I do not own any of the characters contained in the following work. “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro and Lauren Faust.
Real nice of you all to not call for help for me. At the very least you could try to e-mail me a new T-shirt. Jerks.
An oppressive silence hovered over the plains. Only the slightest whispers of wind were allowed to speak, leading the grass and leaves in a brief chorus of hushed sighs. But when the noise threatened to overturn the spell, the quiet smothered the breeze and all fell still again. The brittle leaves and yellow grass would give their last few rustling clicks, unsure of when they would be freed to speak again. Even the sun in the sky seemed to have had its brightness muted, the golden ball of warmth now only a pale yellow as it drifted farther and farther from the planet with every day. Autumn was nearly upon Equestria, the warm greens and vibrant blues of summer beginning to fade away to make way for the change.
“Fall is really such a beautiful time of year,” Screwball said idly, if only to fill the vacuous silence with some sound for even a short while, “the air gets cooler but it still stays nice enough to walk outside, the stars come out so beautifully every night, and all the leaves start turning red and yellow and brown. Hey, do those colors remind you of anypony?” The pony’s hopeful smile dwindled away in the presence of her partner’s unhappy expression and she retreated back into herself for the time being.
The last weeks of their journey across Equestria had passed with the same melancholy atmosphere. Discord rarely spoke unless it was in response to a question or riddle, and even then, he spoke softly and succinctly. Every word he said was delivered with the same tired sigh, and it was only out of consideration for the doting mare that he even extended any effort to hide his weariness. He had not lived long enough to see a single change in the seasons, and yet he felt like he had grown old. The wonder of the world he had been so enraptured by what felt like years ago had been drained away, leaving no colors or grays behind to fill the space. Even the occasional exertion spark of magic just to stave away the numbness in his feet failed to lift his spirits anymore, though Screwball tried her hardest to laugh whenever a jelly bean dropped out from a bird’s behind as it flew past them.
Everything had been ruined. And it was all their fault.
“We’ll be at Jericolt in just a little bit. It’s right there, built into the plateau,” Screwball spoke up again, hoping against hope that the announcement would shake the draconequus from his funk. “It isn’t a very large town, and from there we can start heading more inland for the winter,” she explained, having practically memorized the map of Equestria after so many nights spent pouring over an atlas she found on the side of the road, most likely forgotten and left behind by some other travelers.
When she was received with silence again, the lavender earth pony gave her little propeller beanie a spin. The soft whizz was typically enough to catch Discord’s attention just long enough to try to talk with him.
“Discord, aren’t you excited to meet more of your subjects?”
The draconequus slowed to a halt and let his head fall limply to stare at the dirt road between his feet. “They aren’t going to like me,” he murmured.
“Why wouldn’t they like you?” Screwball asked sympathetically.
“Because the ponies in Hoofington didn’t like me, and the ponies in Canterbury didn’t like me, and the ponies in Maredrid threw a party the second I left...” He ended the list with that, though both Discord and Screwball were perfectly aware that he could have continued for longer. While none of the visits to the towns had been nearly as disastrous as Ploughmouth, they all met Discord’s arrival with reactions ranging between indifference and disdain. Hoofington had been the latest stop just a few days prior, and the ponies there had unfortunately been among those who met them with disdain.
“Perhaps you should not have poofed up that colony of penguins when we were so close to the town?”
“I had to do something,” Discord said with an exasperated growl. “I didn’t know they were going to charge the place.”
“Okay, okay, I’m not mad at you... But maybe the ponies wouldn’t have been so upset if you hadn’t given them fangs?”
The spirit said nothing. He only closed his eyes and turned his head away into his shoulder. He tensed only for a moment when he felt a soft hoof lay itself on his back but kept his eyes closed.
“Please? Please, just try. For me?” Screwball’s hopeful purple eyes caught the slightest glimpse of ruby red from between his eyelids and she immediately brightened. It pained her to see him so unhappy but she was certain that if they kept pushing forward, things would finally change for the best. She understood that Equestria was safe for now as the new king would raise the sun and the moon without fail every morning and night. They could just return to Canterlot and live together quietly for a few years out of everyone’s way until they were forgotten and could return to Equestria with a fresh slate. But that was no way to live; tucked away in some isolated corner, just doing the bare minimum to get along, waiting for the day you would finally be wanted—she had lived her whole life like that, and she would die before she let Discord repeat her mistake.
“For goodness’ sake! Fine! I’ll go!” the draconequus huffed as he moved away from her, walking heavily down the road for Jericolt.
The mare watched him with mixed emotions. She was glad that he would give it another try, since at the very least, Discord would just stand at her side while she did all the talking. But ever since Ploughmouth, the draconequus had seemed to have trouble controlling his frustrations. And as she watched him stomp ahead alone, she worried about what was happening to the spirit who would laugh with her and copy her hoofsteps and play games. And she feared that she may never see that Discord ever again.
