Eating Dessert First

by alarajrogers

Chaos Battle (Last Draconequus)

With a huge, savage grin on his face, Discord faced off against the entities. They were creatures of pure magical energy, formless and faceless, and there were a lot of them. More than he could easily count, which didn't mean much because he was bad at counting, but still. There were distinctions between them; five or six of them were large, full of magic, pulsating with the alien energies they carried; another maybe five or six were smaller, and then there were a whole lot of much smaller creatures, darting around, zipping through the airless void. So, big bosses, middle management, and cannon fodder. He'd seen this pattern before on the last incursion, though there had been a lot fewer of them then.

Plainly he was going to have to do some knitting when this was over. The inner thaumosphere of the world beneath him protected against incursions like this; the entities that were able to come through the dimensional gateways were multiverse travelers, would-be world conquerors, and the like, not eldritch, incomprehensible creatures who could drive an ordinary pony mad if the pony only looked at them. But the outer thaumosphere, the magic that held and moved the sun and moon, had no such protections... which meant Discord was going to have to reinforce spacetime around here, to seal it up tight enough that creatures like this couldn't get through.

After he beat this group of bozos, obviously.

"Why do you stand against us?" the largest one, presumably the leader, said. "You alone of these creatures can comprehend us. Your nature is more akin to ours than to theirs. Why not join us?"

Discord laughed mockingly. "As if I don't know that you guys eat each other?" he snickered. "Listen, 'join us in villainous friendship' might work on sappy little ponies around here, but I can see it for what it is – a total scam to sucker me out of crushing you like bugs." His face hardened. "This world is mine. And I don't share. Leave, or face the consequences."

They weren't really speaking, of course. There was no air in space, and the entities weren't capable of speech, per se, anyway. The creatures conveyed ideas directly into his mind with infinitesimal flickers of magic, and he returned his replies to them the same way. So the fact that they interrupted his little speech with a massive working, all of the creatures feeding energy into the leader's spell matrix, and altered the strong nuclear force in a spherical radius around him several trots wide, destroying his physical body instantly, didn't prevent him from finishing his sentence.

Discord reformed himself as pure magic, no longer dependent on the ability of matter to hold itself together at the atomic level, and sent them the concept of a sneer. "Oh, please. You'll have to do better than that."

As he spoke, his magic intersected with their patterns, imposing the concept of compaction – solidifying the magic they were made from and making it denser. The creatures were unused to physicality, and thus to physical threats; he was able to grab several of the smaller ones with a giant scoop summoned from magic and throw them into an equally gigantic blender. Sadly, he didn't manage to get any of the bigger ones, but their time would come.

The creatures were intellivores, from a dimension of pure chaos where nothing was ever real except for magic and the order that intelligence could impose on it. They devoured each other when they had the chance, growing larger, more powerful, smarter and gaining the memories and experience of the one they'd eaten, so the largest ones were the most dangerous, not just because of their size or magical prowess but because they were also the smartest. The world below, with its enormous population of different sapient species, and animals so high on the sentience scale they were almost sapient, was a smorgasbord of riches for them, and since magic was one of the things they devoured, even the most powerful of ponies wouldn't be able to stand against them. Maybe the centaurs, themselves known to have magic-absorption abilities, would be able to fight, but Discord didn't plan to ever let it come to that. This was an unusually large incursion – he'd fought off much smaller groups of these creatures before – but protecting the world from entities from beyond it with the potential to destroy magic was one of the responsibilities of the Chaos Avatar, and he had every intention of doing just that.

Fighting against Celestia and Luna, and the occasional jumped-up unicorn who had yet another Surefire Plan To Defeat The Chaos Lord (none of which ever worked, of course), was certainly fun, and sometimes even challenging, but this was going to be a serious workout. His grin got wider. How long had it been since he'd actually been in danger? The fact that losing was a theoretical possibility made the heart he didn't currently actually have beat faster and sent thrills through the veins he didn't have either. Oh, this was going to be fun.

Or it wouldn't be. But he was committed either way, so he was determined to have fun with it.

As the larger ones spread out around him to form a loose sphere, several of the small ones he hadn't caught in his scoop flew at him, and he felt the pull as they entered his magical corona. They were trying to consume his magic. He manufactured a large straw, stuck it in one that didn't get away quickly enough, and pulled at the raw chaotic magic the thing was made of, sucking on the straw as he drew in the magic. He couldn't do that to ponies or other creatures made of matter infused with organized magic, whether harmonic or any other type, but these creatures had no matter in their composition; even when he cast solidification on them, they were still made of nothing but magical energy. The other small ones fled, recognizing that he was a bigger threat to them than they were to him if he could eat them before they ate him.

On the other hand, perhaps the blender had been a bad idea. The four small entities he'd thrown in a blender had merged into one of the medium sized entities and the conglomerate was currently working on breaking their way out of his blender. That hadn't worked the way he'd hoped.

Aside from the ones still trying to break out of his blender, all of the larger entities flung Confusion at him. Their magic worked roughly the same way his did – rather than structured, controlled patterns of magic programmed to cause a result, like unicorn magic for instance, theirs involved the direct application of raw magic against the patterns of reality, which meant they were throwing concepts at his existence. But two could play that game, and he was far better suited for it than a unicorn would be. He threw up a shield that essentially exemplified the foal's chant "I'm rubber, you're glue, what you say bounces off of me and sticks to you." The concept of confusion bounced off his shield and scattered across all of the creatures, dazing them. The larger, more powerful ones easily shook the confusion off, but the smaller and medium sized ones were hit disproportionately, considering that the spells had originated from the powerful ones and had been intended for Discord himself.

