The Devil's Dues

by DannyJ

The Weight of One's Crimes

The walls of reality broke apart with a crack of arcane thunder as Discord forced himself into the dimension, clawing his way through time and space like a worm burrowing through earth. The portal collapsed behind him, as the draconequus looked about him and took a long sniff of the air. The icy chill pierced his lungs and made his eyes water momentarily, but his magic came to him and warmed his body almost without thought. He exhaled deeply, his visible breath forming into a caricature of a skull in front of him.

"Niflheim," he said, uttering the word with as much contempt as possible.

Discord hovered above a vast white mountain range that stretched as far as the eye could see. The sky was a cloudy grey, and the wind was strong, but so far there was a merciful lack of snow.

He created a magical umbrella to hold in front of himself, imbued with a force-field to block the wind, but somehow the wind overcame it and blew the umbrella out of his grip. Discord watched as his umbrella flew away across the mountains and crashed somewhere in the distance, causing an avalanche in the process. That would almost be a cause for concern if anything even lived in this region.

"Urgh," he said as he created another force-field at double the strength, minus the umbrella this time.

Fighting against the wind, Discord shot forward at bullet speed, but he didn't maintain a straight trajectory for long. It took no time at all for his usual fidgeting to set in, as he created a mockery of the Wonderbolts uniform for himself and began performing stunt tricks. Then he got bored of that and started interspersing his flying with short bursts of teleportation. He also made a game of trying to dodge the oncoming wind, twisting through the air like an eel through water. All the while, he maintained a general forward path.

Towards the end of the journey, he got bored of flying too, and created a magic carpet to carry himself the rest of the way while he practiced card tricks.

Aside from Discord's momentary spree of seeding Niflheim with fast-growing, blue-leafed evergreen trees, the scenery remained unchanging for the rest of the way, until he eventually looked up from his cards and saw the mountains in the distance giving way to a great frozen lake. In the middle of the lake, a perfectly cylindrical island rose out of the ice, formed of brick rather than earth. An equally cylindrical golden palace was built in its centre. A great tower jutted out from atop the structure, and a warm orange glow emanated from the palace's many windows. A smile tugged at the edge of Discord's lips, and he slammed down his cards.

Standing up on his hind legs, Discord donned a pair of sunglasses and an aloha shirt, and held his arms out as he surfed the carpet towards the island, laughing loudly. With a burst of speed, the carpet began its rapid descent, leaving a burning smoke trail in its wake. Discord leapt from it at the last second, letting the carpet fly off without him and explode when it hit the outer wall of the palace.

Discord landed on the stone floor of the island, head first, curling into a wheel and spinning along the ground. He moved towards the open, unguarded front gate, and the moment he rolled over the threshold, a wall of warmth and light hit him. Discord uncurled and flipped upright, his shirt and sunglasses flying off and disappearing.

A red carpet now separated his feet from the stone floor. The walls were decorated with ancient paintings and sconces. The torches that lit the hall were obviously magical, as the palace interior was as bright as Canterlot on a summer's day. The change of environment made Discord smile, but that smile soon morphed into a devious grin.

With an evil laugh, he reclined in the air and floated backwards down the hall, alongside the wall of paintings. With each one he passed, he stretched out a hand or tail and tilted the painting askew, leaving a hall full of crooked frames in his wake. When he finally came to the end, Discord turned away from the wall, and approached a spiral staircase. He stopped and floated in place. The grin slowly bled away, replaced by a much harder expression. Steeling himself, he rose up the stairs, the palace silent aside from his wingbeats.

The room at the top was the interior of the tower he had seen outside. It was a large, open, circular room that rose to an incredible height, at least fifteen floors. A balcony ran along the outside of the room on each floor, and the walls were covered with bookshelves to the very top. It was a library. Possibly one of the grandest libraries ever built. And in its centre, a golden orb floated above a well of bright blue energy, pulsing with power.

Tiny white portals surrounded the orb, continuously opening and closing. Threads weaved in and out of these portals in constant motion, emerging from one, sometimes disappearing into another, and sometimes disappearing into the depths of the floating orb in the middle. A few tapered off and ended completely, their portals closing behind them, but for most, there was no end in sight.

Discord eyed the orb warily, but was pulled from his reverie by a female voice.

"Discord? You have come to visit? How surprising."

His eyes darted to the source of the voice, a mauve alicorn mare with a golden mane, clad in a white toga.

