• Published 27th Jun 2014
  • 1,330 Views, 17 Comments

The Sum of Her Parts - IsabellaAmoreSirenix



When Celestia is sent to Equestria to bring Order, Discord is right around the corner to challenge her every notion of what gifts chaos can give the world. Can love be found for a pawn of Order, or is she doomed to let her purpose define her life?

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Games and Other Fatal Pursuits

"Halt. Clarification, Mother."

Celestia's voice echoed off the empty white walls of her Comprehension Chamber. For the first time in nine years, the holographic images projecting the outside world stopped swirling around her, instead hovering inert to fill the room with another layer of white from their soft glow.

An alicorn mare instantly materialized beside Celestia with the silence of an apparition. Her shimmering, pearly coat blended in perfectly with her surroundings, adding to her phantom-like appearance. Her silver mane and tail billowed around her like smoke, partly obscuring her slender legs that levitated inches above the ground. This made her amethyst wingtips stand out in contrast as they shone like tinted glass. The same color was reflected in her eyes, bearing the light of stars and comets and galaxies continuously winking in and out of existence. How easy it would be for the image of one little alicorn filly to get lost in the depths of that endless universe.

Which was why the elder alicorn didn't bother looking at Celestia when she arrived. Her eyes only followed the line of her daughter's tiny hoof, pointing to the image of an indistinct, shadowy body with jagged edges outlined in red. It seemed to be curled in a fetal position, though the bramble of thorns around it looked far from restful.

"This creature does not align with previously recorded information," Celestia said impassively, "and the Vitreous Erudition prohibits further analysis."

Her mother's eyes briefly darkened at the bleak projection. "Explanation permitted," she declared, her voice ringing out rich and clear.

Celestia's eyes looked blankly ahead. "Name."

"You are viewing a creature of Eris, that of the forsaken forest to the West. Names are a foreign concept to them, seen as too much of a consistency to be allowed."

Celestia's steady gaze flickered. "Noted," she said, hesitant. "What is its occupation?"

"Nothing but whatever it pleases, which is forever fluctuant."

"But… But isn't there some being which tells it what to do? How could such a land operate with no rules to govern it?"

"It doesn't," replied her mother, her scowl as dark as was possible in a realm of perpetual light. "What you must understand, Celestia, is that Eris is the cosmic opposite of Elysium. Their minds function with such twisted logic that it warps their very perception of reality. They cannot possibly understand the bliss that comes from working with a single united cause in mind. In their foolishness, they believe they have found freedom by breaking all restrictions, when in fact they have made themselves slaves to their own desires. As a result, their hearts are restless, never satisfied. This is the punishment of falling prey to Chaos; it is the danger of a world without Order. If allowed to run rampant, soon we would all succumb to the same insanity that is their greatest flaw."

"But then why—"

"Knowledge of the Land of Eris will not serve in the Maintenance of Order, Celestia. It does not need to be Integrated into your memory."

With that, she knew the conversation was over. Celestia closed her eyes and bowed her head. "Clarification ended," she whispered.

Feeling more confused than ever, Celestia watched her mother spin on her back leg and disappear into thin air, leaving her daughter in total isolation for another five years.

For the first time in forever, Celestia let out a small sigh as she heard the slight swoosh of the holographs of the Vitreous Erudition starting up again. She kept her eyes closed a few seconds longer, trying to delay the inevitable, but eventually she resigned herself to the flashing images of a world she could never touch. However, her eyes soon glazed over as her mind drifted to musings, dangerous ones she wouldn't dare to speak aloud.

So instead, Celestia resigned herself to think and to wonder.


"That's all I was told about you."

Celestia had not known the draconequus very long, but seeing as this was the first time in two hours she had seen him lie perfectly still, she thought it safe to assume that he was being serious. His bright red eyes were fixated on her intensely, the gears behind those crimson eyes whirling with turbulent thoughts. Then suddenly his gaze dropped as if embarrassed to search the blades of grass beneath him. His eyes darted back and forth, never daring to look up even as the silence of the forest pressed upon them.

Finally, he spoke up in a voice thick with uncertainty, "Then is that what you believe?"

"It is all I know," she answered without any hesitation. "The only truth I understand."

"But you didn't run away from me," he pointed out as he tried to busy himself with brushing an invisible speck of dirt from his paw. "Doesn't that mean you think I have good intentions?"

"That was to ascertain your existence as a child of Chaos," Celestia replied, a shudder trailing down her spine as she said the taboo name. "Nothing more. My first instinct would be to execute you now."

