Rarity Belle's thoughts, as recorded by the Half-Lights
This was it. All of us were properly attired for what was to come, and the final battle was about to begin. We marched to the Royal Canterlot Statue Garden in formation.
Princess Luna and Princess Celestia walked at our left and right, guarding our flanks.
Twilight Sparkle led the herd, sweeping a detection spell at Applejack's request, just in case Discord chose to use something Applejack called 'land mines.'
Applejack and Rainbow Dash were at Twilight's sides, on high alert.
Pinkie Pie and I followed close behind them, armed and ready. Before entering the garden proper, Pinkie Pie drank several cups of strong coffee she'd been saving, and brought out the unwieldy armament that she calls an 'Anti-Marey-Sue Bazooka.' I wondered briefly what it launched. Had to be something powerful this time, surely. I can't imagine confetti or cream pies slowing down Discord for very long.
Fluttershy came next, listening to nature's words and warnings, followed by the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Trixie and Spike brought up the rear.
Silver Spoon kept shivering, in spite of it being a bright sunny afternoon. Sweetie did her best to comfort her. Spike looked tense enough to scorch a butterfly if it so much as looked at him chaotically.
Scootaloo had painted her face like one of the Pegasopolis warriors of old... I made a mental note to give her a few tips on applying makeup later. Sweetie had been studying those dreadful black magic books again. Apple Bloom wore a single earring which I was sure was of zebra make, and considering the symbols on those jars in her saddlebags, those likely came straight from Zecora herself. She kept her eyes forward, frowning in thought, but seemingly not fearful of ambushes.
For the moment, nothing seemed all that odd about the garden. It was as calm and beautiful as ever.
If I'd known we were ever going to bring Scoots along on one of our epic fights, I'd have trained her harder than a drill sergeant. Too bad she's too smart to fall for 'stay back in reserve' and 'there are three little fillies whose safety depends on you.' Believe me, I tried. She'd never leave her friends hanging anyway.
Loyalty isn't just to those above you, it's about being loyal to those around you and under you too. I hope Foal Services and Scootaloo's parents never hear about this.
Geez, don't get me wrong. I know the squirt is no wuss, but I'm responsible for her... I have to keep her safe! If something happens to her, I have no pony to blame but myself.
At least Scootaloo fully understood this wasn't a game, and she wasn't all bouncing-all-around like I was bringing her to a theme park. Celestia help us both, she knew what she was getting into. Alright little Scootaloo, follow your flock into the the storm.
Ah know the truth, and Ah'm still not happy 'bout this neither! Dangit, Apple Bloom! Ya had yer fight! Ya already risked yer life to save the world once, and that's one time too many! Why'd ya have'ta drag yerself and yer friends inta this? Death's real! Ya can get yerself killed! ... Breath in, breath it out, AJ... Dangit.
Can't ya just let yer big sisters protect ya like we're supposed to?
DO Ah trust ya? Apple Bloom, it ain't ABOUT trust! Yer TOO YOUNG ta be volunteerin' fer a fight this huge! It's about my little sister stickin' her neck out when she shouldn't have'ta!
Yes, me and my friends are each other's strength, Ah know that! ... Yer here to be Silver Spoon's strength... in case she can reach Diamond Tiara? Alright then, sugarcube... but for Celestia's sake, at least jest leave the fightin'n to us.
Spike, I've been with you since you hatched. You're my responsibility, but here I am, letting Trixie carry you into the worst danger we've faced yet. Please don't let this be a mistake. You better make sure Spike stays safe, Trixie.
What sense is there in a little filly raising a fire-breathing infant dragon she has no books on while balancing the demands of schoolwork? Yet here we are. And how glad I am of it. Love you, Spike.
Silver Axe/Silver Tongue
When I was told my little filly had volunteered for 'special royal business,' I was most certainly not pleased when she refused to tell me what it was. My wife meanwhile was ecstatic at our filly moving up in the world.
I went so far as to ORDER her to tell me what this 'special royal business' was... and she still refused!
We'll discuss her punishment after she gets back, but... There is only one pony alive who can inspire such mischief, such loyalty in my filly. Good luck, my little Silver Spoon. Bring Diamond Tiara home.
Rarity Belle's thoughts, as recorded by the Half-Lights
The first thing we did once we were in range, darlings, was to charge up the Elements of Harmony and blast that entire accursed hedge maze in love and tolerance.
As the rainbow light faded and we drifted gently back down, hooves touching the earth once more, nothing appeared any different. I don't remember which of us first suggested it, but I can't deny that I felt great satisfaction, even daring to imagine we might have defeated Discord before we even laid eyes upon him.
It was dear Rainbow Dash who said, "It can't be that easy." Again, I heard nary a voice of protest. Because of course, she was right.
Applejack took a few steps forward, eyes narrowing. "Ah think Ah see somethin'." We approached with absolute caution. I am certain none of us expected what we saw next.
It was a broken statue. My first thoughts were of Discord, naturally, but no... the limbs matched. This was a statue of a pegasus mare. Examining the pieces, I concluded the statue's mane had been long, her tail tight at the base like it had been held by an invisible ribbon. Her face was one of grim determination. Her cutie mark looked to be a set of five whistles.
"I've never seen this statue here before," mused Twilight, before she froze. "No... Oh no!"
