Chapter 1: Thunderlane the Escapist
Rumble sat in his bed, blanket pulled up to his chin as he waited for the arrival of his brother, Thunderlane. It had been a long, arduous day that had taken a lot out of the young colt- no different than any other day. His mornings and afternoons were spent at school, where he'd sit in his hard chair, drifting off into his imagination while his teacher rambled on about some topic that would never be of use in real life.
At least that was what Thunderlane had told him. Then again he never was one for school, or general education for that matter. He was a stallion that lived his life based on experience.
"They just teach useless nonsense in that place", he'd scoff. "It doesn't matter how much you know about complicated algebra or the history of Griffons, it'll never serve any purpose. Textbook knowledge only gets you so far in the outside world."
It was hard to argue Thunderlane's logic. Rumble knew that he had a stronger grip on reality than most other ponies around town, which is how he often presented himself in public.
When the two brothers were by themselves in their home, however, Thunderlane would shed his exterior image of being the rational, mature brother and adopt the image of a...for the lack of a better word...goofball.
If there was one word Rumble would use to define his big brother, it would be silly. Thunderlane was a silly stallion that secretly enjoyed tales of fantasy and adventure, even if he pretended not to when around his friends. Almost every day, once Rumble got home from school, he would be met by Thunderlane, who would often show willingness to play around. Sometimes going to extreme lengths to do so.
Today, Rumble returned home to find Thunderlane standing directly behind the door wearing royal guard armor, which was really just an old Nightmare Night costume. He stood tall and proud, telling Rumble that in order to pass he must answer three questions, lest he be thrown into the "eternal pit of doom". Rumble would puff out his chest and exclaim how he wasn't afraid. How he would answer the questions fasted than a speeding pegasus.
Rumble would get the first two no problem, which typically centered around his name and what he hoped to accomplish by passing through. But the third question always threw him for a loop, and once he got that one wrong, Thunderlane would break shake his head. He would then break from his stoic character and pull Rumble close, giving him a rough noogie- his punishment for failing to answer the questions three.
Since Rumble didn't have much homework and Thunderlane didn't have many chores to do, they spent the majority of the evening goofing around in the living room. The only exception was the half-hour they designated for dinner. From six-thirty until almost nine, the two brothers were be in the living room, acting out the most ridiculous of tales. Rumble donned his own knight costume, complete with a fake sword, while Thunderlane pretended to be a terrifying dragon- Rumble's favorite beast for him to act out.
Thunderlane stomped around the living room, roaring and pretending to breath fire. Rumble dodged the imaginary balls of flame by ducking and dodging behind anything he could find, from the sofa, to the armchair, to the wall. He managed to grab a pillow from the couch, using it as a shield as he rolled behind the couch, pressing his back against it as he heard the threatening hoof-stomps of his brother.
"I know you're around here, Rumble. I smell your fear," Thunderlane said, laughing menacingly. Rumble smiled, his heart beating like a rabbit-foot against his chest.
"I'm not afraid of you." Rumble shouted, his voice quaking as he tried to hold back his laughter.
"Ah, you may not be afraid," Thunderlane said, his voice growing near, "But you've just given away your position."
Before Rumble could retort, his brother's black head popped out to his left. He turned to see Thunderlane grinning.
Letting out the perfect mix between a scream and a laugh, Rumble jumped away from his brother and ran off, Thunderlane laughing the entire time. They continued this routine for a long while. Almost an hour of diving, ducking, dipping, dodging and evading imaginary death, The colt finally thought up an attack strategy he was satisfied with. He held his pillow-shield out in front of him to deflect Thunderlane's flames and thrust the plastic sword towards his armpit.
Thunderlane then, as he usually did, let the sword go under and clamp down on it so it appeared, from the side, that he had actually been slain. He then, in an often comically dramatic manner, keel over and "die". Rumble burst into laughter, looking at Thunderlane's limp body, his tongue sticking out and his eye twitching.