The larger ones were still firing spells at Discord, concepts like "death" and "dissolve" and "shield shatters" that his own natural shields were well capable of dealing with as long as he didn't get hit with too many of them at once. The others couldn't focus their attention, which made it a lot easier for him to dodge or deflect all of the attacks, since fewer of them could attack him at the same time. Ricochets off his deflection hit some of the larger creatures and did damage, but didn't kill them any more than they'd be able to easily kill him.

Discord cast his own confusion spell, a fog to dull senses beyond the immediate near range. It wasn't a literal fog, of course; in space that wasn't possible. Besides, the creatures didn't use vision, primarily; they were directly sensing magic. They'd get free of that quickly enough, but this opened Discord up to use his signature attack.

Separately, he whispered in the ears of most of them, in the illusory guise of another of their kind. Why don't we ally, and sit this fight out? Either the alien will defeat our leaders, but he'll be weakened by then and vulnerable, so we can take this world for ourselves without the leaders to take the best of everything and leave us the scraps; or, our leaders will defeat the alien but they'll be weakened. Why not fall on whoever survives this battle, when they're vulnerable, and consume them?

The entities had no concept of loyalty or friendship; they held power over one another solely by force, fear and self-interest. The strong consumed the weak to get even stronger; the weak followed the strong in hopes of being able to gather enough scraps to increase their own strength. Discord was honestly amazed they'd managed to put together a force this large; there might be as many as forty of the entities, all told. Their leaders must be particularly powerful to be able to attract so many followers; either that, or Discord's world was just that attractive to them.

He couldn't influence them by playing any positive emotions against them, as he did with ponies all the time, but their complete lack of loyalty to each other was a huge weakness for him to exploit and do what he did best, stir up his namesake. Some of those he targeted recognized that it was him, and cast spells to banish the illusions he was generating in their mind; others recognized that whatever entity he seemed to them to be impersonating wouldn't actually make an attempt to make that deal with them, perhaps due to internecine rivalries; still others didn't recognize that it was an illusion at all, but were offended at being approached by what seemed to be a lower-status entity, and tried to devour the imaginary entity. But he managed to get several to drop out of the fight and hang back, including one of the larger ones and a few of the medium size.

And then the most powerful one, no longer fogged by any confusion spells, hit Discord directly with fear.

He'd overextended himself, whispering soft dissension to so many of the entities; the fear spell penetrated his shielding completely. Suddenly terrified of the creatures, Discord teleported away, but they found the thread of his teleport and followed him, surrounding him as he reappeared. A tiny part of his mind knew this was a spell, that he wasn't really about to be horribly devoured, at least not as long as he kept his guard up and kept fighting, but his emotions screamed at him that he was about to be killed, that he had to do something now, now now NOW!

Emotion amplified his powers, and Discord had the entire thaumosphere of the world he was protecting to draw from. Consumed by unreasoning terror, he threw all of his power at the fabric of reality, and created an entropy vortex.

It was a mindless, churning hole in reality, similar to the blender he'd created earlier crossed with a suction cleaner, except that what it sucked in and "blended" was the fabric of existence itself. Like the tornados he'd once used against the dragons, but made of pure entropy, the fundamental force of dissolution and decay. It spun wildly through space, without course or direction, and any of the entities unlucky enough to get too close to it were sucked in, screaming. All the creatures dodged frantically, attempting to put as much distance between themselves and the swirling death as they could.

Two other entities, a large one and a mid-size one, attempted to retaliate by generating their own entropy vortices, copying his spell... a mistake on their parts. Without the thaumosphere of an entire planet to fuel them, they didn't have the power to create an entropy vortex. The smaller of the two simply burned all of the magical energy it had trying to power the spell, and fizzled out and died because if you tried to cast an entropy vortex and you didn't have the enormous amounts of energy needed to create something so antithetical to existence itself, it would drain everything you had... and the creature, being nothing but magic, burned itself out like a candleflame flaring and consuming its entire candle in a single moment. 

The other entity had enough power to bring the thing into existence... for the mere second it took for its own creation to instantly devour it, because it hadn't had enough strength both to make the thing and to cast it away from itself. Without its creator to fuel it long enough to fully establish it, the vortex that had eaten its maker faded.

A third entity, another of the large ones, tried the same stunt, learning from the example of its dead compatriots by casting the thing away from itself as it created it. The vortex snapped into existence near enough one of the medium sized ones that the creature fled toward the vortex's maker... the last thing it ever did, because the large entity was so badly drained by making the vortex and casting it at a distance that it would have died of lack of energy if it hadn't desperately intercepted the fleeing entity and devoured it. Its vortex, too, fizzled. None of them had the power they'd need to create such a thing; Discord himself would have burned himself out completely, even with the power burst that terror had granted him, if he wasn't bound to the magic of an entire world. Every magical creature on the world beneath him would have experienced a nanosecond of a microscopic dip in their magical potency... a dip that not even trained magical researchers were likely to notice, because the enormous energy it took to create an entropy vortex that lasted long enough to do damage was still a drop in comparison to the vast ocean of magic of all life, animal, vegetable and mineral, on the planet.

