This is a short story in The Journey of Graves.
The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.
IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.
And so, the saga continues...
Nobody paid attention to the man walking down the street.
Now this was a most usual occurrence in Ponyville where every face was known or otherwise made so upon arrival. Yet on this day, the crowds completely ignored the odd man as he made his way through the bustling noonday street, twirling a cane that looked made of spirals of spun, multicolored glass as he whistled a strange, sibilant tune.
As he passed by, his footsteps echoing the discordant strains of his song, small bits of strangeness occurred. Here, a coin toss between two youngsters ended in awe as the golden bit landed edgewise up on the uneven pavement. There, spilled coffee stained a pristine, white tablecloth with a distinctive floral pattern, almost as if deliberately made in hazel-hued watercolors. Then, to the shock of all within earshot, Diamond Tiara said something nice and actually seemed to mean it.
None would have attributed the strangeness to the stranger, though indeed they should have. From his lilac, suede shoes tapping lightly over the cobbled stone to his checkered suit of citrine and royal purple, everything about the man screamed for attention and recognition. Yet none was paid as he made his way through town like a minnow through still waters with oddity and curiosity rippling in his wake.
Step by soft-soled step, he progressed, the familiarity of his path clear from the languid confidence of his strides. Unheeded as he was, it didn’t take long for him to arrive at his intended destination. He looked up, panning eyes over the massive tree that stood hollowed out yet still living, a repository for vast collections of texts and tomes. Truly vast collections indeed, but right now, those were not what concerned him.
Today, it was the keeper that he sought.
Twilight didn’t turn immediately when she heard the bell ring over the opened door.
“Be right with you!” she called out, brow knit in focus as she flicked her wand in a series of minute gestures. At the motions, the dozens of books that floated above, each shrouded in a glittering haze of purple light, drifted back into place on their now cleaned shelves. Smiling in satisfaction, the sweater vested librarian now turned her attentions to the newcomer.
“Hey there, how can I help–”
– she blinked –
Twigs and leaves rained down outside as with almost savage ferocity, Twilight Sparkle assaulted the intruder with the force of a class ten earthquake. Gravity Well, Binding Light, Chains of Perdition, and even her experimental and highly dangerous Time Lock. Any and every spell she knew that could possibly tie down a target was used as she hurled an astronomical deluge of arcane might forward. The massive tree thrashed like a landed silver pike, shaken more violently by Twilight’s onslaught than any storm it had ever weathered, or likely ever would.
Only when her entire repertoire was spent twice over did the young mage stop, amethyst eyes flashing and chest heaving from exertion as she ceased her barrage. It was all well and good that she had: the magical cocoon she’d concocted was probably strong enough to seal in a supernova and was already distorting the visible light spectrum for a good ten feet around.
And yet it still might not be enough.
“You,” she panted, double, triple, and quadruple checking the soundness of her spell crafted prison as sweat trickled down her forehead. “What are you doing here?”
“Come now, is that anyway to greet an old friend?”
And the Spirit of Chaos smiled very widely indeed.
Boot heels pounded on pavement as Graves raced across town, gunmetal grey eyes harder than steel spear tips as urgency gave wings to his feet. The silver star pinned to the inside of his coat was glowing with a faint, crimson light as the metal flowed to form a simple and disturbing message: Twilight. Emergency. Help.
He’d entrusted the librarian with that guarded frequency because he knew she had good judgment. Calm and rational in any crisis not academically sourced, he knew she’d never abuse the call for anything less than a genuine disaster. Of course, he’d never thought she’d ever need to use it at all, which was what made it all the more disturbing.
And so, ignoring the startled cries of the townsfolk he bluntly brushed aside, Graves took legs already strained to their utmost limit and pushed them just a bit faster.
Kicking the door down, the marshal ducked in the cover of the frame, spell gun charged, glowing, and ready to unleash the full force of a thunderstorm at the slightest need. Before the door had even hit crashed home, though, his gunmetal grey eyes were already scanning the interior. Top floor clear: no marksmen to worry about. Kitchen area clear: no signs of a waiting ambush. As reasonably satisfied that his flank was clear as a quarter second would allow, Graves darted across the open portal to check the other side and–
–blinked just as the heavy, oaken door slammed into the wall.
“Graves!” Twilight gasped, her voice cracking from strain as she flashed him a smile with more gritted teeth than happiness. “Thank Celestia you’re here! I’ve got him pinned down, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold him; I need your help!”
Pinned down was an understatement. Though he was no expert, the raven-haired marshal could make out at least fifteen different binding spells layered together to form an incandescent web snaring her victim to a nearby bookcase. Of course, the fact that she’d been able to not only cast so many high level spells, but consistently maintain them was a marvel in itself, yet even that wasn’t why he faltered. Instead, that honor belonged to the smiling man that she held in confinement.
