The Real Question

by Coyote de La Mancha


Words Over Tea

It had been almost a month since Twilight’s Becoming. And since that time, Twilight had been growing more and more distant.
Never cold, of course. She was still Twilight, and her friends were still her friends. But where once she would laugh, now she might only smile. And ever since the Princess Summit, when her other friends would try to plan picnics or trips - or even just try to visit - she would make her apologies. There was always new research to get back to, or new royal duties to perform. And never time for anything else.
Spike, his loyalties torn, had refused to comment on the matter. And while all her friends had wanted to help, the newly-crowned princess had become strangely good at evasion.
So, when Twilight had asked Fluttershy if she could arrange for her to meet with Discord, the pegasus had leaped on the opportunity. Much to Twilight’s surprise and discomfort, she’d immediately invited Twilight to their weekly tea party.
When he’d first heard the news, Discord hadn’t been pleased either. But when Fluttershy had described Twilight’s anxiousness at the idea of meeting with him, annoyance had quickly given way to curiosity.
Now, Fluttershy’s home was filled with the pleasant scents of herbs, animals, burning candles, and jasmine tea. Angel was nowhere to be found, of course, as he and the Lord of Chaos had little love for one another. Most of the animals gave Discord a wide berth, for that matter. But just the same, a few squirrels happily bounded underhoof as they chased singing teabags that bounced and floated gently along the floor. Overhead, birds happily sang and hopped from one arm of the chandelier to the next, playing tag with the multi-coloured bubbles that rose from Discord’s meerschaum, chasing and being chased in turn.
When Twilight finally asked her question, Fluttershy started to reach out to her, then stopped. Twilight seemed so upset, even that little touch might be an intrusion. And Discord had that special smile he sometimes wore when he was calculating something.
So, instead, Fluttershy found herself glancing between them both, her anxiety growing. Twilight staring at him in apprehension, while Discord peered at the new princess with ancient eyes.
“Are you… quite sure you want to ask me about this?” he asked.
“I mean, not that I can’t help, of course,” he amended instantly. “But… wouldn’t one of your fellow princesses be a more comfortable choice for your, um…” he waved a claw vaguely, “new-life crisis?”
But Twilight shook her head. “I already have. And we’ve talked. But apparently, they don’t know any more about this than I do. Over the centuries, Celestia and Luna have accepted their agelessness. But their ageing slowed down before it stopped, so with Cadence, it’s still too early to tell. And she’s accepted that... that...”
The Lord of Chaos raised an eyebrow. “Uncertainty?” he suggested.
Twilight nodded. “Exactly. You, though… you were there before them all. So logically, if any creature knows what the truth actually is, it must to be you.”
Discord looked amused at her, while the sugar bowl eagerly scooped spoonful after spoonful into his tea.
“Must I indeed?” he asked.
“You were there,” Twilight insisted. “Before Equestria, before time was even a constant. If any creature alive saw how it all began, it was you. Which means, by definition, you’re the only one who might know the truth. How it all has to end, or if it even does. Which means, in turn, you’re the only one who could know whether or not immortality is real, and whether or not I’ve got it.”
The draconequus scoffed. “Oh, come now, Twilight. It’s not as if we were talking about a disease.”
“Discord...”
Twilight’s voice failed her. She swallowed and started again, eyes pleading. “I’ve looked everywhere, but there isn’t any real research on this! And how can there be, with only two alicorns in history before Cadence, and now me?
“All I know is that I’ve survived things no pony should have been able to, and then recovered completely in days. My magic was always powerful, but now everything’s gotten so much easier, I’m not sure what my limits are anymore!
“And then, I think of Celestia and Luna, and how long they’ve lived, and how they…”
She looked down into her teacup.
“It’s not that I’m afraid to live,” she said softly. “I’m not. And I’ll always cherish my friends. But even dragons age. If I’m guaranteed to outlive them all, I need to know.”
Looking up, she asked, “So, please: am I immortal? Can I die? Do I just go on forever, outliving everything around me?”
Looking away, she sighed. “Or, does every life end, everything ultimately get forgotten? Books crumbling, castles falling away? All my knowledge, all my research, just… gone? Like it never was?”
Her voice became almost inaudible as she added, “And either way, is there even a point anymore?”
Fluttershy put her own teacup down.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh, dear.” Glancing at the teapot, she said, “Um, I think we’ll need some more tea.”
As she entered the kitchen, Fluttershy could be heard to say to herself, “Something calming, I think...”
But Discord only nodded to himself, shooing the sugar bowl away. “Yes, you’re quite right, Twily. I do see your point. And I am glad you’ve come to me with this, truth be told. But you can’t blame me for wanting to be sure. This isn’t something you usually ever ask. Not to me, anyway. And in light of that, you have, indeed, come to the right draconequus.
“That being said, you’ve asked me several questions now.”
He frowned at his teacup in mild annoyance, brushing most of its mound of sugar onto the floor and adding more tea. Then, impatiently, flicked the cup’s contents out an open window.
“And I don’t deal in certainties,” he went on. “Besides, I’m afraid it’s not in my nature to just give anyone so many answers.”
While a tea-drenched Angel jumped onto the sill from outside, shaking a tiny, sticky fist at Discord and squeaking something unintelligible, Twilight sighed. Dejected, she rose from the table and turned away. “I understand.”
Taking a thoughtful bite from his cup, Discord grinned, “But, perhaps I can help you to find the answers you truly seek. Whether you realize it or not.”
Something in his voice made Twilight turn back towards him. She caught the barest glimpse of Angel staring at him in terror and then fleeing, the birds from the chandelier following suit with chirps of panic, squirrels scampering over one another in their haste to get away.
But then she stumbled, disoriented. The room, the house, the world had simply fallen away. Her half-mad friend’s eyes seemed to take up everything at once, a yellow and red galaxy to vanish into, forever.
“For I am the undisputed Lord of all Chaos, after all,” his voice echoed from all around her. “And just as before answers, there must be questions, and before questions there must be order… so, too, before order, there was chaos. Even as, before chaos, there was…”