Despite the fact that he wasn't made of matter and didn't have lungs or a heart, Discord panted, imaginary lungs heaving in the airlessness of space to draw in air that didn't exist, while his imaginary heart pounded frantically and his imaginary head and neck beaded with imaginary sweat. The shape he took when he was made of magic was by default based on the mortal creature he'd been born as, and it mimicked that mortal body's reactions. The fear spell was winding down, its creator more concerned with escaping the entropy vortex Discord had made than maintaining its spell. He was still more frightened than he could remember being in centuries, but not so terrified that he couldn't think straight, not anymore.

The fighting cadre in front of him was heavily whittled down; only three of the big ones remained active, only one of the mid-size, and what looked like maybe half of the original complement of small ones. But that was still more than enough to kill him if he dropped his guard. They were limited in their energy resources – there wasn't much they could draw from the outer thaumosphere, where the magic was thin, so for the most part all they had was what they could eat and what they had brought with them. Just like him when he went world-walking, they didn't have access to the energies of their own dimension now that they were no longer in it, and had to work with what they'd carried and what they could garner here. But any of them that managed to drain any of his magic would weaken him and strengthen them, and now that his own vortex was starting to fizzle, unable to dissolve enough prey to fuel its unnatural existence, they were recognizing weakness, firing spells at him that he was hard put to dodge.

He was exhausted; while he had access to a whole planet's worth of magic, his own personal magical life force would be drained any time he performed a working that large, and it wouldn't regenerate as instantaneously as his physical form would. The spells that the creatures were firing at him would hit, sooner or later, and he wouldn't be able to deflect or resist them all. He needed to change this up some, move onto territory where he had an advantage.

He flung unreasoning pride at one of the three largest entities – not the biggest, the leader, and not the one who'd had to eat a compatriot to survive, just now. The larger entities had the most ability to resist his spells, but he'd been sizing up the creatures for some time, just as they had him. He couldn't count them, but for the bigger ones, the ones who had enough magical mass and intelligence to have distinct personalities... he was beginning to know his enemies. And this one would be vulnerable to pride, yes. The glory of making the kill for itself, the potential to surpass its hated rivals by being the one to taste the alien protector's blood and drain it. So he flung his spell like a lance, and ran for the planet, flying at top speed, letting the entity dive after him, as the leader of the entities shouted admonishments to return, not to be drawn out by the alien, that it was a trick.

Discord's target, convinced that things were the other way around and that Discord was its target, shouted back something at the leader that Discord couldn't get all the nuances of, since the communication wasn't aimed at him. Something like "Stay back, this kill is mine!"


The inner thaumosphere of his world had protections of its own. As soon as the entity crossed into the planetary thaumosphere, spells woven around the world intended to keep malevolent intruders out began sapping the creature's magic. If it could get down to the planet's surface and take prey, that drain wouldn't make a difference; there was so much magic and so much sapience to be devoured on this planet. If the creatures managed to overcome Discord and came down in force... the tiny entities might not make it all the way to the surface before being drained to death by the world's protections, but the bigger ones would, and nothing on the planet would stop them. Aside from maybe a centaur. But there couldn't possibly be enough centaurs to deal with entities who'd managed to feed on ponies, he was fairly sure.

Celestia and Luna would throw themselves into combat against the things, and they would fall, be devoured and make matters much, much worse. As amusing as it would be to see the look on their faces when they realized they were up against something that love, friendship and harmony, not to mention alicorn powers, couldn't make a dent against – well, something besides him – he wasn't going to let that happen. They made marvelously entertaining enemies, and he wasn't entirely convinced part of him didn't still love them, from back when Celestia had been his one true love and Luna had been his little sister of the heart.

So drawing even one of the creatures into the thaumosphere was risky, but he knew the rest would hang back to see how badly the world's protective spells ate into their comrade before they followed. There was a reason none of them had broken ranks to try to descend to the planet already, despite that being where all the food was.

He struck with the concept of compaction again, making the entity dense enough that the gravity well could actually affect it, and it started to fall. An uncontrolled fall wouldn't harm it – it wasn't matter enough to be splattered when it hit – but he knew from previous battles that the creatures absolutely hated being moved by forces outside themselves. For entities from a dimension of pure chaos, they were certainly control freaks. The creature burned more magic to negate the pull of gravity and stay on the trajectory that followed Discord, as much sideways as downward. Discord compacted it some more. It used more magic to resist its heavier, more matter-like attraction to the ground. Then Discord went up again, and it had to change its trajectory, which was somewhat difficult for it when it was so close to being matter.

Of course, it fired killing spells at him the whole way. He dodged, deflected, and unraveled the spells, depending on how close they got to actually hitting him. Some got through and wore against his personal magic stores, bringing disruption that he had to spend his own magic to heal. Through a series of loops up and then down, Discord led the creature out over the ocean, where if this didn't work or went bad, he'd have more of an opportunity to recover before it would find any life to drain. Oceans teemed with life, but mostly not near the surface.

It hadn't spent any of its own reserves in reversing the compaction Discord had inflicted on it; it was single-mindedly focused on killing him. Good.

He imposed on it the concept of solidity, transforming it into matter. Outraged, it blasted him, tearing tiny holes in the pattern of his magic, embedding concepts that would slowly dissolve him from the holes outward. That actually hurt. The sudden fury he felt as pain tore through his magical essence amplified him, increasing his strength, and he pulled on the thaumosphere again for the power to perform an impossible working.

