I had to groan. There was glass everywhere in here.
I don't know what I'd been expecting when I entered the bedroom. I didn't think that the window would have repaired itself while I was gone, but I know that's what I was hoping for. The last time Ponyville was turned upside-down by Discord's chaos, everything had been magically fixed when the Elements of Harmony went off. I'd hoped for something similar now that the plunder vine crisis was over, since I hear that the twit was responsible for this one too, but then again, there was no convenient magical rainbow this time. Hence my window still being broken.
"Bon Bon!" I called out behind me. "Are you around? The window's busted!"
Somewhere below me, I could hear her answer. "So fix it!"
Again, I don't know what I was expecting. "Not my problem" is a very common phrase around our household. At least it is where Bon Bon is concerned. She's like that.
Since I wasn't getting any help with this, I grabbed my saddlebags and went downstairs. Bon Bon stopped me just as I was heading out the door.
"Where are you going, Lyra?" she asked.
"I told you. The window's broken. I gotta go get somepony to replace it."
Bon Bon looked up the stairs, her brow creasing ever so slightly. I had a task ahead of me, and likely several hours of bureaucracy to wait through, so I didn't wait for her response. She didn't stop me again as I stepped out into Ponyville and headed in the direction of town hall.
All around me as I walked, I noticed potholes where the plunder vines had grown. Their fast disappearance had left the ground peppered with holes, each big enough to stick several hooves into. There was probably one of these around the back of our house somewhere that I might've missed; the vine that smashed through my window had been growing out in the garden when it came through.
I grumbled at the thought of it. Even when he was supposedly reformed, Discord was still causing trouble for us. Thank Celestia he didn't come to town more often. And especially thank Her that he's an idiot.
Speaking of Discord, he was there in town square when I arrived. I was expecting ponies lining up at town hall to complain to Mayor Mare about damages. Instead, they were gathered in a big crowd in front of a wooden stage, where the draconequus in question was turning a raffle machine, and eager ponies were shouting out numbers and holding up tickets in their hooves. I had to stop and stare for a moment.
"Round and round it goes! Who will it be next?" said Discord.
He stopped the machine and drew a piece of paper from it. "Number sixty-three! Who here's got sixty-three?"
"I've got sixty-three!" One of the flower sisters proudly waved her ticket from the crowd.
In the blink of an eye, Discord vanished from the stage with a loud crack. Seconds later, so did Lily. Once they were both gone, everypony calmed down some, the shouting replaced by a low murmur.
Pinkie Pie was bounding my way, and immediately I smiled a little more. She hopped over with her usual exuberance, a wide grin on her face and a transparent plastic bucket full of what looked like torn-up paper scraps hanging around her neck.
"Hi, Lyra! Did your house get damaged, too?" I opened my mouth, but didn't get a chance to answer. "Say no more! Here's your ticket! Wait for Discord to call your number, and we'll have it fixed up in a jiffy!"
She thrust a square of paper in my face, forcing me to take it with my magic, and then skipped away out of sight. I unfolded it to learn that I was number one hundred and twenty-seven, and my smile slipped away as I realised my new predicament. Discord's selection process for who to help next was completely random! Who knew how long I'd be standing here waiting on him? I just wanted to let somepony official know that I was in trouble. Whose bright idea was it to let Discord hijack the proceedings? This whole mess was his fault to begin with!
Forget this. I wasn't waiting for my ticket to come up until I could get help. There's a reason I never played the lottery: I always lose at it.
I crumpled up my ticket and tried to walk around the crowd to get to town hall itself. I was going to Mayor Mare about this, come chaos or crowds. I didn't want Discord fixing my house anyway. He'd probably turn the window into a gate to Tartarus or something.
The front door was closed when I got to the building, but I found Mayor Mare around the side talking to a pegasus who I think was her aide. For somepony managing a crisis situation, she didn't seem all that worried, what with how she was smiling and chatting away. She noticed me and smiled in my direction, too.
"Hello there, Miss... Heartstrings, isn't it?"
"Uh... yes." I wasn't expecting her to remember my name. We'd only spoken twice before, both times on civic matters.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, um..." I fumbled around and showed her my ticket. "My house was damaged by the plunder vines, and since it's still technically owned by the council—"
"Oh yes, I see. Just take your ticket and wait for your number to come up. Discord... volunteered to help with the clean-up efforts. He'll fix whatever's wrong for you."
Mayor Mare turned back to her aide, seemingly thinking the issue resolved. I channelled my inner Bon Bon and gave an indignant ahem, getting her attention back.
"I'm sorry, Mayor Mare, but I don't have time to wait around for my number to come up. I have other places to be, and I don't know how long I'll be waiting! Can't I just be put in a queue or something?"
She gave her aide a sideways glance and then looked back to me, creasing her brow in a way that plainly told me 'no' before she even spoke.
"Officially, town hall is closed right now. Princess Twilight and her friends are managing things for today, including repairs and clean-up. I'm mostly just here to supervise. You can find her and ask for her help if you want to, but plenty of other ponies had the same idea. You'll be waiting either way."
"Couldn't you at least have worked out a better system for who Discord helps next?"
