• Published 27th May 2015
  • 3,839 Views, 159 Comments

The Unraveled Thread - Bender Alpha



||ON HIATUS|| The Stillness is coming. It's up to the heroes of Equestria to defend their home, with perhaps a little help from an unwitting refugee.

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CHAPTER 01 - An Unexpected Hangover

Sam woke up to a splitting headache, a churning stomach, and the cold damp of morning dew soaking through his clothes. The tickling sensation on the back of his neck and arms confirmed he was lying on grass, and he speculated it was around noon from the light stabbing at his retinas through his eyelids. Waking up in this state may have been a common occurrence for some people, but Sam was not one of them. Sam never got drunk.

That’s not to say he never tried of course. Sam's inability to become inebriated was often a point of contention among his friends. Some blamed his resilience on the food he ate when they went out drinking. Others blamed his size. The smart ones blamed both, for when a young man with a frame as large as his practices eating and drinking water with his spirits, you get a very effective alcohol sponge. But the one time his friends tried to overwhelm the food with sheer alcoholic volume, just to see how inebriated he could become, the only changes they noticed were a heightened enthusiasm and lowered inhibitions. He didn’t even have the decency to stumble a little bit. The next morning, when his groggy friends came to, nursing their throbbing heads, Sam was already up, humming 'What Do You Do with A Drunken Sailor' while cooking up some eggs and bacon for everyone. His friends stopped trying to go shot-for-shot with him after that.

Therefore, it would be a massive understatement to say Sam was surprised to wake up to the mother of all hangovers. At first he thought he might be dying, but he abandoned that idea as his muddled brain slowly revealed a gap in his memory where the previous night should have been. Stories of his friends’ drinking faux pas brought to mind the symptoms of a hangover, and he was forced to conclude the culprit was most likely alcohol. Unfortunately, a couple of wires had gotten crossed somewhere in his brain, and his next questions became mashed together.

Where the hell happened last night?

After a minute of untangling the knotted thoughts, Sam decided to try to reason out the one least likely to cause him physical pain first. He pieced together the events of the night before, searching for clues as to what could have led him to his current predicament.

It had been a fairly average Saturday night. Apart from the high demand typical of a Saturday night, his pizza delivery job had been uneventful. There were a few disgruntled customers, but that was nothing unusual, and he hadn’t been offered anything but money. He remembered leaving the store, a fistful of dollars in one hand and his water bottle in the other. He got in the car, turned the key in the ignition, and then headed down the hill towards home.

Then Sam remembered the stoplight.

At the large intersection halfway between the pizzeria and his house, he sat waiting for the light to turn green. It seemed like the light was taking even longer than usual to change. Then, he looked up at the street lights to his left. Suddenly, everything in his view had taken on a red tint. The distant cars seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace, even though there was hardly any traffic. He had blinked and shaken his head, as if to clear it of whatever was gumming up his cognitive processes.

But that hadn’t helped. If anything, the world to his left seemed darker than before. When he looked right, everything seemed even bluer and brighter. Rubbing his eyes didn’t change anything either. A sudden splitting headache and world-shaking dizziness had sent him reeling, only compounded by the odd feeling that he was being stretched sideways. His head spun. The world seemed to be falling apart before his very eyes. Then, he recalled a black spot appearing on the horizon to his left. It grew until it was about the size of a baseball in his vision. Finally, a blinding pale green light enveloped his sight. He must have passed out, because he couldn’t remember anything after that.

Only a few things in his life were at all reminiscent of this kind of fever dream, and all of them were from his more ‘adventurous’ high school days. The ones he spent skipping the after-lunch period to go hang out with his ‘cool’ friends and hotbox in their car.

Was I drugged? If so, it was definitely something stronger than weed. Acid, maybe? Or pizza laced with shrooms? No, the pizza is unlikely, since most of the other employees would have been affected, too. Did someone spike my water? And who would hate me enough go to such lengths?

Try as he might, Sam could think of no one with such a serious grudge against him. He made it a point in his life to make as few enemies as he possibly could. Staying on people’s good sides was always much simpler in the long term, with less drama directed at him. Let them do as they will and they would do less to him. Unfortunately, it seemed his strategy hadn’t worked.

