“Aaaagh! IT’S IN MY MANE!” screamed Diamond Tiara, trying vainly to rub the maple syrup from her pink-and-white hair. “Get it out get it out get it out!”
“Keep still, DT!” cried Golden Parachute, trying to support a bucket full of water in her hooves. “I think I can clean it off of you… if you just… stay still!”
The cream-colored Pegasus swayed unsteadily as the water sloshed in the bucket, spilling on Roughshod and Toady as they tailed the bucket-laden filly.
“Watch it, Goldie!” snapped Roughshod. “Diamond needs to be washed off, not me!”
“Sorry! This bucket’s kinda heavy, and the water’s―…!”
Whatever the water was remained locked behind Golden Parachute’s lips, as a giant spider fell on top of her. The filly immediately began to shriek, the bucket flying aside and dampening a pell-mell pile of pancakes five hooves to Diamond Tiara’s right.
“Eee, get it off me get it off me get it OFF ME!” Golden Parachute screeched, flailing her hooves about to try to swat the oversized arachnid off, its long spindly legs encroaching around her barrel and scrabbling wildly.
“Get this off of me first!” Diamond Tiara squeaked. “It will take so much conditioner as it is to fix up my…!”
Freezing at the sudden wetness, as though she had been dunked into a tub of water like some common carnival harlequin, Diamond Tiara wiped away her forelock to look at the pony who’d thought to dump water on her. Standing before her, a second bucket before them, were her old friend Silver Spoon, as well as…
“How dare you…!” Diamond snarled at the Cutie Mark Crusaders, those insipid little blank-flank twits. Her namesake tiara slid down from its precipitous position on her poll. “How dare you, you stupid blank-headed blank-flanks! Who gave you the idea that I wanted to be soaked through to the bone?”
For some strange reason, the Cutie Mark Crusaders looked confused about the accusation, and Silver Spoon gave the trio of fillies an astounded look. The bespectacled Earth Pony filly blinked, before letting out a minute gasp − what was that about? − and pointing accusingly at the three.
“Yeah!” Silver Spoon shouted. “What’s your deal, you stupid blank-flanks? If she wanted an ice-cold shower, she’d have asked somepony!”
Apple Bloom’s peach eyes narrowed slightly, her jaw dropping.
“B-but… we weren’t th’ ones who―…”
“Look at what your bucketing did to her mane!” cried Silver Spoon in indignation, taking a piece of Diamond Tiara’s curling mane in her hoof. Already the perfectly conditioned mane was becoming frazzled and unkempt from the undue soaking.
“But you’re the one who did the bucketing!” snarled Scootaloo, looking mutinous.
“Don’t listen to them, Di!” the gray filly cut in, her expression startlingly tense. “They’re just a bunch of lying liar dung-heads!”
“But,” Sweetie Belle looked teary, “we didn’t even do anything…”
“Get out of here!” Silver Spoon shrieked, pointing off towards the distant Sweet Apple Acres, her glasses falling askew and shining menacingly in her anger.
Evidently deciding to grace Diamond Tiara and her posse of friends − and Silver Spoon − by vacating the premises, the Cutie Mark Crusaders scampered off, erratically evading skittering spiders and sticky piles of syrup and melted butter.
“Umm… thanks, I guess?” mused Diamond Tiara, adjusting her tiara atop her mane. “I really could’ve shouted them off myself, though.”
“Oh. Well…” Silver Spoon stammered, her ears going slack. “You see, they didn’t know that you were so messy, and it just so worked out that you’re all clean now.”
“Yeah,” the pink filly replied bitterly, wringing out part of her mane. “Soaked through from poll to fetlocks, but clean.”
“What are you even doing here, anyway?” snapped Golden Parachute, Silver Spoon whirling in astonishment at the rich Pegasus’s accusatory tone. “You aren’t Diamond Tiara’s friend anymore, aren’t you?”
“Yes, she’s right,” said Snake-in-the-Grass, approaching slowly with an ominously swishing tail. “You threw her aside when being a friend wasn’t convenient to you.”
“What sort of friend does that make you?” Roughshod hissed.
Silver Spoon shrunk back, slipping slightly on a freshly fallen pile of pancakes. Diamond Tiara made to step forward towards her former friend, but hesitated as she looked about at her posse.
“Guhh, where’s all this coming from?” Toady grumbled, in between bites of pancakes stacked high with melted butter.
“No idea,” Diamond Tiara said shortly, looking concerned. “This is just such a mess everywhere!”
That statement rang true to most everypony in the circle around her. Pancakes and hot melting butter and dollops of maple syrup were falling from on high, seemingly from out of nowhere. The residents of Ponyville, perplexed by this sudden and bizarre precipitation, began to bring out their umbrellas on an otherwise cloudless afternoon. Then the spiders began to come down, and the streets were filled with screams of terrified ponies running from the oversized arachnids.
“Maybe it’s some bad prank from a weather-pony,” Silver Spoon suggested.
“Hey!” snapped Silver Lining. “My mother is a proud weather-mare, albeit waylaid by that upstart Rainbow Dash. If she was not a Bearer of the Elements of Harmony, I’d ask Mother to have her fired for―…!”
“Wait a second!” Diamond Tiara interrupted. “The Elements of Harmony! Those blank-flanks know the Bearers! We have to go find them!”
And with that the posse of seven fillies began to make their way down the streets after their detested classmates, impeded by the straggling adults and the spastic spiders and the falling breakfast items.
Discord the draconequus continually rolled about on the ground, almost literally laughing his insides out. The grass that he rolled about across changed into pencil shavings, the flowers into buckets of popcorn kernels. Twilight and her band gaped at him in horror, glancing back at Ponyville intermittently.
