• Published 16th Apr 2014
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Besides the Will of Evil - Jetfire2012


A shadow from the deep past returns to threaten Equestria, along with all the world. Can Twilight Sparkle and her friends be a light in the dark?

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Chapter 5

“... and then Princess Luna appeared, and she teleported Spike and I back to the throne room in Canterlot.” Twilight gave a final sweep of her hooves for emphasis. “After that... well, you all saw what happened after that as well as I did.”

Twilight's five friends were sitting on pillows around her, on the floor of Ponyville's great library. It was built into an old oak tree, and its walls were of the very wood that composed the tree, as was its floor. But for now, all five ponies couldn't have cared less about their surroundings. They were staring at their friend, looks of shock on their faces.

“Boy howdy!” Applejack cried, finally breaking the silence. “A deer? A black deer?”

“It doesn't make any sense,” Fluttershy said. “There are some strains of white tail deer that have a black coat variant, but there's no way a deer as big as you're describing could turn black through natural processes.”

“I reckon this deer ain't born o' natural processes, Fluttershy,” said Applejack.

“Yeah, I bet it's magic! Bad, ugly magic,” Pinkie Pie said.

“It certainly seemed that way,” said Twilight.

“And the world snake- killed? Gone in a single shot?” Rarity said. “What kind of creature could possibly have the power to do such a thing?”

“Uh, the creature Twilight was just talking about, duh,” said Rainbow Dash. “However impossible it sounds, it happened.”

“Princess Luna called it a ghost, something from the past,” said Twilight. “I really don't know what she means by that, though. I confess I don't know a lot about deer history.”

“It might be time to bone up, Twi,” Applejack said.

“So what was the burning thing I saw?” Dash said. “I flew up, and I saw the fight, but I also saw smoke.”

“Oh!” Twilight said. “That was...” she sighed. “That was the Shimmerwood.”

Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity gasped. “No!” Dash said.

“No! Not the Shimmerwood!” Rarity cried. “It was so beautiful!”

“Forget about the wood for a minute!” Applejack said. “What about all the deerfolk inside?”

“Lady Falalauria had them evacuate ahead of time,” said Twilight. “I think they all managed to get out. But she said that the wood itself is damaged beyond repair.”

“How awful!” Rarity cried. “Oh, those poor deer. To lose such a wonderful home- tragic!”

“It is horrible,” Fluttershy said. “So where are they going to stay now?”

“Actually...” Twilight cleared her throat. “I sort of volunteered to house some of them in Ponyville.”

She had wondered how her friends would take the news. To her pleasant surprise, they all had looks of happiness on their faces.

“That's a great idea!” Pinkie Pie cried. “It'll be just like a huge big slumber party!”

“How wonderfully generous of you, Twilight!” Rarity said. “We'll make them feel right at home.”

“This is a good spot for deer, actually,” said Fluttershy. “Between the Everfree Forest and White Tail Wood, they're in close proximity to two ideal habitats.”

“And there's plenty o' food stored up from this year's harvests, if they need a break from grass,” said Applejack. “Hmm, I recall Falalauria sayin' that her deer loved pansies, and we do got plenty o' those.”

“Ooo, that gives me an idea!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“Princess Luna said they'd be here in about three days' time,” said Twilight. “I'm going to need you girls' help to keep things smooth. I know the deerfolk are nice and kind, but they're still different than what most ponies are used to. I'm worried there are going to be tensions.”

“You can count on us, sugarcube,” Applejack said.

“I need to go find Magus Javier and his mule deer in the Everfree Forest,” Fluttershy said. “They'll certainly want to know that some other deer are going to be nearby. Speaking of,” she turned to Rarity, “what sort of deer did you all say lived in the Shimerwood, again?”

“Almost all white tail,” said Rarity. “Lady Falalauria herself is of mixed stock; one of her parents was a white tail deer, the other was a red deer.”

“Hmm, but they do all speak Laewtil, though the dialects used by the Everfree deer may be different,” Fluttershy said. “Still, they should be able to understand each other.”

“Thank you all so much for understanding,” Twilight said. “I'm so nervous. This the first time I've really staked my authority as a princess on something. I don't want to fail.”

“You won't fail as long as you've got us, Twilight!” Dash cried.

“Yes, dear, we're here for you no matter what,” Rarity said.

“Thank you so much,” Twilight said again. She looked out the window; the deep orange of evening sunlight splashed across the sky. “It's getting late. I know you'll want to see your family, Applejack, and I think I've kept you all long enough.”