Ugh, this is a nightmare.

Without more information, he was unable to take his train of thought any further. Reluctantly, he admitted it was time to get up and take stock of his situation. With all the grace of a dying hippo, he pushed himself into a sitting position, eyes screwed shut against the bright light that stabbed at his brains even through his eyelids. Luckily, he had enough fortitude not to immediately keel over and heave his guts out. Then, panting after the massive effort, some foolish part of his mind decided that it was the right moment to open his eyes.

Immediately, the sunlight sent a wave of fresh agony searing through his optic nerves and into his brain. With a thoroughly undignified shriek, Sam fell back against the ground, rattling his already pounding head. Without any sort of warning, his mouth was suddenly filled to capacity with vomit. He barely managed to avoid wearing last night’s dinner by rolling onto his side. Without further consultation, his stomach disgorged, filling his mouth and nose with the caustic sensations of stomach acid.

The burning shame and ache of violent forfeiture did nothing to improve Sam’s mood. He lay on his side, gasping for breath, unable to work up the strength to try moving again. The occasional dry-heave wrenched at his stomach muscles, although nothing remained to be relinquished. Eventually, exhaustion took hold once more, and he slipped back into darkness.

***

When Sam re-awoke some hours later to the bright glow of early evening, the pounding in his skull had receded to a dull throb. He pushed himself up on shaking limbs and cautiously cracked one eye open. To his relief, he found he was able to squint against the dimmer evening light with only a slight pang of complaint from the grey mush between his ears. As he blinked owlishly at his surroundings, he realized the blurriness of his vision wasn’t just a product of his hangover.

He reached up to feel the bridge of his nose, and when he didn’t find the steel nose piece of his glasses, a feeble groan escaped his throat. Immediately, his mind was flooded with worst case scenarios. He clutched blindly at the ground around him, but his search was brought to a screeching halt when his hand squelched in something cold and soupy. He recoiled in disgust, fervently wiping his hand off on the grass.

I hope to god they’re not in there, Sam prayed, turning to stare at the pool of vomit.

It had cooled in the hours of his unconsciousness, so the smell no longer radiated as it would have were the expulsion fresh. Still, as he got on his hands and knees to look for signs of his glasses, the odor of his stomach’s previous contents fouled his nostrils, bringing tears to his eyes and evoking the sickening recollection of the first time he awoke in this torturous field.

After several agonizing minutes of straining his eyes and tentatively prodding the protruding blades of grass to test for solidity, he realized he would have to dig deeper and comb through the puddle to be certain. Struggling not to gag, he hesitated just above the surface before plunging his fingers into the disgusting mire. But after quickly combing the puddle, he found no trace of his glasses.

Sam’s heart sank. He wiped his hand off for the second time, trying to get the feeling of cold vomit out of his mind. Defeated, he sat back heavily, only for the sound of crunching glass to send the chill of ice water through his gut. Slowly, reluctantly, he sat back up, rolling to the side to get a better look at what he just sat on. Predictably, his glasses sat there, right lens cracked right down the center.

Great. Just fucking great. As if I didn’t already have enough to worry about.

Sam begrudgingly shoved the broken glasses into place, and surveyed the scenery somewhat clearly for the first time.

It was a clearing in a forest, with no visible trail leading into it. Trees surrounded him on all sides, and - from his approximation of where the setting sun should be - he determined that the massive mountain taking up a quarter of the horizon lay to the north. Apart from that, there were no real breaks in the scenery.

Until Sam turned south.

“But… how?”

Sam stared in dumbfounded awe. Wedged in the split of a massive maple tree was his car. The forked trunk had folded the already beat-up silver ’89 Nissan Sentra almost in half, the two arms of the tree crushing the automobile as if it were made of paper. There were no tracks, no mounds of dirt, no rocks, no nearby cliffs, nothing he could see that would give an old four-door sedan the kind of lift needed to land it in a tree. But the broken branches clearly pointed to an aerial approach.