Those words resonated with Discord. Still keeping his head bent to hide a feral scowl, he felt his muscles tense beneath his skin, pulling it taut. The sunlight glinted off his sharp talons a bit too brightly as the shade of the forest cloaked him a bit too well. Yet his heart thrashed wildly in his chest at the threat. He knew that this mare, delicate as she was, would not hesitate to act upon her word. Looks, as he had learned in Eris, could be deceiving.

Discord fought the urge to tremble as her piercing magenta eyes swept over him with the precision and deadliness of lasers. It was a shrewd, calculating gaze, measuring the precise amount of force coiled in his back legs versus the cold sweat just barely forming on his paw. All this she noticed but cast aside with an indifference that terrified him. Discord, who lived to expect the unexpected, had been caught off guard.

"And yet…"

His ears perked up.

"…it's hard to tell what to do in a place like this," she admitted. As she turned her head and lifted her gaze, his eyes flickered up just enough to see her look down upon the tiny bundle of cottages with a wistful, misty-eyed expression. "I may have known about pony society, but it's a whole other thing to actually experience it. The hesitant but sincere smiles, the small gestures that can change the whole meaning of their words, the warmth that only sometimes reaches their eyes; I hardly know what to make of it."

"I know," Discord agreed enthusiastically, brightening to the energetic creature Celestia had first encountered. "They're so… layered. They have mood swings, dwell over the most insignificant problems, then get all emotional over the littlest things. Not that it's bad, just… just different."

Celestia nodded. "Is that why you chose to stay in the forest?" she asked softly.

"Yeah." A curious emotion veiled his eyes with mist as Discord shrugged and looked down at the tiny cottages in the distance. "It's better for me up here, where I don't have to bother anypony. I mean, I don't think ponies like me that much. They always run away from me."

Celestia's gaze softened, and despite the sensible part of her whispering words of caution, she tentatively placed a reassuring hoof on Discord's paw. "I… Forgive me for threatening you. It would be wiser for me not to antagonize you without provocation, as others should learn as well. But you don't need to take such things to heart. You're just different, that's all. I was taught that ponies are somewhat resistant to abrupt changes, so you have to be patient with them. They're adapting to our presence just as much as we are to theirs. Just give them time, and once they grow accustomed to seeing you, they'll come around."

"It's okay," she insisted when she was met with only silence. "I… I get weird looks all the time, too."

"Only because you're so pretty."

At that moment, Celestia wished the strange blood rising to her cheeks would go just a bit higher to her brain and gift her with coherent speech. "I… er, well, thank you," she began, her voice becoming more and more high-pitched as she tripped over her words. "But it's not a big deal really, how I look. I only took this form because it was deemed to be most effective in bringing order. If being a sea slug would unite ponies' hearts, then you wouldn't want to go anywhere near me. Er, not to say that sea slugs are ugly; they're just different, you know? No, but not your type of different; your different is crazy and amazing and… sorry, I'm rambling, aren't I?"

To her relief, Discord paid no attention to her rant (besides a brief but irritatingly smug grin) and instead said, "So does that mean you're a shape-shifter?"

Celestia shook her head. "No, not really, or at least I don't think so."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," the spirit of chaos replied. "You seem like the type that would stick to one shape; you're definitely not cut out for more." With a snap of his talons, he morphed into a tiny slug flopping around in the grass. "You can't be too picky with what you transform into; it's rude, see?"

In another flash, he turned into a lion. "You have to brave enough to let go of inhibitions—

"—before swooping in to claim your desires," an eagle finished.

"But Chaos isn't always that easy," added a lizard. "It takes cunning—

"—forgetting about fear," said a bat.

"—and always being willing to change your mind," a goat concluded with a knowing wink.

"But that's where the beauty of Chaos comes from, doesn't it?" Celestia watched in awe as Discord, now a beautiful blue songbird, rose high above the treetops to greet the sun. Rays of light shone through spaces between feathers in his spread wings to give the ethereal impression of golden translucence. Celestia felt her heart skip in her chest. She loved it.

Then in a second, it all came crashing down. With a flash of light, Discord tumbled from the sky. Branches could be heard snapping in his wake as he plummeted, and when he slammed into the dirt, he was a draconequus once again.

A cry wrenching itself from her throat, Celestia ran to kneel at Discord's side. Tears welled in her eyes as he lay motionless, with his tongue lolling out of his mouth in what was certainly the most serious death he could manage.

"Oh no," she panicked, placing her hooves over her mouth in horror. "Oh no, no, no—AHH!"

Celestia fell backwards as Discord coiled into a spring and shot into the air. Rainbow fireworks exploded, which then turned into a shower of orange soda. The soda turned the ground to sticky mud, a situation that proved problematic for a certain alicorn trying to stand with any ounce of dignity.