"We tried, but the lottery was the only one he would agree to. Apparently it is Discord's sworn duty to introduce disorder wherever possible, or else the Chains of Eternal Chaos may break, and Agamarath, Lord of the Great Abyss, will gorge upon time itself and bring the end of all things."
"His words, not ours," said the aide.
I sighed. "Thanks anyway."
I trotted back around town hall to find the crowd again. Discord was back onstage and turning the machine, this time with a top hat, suit and cane.
"And now, I shall make the next number appear! Hey presto!"
A plume of smoke obscured him for a second, before he came back into view with a new number clutched in his talon. He summoned a megaphone into existence to call out the winner.
"Number one hundred and twenty-seven!"
My eyes widened. I uncrumpled my ticket to look at it and confirm that it was mine. Sure enough, I stared down at the winning number. My eyes darted up to the stage, and I saw Discord looking directly at me, a devious look on his face. I gulped and lifted up my ticket.
Discord stood back and tilted his head. He made a square with his talon and paw to look through with one eye, like some kind of artist or photographer. All the while he floated in place next to my bed. I tried to remain passive and appear disinterested in his antics, like having the Spirit of Chaos in my home didn't bother me.
"Are you going to fix my window, or aren't you?"
Smooth as silk, Lyra.
There was a flash of white from Discord's magic. When I could see him again, he'd dressed himself up in overalls.
"Well... I don't know," he said with a mocking drawl. "A whole window? That's a pretty tough job. I'm going to need at least the afternoon."
I glared at him.
"No? Too much?" His outfit disappeared. "Everypony's a critic."
"Just fix my window."
Discord rolled his eyes and restored the window with a snap.
I trotted over to inspect it, just to make sure he didn't add any surprises, like I was sure he had done.
Oddly enough, he had, but it wasn't one I was expecting.
"...Did you add double glazing?"
The window was engulfed in another flash of light. It being right in front of my face, I cringed after being momentarily blinded. Celestia, why do you do this to me? When I shook my head and checked again, the window was back to how it was originally. Discord leaned over and whispered into my ear.
"Restoration is free. Upgrades are extra."
I was about to turn around and snap at him for his unwelcome antics, but I caught myself and held my tongue. I had just thought of a cunning plan.
"It had double glazing before," I said as I faced him, trying to appear sincere. "I was asking if you'd added it back in when you fixed it."
Discord floated away from me and leaned backwards, mid-air, like he was resting on an invisible couch. He smiled at me, the same way he smiled when my number came up.
"Nice try, but it isn't so easy to pull the wool over my eyes." He illustrated this by creating a wig and pulling it down to blind himself, only for his features to pop through so that he appeared to have an exceptionally white and hairy face.
"But credit for actually trying to scam the Spirit of Chaos. That takes guts."
He seemed to absorb the rest of the wig back into himself, returning to his usual appearance. I shrugged, resolving to not give him the reaction he was craving.
"It was worth a shot."
Discord teleported over to my side and coiled around my neck like a snake. I could feel his weight on my back, and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable as his face came close to mine. All I could see were his yellow eyes staring into my soul.
"Undoubtedly, my dear! But I'm curious as to what made you think it had a shot. You're a resident of Ponyville. You know who I am. So why try?"
I shook him off. He fell to the floor and landed on his back with a loud thump. I now found myself standing over him, and I welled with satisfaction as I noticed his surprised look. Just for emphasis, I pressed a hoof down on his chest to hold him in place.
"Personal space mean anything to you, Discord?"
The brief crack in his aloof appearance vanished, and the smug Discord returned.
"You're not afraid of me, but it's not because I'm reformed. It's something else. I wonder why it is you don't find me intimidating..."
"And I wonder why you feel the need to psychoanalyse me," I said as I let him go and walked out the door.
I was just heading down the hall when he teleported in front of me. Instead of floating in place, he sat on the floor. Even so, he was significantly taller than me, at least until he leaned down so that we were at eye level.
"Because it's interesting. You run and hide from something as mundane as a zebra in a cloak, but the big bad draconequus doesn't scare you?"
I looked away, my face flushing as I recalled the embarrassing incident.
"I admit, how we all reacted to Zecora wasn't Ponyville's proudest moment..."
He gripped my chin with his paw and pulled my head back so I was looking at him again. I was really beginning to get creeped out by his touchiness now.
"You're evading, my dear. Answer the question."
I sighed, pushing his paw away.
"You might be powerful, and perhaps you did some really bad stuff in the past, but personally, I think you're just an annoying idiot. Anybody dumb enough to just stand there while a big Rainbow of Death is hurtling towards them can't be taken seriously as a threat, and the fact that you apparently fell for it twice is even more embarrassing. That is why you don't scare me."
Discord gave me a blank look, obviously stunned into silence by my hard-hitting truths and ready to slink away in shame.
Then the corner of his mouth twitched. He tried to hold back a smirk, but he failed. Discord fell over and burst out laughing, holding his belly and rolling on his back in the middle of the upstairs hallway. I waited patiently for him to finish, raising an eyebrow at his display. I wasn't sure if this was real or if he was trying to play it cool after I'd just insulted him to his face.
Finally, his laughter subsided and he sat up again, leaning against the wall.