An entropy vortex within the world's inner thaumosphere would be the worst idea possible and Discord would never take that risk. Instead, he inverted the entity's matter.

Inverted matter had killed him once, the first time he'd died. It had been dragons who'd created it, pooling enormous energies and sharing them via some sort of ritual that he was pretty sure was now lost to dragonkind, and as far as he knew he was the only being left in the world with the spells to do it. In the split second that the creature still existed as a being of inverted matter, Discord gazed – from a safe distance, but longingly – at the impossible mass, at matter that vibrated at a rhythm the exact opposite of all other matter, so beautifully disharmonious and perfectly antithetical that neither it nor anything it touched could survive. His heart hurt with the beauty of it even as he remembered, quite clearly, how that beauty had killed him, ascended him, and torn from him the last semblance of a normal mortal's life and loves.

The creature exploded, all the inverted matter he'd just changed it into converting into wild, raw energy, along with all of the air and water vapor that touched it. It was more of a series of explosions, really, if you watched it with time slowed down to a crawl; the substance of the air touching the surface of the beautiful disharmony of its nature would cause both that layer of air and that layer of surface to explode, and then, nature abhorring a vacuum, more air would rush in and annihilate the second layer, and so forth. An onion of perfect destruction. He wished he'd had the forethought to summon a magical recording device so he could watch it happen over and over. Discord didn't necessarily enjoy the chaos of destruction all that much, most of the time, but that was because it tended to harm the living creatures of the world, and ensuring that they lived guaranteed far more chaos. When there was spectacular destruction and nothing he cared for was being harmed... now that, he loved.

Even made of magic, he could feel those shockwaves. The first time, he'd been at ground zero and hadn't lived long enough to feel them; he'd held the beautiful thing in his paws, gazing upon it in awe, feeling for the first time the presence of something so much larger than himself that it could be deemed worthy of worship – the pure and fundamental concept of Disharmony, expressed so exquisitely and impossibly in the form of a crystal made of matter oppositional to matter. And then the dragon mage who'd been keeping it penned in a magical force field had dropped the force field. Discord wasn't even sure there had been time for it to actually fall into his paw before the bloom of annihilation had torn him apart, annihilating his very atoms. It had all happened so fast.

There weren't any dragon mages anymore, or if there were, they were hiding really, really well.

As he started to exert his magic again to heal the holes in his pattern, he felt a pull where there shouldn't be. One of the smaller entities had taken the opportunity to drop into the thaumosphere and latch onto him while he was distracted, and now it was bloating like a tick, leeching his magic from him. It was a small one, and couldn't drain him very fast, but it was rapidly getting bigger... and it was licking and sucking at his mind, fogging his brain, driving his thoughts into the type of chaos he liked to inflict on others but hated to experience.

In a surge of unreasoning panic, confusion clouding his senses too badly to come up with any more carefully calculated plan, he used an enormous quantity of magic to grab the thing, pull it off himself with brute force, and fling it. Too late, as his senses cleared, he sensed the delight and amusement of the creature. It was laughing at him. It was also, now, almost the size of one of the medium-weights. The reason such a massive quantity of magic had only managed to fling the creature a short distance away was that it had eaten most of the magic he'd thrown at it.

It charged at him again. Discord dodged, but his reactions were slowed; he hadn't fully recovered yet from the creature trying to eat his intelligence. It laughed at him again and wheeled around for another pass. Discord smacked himself in the head, trying to wake himself up, but it was as if he was stuck for the moment in a half-asleep state, his consciousness temporarily damaged by the creature. If it got him again, it might knock him unconscious, and then he'd never wake up.

He threw up a barrier around himself. The creature ate through it, clinging to the barrier so Discord couldn't fly away, because he hadn't thought to make the barrier independent of himself like a wall; it was a bubble around himself. It was getting bigger and bigger, reminding Discord of a tick, bloating itself on his blood. Except it was his magic, not his blood.

His half-asleep mind wondered, What happens if a tick drinks too much, too fast?

Without the ability to reason out why this might turn out to be a very, very bad idea, he started feeding the creature a high-intensity stream of pure magic, a firehose of raw mana. Eagerly the creature drank, getting bigger and bigger, rapidly bloating to the size of one of the large creatures, and beyond. He heard it laughing triumphantly, mocking him for his stupidity or perhaps the ease with which he'd given up and surrendered to it, giving it exactly what it wanted.

And then it exploded.

For several minutes Discord floated there, breathing heavily even though he shouldn't technically need to at all. He converted himself back to matter, gathering the loose fragments of magic that had been released in the explosion and using them to make an oxygen bubble for himself, since he was high enough in the atmosphere that there wasn't enough oxygen to supply a matter-based draconequus body with its normal needs, let alone while he was hyperventilating.

Some part of him must have recognized that the creatures weren't likely to have any adaptations to prevent overeating, in a universe where they had to devour each other to get any mana at all, he thought. It seemed unlikely to the point of near-impossibility that any of them would ever have an opportunity to devour as much magic, as fast, as he'd just thrown at that creature. He convinced himself that this had been a clever plan based on a recognition of the creature's weaknesses, so deeply buried in his subconscious that he'd had no trouble intuiting them while he was fogged and half-conscious from the creature feeding on him, rather than admit to himself that he'd just done something spectacularly stupid and had been incredibly lucky that it had worked.