“I… was wrong about you, Discord?” Twilight snapped. “What were you planning to do by pretending like you were reformed? Was this a ploy for time so that you could get your powers back all while keeping the Elements out of our hooves?”
Discord sat up, hands on his belly, sniffling and bringing up his claw to wipe away tears of mirth.
“Oh no no no, it’s nothing like that,” he beamed. “I just felt like starting small with pulling at your tails. I mean, my power is at a whole other level from anything that you mere mortals could comprehend. I am immortal, omnipotent, and I didn’t even need to bust out my biggest tricks to pull the wool over your eyes!”
The draconequus’s lips quivered in obvious mirth, his eyes watering afresh once more. The seven-member herd simply stared at him in shock and horror.
A curious tweeting reached their ears, and a small canary flitted up from the canopy of trees afar to the east. Fluttershy’s eyes followed it with fear as it drew nearer and nearer to Discord. The draconequus stared at it with widening eyes, reaching out a talon that the canary graciously landed upon. Twilight’s heart lifted; maybe, just maybe…?
“Pffft,” Discord snorted. “Bo-ring…!”
And with a snap of his lion’s paw, the canary gave a terrible squawk and its feathers shrunk into its flesh, organs pushing their way through the gaps in its ribcage as its eyes bulged horrifically.
Twilight’s stomach lurched in alarm as Fluttershy gave a shriek, the butter-yellow Pegasus’s cyan eyes wide as they followed the canary as it fell twitching to the grass, where it made retching noises as its wings feebly attempted to flutter.
“There, much better!” Discord said gleefully, barely covering his quavering grin with a shaking lion’s paw.
To the astonishment of everypony else in the band, Fluttershy stomped forward with fury etched into her face, and force in her hoofsteps. Her wings flared, and she flapped up to Discord’s face with eyes wide.
“You… big… dumb… meanie!” she snarled, with uncharacteristic vitriol, her pupils narrowed to points. “You turn that canary back to normal right now, or you’re gonna regret it!”
Discord’s eyes boggled out at Fluttershy… almost literally, as the optic nerves snapped straight out at the suddenly assertive Pegasus, his eyes less than a few centimeters from her own. Still, Fluttershy stood her ground, her wings flapping more fully than they commonly did.
With a smirk, Discord pushed his eyes back into place and rubbed paw and claw together.
“Well well well, I think I like this Fluttershy a lot more; so… aggressive,” he finished with a flick of a snake tongue at the ‘s’ in aggressive. “Why, you should come out and play more often. It would be quite… titillating.”
As he spoke, Discord slowly began to reach his claw towards Fluttershy’s temples, the butter-yellow Pegasus’s eyes refusing to budge from the draconequus’s…
“Fluttershy!” cried Rainbow Dash, darting up and pulling her friend back from Discord’s reaching claw. As soon as feeling the cerulean Pegasus’s grip around her, Fluttershy’s wings went slack and the lines of rage in her face vanished. She gave Rainbow Dash a frightful expression.
“Oh my… I’m so sorry, Dashie. I just… I don’t know what came over me. I saw what Discord did to that birdie, and then I…”
“It’s alright, ‘Shy,” Rainbow Dash said with a rare tenderness. “It’s not your fault; it was Discord’s.” A fresh venom entered the Pegasus’s voice. “You should know how Fluttershy gets about animals; you were able to figure out which of the Elements we bore!”
“An’ what about them Elements, ya backstabbin’ varmint?” snarled Applejack, a faint emerald glow swimming behind her eyes and dancing about her hooves.
Discord sighed in frustration.
“Such a one-track mind, you little ponies. Your simplistic modes of thought have always been such a bore to me, far moreso than any of the other playthings I’ve had in all my time. I mean, really, if you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. And oh please do! Your homes are all so much more fun now!”
“Fun? This is just a bunch of horse-apples!” snapped Rainbow Dash, eyes and fangs flashing. “What sort of reason could somepony have to do this to a bunch of innocent ponies?”
“‘Reason’?” Discord echoed, twiddling his antler in between the talons of his eagle claw. “No reason at all! Chaos has no reason; it just happens! I mean, suppose things didn’t happen as they ‘should’ happen for a very good reason. That would make too much sense. Trust me, sense is far too common these days; you would not believe some of the absolutely sane things I have heard while entrapped in that Sculpture Garden. Inane drivel about ‘sharing some of the wealth with the proletariat’ and ‘creating jobs for the working class’ and some other third thing…”
Replacing his antler in his head (point-first), Discord floated into the air without the aid of his wings, the reservoir beside him rising upwards as a flurry of perfectly round drops of snow which turned into sugar-cubes and salt-licks…
Water turning into salt? Twilight’s eyes widened. But that’s impossible!
“So, while we’re all here,” Discord said suddenly, with a rather chipper grin on his face, “anypony want a flugelhorn?” He clapped paw and claw together, and when he pulled them apart the double-trumpeted trademark instrument of the Crystal Empire appeared as if out of nowhere.
“Ooh ooh ooh!” Pinkie Pie began to eagerly wave a forehoof in the air. “I want a flugelhorn!”
Discord dangled the flugelhorn temptingly in front of the pink-maned Pegasus mare.
“What do you have to say, Shutterfly? Want a flugelhorn?”
“Umm… I… think I’ll pass, if it’s okay with you.”
“I won’t pass!” Pinkie cried out, waving both of her forelegs over her head. “I want want want a flugelhorn!”
“Very well then,” Discord huffed before presenting the instrument to an Earth Pony mare. “What about you, little AJ? Do you want a flugelhorn?”
Applejack frowned, “Ah’m not much of a music pony, if ya don’ mind.”
“I mind!” Pinkie shouted, looking and sounding quite cross as she stood on her hindlegs and waved her forelegs like a windmill. “I want that flugelhorn!”
Now frowning himself, the draconequus forced the flugelhorn into the face of a feathered filly.