She shook the thoughts from her mind and steeled her resolve. She trotted quickly to catch up and in less than an hour, the pair could finally make out the town resting on the plateau in the distance. A breeze rolled down from the stone trail carved into the side of the cliff, carrying an unpleasant odor, but the purple pony ignored the smell as she enjoyed the sound of her propeller buzzing over her ears. She had truly come to love that silly noise; just the sound of it would banish Savoir Faire to a dark corner of her mind, and her thoughts would drift back to happier days. She had faith that the propeller blades flew on the winds of change, and she knew in her heart that the world would start to make sense again soon.
Screwball and Discord walked softly through the stone streets, the muted sound of talons scraping on the ground and hooves clopping on the cobbles the only sound that filled the air. Not even the wind was bold enough to broadly sail through Jericolt, keeping low to the ground and only disturbing a few grains of dust where the streets intersected. The rest of the town was frozen in eerie stillness, not a shape moved just out of sight, not a bird flew over the town, not a sign of life could be found.
The purple mare had stayed close to her partner for the first ten minutes as they combed the empty streets, but she could no longer contain her curiosity. The buildings of Jericolt had garnered some fame for their uniqueness, having been carved directly from the stone the town was founded on. It was designed to be used as a military outpost long ago during a war with a small army of dragons; the stone withstood the dragon’s fire and claws and the Equestrian army repelled the attackers in a year long siege. This only worried Screwball more. Because no building that could endure a dragon’s fury without difficulty should ever appear on the verge of collapse.
Screwball crept up to a building and peered inside a window, hoping to find some clues as to what could have caused this haunting quiet. She bit her lip when she found the window to be completely covered with some sort of black soot. Her mind immediately turned to thoughts of a new dragon attack laying waste to the city, but the theory was foiled when she wiped off the outside of the glass and discovered that the inside was covered as well. Unless the city had fallen to small dragons who were systematic enough to torch the inside of a house as well, there was little likelihood of the beasts being responsible. She lowered herself from the window and returned back toward Discord, keeping her eyes turned to the ground as she tried to come up with some explanation for this mystery. After a few seconds she realized that the draconequus was gone, but she caught a glimpse of a white plumed tail disappearing through a graham cracker door and gave chase.
The second building was just as worn away as the rest of the buildings, though this one was clearly somepony’s home. She sadly looked around at what must have been the living room; the decorative carpets and curtains had their colors faded and were riddled with holes that lent evidence to the presence of moths. There was a modest cushioned rocking chair sitting by an empty fireplace; the fireplace mantle was decorated with small photographs, knick-knacks like jars and bottled ships, and gently flickering candles. An open doorway revealed a kitchen. Her eyes lingered on the four chairs pulled around the wooden table and silently swallowed her uneasiness. A family’s home. An ugly spitting noise and a retch took her mind off the sad scene and brought her attention to the draconequus slapping his tongue in disgust, and looking more animated than he had in a long time.
“Yech! Plblth! Disgusting! What kind of crazy pony leaves rotten food just sitting out in the open?” Discord complained as he hovered over the table, inspecting the meager meal of mushy tomatoes, spoiled leeks, blackened carrots, brown lettuce, trying to find anything that looked edible. He picked through the food, lifting morsels off the wooden plates and inspecting them with disappointment and contempt. He missed the food at the circus. He missed having sweets whenever he liked. He missed being able to amuse himself whenever he was bored instead of just trying to pass the time by eating. But most of all, he missed not being afraid of his own magic.
While the draconequus tried to satisfy his hunger, Screwball puzzled over the new clues. The food had turned and the house had aged, which would mean that the home had been abandoned for some time. She turned back to the table in suspicion. The table had been neatly set for four, with plates and napkins and cups laid out in front of each seat. She ignored the twisting in her stomach and ran her hoof across the top of the table. Her eyes grew wide when only the smallest specks of dust stuck to her leg. She hurried back to the living room and dashed to the fireplace and wiped again. The mantle was clean. Screwball’s heart fluttered in her chest as her eyes passed over the decorations; the picture frames had all been lovingly dusted. Finally, her entire body froze as she focused on the candle standing in the center of the display, the light gently melting down the wax.
It could not be. It was impossible. She must have made a mistake, like always. There was simply no way that what she was thinking could ever be right, not in a million years. She took a breath to calm herself, only to choke on the musty air tainted with the smell of rotting food and burnt wax and that. Screwball escaped the house, desperate to escape from that unforgettable stink. But every breath only burned her lungs as she raced down the cobbles, twisting her head at each worn-away building. She skidded to a halt and frantically turned down a new street when she found an abandoned flower shop proudly displaying rows of wilted plants in its windows. The pony shut her eyes and ran as fast as fear could carry her, the instinct to flee overwhelming any reason she had left. Her hoof caught on something and she fell to the ground, scratching her shoulder against the hard road. After ensuring that her yellow beanie was still secure, the mare slowly rose to all fours and turned. The color drained from her face the instant she saw what he had tripped on.
One of the vehicle’s wheels slowly turned and gave a grating squeak; the other three had been rusted tight. Only the smallest flecks of pink paint still clung to the tarnished handle and body. The canopy had been nearly completely eaten away. A plastic rattle rolled back and forth beside it, the beads inside clattering softly with each shift.
