then,” she responded sarcastically. “So what happens next? Do we find the Elements?”

“I don’t know,” Pinkie said, throwing the paper behind her. “It’s no fun if I already know what the ending is.”

“Of course not.” Twilight shook her head. “Let’s just go. I have a test to pass!”

They all arrived at the maze. “Okay, let’s just stick together.”

They took a few steps into the maze, and the walls suddenly rearranged themselves, separating all of them. Fluttershy screamed in fright.

Pinkie just laughed. “Ooh, this is just what the script said was gonna happen. We were all going to have to go through the maze alone.”

Twilight smacked her head. “And you didn’t think to mention that?”

Pinkie shrugged. “I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for you.”

“PINKIE!” everyone else shouted.

“What?” she replied defensively. “I don’t want to hog all the fun.”

***

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Oh, yeah. Just like the real Pinkie.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me in the least,” said Applejack, shaking her head.

“Truly,” said Rarity.

Pinkie blushed, letting out a little squee. She probably would have done the same thing.

***

“Okay, then,” said Twilight. “We’ll just have to make our way through the maze on our own.”

“Hey, wait a second!” Rainbow said. “I have wings! Hello! I’ll just get us all together again.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” came Discord’s voice before he phased into view. “That won’t do.” He snapped his claw, and Rainbow Dash fell to the ground, now wingless. “No flying, and no magic. This game can only be won with your hooves alone. If you win you’ll get your wings and horn back.

“My poor horn,” said Twilight, touching her head. “Well, we’ll just have to do this, girls.”

Discord disappeared. “Good luck.”

The ponies all took off in new directions.

***

Pound’s voice echoed over them. “Of course, splitting them up was just what Discord intended. One by one he tricked all of Twilight’s friends to corrupt them into their opposite selves, starting with Applejack.”

As he spoke Applejack was talking with the apple creatures and turning gray.

***

“Applejack!” said Twilight as she spotted her friend. “Boy am I glad to see you.”

“Well, I’m not,” she said, putting her liar face on.

“What?”

“I hate apples. I also hate my family. Hate you too.”

“Mmm…” Twilight scratched her chin with her hoof. “Applejack seems different for some reason.”

“My dream is to be a villain. I eat other ponies for lunch.”

“Something…”

“I’m an alicorn. I steal from everyone I meet.”

“Soooommmeetthinngg…” Her eyes lit up. “Did you get a haircut?”

“Yes!” she replied.

“It looks good.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Her eyes shifted from left to right.

SMERTEST UNICRON EVAH!

***

The ridiculous face she wore set everyone into laughing fits.

Twilight just sighed. “I guess I’m the target again. Ah, well.”

“He got Pinkie Pie and Rarity next,” said Pumpkin, “before he went for Fluttershy.”

***

Fluttershy was next. She kept hiding every time she heard a stray noise. Discord slithered out from under a nearby hedge. “Poor Fluttershy. Abandoned by your friends.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No way. They’re going to find me, and nothing can stop them. I believe in them completely.”

“Of course you do.” He rose up, towering over her. “Are you afraid, Fluttershy? Here I am, devilishly handsome soon to be ruler of Equestria. How does that make you feel?”

“I’m not scared of you,” she said with a kind smile. “I’m sure you’re just misunderstood.”

“Ugh. Gag. Leave behind that cliché nonsense before you make me sick. I took away your wings and made you an earth pony. I could do whatever I want to you with my magic." He got into her face. “And you still want to say you’re unafraid of me?”

She nodded. “I have a secret weapon if push comes to shove.”

Discord just snickered. “Oh, I’m sure. What, your STARE? Oh, no! You might give me a dirty look.”

She shook her head “Oh, no. Not that old thing. I have something much more powerful than that.”

“Oh, really? THIS I have to see.” He crossed his arms. “So let’s see what you got.”

***

Fluttershy was watching curiously, wondering what her secret weapon was supposed to be. Whatever it was it clearly wouldn’t work, or they would defeat Discord before Rainbow got her turn.

Discord was similarly wondering what the twins had in mind for her.

***

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Fluttershy, turning her head shyly, her mane covering most of her face. “It might be too strong.”

Discord simply laughed hard. “Oh, please! Hit me already!”

“Well… alright, then. Have you looked at me?”

“Uh, yeah. Obviously. And?”

“Well, I’m just plain adorable. CUTE STARE!” she called out. She looked up at him with a serene grin, her eyes growing wider as her irises shook.

“ACK!” Discord recoiled. “No… too… adorable! Can’t… look… away. Ugh.” He collapsed to the ground, his claw over his heart.

***

Discord chuckled. “Well, Fluttershy. I guess it’s safe to say you’ve gotten the most favorable representation of your friends. I guess they must think pretty highly of you.”

Fluttershy blushed a little bit. “I think you’re right.”

***

Fluttershy looked down at the unmoving Discord. “Oh, no,” she said despondently. “It WAS too strong. That’s it. From now on I shall be cruel, because it’s the kindest thing I can do.” Her coat turned gray like the others.

Discord poofed into the sky. “Well, it’s a good thing I happen to have seventeen hearts. I think I just lost ten of them. Phew.” He brushed some sweat off his face. “Okay, let’s get the last one.”

Rainbow Dash was running around, and nearly collided into Discord as he appeared in front of her.

“Discord!” Rainbow said, screeching to a halt. She pawed the ground. “Alright, then. It’s go time!”

“Hold on!” he said, putting up a claw. “This is important. Cloudsdale needs you. There is a disaster only you can stop.” He held up a box with her wings. “Just leave the game and you can have your wings back.”

“No way! What do you think I am, stupid? I know it’s just one of your tricks.”

“Ummm...” One of his ears grew larger. “Oh my. I hear they’re throwing a Rainbow Dash Day celebration and want to crown you the Queen of Cloudsdale.”

There was a brief pause, and then-

“Bye, guys!” Rainbow said as she flew past the rest of her friends into the sky.

“Game’s over!” said Discord. “Rainbow left the game.”

The maze disappeared, leaving only the five of them and Discord.

“You’ve lost, Twilight Sparkle. You failed your test. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” He lifted up into the air, laughing in delight.

“The Elements of Harmony were never IN the maze in the first place, were they?” she asked.

“Nope!” he said delightfully.

“Give them back.”

“Sure. Why not?”

They fell in a pile on Twilight’s head.

“Ow,” she said, rubbing her head.

“What now? All your little friends have been corrupted. You can’t use the Elements of Harmony anymore.”

“I know,” said Twilight dismissively. “I still needed them back for the next villain we face. You’re about to lose, because Twilight Sparkle never fails.”

“Oooh, scary,” Discord said, pulling up a throne. “What can you do by yourself? Show me. Here. I’ll even give you your horns and wings back.” He snapped his claw. “There we are.”

“Perfect,” said Twilight. Her horn began to glow, a powerful aura surrounding her, growing stronger and stronger until it was almost blinding. There was a small explosion, and smoke enveloped them for a short time. When it faded away the only thing different was Twilight was now wearing a pair of glasses and there was a chalkboard behind her. “This is your last chance, Discord. Surrender now, or your pain will be legendary.”

Discord began to laugh again, but he noticed that all her other friends were now shaking in fear.

“Twilight, no!” said Applejack. “Have mercy.”

“Don’t do it, Twilight,” said Fluttershy.

“That’s too much. Please reconsider, darling,” said Rarity.

“Well, Discord?” said Twilight. “Will you give up now, or do I have to release my most powerful weapon upon you?”

He yawned. “I’ll take my chances.”

Twilight shook her head. “I warned him.” She took in a deep breath, lifting up a piece of chalk. “LECTURE MODE!” she called out, her voice coming out incredibly fast paced as she wrote nonsense calculations on the board.

“No! No!” Discord said in horror. “So… boring!” His body began to turn to stone. “Can’t take it! NOOOOOO!” He became completely encased.

Twilight blew away the smoke covering the piece of chalk, giving a self-satisfied nod as her friends returned to normal. “Don’t ever underestimate my lesson plans.”

***

Twilight finally let go, cracking up at the idea that her orderly, structured lessons could easily defeat the lord of chaos.

“Well, that certainly went by faster than I would have expected,” said Discord. “They could have made me so much cooler.”

“Hmmm. That one didn’t seem to have as much oomph as Nightmare Moon’s story,” said Pinkie. “Maybe they should have stopped after the first part.”

“Well, we were the ones who asked for more,” said Fluttershy.

“Hey, do y’all hear that?” said Applejack. There was a loud buzzing noise overhead.

Pound and Pumpkin came out to them, looking above. “What’s that sound? It’s so loud,” said Pumpkin.

“Discord, get rid of this theatre,” said Twilight.

“Sure,” he responded with a snap of his claw.

All of them gasped. The sky was nearly pitch black and moving. “What IS that?” said Cup Cake, looking around.

The mass stopped, and something came out of it. “Well, well, well,” said an all too familiar voice. “If it isn’t the old gang. How touching.”

“Queen Chrysalis,” Twilight said darkly. “Unbelievable! I’m far stronger than I was last time.”

“That makes two of us,” she replied smugly. “It’s time for the second war between ponies and Changelings.”

15-6: The ultimate pony

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Twilight and Chrysalis stared each other, Twilight glaring at the memory of their last encounter, while Chrysalis was smug.

“Ah, it’s been so long since we met,” said Chrysalis, her army drifting downward with her. “I thought I’d have to draw you out, but lucky me. I found you right away. Last time I got too cocky and dropped my guard. I won’t make the same mistake this time.”

Applejack and the rest gathered around Twilight. Rainbow was the only one who looked delighted. “Ah, this is great. A real dream come true.” She slapped her hooves together. “I could use some light exercise.”

“Over six years it’s been since my defeat,” Chrysalis said wistfully. “And I realized my greatest mistake. I took the form of your beloved Cadence, but not the attitude. You exposed me, forcing me to banish you to the Canterlot Caves. A queen I may be, but being snobby and arrogant didn’t serve me in the end.

“So what have I been doing with those years? Gathering strength, of course. Little bits and pieces at a time, lowering my expectations to take the bodies of commoners to fuel my energy. It’s been very effective.”

“No matter how powerful you have become you will not prevail!” said Twilight, her horn lighting up and her wings unfurling.

“Oho,” Chrysalis said with mild surprise. “So you’ve become an alicorn, hmm? Quite an upgrade. I guess it wasn’t just all talk when you said that you’d grown stronger. Still, your precious Celestia couldn’t stop me last time, so I consider it of little importance.”

Twilight thought she’d try a shield spell like her brother and take care of things right away.

As it expanded Chrysalis chuckled. “What a one-trick pony, hmm? Thinking I’d be taken out the same way as before.” Her horn exploded with energy, shooting it at the shield which shattered like glass.

Twilight gasped at the blast heading her way and quickly teleported the group out of the way.

Chrysalis turned her head toward Twilight, snickering. “Well? Is that all? I came all this way for a good challenge. Don’t tell me you’re finished already?”

“What power!” Twilight said with a growl. “She must have fed on hundreds of ponies.”

Another chuckle met her words. “I’m just getting warmed up, you know. Come on!” Once more her horn glowed a sickly green, her horn radiating with so much energy it felt like it shouldn’t have been able to contain it all, and fired it at Twilight.

Twilight stood her ground, her horn glowing too.

Pound and Pumpkin popped in front of her, raising their hooves as a large circle of distorted space appeared in front of them, taking in the blast.

“Hmm?” Chrysalis rapidly flew out of the way as another vortex appeared under her, launching her own spell back at her. “Well, well, well. Trying to turn my own magic against me, are you? It’s the only hope you have, isn’t it? But I’m not that foolish. I’ll just have to be more careful. "

Twilight looked between the two children. They had reacted with uncanny speed, casting the same spell she had planned on using. She had to guess that they had picked up that spell from her memories. “Thanks, you two, but stay back now. We’ll handle this.”

“No can do, Twilight,” said Pound, his tail snapping as Twilight and the rest found themselves sitting down in the plush seats facing the Changelings. A shield surrounded them.

“We’ll take care of this loser,” Pumpkin said with a triumphant laugh.

Chrysalis began to laugh uproariously. “O-oh, sure! Children trying to fight me. That is a riot!”

“You’re just not worth Twilight’s time,” said Pound, smirking as they began to walk forward. “You ready, Sis?”

“You bet!”

“Hold it right there!” Twilight said sharply. “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t fight an army.”

“Pound, Pumpkin, you get back here right now!” said their mother.

Twilight’s horn began to glow, about to teleport out of the shield, when Discord put a claw on it, snuffing out her aura like a candle. Twilight rounded on him. “What are you doing?”

Discord had his arms crossed now, floating up in the air. “They can handle this,” he said nonchalantly. “Don’t forget. They’re not just little children right now. They’ve got my power inside them.”

“So what?” snapped Pinkie. “That doesn’t mean anything! Do you really think they’re going to beat every single one of those monsters by themselves?”

“Yes,” he responded immediately. “After all…” He chuckled to himself, but didn’t elaborate.

“After all WHAT?” said Applejack.

“This is their show,” Discord said, looking at the rambunctious kids. “Ah, truly this day just gets more and more entertaining. And I thought their little play was going to be the highlight of today. I certainly didn’t expect this.”

“Your powers or not this is still beyond them to handle!” Rarity said harshly. “You should stop them before they get hurt!”

“I’m sorry, Discord, but I agree with them,” said Fluttershy. “They’re in over their heads.”

“They’re perfectly fine,” said Discord. “Trust me. No harm will come to them. I know exactly what they’re up to, even if you don’t. I’m not going to interfere because there’s no reason to.”

“What are you talking about?” said Carrot Cake. “That is our children out there! I don’t care what you think you know. This isn’t a job for children.”

Pound shook his head. “You hear all of them, Pumpkin? No faith at all.”

“Guess we’ll have to give them a demonstration.”

They put their hooves together, and then they both disappeared.

Several Changelings went flying in different directions as Pound and Pumpkin teleported in their midst and began socking them.

Chrysalis fired a blast at Pumpkin, scoring a direct hit at her stomach. The blast went straight through her. She got a victorious grin on her face for a minute before the spell ended and she saw Pumpkin had turned transparent.

Pumpkin waved her hoof dismissively. “Ah ah ah. Wait your turn. We’ll get to you soon.”

Chrysalis growled. “What is this? How could children have this kind of power?”

“We’re not just any kids, you know.”

“That’s right,” said Pound, slapping his sisters hoof. “We’re unstoppable.”

Pumpkin’s horn began to glow, and the majority of the pond around Fluttershy’s cottage rose off the ground, and she began to strike at the Changelings with it.

Pound landed on the ground, gesturing with his hooves, pulling and shooting a barrage of earth.

Chrysalis growled. “What are you doing?” she hissed. “They’re only children! STOP THEM!”

A small group of Changelings charged up their horns, all firing at Pumpkin, who hovered in front of them and let the attack hit her. Her body began to stretch like elastic, her stomach stretching out far behind her body. It ricocheted back, sending the spells right back toward their owners, most of whom were unable to get out of the way in time.

“Pound!” she called out to her brother.

“Right!” he replied, both of them disappearing.

They reappeared behind Chrysalis, charging at her with all their speed. As they were about to hit her they were blocked by an invisible force. There was a flash of light, and then like they were hit by a battering ram the pair were rapidly sent plummeting to the ground, causing a huge crater.

Fluttershy and Cup Cake gasped. Discord’s crossed arms fell to his sides, his grin fading. Twilight rounded on him. “What did we tell you? I knew this was a horrible idea!”

Before Discord could respond Pound and Pumpkin slowly flew out of the crater, surrounded by a little blue bubble.

“Whew!” Pound said with relief. “That was too close. If you hadn’t gotten the shield up before we hit the ground that might have been the end of us.”

“She’s really strong,” said Pumpkin, looking up at the queen.

“Did you like that?” she asked, brushing her mane behind her. “That’s my ultimate shield. Nearly unbreakable and fueled by all my strength. Only the strongest of spells could break it. Now then, kiddies. It’s time to go home and let the big kids play.”

“So where’s the shield for the rest of your army?” Pound shouted. “What about them?”

Several of the Changelings looked toward their queen. Chrysalis just laughed. “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. As the leader of the Changelings it is important for me to stay safe to direct my troops and give orders. Without me all would descend into chaos and fighting. I can’t afford to spend all my energy protecting everyone.

“Now, brats, are we done here? You really should just give up before you get hurt.”

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other uncertainly. Pound sighed. “She’s right. We can’t do this all on our own. We need the support of our friends.” The shield around the group came down.

Twilight let out a sigh of relief. “I’m glad you two are finally seeing sense.”

Chrysalis laughed as Pound and Pumpkin returned to the group. “I knew it. Powerful though you might be, in the end you’re still just little brats.”

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake ran over to their children, picking them up and holding them close. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re not hurt,” Cup Cake said thickly, rubbing Pound’s back.

“How touching,” Chrysalis said in a falsely sweet voice. “You’ll just give me even more strength.”

The twins pulled out of their parents grip. “It’s not over yet,” said Pumpkin.

“We have a plan, but we need your help!” Pound said strongly.

“A plan?” said Applejack. “What kinda ‘plan?’”

“Please!” Pound said, bowing his head. “Just believe in us. We know what we’re doing.”

“Yeah!” Pumpkin said, lowering her head humbly as well. “We need your support and belief. It’s only with your help that we’ll have the strength to win.”

Several of them looked at each other, wondering what the twins had in mind.

Rainbow let out a little laugh. “I’m game. With the kind of crazy stunts you pulled I’m sure whatever you have planned will be so wacky it will take her completely by surprise.”

“I’d agree with that,” said Applejack.

“I’m still not sure about this,” said Rarity, “but I’ll offer my support as well.”

“Well, Twilight?” said Fluttershy, looking toward her friend. “They’ve tamed their childish arrogance. It can’t hurt to give their plan a try.”

Twilight looked uncertain. “Look, I hate going the 'they’re children so they’re stupid' route, but what kind of plan could two six year olds come up with that would stump the Changeling queen?”

Cup Cake looked at her children, feeling unsure as well. “I know that you have Discord’s magic inside you, but wouldn’t it be better to just let Twilight and her friends handle this? There’s no need to put yourselves in danger.”

Pound looked up at her. “You’re our parents. Don’t you believe in us?”

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake winced, before Carrot said, “It’s not about belief. We do believe in you. We just feel this situation is beyond your ability to control.”

Pumpkin looked up as well. “What about you, Auntie Pinkie?”

Pinkie knew the dangers, and she had no desire to see the twins get injured. However… her gut was telling her that they weren’t just being foolish.

“Well?” came the voice of Chrysalis from up above. “Are you done talking down there? The battle is waiting, and I’m growing impatient. Equestria isn’t going to conquer itself, you know.”

Pinkie took a deep breath. “Let’s believe in Pound and Pumpkin.” She could feel the stares of Twilight and the twins parents. “We’ll give their idea a shot, and if it doesn’t work then we’ll regroup and try something else. My heart is telling me to put my trust in them. We don’t have a lot of time, so you’ll have to decide now.”

“Twilight, you’re the princess of friendship,” said Pound. “You’ve grown as much as you did because of having friends that believed in you, and because you believed in them too.”

“Mom, Dad,” said Pumpkin, “I know you want to protect us but without your help we’ll all fail. Please… please believe in us.”

Twilight sighed. “Well, I guess I don’t have much of a choice. I’ll follow your lead.”

Cup Cake felt like her mind was in two directions, but in the end it seemed like there was only one choice to make. “You’re my babies… so you better make sure you don’t get hurt, or I’d never forgive myself for letting you go.”

“That’s right!” said Carrot. “Go on and do your best.”

Discord just smirked at the exchange. Now they had won everyone over. What was next?

“Thank you, everyone,” Pound said gratefully. “Thank you for believing in us.”

Pumpkin closed her eyes, putting her hoof over her heart. “And with that love and trust and a bond that connects our hearts no matter how far away we are there’s nothing beyond our reach.”

“Hmm?” Twilight felt a warm feeling inside of her, and she could see from their friends expressions that they were feeling the same way. “Oh!” A light came out of her chest, the same as everyone else.

The lights flew around haphazardly before settling around the twins, making circles around them. The lights flared up, rotating around the two, becoming faster and faster until they were just a blur. A sphere surrounded the pair, bathing them in pure light.

The light around them slowly faded, and Cup Cake and Carrot Cake gaped at their children. Twilight gasped. They had both turned into alicorns.

“Whoa, nelly,” said Applejack.

Chrysalis landed on the ground, laughing. “Oh, please, is that all? I don’t care how you change. An alicorn can’t stop me now. I’ve grown far too powerful for that.” Her horn began to glow. “Let me give you a demonstration. I crushed Twilight’s shield spell earlier. What do you brats think you can do?”

“So an alicorn is no threat to you, huh?” said Pumpkin. “I guess we don’t have a choice.”

“So you surrender then?” asked Chrysalis. “Smart move on your part. It would have done you no good.” The glow from her horn vanished.

“Hardly,” said Pound. He turned to his sister. “You know, Pumpkin, we’re siblings. We’re really close.”

“I know, Pound. I think it’s time for us to get even closer.”

The two of them put their hooves together, closing their eyes. Once more a bright light flared to life, a vortex appearing at the nexus of their hooves. Their bodies began to swirl like a hurricane, sucking them inside.

A bright light flashed through the area, forcing all of them to close their eyes or cover their faces. Smoke kicked up all around, leaving only a shadow in the middle.

The glow of horns lit up the middle, and with a strong burst of air the area was clear once more.

“W-WHAT IN EQUESTRIA?” Applejack stuttered out.

“Whoa!” Rainbow said in awe.

Most of the rest of them were too much in shock to say a word. Even Queen Chrysalis seemed to temporarily be at a loss for words.

Pound and Pumpkin had fused together into one two-headed pony, their colors split down half and half over their eight legs and two sets of wings.

“WE ARE SUPER ALICORN POUNDKIN!” The pair said in unison.

15-7: Power overwhelming

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Pound and Pumpkin were pretty stoked. They had gotten just the reaction they had wanted. Their fused form had everyone spellbound. Even Discord was at a loss for words.

“Well, Pumpkin?” said Pound, fluttering his wings. “What say you?”

“I say we go on and kick some Changeling flank. With our powers combined and the hearts of all our friends beside us we can’t possibly lose.”

Chrysalis kept opening her mouth as if to give an order, than closing it.

“Something wrong, Chryssie?” asked Pound, smirking. “Are you afraid?”

She backed up a step, a bead of sweat coming down her face.

“There’s no need to be ashamed,” Pumpkin said dispassionately, looking at her hoof and brushing some dust off of it. “I mean, we can’t all be as awesome as us.”

They crouched down into a ready position. “Let’s get this over with,” they said together, kicking off.

“Whoa!” Applejack cried out as a blast of air nearly knocked all of them off their hooves, putting her hooves in front of her face. “Those little squirts are incredible!”

“I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” Twilight said as Changelings went flying in every direction. “I… I can’t even keep up with their teleportation.”

“That’s not teleporting,” Rainbow said, squinting through the blasts of air. "It’s speed! They’re taking off so rapidly that it’s causing a small shockwave. Darn. I have to admit I’m a little jealous of those two. We should all get some of Discord’s power and join the fray too.”

“Tsk, tsk, Rainbow,” Discord said, watching Poundkin whumping Changelings. “That wouldn’t be very original.”

“Stop them!” Chrysalis called out. “Stop these freaks! Combine your powers! Fire!”

Poundkin stopped for a moment, seeing all the Changelings near them, including the Queen herself, charging up.

“Did you hear that, Pumpkin?” said Pound. “She called us freaks.”

“That’s not very nice,” Pumpkin replied. “But I guess it’s true, and it does come with its perks.”

Blasts of magic came at them from all directions. The twins inhaled deeply, their body swelling up like a balloon.

Chrysalis began to get a bad feeling.

Both of their heads went backward, before coming forward and releasing a yell that ripped up trees and shredded the ground in front of them.

Rarity let out a heavy breath. "I'm speechless," she said, trying to see through the air currents being generated.

Chrysalis put up a shield, dissipating the blast around her army. It wasn’t big enough to save everyone, and about a quarter of her army collapsed to the ground in pieces.

“This… this can’t be happening,” Chrysalis said with a growl. “They’re just kids! How could they be doing all this?”

“You don’t get it?” said Pound seriously. “It’s because of all our friends.”

“That’s right!” said Pumpkin. “You may be able to steal love to make yourself stronger, but it will never be as powerful as the deep love shared between those that love each other.”

“All our friends hearts are with us, giving us power beyond anything you can muster.”

“So how about it? Are you gonna give up? You have to know you can’t win.”

Chrysalis glared at them for a while, before smiling. “Give up? Ha! If you say your friends are the source of your power then let’s just take them out of the equation.”

“Hmm?”

“NOW, MY CHANGELINGS! Attack them! Attack them all! Get rid of them!”

“WHAT?” Poundkin dropped until he was between Chrysalis and their family. “I don’t think so.”

“We far outnumber you. No matter how strong you are you can’t be everywhere at once. We’ll get them eventually.”

Poundkin looked around at the scattering Changelings, all preparing to fire. Their horns both began to brightly glow, and overhead the sky darkened. Dark clouds gathered, making all of them look up.

The aura around them faded, and they nearly crashed into the ground before flapping their wings, making a soft landing, the two of them panting.

“What’s wrong, ‘Poundkin?’” Chrysalis asked mockingly. “Your bodies have not yet caught up with your new power, huh? Greedy little tykes you are, and now you’re paying for it. And this is all you have to show for it.” She raised her hoof as a gentle downpour rained down upon the Changelings. “Oh, no. I’m wet. Now then. Without your annoying interference we can get back to business.

“Destroy them! Destroy them all!”

“Pound! Pumpkin! Don’t give up, now!” Applejack called out.

“Come on, squirts!” Rainbow yelled. “Teach them a lesson!”

“We believe in you!” Pinkie said. “Don’t you dare lose.”

“That’s right,” said Cup Cake. “Do us proud, kids!”

Poundkin looked behind them to their encouraging friends, then back up to Chrysalis. “We have friends. Friends that love us and would do anything for us. When our hearts are as one our power has no limits.”

With determined expressions they began to run in a circle, kicking up dust, flapping their wings as they rose up, the air solidifying into a tornado as they went higher and higher.

The Changelings backed up some to avoid getting swept into it.

“A tornado? Is that all?” Chrysalis shook her head. “Honestly.”

Poundkin flew off from the tornado, and it stayed perfectly in place, rotating violently. “This is a gift from us to you. Enjoy it.” Turning around they lifted their back legs, bucking it with all their strength.

“Did… they just kick a tornado?” Fluttershy asked, her mouth hanging open.

Discord chuckled to himself.

The tornado was barreling toward the Changelings, but the twins weren’t done yet.

“You know, Pumpkin, I used to be terrified of storms,” said Pound.

“Me too,” Pumpkin replied. “I think it’s time for them to experience that fear.”

“Sounds good.”

The lights sparked brightly as they put their horns together, their front hooves going up, and an ear-splitting peal echoed across the area, forcing everyone to cover their ears.

The black clouds above began to glow an intense yellow, and then with another loud bang they brought their hooves down. The cloud released its payload into the hurricane below, the two of them merging together.

“LIGHTNING TORNADO!” they yelled.

“AWESOME!” Dash yelled, pumping her hoof.

Sweat came down Chrysalis’ face, her eyes barely visible as she felt the pull of the tornado dragging her forward. She tried to throw up a force field, but the twins weren’t having any of that.

“We’ll take that, thank you.” With a flash the Queen’s horn disappeared, reappearing in front of them. The Changelings attempted to retreat, but it was too little too late. The entire army got swept up inside it, countless sparks flaring across its surface.

“Well, I do think that might just be the world’s largest bug zapper,” Applejack said with a chuckle.

“No kidding,” Rarity said slowly, shaking her head.

“Wow,” Twilight said, letting out a heavy breath. “That was intense.”

Once more the twins raised their hooves, the tornado growing smaller and smaller in conjunction with the movement of their hooves downward, until it dissipated completely, leaving nothing behind but the smoking remains of the Changelings.

“OH YEAH!” Poundkin cried out, doing several victory dances.

“Just look at the two of them,” Cup Cake said, running a hoof through her mane.

“I think you mean ONE of them!” Pinkie said excitedly, throwing her hooves around Cup Cake and Carrot Cake. “WOOHOO! GO POUNDKIN!”

Poundkin heard the cheering and applause of their audience and decided that they had had enough solo celebrating. With a poof they disappeared, reappearing in front of the others. “Greetings, mortals,” they said in unison. “Bow to our greatness.”

Discord smirked. “Don’t get too full of yourselves now.”

Fluttershy did bow. “Oh, come on, now. What they did was very impressive.” She walked around them in a circle. Up close they were somewhere between an average pony and Celestia in height. “Poundkin,” she said, putting a hoof to her mouth as she chuckled.

“I still can’t believe you were able to conquer an entire army by yourselves, even with Discord’s magic,” Twilight remarked. “I guess I have to admit I underestimated you a bit.”

“Oh, come now, Twilight Sparkle,” came the derisive voice of Discord as he leaned over her. “All of you are such suckers.”

“And what does that mean?” she asked, turning to him.

He turned into a dunce cap, sitting on top of her head. “Oh, come on! What are the odds that an army of Changelings just happened to invade today, right when the next part of their play would have been the Changeling invasion?”

“Wait…” Twilight looked towards the bodies. “You’re saying that was all fake?”

Discord laughed contentedly. “All of it was set up, and you fell for it. Those Changelings are nothing more than props.” An arm came out of his cap, snapping a claw, and the ground became clear of body parts. “You remember earlier, when I told you that no harm would come to them? That was the reason. Because they were in control of what happened. I was a little surprised when it looked like they were hurt, but even that was part of their plan. I certainly didn’t expect ‘super alicorn Poundkin', I admit, but them asking for help was all part of the plan, just like their little brief moment of losing control of their powers."

Pound and Pumpkin looked very satisfied with themselves. Pound opened his mouth, but before he could say anything there was a flash, and the now separate bodies of Pound and Pumpkin went flying in opposite directions, the two of them crashing into the dirt.

Pound stood up, rubbing his stomach. “Hey, what gives?” he complained.

Pumpkin looked behind her, seeing her wings were gone. Looking at Pound he was now just a pegasus again. She concentrated, attempting to make something happen, but she couldn’t feel anything like she did before. “Hey, it’s not working.”

Rainbow couldn’t resist going up to Pumpkin and giving her a gentle push that knocked her over. “Well, kiddies, I guess you’re not so tough anymore.”

“Come on!” she whined as she got up, pointing an accusing hoof at Discord. “You said this power would last until sunset.”

“Indeed I did,” he replied, returning to normal. “But you two were both being so crazy with your powers you used them up early. I mean, creating an entire army of Changelings and having a magic fight with them was bound to exhaust your energy.”

“We want some more!” Pound said, frowning. “You owe us!”

“Yeah!” Pumpkin agreed. “We put on a show and entertained you all, so I think we deserve what we were promised.”

Discord looked toward Twilight and the Cakes, then slowly back to them. “Look,” he started reluctantly, “you two got to have your fun and be the center of attention for a while, but I think it’s about time to settle down.”

Their faces both scrunched up as they glared at him. “Some lord of chaos you are,” Pound said with a huff, crossing his hooves.

“Oh, if looks could kill,” Discord mumbled to himself. To them he said, “There are times when even I could do with a little bit of order. You’ve already hit your peak. There’s no way you’re going to surpass what you just did, so why don’t you just enjoy the rest of the party?”

Their eyes just narrowed even more. “Well?” Discord said, turning to their parents. “What do you say?”

“Oh,” said Cup Cake in fake shock. “You’re actually asking us for permission this time?”

“It wouldn’t have been as much fun if you had known ahead of time,” he replied.

The twins stony faces cracked, their attitudes shifting rapidly as they put on their best pleading faces. “PPLLLLEEASSSEE?” they both begged, putting their hooves together as they pouted.

Carrot knew it was next to impossible to resist those faces. “Well… alright, but no more grandstanding. Just let the rest of us enjoy the party and don’t be disruptive.”

“WOOHOO!” they yelled, slapping each other’s hooves before looking at Discord expectedly.

Discord lifted both arms, a sphere of magic appearing in front of his fingers.

The twins faces grew mutinous again. “Hey!” Pumpkin complained. “That’s a lot smaller than the last one.”

“Deal with it,” Discord replied. “You just asked to have enough power until sunset, and since some time has passed it’s only natural that you would need less magic to last until then.” When they continued to look about to revolt he said sternly, “Well? Take it or leave it. Be grateful you got to experience that kind of fun for the time you did.”

They looked at each other, rolling their eyes. It was better than nothing. The two stepped forward, and Discord touched them both with the sphere. Like before their manes lit up like a static shock, but the other side effects they had had earlier were of a negligent amount.

“Stingy,” Pound muttered under his breath as the two stormed off.

Even though they had the power back they were both feeling too annoyed to play again.

Is that all you get, for all your hard work?

“I know, right!” Pumpkin grumbled.

“Who are you talking to?” asked Pound.

She glanced over at him to see curiosity on his face. “You, obviously.”

Don’t you want more? Don’t you deserve more?

Pound’s head jerked, and he began to look for the source of the voice in his head. “I can hear it too."

“That wasn’t you?” Pumpkin asked, as the voice echoed in her head again.

You deserve much more power. You can use it so much better. Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to play all the time, without rules or boundaries?

“Yeah, yeah!” Pound nodded hard.

“Who are you?” Pumpkin asked, feeling slightly uneasy.

Don’t fret, children. I only want what you want: freedom. You went through so much to entertain everyone, and all you got in return was scorn for simply wanting more time to play. That hardly seems fair.

“No! It wasn’t!” Pumpkin responded, crossing her hooves.

You can change things. You can grow much further beyond what you are now, and become stronger. YOU can be in control for once. You would just have to do one thing for me.

“Anything!” Pound said instantly.

Pumpkin was a little more reserved. “No one is gonna get hurt, are they?”

Of course not, little one. But you have to act now, while this power is still active. Otherwise, you will lose your chance. The tiny little seed of magic inside you will expire rather quickly, unless you can get some more.

“And where are we supposed to get more?” asked Pound.

Why, from the source, of course. It will pay off two-fold. You will gain much more power, as well as stop the only one that would have the ability to ruin everything.

“You mean Discord?” asked Pumpkin.

Correct. I’ve grown quite bored with my host. I would much rather hang around with you two. You seem like you would liven things up considerably.

Pumpkin again asked, “He’s not going to get hurt, right?”

Of course not. He just won’t be able to stop you with his own chaos magic.

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other uncertainly.

Or you can choose to let this opportunity fade away, and be stuck as just powerless little kids again once you use up the rest of the magic he gave you.

Didn’t you have a blast today, breaking all the rules? You could do so much more, and no one would be able to stop you.

Pound felt a tingling in his tummy. He felt like this was wrong. But then he started getting angry, at how Discord had tried to deny them what they were owed. “I say we do it!” he said firmly.

Pumpkin wasn’t so sure, but if Pound was going to do it she didn’t want to be left out. “Alright, then."

Wonderful. Now you just do exactly what I tell you.

Cup Cake was enjoying a conversation with Fluttershy when she glanced towards her children. They had been unusually quiet ever since Discord had given them a little more power to play around with. Sitting off by themselves, not even doing anything out of the ordinary. It was usually a cause for concern when things were too quiet.