As he rose back out of the inner thaumosphere to continue his fight against the rest of them, he noted that several of the ones he'd convinced to stay back and attack the winner at the end were gone... and that the two largest of his opponents were significantly bigger and stronger than they'd been before. All of them circled him warily, their personal shields at maximum strength.

Without trying to take any of them on, Discord teleported to the rift they'd come through. He left behind an illusion of himself so they wouldn't realize what he was doing, but the largest ones were strong enough now to see through the illusion instantly, and barked their orders accordingly. The entire swarm fell on him, trying to prevent him from sealing their escape route – not that they'd yet come to the belief that they'd need one, but they hadn't survived such a savage place as their home universe by being overconfident. He suspected that up until this moment they hadn't realized he had the power to seal dimensional rifts.

Discord teleported out of the swarm before they could land on him, but only a short distance away. They followed. He teleported again. And again. Multiple hops, increasing the risk every time that one of the creatures following him would land straight in the maw of another; none of them trusted their comrades not to devour them. With good reason, considering the absence of about half of the ones he'd tricked into hanging back. The risk was too high for most of them; they started fanning out, teleporting to form a wide sphere around him rather than practically on top of him. Which meant that he had a precious second or two to cast the spell that would seal the rift before he had to throw his shields up again. They also hadn't realized his range; he didn't need to be on top of the rift to seal it as long as he knew it was there. Given that he could reach the sun from any point on the planet below, at any time, without having to have a special connection to it like Celestia did, his effective range was... not limitless, but far, far wider than they'd probably guessed. A brief touch of his energies against the rift so he could fully grasp its pattern, and he hadn't needed to stay there, touching it, to seal it.

They fell on him then, radiating fury. The small ones and the only remaining midsize who wasn't hanging back clamped onto his shields, eating their way through. He couldn't shake them by teleporting again. The larger ones were sending waves of emotion at him – concepts like fear, apathy, despair, and weakness. Discord strengthened his shields against the barrage. In the long run, all that was going to do was feed his attackers, but he needed to buy a little time.

He generated an illusion of himself faltering and collapsing, while he sent the concept of triumph, the joy of victory and the pleasure of feeding at them. Most of the creatures fell for it, eagerly devouring nothing in the belief that they had him in their grasp, freeing him to teleport away from them. The largest one shrieked in rage, having seen through his illusion right away, and flung more mana than he thought any individual one of the things had at him, warping space around him.

Suddenly he was in a space made of impossible angles, where the fabric of spacetime itself bent around him in ways that would have broken a pony's mind. Discord's physical brain might not have been much better at comprehending this twisted space; reality had folded over itself, again and again, creating a labyrinth of dimensions that no three-dimensional creature could process or understand. But right now, Discord was made of magic, and fully in sync with his own nature as a creature of Chaos; he didn't need to truly comprehend. His perceptions brought information into his mind, unfiltered, and he responded without the need to impose the familiar on what he saw.

The smaller entities pursued him into the maze. They were much more adept with the physical laws that had been imposed on the space around him than he was; he was reacting on instinct, accepting what his senses told him no matter how impossible his experience might say it was, but they were familiar with this kind of space and knew how to maneuver in it. There were places where spacetime folded in such a way that a creature he had evaded could go in the opposite direction from him, down a tunnel that pointed away, and then reappear above him or to his side, blocking his path. Two of them managed to chase him into a blind pocket, a dead end that there was no escape from.

He could feed them until they popped, again, but if they were smart enough that they'd figured out how to disengage from seeing what he'd done to their comrade, all he'd do would be to make them more powerful.

When all else failed, Discord was fond of simple solutions to complex problems. He tore a hole in spacetime. The density of space here, after multiple folds, made it impossible for him to make a shallow cut, the kind that would take him into a world where the laws of physics were at least vaguely similar to here; instead, he managed to cut his way into one of the Deep Dimensions, near the core of reality. Discord entered the rift, but only partially; there was a monobloc, a supermassive black hole the mass of a universe far below his rift, radiating magical energy and all the other kinds as well so intensely he'd be disintegrated long before the gravity pulled him in.

A black hole would, eventually, suck everything in that came near it, but the corona of the black hole, at the edge of the event horizon, held so much energy that even its gravity couldn't quite cage it all; they radiated more intensely than any star possibly could, when they were this big and this powerful. Plus the laws of physics didn't work the same here. This was a universe immediately prior to a Big Bang, where all the matter and energy that there would ever be in that universe were gathered in a single impossible sinkhole. If Discord lost his grip on the rift and fell fully into the proto-universe, he wouldn't survive more than a moment.

The creatures pursued him, falling for his ruse, and couldn't slow down or change direction in time as they came out in the other universe; they were instantly blasted by the quasar below. First the energies filled them, bloating them until they exploded; then those same energies imploded, crushed by the weight of all of a universe held in a single point, and were sucked down as strands of spaghetti. Had Discord been fully in that universe, he'd never have seen all of that; it was only because his timeflow was bound to his own universe that he could see what would take millions of years in a place where gravity was so intense that time itself could barely move. But then, had he been fully in that universe, he'd be dead quickly enough that even with time slowing to a crawl near the event horizon, he'd still have no opportunity to react or save himself.

He pulled himself back out of the rift – and almost fell back in, pushed hard by the concept of gravity, setting "down" as his rift. One of the larger creatures must have sent that one, letting the spell ooze along the "walls" of the folded dimension until it found a target. Only by stretching himself across the rift, frantically pulling it back together as he braced himself against his own reality, could he manage to avoid being shoved in.