As he slowly settled down to earth, Discord let forth a roaring guffaw that could be heard for miles. "Haha! Sweet Eris, your face! Priceless!"

Celestia growled. "Stop laughing at me!" she ordered, wiping soda from her eyes with little success. "That wasn't funny!"

"Well, then you just failed the test," Discord stated simply. "The most important rule of Chaos is to always have a sense of humor."

Isn't having rules oxymoronic? Never mind, that answer's probably going to be in riddles or something idiotic like that. "But faking your death is cruel! You could have been seriously hurt for all I knew!"

"Tsk, tsk, I thought you would have realized by now that I can't be serious about anything."

"And to think I was trying to have a civil conversation with you," she muttered, pouting in last drops of soda rain. Reluctantly, she licked some off her face. It was very good.

Still, I'll get him back for that prank, she vowed. Wait, what?!

"Aw, don't be mad," Discord pleaded, putting on his best puppy dog face. "You can never pull off that kind of stunt in a land where everyone's immortal, and the opportunity was too good to pass up. If it upsets you that much, I won't do it again, promise."

Celestia was skeptical, but her gaze softened to just a scalding glare.

Then she tried to stand but fell flat on her rump in the mud.

Discord held back a snicker. Celestia's glower could have burned holes into the sun. Discord gulped, remembering her threat to execute him from before.

With a gentlemanly smile, he held out his paw to Celestia. When she just stared dumbfounded at it, he jabbed it more insistently in her direction. Finally he rolled his eyes and remarked, "Jeez, you need to work on your social cues."

Hesitantly, Celestia held out her hoof. Instead of just helping her stand, Discord spun her around in a whirlwind, sending the mud and soda flying off her coat. Then he snapped his fingers and she jerked to a screeching halt.

"Now you're just showing off," she grumbled.

"I was doing that from the beginning. Come on, keep up!" he sternly admonished.

Celestia only stumbled around dizzily.

"Hmm, you'd make a good ballerina, if your coordination wasn't like that of a blind buffalo. Perhaps there's still a chance to have fun with you."

Discord paused in his musings, then smiled. "Your face is cute like that," he commented as Celestia's eyelids fluttered, passing over her dazed stare.

"Uh, thank you?" she said as the world still spun beneath her.

"It's good to see you surprised," Discord explained. "You should do it more often."

"I think I'll pass," she remarked, icier than she expected. For Elysium's sake, he's such an idiot. But an idiot with valuable information about chaos. An idiot with a nice smile. Nice smelling, too. Wonder what shampoo he uses.

…Okay, now I know I've lost it. Gah, I'm such an idiot…

"I don't suppose I can ask for another start-over?" Discord asked, now nestled comfortably between the roots of a tree.

"After six tries? I think this is the best I can ask for," Celestia replied. Though not particularly dizzy anymore, she decided to play it safe and found a soft patch of grass to sit on. "Or at least," she amended, "the best I can expect from a creature of chaos."

"Well then, I suppose I'll have to prove you wrong." With a snap of his fingers, he conjured up a long table, sagging from the weight of china cups and platters of sweets. Another flash, and he and Celestia were sitting at opposite ends, with Discord sporting a ridiculously oversized top hat for the occasion.

"Now then," he said, folding his hands, "in a respectable and genteel fashion, let's get to know each other better."

Celestia only batted an eye before saying, "Yes, so about Eris—"

"We can have all the heart-to-heart discussions about Eris for you to obsessively archive for your orderly overlords later, can't we? For now, I want to know more about you."

The draconequus offered a fish-shaped kettle. "Chocolate milk?"

Celestia shook her head. "I prefer tea."

"Chocolate cake?"

"Vanilla."

"Chimmi-cherry?"

"Cherry-changa."

"Bacon?"

"What in Equestria is that?"

"My, you're picky," Discord said, giving her a toothy grin. "I suppose only the most charming of gentlemen could put up with you."

Celestia rolled her eyes, though she was unaware of the small smile on her face. "Even when you're being 'gentlemanly,' I'm still proven right."

Discord snapped his talon, dispelling the faux tea party. "But did I get the charming part?"

"Let's just say it'll be a while before I invite you to the castle."

"Gosh, you have high standards," Discord teased. "No moving up the social ladder for me; I guess I'll just continue on being a fugitive in these unforgiving woods."

Celestia's eyes widened at the joke. It was the truth, she realized. He really did have nowhere else to go. "I-I mean, you could stay if you wanted. It probably gets really cold here at night, especially when fall comes…"

Discord paused at the sudden 180 in tone. "What? No, you don't have to worry about stuff like that. I can take care of myself, no problem."

