A Distinct Lack of Chaos

by ArgonMatrix


Crisis Code: "Dryline Squash"

Just as Starlight felt like she had made some progress, something in the map changed, and all her work vanished under layers of inscrutable magic. She groaned and slammed her head against the side of Twilight’s throne. “This is hopeless!”

“Hubbiduh-wuh?” Trixie startled awake. She stretched and sprawled across the throne, not even looking at Starlight before her eyes lulled shut again. “No, no… you can do it. Just keep trying… ‘n stuff. Trixie’s got—” A yawn cut her off  “—got your back…”

Starlight’s mouth twisted in a snarl. “You know, you keep saying that, but I’m the one who’s been working her horn off for the past six hours! Could you at least pretend to be useful?!”

Trixie’s eyes opened halfway and glared over the hoofrest. “Well maybe if you had taken a break at some point like I suggested, you wouldn’t be so cranky now.”

“I’m not cranky!” Starlight huffed. “And I can’t take a break. Twilight and the girls are counting on me to track Discord down using the Cutie Map.” She glanced across the table upon which all of Equestria stood in translucent splendor, and her ears folded. “Somehow…”

“Hey,” Trixie said, a tiny smile on her face as she sat up. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. You’ll make it work eventually—you know this map better than anypony! Who else could’ve used it to travel through time and nearly turn all of Equestria into a barren wasteland?”

Starlight flared her nostrils.

“All I’m saying,” Trixie said, “is that maybe a break would help you get your focus back. Discord’s been gone for days—he’s a big boy draconequus, he can wait a little longer.”

A door nearby squeaked open before Starlight could form her reply. She looked over and saw Spike step in from the kitchen, a sheet of fresh peanut butter cookies in claw—the smell of which, she had to admit, made her reconsider Trixie’s words.

“Don’t tell Twilight I said this,” Spike said, setting the tray on the table, “but Trixie’s right. A break would do everypony some good! Besides, it’s not like you’re the only one on the job. The princesses have the royal guards looking, Cadance has the crystal guards keeping tabs up north, and Queen Novo’s got her hippogriffs searching south of Equestria.” He swung himself up into his throne, snatching a cookie on the way. “He’ll be found when he wants to be.”

Hanging her head a bit, Starlight sighed. “I guess you’re right.” Her horn flared, and the map vanished. “I’ll just wait for Twilight to get back. Maybe she’ll have some idea on how to weave a translocator spell into this mess of a map.” She reached out for a cookie, but her hoof only found an empty baking sheet. “Huh?” She looked over.

Trixie sat there, more peanut butter than pony as cookies lay crumbling all across her torso. Her cheeks had swollen like a gorging chipmunk's, and an unhealthy amount of saliva hung from her lips. Snapping out of her dessert-induced reverie, she turned to Starlight and offered half of a cookie. “Hrmg?”

A half-smile growing on her face, Starlight rolled her eyes and said, “I’m good, thanks.”

About then, a heavy knock came from the main door of the throne room. “It’s open!” Starlight called, lifting the baking sheet and sweeping wayward crumbs onto it.

“Well naturally I wouldn’t have knocked if I could open it myself! Honestly, help these days. Be a dear and get the door.”

The baking sheet clattered to the floor. Starlight, Trixie, and Spike all froze and stared to where the uncanny voice had come from. “Was that…?” Spike began.

“Mmscrrd?” Trixie spluttered.

Warily, Starlight trotted over and threw the door open. Plain as day, Discord stood on the other side, leaning with one paw against some large, veiled thing as he absently inspected his talon. It took a moment or two before he even looked in Starlight’s direction, and when he did, a wry—almost wicked—grin split his face. “Miss me?”

Starlight blinked, then blinked again to make sure.

Without waiting for her response, Discord snapped his talons and pushed past her. The large object he’d been leaning on levitated in behind him, leaving a sense of sheer weight in its wake. It stood nearly as tall as Discord himself, roughly two pony lengths wide, and had a massive black shroud cast over it.

