The Everfree Forest.
The Everfree Forest had a mixed reputation.
On one hoof, ever since eternal night had seized the land the already unnatural forest had grown exponentially. It covered a good half of Ponyville and stretched all the way to Canterlot mountain. Nightmare Moon’s efforts were the only thing keeping Canterlot accessible at all.
With the territory it gained so did its dangers increase. Many creatures had made their home there and almost every leaf was in the territory of one pony-eating monster or another.
On the other hoof, Nightmare Moon’s castle was in the exact center of the forest. That caused heavy hoof traffic from ponies with business in the castle, but who did not live there full time. Everything ranging attending night court to a simple tour of the ancient fortress kept the road through the Everfree busy and well worn.
Not to mention that many ponies had refused to leave their homes and now half of Ponyville and its inhabitants were nestled inside the treeline.
The Everfree had grown dangerous in the last five years, but the ponies had grown right along with it.
Well not everypony, Pinkie mused to herself as she trotted through the woods. She herself had grown decidedly less dangerous the past few years.
It was like a trampoline of dangerousness. She hadn’t exactly been the biggest filly on the farm, but necessity had made her a hard worker and an effective monster fighter.
And then, just as she was reaching the peak of her leap she had fallen right off the dangerousness trampoline, crashed headfirst into the ground and skinned her knee. And now she was climbing right back on it while the wound was still fresh. All because a couple other kids were insisting that this time she’d jump high enough and touch a cloud.
Or maybe she was taking the metaphor a bit too far.
Pinkie shook her head out of her confusing thoughts and adjusted her thick cloak as she took in her surroundings. From her perspective, it didn’t seem like the group had moved at all. Deep shadows still danced on the trees and across the bushes, warping just enough that they looked like lurking monsters from the corner of one’s eye. It was still wet in the way only a place relying solely on precipitation could be. The grass still sparkled with dew until one of the ponies’ hooves stepped on it and snuffed out the sparkles like a candle. The bushes and leaves still rustled occasionally from what Pinkie hoped were critters spooked by their approach.
They could have been walking in a circle and Pinkie would have been none the wiser.
But Pinkie trusted Dashie to know her way around the woods. After all, the Pegasus spent almost every night patrolling the Everfree. As long as they followed the confident figure flying up ahead, faintly outlined in the little light Rarity’s horn provided, she knew they’d get to the castle in no time.
That didn’t stop her from getting nervous, however.
Pinkie longed to at least talk to someone and took a quick glance around to assess her choices.
Rainbow and Rarity, as previously determined, were leading the group through the thick foliage and seemed to be having a hushed conversation of their own. Pinkie would have loved talking to her friends but didn’t want to distract them and get the group lost.
Applejack walked a few feet behind Pinkie, keeping watch of the groups flank and stubbornly refusing to talk to Pinkie all night with more than clipped words.
That meant the only thing left to distract her was the Unicorn beside her, trying feebly to not look like she was staring.
“Hey, Twilight,” Pinkie broke the silence, causing the purple pony to almost trip on the tangled roots crisscrossing the path, “Why don’t you do that cool light thing with your horn too?”
Twilight’s expression instantly dropped from starstruck to embarrassment as she gazed down at her hooves. “Oh, that. Well, my magic’s a bit… uncontrollable. If I have any kind of sudden emotional shift it could potentially put us all in danger.” She tapped her horn with a hoof and gave Pinkie a small smile. “It’s better for everyone if I keep it free of magic as much as possible.”
“Ooooo,” Pinkie replied, nodding, “I getcha, my magic’s kinda spastic too.”
Twilight blinked at her. “Really? How so? I thought Earth Pony magic was stable by design.”
“Yep, that’s why it’s super weird. I can’t usually control it like most Earth Ponies can and so it manifests in weird magical thingys. My dad thought it might have been a genetic thing or something but we never had a chance to find out.”
“Magical things like predicting the future?”
Pinkie blinked a few times before she burst out laughing. “Oh yeah! Yeah, just like that. Wow, I almost forgot I could do that.”