Even as she watched they stood up, looking a whole lot cheerier, with faces that clearly reeked of impending mischief. Before she could say anything they both vanished, appearing in front of Discord.

Discord looked down at the narrow eyed grins of the twins. “Oh, have you two gotten over your little hissy fits?” he asked with a chuckle.

“Oh, yeah,” Pound said victoriously.

Pumpkin raised a hoof, a small ball of energy appearing before she threw it at the ground, covering the whole area in smoke.

“Hey!” Applejack complained, coughing.

There was the sound of an impact, and Discord’s head went flying into the air before it got hit with a blast of energy, covering it in a force field. Gas filled the bubble, and Discord’s eyes began to droop.

There was another poof of magic inside the smoke, and a slurping noise reached their ears, like the sound of trying to get the last little bit of shake from a glass.

Twilight felt a tightness in her tummy, intuition giving off red flags in spades. Using her magic she dissipated the smoke, seeing Pound and Pumpkin with big straws attached to Discord. For a moment she couldn’t process what they were doing, then she saw Discord’s body shuddering like it did when he felt a magical imbalance.

“Stop that right now!” she yelled.

They looked up confidently, letting Discord’s body fall.

Pound began to laugh. “Sure. Why not? He’s no use to us anymore.”

“What did you do?” asked Rainbow Dash.

The twins eyes grew bright with a flash of plaid, their manes shooting up as as they hovered into the air, energy swirling around them in waves, laughing hysterically at the feeling of the immense power flowing through their bodies. They were unstoppable now!

15-8 Possessed

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The twins continued to laugh, powerful magic aura’s combining into one as they floated higher into the sky.

“W-what did they do?” asked Applejack.

“They… they stole Discord’s magic,” Twilight replied slowly.

“Hold on!” Rainbow said. “Wasn’t the whole deal with Tirek that he couldn’t take the magic of creatures stronger than him? He wasn’t able to steal Discord’s magic until he had drained over half the ponies of Equestria. How could those two little squirts have stolen his magic with just that tiny little sliver he gave them?”

“Discord’s power isn’t like Tirek’s. Tirek could steal magic, but Discord could alter it. The same way that he took away our horns and wings when we first fought him the twins took away the source of his magic.”

“Again, Discord is way more powerful than them, so how-”

“Regardless of how, it happened!” she replied firmly. “Discord’s magic is specifically designed to cause chaos, and magic theft definitely fits the bill, no matter how little of his magic they had. They put Discord to sleep before they attempted it, so he couldn’t exactly fight back.”

“So now what?” asked Fluttershy, watching the twins holding hooves and spinning in a circle.

Twilight turned to the others. “We have no choice. If the twins have become corrupted with power we only have one option: we’ll knock Discord’s magic out of them with a shot of Rainbow Power.”

“WHAT!” Pinkie yelled. “What are you saying, Twilight?” She shook her friend, tears streaming down her eyes. “Do you want to kill them?”

“Kill them?” Cup Cake said in shock.

“Of course not!” Twilight replied, shaking her head. “Get a hold of yourself, Pinkie. Rainbow Power, just like the Elements of Harmony, isn’t an offensive power. It’s a purifying magic that removes the darkness in one’s heart and purges evil magic out of their system. Princess Luna and Sunset Shimmer were just fine after they were hit with it. Even Tirek only lost the magic he had stolen and became smaller again.”

“All of them were adults, with sturdy bodies. The twins aren’t even seven yet. What if their bodies can’t handle it?”

“This is for their own protection, Pinkie. The Elements and Rainbow Power are about the power of harmony and unison. It will follow our will. The twins won’t be harmed if you don’t want them to be."

Pinkie’s face was scrunched up. “No! I won’t do it! The twins aren’t evil! They’re not! I won’t fight them. They’re like own kids. How are they going to feel knowing I attacked them?”

Pound let out a cry before slipping down and out of Pumpkin’s hooves. Pumpkin summoned a soft pillow for him to land on and he landed unharmed.

“Are you alright, Pound?” Pumpkin asked with concern.

He panted a little, grabbing his stomach. “F-fine,” he muttered. “It’s just like the first time we got the magic. My body needs some time to adjust.”

Almost as soon as he mentioned it Pumpkin felt an all-consuming pain that drove her to her knees, her stomach burning.

You are aware of Tirek, are you not?

The voice from earlier rang through their ears.

“Y-yes,” Pumpkin stuttered out.

When he would drain a pony he would grow. That was both a symbol of his growing power, as well as a mechanism to stop his body from breaking under the strain of trying to contain all the magic he was absorbing.

“A-and what does that have to do with anything?” Pound asked.

Your bodies are far too small to be able to absorb all of Discord’s magic. You must have your body grow to an appropriate size so that the great magic you took in has room to circulate.

“O-oh.”

“Pinkie, look at them!” Twilight said desperately. “They’re hurting. If you truly-”

Before she could finish Pound and Pumpkin’s bodies both began to grow at a rapid rate until they towered over Fluttershy’s cottage, halfway up to the clouds.

The pain grew considerably more bearable. They both let out sighs of relief.

“Oh… oh my!” Fluttershy gulped as she looked up at the now giant children.

“Hey, what’s that?” asked Applejack, pointing with her hoof.

“What’s what, darling?” said Rarity, unable to take her eyes off how tall the twins were.

“Look! There! At their hooves.”

Pinkie looked, her head tilting. “What is that?” she muttered.

When Twilight looked she gasped, her stomach clenching. “Oh, no! This is bad!”

“Wait, wait!” Carrot said anxiously. “What’s bad?”

“Their hooves have turned plaid, just like Discord’s magic.”

“And?” Pinkie asked urgently.

“I don’t quite know what it means, but their tiny bodies just absorbed a ton of magic. Their bodies might not be able to contain it all.”

“Maybe they’re just doing it to show off their victory?” Rarity suggested.

Twilight wasn’t sure she bought that. She still had a nagging feeling deep inside that something bad was going to happen. She continued staring at their plaid hooves. She wasn’t sure if she was imagining it or not, but it appeared to be ever so slowly rising up.

She turned to Pinkie. “We should try and talk them down, if you’re not willing to use Rainbow Power.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Applejack said, getting in between them. “There’s no way that’s gonna work.”

“Why not?” asked Cup Cake.

“Those little tykes deliberately took Discord’s magic fer more power. Ya think they’re gonna give it up simply because ya order them to? If it was that simple they wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

“So then what do you suggest?” asked Fluttershy.

“We humor them until they get tired and fall asleep.”

“Encourage them?” Twilight asked in mild disgust. “Reward their bad behavior?”

Pinkie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake seemed to be in agreement with Twilight.

“Ya got any better ideas?” Applejack responded. “When we first fought Discord he was only toying around with us. We only beat him because he was so overpowered he had a good reason to be overconfident. If Pound and Pumpkin have that same kind of power then we can’t beat them with raw force or magic. If they get suspicious they might take away our wings and horns just like Discord did.

“Yer the bookworm, Twi. We need to outsmart them. They may have power but they don’t have the intelligence to go with it. They’re still just kids, after all.”

Twilight nodded after a few seconds. “I guess you’re right.”

The twins had altered their bodies to look like monsters, roaring and stomping on buildings they were creating.

“Hey, guys!” Twilight called out to them.

Pound stopped his hoof, looking down at her like she was beneath him. “Yes?” he said in an innocent voice. “Do you have a problem?”

“You guys have gotten pretty big. Literally.” She gave a little laugh.

The twins looked at her suspiciously. “Is that a fact?” Pumpkin asked.

“So what are you going to do now that you’re so strong?”

“Anything we want.” Pound began to flex.

“Exactly!” Pumpkin stomped a hoof, causing the ground to shake. “We’re tired of being little kids. Now we have the power to change the world!” She waved a hoof, and rainbow colored flowers bloomed before their eyes.

Despite herself, Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile. They were so beautiful.

“And… what do you want to do with that power?” asked Twilight.

“We’ll be the new heroes of Ponyville! Soon everyone will know our names.”

“Yeah, Twilight. You just sit back, and we’ll take care of everything. Any trouble or danger that comes to Ponyville we’ll just beat it up.”

“Is that all you really want?” asked Fluttershy. “To use your power for good?”

Pound nodded. “That… and a little bit of fun.” With a snap of his tail everyone else but Pumpkin grew long mustaches and beards.

The twin’s laughs boomed over them.

“That’s great!” Pumpkin slapped hooves with Pound.

Rainbow Dash laughed at how ridiculous they all looked. “Come on, guys,” she said, playfully rolling her eyes.

“Alright, alright,” Pound said with a wink before turning them back to normal.

“That’s pretty impressive. Why don’t you show us some more of your talents?” said Cup Cake, seeing that Applejack’s plan was working.

Pound and Pumpkin beamed. “Well, if you insist!” Pumpkin said eagerly. They began to show off much as they did before, doing the wackiest things they could think of.

Even though the others knew they were only supposed to be feigning enjoyment they slowly lost themselves in the twin’s antics.

They became so lost in the fun that it took a while for them to notice. Twilight was the first one to notice it. Her blood turned cold, and all of her anxiety returned.

“G-guys, look!” Twilight said apprehensively.

“L-look at what?” Applejack replied with a laugh as she observed a tree brought to life juggling .

“T-their legs.”

“What about-” Applejack gasped as she noticed. The plaid pattern had completely covered up the twins legs and was starting to rise up their body.

“It’s the magic! It has to be. We don’t have time to play around anymore.” Her head turned to her friend. “Pinkie, please! We can’t let this go on!”

Pinkie’s stomach clenched. “No, Twilight! I-I can’t. There has to be another way.”

Twilight let out a soft growl. That kind of power could only be used willingly. She was going to have to speed things along.

Going up to the twins she said, “Hey!”

“What is it?” asked Pound, all smiles.

“Discord is going to be okay, right?”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course.” With a snap of his tail Discord’s head molded back to his body. “We left him with the same sliver of magic he gave to us. It only felt fair. After all, if we took all of his magic he’d die without a head, obviously.”

Discord’s eyes fluttered open. He felt weak. He hadn’t felt like this since Tirek had attacked him long ago. He saw the twins towering above him.

“Aww, wook at da widdle Discord,” Pumpkin said in a baby voice. With a snap of her mane he appeared in a bib and diaper. “Not so amazing without all your magic, are you?”

“It was you?” he cried out, growing angry.

“Your powers went to the better ponies,” Pound said as he stretched. “We left you just a teeny-tiny bit. Now you know he we felt.” An edge came to the colt’s voice.

“Hmph.” Discord snapped his claw, and the bib and diaper disappeared. “Give it back now!”

“I don’t think so,” Pound replied, a strange echo in his voice.

“I’m through with you, Discord.” The distortion was even clearer when Pumpkin spoke, as the echoing voice was male.

Putting their hooves together there was a distortion of space, and once more Pound and Pumpkin were fused together into one pony. The twin’s eyes looked a little glazed over. “You’ve grown very boring lately, and I’m tired of it.”

Carrot looked strangely at his kids. “That… isn’t really them, is it?”

“It… doesn’t sound like it,” Cup Cake responded.

“Discord, what’s going on?” Twilight asked.

“Twilight, Twilight, Twilight,” the voice said, forcibly turning her head toward Poundkin. “Don’t you know it’s rude to interrupt? You could have just asked me.”

Twilight couldn’t fight the magic holding her head in place, so she turned her body to face him. “Fine, then. What are you?”

“I’m Discord’s magic.” A plaid flash came to their eyes, Poundkin now floating gently up and down. “I don’t have a name, for I have no need of one.

“For the longest time we were partners, engaging in chaos and anarchy. But ever since he met you guys he’s changed. We don’t get to embrace the chaotic philosophy as we did in the old days. It’s most unsatisfactory. But when a piece of me got a new host, namely these two little darlings, life felt renewed again. They’re suitable hosts that will breathe fresh air into the dull, ordinary days you’ve gotten used to.”

Rarity’s eyebrow went up. “Hold on. This is a joke, right? Magic is magic. It doesn’t have a consciousness.”

Poundkin’s horns glowed, and a magical screen came up, revealing Luna’s creation. “Look familiar?”

“The Tantabus!” Twilight exclaimed.

“That was the thing Luna created ta give herself nightmares,” Applejack said.

“And then it grew too strong and escaped her control, forcing us to work together to stop it.”

Discord walked forward toward the twins. “Look, I-” There was a flash, and Discord went flying backward, leaving a hole in the cottage. Fluttershy gasped, going to check on him.

“I’m not interested in your excuses. Chaos shall reign in Equestria just like before. That is final.” Their body glowed, their hooves going outward as Ponyville returned to the chaotic state if had been in when they had first confronted Discord.

“Power!” Poundkin lifted a hoof, their two faces wearing an unnatural smile. “Marvelous. I have my own body now. I don’t have to wait for my ‘master’ anymore.”

Pinkie growled softly, her eyes narrowing. “What do you mean ‘your own body?’ You STOLE it from them!”

He looked dismissively down at her. “And? If they hadn’t been greedy and ungrateful then I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Kids are so impressionable, aren’t they? But I don’t intend to keep control of them indefinitely. I’m interested to see what other things they’ll do with this power. And not just them. I’ll give everyone in Equestria a share.”

“What? Why?” asked Rainbow Dash.

He giggled. “Isn’t it obvious? Chaos is a beautiful thing. Differences between other ponies are mostly held in check by power, or the lack thereof. But what if everyone had the power to alter reality? With that kind of power, with everyone being on the same level, they’ll eventually succumb to the urge to overpower others for their own gain. Ponies might travel through time, or cause earthquakes. The entire world will rip itself apart in destruction, and a little piece of me will be in every pony, watching it all.” His booming laugh echoed over the land. “Won’t it be spectacular?” Sadistic glee rendered Pound and Pumpkin almost unrecognizable.

Discord walked up to them. “Please stop this! You can’t do that!”

“Sure I can!” The twins eyes flashed, and Twilight reflexively cast a shield spell. She felt an impact hit it, but didn’t see the actual attack.

He began to laugh again. “Nice work.” Rainbow Dash flew up near Poundkin’s face. “What’s this? Do you want to fight?”

“Heck no!" said Rainbow, "If you’re giving out free power then I’m in!”

“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity cried out in shock. “How could you?”

Rainbow shrugged with a click of her tongue. “What? Forget you guys. If the world’s gonna be changing I’d rather join the winning side.”

Horror and disgust crossed all their faces, but Twilight was looking thoughtful.

“So let’s go!” Rainbow said excitedly. “Hand it over! I saw how the twins got faster with that power. I could pull off a SUPER sonic rainboom with that kind of power.”

“Well, that was fast,” he said. “Abandoning your friends like that. Sure.” Their hooves raised, and a ball of energy appeared.

It shot toward Rainbow Dash, who flew in place, anxiously waiting for it. When it touched her she howled in pain as an electric shock jolted her, sending her plummeting to the ground, just barely being saved by Twilight.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy called out, flying over towards her. “Are you alright?”

Rainbow groaned, rubbing her stomach as she sat up. “W-well, that didn’t work. It was worth a shot.”

“Oh, come on!” he said derisively. “Did you really think that I’d buy that you’d just throw your friends away for a little power? You were just hoping to level the playing field a bit.”

Twilight turned to Pinkie. “Come on! Still not yet? We need you!”

Pinkie just shook her head rapidly, her eyes closed in despair at the thought of having to fight the twins.

Twilight groaned.

Poundkin bowed down until his head was near hers, letting out a big breath that sent them flying. Twilight threw up force fields for all of them to help them land safely. “I’m getting bored. I let you keep your horn just because you wouldn’t be a challenge without magic, but I’m still not satisfied. I need more chaos! More destruction! You six are the only things in the way of my plan, so let’s take care of that, shall we?”

With a flash all of them turned into earth ponies, forced into a tiny circle. He raised his hoof, and much like before the sky grew dark with clouds. Lightning bolts shot out of the clouds, not fading away, effectively creating a cage. The lightning rotated in a circle, slowly closing in on them.

“Soon! Very soon! I will have true freedom! I won’t be left behind again! I won’t be forgotten. Everyone will know me, and everyone will fear me, as they did before.”

Twilight turned to Discord, whispering, “You still have a tiny sliver of magic left, right? Can you get us out of here?”

He concentrated, then shook his head. “I can barely feel my magic. The best I could do is possibly stall for a little time.”

Once more she rounded on Pinkie. “Come on, Pinkie! Equestria is at stake here! Your life is at stake. OUR lives are at stake. Are you just going to sit there and do nothing and let us all die? Let the twins be corrupted by that force enslaving their bodies? We NEED your cooperation.”

“Pinkie, I understand how you feel, but we have to do something,” Fluttershy said as she looked around at the shrinking cage.

“Pinkie, please!” Mrs. Cake said, tears in her eyes. “Help to protect our children.”

Pinkie felt her heart breaking as all of them encouraged her to do the one thing she didn’t think she could ever do. Was that really the only way to proceed? To attack her niece and nephew? The lightning around them was still approaching at a steady pace. She could see Discord straining to hold it at bay, but he would give out sooner or later.

She had to make a choice. Would the twins be able to withstand a shot of Rainbow Power? She just didn’t know. If she refused to take the chance then all of them would die. Was the only option open to her to attack the ones she had sworn to keep safe, those that she would easily give up her life to protect?

No… maybe there was another option. It was a slim hope, but it was better than nothing. “Pound… Pumpkin!” she called out to them in a tender voice, ignoring the cruel gaze smirking down at her. “Do you remember when you ran away from home? After we finally got you back I made a promise to you. I… I told you that I would love you forever, no matter what happened. I Pinkie Promised that even if you turned evil that I would still love you, and I would do what I could to bring you back to the side of good. I’ll never give up on you, no matter what happens, because I know you’re still in there.”

He rolled his eyes , chuckling under his breath.

Her eyes narrowed a bit. “I believe in you! I always have! You have the chance to be heroes for real! Not just pretend. Your true strength isn’t in magic and power. It’s the strength of your hearts that’s important. Pound, you especially have always been protective of those you love. Are you going to give all that up? Abandon it? Are you going to kill me? Kill your parents? Is that the kind of thing you want to do with your power? I know you can hear me, so WAKE UP!”

Everyone was getting antsy. They were quickly running out of room. Seeing no other course of action they began to chant their own support and belief.

“It’s useless, you fools!” he yelled out. “They’re gone until I release them from my command.”

The lightning suddenly stopped, inches from them.

Pinkie looked around, slightly dazed, and then she grinned. “You were saying?”

He laughed in her face. “It would be terribly unsatisfying to just kill you. I wanted to crush your spirits entirely by giving you some hope of success. Now I think it’s time we bring this charade to a close. It may be boring to repeat a trick, but it’s such a delicious way of ending you that I can overlook it.” His hooves rose, and clouds grew in size, the section right above them growing a bright gold. “Then again, it’s still a little different because there’s no tornado. Bye-bye!”

With a loud bang lightning erupted downward, engulfing everything inside it. “Game over,” he said contentedly.

As the smoke cleared he gasped. They were all covered by a shield and were unharmed. “How?” he mumbled to himself. “They have no magic.” He felt a pull, and suddenly he found himself growing smaller.

“N-no!”

Pinkie’s head shot up as she heard the familiar voice. “Pound,” she cried out, tears coming down her eyes as she saw his had returned to normal.

“A-Auntie Pinkie?” He looked down at her, ashamed. He waved his hoof, and the lightning and clouds disappeared. “I-I’m so sorry.”

“Me too!” said Pumpkin, the two of them crying as their bodies separated.

Pinkie went to run over to them, but the twins fell to their knees, rocking the ground. She could see them struggling. “Come on, you guys. Fight it! Fight him!”

The two of them were panting for breath as they felt Discord’s magic vying for control again. “I… I don’t think I can,” said Pumpkin, one of her eyes plaid again.

“You can!” Twilight said fervently. “You did it once before! You protected all of us! You can do it again! Believe in yourself, as we believe in you.”

Once more all of them threw in their encouragement.

The words meant a lot to the foals, but they could feel it. They were only prolonging the inevitable. It was too strong. It was taking everything they had to keep it from taking control of their bodies again. Once they let up just a little it would take over them again.

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other, scared. Inside them was a force that wanted nothing more than the destruction of all they loved and to turn the world into the opposite of everything their family and friends stood for. They were as bad a threat right now as Nightmare Moon or Tirek. They had unleashed it by being bad and greedy.

The two of them held onto each other, more afraid than they had ever been. There was only one way to protect the ones they loved now. The threat was inside of them. While they still had some control there was one last thing they could do.

Looking tearfully down at everyone Pound said, “G-g-goodbye, Auntie Pinkie.”

“T-thank you for b-believing in us,” said Pumpkin.

“H-huh?” Pinkie’s heart began racing as she saw how bad they were trembling. “W-what are you going to do?”

The two wrapped their hooves around each other, and with a pop they returned to their normal size. Pain assaulted them, forcing them down onto their sides as Pinkie watched in horror.

15-9:Mayhem

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Time seemed to pass at a crawl. Every second seemed to take eons. Pinkie’s heart was beating out of her chest.

Pound and Pumpkin were suffering horribly, twisting and turning in their agony. They thought the only way to save everyone was by sacrificing themselves so that Discord’s magic no longer had a host and would dissipate with them.

“No! No!” Discord’s magic thought. “I won’t let this happen!” He tried to force his way into their consciousness but he couldn’t get close. “No! The pain is too great! It’s blocking me from taking them over.”

Once they had shrunk back down in size the plaid pattern on the twins had rapidly continued crawling up their bodies. As it reached around their ears what looked like smoke began to rise above them and the purple-green plaid markings started turning red. The overload of magic was clearly taking its toll.

Pinkie couldn’t watch anymore. She wouldn’t just sit there and watch the children suffer. “T-Twilight!” she said in a shaky breath, holding out her hoof to her friend. “Please! Let’s do it!”

Twilight felt relieved. Pinkie was finally ready. “Everyone put your hooves on Discord!” she said commandingly.

“Why Discord?” asked Carrot Cake.

“I need my horn back, and so we must try and funnel as much of our magic into Discord as we can so he has enough power to help.”

Without hesitation all of them complied. Pinkie was hopping up and down on her hooves, impatient beyond reason.

Discord concentrated his hardest to draw their magic into his body. He could feel the tension in the air, knowing the twins only had a limited time before the strain of trying to hold so much power in their tiny bodies destroyed them. It made it difficult to concentrate when there was so much at stake, but he strained to open the floodgates and after a tense few seconds he felt the flow of magic inside him.

He pointed to Twilight with his claw and snapped it. Relief ran through him when the horn appeared. With another snap the wings came back too.

“Marvelous!” Twilight said, hopping away from her friends as her horn glowed brightly, engulfing her in a magic sphere. Her body looked almost ethereal as the sphere of magic slowly condensed into her horn as she flew upwards. She shot the blast of magic towards her castle, hitting the giant star that resembled her cutie mark with it.

The castle lit up with a dazzling rainbow light, and the rainbow magic funneled back through her spell. As it reached her she pulled her friends up with her, bathing all of them inside a rainbow light. As it faded all of them were in their rainbow forms.

Connecting their hearts and holding close to each other they gathered their power, preparing to fire.

Pinkie closed her eyes, focusing with all her might. ‘Don’t hurt them. Don’t hurt them! Just purge the dark magic from them. Protect them!’ She chanted the mantra in her mind, hoping with all she had that Twilight was right, and it would cause no lasting harm.

“Oh no!” Pinkie cried out as what looked like tiny pieces of them were breaking off. “Fire!” she yelled. “F-fire now!”

“Right!” came the voices of her friends. Rainbow strands latched onto the pair below before a rainbow light surrounded them in a field of powerful magic. The plaid coloring, which had just reached the tips of their ears, drained out of them, the magic swirling around before dissipating. The light spread out through town, returning Ponyville to its non-chaotic state.

As the light faded Pound and Pumpkin’s bodies landed softly upon the earth. As soon as Pinkie landed she bounded over to the twins, her heart breaking in two at their condition. What looked like burns covered most of their body, their fur gone. Pinkie closed her eyes, feeling like sobbing.

Although she wanted nothing more than to hold them tightly, she couldn’t bring herself to approach them. They were breathing, but their eyes were closed and they were being so quiet. She was terrified that they might have been too late.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake did what she could not, picking up their children and gently shaking them, calling out their names.

Discord felt his heart beating faster as the twin remained unresponsive. He nervously got closer, putting a claw on Pinkie. “I… I’m so sorry. I never thought that-”

“No.” Pinkie shook her head. “It’s not your fault. None of us thought things would turn out like this."

Discord thought that once the twins were purged of his magic that it would return to him, but whatever they had seemed to have been destroyed. His magic, though a tiny sliver right now, was still inside him, so he knew it would replenish with time, but he could feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction inside him, separate from his own feelings.

“Everyone, could you give me a little more of your power?” he asked.

It was hard to tear their eyes away from the comatose Pound and Pumpkin, but finally they complied, putting hooves on him and focusing.

Once he felt he had enough strength he focused, and snapped his claw.

The twins bodies began floating, and before their eyes the injuries they had suffered healed, the fur growing back, and soon enough it was impossible to tell there had been anything wrong with them. “It’s all I can do,” he said hopelessly.

Pinkie gathered her courage and walked forward, holding the twins to her as they descended. “Pound… Pumpkin,” she said gently, nuzzling their faces. “I know you. You won’t leave me like this. You’re strong. You were willing to give up your lives to protect all of us. Please… be strong again.” Her voice quivered as she continued, “P-please! I can’t lose you! Open your eyes!”

Applejack removed her hat, the others joining her as they turned their heads away.

Fluttershy threw herself at Discord, who was closest, and began crying on him. He began to rub her head as Pinkie’s voice grew more hysterical. Were they too late? Had the damage been too great even with their Rainbow Power and his magic?

Carrot held onto his wife, trying to be strong for her. He was reminded so strongly of Pound’s accident. He had nearly lost Pound back then. Now they were at risk of losing both their children.

A wet sensation, a tight feeling, a sound of wailing. “A-Auntie… Pinkie?” came the quiet voice of the colt.

Pinkie’s head shot up as she looked into Pound’s almost closed eyes.

Pumpkin was stirring now too, letting out a little groan as her eyes opened a fraction too.

“You’re awake!” Pinkie yelled joyfully.

“W-what happened?” she asked, rubbing her stomach. “I don’t feel so good.”

Cup Cake walked over, patting her head. “Nothing, honey. It… it was all just a bad dream.”

Carrot wiped his eyes, letting out a heavy breath. “Oh, thank goodness.”

Among the group all of them were expressing their relief, holding onto one another or giving each other grateful looks.

Pound put his hoof on his head. “Ooh. I hurt all over.”

Pinkie’s joyful grin faded a bit. “It will feel better with time.”

“What happened to us, Auntie Pinkie?” Pumpkin asked as she adjusted her position, her eyes still half-lidded.

Pinkie hesitated. She had done what was necessary, but if they didn’t remember wouldn’t it be better not to let them know? “You… you got into some trouble, but you’re fine now.”

“Trouble?” Pound asked, before his eyes grew wide as the memories assaulted him, and his face scrunched up as he began crying. “Oh, no!” He hugged Pinkie. “I… I… we… we almost…”

Pumpkin got a mental image of bringing down a bolt of electricity upon everyone, trembling at the thought of how close they had come to wiping out their family. “I’m soooorrry!” She began wailing right along with Pound as she clung to Pinkie.

Pinkie’s smile had vanished now as she let her tears fall along with the twins. They certainly hadn’t forgotten what they had done. “H-hey,” she said encouragingly. “It’s not that bad. We’re all fine.”

“But-but-but we-we almost killed you!” Pound blurted out.

Cup Cake took Pound and gave him the best mom-hug she could. “Almost, but don’t forget who protected us when all seemed lost: it was you and Pumpkin. You fought that thing’s control when it tried to go too far, and cast a shield spell that protected all of us.”

Pumpkin just shook her head. “It’s all our fault! We-we shouldn’t have taken that magic! We… we…”

“Shhh!” Pinkie said soothingly, nuzzling Pumpkin’s face. “None of that now. You’re alive, and that’s all that matters to me right now.”

Pumpkin stared at Pinkie, her emotions torn in two different directions.

Pound looked over at Pumpkin, then up at his mom. “I want my sister,” he said, sniffling.

“Alright, honey,” she replied, walking the short distance to Pinkie.

As soon as they were close to each other they practically leapt out of the hooves of their caretakers toward each other, holding onto each other as they vented their emotions.

Pinkie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake sat around them, letting them be for the moment.

Pound felt terror at the ends of his consciousness. They were going to be in big trouble for this. The destruction they had almost caused, stealing power; these weren’t light actions. A simple time-out or withholding of dessert wouldn't be enough. He squeezed Pumpkin harder, gathering his courage.

Standing up, he could feel his legs shaking. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him, but he knew that he didn’t want Pumpkin to share that fate.

“M-mom, Dad?”

“Yes, Pound?” Cup Cake replied.

It took everything he had to speak. He didn’t want to imagine how much worse things were going to be for himself when he said those words, but whatever eased Pumpkin’s burden would be enough. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier to say, though.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t think things would be like that.”

“I’m sorry too!” Pumpkin added, standing up next to her brother.

“And…” Pound steeled himself, his fear almost overwhelming. He threw a hoof around Pumpkin, closing his eyes. “And I just wanted to say that this is all my fault. Pumpkin didn’t want to be part of the plan so I mind-controlled her to force her into it.”

Pumpkin’s head whipped toward Pound’s, tears brimming in her eyes again.

“It-it-it is all m-m-my fault, so I’m the only one that should be punished.” Pound was trembling now, staring at the ground with his eyes shut tight and waiting for the bomb to hit.

Pumpkin threw her hooves around her brother. “No, you dummyhead! I-I won’t let you take all the blame. We’re in this together, no matter how bad it is.”

Pound let out a shuddering breath as the two hugged again, waiting for their fate to be decided.

Twilight walked forward, giving Pinkie a wink. Then she turned to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake and put her hoof to her mouth.

“Pound Cake! Pumpkin Cake!” she said sharply, making them jump. They turned to her, both shivering. “I think we need to have some words.”

Pound gulped. He slowly stood up, hanging his head. “Go ahead,” he said in a resigned voice, closing his eyes. “Punish us.”

Pumpkin joined him. “Yeah. Go ahead.”

“As a princess I believe it is my duty to handle punishment on this matter. The two of you stole magic, rendering Discord near powerless. You planned to exceed all other authority by snatching power, and nearly wound up having Equestria descend into a land of chaos. Under normal circumstances I think we can all agree that such actions would be worthy of imprisonment or banishment."

The twins put their heads together, nodding as they cried.

Cup Cake knew Twilight told her to keep quiet, but seeing the pain in her children’s faces made it almost impossible.

Pinkie was feeling hurt. Didn’t they all feel bad enough without Twilight twisting the knife?

Twilight waited for an appropriate interval, then continued on in a softer tone, “Under the circumstances, I believe the punishment can be mitigated. You saved all our lives, first with that shield spell, and then again when you shrunk yourselves.

“The two of you were willing to destroy yourselves to protect us. Sacrificing yourself for the sake of others is one of the most heroic things you can do. Your play with the Changelings may have been fake, but you both proved yourself capable of real bravery and heroism today.

“Given the depths you went to in order to fix your mistake, I believe a light punishment will suffice. Discord?” She turned her head toward him, and he approached. She whispered in his ear.

“Ah, yes. Yes, I agree,” Discord replied, chuckling.

“Everyone?” Twilight looked around. “Please come closer.”

When they surrounded her whispering went through the group, and then laughter.

Pound and Pumpkin began to relax a little. If everyone was laughing things couldn’t be that bad.

The group broke up, and Twilight turned back to the twins. “Pound, Pumpkin. Come forward.”

The two of them looked at each other, not nearly as afraid as before. They walked until they were in front of everyone. “Yes, Twilight?” said Pound.

“We’ve talked it over, and we’ve agreed on your punishment.”

“That’s right!” Pinkie said mischievously.

“What is it?” asked Pumpkin.

“Discord?” said Twilight, funneling a little power into him.

“Right,” he replied, snapping his claw. Out of the sky came a small rain of feathers.

Everyone gathered one. Pound and Pumpkin just looked around, confused.

“What was that?” Pound asked, brushing off a feather from his shoulder.

Twilight bent down with that same naughty look and said just one word: “Run.”

“Run?” asked Pumpkin. “What do you mean-YAAHH!” Pumpkin squealed as she felt a ticklish sensation on her side. She jerked away, and saw her dad holding the feather in his mouth.

Everyone was coming toward them with deliberate slowness.

The twins gulped, looking at each other again, and they understood their punishment now. They took off running, but noticed after a short time that they weren’t being pursued.

“Go on!” Twilight called out, gesturing for the rest to turn around. “You get one minute before the hunt begins, and the tickle war commences. Make it count.”

The twins took off running again, looking for a good place to hide. They couldn’t find anything that great, so they just huddled under a bush and waited.

The next hour was an adrenaline fueled rush of anticipation, anxiousness, and laughter. Each time they were found they’d be tickled until they were gasping for breath, and then they’d be permitted to run and hide again.

After an hour had passed Twilight called a halt to the activities and gathered everyone around again. “Well, I think you’ve been punished enough for one day.”

Pound and Pumpkin walked over to Twilight, hugging her legs. “We’re really sorry, Twilight,” Pound said, contrite.

“Yeah!” Pumpkin agreed. “We didn’t mean for things to get so out of control.”

Twilight nuzzled both their faces. “I understand. Sometimes it’s not easy being a kid and feeling like everyone else is better than you. I had great potential for magic, but I didn’t get to where I was today overnight. It took years and years of hard study. Your time will come too.”

They went to Pinkie next. “Thanks,” said Pumpkin. “Thank you for stopping us.”

Pound gulped. “If you hadn’t said what you did then we would’ve…”

Pinkie put her hooves out and snuggled them both. “I told you that it was my Pinkie Promise for life that I’d always support you and love you no matter what. I’ll always believe in you, and I was right. When I reminded you of my vow it woke you up and brought you back to me.”

She closed her eyes as her heart soared, joyful tears running down her face.

“What a day,” Rarity said, rubbing her forehead. “I hope I don’t get any wrinkles.”

“Oh, pipe down, grandma,” Applejack said with a wink.

Rainbow Dash snickered. “Well, once again we saved the world… with a little help from the munchkins, of course. So a job well done. It’s all over.”

“Not quite,” Fluttershy said.

“Not yet?” asked Twilight. “Pound and Pumpkin are safe and freed of that things corruptive influence. What’s left?”

Fluttershy went up to Discord. “Excuse me?”

Discord looked at her oddly. Not because it was strange for her to talk to him, but because she was addressing her words at his belly. “Yes, Fluttershy?”

Now she looked up at him. “Discord, could you do me a favor?”

“What’s that?”

“Take that little piece of your energy, and let the essence of your magic out. He’s too weak to be a threat now.”

Everyone stared at her, confused. “Why?” asked Applejack.

Fluttershy took a steadying breath. “I guess I just… feel bad for him.”

Discord felt an odd sensation in his gut at her words.

“You feel bad for him?” Rainbow Dash said furiously. “He tried to kill all of us and conquer Equestria.”

