It seemed like such a crisp and beautiful morning to Fluttershy, so much so that her hooves had a peppy trot to them. She hummed a little tune to herself as she stepped outside her cottage to greet the sun. With the front door closing behind her, Fluttershy closed her eyes and fully unfurled her wings, basking in the sun’s welcoming warmth as she took in a deep breath of still dewy yet refreshing morning air. As she slowly exhaled, her expression steadily grew more and more serene.
Nothing would ruin this day for her.
“Ah, Fluttershy—quite a coincidence catching you up this early, I must say!”
Well, almost nothing.
“Well, good morning, Discord,” Fluttershy said after her smile had faltered briefly. The draconequus rushed to her cottage’s pathway in a two seater—and three wheeled—bike. Once he had come to an abrupt stop, Fluttershy jumped back in surprise. She tilted her head in puzzlement, curious as to how the ‘vehicle’ he rode could move, much less smoothly, considering that one wheel was squared and the other a rhubarb, the third being a trapezoid.
Then again, this was Discord, and just like Pinkie, it would spare Fluttershy multiple headaches if she just chose not to question it.
“Hmm, yes, and a veeery good morning to you as well, Fluttershy,” Discord said jovially as he reached forward and, with a flourished motion of his paw, playfully booped Fluttershy on the nose.
Confused by his apparent overly-cheerful mood, Fluttershy instinctively rubbed her hoof against her snout before being forced to react quickly by catching a bike helmet Discord tossed her a second after materializing.
“So,” he continued, his paw and claw holding his head as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the bike’s handles, his face sporting a comically excited look. “I don't know about you, but I couldn’t catch a wink of sleep last night! I kept thinking, ‘You know what’d be fun? Why, taking Fluttershy on a nice relaxing ride through the Himarelayans, that’s what!”’
Turning to her, he smiled widely as he gestured with his head to the seat behind his. “Well, what are you waiting for? Hop on! We can have ourselves a nice little picnic with a yeti or two. Just don’t compare them to Sasquatches or else they’ll start this long-winded lecture about how they’re sooo much different when the only real distinction is their fur color. Shh, mum’s the word~”
Pulling her head back, Fluttershy eyed the helmet in her hooves, Discord, then back again before speaking, her tone less than amused.
“Discord, you know I have plans today…”
“Hmm?” The noise he made was akin to that of a dog releasing a confused whine. Seconds later, his face lit up in understanding. “Oh! Yes, of course! Pardon my excitement. I seem to have forgotten you already made plans with Treeblubber—”
“Gesundheit,” he said with a knowing smirk. After clearing his throat, Discord ran his claws over his head as he then said, “Well, whoopsie daisy. Seems that I’ve made a boo boo. A blunder. A cat-a-tonic catastrophe! One which—”
“Discord, where are you going with this?” Fluttershy cut in. She rose a skeptical brow at him. If it weren’t for the promise she had him make the day before, she’d swear that he was up to something.
“Oh, I’m not rambling now, am I?” he asked with a paw to his chest. “Well, don’t worry, I won’t take too much of your time. I’m leaving now, ta-ta!” Before Fluttershy could open her mouth, Discord placed his hoof on the bike’s pedal and instantly zoomed away, moving at a speed much too quick for her to grasp. All that was left of him was an extremely lengthy trail of kicked up dust that started before her and stretched far off into the horizon.
Muddled by the his strange behavior, Fluttershy shrugged to no one in particular before setting off from her home’s threshold. As soon as she took that first step, however, Discord zoomed back in reverse, frightening the pegasus into the air, a few feet off the ground.
“By the way,” Discord said, bending backwards on the bike to look at her. “You mentioned yesterday that if Treehugger were to be, mmm, let’s say, indisposed, that you and I would spend the day together instead, right?”
Her chest was still heaving from the scare, but she merely nodded.
“Great! I’ll pick you up here in an hour! Don’t forget now: mum’s the word~”
He zoomed off again, leaving Fluttershy still shaken as she softly landed on the ground to calm her nerves.
Ok, she was sure of it now… He was definitely up to something.
Ryver Dreamstar groaned groggily from the very bottom of his throat, his still heavy eyes refusing to open, despite him having been stirred from his sleep by this incessant, grating thumping and scratching noise that simply ceased to end for the last minute or so. Not that he particularly cared in his tired state, as he was hoping to ignore it, but the sound was similar to that of something scraping softly against metal.
Well, whatever it was, the noise finally stopped, and Ryver, capitalizing on the serene silence by turning to a more comfortable position on his side, attempted to pick up where his slumber left off. Mere moments later, however, that endeavor of his was thwarted by the sound’s eventual return, followed shortly by a familiar voice.
“Hmm, how do you… No, that’s not it.”
The world swam into focus: All around him were thousands of strange blobs of colours mixing and weaving and colliding into one another. Soon they all faded away, except for the mundane beige wall of the tent. A loud yawn escaped as he stretched his arms. He momentarily lost his balance after slinging his legs off the side, having forgotten that he had been sleeping on a hammock the entire time.
He managed to prevent himself from falling by grabbing on to the tent’s center post. Ryver worked to steel his balance as he faced the ground. Reopening his eyes, sunlight shafted through the tent’s open flap, its warm glow hitting his legs and bare feet, as well as the blades of grass that stuck out through the space between his toes.
Finding his throat to be parched after swallowing dryly, Ryver slowly recalled picking up a chick, then sleeping at her place after giving her a ride there. Because of the drugs he had taken the night before, he couldn’t remember anything beyond that, other than that she was another free spirit such as himself, and that he immediately turned in after reaching her campsite, as well as something…green. Just as his mind began to hone in on what this green thing might had been, the same noise from before began anew, prompting Ryver to investigate.
His hand parted through his unkempt hair as he rubbed the back of his head; Ryver’s face winced once he stepped outside from under the shady cover of the tent, his other hand swiftly moving to shield his still sensitive eyes from the morning sun. With his vision steadily adjusting to the light, he made out that he was in a clearing within a forest as he turned to where the sound was coming from: His car parked just a bit away from the tent. There, Ryver tilted his head curiously to the side, as there appeared to be a small and green, well, horse—seemingly wearing a flower-printed bandanna atop its dread-styled mane, he might add—trying to get into the back of his van.
