It should’ve been expected, really.
It happened all the time. Whenever a new age of peace reigned over Equestria—after tribulations that tired the soul, bended the mind, scraped the hooves, and ached the body—a new threat rose like a diseased phoenix.
The matrons of Night and Day knew this almost too well. Perhaps that’s why they usually acknowledged a massive threat with expertly contained fear. Or perhaps the living, breathing Elements of Harmony, ready and willing to tackle any threat, eased their fears.
That was usually the case.
Rarely did Princess Luna fall out of bed, screaming in a sopping cold sweat, scramble to her blanket-tangled hooves, hit every inanimate object between her bed and the door, and stampede through Canterlot Castle screaming her sister’s name.
More rare, were the chocolate-striped corridors, marble floors turned to styrofoam, and empty suits of armor playing dodge ball in the courtyard.
Rarer still was Princess Luna drop-kicking Celestia’s bed chamber doors to pieces.
“Sister! Visions! Terrible, terrible visions! We must—”
Luna's rambling died like a squirrel in a feline’s jaw when a scowling Celestia emerged from a pile of mahogany splinters. Anything else Luna was about to say was forgotten in the wake of shattered mirrors, gaping holes in the walls and ceiling, a bed split in two, and the fifteen-hundred year-old self-portrait that Celestia had sat through—with the same plastic smile—for seven hours… tilted.
Whatever doubts Luna had before—that maybe she was just overreacting—were swiftly cut.
“Good morning Luna,” came Celestia’s automatic greeting, her scowl held strong.
Luna could only gibber.
“Oh, this?” Celestia said with an eye-twitch that could split a mountain in two. “Never you mind. I’ve just been having… quite a morning.” She rose from the splinters, and Luna’s eyes nearly fell out. “What brings you here today?”
“Where is your tail, Celestia?” Luna found enough sense to ask.
“Well, I can tell you where it’s been…” Celestia replied, gesturing to her destroyed bedroom.
Luna grunted with a frown. “Nevermind that! I had a vision, my sister! Such chaos! Destruction beyond imagination! Earth shattering to a gargantuan jigsaw puzzle! Skies torn asunder! It’s awful, just awful!”
Celestia was only half-listening. Her lidded eyes swept the marred room as Luna ranted. Then she found her tail. Floating before the wall right beside Luna. Waving at her. Taunting her. Laughing at how many times she’d failed to catch it.
“—and guards! Yes, I will summon our best, and we will prepare for the worst! Sister we must call the Elements of Harmony to arms and—” Luna raised a brow at Celestia’s focused, narrowed eyes. Then turned left and saw a wavy floating tail.
“Be still, Luna,” Celestia grumbled, prone like a tiger in the grass. “It responds to sudden movement…”
“What does that even mean?!”
Luna could only stand a few seconds of staring at her sister’s predatory antics; stalking toward the aurora-colored tail. The dark mare huffed. “Why don’t you just—oh, I don’t know—use your magic?”
Celestia stalked closer to the wavy tail. “Tried. Can’t. Hurts too much, “she whispered.
The symptoms of a splitting migraine weren’t, in any way, Luna’s best friends, but damn it all if they weren’t well-acquainted.
“Ugh! This is ridiculous! Whatever’s going on, it’s clearly jumbled your mi—”
Celestia darted at the tail… and fell unconscious with a bleeding nose, masonry sprinkling her back, a new crack in her wall, and her tail swimming in the air like a drunken eel. Luna clamped her hanging jaw shut.
With her horn aglow, the tail stopped in place, floated onto Celestia’s backside, and screwed back in place like a wine-bottle cork. Frowning flatly, Luna levitated her snoring sister onto her back and left the destroyed room in silence.
“Visions, you say?” Celestia asked, adjusting the ice pack on her head.
Luna paced before the throne, her normally careful steps now frantic and heavy. “Yes. Unexplainable destruction at every corner. Skies crying with lightning and tornadoes. Our lush world eating itself. Ponies with lifted arms, crying for mercy and forgiveness. I saw naught but madness, my sister.”
Celestia closed her eyes. “Disturbing… What else could you make of it? A cause? A source?”