“Well, I guess I’m not driving out of here,” he mumbled to the empty clearing. Numbly, he began to approach the wreckage. As he got closer, the full extent of the damage began to sink in.

The car was totaled. His heart ached at the sight. She may have been a needy hunk of junk, and he may have only had her for three years, but she had carried him through countless trials. She bore the testament of their hardships proudly, and he even found the permanently wall-eyed quality of her headlights – brought about by a pair of unfortunate accidents – strangely endearing. He knew her quirks: her rough idle, her erratic alternator, her propensity to guzzle oil. She had grown on him, and now she sat crippled in a tree, never to rev her engine again. Sam sat down heavily, overwhelmed by the recent drastic changes in his life.

Laughing weakly, Sam tried to brush away the gathering tears. Honestly, anthropomorphizing a car was silly. Nevertheless, the sense of loss still weighed heavy on his mind. He swallowed at the lump in his throat and tried to push the grief down. This new loss, combined with the confusion of waking up in a strange place with no idea how he arrived there… It was too much to take in all at once. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to sort out his emotions. Night was rapidly descending on the forest. There would be time to mourn later; for now, he needed to figure out his first move.

With a heavy sigh, Sam picked himself back up. But then, as he picked his way through the debris, something else about the scene caught his attention, temporarily overwriting his sorrow with confusion. As he drew nearer to the base of the tree, he found that, along with the debris from the car, the ground was littered with hard, black chunks of rock of varying sizes. Surrendering to his curiosity, he picked up a piece.

Asphalt?

The pulverized composite completely obscured the ground around the base of the tree. He looked back up at his car. Upon closer inspection, he found pieces of asphalt wedged in the crooks of the branches and dusting the leaves. He froze up, brain processing a-mile-a-minute to try and make sense of what he was seeing. It seemed as though something had just reached down and scooped up his car, taking a chunk of the road with it.

Was I… abducted?

Sam chuckled half-heartedly at the absurd notion, but the more he thought about it, the more it fit. For every piece of the puzzle he picked up, he further realized he was missing vast swaths of the picture. Snapping out of his stupor, he pushed the thought aside. Even if he couldn’t conceive of how he got there, he needed to figure out where he was, and if he could call for help.

Out came his smartphone – that wonderful, multi-purpose marvel of technology – and he pressed the button to power it on, eager to bring up the map application.

No bars.

Figures. Piece of crap.

He was about to shove the phone back into his pocket when a thought struck him.

I may not be able to call for help, but I doubt anyone would believe my story without some evidence.

Instead, Sam accessed the smartphone’s camera and began to take pictures of the – for lack of a better term – crash site. He documented the strange scene from every angle, making certain to take close-ups of the asphalt rubble and scraped off sections of bark, in addition to trying to capture the apparent angle of entry. He even took a video.

Damned if I’m going to be accused of doctoring photos.

They could also accuse you of doctoring the video, you know.

Shut up. Modifying a video to look like this would take more resources than I have available.

Just saying, expect them not to believe you.

Of course they won’t believe me, at first. That’s why I don’t tell them I was abducted. I’ll just say I don’t know what happened and let them fill in the blanks. Besides, if they have any better explanations, I’d be glad to hear them. Being abducted by aliens? It’s ridiculous!

Thankfully, that thought seemed to quell his doubts. After taking several continuous minutes of footage, Sam remembered something else he should check. He exited the camera function, bringing up the main menu and its contents; specifically, the date and time display.

6:39 PM, Tuesday.

Sam’s heart skipped a beat.

I’ve been out for almost three days?! Holy SHIT! Mom must be worried sick!

Of course, with no cell reception, there was no way to tell if she’d called. But it was a safe bet that there would be hell to pay when he got home.

Well, nothing for it. I’m gonna have to hike out of here. And if I’m going to hike, I need my emergency supplies.

Looking up at his car, Sam at least felt grateful that she had been thoughtful enough to pop her trunk open as she crashed into the tree. The maple had enough low, strong branches for him to begin his ascent without outside assistance. He removed his button-up short sleeve shirt, leaving the underlying t-shirt for better maneuverability. After a couple minutes of struggle and a few minor heart attacks at the creaks and groans of his car settling, Sam sat on the branch just above the rear end of his poor, mangled car, peering into the trunk.