“D?” Graves gaped with confusion to rival Applejack at a trigonometry convention. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh you know,” the elderly youngster replied as his single fang flashed in a toothy grin. “Just… hanging around.”
“Wait,” she cried, very nearly losing control of her spells at the unexpected shock. “You two know each other?”
“Why of course I do my dear,” he laughed, the sound richer than any aged wine and sweeter than warm honey. “I’ve saved his life, after all. Twice.”
The mage girl was unconvinced, and by unconvinced, she would have sooner entrusted King Sombra with the Crystal Empire for a day while taking the Crystal Heart to be polished. After all, their last encounter had consisted of nothing but lies, falsehoods, and debilitating half-truths designed to twist the mind and confound reason. In light of this, Twilight had been more than prepared to disregard everything coming of his scheming mouth and blast him back to the Paleozoic Era. But when she looked to Graves and saw the recognition in his face, saw the unfazed acceptance of a simple truth in those confused, but undenying grey eyes, well…
Concentration shattered like thin frost as spells and weaves dissolved and their glittering strands faded into the ether.
“There, much better,” the strange man laughed as he nonchalantly adjusted his garish suit and straightened the single streaks of white in his otherwise coal black hair. “I must say, I was expecting a warm welcome, but nothing quite so festive. You’ve certainly come a long way, haven’t you, little Miss Sparkle?”
“Graves, what is going on here?” Twilight asked, completely ignoring the jibes in his words as she rounded on the marshal. “How do you know him? How exactly is it that he can say he saved your life?” Graves shrugged.
“Because it’s… true?”
Needless to say, Twilight found his response just shy of sufficient. Wide, amethyst eyes turned from the marshal to the man behind, who responded with a jaunty, little wave. Slowly, Twilight reached out to pull and took Graves by the lapel of his long, brown coat as she pulled him in for a private meeting.
“Graves,” she whispered. “You do know who this is right?”
“He calls himself D. That’s all I’ve got.”
“D. Right.” Twilight took a moment to massage her temples: how could it be that a man who was so perceptive on the battlefield could also be denser than a neutron star? “Graves, that D happens to stand for Discord.”
He stared at her. Flatly. Blankly.
“Discord?” Twilight repeated. “As in the Spirit of Chaos? Ancient enemy of Princess Celestia and Luna? The one who held the world in a perpetual state of bedlam and misery for who knows how many eons? The bucking Lord of Disorder himself?! That Discord?!”
“… Sorry.” Graves shrugged. “Slept through most of History.”
If frustration could be harvested for energy, then Twilight could have single-handedly levitated Ponyville to Cloudsdale-level heights till the next Equestrian Games.
“Look, I get you have some, uh… problems with D. Discord. Whatever,” Graves nodded, his gravelly baritone a dull rumble as he did his admirably insufficient best to placate the glaring girl. “But I’m guessing he hasn’t done anything yet, has he?”
“… No…” Twilight begrudgingly admitted.
“And I’m sure figuring out why he’s here is something we won’t regret, right?” he continued, now turning to give the man in question a decidedly pointed glance. D actually managed to look surprised.
“Me? Acting in unpredictable and possibly dangerous ways for my own ends and amusements? Perish the thought!”
Twilight was not exactly convinced, and rightly so considering his history in Ponyville. But Graves did sort of have a point. Discord hadn’t done anything yet apart from make a thoroughly unexpected entry through her front door. He certainly wasn’t up to anything now, not unless doing a very bad tap routine could be considered criminal.
As she thought, Twilight glanced back at Graves and noticed that despite his conciliatory words, he’d never let the barrel of his still-charged rifle stray a micron from their errant visitor. The young mage may not have trusted Discord, but she did have a good bit of reliance in a trigger-happy gunman ready to unleash electric death at a moment’s notice.
“Alright then,” she sighed. “I suppose I can at least listen to him.”
“Gasp! Little Twilight Sparkle actually cares to listen?” Discord squealed. “Oh jubilation! This calls for libations and spontaneous musical scores from here to the hinterlands!”
“Don’t push it, Discord,” Twilight glowered. “I still don’t trust you farther than I can throw you, and despite carrying books around, that still means my thin, noodly, and decidedly not made for throwing egghead arms. So just spit it out already: why are you here?”
And then, with eyes roiling like pools of molten gold, Discord said the last thing she had ever expected to hear.
“It’s quite simple really. I need your help.”
Twilight blinked. And then she blinked some more. And then in an act that would have horrified Rarity were she present, Twilight stuck a finger in each ear and gave them good, squeaky rubs, just to make sure there was nothing between eardrums and the words she definitely could not have heard.