"Lachesis, my dear!" said Discord, putting on a smile. "How could I resist dropping by to see my favourite girls? We've been apart far too long!"

"It has been a while, hasn't it?"

That had not come from Lachesis. Discord twisted his neck at an unnatural angle to look above and behind him. A second toga-wearing alicorn mare, this one minty green and with a mane of ocean colours, leapt from one of the upper balconies of the library and fluttered down.

"You've been in stasis for quite some time, Discord," she said, wearing a neutral expression. "We were beginning to think that we'd never see you again in our lifetimes."

"Oh, perish the thought, Atropos! I know you three couldn't possibly be deprived of my greatness for too long. Imagine how dull your lives would get. Servants of Order for your whole existence? And not even a single measly rampaging animal through your immaculate castle? I can think of no worse fate to inflict upon a pony. Well, maybe I can. But I'm saving those for later."

Atropos did not react.

"Now, where is the third one?" Discord teleported over to a nearby table and picked it up, closely inspecting the underside. "The dumpy-looking one with the temper? Is she still mad at me, by any chance?"

"Furious," said Atropos. "You can hardly blame her. The atrocities you committed were many."

Discord looked to Lachesis and smiled, shrugging his shoulders, all while still holding the table in one hand.

"Water under the bridge?"

Lachesis returned his smile, but hers was an uneasy one. "Well, you'd have to ask her..."

"You!" a shrill voice called out from behind.

Discord looked back to the stairs he had previously ascended. The third alicorn sister stood at the top, carrying a tea tray in her magic. She was a lightish blue mare with a pink mane, and much smaller than the other two, but was also differentiated by the complete lack of a left wing. Grinding her teeth together and glaring at Discord, she stomped over towards him, slamming her tray down on the nearest study table and spilling the tea.

"Discord," she said, venomously.

"Clotho," said Discord, turning the table he held into a top hat so that he could tip it at her.

She reared up and knocked him down. Discord yelped as he was sent sprawling, his hat flying away in the process. Faster than the eye could perceive, the alicorn mare was on top of him and pinning him down.

"I would crush you beneath my hooves right now if not for everypony else's insistence on showing you mercy. I cannot fathom why they think a monster like you is worthy of such a thing, much less forgiveness, but count your blessings, you wretched creature."

Discord gave her a cocky smile, before teleporting away to float somewhere above her.

"Don't try to be intimidating, Clotho. You're not scary. You're stumpy."

Clotho growled and took a step forward, but Atropos held out a hoof out to stop her, giving her sister a disapproving look.

"What are you here for?" asked Atropos, turning her attention back to Discord.

"Oh, you know, just catching up." Discord picked up a book from another table and flipped through it. "First time out of stone since the last time. I've just come back from a day of working out agreements and treaties and other such nonsense with Princess Celestia. Terms of my release, you understand. Normally, I'd laugh at the idea that she thinks I'll actually stick to any such agreement, but now that Fluttershy has her hooks in me..."

He tossed the book away, and it turned into a butterfly midair and fluttered away to the upper levels.

"...Not to mention there's citizenship papers, applications for various licenses, a contract of employment to the Crown, and many other things which bored me to tears. And that got me thinking of you three, so I thought I'd come pay a visit! After all, the last time I was out, I squandered my one chance. I didn't even get to test the fire department's response time in this realm! I intend to make up for that now."

A lit match appeared between Discord's talons, which he blew up into a roaring inferno of a fireball with a gesture of his paw. The miniature sun roiled in his hands. Clotho's glare somehow grew even more intense, while Atropos's neutral expression finally morphed into a look of disdain, but Lachesis merely tilted her head at him.

"Did you really come all this way just to antagonise us, Discord?" she asked.

With a raised eyebrow, Discord carelessly tossed the fireball behind him, only for it to fizzle out and die before hitting anything.

"What else would I do?" he asked, putting his hands on his sides.

"Well... I did dare hope that, like you did with the Equestrians, you might have come to finally make peace."

He suppressed a smirk.

"Good one." Discord flew over to Lachesis and coiled around her, leaning across her back, his upper body ensnaring her neck. "But wrong, I'm sorry to say. If you were anypony else, maybe that would be an option. You'd be surprised how many of my enemies I've forgiven, even before this whole 'friendship' thing. But I'm afraid that you're still the Fates, and I'm still sworn to destroy you all some day."

