• Published 24th Jan 2016
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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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Be the Better Mare

Twilight Sparkle took a small moment to breathe. Just a little. Not enough to slack off, or even really to unwind, but just enough that the oxygen in her bloodstream continued to work its magic on her metabolism. Just enough that her body didn’t succumb to the unconsciousness it so desperately demanded. Just enough so that…

“Princess Twilight,” Skyhook said. “Your eyes are crossing again.”

“Right!” Twilight blinked the cobwebs from her brain. She looked out over the city of Las Pegasus, once again righted and secure. For once, it seemed they’d beaten the Unseelie to the punch. For once, it looked like everything was going to be just fine. It was a strange feeling.

“Everyone lives,” she said to herself. “Just this once, everyone lives.”

Twilight turned her attention to her current duty: Observing the capture of Tirek the Centaur, Lacer the Displacer, and Munchimonious Masticator the Morlock. The three of them followed the Royal Guardsponies with little resistance, all of them as worn out as she felt. Tirek himself seemed confused, as though he could not fathom that he had been defeated once again. “I guess I’m a little tired.”

“You? Tired?” Skyhook shook his head. “All you’ve been doing is near-constantly fighting, only to be called to support a collapsing city and defeat an army of displacer beasts. You do this sort of thing in your sleep.”

“I’m too tired to appreciate sarcasm, Commander.”

“Sorry.”

Skyhook glanced to either side, his ears swiveling. He chirped once or twice and read the soundwaves as they bounced back. Finding no sign of eavesdroppers, he grimaced. “I had something to bring to your attention. Lacer the Displacer is exhibiting some side-effects of mind-altering magic.”

That got Twilight to sit up and take notice. “What? How? None of our necklaces had the enchantment required. There would have to be a third party, unless—”

Twilight Sparkle glanced across the way. Near the train station, Adagio Dazzle attempted to flirt with a very-uncomfortable Coldstone. She batted her curls and fluttered her eyes as the muscular crystal pony bustled away as fast as possible.

“Unless the former siren isn’t as former as we thought.” Twilight Sparkle’s hoof went to the gemstone around her neck, the one designed to allow normal speaking to those without a voice. “And since the sirens are suspected allies of the Unseelie…”

Skyhook’s tail swished as his legs tensed. “Would she have helped us if she was working with the Unseelie?”

“Did she have a choice?” Twilight Sparkle stood up to pace. She soon sat back down when her legs nearly gave out beneath her. “There’s still so much we don’t understand.”

Skyhook hoisted himself to his feet. He pawed at the sharpened claws attached to his greaves. “Do you want me to take her in for questioning?”

Twilight Sparkle rubbed her eyes. Adagio Dazzle blew a raspberry at the departing Coldstone, then commenced a search for more a more promising fishing spot. “I’m tempted. But I don’t think it’s wise.”

Twilight spread her wings and lit her horn. She traced a pinprick of light through the air, writing a quick list in the air with in shimmering shorthand. “She saved Pound and Pumpkin Cakes’ lives. She equipped our entire force with magical siphons—I’m still not sure how those things work, by the way, the design’s completely genius. She agreed to help Discord even though she clearly hates his guts. She is, unbelievably enough, a friend.”

She erased the list from her vision. “But I also don’t want to risk eliminating our best lead.”

Commander Skyhook lowered his eyebrows. “So we watch her.”

“Closely.” Twilight Sparkle swallowed hard, a sick little feeling welling up in her stomach as Adagio gunned for Windblown. “Very, very closely.”

***

Discord, Pound, Pumpkin, and Fluttershy descended the mountain together. It wasn’t long before they found a more solid, smooth path; a carefully-paved road leading to the train station. Yawns were shared as they bumped into each other on the way down.

Pumpkin Cake reached into her saddlebags and gave Chewie a faint squeaka. Beside him lay the tiny golden seed. She lingered on that tiny speck of hope, feeling the warmth enter her hoof. Like a little buzz of ambrosia, a miniature hearth fire. She glanced to Discord to see him watching Fluttershy limp forward. He caught her eye and sent her a wink.

Pound stopped in his tracks, patting Pumpkin on the shoulder. She gave him her best bemused look, before taking in the shock in his eyes. She turned to see what had caught his attention, and quickly shared his expression.

Princess Celestia, High Princess of Equestria, stepped out of the train, her wings glowing with sunlight. Her mane and tail waved in the wind, not quite as radiant as in the pictures, but close. A predominant pink shade trailed through her hair, intertwined with rainbows of living color. Her raiment glittered alongside her coat, dazzling the eyes without quite blinding.

Pumpkin Cake bowed as soon as her wits could react. Pound bowed so fast he nearly face-planted, but a quick flap of his wings set his balance straight. Fluttershy bowed at a far more sedate pace, while Discord merely curtsied.

“Hello, My Little Ponies,” Princess Celestia said. “And Discord.”

“Your majesty.” Fluttershy raised her head, her eyelids low. “It’s good to see you.”

“It does my heart good to see all of you well.” Celestia smiled. A weighty smile, Pumpkin noticed, but no less happy. “I hear it has been quite the struggle these past couple of weeks.”

“You can say that again,” Pumpkin said. Pound shook his head, warning her off, but she figured she’d earned her piece. “Sneaking off into the woods, chased by displacer beasts, attacked by Tirek, hounded by an evil fairy, teamed up with a siren, and then we climbed a mountain.” She rolled her eyes, letting her muddled curls bounce against her shoulders. “I’m bushed!”

“Not to mention,” Pound added, “being kidnapped, tortured, and brainwashed.” He shrugged. “Just as a general thing.”

“But we’re finally safe from Jeuk.” Pumpkin bounded forward, fishing through her saddlebags. She produced the seed and held it out to the princess. “And we finally, finally, have the thing we need to save Discord once and for all! Right?”

Fluttershy’s ears drooped. She covered her body with her wings, hiding behind her mane.

Pumpkin glanced around at the four faces around her. “Right?”

Celestia turned her weighted smile to Discord. “Discord, Spirit of Chaos, how do you feel?”

“Better than ever,” he said, flexing his noodle-like arms. “I could box a manticore for ten rounds and never break a sweat. Because of the mini-fan I keep in my pocket, see.”

Celestia’s nose turned down as her wings drooped. “I see. That is what I hoped to hear.”

“Then—” Pumpkin chanced a step closer, her heart dropping to her stomach. “Then why’re you still sad?”

Celestia looked Discord eye-to-eye, frowning quietly. She turned to Pumpkin with a sigh. “The chaos magic built up inside of him… it was ravaging his body, tearing him apart from the inside out, breaking down his very memories. Using that magic, expelling the excess, has slowed that process…”

She bit her lip, folding her wings across her back. “But it never stops it.”

