• Published 24th Jan 2016
  • 2,242 Views, 107 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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Moving in a New Direction

Tirek peered at the secluded building from behind a tree. He narrowed his eyes, scanning for sentries, auxiliary entrances, and other sources of danger. The sign hanging over the door consisted of an approximation of a braying stallion, above the words The Bucking Bronco. “This is the place.”

Munchy parted a wall of tall grass. He licked thin lips. “Munchy smell food. It sizzles and it wriggles.”

“Would you please think on things besides food?” Tirek’s long, black nails dug into the bark. “There are more important things to worry about, such as ultimate revenge, or not getting captured by the princesses.”

“Sheesh,” Munchy muttered. “You think Munchy have one-track mind? Always blah blah ‘stay away from guards,’ blah blah ‘stop drawing attention,’ blah blah blah.”

Tirek’s hand jumped out to close around Munchy’s neck. The centaur glared daggers of untimely death at the morlock.

Munchy grinned. “And Tirek can blah blah all he want! Please blah blah more! Munchy likes it so much! Munchy want nothing more than—”

“Laying it on,” Tirek said, “just a little thick.”

“Munchy shut up now.”

“Indeed.” Tirek crept closer to the building, a black cloak pulled around his shoulders. He had pulled it from a dumpster somewhere back in Las Pegasus, and it still smelt of old hay. It did nothing to obscure his appearance, but it did add just that touch of mystery and malevolence to his appearance. He pulled the hood over his horns until only his yellow eyes were visible. “We have an appointment to make.”

Munchy looked at his empty wrist. “What time?”

Tirek slowly lifted his hand to rest it against his forehead. He drew his fingers down his face, leaving white scratches in his red skin. “You are an imbecile.”

Before Munchy could decipher his insult, Tirek pushed open the front door.

The musty atmosphere of the tavern wafted around his head like clouds around a mountaintop. Diamond dogs, donkeys, chimeras, minotaurs, and a horde of other miscelanious sapient species huddled around tables, or clutched cards to their breasts, or guzzled mugs of murky brown fluid. Muted music played in the background, hissing from an old phonograph.

A Clydesdale-sized cat-thing leaned over the counter, polishing a glass with a dirty washcloth. She extended a claw from her paw to indicate Tirek. “Close the door, hexapod. I ain’t payin’ to heat the outdoors. Heck, I ain’t payin’ to heat the indoors neither. Move your caboose.”

Tirek scowled with an expression known to curdle cheese. He suspected her cheese was long past curdling and well into becoming fossilized. He kicked out with a hind leg and launched Munchy into the room, then used the same leg to shut the door. “I thought Grogar ran this tavern.”

“Grogar’s dead. Dragon ate him. Left his will to whoever could find it.” The female cat-person reached into the bosom of her dress and pulled out a dirty scroll, scrawled in haphazard writing. “This here’s my bar now. Name’s Catrina, former witch and currently the chick mixing your drink, so tip well.”

It only took one look to tell Tirek that the seats around the bar were not built for his body type. He leaned his elbows on the countertop and rubbed his forefinger and thumb. “I’m not here for a drink—”

“Munchy is!” The morlock hopped onto a stool and grinned at Catrina. “Munchy likes chocolate milk!”

“I’m sure you do,” Catrina said through clenched teeth. She turned narrow pupils on Tirek. “Is this thing with you?”

“Barely.” Tirek pinched the bridge of his nose, not slowing the coming migraine in the slightest. “I’m here for information. And to hire somebody.”

“Hire?” Catrina tossed the cup across the room, where it made a tremendous crash in the sink. “I suggest you try Equestrian Unemployment. Though I’ll bet they turned you away, too.”

“My job description is not exactly…” Tirek rolled his fingers through the air. “I hesitate to say ‘legal.’ I require more discrete employees.”

Tirek flinched at a cacophony behind his back. He turned to see the aftermath of a minotaur dropping a oak table onto a diamond dog’s head. It was gonna leave a mess.

Catrina’s ears tilted back. “Discrete isn’t the word I would use.”

“Unprincipled, then.” Tirek slapped his hands onto the counter. “I don’t know. Just tell me where I can find someone!”

With a sigh, Catrina leaned her back against the counter. She crossed her legs and brushed her long hair over her shoulder. “Alright. What’s the nature of the work?”

Tirek rubbed his hands together. “Murder.”