The Princesses had turned back to back and lit their horns, sharing expressions of grim terror. I think it shocked me to my core, darlings, seeing Princess Celestia of all ponies openly afraid.
"Wind Whistler," said Twilight Sparkle, incredibly pale. "So it was you, and not Galaxy?" Pinkie Pie let out a gasp. Twilight looked at all of us. "If Trixie or I start acting strange, blast us where we stand!"
"Twilight?" stammered Trixie.
Rainbow Dash let out a groan of frustration. "Would somepony tell the rest of us what's going on?!"
Princess Celestia glanced at Twilight. "Tell them."
"If Discord's body is destroyed, he can take over somepony else's body against their will and make it his own," said Twilight. "That's why he was kept frozen in stone. This is the body of Wind Whistler... She was the last pony whose body he stole, thousands of years ago saving her friend!" Our collective gasps echoed throughout the garden.
Interruption By Rainbow Dash
Cutting in here for a second! Sorry! I just gotta say when I found that out, the first thing I thought was, 'Hey! No fair!' Not only was I not getting to laugh and shake my plot in Discord's super-surprised stone face, but how could I even enjoy turning him back to stone if I knew the bastard was joyriding in an innocent pony's body the whole time?!
Interruption interrupted By Fluttercruel
Well, there goes my plan to lift my hind leg and show 'dear old dad' how I really feel about him. At least he's gone.
Princess Luna growled. Princess Celestia's eyes shimmered with tears. I felt ill.
Trixie, bless her soul, had good taste enough to lift her cloak to block the young ones' views of what we now knew to be a corpse, they'd seen that one time too many already.
It was dearest Rainbow Dash who dared to hope. "I bet Diamond Tiara went nutzoid on Discord, then ran off somewhere! All we have to do is find her, and it's hasta la vista, baby!"
“Rainbow, please! Don't be so insensitive!”
In her heart of hearts, little Silver Spoon cringed at the idea of Diamond Tiara doing such a deed.
Meanwhile Sweetie thought, 'No... she wouldn't have. She couldn't have done that and still feel nothing, could she?'
Apple Bloom's expression didn't change.
Spike looked sick.
Not even Scootaloo tried to see around Trixie's cape.
"Least she's free now," said Applejack, removing her hat.
"Girls, this doesn't feel right," said Pinkie Pie. She wasn't looking too good.
"It isn't!" Twilight said. "Discord is-"
Rainbow Dash interrupted. "History! And I ain't even gonna lie, I'm happy as a jaybird about it. TWEET TWEET TWEET!!!! And on that note all I have to say is GOOD FRICKING RIDDANCE TO BAD FRICKIN' RUBBISH."
"Well I do feel sorry for him and feel bad," Fluttershy said, not afraid of our judgement. "BECAUSE we couldn't save Discord from Discord. He couldn't hurt anypony as a statue!"
"EVERYPONY LISTEN!" Twilight used the Royal Canterlot Voice, her patience lost. "This only means Discord can possess somepony else!"
Paranoia washed over us as we looked wildly at each other.
"This didn't happen just now," said Princess Celestia, trying to restore a measure of calm. "Discord's statue was in the center of the maze. Someone deliberately brought the pieces here, for us to see."
"I suppose we should be grateful then that they remained petrified," Princess Luna said, and we ALL did our best NOT to think about the alternative. A dark blue glow surrounded the broken pieces, and they disappeared in one of Princess Luna's signature blue whirlwinds. "We shall give thou a proper burial at last, Wind Whistler, our dear friend."
Inclusion By Spike
So much for that fantasy where I join the Pony Rangers and I turn giant and step on Discord when he tried to hurt Rarity.
Whether it was the distraction of the pony-sized statue and what it entailed, or it was simply planted when we were not looking, I spotted something far simpler, and far more disturbing.
I lifted it from the grass, dirty, twisted, but as undeniable as a heart attack. "Look here." I held it out for everyone to see. "Diamond Tiara's crown."
"Tiara!" None of us could stop her. Silver Spoon ran right for what I held in my magic, and clutched it to her chest like somepony would a fallen friend. "Tiara! Where are you?!" Silver Spoon shouted.
The fog began to roll in.
"We believe we have been invited to her debutante ball," Princess Luna observed.
The stage is set, all the actors are assembled, now we bE
The first thing we saw in the fog was a little checkerboard-colored thing shaped vaguely like a mouse, scurrying along on two tiny feet. Our vision was drawn to it, just in time for the first of the elephants to crush it into nothing.
We braced ourselves, but the elephants didn't attack. They trumpeted loudly and marched past on either side of us, colorful creatures that seemed to have no depth or proper shading from any angle. They were just the beginning of the circus parade.
Clowns of every species came trotting merrily along: giraffes, llamas and giant roosters, all skipping along like a foal's flipbook. Grand but nonsensically decorated floats moved past. Giant cupcakes on wheels. A purple donkey pulling along a splash colored trailer holding nicely planted garden flowers. A miniature cartoon version of Cloudsdale's weather factory spilling rainbows like a fountain. Oversized apples with no limbs juggling bowling pins. Gagged ponnequin seaponies floating backwards. Cockatrices with no eyes wearing dunce caps. Gilded cages holding only pitch dark fog with glowing eyes. Floating umbrellas pulling a line of garish flags and streams, the clothesline connecting to nothing we could perceive.