She flicked an ear and pointed her horn at Pumpkin. “He needs that tree. Now that we are so close to a cure, the need to keep him… himself is greater than ever before. But that requires great use of his magic.”

“But—” Discord sat beside Fluttershy, running his talons across her wings. “But the whole reason I’ve been keeping it bottled up was so that I never hurt ponies. Not my friends, not the ponies of Ponyville, not anybody. Even the most minor thing can spiral out of control. A stream becomes a dam, a shower becomes a deluge, so on and so forth.”

He held his paw and talon out to her. “It’s the nature of chaos to be unpredictable and destructive.”

“And yet.” Celestia pointed a wing to the city overhead. “Las Pegasus stands before us. Thanks to you.”

Discord looked up at the flickering lights and vast crowds. Many ponies cheered his name. Flowers and balloons were thrown in celebration. At least one pony was trying to light fireworks.

“Your powers are a gift, Discord. Capable of many great and mighty things.” Celestia touched a wingtip to his shoulder. “Dangerous, yes, but still so very good. They just need the proper time, place, and aid.”

“So to keep himself complete,” Fluttershy said, “he needs to use his magic more often.”

“But in a safe place.” Celestia pursed her lips. “And that is why I’ve come to you today.”

“Wait…” Pumpkin shook her head. She waved a hoof, warding off unthinkable thoughts. “Wait, you can’t be serious. You can’t!”

Celestia raised her head, half-spreading her wings. “What do you—?”

“You can’t send him away!” Pumpkin leaped between Discord and the princess, holding her tiny legs out as far as she could. “You can’t just send him away to some far-off city, or desert, or anywhere he’d be alone!”

Celestia clicked her tongue. “It’s just until the tree bears fruit—”

“The tree’ll take hundreds of years to grow!” Pumpkin’s breath hurt. She fought off the sobs aching to burst from her chest. Her weariness meshed with her heartache in a violent mess of emotions and adrenaline. “Adagio said so! He can’t be alone for hundreds of years! He’ll forget us! He’ll forg—me—”

She buried her head in her hooves, dropping the seed and letting it roll away from her. Celestia took a step back to watch it halt a meter away, glittering faintly. Her forehead furrowed as she brought a hoof to her chest.

Pound Cake touched his sister’s shoulders. He turned her face up until she looked him in the eye. “Pumpkin. No. Don’t you understand? They’re doing this so that he can use his magic without hurting anybody. So that he can keep his memory longer. Long enough for the tree to grow. Long enough for the apples to bloom. Long enough so that he can finally be himself without being afraid.”

She hugged him tight, unable to speak without making a fool of herself. Hiccups joined her tears as the pain lessened.

Pound nodded to Discord, his voice carrying the faintest shiver. “J-just think of all the good you could do if you weren’t afraid.”

Discord scrunched his muzzle, twiddling thumbs Pumpkin wasn’t sure he naturally had. “Where did you have in mind, Princess?”

“As far as possible,” Celestia said, “but not as far as you think.”

Fluttershy held Discord close, nuzzling him lightly as the four of them listened.

“There is a place on the far side of the world,” Celestia said, “the land where the sun sets. It was long ago abandoned by Tirek’s people, and has only recently become inhabitable these last few thousand years. Luna and I traveled there on our quest to attain the Elements of Harmony, and there encountered many strange and wonderful things.”

Celestia smirked. “It seems only fitting that you return to the place where I first met you. When you were not an enemy, but a strange creature lost and alone, frolicking without a care through the fields.” Her smile faded into dreariness, clouded over by memories long grayed with time. “Perhaps it was our meeting that hastened your madness. And perhaps it was my negligence that forced us to turn you to stone.”

She reached down and lifted the seed. It twinkled in the pad of her hoof, like a star in the morning. “A negligence I see no sign of here.”

She leaned over to press the seed into Pumpkin’s grip. “I see no negligence in you, Pumpkin Cake. I see strength, determination, and love. I see wisdom, fortitude, and perseverance in Pound Cake. And truly, there is no match for Fluttershy’s kindness, mercy, and patience.”

Celestia blinked. She may have wiped her eyes with a spell, but it was too quick to say for sure. “And you, Discord. I see in you a larger heart than anyone else, capable of so much love, and such a great love, that words cannot describe it.”

“Beggin’ yer pardon, ma’am.” Discord tipped a cowpony hat, one with a pretty little flower stuck to the brim. “But I ain’t seen hide nor hair of this big love you done spoke of.”

“Yes, well—” Celestia laughed lightly. “—we often overlook our own best qualities.”

Pound craned his head back to stare at the sky. “Boy, that’s for sure.”

Fluttershy whined in the back of her throat. “Wh—when does Discord move to his new home?”

Pumpkin Cake rushed over to hug Discord, an embrace he returned immediately.

“As soon as possible.” Celestia pointed her horn to the draconequus. “Time is always of the essence.”

Discord looked to the young friend in his arms. He sniffled and cracked a shaky grin. “Well… thank you, Pumpkin.”

“It’s not fair!” Pumpkin choked. She looked away, but couldn’t bring herself to let go. “I was supposed to save you. I was supposed to heal you.”

Discord swallowed hard. His wings fluttered slowly in their mismatched, haphazard way. “But you did, Pumpkin. You saved me in the only way that mattered. You healed me in the only way that’ll last.”

He picked the seed up between his talons and brought it close to his face. He grinned at her. “And now you’ll help me in the best way possible.”

He reached over to add Fluttershy to the hug. He looked between his two best friends in all the world. “Of all the lifetimes I’ve lived, this is the one I want to keep the most.”

Celestia’s horn sparked, summoning diagrams and equations in the air. “Discord, if you would open a portal to this location…”

Discord stood up and studied the symbols, cupping his chin in his paw. He nodded occasionally, sounded out words, or muttered incoherently to himself. Once a period of time had passed, he snapped his talon.

A hole appeared in the time-space continuum, much less violently than the portal to the Abyss. Through it, Pumpkin could see a warm sky, filled with oranges and reds. Rich grass and vibrant flowers dotted a majestic landscape. Water continued on in the form of an ocean with no opposite shore in sight. A bunny popped his head through the portal, before leaping completely through.

“I hope he’s not related to Angel,” Discord mumbled.

He stood at the cusp of a new land, the Far Side of the World. He paused, rubbing his hands together, sucking on his lower lip. A warm breeze hailed from the direction of the setting sun, brilliant in all its glory. He tapped a foot, shuffling back and forth.

“A place to call my own,” he said quietly. “A place free of any dangers, or fetters, or pain.”

He looked back over his shoulder. “Or friends.”

Fluttershy flapped up to rest her hooves on his back. “Oh, Princess Celestia! Please say we can visit him! He needs an audience as much as we need food! He lives for it!”

