Celestia hummed cheerfully to herself, reviewing the latest in a long line of personal missives and documents requiring her seal. It brought me pride to know that though this duty could be tedious, it was one she never shirked. The humming, however, was due to her good cheer over another, more personally concerning matter.
“Are you sure this is… wise, your Highness?” I fidgeted, feeling exceptionally traitorous for questioning her, but... given recent events, I felt that perhaps I could use a bit of reassurance. I was, after all, rather certain I would be making this explanation known in the near future. Possibly to an angry mob; the day was young.
A polite chuckle came from the princess. “I know the rest of you are… a little leery of Ponyville right now. Since Twilight took up residence, it’s been rather excitable, but I assure you, this is just a field trip. Fillies and colts. What possible harm could they do?”
I hesitated but felt the need to remind her all the same. “Ponyville produces a strange breed, Your Highness. The Element of Kindness chased every animal in the gardens into the great hall during the most prestigious event in Canterlot, and according to some accounts may have been about to savage a squirrel with her own teeth.”
“The poor dear has had to deal with quite a lot of stress recently. Twilight assures me that is very much unlike her.”
“...Your Highness, I have personally seen her browbeat a grizzly bear. To say nothing of what the rest of her friends got up to during the Gala. Except for young Twilight, of course,” I allowed. “The damages and cleanup took almost a week to repair. Many complained it felt like the rest of the season.”
“Well, that’s… fair,” admitted the sun princess, begrudgingly. “But not entirely relevant. I’m sure Twilight will be more involved next time.”
I refused to even consider what that implied. “I am reasonably sure two of those fillies are in fact related to the Elements, and have it on good authority that they are considered exceptionally rambunctious even amongst the residents of Ponyville.”
“Oh, Idol, they’re children. Children will be boisterous and they’ll make a little trouble. Nothing your fellow guards can’t handle, I’m sure.”
“Twilight never made trouble.” I looked to a fellow guard, and he nodded eagerly before resuming typical stony silence. Spearhead, while not exceptionally bright, shared an interest in the arts. Unfortunately, he also tended to be rather… modernistic with his interpretations. Sometimes a splotch was just a splotch.
“Twilight was an exception and not the rule.” She gently chided me. “And can you really deny that she is happier now that her life is a little less… by the book?”
“I flatly refuse to accept that terminology for fear that she would never forgive me for speaking ill of literature.”
“Another good point. Let us agree to never speak of that little slip of the tongue, shall we? Besides, what could happen?”
I restrained my eyebrows. “After you offer the world a challenge like that? I shall set about reinforcing Princess Luna’s tower.”
A faint chuckle from the Princess as she shook her head and glanced back out the window overlooking the garden… followed by a look of displeasure and a sigh. “Some enterprising pegasus has put a message over the castle again.”
“...What does ‘reticulating splines’ even mean?”
“I… don’t honestly know,” she confessed. “...’Reviving dead memes’...?” She actually bit her lower lip, peering up at the cloud letters, which were slowly shifting into other messages. “‘Now installing’... What is that?”
“It… looks like clouds in the form of a face, perhaps?”
Spearhead hesitantly offered “A pair of shorts. You know, like some ponies put their pets in when they dress them up?”
“It could be a pig’s nose in a... broken frame…?” She mused, but her concern was clearly growing. “Spearhead, please fetch me a quill and ink. I am beginning to fear that I should contact Twilight and her friends.”
“Are we really sure that will improve this situation?”
Spearhead peered through the window, though not at the symbol. “Sky’s wrong color now, too. It’s kinda lavender. Or like… Blue-purple. Blurple, maybe.”
I scowled at him. We had enough trouble without an artist creating new colors.
“Better safe than sorry. And cancel my appointments for the day. Inform everyone to remain indoors until further notice. Beyond that… protect my sister.”
“By your command, Your Majesty.” I saluted, no longer feeling quite so certain. It was rare indeed that Celestia gave true orders. I would not fail her.
Princess Luna was running a mild fever, unfortunately, and was confined to her bed. Normally, this would lead her to be exceptionally cranky, but her doctor had allowed her a small dose of medicine as it was likely that allowing her body to fight a minor illness would actually help strengthen her.
Now, instead of cranky, she was simply sleepily delirious. Apparently being a dreamwalker and medicated made for an interesting combination. I wondered idly if any napping or near-napping ponies were having particularly odd daydreams.
Given that I was seeing pink clouds and brown rain through one of the windows, I rather imagined that they were. Or Princess Luna’s fever-dreams were spreading. Having never dreamed, I was actually rather intrigued.
“Well there you are. Honestly, I was about to turn this castle upside down looking for you,” came an unfamiliar voice. From a tapestry. My interest was waning; this was just odd. Talking fabric? There was an unusual design that I could not quite place but was quite sure had not been there a moment ago-
And then I fell to the ceiling. And stayed there. The window I had just looked out was… still the same, but the chandelier seemed to be pointing towards what now seemed like sky… but was certainly the floor of the tower. No, no, I was not enjoying this.