“Oof,” Discord said, clutching his back. “I’ve just been all over lugging this parcel around, and boy are my wings tired!” He splayed himself dramatically across Fluttershy’s throne, and the object dropped to the floor with an impact that could’ve been felt in Canterlot. “Honestly, this would have all been so much easier if I could’ve just teleported this thing, but nooo.” He swiveled his head about and caught Spike’s incredulous eyes. “Ah, Spike. Make yourself useful and go fix us something to eat, would you?”

When nothing but more silence and wide eyes answered him, Discord’s mouth curled into a grimace. “Oh, I don’t really look that bad after all this travel, do I?”

“Uh…” Spike said.

“Where in Equestria have you been?!” Starlight shouted. She marched up to him, bearing the deepest scowl she could muster. “Nopony’s seen any trace of you from here to Mount Aris in nearly a week, and you just waltz in here acting like nothing’s wrong?! Do you have even the slightest idea how worried we’ve all been?! Do you even know what happened while you were gone?!”

Discord rolled his eyes so hard they threatened to tumble from his skull. “Yes, yes, it was all Storm King this and Tempest that and ‘oh no the fate of Equestria is in the balance again!’ Frankly, it’s all a bit stale by now. Really you should be thanking me! Things would’ve turned out far worse than they did if not for my brilliant work behind the scenes.”

Starlight gritted her teeth. “Thanking you?! What could have been so utterly important that you couldn’t have spared even a single moment to help, or to at least tell somepony where you went?!”

No response came. Instead, Discord gave Starlight a gaze that could’ve slain a cockatrice. He reached his clawed foot out and lifted the veil from the object—just enough to give Starlight a peek underneath.

What she saw nearly broke her brain.

It was a cage. A black, jagged thing not unlike the one Twilight had been returned to Canterlot in a scant few days ago. But what chilled her was not the cage itself, but what—well, who—lay within. Resting against the gnarled bars was the unconscious yet unmistakable face of the former ruler of the changelings: Chrysalis.

“Happy?” Discord said, arching an eyebrow.

Starlight stood dumbstruck, as though death itself had peeled back its hood and stared her right in the face. Chrysalis’ mouth curled up in a sneer, though she remained unconscious. “Discord,” Starlight said, “what—”

The veil fell, obscuring Chrysalis once more. “There will be plenty of time for whats, whys, and hows once I have a more receptive audience,” Discord said, a familiar smirk slinking onto his face. “There’s a distinctly more… important pony I’d like to show this to. No offense.”

“Hrm!” Trixie spat. She gulped down the last of the cookie mush in her mouth and stood. “I mean, hey! You can’t talk to Starlight that way! Especially not after all the work she’s done trying to find you. More importantly, stop ignoring Trixie!” She stomped over to the cage and reached for the veil. “Now lemme see what’s—”

Magic lifted her into the air before her hoof even made contact. Discord levitated her close until her nose and his were nearly touching, a broad scowl upon his face. “Keep your prying hooves to yourself, you nosy little showboat.” He pushed her through the air and back into Twilight’s throne with a heavy thud. Trixie winced as her head slammed into the backrest.

A smile replaced Discord's scowl as though nothing had transpired. “Now where is Twilight anyway? I had hoped to make my grand reveal by now.”

“She’s—” Starlight started.

“She’s at Fluttershy’s,” Spike said, brow furrowed and arms crossed. “Y’know, like she’s been for the last three days, consoling her because we didn’t know where you were.” He hopped up on the table and marched over like a dragon on a mission. “She’s been holed up in her cottage all this time, worried sick! Didn’t you even think to go see her before coming here?”

Discord’s eyes widened as though he’d just recalled a distant memory, long lost to the ravages of time. “Oh, yes, Fluttershy! How could I have forgotten?” He stood and fixed his gaze squarely on Starlight. “You’d better fetch the both of them, Twilight and Fluttershy. Much as I’d like to go see her myself, I simply cannot leave this little treasure—” he gave the cage a solemn pat “—unattended.”