= 'Walpurgis Night Theme' - Madoka Magica =
A theater curtain unfurled before us. I could see the top, bottom, and sides, but at the same time it stretched as far as I could see, as though all the world was a stage. Merely looking at it made my head hurt.
The curtains parted like I was watching a film with frames missing.
A giant number 5 appeared, stylized like a silent movie quote card. Counter-rotating circles of symbols vanished as if swept away by an invisible watch hand. There was a sound like a rubber duck being squeezed, and the 5 changed to a 4.
Objects began to float.
The sky overhead churned, becoming a thundering storm.
The parade ground to a halt.
Pinkie Pie said, "So THIS was the doozy of a doozy!"
And Diamond Tiara appeared out of nothing.
Corpses wore more expression than her face.
The horn and vulture wings were impossible to miss.
Her brilliant cornflower blue eyes were draconic, like Nightmare Moon's. Her pale magenta coat had become a purple much deeper and grimmer than Twilight's, with a gray undertone. Her mane had gone from pale violet striped with white to gray with dark purple, almost black streaks.
She wore an excessively elaborate dress, all contrasting black and mauve, with rubies sewn right into the cloth. The black hat she had on was crowned with rubies and a gray feather. The ruffles were too large, and the high collar didn't compliment the rest of the dress at all. In spite of myself I couldn't help but think how I could improve upon this admirable but amateur attempt at neo-lily-gothic.
"TIARA!" Like a moth to a flame, Silver Spoon ran towards her. Tiara's horn glowed ghostly white, and a dark wind blasted the earth filly back, leaving skid marks in the ground.
Sweetie Belle bit her lip. "That's her."
"I can't sense her magic or Discord's!" said Twilight, alarmed and confused.
Even I should have felt it, with this much magic in the air. I certainly had not needed to be a Gifted Unicorn to sense the dark chill of Nightmare Moon's magic, or the palpable wrongness in the air when Discord was corrupting Ponyville, but from Diamond Tiara I felt nothing at all.
The look on Trixie's face told much the same story. If this was an illusion, Trixie should have known. The Princesses themselves looked truly disturbed. Then terrible realization came to Twilight. "So that's how she got past Princess Luna in the dream world."
It was worse for Luna and I... our Alicorn senses are more acute. My eyes could see Diamond Tiara, my ears could hear her, but when she blew Silver Spoon away, my wings felt no wind. When she trotted, I felt no vibrations, sensed no resonance of earth pony magic, saw no hoof prints. When she passed a polished surface, she had no reflection, when light shined, she cast no shadow.
I could not rationally deny she was there, but at the same time, she left no presence. She seemed less even than a ghost. Even Discord's Mother left a chill in her wake, but for the filly before me, there was, nothing.
Diamond Tiara didn't look at Silver Spoon, instead, her eyes focused on me.
Silver Spoon had waited almost a year to hear her best friend's voice again. What she got was a voice with all the heart of a cheap phonograph.
"What do you think of my dress, Miss Rarity? My new father made it for me."
In that moment, I sincerely desired to bring violence upon Discord, just to feel my hoof against his foul face. But a lady keeps her poise even in the face of such dark thoughts.
"It's not all that bad, Diamond," I said, putting on my best 'difficult client' face. "Let's go to the Boutique and I can help with some improvements. I'm certain your real father would be happy to sit in."
"Diamond Tiara is no longer my name. The Riches should accept that their filly is gone and move on. I think I would have liked this dress, if I could like anything anymore, but it's not really fitting for the business at hoof." Her horn glowed again, and the dress burst into black flames.
A flurry of shouting and motion followed as I, Silver Spoon, and I can't recall who else madly rushed towards her to put out the flames, but the dress was reduced to ash before I'd taken two steps, and beneath it...
Diamond Tiara was unharmed, and now her barding was revealed, dark gray with pink accents. Her armor bore a resemblance to a young Nightmare Moon, right down to the champron inspired by her helm, but the design was cold and lifeless and covered much more of her body. On the peytral where Luna or Celestia had their symbol, there was a white diamond.
On any other day, I might have thought it adorable on such a little filly, and even praised her skill with magic, artfully enhancing the "costume." Today I felt chills down my spine. And that was nothing to what I saw on her flanks: If my heart skipped a beat, I am certain Silver Spoon's stopped.
Diamond Tiara's crown cutie mark was twisted into an eight pointed circle.
Princess Luna broke the shocked silence. "How art thou even here?!" she shouted. "A Nightmare is power without wisdom and one part that consumes the pony, not a pony becoming one with all! Madness alone is not enough, or every asylum ward would be teeming with Nightmares! One must be truly exalted to fall so far... an Alicorn, or one with the potential to become an Alicorn!"
My thoughts flashed to Rainbow Dash's near fall to darkness. Rainbow? Our own Rainbow Dash... a princess?! Had she made that connection?
"Your heart must have an Element of Harmony to corrupt!" Luna was saying. "A black resolve and terrible conviction: to grasp great understanding without comprehending, to love without compassion. To make the world fair, without caring who gets hurt. And Diamond Tiara's dreams showed her inner Element stunted, formless and without color! Her heart was so aimless and against itself that she couldn't grasp a 'one truth.' So how doth thou stand here, Nightfilly!"
What Princess Luna was saying... I don't think we were supposed to know that. Either she's completely forgotten herself, or she's judged the situation so dire that it doesn't matter any more. If anypony present hasn't realized the truth about Fluttershy and Princess Gaia already, they will soon.