“Huh,” Ryver uttered to himself, observing the creature as it balanced itself on its hind legs while its front ones tried and failed to manipulate the rear door’s handle.
Its ears perked at the sound of his voice, the horse seemingly losing interest with the van as it lowered itself back onto all fours to face Ryver.
“Ah, good blessing upon you, Ryver,” it greeted amiably after taking a few steps towards him, closing its eyes as it gave him a slow and respectful bow of its head. “And how are you this morning?”
Hearing its relaxed and laid back voice, Ryver recalled further details from the night before, remembering that this was the same chick he had given a ride home and that her name was Treehugger. Strange. This was probably a first for him, but, just how potent were the drugs he had taken last night? He seemed to still be hallucinating her as a horse. Maybe this was a sign that perhaps he should cut back for a bit, at least for a little while.
“Treehugger, good—” With his voice dying from his a dry throat, Ryver coughed into his hands before trying again, his words coming out a bit strained. “Heh, sorry. Good morning. Do you...do you have any water around here? Anything to drink, really?”
Treehugger smiled contently as she nodded.
“Yeah, actually. Stopped by at the stream first thing in the morning. Let me just get that for you.” After quickly stepping to the tent’s side, she returned to Ryver, offering him a wooden bucket held in her mouth by its handle, the pale filled to the brim with clear, near-sparkling water.
Accepting her offering, Ryver thanked her with a nod as he bent down and took hold of the weighty container, waiting for her to release its handle before carefully bringing it to his lips for a drink. With his thirst soon quenched and his throat no longer parched, Ryver set the still full bucket aside, then wiped his mouth as he looked down to her.
“So I heard a noise earlier. Were you trying to get into my car?” he asked, nonplussed at that.
Hearing that, a bit of concern wormed its way into Treehugger’s constantly cheerful expression. “Ah, did I wake you with that? Apologies. I was just trying to get at the half-eaten fruit in the back of your carriage for the compost pile.” She gestured a hoof back to the van. “But that door there is like, way too complicated, man.”
The compost: yet another tidbit that Ryver suddenly remembered.
“Oh, right! Uh, here, let me just…” Fishing into his pockets as he walked over to his van, Ryver procured his keys and used them to unlock and open his car’s rear door, then retrieved the cardboard box of aforementioned rotting fruit. “Where do you want it?” Ryver asked, extending his arms out as he turned to her, his face looking to the side in order to avoid getting a direct whiff of the sickly sweet fumes the fruit was emitting.
Treehugger smiled softly as she walked around her home, while saying , “Here, follow me. The bins are a little ways away from the the tent. It’s just far enough for the scent not to bother me or anypony visiting, really.”
Keeping the box as far away from himself as possible, Ryver closely followed Treehugger from behind, the two of them walking to the very edge of the clearing where several large, rectangular wooden bins stood waiting for them; each bin was filled with different kinds of organic material, from vegetables to discarded foodstuffs, all at varying states of decomposition.
“Leaving the fruit in any of these will do. Like, pick the one that really digs you, if you know what I mean,” Treehugger said before picking up a nearby pitchfork with her mouth, then using it to move the matter in one of the bins around.
Settling for the nearest heap, Ryver did just that: his hand patted the bottom of the upturned cardboard as he tried to shake loose any pieces that managed to stick.
Ryver sighed contently as he made to move the cardboard aside, only for him to halt when Treehugger, who was still stirring her bin’s contents, suddenly spoke up.
“Oh, almost forgot. Once you’ve dumped the fruit into it, rip the cardboard into the smallest pieces you can, then toss them in as well before running water from the bucket over them. Makes mother nature’s job much simpler."
Nodding in compliance, Ryver fetched the bucket from the tent, returned to the bins where Treehugger was, and then set himself to work on tearing the cardboard box apart. Moments later, as the two were working Ryver, who was dipping a rather uncooperative section of cardboard into the water to make it more easier to tear, decided to to make a bit of small talk as he worked.
“So…you live out here in this forest?”
“Mhmm,” Treehugger hummed, setting the pitchfork down as she turned to him. “I find that if one wishes to be more attuned with nature, then what better way to achieve that than by communing with it on a daily cycle? Living here within its intimate and tender embrace is so relaxing, man.”
Agreeing wholeheartedly with her, Ryver smiled. “Oh, heh, you’ve got it right on, sister!”
“What about you?” Treehugger asked, her head cocked and her voice tinged with strange awe. “Do you travel from one spiritual focal point to the next in your carriage? Was the Everfree simply one of your many stops in the journey we all partake in known as life?”
Done with tossing the last bit of torn cardboard into the bin, Ryver turned to her and nodded. “Oh yeah, totally. Free spirit is what I am. I just hop in my van and cruise down wherever nature guides me.” Picking up the water bucket, he began to carefully pour the liquid over the small pile of box pieces, muttering more to himself than to her. “Heh, eh…wasn’t always like that though…”
Her ears, perked having caught that, Treehugger moved to his side. “Really?” She looked into the bin to monitor his progress. “And what were you like before?”
Slowly tilting the bucket more and more as he continued to pour, Ryver shrugged while answering. “Oh, you know. Same as most before. They’ve opened their eyes to society’s truths. Was studying to become an accountant at first, but felt more like a part of the system than my own man. Wasn’t until I read a flier for a music festival a few years ago that I decided to set off on my own. See the magic of the world for myself rather than hear about it in a cubical. Never looked back since.”
With the bucket soon empty, Ryver set it down and looked to her, saying, “And you? What were you like before deciding to diverge from what ‘the man’ dictates as ‘the norm?’”
Despite giving the occasional nod as he spoke, a few of those terms Ryver used were lost on Treehugger, but she believed to have caught the gist of it.
“Like, born into it, I suppose,” she said, smiling forward softly while giving her own small shrug. “Parent’s were like-minded individuals, knowing the true worth of nature’s abundance and of the soul; they, like, began teaching me everything they knew from the moment I could walk. From then on, man, I’ve been, like, showing others the way to enlighten both one’s body and mind through yoga classes I give on the weekends.”
