• Published 24th Jan 2016
  • 2,036 Views, 104 Comments

If You Weren't Afraid - MyHobby



Discord's illness is tearing him apart. He must join Fluttershy and two young stowaways on a journey to his birthplace in order to find the cure.

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A Roundabout Form of Apology

Fillydelphia rolled into view over the next hill. Pumpkin Cake’s legs ached like crazy. She wanted more than anything to just lie down in a bathtub and soak for forever. Just to get the top layer of dirt off. Something to eat besides grass would have been a close second. She looked up at her draconequine traveling companion, and frowned at the worry lines etched into his scraggly face.

“Getting mighty used to pain,” he muttered. “Had my fill. Ready for it to end.”

“Welcome to life, enjoy your stay.” Pumpkin sucked on her lip, peering out across the outskirts of town. Small, one-room houses stood alongside barns and silos, while ranch-style homes could be seen just up the dirt road. In the distance, a built-up city was just peering over the horizon, a few skyscrapers short of being as impressive as Manehattan. The checkerboard pattern of the farms revealed a steadfast pattern to the crops being grown, and the food being produced.

Discord sat down at the top of the little hill, resting his chin in his hands. “So where do we start? Do we just wait for the princess to get here?”

“I’m not waiting around.” Pumpkin trotted onto the main road, pointing with her horn. “Let’s ask around. People will know her, right?”

“I was her best friends or something, and heck if I know her.” Discord threw his hands up and slouched towards the path. “Lead the way, Little Miss Cake. I am at your beck and call.”

“You realize you’re taking orders from a ten-year-old?”

“Could be worse,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “I could be taking orders from Celestia.”

A short ways down the road, a yellow-red maned mare trotted beside her daughter, a saddlebag jingling at her side. Pumpkin could see pencils and paper bulging from the top. “Excuse me! Ma’am! Can you help us find somepony?”

The mare made a funny gargling noise when she caught sight of Discord. She pushed her daughter behind her back with a hoof. “Stay behind me, Stardust.”

“But Momma!”

“Shh!” The mare swallowed hard and tried to share a friendly grin, which had all the joviality of a pack of rockodiles. “Who… who can I help you nice beings find? Mister… Discord, I presume?”

“Puddin’ and tame, one and the same.” He cracked his knuckles and bowed at the waist. Something in his back popped. He held that pose for a long moment, before he let out a little whimper. “Help.”

Pumpkin Cake narrowed an eye as she looked over his back. She picked out one spot in particular and gave it a whack. He jolted upright, his jaw hinging out of alignment.

Thank you,” he said. “Truthfully, we two are seeking out a local troublemaker, a source of malcontent, as it were. One Adagio Dazzle. Is she still a resident of these parts?”

The wind whistled through the gap in Stardust’s teeth as she laughed. “He talks funny, Momma.”

“Adaj—” The mare’s ears drooped as a tremendous sigh wheezed from her chest. “She’s not in trouble again, is she?”

“No, she’s supposed to help us.” Pumpkin Cake stepped forward, sucking her lips. “Please tell us where she is.”

The mare glanced between Pumpkin and Discord, her ears twitching. She picked up a stick to draw a map in the dirt. “She lives in a little house at the edge of the field. She’s home right now, I think.” She snapped the twig and let the branches tumble in a bubble of magic. “You’re sure she isn’t in trouble?”

“No more trouble than we are,” Pumpkin mumbled. “Thank you.”

Pumpkin and Discord carried on down the road. Pumpkin tilted her ear back to catch the little filly speaking. “Momma, why didn’t Discord do any magic tricks?”

“Magic tricks,” Discord said. “Now there’s a funny way to put what I do.”

“I dunno.” Pumpkin scratched her neck, flicking a tangled stone into the ditch. “It kinda sums it up. I mean, they’re pretty fun to watch, and you never hurt anybody, and it’s all just silly.” She shrugged. “It was, at least.”

“Ah, but Chaos Magic has the most destructive potential out of all the magic types.” He tapped his chin. “But really only if you think about it. It tends to be designed to break things. To tear them down. And when I’m not tearing things down, it tears me—” He waved his hands, cutting off his own sentence. “It’s that sort of thing. A cockamamie cacophony of criminally uncontaminated chaos. And it’s all in Fluttershy’s hooves.”

They came to the indicated house, a small, one-room homestead at the base of a tall hill. The thatched roof gave it the same cozy, old-timey feel Pumpkin saw on the outskirts of Ponyville. She raised an eyebrow at Discord and knocked.

“Urgh. Hold your horses! Ha!” Rustling came from the far side of the door, like a dozen sheets of paper being jostled by wind. “Wasn’t expecting visitors, so don’t go asking for tea and crumpets. I’d say there’s water in the tap, but I don’t think these rubes ever heard of indoor pl—”

An old mare opened the door, her gray-streaked orange mane framing a face speckled with dignified wrinkles. She had an easy smirk on her muzzle, and her words flowed with an uncanny smoothness Pumpkin usually only heard from ponies in Filthy Rich’s profession. The smile faded when it landed on her, replaced with a dubious frown. “Huh. Hay, kid. I think you’re on the wrong end of town…”

The old mare’s eyes widened. They trailed up in a wavy motion, following the haphazard contours of Discord’s body. The frown became a scowl, then a yawning chasm of disbelief.