"I have no idea," the little Nightfilly said, sounding as if she couldn't care less. "You're right, I shouldn't exist, but I do all the same. I break the very world by existing. Maybe that's why I'm the way I am. Maybe the spirits of dark magic saw something like themselves in me, something that gave us a kinship. Maybe we wanted the same thing. Maybe we were MISSING the same thing. But let me ask you something Princess... Does it actually matter? Did the reasons ever matter? Chaos and nothingness will devour the world unless you stop us here."
Applejack had a strange look on her face.
Ah couldn't tell If she was lyin' or not... it was like... not like lies and truth mixin' together, more like lies and truth dissolvin', leaving a hole where they used to be.
Diamond Tiara said, "We're here, Apple Bloom, because you wrote it that way, so what happens next?"
I didn't fail to notice how out of the corner of my eye, the Princesses, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie were more tense than surprised and didn't look back at Apple Bloom with the rest of us. Apple Bloom wasn't looking any of us in the eyes. Spike and Silver Spoon looked at her as well, Sweetie and Scootaloo were cringing. What was going on?
"Apple Bloom, what does she mean?" Twilight asked.
"That is purely between us," our little Nightfilly said, bringing all our attention back to her. "Why make things more complicated than they are already? You have bigger things to worry about."
She'd had no shadow before, and she still didn't, because it wasn't her shadow that crawled out from under her. I'd know that ghastly unsymmetrical shape anywhere. Discord's shadow stretched out from her.
To the chorus of a million vuvuzelas, he rose. Multi-colored lightning struck, mango-punch rain swirled around him. He took on colors, details, becoming opaque, but the end of his tail remained a ghostly tether to Diamond Tiara.
I'd been prepared to face the devil again. I'd been ready to see somepony I cared about turned into a monster like Nightmare Moon again, but I hadn't been prepared for this surreal eldritch display!
"Bwa-ha-HA! The looks on your faces!" Discord conjured a camera with a snap of his fingers and took a picture. Embarrassing photos appeared and multiplied in poofs of smoke, fluttering to the ground in front of the ponies who had been caught gawking. "All the waiting was worth it, just for that!"
Tiara rolled her eyes at Discord.
"So as you can all see, Diamond Tiara-"
"That is not my name."
"-has been gracious enough to allow me to be her house guest. It's been a wonderful show girls, but now it's time for the finale."
"Let. me. IN!" demanded Golden Tiara.
Flash Sentry didn't budge, despite her shouting right in his face. "I'm SORRY, Golden, but you can't go in there." Truth be told, Flash Sentry wanted nothing more than to rush in there heroically himself.
Golden Tiara was nearly nose to nose with him now. "I know my Diamond is in there. You won't keep me from her, or so help me..."
"Guards!" said Flash, gesturing quickly. The armored stallions on his left and right advanced, but even outnumbering the mare, they seemed just as intimidated by her.
Filthy Rich tugged on her shoulder. "Hold your horses, dear! I'll call in a few favors from Fancy Pants, and then by golly we'll see if she's really in..."
Golden smiled disturbingly. "Flash, do you know how I escaped from the Ponyville General psychiatric ward so many times?"
Flash hesitated. "How?"
"Like this." Suddenly, Golden Tiara head-butted him savagely, then reached for his forehoof, ready to give it a twist that would have doubled him over in pain, like dozens of hospital orderlies and changeling invaders before him.
Only... Flash slapped her hoof aside, faster than thought. "Um... no. I've seen you fight."
Golden Tiara stared at him, shocked, while trying to judge the distance to the hedges. "Then you should know what happens when a pegasus gets in an earth pony's way!"
Flash grimaced, rubbing his forehead. "Yeah, I have a pretty good idea... Death Stalker, now!"
'Father, you came out too soon. Don't you know it's the minion's job to fight the heroes first and get dismissively crushed, to demonstrate how powerful the heroes have become and raise the stakes for the battle against the true villain?'
'That's just it, my dear. You're not a minion to me. I'd say you've more than earned co-evil overlord status.'
"What's your game, Discord?" shouted Princess Celestia, startling us. "Circumstances forced you to confront us here and now, but either one of you could have blown up the houses of Twilight and her friends in their sleep, or taken their families hostage, or unleashed all manner of mayhem on my little ponies! Yet, you didn't!"
The devil cackled. "My, I wish I thought of-"
"DON'T PLAY THE FOOL WITH ME, DISSY! NOT TODAY! You're not stupid! You're capable of thinking and planning like I'm capable of the blackest dark magic!"
I felt uncomfortable about our princess giving Discord tactical advice, and... did our princess just say Discord couldn't plan, or that she could use dark magic?! Dark and black magic are two separate things? This is all too confusing!
Wait one flying feathered second! Scoots here! If Discord was with Diamond Tiara the whole time, then why the heck didn't he pop up when Apple Bloom was ruining his evil scheme by fixing the printing press?!
Princess Luna looked between Discord and her sister in seeming bewilderment, but why? "Discord! Does yonder filly hold thy spirit willingly?"
"Of course she doesn't!" I said automatically.
"She would never!" added Silver Spoon.
"In a manner of speaking," said Discord.
Tiara gave him a tired glare. "Don't avoid the answer, Discord, Yes, I do."
