The Steadfast Sky : Chapter 31
The Grey Potter
I followed after Luna and Celestia that day, in silence. At first I thought, hey, I have some cute stories too, right? Maybe offer a few of them, simplified, scrubbed of a few unsavory details. But I listened and listened and listened… And well, the things I felt I could say just shrunk, then became nothing. They went on and on for hours, and I began to question if even my best memories were any good at all. Like little lights of kindness that seemed so significant to me, yet were almost routine to a pony.
I guess I started to feel a little embarrassed. Not just about the memories, either. Like thinking that a hug could just cheer someone up. That a few comforting words meant a lot more than they really did. It had worked before! Gave Celestia a hug or two, shared some kind words with her, she cheered up! Eventually. But how long, how many times and false starts it took Celestia to get Luna smiling again? And I don’t know, maybe that was just Luna? She’s always so cheerful, it took a lot of stress to crash her mood in the first place, maybe it takes that much longer to bring her back up to normal? Or did Celestia just pretend to be cheered when I talked to her…?
I felt freaking stupid. Stupid and, and like I’m some sort of weirdo.
At some point I had to cut myself off from the self-attacks. No use spinning my head in circles, beating around the same points over and over. Put on a straight face and move past it. Try harder next time someone’s hurting. I let the pair talk, and distracted myself with magical experimentation. But it couldn’t hold my attention all day. Every little zap and pop of magic drained me more and more, digging in my gut, reminding me how little I really had to work with…
“So!” I finally piped up, after a long stretch of bored, bored silence. They both looked back at me, almost surprised?
“Um… it’s starting to get late…” I looked up at the sky, double checking. Still light out, so my general exhaustion was all I was going on. “Think we should stop for the, uh, day? Night?”
“Goodness!” Celestia glanced up at the sky as well. “Yes, we probably should. Didn’t run into even one town today, did we? Another time, I suppose.”
“Discord?” Luna asked, “Where did you go today?”
I picked at the dirt under my claw. Wait, was I stalling?
“I was here the whole time.”
Luna, head level with mine, looked directly at me, blank. Or curious. Or…
“Did you have a story to share?”
“Uh, no. Not any good ones.”
“Are you doing okay?”
“Uh… well enough.”
I failed to say something again, but Luna refused to move away. Just stood there. Eugh… Why were things suddenly just so awkward? I watched Celestia for a moment as she stomped down some grass, set her bag down, spread her cloak across the ground… Okay. Okay, say something Discord, Luna’s going to get worried, and the last thing I want to do is hurt her. Again.
“I just uh… had a pretty bad childhood.” I laughed, trying to relax. “It’s really, really nice that you two had each other, even with your parents, um, gone.” Didn’t even realize that was a thing really. Not having parents in your life. Practically a standard among the Draconequus.
“Oh right!” And there’s Celestia, voice ringing in, like a trap snapping around my tail. “Discord… Well, when they take ponies to the castle…” she faded off, as if she was still uncertain if she should be asking.
“They kill them, yeah.”
“Thanks for finally telling me this, Discord.” Oh sweet life, she’s letting me off the hook! “But isn’t that kind’ve strange,” she said slowly, carefully, “Just capturing ponies, only to kill them?”
I stepped off the road, into the grass, uncertain if I was approaching Celestia or not.
“It’s all about scaring ponies into their place isn’t it?” I finally replied, “Showing absolute authority by taking all those that disobey?”
“But, there’s slavery out here. Wouldn’t it achieve the same effect to sell them?”
I just shrugged, as honest a response as I could offer. She was quiet again. There was more staring involved… Luna moved beside her, trying to find her own spot in the grass. For a while, that was all I had, Celestia’s eyes and that rustling sound. A day without talking to me, now they can’t take their eyes off me? And why, why this topic?
“You know Celestia,” I piped up, “This is really, really depressing talk to end a day on, especially one filled with happy memories.”
“Yes. So it is…” She laughed, just once.
“Let’s just set it aside for now. Eat some dinner, get some rest.” I reached for her bag, wondering if there was any food I could snatch from it before I just went to bed. A comfortably uncomfortable night back up a tree... But she nudged it away with her hoof, almost on instinct.
“But really, you’ve finally admitted to this,” she said. “You were hiding it for so long, I feel like, I don’t know, there should be more I should be asking, while you’re forthcoming with answers.”
“I don’t have many answers,” I pleaded, “I was still just a kid to them, Celestia. I didn’t know the why of things, and they didn’t share reasons very easily.” Oh please, just be satisfied.