Rubbing the back of her head, Trixie stood again and glared. “You’re in no position to boss anypony around, buddy! Why don’t you go find them, and we’ll—”

“No,” Starlight blurted. She shook her head. “No, Discord’s right. Spike, Trixie, you guys with me. We’ll go find Twilight and Fluttershy and be back as soon as we can.”

“But, Starlight—” Trixie tried, but she was cut off as Starlight’s magic lifted her and began carrying her out of the throne room, Spike following in much the same way.

“Marvelous idea!” Discord said, wringing his hands together. “You lot go while I set the stage for the great unveiling! I assure you it won’t disappoint.” He slowly levitated the cage up and onto the central table. “Oh, and Starlight?”

She froze at the threshold. “Yeah?” she said, glancing back.

“Don’t spoil the surprise,” Discord said, flourishing with a wink.

Starlight chuckled half-heartedly. She continued out of the castle with Spike and Trixie in tow, her pace just a little frantic.

***

“Are you sure it was her?” Trixie asked.

“Yes.”

Spike gulped. “Like, super one-hundred-percent positive without a doubt in your mind?”

“Yes.”

“As in the same changeling queen whose hive and subjects we helped overtake and who swore to exact unparalleled revenge on—”

Starlight stopped in the middle of the road and rubbed her muzzle. “Guys,” she said, looking ahead as Trixie and Spike both stopped as well. “You don’t think that I of all ponies would recognize Chrysalis when I saw her? Yes, it was really her. No, I don’t know why Discord has her in a cage, or how.” She picked up her trot again. “Now can we please just get Twilight and Fluttershy already so we can all find out what’s going on?”

Trixie and Spike shared a frown and hurried to catch up. “Sorry, Starlight,” Spike said. “It just sounds so…”

“Unbelievable!” Trixie exclaimed. “What in Equestria was he thinking bringing Chrysalis straight into the middle of Ponyville? Does he not remember how dangerous she can be? And what if she escapes?! Trixie is not emotionally prepared for another Equestria-dooming disaster! I only just had my wagon rebuilt after the last one!”

“Relax, Trix,” Starlight said as they climbed the hill towards Fluttershy’s cottage. “Trust me, I’m just as concerned as anypony that the former queen of the changelings is literally in my home. But let’s give Discord the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he wouldn’t bring her here unless he was positive she couldn’t cause any harm. And if those cages are as magic-resistant as they seem, it sounds like a fair assumption.”

They ascended the last few steps to Fluttershy’s door, pausing there for a moment. “Honestly,” Starlight said, keeping her voice down, “I’m more worried about Discord than Chrysalis.”

Spike tilted his head. “How do you mean?”

Starlight whirled to face the two of them. “You guys didn’t notice? Didn’t Discord seem just a little bit… pushier than normal?”

Trixie harrumphed and rolled her eyes. “Still seemed like the same old snarky draconequus to me”

“Actually, now that you mention it,” Spike said, stroking his chin, “he did seem a little off. I mean, Celestia knows he’s not exactly Fluttershy levels of nice, but he was definitely a lot grumpier than I’ve seen him since at least the Grand Galloping Gala. What do you think happened?”

Starlight shook her head. “I’m not sure, but hopefully we’ll find out soon.” She raised a hoof and knocked on the door thrice quickly.

It took a few quiet moments, but eventually the door opened. Twilight stood on the other side—sniffles were clearly audible from the dim room behind her. “Oh, Starlight,” Twilight said, a tiny smile crossing her face. “Please tell me you’re here for the reason I think you are.”

“Well, yes and no,” Starlight said, her ears drooping. “Um, good news is: we did find Discord.”

“More like he found us,” Spike said.