Discord shot her a mildly annoyed look right back. "Well, I did manipulate her into acting in contrary to the Elements of Harmony-"
"Of my own free will."
"-But she hardly knew who I was-"
"-I wouldn't have cared."
"YES, YOU WOULD HAVE!" shouted Silver. "You're not some evil minion! The Diamond Tiara that I know isn't anypony's toady!"
"That's why we're equals," Tiara said mechanically.
Discord smacked his own face with his lion paw. "Foal actors... they can be so difficult. I was just using her, of course! Just my hapless little innocent pawn to use and discard, like so many others."
"He promised to my make mother sane again."
And lightning and thunder could have come crashing down. A mountain might as well have fallen. When Golden Tiara spontaneously regained her mind... that long ago. Anypony who had not known, knew now. I could see it in the faces of my friends and companions... many of them were shocked to the bone. Silver Spoon looked about us, the secret she'd been trusted so dearly with was out.
"I'll have you know," Discord said hastily, "my original scheme was to make everypony crazy so she'd be considered normal! Or make her sane and everypony else crazy, so she'd be a pariah! Alas, clever, clever Diamond caught me in a vow to my Mother, so I had no choice but to do the good deed she demanded of me, just as she intended!"
"He made Mom so sane that even he can't ever drive her mad again. He didn't even try to weasel out of it."
"Well I did sic that cockatrice on your mother when she broke out of the hospital."
"You never promised that she'd be safe, only sane. You could have let her perish halfway to Canterlot... but you didn't."
"Well, I was out of monsters." SINCE WHEN DID DISCORD HAVE MONSTERS?!
"I imagine you could have gotten more where you got the originals."
"He actually started to like me as family."
"Only in my own selfish way!"
"HOLD ON!!!" Rainbow Dash screamed. Even though we should have been blasting them with the Elements by now, the insane puzzle before us left us all grasping for answers. "Why would DISCORD care about ANYPONY as family? And if Discord could've done all this, why didn't he do it before?!"
"Because I'd been touched by his magic, my heart was in chaos, and Discord is my ancestral uncle. On mom's side of the family. He didn't even realize it until he noticed he could speak to me, even sealed in stone."
"That's a buncha lies!"
"It isn't," Princess Celestia sighed. We looked at our Princess stunned. I wonder if Discord's sister Celestia once told myself and Rainbow of is Tiara's ancestor.
"Tiara... Darling, can't you see that he must have used mind control on you? Of course, he must have tampered with your memories so you wouldn't be aware."
"He didn't. Everything I did was of my own free will."
"That can't be true!" insisted Silver Spoon. But... I think we both knew, if it was for her mother... the one thing Diamond Tiara couldn't have, could we really say Diamond Tiara wouldn't?
Discord tisked. "Oh, please. If it was as simple as compelling the first groundskeeper who walked past, I would have been out of that statue in a week. My magic was sealed, I'll have you know. Everything I did with Diamond, I did with words alone." He snapped his claws, transforming briefly into a giant talking Smarty-Pants doll. "Want-It-Need-It spells are so amateur, wouldn't you agree, Twilight?"
Twilight glared at him. "Where exactly have you been staying all this time, if you've been really free?!"
Discord shrugged. "Oh, here and there. Thanks to Diamond Tiara-that's-not-my-name's gift, we've been able to go just about EVERYWHERE. I'll bet you never even suspected that we were right there the whole time, while you and your friends were duking it out with Queen Bug Guts."
"He helped stop Chrysalis from completing her rune," said Diamond indifferently.
"My little Tiara did with that her entropy magic, actually! I was very disappointed in her, doing such a good deed, saving the day... I only allowed it because Chrysalis was in the way of my own plans."
"I didn't care about any of you. He didn't want to end up a trophy on her wall."
"-and she did make a wonderful measuring stick for all of you."
"So he unwittingly ended up having more time to get to like having me around."
"But I never tried to steer her away from the path of evil I'd put her on!"
"Because he didn't want to lose the only family he had on his terms."
"That could have been a clever ruse to gain your trust!"
"You meant it. It couldn't have been more obvious."
I sincerely felt like I'd walked in on the last act of an eight part play. The bewildering truths that Discord and Tiara threw at each other boggled my mind! "Applejack?"
"... Nothin' they're sayin' is an outright lie... Ah think. Believe it or not, Ah'm havin' an easier time readin' Discord!"
Luna demanded, "If Tiara is your willing accomplice, why did you not rob another pony of their life and gain a body of your own, while you still could?"
"Wait," interrupted Twilight. "While he still could? What are you talking about?"
"That is not important," Luna spoke sternly.
Right, it wasn't important.
Discord laughed. "Why would I? She's been the perfect duck blind. You couldn't sense my magic even when it was right in front of your faces!"
"And Wind Whistler was making him feel guilty," said Diamond.
"She was just my imagination!" snapped Discord.
"You don't know that for sure."
"Wind Whistler..." whispered Celestia. "You were in there... all that time? Is she why you never destroyed another of the Elements?"
"ANOTHER ELEMENT?" most of us shouted.
"Not important right now."
Right, we had more important things to worry about right now.
"Moi? Repeat a trick?" said Discord, feigning shock and dismay. "You insult me. Don't get your proverbial panties in a twist, Celly. That figment of my imagination only showed up recently. You try enduring a thousand years of magical imprisonment, see what mental state you wind up in. Oh wait, too soon?"