Every muscle in her body screamed for her to run, but she stood as still as clay. She could not run from it anywhere in Jericolt. The smell was all around her. That terrible, horrifying, nauseating, unforgettable smell. She had learned it when she was only a filly on the worst day of her life. And now it was back, as vile and horrid and fresh in her mind as it was years ago. It was the smell of death.
“I had a feeling I missed one,” came a teasing voice from behind her. “Scream ‘Ah!’”
Screwball did not have time to react before she was completely engulfed by a black miasma. The pony choked on the pollution and felt as though she was being completely dissolved from the inside out. She covered her mouth and nose with one hoof and tried to clear the gas away with the other. The pony only suffered for a few seconds before hot vacuum of air cleared the black cloud away, pulling every trace of smoke behind her. She hacked for a few seconds longer and fought the urge to vomit, though she was confident that the taste would have been much more pleasant than what she had just experienced.
“That was peculiar.”
Purple ears snapped to alert at the voice. With no small amount of fear, Screwball gradually turned herself around. She kept her head low to the ground and kept her eyes closed as she tried to brace herself for whatever terror awaited her. She slowly opened her eyes and trembled.
The first thing that struck her was the size of the creature. It was massive beyond anything she had ever seen, as enormous as a fully grown dragon and twice as long, its body extending far out of sight. It craned its enormous neck high in the air over the roofs of the buildings, completely eclipsing the sunlight which made the dark purple scales that covered every inch of its frame appear pitch black. Cracks split its skin all along its body, scales and skin cracking and flaking off with every motion. Two gargantuan buzzard wings stretched out on each side of the monster halfway down the length of its neck, making the beast appear all the more tremendous. Long dreads of black hair like porcupine spines wildly flowed from his head, the hair swaying independent from the rest of the body.
Screwball jumped back in a panic when the thing lowered its head closer to her, engrossed in its own examination of her as well. Its sunken yellow eyes were the size of her entire body, which is to say nothing about the crocodilian snout or the tusk-like fangs that protruded from behind its lips. After what felt like an eternity, the serpent finally lifted its head and smirked.
“Ah. You must be Time’s ‘abomination’ then.”
The words were lost to Screwball as she shuddered at the sound of the thing’s voice. It was sweet and terrible, like a madman’s lullaby. Once she hardened herself, the pony finally spoke.
“What in Tatarus are you?”
“Lovely, isn’t it?” the thing asked as it admired itself. “I would never admit it, but I always did enjoy some of Nature’s pets. I believe this one is called a basilisk. A creature that can kill with a glance! Magnificent. It’s after my own heart.”
“You...” Screwball spoke with trepidation, “you’re a spirit!”
“The last horse crosses the finish line,” the spirit said as he applauded with his wings.
Screwball ground her teeth as memories of her encounters with the Spirits of Love, Nature, and Time boiled in her mind. “I thought we had seen the last of you maniacs with the owl at the inn!”
“Yes, it has taken some considerable time for me to finally be allowed to see you,” the spirit replied sadly. “Life sent that bore Time to try to ‘reason’ with Brother Chaos instead of allowing me to go, and it has been exhausting to convince her to finally give me my turn.” His mouth curved into a humorous smile as he did his best to stifle his laughter at some funny memory. "She even wanted to send me as a catoblepas. A catoblepas! Can you believe that? A killer cow! Absurd."
“Who are you?” she asked firmly, hiding her fear.
The spirit’s grin twisted into something sinister as he once again lowered his head in front of Screwball, the corners of his mouth billowing with the black smoke from before.
“I am Death.”
“Then it was you,” the mare whispered as she lowered her gaze, “you’re the one who destroyed Jericolt.” Her eyes flashed with anger and she snapped her attention back at the basilisk. “You murdered everypony! The entire town! You’re a monster!”
“If I am a monster, then so is he. I’m just like your Discord. I have to surround myself with my--well, let’s be funny and call it my ‘lifeblood’--to survive. That’s why Life was so reluctant to let me go, the miserable self-seeker,” the spirit explained, his tone darkening for only a moment at the mention of his sister. Death took a deep breath as he brought his attention to the vacant streets surrounding them with a bemused smile. “But... perhaps I overdid it.”
“Don’t even compare yourself to Discord!” Screwball barked, stabbing a hoof at the basilisk’s direction. “You’re a killer!”
“Life is a waste and all things show it; I thought so once, but now I know it,” he recited, his harmonic voice almost making him sound sophisticated. “I’m also a bit of a poet. And you know that his hands aren’t spotless, either.”
Screwball ignored the last sentence and turned her snout up at the giant serpent. “Life is a waste? Says you,” she snipped. There was one thing the jester appreciated about the spirits: they all loved to hear themselves talk. She only had to keep him talking and stall him just long enough for Discord to find her and send this monster back where he came from.
“Life isn’t happy. Trust me, I know Life. Life is cruel, selfish. Hurtful. Look at your life.” The mare was caught off-guard by the sudden direct address.