"But I don't want you to be abandoned here, especially since by their years, you're a minor—"

"No, it's fine, really," he insisted. "I actually kind of like it here. It reminds me of home."

"Home," she repeated, her voice breathy like a leaf shaking in the wind that blew over a vast sea. "It's… strange, to think of home. Even though the castle is nothing like Elysium, it barely feels like I left. I mean, it all happened so fast that I didn't realize I was leaving until I was gone. One moment I was alone in my chamber, then led through some halls by Mother, and when I blinked again, I was here, with Luna at my side."

"You've mentioned Luna before," Discord commented. "Did you know her in Elysium?" His tongue fumbled with the name.

"No. I was kept in isolation all throughout my Comprehension Stage." The alicorn sighed. "Which is what I don't understand. I was not the first being to be sent from Elysium, but they never send more than one through the Gates."

"The Gates?" Discord cocked his head to the side.

"You don't know about…?" She shook her head. "I suppose I should stop being surprised when it comes to you. Well, in any case, you should know that there are Gates in all four of the Cosmic Lands. They are our only link to the mortal world and can only be opened by a conduit of Harmony, in our case, the Tree of Harmony. It shows that the beings summoning us are sentient enough to resonate with the harmonious lifeforce that binds the universe. At any rate, the Gates of Eris and Elysium are connected, just like in Empyrea and Erebus to the north and south, so when one gate is opened, so is the other. This ensures that balance is maintained on the mortal plane."

Pensive, Discord placed a talon to his chin. "So when that filly opened the Gates of Order with her wish to the Tree..."

"...The Gates of Chaos were opened as well," Celestia finished. "The Gates let you and me out, but Luna… I don't understand why she was as well. Perhaps it was because I had just finished my training and was considered weaker, but Luna still had another two years to go in hers, so I don't know why they would pull her out before she was ready."

"Maybe they thought it was cute or something, the thought of two little fillies riding off into a world of adventure." Discord remarked as he flippantly waved a stick of cotton candy into existence. "Want some?"

Celestia hesitantly reached out and pulled a piece for herself. She studied it curiously in her hoof, but once part of it had gotten stuck in her flowing mane, she decided to forgo suspicion and popped it into her mouth. "No, Elysium isn't like that. They don't do things on a whim. Everything is precise, deliberate, all to serve the glory of Order. Not that you'd understand such things, but—"

"What?" Discord gasped, placing his paw over his heart like a fatal blow had just struck him. "How you demean my intellect! I'm not ignorant, you know, just because I didn't spend my first fourteen years spying on unsuspecting mortals with my all-seeing eye of knowledge."

"Oh?" Celestia cocked an eyebrow. "And what pray tell would you happen to know about my homeland?"

Discord instantly reverted from his dramatic theatrics to his normal tone of voice, if such a thing existed for him. "Yours is Elysium, the glorious Land to the East Beyond the Eternal Sea," he began, more than happy to oblige while munching on the cotton candy. "On the island, you have a single palace of white-tipped spires that pierce the white clouds, because you all were cheapskates and couldn't afford more paint. Everything there is perfectly symmetrical, perfectly scheduled, perfectly predetermined. And of course, downright boring, too. Nice beach though, I've heard. Not much to say besides that; be glad you don't give out tourist brochures."

Discord's grin drooped as he studied Celestia's crestfallen face. "Did I say something wrong?" he asked, his former uneasiness sweeping over him again.

Celestia looked down, letting her soft pink mane hide her face. "I never knew it was an island," she admittedly quietly.

"Oh." All at once, Discord was aware of just how silent the forest was. "Well, that's okay. I mean, you didn't go outside and all, so it probably wasn't all that special to begin with—"

"I mean, why would they bother telling me anything?" Celestia said, bitter tears coating her eyes. "I saw a thousand different social structures of a million civilizations throughout all of time, but never once could they point that camera to my own backyard." Then almost comically, her eyes bugged open wide as she sucked in a gasp and covered her mouth with her hooves. "No," she said, "oh no, no, no, no…"

"What's the matter?" Discord laid a gentle claw on Celestia's shoulder as she shook her head in distress, sending her pink hair billowing like a cloud around her.

"Already this place is getting to me," she lamented, a frustrated sigh causing her body to sag like a sail without wind. "I'm behaving like a child, getting worked up over the stupidest issues."

"Hey, that's not true," Discord said consolingly as Celestia hid her face behind her hair. "Although…" he added, "Really? Really? That's the hang up? I mean, you're across the Eternal Sea, here. I suppose it could have been another continent, but really? You missed that, huh?"

