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.
I got knocked out and I’ve been in a trunk since the end of March. I’m starting to think I may not be getting my rad T-shirt back. Amazing that I still have Internet connection, though.
After Screwball finally recovered from the shock of seeing her mane streaked with white that “made her look like an old gray mare,” the pony decided that she and Discord would settle down for the day to recuperate after their encounter with that damnable owl. As much as she wanted to leave the filthy hotel and never look back, a heavy rain had forced them to stay inside for the night. She had hoped for a salubrious break, privately grateful for the opportunity to stay off her hooves for an entire day and try to plan their next steps on their journey. The jester even entertained the idea of trying to teach Discord to read again, preferably by using a book that didn’t appear to be a veiled assault on written language like the last one.
Instead, Screwball passed most of the day by chasing after her impish draconequus all through the hotel in an endless cycle. Discord would slip away while her back was turned, she would hear some great noise accompanied by an uproarious laugh, and a new pursuit would begin. Screwball would shout for Discord to behave as the spirit happily refused, popping in and out of doors and bringing all kinds of familiar chaos in his wake. The hotel was soon overrun with dancing pillows, flying fish, chocolate bouncy balls, walls of bubbles, and dust bunnies that were more bunny than they were dust.
With fears of losing control over the draconequus once again nagging at the back of her head, Screwball continued her search for the missing troublemaker. She had followed after him to a random room, only for him to be nowhere in sight when she opened the door. She slammed the door shut, her patience nearing its end, and shouted for Discord to come out and clean up his mess. Unsurprisingly, her demand went ignored and the pony trudged into the hall, her ears straining to hear any sort of chuckling.
Screwball yelped when her hooves suddenly slid out from under her. She scrambled to keep her balance as she danced on top of a pack of roving marbles and just narrowly avoided falling on her face by dropping to her side. Her eyes opened wide when she realized she had thrown herself down the staircase to the lobby, and she threw her hooves over her head to protect herself from the coming blows.
Her confusion turned to relief when the drop never came, and Screwball turned her head up to meet a pair of red and gold eyes watching her with intense concern. She had never even hit the first step before Discord caught her, and the spirit delicately placed his advisor at the bottom of the staircase.
“Ow!” Discord cried as he grabbed his stinging snout with his paws. “What was that for?”
“When I tell you to clean up your mess, you listen to me,” Screwball answered sternly.
“Fine, sheesh,” Discord sighed as he snapped a claw and immediately cleared the hotel of every trace of his hijinks. “You didn’t have to flick my nose.”
“You better hope I won’t have to next time,” she said as she walked to the reception area and climbed onto the least uncomfortable couch she could find. “I’ve been chasing after you all day and I’m exhausted. Please just behave yourself now?”
“But isn’t magic one of the Virtues of Sovereignty?”
“And since it always saves us, I figure I should practice as much as I can.”
Discord groaned softly and coiled himself on the carpet under the couch, continuing the argument in his head and unleashing flawless argument after argument until Screwball finally admitted defeat. He really was right, after all. He had pieced that together himself. He was miserable those last few days when he forbade himself from spreading the gray feeling, and as soon as he used it to bring back Screwball everything was great again! So what was the problem?
He unhappily answered himself when he remembered the look on the pony’s face when she saw that fake future Time had shown them. Discord refused to believe that all that could have been real; he refused to believe that making ponies unhappy would ever make him happy. It wasn’t real, and it was simple as that. He couldn’t hurt anyone with his fun.
Or that time…
‘I didn’t let Scroob fall down the stairs! That’s something, isn’t it? Cut it out,’ he hissed at his own brain, rapping himself on the head a few times to knock the incriminating evidence out of his mind. It was making him upset. He liked it better when he had out-argued the imaginary Screwball, it wasn’t as fun when he was doing it alone. Especially when he was losing.
The Spirit of Chaos twisted his neck around to see what his companion was doing, but his low vantage point stopped him from seeing anything. He slowly lifted his head until he was able to peek over the side of the couch. He was caught off guard when he came face-to-face with a similarly surprised Screwball. The two simply looked at each other for a few moments in an uncomfortable silence.
“I’m so bored,” Discord said, as he flopped onto his back as pathetically as he could manage.
“You haven’t even been sitting still for three minutes,” Screwball said with a frown. “It isn’t terrible to just sit down somewhere quiet and think once and a while.”
“It is so,” he muttered quietly before quickly continuing. “What are you thinking about?”
Screwball gave a flustered exhale and combed back a long strand of her mane.
“I’m just trying to decide what our next stop should be from here. We came south from Ponyville, so we could go back east toward the coast and go to Ploughmoth or northwest toward…” Her voice faded and her mouth twisted in a contemplative frown. “This would be a lot easier with—”
“I’m two steps ahead of you,” Discord piped up. He snapped his paw and Screwball’s objections were muffled under a layer of blue fabric.
Screwball was perplexed at first, but after considering that she was starting to feel some of the cold weather seep inside the rundown inn, she thankfully slipped back inside the familiar warmth of her Canterlot Royal Advisor robes.
“They can help you focus,” Discord explained, leaning against the back of the couch.
“I was actually thinking of something more along the lines of a map,” Screwball said, “but this is just as good. Thank you, Discord. I was beginning to feel a little chilly anyway.” The advisor felt a pinch of guilt while watching the draconequus aimlessly meander around the room before collapsing into a chair and rotating himself until he hooves were pointing in the air.
“Would you like to hear a story?” Screwball asked. She felt like she owed him some reprieve from his boredom, and Discord was more than happy to accept.
“What’s it about?” Discord was lying on his belly; his gray head cradled in his hands as his hooves idly kicked the air behind him, as is the official story time position.
“This is the story of how Equestria was made—”
“Bo-ring! This is just another one of your lessons, isn’t it?”
“Trust me, the story of Hearth’s Warming Eve is anything but boring. Though usually we don’t talk about it until winter, but that’s half a year away and I think you should know the story sooner than waiting.”
“Then quit making me wait. Come ooon, Screwy!”
The mare couldn’t help but giggle at his eagerness. “Ahem. Once upon a time, long, long ago and in a faraway land, ponies lived in great unhappiness. For years, the three pony tribes maintained a shaky alliance with one another, with the unicorns demanding food grown by earth ponies in exchange for raising the sun and the moon. The pegasi similarly demanded food from the earth ponies in exchange for their promised protection should the unicorns ever attack.
“The mistrust that had been simmering finally came to a boil when a mysterious blizzard covered the land in ice and snow. None of the tribes could do anything to stop the blizzard, and they all blamed one another while the tribes slowly starved and froze. It became too much, and when the tribes could endure no more, each set out to discover a new place to call home.