Lachesis rolled her eyes, and Discord teleported away. When he reappeared, he was the size of a small mouse, and he was nestled in Atropos's mane like a bird in its nest.

"Now, don't act like I'm the bad guy here. I never wanted it to be personal. It's just that I hate you all so much. I can't help that, can I?"

Atropos shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the tiny draconequus. Before she could, Discord teleported again, this time back to full size and standing directly behind Clotho. He leaned over and bent down so that his head hung upside down in front of hers. Her eyes widened in alarm.

"And in fairness, it's not like I act on my hatred all that often. For the Spirit of Chaos, I think I've shown remarkable self-control. I mean, come on, when was the last time I did anything to hurt you directly?"

Clotho's look grew into a murderous glare.

"Speaking of, how is my wing?" she spat.

Floating away, Discord flexed his blue pegasus wing and blew it up to much greater size, so that he could caress the appendage with his hands. He gave a long, satisfied sigh.

"Still as soft and beautiful as the day I got her," he said, lovingly running his talons through the feathers.

"Pity. I was hoping it would've grown cancerous by now."

"Sister!" Lachesis chided.

Clotho glared at her, but said nothing. Lachesis turned her attention back to Discord.

"Discord, whatever you may say, I do not believe you came here today to fight. I think that you're here because you've had a change of heart about us."

For the first time since arriving, Discord dropped the facade of joviality, replacing it with a joyless, half-lidded stare.

"And what led you to that particularly stupid conclusion?"

"Your reformation, of course. We watched the event with great scrutiny. You have formed bonds with an agent of Yggdrasil. The Tree of Harmony has been just as great a rival to you over the eons as Order has, yet you appear ready to cease hostilities. I see this as evidence that you're willing to acknowledge that our way has a place in the universe too, even if you don't agree with it."

Discord's eyes narrowed.

"That is what I believe, anyway," Lachesis continued. "I believe that even if you'll never abandon chaos, you're finally done fighting for total chaos. And I think that's a very mature decision, Discord."

For a moment, there was quiet, and none of the four moved. Then Discord raised his claw and snapped, disappearing. When he returned again, he was floating next to the orb in the centre of the library.

"A place in the universe?" he shouted, gesturing at the orb. "Have you seen this thing you spend all your days around? Have you seen what it does? It's disgusting."

He vanished again, and with a burst of purple smoke, a grinning grey alicorn with crossed eyes and his tongue hanging out appeared in the middle of the three.

"Oh! Look at me! I'm Svaðilfari!" he said, strutting up and down the library. "I think that the world should be one uniformly grey blob populated entirely by clones! Hey, you know what would be good? If I built a giant mind control device to command the emotions and actions of all my followers! They'll never have any power over their own destinies, but who cares? It's not like life has to be interesting or anything! Free will? What's that? Is it something you enslave ponies with?!"

The alicorn turned back to frown at the three sisters, who stared at him incredulously. He popped away, and then Discord reappeared next to Lachesis, holding a plushie of the alicorn stallion in his hands.

"I swear, if I didn't know you better, I'd say that you were trying to make me furious. Do not ever try to justify what you do here to me. I have more respect for pond scum than I do for your precious Loom!"

He tore the plushie in half, and it came to life and started screaming in his hands. Lachesis visibly flinched.

"Discord, you know full well—" Atropos began.

"Snoooore!" Discord tossed the wailing top half of the plushie into the air. The butterfly from earlier swooped low and caught it, flying away with it to somewhere unseen.

Lachesis opened her mouth to say something as well, but before she could, Discord flashed away and reappeared by her side, and then stuffed a slice of birthday cake into her mouth. He turned back to the other two sisters while she tried to spit it out.

"Here's the deal," he said, speaking in a much calmer tone, but still frowning. "I am now expected to restrain myself so long as I live freely in Equestria, and not cause any mass chaos. That means no engineering crises, no acts of treason, and no intentional undermining of the Tree of Harmony or its chosen champions. All things told, I think that makes for a rather boring world, but I'm willing to be the bigger draconequus and compromise with Celestia, since she has so graciously set me free, and I find her idealism endearing."

Discord conjured a desk and teleported behind it with a swivel chair, placing his elbows on the table and locking his fingers.