“Come on now, Roy G. Biv! Surely you want a flugelhorn?”
Rainbow Dash sighed frustratedly, “No thank you! I don’t like playing music instruments!”
“I like playing them, and I want the flugelhorn!” screamed Pinkie Pie, jumping and stomping furiously. Her coat and mane had actually gone rather red, her irises gleaming yellow.
Discord growled in his throat, steam actually streaming out of his ears, before he rounded on Twilight Sparkle and…
“No, Nein, not in a giggrossiad, Discord, would I ever take something from you even if it was mana from the Elysian Fields!”
“Hoo!” Owlowiscious hooted in sharp agreement.
Long face contorting in rage, Discord knelt sharply down towards Spike, flugelhorn held between two claws. The mulberry drake shrugged, “I dunno, I kinda think Pinkie wants it.”
The sound of a deep breath being taken caught everypony’s ears. Turning towards the source, only Twilight Sparkle seemed astonished at the sight of Pinkie Pie drawing in a deeper breath than anypony should have possibly been able to, her head actually swelling beyond its natural size. Her eyes bulged out of her head, focused on Discord.
“I… WANT… THAT… FLUGELHORN!” she shrieked.
The crimson Earth Pony clenched her teeth, breathing heavily out of her nostrils, her head shrinking back to its normal proportions and her color returning to its regular rosiness.
Discord cocked a shaggy white eyebrow at Pinkie’s display, clapping his paw and claw together and making the flugelhorn disappear with a loud and rude fart noise.
“Well then… Aren’t you an interesting little pony? You may very well indeed be my right-hoof~!”
Twilight bristled at the thought of one of her friends being turned against her, especially for such a random and illogical foe.
“Pinkie will never join you, Discord. And just to save your breath, none of the rest of us will either!”
Momentarily disregarding the fact that cotton-candy clouds had descended on her hamlet home, joined shortly by pancakes and syrup and butter, along with spiders far larger than most and yet not so large as acromantulae, and the fact that the Elements of Harmony were in a place yet unknown to them, Twilight Sparkle turned a rage-filled expression upon the mad draconequus, her alicorn flaring pink as dozens of offense-spells cycled through her mind to cast upon the diabolical trickster…
A flash of golden fire blazed from the North Equinus Mountains, Discord reeling in reflex towards the south as the flames licked the salts and sugars that were once the Ponyville Water Reservoir and giving off a strong scent of caramel.
Eyes turning up to the source of the blast, Twilight and her band bore awestruck witness to the Sun-Queen of Equestria with her power unsheathed.
Mane and coat blurred together in a haze of golden-orange, eyes burning like flames set inside coals, her feathers, mane, and tail all trailing streaks of fire that stretched back to the capital of Canterlot. Twilight’s heart grew cold; she had never seen Queen Celestia bearing such rage before.
“Oh hohhh…” chuckled Discord, rolling back the fur and feathers on his arms like sleeves. “I see that precious little Sunshine has taken off her kiddy gloves…”
Queen Celestia collided with Discord, carrying him bodily away from Twilight and her band, leaving nothing but a trail of heat behind and the echo of her bellowing tones,
“Thou wilt not touch my beloved apprentice, thou old serpent!”
Twilight gaped in mingled terror and elation at the sight of her mentor in all of her immanence, snarling in rage as she plowed a manically laughing Discord through the air towards the South Equinus Mountains in all of their jagged foreboding. She shuddered involuntarily as she beheld the peaks of the austral mountain range that helped to form the bowl of the Saddle Valley; for grossenturies the southern half of the pair of Equinus Mountain ranges had held a fell air to the ponies of Equestria. The subject of many a writer’s final confrontation in innumerable fantasy and, more recently, science-fiction novels, the location of numerous sacrifices and alien landings…
But Twilight Sparkle knew that the odious reputation of the South Equinus Mountains did not originate from these fantasy or sci-fi novels. To the contrary, these novels were inspired by the reputation that South Equinus received.
And why? Why was it that these mountains instilled such fear and unease when gazed upon, as though some horrific menace loomed over the Saddle Valley rather than simply a jagged mountain range?
Queen Celestia and Discord passed through the mountain range as though it were not there.
“Wait… What just happened?” Twilight asked, blinking.
“I saw that too, Mom,” Spike added wondrously. “I mean, if what you saw was Celestia going right through the mountain like some kinda smoky magic trick. That was what you saw, right?”
“Yesserroonie, we did see that one, Spikey!” squealed Pinkie. “She must really be pushin’ Dizzy away something hard!”
“Pinkie Pie, stop calling him Dizzy,” Rainbow Dash grumbled. “He’s not a good guy; you can see that.”
“Umm, well, it’s really your decision, Pinkie,” interjected Fluttershy, offering a miniscule rendition of a nervous smile.
“And in addition,” Rarity added, “it did not appear entirely as if she had plowed through the mountainside, but rather as if… do you recall how Twilight’s ursa-banishment spell passed straight through Trixie’s false ursa major?”
“Lahk it happened yesterday,” answered Applejack. “But… Those South Equinus Mountains, they can’ possibly be ‘not there’. Ah mean, they’re jus’ too big.”
‘Thine eyes can be deceived, fair Applejack; so trust them not.’
Queen Selena had descended fewer than a dozen hooves away, the scent of caramel being wafted by her wing-flaps. She held a golden object in the purple-spotted black prehensile tip of her mane; after a moment, Twilight recognized it as Celestia’s queenly crown.
“Queen Selena… what’s going on?” Twilight asked, almost forgetting to bow before cantering quickly to the night-Queen. “I’ve never seen Queen Celestia like that, at least not in person. I mean, I’ve read accounts of her in a rage, but… Why are you holding her crown?”