I must admit, none of this was making sense, even considering that this was the Lord of Chaos we were dealing with. Discord... helped us stop Chrysalis? Surely it was for his own evil ends, just as he'd said, but still...
I remembered, just then, no matter how much I didn't want to, what I told Sweetie Belle one year ago. When you have decided somepony is evil, you will always see what they're doing as evil, you won't allow for gray areas.
"DISCORD!" Apple Bloom shouted suddenly. "Ah have to know! Did our fight set you free?!"
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle looked at each other, scared of being reminded of that particular rumor. Princess Celestia had said that even if it was so, that the seal would've been hanging by a thread already, if that was all it had taken.
"... My little pony... the answer to that is... I'm not telling. Life is meaningless if you already know the script."
"Enough talk," said Twilight sternly. "Formation."
Our Elements glowed. We began to float.
Discord smiled cruelly, steepling his claws. "Diamond Tiara's spirit and mine are intermingled now, you know. Who's to say what'll happen if you blast me to concrete? Beta-Version Cadence nearly made a statue out of her, after all."
I waited desperately for Applejack to shout that it was a ruse, that Discord was lying. Instead, Applejack looked sick. Silver Spoon looked at us with shock and fear.
"And since Sweetie Belle and my Princess are linked at the heart, what do you think is going to happen to HER? Can you take that chance?"
My Element flickered and shut down, dropping us back to the ground. No one, not even Trixie or Princess Luna, seemed able to blame me.
"Can't risk one innocent life to stop the worst demon and devil the world's ever known?" Diamond Tiara's tone was cold as ice. "That makes you cowards. Want to be real heroes? Make hard choices. Isn't that right, Applejack?"
None of us spoke.
Discord twitched an eyebrow. "What? You brought all these ponies along, and no one has anything to say? I just rendered your best weapon useless!" He waved an arm grandly, beckoning. "Go on, curse me. Tell me that I'll never get away with it. Really, not so much as an obscene gesture? Not that I'm expecting much... the good ones take fingers. I could teach Spike a few! No? Come on, we've been working up to this for ages. Where's that good old dependable pony preachiness?"
"Not stoppin' ya the surefire way is our risk." Applejack snorted. "We didn't ask to be the Elements of Harmony, but we are, so let's live up to that responsibility one more time!"
"I came all this way to save you, Diamond!" Silver Spoon shouted.
"You wasted your time."
"I'll be the judge of that!" Silver Spoon took a trot forward but got pulled back by Trixie's magic.
"Sorry, but Twilight sadly saddled me with keeping you safe. And in case you didn't notice, the Elements can do other things besides the rainbow death ray!" Trixie gestured at our armored forms.
Twilight sighed. "Must you call it that?"
"These ponies have managed to wield the Elements in ways we and our sister were never able to, Discord," said Princess Luna. It warmed my heart, hearing her praise. "You merely prolong your coming humiliation."
"If you truly believe that you've defeated the Elements of Harmony," said our Princess of the day, calmly and without malice, "you'll find you're gravely mistaken."
I looked back at my beloved baby sister. "No one is dying or getting sacrificed today, Discord."
"Not even you," added Fluttershy.
Pinkie Pie said, "Whining and complaining about stuff doesn't change anything! Unless you're Rarity."
"Thank you Pinkie-hey!"
Pinkie grinned from ear to ear. "Just kidding!"
"... I'd be really, really scared if I thought that was the only way to stop you," admitted Sweetie Belle, "but the Princesses and Miss Twilight and Trixie and my big sister are really clever, and I have faith in them!"
"Dang, everypony already said what I was gonna." Spike shrugged.
"Same," Scootaloo added, folding a wing over Sweetie Belle.
Apple Bloom spoke up. "Silver Spoon is our friend, and we really want you to be our friend too, Diamond Tiara. We ain't gonna give up one friend for another friend, cause Ah know this ain't the pony you want to be."
"You're the one who should be worried, Discord," said Twilight.
Rainbow Dash stuck out her tongue. "Okay, basically? Buck you. We don't need to make an innocent filly never-heard-from-again to do an encore of kicking your flank!"
Tiara rolled her nightmarish eyes. "I don't want to be your friend, and there's nothing innocent about me. Are you too stupid to see that there's nothing in me worth saving? It's not like any of you even liked me in the first place. Most of you didn't even know me!"
Princess Celestia stood firm. "You are one of my little ponies! That is enough!"
"And where Princess Celestia leads, we'll follow," Twilight Sparkle declared.
"I know you! And I love you!" Silver Spoon shouted.
"I know you very well now!" added Sweetie Belle. "I still want to save you!"
"I've promised Silver Spoon... that's all there is to it," said Spike, as any knight should.
Golden Tiara looked at her hooves, stuck to the pavement stones with changeling goo, then glared daggers at Flash Sentry and Death Stalker.
"That should hold her," said Death Stalker confidently.
Golden Tiara yanked her hooves up, pulling the pavement stones right out of the ground, then clocked the changeling with one of them. She spun towards Flash with heavy steps, and found that he'd already dodged just out of reach. Not flown... she could have made a dash for the hedges if he had. "Why are you fighting me? Why are you here if you can fight like that? We should be rescuing Diamond together!"