But Celestia paid no mind to his remark, instead continuing her tirade in a resigned, depressed tone. "It's no wonder they wouldn't show such unimportant things; they would interfere with my learning. I shouldn't expect them to tell a Virtue such trivial information."

"Virtue?"

"My rank," Celestia explained patiently. "The seventh Class of Elysium is the Order of Virtue. Don't you rank yourselves in Eris?"

"And by rank you mean arrange us in a permanently binding sequence that defines us forever? Cute idea, but not exactly our style."

Celestia shrugged. "I suppose that's true. Besides, it doesn't really matter, does it? You must be about as powerful as Luna and me combined. They wouldn't have sent you through the Gates if you weren't strong enough to combat us."

"Combat?" he asked, his voice serious and a little bit sad. "That sounds pretty harsh, don't you think? I don't want to fight you. I was hoping we could be friends."

Friends. She liked the word. It sounded nice, warm, the kind of thing that wouldn't rattle around lonely inside of her but wrap around her like a hug. She wondered if such a thing would be possible if her goal was to eternally oppose him and all he stood for.

"Well, as long as you don't provoke me enough to warrant a solar beam to the face, I believe that can be arranged," she agreed with a genuine smile.

"Hold on, you could actually do that?" he marveled.

"But of course. Virtues are the ones that control celestial bodies."

Discord's eyes widened. "Really?" he asked, leaning closer. "Like the sun and the moon?" He pointed to the sun, shining brightly through the thin canopy. "I love watching it in the sky; it brings so many colors. But the stars at night are pretty too. Do you control those?"

"Um, eventually, yes," she answered, slightly taken aback. "It-It's not a big deal, really," she added at the sight of his awestruck expression. "Virtue is one of the lower classes; they almost always send the Ardens or Cheri to the mortal world. They can control a lot more than the sun and moon. I… I don't know why they would choose me."

Celestia sighed. "It's okay, don't think about it too much. It's not my place to question."

"Yes it is," Discord answered with a confidence that even surprised himself. "You're curious about your purpose; that's natural, I think. I'd want to know too if I had one."

Celestia's eyes softened at that. "Did they really not tell you anything about the mortal world?"

"Well, I had known it existed, but that was only from overhearing the whispers. In Eris, everypony mostly keeps to themselves."

"There was no training? No one ever told you what you were meant to do?"

Discord shook his head. "They're very independent there. If you want to know something, you find out for yourself. And if you hear wrong, well, that just adds to the insanity."

"So what did you do for all that time?" she asked, her eyes wide in rapt attention despite her weak attempts to keep quiet. Being near him was a risk in itself; striking up a conversation was downright illogical.

But for once, she didn't care.

"Whatever struck my fancy," the draconequus replied with a shrug. "Dancing, candy making, fly swatting, ping-pong playing, traveling space, creating wormholes, starting a worm farm, teaching one to dance, that sort of thing. Ah, Wilbur. We were just getting the hang of the tango, too."

At that, all of Celestia's puzzlement bubbled into giggles. Racing to the tip of her tongue, they exploded with a tangy sweetness that left her breathless yet full of energy. At first they jumped almost startled out of her, but they soon eased into each other, forming a rhythm like music…

The alicorn shook her head. What was she doing? She stared intently at the strange being before her. A lizard leg and a cloven hoof. A lion paw and an eagle claw. An antler and a gnarled horn. A pair of sanguine orbs swimming in poisoned choler. All meshed together into one horrid abomination that should make her want to turn tail and run.

But run where? Back to the castle, where her summoners would give her pitying looks and ask her questions she couldn't answer? She knew what they wanted from her, for her and Luna to become the first diarchy of Equestria. It was needed. It was important. It was what she came here to do. This… gallivanting in the forest wasn't. So why am I doing it?!

"Yes, you wish you were a draconequus," Discord said smugly, bringing Celestia out of her stupor.

Her eyelashes fluttered again as blood flooded her already rosy cheeks. She turned away, trying to think about anything but the fact she had been staring at him for a full two minutes, probably wearing the most dimwitted expression imaginable.

Still, his comment nagged at her curiosity. I've never wished for anything before, have I? I… I wonder what it would be like. Would I wish to be like a… dr-draconequus, is it? Wait…

"You're called a draconequus?" she asked.

Discord shrugged. "It's what I call this form at least. Remember when I transformed into all those creatures? A lot of times my brain gets confused and works overtime the faster I transform. It tries to do too many things at once, then my magic short-circuits, leaving me like this, a draconequus."