"Oho!" He wiped away a tear. "I'm sorry, but I wasn't expecting that! Here I was thinking that you had some deep, complicated reason, and the whole time it was just you being wrong!"
No, he was obviously trying to play it cool. I'd caught him and called him out as the idiot he really was, and now he was going to try to play it off as my mistake and make something up to save face. No way was that laugh real. It was actually kind of pathetic, but I decided to play along and see where he was going with this first.
"Okay. Wrong how?"
Discord snickered again. With a flash, he disappeared. I looked around in a state of bewilderment, wondering where he'd gone to now. Then, he suddenly hung upside-down in front of me. My eyes trailed up and saw his tail coiled around a light fixture that really shouldn't have been able to support his weight.
"Tell me, Miss Heartstrings, have you seen the Elements of Harmony in action?"
Don't react, Lyra. Don't give him the satisfaction.
"I was there when you were defeated the last time," I answered, honestly. "I didn't exactly have front row seats, but I did see it happen."
"So then, in your expert opinion, how would I have avoided the 'Rainbow of Death', as you called it?"
"You're kidding, right? You just dodge! If you'd taken literally two steps to the side, or teleported away, or anything, you wouldn't have gotten hit!"
Once again, he suppressed a giggle. I was getting really annoyed with him now.
"Okay, okay," he said, dropping to the floor. "I have an idea. Are you listening? Because it's a good one."
I was going to regret this...
"What is it?" I tentatively asked.
Discord slithered around behind me, and started popping up either side as he spoke. I had to keep turning my head to keep track of him. "I propose a game. I will send your mind back in time and into my body at the exact moment I realised the Elements of Harmony were going to work this time. You will have all of my many magnificent powers, about ten seconds of reaction time, however many tries you need, and you can quit whenever you want. All you have to do is avoid being turned to stone."
"No way! If I do that, you'll have won, and we'd be stuck in eternal chaos!"
He teleported in front of me, folding his arms. "I promise our little game won't have any nasty consequences. No alternate timelines, and no changes to our own."
A spool of red thread popped into being before me, hanging there without regard for gravity. Discord took it and began tying it in knots and weaving it between his digits.
"The great thing about being a time-traveller and a master of chaos is that maintaining a paradox falls perfectly within my skillset. Worst case scenario, I forget to stitch up a corner and somepony a thousand miles away might remember reading a different article in their local rag. But otherwise, I can assure you that nothing we do will change anything."
He finished by taking the tangled mess of thread and pulling it taut. As if it were a rubber band rather than a thread, it snapped back once he let go of one end, and what was left was a single red thread, just as long as before, with only the tiniest bump in the middle.
Call me paranoid, but I was still a little suspicious of this deal.
"...Why should I play this game?"
"Chance to prove yourself cleverer than me not enough for you? Oh, very well. A wager, then. If you can do it, if you can avoid being turned to stone even once, I will grant you a single wish. You can have anything you want."
My jaw must have hit the floor.
"Anything. Want to be an alicorn princess? Done. Want your face carved into the moon? Sure thing. A wild night with yours truly? I'll have no choice but to agree."
Each suggestion was punctuated by the appearance of a magazine or newspaper with tomorrow's date, with provocative headlines such as "PRINCESS HEARTSTRINGS OUTLAWS ALL FUN", "LUNA DECLARES PONYVILLE MARE PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE" or "EQUESTRIA'S MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR TAKEN".
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Did he really mean literally anything? That's what he was implying... But surely he couldn't really do that? Could he? Would he, rather? I had to know.
"When you say anything... Are we talking anything anything? You must have some limit."
Discord became thoughtful, stroking his beard and looking at the ceiling intently.
"Hmm... well, obviously nothing that will harm me. I won't kill anypony for you or assist in any other similarly heinous crime either; I am a born-again draconequus, after all. And you can't wish for more wishes, because that's cheating. Other than that, I don't think there's much you can conceivably ask for that I'd be unwilling to grant."
My mind reeled. Oh, the possibilities... All the things which I knew Discord to be capable of, but which not even the most skilled unicorn mages could hope to do... All the requests that the average pony wouldn't agree to, but which somebody like Discord would have no problem with... All the things I could ask for that would normally have such an exorbitant cost, but which he could make or get for me with only a thought... I knew what I'd wish for right away.
But still, one more thing niggled at me.
"...You said this was a wager. What happens if I lose?"
He grinned at me.
"If you lose, you serve me."
"No way, buster! If you think—"
"In my band."
With a burst of magic, a big colourful poster appeared in Discord's hands, which he unfolded properly to show me. The poster showed himself in punk rock garb smashing an electric guitar on stage while making some kind of gesture I didn't understand with his claws. Several other instruments which pointedly did not belong together, such as a harp, a drumkit and a kazoo, were floating in the air behind him. They were seemingly being held by white outlines of ponies.
"I'm putting together a band," Discord explained. "You'll play the lyre."
I stared at him.
"We're going to be called 'The Sowers of Discord'!"
"...And you said I had infinite tries to win this challenge, right?"
"At least until you give up."