Twilight’s eyes widened. “Wait, you mean he’s here? As in, here right now?” She poked her head about, trying to get a good look at what lay beyond the door.

“Not exactly,” Starlight said. “You see—”

Discord?!” The door slammed wide open as a blur of yellow burst from the cottage. Fluttershy fluttered in the air above their heads, looking around frantically. She wore a fluffy white housecoat, and her eyes were swollen and bloodshot. As it became evident that Discord was nowhere to be seen, her wings lost momentum and she slowly landed amongst the group. She sighed, sniffled, and said, “Oh, sorry, everypony. I overheard Twilight talking and I thought…”

Spike stepped forward and rested a claw gently on her withers. “It’s okay, Fluttershy, really,” he said. “Discord is here, he’s just not here here.”

Fluttershy’s ears perked up as she gave a small gasp. “Really? Oh, that’s so wonderful! Where is he?”

“He’s back at the castle,” Starlight said. “But…”

“But?” Twilight said, taking a step outside.

Starlight tried to meet Twilight’s eyes but, for whatever reason, couldn’t. “Well,” she said, “let’s just say he’s not alone, exactly.”The silence that followed was longer than Starlight would’ve liked, as though they had expected something more to follow.

“Did he bring a friend?” Fluttershy said. “Oh, we haven’t seen the smooze in a while. Maybe he was going to bring it to the Friendship Festival and they got held up.”

“Ha!” Trixie barked. “If only!”

“Starlight,” Twilight said, resting a hoof on her shoulder, “what did he do?”

Biting her lip, Starlight said, “It’s, uh, probably best if you just come and see for yourself.”

A combination of solemnity and dreadful knowing swam in Twilight’s expression. She nodded curtly. In a pop and magenta flash, the five friends found themselves suddenly standing amid the overwhelming quietude of the castle’s entrance hall. Sparkles from the teleport spell still tumbled through the air as Twilight approached the throne room, the others not far behind.

A cacophonous crack split the air from the room ahead. They all froze, holding a collective breath. A few flashes of sickly green light erupted from the slit beneath the doors. The pit of Starlight’s stomach fell.

The doors thundered open—one fell from its hinges on impact. Looming behind the door, tall and monstrous as ever, stood Former Queen Chrysalis. Her eyes were wide and panic-stricken, and only grew more so as she beheld the group. “Twilight—” she began.

A flash of magic exploded against the back of her head. She shrieked and tumbled forward, skidding along the floor with a heaving scraping noise. Starlight and the others just barely managed to clear out of the way as Chrysalis’ unconscious form careened past, halting just a few feet beyond where they’d been standing.

“Note to self,” Discord said, stepping out of the throne room and wiping his hands together, “obsidian cages are quite useless when trying to contain a changeling.” He shrugged. “I suppose the surprise spoiled itself.”

Discord!” Twilight roared. She flew right up to his face, glaring darkly into his eyes. “What is the meaning of this?! What in Equestria was Chrysalis doing in my throne room?! With you?!”

“Now, now, Twilight,” Fluttershy said, though there was a quiver in her voice. “I’m sure Discord has a perfectly good explanation.” She shook her head and turned to Discord, smiling. “Besides, I’m just happy to see you safe.” She hurled herself into a death grip of a hug around him.

Discord smirked. He gingerly returned the embrace and said, “Thank you, Fluttershy. At least one of my friends has faith in me.”

“Faith, shmaith!” Trixie said. She marched forward and leveled a hoof at Discord. “This is exactly what I told Starlight would happen when she said you’d brought Een-Quay Ysalis-Cray right into the middle of town, you cloven-hooved cretin!”

“Personally, I don’t see the problem.” Discord gestured at Chrysalis’ limp body. “Clearly, I have this under control—minor hiccups aside. Honestly, I thought you ponies would’ve been just the teensiest bit grateful that I single-handedly delivered one of Equestria’s Most Wanted directly to your doorstep.” He turned his head up and scoffed. “Obviously I was mistaken.”

