Time seemed to pass at a crawl. Every second seemed to take eons. Pinkie’s heart was beating out of her chest.
Pound and Pumpkin were suffering horribly, twisting and turning in their agony. They thought the only way to save everyone was by sacrificing themselves so that Discord’s magic no longer had a host and would dissipate with them.
“No! No!” Discord’s magic thought. “I won’t let this happen!” He tried to force his way into their consciousness but he couldn’t get close. “No! The pain is too great! It’s blocking me from taking them over.”
Once they had shrunk back down in size the plaid pattern on the twins had rapidly continued crawling up their bodies. As it reached around their ears what looked like smoke began to rise above them and the purple-green plaid markings started turning red. The overload of magic was clearly taking its toll.
Pinkie couldn’t watch anymore. She wouldn’t just sit there and watch the children suffer. “T-Twilight!” she said in a shaky breath, holding out her hoof to her friend. “Please! Let’s do it!”
Twilight felt relieved. Pinkie was finally ready. “Everyone put your hooves on Discord!” she said commandingly.
“Why Discord?” asked Carrot Cake.
“I need my horn back, and so we must try and funnel as much of our magic into Discord as we can so he has enough power to help.”
Without hesitation all of them complied. Pinkie was hopping up and down on her hooves, impatient beyond reason.
Discord concentrated his hardest to draw their magic into his body. He could feel the tension in the air, knowing the twins only had a limited time before the strain of trying to hold so much power in their tiny bodies destroyed them. It made it difficult to concentrate when there was so much at stake, but he strained to open the floodgates and after a tense few seconds he felt the flow of magic inside him.
He pointed to Twilight with his claw and snapped it. Relief ran through him when the horn appeared. With another snap the wings came back too.
“Marvelous!” Twilight said, hopping away from her friends as her horn glowed brightly, engulfing her in a magic sphere. Her body looked almost ethereal as the sphere of magic slowly condensed into her horn as she flew upwards. She shot the blast of magic towards her castle, hitting the giant star that resembled her cutie mark with it.
The castle lit up with a dazzling rainbow light, and the rainbow magic funneled back through her spell. As it reached her she pulled her friends up with her, bathing all of them inside a rainbow light. As it faded all of them were in their rainbow forms.
Connecting their hearts and holding close to each other they gathered their power, preparing to fire.
Pinkie closed her eyes, focusing with all her might. ‘Don’t hurt them. Don’t hurt them! Just purge the dark magic from them. Protect them!’ She chanted the mantra in her mind, hoping with all she had that Twilight was right, and it would cause no lasting harm.
“Oh no!” Pinkie cried out as what looked like tiny pieces of them were breaking off. “Fire!” she yelled. “F-fire now!”
“Right!” came the voices of her friends. Rainbow strands latched onto the pair below before a rainbow light surrounded them in a field of powerful magic. The plaid coloring, which had just reached the tips of their ears, drained out of them, the magic swirling around before dissipating. The light spread out through town, returning Ponyville to its non-chaotic state.
As the light faded Pound and Pumpkin’s bodies landed softly upon the earth. As soon as Pinkie landed she bounded over to the twins, her heart breaking in two at their condition. What looked like burns covered most of their body, their fur gone. Pinkie closed her eyes, feeling like sobbing.
Although she wanted nothing more than to hold them tightly, she couldn’t bring herself to approach them. They were breathing, but their eyes were closed and they were being so quiet. She was terrified that they might have been too late.
Cup Cake and Carrot Cake did what she could not, picking up their children and gently shaking them, calling out their names.
Discord felt his heart beating faster as the twin remained unresponsive. He nervously got closer, putting a claw on Pinkie. “I… I’m so sorry. I never thought that-”
“No.” Pinkie shook her head. “It’s not your fault. None of us thought things would turn out like this."
Discord thought that once the twins were purged of his magic that it would return to him, but whatever they had seemed to have been destroyed. His magic, though a tiny sliver right now, was still inside him, so he knew it would replenish with time, but he could feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction inside him, separate from his own feelings.
“Everyone, could you give me a little more of your power?” he asked.
It was hard to tear their eyes away from the comatose Pound and Pumpkin, but finally they complied, putting hooves on him and focusing.
Once he felt he had enough strength he focused, and snapped his claw.