I had so little to lose and so much to gain, I didn't even stop to think about the implications. I didn't dwell on the fact that Discord was certain that I'd give up and lose, even though he'd effectively given me an infinite number of second chances should I fail. That should've been my first clue that the game would be a lot harder than I'd expected. But all I could think about at the time was what I could do with that wish.
I took a deep breath.
"I accept your challenge."
With a click of his talons, Discord made my house disintegrate into dust, which was blown away by invisible wind into a white void. I screamed as we went tumbling through the empty expanse.
Everything was dark. I couldn't see anything. But I could hear birds and rustling leaves somewhere close by. Trying to stretch my limbs, I found that I was completely immobile. I was frozen. By the feel of it, I was stuck standing on my hind legs. I tried to call out for help, but my mouth was just as stuck. I began to panic, but kept control of myself. I called out with my mind, as it was the only way I could.
"Ah, yes, hello," Discord's voice replied. "Before we begin the game, I thought I'd start us here. You are inside my body at some irrelevant point in my past when I was still trapped in my stone prison. You'll probably be spending a lot of time here, so it's good to get acclimated. In this state, you can communicate with me. Every time you lose, you'll come back here, and you can choose to call it quits or try again. Like I said, you've got however many chances you need."
"This is... this is really uncomfortable."
"Welcome to my world. Now, do we understand the rules of engagement?"
"Wait! If I'm going to be in an unfamiliar body, shouldn't I have some time to get used to it, or...?"
"Nope! Let the games begin!"
The world became colourful again as I regained movement. I flopped forward and fell face-first on the chequer-patterned ground, my body feeling unbalanced and top-heavy. Colourful laser beams were being thrown about above me. Looking up, I could see Princess Twilight Sparkle, now a regular unicorn again, as well as all her friends. Her eyes glowed as she rose into the air above me. I noticed her crown and the necklaces that her friends were wearing. The Elements of Harmony, presumably. They were the source of the colourful laser beams.
I tried to force myself onto all fours, but as my eyes flicked down, I noticed that my hooves were gone, replaced by an eagle claw and lion's paw. I gasped, reaching up and touching my forehead to find my horn gone as well. How would I do magic? I hadn't a clue! What about those other things? Where were they? Yes! I could feel them! Discord's deer antler and goat horn! Did one of those channel his magic?
Deciding it was worth a shot, I tried to use some basic telekinesis to lift myself back up. I felt my magic surging... except instead of going through my horn, it seemed to come from everywhere at once. It was like my entire body was a conduit for magic. I would compare it to being set on fire, except it wasn't quite as painful. But it did feel warm.
Just as I was about to rise, I felt the Rainbow of Death strike me. It slammed into my back and knocked the wind out of me. It was like being bucked in the spine by Celestia herself!
Then came the petrification, starting at my legs and working its way up. I twisted my head back to look down at my body, or rather, Discord's body, just as it reached the wings.
"Oh, come on!" I pleaded.
My final thought as my face hardened and my sight disappeared was that Discord's voice sounded a lot more masculine from his perspective.
In darkness again, I sighed.
"Well, that was a bust."
"Be patient, my dear. You just need to get used to it. I assume you wish to try again?"
"Duh. I'm not giving up after one attempt."
I could hear him grinning at me.
"Let's see how the second one goes."
I braced myself as I was flung into Discord's body this time, catching myself on the arms of some kind of chair. I looked back at it, and realised that I was sitting in that ridiculous throne he'd made for himself. I remembered seeing it on the day. In fact, I remembered this whole event. The lasers were flying straight past my head now that I was no longer on the ground. From here, I could actually get a good view of Ponyville as it was on the Day of Discord.
The floating islands off in the distance, the cotton candy clouds raining chocolate milk, the dancing buffalo, the giant card stacks, it was all exactly as I remembered it. I looked around frantically, seeing if I could spot my past self. When I'd witnessed this the first time, Discord had been on the right side and Twilight was on the left, so...
I looked to my left and spotted a far away hill. Sure enough, there was me, standing still and watching the spectacle with my jaw hanging open. Berry Punch was with me, as well as some other stallion I didn't really know. Then I noticed just how far away that hill was. When I was a pony watching Discord get blasted, it was a distant scene and I couldn't make out details. But when I was Discord looking the other way, everything was crisp and clear. I could see individual hairs of my mane!
I looked down at my new forelegs, and was able to admire that sheer detail I could see in them. Discord's eyesight was a hundred times my own. I felt like I'd spent my whole life half-blind and only now was I seeing the world as it really was.
I gave my claw and paw an experimental flex, and was overcome with how strange it felt having these extra digits. It felt unnatural, especially with how asymmetrical they were, but at the same time, I almost felt like—
BLAM! The Rainbow of Death sucker-punched me in the gut and I fell backwards, toppling over in my throne and rolling down the hill even as the petrification set in. I screamed a curse to Celestia in the moments just before it reached my mouth, my body bouncing the rest of the way to the bottom as I went blind.
"You know, for one of my greatest defeats and worst moments of my life, I'm finding this pretty fun so far! They say comedy is tragedy plus time, don't they? And what sort of comedian would I be if I couldn't laugh at myself?"
I really hoped I wouldn't have to endure his commentary every time I came back here.
"Shut up and send me back," I growled.