As his rift closed enough that he could let go without falling in, he fled the cul-de-sac of impossible angles and folded space that he was in, dodging as more of the small creatures came at him. The entities were going all out, now. His senses for magic told him that the ones who he'd tricked into sitting out the battle had come back in; now all of the mid-size and all of the larger ones were ranged around his labyrinth, blocking the exits, as small creatures zipped through the corridors of non-Euclidean geometry, hungry for him.

They had learned. They would hit him, grab a draught of his magic and life force as they struck, and then zip off before he could retaliate. He threw concepts at them, but ineffectively; they understood the geometry of this place, and every time they hit him they dazed him, biting into his intelligence. Meanwhile, the large opponents keeping him boxed in were sending more concepts, loneliness and heartbreak and exhaustion... things too close to his actual weaknesses, the things he felt deep down, for him to have any good defense if they hit him.

And the labyrinth kept changing. The creatures weren't so overwhelmingly powerful that they could keep feeding power into it to change it, but Discord's instincts told him it wasn't random; they were using some sort of complex mathematical algorithm. Simple math was almost impossible for Discord, who could barely count and had a hard time remembering the results of simple addition or subtraction; but complex, highly advanced math was something he seemed to understand by intuition, particularly when it related to patterns. He understood Order. An agent of Chaos had to, else how could he disrupt it?

He flew, dodging both the small creatures and the spells ricocheting off the walls, mapping out the pattern of the labyrinth's changes. In this space, he couldn't reach or draw from the planetary thaumosphere, and every time his opponents landed a hit on him they drained him and strengthened themselves. They had no route home anymore and no way to get more mana except by devouring it, but there was only one of him and still a good number of them. This wasn't sustainable. He had to find a way to defeat them and get out of here, but there were only so many exits from this twisted space, and his experience in trying to cut his way through told him that he wasn't going to be able to get to anywhere he wanted to go and it was going to take way too much energy to try. And the exits were blocked by entities. Some of them were only middleweights, but after his first fight with a small one that had tried to devour him, Discord didn't want to fly directly into one of them any more than he wanted to fly directly into one of the large ones.

They had him completely bottled up.

Which gave him an idea.

As two of the small ones came toward him, Discord made no attempt to flee. Instead, he generated a Klein bottle of spacetime out of the passageway in front of him, and sealed it behind the two creatures as they skidded into it. He contracted it so it could easily fit in the tiny dimensional spaces that had been created by the folding space, and imposed his will on it to accelerate time inside.

There were things he could do out here, far from the planetary thaumosphere, that would be so dangerous within the inner thaumosphere that for all intents and purposes they weren't even in his repertoire there. An entropy vortex was one such thing. Time acceleration was another. When time was accelerated in a sequestered space, the heat energy released by normal entropic decay would have nowhere to go; it couldn't dissipate across the time differential. The more matter was trapped in fast-time, the more heat would be generated. Magic didn't tend to decay into heat, it decayed into raw, unpatterned magic, but the same thing would happen. Within the accelerated Klein bottle, the tiny amount of hydrogen that could be found in the vacuum of space wouldn't be sufficient to get really hot, whereas capturing any portion of the atmosphere of a planet would heat to solar fusion levels very, very quickly if the time was accelerated as high as he was doing now. But the magic of the two entities trapped within was a different story. The creatures would expend a great deal of magic trying to escape, and then they would starve to death and dissipate completely into raw magic, and the temporal pressure would ensure that the magic would reach explosive levels at some point.

The idea was not to be all that close to his Klein bottle when that happened.

It was a huge expenditure of magic on his own part, and he couldn't compensate by drawing from the thaumosphere, so this was a large risk, but it had to be done. He had to escape this maze of dimensions and impossible angles, or they'd wear him down and win by attrition.

He charged for one of the exits, one guarded by the smallest of the mid-size creatures. As he ran/flew/skated across reality, he wove a fear spell around his bottle, designed to be powered off of any raw magic it encountered. The creature saw him coming, but stood its ground, pseudopods of energy extending to try to grasp him before he could get close enough to escape. He folded space and gravity so that the creature was "down" and the Klein bottle rolled (more or less; it wasn't made of matter, so it couldn't actually roll) toward the creature, who, of course, punctured it to try to drink the magic it was made of.

The resulting explosion did not actually kill the middleweight; it was still alive after so many of its comrades had died in this battle, largely because it had excellent reaction time. But it couldn't avoid the fear spell that was flung outward by the explosion, powered by the raw magic contained within the time bottle. Shrieking, the creature fled, terrified.

There was now raw magical energy all over the place; the living creatures that had contained most of that magic before were gone, their patterns disrupted to nothingness. Discord sucked in the magic as he cleared the edge of the labyrinth, crossing the realicline into familiar three-dimensional space.

The labyrinth collapsed. Apparently something had been fueling it, and that something had been himself. Discord was shocked to realize how much weaker he was than he'd thought when he was in the labyrinth; somehow the space itself had been drawing energy from him, sustaining itself off of his magic. If he'd known, he might not have created that Klein bottle. Although, considering that he'd have still needed something spectacular to escape with, maybe he would have.

 Without the labyrinth sitting in the space between him and them, all of the creatures now had a clear, straight-line shot at him, and he was weakened. The entire swarm, including the large ones, charged at him.

Discord fled.