“Really? Yoga?” Ryver, staring down at the mare, pulled his head back in surprise.
Yoga, among meditation and other things, was one of many paths to one’s spirit that Ryver had picked up on while traveling with other beatniks. Sometimes, whenever he felt himself misdirected, he would attempt to reconnect with his energies by practicing what few stretches he knew under the rising or setting sun. To find another versed in the still relatively obscure practice, let alone one who teaches it, suddenly had Ryver’s respect for Treehugger grow twofold.
“Mhmm, really,” Treehugger replied, looking up at him and giving him a gentle nod. Tilting her head a bit to the side, she then said, in her soothing and mellow voice, “Well hey, dude, like, here’s an idea: if you’d want, I can, like, personally give you a few pointers if you ever decide to attend my next class. You know, if you’re up for it.”
Scratch that, it was now thricefold.
Beaming a wide and toothy grin, Ryver responded with, “Heh, wow, man. Uh, sure, yeah—I’d love to.”
Realizing something, as well as wanting to keep the conversation going, Ryver then asked, “By the way, you uh, you mentioned earlier that you live out here, but you didn’t uh…” Somehow finding this an awkward question to ask, he gestured around the clearing as he tried again. “What I mean is, I haven’t seen anybody else around yet, and there was just the one hammock in the tent, so...?”
After staring at him in confusion for a bit, Treehugger’s mouth soon formed a small ‘O’ as she nodded in understanding.
“Aw, you’re inquiring if I’ live out here in solitude.” Shaking her head softly, she began lowering it with a low chuckle before pawing at the grass beneath her with a hoof, saying, “Is one truly alone when they tread atop such an abundance of life such as this?”
Eyes widening, Ryver stared at Treehugger with an agape-mouthed look before uttering, “Wow…dude…that was like, totally deep right there…”
“Mhmm, I suppose it is,” Treehugger said, stroking the very tips of the grasses blades with her hoof. Ceasing her strokes, she then looked up to him and shrugged. “Although, if we were to, like, bring it to a more metaphysical sense, then I guess you could say that it’s just me living out here. There is the local forest ranger who likes to check in on me from time to time, and I do have a friend coming over today, so—”
“Oh thank Celestia, your tent’s still there!” a voice suddenly called out in relief, causing both Ryver and Treehugger to instinctively whirl their heads towards the the tent. Judging by the steadily growing potency of the voice, its owner seemed to be approaching it from the opposite direction of the clearing. “Um, Treehugger? H-Hello, are you home? Oh I’m really hoping you’re home…”
“Speaking of which,” Treehugger said to Ryver, shooting him an amused brow before walking away from him and towards the tent. Once she began stepping around it, away from Ryver’s sight, she then greeted the new visitor with, “Yeah, Shy, I’m here. Now, tell me why I’m already sensing so much stress in your aura.”
Hearing the earth pony’s voice, as well as witnessing her appear from around the tent, caused Fluttershy to release a breath that she was unknowingly holding; the apprehension in the timid pegasus’s chest was quickly replaced with some much needed reassurance that all was indeed fine.
“Oh…good…so there really wasn’t anything to worry about then,” Fluttershy muttered weakly, now feeling silly for having doubted Discord on his promise for more than one second.
“What was that?” Treehugger asked, casting the yellow mare a curious glance while cocking her head to the side.
Instantly straightening her posture, Fluttershy replied with a quick shake of her head. “N-Nothing! Oh it’s nothing! Heh heh, eh...it’s kind of silly really.” She coughed into her hoof, averting her sight from the green mare before her attempt to avoid making awkward eye contact, she noticed the odd-looking wagon parked besides Treehugger’s home. “Oh my, what’s this?” she asked, approaching the van as she began admiring the scenic mural painted on its side.
Moving to stand besides Fluttershy, Treehugger took in the sight of it as well. “Like it? It’s Ryver’s.”
"I...I love it," Fluttershy answered, her eyes glossing over the meticulously added details of the serene meadow's grass, the warm beach's sand, and the ocean's rolling water. She could almost envision herself standing on that ocean cliff-side. Unable to tear her eyes away from the landscape painted on metal before her, she then leaned to Treehugger and asked, "Uh, who's Ryver?"
"I'm Ryver. And thanks, man, I love it too. Not exactly sure who painted it on my van, but hey, I ain't complainin'."
Eyes widening and body tensing at the masculine voice coming from behind her, Fluttershy hesitantly lowered her sight from the painting. There she noticed that she was sitting within the shadow of something large and of unrecognizable shape. Slowly, very slowly, she began to turn, her sight soon rising as she did so. Once her eyes met with the unknown, bipedal creature's looking down at her, her ears flattened as she began to shakily take a few steps back, her cautious backpedaling soon brought to an abrupt halt when her flank bumped against metal with a soft thud.
"W-What are y-you?" Fluttershy questioned, shaking in her hooves.
Ryver raised a brow at the chick that he was obviously hallucinating as a winged and yellow horse, as that was an odd question to ask. Did he accidentally scare her while she was having a worse trip than him? ...Yeah, that had to be it. Right when he was about to apologize for doing so, Treehugger neared the frightened girl and spoke.
"Whoa there, Fluttershy. Like, don't be scared," she said, wrapping a comforting leg around the shaking mare while gesturing her free one at Ryver. "This here is Ryver. He's, like, a rare creature from the Everfree."
Hearing her say that, Ryver smiled involuntarily; he'd never been called a 'rare creature' before, but he'd gladly accept the compliment nonetheless.
"Yeah, man," he said with an eager nod. "I'm from the Everfree, like she says."
Adopting a quizzical expression, Fluttershy looked back and forth between Treehugger and the strange creature. The Everfree? Like, the forest? That's strange, she'd been in there numerous times, and never in those instances had she encountered a being even remotely similar to this 'Ryver' fellow. Still, he's holding a conversation, so his intelligence must be on par with a pony's if he were to accomplish that feat, and Treehugger seems relaxed around him, so perhaps she should try to calm down and give him more of a chance.