"What I did not promise was to give up my purpose in life and let you and your vile lot have the run of things. If we really must cede this world to Harmony, then she can have it, but so long as I still draw breath, I am not going to let you three keep ruining things. I'm not here to make friendship speeches, or to broker peace with creatures who nauseate me. I've already had quite enough of that today. I came here to give you this one warning: I'm free, and nopony on Midgard is even aware of your existence. No more mercy. Destroy the Loom and clear out of here, or so help me, I will not leave corpses to bury."

Atropos advanced towards Discord and placed her hooves on his desk, while he merely crossed his arms and remained seated.

"Big talk, coming from you," she said, scowling. "You mean to threaten us with death? Like I believe that for a second. Have you gone senile in your old age, or did you forget that we already know you? You're not a murderer, even when you try to be. You maim, but you can't kill. Not with an innocent. You don't have the stomach for it. You haven't been pure chaos in a long time."

Discord stood up from his chair so that he could look down his nose at Atropos.

"Don't confuse 'innocent' with 'non-combatant,' because I do not consider you innocent. And I'm sorry to say, if you believe that Discord doesn't kill, then you clearly don't know me at all."

"'Discord' is just what we call the demon that lives in your head." Atropos circled the desk, but Discord remained still, not even turning to look at her. "Discord is that immortal soul that carries forward its memories from lives long past, and I know as well as any servant of Order that billions have died screaming by its will. But you are not just Discord. You are Loki of Asgard, only Discord's most recent form, and compared to your predecessors, you're soft."

When Atropos came back to Discord's front, there was fire in his eyes. She allowed herself the tiniest smile as he grit his teeth and crawled over the desk, pressing his face against hers.

"You weren't there for Ragnarok," he seethed.

"Oh, I know about Ragnarok," said Atropos, still smiling. "You killed to defend yourself and others. You killed by accident. You killed in war. But never the cold-blooded murder. Never the famed butchery of the Discords of old. What's that excuse you always give? ...'Death is boring,' I believe? 'Dead things are no fun.' 'Chaos is life because it changes, and a corpse is orderly.' All your favourite rationalisations, because you can't bring yourself to admit that you have a moral code, and that you hold yourself to rules, just like every other thinking being. Yggdrasil really did a number on you, didn't she?"

Discord's talons gripped around Atropos's neck, and he hoisted her into the air as he rose to his full height, still standing on the desk.

"Do not test me right now. I'm already in an exceptionally bad mood."

Atropos's grim resolve returned as she looked Discord in the eye.

"Do it then. If you're really so confident that you have it in you, kill me."

With a roll of his eyes, Discord threw her onto the floor, leaving red marks on her neck where he'd gripped her. Lachesis moved over to her sister's side, applying a spell to soothe it. Clotho also knelt beside Atropos, holding her up as she glared at Discord. For his part, Discord seemed unconcerned with their looks, instead flashing away to the upper shelves. He began removing the bookends and juggling them disinterestedly.

"Couldn't do it," said Atropos as she stood up again. "I was right."

"Believe what you want." Discord casually turned the bookends into knives mid-juggle. "Reputation is a thing that matters to those who care about others' opinions. I am not one such being."

"Discord," said Lachesis. "Please, it doesn't have to be like this between us. Don't you see that we don't have to be enemies anymore? If you can make peace with Harmony's agents... why not us?"

Discord tossed the knives around the library at different walls, embedding the blades in the wood of the bookshelves. He turned to Lachesis.

"Your mistake is that you equate us all with three nations at war," he said, floating down to meet her face-to-face. "That isn't the case. Order and Chaos are nations at war. Harmony is a bridge that connects these two blasted wastelands. I have no quarrel with a bridge, unless it annoys me with its moralising. It's just that in war, sometimes you have to burn bridges. And right now, I'm not doing that, because I've taken a liking to some of the support beams. You are nowhere near as enticing to me."

"If you won't make peace, then why not at least a ceasefire?" asked Lachesis. "Surely neither of you enjoy having to do this?"

"Believe me, my dear, I take no pleasure in using my wonderful chaos for such destructive ends. It's wasted on those who cannot appreciate it, and entropy tastes stale anyway."

"You and Svaðilfari both. There was a time when you two weren't at each other's throats, when you cared about each other, even. And that's not ancient history. It was in living memory. Don't you even slightly regret how wrong things went?"

Discord's expression softened, before he crossed his arms and turned away.