Many of the attacks they flung at him landed; he didn't have the strength to dodge or shield from everything. He only blocked or dodged the deadly ones; the ones that were just intended to crush him emotionally and beat him into submission from the inside got through. He laughed, and cried, and screamed in terror, sometimes simultaneously, as their attacks bombarded his emotions, but he kept running. This isn't real, he sobbed when the sudden despair hit and the desire to just give up. They're doing this to me. I don't want to let them win. And then anger and overweening pride, almost enough to make him give up his flight, turn around and attack them. Almost. The sheer number of emotional attacks blasting him made his emotional state too chaotic for him to be able to decide to do anything except what he was already doing, because no emotional state could last long enough for him to make a decision to change tactics.

Behind him, he flung land mines of doubt, caltrops of confusion, spiked pits of hunger. He cast illusion after illusion, but none of them were good enough to make the creatures lose track of him. When one of the largest ones barreled into his hunger concept, it stopped to devour some of its comrades that had fallen prey to his other traps, a middleweight and two small ones that were consumed with confusion or doubt. There were few enough left now that he could count them, six or seven or something like that, but most of the ones left were large and powerful.

Ahead of him, he cast another illusion, but it looked exactly like what was really there, so he didn't think they'd noticed. He hoped, anyway.

One last large working. Do or die time. If this didn't work, he'd have nothing left, but time wasn't on his side here. The energy that had been stolen from him was his essence, the energy he was made of in his magical form, not anything he could quickly or easily replenish, and every spell he cast drew on some of that regardless of how much energy he could draw from other sources to power the spell itself. He needed a decisive win, quickly, or they'd wear him down. The creatures had only performed one working as large as his entropy vortex, or his Klein bottle of time, or his transforming a creature into antimatter, and that large working, the imposition of the laws of their spacetime on a small section of his, had somehow been keyed to power itself from him. He'd killed most of them, but none of the ones who were left were anywhere near as drained as he was.

When he reached the place where he'd placed his illusion, he stopped and turned, gasping despite the continuing lack of a need for oxygen in his magical form. A scattershot of spells toward them, small entropy spells and fear concepts and a hunger or two. None were supposed to hit, though he would hardly be unhappy if they did. The point was to hide the larger working he was performing.

His spells didn't hit. And then they were on him, surrounding him, warping space around him so he couldn't teleport. The dimensionality remained the same but space thickened, toughened. Now he could only run by physically moving through space.

Only seven of them. Not enough to form a sphere. But they took up positions roughly approximating a dome, moving in on him. Recognizing that he was too tired to keep running, he guessed. He'd chosen to make a last stand here, and thus they were behaving as if he was cornered, and in some senses he was.

Far away, something large and ponderous groaned, resisting the pull of his magic with its weight and inertia.

Even farther away, he felt the towering rage of a pony, a disharmony so near to his heart that he could sense it from even this distance, and magic trying to resist his.

It was useless, of course. His magic was already in motion; he'd put enough power into the spell that nothing was going to stop it.

With what little was left of his strength, he shielded against the creatures. They attacked full force. Again, he blocked the deadliest spells, but part of his mind recognized them as a feint, something they knew he'd waste his strength on defending against, so that the spells they actually intended to hit him would get through. And they did. He was struck with a barrage of futility, despair, exhaustion, recognition of weakness. The sense of being defeated, of resignation, of surrender. He knew the emotions came from their attacks, but he was generally ruled by emotion; he had little defense against his emotions turning on him.

He was close to giving in, dropping his shields and letting them end him, when a thaumosphere rushed at him, similar enough to the thaumosphere of his world that its touch invigorated him. A magic created by chaos churning, the fire of creation blazing, reshaping the elements of matter themselves. The others felt the rush of magic before the gravity, and the gravity before Discord's illusion broke down and they perceived the blinding light.

With all of his strength, Discord dodged out of the way, shooting straight down out of the plane of his weapon's approach. It wasn't enough. The corona caught him, fire and heat and magic so intense even he was hard-put to hold himself together, but the magic created here was raw and chaotic and part of his world, and he'd felt that magic so many times before – in battle, in love, or when he reached to touch it and use it of his own accord, as he'd just done. It was destructive but it was familiar and he took as much strength from it as it took from him in burning him.

The entities were not so fortunate.

A tiny star, a blazing fusion reactor held together by magic, barreled into them, swallowing them, pulling them into its core. The ones that tried to feed on the magic exploded. The ones that tried, desperately, to hold themselves together in the face of such overwhelming chaos... failed.

One managed to hold itself together – and then, far-distant Celestia caught her star with her magic, her rage at Discord's tearing it from its orbit causing the star to blaze hotter than ever, and all foreign magic within it was crushed and swallowed and torn by Celestia's will bearing down on it, purifying the star. With what had to be a mind-boggling level of effort, her magic wrenched it back, pulling it away from Discord and back toward where it belonged. A good thing; he wasn't sure he'd have had the strength to flee its gravity, himself.

Other planets had full-size stars, and he'd tested himself against some of them. They were much, much too far away for magic wielded on a planet to manipulate, and much, much too massive for even his magic to do much. His world had a star so small, it wouldn't fuse atoms or hold itself together if it weren't bound to itself by magic... but it was still a star. Still a raging, massive fusion reactor, considerably larger than the moon and much further away. It had taken everything he had to pull it here. He wouldn't have had the strength to put it back.

Luna was helping. Distantly he could feel her magic as well, pulling on Celestia's sun, helping Celestia wrestle it back to its proper spot. Good. He hadn't wanted to save the world from entities that would devour magic and thought, only to have it die of the cold and darkness with the loss of its sun.