Spike blinked. He looked over at Chrysalis. “Huh. I mean, when you put it like that…”

Twilight shook her head. “It was still an irresponsible thing to do. Chrysalis is dangerous, and we don’t have a reliable way to contain her. Not to mention, you could have been seriously hurt facing her all on your own! Why didn’t you tell anypony what you were doing?”

“It could have gone really badly…” Fluttershy said. She squeezed Discord a bit tighter.

Chuckling, Discord said, “What do you ponies take me for, really? I’m more than capable of handling myself against some metamorphic insect—when I can actually use my magic, at least. Besides, you all seemed rather preoccupied. I was simply doing my part to prevent things from getting any worse.”

Something about those words caused Starlight’s mind to click. “Wait,” she said, “by ‘getting any worse,’ do you mean that Chrysalis…?”

“…Was planning on attacking Canterlot during the Friendship Festival too?” Twilight finished, her eyes widening.

Discord reclined in midair, his grin getting ever-broader. “Are you ponies really that thick?” He stretched a talon towards the throne room, and the heavy obsidian cage slowly hovered out. “Did you think it was a coincidence that the magic-resistant material this Storm King used to contain so many ponies is the very same that Chrysalis’ throne was carved from?” The cage struck the ground with a harsh boom. “Oh, and I’m sure it was just a lucky guess that led Tempest Storm to find you in Klugetown, a city just a stone’s throw from the badlands where the changeling hive resides.”

Fluttershy’s ears folded. “I did think it was strange how quickly she found us…”

“But why would she work with the Storm King?” Twilight said, tapping her chin. “Chrysalis isn’t exactly the type to work in the shadows so that someone else could try to conquer Equestria.”

“Oh, well that’s just the beauty of it!” Discord punctuated it with a clap. He slowly floated himself over to Chrysalis and said, “You see, while you lot were off rallying forces or making friends or… whatever it is you do to save the day, this one—” he lifted Chrysalis by her forelegs, holding her aloft like a marionette “—tried to take advantage of the situation to realize her true goal.” He dropped her to the floor, and she collapsed in an unceremonious pile. Discord puffed out his chest and said, “Luckily for you, I had the presence of mind to perform my humble, thankless job to foil her plans while the rest of you basked in the glory of saving Equestria once again.” He gave a low, dignified bow. “It was nothing, really.”

The group stared at him and blinked as one.

“So,” Spike said, “if taking over Equestria wasn’t Chrysalis’ plan this time…”

“What was?” Starlight said.

Discord’s eyes flared open. “Oh, yes.” He stood up and reached behind his back into the nothingness there. “She was trying to steal this.” He produced a large, opalescent orange pearl. Mist and magic swirled around on the inside, and it glowed dimly.

Starlight turned to Trixie and raised an eyebrow—Trixie shrugged. “Um,” Starlight said, “what is—”

“Oh, no no no no no,” Twilight said. She darted forward and examined the pearl, sucking in a breath. “Discord. Don’t tell me this is what I think it is.”

“It sure looks like it,” Spike said, nibbling on a claw.

“Oh, dear,” Fluttershy squeaked.

Looking back and forth between the lot of them, Starlight grimaced. “Okay, could somepony please explain why exactly we’re all so worried?”

“This, dear Starlight,” Discord said, holding the pearl high like a trophy, “is the fabled treasure of the hippogriff kingdom—the Pearl of Transmutation!”

“Yes, yes it is,” Twilight said, unnervingly calm. Then her expression snapped and she screamed, “So why is it here instead of at Mount Aris with the hippogriffs?!

For the first time in a good while, Discord’s smile fell away. He bit his lip and said, “Erm, well, yes, I suppose I neglected to return the pearl once I had kept it from the clutches of evil. It was on the to-do list, I swear!”

Twilight groaned. “Well,” she said, taking the pearl in her magic, “looks like that meeting with Queen Novo I’d planned just jumped to the top of my schedule.” She snarled at Discord.