She took a breath…
Yes. I dove for Celestia’s bag and yanked a few apples out. She seemed almost overjoyed that I was taking them, actually. Well, happy to have something, I ran right for the nearest a tree and scurried right the heck up it. It felt wonderful to be climbing again, scratchy, sappy bark under my claws, heaving myself up with my own two hands… I half wondered if I could fly up to the branches yet, but I almost don’t want to try. This action, this movement is smooth enough.
I like trees. Yeah, let’s focus on the positive. Trees are comfortable. Apples taste awesome. And if I can get a bit more food, I can keep messing with this illusion stuff, right? Though maybe I should just get to sleep, save my energy. There was a quiet tearing beneath me as the girls started munching up grass. I settle onto a particularly sturdy branch and shove aside some leaves as I crunch through an apple. Secure on my stomach, head laying across my fuzzier arm, I focus on my hand. If I can try and capture the flavor of the apple, work it into the illusion… I mean, I can probably just do a little bit more, if I keep it small.
I formed a little apple slice in my hand, pale and rough with a smooth red skin. See? That wasn’t so hard. I yawn anyway, stretch out my wings, airing them out a bit as I shove through a few more springy leaves. Now who’s underneath me…?
She glanced up, mouth full of grass.
I released my hand between the leaves and dropped the apple slice. I made it spin and twirl to the ground like a leave, only losing brief focus to another yawn. Guy’s gotta entertain himself somehow, right?
“Eat it,” I told her.
She glanced down at the little slice, a small sliver among the half-picked grass. She swallowed her mouthful and looked up at me again.
“I thought you ate your apple!”
She was quiet for a moment, then frowned. Pouted, really.
“Is this made of something gross?”
With a laugh, I released the springy leaves, and was unable to prevent them from smacking me in the face. “No, no!” I asserted, beating away the branches.
“Goodness, Discord,” Celestia called out, from somewhere else. “We may have been separated a few days, but that doesn’t mean you can prank us so bluntly.”
“It’s not a prank, I’m just trying out a new kind of magic.”
Celestia eased into sight, hovering over the tiny slice, making it vanish from my sight. There was a slight rustling again, her shoulder shifting slightly.
“It’s solid,” she stated.
“Okay, lemme try!” Luna said, her sister tutting as she backed away. There was a quit crunching… and she spat the illusion out, “Ew!” Luna cried, craning her neck up to show me as clearly as possible her disgust, “Ewww it’s sour! Yeck!”
“Dang. Well.” I released the branches a bit more slowly, pressing an ear back into the fuzzy crook of my arm. “I guess I can actually flavor illusions, just a matter of practice now.”
“Are you saying something, Discord?”
I open my mouth, shut it again. Meh, not really worth repeating myself. I begin to weave another wedge, slowly, carefully, not wanting to overextend myself…
“Wanna try again, Luna?”
“Um… no thanks.”
“Aw, c’mon. How am I supposed to learn if you won’t help?”
“Okay, okay, this is just silly.” And that was that, straight from ‘big sister’s’ authoritative mouth. There was the sound of a lot of movement. Celestia was probably trying to find a position to see me through the leaves. “Discord, get down here, we need to discuss our next course of action.”
“I thought that was pretty obvious. We go to the address Apple gave me.” Maybe it’s not so much about trying to replicate the exact flavor… maybe there’s some trick to it. Like… yummy. I think yummy thoughts…
“I don’t know Discord…” Celestia huffed, “He worked for the stallion, we can’t take him at face value.”
I shrugged into my arm, knowing full well Celestia couldn’t see me. “He had me right there in his office, and he let me go. Guards were right outside and everything. Even said ‘save the world.’”
“Well… that might be what he wants you to think.”
I rolled my eyes and dropped the next slice, not bothering to watch it fall.
“Try that one, Luna.”
“I’m serious!” Celestia said, “Apple could be trying to use us. Vinegar, imprisonment, didn’t work on either of you. Maybe he was tempting you with honey, flattering you, trying to make you feel heroic.”
“This apple tastes like butter.” Luna whined. “Butter and pennies.”
“Really?” Well that’s weird. “Is it better than the sour one?”
“Nuh-uh.” She spat, somewhere below me. “Not better at all.”
“Dang,” I heaved a sigh. “This is hard.”
“Discord!” Celestia barked. “I’m serious!”
“You know,” Luna said, “Do I get a say in this serious business?”
“Oh! Well… of course, Luna, what do you think we should do?”
“I say we find out where the next Element is.”
“Yeah,” I chimed in, “And this place--”
“Nuh-huh,” Luna spoke up, “There’s gotta be other ways to find the next Element. Sure, Stringhalt, this letter, they’re good ways. But it doesn’t mean we can’t ask somewhere else about them. Or… alicorns!” she gasped, and there was a bit of silence as she tromped through the grass. “Big sis, We could ask if there’s any alicorn statues around. That might make things easier!”