The tavern grew quiet. Tirek perked his ears. Pulling away from the counter, he saw that there were fewer sapients on display than before. Nearly half the patrons had scooted out the door. “That’s one way to narrow down a job opening.”

Catrina nodded. She rolled her paw at the wrist. “Come on, details. What species, where are they, who are they—”

“It’s an Equestrian.”

Another large chunk of people vanished from the tavern.

Catrina raised her eyebrows. “Dang. You’ve gotta be payin’ a large chunk of change to try and hire a hit on a pony. Who’d you say you were?”

“They live in Ponyville,” Tirek snarled.

There was a quiet patter as more creatures made themselves scarce.

Catrina straightened up. She dug her claws into the countertop. “Okay. At first it was cute, but now I see you’re just suicidal. Look, buddy, if I knew you were that sloshed I wouldn’t have offered you a drink.”

“I’m serious.” Tirek pressed his forefinger into his opposite palm. “I have compensation well worth the deed. All I need is a willing participant.”

A low cough came from somewhere on the other side of the room. A diamond dog whimpered.

Catrina reached her paw beneath the countertop. She swallowed hard. “Please tell me you’re not stupid enough to say—”

“The pony I want murdered is named Fluttershy.”

The only creatures left in the tavern were Tirek, Catrina, Munchy, and the diamond dog struggling to dig himself out from under the table. As soon as his leg got free, he limped through the front door, sipping from random cups as he went. The door slammed with a great deal of finality that wasn’t quite lost on Tirek.

Catrina’s jaw plummeted. “Celestia’s blisterin’ buttocks, you went there.”

“Crude,” Munchy said.

“Shut up, skeevy.” Catrina spun away, the end of her tail flicking back and forth. “Get out of my tavern. You’ve cost me enough business today. Ain’t nobody in their right mind gonna help you murder a pony. It’s roasting yourself at the spit, you darn rocking horse.”

Tirek picked up a cup and slammed the bottom against the wood countertop. “Are ponies so terrifying that the darkest scum of the earth flees in terror at their mention? What happened to the greater days of old, when the foals cowered beneath true power?”

Tirek threw his hood back. He reared up and shouted at the top of his lungs. “Is there no one who will join Tirek in fighting the light that so readily pushes back the darkness?”

A cricket chirped from the bottom of a jug of ale.

Tirek lowered himself and let his shoulders droop. He glanced at Munchy, who was busy gnawing at a table leg. “I suppose I should have expected as much.”

He sat on two chairs, one for his back half, one for his front half. He ignored how very awkward it was. “Grogar would have known somebody crazy enough.”

Catrina poured herself a tall drink. She threw back a long, slurping gulp. She tottered to her cash register and started counting coins. “It’s your fault, you know.”

Tirek snapped his head around. He clenched his fists. “How do you mean?”

“You came tromping around, tall as a mountain, breathing fire and farting thunderbolts…” Catrina finished off her pint with a burp. “And they still whooped your equine hindquarters.”

She scratched her ear with her pinkie’s clawtip. “And the only ones willing to mess with them now are those who’re a heck of a lot sicker in the head than their sense of self-preservation can counter.”

Tirek drew his cloak tight around his torso. Munchy hopped up and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Tirek shrugged him off and stared into the murky lantern light.

“Aw, c’mon, Reena.” A voice slid like silk from one corner of the room. “Ain’t as bad as all that.”

Tirek looked into the corner, but saw nothing but wooden walls and busted chairs. He rose from his chairs and broadened his shoulders just a hair. “Who’s there? Show yourself.”

“It’s my house, horse man.” A long, white grin materialized out of thin air. Two purple eyes, slit down the middle with sinister pupils, blinked. “I don’t gotta do a thing you say.”

The grin moved closer to a lit lantern. A body formed from shadow, becoming starker as it neared the light. It was a lithe feline body, coated in black fur. First two legs appeared. Then four. Then six. A long tail snaked through the air behind it, accompanied by two trailing growths from behind its shoulder blades. It picked the lantern up in its two front paws and became, for all appearances, completely solid.

Tirek looked down at the creature. He tilted his head to the side and ran his fingers through his beard. “What manner of creature are you?”

Catrina dropped bits down the front of her dress, disinterest dripping from her face. “His name’s Lacer. He’s my brother. He’s nuts.”