“And… and life without Discord…” Pumpkin Cake reached up to grasp his paw. “Well, that’d just be boring.”

Pound Cake rose into the air, coming almost-but-not-quite to Celestia’s height. “Yeah, I mean… It’d be silly to not let him see his friends, right? We don’t want to give him even a single chance to forget.”

Celestia smiled. A bright, genuine smile, free from heaviness. “Of course, my friends. Of course he can have visitors. It will take a great deal of magic and preparation, but any time he wishes, he can open a direct portal to Equestria. To Ponyville, even. There will always be room for Discord’s friends in his new home.”

“Good.” Discord gazed intently at the Far Side of the World. “Good, because I don’t want to leave for real without saying goodbye to all my friends. And frenemies, in Twilight Sparkle’s case. Nothing like a good rivalry between science and hilarity, that’s what I say.”

He turned around to face them, one paw holding Fluttershy’s hoof, the other talon holding Pumpkin’s hoof. “I love you both. You are the best friends I’ve ever had.”

With that, he stepped backwards through the portal, danced his fingers in a little wave, and vanished from view.

Pumpkin’s legs lowered her gently to the pavement. She stared at the warm seed in her care, blinking back a fresh wave of tears.

Discord’s head materialized beside her, his neck sticking through a small hole in the fabric of space-time. “Hi, there. Just checking this whole ‘portal anytime’ thing. Using up a little chaos magic here and there. That whole song and dance.”

He winked at Fluttershy, who giggled. “No goodbyes,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”

He blipped out of sight, blowing a kiss at Las Pegasus for good measure.

“Now, My Little Ponies,” Celestia said, “it is time for you to return home as well.”

Pumpkin Cake eyed the small capsule of life in her hoof. She slid it into her bag for safekeeping, right beside Chewie. She, Fluttershy, and Pound walked in step towards the train, and slipped into the passenger car.

“Boy,” she muttered. “We’re a long way from Ponyville.”

***

Celestia breathed in cool air in the light of the setting sun. It was Cadence’s turn to put the celestial object to rest. Even so, Celestia couldn’t help reaching out with a faint, feeble spell to touch the warmth and magic of the sunset.

“They’re gonna fail, you know.”

Celestia’s ears twitched at an unfamiliar voice. She looked down to see an earth pony mare, aged, with graying, curly locks. “Adagio Dazzle, I presume?”

“You know it, babe.” Adagio leaned on the back of a nearby bench. The train’s whistle called out from a distance as it crested a hill at the horizon. “Former siren, one-time most-wanted, attempted winner of the battle of the bands.”

A sly, slimy smirk trailed its way across Adagio’s muzzle. “And currently, a citizen of Equestria.”

Celestia nodded halfheartedly, gazing absently into the distance, her shoulders as tense as a ship’s sail in a hurricane. “Congratulations. It’s always a treat to see someone embrace friendship and harmony.”

“Sure is.” Adagio popped a gumball in her mouth and chewed nosily. She blew a bubble as large as her head. It popped without ever touching her messy mane. “You know they’re gonna fail, right? Golden apples will never materialize, Discord will go crazy, and the Elements of Harmony will blaze their way to petrification.”

She blew a bubble in her mouth and chomped down with a resounding snap! “Another friendship gone kerflooey. The dummy just wasn’t made for lasting relationships.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Celestia said. She narrowed her eyes, spreading her wings to catch the last glimmers of orange from the sky. “But I don’t think so.”

“Oh, no?” Snap! Pop! “Look, Princess, if a thousand years haven’t knocked the stars from your eyes, I don’t think a couple more will do the trick. What makes you think this time’ll be different?”

Celestia pursed her lips and sucked in a deep sigh. “Because I believe Fluttershy is a better mare than I ever was.”

She raised an eyebrow to glance down at the shorter mare. “And I believe Pumpkin will become a better mare than you’ll ever be.”

Adagio scowled. She stuck the used gum to the bottom of the bench and rounded the train platform. She came as close to eye-to-eye as possible. “Izzat so? You makin’ all these assumptions without even meeting me. Well I got you one better, your worshipfulness.”

She prodded Celestia in the chest, right atop a deep scar earned from painful memories. “At least I tried to cure him. That’s a heck of a lot more than you ever did.”

Crow’s feet appeared around Celestia’s eyes as she frowned. “My point exactly.”

Adagio’s hoof clattered to the wooden platform. She tilted her head, her forehead furrowing. With a click of her feet, she turned to walk to a nearby snack machine. “You’re a weird mare to figure out, Princess.”

“As are you, Adagio Dazzle…” Celestia returned her attention to the vanishing point; the place where the horizon met the sky. “As are we all…”

***

The train chugged into Ponyville station in the middle of the night, having finished its princess-commissioned route. Only family was there to meet the passengers; family, and the closest of friends.

Rainbow Dash was the first to scoop Fluttershy up in a hug. She was closely followed—and overpowered—by a horde of woodland creatures headed by a particular bunny and a passionate bear. Fluttershy smiled as she offered a kiss on the forehead to each creature who greeted her.

Pumpkin and Pound Cake yawned in concert as they stepped off the train. A squeal of delight flew through the sky alongside their younger sister, Patty. The little blue-maned pegasus threw her weight at Pound, knocking him to his rump. Their younger brother, Rice, followed at a more sedate, wobbly pace. The toddler nuzzled against Pumpkin with a gentle coo.

Pinkie Pie scooped all four of them into a bear-hug to make Fluttershy’s friend jealous. In the next breath, Cup and Carrot made the family hug whole, tears of joy and relief pouring down their faces.

Carrot Cake tried and failed to look stern even as he held them tight. “N-now… now, no more adventures until you’re older. Understand?”

“Listen to your father,” Cup said. “Also, you’re grounded.”

“Figured that was coming.” Pumpkin said. She nuzzled into her mother’s mane. “I missed you.”

Pound bit back a tear as he squeezed his family. “I love you guys so much.”

Pinkie Pie pouted. “Does this mean I’m grounded for unsupervised adventuring, too?”

“What?” Carrot Cake shook his head. “Pinkie, you’re twenty-five.”

“But I’m a kid at heart.”

“Do… Hum.” Carrot rolled his eyes with feigned resignation. “Fine, you can be grounded, too.”

“Yes! Wait—darn!” Pinkie plucked Pumpkin and Pound from the folds of the embrace and plopped them onto her back. “I guess the three of us are gonna have to hang out and swap adventuring stories! Did I ever tell you the one about Cheese Sandwich, Braeburn, and the Tatzlwurm?”

Pumpkin smirked as she leaned on the back of Pinkie’s head. “Is it the one where the sweat runs down their flanks in a dreamy fashion as they race to the rescue?”

Pound gaged and pointed his hoof down his throat.