"The--" Wanting to get rid of the squeak from her voice, she cleared her throat before trying again. "T-The Everfree?"
"Uh-huh, " Treehugger reaffirmed, moving to stand at Ryver's side in order to prove to the somewhat still hesitant pegasus that he was safe. "Our paths intermingled last night as I was walking home. He even offered me a ride here in his way gnarly carriage."
"Oh," Fluttershy uttered, her head and ears rising a bit as some of her tension eased.
That does sound very nice of him, and she supposes his carriage is pretty 'gnarly', even if she didn't know what that meant exactly. Maybe there really is nothing for her to fear from him, and perhaps he even holds some answers about the deeper end of the Everfree that she's been just dying to know!
"Well hello, Ryver! I'm Fluttershy! Oooh this is so exciting--I have so many questions I'd like to ask! We can learn so much from each other and better Equestria as a whole!"
Ryver watched the yellow mare as she began to trot in place in excitement, his mouth forming into a smirk as he tilted his head.
Equestria? Which state was that in? Well, wherever he was, Ryver didn't care. He could be in Milwaukee for all he knew, and this wouldn't be the first nor the last time he traveled off the beaten path while under something.
"Well hey there, Fluttershy," Ryver said as he folded his legs and sat atop the grass. "I'm Ryver, Ryver Dreamstar. And, sure, I guess I'd be up for answering some questions."
"Great!" Fluttershy exclaimed, smiling brightly to Ryver as she lowered herself to sit on her haunches. "Oh, I don't even know where to start, but I'll try!"
As the three began to talk amongst themselves, unbeknownst to them, a boom-mic was being positioned over the three, picking up their conversation.
"Better?" Discord asked, a claw on the side of his headset while his paw held on to the listening device's stand from his position within the nearby bush.
"Hmm, better, but just a tinsy bit lower," Discord replied, overseeing Discord's progress via a monitor within the safety of his surveillance room. Discord was glad that he wasn't Discord, as he'd hate to be in his shoes if Fluttershy caught him spying on them.
"Lower...lower... There! Perfect--their voices are coming in crisp and clear on my end! Now just hold your position there until I say so, Discord; and remember: try to be inconspicuous!" In response to that, the other Discord released a low and resentful growl under his breath.
"Fine...you're just lucky I need this gig for the dental plan..."
Glad that that was done and dealt with, Discord leaned back in his officer recliner and kicked up his mismatched feet, a cup of morning coffee instantly in his paw as he observed the trio on the screen. As their conversation with each other progressed, Discord witnessed them move to sit besides the van. Luckily for Discord, he didn't have to force himself to listen to their insufferable nonsense-babble for very long, as the question he'd been hoping for was finally brought up by none other than Ryver himself.
"So, like, Fluttershy, what brought you to Treehugger's place?"
"Oh, that's right," Fluttershy said, her eyes widening and ears perking in realization. After meeting the human's glance with a soft smile, she looked away sheepishly and pawed at the ground. "Well...Treehugger and I actually made plans the day before to work on her compost pile together..."
"Oh yeah, we did," Treehugger said, lifting her head off the ground where it had laid.
This was it. Discord sat upright in his seat and leaned forward in interest, staring at the pegasus on the screen as he mentally willed for her to continue. Her eyes still averted from the two, Fluttershy nodded before doing so.
"Mhmm, I was looking forward to it, actually, but," she looked to Ryver, "I see that you already have company over..."
"Go ooon," Discord drawled to himself, his eyes now pressed against the bright screen.
"And I certainly don't want to impose, so..."
"Out with it, out with it!" he demanded.
Giving both Treehugger and Ryver an apologetic smile, Fluttershy then rose off the ground and onto her hooves.
"So I guess I'll get out of your manes and just go home for now." Fluttershy bowed her head respectfully to the human, saying, "Ryver, it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, and I hope to learn more about the Everfree's inner workings the next time we meet."
"Oh, uh...yeah, man. Same," Ryver replied. The human wasn't showing it, but Ryver was a bit disheartened to hear that Fluttershy was leaving so soon, especially when he was just starting to like her.
Fortunately for Ryver, Treehugger had something to say about that.
"Aw, you don't have to go just yet, Shy," she said, prompting Fluttershy to stop in her tracks right as she began to walk away. When the pegasus turned back to her, Treehugger gave her a warm smile. "Ryver and I were actually working on the compost together before you showed up, but we're, like, no where close to finishing just yet. If you'd like, you can help us out with the last few bins. I'm sure Ryver wouldn't mind the extra company… I know I don't."
Fluttershy titled her head a bit to the side, her mouth curled into an appreciative yet timid smile.
"Oh, but I really don't want to be a bother..."
Her own smile unwavering, Treehugger shook her head stoically. "Not a bother. You're no trouble at all, Shy. No trouble at all..."
The pegasus merely stood there, a pensive look in her expression. She looked towards the direction of her house, then back to Treehugger and Ryver, her eyes scanning the sky then the ground as she appeared to ponder on the offer. With his fingers tapping atop the table in an worrisome, impatient manner, Discord stared intently at Fluttershy on the screen.
"'No thanks, I think I'm going to spend time with my good buddy Discord instead'...come on, say it," he muttered to himself, repeating that mantra the longer the mare stayed silent.
A moment later, with her mind seemingly made up, Fluttershy looked up and gave the two a quick nod.
"Well, alright; if you're offering and don't really mind." She then chuckled into her hoof, "It's not like I had anything else planned."
Balking with wide eyes at the screen, Discord dropped and spilled his coffee all over his lap and the floor.
"What!?" he exclaimed, mimicking a Jack in the box by popping out of the hanging boom mic, much to the fright of the unsuspecting trio.
Actually, correction, it was unsuspecting duo, because immediately after raising a claw in preparation for letting some very heated words loose, Discord noticed that, out the three, Fluttershy was surprisingly the only one unfazed by his sudden appearance. In fact, she was looking him dead in the eyes, a stern expression on her face as she tapped a hoof in annoyance. It was almost like she was expecting him...
"You knew I was watching...didn't you?" he asked, his raised finger and outraged demeanor deflating literally like a balloon. "What gave me away?"