"Aha!" Celestia exclaimed triumphantly, pointing a hoof at Discord. "So you do have a constant! You have a name!"

"Well of course," he answered, as if she had just announced the groundbreaking discovery that the sky was blue. "Somepony has to take credit for my pranks."

"But a name is something that never changes!"

"No, names are what set you apart from other ponies. They keep you an individual, stop you from blending in with the crowd."

"By labeling. A name brings to mind memories and other associations of a pony, which are thus organized together. It distinguishes a pony by defining 'you,' the constancy of a self."

"So by defining chaos, do we make it any less chaotic? In distinguishing the undefined, do we inadvertently create definition? These are questions we must ask ourselves, we pitiful grasshoppers amidst the vast field of the universe." In a flash of light, he was sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah pipe, belching out multi-colored bubbles.

Celestia shook her head, though she was grinning from ear to ear. "You're impossible," she said almost endearingly.

The two then proceeded to sit in a companionable silence. Celestia pondered how to disprove Discord's arguments, but after a few minutes of her thoughts using her brain as a particularly headache-inducing racetrack, she arrived at the insightful conclusion that names were stupid anomalies that weren't worth getting a migraine over.

Discord in the meantime was having fun turning the remaining bubbles into green onions. He entertained the idea of doing a polka dance with them, but then shrugged and bit into one, because contrary to popular belief (which he was more than proud to achieve), he did not live solely on sweets. Even as an immortal being of vast power, a dentist's appointment was a terror that nopony could live through.

Finally, the draconequus spoke. "It's Discord, you know."

Celestia perked up. "What?"

"Discord," he repeated. "That's been my name for the past thirty seconds since I thought it up."

"Isn't that just a synonym for Chaos?"

"Exactly! So now I'll even get credit for all the acts of discord I didn't cause. Ooh, now ponies will mix up my name with the noun, how delightful! But of course the best part about this is that according to your logic, you're the discordant one!"

"My name is Celestia," she deadpanned. "I've said it five times."

"Darn. And Sunbutt would have been so fitting, too…"

Celestia gasped. The sun! She looked up through the forest canopy and saw the sun was already above the western horizon.

She scrambled to her hooves in a panic. "I have to go," she told him hurriedly. "I'm needed back at the castle."

When Discord looked up at her, his eyes contained all the confused sadness of a lost puppy. "But I… I…"

"I-I'm sorry!" she called over her shoulder as her trot sped up to a gallop. How could I have lost track of time like that? There are so many things I need to do; I don't have time for this!

"Celestia, wait!" he cried out, a note of alarm clearly in his voice. The draconequus clambered to his feet, clouds of dirt and dust billowing in his wake, and lunged to grab hold of Celestia's hoof. The alicorn whipped around at the touch, a gasp ripping from her throat, to see him standing before her with his knees trembling like jelly and his face blushing furiously.

"Stay, please," he begged, the words spilling out in a waterfall. "Just a little longer. I… I know you have to go back down there, but I've just gotten to know you, and I don't… I don't want to see you go yet."

Oh no, that simply won't do, Celestia told herself sternly. Clover will be expecting me soon, and there are still a million things that must be arranged. We still have to sort out the details for my and Luna's tour across the country to have ponies become familiar with us, then there's the meeting with the council to discuss the Crystal Empire Crisis, and most importantly I can't forget seeing Luna—

"I suppose five minutes wouldn't hurt," she said with a gracious smile.

Discord's nervousness melted into a jubilant grin that flushed his face with a warm glow, the same glow that sparked in his eyes like those of a child. "Thank you," he said. Celestia was struck by the fervent sincerity of it.

"It's not a problem," she replied, folding her legs under her to sit on the grass once again. "Though you may be irksome at times, I… I rather enjoy your company." Giddy, she placed a thoughtful hoof to her lips stretched wide in a grin from speaking those words, but she soon waved it aside. "Now, what should we do?"

"Do you want to play a game?" Discord asked eagerly, his enthusiasm failing to be held back by his eyes.

Celestia tilted her head to the side. "A game?" she repeated. Her mind flashed with brief recollections of playing children she had seen through the Vitreous Erudition, but her heart was more powerful, fluttering with the innate desire all children possessed.

"Yeah," he explained, his bright disposition permeating the air, infectious in its purity. "Tag, I think it's called. I saw some fillies doing it in a nearby village. I couldn't go near them, obviously, but it looked like fun. I've heard about it before at home, but I've never really had a friend to try it with, but now… did I say something wrong?"

Friend. Once again, her heart caught on that word, that word that took her breath away, not that she needed it now anyway. The word breathed life into her, sent her heart pounding, racing, yearning for a certain something more that could only be found behind those bright, chaotic eyes…

"What? Oh, no, you didn't," she said, shaking off the crazy thought. "Keep explaining."