“Y'all should come by the farm tomorrow,” said Applejack as she rose to her hooves. “We're havin' a big lunch, and the more folk who come to eat it, the better.”

“We can talk more then about everything,” Fluttershy said.

“That's a great idea!” Twilight said. “I'll see you all tomorrow!”

Night rolled over the orchards and fields of Sweet Apple Acres, the Apple Family's ancestral farm. Up in her bedroom in the farm house, Applejack laid on her bed. She was clutching something in her hooves: a shiny, glinting onyx stone, smoothed almost to a sphere by the long polishing of many hooves.

“Take this back with you,” Ashtail said.

“Aww, darlin', y'all don't need to give me presents every time I leave,” Applejack said.

“Perhaps not,” Ashtail replied. “But I want to.”

Applejack sighed. Every time she saw Ashtail, it got a little harder to leave him when her visit was up. When the battle had rocked across the skies beyond the Archbacks, she was ashamed to admit that her first thoughts had been of whether he was safe.

You know what this feelin' is, ol' girl, she thought to herself. There came a scratching at her door. Hopping out of bed, she pulled the door open. “Howdy there, Winona!” she said brightly, opening the door enough to let her dog into the room. Winona hopped onto the bed and sat down, tongue lolled out. Applejack sat down the bed and ran her hooves around Winona's ears. “Winona, I thought all my life I'd wind up managin' the farm and settlin' down with some stallion here in Ponyville,” she said. “I thought my... my destiny was farmin' apples and raisin' foals.”

Winona tilted her head.

“And I guess that got chucked out the window when I got the Element of Honesty,” said Applejack. “Y'know, girl, I can feel it. I can feel it workin' in my heart. It stings me when anypony tells a lie now. And I've... I've used it, girl. I use it now every time I bump into the Flim-Flam Brothers, and all other manner of shady folk. Guess I'm determined to use it always. But I still thought I might settle down to farmin' as best I could, maybe doin' adventurin' on the side.” She glanced down at the floor. “Now, though...”

Winona said nothing, of course. But she crept across the bed to Applejack's side, and Applejack leaned against her.

“Sometimes I wish you could talk, girl. Then again, y'all might not be such a good listener if you could.”

Within the rococo walls of the Carousel Boutique, Rarity's horn shimmered. The candles in their sconces dimmed on command, casting the main room into dim light. Rarity lay on fluffy pillows in the middle, a cleanly-scented candle in a sconce right beside her. It was time for her second exercises of the day. Once in the morning, once at night, she worked- not with her body, but with the piece of her soul she had uncovered a few years ago.

Rarity's cutie mark gleamed, and her eyes grew wide. Her mind expanded beyond the walls of her boutique, sweeping across Ponyville. She Saw Derpy Hooves and her daughter reading together in their bed. She Saw Torch Song humming along to her record player in her living room. She Saw Scootaloo sleeping in her bed in the shelter. Twist was reading in bed, Ace was doing pushups in his rec room, Baritone was snoring loudly. Rarity stretched her Sight, her eyes opening wider and filling with glinting stars. Princess Cadence and Shining Armor were lying awake in their bed. Braeburn was dancing around the bisons' ceremonial fire. Niles Nigellus was comforting Audrey Alleinus and another, far younger pronghorn. Princess Celestia was curled up in a bower beside a bed in the palace infirmary. The sun rose, the moon waxed, the stars wheeled-

“Rarity?”

“Ah!” Rarity yelped. Her Long Sight broken, the stars in her eyes were replaced by her usual blue pupils. “Oh, hello there, Sweetie Belle. How are you?”

“Up to get a glass of water,” her sister said, the little white unicorn with the lavender and pink mane hopping down the stairs. “Are you ever going to tell me what exactly you do down her at night?”

“Some day, dear,” Rarity said. “But not yet.” She got up. “I'll get you your water, come with me.”

In the back kitchen of Sugar Cube Corner, Pinkie Pie was tearing through cookbook after cookbook, her eyes swimming rapidly over the pages. She kept looking- kept looking-

She turned around. “Hey there, Mr. Cake!”

“Oh, Pinkie!” Mr. Cake cried, his long yellow legs crossing over themselves as he jumped back. “How did you know I was there?”

“I heard you talking to yourself,” Pinkie said.

“But I wasn't- never mind,” said Mr. Cake. “What exactly are you looking for?”

“A recipe for Pansy Cupcakes!” Pinkie exclaimed. “I know I saw it one of these cookbooks here, but I can't remember which one.”