Her irked eyes remaining locked with his, Fluttershy gestured a hoof to the bush where a boom mic was blatantly sticking out from. "Last time I checked, bushes have no need for dental plans. Neither do they hop closer to get a microphone to listen in on a conversation!"
After opening his mouth, then closing it when he found a lack of words to exonerate himself, Discord turned to the bush, staring angrily at the other Discord.
"Heh heh...eh," Other-Discord chuckled dryly. "I know, I know; be 'inconspicuous'!" Clearing his throat, he then snapped his fingers, disappearing then reappearing outside of the bush in a flash of white light. After putting on a business hat that he procured from seemingly nowhere, he reached into the bush and pulled out a large suitcase. "See you at the company picnic~!" he said while waving back to Discord, whistling a jaunty tune to himself as he began walking away from the scene at a leisurely pace.
Once the second chaos spirit had disappeared past the treeline, Discord turned back to Fluttershy, hoping he could somehow salvage the situation.
"Ahem. Eh, Fluttershy, there's clearly some sort of misunderstan--" His efforts failed to make any leeway, as before he could even finish his sentence, the yellow pegasus immediately flew up to his face. With her muzzle threatening to bunt against his, he could see the unbridled fury and outrage burn at the back of her eyes as they borrowed fiercely into his own.
It was her patented stare, and Discord couldn't help but visibly shrink under it.
"Why, you...you..." Fluttershy fumed, unsure on how to even begin describing his transgressions. She had a hunch he was up to something--sensed it, even--but she decided to ignore it, as she wanted to have more trust in her friend. Discovering that he had been spying on them, on her, proved that it was trust misplaced.
Still wincing under her stare, Discord outstretched his arms and gestured for her to calm down.
"Now now, Fluttershy, I know that this may look bad--but..." Biting his bottom lip, his eyes scanned the sky in a rolling motion as he began to desperately come up with an excuse. Within seconds, he could already feel one starting to come together. "But...but I was only observing because...because...ah!" Blinking himself onto a lawn chair, Discord squeezed out a bottle of suntan lotion onto his paw as he continued on with his newly-fabricated lie. "Because I was merely waiting for the perfect opportunity to join in on your little fiesta here. I mean, really, Fluttershy, you say yourself that I don't perfectly see eye to eye with Snee Slugger here, so what better way to fix that than by spending time with her while in the company of one I already know." Done with smearing some suntan under his eyes, he then pointed his fingers at the still-floating pegasus. "I.E.: you, Fluttershy."
Holding his pose, a bead of nervous sweat began to trickle down the side of his face as he hoped for Fluttershy to buy what he was selling. She seemed to be considering it, too, as she lowered herself to the ground and stared at him with a curious, contemplative tilt of her head.
Right when her expression began to ease up, Ryver, having regained his composure from Discord's sudden and startling appearance, spoke up.
"Hey man, aren't you, like, the officer who pulled me over last night?"
Discord's mismatched body went rigid, his red and yellow eyes sparing the human a wayward glance from the corner of his vision. When they refocused on Fluttershy, he could see that her own eyes had widened in response to Ryver's words. Much to his fear, she then sat on her haunches and crossed her forelegs over her chest in one precise motion, then shot Discord a leery, suspicious glare.
She didn't have to say anything, as her expression alone conveyed plenty of what she was thinking to him.
Discord, would you mind explaining to me why this unique, never before-seen creature seems to recognize you?
"Well?" the pegasus soon asked when Discord continued to hold his tongue, her tone underlined with ire. "Aren't you going to answer him? I mean, he just asked you a question, and it'd be pretty rude if you just ignored him..."
He knew he had to say something, and he had to say it fast, lest he confirm her suspicion.
Turning his head shakily a few inches to Ryver, he looked back to Fluttershy, then doubled back to the human.
"Oh. ...O-oh!" he then exclaimed, holding the sides of his face as he pretended to have just noticed the human sitting there. "So sorry, I didn't see you there. Hold on just a tick, let me just get my glasses so I can get a better look at you." After quickly turning away from the three, Discord looked back to Ryver, revealing the draconequus to now be wearing a pair of Groucho glasses. Better adjusting the novelty disguise to his face, he then extended a paw to the human, introducing himself with, "Greetings, I'm Discord, Lord of Chaos, strife, and four time competitive-crochet nationals winner--but you may call me Discord!"
After looking Discord nervously in the eyes, Ryver hesitantly took his paw in his hand and gave it an unsteady shake.
"Eh, yeah man...cool, sure. But uh...you are the officer from last night, right?"
Pulling his paw back, Discord put on his best poker-winning smile that he could manage.
"O-officer? What, me?" he said, his eyes staying on Ryver, yet occasionally darting to Fluttershy. "Heh. Pfft, no. You obviously must be...confusing me with someone else. Yes, that's it."
Staring at Discord, Ryver cupped his hand over his bearded chin. He supposed that it could be possible that he was mistaking this Discord person for the officer. After all, Discord wasn't wearing a badge or a uniform like the officer was.
Again, if Ryver was going to continue to perceive everyone as something else for the rest of the day--especially a recycled hallucination like the officer's--then he'd probably consider seeing a real doctor in the next town he visits instead of opting for his usual crystal therapy session.
"Eh, I guess you're right, man." Ryver said, relaxing his shoulders. "Sorry if I seem a little out of it right now; helped myself to some righteous cold medicine last night, if ya catch my drift. Kind of hard for me to tell what's what."
That piqued Fluttershy's concern.
"Oh dear, 'cold medicine'? Are you sick, Ryver?" she said worryingly. "It's nothing serious, is it?"
"Eh," he uttered with a shrug, turning to her while wearing a slight grin. "I'm sick alright, but it's no real biggie. Nothin' a little medicinal herbs can't fix."
Her eyes half-lidded, Treehugger smiled to Ryver in interest.
"Really? So your species, like, practices herbalism. I find that spiritually enlightening, actually."
"You mean our species, right sister?" Ryver corrected. "After all, aren't we all one and the same in the grander scheme of the universe?"
Stunned, Treehugger placed her hoof to her chest.