"As you wish."
I didn't remember to brace myself, but this time I didn't fall over. I felt my momentum moving forward, but I was able to catch myself. I realised what it was this time. It wasn't that I was unbalanced. It was that Discord had been in the middle of leaning forwards at the point he'd sent me back to. Again, the lasers flew past my head. I got a better look at them this time. Just like the gems in Elements of Harmony themselves, the laser beams were shaped like the cutie marks of their bearers. There was a theme going on here.
I tried to be proactive this time, standing up on my hind legs in the way that Discord did. I swayed slightly and flailed my arms, trying to get balanced, but it worked. Once standing tall, the lasers were just barely missing me. I was wondering what the point of them was. Before I tried to do anything else, I gave a flex of my other limbs. The ones I couldn't move while sitting down. I had wings now. Just like the talons, they felt odd to have after a lifetime without them, but they seemed like good things to have.
Could I fly with these?
With an experimental flap, I lifted off the ground. At the same time, I felt the telltale warmth of my magic. My pegasus friends never described flying like this. I strongly suspected that Discord's wings didn't actually work, and that even when he appeared to be using them, it was actually just him levitating himself. I looked back and frowned at them. Just like the rest of Discord, they were mismatched. One was a pegasus wing, and the other was a bat wing. Yeah, there was no way that he was really using these.
The Rainbow of Death slammed into me when I wasn't looking this time. Head still twisted the wrong way, I was knocked back down the hill. The stone was a lot faster this time. It was practically a flash-petrification. I was already a statue when my face impacted with the ground.
"Just send me back," I said, not waiting for any snarky comments.
Okay. This time, no more playing around. The first thing I did once I was thrust into Discord's body again was to start practicing with his magic. I tried to use telekinesis to summon a rock to me. It flew over in my direction, but it went insanely fast and I couldn't control it. The thing almost smacked me right in the face, except that it got caught in the crossfire of the laser beams. One of the red ones struck the rock and blasted it into powder with a loud bang. I shrieked like a little filly and toppled over.
"Oh Celestia! Those lasers make things explode? Are you ponies trying to kill me?"
I didn't receive an answer. Twilight Sparkle and her friends were already floating above me, and the Rainbow of Death was coming any second. I scrambled to get up again and run away from the throne and the hill where the Elements were about to strike, but walking on just two legs proved too difficult, and I fell over. I looked up and saw the rainbow beam incoming. I rolled away as fast as I could, but evidently I wasn't fast enough, because it still got me in the back.
The petrification began. I groaned and lay down on the chequer-patterned ground.
I tried twice more after that to just get up out of the throne and run for it, both times ending the same way. I'd fall down, I'd not roll away fast enough, and I'd get stoned either way. This time I decided I'd use my magic to help me. I'd try to use it a little more than not at all. I subsequently spent four cycles trying to use basic telekinesis with Discord's magic, and it became clear that whatever magic he used was nothing at all like mine. I couldn't control his power for the life of me.
"Discord, this game isn't fair!" I said once I was back in the void. "Your body and your magic are both alien to me! How am I supposed to escape like how you'd escape if I don't even know the basics of how you work?"
"What are you saying? That I should give you more time? Or do you want a crash course on how to be a spirit of chaos? I can't help it if you agreed to a game that put you at a disadvantage."
I'd come to realise that when speaking to somebody entirely in thoughts, it was difficult to keep my annoyance out of my tone. In speech, I could try to disguise my tone for the sake of politeness, but in thought, the emotion came through whether I wanted it to or not.
"Discord, please," I said as evenly as I possibly could. "I need to know how to use chaos magic if I'm going to play this."
There was silence.
"You do realise what you're asking of me, don't you?"
"I'm asking you to give me a fair chance! I'm not going to lose just because you want to cheat!"
"No, you're asking me to drive you mad. Chaos magic warps you. Not just your body, but your mind too. What we've been doing so far isn't that dangerous because it's not actually you using my magic, but if you want to wield chaos just like I do, you need to embrace it. You need to take chaos into your soul. And trust me, ponies can't do that. At least not without becoming giggling maniacs that sacrifice animals to make their kitchen appliances work."
"Isn't there anything you can do?"
"Now that you mention it, no. Want to try again?"
I mentally sighed.
I'd counted it. Sixteen seconds from when I took control to when the Elements of Harmony hit me, and from there an additional eight seconds for full petrification to set in. More than enough time to get off a few spells, so I started throwing them out as quickly as I could. I figured that since everything would reset anyway, there was no real consequence if I made a major screw-up and killed myself.
It took another few cycles, but I think I finally got the teleportation spell down. At the very least, in the last one I was able to properly disappear and reappear. It's just that I hadn't traveled anywhere and I still got hit. But that was because I didn't have a destination in mind while I was practicing. This time I was sure I had it.
Another thing that I'd really improved on was my bipedal standing and walking. I had a lot more balance and coordination now, and I was reasonably sure that I could walk a good few paces in Discord's body without falling over. I wasn't going to try, however, because I realised now that the Elements of Harmony had a much larger effective range than I had predicted. Every time I tried to flee and get out of the way via physical means, they hit me in the back anyway.