Luna spun around to face the taller alicorn. “No! Nothing! And that is why we must prepare for the worst!” She began pacing again. “We must inform Cadance, Twilight Sparkle, everyone!”
Celestia stifled a hiss at her sister’s pitched voice, pressing the ice pack harder against her head.
“Be calm, Luna—”
“Calm?! After what I saw this morning?! Heavens, Celestia, you were chasing your own tail! Have you no inkling how wrong that sounds?!”
The memory of every shout and curse—some of which were thrown at the guards who merely checked on her—didn’t help the ice pack do its job. Celestia winced.
“Exactly!” Luna continued. “About as wrong as it looked!”
“Settle down and think, Luna,” Celestia said as calmly as able. “Look around you. What do you see?”
Indeed, Luna looked around, and indeed she saw the same chocolate-striped ceiling and styrofoam floors. An open ear confirmed the clanks of old armor still doing things empty armor couldn’t do in the courtyard.
“I’m seeing the same nonsense from a thousand years ago, the same nonsense Discord plays to this very day. But what does—”
“Exactly,” Celestia said. “Clearly, this is just another one of his pranks. Which would also explain why I couldn’t use my magic, and you could.”
Luna stepped up to the throne and sat beside her sister. “But… the visions—”
“Remember when he made you think you carried his child?”
Luna pressed a hoof to her lips and swallowed chunks. “That… that was my fault. He warned me about invading his dreams, and in my infinite wisdom—”
“The point is,” Celestia intervened with a raised hoof, “between every piece of broken wood in my room, and you suddenly ranting about an Equestrian holocaust—when just the other week, Discord lost a prank war to the Element of Laughter—you can’t say you don’t suspect him.”
Luna looked away with a bitten lip. “Oh, sister, I want to believe that. I do, but those visions haunt me so. I felt it. All of it. The ripping winds, the booming thunder, the earth crumbling beneath my hooves. Such… chaos. If my visions were not just a figment, I pray Discord is not to blame.”
Celestia considered the other mare for a long moment, and shortly forgot her splitting migraine. Shortly.
If there was one thing Celestia could never afford to forget, it was Discord’s static effect on the world. The ludicrous decorations that littered the castle now, were nothing different from before. When Discord was in a happy mood, it was always like that. Fun for him, annoying for others.
But no one in Celestia’s lifetime, not even herself, had seen Discord angry. Ever.
Losing a prank war could've potentially made a spirited trickster upset. Or if one took something that belonged to him—heaven help the poor sod who would've done that. With a creature prone to selfishness and greed, Celestia suspected the ramifications.
“We… should speak with Discord later this evening. For now, sister,” Celestia lowered her ice pack and managed her best smile, “you need sleep, and I need three more bottles of aspirin.”
The throne doors burst off their hinges.
The alicorns flinched as the flipping wood crashed into the amethyst throne and exploded into a gaggle of kittens. They looked ahead into the shrouded entrance, gasping at two glowing red dots.
From the darkness emerged Discord.
An unsmiling, unentertained, frowning Discord.
His steps lacked any and every kind of squeak, knock, or quack as he marched toward them. His steps were natural. Scaly flesh and cloven hoof slapping firm on the styrofoam floor. His shoulders bobbed with every step. His mismatched hands balled into tight fists.
The worst thing—never mind him walking in the first place? He was silent.
No jeers. No snickers. No mockery whatsoever.
Celestia closed her jaw and greeted the draconequus with a visibly forced smile. “Good morning Discord. You seem troubled.”
Discord didn’t answer, and Celestia started petting a kitten on her lap out of sheer nervousness. He reached the first stair, and didn’t stop. The moment Luna shrunk away, a deeply buried instinct churned inside and set Celestia’s horn aglow. She frowned, but didn’t move. Waiting.
In a fluid motion, Discord slithered around Celestia’s throne, then onto her lap, his legs dangling off the armrest.
His fuzzy lion paw found the confused alicorn’s cheek, and his now-half-lidded eyes found hers. He inhaled sharply through his nose.
“Hey,” Discord greeted flatly.