Discord’s fingers danced. “Hi, there. Apparently, we’re best friends.”

The door slammed in his face. He held his muzzle tight, muffled curse words spilling from beneath his bleeding nose. “Crffer frker gooooz!”

Pumpkin cocked her lip in the beginning of a sneer. “Care to repeat that, master of charisma?”

“Shut up.” Discord sat heavily, daubing his schnoz with the fluffy tip of his tail.

Pumpkin knocked again. She pressed her ear against the wall beside the door, well out of range of a rage-fueled swing. She heard wood against stone, a shuffling carpet, and then silence.

“I’m going in.” She scuffed a hoof absentmindedly against the dirt road. “I’m kinda hard to kick out, so maybe she’ll break down and listen.”

“Suit yourself.” Discord leaned against the little house, his tail tuft shoved up one nostril. “I’ll be here, bleeding out, going gently into that good night.”

“Sounds great.” Pumpkin narrowed her eyes and focused on her horn. Magic thundered from her heard, traveling along her fairy-strings in a direct path to her forehead. Blue light flickered and danced, coating her body in the spell. She stepped into the wooden door, slipping between molecules, phasing through matter.

It was a pretty pathetic house. She knew it wasn’t polite to think so, but that was that. Two rooms, one an obvious bedroom and the other a combination dining room, sitting room, and office. A desk sat against the wall, piled high with papers. Unfinished sequences of musical notes scrawled across the pages in a jumble of frenzied mouthwriting. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes. The lamp above the desk trailed a tiny smidge of smoke, having been blown out in the last few seconds.

The house was, for all appearances, empty.

“Hello!” Pumpkin walked in a wide circle, glancing around and hoping the mare wasn’t gonna spook her. “I’m invading your privacy with a petulant disregard for your property!

She tripped over a fold in the carpet. Her hoof landed heavily and struck with a hollow thump. She tilted her head as she peered where the carpet ended and the wood floor began. She saw a seam that didn’t line up with the grain of the planks. A flash of magic tugged the rug completely away. A hidden hatch! It was rectangular, with no visible handles or hinges.

Heck if that was gonna stop her. She activated her spell and stepped downward, groping around until she found a step. She sunk in, one hoof at a time, and pushed her way into darkness.

She found herself descending a spiral staircase, built into the ground with wood and stone. A clatter of machinery and quiet grumbling greeted her ears from below. She snuck as quietly as possible, lowering her legs with soft, smooth movements. Light peered around a final corner, and she tilted her head to see the far side.

The old mare leaned over a workbench, her tongue hanging out one side of her mouth. She wore enormous goggles with revolving lenses, able to swivel out of the way for one color or another to be used. Yellow and red lenses covered her left eye, while her right held blue. She gripped a needle with one hoof, which she used to carve tiny indents into the face of a hoof-sized mirror.

There was little else of note in the small workshop. Dirt walls, writhing with roots. A chest behind the mare; locked, though with the key still in the tumbler. A blanket covered something along the far wall, round in shape, almost like a full-length mirror.

The needle in the mare’s grasp stopped whirring. She looked up, her frown threatening to split her face in two. “How the hell did you get down here?”

“Magic.” Pumpkin shrugged. “It’s a thing I can do.”

“Clever girl.” The old mare shoed her away with a limp hoof. “Now magic yourself out of here before I call the cops.”

“Yeah, no, that’s not happening.” Pumpkin trotted up to the worktable and leaned her forelegs on it. “Discord and I need your help.”

“Screw Discord.” The old mare pointed the needle at Pumpkin, shaking it and scowling. “And screw you if you don’t get the heck out of my house.”

“You’re Asiago Dazzle, right?” Pumpkin tilted her head, lowering one ear in that irresistible way she did when she wanted an extra cookie. “You and Discord used to be good friends—”

“It’s Adagio, numb-nuts.” Adagio returned to the tiny mirror, flipping a purple lens down to peer at its hidden intricacies. “And that was a heck of a long time ago. I barely even remember the nitwit. I couldn’t possibly care less—”

Pumpkin let out a huff. She lifted the rubbing from her saddlebags and spread it out across the worktable. She waited, her breath held, while Adagio Dazzle gave it a good, long look.

“Where did you get this?” Adagio whispered.

“Elysium. The tree was dead, but this was still in the stump.” Pumpkin Cake rolled a hoof, rolling the rubbing up simultaneously. “It led us to you.”

Adagio removed the goggles to rub her eyes. She snatched the paper from Pumpkin’s grip and scanned it. She glared at the filly, her voice a hiss. “What were you doing in the garden?

Pumpkin Cake tapped her hooves together, resting them on the table. “Discord was dying.”

Adagio jolted in her seat. Her eyes darkened as a stark contrast to her slithering smirk. “Dying, you say?”

“Yeah.” Pumpkin sneered. “You don’t have to be so broke up about it.”

“Now, now, here me out.” Adagio Dazzle leaned back on her stool, using it as a fulcrum to rest her hind legs on the worktable. “Let me take a wild gander. You noticed him acting strange; stranger than usual. You saw him forgetting little things, like a birthday here or there, or a little appointment, or somebody’s name. You didn’t even think about it. It’s just Discord being Discord.”