“It’s been an unending cavalcade of misery and failure. How could you defend the spirit that is responsible for all your unhappiness?” Death inquired. “I am here to try to put an end to every creature’s suffering,” he pledged as he folded one of his wings over his heart. “I stand for mercy.”
She did her best to ignore the spirit’s words, but Screwball could not help but feel a twinge of uncertainty begin to pick away at her bold front. She only wanted Discord to be there. Everyone who ever tried to hurt them were always really there for him, not her. It was easier to be there and stand up for Discord; he was never bothered by what anyone else ever said about him. He got upset when he didn’t win over a town’s favor, but he never seemed worried by what they said. He would just stay quiet and let words roll off his back while she fought for him. He only ever cared about what she thought of him... Didn’t he?
‘Wow. How selfish are you?’
The advisor’s mind was brought back to the present when a low humming made the ground under her hooves vibrate. She looked up and watched the basilisk in confusion.
Death swayed his head back and forth slightly as he hummed quietly to himself, “All good things must end. Flowers fade, balloons deflate, and butterflies disintegrate. Puppies die, and teeth decay, and lollipops are licked away!”
“Are you singing?!” Screwball shouted, the performance completely stripping away any sort of credibility she might have held to his words.
“Hm? Am I?” Death asked with mild interest. “Oh, I really must just be so excited. Tell me, where is Brother Chaos? I have been waiting so long to speak with him.”
“You will not touch him!”
“That’s right, you’re the pony who thinks herself able to command the Spirits. Just because it worked for Brother Chaos for a short period does not mean that you are anything special.”
“He listens to me because he cares about me!” Screwball defended. “I keep him under control and he’s thankful for it!”
“Hah! Trying to keep a spirit like Brother Chaos under control is like a flea begging a storm to act gracefully. But I will tell you now, those illusions stop today,” he said, the basilisk’s voice abandoned the sense twisted humor he had kept for the entire conversation, and became something hollow and ominous, like the toll of an iron bell.
“In fact,” he continued in that grave voice as he raised himself into the air, “you can consider this day as the end of all things as you once knew them.” And with a single flap of his wings, the spirit was gone.
A few minutes after he realized Screwball had vanished and left him in that boring house, Discord decided to track her down. It was no great trouble to follow the gray warmth she gave off everywhere she went, but on this particular instance it seemed to be stronger than usual. He didn’t enjoy the thought of Savoir Faire antagonizing Screwball again, but he wasn’t bothered enough by it to pick up his pace. He would be lying if he said that he did not feel frustrated with the purple mare himself for all the times she had taken him to a town that would only chase him away. And it was not as if he didn’t understand that he was making mistakes, too, but he could only be so angry with himself before it boiled over and spilled onto everyone nearby.
The draconequus stopped walking and began bouncing down the road on his tail. He found that jumbling his brain around helped when he needed to get this thoughts together. And the more he thought, the more he thought that if anyone was really to blame, it was all the ponies who got up in arms the moment things went wrong for them. No one ever got hurt because of him, what was their issue? After that... hiccup in Ploughmouth, he never tried setting a spark of gray for towns before they arrived to meet the ponies, and they still would always turn him away. He had begun to wonder if even he believed he was the king of Equestria anymore. No one else seemed to believe it so what was the point, then? From what he gathered by passing comments and stories by Screwball, it sounded like the last ruler was mean and forceful and kept the ponies in control through fear. It was probably bad, but he had begun to consider if that was really what it would take. Heavens know the ponies were not giving him many more options at this point.
Once he reached the end of the trail, he gave one last spring and landed firmly on his feet. Discord cocked his head to the side and twirled his finger around his beard as he contemplated what the pony was doing out all this way. The chaotic heat signature was coming from inside a building that didn’t particularly stand out in any way; it looked as worn out and abandoned as every other one he had passed. His first instinct was to just turn the door to gelatin and slurp it down, but he paused when he considered that he would only get nagged at. He jiggled with the handle and bit his lip when the latch did not yield. Taking a step back, Discord blinked a few times until he could see the invisible colors again to confirm that the gray was behind the door. He scowled at the wood for a few seconds and considered just leaving Screwball in there if she was going to lock him out. With an exasperated sigh, he banged his paw on the door a few times and waited for it to open.
Seconds passed and he heard nothing from inside. Checking again, the gray heat seemed to have grown larger in response to him knocking. He rolled his mismatched eyes and gave the door a light kick with his hoof. This wasn’t as fun for him as it was for her. He hammered on the door again and yanked on the handle, making the door frame shake and bend. After a few minutes, he threw his hands down in frustration, hating at the door as much as he could.
“Come on out, I know you’re in there.” His announcement was met by silence again, but he could have sworn he could make out just the slightest whimper from inside. “Fine. Have it your way.” He vanished in a flash of white and reappeared on the other side of the door, glaring at the heavy lock that was keeping it shut. He flipped the lock with unnecessary emphasis and teleported back outside. The draconequus easily pulled the latch and strode in through the doorframe feeling very victorious over this silly little game of hers.