“Hi?” Celestia replied uncertainly.
He turned to a now-frowning Luna and nodded. The dark mare nodded back. He turned back to Celestia.
“So… remember that little assignment you had for me several months ago? You know, the one where I wrote—in any way I chose—all that I learned about friendship?” he asked.
Celestia adopted a passive face, ignoring the two kittens climbing onto her long mane.
“You mean the book you’ve been writing to represent such lessons?” Celestia asked.
“Mm-hm. The same book I’ve spent tireless nights writing for every one of those months?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” she answered, her horn losing its glow. “How is that coming al—”
“It’s gone Celestia,” came Discord’s casual interruption. “It’s gone, and if I haven’t made it painfully obvious, I’m a little pissed right now.”
Celestia started to sweat, but hoped her white coat would've hid it well enough. She knew it wouldn’t, of course. It never did.
“Gone? Where do you think you could have—”
“Same place I always leave it,” Discord casually intervened again, taking a mewing kitten in his paw. “The Canterlot archive.” He tossed the kitten onto a blinking Luna’s muzzle.
“Okay? What is it you wish from us?” Celestia asked cautiously.
“Well…” That worried Celestia. A lot. Usually, when Discord paused like that, a telling smile stretched his face, foreshadowing a bogus riddle, or a long-winded explanation. Usually both. He didn’t smile that time. “Remember that Ballroom Party we had last week?”
She smiled at the memory. The first—and probably final—time Discord was on his best behavior, and some infinite cosmic saint let Celestia live long enough to see it. Then there was the prank-war... of course.
“One of the finest we’ve hosted, I must say,” Celestia said, feeling strangely comfortable with the spirit on her lap.
Discord’s passive look crumble back into a frown. “The Archive was crowded that day. My book was there before the party. The party’s been over for a week. I haven’t written in a week… Must I go on?”
Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what you’re implying, Discord. The tome was your responsibility. Why would my sister or I—”
Finally, Discord gave a smile. “Oh, unbunch your thong, princess, I don’t blame either of you.”
Celestia blinked. “I… Unbunch my wha—”
“I’m merely here to… give a heads up.” The spirit’s smile vanished. “So there are no surprises.”
For her dignity’s sake, Celestia said nothing else. Luna, now blanketed by the litter of sleeping kittens, eyed Discord with caution.
“I’m going to find the poor sod who took my book. And, no matter who it is, I’m going to punch them in the face.”
Celestia gave a worried frown and said, “That’s… quite the lofty goal, Discord. Many ponies attended the festivity; ponies from Trottingham, Maretonia, even the Crystal Empire.”
Discord hopped off the mare’s lap and sauntered from the throne. Luna whipped her wide eyes to her sister, flinging a pair of kittens off her head.
“Then I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Discord said without a shade of mirth.
Celestia realized her mistake and shot to her hooves. “W-wait! It’s just a book, Discord. Surely you can start again, or complete your assignment some other way.”
“She’s right,” Luna chimed in. “Besides, haven’t you tried—oh I don’t know—snapping your fingers to get it back?”
The sisters blinked. They didn’t know when Discord had stopped walking or started shaking. They did know, however, that they may have said something unutterably wrong.
“I’ve lived a very long time, ladies,” Discord said, his casual tone starting to scare them both. “I’ve never cared for material things because, well… I can make them with a thought.” He stopped shaking, but didn’t turn to them. “In all those many eons, I’ve never made anything with my bare hands. Never poured hours of thought into the craft. Never destroyed something countless times just to rebuild it for the perfection I could only achieve once.”
Both alicorns searched for words but failed miserably to find them.
“And no, Luna, I can’t just ‘snap my fingers to get it back’. To do that, I need to know its location.” They heard his teeth grind together. "I don’t.” He started walking again. “But I will soon enough. And the thief… will pay.”
Celestia’s eardrums caved at those final booming words and darted after the retreating spirit. She stopped directly before him and felt her stomach turn inside out.
“Discord, that is not what we taught you, and you know it!” Celestia said with courage granted from centuries of battle and royal peace conferences. “Revenge is not the way. Let us help you find your book.”
