Discord's mind was a roiling haze of rage and desperation. A frustrated scream rose in his chest, unable to find an escape from the stone prison. He struggled against his own body, desperate to move, to escape another thousand years of boredom and loneliness.
All around him ponies cheered, oblivious to his torment. Minutes dragged on, stretching into hours as he raged against the inside of his mind. He would make them pay. The tyrant Celestia, her blind followers, and of course Twilight Sparkle.
Hours turned into days. He was barely aware of the ponies as they moved him back to his pedestal in the gardens. Finally, he began to think again. Unable to move, he had nothing to do but plan.
It was all about the Elements. Without them, even Celestia would be nothing more than a scared little filly.
But just hiding them wasn't enough. No, with their blasted unicorn magic, Celestia would find them eventually. He had thought to break their power by spreading disharmony among the wielders, but that plan had backfired.
He couldn’t fight them with brute strength. The elements were a direct counter to his chaos. It had taken him years to figure that out.
When the Royal Pony Sisters had confronted him, he'd simply laughed. He'd struck a pose, given them a free shot, and the next thing he knew he was imprisoned. He hadn't been overpowered. Instead, his magic had been leached away.
The Elements represented friendship, while his power was based in the conflict between ponies. They were wielded by the Alicorns, the princesses who embodied all three types of ponies living in harmony.
They practically oozed symbolism.
Perhaps it's time I had symbols of my own. He would have smiled at the thought, had smiling been possible. But what represents chaos?
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months.
He had to break free! He couldn’t stand the quiet, the loneliness! Being turned to stone was so boring. It was almost physically painful. But there wasn't much he could do to free himself. He couldn't move of course, and he couldn't talk. His words alone could spread chaos like the plague, and even they had been taken from him. As for his magic... his magic...
It's still there!
It was a tiny spark, a trickle of power so feeble that he had completely missed it. For some reason the Elements hadn't torn it away completely. It wasn't enough to break him out, but it would do.
After all, his words alone could spread chaos like the plague.
"Hurry up," Scootaloo called, bouncing in anticipation of their newest adventure.
Applebloom spat the rope to the ground before glaring up at her. "We'd already be done if y’all would help pull. Why do ah always have to do the heavy lifting?"
"Can't hear you from way up here," Scootaloo answered, trading a playful smile with Sweetie Belle. She turned and kicked up some of the freshly fallen snow. “This is going to be awesome!”
Applebloom grumbled under her breath and continued pulling. She finally reached the top of the hill and Scootaloo pounced at the rope, untying the ironing board they had “borrowed” from Rarity.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sweetie Belle murmured.
"It is a bit higher than ah thought," Applebloom said.
Oh what do they know? It will be fun.
“Huh, what was that?” Scootaloo asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“Ah said it’s a bit higher than ah thought.”
Scootaloo scanned the hilltop for a few more seconds before smiling sheepishly. “Oh come on, this’ll get us our cutie marks for sure!”
The three fillies jumped together and cheered, "CUTIE MARK CRUSADER SNOWBOARDERS! YAY!"
Scootaloo flipped the ironing board and nudged it toward the slope. "Get on!" Once the crusaders were seated securely, Scootaloo pushed off, her little wings buzzing like a motor. In seconds they were sailing over the snow.
"Yee-haw!" Applebloom called as the trees whipped by. Scootaloo let out an exhilarated laugh, wings pushing faster.
"Um, how do we stop?" Sweetie Belle cried out, barely loud enough for the others to hear.
"Why would you want to stop?" Scootaloo asked.
Trees whistled past at dangerous speeds as the fillies continued accelerating. They leaned right, barely avoiding a head on collision with one of the thick trunks.
"Um, Scootaloo," Applebloom called. "Just how are we gonna stop?"
She was spared answering as the ironing board hit a thin patch of snow. It dug into the ground and flipped forward, launching the fillies into the air.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
They hit a snowdrift, leaving three Crusader-shaped holes in the white powder. Scootaloo popped out first, shaking snow from her purple mane. "That was so awesome! We must have caught twenty feet of air!"