She tossed the goggles to the table. They landed with a clatter beside the mirror and her needle. “Until one day it wasn’t cute anymore. One day you realized he was having real troubles. He couldn’t remember right. He forgot how to use his own magic. He lost his way more than once. He probably locked himself away, moping around and making a nuisance of himself. You looked for a way to save him, but before you could do anything, he up and burst…”

Pumpkin choked. She tried with all her might to hide the sting behind her eyes. Tear pooled, but she refused to let them flow. “I… I guess…”

Adagio patted her cheek with slightly less force than a slap. “Ah, sweetcheeks. Lemme clue you in. Discord isn’t dying. He’s resetting. Pretty soon he’s gonna lose any memories of you, or the princesses, or any other annoying little friends he’s picked up along the way.”

She stood up to kick the stool. It spun and slipped beneath the worktable. “Pretty soon, he’s gonna be same-ol’, same-ol’, chaotic, destructive Discord. It’s his nature. It’s what he does. Its who he is.”

She jabbed Pumpkin in the chest with a scuffed hoof. “And ain’t nothing you or I could ever do to change it. Trust me…”

The scowling smirk fell away for the briefest of moments. Pumpkin caught a glimpse of weight and weariness behind the old mare’s violet eyes. Adagio hesitated, taking in half a breath. “I tried. And I still lost him. So don’t go whining when it turns out he’s gotta be turned back to stone again.”

Pumpkin wrinkled her forehead. She watched Adagio reach for the goggles, chewing on her lip. ‘That can’t be all,’ she thought. ‘It isn’t all. It’s not just another dead end that leaves us more lost than before. Darn it, she’s gotta listen!

With a flash of magic, Pumpkin swiped the goggles from the table and dangled them over her head. Adagio leaped up—spritely for an old geezer—and reached for them, her teeth clenched.

Her hoof phased right through the optical enhancers.

Pumpkin shook them in front of Adagio’s face before tugging them away. “Are you done being mad for something that happened two-thousand years ago? Am I allowed to speak? Will you just listen to me?

“It was three-thousand!” Adagio growled. “If you weren’t a kid I’d whoop you good!”

“We never gave up on Discord!” Pumpkin jerked the goggles away as Adagio swiped. “We studied, and we guessed, and we did everything we could. We traveled all the way to the Garden of Elysium to get a golden apple!”

“The golden apple trees are all dead!”

“I know!” Pumpkin wiped her face, smudging mud across her cheeks as dirt mingled with tears. “I know. So one of Discords friends did the only thing they could think of to save him. She took his magic.”

Adagio snapped her eyes to Pumpkin. She lowered her hoof and backed off the warpath. “How?”

“Heck if I know. Some freaky fairy gave her the power or something.” Pumpkin squinted at the mare. Her little game of keep-away didn’t do much for the elder’s mood, but heck if it didn’t get results otherwise. “Fact is, his friend’s overflowing with chaos magic, my brother’s some sorta fairy slave, and we can’t save either of them without your help.”

Adagio sat down with a thump and threw her forelegs out. “What the hay am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.” Pumpkin trotted back and forth at the base of the stairs. “You were the last pony to see the golden apples. Maybe you know where they’re at?”

Adagio rubbed her mouth, hissing between clenched teeth. “You didn’t happen to catch the fairy’s name, did you?”

“Yolk. No, wait, Jeuk.” Pumpkin swirled the goggles on the tip of her hoof. “Why? You know him? He was one of the fairies that attacked the garden in the first place.”

Adagio Dazzle exhaled heavily through her nostrils. She patted the stool, raising an eyebrow. “Okay, kid. I’ll bite. Sit down and I’ll tell you a little story.”

Pumpkin made a point of waving the goggles again before taking her seat. Adagio ran a hoof through her overwhelming mountain of mane. “Just after the garden was kaput, Discord moved in with me. We tried to keep him all secret and stuff, so the fairies wouldn’t catch and kill him, too. He couldn’t use his magic. He couldn’t so much a peek outside without some kinda disguise.”

Adagio scowled, flicking her tail and laying her ears against her scalp. “By the time I realized what his magic was doing to him, well… We tracked down what few seeds we could find in the rubble. Turns out, though, that golden apple trees take a lot longer to grow than regular ones. A lotta lot longer. By the time an apple sprouted, I was an old mare and Discord was off in crazy-town.”

She locked eyes with Pumpkin, her voice backed with venom. “His first act as the new king of the world was to turn my home into a giant aquarium. So don’t think, just because you’re friends now, that it’ll make a lick of difference down the road.”

Pumpkin shook her head. “I think our problems now are a little beyond yours. You had the apple, so why didn’t you just give it to him?”

“Because it wouldn’t have fixed anything!” Adagio kicked a hind leg into the wall, raising a cloud of dust. “His memory was gone, and nothing can make memories come back!”

“So you kept the apples to yourself?” Pumpkin asked. “That’s how you stayed alive this long?”

Adagio tilted her head. She regarded Pumpkin, scrutinizing her every inch. “No. I just used them until I could invent something better. A siren’s sigil. Heard of it?”

“No.”

“Look at Princess Twilight’s neck sometime.” Adagio put a hoof on the steps and motioned for Pumpkin to follow. “Point is, I never took care of the new apple tree, and it died. So there are no more golden apples, and no more apple trees.”