Lacer extended a paw and gave Tirek a friendly sort of smile. “Lacer the Displacer to my pals and business partners. Now, I hear you’ve been givin’ my sister a hard time. Got a hard sell to get across?”

Tirek shook the paw, his eyebrows coming close together. “A displacer beast? I thought you were extinct.”

“Nah, man. Nah.” Lacer’s grin hardened. “Just real good at hiding.”

He took a step back and shrugged with his four front legs. “Now I hear along the grapevine you’ve been searchin’ out some bad dudes who ain’t afraid of a little killin’. Sounds fine by me, but you might wanna sweeten the deal a little.” The middle limbs crossed his chest, while the upper limbs looped behind his head. “What chance do we have of not gettin’ our assets thrown in the dungeon for eternity?”

Catrina threw her head back with a prolonged, roaring groan. “Lacer, stop being an idiot!”

Lacer moved faster than a blink, quieter than a whisper. He was at his sister’s side in an instant, sliding his forelegs around her shoulders. “Reena! Sis! Ain’t a problem! Look at it this way…”

He pulled her up to the cash register and clicked it open. A moth flew out before being promptly devoured by Munchy. Lacer ran his paw over the empty space. “If he’s on the up an’ up, we can kill the pony and escape long before the princesses go pokin’ around. These immortal types are crazy, don’t even know the worth of gold. Just trust me on this. Our problems? Poof. Gone in a heartbeat.”

Lacer turned his shiny teeth on Tirek. “One final, stutterin’, gaspin’ heartbeat.”

Tirek stood tall. He threw an arm out to allow his cloak to flow suitably dramatically. “I intend no offense, though I had wished to hire more than just one able-bodied creature. The deed I intend requires numbers and strength.”

“Ain’t no issue, there,” Lacer chuckled. He snapped two paws in synch. Shadows flowed around the room, shifting and weaving through the lantern light. Wide, white smiles leered at Tirek from every corner of the room. “If you don’t got family, you don’t got nothin’.”

***

Fluttershy fluttered up to Discord’s windmill with a smile on her face, determination in her eyes, and hope in her heart. She knocked with a firm hoof, shaking morning dew from her tail. “Discord! Discord, I need to talk with you!”

A yellowed eyeball popped out of the keyhole. “Tee chuta hhat yudd?”

Fluttershy jerked her head back. She raised a hoof, gnawing at her lower lip. “I, um, don’t think I get that reference.”

“Typical.” An eyelid slid halfway around the eye, lidding it. “What do you want, Fluttershy? I’m tired.”

“I have good news!” Fluttershy fanned her wings and beamed. “We think we may have found a cure for you! Maybe. But it’s good enough to try.” She felt her mouth slack ever so slightly. “It’s better than the alternative.”

The eye blinked. It retracted back into the keyhole.

Fluttershy landed. She kicked her hoof through the long grass. “Discord?”

The door swung inward. Fluttershy took a good, long look at the hinges, which were designed for the exact opposite direction. She shrugged and moved inside.

Her first step ended with a light, tangy musical note. Her second step was of a lower pitch, as was the next. She trotted forward, forming a song with her gait. She let a mild smile settle on her muzzle. ‘It sounds nice. Maybe he’s feeling a little better.’

Heavy, deep piano notes crashed from the kitchen. A plate rolled through the archway and rattled to a stop at Fluttershy’s feet. Discord tromped out after it, each of his steps leaving a sour, grumpy blat in the air. He stomped on the plate, shattering it. “I’m busy.”

“I can… see that,” Fluttershy said. Discord was wearing a pink apron, which depicted Princess Celestia wearing a dunce cap. “But… but we think we’ve found something that could save you! Can you tell me anything about the place you were born?”

Discord rolled his eyes. He pulled a toilet plunger from nowhere and stalked over to the sink. Blat, honk, blat, honk. “Born? As far as I know, I’ve always existed. Eternal and immortal. I like it like that.”

Fluttershy hurried to keep up. Ding, ting, ding, ting. “You of all creatures should know that everything has a beginning.”

“And you of all creatures,” Discord said, “should know that everything has an ending.”

He plunged the plunger into the sink, which shook with groans and dog-like barks. Fluttershy jumped onto the counter and pushed him away. “That doesn’t give you an excuse to give up!” she said. “And I won’t give up so long as there’s a hope.”

“Oh, really?” Discord leaned his elbows on midair and cupped his chin in his paw. “Tell me then, oh marvelous one, what’s this amazing, unforeseen cure?”