HIs satisfaction faded away when he saw that rather than finding a sheepish purple earth pony kicking her hooves around in embarrassment, he found a virtual rat’s nest of ponies huddled together in terror. Upon seeing him, a young unicorn filly gave a frightened cry and buried her face in the side of an older stallion; and though the stallion tried to put on a brave face, he could feel that the pony was actually even more scared than the child. There were at least twenty other ponies all pressed against the far wall, watching him with quivering eyes and trembling legs in fearful anticipation of the draconequus’ next move.
“I guess that you’re the ponies I’ve been looking for. Tell me, what--”
“Don’t let him get me!” the filly wailed.
Discord groaned. That marked was the fifth time he had heard that during one of his visits now.
“First off, kid, you’re rude. Second, come outside so I can--”
“Why are you tormenting us, you beast?” an elderly pegasus from the back of the huddle shouted, his eyes brimming with anger and sorrow. “Did you not have your fill taking everypony else?!”
“If you interrupt me one more time, I’m just going to--”
“I’m too young to die!”
“Fine!” Discord snapped, letting his sharpened teeth curl into a menacing snarl. It wasn’t as if this was ever going to work out better than anything else so far. “I was going to offer to help you, but now you can all rot for all I care.” The rejected spirit stormed out of the building, slamming the door with a harsh crack of his tail, and stomped back down the stone roads without any real sense of destination.
He had meant it, too. Despite everything he had been through in every town, Discord would have been glad to help the ponies with anything they asked of him. It was all he wanted from them: them wanting him around. But no, it was the same story as everywhere else in Equestria. Pop in, say a few words, a child screams, get chased out, a giant snake blocks out the sun, do the same thing the next day. He looked at himself in the reflection of a window for a few moments, wondering if maybe things would be different if he made himself look like a pony. His reputation with the ponies would all be based on a lie, but better to live a lie than not live honestly, right?
As he pondered, the issue of the giant flying serpent over Jericolt suddenly came to mind. He tilted his head to the sky and watched as the dark creature slithered through the air, twisting its head this way and that as if searching for something. Screwball would probably want him to deal with that. Maybe the other ponies did, too. And what the hay, it would probably be the first bit of fun he had in a long time. With just the smallest flutter, Discord was off like a rocket.
In a short order of time, Discord had reached the purple basilisk completely undetected. Feeling in a playful mood, he slipped up from behind the creature and landed on the base of the snake’s tail. From there, it was just a simple matter of ignoring the laws of gravity as he calmly strolled down the length of the serpent, the basilisk’s rapid undulating doing nothing to hamper his progress. After a minute, he had finally reached the back of the thing’s head. It certainly said something about the enormity and thickness of the snake that it took him so long and it never once felt him walking on him. Fingers crossed it was in the mood to talk, he’d hate to have to hurt something so fascinating.
Discord bounced from the top of the basilisk onto the base of its snout and gave it a small wave. It came as a pleasant surprise when the snake stopped in place to calmly observe him.
“This is unusual. Every pony I have ever met has always fled at the sight of me,” the serpent said in an almost charmed tone.
“I know where you’re coming from with that,” Discord said as he conjured a bathtub brimming with pink bubbles to lie down in. Screwball wasn’t around, and he had been itching to unwind like this for a long time. Besides, his toes were starting to feel numb after spending the whole day with no magic.
“They’re so superficial,” he added as he scooped two handfuls of bubbles in front of his mouth and blew them into the air where they popped, sounding off various animal noises, chimes, and in one case, part of Beethoofen’s Symphony no. 7. After the orchestra had ended, Discord looked with interest into the basilisk’s eyes and smiled when he saw that his new friend showed nothing but patience and even mutual amusement for his fun. He seemed like a friendly enough sort. Much better than the ponies at least.
“I would ask you to not stare into my eyes for too long,” the basilisk said pleasantly, “the eyes of a basilisk are known to have some adverse effects on living things’ health.” If his form had eyelids, Death would have blinked in surprise when a pair of gaudy sunglasses appeared between his eyes and Discord.
“Do you think this would help?” the draconequus asked with a smirk as he popped a bubble with a talon, getting a face full of cake batter from the burst.
“These will suffice, yes. Thank you, Brother Discord.”
The draconequus snorted a laugh and lowered himself deepr into the bathtub, letting some of the water spill over the side and fly into the air. “I hate to disagree with something big enough to eat a mountain, but I don’t have any family.”
“I think you would recall that you, in fact, do.”
Discord chuckled for a few more seconds and closed his eyes to enjoy the warm water. Death waited for a few moments while the draconequus blissfully ran the water over himself, diving deeper under the water than the size of the tub should have allowed, and then resurfacing with a wooden back brush gripped in his tail. The spirit looked much like a drowned vermin when wet; his eyebrows covered his eyes, his beard looked like a wet rat, and even his horns were draping down on either side of him. He hanged over the side of the tub and dripped into rapture as he scrubbed at an itch between his wings. Just as he reached the pinnacle of ecstasy, his gold and ruby eyes flashed open and the tub vanished, leaving a wet and sputtering draconequus sprawled on the snout of the giant basilisk.