Not this time. This time, I'd avoid them entirely. This time, that wish was mine.
Twilight and her friends rose into the air. Their eyes glowed, and the Rainbow of Death shot into the air and arced towards me. With a grin, I snapped my talons just like Discord did. I felt myself flung through space in a way that would have made me vomit if I were still in possession of a mouth at that moment. Then I reassumed physical form far away from the throne and the impact point. In fact, I was halfway between my past self and the throne.
The Rainbow of Death hit the ground where I had been standing... and bounced. My eyes widened and my mouth hung open as it took to the air again and changed course to fly towards me.
The Celestia-damned thing could home in.
Before it struck me again, I teleported away a second time, all the way back to the throne. Twilight and her friends were still floating in place, and the Rainbow of Death was still pouring out of them. It turned my way once more and flew back towards the throne. And was it just me, or was it getting faster?
This time I teleported all the way to the outskirts of Ponyville. This was a spell. Spells had to run out eventually, right? If I avoided it long enough, it would falter.
I looked up to see the rainbow rising over Ponyville. It aimed straight at me and shot forward. It was definitely faster. In fact, now it was practically supersonic. I tried to teleport the moment I saw what it was doing, but it was faster even than the snap of my talons. I was halfway through disappearing when I got hit with the rainbow's full force. Half of me was turned to stone on the spot, and the rest of me was turned to stone somewhere out in Sweet Apple Acres.
"The Elements of Harmony have homing capabilities?" I shouted into the darkness.
"Why, yes. Yes, they do. What, did you think they didn't? Did you think that in a thousand years, you were the first bright spark to consider the oh so brilliant idea of dodging?"
If I could move, I would have grit my teeth.
"This was the point you were trying to make, wasn't it? You were trying to show me that there was nothing you could have done anyway."
"Precisely. I was doomed from the moment the six of them started charging up. That's why my whole plan revolved around breaking them so that they couldn't use their Elements of Harmony in the first place. And now you know not to assume that others are stupid when the far more likely scenario is that you are the stupid one. Lesson learned. You want to give up now?"
I might as well, right? I'd based my entire plan around the idea that the Elements of Harmony could be dodged. If that wasn't the case, then there really wasn't any possible way to win... was there?
"No," I answered. "Maybe you couldn't dodge, but there must have been some way you could've won that day. There's no way that they're completely unstoppable. I refuse to believe in that kind of infallible power."
"Oho! This will be fun! Very well, then! Let's see if you really have what it takes."
I used a few cycles to run some tests. If I avoided the Rainbow of Death for long enough, it would pick up speed very quickly. The rate at which its speed climbed seemed proportional to how much distance I put between myself and it. If I played my cards right and didn't try to run too far, I could buy myself up to two minutes. After that, my reaction time just wasn't good enough. Having learned to extend each cycle to two minutes rather than sixteen seconds, I then had much more opportunity to practice with Discord's chaos magic.
What I was learning very quickly about chaos magic was that it was less about structuring the spell and picturing the right components, as any decently complicated spell was with unicorn magic, and more about raw creativity and whim. I had better results with spontaneous thoughts than planned ones, and trying to get too specific limited my power. Willpower also seemed to play into it a lot. Like a foal with an easily bullied mother, I just needed to scream louder to get my magic to listen to me more.
Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. I still seemed to be using up a lot of magic really fast, and I became easily exhausted if I tried to do something big, like create a tree. I'd never seen Discord break out into sweats after excessive magic use, so there must have been more of a trick to it than what little I'd worked out for myself. But for the most part, it worked. I just had to be reckless. Think on my hooves.
So over the course of several cycles, I experimented. First I tried putting something big between myself and the Rainbow of Death. More often than not, the rainbow went around it and caught me anyway. On the rare occasion that it didn't, the object in question was turned to stone with me. Then I tried teleporting over to my past self and using Berry Punch and the unknown stallion as meat shields. I figured that there was no way the Elements of Harmony would turn them to stone, so maybe I was safe that way. Instead, the Rainbow of Death went through them and just hit me.
Next I tried teleporting myself underground, expecting that the Elements wouldn't change the whole land into stone, especially since Ponyville relies so much on the earth for farming. Turns out that it didn't. It just turned the earth that was between me and the surface into stone, leaving a straight pillar of rock digging into the ground until it reached me.
Physical obstructions did not work, so I moved onto magical ones. Magical shields, magical deflecting mirrors, a magic baseball bat to knock the beam away (I was particularly proud of that one for its very Discordian creativity), but nothing worked. The rainbow shattered them all. I could not act on the spell with outside magic.
"Okay," I muttered, once more back in the darkness. "I have a new idea."
"If I can't block the spell, and I can't dodge it, then maybe the answer is for me to just not be there at all?"
There was silence in the void, aside from those occasional noises from outside the statue. I took that as a sign to explain.
"I'm thinking, what if I try to avoid the spell not by teleporting far away, but leaving normal space entirely? I could time travel to a point where the rainbow isn't around, enter a pocket dimension it can't follow me into, or travel to another universe altogether..."
I could hear the sound of clapping.
"Bravo. Now you're thinking like a spirit of chaos."