* * * *

Light.
No, Twilight realized. Not light. Only an absence of darkness.
In the beginning, Discord continued from nowhere, there was the void.
Twilight frowned, looking around herself. “The void?”
All around her, there was… nothing. Neither illumination nor shadow, just an absence of shape, light, or colour. There was no ground, no sense of gravity or direction, or floating, or falling. She was in a realm, if it could be called that, which was a complete blank.
The great absence, Discord confirmed. And into that absence, the Creator stared.
“So… there was a creator,” Twilight said.
Oh, yes. There was. And eventually, a timeless time later, inspiration struck. And the Creator began to draw.
“But wait, if there was nothing, how could any creator—”
Ah, but it wasn’t nothing, you see. It was the void. Even the void is something. And the Creator, even then, was very wise. She knew that nature is nothing without life, even as life is nothing without art.
And so, the Creator drew. With her lines came motion, and with motion came time. With time, came music.
And with music, came the verse.
This was the rhythm of creation.
Twilight gasped in delight as, all around her, outlines suddenly took form. Stark and sharp against their blank environs, devoid of any context or purpose. Animals leaped and ran. Dragons coiled and soared. Oceans, and vast mountains. Trees, castles, clouds, stars.
Ponies.
At first it was only a sketch, of course, Discord’s voice went on. Some of it was brand new, even to the Creator. But some of it was only new within time. And because she was the Creator, her art transcended time. Predating it, pulling from beyond it. Falling off its edges.
You see, Twilight, there is no universe. Not really. There are only verses, built upon the memories and ashes of other verses. Fragile as eggshells, those ashes. And yet, more powerful than a dancing star. Profound as a name, as a colour, as a weanling’s first breath.
Twilight said nothing, only staring around herself in wonder.
And so, when at last the infinite void had been filled from edge to edge with creation, the Creator turned it over.
And then, she began to write.
Now there was light, a galaxy’s worth and more, and Twilight winced away from the birthing stars before her.
Of course, this was long before my time, with all its amusing eddies, whorls and loops. And my time was, in turn, before Lulu and Tia straightened time out and made it so linear and boring.
He chuckled. I mean, really, girls... branches?
And I know what you’re thinking, he continued. And you’re right, of course. No creature can truly remember its own creation, let alone what came before. It’s a sacrosanct rule of time.
But I was created to break the rules, my dear.
So, try to understand. Yes, the Creator wrote. But even as she wrote, she was also still drawing. Drawing upon the void. Drawing upon a memory that surpassed time. Drawing out stories to dance and glide within the currents of eternity. Hers. Yours. Mine.
Ours.
Half-seen values whirled before Twilight’s eyes, jewels of thought spun from light and glass. Joining, not in equations, but in simple combinations of denial and affirmation. Forming the unspoken words of the Creator that, in turn, formed worlds, gravity, even the laws of magic.
But there is a time beyond time, you see, just as there are stories that transcend their own telling. And somehow, somehow, the Creator came from there. If ‘there’ is even the right word to use.
Twilight shook her head violently, trying to clear it. The vision, if that’s what it was, had become overwhelming. Carefully, keeping her breathing under control, Twilight lay down. If she fell in this strange place, she feared she might never stop falling.
Anyway. In the fullness of her own time, there came a point when the Creator seemed satisfied with what she had wrought. So, she stepped back from it. She removed her hands from it, no longer sheltering the verse as she had while it had formed and cooled. No longer protecting it. No longer containing it.
And then the verse…
… exploded!
Twilight screamed.
So many worlds! Discord laughed, as the images assaulted Twilight’s mind. So many possibilities! What had been a single verse built upon the driftwood of a few others now became a hundred, a thousand, more! A vast, cosmic song, made up of a million verses. A celestial chorus, formed from a million such songs! An infinity of creation, spawned by an infinity of Creators!
And always, again and again, they reached out. Found their own voids and filled them, ever building on what had come before.
Twilight could feel her mind vainly trying to keep the storm of sensations at bay. But she was falling, now. Screaming and helpless, she fell. Falling in. Falling through. She was an alicorn. Now, a unicorn. Now, an earth pony. Different parents. Different lives. Different verses. In some, she had never lived. In others, she had already died. Falling through her countless lives, dying and being reborn again and again…
Where did she come from, that first Creator? Discord mused as Twilight continued her plummet through worlds. Was she even the first? Is our verse the one she made, or merely one that her creation inspired?
Discord chuckled. I confess, even I don’t know. My memory only reaches back to the dawn of time with any clarity. Beyond that, it gets a bit muzzy.
For as you can see, reality is an infinite river of possibility. And we are all of us, even me, less than drops in its torrent. Yet, without us, the river is nothing.
Look around you, Twilight. There is much to behold.
Observe: here we see a verse where Tia actually follows Sunset Shimmer through the mirror as she flees. But it slams closed behind them, trapping them both in an alien land, in strange and different forms. Shortly thereafter, you can see that same Tia and Sunny vying for a crown in that other world, in ways very different from your own struggles.
Meanwhile, of course, their home world begins to falter as Cadence tries to save it from the endless cold of night… and from the nightmare her efforts prematurely release.
Closer to us, a student of yours batters down the gates of dimensional order, bringing dozens of alternate woes upon your fellow ponies. I must say, your solution to that problem is… fascinating.
And you should see what some of the Flurry Hearts get up to, the next few verses over, when they finally grow up.
Meanwhile, just next door, a group of girls who share their names with you and your friends simply gather now and then, and talk about life.
Every choice, every possibility, every potential world. Each one equally real, as real as you or I. And each of these worlds rests within its own verse, like a pearl on a cloth of gold. And each of these verses continually births more, each one beginning, before even the void, with the light of another verse. Infinite creators drawing upon those verses for inspiration, drawing upon the void for creation, in an endless, endless dance.
Until, of course… it ends.
Twilight cried out in shock. No longer falling, now she was surrounded by darkness. True darkness. Existence, after life and matter had fled.
But so long as there is creation, Discord’s voice smiled, our stories continue. And each one, as it touches the void, sparks a new creation in turn. For all the world is fire, my dear, and it is the nature of fire to burn itself out. And, burning, to shed light into the darkness.
After all, true darkness is only the palette of all colours combined into one single tint.
But then again, so is light.
The impenetrable darkness surrounding Twilight suddenly turned itself inside-out, a radiance from all directions assailing her, even as it splintered into a myriad of new colours more felt than seen.
For there were many worlds before ours, my friend, and we rest and dance upon their ashes for our foundation. Even as, in turn, there shall be others who will dance after us. Even as elsewhere there are others still who dance to our own verse, right now. Warmed by our flame, illumined by the light we share.