"That moment of peace was nice, but it was based on a lie. Take it from somebody who knows a thing or two about lies, they only make the truth hurt more when it comes out."

Lachesis walked up to Discord's side and placed a hoof on his shoulder. He flinched, making her pull back.

"Discord... you and Svaðilfari represent fundamental opposites. It's fine if you couldn't ever call us friends the way you do to Harmony's agents. But haven't the both of you known each other long enough to see some value in the other's existence?"

"Yes, yes, importance of balance, blah, blah, blah," said Discord, rolling his eyes. "You think I haven't heard it all before? I know the universe can't be pure chaos. I've known that for billions of years. We all need some level of basic logic to even think, after all, and I do make allowances for order already, just as Svaðilfari does for chaos. But this?"

Discord floated up into the air and drifted over to the orb in the middle of the room, reclining slightly. He gestured again to the magical device and its many threads, and breathed a deep sigh.

"...You know I can't tolerate this, Lachesis. This is a cosmic-scale violation of everything I believe in. Do you think that just because you keep your hooves off Equestria, I won't mind that there are entire planets slaved to this thing out there in the dark parts of the galaxy? I'm connected to chaos, and I feel it when the natural chaos of life is stamped out. The Loom has been a constant, throbbing ache in my side for as long as it has existed. I get the need for order in small amounts... but I cannot abide by what you do here. This is too far."

Atropos took flight and hovered near Discord.

"And I'm sure that Svaðilfari would say that the extremes of anarchy which you enforce are also going too far, yet you didn't see us going to Midgard to demand that you stop."

Discord sat up.

"No, I didn't. And if you find anarchy anywhere near as awful as I find your Loom, then your lack of action suggests that you're either spineless or completely inept. I don't respect either of those qualities, and neither does any other god I know, so tell me, what exactly do you think you deserve?"

"So you want us to dismantle the Loom?" asked Atropos. "Is that it? That's all you're here for?"

"Yes, congratulations, you cracked it. The thing I want is the thing that I specifically asked for five minutes ago." Discord teleported down to the floor and directed his attention to Clotho. "The question is, would you do it?"

Clotho sneered at Discord.

"So you're not going to give up your fundamental purpose in life, but you want us to give up ours because it makes you unhappy? I wouldn't turn off the Loom to save your life."

"And I wouldn't spit on you to save yours," Discord snapped. "Atropos, Lachesis, I'm putting this to a vote, so that your fates aren't left in the hooves of a disgruntled and extremely unattractive cripple. Are you going to shut down the Loom or not?"

Atropos also sneered, a perfect mirror of her sister.

"No, we won't, you arrogant, self-righteous hypocrite. Die in a fire."

Discord nonchalantly looked over to Lachesis, who shrugged at him.

"I'm sorry, but you know we can't. Look... speak to Svaðilfari. I know that he'd listen to you if you bothered to approach him. If you're serious about your reformation, and you're planning to stick to Princess Celestia's terms, then you've already given up the worst of what he takes issue with. If he sees that you're willing to give that up... then maybe he'll give up the Loom."

There was a long stretch of silence. Discord stood in place, staring at Lachesis, until he finally broke it with a long, deep sigh and a slight bow of his head.

"Fine. I guess I really can't always get things my way... This feeling is rapidly becoming very familiar to me."

Lachesis dared to give a hopeful smile. She stepped forward.

"So... is that a yes? You'll talk to him?"

"I was always going to talk to him," Discord muttered. "It's just a matter of when, and under what circumstances. Immortals can't avoid each other forever."

Although Discord didn't notice, Lachesis had soon walked up to him and placed her hoof on his shoulder again. This time, he resisted flinching.

"Thank you. You're making the right choice."

Discord said nothing, only giving her a doleful look. She kept smiling at him for as long as she could manage, until eventually Discord gave one last sigh and teleported away.

"You show him too much respect," said Atropos, trotting over to Lachesis. "He deserves no courtesy if he gives none. I cannot imagine why you would ever want him and Svaðilfari to reconcile. After everything that he did? To us? To Clotho?"

Clotho snorted.

"I don't care what happens to Discord," she said, wandering over to the Loom. "I just don't want him here."

"And to even suggest that Svaðilfari would comply in shutting down the Loom for him? Sister, what has gotten into you?"