She puffed her chest out. “Golden apples!”

Discord smiled. He reached down and yanked his goat leg from its place on his body. He held it out to her and wiggled his snaggletooth. “Go ahead. Pull the other one.”

Fluttershy frowned. “I’m serious! I think that a golden apple will help, if not cure you completely. Legend has it they can turn back the clock, restore a body to whole! Isn’t that just what you need? A little more strength?”

“I could eat apples for days and never regain an iota of control.” Discord let his leg pop back into place. “Made of precious metals or not. Fluttershy, please, let me go and stop wasting your time.”

“No.” Fluttershy jutted out her chin. “No. I’m going to go right on wasting my time. No matter what you say, I’m going to keep searching for a cure. I’m not going to stop until you can be well again. Until you can be happy again. And that’s final.”

Discord held her gaze for a few seconds. He looked away, clicking his tongue. “Oh, I know there’s no arguing with you. Well, lay it out for me. What makes you think this is a good idea?”

Fluttershy reached into her saddlebags and pulled forth Elysium and the Tree of Life. “I know it’s just old legends, but so was Nightmare Moon. So was Sombra. So were you. There has to be some truth in there. They say that Draconequuses came from this garden, Elysium. There’s supposed to be a tree that grows golden apples there. Oh, even if we can just find one apple, it would be so helpful.”

Discord yanked his apron off. He flipped it through the air and let it drape over nothing. It hovered like a round table between Discord and Fluttershy. “So,” he said, “your magnificent plan is to find my birthplace, drag me there, find some fruit that probably doesn’t exist, and then hope it cures me.”

Fluttershy’s mouth went askew. “It sounds silly when you put it like that.”

“Everything sounds silly the way I put it.” Discord snapped his fingers. A plate of cookies dribbled onto the middle of Princess Celestia’s dunce-cap-bedecked face. “Nourishment? Perhaps libations? Something to get your mind off of my troubles?”

Fluttershy hovered over the table, paying the food no mind. “Discord, do you have a better idea?”

“Mm…” Discord leaned his paw on the table and touched his talon to his lips. “Nah.”

“Then come on.” Fluttershy reached down and took his hand. “Come with me. Help me find Elysium and the apples. It can’t hurt.” She blinked up at him with the biggest, wettest eyes she was capable of conjuring. “Please? Pretty please with a cherry on top.”

Discord recoiled. “Oh, dear, no. Please, not the cherry on top. I can’t handle the cherry on top!”

Fluttershy pouted. “So you’ll do it? Please say you’ll do it.”

“Ugh! Of course I will!” Discord flung his hands into the air. They tumbled to the ground in a shower of confetti. “If only to preserve my own sanity. Ironically enough.”

He snatched the book from under Fluttershy’s wing and breezed through the pages. “I am curious, though. I can’t remember a wit about this place, and it seems to be utterly lost to memory. How do you intend to find Elysium, a wholly mystical, mythical place?”

“Well…” Fluttershy tugged his wing and leg him towards the door. “We ponies have their ways. I’ve already set up the appointment.”

She kicked the door open. Discord’s eyes popped. He shrieked and slithered away through the tall grass.

Fluttershy’s mouth dropped open, her head tilted to the side, and one eyebrow climbed. She moved through the grass, pushing it aside and searching for any sign of the stray draconequus. She lifted a small rock and found two yellowed eyes peering up at her.

“When did the sun get so bright?” Discord hissed.

“You haven’t been outside for the last four months.” Fluttershy sighed. “Have you?”

“What’s that got to do with the way the sun is stabbing my eyes with its searing heat?”

She bent low and took Discord’s mane in her teeth. She walked steadily backwards, tugging him out of the ground with small, gentle motions. “Just blink your eyes a little bit and it’ll get better. Goodness, I don’t remember you being this skittish.”

“You think I remember?” Discord’s body went limp as she continued to drag him across the landscape. “You know, most ponies don’t remember where they were born. They don’t remember much from before they were four.”

‘That’s probably a mercy, considering.’ Fluttershy glanced at Discord out of the corner of her eye. His long body followed the contours of the ground, rocks and grass and all. “Why do you say that? Do you think you’re just maturing and the memory loss will go away?”

“No, no, that’s not it at all.” Discord waved a floppy talon. “But it is my excuse for not knowing where I was born. I’m not alone in that regard.”