“After many long months of journeying, the tribes finally each discovered a new paradise! But to their surprise, they found that the other tribes had laid claims to the same land and none refused to surrender their new paradise. It was not long before a great war erupted among the tribes. And as the fighting raged on, the battlefield was soon buried under the same blizzard that had drove them from their homelands…” Screwball’s voice dropped and she closed her eyes for a few seconds.
“Well? What happened next?” Discord asked, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. “What was behind the blizzard?”
“I’ll tell you… Right after dinner.”
The draconequus’ jaw hit the floor and he began to cry out in protest at being made to wait again. Screwball simply waved him away and told him that he could wait until after they ate. After all, a good performer should always leave her audience wanting more, and she had done than just juggle for nobles in Canterlot. She draped her robes on the back of the couch and began to explore the first floor for some sort of pantry.
After a few minutes of searching, Screwball found the inn’s modest kitchen and some canned food that wasn’t too far past its expiration date. She realized that the spirit was powerful enough to just conjure up something for them to eat, but for whatever reason, a home-cooked meal sounded… nice. Even if she was stretching the definition of “home-cooked” a bit. When she was preparing, the two pulled a few chairs around a table and enjoyed a dinner of creamed corn, baby carrot slices, tomato soup, stale croutons, undercooked rice, and chocolate milk.
It was strange, she thought, that as she sat on a moldy chair, sharing the most meager meal imaginable and making idle conversation with a strange creature inside a broken-down hotel, as a storm outside pounded against the windows and walls, she could not remember the last time she enjoyed something so… nice. And it was nice. It had a charm that was just… nice.
The moment Screwball had finished eating, Discord immediately began to pester her and hop around, begging her to finish the rest of the story and groaning every time Screwball added some chore to finish before she would continue. He knew she was trying to torture him. It was the only explanation he could think of for why she kept insisting on cleaning everything.
“I cleared the table, washed the dishes, fixed the broken dishes, cleaned off in the rain, took a bath,” Discord injected the word with as much venom as he could manage, “and you finished yours, so can we please get back to the story now?”
Screwball finished toweling off her mane and stepped out of the bathroom, which had surprised her by being the one spotless and maintained room in the hotel. She was never the type of mare to pamper herself, but it felt amazing to have a proper shower after so many weeks. There was something about sliding down a soapy road that didn’t quite feel as refreshing as a hot shower, at least in her mind. The agitated spirit insisted on making a fuss every step of the way when she was trying to wash him, and the resulting battle to keep the draconequus in the sudsy water was ten times as fierce as her encounter with the wolf in the forest outside of Ponyville.
“Are you sure we got all the mud off?” the pony asked devilishly.
“Okay, then we just need to take the towel to the laundry and—”
Discord wrenched the towel out of her hooves, coiled it into a twist, and snapped it in the air in one smooth movement. At the crack of the cottony whip, the towel was transformed into an enormous fruit roll-up, which the spirit quickly gobbled down.
Screwball relented and followed the giddy draconequus down the stairs and back to the reception area. She got the feeling he wasn’t satisfied with her slow pace when he started pushing her towards the couch once she reached the bottom of the stairs. She nestled back into her warm robes and collected herself to continue the story.
“The three pony tribes had all fought bitterly to control their new land, but it was only the most stubborn of ponies who continued to battle on after the blustery winds and freezing snow began to bury the land. Many ponies were frozen solid and trapped in ice by the strange dark magic of the blizzard.
“Eventually, there were only three ponies remaining: the earth pony chancellor, Smart Cookie, the pegasus leader, Commander Pansy—yes, it’s a silly name—and the unicorn court mage, Clover the Clever. The three of them had retreated to a cave to escape from the cold, and the sight of seeing their tribes driven to extinction had drained their resolve to fight. So the three sat in that cave and spoke with each other, and shared stories of their tribes and their adventures while they waited to be claimed by the storm as well.
“As time went on, they discovered that they shared much in common and soon forgot their differences. They laughed and sang songs all night and into the morning, truly happy to have found each other in their last moments. A great roar, like the howl of a tornado, rumbled outside their shelter, and the three were shocked to discover the source of the blizzard.
“A trio of Windigoes, evil winter spirits who sowed hatred and havoc wherever they went, revealed themselves for the first time in their years of tormenting the pony tribes, galloping across the dark sky, snow and hail showering down from their bodies.
“Well, thank the stars that Clover was Clever, and knew precisely what to do. And by drawing on the power of their newly forged friendships, the three ponies vanquished the Windigoes with a single spell, sending them back to the dark skies from whence they came.
“The snow soon began to melt and the ponies thawed, finally freed from their hatred. The three tribes united together to found a single nation, which would in time spread across the world and unite all creatures in harmony. And they gave their proud new land a great and proud name: Equestria!” Screwball finished theatrically, satisfied with another story well told. But the expression on Discord’s face warned her that she was about to be asked a lot of questions she would have to make up answers to before she could go to bed.
“What happened to the Windigoes?” Discord asked.
She hadn’t been expecting a question like that. “They were sent back to the frozen plains where they came from, never to spread their evil magic on anypony ever again. Now, I’m feeling a little tired, so what do you say we raise the moon and turn in for the night?”
“But why were the Windigoes evil?”
“They… well, they just were,” Screwball said, groaning internally. Discord must have been the first one to ever have heard the fairytale founding of Equestria and be the most interested in the horse ghosts. “Nopony knows much about Windigoes other than they only want to make ponies miserable. And I think it’s time for—”
“What if the ponies were miserable already and the Windigoes were lured there by their dislike for each other? Maybe the Windigoes actually wanted to stop them from fight and they could only do that by freezing them,” Discord said, straightening himself.
“That seems… unlikely, Discord.” The situation was growing uncomfortable, but Screwball knew it was out of her control now. There was a look of purpose in Discord’s eyes, and she knew it wouldn’t be over until he was satisfied.
“Maybe they fed off of negative emotions and were trying to survive. Why didn’t anypony ever think to find out?” he said defensively.
Screwball lowered her head as understanding dawned on the pony, and she became very quiet as she tried to think of something to say. She felt like an idiot for telling the Spirit of Chaos a story where the villains were spirits who spread chaos. She could never have anticipated that he might have taken it personally, but that still didn’t make much difference to her. She had to think of something to fix this.
“I suppose that… if the Windigoes hadn’t come for whatever reason, then the tribes would have never traveled to Equestria and learned to work together,” she said after several painful seconds of silence. She risked a look at Discord’s face and was relieved to see his persecuted expression had vanished, replaced with a dewy-eyed look that still succeeded in making the pony choke.