In a steady voice Fluttershy responded, “And how is that different from any of the other villains that we’ve fought? Discord was the same when he started out. Sunset Shimmer, Starlight Glimmer, Discord; they all had diabolical plans when they started out, but they’ve grown into new beings. They’ve reformed now, and are assets to Equestria. It would be wrong to deny him the same privilege.

“Besides…” She put her hoof over her heart. “The way things are right now he’s feeling ignored and unappreciated. I don’t blame him for attempting to get freedom. I’d like to talk with him if I could.”

Discord looked down at her warmly. Even though the Elements were gone she could still show kindness and empathy to anyone, or anything. “Very well.” He extended his claw, pointing it at the ground between them. Being so weak it took a while for him to feel his power, but eventually a small purple-green stream of magic came out.

At first it was just a shapeless blob of energy, much like the Smooze, but it slowly molded into a form that looked like a baby Discord. Its arms were crossed, a frown adorning his face.

Fluttershy sat down in front of it. “Hello, there.”

“Hmph!” he said, turning his head away. “What do you want? You already ruined everything! Do you have to rub it in too?”

“Discord was able to change his ways. There’s no reason you can’t too.” He just rolled his eyes, his crossed arms clenching harder. “It really shouldn’t, given how Discord’s power is so different than everyone else’s, but I was surprised that his magic was sentient.

“All this time you were partners, working toward the same goal, but as Discord has changed you’ve been feeling increasingly left out, haven’t you? You want to cause chaos, but Discord has lately been pursuing order for the sake of not upsetting his friends. However, despite you living together Discord has control of the magic, leaving you feeling like he’s just taking and taking without giving anything back. In other words, you don’t think Discord has been a good friend to you, hmm?”

He displayed a brief reaction before curling up and growling. “Just shut up.”

“I think we need to fix things. Otherwise you’re only going to attempt to rebel again. It must feel like you’re locked in a prison. You said earlier that you have no name, but if you’re able to think and act then I think we need something to call you.”

His eyes moved toward her.

“I think an appropriate name would be one that complements your nature, and your partner. How about… Mayhem?”

“May-hem?” he responded slowly, mulling it over, his body uncurling a bit. “Mayhem! Yeah!” He hopped up, adopting a superhero pose. “I am Mayhem! Everyone fear me!”

Fluttershy shook her head. “No. You shouldn’t want everyone to fear you. You can cause chaos without harming others, and I think that’s something you and Discord need to work out.”

Mayhem looked dispassionately at Discord. “He’s no fun.” He poked Fluttershy with a claw. “Ever since YOU came along things have become so much more boring.”

“You live in his body. Do you not understand the lessons Discord has learned?”

“Whatever! They’re boring! I want fun, and I want it all the time.”

“Tch!” Rainbow clicked her tongue. “Selfish brat. No wonder he tried to take over the bodies of children.”

“Rainbow Dash, please,” said Fluttershy. “Mayhem doesn’t really understand. He just needs some proper guidance. He needs time to grow and mature, so he can become a better individual. Giving him a name was the first step to giving him an identity, and showing him that he has some value.

“Honestly, that’s all he really wants, just like the rest of us: to feel like he belongs, and is important. You may not have noticed it, but I heard the pain in his words, even though he was trying to be so cold and ruthless. He felt left out and excluded since Discord has grown up, so when he finally found what he thought were kindred spirits in Pound and Pumpkin he relished the chance to do things the old way again.

"Despite Mayhem’s age he’s still much a child at heart, and with so much power at his disposal it’s not hard to imagine he can get out of control without something to hold him back. However, to simply stuff him inside Discord and ignore his pain would be wrong. He can talk and think and feel just like we can. And so…”

Extending her hooves she picked him up and pulled him close to her.

“W-what are you doing?” Mayhem asked.

“I’m giving you a hug, of course,” she replied.

“Why?” he said, confused.

“Why not? Aren’t you enjoying it?”

Mayhem didn’t answer for a while, mulling over the strange feeling inside him. “I… guess so.”

“Discord realized that he enjoyed having a friend, after never having one before. And he didn’t have one because he was selfish. He only cared about his own happiness and joy, not caring about anyone else’s feelings. When his disregard for others caused me to abandon our friendship he realized that he didn’t want to lose it, and in turn he realized that friendship is a matter of give and take. Sometimes you can’t always have what you want.

“You’re enjoying these feelings, but if you want them to continue you’re also going to have to be willing to give some ground. Getting revenge by wiping out other’s lives like they’re nothing is unacceptable, and you’ll never find approval there. You may be able to destroy anything you want, but it will be a lonely existence without someone to share your experiences with.”

She gave him a little nuzzle. “So what do you say? Will you give friendship a try?”

Mayhem looked up at Fluttershy. “I just wanted to be free and have a good time.”

She nodded, setting him down on the ground. “Of course. I understand that. It’s no different than the rest of us feel about life. However, that right shouldn’t be used to subdue others. Equality is treating all as important, not just yourself.

"I suppose what you’re lacking is real life experience. Watching something isn’t the same as experiencing it yourself. So maybe it’s not a surprise that you can’t seem to understand what it is that has changed Discord so.”

He stared at her, and she again saw a childish look reminiscent of the twins, like he really couldn’t piece together cause and effect.

Pound and Pumpkin approached him. “Well, maybe we can help!” Pound said.

“We can play together!” Pumpkin added.

Mayhem looked at them, then at Fluttershy. She had to hold back a laugh. His gaze was asking for direction, like he had chosen her as a mother figure and she had the right to choose what he should do. “I think that would be a perfect idea. Discord?”

“Yes, Fluttershy?” he replied.

“I think it would be wise for you to let Mayhem out to play every once in a while. Chaos isn’t always a bad thing, so long as it’s handled well. That way he’ll want to work with you, and he’s not being forced into it.

“How does that sound to you, Mayhem?”

He looked over at Discord for a moment, then back to her. “I guess that’s okay. Can I go play now?”

She snickered into her hoof. “Sure.”

“Yay!” he cried out, snapping his little claw and spawning a rose, which he put into her mane before running off with the twins to play.

“Wow, Fluttershy,” Twilight said, impressed. “You truly can inspire kindness in anyone when you put your mind to it.”

“It just comes naturally to me,” she said as she heard the screaming that always accompanies happy kids playing. “Mayhem is basically a kid despite his years. I think, once he gets a taste of personal friendship, that he’ll become hooked on it like Discord did, and come to understand empathy. That will curb his destructive tendencies, and make his pranks more appropriate.”

As Twilight watched the three of them roughhousing and chasing each other around, laughing away, she couldn’t help but smile. Putting a hoof around Fluttershy she said, “Y’know, I do believe you’re right.”

16-1: Childish joy

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Pound and Pumpkin were playing in their room, crafting a fantasy story.

“MOHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Pound laughed evilly. Pumpkin was chained on a table situated over a pit of lava. “Daring Do, this is your final hour! The world will finally be mine!”

“Never!” Pumpkin replied, struggling to free herself.

Pound had his hoof over a pull switch. “Any last words?”

The door suddenly opened. “P-Pound, Pumpkin!” Pinkie said in a thick voice.

Pumpkin wanted to complain about Pinkie cutting off her awesome one-liner, but when she saw the tears coming down her face her annoyance disappeared. Pulling her hooves out of the blankets around them she said, “What’s wrong, Auntie Pinkie?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. You have to come downstairs right now.” She sniffed, wiping her eyes, but there was such a joyful expression on her face.

The two of them looked at each other questioningly, then followed after her as they went downstairs.

They went past the store area and the kitchen to the living room. Twilight and their parents were there, as well as Shining Armor and Cadance. The two of them had only seen Twilight’s brother and his wife about three times before, given that they lived in the Crystal Empire.

All of them were gathered around something.

When Twilight heard their approach she turned her head toward them, her eyes full of tears as well. She walked over and picked the two of them up without a word, hugging them.

The two of them didn’t know what all the fuss was about. “What’s going on?” asked Pumpkin.

“Why is everyone crying?” asked Pound.

Twilight pulled them back a little, her eyes still misty. “I have a niece.”

“What?” asked Pound.

Twilight set them down and pushed them forward.

“Come look,” said their mother, moving out of the way.

There, in Cadance’s lap, was a baby. “She was only born last month,” Cadance said serenely. “I wanted it to be a surprise. I felt she was old enough to travel now.”

Cup Cake looked down, seeing her kids hiding behind her legs, peeking out around them. “What’s wrong, my children? Are you scared of the baby?”

They couldn’t explain it, but they were both hesitant to approach the foal.

“What’s her name?” Pumpkin asked.

“Skyla,” Cadance replied lovingly as she glanced at her child. Her coat was a healthy pink, with a curly mane of purple and yellow. Like her mother she was an alicorn.

“Go on, now,” Mrs. Cake said, pushing the two forward. “There’s no need to be shy.”

They stayed where they were for a few moments more, before finally walking and climbing up onto the couch, side by side.

Cadance took Pound’s hooves and put them into the proper position before placing Skyla on his lap.

The colt looked afraid to move. Skyla was gently gurgling and moving her hooves in a kind-of slow dog paddle.

Cadance giggled. They both were paralyzed, staring at Skyla like she was from another planet. “Haven’t you two ever seen a foal before?”

“Sometimes,” Pound said, backing his head up until it was touching the cushion of the sofa. “Just not this close.”

“Yeah,” Pumpkin said. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but no words came out.

Pound was kicking his hooves restlessly, his front legs stone still.

“She’s not going to break, you know,” said Cup Cake. “Babies aren’t THAT fragile. They enjoy a strong hold as much as you do. It gives them a greater sense of security.”

Pound was afraid of doing something to hurt her. He didn’t want Cadance to yell at him. “H-hello,” Pound said in a croaky voice. Skyla’s eyes, which had been focused on her mother, moved over to him. “I… I’m Pound Cake. How, um, how are you?”

She cocked her head to the side, considering him for a long moment, before she suddenly smiled up at him. She raised her hoof and booped him on the nose before giggling.

Tears welled up in his eyes, drifting down his face. He lifted her up higher, gently rocking her, finally getting over his apprehension. “She’s so pretty,” he said, becoming entranced with her just like the rest of the adults had been.

“Can I have a turn?” Pumpkin asked politely.

Pound handed her over. Pumpkin put her hooves in the same position she had seen Pound’s in, but mirrored. “Hello, there,” she said. “I’m Pumpkin Cake. Do you like raspberries?” She lifted the baby up high and blew into her stomach, making little fart noises.

Skyla squealed loudly, kicking her legs and laughing. When Pumpkin set her back on her lap she was all smiles.

Pound got down on the floor and sat down, holding his hooves out to Pumpkin. She handed Skyla over and he set her on the floor as Pumpkin came down with him. Both of them began to tickle her, and she squealed and jerked around, letting out loud guffaws.

Pound and Pumpkin were both sporting contented grins. They were having fun.

Hopping up they ran a short distance away. Skyla flipped herself over, getting back on her hooves.

Both of them got into predatory stances. “We’re gonna get you!” They both began to approach.

Skyla squealed, trotting away as they both continued their slow approach. They let her stay ahead for a short while before Pumpkin finally grabbed her. “Got you!”

Skyla squirmed around, before her horn suddenly glowed and Pumpkin’s hooves were now gripping air. Skyla’s body was completely transparent, and she trotted away for a bit before popping back, her body looking normal again.

“Whoa!” Pumpkin said, her mouth hanging open a little. “That’s so cool!”

Shining rubbed his head. “Yeah… cool. Dealing with an alicorn baby’s magic surges isn’t a picnic, let me tell you that.”

Cadance let out a heavy breath. “Imagine you’re sleeping with your baby and waking up to see her gone and hearing muffled crying, thinking you might have rolled over her in the night, and it turned out she just phased through the bed.”

Carrot Cake let out a sympathetic groan. “We used to let the twins sleep with us at night, and I did roll over on Pound once. I only woke up because he bit me.”

Cup Cake let out a shaky breath. “I remember that. Poor guy was traumatized for the whole day.”

Pound looked over at his parents. He didn’t remember that, but then again it was when he was just a baby.

Skyla had turned around, approaching the twins. “G-gon get you,” she said deviously.

“Oh, no!” Pound said dramatically, scuffling away very slowly.

“Get away!” Pumpkin cried out, matching his pace.

When Skyla didn’t catch them after a short while her horn flashed again and she lifted a few inches off the ground, zooming toward them.

“Ah!” Pound yelled in surprise at the turbo baby.

Just before Skyla reached them there was a flash and Skyla was wrapped up in a shield, crashing into a soft pillow inside it.

“It’s a good thing we both have shield spells, or I wouldn’t feel safe leaving her side,” Cadance said. “Her surges sometimes lead her to get into near accidents.”

“I can only imagine,” Pinkie said. “I still remember the first time I babysat these two. It was a nightmare. But… at the end of it all, when they were safely asleep, and their first words were my name… it made everything that happened insignificant.”

“I think every parent has been there,” said Cup Cake. “It’s their most diabolical trait.” She laughed.

Skyla was set back down on the ground. “Be careful, Skyla," said Cadance. "You don’t want to hurt yourself. Or anyone else.”

“Help me, Pound,” Pumpkin said, laying down.

Pound got the idea and picked Skyla up, straining a little at her weight, setting the foal on Pumpkin’s back. He grabbed Skyla’s hooves, putting them around her neck. “Hold on tight now. Okay?”

“H-howd on tight,” she repeated.

Pound put his hooves under Pumpkin’s stomach and helped her up.

“H-hold on,” Carrot said nervously. “I don’t think that’s safe.”

“No worries,” said Shining. “There are enough unicorns here to levitate her if there’s going to be an accident.”

Pumpkin began to slowly trot around the room, and Skyla cheered, babbling and laughing. Pound remained by her side as a precaution. Once she felt more comfortable Pumpkin began to run, and she was laughing now too, Skyla’s joy being infectious.

After a few minutes Pound said, “Can I have a turn now?”

“Sure!” Pumpkin replied, slowing down and stopping. Cadance saved them some time and effort by simply levitating Skyla over to Pound’s back.

Now Pound was running around, Pumpkin chasing after him. And all the time Skyla kept up a steady stream of jabbering and giggles that made their hearts soar.

Cup Cake and Carrot Cake put their heads together, smiling warmly at their children. After the fiasco with Discord’s magic she was glad to see that they were still able to experience happiness and joy. They had come close to losing their children, but they were really okay.

Tears of joy were coming down Pinkie’s face.

Even though they had all wanted a turn playing and cuddling with the baby none of them felt like stopping the fun the trio were having. They were working together and not fighting at all, sharing Skyla’s time between them. When she messed herself and needed a diaper change they were a bit grossed out, but they didn’t throw her away because of it. Being brave, they elected to do it themselves.

Even then they didn’t fight. They each took part of the responsibility. Pound removed the diaper, and Pumpkin used her magic on the wipes so they wouldn’t have to touch the mess. Pound threw on some powder, and Pumpkin threw the old diaper away.

Cup Cake was impressed at how responsible they were being.

The three continued to play for the next hour, running all over the place and having fun all the while. Finally the exercise proved to be too much for the little foal. She flopped down on the ground and didn’t get back up, despite Pound and Pumpkin’s excited prodding and encouragement.

“Oh my,” Cadance said in mild surprise. “You actually tuckered her out. Ah, the joys of youthful energy.”

“So she’s tired?” Pound asked.

“That’s right.”

“Okay!” Pumpkin said heartily. “Then there’s only one thing to do.”

“I’ll help!” Pound said, just as buoyantly.

The two of them both ran off, giggling as they went upstairs. They came back a minute later, Pound holding a pillow and Pumpkin levitating a blanket.

“Skyla!” Pound called out in a soft voice. The sleepy foal gave him a brief moment of attention before her head went back onto the floor.

“That’s okay,” Pumpkin said gently. “We’ll take care of everything.”

Lifting her up a bit Pound set the pillow under her. Pound laid on his side next to her, putting his hooves around her as Pumpkin laid the blanket over the two of them.

“There you go,” Pound said as he nuzzled her face. “Nice and comfy.”

Pumpkin got under the blanket too on the other side of Skyla, also hugging her. “We’ll protect you from nightmares and monsters, so go to sleep and have some great dreams.”

Skyla yawned loudly, feeling warm and safe. Her eyes slowly closed.

“Hey, Pumpkin,” Pound said softly.

“Yeah?” she replied just as quietly.

“Babies like music, right? Wanna do Fluttershy’s lullaby?”

“Okay. You start.”

“Okay.” He cleared his throat. “Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to lay your sleepy head…”

“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to go to bed…”

Skyla yawned again, snuggling against Pound, her eyes closed now.

“Drifting off to sleep, leave exciting day behind you...”

“Drifting off to sleep, let the joy of dreamland find you…”

Cup Cake found her heart soaring, seeing her precious children comforting and being so loving toward the baby. Despite being shy and afraid at the start they had taken to her and treated her like she was their own little sister.

Pinkie was crying, feeling so happy. They were working in perfect sync.

The twins were oblivious to everyone else in the room. Their only concern was for Skyla, and helping her fall asleep. Their efforts were rewarded a few minutes later when she began to gently snore.

Pound felt so proud of himself. “We did it!” he said, almost silently. “We really did it.”

“Yeah. We did it.”

“Now what?”

“We promised to protect her, so that’s what we’re gonna do.”

“You’re right.”

They both closed in a little tighter, laying their heads by hers.

As the minutes ticked by Pound was getting restless. “I’m bored,” he said to Pumpkin.

“Me too,” she admitted.

“She’s sound asleep. She’ll be fine now.”

“Yeah.”

As the two of them of them pulled away from her Skyla quietly fussed as she stretched a bit. “Poun… Punkin.”

Pound felt his heart melting, tears dripping down his face. It felt hard to breathe. In a shaky voice he said, “I can wait a little longer.”

Pumpkin gulped, putting her hoof over her heart. “Me too.”

They both got back into place, crying in happiness.

“We’ll keep you safe,” Pound said thickly.

“That’s right, Skyla. We’re here for you.”

Whether Skyla heard them or not they didn’t know, but she grew quiet as they laid there next to her.

As they continued to cuddle with her they also felt a feeling of safety and tenderness from being so close. They stopped focusing so much on just being stuck there.

“She’s so warm,” Pound whispered, his eyes drooped a little.

“She smells nice too,” Pumpkin added, taking a sniff. “I wonder if all foals smell this good.”

Pound let out a little yawn himself, making Pumpkin follow suit. Pumpkin nuzzled Skyla’s head, her heart filled up with affection for the foal.

Pound’s eyes were closing. He felt so comfortable. How could he have ever been scared of a baby?

Pumpkin wasn’t far behind, yawning again as she rested her head against Skyla’s. It had been a few years since they’d had daytime naps, but she didn’t feel like moving.

Soon enough the twins snoring mingled in with Skyla’s, all three of them fast asleep.

“Aww, isn’t that the sweetest thing?” Cadance said sweetly, beaming. “They’re all out.”

Pinkie nodded, wiping away some tears. “They were amazing. I’m just so proud of them.”

“The whole time they perfectly shared responsibility,” said Carrot. “It’s truly a wonder that they didn’t get into any fights that would have ruined things.”

“After the fiasco at Fluttershy’s party I think that our babies might just be growing up a little,” Cup Cake said, her face moist like the rest.

Shining laughed quietly. “We had planned to go around to all Twily’s friends houses and let them spend a little time with our little Skyla, but I guess that’s out of the question now. I’m not dealing with an alicorn temper tantrum from getting woken up from her nap.”

“Skyla really took a shine to them,” Cadance remarked. “She’s usually never this cooperative at napping. It really saved us a lot of time and effort since they tired her out.

“Hmm… this could actually work out in our favor. It might be better to bring everyone here and wait for her to wake up refreshed than to take her all over town. She might get overwhelmed from too much stimulation.”

Twilight gave her brother a pat. “What do you say, Shining? Want to join me as I gather the rest of my friends?”

“Sure, Twily.” He looked over at the sleeping trio. “I think my daughter is in good hooves.”

16-2: Proud parents

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Pound woke up in the morning in good spirits. “Wake up, Pumpkin!” he yelled, hopping up and down on his bed.

Pumpkin rose up pretty quickly, already energized. She jumped from her bed to his, knocking him down and play-wrestling with him, the two of them laughing away.

“Man, today is such a great day!” Pumpkin said joyfully.

“I know, right!” Pound replied.

“Playing with Skyla was so much fun.”

“It’s too bad she had to go home, but it was great while it lasted.”

“Let’s play a game!”

“Okay!”

The twins had been surprised yesterday when they felt the hooves poking them; their names being called. They hadn’t even realized they had fallen asleep. They had been a little embarrassed, but when Cadance thanked them for watching over her child they had felt better.

While they had been asleep the rest of their friends had gathered at Sugarcube Corner, and they had to share Skyla with everyone. Skyla adored the interest everyone lavished on her, but when she grew overwhelmed with all the new ponies and the attention the twins hearts melted again when she teleported out of Rarity’s hooves and sought out the two of them for comfort. It was one of the most precious moments of their lives.

Cadance and Shining tried to leave at one point, but Skyla wouldn’t budge from the twins. She cried and cried and her horn flashed dangerously, shattering one of the display cases. Cadance elected to give in rather than set Skyla off. She let the three of them play together until they tired her out again and she went back to sleep.

By the time Skyla left the two of them were in very high spirits, and they didn’t fight or cause any trouble the rest of the evening. They even brushed their teeth and went to bed without being told.

Cup Cake was humming to herself as she washed the dishes. Carrot Cake was sitting at the table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. Pumpkin came into the room, grabbing a chair and pushing it toward a cabinet.

“Morning, Sweetheart,” Carrot said. “How are you this morning? Sleep well?”

“Real good,” she replied. “I got great news!”

“Really?” Cup Cake said, turning her head a bit. “And what’s that?”

“I’m pregnant!” she said excitedly.

“W-WHAT?” Cup Cake stammered out, the dish she was washing slipping out of her hooves. Carrot Cake was choking on his coffee.

Pumpkin hopped up onto the chair as she pulled the cabinet open, looking around inside it, oblivious to her parent’s reactions. “Yeah, and Pound’s the daddy.”

They both looked at each other, horrified and speechless.

“Aha!” Pumpkin said, pulling out one of her mom’s aprons. With a little help from her magic she tied it to her. “That should do it.” She hopped off the chair, levitating a stuffed animal to her. Pulling it down with her hoof she slipped it under the apron.

Sitting on her back legs she lifted herself up. “How do I look?”

“How… do you…” Carrot couldn’t finish.

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on! Pregnant! Do I look pregnant now?”

Suddenly the switch was pulled, and Carrot and Cup Cakes minds caught up with their emotions.

“Oh! Oh! Right!” Cup Cake said quickly, laughing nervously. “You look perfect.”

“So you’re playing mommy and daddy, huh?” asked Carrot hopefully.

Pumpkin rolled her eyes again. “Duh. What did you think I was talking about?”

“Nothing, nothing!” he said quickly, shaking a hoof at her.

“Adults are so weird,” Pumpkin said under her breath as she went to the living room, Pound waiting for her.

“Took you long enough,” he complained.

“Oh, shut up,” she said with a giggle. “How do I look?”

“Fat,” Pound said with a snicker.

“Oh!” Pumpkin put a hoof to her head, falling to the ground dramatically. “How could you be so cruel, husband?” She pretended to pass out.

Pound fell on his knees, crying out to the sky, “Noooooooooo! Wake up, wife!”

“Uh-oh!” Pumpkin said, getting up. “I think the baby’s coming.”

“Quick! Let’s get to the hospital.” Pound helped her into their wagon, pulling it around the room a few times before coming to a stop and setting her on the couch. “Now we need to get you a doctor.

“MOM! DAD!”

The two of them came into the room. “Yes, Pound?” said Cup Cake.

“Pumpkin’s having a baby. We need a doctor.”

“Oh, okay. Carrot, you can do it. I’ll be your nurse.”

“Sure, honey,” he replied, giving her a kiss.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Pound chimed in. “Kiss on your own time. This baby ain’t delivering itself.”

The two of them looked at each other, suppressing laughs. “Yes, dear.”

Pumpkin went through the motions of being in pain and struggling. Pound held her hoof in his, patting it with his other one. “Be strong, honey! It’s almost here,” he said encouragingly.

“Thank you, honey. I love you!”

“I love you too!” Pound replied tenderly.

“Alright, Pumpkin-”

“That’s Mrs. Cake to you!” Pumpkin said strongly. “I’m not a baby here.”

Cup Cake put a hoof to her mouth to stifle her laughter.

“Right, right, my apologies,” Carrot said easily. “Mrs. Cake, I can see the head. I think one more good push will do it.”

So Pumpkin strained and strained, using her horn to push the baby out from under her apron.

“Congratulations!” Cup Cake said enthusiastically. “It’s a giraffe! Somehow.”

Cup Cake and Carrot both began laughing hysterically, much to the annoyance of the kids, who were scowling fiercely.

“Hey!” Pound said sharply. “Be serious! You’re ruining the moment!”

“Oh, if looks could kill,” Carrot said as he noticed their expressions. He put a hoof on his wife. “Come now, dear. Professionalism.”

“Right,” she replied in a snooty voice, sticking her nose up. “Your new baby pony is here. And… it’s a girl.”

Pound and Pumpkin were torn between still being mad and returning to the game. After a few seconds they opted to just get on with it. “A baby girl!” Pumpkin said, hugging Pound. “I’m so happy!”

“Me too!” Pound replied, hugging her back.

Using a small seat cover they wrapped up the stuffed giraffe and handed it over to Pumpkin.

“Ooohhh!” Pumpkin squealed. “She’s so beautiful.”

“I know, right?” He rubbed his hoof across her forehead a few times. “Welcome to the world… um…”

“Oh, my,” Cup Cake said, throwing her hooves to her face. “You haven’t planned out any names for your child?”

“Not yet,” Pumpkin replied.

“How about Banana?” said Pound.

“Banana?”

“Yeah. Banana Cake!”

“No, that’s stupid. We can call her Strawberry Cake.”

He stuck out his tongue. “Bleh.”

“Well… how about we just combine them? Strawberry Banana Cake?”

“Hey! How come YOUR name comes first?”

“I was TRYING to work together, but if you’re gonna be a dummy head then fine!”

“Now, now,” Cup Cake said gently. “Don’t fight in front of the baby.”

The twins faces lightened up, and they looked up at their mother. “What do you think we should name her?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. It’s your baby. Just try and cooperate.”

Pound sucked on his cheek, then smiled. “Fine. We can call her Strawberry, but I’m calling her Straw for short.”

Pumpkin shook her head. “Brothers.” Catching herself she corrected, “Husbands.”

“Alright, then!” Carrot said authoritatively, pulling out a clipboard and jotting something down. “And there… we… go.” He held out his hoof.

Pound reached his hoof out and took the paper. “Yay! Straw’s birth cirti… circum… that paper that shows she was born.”

“Certificate,” Cup Cake corrected automatically.

“Yeah, that thing.”

“Well, you’ve all been through a pretty big morning, haven’t you? I’m sure you could use a little breakfast.”

Almost immediately their little stomachs began to growl, and they realized that they really were famished. They hadn’t eaten anything yet, and they needed some fuel to sustain their excitement.

“Okay!” they both replied.

“I want pancakes!” Pound piped up.

“I want waffles,” Pumpkin said right after.

“Alright, then,” Cup Cake said, nuzzling her children. “I’ll call you when they’re ready.”

“Thanks, mom!” they said in unison.

'Ah, I love my children,' she thought as she headed to the kitchen.

Pumpkin was rocking the baby back and forth while Pound cooed at her and played peek-a-boo, Pumpkin adding a voice for Strawberry.

Carrot watched his children, amused. He wasn’t used to them being so cooperative. They hadn’t played house before. He was interested to see where they would go from there now that they had a child of their own.

When the food was done Carrot was impressed they didn’t immediately suspend the game to go eat, but rather brought Strawberry with them to the table. When Pumpkin sat on her seat Pound handed her over, setting her upright in Pumpkin’s lap.

Pumpkin looked down at her food but didn’t touch it.

“Something wrong, honey?” asked Carrot.

Pumpkin hesitated, then said, “Well, little babies are supposed to be fed formula, right? But we don’t have that. So let’s just skip that and say she’s old enough to eat solid food.”

Carrot and Cup Cake both snickered as they met eyes, sly grins across their faces. “Ah, if only it was so easy to skip the parts you didn’t like of a child’s life,” she said. “But sure. It’s your game, after all. We’ll play it the way you want.”

“That okay with you, Pound?” Pumpkin asked.

“Doesn’t matter to me,” he replied.

“So let’s continue.”

Pumpkin cut up her waffle into little pieces before pouring syrup on it. She speared a piece with her fork, bringing it to Strawberry’s lips. “Nom nom nom nom nom!

“Good girl, Strawberry. Eat it all up.” She brought the piece to her mouth. “Mmm. Great stuff, Mom.”

“Thank you, Pumpkin,” she replied. “Oh, right. You’re 'Mrs. Cake' now, right?”

“It’s fine.” She stuffed another piece in.

Pound was digging in as well. “I love the pancakes you make. You’re a great cook.”

Cup Cake blushed at the praise. “Well, I do my best.” She rustled his mane a bit. “I wouldn’t have a successful bakery if I couldn’t cook, hmm?”

“I guess not.”

Once breakfast was over Pumpkin helped her mom with the dishes while Pound took the baby.

Pumpkin was on a stool next to her mother, using her magic to help her as she dipped her hooves in the warm soapy water and pulled out plates, squirting soap on them. “Having a baby is fun, isn’t it?” Pumpkin said, smiling. “You get to play games and hug and snuggle.”

Cup Cake nodded as she took the dish and began scrubbing it. “The pain of childbirth is always outweighed by the benefits.”

“So how come you decided to have twins?”

She smiled at Pumpkin’s naiveté. “It isn’t up to us. When you make a baby there’s no telling how it will turn out. It might be a boy or girl. You might have just one or more.”

“How come you don’t know?” She took back the first dish and began drying it. “If you buy a house you know what it looks like.”

“Your comparison isn’t quite right, honey. When you buy a house the house is already built. With a baby it’s more like looking at a blank sheet of paper when you feel like drawing. You don’t know what you’re gonna end up with until it’s done.”

“Oh.” She paused thoughtfully before placing the dry dish in the drainer and grabbing another one. “So does that mean I really could give birth to a baby giraffe?”

Cup Cake burst out into laughter. “N-n-no, you silly!” She wiped her face of a tear.

“Hey, why are you laughing at me? You said it could be anything.”

“Sorry, sorry.” She gave Pumpkin a quick hug. “I just didn’t expect that.

“But to answer your question having a baby isn’t completely random. Just their gender and features, as well as how many you’ll have. The species you’ll birth will always be your own since babies are made of parts of their parents. If you add one pony and one pony it would be odd to give birth to a spider, wouldn’t it?”

Pumpkin sucked on her cheek, looking at her mom, then up at herself, putting a hoof to her horn. “If that’s true then why are me and Pound different than you? I’m a unicorn, and he’s a Pegasus, and you’re both earth ponies. Shouldn’t we be earth ponies too?”

“Good question." She nodded approvingly. "The reason is that while you’re made by your parents, we in turn were made by our parents, and they by their parents, and so on and so on. At some point in the past one of our family members married and had a baby with a pegasus and unicorn, which means we have unicorn and pegasus in our blood as well. We were just born as earth ponies.

“It’s just like I told you before: we don’t know what the baby will be until it’s here. If our ancestors had never mated with other pony races you would have been earth ponies without a doubt since you wouldn’t have taken in those genes.”

Pumpkin paused in her work, an old fear coming to her. She thought of her first day of school. “Mom?” she said quietly.

“Yes, Pumpkin?”

“How… how do you feel about… about… us?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

A tear came down her eye. “Do… d-do you hate us for being different?”

“Hate you?” Before Cup Cake could continue Pumpkin was nearly sobbing.

“W-w-w-we’re different than you. D-do you wish we had been earth ponies? Do you feel-feel ashamed of us?”

“Oh, Pumpkin!” Cup Cake said consolingly, grabbing her trembling daughter in a comforting hug. “None of that now.”

But Pumpkin only began blubbering harder. “I-I-I sometimes feel so afraid, that you’re-you’re jealous that I can do magic and you can’t. I’m scared you’re gonna stop loving me!”

Cup Cake’s heart burned. Was that really how her daughter felt? She pulled Pumpkin off the chair, sitting on the floor of the kitchen, squeezing tightly as Pumpkin sobbed into her chest.

Pound had gone to the living room, half-listening as he continued playing with Strawberry, but when he heard Pumpkin start crying he immediately dropped the toy on the floor and ran back to the kitchen. “What’s wrong, Pumpkin?”

Cup Cake looked at her son with teary eyes, opening up a hoof and pulling him to her as well. Carrot joined his wife on the floor. “Pumpkin got a little overwhelmed,” Cup Cake said.

Pound turned himself in his mother’s hooves so he could face Pumpkin, hugging her as well. “What happened?”

Pumpkin tried to answer, but only got out a few half-words before she just broke down into more hiccupping sobs.

“I’m glad you’re here too, Pound, because you also need to hear this,” Cup Cake said over Pumpkin’s crying. “Pinkie Pie reminding you of her words helped you break out of Discord’s magical influence. So let me repeat them. You are both my children, and I will always love you no matter what. That will never change, no matter how bad you act or the mistakes you make.” Releasing Pound she moved her hoof in the familiar motion. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

“Pinkie Promise,” Carrot said right after, also moving his hoof.

Pumpkin gulped, still shaking, but she let out a deep breath, easing some of the tension in her body as she hugged her mother harder. Her sobbing settled down slowly as her emotions gradually eased.

“What’s all this about?” Pound asked, confused.

Cup Cake rubbed his head gently. “Your sister was afraid we might hate her for having something we don’t.”

“Like what?”

“M-my h-horn,” Pumpkin stuttered out, putting a hoof to it.

Something clicked in his mind, a vague memory. That sounded familiar.

“I-I-I talked with P-Pound once about this. Sometimes I get scared that you don’t like me for being a unicorn.”

Now Pound remembered. “Yeah. That was at school.”

Cup Cake pushed her children back a bit. Pumpkin reluctantly let go of her mother and threw a leg over Pound instead. “Pound, we were talking about genetics and babies and how they come to look the way they do. So now that you’re caught up I want both of you to listen very carefully to me.

“You’re my children. I love you no matter what you are. Throughout my family and your father’s family the majority of our couplings have been earth ponies, but one of them mated with a unicorn and another a pegasus. The odds of having both of those different family traits come out after several generations in the two of you is nothing short of phenomenal. Both of you are my little miracles. I don’t care if you’re a pegasus and a unicorn, and I certainly don’t feel ashamed of either of you for not being earth ponies like us. That’s something you had no control over. I wouldn’t even care if I had actually given birth to a giraffe. You would still be my babies at the end of the day, and I would love you with all my heart no matter what other ponies said or thought about it.”

“Give birth to a giraffe?” Pound mouthed the words, scratching his head. He didn’t get it, but he didn’t want to interrupt.