“Most ponies don’t spend their whole life in the hospital, though.” Fluttershy took to the air. Discord trailed like a kite tail behind her. “They don’t remember the place because they don’t get the chance.”

“Maybe I didn’t get the chance?” Discord sighed. He slipped himself out of Fluttershy’s mouth and floated along beside her. He nudged her side. “So. Where are we headed? Someplace stuffy and boring, no doubt. Twilight’s library? Spike’s library? Or worse, Celestia’s library?”

He rolled his eyes. “What is it with royal types and ginormous libraries?”

“Actually, I know someone with knowledge and skill in magic that Twilight…” Fluttershy shrugged. “She doesn’t quite get it yet. I think Zecora will know how to find your home. Do you remember Zecora?”

“Oh of course. How could I forget the most rhythmic zebra I’ve ever met?” Discord chuckled to himself. “I think it’s been a few years since I’ve seen her, though.”

Fluttershy dipped her head down. The warm, beautiful trees around Ponyville gradually grew darker, dimmer, hungrier as they entered the Everfree Forest. “You saw her at Apple Bloom’s nineteenth birthday party.”

“Oh dear, little AB’s nineteen!” Discord burst into giggles. “That must have been—what?—midspring?”

Fluttershy laid her ears back. “The end of winter, actually.”

“Oh.” Discord twiddled his thumbs. “Oh, yes, well, I can’t be expected to remember everypony’s birthday. That’s Pinkie Pie’s gift.”

“I know.” Fluttershy rubbed his shoulder. “I know it is.”

Zecora’s hut became visible in an open clearing, though “Hut” was a loose word to describe the actual home. It was crafted from a living tree, much like the Seeds of Friendship Public Library. Unlike Spike’s home and place of business, it was grown with potions and careful cultivation, rather than earth pony arbormancy. Light shone through the windows, predominantly yellow, but tinged with green.

Discord fluffed his mane up into a cascade of curls. He spoke with a high, squeaky voice. “She’s an evil enchantress—

“Discord,” Fluttershy said, her voice firm, “be nice.”

He shrunk himself to the size of a breezie and pinched his forefingers together. “Just one eensy-weensy song and dance number? I’ll be quick about it.”

“Not if it’s going to be about Zecora.” Fluttershy batted him towards the ground with a wing. “Best behavior. We’re her guests.”

She bopped her hoof on Zecora’s front door, barely heard above the boiling cauldron the zebra kept in the center of her house. ‘It’s a nice feature,’ Fluttershy thought. ‘She gets to cook and heat the house all at the same time. I wonder if I could get a stove installed like that.’

Zecora opened the door and bowed her head to Fluttershy, wearing her usual small, assured smirk. She took a step back and swept her hoof into the hut. “Fluttershy, my quiet friend. My home is always free to lend.”

“Thank you, Zecora.” Fluttershy bent her knee before entering the home. A shiver run down her spine. Masks imbued with power hung from the walls. Various hides of non-sapient animals covered windows and the dirt floor. The cauldron roiled with glowing green liquid. ‘Oh my. Coming to Zecora’s is always frightening. And exciting.’

“Now let us see our time well spent.” Zecora chuckled to herself. “Where is your strange delinquent?”

Fluttershy twisted her ears. She swiveled her head, but caught no sign of the draconequus. The door had shut behind her, and the hut consisted of a single room. There was nowhere for a pony to hide, but for Discord… “Discord, please show yourself. Now’s not the time for games.”

“Games?” one of the masks on the wall said. “I’m merely admiring the cultural treasures straight from Zebrabwe.”

Zecora scrunched her muzzle. “I am from Sheepbaa, truth be told. A Giraffrican province since days of old.”

The mask detached itself from the wall and grew a snaking body with six mishmashed limbs. Discord removed the mask and replaced it, giving it a dusting with the tip of his tail. “My, my, this is quite the intriguing landscape you call home. What sort of magic do you employ? Necromancy? Thaumaturgy? Hearth’s Warming Miracles?”

Zecora gave him a long, even look. “My magic comes from potions, incense—and occasional bursts of common sense.”

“Ooh.” Discord danced his fingers. “Dangerous stuff there.”

Fluttershy placed herself between her friends, clearing her throat. “Zecora, would you be so kind as to help us locate Discord’s birthplace? Is it something you can do?”