“You’re another spirit!” Discord shouted, unsure of how to proceed at this point. It was either going to end with him talking or them trying to fight to the death. And he really hoped that it was the former; not just because the tractor-sized fangs seemed that much more sharp with the revelation, but because it was the first time he felt he actually liked one of his siblings before he even knew who they were.
“I am, Brother Discord. You may call me Brother Death. Or just Death if you wish to drop all that boring formality that the others cling to so desperately,” the spirit said with a mocking lilt to his voice. “You don’t mind if I just call you Discord, do you?”
“No... Discord is fine,” he answered, feeling uncertain about his brother’s friendliness, “I like it much more than War or Decay or Entropy or Chaos or whatever the rest of you were calling me.” He wanted to remain defensive in case this new spirit would prove to be as unfriendly as the rest. Time and even Nature seemed unthreatening enough at the start, and he would never want to go through the hells that they dragged him through ever again.
“I think so, too. It was so unfair of them to label you so harshly,” Death said, his voice ringing like a silver bell. “Really, ‘chaos’ has such a negative connotation to it. After all, you’re not throwing the world into anarchy, are you? You’re trying to rule it. But they’re so quick to label you as something harmful,” the serpent explained with a sad sigh. “I tried to explain that you’re really the Spirit of Change. Doesn’t that sound so much nicer?”
“Well... Yes... It does,” Discord admitted. “So, are you going to leave nicely or are we going to get rough?”
“I’ll be going very shortly if you want me to,” the basilisk replied, “I only wanted to get my turn to see you, have a new face to talk to. There isn’t much opportunity for conversation and pleasantries in my realm of operation. Besides, whenever I try to walk among the ponies in flesh and blood, I’m usually treated like a monster and thrown out of anywhere I go,” he said sadly.
“Wait a minute, you’ve been in Equestria before?” Discord asked, stunned.
“Certainly. All of us have at the start of our lives, much like yourself,” Death lied. “But when the different species of the land would attack us on sight simply for how we appeared, we could take no more and retreated to a private realm of our creation. I see things have not changed much in how the ponies treat you.”
Two white eyebrows raised in interest. “How long have things been like this?”
“Oh, for years and years. You’ve seen yourself how resistant ponies are to change. They’ll do anything to cling to their old-fashioned ways. Ploughmouth is a nice example of that... I can see you don’t want to dwell on that. But this is why you are so important, Discord,” the Spirit of Death continued with a tone of contained excitement, “this world has long been yearning for change. All their desires, their hopes, their darkest prayers, all have come to life in you. The culmulation of all their paranoia, their hatred, their wickedness had stripped them of any reason or purpose, and that power had become in tune with the will of the world. This is simply the order of the universe. And from the ashes of the old world, you shall rise and create a new paradise of progress and change!”
Death threw his head upwards, accidentally launching Discord behind him. The serpent quickly turned around and caught the flailing draconequus on one of his black feathered wings. From there, the smaller spirit climbed back onto his brother’s face and waited for him to continue his passionate monologue.
“These hypocrites live in disharmony and solidarity and loath each other so much that there is hardly any trade between towns. And yet when the product of all their jingoism comes to try to unite them together in peace... Well, I don’t need to tell you how they act.”
Discord bit his lip and looked away from the basilisk as he tried to digest this new information. Could he have really been going about acting as a king the wrong way this entire time? Screwball said that she would guide him to rule as best as he could, but it never worked, and she wasn’t really an advisor... Every decision they had made together never worked. All the other spirits wanted to take him away from Equestria and the ponies wanted him gone, too, except for Death. But Screwball had still been trying to teach him about life so did he owe it to her to stay by her? The draconequus moaned and began to twist his tail. He didn’t know who to trust in anymore.
The larger creature allowed himself to smirk as he watched the wayward spirit battle with himself. Death may not have been very accustomed to the subtleties of mortal emotions and feelings, but even the blind could not confuse the draconequus’ expression as anything but inner turmoil. His faith was dying, he was falling into disaster. Perfect.
“You seem so unhappy, Brother. It is not right. No spirit should ever be subjugated and made to suffer at the hooves of some ponies,” Death spat the word so hatefully, the younger spirit could only wonder what sort of pain the ponies had put him through. “You can’t continue trying to rule like the old kings, because you’re not like them. You’re better than them. And that’s why these ponies all hate you. Because they know they’re inferior. And that frightens them.”
“Ponies aren’t like that,” Discord challenged the notion more out of instinct to defend his subjects, rather than out of confidence in what he was saying.
“Aren’t they?” Death asked, raising a scaly brow. “Out of all of the ponies you have encountered in your travels, how many have welcomed you? How many of them think of you as anything but a monster?”
“Screwball doesn’t.” The words died in his throat as memories of a spiteful phantom screaming her hatred for him. He tried to shake the thoughts away, but their impact still lingered. “Even if she did, she doesn’t treat me like...”