“That way we could avoid mentioning the Elements altogether,” Celestia said.
“But if we don’t find anything, then we’re going to… um,” I root around underneath me, trying to find that darn slip of paper. It nearly tore as I pulled it out, eyeing the slip with one lazy eye. “Uh, Hock.”
“Yeah, I’d think that’s fair!”
“I’m almost certain that asking about a statue will lead us true.” There was a crinkling sound, Celestia opening up her map, I think. I swatted at the leaves, trying to get sight of her. But it wasn’t long until my arm got tired, and I released the leaves, returning me to the silent green cocoon.
“Hock’s the next town on this road!” Luna giggled, “Wow, are we getting close then?”
“Well…yes, I think so. Sometimes distances aren’t entirely accurate on this map, but yes, we’re getting close. But! There are a few more little hamlets around the area. We look at them, then go to Hock.”
“Alright,” I mumbled, “Whatever.”
I yawned again. Maybe get a little bit of sleep before I go running around again, looking for a bit more to eat… I dozed off, best I can with just an arm and some bark as a pillow. I was wondering how soft leaves could be when…
“Discord? Going to sleep already?”
“Um…” I rub my eyes across my fur. “Celestia?”
“We never did get to have another serious conversation.”
“Yeah… uh…” I fished around the leaves again, trying to find an opening I didn’t have to constantly hold in place. “What do you have in mind?”
I continued to mess with the leaves in silence, stuffing them under my back leg. When did it get this dark? Did I fall asleep that easily? Up here? Wow, I must’ve been more tired than I thought. Celestia cleared her throat as I was finally able to spot her puff of pink hair, the top of her shoulders and backside.
“I um…” She started, stopping quickly. Wait… I laughed.
“Not much to talk about, huh?”
“Well there’s lots to talk about!” And she was silent again, “But… … … Discord?!”
I jolted. “What?!”
“I actually did enjoy the name ‘Tia’. I’m a little bit disappointed that it didn’t stick.”
“Really?” I sunk back into my arm. It’s quite cozy, relatively speaking. “I could try to keep calling you it.”
“No, that’s fine.” And there she fades out again. Goodness freaking gracious, could she pause any more? She laughed somewhere out there, and I began dozing again. I just wanted to go to sleep… Was I this out of shape, after being locked up for a few days? The tree started shaking under me, and I dug my claws in. A breeze?
“Hello?” Nope, Celestia.
“What about your name, Discord?”
“What about it?”
“Will you accept my offer?”
I dug my eyes into my elbow. Geez, what is she talking about?
“Sure, whatever. Whad’ya got?”
“Um… I was trying to think of a short way to say your name. Not, like, changing it, like Resonance.”
“Well, good, ‘cuz that name sucked.”
“So I was thinking, maybe Dizzy?”
“Sounds a bit more friendly than Discord, doesn’t it? It could help you think--”
“Wait, you meant that random word was supposed to be my nickname?”
“Yes, it was.” She fumbled with her words a bit, thrown off her even keel. “What do you think of it?”
I leaned over the branches, stuffing them back under my legs, holding them firmly in place as I stared down at Celestia. She looked back up, probably unable to see a darn thing. But whatever, good enough.
“That name,” I clearly stated, “Makes me want to puke blood.”
She stomped one of her hooves. “You’re just being obstinate! It’s a perfectly acceptable name!”
“No, you are just really, really bad at this, Celestia!” I laughed and laughed, rolling onto my side, just so I could laugh at her harder. “Geez, at least come up with something cool sounding! Like… I don’t know.” I flipped onto my back, trying to avoid resting on my wings wrong. “My name’s pretty good, really.” I knotted up my snout, and… “Discord.” I chuckled. “Spit it out like a swear word. Discord!”
“It’s a cruel name to be saddled with,” Celestia snapped. I just laughed again.
“Discord!” I growled.
“Luna!” Celestia cried, “What are you doing up?!”
“Listening to you two.” She giggled, then said my name again, trying to imitate my growl. I laughed again, heaving.
“Nice one, Luna. No, no…Luna!”
“Wow, that was a good one big sis!”
“I’m being serious, Luna. Too loud.”
“Luna!” I snapped, imitating Celestia’s snapping, “You’re being too quiet!” She broke into a giggle fit, struggling to say
something through her teeth.
I know Celestia was trying to be firm with her sister, but it was just too silly at this point! I giggled into my hand, watching, titling over slightly as a little blue light grew beneath me.
The tree shook, branch shook even more. On my back, arms in front of me, wings scraping past bark and twigs, I tumbled off, and there was nothing to stop me from falling.