Everything was heaped in a jumbled pile, of course. One of the two bags he kept his emergency supplies in had burst open, scattering flashlights, flares, and other emergency gear amongst the empty oil bottles and worn tire chains. Thankfully, the one that held the energy bars, water pouches, and a few other survival essentials had remained intact. He plucked that out, mentally thanking his grandfather for leaving the kits when he sold Sam the car, and dropped it to the ground.

The rest of his supplies, he had to sort through. He gathered up all the loose flares and the least beat-up flashlight, and then tossed them onto the closest, softest-looking patch of grass he could see. These were followed by a tied off loop of rope and an old, slightly rusty hatchet-hammer-pry bar multitool. Then, Sam began tossing loose items out of the car, away from his pile of survival gear. The less that was in his way, the better. After several aggravating minutes of sifting through refuse, he caught a glint of the item he was looking for. A small, watertight, metal container about the size of a pill bottle. He quickly snatched it up before it could become buried again, and unscrewed the cap. The container was still filled to the brim with stormproof matches.

He kissed the little lifesaving container and stuffed it into the front pocket of his jeans. With that, he had gathered all the survival gear in the trunk. Now, he had to get into the cabin. There wasn’t much in the way of survival gear in there, of course; perhaps the folding knife in his glove compartment. But damned if he was going to leave his leather courier bag behind. It was hand-made just for him by his other grandfather on his father’s side, just before he passed away, and Sam wasn’t about to let it out of his sight.

Sam slowly clambered over the deformed hood towards the passenger side, the only side that offered an unobstructed view of the interior. Each creak and groan caused an explosion of anxiety to bloom just below his sternum. Carefully, he lowered himself into position on a pair of branches just behind the passenger door. Peering into the darkened interior, he spotted his bag lying in the footwell behind the driver’s seat, out of arm’s reach. The windows had shattered on impact, crumbling into little pieces of safety glass, so he had no trouble unlocking the door. But no matter how hard he pulled and yanked on the handle, the door wouldn’t budge. He would have to climb in to grab it.

Cautiously, Sam put an arm into the car, putting weight on it only once he was sure he wouldn’t fall. He inched his way inside, trying to make as little contact with the shattered window as possible. When he got his torso completely over the threshold, he reached for the bag. He could barely get the first section of his middle finger around the strap. He missed on the first try, and the second fared no better. On the third, he stretched as far as he could stand, and finally hooked a finger around the strap. With a pull, he snatched the belt and pull the bag out of the foot well.

Just then, the car gave a sickening lurch. Sam snatched up the bag’s handle and did the only thing he thought appropriate. He shoved away from the car seat, launching himself out the window and sending himself plummeting to the ground. He landed heavily on his back, knocking the air out of his lungs in a sharp wheeze. But a grinding noise above him snapped him out of his daze. He glanced up, expecting to see the car sliding out of the tree towards him. Instead he saw it sinking deeper into the crook of the tree, folding almost completely in half.

Sam continued to stare at the car for a few minutes after it had finally settled. Only when he was able to convince himself that it wouldn’t fall did he let go of his breath. He flopped back into the grass, trying to calm his pounding heart.

Jesus, I was almost in that!

But he wasn’t, and he still had to face the trek back to civilization. Riding the tail end of his adrenaline surge, he scrambled to his feet, hoisting the courier bag up with him. He jogged over to his pile of supplies and stuffed it all inside. He considered leaving his laptop behind to lighten the load a bit, but immediately discarded the thought. All his life's work was on there, after all. Besides, it wasn't all that heavy.

Glancing up at the darkening skies, he realized he wouldn’t make it very far in the little amount of light left, but resolved at least to get under the cover of the trees. Washington skies rarely stayed clear for long, after all. He did wish he had thought to put a star chart in with his emergency supplies, but there was no use bemoaning his lack of forethought. He knew where west lay, and that would get him to a road at the very least.