As Celestia’s unclear bellow at Discord echoed down from miles away, Selena looked darkly down at the crown.
‘Thinkest thou of my sister and I as powerful, thou dost, Twilight Sparkle?’
Twilight nodded slowly.
‘But our true power lies far beyond what thou couldst comprehend. So powerful are Celestia and I, that the merest whim of our magic couldst rain incontinent terror and death upon Equestria − neigh, Harmonia. Elder Sister’s powers wert always so strong, so uncontrolled, as roiling and as deathly as her Sun. Mine own control of my dark powers hast always been stronger… barring the apparition of the Miasma, and NightMare Moon. As it is, needeth not your Queen of the Night external forces to constrain her ability. But mine elder sister hast had her regalia enchanted to holdest the true scope of her Alicorn powers back, such that her very equine emotions wouldst not sway the world unduly.’
“I know exactly what that’s like, Queen Selie,” said Pinkie Pie with a surprisingly dour expression. “I can do all sortsa things that other ponies can’t, all sortsa fun things like jumping in two opposite directions at the same time or hugging ponies with more legs than ponies have, and I don’t wanna do them too much ‘cause other ponies can’t do them, and other ponies might freak out if they see or feel or anything of me doing that, and then they would be sad and that wouldn’t make me a very good party-planner pony, would it?”
The pink Earth Pony, as always, said all of this very quickly, and finished with a very wide grin.
Queen Selena cocked an eyebrow, ‘Thou didst say that thou callest the Descort Fields thy place of birth?’
“Wellll, not really. See, Mom and Dad’s rock farm is at the edge of the Descort Fields, and it’s been there for way way way way way way longer than anypony in our family can remember. Now, I know that my family really really really really loves rocks and farming rocks and selling rocks and everything there is to do with rocks, and there are a lot of rocks all about the place where we are at the edge of the Descort Fields, and…”
‘Stay thy tongue, rosy one,’ interrupted Queen Selena, a slightly wary expression on her face. ‘The Descort Fields doth have a murderous history; twas the site of mine elder sister’s and my final confrontation agaynst the diabolical Discord. Twas in that fell place that did fall the first seeds of Everfree, and the air of wild magic began to grow.’
“Discord… Descort…” Twilight mused to herself.
‘Yes, Twilight Sparkle, that indeed was where the “Descort Fields” did acquire their appellation. Even now, what you have seen of my sister is but the faintest glimmer of what she couldst accomplish on that day...’ Selena shook her head. ‘Neigh, twas not a “day” as any of ye wouldst perceive it. The Sun and Moon didst spin endlessly about the planet, but not with regularity; sometimes did they approach perilously close, and sometimes swinging out till they were but a twinkle and a memory. There was no counting of time; no use was there for calendars or sun-dials. Twas the dusk of the Age of Discord.’
Selena’s batlike ears twitched, and she cocked her head off towards the south. Giving a curt nod, she allowed her eyes to rove over the band of seven before taking flight towards the South Equinus Mountains. As she followed Selena’s path through the air, Twilight caught sight of a brilliant golden-yellow glowing figure hovering over the South Equinus Mountains, the clouds in the sky wavering behind it the sign that it was emitting a formidable level of heat. Squinting as Queen Selena approached the flaming figure, Twilight had a shrewd idea of what − or rather, who − it was as the sunlike glow faded from the being floating up there.
“What in tarnation was that all about?” queried Applejack, her scarred muzzle scrunching up in consternation.
“I think I know,” Twilight answered. “I just wish that I knew more.”
Seven pairs of eyes followed the distant figures as they approached from the high peaks of the South Equinus Mountains. The shapes of Queen Selena and Queen Celestia resolved into view as the flying figures grew closer, alighting beside the reservoir. Queen Celestia’s pristine white coat seemed to be stained by what looked like ash, but apart from that she appeared perfectly fine.
“Queen Celestia,” Twilight gaped, “what in the world just happened?”
Celestia’s expression was dark.
“I could not bear to see you and Ponyville so beset by Discord and his madness. His prior reign is such a bitter memory to me that I could not bear to see it unfold again. Not with you in it, my little pony. So…”
‘Elder sister did ask if I could unlock her full power by removing her crown as soon as we’d left Canterlot airspace,’ Selena continued.
“You see,” Celestia said slowly, “my true special talent is not merely to guide the Sun through the cosmos, ostensibly to supply Harmonia with light and life. No, it is my destiny to be the Sun. For as long as I can remember, I have exuded an aura of terrible nuclear fire whenever I could not keep my anger in check.”
“‘Nuclear’?” Twilight and her band echoed.
“Suffice it to say that the flames I project are not merely extremely hot, though that alone would be enough to incinerate most ponies within a few score hooves’ distance from me. No. If I ever removed my crown… then the aura that would radiate out would cause horrendous mutations in all life physically near to me.”
“So that’s why you were untouched by the Sun’s harmful radiation during NightMare Moon’s reign!” Twilight gasped. “You yourself project it as part of your own magical talent!”
“Yes, but can you imagine my horror, Twilight, when this broke out? I spent years isolating myself, trying to hold my magic in, using whatever spellwork I could to contain my own incontinent sun-fire. That is, until the mages of the nascent Canterlot helped to produce that which you see here,” the Queen of the Sun spread each leg out one at a time, balancing on three legs as she did so, showing the golden greaves she was shorn in; the golden bracer on her chest gleamed as brightly as her crown. “As long as I wore this regalia in full, I could walk safely amidst my little ponies, and bring no harm to them. As I said to you in the throne room, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’.”
“So… what happened to Discord?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I disintegrated him with my nuclear fire,” Celestia replied simply.
Twilight felt her heart lurch in her chest. Disintegrated?
“Whoa nelly…” gasped Applejack.
“Oh my…” Fluttershy breathed.