“And maybe,” she continued as she climbed down from the couch to wrap her hooves around the spirit in a tender embrace, “the Windigoes are just waiting for somepony more open-minded to give them a chance.”
Satisfied, Discord and Screwball both gave a loud yawn. Drowsiness finally overtook them and the two lied down on the floor, curled together, as the last pitter-patters of rain lulled them to a peaceful sleep.
“Alright then, let’s see you try this one,” Screwball challenged. “You can never get enough of me, and I only want for more company. I will conquer all your enemies as they become your friend with me.”
“The answer’s obviously positivity,” Discord answered without a second’s hesitation.
“Do I detect some smugness in your voice?”
“You have to at least try to make them harder now, Scroob.”
“It isn’t easy to come up with these all the time, you know,” Screwball sighed playfully. “And all of these riddles have the same answers, so don’t get such a big head.”
The next morning was dazzlingly beautiful. An ocean of crystal blue stretched across every corner of Equestria’s sky, without a cloud in sight to mar the tranquility. Not even so much light breeze rolled across the ground. It was as if all the land had been frozen in a single moment of bliss.
An interesting thing about a magically drawn sun is that each sunrise is never the same as the one before it, and every new dawn carries a life and emotion of its own—or rather, of its master. In the past, on days where the late King Equinox found his mood was especially vicious, the sun would carry an energy that wasn’t just blisteringly hot; it was as if the black and red alicorn himself was glaring down at you with his infernal eyes. But that day, it felt like the sun would have broken into song if only it had a mouth. (Though given her company, Screwball would not be surprised if the yellow giant started to hum a few measures at any moment.) The world was happy, the cosmos was happy, Discord was happy, and Screwball was happy.
‘Just wait. I give it to the end of the day for everything to fall apart,’ Savoir Faire snarked from a corner of the pony’s mind. To the voice’s utter bafflement, Screwball’s smile grew in response and an indomitable and entirely foreign cheer swelled in her chest.
‘Not today. Today is the day when everything finally goes right. I can feel it.’
“Here’s a new one. I’m lighter than air but a million ponies couldn’t lift me. What am I?”
“A big rock.”
“A small rock?”
“It’s not a rock.”
“It has to be a rock.”
“I thought you were good at these.”
“When are we getting to the next town?” Discord asked grumpily.
“There’s a few small settlements that dot the road,” Screwball said, trying her best to sound convinced by the draconequus’ hasty changing of the subject, “but the next really substantial town is Ploughmouth. And that’s going to be a few days from mow. I figured we could trek around the coast during the summer so we can catch some of the ocean breeze and keep cool, and then head for the upcountry bits in the fall and winter.”
“That sounds pretty smart, Screwy,” the spirit whistled.
“Huh. It does, doesn’t it?” the pony said, a small pride bubbling in her voice. “Well, I am a royal advisor, after all, I have to—”
The spontaneous exclamation was nearly enough to make Screwball trip.
“The answer to your riddle from before. It’s a bubble!” Discord snapped his claws to illustrate his point and an enormous, oily brown bubble appeared in the air, hovering just a few inches above the chimera’s mismatched horns.
A pungent smell filled her nostrils, causing Screwball to turn her head away and gag at the salty vinegar taste that had invaded her mouth.
“What is that?”
“Soy sauce.” The spirit nonchalantly inserted a long, curly straw into the bottom of the odorous ball and took a long, greedy sip before turning to the purple pony staring at him in complete disgust. “Want a taste?”
“No! Ew.” She spat her tongue out at the idea of it, only to get squirted in the face with the black liquid. She moaned in nauseation and slapped at her tongue with her hooves, trying to get the taste off of her mouth, as the masochistic draconequus shook with laughter. As soon as she had swallowed the bile rising in her throat, Screwball cut the laughter short with a swat of her hoof to Discord’s backside.
“Ow! Hey, what gives?”
“Don’t do that,” she replied, giving him a stern look before continuing her march to Ploughmouth.
Discord only shrugged in resignation, quickly slurped down the rest of the bubble, and smacked his lips a few times at the tasty refreshment. He summoned a hand mirror to check his beard for any stray drops, and after being satisfied, he tossed it over his shoulder onto the ground, where it burst into a cloud of steam.
“This is going to take so long,” Discord moaned as he staggered after his companion. “Why can’t I just snap us from place to place? It would take all of half of two seconds.”
“That’s even faster. So, shall I?”
“No, we are walking,” Screwball said over her shoulder.
“But it takes forever! I’m just going to teleport anyway.”
“Suit yourself, but I’m walking,” the pony said breezily.
“I’ll really do it. I’ll run away. You’ll never see me again!” Discord threatened.
Discord stopped in his tracks to pout. How could she be so heartless? Well, she’d be sorry. He’d run away and then she’d feel terrible. Yeah. A confident smile crossed his face as he imagined the look of remorse on the purple pony’s face as she begged for forgiveness and promised to never make him walk anywhere ever again. Hah! That’d show her! He raised his claw to make his daydream a reality, his eyes focused on his fingertips as he played the fantasy over and over in his head. Yup. Just had to snap and he’d be out of there. No one to tell him what to eat or make him walk places. All on his own. Oh yeah.
The draconequus threw his hands to his side in frustration and sulked after Screwball, who hadn’t looked back once.
“You know that none of the foals ever actually run away when they say they will,” Screwball said suddenly.
“Hey, I’m not a foal!” Discord said, jabbing a thumb at his chest and growling when Screwball only gave a little hum in response that gave him the impression she disagreed. “I’m not. Why don’t I just fly us? That’d be faster, too.”
“I like to walk. I’m an earth pony, I like to walk,” Screwball said, a slight agitation in her voice.
“You liked flying that time we raised the moon.”
“That was different! Look, why don’t you just enjoy the walk?” She hadn’t meant to snap, but she was at her patience’s end. She just wanted a nice, pleasant day. No flying and excitement, no evil spirits trying to gobble her up, and no more of Discord running wild with his magic. And it was such a nice day; she just wanted to enjoy it, was that so much to ask?
She chanced a look at Discord and melted the moment she saw his downtrodden face. She wracked her brain for ideas when her eyes caught a smooth, long rock. She snatched it up and tossed and caught it in the air a few times, an impish gleam in her purple eyes.
The draconequus’s ears perked up and he stopped watching the rock’s bouncing to look at the pony.
“How would you like to play a game to make the trip go faster?”
“What kind of game?” Discord’s eyes popped with excitement.
“It’s a race.” The stone flipped through the air a few times, dancing on the jester’s hooves faster and faster with every toss. With a subtle flick of her wrist, the rock whizzed through the air and bounced and tumbled far down on the dirt road.