Shifting the strap to the shoulder opposite the bag, he set off towards the edge of the clearing, wondering how he would explain this unexcused absence to his boss, let alone his family.


Celestia relaxed against the pile of cushions in her study, relishing a cup of freshly brewed tea. She grinned, and took a bite out of another self-congratulatory cookie. Day Court had gone swimmingly that day, if she did say so herself. In fact, court had been surprisingly easy for the past few days, in the wake of Twilight’s coronation. Whatever conflicts arose had been easily solved simply by having an outside perspective of the situation.

Even her usual mountain of proposals had been reduced to a single stack. It seemed that her little pep-talk had successfully inspired her secretaries to trust more in their own intuition on which matters were important enough to bring before the Princesses. She had finished in record time, and had even gotten the chance to peruse some of her favorite student’s old letters. Now the evening light shone in from the small balcony, reminding her that, in a few short hours, she and Luna would be casting the spells to keep the celestial cycle going.

Perhaps I should share my good cheer and surprise Luna with an ice cream and cookie sandwich, she mused. But before she could call for a servant to bring her ice cream, there was a knock at her door. A small worry tugged at her mood when she noticed the knock seemed to echo from unusually high up on the door, but she easily dismissed the baseless concern.

“Come in!” She called. Perhaps it’s simply a new servant with strange habits.

She was sorely mistaken.

The door swung gently open to reveal the one being she least expected.

“Good evening, Princess,” Discord greeted humorlessly, his mouth set in an extremely uncharacteristic grimace. The deadly solemn gaze leveled at her immediately set her mind ablaze with the clamor of warning bells. It had been more than a thousand years since she’d seen this look on his face. She tried to retain a calm countenance, not wanting to betray her alarm.

“Discord! What a pleasant surprise,” she lied, attempting to pacify whatever dark thoughts he might be entertaining. “I hadn’t expected you to be one to knock first.”

Discord didn’t even smirk at the light ribbing.

“That, Celestia, is because, just this once, I need you to take me seriously.”

The corners of Celestia’s mouth fell ever so slightly.

“Very well, Discord. Please, have a seat,” she offered cautiously, pulling out her writing desk’s chair for him, “and we can discuss whatever’s bothering you.”

When he walked over and rather ceremoniously took a seat in her chair, her anxiety ebbed. It seems this wasn’t a confrontation, or he would had simply remained where he was. But if he was concerned enough to forgo entertaining his impish or melodramatic tendencies… She shuddered to think of the implications. Discord steepled his mismatched claws.

“Before I begin, Celestia, I need to know: did you feel anything… unusual, sometime around noon today?”

Celestia frowned. There was a fleeting moment during lunch when she felt a wave of dizzying nausea wash over her, but she hadn’t been able to determine the source. At the time, she had thought it might have been an undercooked spinach puff. She wondered if he already knew.

“Yes, I believe I did. Why, did you experience something as well?” At this, Discord sighed heavily, as though he had been hoping she would say no.

“A particularly nasty bout of nausea the likes of which I haven’t felt in many, many centuries. I wouldn’t be surprised if Twilight, Luna and Cadence felt something similar.” A slight smirk played across his face. “I’d also be willing to bet it gave Cadence quite a shock, although I hear you’re supposed to get sick first thing in the morning.”

“What are you-” The implication clicked in her mind and she felt heat spread over her cheeks. She telekinetically hurled a pillow at his face, which he promptly dodged by withdrawing his head into his neck, giving him the appearance of a beheaded chicken.

“I thought this was supposed to be a serious conversation,” she huffed as his head popped back out.

“Sorry, sorry,” he backpedalled, trying to stifle his childish giggling, “I couldn’t resist. Phew, okay. Alright. Serious talk. ” He smacked his cheeks, as if trying to slap the silliness out.

Celestia sighed exasperatedly. “So, if my thinking is correct, you’ve figured out the source of that strange momentary illness we experienced earlier today?”

All traces of mirth immediately fell from Discord’s face. As his ears fell flat, so too did his gaze fall to his feet. He took a deep breath.

“Celestia, something has pierced the Veil.”