Soon after, Thunderlane "resurrected" himself before he grabbed his little brother and pulling him close, giving him yet another noogie as an act of revenge. The two siblings shared laughter until they heard the clock in the kitchen strike nine.
As it was every night, that's when their laughter ceased.
Thunderlane's expression became serious as he gazed down at his little brother before ordering him upstairs. Rumble complained, but in the end Thunderlane, like always, got his way and the little colt would sulk up the stairs to brush his teeth and lay in his bed. There, he waited for Thunderlane to come up and read him his nightly bedtime story.
Sometimes he'd come in only twenty minutes after sending Rumble upstairs, though that was a rarity. More often than not, Rumble would wait patiently for up to an hour. During the time between going upstairs and Thunderlane's appearance, Rumble would hear the front door to their house open, signaling the return of their father. Many times, Rumble wanted to run downstairs to say hello to his father.
Ever since his and Thunderlane's mother moved out, Rumble hardly spent any time with his father. In fact, the only time got to see him was either in the morning before school- when he'd see him passed out on the couch (puzzling to the young colt, who knew that his dad had a perfectly fine bed to sleep in upstairs)- or on the weekends when he didn't work. But for some reason, Thunderlane would never let Rumble leave his room after he was sent up. It always puzzled him, but he just rolled with it.
As he continued to wait, he heard crashing noises coming from downstairs. It was just like every night. He'd hear strange and violent noises coming from downstairs, ranging from cursing to smashing. It was so sporadic that he couldn't put a hoof on what exactly was going on. Finally, the odd noises would stop. And Rumble would know, at that point, that Thunderlane would be up soon. He listened for the familiar sound of hoof-steps trudging up the stairs, which got closer and closer before the door to Rumble's room creaked open. A very tired-looking Thunderlane slowly trotted through the open doorway.
Sometimes he'd just look a little disheveled, his mane messy and his eyes tired. Other times he'd have a mysterious cut or bruise on his face. But no matter how terrible Thunderlane had looked, Rumble kept silent, knowing that the stallion would only skirt his questions on the matter and try to push the subject to something else.
Tonight was no different. Even with the clear black-and-blue mark streaked across Thunderlane's cheek, standing out prominently in the light of Rumble's lamp, the curious colt didn't draw any attention to it.
Besides, it was story time, and that was enough of an incentive to keep the colt silent and let his brother do what he promised.
Thunderlane would gently close the door behind him and give his younger brother a gentle smile. He'd then trot over to the side of Rumble's bed and sit his flank onto the carpeted floor.
"So," he'd always start, "what kind of tale do you want to hear tonight? One of action? Adventure? Romance?" He wiggled his eyebrows a little at the end, causing the young colt to chuckle. Almost always he'd chose either an action or an adventure story. He wasn't that big into romance, even if he was one of the only colts his age not entirely opposed to it- most of his classmates still thought girls carried the fatal epidemic known as cooties.
But even with all of the adventure in his stories, Thunderlane would still often inject sappy romances. He said it was to mess with his brother, but Rumble always suspected it had to do with him longing to find his very special somepony. Thunderlane had long been without a marefriend. No matter how hard he tried, he never had any luck. Rumble would've felt worse for his brother if it wasn't the best time of night. The time where all of the day's worries melted away into the puddle of the past.
So there, in the darkness of Rumble's room, Thunderlane cleared his throat and told the epic tale of a knight. It wasn't always a knight, sometimes it was a warrior or a soldier or whomever the designated hero of the night happened to be. One time he even told the story of a heroic bounty hunter living during the dark ages of Equestria that helped an escaped crystal pony free his marefriend from King Sombra's slavery. It was rather bloody, but Thunderlane told it anyway, knowing his little brother could handle it.
More often than not, however, the character in Thunderlane's tales would be a knight. Specifically, it would be a blank-flank pegasus stallion with a grey coat and flowing black mane who went by the subtle name of 'Rumble the Valiant', the most renowned knight in Equestria.