“But, that being the case,” Rarity mused aloud, looking back to Ponyville, “why is our town still so besotten with such wanton chaos?”
“Because I can regenerate from the mana in the air,” replied a completely unexpected voice from the puddle of caramel in the reservoir. Discord lounged back in a chair made from melted salt-licks, an umbrella perched up just behind his head that rained what smelled like vinegar all over him. “Throw whatever you want at me, it doesn’t matter, I’ll just pop right back up again! So really, what did you accomplish apart from raising your blood pressure, my dear little ray of sunshine?”
Reaching up inside of the umbrella, Discord produced a vacuum cleaner. Plugging it into his own nostrils, he began to sweep it none-too-gently all across Celestia’s body, the ash coming off all too easily. With an affronted expression, Celestia rounded on Discord as he unplugged the vacuum and ate it.
“And I must say, sunbeams, that you haven’t changed at all in the time you’ve had me in time-out,” Discord smirked. “You’ve still got that spark going for you. Really, you do. Why, we could have it just like in the good old days.”
“There never were days that we shared which were good, Discord!” Celestia snarled. “Now tell me where the Elements of Harmony are, or else I’ll―…”
“You’ll what, ‘Celestia’? Roast me again like a shish kebab at the barbecue? All you’re doing is wasting my time doing that.” He sighed. “But I suppose I could humor you lot and give you a sporting chance to find the Elements. Let’s see if you can puzzle this one out:”
The draconequus cleared his throat, snapped his fingers to produce a pair of reading glasses in a flash of light, and looked down at his paw as though to read from it:
These words I speak are clear and loud,
And though harmony is hereafter disavowed,
Another chance will I give to you,
A brand-new adventure for the whole crew!
But what you search for is not what you think;
Into the quagmire of discord you may sink.
Generosity can be found in greed,
As want can be discovered in need.
To discard your joy is a mortal sin;
To find laughter, simply look within.
Fidelity is a trait found in deep straits,
Shining brightest behind hostile gates.
With all of the troubles that set one at unease,
Being kind and loving is not such a breeze.
To find the truth, you will have to seek
Where the air is strong and the earth is weak.
Twists and turns are my master plan,
And you will find magic back where you began.
Shaking his paw out as though to remove a fly that had settled on it, Discord removed the glasses and shook them out as well, turning them into a pair of drinking glasses, one filled with strawberry milk, the other with lemonade.
“So, anypony want a drink?”
Stony silence greeted his request. Even Pinkie Pie had had her fill with his mad chaos, what with his refusal to even acknowledge her desire for a flugelhorn.
Again, Discord found himself sighing.
“Fine. Guess I’ll just drink these glasses myself.”
Tipping his head back, Discord tilted the entirety of the glass of strawberry milk into his mouth, the glass flowing around the pink drink and down the draconequus’s gullet while the liquid stayed in place.
Inspecting the glass-shaped blob of strawberry milk with narrow eyes, Discord lobbed it over his shoulder nonchalantly, the pink beverage exploding violently upon contact with the caramel reservoir. Waving his now-free claw in the air, Discord produced what looked like some sort of sieve and, holding it upside-down over his mouth, poured the lemonade through and produced a lemon which he caught in his teeth. The draconequus grinned comically as he clenched his jaws tightly, crushing the lemon and spewing bitter juice all over the herd of ponies (and Spike).
“So yeah,” Discord said as he clapped paw and claw together, the sound of a bicycle horn emanating forth. “You six little ponies are gonna get a small respite from my chaos magic for a wee bit. Just wanna see if you can puzzle out my magic little riddle. And until next we meet…”
Discord floated up into the air, smiling manically.
“Good luck, my little ponies~!”
And with one last mirthful laugh he vanished in a flash of white light.
“What in tarnation was that all about?” Applejack muttered.
Before anypony could answer the apple-farmer, Queens Celestia and Selena lifted off of the ground and, as one, flew off towards Ponyville. In the flare of their manes, Twilight momentarily caught a glimpse of intense resolve on their faces before they escaped her line of sight.
“Quick, after them!” cried Twilight, galloping at full speed down the path back to Ponyville, with Spike on her back and her friends at her heels.
Ponyville itself was in pandemonium even with the pancakes and syrup and melted butter and giant spiders having stopped falling. Lyra Heartstrings nudged her wife Bon Bon back into their co-owned shop the BonBonnière, the aquamarine Unicorn levitating a black hoodie over their Unicorn daughter Toot Sweet. Ditzy Doo carried Dinky Doo under her barrel and over scurrying arachnids and sticky piles of mangled breakfast items.
“Remain calm, everypony!” cried out the Mayor, squinting about; a spider had smacked her pince-museau glasses off of her muzzle some time before. “Remain calm! The weather team has been dispatched to try to find some clouds that haven’t turned into cotton candy!”
‘Constable!’ called out Queen Selena, alighting before the Mayor, who squinted at the Queen of the Night.
“Queen Selena…? And is that…?” Her eyes widened.
“Yes, Mayor Stable. Your Queens have come,” answered Celestia with a dark expression. “And we will set to the task of cleansing Ponyville of this chaos.”
Two horns lit up sun-yellow and night-blue, and immediately several piles of pancakes began to levitate up and off of the ground, vanishing in dual flashes of light.
“I’ll see if I can help, Your Majesties!” Twilight interjected, her own alicorn flashing pink as she cast her mind about to all of the pancakes that lay about the streets of Ponyville…
“Wait!” cried Fluttershy, diving onto Twilight’s back and knocking them both to the ground.
Twilight gaped. “What is wrong with you, Fluttershy?”
The butter-yellow Pegasus pointed at one of the further splattered piles of pancake; a small gray ball of fur was currently nibbling away at it.