Pinkie clicked her tongue. “I might have embellished that one just a little.”

Fluttershy blinked owlishly as the last of her animal charges received their gesture of affection. She looked up at the midnight moon, the pressure from the day pulling at her back. “I think I need to nap. Maybe for a week. Or a year.”

“Sure thing,” Rainbow said. “You can crash at my place tonight. I mean, it’s better than walking to the edge of town at this hour. The bar just got out and… yeah.”

Fluttershy twitched her nose in Harry the Bear’s direction. “I don’t think I have much to fear, Rainbow.”

“Well, no, but…” Rainbow Dash opened a wing and scooped Fluttershy up in a half-hug. “Do it for me, then, okay? I’ll feel better if I know you’re okay.”

Fluttershy smiled and leaned against Rainbow. “If it’ll make you feel better.”

“We can try out this awesome new thing I discovered.” Rainbow Dash hovered a meter aboveground, leading Fluttershy by the hoof. She swung her free foreleg out, encompassing what was visible of Ponyville. “So, you put on a movie, right? Easy to do with my home theater. So then, while the movie’s going, you take a nap!

Fluttershy shook her head lightly. “Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of watching a movie?”

“No, no, see, because it’s like having white noise. It totally lulls you to sleep.” Rainbow Dash grinned, giggling in the back of her throat. “It’s like peoplewatching while you nap over Mane Street, except the stallions are hotter and the mares are prettier.”

Fluttershy bumped shoulders with her childhood friend. “How can I resist the temptation?”

“You can’t, so don’t even try!” Rainbow Dash let go of Fluttershy to loop-de-loop through the air. “We don’t even have to watch a movie I’m in. I’ve got Ben Furr, the new Space Trek movies, some goofy romance flick with Russet Crow, The Mummy Wraps Up, The Fungus That Walks Like a Pony, all the Frankenpony films starring Bor—”

“I’m sure they’re all wonderful,” Fluttershy said, placing a feather over Rainbow’s mouth. “But I’m sure I can sleep through all of them right now.”

“Perfect!” Rainbow Dash covered her mouth as her voice echoed throughout downtown Ponyville. The dead of night answered back in its usual way, safe from angry sleepers. She continued at a whisper. “I’ll get the popcorn ready just in case you’re hungry. How long since your last meal?”

Fluttershy thought, and came up with no answer. “Being possessed by chaos really doesn’t lend itself to a three-meal schedule.”

“Popcorn and candy. Got it!” Rainbow smiled as her mansion loomed into view, its rainbow falls sparkling with color and its crystalline ice pillars radiating moonlight. “I’m really glad you’re safe, ‘Shy. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Fluttershy shrugged, following Rainbow Dash to the porch with flocks of her winged friends flanking her on either side. A small snack, then rest; that’s what she needed. Safe, secure, satisfied rest.

***

It was the noon hour before Fluttershy could bring herself to greet the world once more. A lengthy shower eased the grime from her coat, and a delicious meal (with a little more sustenance than popcorn) gave strength to her limbs. She sat at the window for a while, watching ponies taking their lunch hour, just breathing in a taste of serenity.

Rainbow Dash scratched herself as she popped her head into her living room. “Hay, you doing okay? Need another carrot dog? I can heat some coals on the grill out back.”

“No thanks,” Fluttershy said. She leaned on her knee, pressing her cheek against the cool pane of glass. “I’m just getting myself ready for what I need to do today.”

“Oh yeah?” Rainbow flopped upside down, her wings spread and motionless, her magic keeping her aloft. “What’s up? Kinda thought you’d earned yourself a vacay.”

“It’s not much.” Fluttershy sucked on her lips, her wings drooping. “I have a favor to do… for an old friend.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Discord?”

“No.” Fluttershy brushed her mane from her eye. “Happy.”

“Whoa.” Rainbow flipped over to land on all four hooves. “You mean that colt you totally had a crush on until—”

“Yeah.” Fluttershy nodded. “Him.”

Rainbow Dash blinked. She glanced around the room, searching for an anchor point. She found none. “So… you wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Fluttershy said. “I’ve got to… save my emotional strength. It’s a long story, but… I’ll tell you some other time.”

“Fair’s fair.” Rainbow rubbed the back of her head. “You want company when you talk with Missus Mare?”

“I’ve got to do this alone.” Fluttershy swallowed hard. “Thank you, but this is something just between Merry and me.”

“Alright.” Rainbow leaned against her doorframe, grinding her teeth lightly. “You headed home afterwards?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool.” Rainbow Dash’s tail swayed behind her. “Let me know if you need anything. Absolutely anything.”

Fluttershy trotted to her side and gave her a warm hug. “Thank you. I will.”

Rainbow Dash led Fluttershy to the front door and waved her off. It wasn’t long after she made landfall that she was surrounded by a pack of woodland creatures, all eager to see her to safety. The ponies and assorted other creatures of Ponyville gave the wildlife a wide berth, most looking on with something between bemusement and annoyance.

She arrived at a particular office in downtown within a few minutes of walking. It was located off a side-road at the end of Mane Street, not far from Twilight’s castle. Fluttershy requested that her animal friends remained outside, and they scattered out of sight. She placed her hoof on the familiar-feeling handle and pulled.

The office was stuffy, but in a manner that was more homey than clinical. The receptionist plucked away at their typewriter, never bothering to look up. “Do you have an appointment?”

“No, Truffles.” Fluttershy took a seat near the front door, beside a table overflowing with out-of-date magazines. “I’m just here as a friend.”

Truffle Hunter glanced away from his work, the light of recognition sparking in his eyes. “Oh, hay, Fluttershy. Merry was hoping you’d stop by. We were all real glad when we found out you were alright.”

“Thank you, Truffles.” Fluttershy smiled at the young stallion. “I really appreciate it—”

A door on the far side of the lobby clicked open. Roseluck peered through the crack, squinting across the way until she caught sight of Fluttershy. “Fluttershy! You’re alright!”

She rushed up and was met with a quick embrace. She pulled back to get a good look at the butter-yellow pegasus. “Oh, heavens above! You’re looking well, especially after all we’ve heard! It does my heart good to see you up and about, Shy.”

“I’ll second that,” Merry Mare said. She let the door shut behind her, offering a brilliant smile. “I suppose we’re set up for the same time this Friday, Rose?”

“Absolutely.” Roseluck bobbed her head. “I’ve got to get back to the shop, but I’m very happy to see you, Fluttershy.”

She left in a flurry of flowers, leaving Fluttershy alone with Merry and Truffle Hunter.

Merry Mare tapped on Truffle’s desk. “No more appointments until two, Truffles. As far as this mare’s concerned, the doctor is out.”

“I hear you loud and clear, Counselor.” Truffle Hunter threw a mock salute and returned to typing.