“Oh, who am I kidding, I should have done that an hour ago. And now I’m wasting it. Ah well, such is life,” said the tapestry, a serpentine figure moving on it. It looked vaguely familiar, but nothing immediately came to mind. The figure made a motion with its talons, causing a distinct ‘snap’... and the world rotated again, leaving me to catch myself on the ground, this time with a bit more grace.
I shook my head, hoping to clear it of the odd erratic mindset that was clearly still afflicting me. “Forgive me, sir, I seem to be a little out of sorts.”
A guffaw from the tapestry. “Sir, now? How very impossibly polite of you. Though, to be fair, most of your fellows just run screaming.”
I frowned. “I cannot imagine why.” And now I was talking to the tapestry. Or what I thought was a tapestry. I did hope this apparent delirium wouldn’t spread much farther. It would be bad for the Princess’s image.
“You really don’t, do you? Maybe this will help.” The figure posed, then turned gray. Though it was a bit more angular, I now recognized the image.
“Would that be your statue in the garden?”
“Not exactly.” Came the rumbling response. Another pop, a flash, and the tapestry was again vacant. Before me was something that suddenly set my senses on edge. As a statue, it had bothered me, true. It was a patchwork, but a master patchwork, I had thought. Seeing the figure move, seeing those mismatched limbs function… it was wrong, in ways I could not put into words. A thing that should not be. Which was, I decided, a very impolite thing for a guard to think, and I crushed the thought ruthlessly. “Discord, God of Chaos, in the flesh. Formerly not in the flesh. Which actually brings me to the point of this little visit.”
“...Oh. I did some work on you, then.” I gave him another look and wondered if he had complaints. I gave the abomination a once-over, looking for flaws in my adjustments.
Before I could inspect his face or horns, the creature barked “NO EYE CONTACT. We’re getting this out of the way before it gets any weirder than it already is. Honestly, I don’t want it getting around that I had lichens picked out of places even I didn’t know I had. But look at this.” He aggressively flicked his beard at me before pulling the tuft, making it roughly half his body length. “It’s never been so soft. I can’t even complain about it. Believe me, I tried, but even I can admit a little manscaping goes a long way.” He gave his eyebrows a tug, and the long luxurious beard receded.
“To be truthful, it was more like landscaping at the time,” I admitted. “So… were you aware of when I-”
“You’re already making it weirder! Don’t ask!” Discord cleared his throat, adjusted a tie he hadn’t been wearing, and went on. “Look. You did me a favor, cleaned out my grout so to speak, and you gave me a good laugh. I don’t do owing ponies. So, just this once. What do you want? The sky is the limit, ask for-”
“Obey the law, and do not hurt anypony.”
He stopped, blinked, then scowled ferociously. “What kind of a stupid boon is that?! I am the God of Chaos! You could have asked for anything! Power! Wealth! Station! ENORMOUS ASSETS!” He snapped his talons, and a single gigantic coin began rolling down the stairs of the tower, cracking several as the enormous mass of metal made its way to the ground.
I considered, but shook my head. I did not bother collecting all of my pay as it was, and I was quite content with my role within the guard. Perhaps a lesser position would be more comfortable, but it was at the order of Princess Celestia herself that I was a corporal. “As your apparent imprisonment has ended, I only wish that you go about your business as a productive member of Equestria.”
The draconequus sputtered in outrage. “Ended!? I escaped!”
“Ah. I was not aware of the logistics. What were the terms of your imprisonment, then?”
“I… terms? For being imprisoned in stone by the Elements of Harmony for a thousand odd years?!”
“That does seem to be around the timeframe they traditionally allow.” I accepted easily. “Perhaps you were let out for good behavior?”
The grinding sound from the creature’s maw was truly amazing. “I am not hearing this. And it doesn’t matter. ‘Don’t hurt anypony?’ What absolute drivel.”
“Far be it for me to ask the impossible. My apologies, I will reconsider.”
The god blinked, tilting his head for a moment, then reeled back, obviously offended by the implication. “...Oh, you little insect. Fine. I’ll be a sport about it, give Celestia’s little errand mare a fair chance. No ‘hurting ponies’ until after I’ve won. Speaking of Sunspots, where is darling widdle Woona? Nopony’s even mentioned her in my presence except that she’s apparently back.”
I tried very hard not to blanch at the “insect” comment. I did not dare draw attention to it, but it struck closer to home than I liked. “Princess Luna is ill, and not receiving guests at this time.” I moved in front of her door protectively- and then Discord was the door, cheerfully opening himself and blowing me a raspberry. I rushed after him, horrified to find that he popped Shining’s shield like a soap bubble before leaning down over the drowsing moon princess and snapping his talons rapidly. I winced, but apparently, he was not using his strange fel magic; he was only being inconceivably rude. Still… in her state, she could scarcely defend herself, and I had failed to interpose myself!