Zecora circled around Discord, examining him from tail-tip to top. She looked at the bottom of his hoof, scuffed out some dirt, and shook her head. “It will be a trial, you see. His biology is unknown to me. But with a chip of his hoof, or a clip of his hair, we shall get you from here to there.”

“But au contraire, my stripy mare,” Discord said. “I forgot my lucky underwear.”

Zecora lowered her eyebrows. She walked over to the cauldron with a small sack in hoof. A bit of powder was tossed into the mixture and stirred in. She beckoned Fluttershy closer. “You friend here is quite deranged, but with a sample, his fortune is changed.”

Fluttershy took a clipper between her hooves. She fluttered up to Discord’s eye level. “You get to chose. Hair, nail, or hoof?”

Discord crossed his arms. “I thought the point of this little exercise was to keep me in one piece.”

Fluttershy allowed herself a severe frown. “Do you want to chose, or should I?”

“Pfft.” Discord tugged a lock of his mane. He bowed his head to let Fluttershy reach without rising higher. He gave her a snaggletoothed grimace. “You’ll owe me a musical number, though.”

“Oh?” Fluttershy took the smallest clump she could get a hold of. It was the matter of an instant to free the follicles from Discord’s head. “Just don’t make it about Zecora.”

A chuckled rumbled up from Discord’s belly. “Don’t you worry your little heart.”

Fluttershy held the lock close to her chest as she descended. She moved slowly, unwilling to let the hairs float away. She stretched her forelegs out for Zecora to take them.

They hopped across the empty space and danced on the tip of Zecora’s hoof. Fluttershy let out a tiny, strangled yelp.

Zecora smiled wide, gritting her teeth and straining her jaw. “I make no promise.” She turned to the cauldron, but reared back, glancing at Fluttershy. “Would you grab me that hummus?”

She pointed to a bowl of paste within easy reach of Fluttershy. ‘Hummus sounds good,’ Fluttershy thought. ‘Maybe I can invite Zecora to lunch as a thank you.’

“Allow me!” Discord nabbed the bowl with his talon. He swung it up and over, nearly clocking Zecora in the head. “I feel as though I should contribute something to this endeavor aside from my curly locks.”

Zecora diplomatically said nothing, and instead merely dropped Discord’s clippings into the paste. She stirred with a wooden stick, humming to herself.

Fluttershy wandered around the room while Zecora worked her magic. It was bigger than it appeared at first: Several closets and cubbyholes were carved into the wood, containing tools, ingredients, plants, and all manner of victuals. Behind one hanging hide, Fluttershy caught a glimpse of a powered-down Famicolt 64 game system. It got a double take before she registered it. ‘Everypony has their hobbies, I suppose.’

“Oh, Fluttershy?”

She tilted her head towards Discord’s voice. “Hmm?”

“Would you step outside for a moment?”

Fluttershy turned, but Discord had vanished once more. She hunched her shoulders and fluttered her wings. “Do you need more help, Zecora, or can I go see what Discord wants?”

“I’ll be peachy, without a doubt.” Zecora scooped the hummus into the boiling brew. A bubble floated out, almost but not quite taking the shape of a pony skull. “It is you I am more worried about. This Discord fellow is just not right. Are you sure you’ve chosen the correct fight?”

Fluttershy steeled her hooves. “I have to fight for him. He’s my friend. And we need you, too.”

Zecora took a sip of the cauldron’s contents, then added a sprig of parsley. “I did not say I would not help. If you have need of something, give me a yelp.”

“Thank you. Again.” Fluttershy bobbed her head and walked backwards, opening the door with her rump. “And don’t worry. I think I can keep Discord—”

She turned around and found herself standing before a sound stage. Spotlights waved. Microphones thumped. Dancing hippopotamuses in leopard-spotted leotards wobbled around with intricate motions.

“—under control,” Fluttershy sighed.

“Aha!” Discord descended from the overhead rafters, wrapped around a disco ball. “You’re just in time for my big number! I do so adore the quaint way you ponies engage in musical antics.”

‘Quaint, he says,’ she thought with a climbing eyebrow. ‘That is perhaps a good and proper word for it.’

With the disco ball at the proper height, Discord touched down and spun in a blur. A sparkling white suit coat wrapped itself around his trunk, while purple-tinted glasses dropped over his eyes. “You like? It’s on loan from Vinyl.”