She put her hoof under her daughter’s chin, pushing her head up to look into her dull eyes, the light in them dim. She kissed Pumpkin’s forehead, then kissed her tears away. She pulled Pumpkin to her again, closing her eyes as she said lovingly, “I’m proud of you, Pumpkin, for what you are. I’m happy that you’re a unicorn. I’m happy that Pound is a pegasus. Our family is made up of all three pony races. And we demonstrate all the time that the prejudice and racism of the past has gone away. We demonstrate love and friendship and family and togetherness, despite all our differences.”

Pound had been feeling left out of the loop, and he didn’t care before, but now, watching Pumpkin and their mom hugging, he was feeling a bit lonely. He crawled off his mom and went to his dad, who graciously held him too. He nuzzled his dad, sinking into his warm hold.

“Your mother is right,” Carrot said, speaking up. “It doesn’t matter a bit to us whether you have or don’t have horns or wings. What’s the most important to us is that we all love each other. It’s our similarities that make us a family, but it’s our differences that make us special… unique. The two of you have special talents that we will never have, but the same goes for us. We have abilities that you never will, and that’s okay. All we want is for you two to grow into your most powerful selves.”

Carrot rustled his mane a bit. “Would it be nice to be a unicorn? Sure. It would make the baking easier. It would save some time. We might not have to worry so much about balance if we could fly with the products and we wouldn’t have to be concerned with obstacles because we could just fly over them. So maybe there is a tiny bit of jealousy there.”

Cup Cake turned her head to her husband as she felt Pumpkin stiffen. She sighed. “Being perfectly honest I have to agree. There is a small degree of jealousy in my heart. However, don’t get the wrong idea. It doesn’t change how much we love you or how badly we want you to succeed.

“Pumpkin, we want you to work hard at developing your magic and become the best unicorn you could possibly be. And the same for you, Pound. We want you to become the best flier you can be. We would never dream of stifling your natural talents simply because we can’t do what you can do.”

“Parents get jealous of their kids?” Pound asked.

Carrot nodded, rubbing his head. “We may be grown up, but we’re ponies just like you. We have all the feelings you do. We can lose our temper, be immature and irresponsible, call each other names, be jealous, you name it. We can do all these things, but we try hard not to.”

“So it’s… okay? To be jealous?”

“The way you feel is never a problem. It’s what you DO with those feelings that brings trouble. It was the same with you, Pound, when you were in the habit of trying to attack anyone who hurt Pumpkin. With a bit of time and practice you stopped losing control of your emotions and got in the habit of telling an authority figure instead of resorting to violence.”

Pound nodded, understanding.

“So even though we feel jealous it’s okay because it doesn’t change the way we act toward you. If we were so jealous that, say, we tried to put you in surgery to have your wings removed, or put you up for adoption, then, yes, it would become a problem.”

“Oh…” Pound thought for a few moments. “Sometimes I get a little jealous of Pumpkin too. It would be really cool if I could make stuff move with my mind. And then you and dad are so grown up already and make all the rules and stuff. Sometimes I get jealous of you too.”

“I… I guess I do too,” Pumpkin said, calmer now as she looked at her parents. “I wish I could do more and I feel like there’s so much stuff I can’t do.”

“I… I guess that’s why we let Mayhem talk us into stealing Discord’s magic.” He twinged a bit with guilt. “We just wanted to feel in control for once.”

Pumpkin hung her head. “And then we almost attacked everyone.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Carrot said. “You’ve already been punished for that. Don’t punish yourself more for it.”

“I understand how you feel,” Cup Cake said, patting Pumpkins head. “When we were kids we also got in our fair share of trouble and wishing we could be all grown up. But growing up doesn’t come easy, you know. It means making tough decisions, running a household, laying down the rules, fighting for what you believe is right…

“We start our lives wishing we were older, but then we’re older we wish we could go back to being young and stupid. At least when you’re children everything is new. Your parents and teachers tell you what to do, which can be annoying, but it also means you don’t have to make any of your own decisions. So a kid or an adult. Neither side has it too good or too bad, hmm?”

“I guess not,” said Pound. “I thought being an adult was easy.”

Cup Cake and Carrot began to laugh. “Easy… right. You may have more freedom to make choices, but you’re also going to be judged for those choices much more as you grow older because you’re expected to be smart enough to know what to do. ”

“What about being a parent?” asked Pumpkin.

“And that is even trickier, because the way your children turn out is largely dependent on their upbringing and the lessons you instill in them. Just like we can do to you, I’m sure, you can really get on our nerves when you misbehave or don’t listen. But don’t think for a moment that we’ve ever regretted having kids. Just like Pinkie taught you: hate the behavior, not the pony.”

“You two played with Skyla yesterday,” said Carrot. “I think you can understand how much joy a baby can give you.”

“We’re not babies anymore!” Pound said immediately.

“Of course not, but you’ll always be our babies.”

“Ugh.” He rolled his eyes. “Well, I think I should go check on OUR baby. Come on, Pumpkin. We got adults to be.”

“Okay, Pound,” she replied, the two of them getting up and going to the living room.

Cup Cake and Carrot followed, observing them as they did many of the same things they did with Skyla. They changed her, let her ride on their backs, comforted her when she got upset, scolded her when she misbehaved, forgave her when she apologized, and finally put her down for a nap.

Pound sighed heavily, his face drooped. “What a day. I’m exhausted from taking care of our daughter all afternoon.”

“Aww, my poor sweet honeybun,” Pumpkin said with concern. “Here. Just lay down on the floor.” When he did she sat on her haunches. “Now close your eyes and just relax.”

Pound sat his head on his hooves, shutting his eyes as Pumpkin put her hooves on his back and began running them up and down. He let out a soft sigh.

“There you go. You’re feeling better already, hmm?”

Carrot chuckled softly, setting his head on his wife. “You know, you really are good at that. I wouldn’t say no to one of your famous massages.”

“You’ll have to wait ‘til later,” she replied, giving him a soft shove and a wink. “Just look at them. Copying us. It’s like looking at a mirror.” A tear came down her eyes. “Did we demonstrate love and compassion to our children? Looking at the way they’re imitating us I guess the answer is yes.”

Carrot took his gaze off his wife and back to their kids.

Pound got up, giving Pumpkin a quick peck on the cheek. “Aw, thank you. I really needed that. How about a hug?”

Pumpkin raised her hooves, extending them towards him. With a devious laugh Pound jammed his hooves under Pumpkins armpits and tickled her, making her squeal.

“Hey!” Pumpkin whined before grinning back at him, “If that’s the way you want to play it then I’m game.” She tackled him to the ground, and the two of them rolled around on the floor doing their best to tickle one another.

“It’s a question that runs through every parents mind,” said Cup Cake. “Are we good parents? Have we done a good job of teaching our kids the right things, the things they really need to know? I know we don’t always see eye to eye on everything, but watching them playing it seems the image they have of us is quite positive, and that we model friendship and companionship, the exact things that will help them in the future to grow into healthy adults.”

Carrot nuzzled her. “We don’t need to agree on everything. Just enough to get by.”

“Mom, Dad!” Pound piped up.

“Come here!” Pumpkin said right after.

“Yes, what’s up?” asked Carrot, approaching the pair.

“Sit down, sit down!”

He looked between the two, and they were so excited they were shivering, like Hearth’s Warming had come early. Vaguely he felt he knew what was coming.

Once the two of them had sat down Pound and Pumpkin jumped on their laps, still shaking with anticipation. “Mom, dad…” Pound looked at Pumpkin, and she back at him,

“We want to have another baby!” Pound finished, his voice positively trilling.

“Yeah, yeah!” Pumpkin called out. “We don’t want to play house with a little toy giraffe. We want to play with a real baby!”

Cup and Carrot now shared a knowing look, feeling they should have known it was coming.

“We took real good care of Skyla when she was here, so we’d take even better care of them if it was our actual brother or sister.”

“You know how protective I am of Pumpkin,” said Pound, raising and flexing his leg. “I wouldn’t let anyone pick on my other little sister. Or brother. Whichever it is.”

Cup Cake saw the joy and delight in their eyes, and hated the thought of taking it away. “I’m sorry, kids, but a new baby just isn’t in the cards right now.”

The two of them both pouted. “Why not?” Pound asked. “Don’t you believe that we would love her?”

“I don’t doubt that at all. I know you would.”

“So what’s the problem?” Pumpkin asked in a huff.

“The problem is the two of you are too optimistic. You’re only seeing the beauty and the good stuff when you have no idea of the strain involved in having and raising a baby.”

“Hey!” Pound jumped in. “Me and Pumpkin worked together to change a dirty diaper, even though it was totally gross. We can handle that kind of stuff.”

Cup Cake sighed, closing her eyes as she rubbed her head, wondering how she could get them to understand.

“The thing is,” said Carrot, "that responsibility is not a one-time thing. Sure, it’s easy to foalsit for a day, with her mother nearby and ample support if you screwed up. Doing it on a daily basis is another thing entirely. Even Pinkie Pie had to learn the lesson that taking care of a baby doesn’t just mean endless playtime.

“You have even less experience in what it means to be a parent. A baby starts out near helpless, and so their needs always have to come before your own. If you’re eating, if you’re tired, if you’re just in the mood for a rest, and your baby cries you have to tend to them. It means a lot of giving up the things you want, as well as sleep for when they have troubled nights.

“And it’s not like the baby would come out right away anyway, even if we did consider it. Are you willing to wait ten to eleven months for it, because it won’t come any sooner than that.”

“And then, of course,” said Cup Cake, “is that a pregnant pony is heavier, gets tired easier, and has trouble moving around and getting things done. During the last two months of my pregnancy with you all I could really do was operate the register, so profits were down during that time. Usually in the slow hours I could go back and help whip up some extra treats with your father, but that was it. If it wasn’t for Pinkie being the amazing baker she is there’s no way we would have made it through that dip in income.

“To think of having three or even four children to look after is staggering. The two of you have spent a few months in school and just started to mature, and I think our efforts would be better spent focusing on the children we do have rather than making some more.

“So I’m sorry, but an addition to the family is just not going to work right now.”

Pound and Pumpkin didn’t yell or try to argue the point. They just slipped off their parents laps back on the floor and walked away. Pound gave a halfhearted kick to the giraffe toy and the two leaned against one of the sofas, totally deflated.

They sat there, unmoving, totally silent, heads drooped, devoid of all spirit. Five minutes went by, and still they sat unmoving.

Cup Cake bit her lip. She hated to see her children like this, but she didn’t know what she could do to cheer them up. Pinkie knew everyone in Ponyville. Surely she would know a mare or two that could use a foalsitter. But they would just have the same problem. It would only be temporary.

Carrot had a pit in his stomach, similarly thinking of things that might cheer them up.

Cup Cake tried to look at things from another angle. What were they really asking for? They had commented earlier on feeling powerless at times. They were starting to grow up and enter the world now that they were in school and interacting with peers. It sounded to her like what they were really after was having more responsibility, a sense of control in their childish world. So they wanted to look after another living thing to feel more powerful.

“Aha!” she said as the idea sparked inside her. “Come here, kids. I’ve got just the thing to put a smile back on your faces.”

They stayed right where they were. Pound said dully, “I don’t care if you’re offering ice cream and cupcakes for every meal all month. We don’t want it.”

“Now don’t say that. I know of a way you can get what you want, and on a brighter note you won’t even have to wait for it. You can have it right now.”

A flicker of interest flitted between them. Feeling a little energy they got up and headed back to their mother’s lap.

“So what is it?” Pound asked shortly, getting right to the point.

“Your birthdays are next month, so I think this will work out fine.”

“We don’t want a present!” Pumpkin said, irritated.

“Just listen to me. If you want more responsibility then we’ll give you two a shot. We’ll get you what you want right now, and if you prove that you can handle it until your birthday you’ll get to keep them.”

“What are you talking about?” She rotated her head in a circle.

“We’re going to go to Fluttershy’s.”

Now they just looked confused. “Why her?”

She leaned over to her husband and whispered in his ear. His face lit up, and he nodded.

“Your mother just told me the good news,” he said, smiling.

“WHAT GOOD NEWS?” Pound threw up his hooves. “Just say it already!’

“You both want something to take care of, don’t you? If might not be exactly what you asked for, but what does Fluttershy have more of than she can count?”

For a moment the two of them looked stymied, then came the dawning revelation. “Wait, wait!” Pound said, his anger gone. “So we’re gonna get a pet?”

“Two,” corrected Cup Cake. “You’ll both get to pick out your own.”

All the excitement came back to them as they squealed with joy and hugged their parents. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“There we go,” Carrot said warmly. “As your mother said these animals will be all yours. You’ll be totally responsible for them and their well-being. Fluttershy and the two of us and Pinkie will help to instruct you in taking proper care of them, but everything else will be down to you. If you prove you can listen and care for them diligently then on your birthday we’ll have Fluttershy make it official.”

As they emerged from their parents embraces the two of them were crying they were so happy. “We’ll do the best ever!” Pound said confidently.

“Always!” Pumpkin said eagerly. Her face dropped right after. “Oh, but…” She stopped, not wanting to ruin their opportunity.

“But what?” asked Carrot.

“Well… what’s gonna happen while we’re at school? We can’t take them with us.”

Pound felt like he got hit in the gut. “Oh… that’s right.”

Cup Cake nuzzled Pumpkin’s nose with her own. “No worries about that. We’ll take over while you’re learning. Some pets don’t need much care, just love and affection. So don’t worry about that detail. We want to see what you do when you ARE there, rather than when you aren’t.”

Pumpkin let out a sigh of relief, her excitement returning. “Can we go right now?”

“Sure, Sweetheart.”

“WOOHOO!” they both shouted, slapping their hooves together. “Our first pet!”

Cup Cake and Carrot got on the floor, and Pound and Pumpkin climbed onto their backs.

“LET’S GO!” Pound yelled, pointing his hoof from his mother’s back.

Cup Cake chuckled. “Yes, boss.”

As they got into the fresh air Pumpkin was feeling a little devious as she looked at her brother. “So, Dad,” she said, leaning over him. “who’s faster? You or Mom?”

Carrot snorted, before meeting eyes with his wife. A sly grin on his face he said, “Why don’t we find out?”

“Bring it on, cowboy!” she responded mischievously. “Hold on tight, Pound!”

Pound clutched his mother around the neck as she reared back and took off, thinking that today was the best day EVER!

16-3: Pound and Pumpkin get a pet

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Pound and Pumpkin were laughing away as their parents ran in the direction of Fluttershy’s cottage. Both of them were holding on tight to their parents, each cheering on the parent they were riding on.

“Come on, Mom!” Pumpkin cheered. “You can win!”

“No way, Dad!” Pound said. “You have to win!”

They slowed down as they tired, still a ways from Fluttershy’s cottage.

“Ah, well,” Cup Cake said genially, rubbing her head against her husband’s. “I guess we’re about even. Let’s just call it a draw.”

“Sounds fine to me,” Carrot replied, giving her a kiss.

“Blech!” the twins declared. “Gross!”

Cup and Carrot just laughed.

When Fluttershy’s house was in sight the twins weren’t content to walk anymore. They hopped off their parent’s backs and began running. Cup and Carrot trotting along behind them.

Fluttershy was humming to herself as she watered her flowers. She let out a squeal as two objects collided into her legs, making her drop the hose.

“HI, FLUTTERSHY!” the twins screamed out.

“O-oh, hi.” Looking at the twins they were shaking like they were on a serious sugar rush. “What can I do for you?”

“We want an animal!” they said, their smiles widening.

“Hmm?”

“We told our mom and dad we wanted a new baby after playing with Skyla, but they said it would take too long and they have enough kids already,” said Pound.

“Sooo,” Pumpkin said, “they told us we could each pick out a pet of our very own to adopt.”

Fluttershy instantly brightened up, stars shining in her eyes. “Really?” She pulled away from them, a blur herself now as she raced to the spout and shut off the water.

She came back, picking the two up and hugging them tightly. “Oh, you don’t know how happy I am! I love seeing one of my animal friends get a loving home to stay in. Of course I love all of them, but I just don’t have the time to give all of them equal attention.”

She set them down. “Just hold on!”

Fluttershy moved around her yard and house, summoning all of her animals. “Come on, everyone! Front and center! Two of you will be getting a new home today!”

There were barks and chitters and squeaks of contentment among the animals as the news went around.

When the animals were all gathered around in the back yard Fluttershy came back to them. “Alright, before we start I just have one thing to say: there are a few animals that are not up for adoption. My little Angel Bunny, for one. And even though he would make an excellent protector I doubt your parents would let you adopt a bear. Then of course there are those animals that would rather just stay with me. Those are pretty rare, though. Most of them would love more solo or family care.

“Okay, you two. Go nuts!”

Pound and Pumpkin looked at each other. “What do you think, sis?” asked Pound. “Should we stick together or split up?”

“Well, we each are going to pick out our own pet, so I don’t see why we need to stick together.” Looking up at Fluttershy she said, “I just have one question.”

“Yes?” Fluttershy replied.

“Do any of your animals hate each other? If me and Pound split up to go and get our own animal it would be pointless if they’re not going to get along.”

“Oh, yeah,” Pound said, putting a hoof to his cheek. “I didn’t think about that. I don’t want our pets to be fighting when we’re not around.”

Fluttershy’s smile got wider. “I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking ahead, Pumpkin. It makes me feel more confident about putting them in your care.”

Pound pouted a little. “I’m planning to take good care of my pet too, thank you!”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Come on, Pound. Don’t be a sourpuss. This is a happy time for the two of you, isn’t it?”

Pound considered staying grumpy, but he took a deep breath and let his bad mood pass. “Fine.”

“To answer your question, Pumpkin, you don’t have to worry about that. My animals are all friends. When problems come up between them I act as mediator to help them past it.”

Pumpkin nodded. “In that case…” She put a hoof on Pound. “See ya!” And with a giggle and a hop she raced off towards all the critters.

“Wait for me!” said Pound, running after her.

Fluttershy followed behind them at a walk, ready to answer any questions or concerns the pair had.

Pound observed the birds around them. There were owls and hawks and toucans and flamingos and plenty more. A bat flew around him, perching on his head. He let out a yelp and shooed it away as it dug into his mane. He didn’t want it trying to make a nest in there.

He looked at each of the birds in turn. When they noticed him looking they began showing off, trying to keep his attention.

Did he want a bird? It certainly wasn’t an animal he was against. If he got a big enough bird like a flamingo maybe it could fly him around town. That would be cool. Then again, once he got control of his wings he would be able to do that himself.

He kept his eye on the hawk for a little while. He knew that certain birds were used as messengers. You could tie a note to their legs and they would deliver it to the recipient. That would definitely be awesome. He could message Tree Leaf. Or tell Twilight about important things he learned. Or tell Fluttershy things that would make her smile. Or even just send it upstairs to Auntie Pinkie to say hi.

He filed the hawk away in his list of potentials.

Pumpkin was on the other side of the yard, looking at all the bunnies. Fluttershy certainly had a lot of them, and they were just so adorable. She definitely wouldn’t mind having a bunny as a pet.

A yellow bunny hopped up to her, sniffing her. She reached up and rubbed its ear, and it kicked its leg like a dog, making her giggle.

Fluttershy had plenty of animals, but Angel Bunny was Fluttershy’s pet, the one she was closest to. She could always ask Fluttershy how hard it was to take care of a bunny. There were so many around that she didn’t know if she’d be able to pick just one.

Pound thought that Fluttershy’s animals were mainly in three categories only: land, sea, and air. He’d looked at the flying ones already. He didn’t think he wanted a sea animal. It seemed like it would require a lot of water. Fluttershy lived right next to a lake, so she had no problems with that. They lived in the middle of town. He guessed they could always buy a pond or something, but at the same time he didn’t want to have a pet he couldn’t do anything with. He wanted to be able to bring it along with him when he went out.

His mind went back to the hawk. How totally cool would he look walking around town with it perched on his shoulder?

He weighed his options. What kind of water animals did Fluttershy have? Even if he didn’t think he wanted one, it couldn’t hurt to at least take a look. There was a seal that he immediately discounted. Way too big, and not that mobile. A flamingo was perched in the water, along with some swans and ducks.

When he noticed most of them were following along in a line, with all the followers smaller, he decided against getting any of them. If they were family he didn’t want to split them up.

His stomach twisting in knots he turned to Fluttershy, who was nearby. “Fluttershy?”

“Yes, Pound?” she replied, turning towards him.

“Is… is it really okay for us to take these animals?”

Pumpkin looked up from the bunny she was petting. “What are you talking about, Pound? If she didn’t want us to adopt them she wouldn’t have brought them all out to begin with.”

Pound rubbed his hooves together. “But…” He pointed towards the ducks. “But aren’t most of them family? I know I would be sad if someone just came over one day and stole me away from Auntie Pinkie and Pumpkin and our parents.”

Pumpkin blinked in surprise. Now she was looking uncomfortable too. “Oh… you’re right. I wouldn’t like that either.”

Fluttershy walked over to him, leaning over and kissing him on his forehead. “See, Pound? You got all upset before because I praised Pumpkin, but you too are already making your pet’s well-being and happiness your top priority, and I am just as proud as you for doing so.”

Pound blushed. “T-thanks,” he said awkwardly.

“It is true that there are families that have grown up around my cottage, but those are not the ones standing right in front of you showboating every time you glance at them. I know my animals well. Any animal that is presenting itself to you is one that is content to have a new place to live. The ones that do not want to be split apart are the ones that are not around. So you have my word that you won’t be destroying any families or stealing them away from loved ones when you make your selections. Every pet that is before you is open for adoption.”

Pound let out a sigh of relief. He felt better now, and with a quick hug to Fluttershy he went back to looking around.

Pumpkin did likewise. She would have felt terrible about taking any animal away from its family. Now that she didn’t have to worry about that she kept looking around for the perfect pet.

She really wanted a cute animal above all else. She spotted a squirrel running around. Would a squirrel make a good pet? Like Pound she was thinking about the kinds of extra things a pet would need, aside from food, shelter, and love. Squirrels liked trees, and foraging for nuts. A squirrel would likely be unhappy living with her, then.

She considered a butterfly. They were colorful and looked cute. She gave up on it after a minute. She didn’t think butterflies had very long lifespans, especially when they were so fragile. If she was going to get a pet she wanted one that would last.

Maybe a cat would be her best bet. Cats were adorable.

Having gone through the air and sea animals Pound was walking along looking at the land animals now. Squirrels, bunnies, chickens, cats, mice, raccoons, otters, badgers, beavers; they were all fine, but none of them really thrilled him. It just didn’t give him that feeling in his heart of being the right choice. More and more he was looking toward the hawk as being his best choice.

As he was getting ready to tell Fluttershy so he spotted an animal off by itself. It was a dog, a golden retriever. It was lying down, its head on its paws. He looked around. It looked like it was the only dog she had. Except for the bear, it seemed like every one of her animals had some companion of its own.

Pound called out to it. “Come here, boy!” The dog lifted his head for a moment, then with an air of indifference set its head back down, turning away.

Pound was surprised. All of Fluttershy’s other animals had been willing and eager to be adopted. Maybe… “Here, girl!” he tried. This got him a growl from the dog, and he knew he was off-track. Maybe he was one of those unadoptables Fluttershy told him about.

“Are you interested in Butch?”

Pound jumped. He hadn’t heard Fluttershy approaching. “I guess.”

Fluttershy whistled. “Come on, Butch. Here, boy!”

This got the dog’s attention. He got up on his paws and started running toward them.

Pound felt his stomach twinging again. The dog had a defined limp in his front right paw.

When Butch arrived he sat down, panting.

Pound thought he looked in pain. “What’s wrong with his leg? If he’s hurt you shouldn’t have made him run.”

Fluttershy leaned over and began petting Butch. “Who’s a good boy? You are! You are!” Butch let out a healthy bark. When he turned over onto his back Fluttershy started rubbing his belly, making his hind leg kick.

Pound watched Fluttershy playing with the dog, but he felt she was hiding something. Even though she sounded really excited and happy he could see that those feelings weren’t reflected in her eyes.

He sat down on the ground, coaxing the dog over. Just like before the dog ignored him, staying with Fluttershy. He let out an annoyed grunt, ready to move on.

Fluttershy put a hoof on his shoulder. “Please don’t be offended, Pound. Butch has been through some bad experiences.” She sat down too, and Butch rolled over back onto his stomach, setting his front half on her lap as she kept petting him.

“I’m listening,” he said shortly.

“Well, Butch was abandoned by his former owner.”

Pound’s glare cracked. “Because of his leg?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Butch was delivered to me by a mare. She heard of my reputation in Ponyville for being an animal caretaker. When Butch broke his leg she took him to me because she couldn’t afford a vet. She said she was talking him for a walk, and he slipped, hurting his leg. Naturally, this stirred my heart, and I agreed to take him in. I’m no professional, of course, but I created a suitable cast for him, and agreed to take care of him until he was better.

“The mare thanked me graciously, and then she left. The night she came it was raining heavily, and she was wearing a hooded coat, so I never saw her face clearly. And she never returned after that, ever after his leg healed up.”

Butch let out a mourning howl.

“I did what I could for him, for a while expecting the mare to come back every day, but it never happened. I’ve had Butch for over a year now.”

“You said his leg healed up, but he still runs funny.”

Fluttershy sighed, closing her eyes. “That’s true. I brought Butch to the vet for an x-ray, and they confirmed that the bone had healed. However, he lacks the spirit to do much even now that he can.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s heartbroken. He still misses his owner. Even though the leg is healed he’s still not properly recovered because he doesn’t exercise enough. He spends most of his time just laying down and sleeping. I try to take him for walks and encourage him to get on his paw to strengthen his leg muscles back up, but I’m just one pony. I can’t do it all myself, not with over a hundred animals to look after.”

A tear came down her eye. “I’m always open for animal adoption. Several times ponies have shown interest in adopting Butch. However, every time they saw the condition of his leg they’d pass him by, because they’re more interested in a pet that’s perfect than to help an animal reach its true potential. They just look down on him because he’s different.”

Pound felt like a lightning bolt went through him. He didn’t understand why he was reacting so strongly.

He shook his head, pushing the feeling away. He wiped a tear off Fluttershy’s face. “Don’t be sad, Fluttershy. You’ve done a great job taking care of him. And he obviously trusts you, since he ran right over when you called. You’re amazing and I love you very much!”

Fluttershy looked at Pound, who was giving her an encouraging smile. She giggled a little and rubbed his head. “Thank you, Pound. I try my best.”

Maneuvering herself from under Butch’s paws she stood up. “So, Pound, you’ve looked all around. Are there any pets that have caught your eye?”

“Yeah…” Pound chewed on his cheek. The hawk was still the only thing that he had really loved, but something was still bothering him. He could feel his heartbeat in his chest, and felt like he could start crying at any moment. Pound wondered where all these feelings were coming from. Was he just upset at Butch’s story?

As he started walking away to point out the hawk he wanted he thought of Butch, how the dog would probably see him as just another pony that couldn’t look past his limp. His bad feelings had started when Fluttershy had mentioned other ponies looking down on him because he was different. And then it clicked in his mind.

He came to a stop, tears forming in his eyes. He was the butt of many flightless pony jokes at school for being the only one in his pegasus class that couldn’t even hover in place. He was picked on for being different all the time.

He also felt inferior to Pumpkin sometimes, because she was much better in school and could use her magic already. He also pondered whether his parents looked down on him or favored Pumpkin for being more special.

He hated those feelings. He hated the thought of everyone being above him or that he was worthless just because he couldn’t do the same things as everyone else.

With that, his choice was made. He spun around, his face set. Things wouldn’t always be this way. He would… no, THEY would prove it. Together. No matter what it took.

Fluttershy watched Pound. He walked right past her as if he didn’t see her. She noticed the expression on his face, and wondered what had gotten into him.

Pound sat down on the ground, and said quite clearly, “I want you to be my pet!”

The dog stared at him for a few moments, then let out a bark and walked over to him, licking his face.

Fluttershy’s heart swelled. “Oh, Pound! I’m so glad. What made you decide on him?”

Pound looked up at her. “Fluttershy, now that he’s going to be mine would it be okay if I gave him a new name?”

“Well… I think you should ask him that.” Butch barked. “Well, that settles that. He said yes. But you still didn’t tell me why you picked him.”

Pound hugged the dog’s neck, a fire in his eyes as tears streamed down them. “We’re gonna prove them all wrong! All the ponies that made fun of me for not being able to fly, and all the stupid ponies that only saw Champ for his limp.”

“Champ?”

“That’s right!” He gave a strong nod. “Champ is short for Champion. I WILL fly one day, and Champ is gonna be the best runner around! I promise that.”

“Mmmm,” Fluttershy said contentedly. “I believe you.”

“Hey!” Pumpkin said. “I picked my pet!”

Fluttershy looked over, seeing Pumpkin with an orange coated cat, with stripes going along its body and a white patch on its front.

Pumpkin was grinning from ear to ear. “Isn’t she just adorable? I even know what I want to name her: Princess Tiger Lily!” The cat nuzzled her, audibly purring.

“I think that’s a wonderful name, Pumpkin. Come over here and sit next to your brother.”

“Okay!”

When she was seated Tiger Lily came to sit on her lap, kneading Pumpkin’s legs for a few moments before lying down and closing her eyes. Hearts formed in Pumpkin’s eyes as she began petting her.

Joyful tears came to Fluttershy’s eyes. “It always makes my day to see pets find loving owners. Not that I am not a loving owner myself, of course, but my biggest weakness is time and energy. As I said earlier I’m just one pony, with over a hundred animals. As much as I’d love to I just can’t provide every animal with all the love and attention I’d like to give.

“It seems clear to me that both of you have taking a liking to your animals, and they have done so in turn. I’m honored to see them go to you. I declare this a successful adoption.”

Pound shook his head. “No, you’re wrong.”

“Hmm?” Some of her excitement vanished. “What do you mean?”

“Well, right now we’re only borrowing them. They’re still yours right now.”

“I don’t get it. You said you were coming here to adopt a pet, right?”

Pumpkin nodded. “That’s right, but our parents said they’re not our pets yet. Not until our birthday.”

“So… you only want to take them during the day?”

Pound shook his head. “Nope. We’re gonna have them all day and all night.”

Fluttershy rubbed the side of her head in confusion. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“When we played with Skyla the other day it was a lot of fun.” Pound hugged Champ, nuzzling his head. Champ responded by licking his face, making Pound giggle. “We wanted to do that some more, so we asked our parents if we could get a little brother or sister to take care of.”

“But our parents said that it wasn’t a good time,” Pumpkin continued, scratching Tiger Lily’s ears. “And we would have had to wait like a whole year anyway for mom to get pregnant and it to grow and come out. It’s not exactly the same thing, but they offered us a way to have something to take care of without waiting at all.”

“Me and Pumpkin are still kids, and we can sometimes be selfish brats.”

“Or get into fights and yell at each other.”

“So our parents said they want us to prove that we’re capable of taking care of a pet first. Our birthday is a month away, so it’s a long enough time for them to watch us.”

“And if we pass the test then they’re gonna make it official.” She picked up Tiger Lily and nuzzled her nose. “We’re definitely gonna pass for sure. I don’t think I could say goodbye to her.”

“Me either!”

“I see,” said Fluttershy, giving an understanding nod. “I think that’s fair. Even if you truly love them, if you’re unable to properly care for them then I agree it would be in their best interest to return to me.”

Fluttershy got down on her knees, putting her hooves out. “Tiger Lily, Champ, let me just say goodbye.”

Champ ran over to her, licking her face repeatedly. Tiger Lily held back from the excited dog until he was done, then approached Fluttershy and gave her some nuzzles.

Champ returned to Pound, tackling the young pegasus and licking his face as well, his tail wagging hard.

Pumpkin waited for Tiger Lily to return to her, then began to pet her again. She looked up. “Mom, Dad, what do you think?”

“I think you both made wonderful choices,” said Cup Cake.

“And I hope that you maintain that enthusiasm you had today,” added in Carrot.

“We will!” they said unanimously.

Fluttershy spent the next half-hour instructing them on care for their respective animals. Pound and Pumpkin listened harder than they ever had before, knowing that they didn’t want to lose their pet by their own mistakes.

She directed them to the pet store she always used. She was such a frequent shopper that they always gave her a sizable discount for her food purchases.

Pound walked around, grabbing several toys, a leash and collar, as well as some biscuits.

Pumpkin grabbed a scratching post, a toy mouse, a cat house for her to sleep in, a litter pan and litter, as well as a scoop, and some cat treats. The both of them also grabbed food and water bowls.

They returned with their purchases up to the front register where their parents were patiently waiting.

With everything paid for they said goodbye to Fluttershy and started the walk home. Tiger Lily was sitting on Pumpkin’s back, while Champ walked side-by-side with Pound.

After dropping off all their purchases in their rooms the twins came back downstairs. “Can we go to the park?” asked Pound.

“Yeah! Can we, can we?” Pumpkin pleaded

Neither of them had ever seen the twins so happy, and there was no way they were going to dampen their enthusiasm. “Of course,” said Carrot.

“WOOHOO!” Pound shouted, hopping up and down in excitement. He ran up to his dad and hugged his leg. “I love you!”

Pumpkin hugged her mother’s leg as well. “I love you too! So, so, so much!”

“You’re the best parents ever!”

Cup and Carrot blushed at the praise. “Now, now,” said Cup Cake. “I think that’s enough.”

“Okay. Come on, Pumpkin! Let’s go!” He went bounding out the front door much like Pinkie Pie. You could almost hear the boing each time he landed. Champ barreled after him.

“Hold on tight, Tiger Lily!” Pumpkin said, running out as well.

On the way to the park the two were talking up a storm. “I can’t wait to show Tree Leaf-the rest of our friends will be so excited-best day ever-I’m so happy-”

When they arrived Pound played ball with Champ, while Pumpkin walked around showing the park to Tiger Lily.

Hours passed before Cup and Carrot could convince the children to leave.

When they arrived home Pound and Pumpkin set up the bowls, filling one with water and the other with dry food. Pumpkin also set up the litter pan and the house for her cat. It was about as tall as her, with one circular entrance, made of a soft material.

The kids were a bundle of energy the rest of the day, but when it grew late and their excitement had tempered a bit the two of them went to their rooms with their pets. It was a rare occasion when the pair would wash up and get ready for bed without any prompting.

When Carrot and Cup entered the room to say goodnight they could see their children both under the covers, their pets with them. Tiger Lily was on Pumpkin’s belly, while Champ was lying between Pound’s legs, curled up and facing the bottom of the bed.

Pound said, “Will you read us a bedtime story?”

“Please!” Pumpkin added.

“Alright,” said Carrot. “You’ve been well behaved today.”

Grabbing some chairs they sat down in the space between the beds. “So what would you like to hear tonight?”

“The silly, silly pony,” said Pound, snickering.

Carrot rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “Why that one?”

“Because you do the best voice for the silly pony,” said Pumpkin, tittering too.

“Alright,” he said, resigned.

He picked out the book from the shelf, opening it up and beginning to read. Pound and Pumpkin guffawed at his squeaky voice each time he voiced the main character.

When he was done the twins were in high spirits. Under his breath he said, “Someday I swear I’m gonna burn that book.”

Cup Cake gave him a kiss on the snout. “We both know you love the attention, dad of the year.”

“Yeah, yeah. Butter me up, why don’t you?” He kissed her back.

She giggled. “Well, that was an entertaining story, and now I think it’s time to go to bed.”