"Whoa, dude... Again, you're like hitting all levels of deep right there."
"Just tellin' it like it is, Treehugger."
Discord, who was gagging the entire time, finally chose to speak up.
"Yes, well, anyway, I suppose it's high time for me to hit the road." With a snap of his talons, he materialized a comically-sized tricycle, then got atop it. "Oh I'd so love to stay and chat some more, but I think I just remembered that I left the oven on. And with that, Free Shrugger, McGuyver, Fluttershy, I bid you all--"
"Yeah, you're not going anywhere," Fluttershy interrupted, causing Discord to pause and sit stock still. Flying over in front of him, the yellow mare then placed her hooves on the trike's handlebars, looking the spirit of chaos sternly in the eyes. "You said you came here to join in, and that's what you're going to do. Unless, of course, that wasn't the reason you were spying earlier..."
Doing a surprisingly well job of keeping his composure, Discord returned Fluttershy's gaze without even a hint of a flinch. He knew very well what game she was playing. She was suspicious of him and his possible relation with the sudden appearance of Ryver. Obviously the most damning thing he could do at that moment was leave, so he instead choose to call her bluff.
"Eh, you know what," started Discord, "I think I can afford one burned pie...and house. Sure, I'll stick around a while longer, why not? But first..." He zapped away, then reappeared seated atop one of the logs by the long extinguished campfire. "Ahem," he coughed dryly into his paw, "are there any refreshments available? I'm quite parched."
"Allow me," Treehugger said, stepping into her tent home.
"Discord..." Fluttershy then uttered, cocking a brow at him. "Can't you just will a water bottle into existence or something?"
Returning her gaze, Discord placed his paw to his chest defensibly. "What? And have my gracious host's efforts be for naught? She said 'Allow me', Fluttershy, so that's what I'm doing...I'm allowing her." That and she'd probably want a sip of his water, and if he was gonna be forced by Fluttershy to share with the green mare then he'd rather not expend the energy to materialize some at all.
Moments later, Treehhugger exited her tent with an empty water pail. "Aw...bummer, dude. Like, drinking water's all gone. Forgot to make a stop by the river earlier. Guess I'll be back in a twinkle, then." After placing the pail on her back, she then stepped towards the treeline. She didn't make it past a few feet, however, as Ryver then spoke.
"Well hold on there," the human called, approaching her. Swiping the pail off the earth pony's back, he then stepped in front of her. "You know what, Treehugger, you've been an awesome host, 'specially after letting me stay in your tent. I'll get the water. Just point me towards the river and I'll be on my way."
Treehugger sat on her haunches, her forehooves to her chest and a light smile on her face as she tilted her head to the side.
"That's totally tubular of you, Ryver. Sure!" She then gestured towards a direction. "Just head straight past those trees 'till you encounter a trail. Follow it and you'll get there in no time. You'll know you're getting close when you start to hear running water."
With a quick nod, Ryver headed to where Treehugger was pointing, the pail in his hand swaying with his arm movements.
"So," Discord then said, crossing his arms in immediate boredom. "What now? Do we play hang pony or something to pass the time?"
Minutes later, with his pail sloshing with fresh, clean river water, Ryver was making his way back to camp. However, he halted in place when he spotted something just off the beaten trail. He narrowed his eyes at what he saw, only for him to then set the pail down and sprint into the shaded area.
"Oh no freaking way," he uttered in disbelief, flabbergasted by what he had found.
What he first thought to be ordinary bushes or shrubs turned out to be bushels upon closer inspection, bushels as far as the eye could see. But not just any bushels, theses were a plant he was most familiar with. Slowly, as if he still couldn't believe it, Ryver raised his hand and reached for one of the plant's many leaves. There, he then glided his fingers up and down its fan.
Its appearance, its texture, its smell...Ryver had found himself a cluster of cannabis plants, just growing out in the open! Not believing his luck, Ryver swiftly unhanded the plant, then took in his surroundings skittishly. Was someone growing them? Did he stumble onto a dealer's hidden farm? He figured that he had to, else there'd be no way they could grow naturally in whatever part of the US he was in.
Ryver stepped back from the plants, then looked around once more. Once he was sure that there was no one around, Ryver ripped off a few leaves and quickly pocketed them.
Hey, free weed's free weed, and he was sure that the grower wouldn't notice or even mind a few missing leaves.
"So, like, how do I do this?" Treehugger asked, holding a stick with both her forehooves. The earth pony mare stared intently at the other end, where a marshmallow was impaled onto it.
Sitting next to her on the log, and with the sound of the campfire crackling in the cool night air, Ryver titled his head and smiled quizzically to her.
"Wait, seriously?" he said, positioning his own marshmallow over the fire. "You've never roasted marshmallows before?"
After observing Ryver's roasting method, Treehugger tried her best to mimic him before answering.
"Well, certainly not in this lifetime, that's for sure. I, like, usually prefer to live off of Mother Nature's abundance...though, a little artificial treat now and then doesn't hurt." Moments later, the green mare gawked in amazement at what she was seeing. "Oh that's cool! Though, is mine supposed to be turning all black like that?"
"Huh?" Eyes widening, Ryver pulled his eyes away from his marshmallow, then looked to Treehugger's. There he noticed that the confection was in the fire and not over it.
"Whoa!" he uttered, grabbing one of her hooves with his hand, guiding the now-charred, flaming treat out of the fire. Quickly leaning towards it, he blew out the flame, then inspected it. "Yup--completely burned. 'less you're feeling particularly brave, I wouldn't eat this if I were you."
"Aw, apologies then, Ryver," said Treehugger, watching as her human friend carefully removed the burnt marshmallow from her stick. Once that was done, he looked to her and shook his head.
"Nah, it's cool. 'sides, we've got plenty of--" After reaching his hand behind himself and into the once-full marshmallow bag, he was surprised to find it empty. "Well...there were plenty of marshmallows left."
It was at that moment that Fluttershy, who was carefully roasting her own marshmallow to a crisp, golden brown, spoke up with: "Don't worry, Ryver. I got this. Ahem, oh Discord~"
Discord, hunched over and seated on the opposite log with a look of utter exasperation on his face, as well as roasting a wiener over the open flame, grumbled in response. Without even glancing at the flower children's direction, he raised his free arm, then flicked it towards them in a fluid motion.