I think I may have actually physically died several times during my attempts to teach myself time travel. From what I hear, some of them were pretty gruesome. It got to the point that Discord broke his rule and gave me some advice on how to pull it off, just because he was getting bored watching me repeatedly rip myself into a thousand pieces and scatter my essence across time and space. For my part, I don't remember finding it painful. But then again, that may have been because I kept erasing myself from history.
Don't ask me how all this worked in relation to the time traveling I was already doing to go through these loops. I couldn't even explain it with a flow chart. The chaos compounded in on itself and I stopped being able to make sense of it. Discord assured me that this was a good thing, because time travel with chaos magic is harder if you actually understand what you're doing. Somehow. I don't get it. Which is why I could do it.
The Rainbow of Death came hurtling towards me for what must've been the hundredth time, and I flashed away and into the realms beyond time. This was the first time I'd actually disappeared. I looked around me and beheld a vast expanse of swirling purple energy.
"It worked!" I laughed to myself. "I did it!"
My laugh turned into a maniacal cackle before long, and I started choking. Tears welled up, and I noticed that I couldn't breathe.
I was able to create an oxygen bubble around myself in time, and I looked around to see where I was.
I didn't know where I was. What in the name of Tartarus had I done to myself this time? Where was this place? Was this some kind of time corridor? Did I accidentally travel to the time before the universe began?
A loud, rumbling moan echoed through the purple energy vortex. My pupils dilated as a giant green hand made of rock emerged from somewhere below me, pushing through the purple mist. Then a face. A face with glowing red eyes and teeth like a shark and the nose of a dolphin. Then it spoke with the voice of the legion.
"DiSCoRD! i haVE wAitED EOnS For thiS dAY!"
It reached out and grabbed me, squeezing me by the torso and bringing me up to its horrible face.
"COmE giVe YOUr MotHER A huG!"
At that moment, a tear in the fabric of reality opened, and the Rainbow of Death came through to mercifully end my existence.
"I apologise for that. Sincerely. My mother can be quite overwhelming for some, and I'm sorry you had to meet her under those circumstances."
"I'm sorry I did too."
"I'm going to have to go see her after I'm done with Ponyville. She doesn't know about the situation in Equestria right now, and I don't want to leave her thinking that I'm helpless and trapped in the lower realms somewhere. Chaos forbid she gets the idea that Sleipnir is holding me. That wouldn't end well for anybody."
"I really do not like your family," I said, dryly.
"In fairness, we're not biologically related. She's my mother in the same sense that the Tree of Harmony is yours."
"Well then I have three mothers that I hate, because the Tree of Harmony is making my life a real pain right now. If this thing can even follow me through time and to alternate dimensions, then what else is there?"
Discord chuckled. "You can always give up! Playing for the Sowers won't be so bad. You'll like your bandmates! I've already roped in a prominent Canterlot cellist, a griffon sax player, a second-rate electronica DJ, and a homeless stallion from Manehattan who is a killer with the harmonica!"
There was silence as I pondered my options.
"There's only one thing for it. I have to stop the Elements from going off in the first place."
"And how do you plan to do that?"
"I have no idea."
"Twilight, stop! It's not Discord! It's Lyra! Lyra Heartstrings! You know, from—"
"Twilight, I'm not Discord, I'm Lyra! I was sent back in time into Discord's body! You're about to make a terrible mist—"
"Twilight, can you hear me? I need you to stop! It's not Discord, it's Lyr—"
"Stop! I surrender! Don't turn me to stone! I beg you! I'll refor—"
"This isn't working."
"Only just worked that out, did you?" Discord quipped.
"Shut up, you freak of nature," I snapped.
"Testy, aren't we? Maybe this whole experience is having an adverse effect on you? You've spent quite a long time in my body now. I think all the testosterone is starting to affect your personality."
"Don't be ridiculous."
I smouldered to myself for a moment, but that last remark bothered me. I couldn't let it go.
"...Can that happen?"
"Well, even while we're in here, you're still in my body and using my physical brain. It could happen."
My blood ran cold. Even through the paralysis, I still felt a chill.
"This needs to stop. I draw the line where your little game starts mentally altering me."
"I wouldn't worry if I were you. You'll go back to your old self once we're done here. It's all just chemistry, Miss Heartstrings."
"In truth, it's all the chaos magic that you need to worry about. You're at no risk of mutation, since you're not in your own body, but chaos does have psychological effects. Careful you don't become a raving madmare."
At that moment, inspiration struck.
"...What happens if I kill Twilight and her friends?"
I was thrust into Discord's body again. I already had my plan when I gained control. First I got out of my throne. Next I created a giant butcher knife and tossed it at Twilight's face. It wouldn't actually change the timeline, so who cared?
I cared. I cared a lot. Because the Celestia-damned thing exploded on impact with some kind of invisible barrier. Twilight balked and took a few steps back, but she and her friends kept charging their Elements of Harmony, even if they were no longer looking quite so pleased with themselves.
I had thought that the obvious solution to stopping a weapon with a long charge-up time was to attack when it was still charging. Apparently not. It seemed that as well as blasting me, those horrible necklaces protected their bearers with a magical shield of some kind during the charge-up. I guess it made sense. If any villain could just kill the Elements of Harmony midway through their charge-up, they'd make for a pretty useless weapon. Just the same as they'd be pretty useless if the villain could just dodge.