He shrugged. “Oopsie.”

“Oh, can I come, Twilight?” Spike said, bounding forward. “It’d be awesome to see Princess Skystar again!”

Fluttershy gasped. “Oh, yes, she was so nice. Maybe I’ll come too, if that’s alright.”

Despite herself, Twilight smiled. “Sure,” she said, giggling a bit, “everypony can come!” Her expression turned sour and she glared at Discord. “Except for you. You stay here and deal with this—” she gestured broadly at the pile of changeling on the floor “—situation.”

“Oh, well, naturally,” Discord said, waving a flippant paw. “I’m certainly not one to leave a job half-done. Although, if I may…” He floated over and pushed himself between Starlight and Trixie, wrapping an arm around them each. “I think these two would be best served staying here to assist. We do all have a rather coloured history with the guest of honour, after all. Isn’t that right, ladies?”

Starlight looked ahead at where Chrysalis lay. It had been a long time since she’d been so close to the changeling queen, but the memory still made her tremble. “I would like to know for myself that she’s been properly taken care of… whatever that means.”

“If Trixie must,” Trixie said. “But I’m doing this for Starlight and my own peace of mind.” She shot daggers at Discord. “No other reason.”

Discord pulled them tighter.

“Alright then,” Twilight said, gliding to the ground. She cast a forlorn glance at Chrysalis. “Don’t do anything reckless, though. We don’t want to harm her, just contain her.” She looked up and squarely into Starlight’s eyes. “Contact me as soon as you can if you run into trouble.”

Starlight nodded. “We won’t let you down.”

Twilight smiled. She looked to Spike and Fluttershy and tilted her head towards the castle entrance. “C’mon, let’s go see if the other girls want to tag along. I get the feeling that Pinkie might be excited about getting to see Skystar again too.” She started for the door, Spike hopping up to her side.

Fluttershy flew ahead to follow, but she paused as she passed Discord. She turned to him with a little frown. “Stay safe, okay?” She wrapped him in another hug. “I was so worried.”

“Trust me, Fluttershy,” Discord said, patting her between the wings, “you have nothing to worry about.” She pulled away and beamed at him one last time before following Twilight out of the castle.

The doors swung shut with a soft thump, leaving the remaining three alone with Chrysalis.

“Well,” Discord said, “shall we?” He raised Chrysalis into the air with his paw as he, Trixie, and Starlight made their way to the throne room.

“You know, Discord,” Starlight said, “it’s a bit of a relief to know that you were gone being helpful. I was worried you’d done something more… sinister, I guess.”

Discord raised an eyebrow. “Why ever would you think that, Starlight?” He kicked shut the one door that had remained on its hinges.

Starlight rubbed the back of her neck. “I don’t know. I guess you just seemed a little short with us when you first showed up. I’m glad that—”

A deep, throaty chuckle caught her off-guard. “Oh, Starlight Glimmer,” Discord said, “believe me, you don’t know how hard it has been not to be short with you.”

Starlight frowned. Her ears folded as though trying to make sure they’d heard him right. “Sorry, what?” she said, turning to look at him.

His face was the last thing she saw before his talon struck the side of her head. Trixie's scream was all she heard as darkness swallowed her brain.

***

When Starlight awoke, everything had changed.

The first thing she noticed was the cold, black metal she lay upon—it was a wide platform, and bars jutted up from the edges to form a solid cage around her. Beyond the cage, the world was dark, damp, and utterly alien. Gone were the bright pastels of Twilight’s castle, replaced by dull rocky outcroppings and crystalline formations that hung in the darkness like exploded stars.

She pushed herself up—and nearly fell back down again as a bolt of pain shocked her skull. Wincing, she took a look around, trying to gain better stock of her situation. The sheer confusion addling her brain made it difficult to process anything.

There was one thing she immediately recognized, though: Trixie was in the cage with her, unconscious and with a ghastly bruise on her temple.