“Oh, I think I know what you're talking about,” Mr. Cake said. “It should be this one,” and he plucked a lavender cookbook from the stacks. Flour With Flowers was its title.

“Hmm,” Pinkie said, flipping through the pages. “Aha! There it is!” She gave Mr. Cake a tight hug. “Thank you so so so much, Mr. Cake!”

“You're welcome, dear,” Mr. Cake said. “Just be sure to put all these other ones back.” He turned to go.

“Wait!” Pinkie said. “Mr. Cake... how do you feel about deer?”

“Deer?” Mr. Cake said. He turned slowly around. “I guess I don't have much to say about them. I've never met one.” I hear they're weird though, he thought.

Pinkie Pie's expression changed subtly, though Mr. Cake did not pick up on it. “Well, what if they were nice, kind deer?” she asked.

“I guess if they were nice, I'd love to meet one some time,” said Mr. Cake. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, you'll find out,” Pinkie Pie said, looking down to study the recipe.

“All right,” said Mr. Cake, feeling suddenly uneasy. “Good night, Pinkie.”

“Night night!”

Fluttershy sat beside her fire, watching gently as Angel, her rabbit, chewed on a carrot. She reflected on the paper in front of her, the pen clamped tightly in her jaws. She had scribbled Mae Govannen, Javier at the top, but save that, the page was blank.

“Oh, Angel,” Fluttershy said, “how do I write something like this? Ai, Magus Javier, more of the erias are arriving shortly. Please be prepared for company. Is that all I need to say? Surely I should explain what's happening in more detail.”

Angel crossed his arms at her, then made a motion with his paws to urge her onward.

“It's just...” she lowered her chin to the floor. “They trust me so much. I don't want to abuse it. And I owe them so much myself- I owe them everything. I can't just intrude on their peace.”

Angel smacked his palm into his head.

“Yes, Angel, you're right. They're going to find out one way or another.” Fluttershy sighed again. “I can at least be polite about it.” She bent her head, put pen to paper, and began to write.

In her cloud mansion in the skies above Ponyville, Rainbow Dash snored.

In the darkened library, Twilight Sparkle sat at her desk, a single candle illuminating the wood surface. She was bent over a massive green book, one of four volumes of the same size and color; the other three were stacked to her right. Occasionally she would pause in her reading to scribble something down in a journal. Twilight's notes were beauties, magnificent works of organized thought. They were at once both a linear progression and a visual map, so that reading her notes would give a pony nearly as clear a conception of an idea as if they had read the original source material. Unbeknownst to her, some of her old teachers in Canterlot kept pages of her notes framed in their classrooms as inspiration to their students.

Her concentration was broken, however, when she felt the whisk of wind across her neck. “What?” Twilight said, swiveling around her chair. The darkened library was empty. With a shrug, Twilight returned to reading. She had gotten through one more paragraph before she distinctly felt the brush of moving air along her spine. “Who's there?” she asked, horn glowing purple. The pages of her book rustled from movement, and as she looked up she saw a distinct shadow glide overhead. “Show yourself!” she cried. Her horn pulsed with magic, and at that instant all the candles in the library blazed to life.

Bonjour, mon petit poney!

Twilight sighed- actually, it was more like a grunt. She lowered her brow in frustration. “I should have known.”

Floating in the middle of the library was the oddest creature it was possible to imagine. It had a long, sinuous body, but that seemed the only uniform thing about it. It was a chimera; no, chimeras could only dream of having so many disparate elements. The head of a horse, the antler of a deer, the horn of a goat, the fang of a snake, the paw of a lion, the claw of an eagle, the wing of a bat, the tail of a dragon- on and on and on the clash of parts continued. The air rippled around him, as though his mere presence distorted it. Which of course it did.

Twilight sighed again. “Discord, now isn't a good time.”

“Of course not, dear Twilight!” said Discord, sliding through the air toward her. “That's why I came. What kind of Supreme Agent of Chaos would I be if I just showed up when it was convenient?”

Twilight turned back to her book, trying to ignore the way her thoughts were drifting. It was very difficult to focus in Discord's presence. He was deeply, unfathomably powerful- stronger even than Princess Celestia. But he was as fluid as quicksilver, and Twilight knew that she was in danger of being whisked away on some ridiculous escapade. In her experience, however, being firm with him usually got him to leave. Just like that, though, the book she was reading vanished in a flash of white light. “Hey!” she whirled around.

In another pulse of light the book appeared in Discord's paw, and he promptly began to turn it round and round. “What's this?”

“You'll lose my place!” Twilight cried, vaulting from her chair. “Give it back!”