Merry locked eyes with Fluttershy and jerked her head towards the back room. “Come on, we’ll have some privacy in my office. I suspect you’ve got a story or two to tell, after everything that’s happened.”

“I do have that,” Fluttershy said, following her in, “but there’s something more important I need to share.”

She took a seat in the long couch Merry had in the office. It was sparsely decorated, and what was there was mostly to add to a serene, comfortable atmosphere. Pictures of flowers, warm colors, pristine wood trim. Professional to a fault.

“Well, you’ve caught me on my lunch break, so let’s have at it.” Merry latched the door behind her and took a seat in a comfy chair beside the couch. “What happened that’s important enough for you to visit little old me just after such an arduous journey?”

Fluttershy craned her neck to look at Merry’s oaken desk. There, right by her typewriter, was a tiny photograph of a happier time. A small colt, a young filly, and a joyous mother leaned into the picture being taken by a proud father.

A tear snuck out from beneath Fluttershy’s composure. “I saw him, Merry.”

Merry’s smile melted. She followed Fluttershy’s gaze and found the photo. “Saw who, Fluttershy?”

“Happy.” Fluttershy fought to keep her voice stable enough to talk. “I spoke with him.”

“H-how?” Merry stood, her eyes wide, her mouth twitching. “How is this possible? When did this happen?”

“When I was… when I was in the throes of chaos.” Fluttershy wrapped herself in her wings, smoothing an odd feather down with her hoof. “I was carried away by a fairy, and… and she brought me to him.”

Merry paused with a raised hoof. She shook her head, backing away, returning to her chair. “Oh, Fluttershy. You couldn’t have seen him.”

Fluttershy’s head popped up. “But I did—”

“No, Fluttershy, you couldn’t have.” Merry’s teeth tightened behind a neutral expression. “You were overrun by chaos. In a terrible mental state, not in control of yourself—”

“I saw him, Merry.” Fluttershy sat up, reaching across the space with her wings. She touched Merry’s hooves, sending comfort her way. “He was as real as you or I. He’s all grown up. He’s so handsome. You’d be so proud. So kind and gentle…”

Merry shook her head, but couldn’t look away from Fluttershy. Not for a moment.

“He lives in the night sky, now.” Fluttershy blinked salt from her eyelashes. “He’s safe where he is. He’s glad to be there, where dreams never die. Where creatures laugh and play all day long. Where you can hear starsong, Merry. Starsong. He loves us. He loves me, and you…”

She choked, but powered through the meat of her message; the core of truth she had to share. “He told me that we each have a light burning inside us. One that’s so bright it can never burn out. It was inside him, it’s inside me… and it’s inside you. He’s afraid you’ve forgotten, Merry, but he wants you to remember it so bad.”

Merry pulled from Fluttershy’s touch. She removed her glasses and placed them on her desk, beside the photograph. She held her breath and her tongue, but only for a moment.

“If he was able to speak with you,” she whispered, “why can’t he speak to me?”

“He’s afraid that—” Fluttershy cleared her throat. “—that you wouldn’t be receptive. That you wouldn’t listen. That… his pleas would fall on deaf ears.”

She looked away, towards the simple carpet. “But I know you needed to hear it. Like I needed to hear it.”

Merry pinched the bridge of her nose. He looked over her bookshelf, stuffed with tomes of psychology, interpersonal relations, and medical diagnoses. Her throat was strained. “Fluttershy, you were not in your right mind. You were hallucinating. Experiencing a mild psychotic break; your mind’s way of interpreting, or perhaps ignoring, the pressures on your body.”

Merry.” Fluttershy put a little more force into her voice than she intended, but she meant every word. “I saw him. I touched him. I kissed him goodbye. He was unmistakably, undeniably real.”

“If he was capable of speaking to anybody,” Merry snapped, her tone hushed, “he would have spoken to me by now.”

Fluttershy spread her forelegs, her heart breaking. Shattering. “I can only tell you what happened.”

Merry placed her hooves on Fluttershy’s shoulders. She looked right into her eyes, their foreheads nearly touching. “Fluttershy, it wasn’t real.”

Fluttershy shuddered at her longtime friend’s touch. It was cold, hard, terrified. Pain flashed in Merry’s eyes, desperate for the world to make sense. Fluttershy longed to ease Merry’s pain, to agree with her, to reassure her she was right. “Merry… he was real to me. Maybe that’s what counts.”

Merry backed away. She nodded, her eyes red. She brushed past Fluttershy and kicked open the door. “Truffle Hunter, reschedule my appointments today.”

Truffle Hunter glanced up. “What? All of the—?”

“Please.” Merry glanced back at Fluttershy, but just as quickly pushed her from sight. “I need a personal day. Please.”

“O… kay…” Truffle Hunter rolled a new sheet of paper into his typewriter. “So the counselling session with Cloudkicker—?”

“Wednesday.” Merry waved him off, already headed for the doorway. “Or whatever. Just work it out with her!”

She slammed the door behind her, leaving Fluttershy with her stomach swimming.

She tiptoed into the lobby, barely daring to let her heart beat at all. Truffle Hunter took one look at her, then showed an expression that said he wanted nothing to do with the drama. “Can I get you something, Miss Fluttershy?”

“No, Truffles.” Fluttershy sighed. “I think I have all I can deal with right now.”

She left the office and stopped mere meters from the entrance. The world moved around her, a sea of pastels and grays, faceless and uncaring. She plodded through the mass, her eyes hollow, her breath a constant sigh.

“Ach, and ye’re lookin’ like ye found a rock in yer plum puddin’.”

Fluttershy lifted her eyes to see Cloudkicker waddling down the street, having grown very pregnant indeed. The rambunctious pegasus mare stopped to take a breath, shaking her head. “Ye’re a difficult mare tae track doon, ye ken? Soon as I heard ye were back in town, none the worse for the wear, I set aboot huntin’ fer ye. Tae see ye wit me own eyes.”

Cloudkicker wrapped a foreleg around Fluttershy’s neck. “So then I hear ye been all but kidnapped by Rainbow Daft of all ponies! Fittin’ tae say the least. Ye look fit as a fiddle, if nae fer the storm cloud hangin’ o’erhead.”

“I-I had another argument with Merry.” Fluttershy rubbed the end of her snout. “I don’t think I’m getting through to her.”

Cloudkicker frowned. She clicked her tongue and subtly led Fluttershy down the road. “Some people dinnae want to be happy. They’re afraid that they’ll forget.”

“Forget what?”

“What made them happy in the first place, I ken. Pregnant mare walkin’!” Cloudkicker shoved a particularly annoying pony out of her way none-too-kindly. “But dinnae let that bring ye doon. Ye do what ye can, and ye more than most.”

Fluttershy let her head droop. “I’m sorry I lost your father’s whistle.”