“Could?” Twilight tilted her head. “You can’t anymore?”
“Oh, I probably can.” Pinkie waved a hoof dismissively. “I’ve just been ignoring it for so long I forgot all about it.”
Twilight stared owlishly. “You… you… how can you just ignore the future?!?”
Pinkie smiled at her. “Lots of ponies do it all the time, silly.” When Twilight still just stared back, Pinkie coughed into her hoof and looked away. “Well, when the twitches start twitching I just don’t think about what it’s meaning and so the twitches stop having meaning if I’m not thinking of the meaning. Although…” She gazed thoughtfully at the sky, “Sometimes the meaning gets mentioned without me thinking of the twitches but I still manage to get what it means. That’s always confusing.”
Twilight did a brilliant impression of a fish as her mouth hung open. She closed her jaw slowly and opened it again as if to say something. When nothing came out she tried again with similar results. The third time she seemed to finally be ready to speak, but was saved from actually trying by a loud hiss from Rainbow Dash.
“Everyone quiet.” The shout halted the group in their tracks as Dashie’s eyes flicked between dancing shadows cast by the swaying trees. The Pegasus stayed tense even as she motioned everyone forwards again. “Alright, stay quiet,” She eventually whispered when nothing caught her attention, “but keep an eye out, I thought I heard…”
A dark shadow flew inches in front of Dashie’s face and anything else she would have said was cut off as Rarity screamed and her horn snuffed out.
Pinkie instantly lost sight of everything more than a few feet away as most of the light blinked out. Twilight’s horn flared to life seconds afterwards, however, and Pinkie got a brilliant purple tinted view of the now-battlefield.
Two giant stone monsters, at least twice the size of any pony, with grand wings and long claws swooped and slashed at Rainbow, Applejack, and Rarity. The Pegasus and Earth Pony bucked and slashed the beasts whenever they got too close while the Unicorn was trying to get her magic working again.
“Gargoyles…” Twilight murmured.
Pinkie tore her gaze away from her fighting friends and onto Twilight just in time to see another stone monster barreling towards her.
Pinkie screamed and tackled Twilight to the ground right as the Gargoyle swiped directly where her horn had been. The crash to the ground jolted the light from Twilight’s horn and once again the ponies were plunged in almost complete darkness. Pinkie felt Twilight scramble and from under her and heard her shout, “They’re Gargoyle’s everyone! Don’t have any light, they’re attracted to it!”
“I know that thank you!” Rainbow shouted as Pinkie Pie rose to her own hooves. “They’re also literally made out of stone, so unless one of you has a chisel we can’t fight them.”
“Then what, we run?” Applejack’s voice added.
“That won’t work,” Twilight said, moving towards the others. Pinkie quickly followed, keeping the Unicorn’s outline in view while also looking out for any more stone monsters. Though, surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be any trace of them, “They may not be as fast as a Pegasus, but on the ground, we’re practically sitting ducks.”
“Well, what are we gonna do then?” Applejack spoke in Pinkie’s ear, causing her to jump with a yelp.
“We can’t just sit here that’s for sure!” Dashie said, and now Pinkie could see the outline of the other four ponies surrounding her. Rainbow and Applejack seemed to have stopped fighting the Gargoyles and started yelling at each other.
“Well, why not? It looks like they all left.” Rarity pointed out, causing the group to pause and fall silent. “I mean, after the initial attack they seemed to have flown away.”
“I really don’t think we’re that lucky…” Twilight muttered.
A growl punctured her statement and as one the ponies turned to stare up at the hovering Gargoyle directly overhead.
“Buck,” Rainbow whispered, but couldn’t get anything else out as the Gargoyles dove and the five ponies grabbed each other in a terrified huddle.
Pinkie closed her eyes and pressed into Rainbow’s fur as the Gargoyles fell on them and sunk their wicked claws into the ponies’ hides.
Pinkie slowly opened her eyes after a few seconds of definitely not being eaten alive and instead only the vague sensation of someone rubbing a balloon across her scalp.