“Trixie,” Starlight said. The rasp in her voice surprised her, and she was suddenly aware of how dry her mouth was. She coughed and prodded Trixie with a hoof, but her friend made no response. “Trixie, get up. Please get up. I need to know what happened.”

“I think I can answer that,” Discord said. His voice echoed from the darkness.

Starlight whirled around, her heart going a mile a minute. “Discord?” she called. “Where are you?” Her memory caught up with her, and a sudden scowl stretched across her face. “What did you do?!”

“I was simply fulfilling my promise,” he said. His unmistakable form floated forth from the darkness, a sharp grin plastered on his face. He had one talon raised behind him, and the still unconscious form of Chrysalis hovered into view. The body fell in a lump at the base of Starlight’s cage.

Looking from Discord to Chrysalis and back again, Starlight shook her head. “I don’t understand,” she said, heat building in her eyes. “Why are you doing this?”

Discord giggled, bringing himself closer to the bars. “Oh, this really has been too much fun! And now that you’re awake, it’s time for the little cherry on this sundae.” He landed and stepped on Chrysalis’ head with a sickening crunch. Reaching behind his back, he produced the same mystical pearl that Twilight had left with… however long ago that had been.

Starlight took a step back. “I… But… You gave that to Twilight!”

“Hm, I did, didn’t I?” Discord smiled impassively at the pearl. “Funny thing about the Pearl of Transmutation, though: you can use it to make an identical-looking version of itself from just about any old rock.” He turned his half-lidded stare on Starlight and tossed the pearl lazily between his hands. “Of course, it helps to be as proficient with transmutation magic as I happen to be—naturally. Now hold still.” Gazing with deadly precision into the pearl, he extended it towards Starlight.

She instinctively retreated until her back was to the edge of the cage. She tried her horn, but her prison shut that down before it could even alight. Her stomach twisted as she tried to look anywhere but at the pearl, yet a vibrant orange glow soon overtook her vision regardless. She braced herself.

A brief tingle tickled her forehead, and the light receded. Starlight waited for whatever else was meant to happen, but nothing did. Her muscles relaxed, and she turned to Discord. “What was that?”

“Just a taste of what I intend to do to you,” Discord said. “Not the most impressive transformation, but it’ll at least stop you from trying anything with that little horn of yours—or lack thereof now, I suppose.”

Everything in Starlight went cold. She reached a hoof up to her forehead and felt nothing there—nothing at all. She suppressed a scream as the first of her tears sprung loose. “No…” she whispered.

Yes,” Discord hissed. “And that little showmare will get the same treatment as soon as she’s awake to experience it. In the meantime—” he lifted Chrysalis into the air, her head bobbing under its own weight “—I suppose I’d better figure something out for this sorry creature. Hmm, perhaps entombed in stone? I’m sure he’d appreciate that more than anyone.” He gave a ghastly cackle.

Starlight, unsure of what to feel in the moment, sobbed anyway. “I don’t understand… I thought we were friends. What happened?”

Discord turned to her, staring at her with flaming eyes and bared teeth. “Are you really that dense?” He hurled Chrysalis into a wall and pressed his face close to the bars. “There is no revenge you could ever conceive of that will come close to what I will exact upon you one day, Starlight Glimmer!” The corner of his mouth curled up. “Sound familiar?”

Memories of the changeling hive returned to Starlight unbidden. She blinked, looking back and forth between Chrysalis slumped against the far wall and Discord, snarling at her like an unchained beast. “It can’t be…” Starlight breathed.

“Oh, but it can,” Discord said. His irises flashed green.

“And with this at my disposal,” Chrysalis said, holding the pearl up like an idol, “nothing will stand before me ever again. After all, who better to wield an artifact of changing… than a changeling?”

Whitefaced, Starlight could do nothing but watch as Chrysalis disappeared into the darkness, laughing in a voice not her own.