“One pony in the entire world?” Death asked with feigned surprise. “Do you think that is right?”
“No... But she likes me because she knows me better.”
“Or does she like you because she makes you act in a way that most pleases her?” Discord had no response. “And what of those who don’t know you? The ones who look at you and immediately hate you, try to chase you away... or worse?”
Ice ran through Discord’s veins and he turned his eyes away. “I don’t know what you’re implying,” he muttered darkly. Why? Why couldn’t he just be allowed to move on and forget that awful moment? That awful moment when he snapped his fingers and made the army... disappear.
“Brother Discord, you do not have to try to hide your unhappiness from me. I was there on that day. The day you were born and then nearly killed just as soon on that battlefield. When all the soldiers and the old king tried to destroy you,” Death said compassionately, his mouth not even pulling into a nostalgic smile as he continued, “and when you defended yourself against them. You should be proud of yourself for not making them suffer. It was better than they deserved.”
“I don’t want to think about that. Not ever again.”
“As you wish. But back to my earlier point, Discord. These ponies will not accept you if you do not prove yourself to them as their savior.”
The draconequus slowly lifted his eyes back to glimpse at the serpent. “What do you mean?”
“They wanted this change. Deep in their heart of hearts, they wanted you to come and bring them change. And as a ruler, you have failed to satisfy their desires,” Death said bluntly. “You have been taking your cues from, quite literally, a fool and it has only ever backfired.”
“Then what should I should to?”
“Be yourself.” The words rang so beautifully in the draconequus’ mind. “Do whatever pleases you, and shun anything that tries to stand in your way. After all, that’s what earned you the love of that family in Manehattan. When you saved that filly’s life before I had to take her and saved their home so generously, was it because of your fool’s advice or was it by following your own instincts?”
“I just did what I thought felt right...”
It was time to hammer the final nail in the coffin.
“Please forgive me, this is twice I have upset you now. And I have given you so much to think about,” Death apologized and motioned for his sibling to climb off of his face. Discord slowly walked the length of the basilisk’s nose, his path veering a bit as he was too distracted to keep his eyes on where he was going.
“I promise I will leave you to follow whatever it is that you want soon enough, but before I go, could you just humor me a bit? I want you to play the hero for those ponies hiding in that house down there,” Death motioned to the building the ponies had been taking shelter in, surprising the younger spirit. “Don’t seem so shocked that I know when things are alive. Now, slay the beast who had terrorized their town. Show them that you’re here for their sake, and that you will coddle and protect them like the old monarchy did.” His carefree expression dropped as he at last removed the sunglasses, revealing two slitted pupils staring straight through the troubled draconequus. “And see how they treat their savior.”
The basilisk flew back several hundred feet and exposed his underbelly. “Fire when ready.”
A purple mare collapsed on the cobble streets, the panic crushing her chest only making it even harder for her to continue sprinting. Fighting off her soreness, she pushed herself to her hooves and leaned against the stone walls of the empty buildings for support. Screwball only wished that the town didn’t reek of death so she could just get some clean air in her lungs. She lifted her neck up higher, hoping that the air would be just slightly easier to breathe.
Her heart soared when she turned her eyes up just in time to see Discord squaring off against Death high in the air. Her Discord looked puny in comparison to the beast, but he was still more than a match for the giant. A single beam of light erupted from the smaller form and obliterated the basilisk, which brilliantly exploded into a pungent cloud of the monster’s black fog. The cloud only lingered for a few seconds before it thinned and dissipated on a sudden wind. New life flooded into her and she ran as fast as she could toward the building that Discord was descending toward, tears welling in her eyes. Finally, after so long, things were going right.
“Ponies of Jericolt! I bring wonderful news!”
The survivors of Jericolt cowered from the voice as a small white ball of light hovered in the air at the entrance of their shelter. The orb steadily grew larger and more blinding until it finally burst. The ponies aimed their eyes toward the floor and walls, their fear preventing them facing the new visitor. Discord did his best to ignore their refusal to look at him as he continued in the most inspiring tone he could muster.
“The beast that had plagued your town is no more. Your benevolent King Discord has saved you from destruction!” he announced, throwing his arms out to his sides in anticipation for the praise and gratitude the ponies were certainly about to grant him. After all, in their eyes he had just vanquished a monster. He was like a hero then, wasn’t he?
“And who is going to save us from this monster?” came an angry roar from the crowd.
He would have liked to say that the jeer caused the world to freeze for him, that time slowed to a crawl as he grappled with the understanding that everything Death had said to him was true and that everything Screwball had taught him about ponies and the world was a sugarcoated lie to keep him under control. That the feeling of an icy claw seizing his heart and shriveling it away to nothing felt like it lasted for hours as it squeezed every last drop of empathy he held in him from his body. That even a small voice in the back of his mind pleaded with him to stay by the ponies’ side and care for them even at the sacrifice of his own personal interests. Or that the happy memories of time spent with a purple mare fought for survival against a rising surge of gray heat that struggled to its last breath before being seared away in the flames. But Discord was not given the mercy of a gradual enlightenment, and instead the wild burning in his soul ignited and obliterated him in an instant. He was not so blessed to have been given a moment to cope and was not left with any desire to think or consider. All that was left was an immediate, spontaneous desire to act.