Pumpkin stood up and draped the goggles around her neck. “What about seeds?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Seeds.” Pumpkin stood tall, or as tall as she could. Her puffy rat’s nest of a mane bounced against her shoulders. “I’m pretty sure you’d know where to find golden apple seeds.”

Adagio shook her head slowly. She dismounted the steps and sauntered over to her trunk. “You know what you’re asking for, right? Centuries of growth. Discord would lose his memories long before—”

“I know.” Pumpkin fought to hide the warble in her voice. The ache in her chest threatened to drive her to her knees. “But I promised I’d help him. And until… until we can find somebody besides Fluttershy to hold the magic—”

“Whoa, whoa, wait.” Adagio rubbed the side of her head. “Fluttershy? Like, as in the Bearer of the Element of Kindess? That Fluttershy?”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “You know another Fluttershy?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the point…” Adagio swore. She swore again for good measure. “Listen, kid—”

“The name’s Pumpkin.”

Adagio smirked, a sour expression filled with sizzling disgust. “Pumpkin. You think you’re hot horseapples, but you’ve got a lot to learn. Your friends got in bed with a fairy, an Unseelie Fae, and there ain’t nothing a little seed’s gonna do to help them. You can grow the blasted plant, but by the time it buds, Jeuk’s plan’s gonna be over and done with. Alongside your buddies. It’s gonna be, like, way over and done.”

Pumpkin swallowed hard. “Then what can stop the fairies?”

“Only two things ever put a hold on those freaks.” Adagio glanced from side to side, chewing the inside of her cheek. “The Draconequui always used their time-space manipulation to tear holes in reality, send them packing to some far-flung corner of the multiverse. After they died, the only thing to ever put a dent in them was the Elements of Harmony.”

“The El—” Something in Pumpkin’s head clicked. “That’s why he wanted Fluttershy! He wants to destroy the Elements!”

“Well, duh.” Adagio turned the key and flipped open her chest. “She’s a hottie with a body, but that body wasn’t built for chaos magic. I give her a week before she up and explodes.”

She picked up a tiny speck from the bottom. It glittered in the low light, barely bigger than a grain of wheat. “This… this is a golden seed. It’s not much by itself, but given a little water and sunshine…”

Adagio winced as she held it out. She turned away, averting her eyes. “It’s not gonna fix your problems, Pumpkin.”

Pumpkin exchanged the seed for the goggles. She held the tiny thing close to her chest, pursing her lips. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Ever. I—” A floorboard creaked. Adagio’s ears shot up as her head snapped to the staircase.

Discord stood on the bottom step, his hands behind his back and his head bowed. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Adagio glared at him from beneath heavy brows. “How the hell did you get down here?”

“I brought him down.” Twilight Sparkle’s face appeared from behind Discord’s back. She glanced between Pumpkin and Adagio. The gemstone hanging from her neck glistened with every word she spoke. “Sorry about your lock.”

Adagio crossed her forelegs. “No privacy amongst sovereigns, huh?”

“I’ll get you a new one.” Twilight glanced behind Adagio, to the heavy blanket at the back of the basement. “Right now, we’ve got more important things to think about than private property. Lives are at stake. A lot of them.”

Adagio groaned. She waltzed to the back of the room, threw the blanket aside, and examined herself in the simple wood-rimmed mirror she kept there. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to go to the other world for this one, huh?”

Twilight sighed. “I think we all need to have a long, long talk.”

***

Pound Cake was kicked awake by a rough paw. Lacer the Displacer walked past him, looping a rope through his tentacles. “Get up. Jeuk wants to get a move on.”

They slid the rope around Fluttershy’s torso, her fur shocking them with sheer power any time their paws slipped. With an experimental tug, they dragged her along like a pony-shaped balloon.

‘Today’s plan,’ Pound thought, ‘get word to the others where we’re going. I gotta get word out somehow. But how?’

“Aha”—the slithering voice of Jeuk sent creepy-crawlies running through Pound’s guts—“I see the gears turning in that pathetic little pea-brain of yours. Already regretting your decision? I can see to it that once you go free, an unfortunate fate shall fall upon poor, sweet Pumpkin.”

Pound recoiled as the fairy draped a foreleg across his shoulders. He spread a wing to nudge him off, but Jeuk’s grip tightened. A maddening itch tore at his skin, the bite of a million stinging insects. “N-no. I haven’t changed my mind.”

“Amusing. Most very amusing.” Jeuk patted his captive before shoving him along. “Keep up the pace, sad-sack. Wouldn’t want you to get left behind.”

Pound scratched the soon-to-be-sore on his shoulders. The fairy’s touch was poison. Hot and biting. Sudden and—

He choked on the phlegm in his throat. Fluttershy’s story! The wood bridge she and her friend crossed dozens of times! The insect bite! The swirling, deadly river! The colt that had sacrificed himself for Fluttershy’s sake!

It was a stretch, but it made sense. It made too much sense. It was just the sort of thing a murderous little weasel like Jeuk would do.

To what end? Could he really have set all this up that long ago? Or was there a piece missing from the puzzle?

Pound’s blood boiled at the sight of the wicked fairy. He stomped his foot into the dirt, wishing with all his might that he could grind Jeuk into dust.

“Come along, bird-brain,” Jeuk said. “We’re wasting daylight.”

