“He? He who? Who’s awake? Discord?”
Twilight looked up from her ruminations to confront the trickster, only to discover that he’d vanished into thin air.
“Ugh, great,” she muttered. “Stay right here, Graves. I’m gonna go bring the girls here so we can get to the bottom of this once and for all.” Not waiting for a response, Twilight Sparkle withdrew her wand and with a few practiced gestures, disappeared into a flash of amethyst light.
Graves stood there, slightly confused as his spell gun remained charged and aimed.
“She can’t see you?” he asked.
“Funny thing about astral forms,” Discord smiled from the same spot he’d always been. “We’re not so tethered by the rules of the mundane. You should try it some time. It’s quite liberating.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Graves intoned with judicious neutrality.
For a moment, there was silence.
“So… you’re Discord,” the marshal said, just the faintest trace of hesitation on his tongue.
“The Spirit of Chaos.”
“More or less.”
“And you’re… helping us.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.”
“… Why?” Graves asked with confusion now readily apparent. “Why bother?”
“Really now,” Discord gasped, sounding hurt like Graves had just insulted his mother. “Can’t I come around and throw in a neighborly gesture every now and again?”
“Don’t see how,” Graves frankly admitted, “Helping puts things in order. You’re chaos. Putting those two together just don’t add up.”
“Maybe not,” the elderly youngster smiled with eye of molten gold bubbling merrily away. “Or maybe, the two are one and the same. Maybe helping you out will create such a storm, that I’d have oodles more fun than sitting still could ever be. It’s an interesting possibility, no?”
“Fun, eh?” the marshal nodded, finger tightening a hair’s breadth more on the trigger. “Is that why you helped me? For fun?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Discord richly laughed once more. “For now, let’s just say that the granddaddy of disasters stepped out from limbo to fritter around in the head of some rank and file jarhead because it suited his ends. Ceviche?”
“Not much of an answer,” Graves retorted to Discord’s smile.
“No, but it’ll have to do for now.”
And with a snap of his fingers, the smirking man disappeared for good, leaving the grey-eyed marshal with a gun trained on nothing as another amethyst starburst heralded the return of Twilight Sparkle and her compatriots.
“Graves!” Rarity cried, sapphire eyes wide with fright as she rushed over and took his head in her hands. “Are you alright? Discord didn’t do anything to you, did he?”
“I’m fine,” the marshal smiled, releasing the charge in his rifle as he gently cupped her hands and drew them down from his face. “We just talked. That’s all.”
“That’s usually all it takes,” Applejack frowned, a freshly soiled shovel gripped tightly in hand as if she aimed to cobble the next errant specter that dared pop up. “One second yer goin’ about yer business, and the next… boom. He’s up in yer noggin’, stealin’ yer sense and scramblin’ yer insides like breakfast hash.”
“Which is all well and good,” Rainbow Dash interjected, “but it still doesn’t explain what the hay he was doing here! Seriously, he’s supposed to be giving pigeons target practice in the royal gardens. How did he even get here in the first place?”
“And how the hay does he show up without bothering to send a single chocolate rain cloud my way, hmm? NOT A SINGLE CLOUD!”
Eyes turned to Pinkie Pie, who sat with arms folded in righteous indignation.
“… Well then,” Rarity huffed, doing her best to discretely turn away from her nonsensical friend, “I think we can all agree that how Discord got here is an important question, but not quite so much as why. Why did he decide to appear now?”
“Maybe… maybe he just wanted to say hello?” Fluttershy hopefully squeaked. The sympathetic looks she received made it clear the girls thought it about as likely as Scootaloo ever learning to fly.
“He came because he wanted our help,” Twilight explained. “Specifically, he wanted us to pass on a message to Princess Celestia.”
“An’ what kinda message would that be?” Applejack inquired with as dubious an eye as she’d ever cast at the Flim Flam brothers.
“He is awake.”
“And?” Rainbow Dash pressed.
“That’s it,” Twilight shrugged. “He told us to tell Celestia: “He is awake.”
Befuddlement spread throughout the group like syrup over pancakes.
“Well, what kind of wimpy excuse for a message is that?” Rainbow Dash snorted with much irritation. “Really, he comes all the way to Ponyville and gets us all riled up over three little words?”
“Two, if you use contractions,” Pinkie Pie beamed.
“What on earth do you think it could mean?” Rarity mused as she drew attentions back to more relevant matters. “Do you suppose he wanted Celestia to know he would be returning soon?”
“Well that makes about as much sense as plantin’ pies to make a pie orchard,” Applejack huffed. “What sense would there be in lettin’ the Princess know he’s plannin’ on bustin’ out before he can even git out the door?”
“I would never put anything past Discord,” Twilight murmured. “But I don’t think he would be doing that. Something tells me that whoever he was talking about, it was somebody else. Somebody both him and the princess would know.”
“So, is he telling us something to warn us?” Fluttershy wondered. “Is he trying to help us?”
“Then what I wanna know is why would he ever do that?” Rainbow Dash snorted. “He’s the Spirit of Chaos. His whole schtick is messing with people. There’s no way he’s trying to give us a hand.”
From there, opinions started flying back and forth, thick and fast like pastries at the annual Appaloosa Buffalo Friendship Festival. With about as much result. Though they argued back and forth, none of the girls could say for certain what the trickster intended with his words. Maybe it was an empty statement designed solely to confuse them, as it seemed to be doing a remarkable job of at that precise moment. Maybe it had hidden meaning that would make trouble for the princess in ways they couldn’t even imagine.
Or maybe… maybe he really was trying to help. They just didn’t know.
Seeing that the conversation was going nowhere fast, Twilight Sparkle turned to the cross-armed marshal who stood by and silently watching the proceedings with gunmetal eyes a careful, neutral grey.