“The first one to get to the rock wins. Ah-ah-ah! But there are two rules.”
Discord’s body language was somewhere between a beach ball deflating and a can of soda exploding. “Rules?!”
“Yes. The first rule is that you have to play like an earth pony. No flying and no magic.”
“The second rule is when you get to the rock, you have to throw it forward again. If somepony is too tired to keep chasing after it, then the game is over and the last one to throw it wins. Sound good?”
“I don’t like the rules.”
“Great. Onyourmark getset go!”
Screwball kicked her legs for all they were worth and was off like a rocket, leaving the befuddled draconequus in the dust. She was impressed with herself—not everyone can boast that they were able to catch the Spirit of Chaos by surprise. After a few seconds of galloping, the pony risked a look over her shoulder to check on the competition. Discord’s lanky body was swaying this way and that as he tried to sprint after her, tripping occasionally; his disproportionate, unequal legs clearly not designed for running upright for long distances. It certainly explained his prepossession to flying and using magic to move around. The mare was not sure if Discord simply didn’t realize his handicap, or was simply too stubborn to show any sort of weakness. Whatever the reason, Screwball decided to hold back for the next leg of the race.
She scooped up the rock and gave it a much less glamorous throw, sending it farther down the road. A powerful gust of wind spun her on her flank, and she blinked a few times before she registered what had just happened: Discord had tricked her. The long, brown spirit zipped farther away from her, tearing along on all four legs.
“You little rat!” Screwball huffed when she caught up to Discord after his toss, the two running neck and neck.
“Something the matter, Scroob?” the spirit said as slyly as he could between pants.
“You were sandbagging!”
“I was just saving my energy for that first part, that’s all. Don’t tell me you tired yourself out already.”
“You wish.” Screwball gave Discord a light bump with her side, causing him to stumble just long enough for her to take the lead.
“Playing dirty? Fine by me!”
The two raced for miles, teasing and tricking one another however they could: Discord would trip Screwball with his tail; Screwball would get Discord to stop and check on her when she cried out for a sprained ankle; Discord would belch in the pony’s face and poison her with the tang of soy sauce still fresh on his breath; Screwball would leap onto the draconequus’ back and ride him like a bucking bronco until she sprang off of him and left the winded chimera behind. It was only after they both finally collapsed next to each other on the ground, their lungs burning as they wheezed and laughed, that they realized they had forgotten about the stone a long ways back.
And they laughed until it hurt.
It was early afternoon when the two discovered something they could not believe: a small city of tents of all shapes and sizes, with an immeasurable number of ponies scurrying around the big tops. Every now and then, a balloon would lazily float up past the tops of the tents and drift away. The exciting sound of trombones, flutes, and drums floated on the air, carrying an enchanting smell of peanuts and sugar with it. The entire scene had a glow of magnificence about it that completely dwarfed the small village it neighbored and immediately captivated the travelers.
“What… What is that, Scroob?” Discord’s voice was just barely above a whisper.
“It’s the circus.” The word tingled Screwball’s lips and she just had to say it again. “It’s the Barn and Neighly Travelling Circus! I haven’t seen them since I was a filly!” Her purple eyes glittered with unbridled joy as memories of high-flying acrobats, magic shows, and exotic dancing elephants paraded through her mind. Memories of the smells, the sights, the sheer bliss of being around the greatest performers in Equestria all came at once and overwhelmed the mare, courtesy of a little purple filly and her nana.
Discord was mystified by the grand circus for his own reasons. Currents of gray wafted around every tent, entangling the ponies who happily trotted from booth to booth, laughing with one another between mouthfuls of popcorn and chocolate, but never strangling them. Inside that all-encompassing cloud that permeated the fairgrounds, there was nothing but joy and revelry filling the air. And it was because of the gray! This was it: the key to using the gray to make ponies happy!
“So, Your Highness, should we grace the circus with a royal guest?” Screwball asked playfully.
“They have a secret and must tell!” he spouted before strutting off for the carnival. The pony merely shrugged off the odd declaration and trotted after him, barely able to contain her own giddiness.
The Barn and Neighly Circus was every bit as wonderful as Screwball remembered it. Sure, she probably didn’t mind the smell of circus animals as much when she was a filly, but it was everything she hoped for. Ponies bumped into each other as they pushed past the tents and booths, some fillies prancing off toward some new carnival game while their parents desperately followed after, sometimes carrying some over-sized stuffed animal on their back. Flags blew proudly in the wind at the tops of every tent, carried on the hot air of fryers churning out fried dough for crowds of hungry customers. She stopped to admire the craftsmanship of the balloon animals and hats and swords being handed out by few clowns as they cartwheeled, tumbled, and pratfalled all across the festivities.
She had always considered joining the circus whenever it traveled to Canterlot, but King Equinox had been very clear on his policy for ponies who tried to leave the service of the Equestrian Royal Court before they were dismissed: it was typically a show trial for treason which would invariably end with the traitor being banished. So she stayed in the castle whenever the circus came to town, too afraid of losing control of herself and running off to someplace she might have been appreciated.
‘Would you stop with that? I’m trying to enjoy myself.’
‘I don’t like it here. It’s too loud. Everything smells like elephant poop. I’m getting a headache. Let’s go home.’
‘Not a chance. This is my day.’
“Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! If it isn’t my favorite jabberwocky!”
Screwball froze at the too familiar grating voice and reluctantly turned to meet it. She saw Discord scrounging about for some unknown treasure, weaving between ponies who simply passed off his antics and bizarre appearance as part of an act—something she was very grateful for when the draconequus began to pick up ponies and shake them lightly as if whatever he was looking for would fall out of them. He was wearing that look of intense focus that always felt so out of place on the spirit, but for the first time, the pony found it to be cute; he was like a colt trying to find his special talent by forcing it out of hiding.
Grinning at Screwball and the preoccupied spirit was a pair of faces that were decidedly less charming. One was a green and brown baby dragon with a crooked maw, and on his side was a green stallion sporting a grin that could probably crack a coconut in half. The two were leaning on a pink and baby blue stall decorated with balloons and cutouts of candy, wearing light blue shirts under tacky rainbow aprons; the illusion was completed by the two white paper diner hats neatly pinned to their heads. If she didn’t know better, Screwball would have never suspected them to be any more criminal than any ordinary carny.
“Don’t just gawk, get over here!” Masky shouted.
The purple pony gave an aggravated nicker and walked toward the stand, following behind Discord, who was much more enthusiastic about seeing the pair again. The crook’s smile only grew wider and cheesier as they came closer, and by the time she had made it, Screwball has having difficulty fighting the urge to buck out a few of his teeth.