"There," he said dismissively. "Check the bag again."
Ryver did, and he was astonished to find it full once more with marshmallows.
"Ah man...groovy magic trick, dude!"
Again, Discord merely grumbled, which earned the attention of Fluttershy.
"Aw, what's wrong, Discord?" she asked in snide, mock concern. "Aren't you having a good time? I thought you wanted to hang out with us."
Discord's eyes met Fluttershy's. He knew that she still harbored suspicions on whether or not he was involved with Ryver's sudden appearance. Whatever he did, he couldn't risk confirming them for her. That was easier said than done, however. Discord enjoyed Fluttershy's company, obviously. but Ryver and Treehugger were a different issue altogether.
Discord straightened his posture, then put up a fake smile to the pegasus.
"Oh, nothing's wrong, Fluttershy. Why do you ask?"
Redirecting her gaze forward to the flame, Fluttershy smirked. She neared her perfectly toasted marshmallow near her muzzle, then blew lightly on it to cool it down.
"I ask because you look a little down, sitting there looking all mopey and stuff. Why, if I didn't know better, I'd say that it looks like you're being weighed down by something. A guilty conscience, perhaps?"
Discord suppressed a scoff. She wasn't even trying to be subtle anymore! The draconequus was fine with her antics, though. If it was a game she was wanting to play, then Discord was more than willing to play along.
"Ha, me, down?" Discord said, a paw on his chest as he gave a hearty laugh. "My, what reason do I have to be down? Especially when in the presence of such, eh...stellar company. Was just in thought, is all."
After chewing her marshmallow before swallowing, Fluttershy glanced at Discord from the corner of her eye and shrugged.
"Mm, was just making sure. Good to hear that you're enjoying yourself."
His smile faltering for just a second, Discord slouched.
"Yes...enjoying myself. That's exactly what I'm doing."
And with that, Discord remained silent, absentmindedly roasting wieners and other meats over the flame as the others indulged themselves in their marshmallow treats. If it weren't for the two 'spiritual siblings' soon chattering about cosmic energies and other such malarkey, he would have chalked it up to a somewhat enjoyable night spent cooking. Half an hour later, however, after the group had devolved into ambient silence, Fluttershy was the first to speak up when she noticed something strange that her new human friend was doing.
"What are you up to, Ryver?" she asked, watching as his fingers rolled what seemed to be paper atop his knee.
Ryver, still concentrating on his handiwork, answered nonchalantly with, "Just rolling a joint. Why, want a hit?"
In response, Fluttershy and Treehugger looked to each other, confused. Discord, however--for the first time since he knew Ryver--was intrigued by what he said. His gaze rose over the fire, his red eyes focusing on Ryver.
"Joint?" Discord repeated. "As in, herb, hash, weed? That kind of 'joint'?"
"Heh, yeah man!" Ryver answered ecstatically.
Lost, Treehugger looked between the two.
"Like, what are you talking about?" she asked.
Still rolling the paper, Ryver replied with, "What? You've never had a mind enlightener before? Huh, now I've heard it all. Here," using his free hand, Ryver reached into his pocket, then placed a crushed cannabis leaf on the mare's hoof.
"Hemp?" she muttered, inspecting the leaf with her other hoof. "Like, these grow wildly around, well...just about anywhere. Mostly used for paper, though."
Ryver paused in mid-roll before turning quizzically to Treehugger.
"Wait..." he said, picking the leaf from her hoof. "These grow everywhere around here? Huh, no wonder I just found them out in the open like that. But uh, using them for paper? Folks are ok with that here, even the squares?"
Fluttershy nodded. "I don't know what squares you're referring to, but I think they're processed into scroll parchments."
"Scroll parchments, huh?" Ryver inquired. "But, uh...are there any laws here against using them?"
The pegasus mare scratched at the side of her head. "Not that I'm aware of, no."
Ryver turned his attention to the leaf in his hand, his mouth forming into a giddy smile.
"Aw man, whatever state this is, I'm living here!"
"But, how is it going to enlighten your mind, Ry?" asked Treehugger.
"Simple," Ryver answered, adding the last finishing touches to the joint. "Just finely crush the leaves, roll them up in some paper or something, then smoke them."
Confused, both Treehugger and Fluttershy tilted their heads to the side. Furrowing her brow, Treehugger spoke.
"Smoke them?" Seconds later, her ears perked. "Oh, like a buffalo peace pipe!"
"Yeah! Though I've never heard of that tribe before," Ryver said.
With the joint finally done, Ryver neared one end of it to the flame, just close enough for it to be lit. So far, he was starting to enjoy his little hallucination trip, and he was hoping to prolong it. With the intent of doing so, he placed the unlit end to his lips and inhaled deeply, the joint's ember burning brighter as a result.
Already feeling the plant's euphoric effects, Ryver held his breath, then removed the roll from his mouth before finally exhaling. He blew the smoke out his mouth in puffs, aiming just over the fire. Once his lungs were clear of the smoke, Ryver looked to the other three, just realizing that they were all staring at him.
"Oh, my bad," he apologized, offering the joint back and forth between the three. "Any of you want the next hit?"
Treehugger smiled ecstatically. "Wait, is this, like, how your kind extend their friendship? Just like the peace pipe I mentioned earlier?"
To their surprise, Ryver placed his other hand over his mouth, stifling a chuckle. Fluttershy was getting a bit worried, as she wasn't sure if it was just a trick of the fire that was making his eyes seem more pink-ish than just a few seconds ago.
"Whoa...you've got a peace pipe?" Ryver then said. "That'd make like, an excellent bong, man. But uh...yeah, I guess."
"Righteous!" Treehugger scooted closer to him. "Sure, I'd love to take part in this friendship ritual."
Timidly, Fluttershy rose her hoof.
"Um...me too, if you would. I don't exactly know what this ritual requires, but if Treehugger's doing it, then so will I."
Slowly, Ryver nodded.
"Awesome...awesome... And uh, you, Discord?"