The draconequus smirked, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Actually, with only five minutes, I think some spontaneity would be more fun, don't you?"

Then not even waiting for her answer, he reached out, his face all smiles and giggles, and shouted…


"Tag! You're it!"

The air was filled with Luna's giggles as she fled from her older sister after booping her on the nose. Celestia's lips curled into a smile as she raced after in hot pursuit, jumping over the carefully tended flower beds with ease. Her hooves pounded against the ground, kicking up small clouds of dirt. In her haste, her slender legs tripped over each other, sending her practically tumbling down the rolling landscape of the castle grounds.

Up ahead, Luna's breaths came out in pants of laughter as she saw her sister approach. Celestia playfully nipped at Luna's tail, emitting a terrified shriek from the younger alicorn. Then with a powerful thrust from her back legs, she pounced on the filly. The two sisters laughed breathlessly, grass tangling in their manes as they rolled around in the flower beds, with Celestia still clutching Luna firmly in her hooves.

"Give up?" Celestia asked while tickling Luna's sides.

"Haha, n-no!" Luna cried as she flailed in her sister's grasp. "Let me go, Tia!"

"Not until you surrender," came the sing-song reply.

"Never!" Luna cried defiantly.

Celestia smirked. "Oh well…" Then she discreetly tapped a button half-concealed in the dirt, which caused all the flowers to squirt water at Luna.

The elder sister smiled as she watched Luna laugh until she was breathless. "That was fun, Tia!" she exclaimed once the water stopped, leaving her mane sopping wet but her fun far from dampened. "Did Discord show you that one?"

"Maaaybe," she teased. "But if you think that's a good prank, just wait until the Organ to the Outside is done. With what I have planned, the guards will never want to see another whipped cream pie again once I'm through with them."

"Can I help?" Luna begged, giving Celestia a heartbreakingly cute puppy dog face.

"Of course you can, little sis," Celestia said before she mischievously added, "After you surrender, that is. Unless you want another round of tickle attacking?"

"What? No way! You'll have to threaten me with a dozen rattlesnakes – well, nice ones anyway – and I still won't… sister?"

The sun princess had loosened her grip and was looking at a distant figure approaching. Quickly, she shot Luna with a ray of pure sunlight that left her dry but slightly smoking at the ears. Then she stood up and brushed the grass out of her mane, with Luna following suit a second later. Celestia had just enough time to hastily readjust her golden diadem before Commander Hurricane came into full view.

Celestia gulped as he glanced briefly at the crushed flowerbed, though he made no comment. "Lady Celestia, Lady Luna," he greeted simply, inclining his head to each in turn.

"Commander Hurricane," Celestia returned in kind. "Is it time?"

The pegasus nodded. His eyes were grey and hardened like a coming storm. "The 3rd Division will escort you to the northern border, where our standing army will convene with you. I trust you can take it from there?"

"Indeed," Celestia replied, resolve pulling her mouth into a thin line.

At her words, a platoon of twenty or so guards marched forward and formed a nigh impenetrable square around the two soon-to-be princesses. Then in one united movement, with Commander Hurricane leading at the helm, they began walking towards the front of castle, where a chariot awaited them.

Celestia walked with a confident yet airy skips that gave her the appearance of hovering above the ground. Her head just peeking above the sea of golden helmets, she raised her head high in what could have been regality but was actually just her straining to see her beloved sun. She kept her eyes straight ahead, never wavering except to occasionally glance at her escorts' faces, identical in their grim stoicism.

Right, warface, she told herself, wiping away her smile. Her eyes narrowed into slits of burning steel, accentuated by furrowed eyebrows that cast a shadow of fearsome darkness upon her face. Her nose crinkled as if detecting a disgusting odor, and she gritted her teeth in a hideous scowl. Her very gaze struck terror into the hearts of mortal ponies crawling under her hooves. She was beautiful and terrible, a warrior princess, a goddess of war who would raze her foes to the ground…

"Tia, are you alright?" Luna asked, placing a hoof on her shoulder. "You look like you're constipated."

What?! I am the terror of the sun! "Huh? Oh, yes, I'm fine," she answered, her sugary-sweet smile just barely covering up the irked expression underneath.

Though to be honest, the redness of her cheeks wasn't helping either.

After quickly going through a cycle of ridiculous and probably painful facial contortions, she settled for her regular Day Court expression, cold and appraising and more than a little bored. It wasn't the face of nightmares, but Luna didn't laugh, so she supposed it would have to do.