Applebloom pulled herself up with a groan. "Well, it coulda been worse. At least we're not covered in tree sap this time. You okay, Sweetie Belle?"
Sweetie Belle nodded an affirmative. "But Rarity's going to kill me when she sees her ironing board."
The board had less luck than the girls. It was lying a dozen feet away, bent at the middle from the impact.
"We can just sneak it back in when she isn't looking," Scootaloo said.
"I don't know—"
"Trust me. Your sister will never know."
"Sweetie Belle! What have you done?"
"Oops," Scootaloo whispered.
"Ah told you 'carry it through the back door' was a bad secret plan."
"Uh, Rarity, we can explain," Sweetie Belle whimpered.
"We were chasing some ironing board thieves!" Scootaloo said.
"Yeah, we were... wait, what?"
"And we thought we scared them off, but then they came here. And we tried to get your ironing board back, but they had ninja ponies, so I had to fight them off with kung fu. We were outnumbered ten to one, but they were no match for me. I kicked and punched and flipped. They all ran away. And then I had to fight their ninja alien boss, and saved Ponyville, maybe even all of Equestria from an invasion."
Rarity pursed her lips. "And when did the ironing board get damaged?"
The proud smile dropped from Scootaloo's face. "Ironing board? Oh, uh, I mean, the boss used it as a shield."
Rarity stopped her with a raised hoof. "That's enough girls. I'll be talking to your parents about this." The crusaders sighed a collective "awww."
What a stick in the mud. I thought the ninja story was delightful.
Scootaloo’s ears pricked up. An icy shiver swept up her spine, sending chills through her body. “Did anypony hear—”
"Now Applebloom, Scootaloo, you two should get home. We all have to get up early tomorrow to catch the train to Canterlot, and I'm sure your parents want to get you into bed soon."
"That's right, ah forgot! Tomorrow is Hearth's Warming Eve!" Applebloom exclaimed. "A whole day in Canterlot; we'll be sure to get out cutie marks."
"Yeah," Scootaloo agreed with a small frown. “It’ll be great.”
"Bye Sweetie Belle! Bye Scootaloo!" Applebloom called as she trotted away.
"Bye," they echoed. Sweetie Belle waved and went inside with Rarity.
Scootaloo turned and circled the block, killing a few minutes before heading back and walking down the road toward Sweet Apple Acres. The sun was beginning to set, and it'd be getting colder soon. She picked up her pace at the thought.
Hearth's Warming Eve was tomorrow. It was her first Hearth's Warming Eve since meeting the Crusaders, and she couldn’t help but imagine the fun they would have. They could spend all day together before the pageant. They might even get their cutie marks, if they were lucky.
After the play ended, they'd board the train and head back home. Then they'd spend Hearth's Warming Day with their families, safe and warm in their houses, the way holidays were meant to be spent.
Scootaloo finally reached her destination: the Crusaders’ clubhouse. She made a quick check of all the windows before tucking herself into a corner under her blanket. Thanks to Applebloom's repairs, the clubhouse stayed warm most of the night. The coldest part of winter had already passed, and it wouldn't be long before the ponies could welcome spring.
Scootaloo tried to keep her mind blank. She didn’t need to think about the next few days, when she'd be alone. She still had an entire day with her friends to look forward to. Anything after that could wait.
Maybe she'd come up with a new list of things they could do to get their cutie marks. That way they'd be able to jump right into it once the holidays were over. With something to look forward to, she dropped into an uneasy sleep. She thought somepony was whispering nearby, but decided it was just the wind.
Discord never stopped whispering to the sleeping filly, his magic barely strong enough to make himself heard. She would think it was only the wind, the creaking trees, a far off animal from the Everfree forest. But she'd hear him.
What a poor little foal, desperate to find a place where she fits in, to find some proof that she matters, something to make her special. Friends who don't know what she goes through, or maybe they just don't want to know. Safe and warm in their homes with their families. Do they deserve their happiness? Why them and not you?
Far away, near the edge of Ponyville, a young filly's fitful sleep descended into nightmares.