“You could have zapped that poor little possum,” she said with wide eyes. “That poor little thing; it must’ve woken up from all the screaming…”
“Yeah, I suppose. They are nocturnal, after all.”
‘“Nocturnal”?’ echoed Queen Selena, cantering curiously off to the creature in question, tilting her head down for a closer look. The possum looked up from the pancakes and sniffed inquisitively at the nightly Alicorn’s nose.
Selena’s pupils expanded to fill her entire visible eyes, letting out a squeal of delight.
‘Oh Celly! Gazeth thee upon this creature! It is so adorable and lovable!’
The possum was swept up in a deep-blue dwimmer shimmer and brought swiftly up to Queen Celestia’s face, the bright Alicorn recoiling slightly at the sudden invasion of her personal space by the slender grey rodent.
“Selena… It is just a possum.”
‘A possum, thou sayest? Such an unbecoming name for such a fascinating creature. Nocturnal and adorable… Why hast such a creature not been brought before mine eyes afore now?’
Celestia weakly replied, “Well, most ponies see them as pests, Selie…”
‘Pests? Hardly; surely this creature is the product of nobler lineage than thou or I.’ She set the possum down on the now-cleansed pathway at her hooves, beaming down at the small creature. ‘Tiberius thou shalt be, my familiar!’
The gray critter immediately perked up, scampering up Selena’s leg and across her back and up her neck, perching himself just behind her crown.
Celestia just blinked.
A shrill cry brought them back to Ponyville, still beset by giant spiders and the detritus of so many pancakes and so much melted butter and syrup. The Cutie Mark Crusaders and a group of other foals were being herded together by an advancing cluster of spiders.
“Sweetie Belle!” cried Rarity in horror, but before anypony could so much as steel themselves, Spike launched himself forwards from atop Twilight’s back, bolting on all fours towards the clutter of spiders and the frightened foals.
“Don’t worry, Rarity! I’ll save them!” he cried.
Meanwhile, the foals were not in a very friendly position.
“Keep them back, keep them back!” shrieked Diamond Tiara, rearing up in fright. “Do something, you useless blank-flanks!”
“Ah can’!” Apple Bloom squeaked. “They might touch me!”
“So much for ‘masters of the earth’!” snapped Roughshod, nonetheless keeping a close eye on the spiders with their pincers and grasping legs…
Spike took a deep breath and, taking care to keep his aim off of the ponies, sent a blast of sparkling green fire all about the oversized arachnids, a torrent of columns of green-yellow smoke soaring into the air and towards the distant towers of Canterlot.
The mulberry drake wiped at his mouth, removing flecks of drool, before turning to the foals.
“Is everypony alright?” he asked with a worried tone.
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both heaved sighs of relief, and Sweetie Belle was fixing Spike with a wondrous gaze, a faint blush creeping into her cheeks, but for the non-Crusader foals, Spike may as well have not spoken at all. The pink filly fumbled with the tiara upon her head, and the gray one held one hoof against her glasses to keep them from falling away. Each of those eight foals offered Spike looks of varying levels of distaste.
“We didn’t need your help, lizard,” hissed Snake-in-the-Grass.
“We were perfectly capable of handling the situation on our own,” Golden Parachute growled.
“Hey!” Sweetie Belle snapped, face flushing. “You leave him alone; he did what he could to help us!”
Diamond Tiara scoffed, “Leave it to the blank-flank to defend the dragon-cub. What will your little fillies look like, I wonder? As stupid as you are, probably!”
Spike folded his forelimbs, narrowing his eyes to demonstrate his displeasure even as his fins involuntarily drooped to represent his sadness.
“Git offa Spike’s case!” snapped Apple Bloom, rounding on the cadre of bullies. “He done saved us from them spiders, fryin’ ‘em up the way he did.”
“Well…” Spike rubbed the back of his neck. “I didn’t really ‘fry them up’. I kinda sorta teleported them to Queen Celestia’s bed-chamber.”
“You what?” squealed the five fillies and three colts who still held themselves back in alarm from imaginary spiders.
“Oh dear…” murmured Fluttershy, gazing up at the distant parapets of Canterlot. “Those poor spiders are in a habitat that they’re ill-suited towards…”
Rainbow Dash groaned.
“Really, Flutters? A mad god of chaos has just broken loose, turning all of Ponyville upside-down, and you’re worried about some creepy-crawlies?”
“Well, it’s just… I don’t think that those poor spiders should be left alone in Celestia’s chambers. We − we really should return them to the Everfree Forest.”
“Return them?” Rainbow Dash’s eyes boggled. “Discord just called ‘em in from outta nowhere, and you think they belong in ―”
‘Neigh, Lady Rainbow Dash,’ interjected Queen Selena, Tiberius nibbling away at a loose strand of her forelock. ‘What the Lady Fluttershy sayeth carryest the ring of truth. Matter it does not from whence thy soul originated, but only that thee shalt find thy place in the universe.’
“I agree,” added Queen Celestia, nodding her head and wheeling off into the sky, vanishing in a whirling vortex of sunlight.
“So, uhhh…” Roughshod began nervously, her ears falling slightly limp, “you’re Queen Selena, aren’t you? Uhhh, I’ve always really thought your nights were pretty and, uhh…. nice?”
‘I thank thee, child,’ Selena said with a small nod, ‘but in the present circumstances, I find that our thoughts best be turned towards more immediate concerns. Come, little children.’
Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo approached the Queen of the Night with a giddy little trots, but the remaining foals each hesitated for a moment or two. Each one shared more or less the same thought: Queen Selena may like them, but she’s too good for these blank-flanks. I don’t want to go near them, even if it’s near… the Queen of the Night. Nonetheless, it was Diamond Tiara who cantered forwards first to Selena’s welcoming wing, then her posse of Roughshod, Golden Parachute, Toady, Silver Lining, and Snake-in-the-Grass, who huddled close together as they approached, to made sure that Silver Spoon did not get a clear shot back to the side of her ex-best friend. Once the ten foals were settled at either side, though, Queen Selena brought her feathered bat-wings about the young herd.