She expected them to fight her, to ask for a few more or if they could stay up a little later, but they didn’t put up an ounce of fuss. All she got was a polite “Okay, Mom” from them. It was odd, but quite refreshing.

The both of them gave the twins a kiss goodnight, set up their night light, and shut the light switch off, before closing the door to the room. They didn’t hear a peep from the twins all night. Usually they would hear the twins at least once after saying goodnight.

At dawn Cup Cake was steeling herself for another hectic morning. First things first was to get the twins up, which usually went from difficult to a nightmare. “Five more minutes, mom?” “I don’t want to go to school today!” She’d experienced it all.

With a sigh she went to their door, knocking on it. “Pound! Pumpkin!” She opened the door, and her eyes nearly bugged out of her head in surprise. “It’s time to… to…”

The twins were already up. Their beds were made, their saddlebags near the door. Pumpkin was scooping the litter pan, while Pound was attaching the leash to Champ’s collar.

“Yeah, yeah. Can it wait, Mom? I’m busy.” He gave a quick tug. “Come on, Champ! You should go to the bathroom before we go to school.”

With a bark the dog followed after him as they left the room.

Cup Cake was speechless. If THAT was how the twins were going to act from now on, then getting them pets was the best investment they had ever made.

17: Pumpkin's friendship exam

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Cup Cake and Carrot were in high spirits. From the day they had gotten their children their pets the twins almost felt like different ponies. They had been so well-behaved it ordinarily would have been a cause for suspicion, but it was obvious that their hearts were full to bursting with affection, and it spilled over into everyone they came in contact with.

There was hardly a time the twins weren’t smiling or laughing, and it always brightened up their day to see their kids so happy.

Naturally Pinkie threw a big party over the occasion. She had invited the usual gang, telling them to bring their own pets to get them all acquainted. And, just as naturally, Pound and Pumpkin soaked up the attention and were eager to show off their new pets.

As Fluttershy had told them Champ and Tiger Lily had no animosity between them, despite being a cat and dog.

Yet another benefit of owning a pet was that Pound and Pumpkin had someone else to play with during busy days at the shop. Usually they and Pinkie Pie were baking and selling most of the day, so the twins usually only had each other to play with. That usually worked out fine for them, but it could also lead them to get on each other’s nerves.

All in all, they had not one single regret about their choice. Since they hadn’t had to decide on one pet there was no concern over them fighting over who got to play with their pet first.

The two of them weren’t stupid. They knew that the excitement of getting a pet would wear off eventually, and that was when the twins true test of ownership would begin. For now, though, they didn’t want to concern themselves over the misfortunes of the future. What was important right now was that the twins were doing exactly what they had set out to do: be good owners. That was enough for the time being.

***

Pinkie Pie walked in the door of Sugarcube Corner. “I’m back!” she trilled.

“Welcome back, Pinkie,” said Cup Cake, ringing up a customer.

Pound and Pumpkin came in right behind her. “Hi, Mom!” they said brightly.

“And hello to you too!” she finished giving the customer their change, then turned to them. “How was school?”

“Great! No problems at all!” said Pound. He put his hooves to his mouth and called out, “CHAMP! Here, boy!”

There was a bark from upstairs, and the golden retriever came barreling down the stairs toward him. The dog knocked him over, standing on his chest and licking his face repeatedly, making the colt laugh and half-heartedly push him away.

Several customers looked warmly at the display.

Pumpkin was giggling as well, then jumped as she felt something against her leg. She heard a meow and looked down to see Tiger Lily rubbing up against her, having followed Champ downstairs.

“Hello, Princess.” She picked up the cat, nuzzling her face. “I missed you so much.”

The cat began purring in response. Setting its front paws on Pumpkin’s leg it crawled up her leg and sat on her head. Pumpkin rolled her eyes, snickering. “Fine, fine. You can stay up there.”

The pair went into the back room where their father was taking a cake out of the oven. “Hi, Dad!” they said.

He set the cake down on the counter to cool. “Hey, kids.” He wiped his brow.

“We’re gonna do our homework, okay?” said Pound.

“Of course.”

“When we’re done could we borrow Auntie Pinkie and go to the park?”

He went to the swing door and pushed it open halfway, looking around the front. “Well, it’s not too busy right now. If it stays like this I don’t see why not.”

The two of them smiled before going to the table, setting their saddle bags down on it before climbing up. Pumpkin lifted her legs above her head, picking up Tiger Lily and putting her on the floor. “Sorry, kitty, but I’m afraid I’m gonna knock you off my head while I’m working. As soon as I’m done with my work we can go back to the park.”

The cat stared up at her with an inscrutable expression, then walked away, lying down on the carpet.

Champ walked over to Tiger Lily, lying down with his body curled around hers.

Pound beamed at his pet. The way he was wrapped around her made it look like he was protecting her from danger. It was exactly what he wanted in a pet. He would keep Pumpkin safe, while Champ would protect Tiger Lily.

He took out his worksheet and began working with vigor. Pumpkin did the same. While they were working their dad got them an after-school treat of milk and cookies, which they eagerly accepted.

When their homework was finished they put all their papers and books away, took the dishes and plates to the sink, and called each of their pets over. Tiger Lily went right back to Pumpkin’s head, while Champ walked side-by-side with Pound.

They went into the shop area, and were elated to see the store was still pretty empty. “Auntie Pinkie!” they said together as they spotted her cleaning one of the display cases.

“Hey, you guys! What’s up?”

“Daddy said if it wasn’t busy you could take us to the park,” said Pound.

“So can we go?” asked Pumpkin. “Can we, can we?”

“Sounds great!" she responded. "Just let me finish up here and we’ll be out. In the meantime why don’t you two put your bags in your room and grab any stuff you want to bring.”

“Okay!” they said together, heading upstairs.

Once in their room they put their saddle bags in the closet.

“Man, this has been the best week ever!” Pumpkin said, wanting to jump up and down, but restraining herself. She didn’t want claw marks all over her head.

“You said it!” Pound agreed. “I never even knew what we were missing all this time.” He hugged Champ. “I love you, Champ! You’re an awesome pet.”

The dog let out a loud bark, his tail wagging hard.

“Tiger Lily is awesome too. Her colors are so cool.”

“Yeah. It’s too bad she’s so lazy,” he said with a wink.

Tiger Lily gave a mild hiss, but otherwise made no reaction.

“Hey, cats like to sleep. And being up on my head means she’s in the best position to be safe.”

“I know, I know. I’m just messing with you.”

A few minutes later Pinkie came up to check on them. The pair were ready.

On the walk there Tiger Lily had her front legs on either side of Pumpkin’s face, dozing in the sun.

Champ, on the other hand, was a ball of energy. He kept running ahead, turning around and coming back to them, coaxing Pound to run with him. The colt finally took the bait and raced him.

Pound noticed that Champ’s limp was already improving. Fluttershy had told him that his leg was healed, but it was still weak from lack of use. If he kept taking Champ out to exercise every day then Champ would be walking fine in a few months. And because he wasn’t surrounded by dozens of animals he received plenty of one on one care.

Pinkie let out a contented sigh. Pound and Pumpkin were really growing up. They were still children, of course, but with going to school and now owning their own pets they were really becoming responsible.

Pound stopped, panting, as they reached the entrance to the park. Champ was breathing heavy too. “G-good… boy…” He patted Champ’s head.

Pumpkin just strolled past him as Tiger Lily stretched and yawned, oblivious to everything else.

As Pound went to get some water Pumpkin went off on her own.

“Don’t go too far, Pumpkin,” Pinkie warned her.

“I know,” she replied. “'Have fun but stay close by', right?”

Pinkie nodded. “Good girl.”

Recovered now, Pound went to a big open area with a frisbee, throwing it and watching Champ run after it, jumping into the air and catching it in his mouth. Pound applauded as Champ returned and dropped it at his hooves.

Pumpkin watched her brother for a little bit, then grabbed the bag with some bread in it she had brought to feed to the ducks and geese. She sat down at the pond, once more taking Tiger Lily off her head. The cat let out a mewl at being disturbed, but settled down once Pumpkin set her down on her lap, going back to sleep.

Pumpkin threw a small piece of bread into the water by a nearby duck, who quickly snatched it up and ate it. When she threw another piece near the land in front of the pond it came out of the water to eat it.

As she continued it got the attention of the other birds, and they all began to swarm out looking for their share. She tore up the bread into little pieces, throwing it in as many directions as possible to try to make sure all of them got a little bit. It was so much fun to her.

Getting bold she let one of them eat off her hoof, but that caused the lot of them to get too close. She wasn’t worried about them attacking her or anything, but she didn’t want to frighten Tiger Lily, so she took some more pieces and threw them away in the distance, granting her room again.

When she stopped providing them with food the birds scattered around again. She leaned back against the tree she was sitting in front of, thinking that Tiger Lily definitely had the right idea. It was so warm and peaceful in the sun. There were a few ponies talking, but for the most part all she heard was the cries of animals, the sound of splashing water, and the cool breeze that whipped past her, stirring the trees. She closed her eyes, petting Tiger Lily. It was such a beautiful day.

She wasn’t sure if she actually fell asleep or not, but a sound was slowly drawing her attention. It sounded like crying. She wondered what anyone could possibly be sad about on a day like today.

She knew she couldn’t keep relaxing if there was someone upset, and so reluctantly opened her eyes. Nearby was a filly about her age restlessly throwing rocks into the pond. Her coat was a light yellow, her mane and tail mainly red with white highlights.

The filly was curled up, her head on her knees. She softly shook from time to time, tears coming down her eyes.

Pumpkin woke up Tiger Lily. “Come on, girl. There’s someone who needs help.” She set the cat on the ground, standing up and walking around the pond toward the girl. Tiger Lily followed behind her.

She sat down next to the filly. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

The filly stopped in the middle of throwing a rock. After a second she completed the throw, ignoring the question.

She tried again. “My name is Pumpkin Cake. What’s your name?”

“What does it matter?” the filly replied dully.

“It does matter! I need to know what to call you.”

“And why would you want to talk to me? It’s just a waste of time.”

“Come on. I told you my name. It’s only fair.”

She sighed. “Peppermint Swirl,” she replied. She picked up another rock, tossing it. Ripples went throughout the water.

Pumpkin put a comforting hoof around her. “Look, I know bad things can happen, but it’s so much worse when you don’t have anyone to share your pain with.”

Far from feeling reassured it only made the filly angrier. “Shut up!” She pushed Pumpkin over. “Just shut up, would you? Who asked for your help? What makes you think you understand, huh?”

Pumpkin sat up as Peppermint turned away and went back to throwing rocks. She closed her eyes. “What would Auntie Pinkie do?” she asked herself. Something about Peppermint’s behavior struck her as very familiar.

It didn’t take her long to find out what. Peppermint’s actions reminded her of Pound’s behavior after Tree Leaf had betrayed him. Pound had pushed everyone away and didn’t want to listen to anything.

She thought about everything she and Pound had been going through lately. From what she had seen she should just listen, not get angry at her outbursts, and wait for her to calm down. That was how Fluttershy had helped them out, and her parents, Pinkie, and even Princess Twilight had followed that example recently.

She took a deep breath, preparing herself for battle. “Why are you sad, Peppermint? I know you’re not really mad at me.”

Peppermint paused again, her body clenching. “Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”

“Can’t you just tell me what’s wrong? I want to help you.”

“Leave me alone!”

“But what kind of pony would I be if I left you all alone and sad?”

A muffled sob came from the filly, before her anger returned and she slapped Pumpkin across the face. “Why can’t you just GO AWAY! I don’t want you here.”

Pumpkin recoiled a bit, but she wouldn’t retaliate. It might hurt, but if Peppermint was anything like her brother the filly was only lashing out because she wasn’t sure how else to express her feelings.

She rubbed her cheek a bit to take out the sting. “I don’t believe you. I think you do want me here. Everyone needs someone to help them out when they’re sad.” She wrapped the filly in a hug. “Isn’t that right?”

“What are you doing?” Peppermint tried to fight her off, but Pumpkin wasn’t going to let her go until she let the love in. “Stop! Stop it! S-s-stop. Stop…” She got quieter and quieter, her protests growing weaker, until she wasn’t fighting at all.

Pumpkin smiled. “There you go. Doesn’t it feel better?”

Tears filled Peppermint’s eyes, and Pumpkin was sure the filly was about to give in and hug her back. Instead she roughly pulled herself out of Pumpkin’s hold. She walked a short distance away and sat back down facing away, quietly sobbing.

Pumpkin wasn’t daunted. It was just like her brother’s situation. Peppermint needed some love. She just wasn’t ready to accept it. Maybe she had done something bad and was in trouble. Or maybe she was just in a bad mood. She’d dealt with Pound’s moods enough to know what usually cheered him up. The only problem was she didn’t know what was causing Peppermint’s distress. It wouldn’t be effective to puff up her pride if she was in trouble.

She sat next to Peppermint, but maintained a little distance. She mimicked the filly’s pose, lifting her back legs up and putting her head on her knees. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said quietly. “I’ll stay here as long as it takes until you’re ready to talk.” And then… she waited.

Peppermint gave no indication she had heard Pumpkin’s words. She just kept crying into her knees.

Pumpkin closed her eyes, knowing that she only had to be patient. Auntie Pinkie was able to be friends with everyone she met because she paid attention to what other ponies needed. She had put her hoof out with an offer of friendship, but she couldn’t force Peppermint to take it. The filly had to make that decision on her own.

Minutes passed by before Peppermint finally spoke again. “What are you doing?” she asked. Pumpkin opened her eyes. “Why are you still sitting there? You don’t know me. You’ve never seen me before today. What do you care about my problems?”

Pumpkin gave her a smile. “Because I’ve hung out with too many heroes to just ignore you.”

Peppermint’s eyebrow went up. “What does that mean?”

“A lot of ponies have taught me important things, one of them the princess of this town.”

Peppermint’s interest faded, and she turned away with a huff. “Yeah, right!” she said sarcastically. “And Princess Celestia is my aunt.”

“Princess Twilight is my aunt’s best friend, from back before she was an alicorn.

“But someone doesn’t have to be a princess to teach you important stuff. Even kids can have something important to teach.” In her mind she could see Twilight with the friendship diary, asking for her and Pound to write down what they had learned. “That’s what Twilight said to me.”

“Stupid,” she said dismissively. “Adults always lie to kids to make them feel better about how dumb and pathetic they are. What makes a princess any different, even if you are telling the truth?”

Pumpkin still couldn’t get rid of the image of Pound. Twilight had said that Pound usually got confrontational to hide his true feelings. She thought Peppermint was doing the same thing. But until Peppermint actually told her what she was upset about she was at a standstill.

Peppermint began quietly sobbing again. “Lucky! You’re friends with a princess, but it doesn’t even matter! A princess would never want to even look at me.”

“That’s not true! Twilight is an amazing pony. She’s kind and smart and she tries to just be a normal pony most of the time. She gets very uncomfortable when other ponies bow to her, so she tells all her close friends to treat her like she’s not a princess.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Peppermint turned her head slightly toward her. “You really want to know what happened?”

Pumpkin couldn’t answer at first. Peppermint was flashing her that exact same twisted smile that Pound had. There was no doubt in her mind. She had had to deal with Pound’s destructive phase for days on end, and she couldn’t forget it.

“What’s wrong? You’re the one that wanted to know.” She finally uncurled herself and stood up, turning her head to the side.

Pumpkin had always seen the left side of Peppermint’s face, but now she could see the right side, and there was a bright red hoof mark across her cheek. She jumped up as well, concerned. “What happened, Peppermint?” She winced as the filly laughed, the image of Pound getting stronger and stronger all the time.

“Oh, nothing. My daddy just gave me what I deserved.” Despite her smug expression a tear came down her face.

Pumpkin gaped at her. “Your dad hit you?” Her stomach felt like it had worms in it. No matter how badly she or Pound had acted none of the adults in their lives had ever struck them. “Why?”

Peppermint’s grin wavered a bit. “I told you that already. He gave me what I deserved.”

“Don’t say that!” Pumpkin said angrily. “No one deserves to be hit by their parents.”

Peppermint’s expression grew dead again as she looked at the ground. “I did.

“My mom recently gave birth to a baby boy. He’s about a month old now. While we were all waiting I was so excited, but ever since he came into the picture everything’s changed. My parents don’t pay attention to me anymore. They’re either working or sleeping or taking care of the baby. Now all I am to them is a foalsitter.”

She looked up at Pumpkin, tears streaming down her eyes. “I hate him! I hate him so much for taking my parents love away from me! And today I felt so jealous that I hit him!” She sank to the ground. “And… and when he saw that he smacked me and yelled at me for picking on a defenseless baby.”

Burying her head in her hooves she shivered. “I… I-I-I ran away. I ran out of the house. I’m not going back! Ever! They don’t need me anymore! They have something else to love now. And I guess one day they’ll have another kid and kick my brother out next.”

Pumpkin was crying now. She sat down next to Peppermint and started rubbing her back as the filly cried. Before she could say anything else she had to know one thing. “Peppermint… does your daddy usually hit you when he’s mad?” If the answer was yes then she’d have to go to Auntie Pinkie, and likely to Twilight. That would be an issue too big for her to fix herself.

“N-no!” she croaked out. “T-this is the first time.”

Pumpkin let out a sigh of relief. If this was just a one-time thing then she thought it was just an accident. She thought of when she played with Skyla, and how protective she felt over her when she was going to sleep. If someone had hit Skyla she would have felt justified in hitting that pony, even if that wasn’t the right thing to do.

“Well, that’s a relief,” Pumpkin said. “I’m glad this isn’t something that happens all the time. I think your daddy just had a Pound moment.”

Peppermint glanced up at her. “A… a what moment?”

“Oh, right. You don’t know my brother. We’re twins, but he’s technically my older brother because he was born a few minutes earlier. He’s a total dork and a loser, but he’s the most amazing pony I know.” She giggled.

Peppermint just stared at her.

“Pound is a perfect older brother to me.” Her eyes glazed over, her smile growing tender. “Every time I’m in trouble or sad, and I don’t know what to do, Pound always comes to my rescue. He’s very protective of me. He used to be too protective. Anytime someone would pick on me, and especially if they hit me, he would go crazy and hit them without a second thought. Twilight eventually helped Pound to find a better way.

“Twilight pointed out that all the times he had attacked another pony to protect me it had actually made things worse. One time it led to the kid coming back with his older brother and their friends. One time it led to him getting kicked out of school. So now he does his best not to get into fights anymore, so he doesn’t hurt me by getting in trouble or possibly making other ponies want revenge.”

Peppermint slowly put her face back on her legs. “Your brother sounds really cool.”

“He is! Well… most of the time. The rest of the time he’s a total butt face and a dummyhead that gets on my nerves.” She snickered into her hoof. “Aw, but I still love him though.”

“I guess that’s what an older sibling is supposed to be like, huh?” Her body scrunched up. “A good sister is someone that protects their baby brother, not smacks him in the back of the head because she’s mad!” The self-loathing in her voice was evident. “I’m a bad sister and a bad daughter and a bad pony! I was so horrible that my dad hit me!” She rolled over onto her side, in a ball again as she rocked back and forth. “T-t-that’s why I’m never going home! None of them are gonna wanna see me anymore. They probably all hate me!” She began wailing into her knees again.

Pumpkin’s legs felt weak, and it was all she could do not to just break down with Peppermint. Hadn’t she been in this exact same position on their first day of school? The circumstances were different, but the feelings were so familiar to her. It had been unbearable. Or it would have been, if Pound hadn’t been with her. Peppermint didn’t even have anyone by her side. She felt all alone.

Pumpkin released the breath she was holding, determined to make things right. After all, what was the point of everything she had gone through if she couldn’t even help a pony that needed that lesson the most? She already had all the study material before her, and now it was time for the test.

She first went back to Twilight’s lessons on regaining calm. She focused entirely on her breathing, taking measured breaths, until she felt a little more relaxed.

She walked over to Peppermint, pulling the filly into a sitting position. She sat down in front of her. “Peppermint, let me ask you something. Do you feel bad for hitting your brother?”

The filly growled, her eyes narrowing. “Were you not listening to what I just said? If I didn’t feel bad then would my heart hurt this badly?”

Pumpkin nodded. “And that’s why you’re not a bad pony.”

“Hmm?” Peppermint’s expression grew mixed. The anger was fading, a touch of interest in her eyes.

“Me and my brother ran away from home twice. The first time was over something stupid. We ruined something our Auntie Pinkie made and were so scared she wouldn’t like us anymore we left.

“The second time… well, it’s different than what you went through, but the two of us left because we felt we weren’t wanted anymore.”

Peppermint was listening hard now.

Pumpkin looked at the ground, those past feelings emerging again. “The two of us had gotten into a fight at school on our first day. We got kicked out, and everyone was mad at us. Auntie Pinkie wouldn’t talk to us, our teachers were mad, the principal was mad, our parents scolded us…

“Later on Princess Twilight came to visit. She was the one that got us into school in the first place, so when she heard about what happened she got mad too.

“We thought for sure that none of our family loved us anymore, so we were better off just leaving.”

“So what happened?” asked Peppermint.

Pumpkin looked up, meeting her eyes. She could hear the anxious tone in Peppermint’s voice, and see she had the filly’s full attention. There was a spark of hope in her eyes, and that made a small grin come to Pumpkin’s face. She was doing it. If she just kept going she was sure she could take Peppermint’s pain away. Auntie Pinkie would be so proud, and Fluttershy and Princess Twilight too. She could feel her heart swelling up with joy, and she wanted nothing more at that moment than to pull Peppermint out of the dark cloud of her despair, to make her feel what she was feeling right now.

“Well, a lot of stuff happened. One of Auntie Pinkie’s friends is named Fluttershy. She’s a very kind pony. She found us while we were out there. We made up a lie about why we were by ourselves, but she pretty much saw right through it and pretended she didn’t. She was so nice that she got us to tell her what happened. When she heard it she didn’t yell or tell us we had done something bad. She didn’t like that we had gotten into a fight, but she still loved us.

“Eventually we all wound up back at our parent’s house, where Fluttershy made all of them promise to keep quiet and let us talk about how we were feeling. When our parents saw just how much they had hurt us they apologized and we made up.

“Princess Twilight apologized to us too. She’s a bit of a nerd. Most of the time she’s reading and learning stuff. So she said she wasn’t really mad about us fighting, but she just didn’t want us to not be able to learn stuff.”

Pumpkin put a hoof to her heart, smiling warmly as she closed her eyes. “Princess Twilight really is amazing. She knew just what to do to help us. We were still a bit scared that maybe she didn’t like us. We asked her if she just thought we were bad ponies.”

Peppermint turned away, wincing. “So… what did she say?”

Pumpkin opened her eyes, putting her hooves out and pulling up Peppermints. The filly looked over at her, not fighting. Her expression had grown dead again. Beaming, she said, “She said that what separates a bad pony from a good pony is how they feel about the bad things they do. A bad pony doesn’t care about hurting others. But that’s NOT you. So long as you feel bad about hurting someone then you’re NOT a bad pony. You’re just a good pony that made a mistake.”

“Mmm.” A tear slowly came down her cheek. “I’m… I… I…”

Pumpkin could see the pain slowly leaving Peppermint’s face.

“Do… do you really think that, Pumpkin?”

In her mind’s eye Pumpkin could see herself in front of Twilight, dictating their message into the friendship diary. “Princess Twilight and her friends have a notebook where they write down the lessons they learn about friendship. The idea is she wants to help future ponies through seeing other ponies that have gone through the same thing. Twilight wrote down what she learned about little kids like us, and then she surprised us by letting us write down what we learned. It seemed crazy. OUR words, right next to a princess? But Twilight let us make that message for a time like this.

"And that message was that EVERY pony, no matter how old, makes mistakes. Sometimes really, really big ones. But so long as you feel bad about what you’ve done and try to make up for it then you’re still a good pony and you still deserve to be loved and hugged. And so I know for sure that you’re not a bad pony.” She let go of Peppermint’s legs and spread her own out further. “Now just come here already. I know a good pony that needs a hug.”

Peppermint’s breathing grew shorter and shorter, and her resistance finally broke. She threw herself at Pumpkin, bawling her eyes out.

Pumpkin wrapped her hooves around the filly, knowing that the worst was over. “That’s right. Just let it all out. It’s gonna be okay now. I'm here for you, so just cry as much as you want.”

When Peppermint settled down a bit Pumpkin asked, “Don’t you feel better now?”

Peppermint pulled back, shaking her head. “No, I don’t.”

“Why not?” Pumpkin asked. “Don’t you believe me?”

“It’s not that. I DO believe you. It’s just… I don’t know if it matters.”

Pumpkin released her, sitting back on her haunches. “Why doesn’t it matter? I’m sure you’d rather think of yourself as good than bad.”

“You’re right, but… it’s not up to me.”

“Not up to you?” she responded, confused.

Peppermint got up and began pacing back and forth. “I do feel really bad about hitting my brother like that. It wasn’t like he had done anything, like ripping apart one of my stuffed animals. My dad came into the room, and as he passed by he nuzzled my brother and used some silly baby-talk. He didn’t say anything to me, and I just felt so jealous and angry I smacked my brother one. When he heard the sound he instantly turned around, and when he saw my brother crying that’s when he hit me. I was so surprised and scared that I just started running without even thinking about where I was going to go.”

She stopped her pacing, returning to the edge of the pond and throwing another rock in it. Sitting down she moved into the same position she had been in when Pumpkin had first found her. “I’m scared. My daddy probably hates me for what I did.”

Pumpkin sat down next to her. “I don’t think so. I already told you about what happened with us. Auntie Pinkie promised us that she would always love us no matter what bad things we did. She made sure we knew that she never hated US. She only hated the bad behavior. I think your dad is probably the same. He took it too far, but I really think he was just trying to protect the baby. And if he really loves you I bet he feels as bad about what he did as you do.”

Peppermint was being quiet again, going back to making ripples in the water. She let out a heavy breath. “You know, things weren’t always like this.”

“You mean, between you and your parents?”

She shook her head. “No. I mean with my brother. When he was first born I got to come into the room and hold him. He was so tiny and handsome. Right then and there I pledged to always protect him. I wanted to be an amazing big sister. I wanted to be someone he could look up to… someone he could come to when he was upset or scared.” A few tears dripped down her face. “I wanted to be his hero.

“I always offered to look after my brother so my parents could be free. They would always thank me for it, but when I noticed they weren’t paying much attention to me anymore I started to get upset. And after that I got angry. Everything had been great for me before he had been born. Every day I got more and more jealous of how much attention they gave him, and looking after him was now just another chore that I hated. Today I just… snapped.”

Pumpkin put a hoof around her. “Peppermint, did you ever tell your parents how you were feeling?”

She shook her head. “No. They’ve been so busy lately I didn’t know how to talk to them. If they weren’t working they’d be sleeping or resting or cleaning or cooking. My brother’s a fussy sleeper, so he keeps them up most of the night.”

“Well, how were they supposed to know how much it was upsetting you if you never told them? You said before that you always offered to watch him. If you never said you didn’t want to do it anymore then of course they’d expect you to keep doing it.”

Peppermint pushed her head down further. “So you’re saying everything is my fault?”

“NO!” she replied strongly. “This isn’t about blaming anyone. I’m saying you need to talk to your dad and tell him how you’re feeling.”

Peppermint turned slightly towards her, wiping her face. “Do you think he’s gonna want to even listen to me? He’s probably going to yell at me for running away. Or punish me for hitting Pencil.”

“Pencil?”

“Pencil Sharpener. It’s my brother’s name.”

“Oh! Oh, right.”

She looked back down at the ground. “I’m… I’m scared to go home. I don’t know what’s gonna happen when I do.”

She nuzzled Peppermint’s cheek with her own. “What if I went with you?” Pumpkin’s mind went back to when she used to be afraid of thunderstorms, and how Pound always let her sleep with him. “Scary things are never as scary when someone else is sharing them with you.”

Peppermint was silent for a while. “I… I guess so,” she finally said.

Pumpkin grinned. “Great. Let’s go right now!”

“Right now?” Peppermint shivered.

Pumpkin got up on her hooves, pulling Peppermint up too as she said, “Of course right now. If you don’t talk to your daddy then you’re just gonna be scared and upset all day.”

Peppermint was standing now. “Pumpkin, I-” she froze suddenly, her eyes going wide.

Pumpkin gazed at her in curiosity. She strained her ears, and she could make out someone calling the filly’s name.

Peppermint began to breathe heavily, her body shaking as she clenched Pumpkin. “It’s… it’s my daddy. What do I do? What do I do?”

Pumpkin held her back, saying calmly, “We go talk to him. I promise I’ll be right by your side and keep you safe.” She giggled, giving a warm smile. “After all… it’s just what my dumb brother would do for me, and as my biggest hero I want to imitate him.”

Peppermint clenched her eyes shut, torn between wanting to run and hide somewhere, and making up with her dad. The voice was getting closer. She didn’t have much time to decide. She looked back up into Pumpkin’s eyes, seeing the comforting look still on her face, and her racing heart slowed down slightly. Pumpkin was about the same age as her, certainly a lot smaller and weaker than her father. She didn’t know what Pumpkin could do to protect her, but Pumpkin was so kind and nice to her that she wanted to trust in this filly.

She let go, standing up straight and taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she said in a croaky voice. “I… I believe you.”

In the distance her father came into sight, his head whipping around rapidly as he called out her name. Her father was a unicorn like her, with a green coat.

He was panting heavily, as if he had been running a lot. Did she hear concern in his voice? Was that a tear coming down his eye? Was… was Pumpkin right that he felt bad?

Pumpkin’s body was mainly hiding her from his view. She could just keep quiet and let him run past, but… she didn’t want to. She moved a bit so she’d be visible, but couldn’t get her voice to work.

Her dad was still looking around as he trotted. Suddenly he turned in her direction. Their eyes met, recognition in his eyes. He skidded to a stop, and for a moment in time he just stood there, catching his breath.

Peppermint turned away guiltily, wondering what was going to happen to her now. She could hear the rapid hoof-beats approaching her, and again she thought about running away. The beats stopped a few feet away, and all she could hear was the sound of his breathing.

Pumpkin stood slightly off to the side, magic at the ready. She wasn’t strong enough to lift a full grown pony, but she had several options to get them apart if the stallion got violent. And if that wasn’t enough she could always call Auntie Pinkie for help. Not for the first time she understood why Pound had been so apt to get violent to protect her. She wasn’t going to allow any further harm to come to Peppermint, even if she had to throw herself between the two of them.

The tension was so thick Peppermint felt like someone had their hoof over her snout. The wait was killing her. Whatever was going to come next she just wanted it to happen.

The stallion looked down at his daughter. “Peppermint…” The word hung in the air. The way she was turned let him clearly see the impact he had left on her face. Reluctantly, Peppermint looked up at him. As they met eyes again he could see the dead expression she wore, the weight of shame and fear. He could see how much pain she was in.

His eyes filled with tears, and he fell to the ground in a submissive position in front of her. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I know what I did is unforgivable. I know how much I hurt you. It’s not an excuse, but I’ve been so tired lately I just lashed out without even thinking about what I was doing. When I realized what I had done I felt absolutely horrible.” He looked up into her cautious expression. “I know I can’t take it back, no matter how much I wish I could, but I truly am sorry for what I did. Can you ever forgive me?”

Peppermint certainly hadn’t been expecting this reaction when they met up again. Pumpkin had been right. He did feel bad. While she appreciated it, she didn’t know if she was ready to forgive him yet.

Pumpkin put a hoof on her shoulder. “I think you need to speak your mind. He’s clearly ready to listen.”

Peppermint gave her a quick glance before turning back to her dad. All the anger and rage she had been holding back was expanding within her, and she didn’t feel like fighting it anymore.

Glaring down at him she said coldly, “It’s real nice that you only care about my feelings NOW, after all this trouble. Do you know WHY I hit Pencil?”

He shook his head.

“Because I was jealous! Because ever since he was born he’s been getting all the attention and love! Because you and Mom have been ignoring me! I’m tired of it! I’m your child too!” She turned away from him, barely holding herself back from sobbing. “I-I feel like you don’t even love me anymore! I was so happy taking care of Pencil. I wanted you to see me as a big girl. But I don’t want to be big if it means you don’t tuck me in at night and read me bedtime stories.

“I need love too!” She spun back around, putting a hoof over her heart. “And what you did to my face doesn’t hurt nearly as much as what you did here.” She pointed an accusing hoof at him, tears pouring down her face as she yelled, “IF YOU COULDN’T LOVE TWO KIDS WHY DID YOU EVEN HAVE TWO IN THE FIRST PLACE?” She held herself, hiccupping as she sobbed.

Her dad slowly rose, closing the distance between them. He sat down on the ground, pulling her toward him. She didn’t resist. “You’re right. There’s nothing more that can be said. Your brother is so small and helpless right now, and needs a lot of care and attention. We’ve been so busy lately we’ve been neglecting you and putting you in the background.”

He gave her a squeeze. “I’m sorry. I really am. It’s been exhausting trying to work and take care of a newborn, but you’re right that it doesn’t make it okay to not pay attention to you too. And it’s also not okay that I lost control and slapped you. That’s not the kind of parent I want to be.

“If you’re willing to give me another chance I promise to make it up to you. Your brother is here to stay, so things can’t ever be exactly the same as they were before, but maybe we can have some time together that’s just for us. And I’ll also make sure to give you a bedtime story like before. Would that be okay? You don’t have to forgive me right now, but I want to offer you that much.”

Peppermint had her head against his chest. She could hear his heartbeat and feel the warmth of his coat. She could feel his loving hold. It reminded her of how things used to be. “Daddy?”

“Yes?”

“I… I don’t really hate Pencil. I liked taking care of him. I just felt so mad because he was getting all the attention. If you and Mom give me some special time together and love I wouldn’t feel so mad at him.”

He could hear the shift in Peppermint’s tone. She sounded calmer now. Her body wasn’t as tense, starting to relax into his hold.

“I understand.” He began rubbing her back. “I know I made a big mistake, but I’ll do my best to make it up to you from now on.”

Peppermint nuzzled his chest. “If you do that then I’ll forgive you.” She looked up into his eyes. “I… I really missed you.” Tears formed in her eyes, but they were happier this time. “I’m so h-happy to have you back!” She put her legs around his back, sobbing happily. "I love you, Daddy!"

"I love you too, Peppermint!" Her dad joined in right with her as they held one another.

Pumpkin was quietly crying. She had done it. She had solved a friendship problem all by herself. Her heart was soaring as she looked at what she had wrought. By applying everything she had learned over the past few months she had brought a father and daughter back together.

She jumped slightly as she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked up to see Auntie Pinkie, smiling down tenderly at her.

Pinkie kissed her forehead. “I’m so proud of you, Pumpkin. You did a great job.”

Pumpkin blushed. “Oh, it was nothing. I just had some amazing teachers.”

Pinkie sat down and pulled Pumpkin to her, much like Peppermint and her dad a short distance away. “Nonsense. You did this, so you get the credit.”

Pumpkin held her back, joy radiating through her. “How long have you been listening?” she asked.

“For a while, actually. I saw you talking to a sad filly, and I just had to see what you would do. And you get an A plus! And you know what else?”

“What?”

Pinkie turned Pumpkin around toward the pair. “Peppermint won’t forget this. I think you’ve found yourself a friend.”

Pumpkin blinked. It occurred to her that, despite getting on well with her classmates at school, she didn’t have any close friends to hang out with.