“Dinnae fret.” Coudkicker sighed, giving Fluttershy an added squeeze. “After what I heard o’ Las Pegasus, I supposed as much. An’ it nae harm none.”

Fluttershy glanced around, taking note that they were headed towards the southeast side of town, rather than towards her home. “Where are you leading me?”

“Pay nae mind,” Cloudkicker said, waving her free hoof airily. “I’m just an ol’ hormone-infused lunatic lookin’ tae stir up some trouble.”

“Cloudkicker…”

“An’ this be where I part ways.” Cloudkicker winked, booting Fluttershy’s rump with a soft punt. “Don’t get yerself intae too much trouble, ye ken?”

With that, the formerly ponderous mare vanished from sight. Fluttershy rolled her eyes and took stock of her location. She stood before the Silver Spoon restaurant, whose patronage was light for a lunch hour. She rubbed the back of her neck, shrugged, and turned towards home.

She ran face-first into Bulk Biceps’ muscular chest. She backpedaled, her face heating up like a wood-burning stove. “Snowflake! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there!”

“Uuuh…” Bulk’s normally pale white face turned a pretty shade of peach. “Likewise, Mizz Fluttershy. I mean, I saw you, but I figured you were going to stop a few steps sooner than you did, and so I just kinda waited there like a big lump.”

Fluttershy twisted her hoof in the road. “I guess if I had to bump into somepony, I’d rather it be a friend like you.”

“I’m, uh…” Bulk Biceps reached up to twist his tiny bowtie in knots. “I, um, I’m glad to see that you’re alright. We—we looked all over for you, but—”

He shrugged, and it was like a mountain moving. “I’m glad you’re okay. I really didn’t want you to be hurt.”

“I’m alive.” Fluttershy tilted her head until her cheek rested on her shoulder. “Despite everything, it turned out mostly okay.”

Bulk grinned halfheartedly. “Mostly?”

“There’s always something.” Fluttershy waved a wing at the Silver Spoon. “You’re headed to your shift?”

“Oh, shoot, yeah!” He coughed, straightening his tie alongside the rest of his waiter’s outfit. “Gettin’ in early today ‘cause Featherweight’s got a job interview tonight. Says he wants my help gettin’ ready. Makin’ his way in the world; that’s my boy…”

Fluttershy giggled. “Working at the newspaper?”

“Got it in one.” Bulk Biceps glanced at the entrance to see Silver Spoon tapping a watch, her eyes narrowed. “I should get to work. I guess it was nice seeing you.”

Fluttershy fluttered her eyelashes. “It was nice seeing you, too.”

Bulk held his breath. He danced on his hooves just outside the restaurant. “F-Fluttershy—”

Fluttershy looked over her shoulder. “Yes?”

“I… I just wanted to…” Bulk Biceps wiped sweat from his forehead. “I’ve been thinkin’, since you’ve been gone…”

Fluttershy pursed her lips, her wings spreading ever so slightly. “What is it, Snowflake?”

“I’m just… It’s silly…” Bulk let his head droop, letting it shake side to side. “I’m practically twice your age.”

Fluttershy couldn’t help but laugh. “You are not twice my age. You’re only thirty-eight.”

Bulk snorted. “Practically a spring chicken.”

He looked her in the eyes for a brief instant. Long enough for Fluttershy to catch them. They were strong, like his body, but in a different way. Not a harsh strength, nor a quiet one. A proud strength, that fought to be sure of what it wanted. Certain of its intentions. Aching for boldness.

“Fluttershy, would you…” Bulk only hesitated for a moment longer. “Would you like to have dinner with me sometime? You’re a lovely mare in every sense of the word, and I’d very much like to… to know you better.”

Fluttershy ducked behind her mane. “Of course I would.”

“You…” Bulk Biceps’ mouth made a little “O” shape. “You would?”

“Yes.” Fluttershy bit her bottom lip. “Definitely.”

“Well—” Bulk glanced back at Silver Spoon, who had upgraded her glare to an over-the-glasses heat ray. “Well great! Yeah! Is, uh, tomorrow okay?”

“I’ll be ready,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe six?”

“Six in the evening. I can work with that.” Bulk rose up on his tiny wings and did a slow, plodding loop over the hedges surrounding the restaurant. “Yeah!

Fluttershy tottered on her legs. She pressed a hoof against her cheek, smiling through the rosy tint on her cheeks. “I said yes. I can’t believe I said yes!”

She danced through the air on her way home. The old, familiar cottage waited for her in its sunny glade, surrounded by woodland and expertly-tended gardens. She floated over her carrots and pumpkins in a bumblebee’s flight path towards the front door. Angel Bunny opened it before she could knock, and ushered her in with a triumphant squeak. Things were running smoothly. At long last, though, he was ready to let her take the reins again.

A bouquet of flowers waited on the table in her living room, of a species she’d never seen before. They rose tall, with a strange, bulblike flower on the end, split down the middle. A note was taped to the stem:

Flowers from the Far Side of the World. I think I’ll call them tulips, because they kinda look like two monkey lips puckering. See you for tea on Thursday.

Your Chaotic Friend,
Discord.

Fluttershy clutched the note to her chest and lay back on her couch. Her wings enveloped her as Angel rested in her flowing mane. The warm sunlight left a fuzzy feeling in her coat, and all around, animal calls came together to create her favorite song in all the world.

She would live a full, long life, just like Happy wanted. And perhaps, with a little gumption, she’d be able to live it without fear.

***

“Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!”

Tirek the Demon King—Devourer of Magic, Conqueror of Equestria, Exile from the Far Side of the World, and Keeper of the Rainbow of Darkness—let his head thump against the iron bars of his cell. Children. He’d been defeated by children.

“Bo, bo-bo! Bo, bo-bo!”

He raised his horned head and grimaced. The Smooze bubbled in its cauldron a mere single cell away from Tirek’s. Fitting, for the single-cell organism. At least he thought it was single-celled. It seemed rather amoeba-esque.

“Lord Tirek
Has returned
Beaten down and bruised”

“Should have stayed
In his cell
Hanging out with
The Smooze!”

He let his head meet the bars once more, a little more oompah added to the bludgeoning effect. A dragon by the name of Smog had once told him that once his plans were foiled by children, it was time to retire. There was no coming back from that. There was only embarrassment and pain.

A tart little piece of hard candy skidded to a stop before his cell, within arm’s reach. He raised his eyes. “Hello, Munchy.”

Munchy removed an earplug, hanging from his cell’s ceiling by one arm. “Eat before Cerberus finds!”

Tirek picked up the morsel. Watermelon, his favorite. “You can’t have come by much of this. Why give it to me?”

Munchy grinned in his unsettling, hungry-for-pony-flesh sort of way. “Because Tirek is Munchy’s friend. Friends share with friends.”