Silver Spoon shuddered.
“Your wing doesn’t have feathers at the ends; they feel weird,” she quavered, her ears flopping flat against her head.
‘My apologies, dear filly,’ Selena replied, ‘but thy nightly Queen cannot amend that which is a part of her body. But thou may rest assured, for we are the safest place that any of ye could hopest to find, as in darkness one can not perceiveth the chaotic madness.’
The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked up at Selena in adoration, while the remaining foals bore expressions of mixed wariness and nervousness.
A bright golden flash alit none too far from the Queen Selena and her wards, and Celestia had returned.
“Well, now that those spiders have been transported to a proper environment,” she said, her alicorn lighting up like the Sun, “let us restore some order to these proceedings.”
‘I am with thee, elder sister,’ said Selena, standing tall and lighting her horn as well.
“Me, too,” Twilight added, horn glowing pink.
In relatively short time, the sporadic splatter of falling pancakes and their syrup coating ebbed away, the giant spiders vanishing in twinkling flashes of pink, yellow, and blue as they were transported deep into the Everfree Forest, the piles of hot-cakes following suit.
“So, where exactly are y’all sendin’ them pancakes?” asked Applejack, the palomino arching an eyebrow at the decreasing number of piles of breakfast materials.
“I am sending them,” Celestia said matter-of-factly, “to my Sun. What better place to dispose of unneeded chaotic waste?”
‘Thy Queen of the Night was disposing of these fried cakes of the pan,’ Selena replied, ‘within the caves beneath Canterlot. T’is an environment that is inhabited not, and the wafting sweetness shalt enricheth the air of the capital.’
“Really?” Twilight said, glancing at the dark Alicorn. “I’ve been dispersing the pancakes at the atomic level, so that they only leave the aroma of pancakes about Ponyville.”
The gleaming-white Alicorn smiled approvingly down at the lavender Unicorn.
“Again and again, you remind me of your ingenuity, Twilight,” she said glowingly. “Out of all of my faithful students, you were probably the keenest, which is not to speak lowly of those who came before you. I am sure that you’ve seen many of their names in history books, whether or not you’ve seen them connected to my name.”
“Yeah, Twilight is amazin’!” piped in Apple Bloom.
“Well, Ah do hope that Ah cin measure up ta her anymore, li’l sis,” Applejack said with a slightly lopsided smirk.
“A’ course ya do, yer mah big sister, Applejack!”
“Don’t forget Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo interjected, her undersized wings fluttering excitedly − “Oh no, they got them started…” grumbled Silver Lining, a hoof on his face − “She’s the head of Ponyville’s weather team, and soon to be the biggest, baddest Wonderbolt to have ever lived!”
“Here’s to hoping, kid,” Rainbow Dash grinned, running a hoof through Scootaloo’s mane. “But I gotta hear back from them first, see if they’re even going to let me run these boring-as-all-get-out flying tests, and even that’s only enough to get me into the teamwork exercises.”
“Hey!” squeaked Sweetie Belle, seeming uncharacteristically indignant, her leonine tail swishing as though to swat flies at her sides. “Everypony else has gotten the chance to gush about their favorites. Let me take a shot at it!”
“Ohh, well, of course you may, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity said, waving a finely filed hoof in her little sister’s direction.
“Okay then… Spike is the greatest!”
If nopony had been watching Sweetie Belle, they’d have thought that the Unicorn filly’s voice was being imitated by Discord in a mean-spirited attempt at chaos and confusion. Nevertheless, however, the curly-maned filly was pronking about as though she were Pinkie Pie’s little sister.
“He’s just such a brave dragon! He stood up to those big nasty spiders and used his magic fire-breath to send them off to be punished by Queen Celestia! He’s just so great and swell and… amazing!” This last was said with her head tilted at Spike and her eyelids batting in a childish attempt at appearing alluring.
The mulberry dragon cub scratched at the side of his neck nervously.
“Err, yeah, that’s great,” he said with a nervous smile, retreating behind Twilight’s furthest hind leg, Sweetie Belle practically skipping along after him with a bewitched look to her face.
The collective groans of seven foals sheltered in Selena’s wings gave the impression that a very surly hydra had suddenly acquired the ability to understand such sapient matters.
“Good grief, you’re laying it on pretty thick, aren’t you, blank-flank?” sneered Silver Spoon.
“I hate to say I agree with the bad friend,” grumbled Snake-in-the-Grass, “but I do. This is a disgusting display.”
“Hey!” snapped Scootaloo. “Let Sweetie Belle do what she likes with whoever she likes!”
“Come on now, everypony…!” Twilight snapped crossly, the dwimmer shimmer of her horn dimming slightly as she levitated Spike up onto her back, leaving Sweetie Belle pawing ineffectively up at the lavender Unicorn’s flank. “We’re losing focus on what’s really important: Setting Ponyville back in order and finding the Elements of Harmony!”
“Awww…!” Sweetie Belle’s ears flopped back. “But I wanted to take him home with me and give him cuddles…!”
Beneath Queen Selena’s wing, Diamond Tiara made retching noises. Spike tried to avoid Sweetie Belle’s gaze, his scaly face burning pink.
In almost no time at all, interruptions regarding possums and spiders having been dealt with, the pancakes had been cleared away.
“But there’s still a ton of maple syrup all over everything in Ponyville,” complained Silver Lining, muzzle wrinkling in disgust.
“Oh, oh! I have an idea!” Scootaloo interjected. (“That’ll be the day,” croaked Toady.) “Rainbow Dash is the head of the weather-ponies here in Ponyville; I’ll bet that she and all the flying ponies in Ponyville could get some clouds together and rain on that syrup’s parade!”