Discord never stopped walking. He progressed right through her as if she were liquid, and left the mare to shudder with rolled eyes.
“If I can do it myself, why would I need you?” Discord asked.
Luna stared from the throne with a slacked jaw.
“That’s all I wished to say, my dears. Ciao.”
With a flash, Discord was gone. And with him, so was all hope, and all doubt in Luna’s visions.
“Sister…” the moon princess called, “what do we do?”
Celestia skulked back to her throne with thoughtful eyes. She sat back down, ignoring the mewing kittens leaping to Luna for safety.
“We must warn Princess Cadance and the delegates from Trottingham and Maretonia. The last thing we need is Discord inciting a civil war,“ Celestia said.
“Very well,” Luna said, staring sadly at a kitten lying on its back, its arms gently swiping at nothing and staring up at Luna’s eyes. The alicorn smiled. “I’m keeping the kittens.”
A mighty sneeze bounced along the columned walls and chocolate-striped ceiling. Celestia sniffled with a tired scowl and red eyes.
“Like Hell you are.”
And this creature, this insufferably gentle creature, thought she could tame me. Me. If I’d known at the time, that this mare, this soft, inexperienced, unspoiled pony would snare me the way she had, I’d have offed myself eons ago.
But because of that same creature, because of those gentle eyes that took as much as they gave, because of that voice that sang without singing, I’d felt the warmth of friendship for the first time.
Me, the perfect nomad, uncaring and free, uninhibited by petty attachments, couldn’t start the day without seeing her. Without hearing her.
And I hated it…
She couldn’t stop.
No matter how loudly her brain shouted and cursed for her to do so, Twilight Sparkle just couldn't stop reading it.
She’d tried of course. From the very first paragraph, she knew who wrote it. More than once, she'd slammed it face-first onto her desk and walked away. Of course, pacing around it, picking it up, and reading it every ten minutes didn’t help.
“Pitiful,” she heard Spike mutter behind her. “Just pitiful.”
Twilight lifted her sore cheeks off her hooves and rubbed her dry eyes. “Oh, hush, Spike. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: I can stop anytime I want,” she said.
“Well, I didn’t believe you the last thirty times, so that's fair,” Spike jeered.
With a huff, Twilight bookmarked her spot and rose from her chair. She winced at the deep crackles in her back.
“It’s not even that good,” Twilight defended.
“Says the pony who hadn’t slept in five days,” Spike countered with a smirk.
The little dragon waved his hands. “Alright, alright. I’m just worried about you, Twi,” he said. “What’s so special about that book anyway? Heck, you’ve plowed through five-hundred pages in a day. A day, Twilight.”
Twilight gave Spike the Ponies' Eyebrow. “Really? Have you seen this thing?” She pressed her hoof on the book. “Seven inches thick, Spike. Not a one-day task.”
Spike crossed his arms and said, “And I guess it’s a coincidence you’ve reread the first hundred-twenty-five chapters before you even finished?”
“But I have to figure this out!” Twilight blurted out. “I… I have to know how he did it! How could Discord—Discord—write something so profound, so deep about friendship when it says right here…” Twilight reopened the massive tome, her magic flipping through hundreds of pages.
Death could not take me. Fate could not hold me. Time could not age me, and Life could not sway me. I was invincible, a child of Creation itself. The forces of the universe were my toys and I did as I pleased. I’d created and destroyed entire worlds with only a thought. I‘d combed my hands into the cosmos, the very stars naught but sand between my fingers.
I was a god. I’d no need for another. No need for friendship.
I was a fool.
Spike’s eyes lidded as Twilight began mumbling, her eyes sweeping across lines of ink. When he cleared his throat, the alicorn yelped, slammed the book shut, and wiped the drool from her lips.
“I can stop anytime I want!” she declared.
“I think you have a problem, Twi,” the dragon said.
Twilight burrowed a hoof at her temple and growled. “Fine! You know what? I don’t need this. I don’t need to figure this out. Who cares if this is the only piece of existing literature with the blueprints to Discord’s thought process. Who cares what ancient, forgotten history of the cosmos is grafted in every page?” She twitched.