The twins bodies began floating, and before their eyes the injuries they had suffered healed, the fur growing back, and soon enough it was impossible to tell there had been anything wrong with them. “It’s all I can do,” he said hopelessly.
Pinkie gathered her courage and walked forward, holding the twins to her as they descended. “Pound… Pumpkin,” she said gently, nuzzling their faces. “I know you. You won’t leave me like this. You’re strong. You were willing to give up your lives to protect all of us. Please… be strong again.” Her voice quivered as she continued, “P-please! I can’t lose you! Open your eyes!”
Applejack removed her hat, the others joining her as they turned their heads away.
Fluttershy threw herself at Discord, who was closest, and began crying on him. He began to rub her head as Pinkie’s voice grew more hysterical. Were they too late? Had the damage been too great even with their Rainbow Power and his magic?
Carrot held onto his wife, trying to be strong for her. He was reminded so strongly of Pound’s accident. He had nearly lost Pound back then. Now they were at risk of losing both their children.
A wet sensation, a tight feeling, a sound of wailing. “A-Auntie… Pinkie?” came the quiet voice of the colt.
Pinkie’s head shot up as she looked into Pound’s almost closed eyes.
Pumpkin was stirring now too, letting out a little groan as her eyes opened a fraction too.
“You’re awake!” Pinkie yelled joyfully.
“W-what happened?” she asked, rubbing her stomach. “I don’t feel so good.”
Cup Cake walked over, patting her head. “Nothing, honey. It… it was all just a bad dream.”
Carrot wiped his eyes, letting out a heavy breath. “Oh, thank goodness.”
Among the group all of them were expressing their relief, holding onto one another or giving each other grateful looks.
Pound put his hoof on his head. “Ooh. I hurt all over.”
Pinkie’s joyful grin faded a bit. “It will feel better with time.”
“What happened to us, Auntie Pinkie?” Pumpkin asked as she adjusted her position, her eyes still half-lidded.
Pinkie hesitated. She had done what was necessary, but if they didn’t remember wouldn’t it be better not to let them know? “You… you got into some trouble, but you’re fine now.”
“Trouble?” Pound asked, before his eyes grew wide as the memories assaulted him, and his face scrunched up as he began crying. “Oh, no!” He hugged Pinkie. “I… I… we… we almost…”
Pumpkin got a mental image of bringing down a bolt of electricity upon everyone, trembling at the thought of how close they had come to wiping out their family. “I’m soooorrry!” She began wailing right along with Pound as she clung to Pinkie.
Pinkie’s smile had vanished now as she let her tears fall along with the twins. They certainly hadn’t forgotten what they had done. “H-hey,” she said encouragingly. “It’s not that bad. We’re all fine.”
“But-but-but we-we almost killed you!” Pound blurted out.
Cup Cake took Pound and gave him the best mom-hug she could. “Almost, but don’t forget who protected us when all seemed lost: it was you and Pumpkin. You fought that thing’s control when it tried to go too far, and cast a shield spell that protected all of us.”
Pumpkin just shook her head. “It’s all our fault! We-we shouldn’t have taken that magic! We… we…”
“Shhh!” Pinkie said soothingly, nuzzling Pumpkin’s face. “None of that now. You’re alive, and that’s all that matters to me right now.”
Pumpkin stared at Pinkie, her emotions torn in two different directions.
Pound looked over at Pumpkin, then up at his mom. “I want my sister,” he said, sniffling.
“Alright, honey,” she replied, walking the short distance to Pinkie.
As soon as they were close to each other they practically leapt out of the hooves of their caretakers toward each other, holding onto each other as they vented their emotions.
Pinkie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake sat around them, letting them be for the moment.
Pound felt terror at the ends of his consciousness. They were going to be in big trouble for this. The destruction they had almost caused, stealing power; these weren’t light actions. A simple time-out or withholding of dessert wouldn't be enough. He squeezed Pumpkin harder, gathering his courage.
Standing up, he could feel his legs shaking. He didn’t know what was going to happen to him, but he knew that he didn’t want Pumpkin to share that fate.
“Yes, Pound?” Cup Cake replied.
It took everything he had to speak. He didn’t want to imagine how much worse things were going to be for himself when he said those words, but whatever eased Pumpkin’s burden would be enough. Knowing that didn’t make it any easier to say, though.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think things would be like that.”
“I’m sorry too!” Pumpkin added, standing up next to her brother.