Discord drifted in space, too weak and tired to do anything else. He didn't have the strength to reach out to the thaumosphere and pull in more energy. He was only alive because the sun's magic was inherently chaotic.

Maybe eventually he'd regather enough of his strength to return to his world. Maybe he wouldn't. Right now, he no longer cared. The spells that had gotten through, at the end, would have devastated him if he weren't so tired. If he tried to marshal his thoughts, to think something constructive, all he could think about was how no one on that world below would ever believe he'd just risked his life to save them all, and none of them would care, and if he did die up here they'd all either throw a party or simply ignore his death completely, and no. Much easier to drift, without thinking, without remembering, without trying to feel anything at all.

And then a rectangular box, upright and apparently made of wood, appeared in space.

That's my time machine, Discord thought, his emotions too emptied from the attacks he'd endured to feel anything more than mild surprise. It changed to slightly more intense surprise when a brown Earth pony wearing a tie stuck his head out of the box, and shouted into the airlessness of space. "That's him! Great whickering stallions, he looks terrible!"

You probably wouldn't look so great yourself if you'd just hit a bunch of mind-devouring eldritch horrors from another dimension with the sun, Discord thought, but was too tired to actually say it. Wow, Celestia is going to be so angry with me. I can't wait to see it. The thought cheered him up slightly, restoring just a fraction of his energy. He wondered how an earth pony was shouting into the vacuum of space, but not enough to bother using his perceptions to detect the pony's patterns and figure it out.

"Of course he looks terrible, he's just nearly been killed fighting off creatures that would have devoured every mind in Equestria, and everywhere else in the world as well," a very familiar voice that Discord had thought he'd never hear again said, and Starswirl the Bearded stuck his head out of the time machine. "Well? Don't just float there, boy! Swim on over here, we're here to rescue you!"

Discord prided himself on the ability to adapt to anything, absorb any new information, and never, ever reject anything he saw with his own eyes or heard with his own ears as "impossible", but his old teacher and an obviously non-magical pony attempting to rescue him, in his own time machine no less, was apparently over his limit. Who knew? He stared at Starswirl uncomprehendingly.

"He's plainly been through a lot, Star," the earth pony said. "Maybe you should reel him in."

"Hush, Turner. He's perfectly capable—"

"He seems to be missing most of his left half," the earth pony pointed out. "He might be less capable than you think, at the moment."

"Oh, all right." Magic tugged at Discord, pulling him toward his time machine and the two stallions. Wait, my left half is missing?... Huh, so it is. Must've forgotten to rebuild that. I wonder when it got zapped. Discord mustered up enough energy to regenerate most of his missing left side, but couldn't be bothered with his goat leg yet. The talon was important though. It was so much easier to snap his talons than it was to snap the digits of his lion paw. Too soft.

As he tumbled into the time machine, the earth pony shoved the door closed, and the aura of Starswirl's magic winked out. Today it was bigger on the inside, which was interesting, because Discord could never get that spell to hold while he was actually using the thing to travel in time, which meant Starswirl had managed to pull off something he couldn't and he really needed to learn how the stallion had done it. Later. "My time machine," he said, his voice hoarse and gravelly. Apparently he hadn't come back into the form of matter as complete as he'd been when the creatures had first annihilated his body. His vocal chords didn't seem quite right.

"We've got him!" the earth pony said. "Let's get back to Equestria. Allons-y, as they say in Prance!"

"I haven't got it in me to do a warp," Starswirl said. "We'll have to take the long way home, unless Discord can manage to pull himself together enough to teleport us. How about it, boy? Got a teleport in you, or no?"

Starswirl had disappeared over four hundred years ago. Discord and the alicorns had thought he was dead. "I'm pretty sure I'm older than you," he managed to croak out.

"Yes, yes, most likely, but to me you'll always be that crazy boy who kept trying to dump snails on my head. Do you need a doctor? Because the closest we have is the Doctor here, Ti—"

"Spoilers, Star! Just call me Dr. Hooves. We know each other in the future, you see."

"Why do you have my time machine?"

"Sorry, that's also spoilers! Though it's a magnificent piece of work, completely brilliant. I have to admit, when I knew you in the future, you always struck me as more of a goof than a genius, but this is amazing! How did you do it?"

"Chaos," Discord mumbled, waving one paw aimlessly.

"He'll never explain how he did it," Starswirl said in a cranky tone. "He probably doesn't even remember. Genius boy, but disorganized and fluff-brained to the point where you wonder why he doesn't lose his head."

"Well." The earth pony – Dr. Hooves? – hit some buttons on the time machine, and Discord felt it come to a complete stop in space, an absolute stop rather than a relative one, which meant that the planet was now rushing toward them at thousands of gallops an hour as it whirled through space. "By my calculations, it should only be a couple of hours before the world catches up to us, and then we can activate motion again and head on down!"

At some point Discord was going to want an explanation as to how Starswirl knew he was in trouble, and where he got Discord's time machine, and why he was traveling with an earth pony from the future, and why he wasn't dead, but right now he was too tired for any of that. He knew he shouldn't let his guard down around any pony, even Starswirl, but right now it was impossible to care. Discord closed his eyes and curled up on the floor of his time machine. "I want a blanket," he mumbled, and didn't bother staying awake long enough to know if they'd given him one or not.