What little color her coat had drained from Celestia's face, turning her visage ghostly. She felt a chill of dread that she hadn’t felt in many ages crawling up her spine.

“I’m sorry, Discord, I seem to have misheard you. It sounded like you said-”

“Something has pierced the Veil,” he reaffirmed.

“But… but that… can’t be. The aftereffects would have been much stronger than a brief fit of nausea. Even the average unicorn would have been able to feel the disruption of magic.”

“True,” he began, rising from his seat to pace anxiously, “only if we assume we’re dealing with a being unfamiliar with the nature of magic, or one unconcerned with subtlety. But I know what I felt and I know you recognize it, too. Whoever forced their way past the barrier is powerful; powerful enough to open only the smallest of holes and shut it behind themselves instantly. They wouldn’t have been able to suppress the initial shockwave, but they’ve been able to muffle everything else.” Discord stopped pacing to throw a distant glare out the open door to the balcony.

Celestia’s mind churned with unanswered questions. Who was this intruder? How did they manage to break through the Veil – the barrier between Equus and the Aether – without alerting the whole kingdom? And what, exactly, did they want?

“Have you been able to pinpoint their location?”

Discord grumbled barely loud enough for her to hear.

“Discord!” Celestia shouted.

“No, alright?! Whoever this is, they’ve been able to frustrate me at every turn. They disrupted the initial shockwave by setting off magical surges immediately after entry. I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly where the intruder entered…” Celestia slumped in defeat, before Discord continued, “However, I have been able to narrow it down.”

Celestia perked back up. “Really? Where?”

Discord gave a wry smirk. “I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

Even Celestia groaned, putting her face in her hoof. “What is it about the Everfree that attracts so much trouble?”

“Perhaps it’s simply because that forest is one of the few places in this land not constantly micromanaged by your devoted subjects.”

Celestia switched to massaging her temples. Sometimes she honestly considered razing the untamed wilderness just to be done with it, but her practicality always won out. Destroying that much forest would be costly and a major disruption of the ecosystem. The ponies of Ponyville had managed to live in tenuous harmony with the denizens of the Everfree for almost one hundred years and she had no doubt they would continue to do so for the foreseeable future, especially with the assistance Twilight and her friends. But this… This was beyond her student’s grasp. As much as she valued giving Twilight challenges to overcome, to help her grow as a mare and to solidify her ties to her friends, she always felt uneasy about sending Twilight into danger, no matter the necessity. She could not ask Twilight to handle this; the danger was simply too great.

“Well then, it seems I have a job to do.”

“So it would seem. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that this mission might take a turn for the deadly, even for you.”

“Which is precisely why I must handle this myself.”

“And what of Luna?”

Celestia hesitated. “I… I need her here. If something should happen to me-”

“I take umbrage with that attitude,” a familiar voice scolded from the doorway.

“Luna!”

In the door to Celestia’s study stood her younger sister, a defiant pout aimed at her sibling. Her coat and her mane – the ethereal starry banner of the Princess of the Night – somehow seemed disheveled, as though she had just woken up. She hadn’t even donned her regalia. Luna stalked into the room, levelling a hurt glare at the conspirators. Celestia shifted uncomfortably, while Discord simply held back an amused grin.

“And what, pray tell, is so important that you feel the need to leave me behind, ‘just in case?’”

“Luna, please, this is a very serious matter! Something has broken through the Veil. I must find out what it is, and if you were to come with me-”

“I would be able to watch your back? Be reasonable, Celestia! If you go by yourself, there is a very real possibility that you could be seriously hurt. Let me come with you. Together, we stand a much greater chance of triumphing.”

“Luna, somepony has to stay and watch over the kingdom. If we both vanish without an explanation, our absence will frighten the citizens. You know how skittish they can be. One of us needs to stay behind, and I’m not comfortable asking you to take this on yourself.”

“Hypocrite! How do you think I feel? Besides, what makes you so much more qualified to take this task on than I?” Luna accused, stalking towards Celestia.

“Because I’m your big sister!” Celestia asserted, tone rising with her distress. “I’m supposed to look out for you.”