Tirek glared down at the teensy-weensy confection.

Munchy popped a bit of solidified sugar and corn starch in his mouth. “Plus, Munchy is morlock royalty, so Munchy sometimes feels need to act on Munchy’s noblesse oblige.”

Tirek ground his teeth. “I’m touched.”

Munchy shrugged, then swung down to the floor. “Also, Munchy knows Tirek never got candy after last time we escaped. Munchy thought it might help Tirek feel better.”

Tirek popped the watermelon-flavored treat into his mouth. He sucked slowly, drawing out the flavor for all it was worth.

Munchy stuck his face through the bars. “Is it working?”

“Maybe it would,” Tirek growled, “if you weren’t so pushy.”

Munchy shrugged, then stuck the earplug back in its proper place, blocking out the continuous Serenade of the Smooze. He sat with his back to Tirek, one leg propped up on the other, humming a tune without words.

Tirek licked his fingertips, one by one, just to be sure he’d tasted all the candy had to offer. He stuffed two plugs of his own into his ears, and the Smooze’s overly-jolly lyrics faded into silence. He yawned as he stretched out his full length on a small cot at the rear of his enchanted cell.

“Curse you, Luna. Curse you, Celestia,” he muttered. “Curse Twilight and Cadence as well. And especially curse those two brats who dared oppose me.”

His eyes popped open to stare at the ceiling. “I’m pathetic.”

He glanced over at the far cell, where Munchy pranced a pathetic little jig. Something clicked in his chest as he observed this creature who had followed him through thick and thin, who had pulled him from certain death, who even now sought to make his life better.

Together, the brats—Pumpkin and Pound—had defeated him.

“Maybe friendship…” He winced, even as the words left his mouth. “Is magic?”

Munchy turned to him, an earplug half-pulled from its place. He and Tirek shared a look, pondering the thought, until they arrived at the same conclusion.

Naaahhh!

***

“Now just hold on a moment,” Applejack said. “You gotta move it over here before you put it in the ground.”

Adagio glowered at the mayor. “Believe me when I say I’m the expert on growing golden apples.”

“Nopony’s doubting you had your day some three-thousand odd years ago.” Applejack reached around Adagio and plucked a marker stake from her grasp. “But here and now, I’m the subject matter expert in growin’ apples, period.”

Pumpkin Cake glanced up at the sun, almost pleading for it to vaporize her on the spot. They’d been at this for an hour, in Fluttershy’s little garden. Too much water, not enough, colder, warmer. Soil’s too acidic, or not enough, or just too average. The sun won’t be in position to give it enough light. It’ll get too much light and burn up. Blah, blah, blah, blah…

Fluttershy wiped her brow beneath her light sunhat. “I’m sure it’ll be fine either way, you guys.”

“Oh, ho ho ho, no.” Adagio ground her hoof into the soil and stood tall. “I’m not budging from this spot. This is the bare minimum of what you want.”

“And I say you need it closer to the house.” Applejack shuffled a pile of dirt towards her with a clean sweep of her foreleg. “It’ll be tender while it's young, and you need to be on hand to keep it safe an’ healthy.”

Pumpkin moaned and plodded her way across the soil. “Those spots are literally within one meter of each other. The tree’s gonna be three times as big when it’s grown. It does. Not. Matter.”

Applejack snorted, pushing her hat higher on her forehead. “Yeah, if’n you wanna listen to a mare who hasn’t touched a plant since the Fae Folk walked the earth.”

Adagio sniggered. “This coming from the mare who hasn’t done serious farm work for almost three years? The office life is showing around your midsection, hun. Might wanna look at that.”

This time when Applejack snorted, it came out as steam. “Well, ain’t you just plain funny? I can make you look as funny as you sound, if’n you keep it up.”

“Perish the thought of us coming to fisticuffs,” Adagio said, placing a hoof on her chest. “I wouldn’t dream of mussing up that adorable little cravat.”

Fluttershy pushed them apart with her wings. “Alright, cool off, both of you! This is about Discord, not about who’s the better apple grower.”

Applejack threw her head back and rolled her shoulders. “Alright, alright. Your pick, Fluttershy. Where are we puttin’ the seed?”

Fluttershy took a step back to assess their choices. She drew a little “X” in the dirt between them. “How about here?”

Pumpkin smirked, pulling the seed from its hiding place in her bags. “Count on Fluttershy to pick the compromise.”

Applejack grinned wide as she started the hole with a small trawl. “Good thing, too, ‘cause I’m not the type of mare to do things halfway.”

Pumpkin lowered the seed into place and covered it with soft, displaced soil. She held her breath as she stared at the seed, almost hoping for it to sprout then and there.

Adagio stretched a foreleg behind her head. “Alright, punks. I’m outta here. Got a train to catch and a princess to blow off. You got that list of recommendations?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy said. “You’ve been very helpful, Adagio.”

Adagio Dazzle paused on her way off the property. She smirked over her shoulder, gritting her teeth. “Least I could do. Rock-bottom least.”

She rounded a corner and vanished from sight.

Fluttershy touched Pumpkin Cake on the shoulder and smiled a friendly sort of smile. “Well? How do you feel now that we’ve come this far.”

Pumpkin thought for a moment. “Tired. Just a lotta bit tired.”

“Me, too.” Fluttershy tilted an ear down as she watched Applejack baby the planted seed with her signature Apple Family style. “I want to say thank you. I don’t think we could have come this far without you or Pound.”

“Yeah. The same for you.” Pumpkin shrugged, causing Fluttershy to move her hoof away. “We’d be dead without you.”

She tilted her head to glance at the sun, which hung low in the sky. “I’d better get home before supper. Still grounded and all that stuff. I’ll come by tomorrow to check on the seed.”

“Alright,” Fluttershy said. “See you then.”

“See yah.”

Pumpkin trotted the long way through Ponyville, passing stores as they closed up shop, market stalls as they closed down sales, and restaurants as ponies packed away food. She meandered mostly, avoiding the most direct route. She heard the last few strings of Lyra’s harp as the mare strummed away in one of the town’s squares, near a familiar fountain.

She strode a bit closer and peered in. The same bit she’d tossed in was still there, these few weeks later. The relief image of Celestia smiled up at her as gold glinted. She touched the water, and the image rippled.

“Well,” she muttered. ”Looks like some wishes do come true.”

“Most of them,” another voice added.

Pumpkin Cake looked up, and only just stopped her jaw from dropping. Ribbon Wishes stood on the far side of the fountain, checking pipes. Pumpkin cantered around, her eyebrows high. “What the hay are you doing here?”

“Checking for leaks.” Ribbon pulled a wrench from her overalls and gave a bolt a twist. “The mayor’s gonna be on my butt if these aren’t ready for the summer sun celebration.”