Pound shut his eyes tight. Getting mad never helped anybody. Shouting at the fairy wouldn’t save Fluttershy. Trying to jump the evil, evil thing might even get him killed. He had to find a way to send a message to the princesses. Or reveal where they were going. He had to think of something. Anything!

He looked to Fluttershy. Her coat shimmered bright, even in the morning light. Her ears twitched this way and that as birdsong twittered from the trees.

His ears shot up. Birdsong. She was responding to it. Maybe he could use the grapevine of Fluttershy’s forest friends… somehow. Maybe. Worth a shot.

He matched pace with the displacer beasts and came alongside Fluttershy. “Hi, Fluttershy. Good morning.”

Lacer rolled his eyes and kept pulling. Jeuk’s smile became a decaying frown as he nudged Pound’s wing with a bitter itch. “What do you think you’re doing, gormless one?”

“K-keeping Fluttershy calm.” Pound lowered his ears, bowing at the neck and grinning in the most unconvincing manner possible. “Your plan is ruined if she blows up before we reach the city, right?”

Jeuk giggled—a laugh something akin to a rockodile’s smile, or a dragon’s yawn; a great deal more menacing than the standard fare. “Let’s not fool ourselves, Ounce Cake. Please, what do you think you can do for Fluttershy? She’s barely aware that she still exists.”

Pound wanted to knock the phony teeth from his grinning maw. “So what can it hurt to make her comfortable?”

Jeuk rolled his eyes. “You’re adorable. Like a blind, deaf puppy that keeps running into walls.”

‘Oh I am gonna rip his freaking ears off!’ Pound thought. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Please. I hate seeing her like this.”

Jeuk touched his lips. “Appealing to my better nature? You sly dog.”

Pound looked up at the fairy, his shoulders tensed. He skewed his muzzle to the side and turned his back on Jeuk. He reached for Fluttershy’s hoof, bit his lip, and grasped her.

A jolt of energy ran through his foreleg. He hissed, holding on with all his strength. He’d been struck by lightning once, during flight training. It was a small strike, but still caused every muscle in his body to seize. This was similar, but didn’t have the burning sensation. It was tumultuous, like a hundred horns blatting a hundred notes in a hundred different directions through his heart. His mane stood on end as his tail fluffed.

But it didn’t hurt. It was just strange, alien, unfamiliar. Shocking in a whole different way. “F-Fluttershy?”

Her ear twitched. Her head shifted, like she’d heard something from far away. “Hello?”

Pound tried not to look her in the eye. There wasn’t much to see besides overflowing magic. “Fluttershy, it’s Pound. Are you okay?”

“Pound… I know a Pound.” Fluttershy frowned, her mane framing her face like a vast, pink cloud. “He’s such a nice colt.”

‘No! No, no, no, don’t lose your memory!’ “I’m Pound Cake. I’m right here. I wanna help you.”

“He’s the best of us, really.” Fluttershy didn’t miss a beat. She continued talking, right over Pound’s voice. “He’s so strong and courageous, but still so kind and caring. He’d do anything to help us.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, but—” Pound looked up to see a blue heron flying overhead. He resisted the urge to flag it down with his wings. He felt the eyes of Jeuk itching at the back of his neck. “Fluttershy, tell me about your animal friends.”

Fluttershy sniffed. “If there’s anybody I trust to do the right thing, it’s Pound.”

“You can talk to animals, right?” Pound tightened his grip, tugging her leg in an effort to getting her attention. “You can tell them to do stuff.”

“I… guess? I can understand them, and they understand me…” Fluttershy blinked, briefly cutting off the flow of magic. “They aren’t always willing to listen.”

“They’ll listen if they know it’s important.” Pound glanced back. Jeuk’s eyes never left him for an instant. A slow grin was worming its way across the Unseelie Fae’s face, full of teeth and ill intent. “Wh—why don’t you sing to them? You like to sing. What’s your favorite song?”

Lacer bared his teeth at Pound, his six legs prowling in the tall grass. “Boss, I think we oughta—”

“Let him be.” Jeuk raised a hoof. “I want to see where this goes.”

Lacer gave the fairy a double-take. “He’s up to somethin’!”

“Call it an exercise.” Jeuk chuckled. “Let’s see how far he takes it.”

Pound laid his ears across his head. “Please sing, Fluttershy. Please tell them how you feel.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I… I don’t remember…”

Pound’s heart sank. Birds fluttered overhead. A squirrel skittered off through the branches. A damselfly buzzed by his face. There were creatures everywhere! If Fluttershy couldn’t see them, or hear them, then—could he get their attention?

He pressed his lips together. ‘Worth a shot.’

He cleared his throat and hummed a note. Wrong key. He tried again; this time it just went flat. ‘Sing talking it is.’

“What is this place, filled with so many wonders?” His voice squeaked. He turned to Fluttershy’s blank expression and let his wings droop. “Casting its spell tha-at I am now under?”

She might have hummed, or it might have been his own ears buzzing.

“Squirrel and the trees and the cute little… uh… bunnies. Bird flying free and bees with their honey—”

There, at the edge of her muzzle, a word emanated from Fluttershy’s mouth. “Honey…

A tear trickled down her cheek, turning her yellow coat a light shade of green. “Oh, what a magical place… and I owe it all to the pegasus race…”

“If I knew the ground,” Pound said, his voice gaining strength, “had so much you could see—”

Light radiated from her coat, blanketing the forest with a golden glow. The displacer beasts cowered behind trees, peering out with their beady eyes. “I’d have come here sooner, and never leave.”