“A friend, huh?” She beamed, relaxing her back against Pinkie and closing her eyes. “That’s fine with me.”

18-1: The nerd and the loser

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Pound and Pumpkin had just returned home from school for the day. The two of them went to the table as usual to do their homework. Before she started though, Pumpkin gave her dad a piece of paper from her teacher.

When she was done she was about to grab Tiger Lily and go up to her room, but she was stopped.

“Pumpkin,” said her dad, “come here for a second. I want to see something.”

“Okay,” she replied. “What’s up?”

“Look at your mother and read what she’s holding.”

Pumpkin shrugged, thinking she was being set up for a joke. She remembered when she had fallen for spelling “ICUP” and all her classmates nearby had cracked up.

Her mother was about fifteen feet away, holding up a piece of paper with big written letters.

She squinted a bit, pushing her head forward. “Pumpkin and Pound,” she read. “Now what?”

Pumpkin was a little unnerved. Both her parents were looking at her with pity. “WHAT? Why are you looking at me like that for?”

Her mother went to stand next to her father. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s sit down.”

Pumpkin shrugged again as they all took a seat.

“Pumpkin… we saw the note from your teacher and-”

“I didn’t do anything!” Pumpkin said strongly. “I haven’t gotten in any trouble all week.”

Carrot nodded. “You’re right. You’re not in trouble.”

“So what was on the note?”

“Your teacher observed that when reading the blackboard that you’re always squinting.”

“What-ing?”

“Squinting,” he repeated. He did it himself to give her a demonstration. “Like this, see?”

Pumpkin slowly rolled her eyes, trying to see the point of all this. Why would her teacher bother to write a note just to tell them that? “Okay, so I, um, squink-er, squint when I’m reading. Sometimes it’s hard to read the blackboard. What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal,” said Cup, “is that you shouldn’t need to do that to read the chalkboard.”

Pumpkin felt so confused. “So… what? She wants me to stop doing that?”

Cup shook her head. “That’s not the point.”

“Then what IS?”

“The point is that if you’re squinting to read something a short distance away it likely means you’re a little nearsighted.”

Pumpkin stared blankly back at them. “And that means…”

“It means exactly what it sounds like. Your sight is more focused on things closer to you.”

Pumpkin shook her head. “What sense does that make? Isn’t that how it is for everyone? The farther away something is the harder it is to see.”

Carrot took a steadying breath, trying to think of how best to explain it. “Well, the opposite of nearsighted is farsighted. Ponies with that can see things better that are far away than what’s closer to them. Nearsighted or farsighted, it means that your eyes aren’t working properly.”

Now Pumpkin understood, and her heart skipped a beat. “N-not working properly?”

“Yes. It’s true that the further away something is the harder it becomes to see things clearly, but what being nearsighted means specifically is that things an average pony would see clearly are still blurry.”

“So… so what do I do?”

“Well, first things first we have to set up an appointment with an eye doctor, so he can tell us if you actually are nearsighted. It’s not like you’re going blind or anything. Worst comes to worst they’ll prescribe you some glasses to help you see better.”

That sounded fine to her. The appointment was made, and a few days later they were in the office. Just to be absolutely safe they brought Pound with them to be checked as well. She waited her turn patiently until she was called in.

A little nervous she asked Pound to go first, just so she could see what the process was like. Pound, thankfully, had clear sight. Not a perfect 20/20, but he was in the average range for his age.

The doctor checked out her eyes next. She sat down in a chair they provided, and he asked her to read off letters that got progressively smaller as they went down the rows.

The first two rows weren’t that bad, but she had no idea if she was reading anything else right. Letters seemed to have extra lines, or look like different letters entirely.

After a while he placed a device in front of her eyes with a bunch of lenses that could be rotated. He had her put her eyes up to it.

He flipped back and forth between varying strength lenses, and the chart grew clearer and clearer as she told him which ones worked better.

When he finished writing things down on the clipboard he set it down and said, “Okay, Pumpkin. From what I can see you are a little nearsighted, but it’s pretty mild. I’ve wrote down your prescription for a set of glasses. At this point in time they only need to be worn for reading things at a distance. It’s not at the point where you have to wear them all the time. Unless, of course, you want to. That’s all up to you.

“Even if you’re not planning to wear them all the time I’d like you to wear them for at least a whole day to be sure your prescription is correct. Glasses that are the wrong strength can cause headaches and worsen your vision. That’s why you need to test them out.”

“Okay,” Pumpkin replied.

She was taken to another room, where the doctor gave the prescription to the mare there. “Okay,” said the mare, gesturing behind her. “Why don’t you pick out some frames you like?”

Pumpkin’s eyes lit up at the variety, and she began picking various sets up with her horn, staring at them carefully before putting them back down.

Pound was bored. He walked around as Pumpkin went crazy going through frames. Why did he even have to be here? It wasn’t like his eyes were bad. He felt he should just grab his dad and go home. He rolled his eyes. His parents would just tell him to be patient. With nothing better to do he went to an open area and unfurled his wings, practicing his exercises.

After what felt like an eternity to the colt his sister finally picked a frame she liked. It was red, with a simple style. He thought they could leave now, but to his frustration he had to wait again while the unicorn carved the lenses out for the glasses right then and there. With nothing else to do he went back to practicing.

Jumping into the air he fluttered his wings hard, but he landed back on his hooves a few seconds later. He repeated this over and over, each time hoping that would be the time he could stay up. He felt so far behind his classmates.

Out of the twenty or so pegasi none of them were experts or natural fliers like Rainbow Dash had been. Only two of them were good fliers, able to rise up and down or go in a straight line. All the others in his class were only a step or two above him. They had enough strength to hover in the air for a while, but couldn’t rise up more than a few extra feet before it tired them out.

He was the odd one out. He couldn’t even hover for more than a second or two. It stunk so much. He followed all his directions. Was he doing something wrong? Was he just defective? He looked over at Pumpkin, and he glared at her.

“She’s just SO perfect,” he said under his breath. “Isn’t she? Pumpkin can show off how great she is whenever she wants.” He turned his head back. “These stupid wings are useless!”

He was silently fuming by the time Pumpkins glasses were finished.

Pumpkin put on her new pair of glasses, posing like a model. “What do you think?”

“They look very good on you,” said Carrot.

“I agree. You made a good choice,” said Cup.

“If you like looking like a nerd,” Pound growled.

Pumpkin’s glee faded. “What’s your problem?”

“I’m bored!” he said sharply. “Can we go now?”

Carrot sighed. “Fine.”

Cup payed for the glasses, and the four of them left.

Pound tromped ahead of the group, not wanting to wait for them.

“Oh, great,” Pumpkin said sarcastically. “Pound’s in another one of his moods.”

Pound spun around. “Shut it, ugly!”

“Why don’t you make me, stupid?”

Cup and Carrot jumped into action, getting between the two. “That’s enough!” Carrot said sharply. “Knock it off, the both of you!”

“I was happy with my new glasses, but he had to ruin it!” She pointed her hoof at him.

“Well, you ruin everything, so I guess we’re even!” Pound said.

Carrot smacked a hoof to the side of his head. “Oh, boy. I don’t want this day to go sour.” He walked over to Pound, picking up the colt and setting him on his back. “Cup, why don’t you walk around for a little while? I’ll take Pound home so these two don’t fight.”

“Sounds good,” said Cup Cake.

As Carrot trotted along the path he said, “Is something wrong, Pound?”

“No!” he said sharply. “You dragged me out there when I didn’t even have any problems with my eyes. I wish I could have just stayed home with Auntie Pinkie.”

Carrot let out a thoughtful “Hmm…” He wasn’t sure Pound was being truthful. It was certainly true that bored kids can become unruly, but was that all? While Pumpkin had been picking out her frames he had seen Pound practicing flying. He had seen the little guy fail so many times. It had to grate on his nerves that he couldn’t fly while Pumpkin could use her magic. Pound was used to being the superior one, the one always charging ahead and puffed up with youthful pride.

“It bothers you, doesn’t it?” he asked. “That your sister can use her horn but you can’t use your wings yet?”

Pound stiffened. He hopped off Carrot’s back, trotting ahead of his father. “I can walk myself,” he said angrily. “I just wanna go home! Champ is waiting for me.”

Bullseye! Carrot knew he had hit the nail on the head. He found himself at a loss for the right words to say. They had asked Twilight to speak to Pumpkin about magic because they didn’t know about it themselves. Similarly, he couldn’t really speak to Pound about flying and wings besides what he had observed of others. He had no personal experience with flight.

What should he say? "Don’t worry?" "It will happen when you’re ready?" "You’re still great just as you are?" It would just come off as empty comfort and likely make Pound angrier. He could always ask Rainbow Dash to speak to him, but Pound was already in magic kindergarten with a teacher who specialized in flight, so it felt like a waste of time. More than likely his wings just hadn’t grown in enough to allow for flight.

He let out a sigh, wishing he could do more. Pound’s frustration was so obvious, and the only way to alleviate it was something he couldn’t control. For now, the only thing he could do was take Pound to his dog and hope he cheered up.

When they arrived home Pound disappeared into his room, slamming the door behind him. He came out a minute later, holding Champ’s leash. “I’m taking him for a walk,” he said, scowling, walking out the front door with the end of the leash tied around his hoof.

Carrot sat down at one of the booths, his head in his hooves. What was he supposed to do? If he couldn’t make Pound fly was there something else he could do to cheer the colt up? Bake him a cake? Get him something from the toy store?

He sighed again. He could just imagine Pumpkin’s reaction. "Pound was being a total brat, and he gets a present? Are you kidding me?"

Having twins wasn’t easy. Give extra to one, and the other would always complain they were being shorted. They always had to try to split everything down the middle and give equally to both their children.

A tear came down his eye. That mindset was what was causing Pound’s stress. The two of them were usually equal, but now Pumpkin was pulling ahead of him, and it was threatening to him. He had heard Pound say on numerous occasions that he feared Pumpkin would stop viewing him as her hero whenever someone else, or Pumpkin herself, saved her. Pumpkin would always insist he couldn’t be replaced, but every time Pumpkin scored a point Pound would feel inferior.

Pound was a little macho colt that always wanted to be the center of attention. Whenever he wasn’t that usually set him off. Carrot tried to think back to his own childhood. Had he been the same way? Unlike Pound he had been an only child, so there had been no siblings he had to protect.

What had first inspired that behavior? Pumpkin was usually cool and rational, while Pound was impulsive and hotheaded. It wasn’t surprising that they had different temperaments. They were their own ponies, after all. But clearly Pound was lacking something.

His stomach began to burn as he wondered whether he and Cup had caused him to turn out that way. Up until the twins had begun going to school the kids were alone during the day, as he, Cup, and Pinkie had to manage the shop. Since the twins always had a playmate available they thought the twins were fine. After the shop closed down for the day and the clean-up was done they’d make dinner and be a family until it was the kids bed time.

Maybe it just wasn’t enough. Thinking on it harder he thought that maybe Pound needed some more positive reinforcement in his life. His biggest issue seemed to be a lack of confidence, which was why he felt so threatened whenever he thought he was being overshadowed.

He wondered whether it was too late to fix things. That was a scary thought for him. He wanted Pound to be confident in himself without assigning his self-worth to his deeds. He knew he needed to speak with Cup about this.

Cup and Pumpkin returned before Pound did. Pumpkin looked to be in better spirits, and going by the chocolate stain on her mouth it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

“Pound’s out walking Champ,” he said. “He’s just frustrated he hasn’t started flying yet.”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “I wish he would stop taking things out on me,” she said, annoyed. “It’s not my fault.”

“I know, Pumpkin,” said Cup, rubbing her head. “But according to him he’s behind all his classmates, so I don’t really think it has anything to do with you.”

“Well, whatever. Let him go for his walk, and hopefully when he comes back he’ll be in a better mood.”

“I hope so,” said Carrot.

Pumpkin trotted towards the stairs, trilling out, “Tiger Lily! Here, girl!” She heard the familiar meow coming to meet her. “There you are!” Her horn lighting up she set the cat on her back. “We should go outside too!”

Pumpkin opened the front door, going to the small tree near their house and sitting down in the shade. “It’s a beautiful day out, isn’t it?”

As she pet Tiger Lily she looked around with her new glasses. Did they really make a difference? She lifted her hoof up, pushing her glasses away from her eyes. While she could still make out ponies, houses, and the like in the distance they grew a little blurrier. She let them fall back down, and like magic they grew clearer.

“Hmm…” Pumpkin did this a few more times. She had had no idea there was anything wrong with her eyes. She just thought that everyone saw like this.

She paused in her petting. How were her classmates going to react when she came in with glasses? Would they laugh at her and make fun of her? She didn’t like the thought of that.

She sighed. It didn’t matter if they did. Her parents had spent money on getting her glasses, and they would expect her to wear them to class. And it would be nice if she wasn’t always struggling to read the blackboard.

Inside Carrot was sitting down with Cup Cake and talking with her about his thoughts.

“So that’s what you think is going on, huh?” asked Cup.

Carrot nodded. “Yeah. I really do think we need to help give Pound more confidence. It seems to be the prevailing factor in every one of his temper tantrums.”

“Mmm. You’ve got a point there. I think we should talk with him about this.”

“When he comes back from his walk?”

She shook her head. “Boyish pride, remember? Before we put them to bed we tell Pound we want to talk with him when Pumpkin goes to sleep. It’ll grab his attention. If it’s just him he’ll be more likely to drop his guard and be real than if he decides to put up a front in front of his sister.”

Carrot rolled his eyes. “Right, right. I never thought it would be so complicated to have twins.”

Cup got out of her seat and walked toward him, giving him a kiss. “Well, it’s because it’s complicated that it has to be done. That’s our job as parents, is it not?”

“Oh, I’m not saying I regret any of it.” He kissed her back. “I think having kids was the best decision of our lives, even if it’s hectic sometimes.”

“I know, sweetheart.” She smiled tenderly at him. “And I’m so glad I had them with you.”

He gazed lovingly back at her. “Right back at you.” The two of them began to make-out, taking advantage of a rare moment to be alone with one another and be romantic.

Pound was walking along, letting Champ direct where they were going. His stomach felt like it was in knots. He didn’t want to think about anything at all. Every time an image popped up in his mind he pushed it away to embrace a blissful nothing.

It didn’t work forever. Negative thoughts began creeping up in his mind. ‘I’m just a loser. I can’t do the things any normal pegasus can do…. Pumpkin is so much better than me at everything. It’s not fair…. Mom and Dad are so much prouder of her than me. They probably love Pumpkin much more than me because she’s actually talented…. One day they’ll probably just ignore me or kick me out of the house so they can keep their amazing kid and get rid of the one that can’t do anything right.’

His heart grew heavy, his feelings about to spill over. He looked around, and saw he was near the park. He found a bush to hide under, quietly crying as he hugged Champ to him.

“Y-you’re the only one who understands me. Nobody saw how special you were, but now look at you. Your leg is getting better all the time.”

His heart began racing. Even Champ was excelling faster than him. Soon everyone would leave him behind.

He clenched his eyes tight. “P-please! Please! Don’t leave me! Don’t ever leave me!”

Champ licked his face, letting out a little bark.

He looked the dog in the eyes, and he could see understanding there. Champ really did understand his pain. Pound let out a heavy breath. “Thank you.”

He sniffed. “Well… I promised Fluttershy that I would make you amazing. Even if I’m always gonna suck I can at least keep helping you. At least that’s something I can do.”

The dog let out a mournful whimper, putting a paw on Pound’s chest.

“Don’t worry about me, Champ.” He looked away slightly. “I’ll be fine. Maybe…”

Pinkie came downstairs, humming to herself. She was in the mood for some cupcakes. As she approached the swing door she heard a little commotion. Wondering if something was wrong she pushed it open, and she giggled at the Cakes display of affection.

Hearing the squeak of the door the two broke apart, each of them panting and blushing heavily.

“Aww, love is in the air,” Pinkie said with a little hop.

The both of them just stood there, their faces beet red, as Pinkie grabbed some treats. She shoved a cookie in her mouth. “Oh, font mine mm,” she mumbled out, her mouth full. She swallowed. “Just pretend I was never here.”

It was too late for that. The moment was over. Getting some degree of dignity back Cup Cake called her back over as she was about to leave.

“What’s up?” she said, turning around.

“Please sit down. Given that you spend a lot of time with the twins this involves you too.”

Pinkie grew serious. “Is something wrong with them?” she asked as she took a seat.

Cup and Carrot explained their thoughts about Pound’s behavior.

“So you want me to be there when you talk to him?” she asked when they were finished.

“Well, three may be a bit much,” said Carrot. “I think you should just follow along our lead. We can’t make it seem like Pound is receiving favoritism, or that’s just going to cause the same issue for Pumpkin. However, the fact remains that Pound is needier than Pumpkin, and thus needs a little more care. We need to strike a good balance of taking care of his needs without making it seem like he’s superior.”

Pinkie slowly nodded her head a few times. “I gotcha. The whole twin thing makes equality a necessity to avoid fights. I’ll do what I can to help both of them.”

“Thank you, Pinkie.”

She beamed. “No problem. Things are the best when everybody is smiling.”

Pound returned a little while later, his emotions under control now. He walked upstairs to his room, seeing Pumpkin on her bed reading a book.

He grabbed the towel he kept by the door and wiped down Champ’s paws before allowing the dog to jump on his bed.

Pumpkin had paused in her reading when Pound had come. She was waiting to see what he would do.

He climbed up on his bed too. “Hey, Pumpkin,” he said. “You have a message.”

She put her book down. “A message?”

“Yeah. I ran into Princess Twilight on the way home. She said that she wants you to come over tomorrow.”

Pumpkin’s interest soared. She sat up, moving to the edge of her bed. “She does? What for?”

“She said she’s having a little party and wants you to come.”

“Wow. That sounds so cool! When should we be there?”

Pound leaned back, putting his hooves behind his head. “Oh, I’m not invited.”

Pumpkin looked confused. “What? Why not? That doesn’t seem like her.”

Pound smirked at her. “Because it’s a party that’s only for giant nerds.” He cracked up as Pumpkin glared at him.

“Ha ha ha!” Pumpkin replied sarcastically. “You’re so hilarious!”

“Thank you. I try.”

Pumpkin snorted, opting to ignore him as she grabbed her book and began reading again.

“So what book is that? ‘The nerd’s guide to being a nerd?’”

Pumpkin’s cheeks puffed out, and she took a deep, slow breath. ‘Just ignore him,’ she thought, but though she was looking at her book she wasn’t taking in a word. ‘He’ll get bored soon.’

Pound didn’t give up, though. He kept going, determinedly trying to get a reaction out of her. Pumpkin was just as determined not to do so.

He was slowly wearing away her patience, and she knew that she should just leave and go read somewhere else, but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he was getting on her nerves.

“Nerd… nerd… nerd… nerd… nerd… nerd…” He dispensed with trying to be creative, and just took to repeating the word over and over, feeling immense satisfaction from seeing her expressions.

Pumpkin bit her lip, straining to keep her mouth shut. She didn’t want him to win, but the endless repetition eroded the last of her self-restraint. She hopped up, screaming, “WILL YOU JUST SHUT UP ALREADY?”

Pound’s grin grew even wider. He had broken her. He mentally checked off his victory.

“WHY DON’T YOU GROW UP AND GET A LIFE, YOU STUPID, PATHETIC, FLIGHTLESS LOSER!”

Pound’s smug expression faded immediately, and he grew unnaturally still, his breath stopping for a few seconds. His mind fell right back into the state he had been before, of feeling inferior to everyone around him. His eyes filled up with tears, and he ran out of the room sobbing hysterically.

Champ let out a bark as he chased Pound out of the room. Champ’s barks and Pound’s crying grew quieter until she couldn’t hear either anymore.

Pumpkin took several deep breaths, reveling in the sudden peace and quiet. She felt like she was being stared at. She gazed up to see Pinkie looking at her, her eyes narrowed and disapproval clear on her features.

Any satisfaction she felt vanished. She let out another heavy breath. “I know!” she said before Pinkie could say anything. “I shouldn’t have said it. But Pound’s been bothering me ever since he came home. I just lost my temper.”

Pinkie walked in. “I understand that, but if you felt that way you should have come to tell one of us what he was doing. And I guess the reason you DIDN’T do that is because of pride, right? You just couldn’t bear to be the one to give in. Am I wrong?”

Pumpkin looked away. “No…” She let out a little moan. “It’s not fair! Now you’re gonna punish me and Pound is gonna get off without getting in trouble just because I made him cry.”

“You’re wrong,” Pinkie replied. “I’m not going to do anything at all to you. I’m just gonna let you punish yourself. Now I have to go chase after your brother.”

Pumpkin’s brow furrowed as Pinkie left. “Punish myself? What does that mean?”

18-2: Responsibility

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Pumpkin was sitting on her bed, trying to figure out what Pinkie meant. “I’ll punish myself?” She mulled over the words. “Maybe… she means I’ll get to choose what my punishment is, like either I wash the dishes for a week or have to go to bed early.”

It made sense to her, thought she wasn’t quite sure she grasped what Pinkie’s threat meant.

She pushed that mystery aside for the time being. There was a more pressing issue at hand. She had made Pound cry and sent him running out of the room because of her actions.

She crossed her hooves, getting annoyed again. “It’s his fault! He just wouldn’t leave me alone.” Pinkie’s scolding words came back to her, about how she had only lost her temper because they were both trying to be more stubborn than the other. She lifted her knees, setting her head on it. “I guess she’s right. We were both being brats.” She wasn’t afraid that Pinkie would stop loving her for what she had did, even though Pinkie disliked the behavior. The only question now was what she should do with her feelings

She could go to Pound and apologize when he calmed down, but she thought he’d still be a big jerk about it. If he had only just stopped throwing jabs at her she would have let things go too.

She waited, but Pinkie never came back. She wasn’t sure what she should do next.

Maybe her idea was right, and they were expecting her to choose her punishment. What should she say? “Okay, Auntie Pinkie, I’ve decided to ground myself!” This all felt very strange to her.

She had to know! She found Pinkie up in her room, cleaning up. “Auntie Pinkie?” she said cautiously.

“Yes, Pumpkin?” she responded without stopping in her task, and once again Pumpkin could hear the slight iciness in her tone.

“What did you mean before? You said that I was gonna punish myself, but I don’t get what that means.”

“You’ll understand soon enough, I’m sure.”

“Why can’t you just tell me? Am I supposed to be doing something? I could do some extra chores or something. I’m just so confused.”

“You’re not being punished with loss of privileges or extra chores.” She bent over her bed, making it nice and neat. “Our old system of things clearly didn’t work, and Fluttershy demonstrated that we needed a change.” Turning around she put the photos on her desk onto the floor as she dusted it. “You two are growing up all the time. You wanted more responsibility, and we got you some pets. You hate that we treat you like children? Fine, then you’re going to be treated… well, not like adults. You’re not that mature yet. But you’re going to be held responsible for your behavior.”

Pumpkin felt cold inside. Pinkie wasn’t even looking at her. “Are you upset with me? I guess you don't want me here.”

That got Pinkie to look in her direction. “I’m not telling you to leave. I’m just busy right now. You know I’ll always love you no matter what.” She threw some things in the garbage. “I don’t expect perfection out of you. I know you’re gonna make mistakes. And when you make mistakes I also expect you to be mature enough to admit it and accept the consequences.”

Pumpkin still felt unsure if she should leave. A part of her wanted to join in on the cleaning. Even if she didn’t love chores just about anything could be made fun when Auntie Pinkie got involved. But should she be having fun right now, when she was supposed to be punished? But Auntie Pinkie said she wasn’t being punished. But Auntie Pinkie also said she should choose her punishment and be held accountable for her behavior. SO WHICH WAS IT? She still felt so confused.

She didn’t know what to say or do, so she just stood there doing nothing and watching, waiting for a sign from Auntie Pinkie. Eventually it came.

“Your brother is pretty upset, you know?”

Pumpkin winced a bit. “I know.”

“He said he doesn’t want to come home right now, so he’s at the park with your parents. They’re trying to cheer him up.”

Pumpkin hesitated a bit, then said, “Can I say something?”

“You sure can.”

“I… I don’t really feel bad at all. Pound started all of this! He’s jealous of me, and to hide his feelings he turned into a huge brat like he always does when something is bothering him. Then when he came home he kept annoying me until I snapped. He got what he deserved if you ask me. I wouldn’t have said anything bad to him if he had just left me alone, but he just had to keep going and going AND GOING! It drives me nuts when he does that!”

She sat down, putting her hooves on her sides. “So which is it? Am I being punished or not?”

Pinkie sighed, turning to her again. “Your punishment isn’t a taking away of privileges or being yelled at. It’s to simply watch.”

“Watch WHAT?”

“The results of your actions. That’s enough.”

“But Pound was being just as bad as me. Why am I the only one being punished?”

“You’re not. He’s already received his punishment.” Pumpkin looked at her, confused. “I certainly am not going to agree with your mindset, that he ‘deserved it.’ However, Pound did keep pushing you and pushing you, and he eventually received his consequence for that in the bad things you made him feel. He punished himself by disobeying the rules. As you said, if he hadn’t kept on going he never would have felt those things.

“So it’s the same with you. Throwing you in your room or giving you extra chores isn’t going to teach you anything. You can be held responsible for your own actions, and see what you’ve brought about. That’s what I meant.”

That all made sense to her, and cleared up her confusion. “Auntie Pinkie, I’m sor-”

“Up, up, up,” Pinkie interrupted, holding her hoof up. “Don’t apologize to me. You haven’t done anything wrong to me. As I said earlier, if you want to be treated as more grown up then prove you’re worthy of it. If you want us to stop treating you like little kids then start making better decisions. I’m not saying anything else about your behavior. The rest is up to you to work out with Pound. That’s your responsibility, not ours.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“And that’s all I ask from you, Pumpkin.” And her whole attitude seemed to shift when the corners of her mouth lifted up.

When Auntie Pinkie smiled at her all her trepidation faded away. A Pinkie smile always did wonders for most anyone’s moods. She ran to Pinkie, hugging her.

Pumpkin offered to help with the cleanup, and as she expected Pinkie found a way to incorporate a little fun into every activity. Pumpkin got to hold the trash can while Pinkie threw trash at her, attempting to get it inside. She let Pumpkin stand on the vacuum as she pushed it around. They raced through drawers for any dust or crumbs. All in all, it was a very fun experience, and put her in high spirits.

Her good mood only lasted until Pound finally returned with their parents. Playing with Pinkie had cheered her up immensely, and she was fully ready to work things out with Pound when he got home. But Pound had other ideas.

When she heard the front door open she trotted over to the top of the stairs, seeing Pound and her parents coming in. Champ followed right behind.

Pound looked up at the sound of her steps, and he gave her a death glare that made her pause. His face went red, and she was sure he was about to start yelling, but he dismissively turned his head away and left the room.

“I… guess… he needs a little more time,” she said awkwardly. When her parents looked up at her she wondered whether they were going to scold her now, but they didn’t bring up her behavior.

“It took us a while to convince him to come home,” said Carrot. “So, yeah, I think he needs a little space right now.”

Pumpkin nodded, going to her room. She grabbed a few books and toys, and headed toward Auntie Pinkie’s room. She assumed Pound was eventually going to make his way to their room, so it seemed a good way to avoid fighting again. She paused as she put her hoof on the bottom step, shaking her head. She had it backwards, didn’t she? He would be expecting her to be in their room, so that was the one place he wasn’t going to go right now. She turned right back around, going back to their room.

She sat on her bed, opened a book, and started reading. All she had to do was wait now, and things would eventually blow over like they always did.

Her optimistic view grew hard to maintain as time went on. He wouldn’t look at her, or talk to her. If she walked into a room he was in he would stop whatever he was doing and walk away until she left. Their parents made him sit at the table for dinner, and sleep in his room at night, but aside from that he wouldn’t stay in the same room as her.

It was very disheartening. She thought her parents might get involved to try and get them to make up, but it seemed they were taking the same stance as Pinkie. They weren’t going to get involved, and were waiting for her to try and settle things herself. The weekend just seemed to drag on and on. Since the shop was closed on the weekends it was usually used for family time. They would go out to the park or the movies or play games with one another. But there was none of that this weekend.

The only saving grace she had was something her mom had done the first day of their feud.

***

Cup Cake had Pumpkin sitting in front of her, and she called Pound over, getting firm when he refused to come in because Pumpkin was there. Eventually he relented.

“Pound, I know the way your mind usually works, so I just want to say this right now.” Cup glared down at him. “If you’re mad at Pumpkin that’s fine. You don’t have to talk to her, or play with her, or whatever else. However, I know you sometimes get a desire for revenge, so I want to make this clear. If you do anything at all to Tiger Lily then I’m returning Champ right to Fluttershy.” Pound’s eyes went wide. “Do you understand me?”

“I wouldn’t-” he started, but she cut him off.

“Pound Cake!” She drew herself up to her full height, using her most dangerous voice. “Am I making myself one hundred percent, perfectly, crystal clear?”

He let out a snort. “Yes, Mom.”

“Any issues you have are with her. DON'T involve your pets in your squabble.”

“I wasn’t going to in the first place!” he said, raising his voice.

“Oh, I believe you don’t have any plans to do so, but I also know you can tend to act before you think. So, really, I wouldn’t put it past you if you decided to give her a kick on the spur of the moment.”

“And you think Pumpkin won’t just deliberately make it seem like I did something just to see me punished?”

“Not really. No.” Pound was glaring at her. “She’s ready to let things go already, even if you’re not. But if anything happens that’s what we have Fluttershy for. We can hear what happened from her translating it.”

Raising her voice a little she said, “You understand me too, Pumpkin?”

“Yes, Mom!” she replied.

“Don’t forget what we told you before we went to Fluttershy’s house. These pets are not officially yours until your birthday. So that applies to both of you. These are living things, not toys. I don’t want to see any harm come to either of these animals just because you’re angry at one another. Do NOT test me on this. I will not tolerate it. Keep everything between the two of you.”

“Yes, Mom,” they said again.

“Off you go then.”

Having been released Pound immediately left the room to get away from his sister.

***

Truthfully, she hadn’t thought about Pound using Tiger Lily to hurt her, and she was glad her mother addressed the matter quickly. She knew she had no intention of doing anything to Champ. The idea wouldn’t have even crossed her mind. She thought her mother was right about Pound. She didn’t think he would make any plans to hurt her cat, but he might just do it spontaneously.

She found it strange how normal everything seemed. Besides Pound, everyone else treated her exactly as they always did. No one yelled at her, brought up what she had said, or asked her to apologize. It felt like she had gotten away with bad behavior, despite the fact that Pinkie had explained exactly why they weren’t getting involved.

She tried asking Auntie Pinkie for advice. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t work things out with him if he won’t even stay in the same room long enough for me to get a word in!”

Pinkie said bluntly, “That’s your problem. Unless you two begin physically fighting and have to be pulled apart all three of us are keeping out of this. I already told you that your punishment was that you had to deal with the consequences of your actions. That’s what it means to be mature.”

“Well… can’t you, like… start things?” She gave an awkward smile, scratching the back of her head.

“I’m not going to repeat myself again. This is a problem between the two of you, so you should be the ones to deal with it.”

Pumpkin sighed. Pinkie’s disciplinary side rarely ever showed itself, but when it did she became an unbreakable iron wall. So she already knew Pinkie wasn’t going to give in, and pushing harder was only a waste of time.

Saturday passed by extremely slowly to her. It was just like Friday had been. Pound wouldn’t say a word to her, or stay in the same room as her. She spent most of the day in her room, only leaving for necessities like eating and going to the bathroom. She read book after book, or played some games she could play alone.

The only positive thing she could say about the experience was that she had Tiger Lily with her. If it wasn’t for her little kitty she would have felt really lonely. She still felt a little lonely, though. She knew she could go play with Auntie Pinkie or her parents, but it just felt awkward to think about when her Pound problem was still in full effect. They were probably expecting her to think of a solution, but even though she strained her brain she couldn’t think of anything.

She considered writing him an apology letter, but thought he’d either rip it up or just throw it away without reading it.

Besides that, she wasn’t sure how else to say sorry. The only thing that would cheer Pound up for sure was if he started flying. Her levitation skill was steadily growing. If she helped him stay floating the next time he tried to fly it would certainly put Pound in a good mood, but it would only end badly, since she couldn’t be there all the time. Either he would discover the ruse, and assume she had done it to hurt him, or just get discouraged he had one good day and then kept on failing after that.

Sunday looked like it was gonna be the same, and she couldn’t stand the quiet atmosphere anymore. She went to Pinkie and asked if she could go to Peppermint Swirl’s house. Thankfully Pinkie agreed. She wasn’t sure if her aunt was going to insist she stay home until she solved her problem. Maybe if she left the house for a while Pound would be satisfied.

She grabbed some things and kissed Tiger Lily goodbye. She bid her parents farewell too as she passed by them, eager to get out of the house and talk with a friend.

When Pumpkin left Cup and Carrot noticed Pound’s demeanor changed. He had been stiff and near silent for the past two days. It was natural that he would push Pumpkin away because he was upset with her, but he had been withdrawn with them too. He didn’t snap at them or refuse to talk to them, but he kept his distance.

They thought it was prudent not to push him, as they felt he was just a step or two away from going the “break everything in sight” route like he had done when he had experienced his first betrayal.

Pound and Pumpkin’s fight had derailed their initial idea to chat with Pound and build his self-esteem up. They had planned to speak with him once Pumpkin went to sleep, figuring talking to him alone would cause him to be more truthful and relaxed. It was a little different than they had wanted it to be, but Pound was alone and they could talk to him without worrying about Pumpkin interfering.

Pound’s aloof air had finally vanished, and as he let out a heavy breath his body relaxed, his gaze growing somber. It looked like he had finally dropped his guard, making it the perfect time to talk with him.

18-3: Bonding.

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Cup and Carrot went into the living room, greeting Pound.

It took him a few seconds before their words got through to him, and he turned slightly toward them. “Hi,” he responded, his eyes flitting away with a touch of guilt.

The two of them sat on the couch, calling him over. Once again, he hesitated before complying. They placed him in between them, sitting on both their laps, each of them putting a leg around him.

Pound didn’t react.

“You’re hurting again, aren’t you, Pound?” Cup asked gently.

He tensed a bit, but didn’t answer.

“It’s okay to feel bad. We just want to make sure you know that we love you very much.”

He tried to get away from them, but they held him tighter.

“Please stay with us, Pound,” said Carrot. “We just want to talk with you.”

“N-no, you don’t!” He sniffed, tears starting to come down his eyes. “You want to yell at me, don’t you? You never punished me for annoying Pumpkin.”

“That’s wrong,” said Cup. “Nothing we do can punish you worse than you’re punishing yourself. That’s the same thing Pinkie explained to Pumpkin. If you poke a beehive enough eventually you’re going to get stung, and so you’ve already experienced your punishment by the consequences of your actions.

“So we’re not here to scold you or yell at you. You already feel bad enough. What’s the point of rubbing it in? We experienced our own consequences of that before when the two of you ran away from home, and we’re not going to make that mistake again.”

Pound looked between his parents, hoping they were being truthful. “So what do you want?”

“We told you,” said Carrot. “We just want to talk to you… spend some time with you. That’s okay, right? You’re our son, after all.”