The princess’s eyes opened, one pupil wider than the other. She made a single sound of incoherent protest and began snoring again. With her eyes still open.
Stomping around her, the draconequus seemed more annoyed than anything else. “She looked right at me and doesn’t even know I’m here! I might as well not even have bothered.” The dragon-creature seemed to pout at that for a second. “Bah. She did turn on Celestia and spend a few centuries in time-out herself. I only owe her a few months of torment, I suppose. But for now I shall be magnanimous!” He roared, and suddenly the princess’s bedding was replaced by finery beyond anything Celestia would ever allow herself, not that Luna stirred more than a faint sound of agreement as she snuggled into the now excessively plush bedding. “And the sooner she gets better the sooner I can avenge myself. It’s hardly any fun bothering her now. Honestly, this was just a waste of time...” He rolled his eyes and there was another flash, and now we were both outside of her room again, and the door was firmly shut. I scarcely dared breathe, in relief or otherwise.
“...Are you quite done, sir?”
“‘Sir’, he says” the self-proclaimed god groused. “Look at you, about to go hoof to cloven hoof with me. That might actually be fun… if you weren’t such a loyalist stick in the mud. Wasting an all-powerful favor on the public good.” A slow grin began to appear on his face. “Why. It makes me feel like giving you two rewards…” And then his eyes began to shift and change…
Discord scowled down at his former benefactor. “Is this even working? Well, I am out of practice… HEY. IS ANYONE IN THERE?!” When there was no response, he grumped. “Bah. Can’t make an omelette without scrambling a few brains, I suppose. You’ll be fine. Or not, I don’t really care.” A quick tug of his beard, the draconequus nodded to himself, and then vanished in a flash of light.
I snorted. Finally. “...Fraggin’ geek. Thought he’d never leave. Now then...” I began trotting towards the throne room. Some changes needed to be made around here.
I strode by a number of the mooks guarding the place, most of them strutting about in on their hind legs and crowing in pride. One of the losers got in my way, and I tumbled the squawking dork to the floor without a second thought. The night guards at least seemed a bit more rational. They just perched above the doors and cawed at me.
The squabble of frightened clucking came from my target, and I eyed the enormous double doors of the throne room with amusement. A few light taps on the door, followed by a quick spin and planting both of my rear hooves into them, sending both crashing open. “Knock knock.”
The frightened clucking the remaining members of the royal guard increased, Celestia staring at me in utter disbelief before giving her own confused ‘honk’. Well. Far be it for old Idol to check out a gift’s gums.
“QUIET!” I roared, firing a blast of magic into the air, the energy punching through the ceiling of the throne room and leading a bit of melted stone to splash beside me. The clucking stopped, and all eyes were on me. I licked my teeth.
“Ladies~! The Main Event has arrived~” My magic enveloped the doors, and they slammed back together.
The doors to the throne room creaked open, and I held them in place, staring blankly ahead of me. Carefully, I cleared my throat. “Ladies?”
The majority of the feminine members of the royal guard, day and night, quickly marched out of the room. Most were carrying more armor than they wore. Several were hauling plates of fruit, one even carrying a goblet of freshly peeled grapes. Only a few looked at me, and most were red-faced to some extent or another. Mothchaser was practically glowing, and I could scarcely blame her– from that point on, I endeavored to think very little and made no eye contact.
Celestia herself came out a moment later, watching them go. “It does seem that Twilight was successful,” she observed, neutrally.
“It does indeed, Your Highness. It was… good that you had so many of her missives handy.”
She shrugged. “Yes, yes. I… keep them close at hoof. Read one or two to lift my spirits on a rough day.”
“Mmm.” I agreed.
“I… believe we can agree this matter should remain the knowledge of only those present?”
“Yes. Yes. We… yes.”
“...What did you think of the throne?”
“It was considerably softer than I expected. But the ergonomics leave something to be desired. Perhaps… lounging on it was not the intended design?” I swallowed.
“No, no, I’d agree. Not the most comfortable seat in Equestria, no matter how one perches on it.”
We stood in silence for a few interminably long minutes.
“It was… unusual. Finding myself subject to the whims of another. Not making the choices. Obedient to a greater force of charisma, as it were. But it was… somewhat freeing, as well. If… by chance… you were ever again interested...” Even I could not fully quell my expression and she blushed. “Ah... nevermind. Lingering effects of Discord’s magic. I shall go to check on my sister. Take the rest of it off. The day! Take the rest of the day off. Yes. Do that.”
And then Princess Celestia, Ruler of Equestria, Princess of the Sun, scampered off like a misbehaving filly.
I wondered what Tartarus was like this time of year, and how one could reach it in the most expedient way.