“And…” Pound steeled himself, his fear almost overwhelming. He threw a hoof around Pumpkin, closing his eyes. “And I just wanted to say that this is all my fault. Pumpkin didn’t want to be part of the plan so I mind-controlled her to force her into it.”
Pumpkin’s head whipped toward Pound’s, tears brimming in her eyes again.
“It-it-it is all m-m-my fault, so I’m the only one that should be punished.” Pound was trembling now, staring at the ground with his eyes shut tight and waiting for the bomb to hit.
Pumpkin threw her hooves around her brother. “No, you dummyhead! I-I won’t let you take all the blame. We’re in this together, no matter how bad it is.”
Pound let out a shuddering breath as the two hugged again, waiting for their fate to be decided.
Twilight walked forward, giving Pinkie a wink. Then she turned to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake and put her hoof to her mouth.
“Pound Cake! Pumpkin Cake!” she said sharply, making them jump. They turned to her, both shivering. “I think we need to have some words.”
Pound gulped. He slowly stood up, hanging his head. “Go ahead,” he said in a resigned voice, closing his eyes. “Punish us.”
Pumpkin joined him. “Yeah. Go ahead.”
“As a princess I believe it is my duty to handle punishment on this matter. The two of you stole magic, rendering Discord near powerless. You planned to exceed all other authority by snatching power, and nearly wound up having Equestria descend into a land of chaos. Under normal circumstances I think we can all agree that such actions would be worthy of imprisonment or banishment."
The twins put their heads together, nodding as they cried.
Cup Cake knew Twilight told her to keep quiet, but seeing the pain in her children’s faces made it almost impossible.
Pinkie was feeling hurt. Didn’t they all feel bad enough without Twilight twisting the knife?
Twilight waited for an appropriate interval, then continued on in a softer tone, “Under the circumstances, I believe the punishment can be mitigated. You saved all our lives, first with that shield spell, and then again when you shrunk yourselves.
“The two of you were willing to destroy yourselves to protect us. Sacrificing yourself for the sake of others is one of the most heroic things you can do. Your play with the Changelings may have been fake, but you both proved yourself capable of real bravery and heroism today.
“Given the depths you went to in order to fix your mistake, I believe a light punishment will suffice. Discord?” She turned her head toward him, and he approached. She whispered in his ear.
“Ah, yes. Yes, I agree,” Discord replied, chuckling.
“Everyone?” Twilight looked around. “Please come closer.”
When they surrounded her whispering went through the group, and then laughter.
Pound and Pumpkin began to relax a little. If everyone was laughing things couldn’t be that bad.
The group broke up, and Twilight turned back to the twins. “Pound, Pumpkin. Come forward.”
The two of them looked at each other, not nearly as afraid as before. They walked until they were in front of everyone. “Yes, Twilight?” said Pound.
“We’ve talked it over, and we’ve agreed on your punishment.”
“That’s right!” Pinkie said mischievously.
“What is it?” asked Pumpkin.
“Discord?” said Twilight, funneling a little power into him.
“Right,” he replied, snapping his claw. Out of the sky came a small rain of feathers.
Everyone gathered one. Pound and Pumpkin just looked around, confused.
“What was that?” Pound asked, brushing off a feather from his shoulder.
Twilight bent down with that same naughty look and said just one word: “Run.”
“Run?” asked Pumpkin. “What do you mean-YAAHH!” Pumpkin squealed as she felt a ticklish sensation on her side. She jerked away, and saw her dad holding the feather in his mouth.
Everyone was coming toward them with deliberate slowness.
The twins gulped, looking at each other again, and they understood their punishment now. They took off running, but noticed after a short time that they weren’t being pursued.
“Go on!” Twilight called out, gesturing for the rest to turn around. “You get one minute before the hunt begins, and the tickle war commences. Make it count.”
The twins took off running again, looking for a good place to hide. They couldn’t find anything that great, so they just huddled under a bush and waited.
The next hour was an adrenaline fueled rush of anticipation, anxiousness, and laughter. Each time they were found they’d be tickled until they were gasping for breath, and then they’d be permitted to run and hide again.
After an hour had passed Twilight called a halt to the activities and gathered everyone around again. “Well, I think you’ve been punished enough for one day.”
Pound and Pumpkin walked over to Twilight, hugging her legs. “We’re really sorry, Twilight,” Pound said, contrite.