* * * *

Blinking, Twilight accepted Discord’s lion’s paw, helping her back to her hooves. She stared at him, at Fluttershy’s living room, stumbling, struggling to fathom it all.
Meanwhile, Fluttershy came in from the kitchen bearing a newly-filled teapot. Humming contentedly to herself, she refilled Twilight’s cup, adding just a hint of lemon and honey.
Still struggling, still lost, Twilight turned back to Discord. For his part, the draconequus simply smiled, gently guiding her back to her seat.
“And so, now you see,” he said.

* * * *

Twilight spent the rest of the evening in distracted silence. She drank her tea, nodding her gratitude to Fluttershy and half-listening to their conversations as politely as she could. Ultimately, she found her voice just enough to bid her host and fellow guest farewell.
Watching her friend fly slowly home, Fluttershy’s voice was uncertain.
“Are you sure she’ll be alright?” she asked.
“Oh, I think so,” Discord nodded. “She’ll need some time, I imagine. And she’ll probably put most of what she’s experienced aside for a while. It was an awful lot, I suppose, and she may want to digest it in smaller bites than I gave her. But, well, she did ask, after all.”
“I know. But… well, what did you show her?”
Discord smiled down at her fondly. “In a sense, my dear… everything.”
Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. “Oh, my. Well. I can see how that would be a little, um...” She looked at Twilight’s unsteady flight. “...Everythingish?”
“Oh, Flutters. You know I would never hurt our good friend Twilight. Not really.”
He looked towards the horizon, and the alicorn’s distant form. “But the lady is not merely a princess, after all. She is also a magician, and a dedicated scholar. And now, at last, she has tasted true knowledge.”
His smile grew as he continued, “It may take her years to finish digesting just the little sip that I gave her. Maybe even longer. Who knows? But she has all the time she’ll need, and on some level I think she knows it. Once she’s ready, I don’t imagine she’ll rest until she’s drained the cup dry.”
Fluttershy frowned in concern. “What will she do then?”
Discord grinned. “Well, now, you know I don’t like dealing in certainties,” he teased, eliciting a giggle. Feeling very pleased with himself, he put an arm around her and pulled her close, even as he gazed into the distance.
“But if I were to guess?” he mused. “I would say... anything she wants.”