“What do you think, Graves?” she asked. “You’ve heard everyone’s opinion, and you’ve also had the most current interactions with Discord. What’s your take on all this?”
Stern face grew downright stony as the marshal lapsed into thought.
“… It’s just a few words,” he finally rumbled. “Why not let the Princess decide?”
Though there were clearly other sentiments in play, what with Applejack’s unsurely pursed lips and Rainbow Dash’s rather disapproving scowl, the marshal’s reasoned statement helped to form at least somewhat of a consensus. Grabbing quill and parchment, Twilight began to scribe a carefully worded letter to the princess, detailing with as much objective detachment as possible the morning’s events exactly as they had played out.
Satisfied with her composition, Twilight handed the letter to Spike, who then sent it off with a plume of viridian flame. With nothing left to do but wait, the girls made themselves comfortable as they grabbed up books and seats to bide the time till Celestia’s response arrived.
One of their numbers, however, was not so inclined to sit idly by, not when there were things on her mind.
“Graves, dear,” Rarity said softly. “A word?”
Eyebrow arching as he caught the hint of something in her voice, the marshal nodded and followed the violet-haired beauty to a quiet corner of the library where they could converse in reasonable privacy.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“Not quite…” Rarity replied, the statement stretching just enough to show uncertainty. “It’s more of something I’m… curious about.”
“Has to do with Discord, I reckon?” Graves inquired. His comment elicited a small nod from the lady.
“You see, Graves,” Rarity began, “Discord doesn’t have what you would call a stellar reputation, not after the last time he paid us a visit.”
“You don’t say,” he murmured. Rarity smiled as sarcasm was not lost on her sensitive ears.
“I do, which is why your vote of confidence leaning in his favor has left me more than a little surprised. Given your, how shall we say, conservative nature, I would never have expected you advocate on his behalf.”
“Makes sense,” Graves nodded. “You probably thought I’d treat him like a Diamond Dog coming in for a hug, huh?”
“To say the least,” Rarity agreed with a rather amused grin. “But I also know you to be a man of reason – more often than not, at least – so I suspect there’s something I’m not aware of swaying your vote, am I right?”
“You could say that.”
“Well then,” the young lady smiled, albeit with some of her underlying hesitance peaking through, “would you be willing to… share your thoughts, perhaps?”
Graves could feel the care with which Rarity broached the subject. The pretty seamstress was doing her absolute best not to tread on topics that might reopen old wounds for the grey-eyed soldier. He appreciated the thought more than he could say, which is probably why he didn’t find it so hard to answer.
“You remember the, ah… post-Gala fiasco, right?” he began as it now became his turn to speak with care; they were entering territory that held tremendous meaning for them both. “The time when I was out of it?”
“I do,” Rarity frowned. “The doctors didn’t think you would ever wake up, not with how far gone you were. But you did.”
“Not on my own, I didn’t,” Graves continue. “Actually, the one who pulled me out was Discord.”
Rarity’s eyes grew so wide, her brow disappeared behind her violet locks.
“Wait, what?” she gasped, quickly clamping a hand over her mouth as Fluttershy looked her way with her usual, mild concern. “You… you mean Discord was messing with your mind?”
“Not exactly?” Graves replied, scratching the back of his head as he struggled to find the words to explain. “I mean, he pulled up some memories and stuff, but for the most part, we just… talked.”
“That’s what he always does,” Rarity said with a grimace of pure distaste. “He takes words and twists them till up is down, right is wrong, and he’s got you dancing right in the palm of his hand.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” the marshal readily agreed. “But all I know is Discord was the one who let me know I was dreaming. Probably would never have woken up if not for him. Or went after you, either.”
Those last words blindsided Rarity like seeing overalls on the runway.
“Wait, you mean he visited you twice?” she gasped, albeit much more quietly the second time around. “And once being after you awoke?”
“Damned if I know,” Graves sighed. “Honestly, I’d have a better chance of figuring out society than say why he’d bother coming again. But he did, and he talked some bucking good sense into me at that.”
“When you say talked sense into you,” Rarity began, cautionary tones clear in her voice, “you don’t mean that he literally talked something into you, correct? The two of you merely conversed?”
It took Graves a moment, but he finally connected the dots.
“He gave me things to think about and he certainly gave his opinions,” the marshal agreed. “But everything I did was because I wanted to.” With this, he reached out and took hold of Rarity’s hand to give a firm squeeze, not too hard that it would hurt, but hard enough to make clear he had no intention of letting go.
“So… no need to worry about brainwashing or nothing,” Graves finished, a strong flush coming to his cheek as he realized the disgustingly sweet nature of oversentimentally fluffy gesture. The rough cough that followed did nothing to help. “I came back and things worked out. Probably ‘cause you didn’t have the sense to boot me when you had the chance.”
“A grave mistake on my part,” Rarity laughed, as mirth and warmth rang through like the soft chiming of crystal bells. “But I suppose I can live with it.”
“So… we good?” Graves asked, just to be sure. The violet-haired beauty smiled.
“I certainly have no love for Discord, but those actions have definitely earned him some modicum of trust in my books. After all, I’d figure keeping you around is worth a three word message, no?”
“So nice to see my value,” Graves muttered with a grand roll of the eyes, to which Rarity could only laugh once more.
Suddenly, a loud belch sounded as another gout of emerald flame signaled the arrival of a new letter. Instantly gathering around, the girls and Graves looked on as Twilight unfurled the parchment and read the contents aloud.
The response was as short as it was simple, but its urgency could not have been more clearly conveyed were it the length of a novel. Like Discord’s cryptic message, Celestia’s response was only three words, but those three words, penned in such forceful ink that it had twice torn through the parchment, said more than enough.
“Come at once.”