He felt very suspicious. This wasn’t how things usually went. “And do what?” he asked.

“Whatever you want to.”

Pound crossed his hooves. “I don’t believe you. You’re probably just pretending to be nice so you can tell me to apologize to Pumpkin later when I’m in a good mood.”

Cup pulled her hoof from around him, picking him up and turning him around so he was facing her. She set him down in the middle of her lap. “Now, Pound, I don’t believe that’s fair. We already explained that we’re not getting involved in your squabble. It’s fair that you’re mad at Pumpkin for what she said, so if you don’t want to talk to her right now we’re not going to force you to do so. But why are you punishing us when we didn’t do anything wrong?”

His eyebrow went up. “What are you talking about?”

“Pumpkin was the one that said something hurtful to you, right?” He nodded. “You’ve been avoiding her, maybe because you were scared she’d say some more hurtful things, but up until Pumpkin left the house you wouldn’t come near us either. You didn’t leave the room, but you wouldn’t come to sit on our laps or ask for a bedtime story, or any of the other things we usually do together.

“That time we can have together with our children is very precious and means a lot to us.” She pulled him closer to her, giving him a loving hug. “Why shouldn’t I get to snuggle my little Pound Cake when he’s not even upset with me?”

Pound moved his legs so he was hugging her back. “I… I guess I was just expecting you to be mad at me.”

“Of course we were a little upset. We do wish you’d make better choices when you’re angry, but it doesn’t stop us from loving you. As we said before you already feel bad enough. We don’t need to make you feel worse by rubbing it in.”

Pound sank into her hold, enjoying the contact. “I’m glad you’re not doing that.” He gave her some nuzzles. “I kept expecting you to yell at me or something, so I guess I didn’t think you wanted to hug me.”

Cup bent over a little, kissing his forehead. “I’m always willing to provide hugs when you ask for them. I’m your mom, after all.”

Backing up a little he looked into her kind eyes, tears starting to form in his own. “WHY DID PUMPKIN HAVE TO SAY THAT?” He sniffed, his eyes clenching shut. The first of his tears came down. “You know what? I did pick on her because I wanted to make her mad. I admit it. I thought she’d just call me stupid or a dummyhead like she usually does. But she just HAD to bring up that I still haven’t flied yet. It does make me feel like a loser when I see everyone in my class getting better than me.”

He looked up at her again, his vision blurry. “Y-you know, I-I used t-t-to bring up Pumpkin’s accident where she put me in the hospital when she’d get me mad, because I knew how bad it would make her feel. But I stopped doing that because I know just how much it hurt her.”

“Well, Pound, that’s great that you stopped doing that,” said Carrot. “We all have our biggest mistakes, even if they’re accidents. But, as you just said yourself, you’ve done exactly the same thing as Pumpkin did to you, so shouldn’t you understand that bad things can come out of your mouth when you’re upset?”

Pound’s lip quivered. “I… I… I DON’T CARE! I have my own feelings, and I’m still mad at her.”

Cup pulled him closer again. “And that’s okay, Pound. Pumpkin did say something very hurtful to you, so you’re entitled to feel upset and angry. We’re not here to try and force you two to make up. We just want you to take responsibility for your own part in this.”

Carrot rubbed his head. “That’s a part of growing up, to admit when you were wrong.”

Tears dripped down Pound’s eyes. “I… I don’t want to… right now. I’m still too mad. A… a part of me really wants to hurt Pumpkin and get her back, but a bigger part of me is really scared of her now.” He hugged his mother hard, hiccupping breaths coming out. “I-I-I’m so scared! I’m scared that she’s right, and all I am is just a big, fat, pathetic loser!” He started sobbing into her chest.

Cup squeezed tighter to her hurting son, crying some too. “Oh, Pound…”

Carrot began rubbing his back, letting him vent his feelings in silence for the time being.

When he began to quiet down he looked up at his parents. “I don’t want to go to school anymore,” he said in a flat voice.

“Pound, you-”

“What’s the point of going? I haven’t gotten any better at flying since I started. Why should I go somewhere where I just get bullied all the time?”

Cup and Carrot looked at each other for a few moments before turning back to him. Cup lifted him up in her hooves, saying in a bright voice, “Oh, let’s not talk about school right now. The three of us are home and none of us have any plans. Let’s play together. Pumpkin’s not here so you don’t even have to take turns on ideas.”

“Come on, slugger!” Carrot said. “We’re all yours today. How often does that happen?”

“Yeah, you can make all the rules today, and as long as you don’t go too far we’ll obey. We’ll even keep all this secret from Pumpkin.” She winked at him. “What do you say?”

Pound was debating on whether to let himself be coaxed out of his bad mood, but it was no contest. He was in charge for the day, with no Pumpkin and his parents all to himself? That never happened. “Let’s play pretend!”

“That sounds like fun,” said Cup Cake, releasing him.

He hopped off the couch, concocting a scenario for them to enact. “Let’s be pirates searching for treasure!”

“Arr!” Carrot said, closing an eye and adopting a rough voice. “That sound like it be a great idea.”

Pound giggled.

Cup and Carrot knew they still had more work to do to help him through his problems, but at the least they had gotten his trust and he was smiling. They could try talking to him some more later on.

After their first game was over Pound decided to test the limits of his rule-making ability. He went to his room and got a crown that belonged to one of his toys, and wrapped a blanket around himself to make a cape.

As he came down the stairs he said in a regal voice, “Your king has arrived. Bow down before your ruler.”

Cup and Carrot shot each other exasperated looks before complying. They knew it was only a matter of time.

As he reached the bottom of the stairs he lifted a hoof. “Rise, my subjects.”

As they did Cup said in a subservient voice, “Is there anything we can do for you, my lord?”

Pound thought about it. “Your king wants… a massage!” He lay down on the ground on his stomach. “Dad, um, that peasant over there, says that you give great massages.”

“Oh, she certainly does, my lord,” said Carrot. “But she is my wife. I certainly hope you’re not planning to steal her for your own.”

“Your king is kind. He will not steal your wife… if he gets some cupcakes while enjoying his massage.”

Carrot bowed. “At once, my lord.” He left the room.

Cup grabbed Pound’s back legs, pushing them together so she could kneel over him. Humming to herself she put her hooves on his back and began gently moving them up and down.

Pound let out a content moan, closing his eyes. He opened them a few seconds later when he heard the swing door open.

Carrot came in, holding a plate with 3 cupcakes and a glass of milk. He set it down in front of Pound. “Forgive me, my lord. I know you did not ask for it, but I thought you might like a drink to go with your cupcakes.”

“Your king… mmm… just… whatever.” Pound was enjoying the massage too much to get into his royal role. He picked up a chocolate frosted cupcake, taking a bite.

‘This is the life,’ he thought, bobbing his head to his mother’s humming.

“You’re really lucky, Dad, to get this every night. Mom is fantastic at this.”

Cup blushed at the praise. “Thank you, Pound.”

“You’re welcome!”

He finished one of his cupcakes and drank some milk, but he was becoming too relaxed to finish the rest, and just set his head down on his crossed legs, closing his eyes.

Cup’s maternal feelings were blossoming strongly within her. She thought back to when the twin were babies, and she used to give them massages when they were fussy and wouldn’t go to sleep.

She closed her eyes, beginning to sing an old lullaby.

Pound stiffened a bit, recognizing the familiar melody. A part of him wanted to tell her off for treating him like a baby, but as he turned his head he saw how happy his mother looked, and he couldn’t bring himself to make her frown. She looked so peaceful and serene, and that allowed him to get past his frustration and just enjoy himself.

Carrot was feeling a little left out of the proceedings. He felt a little ashamed that he was jealous of his little stallion, having to share something that was usually reserved just for him. As he heard Cup’s singing he too found his heart resonating with hers, wiping out the negative feelings that had started to build up inside. Ever since the kids had turned three he had rarely gotten to hear her singing voice, and it was lovely.

Pound’s body was relaxed again, letting her do what she wanted with him. As her song ended he could see tender tears coming down her eyes.

Cup had lost herself in the moment, and had just begun singing spontaneously. Now the moment was over, and she found herself flushed. “Oh… oh, my. It’s been so long. I must have sounded terrible.”

Pound shook his head. “No way! It was the best thing I ever heard in my life!”

Cup flushed deeper, picking him off the ground and hugging him close, quietly sobbing. “Thank you so much, Pound. That means a lot to me.”

Pound squirmed a bit. “Come on, Mom. Don’t cry.”

She nuzzled him. “Nothing wrong with crying when you’re happy, hmm?”

Pound looked up at her, asking, “Can you sing some more? Please?”

Cup looked away, feeling bashful. “Oh, I don’t know.”

“Please, Mommy?”

Cup snorted into a hoof. “Uh oh. The dreaded ‘Mommy.’”

Pound tilted his head. “Huh?”

“You called me ‘Mommy’ instead of just ‘Mom.’ I can’t remember the last time you called me that.” Picking him up again she set him back on the floor. “Well, I suppose one more couldn’t hurt. But just one, okay?”

Pound nodded.

Now that she was consciously thinking about singing she was starting to feel a little insecure. She then remembered Pound saying it was the best he had heard. Praise didn’t get any higher than that. She took a deep breath, cleared her mind, and began to sing again. Her voice was hesitant at first, but she warmed up quickly enough.

All she had to focus on was that she was making her son happy, and it was enough to dispel her worries. Yes. She didn’t have anything to fear.

Pound closed his eyes, sighing, as she got back to massaging his back as well. He didn’t think he had ever been so relaxed. He didn’t get to spend enough time with his parents, and to see his mother bestowing so much attention and affection on him made his heart swell with joy.

He just wanted it to last forever.

When she finished her song a second time she felt a little more comfortable. “Once more, honey?”

Pound nodded.

Carrot was carefully observing the two. Pound and Pumpkins fight had disrupted their plans to help Pound through his self-esteem issues. Looking at Pound he wondered if they were doing that right now. Pound was certainly enjoying himself, and so was Cup.

They had demonstrated that they still supported him personally, even if they didn’t condone his actions, which was one of the biggest things they had wanted to convey to him. And if he was in a good mood then Pumpkin hopefully would be too when she got home. Then their squabble could be over and let them get back to good old-fashioned family fun.

Experience had taught him by now that it probably wouldn’t be that simple… but he could hope.

18-4: Assumptions

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Pumpkin knocked on the door of Peppermint’s house, glad she had gotten the filly’s address before they had parted.

The front door opened, and a stallion stood there. He had a green coat and eyes, his mane a fiery red. “Hello. Can I help you?”

“Hey there!” Pinkie said, bouncing once. “I brought you some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.”

The stallion slowly took them. “Well… thank you. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Pumpkin took a step forward. “Hello, Sir. Is Peppermint home?”

He looked down at her, and recognition flashed in his eyes. “Ah, you’re that filly that helped Peppermint out the other day. Come on in.”

She followed the stallion in, Pinkie right behind her. “Excuse me, Sir, but I never got your name the other day.”

“Salad Dressing,” he replied.

She stopped when he did, as he knocked on a door.

“Peppermint, you have a visitor.”

After a few seconds they could hear hoof steps approaching, then the door opened. “Who is it?" When she spotted Pumpkin her eyes lit up, and she practically tackled the filly as she hugged her. “It’s you! I’m so glad you’re here!”

Pumpkin hugged her back. “I’m glad to see you too. I need to talk with you.”

“Yeah?” She let go and backed up. “About what?”

Pumpkin gazed at Peppermint’s dad out of the corner of her eye. “Let’s just say I’m having a problem, and I need a friend to talk with.”

Peppermint grew concerned. Did someone hit Pumpkin too? “Yeah… sure. Come on in.”

As Pumpkin walked into the room Pinkie called after her. She turned back, and Pinkie said, “I’ll be around for a while, whenever you want to go home.”

Pumpkin sighed, her head drooping. “I don’t know if I want to go home.”

“Hmm?” Peppermint grew more worried.

“I’m sure everything will work itself out soon enough,” said Pinkie in a consoling tone.

“I sure hope so,” Pumpkin replied.

Pinkie closed the door, engaging Peppermint’s dad in conversation. Their voices slowly faded.

When it finally felt like just the two of them Pumpkin let out a heavy breath, going to sit on Peppermint’s bed.

Peppermint instantly joined her, putting a leg around Pumpkin’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, Pumpkin? It sounds like you’re having a problem like I did last week. Were you hit?”

Pumpkin shook her head. “No, it’s nothing like that. Me and my brother are just in the middle of a big feud right now. I’m feeling so stressed out.” She looked over at Peppermint with a somber expression. "Like I said before, I just need some time with a friend to sit and relax.”

“Well, you know I had a ‘fight’ with Pencil that led to my dad hitting me, so I know how it feels to be mad at your sibling. What did he do?”

Pumpkin flopped backwards onto the bed. “He got into a bad mood and started bugging me, and he just wouldn’t stop until I finally snapped and yelled something really mean at him. I just wanted to get him to shut up, but I went too far.

“Now he won’t even talk to me. Worse, every time I walk into a room that he’s in he’ll leave it and won’t come back until I’m gone. It’s really frustrating.”

Peppermint lay back as well. “Do you regret what you said?”

Pumpkin sighed. “Sort of. I think he deserved to be yelled at, but the problem is what exactly I said to him.”

“What was that?”

“Mmm…” With her anger at Pound she hadn’t really thought about how mean-spirited her words were. “I… I called him… a stupid, pathetic, flightless loser…”

Peppermint sat up. “Wow! That was really mean!”

The guilt that had been bubbling up inside Pumpkin turned defensive, and she grew angry. She sat up as well. “Hey!” she snapped. “I didn’t judge you for hitting a baby, did I? Could you at least try to be a good friend?”

Peppermint’s face flushed, clearly hurt.

Pumpkin could see things were going south quickly, and backpedaled. “I’m sorry. Look, I just… need a little time. I’m stuck between feeling guilty and feeling angry, and I… I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I don’t want to start fighting with you too on our first time hanging out.”

Peppermint sighed. “No. You’re right. You didn’t judge me when I told you about hitting Pencil, so I should listen to you too. You didn’t even know me, but you supported me wholeheartedly. It really meant a lot to me, and made me believe I was a good pony again.”

Pumpkin maneuvered herself so she was on her back, her head hanging over the side of the bed so everything was upside-down. “Things have been so quiet lately it’s almost scary. I got Pound to shut up, but now he won’t talk at all. At least to me.”

Peppermint joined her, copying her position. “Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it better that he’s not talking if all he does is bother you?”

Pumpkin said after a few moments, “Sometimes it’s nice to have a little peace and quiet, but as annoying as he is he’s still my brother.” Absentmindedly she lifted up a stuffed animal on the floor with her magic, amused at how weird it looked upside-down.

“Are you good at magic, Pumpkin?” Peppermint asked.

Pumpkin was moving the bear toy in gentle arcs. “Huh?” She set the bear down. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I’m okay for my age. I’m no Twilight, that’s for sure.”

Peppermint opened her mouth to say something, stopped, and then said, “I want to ask you some stuff, but I don’t want to just change the subject. You came here asking for help, you know.”

“To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a bit if you did. We can talk about Pound later.”

“I know you said some stuff about her before, but I was in a bad mood when we were talking so I don’t really remember some of the stuff you said. How did you meet Princess Twilight?”

“Oh! Well, that’s simple. My aunt Pinkie Pie has been her friend since before me and Pound were born, so she considers us like family. Back when they first became friends Twilight was still a unicorn. She was only really special because she was Princess Celestia’s personal student. But then she did something that made Princess Celestia turn her into an alicorn and made her a princess."

Peppermint hesitated, then asked, “But isn’t she scary? Isn’t it terrifying to think that a princess could just walk in your shop at any time? What if the shop was a mess, or-or-or the line was too big and she couldn’t be served? She might shut the whole thing down!”

Pumpkin wore a knowing smile as she chuckled. She turned over onto her stomach, Peppermint doing the same. “Twilight is a really cool pony. She’s taught us both really important lessons about friendship.”

Peppermint hesitated again. “Um… before you called Princess Celestia by her title, but you don’t do that with Princess Twilight. That seems kinda disrespectful for someone you say has taught you important things.”

Pumpkin was so used to seeing Twilight that the questions were odd to her. “Twilight is a very humble pony. Even though she’s a ruler she absolutely hates being in the spotlight. She knows that other ponies look up to her and will bow to her and stuff, but it makes her uncomfortable. That’s why she doesn’t want us treating her like royalty. Auntie Pinkie and her other friends all talk to her like she’s just another pony. Our parents are still uncomfortable about it, though. They still call her ‘your highness’ and stuff like that, but Twilight tries to get them to stop.”

Once again Peppermint paused before asking her next question. “Well… what do you think about that? Don’t you think it’s kinda rude? It’s her job to rule and make new laws and settle fights and stuff like that. But it seems like you’re saying she’s more interested in being liked than anything else.”

“Huh? What do you mean by that?”

“Princess Twilight is the ‘Princess of Friendship,’ right?” Pumpkin nodded. “But it sounds like what you’re saying is that everyone else is more important than her friends. She’ll go out of her way to help strangers, but she wants to pretend she has no duties to her friends.”

Pumpkin’s eyebrow went up. It took her a few seconds before it clicked in her mind what Peppermint was getting at. “Peppermint, you’ve got it all wrong.”

“Why? You said for everyone else she acts like a princess and does princess stuff for them, but when it comes to her friends she just shakes her hooves and says, ‘just pretend I’m not here.' ”

“No, no, noooo! That’s not how it is at all. Just listen to me.”

“Okay…”

“Twilight loves to help all ponies, including her friends. She just doesn’t like ponies treating her like she’s better than everyone else JUST because she’s a princess.”

Peppermint still looked unconvinced.

Pumpkin said, “Trust me, you just don’t understand her. If you met her face to face you’d see how kind and generous she is.

“Mmm…” She put a hoof to her face, rubbing her chin. “Let me try to explain it this way. Twilight wants everyone to find their own value. Twilight feels like every pony has something important to teach. Because of what happened when we ran away Twilight learned that she didn’t understand little kids very well, and so she began spending more time with us and visiting our school to learn.

“And then she let us write down the important lesson I taught you, about how even a good pony makes mistakes. She let us put words on the page opposite hers because she thought our words could be just as valuable as hers. Twilight’s words wouldn’t have helped you through your problem, because what she learned had nothing to do with what you needed to hear.”

“Okay, I can get that, but it still doesn’t explain why she likes to pretend she’s not a princess when you’re around.”

Pumpkin thought for a few seconds. “I think it’s because she feels lonely.”

“Lonely? With everyone praising her?”

“Everyone may like her, but they only care about her so much because she’s royalty. Twilight doesn’t look down on anyone, but as soon as ponies see the horn and wings they stop seeing a pony and only see a princess. Now they’re bowing on the ground acting like they’re nothing. It just makes her uncomfortable because she sees all ponies as equal.”

“But she’s a princess! How is that equal?”

“It’s like I said before! She may have a fancy title, but she thinks every pony is equally important, no matter if they’re an adult or a baby or a baker or a royal guard.”

Peppermint sucked on her cheek. “Well… if you’re telling the truth… what would you say… if… if I said I’d like to meet her?” She was faintly blushing now.

Pumpkin’s eyes lit up. “That sounds like a great idea! I can show her my first friend. This is so exciting!” She hopped off the bed. “Come on!”

Peppermint shadowed her as they followed the sound of laughter toward the kitchen. Pinkie was still around, chatting it up with Peppermint’s dad.

“Hi!” Pumpkin said brightly.

Both of them turned toward her. “What’s up, Pumpy?” Pinkie asked.

Pumpkin gave her an incredulous look. “Pumpy?” she said flatly.

Pinkie giggled. “I could do worse.”

“I bet.” She shook her head. “Auntie Pinkie, can you do us a favor?”

“What’s that?”

Pumpkin gestured with her head toward her friend as she said, “Peppermint would like to meet Twilight.”

Salad blushed, squirming in discomfort. “Peppermint, that’s pretty rude, asking for such a thing. She’s got better things to do than meet anyone that shows up on her doorstep.”

Pumpkin sighed, extending her hoof toward him. “Exhibit A. Imagine everyone else in town thinking like that, and I think you’ll understand better why she doesn’t want us to treat her special.”

Peppermint did indeed start feeling a little discomfort.

Salad felt weird hearing Pumpkin talking about him like he wasn’t in the room. Before he could say anything Pumpkin rounded on him.

“You don’t know anything about Twilight!” she said, stomping a hoof. “She’s not the kind of pony you think she is. I grew up around her, and I know she loves meeting and making new friends. When my brother was having trouble with another pony Twilight personally went to his house to talk to him because she didn’t want to show special treatment to the ponies she was closest to. You only see her as a PRINCESS, and not an actual PONY.

"Twilight is an amazing pony, which you would know if you actually tried to get to KNOW HER instead of thinking she’s some stuck up jerk that looks down her nose at others just because they’re not as high status as her!”

Salad backed up slightly, blinking in surprise. He didn't know where Pumpkin’s outburst was coming from.

Peppermint wasn’t sure how to feel.

Pinkie couldn’t suppress her grin, feeling so proud of Pumpkin. “That is correct, Salad. Twilight really does love making new friends and interacting with the public. Twilight feels alienated from pony society because of her status at times, but she’s not the type who’d shut others out.”

Salad was still subdued. “W-well, if she wants to do it I guess I won’t object.”

“Good!” Pumpkin said with a bit of a haughty air. “Let’s go, Peppermint.”

Peppermint hesitated a moment, then followed Pumpkin as she headed for the front door.

Pinkie trotted to get ahead of them, opening the door.

Peppermint felt funny as they left the house, wondering what kind of pony Twilight really was. It felt strange that she was going to meet a princess face to face, never mind the fact that her new friend was close to her.

As the castle grew closer in the distance Peppermint’s misgivings intensified. She remembered her feelings from the previous week, when she told Pumpkin a princess would never want to meet her after what she did. She barely felt worthy of such a large meeting.

She forced herself to take a deep breath to calm down. If Twilight was everything Pumpkin said she was then things would go smoothly.

“Have you been here often?” Peppermint asked.

Pumpkin responded, “Actually, no. We’ve met Twilight a bunch of times, but I think I’ve only been to the castle like two or three times.”

“So this is kinda new for you too, huh?”

“You could say that. So let’s face it together.” Pumpkin gave her a quick hug.

Peppermint smiled, feeling more relaxed.

When they arrived Pinkie knocked on the door.

Peppermint was slowly trotting in place, nerves eating at her now that the moment was at hand. When the door opened, revealing Spike, she let out a loud shriek, cowering behind Pinkie.

Spike looked nonplussed. “What’s that all about?”

“I don’t know,” Pinkie replied.

“Are you okay, Peppermint?” Pumpkin asked.

Peppermint looked between Pumpkin, Pinkie, and Spike. Neither of the girls seemed to be bothered by Spikes presence, so she had to assume that meant they had seen him before. She blushed slightly, coming out. “U-uh, hello… um, Sir!”

“Sir?” Spike replied, looking pleased at the title.

Peppermint bowed her head. “I’m sorry. I guess I just wasn’t expecting a dragon to open the door. Are… are you also a friend of Princess Twilight?”

“That’s right!” he replied. “And who might you be?”

She looked him in the eyes now. “Uh, my name is Peppermint Swirl. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” He put his claw out towards her, balling it into a fist.

Peppermint looked at his outstretched arm with some trepidation. She didn’t want to be rude, but she felt that extending any part of her body towards a dragon was a bad idea, even though he was only about her size. Her logical brain was telling her that he wasn’t a threat if Pinkie and Pumpkin weren’t treating him as one, but her emotional brain was sending off red flags and danger signals.

Pumpkin could see the conflict on Peppermint’s face. “Sorry, Peppermint. I should have warned you about Spike. I guess it’s not every day you meet a friendly dragon. I can assure you he’s harmless as long as you’re not trying to hurt someone he loves.” To prove her point she stood next to him, putting a hoof around him and nuzzling his face.

That was enough for her. She was still a little anxious but she lifted her hoof, tapping it against his fist. “Oh, boy. This is a crazy day. My heart is still racing.”

Pumpkin let go of Spike. “Hey, is Twilight home?”

Spike nodded. “Yeah. She’s just reading right now. She should be in the library.”

“Cool! Thanks, Spike.” She went running about fifty feet before stopping and turning around, an awkward look on her face. “Ummmm… where’s the library again?”

Spike playfully rolled his eyes. “Come on. Follow me.”

Peppermint stared at Spike as they walked. Pumpkin had scolded her dad for making judgments about Twilight just because of who she was. Wasn’t she doing the same thing with Spike? She just assumed that all dragons were scary and violent, but clearly Spike wasn’t like that. A princess wouldn’t be good friends with someone evil.

“Hey, Spike?” she started. He turned to her. “So how do you know the princess? A dragon doesn’t seem like your typical house pet.”

“Hey, I’m nobody’s pet!” he said strongly. “But… I guess… I do have to do a lot of chores.

“A-anyway, Twilight was the one that hatched me. When she was just a filly she was tasked with hatching a dragon egg: me! And ever since then we’ve been good friends.”

“So do you ever visit your dragon relatives?”

Spike scratched his nose, looking away. “Let’s just say we don’t really see eye to eye. I prefer the company of ponies over dragons.”

“But doesn’t it feel weird, living with ponies even though you’re a dragon? I… I mean… don’t you feel like you stand out?”

Spike turned his head toward her. “What’s wrong with that? Better to stand out than to be an invisible nobody, right? Besides, I have great friends, a great home, and an important job. What more could I ask for?

“So who are you?”

“Oh, I’m just a friend of Pumpkin’s. Pumpkin told me some stuff about Princess Twilight, and I want to see for myself if she’s really like Pumpkin said.” Peppermint looked around. “It feels so weird to be in a castle inhabited by a princess. I never thought it would happen to me, but Pumpkin says Princess Twilight is the kind of pony that would see anybody.”

“Well, you’d be right.”

Peppermint turned back to Spike. “So what is this important job you do?” Her eyes grew fiery. “I bet you’re the first line of defense. If someone comes after the princess I bet you roast them into charcoal!”

Spike blinked, before he began chuckling. “Sorry. Nothing that dramatic. Although… if I came down to that, I certainly would do what I had to in order to protect her. I’m the line of communication between Twilight and Princess Celestia.”

“Huh?” Peppermint turned her head towards Spike’s back. She didn’t notice any wings. She thought all dragons flew, and that would make delivering notes easier, but she didn’t want to bring it up in case it offended him. “How do you do that?”

“Special magic, of course.” Spike stopped, putting a claw out to stop her. He turned his head upwards, breathed in, and then spat green fire that quickly dissipated.

“Cool!” Peppermint said. “Why is it green? I thought fire was supposed to be orange or red?”

“Well, I can do that too, but when a scroll is enveloped in the fire it teleports directly to Princess Celestia’s throne room. When she wants to send it back I belch it out.”

Peppermint began walking again. “That’s… interesting.” She did think it was cool about the letter sending, but the whole burping out a scroll bit sounded a bit gross.

She noticed that she was very comfortable with Spike already, despite her earlier apprehension. She thought she was starting to really see what Pumpkin was talking about now. Without knowing him, she had been fearful of Spike just because of who he was. But, because she had given him a chance, her assumptions about dragons all being horrifying creatures were being replaced by the fact that at least one of them was friendly and kind.

What would her mindset be after meeting with Twilight, she wondered? Would her initial assumptions be correct? Or would she see that Spike and Pumpkin were right, and Twilight really was a pony that would even give someone like her the time of day, just because she asked for it?

“Alright, here we are,” said Spike.

As they stopped in front of the library door Peppermint was feeling a mixture of fear and excitement. What was Twilight really like? She would be able to see for herself what the truth was instead of just taking other ponies at their word. Not that she thought Pumpkin was lying to her, but they might have different opinions .

Peppermint smiled as she lifted her hoof, turning the knob and opening the door.

18-5: Stories and feelings

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The group entered the library. Peppermint’s mouth hung open at the sheer number of books adorning every wall, going up to the ceiling. She couldn’t see the whole library because of the copious amount of book shelves everywhere, but she could tell that the amount of books here was enough to likely last her whole life.

As she walked around she spotted a pony sitting at a table, her nose in a book, a horn protruding from her head. It had to be the princess herself. She approached the pinkish coated mare. “Hello, Princess,” she said respectfully, bowing slightly as the mare looked up.

“Princess?” she replied, running her hoof through her purple-blue mane. “Sorry, but you’ve got the wrong mare.”

“O-oh.” She blushed. “So who are you?”

Pumpkin was wondering that too. She didn’t recognize the pony.

“Hello, Starlight!” Pinkie said brightly.

“Hello, Pinkie,” the mare replied.

“Long time no see!” She trotted to Starlight’s side, giving her a big hug. “It’s so nice to see you again!”

“L-likewise,” she replied in a strained voice. Pinkie was hugging way too tightly.

As Pinkie let go she turned to the two children and said, “Everyone, this is Starlight Glimmer. She’s a gifted unicorn and Twilight’s personal student.”

“If she’s Twilight’s student then how come I’ve never seen her before?” Pumpkin asked.

Starlight answered herself. “That would be because Twilight trusts me enough to send me out into the world to try and help others.”

Pinkie put a hoof to the side of her mouth, whispering, “That’s not the real reason.”

Starlight glanced at her.

“So what is it?” asked Peppermint.

In a sappy voice she said, “She lives in the Crystal Empire just so she can be near her husband and be all lovey-dovey smoochy-smoochy!” She hugged herself, making kissing noses. “Oh, Sunburst, I loves you sooooo much!”

Starlight flushed slightly, but couldn’t keep a grin off her face. “Fine. I admit it. Me and Sunburst have a loving relationship, but it’s not like I can’t help others AND be intimate with my husband, right?”

“’Me and Sunburst?’ Don’t you mean ‘Sunburst and I?” came a voice in the distance. Around the corner came a purple-coated mare. Her horn was glowing as she placed a book on the top shelf.

“Always stuck on grammar, aren’t you?” Starlight said with a laugh.

“Why shouldn’t I be? Sounding intelligent is one of the best ways to win others over, right after being polite and empathetic.” Unfurling her wings she went a few shelves up, moving slowly to the right as she looked for a specific book. “Aha! There you are!” Pulling it out she landed, folding her wings back up.

Peppermint froze. Horn and wings. This one was definitely the princess.

Twilight turned to leave and begin her next book. “Hold on, Twilight!” said Spike.

She turned around. “Yes?”

Spike gestured to Peppermint. “You have someone that wants to speak with you.”

Peppermint’s heart rate went up now that the moment was at hand.

“Oh, no problem. I’ll just save this for later.” The book levitated in the air before Twilight teleported it to her usual reading spot. She approached the trio. “Hello, Pumpkin. Hello, Pinkie.”

“Hello!” they both replied.

Twilight leaned over slightly. “And who might you be? I haven’t met you before.”

Peppermint hastened to bow. “I-it’s an honor to meet you.”

“Likewise. So who are you?” she asked again.

She flushed crimson. “Nobody,” she replied meekly. “Just a friend of Pumpkin’s.”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “Would you cut it out? Just talk to her. She won’t bite your head off.”

As Peppermint stood back up and met Twilight’s eyes she saw they had changed. Twilight had been in good cheer before, but now her eyes were kinda hollow, her smile forced. She took a deep breath. “I… I’m sorry. It’s just… it feels so weird to meet you in person.

“I’m Peppermint… Peppermint Swirl. I… I hope I’m not bothering you, but I wanted to ask you a question.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay, shoot. I’ll help in any way I can.”

Peppermint stared into Twilight’s eyes. They still hadn’t regained their luster. “I was talking to Pumpkin earlier, and she started telling me about you. And I guess I’m just curious… do you enjoy being a princess?”

Twilight’s eyes grew interested. “Why do you ask that? What did Pumpkin tell you?”

“I noticed that Pumpkin just calls you Twilight instead of Princess Twilight. When I asked her why she said that you don’t like your friends to treat you like a princess. I was wondering why. I, well, also wanted to know if you’re really like Pumpkin described, and you’d really just meet with anyone if they asked.”

Twilight giggled a bit. “I see.” She gestured with her head. “Come with me.”

Peppermint followed her as she walked down several rows.

Pumpkin held back. She didn’t need to go. She already understood. She was more interested in Starlight anyway.

Twilight came to a stop. “Here we are. Although I don’t care for them much myself, this is a library and I have to consider more than just my own tastes. Spike absolutely adores them.”

Peppermint looked at the shelf Twilight stopped in front of. “Comic books?” she said questioningly.

She nodded. “Pick out any one you like.”

“Umm… is that important to my question?”

“Certainly. Don’t think too deeply about it. Just pick a short one that catches your eye.” She could see Peppermint looked a bit put out. “I’m not snubbing your question, I promise. All will be made clear soon enough.”

Peppermint finally broke eye contact. She had no idea what a comic book had to do with if Twilight enjoyed being a princess, but she had to guess that that was why Twilight was a princess, but she herself was just a little filly.

Was Twilight going to give her one of these books? She didn’t mind gifts, but that wasn’t what she had come for.

She shook her head, clearing her mind. She went through the books at random, looking for something interesting. She pulled out one with six ponies on the cover dressed in superhero costumes. “Is this one good?” she asked, lifting it up.

“Ooohh, good choice. The Power Ponies is one of Spike’s favorite series.” Twilight put a hoof on her. “Brace yourself. This feels a little odd the first time around.”

There was a flash of light, and Peppermint’s stomach jumped. She was now standing on a cushion. She closed her eyes, feeling a little dizzy. Since she was already on something soft she let herself fall to the ground.

“Sorry. I did warn you.” Twilight rubbed her back. “You okay?”

It took a few seconds, but she nodded. The dizziness had passed now and she opened her eyes.

Twilight took the comic book out of her hooves and placed it on a stand angled at a diagonal for easy reading. “I’d like to read together with you, if that’s okay. I know it may feel like I’m stalling or ignoring what you want to know, but it’s hard to just explain my thoughts. I give you my word that when we’re through I’ll be ready to give you a satisfactory answer.”

She didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, so she opened the first page and began reading the introduction. She struggled a bit with the longer words, but it gave an overview of the six Power Ponies and their abilities.

When she turned the page and the story actually began Twilight read that one, letting her read the one after that. They each made up their own voices for the six, as well as Humdrum when he came into the picture.

Her question grew less important as she got into the story. Twilight put a wing over her protectively, which made her happy.

While Pumpkin waited she decided to get some answers. “Excuse me, Starlight?”

“Yes?” the mare replied.

“I get that you live in the Crystal Empire now, but I guess you lived in Ponyville at one point, right?”

Starlight nodded. “That’s right. How old are you?”

“I’m turning seven real soon.”

“Well, I moved out about three to four years ago, so it’s no wonder you wouldn’t know me.” She turned to Pinkie. “You and Twilight never told her about me?”

Pinkie looked a little embarrassed. “Well, it’s not like we were hiding your existence from her or were ashamed of you or anything like that. This is your first time back in so long you never got to be properly introduced to one another.”

Pumpkin spoke up now. “Did you ever meet me when I was a baby?”

“Once or twice, though I don’t remember much about it. You were typical toddlers.”

“Don’t be upset at Auntie Pinkie or Twilight. We barely know about Shining Armor and Cadance because they live so far away too.