The sight that greeted her was the most baffling the young pony had ever seen. A Gargoyle was trying to gnaw her head but was only succeeding to make her mane stick up frizzily. The monster itself was squeaking loudly every time it tried to bite down and its teeth retreated into its own mouth instead of Pinkie’s head.
The other Gargoyles, similarly trying and failing to mutilate her friends had an almost comical look of confusion on their twisted faces.
Just as everyone was thoroughly confused, a fierce wind cut through the forest and, with yelps of surprise, the stone-monsters turned balloon-monsters lost their grip on the ponies and floated off into the black sky.
Five pairs of eyes stared after the balloon monsters as they drifted away. No one dared to breath lest this be just a near death induced hallucination.
“I do so loath statues.”
Rainbow was the first to react as the smooth voice rang through the forest, her wings snapping open in defiance.
Or they would have if Pinkie wasn’t glued to her side. The only thing the jerk of limbs actually caused was Pinkie having the wind knocked out of her and the entire pony-pile collapsing into a heap.
“Who’s out there?” Rainbow shouted when she had successfully freed herself from the tangle of legs and tails, “Show yourself!”
“If you insist,” the voice replied as torches starting flicking to life on the trees, illuminating the clearing with a soft, pleasant light. “It’s the amazing, the handsome, the one and only…” A puff of smoke appeared in the middle of the field and a strange, snakeish, bearish, ponyish creature erupted from it accompanied by a smattering of miniature fireworks. “DISCORD!”
Pinkie only spared the weird creature, and the fact that the clearing they were in did not exist a moment ago, a passing thought before her eyes fell on something of far greater concern.
“Rarity, your leg!” She cried, rushing to the Unicorn’s side. Rarity’s white coat was stained with red as a deep gash in her leg bled down her hoof. The offending appendage twitched with obvious pain, but Rarity smiled reassuringly at Pinkie.
“Oh, this? Yes, that first Gargoyle got in a lucky shot when he jumped me didn’t he? But better this than take my horn clean off, right?”
“That’s still a serious injury, Rarity,” Twilight said, grimacing at the wound, “It needs to be cleaned and bandaged immediately.”
Rarity’s smile started to tremble. “Well, I’m certainly not going to refuse care, darling.”
“Ah got it.” Applejack swung her saddlebags off her withers at the same time she pulled a roll of gauze out. “Ah’ve got the medical supplies in ma bag.”
“Um, excuse me?” Five heads turned once again towards the weird noodly creature who gave them all a peeved look. “Are you all just going to ignore me? No bowing and/or screaming? No ’thank you’ for saving your lives? Not even a hello?”
“Hey,” Rainbow snapped, “If we don’t get this bandaged up she could bleed out. Wait your turn you baby.”
Discord’s mouth flapped uselessly for a few seconds before he humphed and crossed his arms, muttering something under his breath about ’kids these days’.
Satisfied that he wasn’t going to interrupt or attack they all turned back to where Applejack had laid Rarity on the ground and was carefully dressing her wound.
Pinkie turned away from the scene, she had never been good with blood, and instead took stock of her surroundings.
The clearing they were in wasn’t real. That was the first thing she noticed. If she stared off without really looking at anything she could almost see the outlines of the real trees. The creature, Discord, was slightly translucent as well and didn’t cast any type of shadow.
The tingle of static on her coat, however, reminded Pinkie that, even though he wasn’t necessarily real, whatever he had done to those Gargoyles was very much so.
Pinkie turned her gaze back to Rarity just as the Unicorn hesitantly rose back to her hooves, leaning on Applejack for support.
“Alright,” Dashie spoke up once Rarity assured her once more that she was fine, “now who the heck are you?”
The creature perked up at this and struck a pose. “I am the great and terrible Discord! At your service.”
Everyone shared glances. “Who?” Applejack asked.
Discord deflated to the sound of a leaky balloon. “You don’t know who I am? Discord? Spirit of Chaos? Bringer of Disharmony? The Handsome Ruler of Supreme Coolness, as I once called myself?”