“The mayor?” Pumpkin Cake hurried after the plumber as she trotted across the square. “Ten days ago you were shooting freaking lasers out of your eyeball things, and now you’re… what?”

Ribbon scrunched her muzzle. “These pipes aren’t gonna flush themselves, you know.”

“Oh for—” Pumpkin rounded Ribbon and halted, causing her to screech to a halt. “You’re this super fairy with cosmic powers, and here you are cleaning toilets!

Ribbon Wishes smiled in a totally-not-patronizing fashion. “I don’t clean the toilets, I just unclog them.”

“You’re here swimming in—” Pumpkin made an indicative motion with her hooves. “—when you could be out fighting evil fairies, or warning the princesses about the bad guys, or spying on evil creatures! What are you doing here?

Ribbon’s eyes turned down, growing dimmer. “I’m here to watch silently. To guide quietly. To lead those with no direction, and save those without hope.”

She stuffed the wrench into its assigned pocket. “I’m limited in my ability, Pumpkin. I wasn’t even able to hold Jeuk back. So I do what I can, where I can.”

“And what about Pound?” Pumpkin stomped a hoof. “What about when the Jeuk had him?”

Ribbon sighed from deep within her chest. “A good warrior counters his opponent’s moves, but a great warrior uses his opponent’s moves against them. I work around the Unseelie, giving them just enough rope to hang themselves.”

She tilted her head to the side, letting her curly purple mane dance beneath its cloth covering. “When he was captured, there was nothing I could do to help him. His help came from you. When you were in trouble, he was your help. I can only do so much, but the power lies in you to do something far greater.”

She pointed her horn at the fountain. “You made a wish and followed through. A fairy godmother woulda just been pushy.”

Pumpkin narrowed her eyes. “You’re still pretty pushy.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Pumpkin moved out of the way. She allowed Ribbon to take a few steps before speaking again. “So, what? You’re just gonna keep going on acting like you’re not a fairy in disguise?”

“Ask me no questions,” Ribbon said, “I tell you no lies.”

Pumpkin’s mouth skewed to the side. “I though fairies couldn’t lie.”

“It helps that we mostly keep our mouths shut.” Ribbon raised an eyebrow, narrowing her glare at the filly behind her. “Something you could stand to learn, Pumpkin Cake.”

She moved at an easy pace down the street, headed to her home on the west side of town.

Pumpkin rubbed her nose. “I can only keep my mouth shut for so long, you know.”

***

The midsummer day was perfect for play or rest. Or some combination of the two, in Pumpkin’s case. The sun was warm, but not burning, with expertly-placed clouds dotting the sky at regular intervals. She scribbled away at her crayon drawing, etching in details with the side of the point. She rubbed blue with her hoof, giving a shadow to the structure she was representing. Giving it weight.

The windmill sat empty and decrepit at the edge of the field. Dark windows sucked up warmth from the sun, and let show none of the life and energy that once inhabited it. The wooden door flopped in the breeze, its rusty hinges creaking. It came to life on Pumpkin’s paper, surrounded by lively flowers and flourishing, untrimmed grass.

She bit down on Chewie with a faint squeaka. A finishing scratch with white finalized the drawing. She compared it with the real thing, giving it side-by-side scrutiny.

The windmill was set to be demolished. It was completely empty without Discord’s presence, and its use to the City of Ponyville was long since dried up. Fancy-shmancy city-style mills took its place, upping production and lowering cost. The old magic was no longer necessary. Not with automation.

Pumpkin signed her picture. It was the last proof that the windmill had ever existed. The last half-remembered outbuilding to a farm that had vanished years ago.

The once-home of her friend.

She sighed and stuffed the paper and her rubber chicken into her saddlebags. Pound flew above the grassy field, playing disk golf with Lackadaisy and his other friends. He glanced her way and waved her over, narrowly dodging a poorly-aimed shot. “Pumpkin! Join us for a round! You can use my driver!”

She wrinkled her nose and smirked. “I’m too good at this game. I’ll totally embarrass you in front of your friends.”

“Yeah, well…” He hovered over and set foot in the tall grass. “They can be your friends, too, you know.”

“I know… I just…” She tipped her head back and forth, humming noncommittally. “I wanted to say goodbye.”

Pound raised his head to take in the windmill’s towering height. He nodded softly. “That’s fair. Take all the time you can get.”

“Yeah.” Pumpkin chucked his foreleg. “But save a frisbee for me, will yah? I have a reputation to cultivate.”

Pound grinned from ear-to-ear. He flipped his discus onto his back and soared back the way he came. “Don’t be too long!”

“I won’t!” Pumpkin waved. She rubbed her foreleg, her curly locks waving easily in the wind. The windmill’s arms groaned, the internal gearwork completely stopped up. She took a deep breath in through her nose, let it out through her mouth, and trotted away.

“Psst!”

She halted, her hoof in mid-step. She craned her neck around, her eyes popping wide open.

Discord peered out from behind the door, glancing this way and that, searching for interlopers and finding none. “So I totally got this new place set up. It’s pretty ritzy. I’m thinking of calling it Discworld, but I think that’s copyrighted.”

“Discord!” She raced across the short distance between them and threw her forelegs around his neck. “Ohmygosh! You’re visiting already?

“A socialite of my caliber must keep up appearances.” He ruffled her mane and chuckled. “But then, one cannot crash parties without setting up a few of one’s own.”

He hunched over and placed his hands on his knees. “So how’s about it, Little Miss Cake? Wanna see a place that’s completely and utterly ruled by unadulterated chaos magic?”

Pumpkin Cake placed a hoof over her heart. “I see no possible way this could ever be a bad idea.”

***

Pound threw his driver, and it piffed to a landing mere meter away from the target. “Nice! I’m gonna get under par!”

Lackadaisy fluttered above his head, judging the distance with her hooves. “Just a little to the left, and you’d have a hole-in-one! Gotta work on that.”

She looked over his shoulder, her brow furrowing. “Hay, didn’t you say your sister would play, too?”

“Yeah,” Pound said, easing his putter disk up for a quick toss into the basket. “She’ll come by when she’s good and ready. Why?”

Lackadaisy pointed at the rickety windmill. “’Cause I don’t see her anymore.”

Pound glanced over. The faintest glimmer of magic flashed in the door, and then was gone. “I think I know where she went.”

Lackadaisy blinked, eyes flickering between him and the mill. “Is something wrong, Pound?”

Pound rubbed his chin. He fixed his aim, released the disk, and watched it jingle into the goal. “No. Nothing’s wrong. She’s alright.”

He ducked out of the way to let another of his friends make a shot. He smiled at the windmill, tousling his windswept mane. “I have a feeling that things are gonna be better than ever.”

Author's Note:

Up next, the epilogue(s)!

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