But Luna stood her ground, righteous indignation fueling her defiance. They sat motionless, attempting to stare each other down, neither sister willing to allow the other to put herself in danger. Their staring contest was interrupted, however, when Discord cleared his throat.

“Well ladies, this was all very touching, but I believe I may have a solution.”

Celestia and Luna briefly exchanged hesitant glances, before Celestia responded. “Very well, what do you have in mind?”

“Simple. I will go and scout out the situation, and then drop you a line as soon as I find out what came through. Then both of you can keep on eye on your precious ponies.”

“Are you sure? You’ll be facing as much danger as we would.”

“Oh please,” Discord scoffed, “how long has it been since either of you has seen any action?” Immediately, he began snickering at his own double entendre. The princesses' gazes remained stoic, though their flushed cheeks betrayed their embarrassment. After a moment Discord cleared his throat.

“Anyway, I can certainly handle myself,” he boasted, falling back on an invisible floating cushion. “And, unlike you, I’ve had occasion to practice my more… action-oriented skills, in the last millennia.” Discord punctuated his claim by running a sharpened talon along the stone wall.

Celestia and Luna looked to each other, engaging in the wordless communication of siblings. Both were hesitant to send Discord, but he had proven to be an ally, even if he could be a bit of a troublemaker. Plus, he had been the one to bring this to their attention. He could have just as easily left Equestria to its fate, but instead chose to forewarn them. Luna gave Celestia a barely perceptible nod, and they turned back to him.

“Very well, Discord. If you believe you can handle reconnaissance, we’ll trust you,” Celestia conceded.

“Yes!" Discord celebrated. "Watch your back, pesky intruder. You’re about to learn the hard way not to try and slide one by me. Heheheh…” He grinned evilly, seemingly forgetting who was in the room.

“Discord!”

Discord flinched at the Princesses’ admonishment. He turned back to them with what he hoped was an appropriately apologetic expression.

“I really hope that was some kind of joke,” Celestia scolded, looking thoroughly unamused.

“Eheh, of course, Princess.”

“You do realize the gravity of the situation, do you not?” Luna added, glaring pointedly at him. The apologetic grin dropped from his face, leaving behind a surprisingly earnest expression of concern.

“Believe me, Luna, I do. For all my tomfoolery, I really want to be sure this threat is neutralized, and I will do so by any means necessary.”

He received only silence as an answer. Celestia cleared her throat, trying to dispel the discomforting atmosphere that had quite suddenly descended over them. “Discord, let’s not use violence as a first resort. I realize that whoever or whatever pierced the Veil is likely very dangerous, but I’d like to try to make peaceful contact if possible.”

“Ah yes, I’m sure that will turn out swimmingly,” Discord drawled mockingly as he was suddenly circling the Princesses, backstroking through the carpet as easily as he would water.

“I’m not saying we’ll go in unprepared to defend ourselves, but if this entity can be reasoned with, I would like to at least give it the chance to explain itself.”

“Very well,” Discord conceded, before popping back out of the carpet with a flash of light, “but know I will respond with extreme prejudice at the first sign of hostility.”

Celestia nodded. “I would expect no less.”

She met his gaze, waiting as he mulled over the details. After several minutes of contemplation, he let out a long-suffering sigh.

“Fine, we’ll do it your way. I’ll call for you as soon as I find the source of the intrusion. I’ll even Pinkie Promise to wait for you to make introductions.” He went through the motions of the routine, sans rhyme, then began heading for the open balcony door. He made it as far as the threshold before Celestia overcame her hesitation.

“Discord,” she called after him, and he looked back over his shoulder.

“Yes?”

“Be careful.”

For a fraction of a second Discord seemed surprised by her sincerity, before his signature smug grin return full force.

“Of course, Princess,” he practically purred, bowing theatrically. Then, with the comical sound of violent exhalation, he vanished, leaving behind a puff of smoke and the faint smell of cinnamon. As the seconds became minutes, neither Princess stirred, gazing out at the spot Discord previously filled, now home only to the darkening colors of the growing dusk. Eventually, Luna broke the silence.

“I hope we made the right decision.”

“As do I, Luna.”

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