“Yeah!” Pumpkin agreed. “We didn’t mean for things to get so out of control.”
Twilight nuzzled both their faces. “I understand. Sometimes it’s not easy being a kid and feeling like everyone else is better than you. I had great potential for magic, but I didn’t get to where I was today overnight. It took years and years of hard study. Your time will come too.”
They went to Pinkie next. “Thanks,” said Pumpkin. “Thank you for stopping us.”
Pound gulped. “If you hadn’t said what you did then we would’ve…”
Pinkie put her hooves out and snuggled them both. “I told you that it was my Pinkie Promise for life that I’d always support you and love you no matter what. I’ll always believe in you, and I was right. When I reminded you of my vow it woke you up and brought you back to me.”
She closed her eyes as her heart soared, joyful tears running down her face.
“What a day,” Rarity said, rubbing her forehead. “I hope I don’t get any wrinkles.”
“Oh, pipe down, grandma,” Applejack said with a wink.
Rainbow Dash snickered. “Well, once again we saved the world… with a little help from the munchkins, of course. So a job well done. It’s all over.”
“Not quite,” Fluttershy said.
“Not yet?” asked Twilight. “Pound and Pumpkin are safe and freed of that things corruptive influence. What’s left?”
Fluttershy went up to Discord. “Excuse me?”
Discord looked at her oddly. Not because it was strange for her to talk to him, but because she was addressing her words at his belly. “Yes, Fluttershy?”
Now she looked up at him. “Discord, could you do me a favor?”
“Take that little piece of your energy, and let the essence of your magic out. He’s too weak to be a threat now.”
Everyone stared at her, confused. “Why?” asked Applejack.
Fluttershy took a steadying breath. “I guess I just… feel bad for him.”
Discord felt an odd sensation in his gut at her words.
“You feel bad for him?” Rainbow Dash said furiously. “He tried to kill all of us and conquer Equestria.”
In a steady voice Fluttershy responded, “And how is that different from any of the other villains that we’ve fought? Discord was the same when he started out. Sunset Shimmer, Starlight Glimmer, Discord; they all had diabolical plans when they started out, but they’ve grown into new beings. They’ve reformed now, and are assets to Equestria. It would be wrong to deny him the same privilege.
“Besides…” She put her hoof over her heart. “The way things are right now he’s feeling ignored and unappreciated. I don’t blame him for attempting to get freedom. I’d like to talk with him if I could.”
Discord looked down at her warmly. Even though the Elements were gone she could still show kindness and empathy to anyone, or anything. “Very well.” He extended his claw, pointing it at the ground between them. Being so weak it took a while for him to feel his power, but eventually a small purple-green stream of magic came out.
At first it was just a shapeless blob of energy, much like the Smooze, but it slowly molded into a form that looked like a baby Discord. Its arms were crossed, a frown adorning his face.
Fluttershy sat down in front of it. “Hello, there.”
“Hmph!” he said, turning his head away. “What do you want? You already ruined everything! Do you have to rub it in too?”
“Discord was able to change his ways. There’s no reason you can’t too.” He just rolled his eyes, his crossed arms clenching harder. “It really shouldn’t, given how Discord’s power is so different than everyone else’s, but I was surprised that his magic was sentient.
“All this time you were partners, working toward the same goal, but as Discord has changed you’ve been feeling increasingly left out, haven’t you? You want to cause chaos, but Discord has lately been pursuing order for the sake of not upsetting his friends. However, despite you living together Discord has control of the magic, leaving you feeling like he’s just taking and taking without giving anything back. In other words, you don’t think Discord has been a good friend to you, hmm?”
He displayed a brief reaction before curling up and growling. “Just shut up.”
“I think we need to fix things. Otherwise you’re only going to attempt to rebel again. It must feel like you’re locked in a prison. You said earlier that you have no name, but if you’re able to think and act then I think we need something to call you.”
His eyes moved toward her.
“I think an appropriate name would be one that complements your nature, and your partner. How about… Mayhem?”
“May-hem?” he responded slowly, mulling it over, his body uncurling a bit. “Mayhem! Yeah!” He hopped up, adopting a superhero pose. “I am Mayhem! Everyone fear me!”
Fluttershy shook her head. “No. You shouldn’t want everyone to fear you. You can cause chaos without harming others, and I think that’s something you and Discord need to work out.”