A smile found its way to her face. “Yes, I love everything…”

Pound joined in with her final crescendo. He grinned as he took in their small audience of squirrels and chickadees. ‘Finally, something went right. So far.’ “That was fun, Fluttershy. You know what’ll be more fun? Going to Las Pegasus!”

Lacer grasped for him. Pound yelped and ducked his head down to avoid the stinging, toothy tentacles. The instant Lacer contacted his body, the displacer beast yelped. Lacer wobbled back, clutching his tentacle to his chest. “What kinda wacko magic is that?

Pound seized the initiative with all due gusto. “Were going to Las Pegasus and we’ll be there in a couple of days and if you guys would tell the princesses that’d be awesome so just fly off now because otherwise you’re all gonna get eaten by fire ants.”

The animals looked at him the way animals are wont to do: Trying to decide if he was food, shelter, or something to avoid.

Jeuk laughed. It was a crooning cackle, a rigorous titter, a vilely gleeful bark. He walked past the dumbstruck displacer beasts and pointed the way towards the elevated city-state of Las Pegasus. “You never cease to amuse me, Ounce Cake! Most very, very amusing.”

Lacer bared his teeth, careful to keep his distance. “Get a move on, ponies. We don’t have all day!”

Fluttershy began bobbing along again, tugged forward by some hapless displacer beast or another. Pound never left her side, keeping her hoof tucked beneath his. He let his head hang, his ears drooping.

“Please, Fluttershy,” he said. “We can’t help our friends if we’re dead. Or enslaved. Or if we’ve forgotten. They… they need us as much as we need them. Discord won’t survive without you. Pumpkin won’t survive without me. They need to know we’re here. Please, tell them where we’re going.”

One by one, the animals lost interest. They fluttered off or climbed away according to their kind. Pound stared after them. “Please, Fluttershy. I know you’re not finished yet.”

She whispered something. He strained his ears, giving her every bit of his attention. He chewed his bottom lip until he was sure he’d bleed.

“Viva… Las Pegasus… Viva… Las Pegasus…”

A squirrel tilted its head. A bird chirped in tune. They stared at the pegasus mare floating on a bed of chaos.

Fluttershy’s song was a soft breath. “Viva… viva… Las Pegasus…”

The two remaining animals blinked. They nodded in unison, and turned to leave. They moved quickly and quietly through the trees, vanishing in the leaves long before they became specks on the horizon.

“Thank you,” Pound whispered.

“Be careful,” Fluttershy said, nearly imperceptibly. “Tell Pound to be careful. He’s so brave, but I’m always so worried about him. Please tell him I want him to be safe.”

Pound looked at the ground. He stepped over a stone poking its way out of the soil; the first signs of the mountain region. “I’ll try, Fluttershy.”

***

Cloudkicker rested in the main room of Princess Twilight’s castle: The throne room. She’d taken to sitting in the throne marked with a pink butterfly, gently rubbing her belly. The baby kicked; a rambunctious little troublemaker if she had any say. She definitely had the genes for it.

Spike T. Dragon leaned against the magical map central to the open circle of thrones. He placed a marker in another section of the illusory Whitetail Woods. “No sign in the east region. No sign around the Smokey Mountain. Nothing since we found the wrecked campsite. We’re running out of woods.”

“Atch. Ye’re startin’ to sound like Thunderlane. Ye always worra about what ye dinnae know.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “If I know for sure about something, I don’t have to ‘worra’ about it, do I?”

“Ye know for sure an’ certain Fluttershy and the Cake kids are vanished, don’t ye?”

“Point to mommy pegasus.” Spike rubbed his eyes. Green smoke trailed from his nostrils. “Twi rubbed off on me. If I don’t worra about something, I’m probably dead.”

Angel Bunny bounded into the room as fast as his little bunny legs could carry him. He’d been getting on in years, so the spring in his step wasn’t as bouncy as he’d preferred. He wheezed as he rested against the wall, his tiny frame heaving. His eyes rose to the map, and to the two beings sitting beside it. He would deliver his message, if it took everything he had to give it.

“Keep the glum and the grievin’ for the proper time and place.” Cloudkicker flicked her tail, though she was too far away to actually strike the dragon. “They’ll bring news home at the end of the day, an’ then we’ll move on to the next area. There’s plenty o’ world to get lost in, ye ken?”

“Yeah, but—” Spike waved his hands across the map. He phased briefly through a mountain range on the edge of Fillydelphia. “There’re only so many places they could go! We lost the train at the Ghastly Gorge! If they dove in, their tracks probably got lost in the rubble. If they crossed it, Creator forbid, they could have come out at any point. We’re sunk until we get some sort of clue about where they’ve gone!”

Angel Bunny puffed his chest out. He made a mighty leap for the top of the map. He landed flat on his skut. Another try got him a pawhold on the lip of the map, but his grip weakened long before he could haul his little bunny butt over the edge.

Cloudkicker nodded to a nearby stained glass window and noted the dimming light. “Dash and the crew’ll be back before long.”