He looked with quiet curiosity from his bleeding lion paw clenched in a fist, to the pile of exploded rubble that once composed a wall of the stone building, and then back to the ponies, now more afraid than ever before. The Spirit of Chaos did not scream, or bellow, or roar in fury and frustration as Discord had before. He merely regarded each object with a new interest for a moment before exiting through the new hole to see the world with new eyes. Empty, colorless, monotonous, this Jericolt stood for everything that he was not, as did the rest of Equestria. But he could change all of that. It was his power and it was his right to rule the world how he saw fit.
Discord snapped his yellow talons, and out of the building marched his tormentors, their faces twisted into grotesque masks of horror and confusion as their legs acted under the command of a new master. The king of Equestria looked over his empire for a moment before speaking softly, keeping his back to the crowd even as he addressed them.
“I’m glad. Thank you everypony. Now I know exactly who I am and what I am here for. Now, hear me well, as I shall not repeat myself. Equestria is under a new command and a new law: mine. I am the absolute ruler of the land, and I have already begun an undertaking to bring this world into a new, greater era,” he orated. He did not need to think of the words as he had already given this speech once before.
“A new chapter in history that shall live forever in the minds of each and every last pony for all of time. My name will be sung in songs generations from now, carried on the winds and echoed across the canyons. Every last subject will have a role to play, I can guarantee you that.” The ponies trembled at every word. Though the draconequus’ voice remained calm, it sounded as if he was barely able to contain the emotions hiding just under the surface threatening to explode out at any instant.
“Not a single unhappy soul shall go unnoticed or forgotten or left alone, ever again. I am your ruler! I am not a monster! I am not a beast! I am not something to be controlled! I am your king! And I have sworn myself to change Equestria!” The winds howled in response to the declaration. The spirit closed his eyes and embraced the gust, welcoming it like an old friend before at last turning his attention back to the cowering ponies, still struggling with all their might to reach out and just touch one another for comfort.
“Prepare yourselves,” Discord spoke, glaring at his subjects with eyes like fiery coals. “The winds of change are here. And they are not going anywhere for a long, long time.”
The spirit raised his dragon claw and stepped forward in the air, stopping on some invisible step. He brought his hoof forward and continued to climb the unseen staircase, ascending higher and higher toward the clouds, allowing the raging winds to batter and caress him as he left the world behind him. A million billion thoughts were knocking around in his mind, all vying for his attention, begging to be unleashed first. But when he heard a familiar voice cry out his name and looked down to see a mare staring up at him with perplexed purple eyes, he knew there was one thing he had left to do.
She wished she didn’t have to be a fool. She wished she could have been someone smarter, someone better at expressing themselves. Perhaps if she had been a poet she could have found the words to put to her emotions at that instant, or if she was artist she would be able to put her thoughts on display for all the world to see. But all she was good for was juggling and acting a fool. She cursed her cutie mark, cursed her talent, cursed the world, and cursed herself when Discord floated down, looking at her with such an alien expression, and she could only bring herself to say one thing:
“Discord... What are you doing?” Her quivering eyes searched for any sort of reaction, any emotion or indication of what her dear companion was thinking. Her eyes probed into his, begging him to say something and end the oppressive silence that once again surrounded them. She was afraid, but she did not know why. After what felt like hours, Screwball was finally given her emotion: for a fleeting instant, a regretful frown tugged at the corners of his mouth. The pony opened her mouth to speak but was silenced when she was gently tapped on the forehead by a furry finger.
Screwball’s vision blurred and darkened for a moment, and when she opened her eyes she was alone. She madly twisted her head in every direction, terror swelling up in her chest when every search only confirmed her greatest fears had come true. Her tears rolled freely off her cheeks and splashed onto the ground. She didn’t care if anyone saw. She didn’t have anyone to be brave for anymore.
‘I guess this is the part where you rub in my face what an idiot I am for ever even trying, right? Well, you’re right. So get it over with.’
‘Even you’ve left me...? Fine... This is just the universe’s way of reminding me... that happiness is something I’m meant to give, never take for myself. I’m just a fool. That’s all I am...’
Screwball slowly trudged toward a building when she heard the rumble of thunder and the pitter patter of early rain. She kept her head low to the ground until she was inside. The moment she closed the door, her tired legs finally collapsed, and the lonely mother cried herself to sleep to the sound of candy corn rain.
In the void that bridged the gap between the realm of the Spirits and Equestria, a dark black cloud of poison chuckled to itself as it drew closer to its home. Death knew he really shouldn’t laugh, though. The others would be so upset when he told them about how he was unable to make Brother Chaos see reason and that the draconequus was able to overpower the body he had been given. Worse yet, their greatest fears had come to life, and now the rogue spirit had begun to spread chaos and destruction on a global scale.
Now, it was all they could do was to watch the havoc.
And all the death that would come with it.