“What are the odds you two eggs would’a wandered into this joint?” the stallion said cheerfully as he walked out from behind his booth, slapping Discord on the back. “Ah, great ta see ya. How’d you like some sweets? I’ve been charging all the other drips today twice the usual price, but for you, it’ll just be regular price. That’s practically a steal! Lemme set you up. Patsy!” Masky snapped his head back at his disgruntled accomplice. “Two fairy flosses, chop chop!”
“We’re out,” Patsy said flatly, banging on the inside of some unseen metal drum.
“Then make some more! We got customers! Criminy,” Masky moaned and rubbed a hoof against his forehead before meeting with Screwball’s cynical glare.
“Just what are you up to now?”
“Hey now, put the claws away! No need to cast a kitten, it’s a circus. And if you’re trying to insinuate I’m trying any funny business, you’re barking up the wrong tree. See the uniform? Me and Patsy are on the up and up now.”
“Stop flapping your gums and give me a hand with the sugar,” Patsy growled from under the booth.
“Can’t you lift—Boo! Boo, see?” Masky broke away from the traveling royals and stomped back behind the candy stand where the two threw volleys of family unfriendly words at each other before they hoisted a bag of sugar onto the counter.
“Are these guys clowns now?” Discord whispered a little too loudly as he watched the two bicker.
“I’d say they were before.”
“Real nice, you two, real nice,” Masky grouched as he used one of his baby dragon’s teeth to pop a hole in the bag. “So, how did everything go with the big toucan?”
“Owl,” Discord corrected as he slid over to see what Patsy was busying himself with that was creating such a loud whirring noise.
“He dragged us to a horrifying future and then tried to kill us,” Screwball said bitterly.
The stallion gave a long, high whistle. “Huh… I’m glad we left.”
“Why are you working at a circus? What happened to that bag of bits you gouged us on for that room at your stolen hotel?” she snorted.
“Two things. One, it wasn’t stolen. The place was abandoned so we just moved in, see? And B, the big palooka,” he said, pointing an accusing hoof at the unconcerned Discord, “gave us dummy money.”
“What?” She had not expected that answer. “You mean like counterfeit?”
“He means like chocolate,” Patsy answered as the whirr faded away. “And now he’s got me making candy for brats and cleaning up at the rides at the end of the day when they hork it all back out.”
“What are you making?” Discord cut in, sniffing the machine curiously. It was a large metal barrel with a cone rising up from the middle with a small black ring in the center.
“Pure, tooth-rotting sugar.” Patsy demonstrated by grabbing a fistful of sugar from the bag and dropping it in the ring before he was shoved to the ground.
“Just take a little bit of the white stuff, add some dye, and turn it on…” Masky flipped a switch and the cone began to rapidly spin around. “You only need a little bit to get a whole lot outta it.”
His golden eyes grew to the size of plates and his lopsided ruby pupils froze in place. He could make mugs filled with ground beef parade through town or make a flea grow twenty feet tall with a snap of his fingers; he could turn water into polka and turn a book into a sandwich with a scrunch of his nose. But Discord stared in total awe at what he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the most magical, miraculous sight he had ever witnessed. It was as if the heavens themselves had opened themselves to him and he was now gazing upon some forbidden beauty that had never been witnessed by living eyes.
“What… is... that?” he said faintly as he watched floaty webs of pink begin to form out of thin air and cake the walls of the drum.
Masky cocked his head to the side as he tried to get a read on the draconequus. “It’s cotton candy.”
“I want some.” There was something unnervingly demanding in his tone.
“Sure thing, lemme just grab you a stick—or do that.”
Discord’s entire head vanished inside of the cotton candy machine. When she noticed that groups of passing ponies were giving him sideways glances, Screwball decided that he probably had enough. She tugged lightly on his tail, then less gently, then gave the crimson appendage a strong yank that finally made him jerk his head back up.
Even Patsy couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of the draconequus. A long strand completely covered his white eyebrows to create a single, lumpy unibrow. The tops of his horns were poking out from inside a jumbo pink afro that jiggled and wobbled with every twist of his head. His mouth was completely hidden by a full and hearty cotton candy beard, complete with a combed moustache.
As soon as Discord saw his warped reflection in a balloon, he soon joined them, rolling and kicking on the ground. Even strangers who stopped to watch were joining in on the fun, and in a short time it felt like the entire circus was laughing with each other. Discord rubbed his sore sides and peeked his eyes open. To his building joy, the gray was spreading all around now, flowing out from him into every pony nearby and then back out to him. This was it! He had found what he was looking for! He was spreading gray and he wasn’t hurting anyone or upsetting them! He was so enraptured by his discovery that he didn’t notice the rainbow sheen that glimmered around the spreading cloud.
And as soon as he understood how exactly he was doing it, Equestria would be his oyster.
“OH-hohoho! And whaa-haha! What do we have hehee-here?” a deep, jolly voice called between rolls of laughter. Masky and Patsy immediately snapped to attention, the each replacing the other’s hat, and grinned as widely as they could at the stout, white unicorn standing before them. He wore a tall black top hat and a deep red parade vest decorated with gold buttons, with a complimentary yellow bowtie wrapped around his neck. But the stallion’s most impressive feature was easily his black handlebar mustache that was as thick as Discord’s own confectionary beard.
“Hey there, chief. What’s the buzz?”
“Well, I heard a big brouhaha and decided to see what all the ruckus was. And you know, I even had a sneaking suspicion that you two were involved somehow,” the stallion said with a playful wink. “And imagine my surprise when I find this funny fellow!”
Screwball nudged Discord in the ribs, interrupting his second dip into the cotton candy drum. The pony kept quiet and only smiled anxiously, trying to decide what the proper etiquette was when meeting the ringleader of the greatest show on Equestria.
“Who are you?” Discord asked bluntly. He wasn’t all that interested in meeting this new pony who was interrupting his indulging of the most spectacular treat in the world.
“Ah, yes! How rude of me.” The white stallion rose up on his hind legs and threw his hooves in the air. “Fillies and gentlecoats! Stallions and mares! Foals of all ages! It is my esteemed privilege to welcome you to Barn and Neighly’s World Famous Travelling Circus! Prepare to witness spectacles beyond imagination and—Blast, I’m doing it again.” He sheepishly dropped back down on all fours and gave an embarrassed chuckle when he saw the crowd of ponies all covering their ears. “Do forgive an old fool. I sometimes get too caught up in the spirit of the show.”
Screwball felt her heart flutter in her chest when the stallion removed his hat and bowed gracefully at her and Discord.