Spike sighed. He leaned against the smallest throne, the one that had once been his seat. He could still fit if he made the effort, but found the crystalline floor much more comfortable against his scales. “I’m not even sure I want the team to find them. Aside from Rainbow Dash, I’m not sure if any of them would know how to handle Fluttershy with all that magic in her.”

“Aye, but me Da always said, ‘Any port in a storm.’” Cloudkicker crossed her forelegs. “Ye gonna tell’em not to go out?”

“No.” Spike let his chin thump against the back of his throne. “But heck if I don’t wanna.”

Angel Bunny’s little toenails scraped against the crystal map. He rose slowly over Equestria, an enormous king of monsters, a great beast to the diminutive kingdom. He lumbered his way across, breathing heavily, his eyes bloodshot from effort.

Cloudkicker frowned. “What’s the ijit bunny doin’ here?”

“Angel?” Spike narrowed his eyes. “We’re out of salad. Go away.”

Angel Bunny thumped his foot and pointed. He very clearly indicated a certain region, specific to the south-east portion of Equestria, lying just outside Whitetail Woods.

“Go’wan, shoo!” Cloudkicker tossed a nearby empty plastic cup at the rabbit, almost knocking over one of Spike’s markers. “Take yer monstrosity and malcontent elsewhere, ye flea-bitten mongrel!”

Angel moaned. He cast a glance around for any communication device. There! A pad of paper and a pen sat on the edge of the map. He raced over to grasp it, and then began to scribble across its surface.

“Wha—my stuff!” Spike hoisted himself from his resting place. He moved along on all fours to get the most speed out of his body. “Gimme that, carrots-for-brains!”

Angel ripped the page from the pad and placed it beside Las Pegasus, standing tall with his ears erect in triumph. A clawed hand scooped him up in a vice-like grip, whisking him from the map. He squeaked in protest, but was silenced by the sight of two rows of razor teeth.

“Keep this up,” Spike growled, “and I’m making soup.”

Spike blinked. He shook his head and set the rabbit down. “Well, not really, but I’m just saying I could. It’s an option.”

Cloudkicker shrugged. “I wouldnae stop ye.”

“Yeah, you would say that.” Spike leaned his fists against the map and let out a whoosh of air. “Okay, then. Let’s see what was so important that you needed to vandalize… my… stuff?”

Cloudkicker furrowed her brow, lifting her head to see over his shoulder. “What’s got ye all in a kerfuffle? Somethin’ oop?”

Spike tilted the page towards her. It held a crude outline of three objects. Three objects with long bodies and four leaf-like wings, two on either side. To top it off, each had two antennae waving at the head of the increasingly obvious creature.

“Butterflies. Fluttershy’s cutie mark.” Cloudkicker’s eyes popped. “Do ye think the vermin knows somethin’?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.” Spike turned to the rabbit with an eyebrow raised. “Okay, you lapin of a demon. Where is Fluttershy?”

***

Pumpkin Cake stepped into the light, coming out of Adagio’s little hovel. She was instantly assailed by a blindingly pink blur embracing her with the force of a thousand birthdays. “Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you, I was so worried about you, are you okay, are you hungry, are you thirsty, can I—?”

Pumpkin’s lips trembled. She hugged the poof of pink back, gripping with all her might. “Hi, Pinkie.”

Pinkie Pie held her for a long time, not speaking, just squeaking little sounds of joy and… and probably a week’s worth of worry. Pinkie pulled back, but didn’t let go. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“I am, but—” Pumpkin cleared her throat. “But Pound is—”

“I know.” Pinkie touched her forehead to Pumpkin’s and closed her eyes. “And we’re getting him back. I promise. I’d carry a mountain across Equestria if I thought it would help him.”

“I hope,” Twilight said, “that it doesn’t come to that.” She raised a wing, and for the first time, Pumpkin was able to take in her surroundings. Countless guardsponies surrounded the home, all alert, all armed, and all armored in that enchanted metal they wore. They snapped to attention, eyes on her.

“Skyhook, Coldstone, the three of us are gonna have a talk in the house with Adagio and Discord.” Twilight nodded towards Pumpkin, her all-business demeanor softening just a touch. “The rest of you, keep an eye on Pumpkin Cake.”

Pumpkin sighed and leaned against Pinkie’s chest. It felt good to be with friends again. To be with people who wanted to protect her, and keep her safe. She frowned as she thought about it. Just a few days ago, really, she hadn’t put much stock in these people being able to help, or even wanting to help. Now, though, after trying it her way, she wanted all the help she could get.

Even if it didn’t seem like there was much any of them could do.

Twilight Sparkle got close to Discord, a ready notepad encased in her lavender glow. “Alright, I’d like to hear it from the horse’s mouth: What exactly is going on, Discord?”

He ran his fingers through his beard. “Well, when we got to the garden—”

“The tree was dead.” Twilight spread a wing to lead him into Adagio’s home. “Yes, but I want to hear what the chaos magic is doing to Fluttersh—”

Her horn sparked with another color, a sort of greenish-yellow. She crossed her eyes and turned her head up. “Hold on. I’m getting a message.”

Adagio leaned against her doorframe. “Picking up radio signals with that pig-sticker, Your Highness?”

“Har-de-har.” A trail of smoke swirled down from the sky. It flashed and popped in front of Twilights face, becoming a scroll sealed with Spike’s wax emblem. She cut the seal with a spell, unrolled the scroll, and muttered underneath her breath. “Didja have to write a book, Spike?”