"Hmm?" uttered the draconequus.
"You want in, bro?"
Discord pursed his lips in thought. Being as old as he was, and having traversed a few universes before, he was well aware of marijuana and its effects. He'd be lying if he said that he never used it for recreational purposes before. Still, it had been some time since he last smoked the Devil's lettuce, and he supposed he could use a little pick-me-up after enduring such a dreadful evening. Really, what reason was there for him not to?
"Mmm, you know what, sure!" answered Discord. "Ah, but first, let me do a little something before you pass me the doobie."
Snapping his claw, Discord materialized a zipper on his chest. He unzipped it, then reached into himself. He eyed the sky, his tongue sticking out in concentration as he rummaged around himself.
"Ah, here it is!" he then exclaimed, withdrawing from his chest a glowing sphere about the size of a baseball. Said sphere pulsed and gave off a chaotic swirl of multiple colors, containing within it the more 'world-ending' aspects of his powers. With another snap of his claws, Discord conjured a kitchen cabinet suspended in mid air, opened it, then placed the sphere within it, alongside his wallet and keys.
If he was gonna get high, he couldn't with that still in him, lest he have a repeat of what happened with the dinosaurs...
"Alright, I'm ready," Discord said excitedly, practically bouncing in his seat. "Quick, hand it over!"
Fluttershy coughed her little lungs out, the joint that was once held by her lips falling to the grass.
"W-whoa," she stuttered sluggishly, her half-lidded eyes red and bloodshot. "R-Ryver....Discord...Tree--Tree...Ryver... I feel like I'm floating..."
Discord, with eyes equally as red and body coiled like a snake, picked up the dropped blunt. He was completely and utterly relaxed. He hadn't felt his current level of good in a long time. He was a little peckish, but that was what the marshmallows and wieners were for. After taking another long pull of the joint, the ensuing smoke escaped through his nose as he then guffawed out: "Pffft--Fluttershy, that's because you are floating!"
"What?" Fluttershy asked. She quickly examined herself, realizing that her slowly beating wings were indeed keeping her airborne. "Oh... I guess I am floating..."
The pegasus's sense of calm was only temporary, though, as the second she look down, she panicked. She was only off the ground by a foot or two, but her altered perception of reality made it appear as if she were miles into the sky.
"I...I've never been this high up before," she squeaked, her timid voice trembling with fear. "Guys...how do I get down? Help me get down!"
"Easy there, Fluttershy," said Ryver, gesturing for her to relax. "You're just, like, having a bad high. Very common for first-timers. Just take a deep breath, calm down, and hone your inner energies."
Her eyes fixated on the ground, Fluttershy licked her dried lips and nodded shakily.
"O-ok, ok. Calm." Taking a page from Twilight's and Princess Cadance's book, the yellow mare took a breath and followed their breathing technique. Once she extended her hoof, however, Fluttershy took notice of a ladybug that decided to land on it. "Oh, h-hello, Ms. Ladybug," she greeted to the insect. "You'll help me down, would you?"
Seconds later, however, with the exception of her wings, she froze in terror, as she swore she could see hundreds of her own reflections in the ladybug's compound eyes, all above a drooling, mandible maw.
"Please don't eat me," she pleaded to it.
As that was going on, Treehugger, who had taken several hits before passing the joint along, was prancing around the fire, twirling a ribbon she had found.
"I feel it! I can feel the cosmos!" she proclaimed happily. "We are all one within the eyes of our single mother! Her energies is what fuels us for the betterment of Equestria and all her creatures! Drink, drink deeply from her supple teats!"
Hearing all that, Ryver smiled as he nodded along. It was clear to him that she was channeling their cosmic mother. He'd have to remind himself to hang out with her more often later on.
Just then, Ryver had his attention diverted when he felt a gentle tapping at his side.
"Heeey, hey man," drawled Discord. Once Ryver turned to him, he continued. "Listen... I'm gonna be, uh... I'm gonna be straight up with you. I didn't like, like you when you first showed up. Beatniks aren't exactly my idea for pleasant company, you know what I mean? But...since you broke out the weed, and I haven't felt this long in like, a good time, I'm gonna tell you..." Placing his paw atop the human's shoulder, Discord look down and shook his head with a smile on his face. "You're cool, man. You're cool."
Ryver returned the smile with one of his own.
"Well thanks man, the feeling's mutual. Well...'cept the not liking you part. I liked you since we first met. But uh...I guess I have a secret to tell you to."
Discord leaned forward.
"Really? And what's that?"
Ryver chuckled, then answered with: "If it's ok with you, man, I'd like to stay in this world. Equestria, was it?"
Discord pulled his head back, his expression blank.
"Heh... Eh, w-what?"
Rolling his eyes, Ryer made an amused scoff.
"Come on man, I know that you have some god-like powers and is the reason I'm even here at all. I realized a few minutes ago that, yeah, you were that same cop who pulled me over. See, when I get high off weed alone, I'm that rare kind that gets smart. Like, ridiculously smart. Once solved like thirteen crosswords in one sitting the last time I toked.”
"Anyways," he said, returning to the matter at hand. "I like this place. I chose this lifestyle because I wanted to find the magic in the universe." He gestured to the wide open night sky filled to the brim with stars, then to the two respectfully preoccupied ponies. "Looks like I found it. So like I said: I'd like to stay. See what other wonders this world has to show."
Suddenly, Treehugger approached, her front hooves latching onto Ryver's arm.
"Come, Ryver, dance with me!" she said, trying to pull him to his feet.
Ryver smiled at Treehugger, then to Discord.
"Sure, why not? After all, we're all the same under the eyes of the cosmic mother."
The human rose and joined the jubilant earth pony mare by the fire. There, with his arms keeping her upright on her rear legs as they danced, the two looked deeply into each other eyes. It was like two kindred spirits had finally found their better half.
Watching this, the corner of Discord's mouth couldn't help but curl into a smile. Being stealthy about it, he then reached behind himself, tapping the side of the van two times. With the enchantment placed, he sat back and enjoyed the rest of his snacks.
"Well... Since you're here because of me, and you want to see the rest of this world, then it only stands to reason that the gas be on me."