“I am Three Ring, the proud owner, artistic director, equestrian director, and Monsieur Loyal of Barn and Neighly. And it is my pleasure to meet you, miss…?”
“Scawboir Fall! I—I mean, my name is Screw Fair! Agh, no! That’s not—That is—Screwball!” The mare visibly sagged, exhausted by the challenge of untying her tongue long enough to speak to the greatest pony in the performance arts. “And this is Discord.”
Three Ring merely chuckled at the pony’s exasperation. “There is no need to feel nervous, Ms. Screwball. I do not bite—well, on most days,” the stallion joked, wiggling his eyebrows. “But I must say, I have seen plenty of strange things in my years of traveling. Why, I even hired most of them! But I have never seen anything quite like you.”
“The pink stuff is just cotton candy, I don’t usually look like this,” Discord replied, cleaning his face of the cotton candy with a single lick of his long tongue.
“Hohoho! That is good to know. But even still, you are a remarkable creature if I have ever seen one. Just what are you?”
“He’s a jabberwocky,” Masky interjected. “Matter of fact, this big guy here’s the jabberwocky king.”
The ringleader flinched in surprise and turned to his employee. “Calliope, do you know this fellow?”
“Ab-so-lute-ly!” ‘Calliope’ said with a toothy smile. “The four of us go way back! Say, boss man, why don’t you let Piker an’ me take a break to show our special guests around? We’ve been hitting on all sixes since we opened, and nopony’s gonna be buying any cotton candy after Jabber there stuck his head in—Aaaand there he goes again. Royalty, amIright? So whaddaya say?”
“If King Discord and Miss Screwball have no objections, that sounds like it would be a top-notch idea.” Three Ring turned to the only one of the two who wasn’t neck-deep in cotton candy.
Screwball opened her mouth to object when the two thieves waved and caught her attention. Masky mouthed something along the lines of ‘Free Circus.’
“We’d be delighted.”
“Wonderful!” the ringleader cheered and stomped his hoof. “I want you two to give them the complete tour, you understand? I want this to be the most spectacular day they will ever have!”
“You can count on us, chief.”
“I am glad to hear it. After all, there is always more fun to be had with friends.”
The five all waved farewell as the jovial stallion took his leave. As soon as Three Ring was out of sight, Screwball’s pleasant expression dimmed a bit. Masky’s grin lost its artificiality and melted back to something much more natural, but no less uncomfortable to look at. Discord was happily beaming, satisfied to have gotten another opportunity to get one last dip of cotton candy in.
“Phew! And here I was afraid that we’d finally have to work today,” the conpony said, wiping some imaginary sweat off of his forehead. “Lucky for you, though. I saved you two gatecrashers from the trouble of having to steal a ticket. Come on, King Gobbledygook, the tour’s starting.”
While it could never compare to the heavenly pink clumps of sugar, the rest of the circus was a marathon of excitement and new discoveries for the bewildered king of Equestria. The green pony led him all up and down the circus, leaving no stone unturned and no attraction ignored. And he made full use of the authority Three Ring had given him to take Discord to the front of every line and do whatever he wanted for free. “Royals and smart ponies don’t gotta wait for anything,” he explained.
First, he had the group sit in all different types of machines that shook and spun. One time he was in a giant bowls that spun around a track with plenty of other ponies in their own bowls. Another time, they were in a car that flew up and down a track, rattling him in his seat and making his stomach turn upside down. His favorite was when they all stood on the inside walls of a giant barrel; he was expecting it to fill up with cotton candy when the walls started spinning, but after a few seconds he realized he could barely move his arms or legs off the wall. He was struck by inspiration and flipped himself upside down. It was even fun after the spinning stopped and he fell on his head.
After the rides, Patsy suggested that they go to the fun house while they were all still dizzy. When they arrived, it took everything Screwball had in her to dissuade Discord from his plans to redecorate Canterlot Castle when they finally returned. The draconequus bounced off of the cushioned tubes that hung from the ceiling of the first hallway, then danced across a bridge of shifting floorboards. When Screwball caught up with him, she gave a start as a jet of air hissed out from beneath her and made her jump into the air. Discord almost didn’t want to leave the next hall and spent several minutes making faces at the warped reflections in the funhouse mirrors. He was certain that the next slide had dropped him in heaven when he splashed face first into a ball pit and dove around in the pool, popping up and surprising the other ponies in the pool. The ponies laughed and Discord laughed, too.
The next stop took them on a long strip of tents filled with games that involved throwing a ball into a hole, or filling up a balloon with a water gun, or hitting a button as it lit up to make a race horse run along a track, or whacking a plastic diamond wolf with a mallet. Screwball seemed to be enjoying the games more than the others, most likely due to her unbroken victory streak at each tent. While the pony was busily landing ring after ring onto glass bottles with impeccable accuracy, Discord found his attention drawn toward an object sitting on a rack outside of a store. After checking that no one was looking, he wiggled a furry toe behind his back and the item floated in to the air and levitated toward him.
“Smooth moves,” Masky said quietly, giving Discord an approving nod when the draconequus took it in his hands. He turned it over a few times, inspecting it thoroughly and giving it heavy consideration. His thoughts were interrupted when a gleeful mare pranced in front of him, celebrating another victory over a carnie.
“Uh huh! Oh yeah, I rock!” Screwball cheered, wiggling her tail and strutting around, not caring who saw. Despite her initial uneasiness, the pony was having more fun than she had in years. The irresistible call of the circus gradually wore down her defenses to the point she was even finding the company of the two thieves to be surprisingly tolerable, and dangerously bordering on welcome. It helped that they were able to get them straight through everything the circus had to offer, but for the most part, it was due to the fact that they weren’t even being overtly devious. Watching the two squabble over almost every little issue was like watching a comedy act, each one getting so worked up at the cockamamie ideas the other one was spouting that at times it was hard to keep herself from snickering, or risk getting a dirty look from the two and cutting the entertainment short.
Having finished her victory dance, the pony finally noticed the incriminatingly innocent look on Discord’s face.
“And just what do you have behind your back?”
“Screwy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Then let me see your paw.”
“And the other one.”
“Now both of them.”
“Close your eyes first. It’s a surprise.”
On any other day, she might have been more strict; but the spirit of the circus was calling to her to let the draconequus have his fun. She closed her eyes and waited for whatever cream-filled trick he had up his sleeve. Instead, she felt Discord hovering over her, playing with her mane. After a few seconds he stepped back and told her she could open her eyes.
Her eyes were immediately drawn to the yellow and white beanie sitting on her head, the little green propeller twisting a bit as she turned her head to examine it in the full-length mirror the spirit was holding for her (it was a funhouse mirror, of course).