Lachesis gave a small shrug. "I don't believe he shall either, but it was a necessary lie. What's important is that it'll get them talking. I'm sure they have a lot to say to each other. Maybe if they get it all out in the open, they'll both calm down. Maybe there could finally be peace again. And even if the Loom is the price for that peace, wouldn't you pay it? Just so that none of us have to fear Discord again?"

"I suppose..." said Atropos, looking at the floor. "Still... it's strange to think... a world without the Eternal War... Chaos and Order working together... Stars, is that even possible?"

"We can only hope," said Lachesis.

"My sisters..."

Atropos and Lachesis turned to Clotho, who was pointing a trembling hoof up at the upper floors. With a foreboding sense of dread, they turned their gaze upwards, to see where she was pointing. The knives that Discord had embedded in the walls earlier were all glowing a soft blue.

Lachesis paled, her pupils becoming as small as pinpricks. Atropos snarled and tried to use her magic, but the moment her horn lit up, she felt some force pushing back against her. It was as if her magic was bouncing off of some metaphorical wall. The blue light around the knives pulsed in reaction, and Atropos slammed a hoof on the floor.

"It's a trap!" she shouted. "He played us again! That filthy, deceitful snake!"

"No... No!" Lachesis wailed, turning in place and looking around the room. "Discord, you can't do this!"

Discord's voice echoed throughout the room.

"I can and I will. Didn't I tell you about lies, Lachesis? You nearly got me to spare you and talk to Svaðilfari. I almost played into your game. It was foolish of me to ever trust you. Now you can reap what you sowed. It's judgement day."

Tears streamed down Lachesis's face.


Then Atropos noticed the butterfly hovering over towards the Loom. She reached out a hoof towards it and screamed.


The butterfly flew into one of the Loom's many micro-portals, and the entire device exploded in a black and purple inferno. The force of the shockwave passed over the sisters, throwing them off their hooves. It struck the walls of the library, incinerating the books in seconds. The shelves and walls behind them cracked, and the cracks climbed all the way up the tower in an eyeblink. Then the whole structure began collapsing, even as the wall of arcane fire continued to spread outwards from the centre of the room.

The debris from the ceiling and upper walls fell into the explosion, only to be launched back from it again by the force of the blast. Jagged stone and wood splinters flew in all directions, as well as burning books. As the tower collapsed, its innards were exposed to the outside world, and the snow of Niflheim mixed in with the dust clouds that the falling tower kicked up. Both were soon smothered by the smoke, black and purple, just like the eldritch fire that it came from.

As the tower fell, the rest of the great palace began to fall also. The magical fire spread outwards from its point of origin, curling onto the palace exterior and melting even the gold to slag. In mere minutes, the whole palace was wreathed in flames and collapsing in on itself. And out on the edge of the island, watching her home burn to the ground, Lachesis lay on her side and tried to ignore the scalding pain and the wooden beam buried in her ribs.

"N-No..." she whimpered. "Why...?"

There was a flash behind her. With great effort, Lachesis twisted her head back to look up at Discord. He stood over her, looking down at her dispassionately.

"Why?" she asked, firmer this time, tears still on her cheeks. "How could you?"

"How could I not?" Discord replied. "I told you, the Loom's existence was intolerable. And what did you tell me in return? Your necessary lie. I gave you your one chance. No, I gave you two. This is your fault."

Lachesis scowled.

"Whatever happened to corpses being boring?" she asked. "I thought murdering us would be too orderly for you."

Discord shrugged. "It's not really more chaotic to keep you alive when your life is dedicated to maintaining order."

Lachesis grit her teeth and closed her eyes.

"Monster," she whispered. "Murderer! Demon!"

Discord stepped over her body, walking a few paces in the direction of the burning palace. He looked up at the snow and ash as it fell towards him.

"Your sister was right, you know. It is a rationalisation. It took me a long time to realise it, but the real reason I don't like murder isn't just because it's boring. It's also because I've gone through a million bodies and died a million deaths, and I don't like the idea of others going through that kind of pain. I don't spare lives out of a misguided sense of ideological purity. I spare lives because killing makes me feel bad. Does that surprise you, Lachesis? That I'm just as capable of empathy as any other living being?"

He turned back to Lachesis and knelt by her side. She glared at him through watery eyes, and he smiled back at her. It wasn't a malicious smile. It wasn't even a joyful one. Instead, it was almost tired.