Roughshod tsked loudly in Scootaloo’s direction. "I guess that leaves you out, doesn’t it, Scootalow?”
“You leave this kid alone!” Rainbow Dash growled, baring her teeth as she flapped up to the recalcitrant little foals... who were still presently in the dominion of Queen Selena’s wings. Upon realizing who she was confronting with such hostility, Rainbow Dash balked, her ears falling back. Almost automatically, the seven foals besides the Cutie Mark Crusaders began to affect exaggerated expressions of fear and terror.
“Rainbow Dash, please do not raise your voice upon these foals,” Queen Celestia said with only the faintest hint of crossness in her tone. “You are only stooping to their level by indulging in such hostilities. Besides, they are young, and likely to change their ways as they mature. So, if you please, do as the young filly says.”
Without a grumble, Rainbow Dash swallowed her bile and took to the skies. In no time, she had rounded up the Pegasi of Ponyville’s weather team, who scattered themselves about the skies of the Saddle Valley to procure proper rain-clouds. Within minutes, Pegasi were sweeping the hamlet below with small dark puffs of cloud, light downpours weaving their way down the many streets of Ponyville, diluting the syrup and filling the air with a gentle earthy aroma.
“Ahhh...” Applejack sighed as she breathed in heavily through her nostrils. “Take great big whiff a’ that. That right there, that’s th’ smell a’ the world at its best.”
‘Aye, t’is an agreeable sentiment, fair Applejack,’ nodded Queen Selena, betraying the lines of worry from her eyes to her muzzle. ‘The scent of the midnight dew... The chill wind of sunless morn... This is what makes the world a wholesome place to belong to. But if that old serpent did haveth his own way, then no rest would there be to find in all the four corners of the earth.’
“Yeesh…” murmured Rainbow Dash, who had returned from her weather errands, standing by Fluttershy. “Sounds like our adventure’s so popular that it got itself a sequel.”
“Your Majesty,” Twilight said suddenly, approaching Queen Celestia. Spike was looking up to the Queen of the Sun as well, partly because it also took his eyes off of the staring Sweetie Belle. “When you had assaulted Discord, you and him seemed to… vanish into the mountain range. What in the name of ponydom was that about?”
The ethereal wavering of the sunly Alicorn’s mane and skirt-of-tail seemed to falter almost imperceptibly, the Queen bowing her head slightly.
“The Age of Discord,” she began, “was too long for any pony to count. Nopony born at its onset lived still when it had ended. But, the First Age of Equestria before that, following the Time of the Three Tribes, could be counted in greater years than the Present Age. Even now, I can see a resurgence in what ponykind was able to accomplish in working together, albeit far sooner than before because of the more longstanding union of the three pony races.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow, perplexion on her beautiful face, “Queen Celestia, Your Majesty, what in the world are you talking about?”
“Far more than just knowledge was lost to the Age of Discord, but technology as well,” Celestia answered darkly. “Machinery the likes of which lies beyond the daydreams of the most fantastic science-fiction writer. The South Equinus Mountains − all that forms the southern border to the Saddle Valley − is a mass glamour of mine and Selena’s invention. What lies beneath, is the fallen capital of Old Equestria, Liath Macha. A metropolis as wide as a mountain range… wiped out, at the whim of Discord. I will not bore you with the details of this world of technology that was lost because of a mad god, but suffice it to say that ponydom had come a very, very long way, before it fell into an age of darkness, and ignorance, and madness.”
Twilight felt teary. “Ohh, Queen Celestia, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize just how entrenched Discord’s evil was. If I’d only known, if I’d even bothered to ask why you were so adamant…”
“It could not have been helped, my dear apprentice,” Celestia said with a sad smile, kneeling down to nuzzle the lavender Unicorn. “If anything, your actions may have given us a bit more time, keeping him preoccupied with simpler tricks that involved little of his unfathomable magic. Paper Mache and my most eagle-eyed Guards are scouring the land, searching for traces of the magic of the Elements of Harmony.
“For you see,” Celestia continued, with a slightly mischievous twinkle in her eye, “though so much knowledge of the technology of Old Equestria was lost to the ages, some of that knowledge remains within one of those born in the dusk of that golden era.” The white Alicorn tapped a golden hoof to her temples, the crown behind her alicorn glinting in the sunlight.
“So, you’re saying...!” Twilight gasped.
“That so many of your Guards have super-sci-fi tech to track down the Elements?” Spike beamed with his claws balled into fists.
Celestia giggled shortly, “More or less. The technology is old, though, and imperfect; it has gone unused for meggrossia, and what back-up supplies that could exist to repair them are in as poor shape or worse. Nevertheless, Paper and her fellow surveyors will be able to pinpoint the locations of all six Elements, to within a few furlongs’ diameter.”
The lozenge-cut amethyst set into Queen Celestia’s bracer began to light up intermittently, emitting a high beep as if it were some extravagant alarm clock. She brought up one of her greaven hooves and pushed into the gemstone, which depressed itself and began to emit a bright-blue cone of light, terminating in a life-sized and translucent image of Paper Mache.
“Ooooh, fancy~” Pinkie Pie said with wide blue eyes.
“Wh… What happened to Miss Paper?” Fluttershy asked worriedly.
Paper Mache snapped to a salute for Queen Celestia.
“Your Majesty.” Her voice carried a modulation, as though she were speaking through a tinny radio broadcast.
“Paper,” said Celestia with a delicate tone, “Have you and your search party turned up any clues as to the whereabouts of the Elements?”
The see-through Unicorn nodded. “Affirmative, Queen Celestia. Each of the Elements has been located. My party and I will rendezvous with you and the Bearers in the Canterlot throne room at dozen-six-gross hours.”
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