“Wait…” Twilight spoke up, staring at him wide-eyed, “You don’t mean Discord from the Age of Chaos, do you? Certainly not the monster that made this world it’s plaything, right? ”
Discord clapped his paw and talon. “Oh, looks like somepony pays attention in history. Though I really resent the word monster thank you very much.”
“But that’s impossible!” Twilight shouted, “You can’t be here, you’re dead! Princess Celestia defeated you.”
Discord rolled his eyes. “Oh please, there aren’t many things that can kill me and weaponized niceness certainly isn’t on that list.”
“Wait a second,” Rainbow butt in, flaring her wings, “If you weren’t killed are we supposed to believe an ex-tyrant just decided to live in the woods for thousands of years? Never bothering anyone? Is that what you’re trying to tell us?”
Discord gave her a flat look. “Were you born an idiot or have you spent your life perfecting your craft?”
Before Dashie could do something she’d probably regret, Pinkie spoke up. “It can’t be that, ’cause you’re not actually here. You…” She gestured vaguely to the creature. “Are just an illusion or something.” She paused and cocked her head. “Or you could be a ghost I guess.”
Confetti started to rain from the trees and cling to the ponies’ coats. “And we have a winner! Well, almost.”
“So ya ain’t actually the spirit?” Applejack asked.
“And the idiots are speaking again…” Discord mumbled before perking back up, “No, the gaudy looking one is correct! This gorgeous specimen before you is simply a reflection projected onto your minds. The real me is right over there.”
With a wave of his paw, the forest parted like a curtain, proudly displaying a statue to his likeness as if it was a grand piece of art.
“Yes,” Discord muttered sadly, gliding over and through the statue, “The old Elements zapped me into stone. Best statue in existence, of course, but it was quite boring. Then old Moony came to me one day and decided she wanted to strike a deal. I would have a limited amount of power back in exchange for keeping all of the plants in Equestria feeding off moonlight. Still dull, but just less dull enough to pique my interest.” His face darkened as he stared at the statue’s closed eyes. “Little did I know Miss Luna had a trick up her sleeve. More freedom yes, but at what cost? I’ll be half mortal if I ever manage to break out of this accursed rocky prison.”
“Wait,” Twilight interrupted his musing, “You know about the Elements? Do you happen to know where they are?”
Discord swung his head in her direction, apparently having forgotten they were there. “Hmm? Oh yes, those old things are still in the castle as far as I’m aware. Little door right behind the throne if I remember correctly.”
“Yes!” Twilight shouted excitedly, already moving forward, “This is just what we needed to hear. Thank you, mister Discord you’ve been a big help and—”
“Whoah hold yourself there,” Discord interrupted, appearing directly in front of Twilight, “You expect me to let you go that easily?”
Instantly, the entire group of ponies stiffened.
“You saved our lives,” Rarity said slowly, “Doesn’t that mean you wish to help us?”
Applejack withdrew her knife. “But he said he worked for Nightmare Moon. He could just be keepin’ us alive ta ship ta her.”
“Oh calm your insistent paranoia,” Discord muttered, “Nothing would make me happier than you giving Moony a good kicking. I simply have some requests before you go.”
“Like what?” Rainbow growled.
“First,” He said, holding up a talon, “If you succeed I want free. Don’t worry about me taking over the world or anything, I won’t be nearly strong enough for that for at least a few years. And B.” He held up a balloon in said letter’s shape. “I need you all to do something for me.”
He paused dramatically as the ponies held their breaths. They really couldn’t afford a side quest right now, they were on too tight of a time crunch. And what if what he wanted wasn’t something they could do or…
“I need you to entertain me.”
Five pairs of eyes blinked in perfect synchronization.
“What?” Rarity voiced what was on everypony’s mind.
“I am so bored!” Discord whined, falling on his back in midair, “There’s nothing to do and no one to do it too out here. I need a good laugh or I’ll explode!” Then he did just that, exploding with the sound of a dying walrus for some reason.