"And I will feel bad about this. Maybe I am a monster, but I'm not killing you just to be cruel. You should know, I made promises to my new friends. I promised them that I would be good from now on, and I'm honestly planning to keep that promise, starting right now. Once you're gone, I'm never going to do anything like this again. So don't be afraid. Like every mortal soul, one day you'll be born anew. We'll meet again. And when that happens, it'll be in a better world, where we won't have to be enemies anymore. It's exactly what you wanted."

Lachesis's eyes flickered, as her breaths grew heavy. She groaned and laid her head down on the stone.

"...You don't deserve friendship," she muttered. "You don't deserve forgiveness. The Bearer of Kindness is making a mistake, trusting you. If your new friend knew what you've done here today... she'd be ashamed to know you..."

She closed her eyes and gave one last gasp. Then she stopped breathing. Discord sat at her side, letting his smile bleed away until he was left with nothing but a downcast look. He sat cross-legged by her body for a while, staring at it forlornly, until eventually he climbed to his feet and surveyed the burning ruins of what was once the home of the Fates.

With a sigh, he snapped his talons, and a portal materialised behind him. Wordlessly, he turned his back on Niflheim and trudged through.

Fluttershy's cottage was a place of warmth and comfort. It wasn't anything like Niflheim. In fact, it was the furthest from it that Discord could imagine, even in the vastness of his experience. He settled back into a comfy chair, a contented smile on his face, and closed his eyes. The teacup was warm in his hands, and although it was a little bland for a being of his unusual tastes, at that moment, it was just perfect.

Her voice drifted in from the garden, accompanied by the sound of hoofsteps and the pitter-patter of tiny paws. Discord opened his eyes, and Angel Bunny bounded into the room with Fluttershy close behind. The rabbit pulled a face at Discord, earning a scowl from him, but his smile returned as soon as Fluttershy sat down in the opposite chair and picked up her own teacup. Discord promptly took a sip of his own.

"Sorry about that," said Fluttershy, sheepishly. "Sometimes, taking care of animals can be really demanding. They need so much attention."

"I'm no stranger to that, my dear," Discord replied, grinning. "Believe me, nothing frustrates me more than when ponies ignore my beautiful works of chaos."

Fluttershy laughed. It was a soft and quiet laugh, just as one would expect from her, but it was worth more than a thousand boisterous cheers from any other pony. Fluttershy was not hard to impress. For all the effort Discord put into his humour, just telling her a true story could get her to giggle. Yet it was earnest, and there was affection there. Discord couldn't help but smile when Fluttershy laughed at his jokes and stories.

"So, how was meeting with Princess Celestia yesterday?" she asked.

The change of subject caught him off-guard.

"Hm? Oh... dull. Very dull. Lots of paperwork and lecturing... I'd rather not talk about it if you don't mind."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Fluttershy looked down at her tea. "We can talk about something else if you'd like."

Discord half opened his mouth, and then bit his lip. He averted his gaze from Fluttershy, staring at her empty fireplace instead.

"...Fluttershy..." He struggled for words. "Do you... think I'm a good person?"

Her eyes widened. Clearly, she'd also been caught off-guard. She soon settled down, raising a curious eyebrow and lowering her teacup.

"...Well... that's hard to say, Discord. I don't think you were good before. Some of what you did was pretty bad, but I don't think it was unforgivable. As for right now... I'm not sure, but I do know that you wouldn't be here if you weren't willing to try to be good. And I think that that's all that really matters. Being good or bad is a choice."

Discord gulped and set his tea aside.

"What would be unforgivable?" he asked. "Is there anything I could tell you that would make you just... walk out on me?"

There was a long silence. Fluttershy leaned back into her chair, giving her tea a contemplative look.

"Maybe?" she eventually said. "But I'd like to think that you're not capable of anything too terrible. And even then... Discord... if you feel guilty about something you did, you can tell me. I promise, I'll try to be understanding. We all make mistakes sometimes. That doesn't make you all bad. If you were, you wouldn't feel bad about whatever it is you did."

Discord forced a smile.

"No, it's nothing," he said in his best approximation of a casual tone. "I was just... speaking hypothetically."

"Are you sure?"

He kept smiling, but even so, Discord could not stop the tears forming in his eyes. Fluttershy gasped lightly, covering her mouth as she saw them flowing down his cheeks.

"...I'm fine," said Discord, as his hands began trembling. "Everything is going to be fine."