Mayhem looked dispassionately at Discord. “He’s no fun.” He poked Fluttershy with a claw. “Ever since YOU came along things have become so much more boring.”
“You live in his body. Do you not understand the lessons Discord has learned?”
“Whatever! They’re boring! I want fun, and I want it all the time.”
“Tch!” Rainbow clicked her tongue. “Selfish brat. No wonder he tried to take over the bodies of children.”
“Rainbow Dash, please,” said Fluttershy. “Mayhem doesn’t really understand. He just needs some proper guidance. He needs time to grow and mature, so he can become a better individual. Giving him a name was the first step to giving him an identity, and showing him that he has some value.
“Honestly, that’s all he really wants, just like the rest of us: to feel like he belongs, and is important. You may not have noticed it, but I heard the pain in his words, even though he was trying to be so cold and ruthless. He felt left out and excluded since Discord has grown up, so when he finally found what he thought were kindred spirits in Pound and Pumpkin he relished the chance to do things the old way again.
"Despite Mayhem’s age he’s still much a child at heart, and with so much power at his disposal it’s not hard to imagine he can get out of control without something to hold him back. However, to simply stuff him inside Discord and ignore his pain would be wrong. He can talk and think and feel just like we can. And so…”
Extending her hooves she picked him up and pulled him close to her.
“W-what are you doing?” Mayhem asked.
“I’m giving you a hug, of course,” she replied.
“Why?” he said, confused.
“Why not? Aren’t you enjoying it?”
Mayhem didn’t answer for a while, mulling over the strange feeling inside him. “I… guess so.”
“Discord realized that he enjoyed having a friend, after never having one before. And he didn’t have one because he was selfish. He only cared about his own happiness and joy, not caring about anyone else’s feelings. When his disregard for others caused me to abandon our friendship he realized that he didn’t want to lose it, and in turn he realized that friendship is a matter of give and take. Sometimes you can’t always have what you want.
“You’re enjoying these feelings, but if you want them to continue you’re also going to have to be willing to give some ground. Getting revenge by wiping out other’s lives like they’re nothing is unacceptable, and you’ll never find approval there. You may be able to destroy anything you want, but it will be a lonely existence without someone to share your experiences with.”
She gave him a little nuzzle. “So what do you say? Will you give friendship a try?”
Mayhem looked up at Fluttershy. “I just wanted to be free and have a good time.”
She nodded, setting him down on the ground. “Of course. I understand that. It’s no different than the rest of us feel about life. However, that right shouldn’t be used to subdue others. Equality is treating all as important, not just yourself.
"I suppose what you’re lacking is real life experience. Watching something isn’t the same as experiencing it yourself. So maybe it’s not a surprise that you can’t seem to understand what it is that has changed Discord so.”
He stared at her, and she again saw a childish look reminiscent of the twins, like he really couldn’t piece together cause and effect.
Pound and Pumpkin approached him. “Well, maybe we can help!” Pound said.
“We can play together!” Pumpkin added.
Mayhem looked at them, then at Fluttershy. She had to hold back a laugh. His gaze was asking for direction, like he had chosen her as a mother figure and she had the right to choose what he should do. “I think that would be a perfect idea. Discord?”
“Yes, Fluttershy?” he replied.
“I think it would be wise for you to let Mayhem out to play every once in a while. Chaos isn’t always a bad thing, so long as it’s handled well. That way he’ll want to work with you, and he’s not being forced into it.
“How does that sound to you, Mayhem?”
He looked over at Discord for a moment, then back to her. “I guess that’s okay. Can I go play now?”
She snickered into her hoof. “Sure.”
“Yay!” he cried out, snapping his little claw and spawning a rose, which he put into her mane before running off with the twins to play.
“Wow, Fluttershy,” Twilight said, impressed. “You truly can inspire kindness in anyone when you put your mind to it.”
“It just comes naturally to me,” she said as she heard the screaming that always accompanies happy kids playing. “Mayhem is basically a kid despite his years. I think, once he gets a taste of personal friendship, that he’ll become hooked on it like Discord did, and come to understand empathy. That will curb his destructive tendencies, and make his pranks more appropriate.”
As Twilight watched the three of them roughhousing and chasing each other around, laughing away, she couldn’t help but smile. Putting a hoof around Fluttershy she said, “Y’know, I do believe you’re right.”