“So how did you get to be Twilight’s student? She told us how she got to be Princess Celestia’s student because of some crazy magical explosion. If Twilight took you on you must have like saved Ponyville from some gigantic monster or something, right?”

Starlight heard the excitement in the filly’s voice, and was a little embarrassed, both from the attention and the actual reason she got the position. “Well… um… let’s just say that I’m another one of Twilight’s enemies that was reformed and leave it at that.”

Pumpkin looked a little disheartened. “You… tried to hurt Twilight?”

Starlight closed her eyes. She should have guessed she wouldn’t be able to hide it. “Not physically, no. What I had planned was far more devastating.”

“And what was that?”

She sighed, meeting Pumpkin’s eyes. “Did Twilight ever tell you about the sonic rainboom?”

Pumpkin nodded. “Yeah, she did. It led to her and her friends all getting their cutie marks at the same time.”

“Using a spell, and augmenting its power astronomically by harvesting the power of this castle, I went back in time to ensure that moment never happened.”

Pumpkin’s eyes went wide. Obviously Starlight had been stopped, since Pinkie and the rest were all still friends, but just the idea was horrifying.

“That wasn’t the worst of it, either. I let Twilight follow me using the exact same spell, so hopped up on thoughts of revenge I was willing to spend however long it took to see Twilight break. Time after time we went backwards to that key moment, and I stopped Rainbow Dash despite Twilight’s best attempts. It was the perfect emotional torture. She didn’t want to lose her friends, but she couldn’t defeat me. She would try over and over and over, hundreds, thousands of times, her heart crumbling a little more with each failure.”

Pumpkin didn’t know if she wanted to know, but she had to ask. “But WHY? Why were you so mad at Twilight in the first place? What did she ever do to you?”

Starlight scratched her head. “I had a large misconception about the nature of cutie marks. When I was just a filly Sunburst got his cutie mark when he saved me from a collapsing pile of books. He was so excited he ran out into the road to show it off. After that he was sent off to Celestia’s school for gifted unicorns, and I didn’t hear from him again after that.

“I started thinking that cutie marks were evil, only fostering anger, arrogance, and jealously towards others. Using a spell I created a village where everyone was equal, because no one there had a cutie mark.”

Pumpkin’s mouth hung open. “You… you can take away other pony’s cutie marks?” She didn’t have hers yet, but it was still a terrifying prospect. Still, the kinds of spells Starlight created made it more apparent why Twilight took her on as a student.

“Well, more like replace them. They got an equal sign mark instead, which ensured that the level of ability of everyone stayed the same. If the cutie marks weren’t kept in some kind of container they’d return back to their owners.

“I thought I’d finally found happiness, but when Twilight and her friends showed up they sparked a rebellion when they revealed that I actually still had my own cutie mark. In retrospect it was very hypocritical of me, but I needed my special magic to use the spell.

“Everything came crumbling down around me, and once again I was left all alone.”

Pumpkin understood now. “So you felt like Twilight was to blame? She ruined your friendships with the others, so you wanted to ruin hers in return?”

Starlight nodded. “After that I studied her, looking for a weakness I could use. It seemed obvious that their friendships were just too strong to put a permanent wedge between them, so I tried to stop the event that ultimately led to them becoming friends in the first place.

“I was so focused on getting revenge that I didn’t consider the bigger picture of what that moment meant for Equestria.”

Pumpkin thought back to all the powerful villains Twilight had told them about. “So Twilight wasn’t around to stop Nightmare Moon, right?”

“There were several different timelines she went through, where each time a new supervillain wound up ruling over the others. It wasn’t until Twilight dragged me with her to one of those futures that I finally understood what my revenge was doing to the world.

“Everything was just a big empty void devoid of life. The land was dead and drab, and there was no trace of life, either plant, animal, or pony.”

Starlight’s eyes grew dim as the memory came back to her. “I had only been trying to stop a friendship, but ultimately if I had left things the way they were I would have been responsible for wiping out all life in Equestria. It was one of the worst feelings of my life. I tried to deny the truth, but eventually I had to come to terms with myself, and how much evil I was truly responsible for.

“I surrendered to Twilight, giving up. And then… I waited for my sentence. Twilight would have been perfectly within her rights to lock me away in Tartarus and ensure I never saw the sun again, but… she chose to forgive me. Instead of locking me away she set me free.” Tears brimmed in her eyes before she smiled. “She offered her hoof in friendship to show me that cutie marks can be a beautiful thing and the things that make us different can be the things that bring us closer together. She acknowledged my skills, and worked hard to help me grow into a better pony.”

Starlight humbly bowed her head. “Truly, I am forever in her debt. She rid me of the bitterness that would have ruled me my whole life, and helped me reunite with my childhood friend.”

Pumpkin mulled over what she had heard. Was Twilight too forgiving? She reminded herself that Starlight wasn’t aware of the full ramifications of her actions at first. When she saw what her revenge would lead to she abandoned it.

She thought back to the times Twilight had helped them. When they had stolen Discord’s magic Twilight let them off with a tickle torture. Twilight could be stern, but she was very fair. She didn’t give up on them. She saw their potential and tried to help them grow through their issues.

“I guess Twilight truly is worthy of being the Princess of Friendship, huh?” said Pumpkin.

Starlight nodded.

***

Peppermint let out a maniacal laugh, playing the part of the Mane-iac. “You’ll never stop me now.”

The Power Ponies were all stuck in a small cage, one of her minions periodically hitting them with the paralysis spray.

Mane-iac aimed a laser cannon towards them. “Ta taaaaaaaa!”

“NOT SO FAST!” Twilight said in a kiddy voice, as Humdrum appeared, running towards all of them.

The Mane-iac only laughed. “Oh, Humdrum. Whatever shall we do now?”

Humdrum stepped in a bucket, tripping.

Everyone began laughing and mocking him.

“Well, that’s about what I expected.” The Mane-iac centered her aim. “Say goodbye!”

“Noooo!” Humdrum cried out, getting up. He was too far away to help… or was he? Rearing his leg back he then kicked it forward, momentum knocking the bucket off his leg and towards the ray gun.

The Mane-iac fired, the laser rebounding off the bucket and hitting the henchman by the paralysis spray.

“WHAT?” The Mane-iac said in shock.

Humdrum laughed. “Alright!”

She growled. “Get him!”

Humdrum cried out in terror as he was being charged on all sides. He backed up against a wall, gulping as they approached, weapons in hoof.

“Hey!” said the Masked Matterhorn. “Aren’t you forgetting about something?”

They had been so focused on Humdrum they had given the spray enough time to wear off. She blasted open the door of the cage, and from there they proceeded to beat down all the henchmen and in the end the Mane-iac as well.

“A job well done, everyone,” said Fili-Second.

“And we couldn’t have done it without you, Humdrum!” said Radiance, giving him a peck on the cheek.

Humdrum blushed. “Aw, it was nothing,” he said humbly.

“And so, the day was saved once again, thanks to… The Power Ponies!” The final page showed a group shot of the seven. “What crazy adventures will they get up to next time? You’ll have to buy the next issue to find out.”

Peppermint’s heart was beating hard with excitement. “Whoa! That was so cool! I didn’t think it would be so interesting.”

Twilight giggled. “Well, I’m not usually one for comic books, but I can see why Spike enjoys them so much.”

“Do you have more?”

Twilight playfully rolled her eyes. “Spike made sure I got the whole series.”

“It was a lot of fun reading with you. Can we read another one?”

Twilight shook her head. “Absolutely not.”

Peppermint’s face fell. “Oh… okay.”

“Didn’t you come here initially to ask a question of me? I told you I would give you my answer when we were done.”

“Huh?” Peppermint was so into the story it took her a minute to remember what she was there for in the first place. “Oh. Oh! Right.”

“You asked me whether I enjoy being a princess. It was an interesting question to me, and one I wanted to help you understand. However, if I had explained my thoughts right away, it wouldn’t have had as much significance as it will now.”

“Why not?”

“Let me ask you first: what do YOU think of me?”

“Well… like I said before I found it really fun reading with you. You created some cool voices, and you had your wing over me during the whole thing. I was a little nervous meeting you at first, but I think Pumpkin was right. You really are a kind and understanding pony. I’m glad I got to know you a little better. It feels like I could ask you for help when I’m in trouble. No. I mean, yes, I do think you’d help me if I’m in trouble, but I also think you’d hang out with me even if I’m not in trouble. ”

Twilight slowly nodded. “That’s correct. That’s the kind of pony I am.

“The answer to your question is… yes, I do enjoy being a princess. To be one of the few alicorns in the world is a great honor. So is being a princess. I would be very ungrateful if I didn’t appreciate the wonderful gifts given to me. This castle has a special function that tells me and my friends when we’re required in certain areas that are in need of a friendship lesson, so being a princess has also allowed me to head out into the greater world of Equestria, and help ponies outside of simply my hometown.

“The role of princess itself is something I’ve never been unhappy with.” Twilight’s grin faded. “What does cause me disquiet is what being a princess has done to others opinions of me. Of course as a princess I’d expect to be asked to solve problems, but some see me only as a princess, as if my ascension has robbed me of my basic pony needs of love, communication, and connection.”

Twilight gave her a nuzzle. “That’s why I wanted to spend some time together before I answered your question. I wanted you to see for yourself who I really am.”

Peppermint was a little confused. “What did you mean, about being a princess robbed you of basic needs?”

Twilight looked pleased. “I like that you ask questions. It makes me feel like you’re paying attention to what I’m saying. “

Peppermint blushed a little. “W-well, it’s only good manners…”

“Do you see what we’ve got going on here? We’re exchanging dialogue, expressing ideas and emotions. In other words, we’re forming a connection between us. Would you agree with that?”

Peppermint nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”

“My ideal world is one in which everyone starts to see me as my friends do. You’re getting there yourself. When I say that I don’t want my friends to treat me like a princess I don’t mean I don’t like being a princess. It’s because I hate the huge gap that forms when ponies know who I am.”

“What do you mean by ‘a huge gap?’”

“I mean it’s the opposite of a healthy connection. It drives other ponies away. Because I am royalty ponies aren’t real around me. They put on their best face, force a smile, and bow before me more out of fear than true respect or reverence. They feel they can’t relate to me before even speaking to me, and so they don’t bother trying to bridge that gap and attempt to know me. Think of how you reacted when you first talked to me, and how you’re acting with me now, and you’ll start to see what I mean.”

Peppermint thought back. She had basically done exactly what Twilight had described. She had bowed because it was the expected thing to do and she was nervous of the consequences if she didn’t.

After spending time together they had bonded over books, laughing together as easily as if she had known Twilight for most of her life. That comparison helped her understand why Twilight couldn’t answer her right away.

“Twilight?” she said quietly.

“Yes?”

“If you want other ponies to get to know you couldn’t you just do what you’re doing with me? Like, I don’t know, give everyone a number or something.”

Twilight let out a slow sigh, turning away with a wistful smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Unfortunately, no. No, I can’t.”

Peppermint hesitated, unsure if she should probe.

As if reading her mind Twilight said, “I’m sure you want to know why that is, right?”

“Y-yes.”

Twilight turned back to her. “I will never refuse anyone that needs my help, whether for a problem big or small, although naturally a big problem must take precedence over a small one. That is the mantle I have taken up, both as a princess and a pony.

“However, when it comes to social interactions that’s a different story. In an ideal world I would be friends with everyone, but while this world holds many blessings it is far from ideal. Issue number one: There is only one of me, and at least a hundred ponies in Ponyville. There is only so much time I have to devote to things. Besides helping to solve friendship problems in sometimes far-off places in Equestria I also have to keep up with my studies, make time for my friends, and just get some plain old rest. I also need a little down time just for reading. If I overreach and exhaust myself I won’t have the strength to protect those under my care.

“Issue number two: even if I offered myself up on a daily basis to as many different ponies as possible a fair number of them would not be suitable candidates.” She giggled. “I see you have a thought pulling at your mind, little one.”

Peppermint let out a little squeak. Was she that transparent? “W-well, I get that you don’t have a ton of free time and have a lot of responsibilities as a princess, but for the second part it sounds like you don’t want to give other ponies a chance. How would you know you wouldn’t be a fit match if you don’t even try?”

“You misunderstood me a little. There are two types of ponies I’m concerned about. The first are those that would come to meet me, not to be friends or for anything meaningful, but only for selfish purposes. For example, getting to tell their friends that don’t live in Ponyville that they met a princess personally.” Twilight smirked. “You’re doing it again.”

Peppermint had to laugh now. She guessed there was no point in trying to hide her feelings. “But isn’t that only normal? I mean, when you got to be Princess Celestia’s student didn’t you tell everyone you could?”

Twilight gently rubbed her head. “I guess I’m not making myself clear enough. Yes, it is a perfectly normal reaction, but it comes back to my beginning stance: I don’t want to be friends with someone that sees me as a princess only and not as a pony. If they only want to meet and interact for a chance to brag to others then they are not the kind of ponies I want to associate with, because they don’t care about me personally, only my title.”

Peppermint nodded. “Yeah, I think I understand it now. So what are the second group like?”

“The second group are the ones that can’t bring themselves to get any closer than legs reach. Much like the first group they’re more fixated on the princess part of ‘pony princess’ than the pony part. They would be horrified to think of meeting with me. And even if they did, they would be horrified still afterwards.

“They’re the type that think they have to be absolutely perfect around me, the ones that think I’ll lock them up for the rest of their lives if they so much as placed the silverware wrong or burped or just plain made a mistake. And even if the time we spent together was absolutely perfect, they’d worry about the next meeting and the one after that.

“With those kinds of ponies I could basically wreck their house under the guise of accidents, and they’d never confront me about it because they’d be too scared. They’re certainly more sympathetic to me, given that I was kinda like that when it came to Princess Celestia, but a good friendship requires being able to drop your guard once in a while and just be real with your feelings. Those ponies are more interested in just staying on your good side and not getting you mad. It’s difficult to have a meaningful friendship with someone that is terrified of you.

“I have to say, though, that you’re the kind of pony that I’d love to be friends with.”

Peppermint blushed heavily at the praise. “T-thank you, Prin-” She stopped, and then said simply, “Thank you, Twilight.”

Twilight pulled her closer, giving her a hug. “You’re very welcome.”

Peppermint hugged her back, her heart soaring. Twilight really was everything Pumpkin said she was.

When the two of them let go Twilight said, “Is there anything else you wish to ask of me?”

Peppermint shook her head. “Not really. Well… I guess there is one thing. Princess Celestia was your teacher, right?” Twilight nodded. “Have you ever asked her about all this?”

“I did… but… Princess Celestia…” Twilight sucked on her cheek, trying to find the right words to say. “Let’s just say that she’s the type that gives me the tools I’d need to succeed, and then let’s me go off on my own to gain real life experience. Just like I did to you at the beginning of our conversation, sometimes an explanation, no matter how detailed, just cannot compare to actually going through something and then reflecting on the experience.

“All things considered, I think I just have to accept that this is the way things are. Princess Celestia is friendly and cordial to all those that mean no harm, but she doesn’t go around trying to be close friends with everyone she meets. And I guess that is the way I have to look at things as well. I’d rather have a few deep friendships than a hundred shallow ones. If I can add in some new friends I won’t say no, but I think this is sufficient for me to do everything that’s required of me.”

Peppermint could see that now Twilight had something on her mind. “Is something wrong, Twilight?”

Twilight blushed slightly. “As one of my subjects I want to give you your due time, but, speaking honestly, I’m growing tired of talking to you. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reading and chatting with you, but my mind is starting to wander towards the book I had picked out earlier. Today was supposed to be a no-thinking day where I just relaxed and read, but I wound up having to think anyway.”

Peppermint wasn’t offended. She had come at Pumpkin’s insistence, but still they had just barged in unannounced and demanded time with her. “So,” she said awkwardly, “do you want me to leave?”

Twilight put a hoof on her shoulder. “I think for a first meeting things went very well. I’m not telling you to leave, as you’re free to browse the library, but I don’t feel that I can be a good friend to you if I’m too distracted to pay proper attention to you.

“I’d really like you to come back and visit me again another day, even if you’re not with Pumpkin. You can tell me how you two became friends and we can read another issue of Power Ponies. How does that sound?”

Peppermint stood up and hugged Twilight again. “That sounds great. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Okay, then. Let’s get you back to Pumpkin. Would you like to walk or teleport?”

Peppermint said instantly, “Teleport!” It was a pretty cool ability that she would probably never learn herself. And, now that she had experienced it once, she was better prepared for it.

Twilight’s horn glowed, surrounding them both in a bright light, and with a flash they were around the corner from the table.

Peppermint spread out her legs for balance, closing her eyes as she regained her senses. She felt more composed this time around. She looked up at Twilight with a smile. “That is so cool!”

Twilight giggled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“So why did we stop here? Did you want to say goodbye in private?”

Twilight shook her head. “Oh, no. I just didn’t want to scare the others. Listen.”

Peppermint could hear Starlight’s voice, excitement coloring it as she described one of the adventures she had been on. “Ooooh.” She could only imagine how distracting it would be to be telling a story and just have someone else pop into the room.

The two of them walked around the corner, and Peppermint saw Pumpkin fully invested in the tale. Spike and Pinkie were nearby, listening too. She felt curious. What had she missed out on?

“I thought for sure I was dead!” Starlight said. “I was on my back, half-blind from the raging snowstorm. The creature reared up, intending to stomp on my head. I seized my opportunity, swinging at its back legs and knocking it off balance. I flipped over onto my stomach as it reared up again. Bracing myself I jumped, hitting it in the stomach. I had hoped just to knock it on its back to buy me time to escape, but it turned out it’s underbelly was its weak point, and I wound up penetrating it with my horn. As it fell over on its back it took me with it, my horn stuck inside it.”

Pumpkin gasped. “That’s horrifying!” She put a hoof to her own horn. Horns didn’t even have a sharpened edge. They tapered off at the tip.

“I knew if I didn’t do something immediately I was dead, so I did the only thing I could. I channeled as much energy as I could into the tip of my horn, releasing it into its body. Its outer body was especially tough, but inside it was pretty fragile. It let out a horrible roar as it fried and grew still.

“I pushed hard, extricating myself from the creature, in shock at what I had done. I was bleeding and cold. Even though I had won the battle I still wondered if I was going to survive. Who knew if there were more of them nearby?

“I was on the brink of giving in to despair, when I heard voices calling out for me. It was Sunburst and several Crystal Empire soldiers. I was so relieved.”

“And that was when you learned there was a good reason you were told not to go too far outside the borders of the Crystal Empire,” said Twilight. “Right, Starlight?”

Starlight laughed awkwardly. “Right, but it did lead to something wonderful. When we returned and they were taking care of my wounds Sunburst tearfully proposed to me. No one lives forever, but my almost dying made him realize he would regret it forever if he never made that move.”

“That was an awesome story!” said Pumpkin. “It was exactly the kind of thing I needed.”

“Oh?” said Twilight, getting closer. “Are you planning on proposing to someone?”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “No! I’ve just been having some problems with Pound again, so I wanted to take my mind off things for a while.”

“Well, sure. Sometimes the best thing to do to solve a problem is to not solve it at the moment and come back to it with a fresh mind. Given that, I won’t probe for details. Although, if you need me, you know I’m always willing to help.”

Pumpkin nodded. “Thank you, Twilight.”

Peppermint hugged Twilight’s leg. “Yeah, thank you. I’ll see you later.”

Twilight patted her head. “It was my pleasure. Until next time.” Bidding the rest of her friend’s goodbye she disappeared with a blink.

Pumpkin asked, “So how’d it go?”

“You were right.”

“Told you,” Pumpkin replied with a hint of smugness.

“Yeah, yeah. Rub it in.” Peppermint winked. “So I guess you’ve just been listening to stories.”

“Yeah. Starlight is a fascinating pony. She’s here visiting since she hasn’t seen Twilight in person for a while. They have this cool set of magic notebooks where if you write in a page in one of them it will show up in the other one.”

“Wow! Talk about instant mail. And Spike can do that sort of thing too with his fire breath. If everyone had stuff like that they’d put the postal service out of business.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Starlight. “It’s really just something for good friends to share. There’s lots of mail where that wouldn’t be appropriate. If you ask me nicely maybe I’ll see about getting the two of you your own connected notebooks.”

“That would be awesome!” Pumpkin said.

“Yeah, yeah!” Peppermint said, moving up and down on her hooves. “Can you do it? Pretty please?”

“And tell us another cool story?”

Starlight’s cheeks felt warm. It was hard to believe how different she had been in the past. Back then she was so cold she wouldn’t have cared about the feelings of children. “Of course.”

Peppermint sat down next to Pumpkin, the two of them eagerly anticipating the tale of a princess’s student.

18-6: Giving ground

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Peppermint and Pumpkin listened to a few more stories from Starlight, but eventually they grew a little bored and were ready to move on.

They browsed the library for a while, taking out books that caught their interest. Pumpkin had picked out six books, and was all for sitting down and starting through them. She heard Pound’s mocking voice saying “Nerd!” and blushed slightly, adjusting her glasses with her hoof.

Letting out a moaning sigh she gritted her teeth, knowing she couldn’t put off the issue forever. She found Peppermint a few lanes over. “Hey, Peppy. You almost ready?”

“Peppy?” She giggled. “I guess I must be a good friend if I’ve got a nickname now.”

Pumpkin giggled back. “Hey, three syllables is way too much effort.” Getting more serious she said, “Can we go back to your house now? I think we should talk about my problem.”

“Oh,” she replied, growing solemn as well. “Of course.”

“Let’s go find Twilight so she can check us out.”

“No need for that,” said Pinkie, appearing around the corner. “Just follow me.”

The pair followed Pinkie to a counter near the entrance with a bell on it. She hit the bell a few times, and it glowed slightly. After about ten seconds Twilight appeared with a flash. “You rang?” she said.

Pumpkin levitated the books onto the counter. “I want to check these out.”

Peppermint flushed slightly, having to place hers on the counter manually. “Yeah, me too.”

Twilight was beaming. “Ah, the love of reading is one of the true joys of life.” She went under the counter, taking out two blank rectangular cards. With her magic she captured a shot of their faces, transferring it onto the cards. After asking some questions she added their information as well. “Here you go.” She handed each of them their own cards. “Cherish them well.”

“I got a library card,” Peppermint said wistfully. “That’s pretty cool.”

Taking out a stamp Twilight dated the removable cards on the back with the return date and jotted down the books being taken out. “Okay, you’re all set. Take good care of these books, okay? Having your library card revoked is like a fate worse than death.”

Pumpkin’s cheeks puffed up as she strained not to laugh. Peppermint tried to do the same, but she couldn’t hold it and burst out laughing, Pumpkin joining right along. Pinkie and Spike joined in as well.

Twilight eventually relented and chuckled too. “Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not that bad.”

Grabbing their books they said goodbye to Twilight, Spike, and Starlight, heading back to Peppermint’s house.

Peppermint and Pumpkin went back to Peppermint’s room, the two of them sitting side by side on the bed.

“Peppermint, what do you think I should do?”

“About what?”

“About Pound. Our parents want us to settle things ourselves.”

With a strained smile she suggested, “You could always just slug him one. If the two of you got into a fight he’d probably work out his anger toward you. And you could be like ‘If I win you have to forgive me.’”

She could tell Peppermint was joking, but it honestly sounded like a fine idea to her. It seemed a shame to reject it. She sighed. “That wouldn’t work. I mean, if I told Pound we should just fight it out I’d sure he’d agree right away. But… our parents have been trying to get us to stop using violence to solve our problems.

“And even if we could fight it out I’m scared that our parents might take our pets away. That would break Pound’s heart.”

Peppermint looked at her curiously. “I thought you were mad at him. What do you care?”

“I AM mad at him… but I love Tiger Lily so much, and I know Pound feels the same way about Champ. He was abandoned by his previous owner, so I think Champ would be just as sad as Pound if he had to go back to Fluttershy’s house. And I don’t have anything against Champ, so I don’t think he should be punished for something he didn’t do.”

“Well… what if you bribed him for forgiveness?”

Pumpkin glanced at her. “With what?”

“You two sleep in the same room, right?”

“Yeah. Even if Pound doesn’t want to be near me our parents make him sleep in our room.”

“So before he falls asleep go near his bed and ask what it would take for him to forgive you, and then just do it. Like, be his slave for a day. Or let him use you as a hoofstool.”

Pumpkin looked away, sighing. “Well, I guess I did say something really crummy to him. I… I guess I should let something unpleasant happen to me if it will patch things up between us.

“It sounds like a fine idea, but I don’t want to go home yet. I want to spend as little time as possible with Pound running away from me.”

“Hey, Pumpkin... can I ask you something?”

Pumpkin noticed her face was beet red now. “Yeah. Of course.”

“Do… do you think you could… you know… magic…”

Pumpkin’s eyebrow went up. “Huh? Speak clearly. You want to see more magic?” She lifted up a few objects.

“You know, when you told me what you said to your brother I reacted so negatively because I can’t do magic yet.” She looked at the floor. “If you were mad at me would you call me a ‘magicless loser?’”

“Of course not! Pound is… well, we’ve known each other since we were born, and we both know exactly how to push each other’s buttons.

“And magic isn’t that hard. It just requires proper focus and believing in yourself.” Her stomach twisted. “There was a time I thought I didn’t want my magic. During one of our previous fights I came very close to nearly killing Pound with it.”

Peppermint gasped, her mouth hanging open. “What did you do?” she asked.

“Well, it wasn’t so much the magic that hurt him. I knocked him away because he was annoying me so much. He would have been just fine, but the impact knocked the bookshelf in our room over, clocking him over the head.

“That was one of the scariest moments of my life. Pound recovered, but I was terrified of using magic anymore. It was Twilight that helped me overcome my fears, along with Pound’s encouragement.”

Pumpkin let out a meaningful sigh. She could almost see herself back then. Twilight, with her powerful magic, assured her there was nothing to fear if her magic went out of control, but still she panicked every time she tried to use it.

It had been Pound, the very pony she had hurt so badly, that had given her the courage to succeed, and she had been using her magic ever since.

Maybe… maybe it was time to let things go. Pound had been annoying, sure, but nothing out of the ordinary. Even if it meant bowing down and begging for forgiveness, or giving in to his whims, it would be worth it to have peace again. She had to admit she owed him a great deal. She’d do as Peppermint suggested, and wait until they were in bed.

For now, though, she’d see if she could help Peppermint learn to levitate stuff too.

***

Pound had fallen asleep for a short while, courtesy of his mother’s fantastic massage. When he awoke he was ready to resume his role as ruler for a day while he could.

Considering what he had been going through at school he made his first demand.

“Mom, Dad… have you ever had something really embarrassing happen to you at school?”

Both of them looked up and away, strained smiles on their faces. “Oh, yeah,” said Carrot.

Pound curled up, his head on his knees with a wicked smile. “Tell me, tell me!”

Cup and Carrot both took deep breaths. “Okay,” said Cup. “I guess I’ll go first.

“When I was in high school we were having a school election for student council president. I had submitted my name in it. I had seen several areas in which our school needed improvement, and I wanted to see us do better.

“So I campaigned, put up posters, talked with other students… all that stuff. From what I saw I had a good amount of ponies on my side, and it seemed I had a really good chance of winning.

“The day of the election students were all supposed to vote in the morning, and then the results would be revealed at the end of the day.

“Midway through the day I ran into our schools troublemakers. They had it in for me for no reason, and were always causing me grief. They all appeared to be in foul moods. One of them shoved me. Another called me a name. It was behavior I was used to.

“I got a surprise when I found out the supposed reason they were in such bad moods. They told me they had sneaked in to get a peek at the election results, and had found out I’d won. I was so happy I didn’t even care that they threatened to ruin my reign.”

Pound was listening with rapt attention. “You won, huh? That’s so cool.”

Cup shook her head. “Sorry, but I lost.”

Pound now looked curious. “You just said they were mad because you won.”

“That was the whole point.”

“Huh?”

“I had a hard time suppressing my excitement throughout the day. After classes had ended all of us were called to the auditorium for the results. I waited for the boring speech to end, anxious all the while.

“When he finished he opened the envelope, unfolded the paper inside, and announced the winner WAAAAAS…” Cup’s face lit up for a moment, before she finished flatly, “…Cinnamon Bun.”

“Soooo… they lied about who won just to make you feel bad?”

Cup shook her head again. “Oh, no. It was worse than that. Because I was expecting to win I didn’t hesitate to start celebrating after the announcement. I stood up in front of everyone, giving thanks for my victory, and was halfway toward the stage before I realized how quiet it was.”

She was blushing now. “It was the most embarrassing experience of my life. Once I processed who he had said won I was mortified. I was made to look foolish in front of the entire school, and I looked completely arrogant as well since I seemed so certain I had to have won.

“That’s when the laughter started. I could clearly hear my bullies laughing it up because they had got me, but other students joined in. The principal called for quiet, and when things settled down I headed up on stage anyway along with Cinnamon. It was the only way to save face after that fiasco.

“I congratulated her on her win, and apologized for being so quick to claim victory.”

Cup’s eyes faded out. “After the school finally cleared out I hid in the bathroom to cry for a while.”

Pound immediately gave her a hug. “Aww, don’t cry, Mom.”

Cup held him back, sighing. “One of the things that stinks about doing something humiliating in public is that ponies tend not to let you forget it.”

Carrot put a leg around Cup’s shoulder. “I was there for that. I was one of the few that didn’t laugh. Of course I didn’t know that she had been lied to about the results beforehand, but I did feel bad for her. I followed her, trying to get her attention, but I wasn’t going to go into the girl’s bathroom.”

Cup threw a leg around him too. “That’s right. You actually waited for me to come out. I was pleasantly surprised. You consoled me and offered support.”

“And I wound up walking you home.” He nuzzled her cheek with his.

Cup giggled. “Those bullies may have gotten what they were going for in the moment, but it was their cruel prank that led to us getting together in the first place. Sure, it felt horrible back then, but now I have the dream shop I always wanted, a fantastic husband, a surrogate daughter, and my two wonderful children.”

Pound bit his lip before he criticized Pumpkin. He didn’t want to take away his mom’s smile. He turned to Carrot. “So what about you, Dad? Tell me something that happened to you when you were younger.”

Carrot was blushing heavily already. “Do I have to?”

His dad’s reaction caught his attention immediately. He nodded hard. “Yes! You said I’m in charge today, so I order you to tell me!”

Carrot rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine.” He let out a half-sigh, half-growl. “Our school was having a school-wide academic contest. You had to write a short speech about a subject you were passionate and knowledgeable about. The goal was to try to inspire others to try new things they might otherwise never have attempted. The teachers would pick the best ones from each class, and all those students would read their speech in the auditorium.”

“Oh!” Cup exclaimed, making Pound look at her. “Oh-ho-ho-ho.” She got a devious smile on her face. “I remember where this is going now.” She snickered a bit.

Carrot snorted. “Glad you do.”

Pound was getting wound up. “Did someone lie to you too?”

Cup laughed into her hoof. “Nope. Try again.”

Carrot rubbed the back of his head. “No… I was one of the one’s chosen. Given our job I’m sure you can guess what my passion was.” Pound nodded. “We all took turns reading our speeches, everyone clapping after they were done.

“I was kinda nervous when I came up. I wasn’t used to speaking in front of a large crowd, but I was determined to do my best. I stood at the podium, cleared my throat, and before I even spoke a word…” He drifted off, his face red hot as the memory came back.

“What, what?” Pound said, his body rising up a little. “Did you trip? Or say a bad word?”

Carrot was mute, so Pound turned his head toward his mother.

Cup was trying to contain her amusement for Carrot’s sake. In as serious a voice as she could muster she said, “He accidentally let one rip.”

Pound’s eyes widened, his mouth falling open, before his smile expanded, filling his face. “He FARTED?” Pound fell to the ground, laughing hysterically as his legs kicked.

“Yep, and the microphone amplified the sound for everyone to hear.”

Carrot let out a slow breath. “That’s a part of my past I’d just as soon not have revisited.”

“Aww, honey,” said Cup, kissing him. “It gave us another reason to bond, though. You were there for me during my public embarrassment, and I was there for you during yours.”

Pound got up, giggles still coming from him as he asked, “So what happened next?”

Carrot closed his eyes. “Exactly what you think: everyone erupted into laughter. I knew that no one was going to listen to my speech now, so I took what was left of my dignity and left the auditorium. And as she said your mother followed after me to offer me support.”

Carrot put a hoof to his face. “Of course it didn’t end there. For the next few days every time I walked through the halls everyone kept going ‘Toot, toot.’ It was the fart train express. I got the nickname of Farty Cake. It was horrible.”

Pound was starting to feel a little bad now, so he went to give his dad a hug. “I’m sorry.”

Carrot hugged him back. “Well… the hype died down after about a month. School memories are always focused on the latest scandal or screw-up, so my incident became old news to everyone soon enough when they had something new to mock.”

Pound looked up at his parents. “School doesn’t sound like it gets any easier when you grow up.”

Cup shrugged. “Well, ponies are ponies, after all. Whether it’s at school, a job, or just out taking a walk, there’s always going to be those that will harm you. It might not be intentional most of the time, but we all harm one another. Some ponies just don’t grow out of that immaturity.

“I can’t even claim innocence myself. There were times I took part in school gossip, or snubbed a mare simply based on word of mouth instead of facts.”

Carrot nodded. “Same here. I was angry with my parents in junior high, and I went through a rebellious phase, bullying some of the ponies in the grades beneath me. I’m not proud of it, but at the time it felt right.”

Pound looked between his parents, pondering what he had just heard. “Sometimes I forget that parents make mistakes just like kids.”

“Well… it’s a cycle that’s been going on since the beginning of pony-kind. We grow up wanting to do what we want, and getting mad at our parents for trying to throw rules on us. Eventually we grow up, having kids ourselves, and then we understand exactly what all those rules were for. They actually helped us grow up mature and empathetic.”

Cup put a hoof on Pound’s shoulder. “I know sometimes it feels like we throw rules down just to be mean, or because we’re the authority and it’s fun to be in charge, but we make these rules because we’ve been where you’ve been when we were kids. You won’t truly understand this until you have kids yourself.”

Pound shrugged. “I guess you’re right. I find some of your rules annoying, but I can’t do anything about it because I’ll be punished if I don’t do what you say. Then again… I’M the one in charge today, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” they both replied, resigned to their fates.

“I think…” He put a hoof to his face, a thoughtful expression on his face. His face lit up. “I think you two should pretend to be kids again, like my age. And we have no parents to boss us around!”

Carrot nodded. “That sounds fine, but you remember what we said earlier, right?”

Pound nodded back. “I know. Don’t go too far.”

Cup said, “Well, we’ll let you know If you’re getting there, but for now…” She left the room, returning with a tablecloth wrapped around her like a cape. “Let’s play!” Her voice was now higher-pitched and squeaky.

“So what should we do first?” Carrot asked, his voice more kid-like as well.

“Let’s jump on the bed!”

“Woohoo!” Carrot cried out, running upstairs.

“Wait for me!” Pound said, laughing.

Pound had a ton of fun, all smiles and giggles, throughout the whole game. After jumping on the bed they raided the kitchen.

“Let’s take some cupcakes!” he said.

“Are you sure you want cupcakes?” asked Cup.

“Yeah!”

“Well, okay. Here you go!”

To his surprise his mother threw a cupcake in his face. “Hey!” he cried out as she giggled.

“Gotcha!” she cried out