He was strong, noble, courageous and, above all else, handsome. So handsome, in fact, that he'd find a different mare to court at the end of each story. It was like he couldn't hold down a steady relationship with anyone. Rumble, however, didn't care about this, all that mattered to him was that he was a hero, and mares dug heroes.
There was nothing better for the colt than listening as his brother threw his older self-insert into various situations of conflict that he would manage to find a way out of each and every time.
On this night, Rumble found himself in a deserted wasteland- a vast place with gravel-like earth and where cacti were the only vegetation. It was here that he found a magnificent castle, a castle he knew to hold his maiden. After a battle with a terrifying manticore, which was brilliantly described by the narrating Thunderlane, the knight found himself inside the castle. He was panting and bloodied, but alive.
He made his way up the spiral staircase, narrow and frail- his hoof burst through one or two steps on the way up. Fortunately, he was able to re-stabilize and continue up until he reached his destination- a closed door, on the other side of which, his damsel in distress waited.
Thunderlane rolled his eyes at that part. Rumble knew how much he hated damsels in distress- he was much more into "rough-and-tumble" mares. Nevertheless, he continued telling the story anyways.
Rumble entered the room- a tiny bedroom with a single window to help the captive princess figure out what time it was. Apparently, however, that wasn't the only thing it was good for. The numerous tallies on the concrete walls did her lengthy stay in the prison justice. But Rumble didn't have time to count how many streaks the princess had made in the wall, and trotted to her bed, where a lump lay under the white sheets. He approached her, taking off his helmet, showing damage from the fight with the manticore, and slowly reached out towards the sheets. He pulled them back, revealing the most beautiful mare the knight had ever seen- her coat a sleek ivory, her eyes piercing violet. Even when tucked at her sides, her wings looked majestic. This was the princess rumble had been searching for.
Of course every mare in every story Thunderlane told was "the most beautiful mare the knight had ever seen", so Rumble took it with a grain of salt.
Back in the fantasy, Rumble gazed upon the mare in awe. The light was then serving its third purpose- to illuminate the princess in a way that she looked like a goddess fallen straight from the heavens. A halo-like light around her head and her sweet, innocent smile made the knight in shining armor blush.
He cleared his throat to speak, "M'lady, I have come to rescue you."
"I know," she whispered back, putting her hoof behind Rumble's head and pulling him close, her warm breath mixing with his own. His head was lowered more and more, inching its way closer to the mare's enticing mouth. He closed his eyes and braced for impact.
Right before Thunderlane could say they kissed, Rumble snapped and called the story off. Thunderlane simply snickered at his brother's overreaction to kissing.
Now finished telling his impromptu tale, Thunderlane leaned over and give his brother a gentle kiss on the forehead.
"Ewww," The colt reacted, rubbing his head in disgust. Thunderlane merely chuckled and give Rumble's mane one, final rub before standing up and making his way towards the door. He opened it a crack before turning back towards Rumble with a kind smile on his face, though his eyes were glassy.
"Goodnight kiddo, sleep tight and don't let the parasprites bite" he said before he slipped out into the dimly-lit hallway and closing the door behind him. The colt was now alone.
Rumble looked at the crack beneath the door where he could see Thunderlane's shadow on the outside. He stared, waiting for it to vanish. It lingered- staying in proximity of the doorway as if Thunderlane was just standing outside, doing nothing. Rumble then thought he heard somepony crying, but pushed the assumption aside as mere hallucination. Eventually, the shadow vanished from sight- Rumble was finally alone.
Sighing, he moved onto his side and gazed out his bedroom window. The darkness of the night coupled with the brilliance of Luna's moon always took Rumble's breath away, and this night was no different. Not that he'd admit it to anyone at school- they'd call him a filly for being enamored with beauty. He started to feel his eyelids get heavy as his imagination ran wild, placing himself in the spot of the imaginary character Thunderlane had made up for him. It wasn't hard, after all the character was Rumble. However, it still helped him fall asleep and provided him with dreams where he was the gallant knight of his brother's tales.