“I’m sorry, could you run that by me again?” Twilight smiled sweetly. “I must have been temporarily delusional, because I could have sworn you just asked me for help.”
“No my dear, you most certainly weren’t,” the trickster cackled as he dropped to his knees upon the floor. “Here am I, poor, lonely Discord, set adrift without a friend in the world, come to Twilight Sparkle on bended knee to beg her aid.”
“Help,” she repeated, sounding out the word as if it were some fringe dialect of a long dead language. “You… want my help.”
“That’s right,” he smiled. “With a capital ‘H’, lowercase ‘e’, italicized ‘l’, and comic sans ‘p’. I need, your help.”
Twilight looked to Graves, wide eyes pleading for him to make sense of the situation. All he could really do was shrug. A man was asking for help. What else was there to say?
“Why?” the sweater-vested librarian demanded as she vented her confusion in the best way she could: research. “What could I possibly do that you can’t manage yourself? I mean, you’re the bucking Spirit of Chaos! Impossibility’s what you eat for breakfast!”
“That’s true,” Discord nodded sagely. “Or rather, it would be true, if I had a mouth with which to dine.”
While his words made no sense, his actions spoke instead as taking up his cane, Discord strode towards the large table at the rooms center and passed right through.
Or maybe passing wasn’t the right word. It was more like he… flowed, as if the table were a rock in the stream and he the water passing by. Instead of simply phasing through, his body rippled and ebbed around the solid oak till he’d passed through and seamlessly joined back together with a wavering finish.
Grey eyes lit up with illumination.
“Astral projection?” Graves asked.
“Give the man a cookie!” Discord laughed aloud as he pressed an oatmeal raisin into the marshal’s coat pocket. “That’s right my boy. What you see before you is merely the thinnest veneer of light wrapped around my disembodied conscience. All the rich nougat and gooey chaos that Twilight Sparkle loves so much is still safely locked away in Princess Celestia’s garden, gathering moss like a good statue should.
“Wait a second,” Twilight called as she held up hand for pause. “If you’re an astral image, then my spells should have had no effect unless you intentionally sought to interact with the corporeal world. If you'd wanted to, you should probably have been able to walk right out of them.”
“That I could have, that I could have,” Discord nodded.
“Then why didn’t you?” Twilight demanded, only to get a sardonic smirk in response.
“Well you seemed to be having such fun, I thought it’d be a shame to interrupt.”
Once on a stint in Acoltpulco, Graves had gotten to see – and indeed trigger – a full volcanic eruption, and while it wasn’t quite the same scale as the natural disaster, the effects were no less spectacular as Twilight Sparkle’s hair literally burst into flames.
“Okay, that is IT!” she cried from beneath her searing inferno. “No more games, no more fooling around! You’ve got ten – no – five seconds to tell me right here and now what you want before I lose my cool and blast you into the sixth dimension. Five…”
“Wait, you mean this is keeping your cool?” Discord laughed.
“Come on, you have to admit that’s a little funny.”
“Seriously, nothing? Not even a smile?”
“Honestly, everyone’s a critic.”
“It’s a message. For Celestia.”
In all honesty, Twilight Sparkle had really hoped Discord would continue with his jokes so she’d have a reason to make good on her threats. In fact, she was seriously contemplating just going ahead and sending him hurtling across the voids of time and space for good riddance. But she hadn’t, because right there and then, something about the crazy man made her pause.
“… Why?” she asked, the flaring halo receding to more of a crimson glow. “Why not just pop in like you did here?”
“I would if I could, but I can’t, so I won’t,” Discord chuckled. “Not only does the palace have more security than Luna’s diary, I really can’t afford to be the bearer of bad news in my currently… delicate constitution.”
“Bad news?” Twilight frowned, flames licking back to life as suspicions renewed. “Did you do something? Because if you did–”
“I swear, it wasn’t me,” the trickster interjected, for once actually looking like he was telling the truth. “All I want is to make sure that Celestia gets a very, truly important notice. That’s all.”
“… What kind of notice?” Twilight asked, resentment dwindling as curiosity piqued.
“Do you promise you’ll send it?”
“I’m not promising anything, Discord,” she huffed. “You either trust me with the message now or you can give it to her yourself.”
For a moment, a myriad of emotions across those golden eyes of his, mostly amusement, a surprising amount of respect, and a cocktail of other feelings as well. What those feelings were, nobody could say because in the fleeting instant they appeared, they were gone, once more hidden behind a veil of smirking confidence.
“… Very well,” Discord sighed as he held up hands in surrender sarcastic enough to resume hostilities once more, “though I doubt it’ll do you much good.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Twilight sniffed. “So what is it? What’s so important for the princess to hear?”
Three words. Just three words to signal the beginning of the end.
“He. Is. Awake.”