She shrugged her wings. “This is gonna take a while. Adagio, you and Discord hold tight while I look this over.”

“Whatever you say, Your Worshipfulness.” Adagio folded her forelegs behind her head. “Got nothing but time, now.”

Discord folded his hands as Twilight walked away, her guards in tow. He flashed a glance at Adagio, sighing through his nostrils. “I’m sorry.”

Adagio opened one eye. “Excuse you?”

“I’m sorry. For leaving you behind. Which I’m sure I did.” He waved his hands, like a wizard trying to conjure visions of the past. “I mean, I don’t remember anything, but I think that’s the problem.”

He gave up his impromptu sign-language and dragged his knuckles in the dirt. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. Not anymore. I just wish I could make it up to you.”

He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, then spoke anyway. “What happened to you after I left?”

Adagio shook her head. Her ears drooped as she examined the soldiers milling around. “Well… I guess… I just gave up. Left the tree in the little cave I’d been growing it in. Left you to whatever shenanigans you were getting up to. Left my home and what was left of my life. Got involved with a real bad crowd. It was almost some kinda afterschool PSA, you know?”

She gestured to her cutie mark; a G-clef overlain with a jewel. “I went to work with my special talent; enchanting gemstones. Worked for years on getting just the right mixture. Never really got it perfect, but… I guess it was enough to get me and my friends in trouble with Starswirl the Bearded. Boom! Shot us off into another world and forgot about us.”

She looked off into the distance, her aged face taking on a few more decades of weariness. “By the time I got back here, I decided ‘screw ’em!’ But… they’re gone now. Both of them.”

She met Pumpkin’s eyes for the briefest of instances. Adagio looked away with a huff. “Guess it took me too long to realize I missed the losers.”

Discord nodded. He sat down and bumped his head against the house’s wood wall. “I wonder how many other people I did that to over the millennia. How many other friends I made and then left. How many times I’ve… ‘reset.’”

He curled up, clutching his tail to his chest. “How many people wish they’d never met me.”

Pumpkin stood up, sliding out of Pinkie’s hug. She walked up to Discord and put a hoof on his leg. “I don’t wish I’d never met you.”

Adagio smirked. “Give it time, kid.”

“I mean it!” Pumpkin pulled Chewie from her saddlebags. “Look. I know I’ve been a butt. I know I’ve been terrible. I’m sorry. I just… I really care about you, Discord. I like you. I think you’re funny and cool. I break my toys just to have an excuse to visit you. And I don’t want you to be hurt.”

She lowered her head and let her rubber chicken rest on her back. “You’re my best friend. I want you to be okay. But I’ve been pushing my friends and family away. Especially Pound, who’d do anything for me.”

She looked between Adagio—whose smirk had soured into a frown—and Discord—who chewed his lip with his dangling snaggletooth. “We’ve all made mistakes in the past. But maybe if we work together, we can start to fix them.”

Discord smiled; a little uncertainly, but no less happily.

Adagio shook her head slowly. “You’re like a miniature Sunset Shimmer, kid.”

“Who?”

“Never mind.” Adagio kicked a clod of dirt away from her doorstep. “Look, I’ll help you, kid. But I’m not sure what use I’ll actually be. It’s not like I’ve got a history of fighting fairies.”

Twilight Sparkle stepped between them, rolling Spike’s message up and stuffing it into one of her saddlebags. “Adagio, we need your help.”

“So I hear.” Adagio winked at Pumpkin. “But come on, I’m just an old crone. You need the big magic guns for this one, not—”

“Listen, I know it sounds crazy—” Twilight Sparkle breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth. She grinned—the sort of way crazy people did when they were trying to be reassuring. “A fairy told me you were important to saving Fluttershy. A Fae of the Seelie Court. I think I just figured out how you can be of help.”

Adagio scowled. “Watch it, Princess. Seelie Court or Unseelie, they’re all only concerned with their own agendas. They’ll say anything if they think it’ll give them what they want.”

“I’m well aware of that possibility.” Twilight Sparkle rested a hoof on Adagio’s shoulder. “But I’m taking any help I can get to save Fluttershy and Pound Cake. And, if the fairy’s right, an entire City-State. Tell me something…”

Twilight pulled Adagio into a half-hug and walked with her down the road. Soldiers fell into step, flanking them. “Do you suppose you could create a gemstone that could contain a certain type of magic? Say, chaos magic, perchance? In a way so that it could be transported without bringing harm to those around it?”

Adagio gaped. She stuttered out a sentence, her voice wavering. “M-maybe with a full lab. And, like, six months of research. And two years of t-testing.”

“Uh huh. Uh huh.” Twilight Sparkle laughed, her cheeks taking on a faint pink. “What can you do in the back of a train car in the six hours it’ll take to get to Las Pegasus?”

Adagio squinted. “How long we known each other?”

“Ten years, give or take? Eight of those as mortal enemies.”

“Sounds right.” Adagio grimaced. “I’m still trying to decide if you’re impossibly brilliant or completely gonzo-bananas.”

Pumpkin rapped a hoof on Adagio’s flank. “You’re still gonna try, right Asiago?”

Adagio, you little cretin.” Adagio let loose with a downright devious, significantly sinister, perilously lopsided grin. “Let me get my carving tools.”

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