“Do you like it?” Discord asked, leaning forward on the mirror, his face stretched in anticipation.
“Of course I do. Thank you,” she said kindly. Truth be told, she didn’t mind the look of it, and she could stand to wear it for the rest of the day before she returned the almost-definitely stolen hat.
“I knew you would! See, because I remembered that your advisor robes used to come with a hat. So, I decided that I would get you a new one since I lost the old one.” Maybe it wouldn’t be as easy to leave it behind. “Remember? The first time I raised the sun and the other-world monsters tried to grab me?”
“Wait, they were real?! I thought you were joking!” the mare shouted.
Discord leaned his darkened face in close, stared her full in the eyes, and flicked the propeller on her head playfully. “I was.”
A heat grew in her cheeks as the three members of her party all had a good laugh at her scare, but she allowed herself to giggle a few times in spite of herself. A simultaneous groan from their stomachs left no confusion about their next stop.
As hungry as they all were, Screwball and Masky could not stand to stomach more than a few bites of their deep-fried mystery meal before weakly pushing their baskets toward their two companions on the other side of the table. Discord and Patsy were greedily shoveling handfuls into their mouths without any restraint or care for table manners.
“He eats like a pig,” Masky commented as he watched the towering draconequus reach for Screwball’s forsaken food.
“No, I’d say he eats more like a duck. I think pigs chew,” Screwball replied breezily. “I don’t even know how to describe him.”
“Yeah, meals don’t come around that regularly for us, so whenever we do find something to gnosh on, Patsy gets pretty fangorious about it.”
“That isn’t a word.”
“It is to me.”
Before anything else could be said, a high-pitched whistle filled the air, followed by a pop. Every head in the circus turned toward the big top at the edge of the fairgrounds as it started lighting off a few small fireworks into the sky.
“Showtime, ladies and germs!” Masky cried, slapping the table with a hoof and pushing off onto all fours. “Get a wiggle on, we don’t wanna miss the main attraction.”
“What’s that?” Discord asked between chomps of what tasted suspiciously like deep-fried butter.
“Criminy, Jabby, I’m talking about the circus!”
“I thought we were already at the circus.”
“Nopony goes to a circus just to fool around with the penny-ante bunk outside. You do that to pass the time until the real show starts! We can make it to a good seat before all these jerks take them if we hoof it. I know a short cut.”
There was no opportunity to argue as the stallion immediately began to briskly push through the mobs of ponies all headed the same way. Screwball almost lost sight of him when he slipped behind a tent; following after, she was surprised when all the glitz and glimmer of the carnival were suddenly absent. She quickly pieced together that they were outside the circus grounds, and while it had the advantage of not being crowded with ponies to fight through, it was disenchanting to see the less than pristine underbelly of the circus. Screwball caught up to her guide in a short order (she was surprised how firmly her new ‘advisor hat’ stayed in place when she moved in comparison to the original), and after checking to see that Discord and Patsy were too far behind to hear anything, she gave Masky a nudge in the shoulder.
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
“Why are you being so nice about all this? I mean, actually acting like you care if we enjoy ourselves or not?”
The stallion paused a second before answering. “What’s it matter? A guy can’t do something nice without needing a reason? We got a free day at the circus, just be happy.”
Screwball didn’t comment on the plural and silently kept pace with Masky. A tense quiet followed, and the purple pony felt compelled to say something to fill the space.
“So… What made you decide to be a criminal?”
“I’m a thief. There’s a distinction.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know.”
Masky just gave a snort and kept his head forward.
“It’s fine if you don’t want to answer…”
“I do it because it’s what I’m good for. Never really could get the hang of clean living. And it keeps me happy, it’s a busy life, and I’ve got an accomplice to keep me company. That’s enough for me,” he said tersely. “It’s the same story for anypony, ain’t it?”
Fortune smiled on the ponies when the two draconian partners finally caught up, just in time to reach the rear of the big top. Masky waved the party through the rear entrance, where dozens ponies of ponies were preparing for the show. Acrobats were stretching their legs and their wings, a few technicians were making some final adjustments on a giant trampoline, and the last few clowns were hard at work squeezing into a tiny little car.
“Alright, let’s just slip around and grab a s—”
All four flinched at the loud crack that cut the air. Masky’s lip quivered into a snarl as he turned to face the smarmy yellow earth pony slowly approaching them. The other performers briefly turned to look at the mare with similar expressions before resuming their work.
“Oh, little mouse, I think you’re lost. This area is strictly for performers. Your little candy stand is back outside,” the mare said as she wrapped her leather whip around her belt. Her voice had all the charm of an eel greased with oil. She could have invited them for tea and daisy sandwiches and Screwball still would have hated her; it was the kind of voice she heard far too often in Canterlot, the type of voice that was strictly reserved for ponies who had spent at least ten years with their own head up their flank.
“Just keep moving,” Masky muttered as he took a few steps away from the mare. “And don’t look her in the eyes, she’ll suck out your soul.”
“I hope you have reconsidered my offer about selling me that little pet of yours.” Her eyes glinted with malice when the stallion locked in place. “You know I could put it to better use than whatever you do with it out there.”
“Piker ain’t for sale.” Masky growled.
“And I’m not a ‘pet’ either, you psychotic skank,” Patsy snapped.
“Keep your forked tongue inside your mouth, beast,” she hissed. “Or I will show you why ponies say that The Fearless Lash is the greatest animal tamer in Equestria.”
The animal tamer immediately reached for her tool to punish the insolent foal who dared to mock her before she laid eyes on the indescribable specimen standing in the shadows. It was grotesque—hideous! A patchwork creature that was neither equine or draconian or avian or feline, but some monstrous combination of all manner of beasts. Taming a dragon would be nothing compared to simply unveiling this abomination to the public!
“And who owns that?” she said hungrily.
“Nopony,” Screwball said coldly as she stepped in front of Discord.
“I’m my own draconequus,” the spirit said airily.
“Hmph. It talks. But that’s not necessarily an issue. I can it fall in line.”
“You’re a lunatic, you know that? Buzz off, wasp,” Masky spat. He cursed and flinched at another crack of the tamer’s whip.
“I could get you to fall in line in an hour’s time, you know. Mice aren’t difficult to train,” Lash threatened, venom dripping from her mouth.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Discord interjected as he paced around Lash in a broad circle. “I don’t think you’re probably all that great.” The draconequus gave Screwball a quick wink to tell her that whatever was coming next was going to be good.
“There isn’t an animal alive that I can’t make bow before me!”
An evil smile formed on the Spirit of Chaos’ lips. He cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted into the air with the full force of the Royal Canterlot Voice.