Rainbow’s nose scrunched up in distaste. “So what? You want to use us for your playthings? Not going to happen, buddy.”
“Oh no no no, you misunderstand.” Discord appeared right in the middle of the ponies his paw placed dramatically on his forehead. “I’m beyond watching creatures squirm. It’s, tragically, lost its flair. No, I simply need a laugh. Tell a joke, do a dance, I don’t care.”
“Do we… do we have a time limit?” Twilight asked tentatively.
Discord shrugged and disappeared, reappearing moments later in a hammock. “I have all the time in the world. The only pressure is of your own making.” He waved a claw and suddenly was sipping on a coconut. “Whenever you’re ready.”
There was a moment where the only sound was the slurping of Discord’s drink before Twilight turned to the group in a quick movement. “Alright team, huddle. We are on a time crunch so wrack your brains, what would The Spirit of Chaos find funny?”
“Don’t worry,” Dashie spoke up immediately, “I’ve got this.”
She strutted up to where Discord floated lazily, but halfway there she lost control of her hooves and fell flat on her face with an audible smack.
There was silence as Discord gave one slow blink. “Was that your attempt at humor?”
Dashie’s head sprang up and she massaged her snout. “What? How did you not find that funny?”
The yellowed eyes rolled in different directions. “I just said I’m over having things get hurt. Really now, if I wanted slapstick I would have enchanted some squirrels or something.”
Rainbow muttered under her breath and stalked back to the group. “Alright, apparently I don’t got this. Anyone else have an idea?”
Twilight hummed and tapped her chin. “Well, he is a being of chaos so maybe… abrupt humor?”
Before anyone could question her the Unicorn turned to face Discord. She took a deep breath and then in a loud voice proclaimed, “Popcorn!”
Everyone stared at her like she had grown a second head. Discord didn’t so much as smirk.
“Petunia!” Twilight cried, “Dinosaur! Encyclopaedia!”
“Twi…” Applejack muttered, putting her hat over her eyes, “Please stop. Yer embarrassin’ yerself.”
Twilight stomped her hoof in frustration. “How is this not funny to you? Your whole thing is randomness!”
Discord gave her a flat look. “You need to go sit down because you’re disrespecting the entire concept of comedy.”
Twilight’s mouth fell open. “Wha… what? Really? What kind of humor do you like then!?”
Discord shrugged. “When you’re as old and chaotic as me your tastes change constantly. Just keep trying, I’m sure you’ll land on it eventually.”
Twilight huffed and turned back to the rest of the ponies. “Eventually? We don’t have eventually! Does anyone have any other ideas? I really don’t want to start shooting in the dark.”
Pinkie took a deep, steadying breath as the others started to debate among themselves. Slowly, she walked away from the group and towards the apparition who regarded her curiously.
“Well, it seems the gaudy smart one has an idea.”
All heads turned towards her and Dashie spoke up. “You think you can make this dude laugh Pinks?”
Pinkie nodded, still looking at Discord. “I don’t think Dashie, I know. Because this… this is my destiny.” She reared up onto her hind legs and whipped off her cloak, fully revealing the three balloons on her flank.
A white hoof moved up to cover Rainbow’s eyes and the Pegasus smacked it away.
Pinkie Pie took a deep breath to steel her nerves and with a straight face spoke to the spirit.
“Hey Discord, why the long face?”
There was a good minute of silence as no one was quite sure how to react to that question.
“Sorry if that wasn’t very good,” Pinkie continued nonchalantly, “I’ve been pretty horse lately so I don’t know if you herd or if the joke just went right pasture head.”
“Are you…” Discord said slowly, “Making horse pu-”
The sound echoed across the not-clearing from no discernible source. The only real sound until giggling joined it. “I think your magic likes me,” Pinkie said, grinning at the spirit.
“Yes,” Discord replied with a small smirk, “please continue my dear.”
Pinkie’s smile faltered slightly before she recovered and spun back to the ponies behind her. “Hey, what did Dashie say when she had to break up with her colt friend?”