“Who cares if I could single-hoofedly find answers to questions that confounded pony-kind for thousands of years?!” She grinned “Who cares that the very knowledge of the universe, and proof that Friendship can reshape it, is mine?! All mine!”
Spike kept his lidded stare as Twilight cackled with her head and arms lain on the book. She stopped, shot up straight, and turned away from it.
“Well, I certainly don’t care,” she said.
“Glad to hear it.”
Spike marched silently to the book, and wide, trembling eyes followed him.
“Spike, what are you doing?”
He stopped at the desk and reached up. “Removing your bookmark.”
A thick blanket of magic hurled the screaming reptile into a wall.
“I BROUGHT YOU INTO THIS WORLD, AND I CAN TAKE YOU OUT!” Twilight shoved a hoof in her mouth.
“Hah! Knew it!” Spike declared, lifting to his feet and dusting off. “You’re obsessed, Twilight, and you need a break!”
Twilight promptly threw her face against the book’s cover and screamed, then lifted her shouts to the ceiling. “But it’s not fair! I have to know how he did it! I have to know how it ends!”
Spike crossed his arms again. “Twilight. It’s a biography. About friendship. That you and our friends helped to forge. You were there,” he said.
Twilight frowned at the book. “I know, but—”
“Where’d you even get that book, anyway,” Spike asked with half a shrug.
“The Canterlot Archive, remember? We had that Ballroom Party at the castle and—”
“—and you spent it in the castle library.” Spike pinched his nose. “Let nopony ever say you’re out of character, Twilight.” The alicorn blushed as he continued. “Honestly, I’m surprised Discord hasn’t dropped by to bother you about this thing. No doubt he read your note.”
Twilight lifted her eyes straight ahead and that blush immediately faded. Soon, her face turned white, and Spike barely caught it.
“You, uh… did leave a note in the Archive’s check-out box. Right?”
She choked on air and stared back down at the massive tome. Spike sucked his teeth and smirked.
“Stealing books now Twilight? How the mighty have fa—”
He vanished in a yowling streak of purple and pink, tumbled across the shiny castle floor, and stared up at pleading, desperate eyes, his shoulders nearly crushed to the floor by shaky hooves.
“You can’t tell anypony!” Twilight cried.
Spike’s eyes lidded again. This is gonna be a thing, isn't it?”
“Spike, listen!” she demanded, pressing her nose to his. “If anypony finds out this book is missing, not only will it tarnish my beautiful record, but somehow—I just know it—Discord will get wind of it!”
Spike’s lidded stare remained. “And this is bad, becaaaauuuuse—”
“He’ll take it, Spike!” Twilight shouted. “He'll take it, and I’ll never get to finish! I’ll never see the profound, soul-salvaging knowledge written at the end! I’ll never see what Discord thinks of me—US! I-I meant… us…”
Spike smirked, and a crushing blanket of silence clotted the air.
“So,” he began with a deliberate pause, “you say you really don’t want ponies to know, huh…?”
The magnitude of Twilight’s mistake knocked her off of Spike and onto her haunches, her jaw slacked. “Oh no… You are not gonna be ‘that guy’ right now.”
Spike sat up, his lidded stare turning to a frown. “If you recall, ‘that guy’ was promised help with his chores—from his caretaker, mind you—because cleaning a light-forsaken castle is a bit more adventurous than cleaning a tree house. And, you know? ‘That guy’s’ been cleaning this dungeon all by himself, watching said caretaker sit on her flank and read a book to which she already knows the ending.”
“So yes, Twilight, I’m gonna be ‘that guy’ right now.” He yawned loudly. “And right now, ‘that guy’s’ got some sleep to catch up on. As for you, Miss I-Can-Stop-Anytime-I-Want…” Twilight blinked, and blinked again when she saw Spike holding a broom. "There are twelve dusty floors with your name on them."
Then she was pushed toward the door, her dock squeaking and dragging across the floor.
“Don’t you worry, Twilight. I’ve even made a checklist. Very fancy…”
Twilight twisted toward the shrinking book, her hoof reaching and grabbing at air like a needy foal.