“Come to me, my animal friends!” Discord let loose a booming, ululating yell that conjured images of ponies swinging from jungle vines in Screwball’s mind. A long, pregnant pause followed, where every pony and dragon in the tent waited on pins and needles for whatever was coming next: a small rumble that steadily grew more and more powerful until a stampede of animals of all shapes and sizes tore through the curtain of the tent. They would encircle the cruel Lash, trapping her and stopping any hope for escape before letting out a primal, powerful victory cry, striking a victory for all of nature.
After several moments of waiting, it was painfully evident that none of that was going to happen.
“Oh right!” Discord slapped his forehead. “They’re all miles away in the forest. Doy.” He clicked his fingers and a bright flash blinded the ponies. When the light faded, the tent was filled with creatures that made every jaw in the tent drop. There were large black birds with ugly pink faces and long, pink legs that strutted around in mild confusion. A bear’s head and legs extended from a tortoise shell, and the creature lumbered around in a slow malaise before just laying on the ground and falling asleep. Discord didn’t remember ever making the one that looked like a giant yellow and brown spotted pony with the enormous neck and gangly legs, but he decided not to ask any questions. He wanted to savor the look of defeat on Lash’s face—he didn’t know why, but there was something delectable about it.
“So, have you ever tamed one of these before?” Discord asked innocuously. “I’ll bet you have, since you’re so great with animals and all.”
The yellow pony trembled for a moment, her face frozen in shock. Discord was beginning to think that Lash would have just broken down then and there and run off; but he could honestly say that he could never, not in a thousand years, ever expect what happened next.
Like flipping a switch, her mouth snapped into a vicious scowl, her eyes full of fire as she tried to will the disfigured freak to just drop dead. When that failed, Lash reached back for her whip, unfurled it with a single shake, and then raised it over her head; she had prided herself on her ability to be able to draw blood on a single strike, and she was looking forward to seeing what color this thing bled.
There was a powerful crack and everyone present stared on in shock as the animal tamer dropped to the ground. She hit the dirt and spat out a bloody tooth at Screwball’s hooves. The purple mare was towering over the moaning Lash, her front right hoof stained with a few drops of crimson. She didn’t move a muscle, she didn’t blink, she didn’t breathe; her entire body was frozen in that single moment of pure, blinding fury.
“How dare you even allow yourself to live among the greatest ponies in Equestria,” she rasped. She lifted her hoof and swung it across Lash’s mouth again, filling the air with another powerful smack. “And how dare you even think about raising a hoof against him!” Screwball regarded the dazed pony for another few seconds before spitting on her face and walking back toward her cheering audience. “And that was for when Calliope mugged me.”
“That was amazing, Scroob!” Discord raced to the pony, scooping her up and swinging her in his arms.
“Well, I just…” Screwball licked her lips and swallowed the lump in her throat. How long had her heart been beating that fast? “She was going to hurt you.”
“Attagirl!” Masky bounded toward the two with an equally impressed Patsy in tow. “Yowza, what a hook! I mean—POW! What, were you some kinda boxer back in Canterlot?”
The mare’s cheeks turned pink and Discord finally set her down on the ground. “Actually… I’m a jester.”
“Yeesh. That sounds tough,” Masky said with a grimace and sneaking the pony a sly wink.
“I’m jealous. I’ve wanted to deck that harpy ever since we came here,” Patsy said with an approving nod.
Amid all the excitement, no one noticed the yellow form slowly crawling up to her hooves, dirt and blood still caked on her cheek. Lash took her whip in hoof, readied it for a strike, and gave out a ghastly shriek as she lifted it back.
“Don’t you walk away from me, you wretched plebeian!”
The whip came forward. Discord had just enough time to react. But before he could even do a thing, the whip froze in place all on its own. Time stood still as five pairs of eyes were transfixed on the weapon. In an instant, the whip snapped back toward its master and coiled itself around her neck. Lash struggled for breath and desperately pulled at the black leather, kicking her legs in mindless fear.
“Hello again, Your Highness. Miss Screwball.” Three Ring gracefully strode over his suffocating animal tamer toward at the surprised four. His face was mirthful as ever, though his horn was alight with an almost frightening glow. “I hope you two have had an enjoyable day.”
“It’s been stupendous!” Discord said, clapping his hands together. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to have any cotton candy with you, would you?”
“Ohoho! I’m afraid to say that I do not. But I am sure a vendor would be happy to accommodate you once you take your seats. And my goodness! Just when I had thought you would be the biggest surprise today, I discover a whole menagerie of new animals right in my own circus!” The old ringleader gave the dozing bear-tortoise a welcomed scratch behind the ears.
He loosened his grip around Lash’s neck slightly. Before the mare could catch her breath, she was suddenly dragged by the throat to Three Ring’s side. The stallion turned his attention down at her for no more than a second, but in that one instant, he instilled more fear and obedience in a glance than any whip ever could in a lifetime.
“It is a shame,” he continued with his usual cheer, “that we are currently without an animal tamer. But do not concern yourself with that, my friends! It warms my heart to know that you have had a wonderful day at our humble circus. Please, do stay to enjoy the show. We will be starting in just a few moments.”
Discord, Screwball, Masky, and Patsy all politely excused themselves and briskly crossed around the interior of the tent toward the rising bleachers lining the side of the big top. By some stroke of luck, they were able to find an open place in line with the center ring.
“So that was terrifying for everypony, right?” Patsy spoke up. “It wasn’t just me?”
It wasn’t long before the inside of the tent went dark, with just a single spotlight shining down on a smartly dressed pony in the center ring.
“Fillies and gentlecoats! Stallions and mares! Foals of all ages! It is my esteemed privilege to welcome you to Barn and Neighly’s World Famous Travelling Circus! Prepare to witness spectacles beyond imagination and death-defying performances guaranteed to thrill!” Three Ring bowed in response to the explosion of applause and continued. “And, it is with my greatest pleasure to announce that our humble circus is graced with the presence of royalty this evening! We have received an extremely generous donation of several wild and exotic animals unseen anywhere in all of Equestria! So please, join me in welcoming King Discord!”
The entire company was taken by surprise when a bright spotlight shone down on the four of them. Discord gave an uncertain wave, then rose up to his feet, and then finally took a grand bow and blew few kisses as the cheers of the crowd grew louder and louder.
“And now, without further delay, I present to you the greatest show in the world!”
“This has been a pretty good day,” Screwball said with a gentle smile.
Discord looked at Screwball, to the cheering crowds of ponies oozing with that blessed gray, to the performers below taking the stage, and then finally to the cloud of cotton candy floating in front of him.
“I’d say so, too. Care for a bite?”