"You don't know what you're getting into," insisted Flash. "Even I don't know, but the Princesses AND the Element Bearers are already inside. The best thing we can do is to stay out of their way. Leave this to the ponies with the magical superpowers."
Golden narrowed her eyes. "I'm Diamond's mother."
Flash took a deep breath. "When you put it like that..."
The Nightfilly drew herself up and curled her lip in a sneer, as if Diamond Tiara the playground bully had suddenly returned... with wings and a horn. "Do you really think there's some pathetic, sad, lonely filly here that you can save, just by offering to be her friend? Cause there's, like, not. At all. Your brains must be as blank as your flanks used to be!"
"... You're lying," said Sweetie Belle, with clarity that put even Applejack to shame. I was still sincerely disturbed that Sweetie could read Diamond where even Applejack could not.
"My new father showed me the truth. I am a selfish, cruel, petty, despicable, rotten to the core sociopath that everypony would be better off without. I'm just not hiding it behind a pretty face and fancy jewelry and my family's money any more. I regret nothing."
I wonder if anypony else spotted the abject sad, almost ashamed look on Discord's vile face, somehow making him even more wretched.
"You're full of regrets," Sweetie said in a gentle, desperate tone. She held her hoof over her chest. "Because I just felt all of them. And..." Sweetie stood up on her rear legs and drew in a deep breath. "I forgive you for what you did to Rarity."
Before I could say anything, Diamond Tiara's and Discord's voices thundered as one, "Forgive forgive forgive! Is that all you ponies do?!"
"NO!" snapped Twilight. "We also help people who are sorry about what they've done become better ponies!" She looked to Trixie, who smiled back.
Diamond Tiara let her face go slack. "What's wrong with me... isn't something that magic jewelry and rainbows can fix. Nothing can fix me."
I said boldly, "You're right, you can't be 'fixed', because ponies aren't machines, but I do think you can be healed! You want to know the REAL truth, young lady? I think you're not trying to convince US, I think you're trying to convince YOURSELF."
Discord made a show of yawning, suddenly wearing a nightcap and mismatched fuzzy bunny slippers. "Don't bother trying to talk my princess out of being little miss doom and gloom. Do you think I haven't tried? Oh, and that reminds me. Good job, putting Nightmare Whisper to bed! A bunch of immortal foals frolicking around, enjoying games and perfectly safe adventures forever? Bleech! Even once was simply unbearable!"
"Once?" asked Trixie. "It's happened before?"
"I could tell you all about it, but that would just distract from this being about the great and wonderful me!" A snap of his claws summoned posters and banners praising 'The Greater and Much More Powerful and Also Humble Discord!'
Trixie growled, stepping forward, and then it was her turn to get magically pulled back, by Princess Luna. Our Night Princess spoke, "Yes, do let us talk about thou, Discord! Joining forces with a Nightmare? We never thought we'd see thou sink so low."
Discord grinned sharply, poofing the posters away. "Even the mighty can fall. Doesn't it bring back such wonderful memories of all those members of your family who aren't here now?"
"Oh, Discord... it warms my heart every night, knowing that no matter how many bodies you steal or how many times you cheat death, the chipped fang that Mimic gave you will not leave your face!"
Mimic? His fang? How much history am I missing?
Discord blinked in mock confusion. "Mimic? Now who could that be? Oh, yes! The one I killed. That's a rare honor, surprisingly. You'd think that after a thousand year reign and the odd rampage or two, the count would be higher."
"Surely you jest, and poorly at that! Is that what you call Galaxia?"
"The seaponies were almost a myth thanks to you!"
Discord snorted. "It was an accident! Come now, it's not like they died! And if you want their descendants to be seaponies again..." He lifted his lion paw, fingers poised to snap. "That's easy too..."
Why was he looking directly at Sweetie and myself when he said that? It made my skin crawl...
"Nay!" shouted Luna. "You know full well that restoring them now would do greater harm than when you turned their sea into desert in the first place."
Discord gawked at her, lowering his paw. "You actually think you can make demands of me? I'm free now. Free to do whatever I want! One little snap, and this entire mountain will be the world's largest chocolate fountain! Give up now, and perhaps I won't turn all your precious little champions chaotic again, one by one, right before your eyes."
"You're bluffing," said Luna at once. "If you really had your full power, you would have shown it off already. Right now, I'd put you just BELOW the amount of power Nightmare Whisper had at her peak."
Discord scowled. "Don't be so certain! Remember, the true extent of my power is cloaked by Tiara's magic!"
Applejack trotted towards him, close enough to look the devil right in the eyes, and nopony stopped her. "Now, Ah'm startin' to see. The truth is... you don't want to do any of those things. Your heart's just not in it any more, is it?"
Discord's jaw dropped. Dropped normally... it didn't fall off so he could pick it up and reattach it, or anything like that. "WHAT?!"
All but Princess Celestia and Applejack echoed our enemy's response. That... that couldn't be true, but Applejack never lies... could she be wrong? Discord himself, not have his heart in it?
Tiara said in a dull monotone, "You'll have to excuse Father... he still believes his own excuses. Father still can't admit that he created a monster worse than he is."
Discord unclenched his fist with a great effort. "We're going to have a long talk about this later, young mare! After we laugh at the pathetic attempts of these ponies to divide us against each other, and put them in their places!"