Rainbow flushed bright red. “I… gha… what… wa…”
“I can’t be Pegasi anymore,” Pinkie interrupted the stuttering, “I need to be Pegasus.”
The drum rang out again, this time accompanied by a snort from Twilight and snickering from Rarity.
Pinkie glanced over her shoulder at Discord. The spirit was watching her with interest, a grin on his lips.
Pinkie took that as a good sign.
She did a quick backflip to land right next to the stone statue. If her hunch was right, and honestly it almost always was, then it would just be a simple act to exploit the magic practically drowning this place. She started humming a happy little tune and reached behind the statue of Discord to extract…
“…a cup of flour add it to the mix!”
Four sets of pony eyes widened as she proceeded to dump the ’flour’ on her head. Completely covering her pink coat in white and pouring it far longer than she should have been able to.
“Then take a little something sweet not sour…”
Pinkie Pie almost stopped singing when Applejack screamed. She didn’t know how she got back over to the ponies, or how her coat was now completely free of flour, or where the lemon she was balancing on Rarity’s horn came from. But that was the point, wasn’t it?
“… a bit of salt just a pinch.”
She sprinkled the seasoning on Applejack’s nose, causing the Earth Pony to sneeze violently and Rainbow Dash to cackle with laughter.
“Baking these treats are such a cinch add a teaspoon of vanilla!”
She stuffed a teaspoon of, presumably she hadn’t actually seen it, vanilla into Dashie’s mouth. The Pegasus’s face folded in disgust and Applejack barked out a laugh.
“Add a little more and you count to four…”
“… and you never get your filla.”
The music that had been playing from nowhere and everywhere screeched to a halt as Pinkie turned to the last member of the group.
Twilight was grinning, her horn aglow softly and her voice still echoing the last note. She stared at Pinkie and her smile flattered a little bit. Twilight gave a slight, encouraging nod and then Pinkie broke out into a large beam that almost literally shined.
“Cupcakes!” Pinkie chirped, bouncing just a bit.
“So sweet and tasty…” Twilight’s voice was soft and smooth, so unlike Pinkie’s and yet worked so well with the song.
“Don’t be too hasty…” Twilight’s eyes slide around Pinkie and onto the three others behind her.
“Cupcakes,” Rarity sang gently, taking a delicate bite of the treat in her hoof.
Pinkie gasped and turned around with an eager look to the remaining two.
”Cupcakes,“ Rainbow said, giving her friend an encouraging grin and chomping down on her own treat.
Four eyes moved to Applejack who had her muzzle scrunched up in a way that made her look like a stubborn foal.
Twilight moved to her friend’s side and, with a smile, offered her a yellow pastry with an apple perched on top.
Applejack sighed deeply and took the treat. ”Cupcakes.”
The ponies all snapped their heads to the previously forgotten spirit as he applauded loudly. “Oh, my that was… oh, that was something right there.“ He chuckled gently to himself and whipped a tear from his eye. ”You figured out how to use my excess magic so quickly! And… and that little sappy moment at the end? Ha! Classic, classic ponies, how I missed you.“
”Um… thank you?“ Pinkie said, tilting her head at the spirit’s praise.
”Does this mean we can go?“ Rainbow asked eagerly.
Discord waved a paw and the trees next to him parted into a path. ”Yes, yes. You fulfilled your part of the deal so I’ll fulfill mine. Just don’t forget about your poor friend Discord when you’re done storming the castle.“
”Then let’s go ya’ll!“ Applejack exclaimed, ”Before he decides ta change his mind.
Discord watched as the five tails disappeared into the gloom and chuckled lightly. “Do you think it will work?” He asked himself.
“Not a chance.”
Discord jerked at the voice and gazed up just in time to see a dark figure fly off in the same direction of the mares.
The spirit gave out a long, drawn out sigh as he was once again left alone. “Well I hope those mares don’t mind a tad bit more chaos than they planned.” His gaze shifted to the statue. To the pose he had been in for thousands of years. "...for all our sakes."