Actually, she's been quiet for a while. Celestia looked to the side at Luna, who looked so sick she might have actually been constipated. Every muscle in her body was tense, and she walked like a stiff tin soldier. She looked straight ahead at the golden plates of armor blocking her view, but her eyes rattled inside their sockets in silent fear.

"Hey, you," Celestia greeted brightly as she poked her playfully in the side. "What's going on, Lu?"

Luna looked up at her shining big sister with wide, sad eyes. Then she shrugged her shoulders. "Nothing, just thinking. I suppose I'm nervous, honestly," she admitted.

"There's no reason to be nervous," Celestia assured her. "It's going to be one unicorn versus two alicorns. Pretty easy to place bets, isn't it?"

"I know. It's just that… we were educated on war, Celestia. You know that nothing is for certain."

"I'm sure it will be fine, precisely because of that knowledge," Celestia reasoned. "Good ponies always win in the end, remember? We're destined to win. We've been gifted with the ability to end a war before it becomes too brutal. All it takes is us looking tough and blasting the Shadow King with a few spells, and his dark curse will be eradicated. Then we can go home knowing we've won a new Equestrian territory, a new land where the glory of Order can thrive."

"Aw, cheer up, Lulu," Celestia added when her sister remained silent. "Discord won't want to play with a sourpuss like you when we come home. You'll have to stay in the castle and do all the boring paperwork by yourself."

"Hey, no fair!" Luna protested, glaring at Celestia with the most adorable pout.

Celestia's laughter rang out like a bird's song. By this point, they had reached the front of the castle, and the two alicorns were standing off to the side while their entourage readied the chariot. Taking advantage of their all too brief privacy, Celestia wrapped Luna in a tight embrace. "Have courage, little sister," she whispered. "Trust in Elysium. Trust in me."

With matching smiles on their faces, the two sisters boarded the chariot. Commander Hurricane and another soldier, however, bore less than positive expressions.

"So, that's what they believe, is it?" the commander wondered. "Even if we do win, do you believe it will come without any sacrifice?"

"Perhaps we gave them too much credit," a buttercup yellow pegasus suggested worriedly. "Despite their amazing power, they are still children."

"Perhaps," he conceded. "We will never know precisely. Not that it matters though. We can't go back now."

"Should we discuss this with them?"

The commander shook his head. "No, Private. They won't understand. They're like so many rookie soldiers who eagerly line up in front of the registration office. Their hearts are filled with things like honor, duty, and serving the country, without understanding what any of it entails. They know there will be death and pain, but then idealism takes over. They are the heroes of their own story. In their minds, they cannot suffer. No, it's not something you can just lecture about. They'll see it for themselves when we arrive. Then they'll understand. There's no such thing as a true victory in war."

"Still, a little warning would prepare them, would it not?"

Commander Hurricane closed his eyes, shutting out the sun's light. "But I'm never prepared, Pansy. I can break ponies' bones, but I can't break their hearts. I'm too softhearted for that."

Pansy smiled. "Well, then there's hope for them yet then. Never forget that. There's always hope."
"Of course," he said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "There's always hope."

Then they took to the sky and flew to war.


War.

It changed things. It snuffed villages out of existence, filled the skies with swirling blackness, blew out the lights in ponies' eyes like candles. So dark. So constant.

It destroyed things. It razed crops to the ground, shattered crystal walls with spears, pushed buildings into flames. So unfeeling. So evil.

It messed with fate. It made the crystal filly whimper beneath an iron chain, let the glory-seeking pegasus soldier fly into a berserker rage that would haunt his dreams for years, sent the valiant one right next to him tumbling into a blade's sweet embrace. So arbitrary. So chaotic.

How strange that none of those horrors had touched the land back home. Ponies still played in the fields, towns remained whole and well, and the sun gave the earth life from her clear blue sky.

It felt eerie. And Celestia didn't like it.

She and Luna stood together as they surveyed the castle grounds with hollow eyes. It felt like being in a foreign land, disorienting and unnatural. They looked out at the lush green grass and brightly colored flowers and saw only a wasteland, ashes smoldering beneath their hooves.

Luna whimpered, cringing away from a passing butterfly, and the two sisters pressed closer together. Their fur stood on end, though it did little to rid the clamminess of their skin blanched white.

A strange feeling tugged at Celestia, a feeling of them being the only two ponies left on the earth, yet of her being all alone. The air around her still rang with eight-month-old laughter, now accompanied by the gut-wrenching bitterness associated with remembering a pony's voice after they died.

A cloud passed away, letting the sun's rays warm their skin. Celestia shuddered.

Neither one felt like playing anymore.

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