Discord put on a top hat and monocle, and gave himself a twirly mustache along with a large black cape and diamond topped cane. Diamond Tiara rolled her eyes as soon as his back was turned.
Discord spread his arms grandly, shuffling a pack of cards in an arc from one hand to the other. "Come now Trixie, we all know this isn't the real you. We're both show-creatures.
"You Rarity? And you Applejack? Forgiving without any retribution or apology at all on her part? And you say my antics don't make sense! Shouldn't you have told this selfish pony to run along home once she was cured? How utterly out of character for you both."
"Out of character for a one-dimensional mockery of me, perhaps," I said, in a rather unladylike tone. Discord ignored me. Applejack didn't dignify him with an answer.
Discord spun about. "And you Trixie, hanging around with ponies who make you look like less than the best around? Smaller? Weaker? Inferior? Since when has THAT ever been the real you!? Don't you see you've been made a puppet?
With twin flashes, literal puppets appeared on Discord's hands... a smug-looking cloth and felt Twilight, and a Trixie puppet bowing before her. "This isn't you, Trixie. You don't let yourself be dragged down by others! You don't make friends! You most certainly don't have equals!" Now the Trixie puppet pulled out a golden cane and started bopping the Twilight puppet on the head. "You are a selfish, posturing, snooty liar, and proud of it!"
"Trixie put that behind her! THIS is Trixie's true self! Empty boasting didn't make Trixie great or powerful! Actually having -friends- did that, for the first time in Trixie's life!"
Discord pulled a script from behind his back, then stroked his goatee as he leafed through it. "This trick worked so much better before. I should complain to the producer!"
Twilight leveled a hoof at him. "I outwitted your best trick before, Discord, and I'll do it again! And if I can't, Trixie will! She's twice the showmare you are."
Discord loomed over Twilight suddenly, waggling his claws. "All of your friends had great revelations about themselves after my games. What did you learn? One pony saved, one friend made? Not much character development, if you ask me."
"You're wrong Discord. I performed the most powerful transmutation spell in existence... making my rival into one of my best friends! There is no magic more powerful than that! And, and, and- And so there!"
Discord sighed theatrically. "Well, that's all well and good, but there's a truth you haven't had to face. All good things end, even friendship, and some friendships can NEVER be mended!"
Twilight scowled at him, her head held high, not afraid. Rainbow Dash flinched, then sighed, wings drooping.
Discord said, oddly stern, "Well, at least one of you understands. But don't worry! I'm a completely unreasonable and unfair draconequus. I'll just show you all that truth and grind you into dust!"
Trixie tossed her cape back, making it billow with a spot wind spell. "HA! Trixie didn't fall for that cheap dream invasion of yours, and she won't fall for any of your lies now!"
"I beg your pardon?" Discord looked confused.
"You know very well what I mean! You appeared in my dreams and tempted me with power again!"
"We've had much more important things to focus on than you," said Diamond Tiara indifferently.
AJ and Sweetie didn't object.
Discord smirked. "That wasn't me at all, Trixie, not in the least. Don't blame me for what you secretly want."
Trixie looked liked she'd been dunked in a winter river.
"You should thank me! If not for me, you'd still be in that rat-nest apartment feeling sorry for yourself without a new show to your name for the rest of your life! You'd have died of old age before your Element of Magic awoke without me."
"He's lyin'," AJ said with a frown like she would at a pest.
"Thank you, Applejack," Trixie said.
"He might be lying now," said Tiara, "but back then, it wasn't a lie."
That made my head hurt.
"You little ponies can be so ungrateful! Zap Apple Trees? That was all moi. The whole reason Ponyville even exists?! My creation! That's right, little ponies! The Apples and the Riches' fortunes, your precious little town, the only reason any of them exist is because of me!"
Applejack didn't even flinch. "... Thank ya for that."
Discord's double-take would have done any comic book character proud. "... What did you say?"
"Thanks. On behalf of Granny Smith and the rest of my family... thanks for that one. Kinda sad really... ponies LOVE zap apples... maybe it ain't weird and chaotic things ponies can't stand... maybe it's just you."
".... I know." Discord's voice sounded like it came from the bottom of a gutter. "Don't you ponies see? You need me! Not that perfect sugar and spice world the Alicorns have forced on you! You should keep me around to traumatize you again and again so you can keep getting better and better from the ordeal!"
Twilight Sparkle stood tall, looking our foe in the eye. "You brag about making us better ponies? WE made ourselves better. You just showed us our faults so we could fix them. Can you say the same?"
Twilight lit her horn and conjured the image of an earth pony mare. She had pink fur, a yellow chartreuse mane, green eyes, and five sun-glasses for her cutie mark. I... I could scarcely believe my eyes. The phantom mare was hugging a child version of Discord, who hugged her back, as happy and adorable as any foal!
"NO!" howled Discord. "TAKE IT AWAY! GET IT OUT OF MY SIGHT!!" Discord tore the illusion apart with his bare claws.
"There's something else you should know, Discord!" declared Fluttershy, bolder than I'd ever seen her. "Paradise... is relative! The Three Tribes would have thought Equestria was impossible! I know that there's a better world waiting for us that looks impossible to us too! It won't happen in a day, but we can reach it, just like the Three Tribes came together and created our world!"
Then she shifted completely to Fluttercruel, who looked Discord right in the eye. "Loser."
For once, Discord was at a loss for words.