I realised at that moment that it wasn't just Discord I had insulted. I really never gave the Tree of Harmony enough credit either.
All the same, I wasn't going to let it beat me. With a vengeful howl, I attacked the shield with everything I could think of. I used every offensive spell that I could make up on the fly, battering it, trying my best to tear it to pieces. I imagined the shield as a giant onion, and I imagined myself ripping off layers of it to get to its centre, where my targets lay waiting.
But it became abundantly clear to me that it was impossible. If the shield was a giant onion, it'd be an onion the size of the moon. I wasn't getting through it in the scant few seconds I had left. I wasn't even sure I'd have been able to get through it if I'd had six hours. This was a doomed venture. I realised that now.
This time, when the Elements of Harmony struck, they didn't petrify me. As if in response to my assault, they burned me alive with rainbow-coloured fire. It was the most painful experience of my life.
I had a lot of time to recover once I returned to the statue. Discord's voice was absent, and I was left alone with my thoughts to contemplate what just happened. In a way, I almost couldn't believe that I'd tried to do what I just did. What if I had succeeded? That would've been grim. And despite the assurances that nothing I'd have done would change anything, I think something like that would've stuck with me. In the end... I was kind of glad I failed there. Even if it did mean that I was out of options.
In that moment, I could finally see just how far I was taking this whole thing. I didn't want to lose, but I was going to extremes that I would never have considered if I were in my right mind. It wasn't even about the wish anymore. It was about winning. Whatever it was that was changing me, I decided then that I wanted nothing more to do with it. I could never be Discord, and I didn't want to be. He could have his chaos. I just wanted it to be over.
"...I give up," I said.
Barely a second passed, and already I was thrown back into my old body and was once again standing in the middle of my upstairs hallway. I looked at my hooves, felt my horn, and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I curled up on the floor in a ball. I felt my own coat and channeled my own magic through my own horn, and I just delighted in the sensation of being a unicorn again.
A shadow appeared, looming over me. I looked up to see the grinning face of Discord.
"So, how was that experience?" he asked.
"Horrible." I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. "I can't believe it, but it looks like it's true. There really is no escaping the Elements of Harmony. I never realised until now just how terrifying those things are."
Discord snapped away. When he came back, he was balancing a chess set on his talons. I raised an eyebrow as I saw that the white side all had figures of ponies instead of the usual pieces, with the princesses and the Elements of Harmony along the back row, and several Ponyville residents, including myself, in place of the pawns. I frowned at that, until I noticed that the black side had no pieces aside from Discord, standing in for the king.
"Ponies might look at me and think that they're weak, because they can't move the sun and moon with a thought or create anything they want. But you ponies aren't helpless before me. Not like how I'm helpless before the Elements."
He used his own piece to take all the pawns at once in a single move, and then animated the rest to come to life and start beating up Discord's miniature self. Somehow, I got the feeling that he didn't play much chess.
I looked up at him.
"You've felt it now. You've felt what it's like to have all that power, and to still not be able to do anything to avert your fate. You wanted to know why I didn't try to dodge? Why I just stood there and screamed? Now you know."
He tossed the chess set over his shoulder to a cacophony of tiny screams, which disappeared along with the board itself when it hit the floor. Then he flew off down the hall, pausing at the top of the stairs to look back at me.
"Anyway, I think it's high time I moved on to help the other residents of Ponyville. That little adventure took a whole thirty seconds. They must be getting impatient. I wouldn't want to keep them waiting."
Just as he raised his claw to snap again, I thought of something.
"How did you know that the Elements were so unstoppable?" I asked. "It was only your second time getting hit by them. You couldn't possibly have tried everything that I tried."
Discord smiled at me, but it wasn't like the other times. It was somehow more gentle than the previous occasions. I didn't know what to make of it.
"Maybe I didn't try everything you tried."
...Son of a mule. He'd never really known for sure that he was powerless. Maybe he'd known that dodging wouldn't work, but he couldn't have known that nothing else would. I'd just proved to him how helpless he really was. Was that what this was really all for? He wanted to test to see if he'd ever really stood a chance? Was he hoping that I'd have found some way out?
I sighed and shook my head.
"Maybe you're not an idiot after all. But you know that you're not infallible either, Discord. Just because I couldn't trick you doesn't mean that somepony else can't, even if you are the Spirit of Chaos. Maybe someday, someone will."
Discord appeared thoughtful.
He snapped his talons, but he didn't disappear. Instead, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye, coming from within my room. I looked back to Discord, and he gave me that gentle smile again.
"A little parting gift," he explained. "Must be off now. Toodles!"
And like that, he was gone.
Left alone, I trotted back into my bedroom and over to the window. It was just as I suspected. He'd added double glazing. I smiled to myself, rolled my eyes and headed downstairs. It was time to find Bon Bon and let her know that everything was fixed. And while I was at it, I could tell her such a story...
Midway down the stairs, a note appeared in front of my face, floating in the air. I unfolded it to find a message written in crayon with clawwriting that looked messy even for a foal.
Band practice is on Wednesday.