Discord floated out of range of her hooves. He finally stopped when he was looking at the book's spine, and read. “Sir Stout Speaker's A History of the Laewtil-Speaking Peoples, Volume I. Why on earth would you bother with such dry, boring dreck? Isn't there a new Daring Do book out you could be enjoying yourself with? What's even the point of reading this unless-” His misshaped eyes went wide. “Oh, Twilight Sparkle, don't tell me you've gotten yourself mixed up in deer business?”

Twilight's horn shone, and she pulled the book from Discord with her telekinesis. “So what if I have?”

Discord tsk-tsked and shook his head. “Oh, Twilight, poor, overeager Twilight, you have no idea the nest of thorns you've plunged into.”

“I need to read as much about the deerfolk's culture and history as I can,” she said, levitating the book back to her desk. “A huge number of them are coming to stay with us. And they're not native Equestrian deer, either; they're deer from the Shimmerwood, so they still preserve their old culture.”

“From the Shimmerwood?” Discord repeated. “Why would- oh my, that's what was burning today, wasn't it?” He chuckled. “Oh well, all that dry tinder was due to catch flame.”

“How can you say that?” Twilight snarled. “All those deer have lost their homes!”

“There are a number of folk throughout history who would respond to that by saying, 'what goes around comes around.'”

Twilight's next verbal assault died in her throat. Her eyes widened. “You... you know about the deerfolk?”

“Of course I do!” Discord said. “I've been around since the dawn of creation. I don't have much love for them, either,” his voice dropped an octave. “Being trapped in stone will do that to you.”

“Huh?” Twilight said. “But... it was Princess Celestia and Princess Luna who trapped you in stone. I saw it, remember?”

“Oh, Twilight,” Discord chuckled, “Twilight, Twilight, Twilight. Brilliant though you are, you suffer from the same parochialism that afflicts others of your species. Not that that's bad! You ponies' stubborn self-focus is one of your more endearing features. And it's been good to you as a whole. But it does impede your view of things.”

“Okay, since I actually know what 'parochialism' means, why don't you explain to me why I have it,” Twilight said.

“Because you assumed that when I talked about turning to stone, I was referring only to the incident with Celestia and Luna,” said Discord. “Didn't I just say I've been around since the dawn of time? Wouldn't it stand to reason there's more to my existence than the part that involves you ponies?”

Twilight's eyes bulged. “You... the deerfolk turned you to stone? But the only things that can do that are-”

“The Elements of Harmony? Well, yes,” Discord chuckled. “Oh, Twilight, there's so much you don't know about the history of your world.”

“Tell me,” Twilight said.

“Not tonight,” Discord replied. “However, since we're best buddies now, and since I've been reformed, I'll be nice enough to give you a warning.” He swam through the air and curled around Twilight, to the point that he was leaning right next to her ears. “Be wary of dealings with deer, Twilight Sparkle. They are not as nice as you think.”

“But...” Twilight's heart was pounding, “Lady Falalauria...”

“Oh, the Farseer? The Half-Breed? Be careful even of her,” said Discord. “Twilight, what exactly do you know about the deerfolk?”

“Well,” Twilight began, “they're... the forerunners. They're the grandfather culture of practically every intelligent species.”

“And have you ever wondered why that is?” Discord said. “Have you ever thought to ask just why deer culture forms the bedrock of so many races?”

“Uh... no, no I haven't,” Twilight asked.

“Because it's an uncomfortable question,” Discord said. “And most ponies don't like uncomfortable questions. But if you're going to deal with deer, Twilight Sparkle, you need to get used to asking uncomfortable questions. Otherwise, before you know it-” he snapped his fingers, a chessboard appeared in midair- “you're just a pawn to them.”

“I don't believe Lady Falalauria would do that,” said Twilight. “She's kind and gentle.”

“And yet she unleashed terrible power today, didn't she?” Discord said.

“You saw that too?” Twilight asked.

“Very, very interesting,” said Discord. “I think I'll be sticking around Ponyville the next couple of days. I'm intrigued to see how this all plays out. For now, though- adieu!” And with a burst of light, he vanished.

Twilight waited a few minutes, making sure Discord wasn't going to pop back in to have the absolute last word. When he didn't, she sighed. Her horn flickered, and the candles in the library went out, plunging it once more into darkness. She returned to her desk, and tried to resume her reading. But her mind kept wandering. She glanced at her notebook. There was a blank space there, and with her pen she took a moment to write UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS in all capitals. Then she turned back to the book.

Author's Note:

Discord is super fun to write.