Fluttershy’s eyes trailed down to the multi-hued gemstone rings adorning his talons. ‘The question is, will she want them back?’

Discord snapped his fingers. “Hit it, maestro!”

A rockodile—pulled from the murkiest depths of the swamp—gave Discord a thumbs-up. Rockodiles didn’t have thumbs. Or musical capabilities. Or any talents other than dragging their prey to a horrifying death in the depths of the sludgy grime they called home. ‘I think I shall give him a lot of personal space.’

A lone trombone wheezed into the forest. It was an almost mournful tune, and Fluttershy felt the music wrap around her, bringing warm fuzzies to the cockles of her heart.

That was when Discord signaled the other trombones, drums, and heavy bass to start. It wasn’t jazz, Fluttershy thought. Not quite. Still, it was bouncy and bumpy and as zany as Discord himself. He shook his hips and hopped around the stage, the hippopotamuses jiggling in time.

“I been a-fallin’ apart each day
Gettin’ a little more gobbledygook
Although that’s normal for most, I’d say
Cuz I’m a real ca-razy, nutty kook!

“It didn’t stop with the chaos craze
And it left me in a bind
My whole a-body was a-tumblin’ down
’Til I thought I lost my mind!

“I said to you, ‘Hey girl, it’s cool
There’s no cure to be found’
You wouldn’t listen to a word I said
You said ‘I’ll bring that apple around’”

A glistening red dress flashed around Fluttershy’s body, its tassels swaying with each movement. Discord grinned, and held out a paw.

Fluttershy swished her skirt and hopped onto the stage. “Oh, why not?” she giggled.

Discord spun her right round, a microphone hovering next to his head.

“Look at you
Whoop-de-do!
You’ll never stop a-helpin’ out ol’ Discord
Look at me
Whoop-do-de!
I’ve been touched with your kindness like never before

“Cuz you are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best I’ve ever had!”

The mic lowered to her level. “Care to add a bar or so?” Discord asked.

Fluttershy flicked her mane. “Don’t mind if I do.” She took the microphone in one hoof, hanging from Discord’s talon with the other.

“We all were thinking way back in the day
That you were a little odd
Using pancakes for your wagon wheels
Flossing with a fishing rod

“But you have grown on us every day
It’s something we can’t deny
You’ve taught us all a lesson or two
And on this I tell no lie

“How could I turn away from you
With our friendship going strong?
There’s only one thing left to do
Though the road is very long”

Discord tossed her in the air and looped around her, performing aerial acrobatics around, above, and below her. The hippos climbed atop one another to build a leopard-spotted pyramid. The rockodile honked his trombone for all he was worth. Although she still held the microphone, Discord’s voice came clearly through the speakers.

“Look at you
Whoop-de-do!
You’ll never stop a-helpin’ out ol’ Discord
Look at me
Whoop-do-de!
I’ve been touched with your kindness like never before

“Cuz you are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best friend I’ve ever had
Hey!
You are the best I’ve ever—!”

A blast like a thunderbolt shook the stage, causing the speakers to crackle and pop. Fluttershy covered her ears and dove for cover underneath the collapsed pile of hippopotamuses. The rockodile hissed and retreated into the forest, the trombone crinkling up in its jaws.

A dark cloud of smoke rose from the windows of Zecora’s hut.

Discord threw his hands in the air. “Aw, come on! Is one uninterrupted musical number too much to—?”

“Oh no!” Fluttershy lifted her head. Her hooves were moving before her mind could register the danger. She reached the door and pulled with all her strength. The hinges groaned before finally giving way, releasing a billowing miasma of jet-black ash. “Zecora! Zecora, can you hear me?”

Zecora appeared in a window, hacking and spitting, her mane charred black and her coat sizzling. She didn’t so much climb out as slowly slump to the forest floor. She gave Discord a cockeyed glare. “I’m afraid your hair is quite contrary. It seemed regretful to even spare me.”

Discord ran his talons through his scraggly beard. “Hmm. Hmm. Must be a bad hair day.”

Zecora gaped. “You think that I merely joke and jest? Let’s see how you fare in the midst of a blast!”

“Now, now. Let’s not put the lion before the gazelle.” Discord conjured a hat just so that he could tip it to her. “We knew that something like this was possible.”

“Yes, it needs to be said.” Zecora blew a breath through tight lips. “Though any closer and I’d be dead.”

Fluttershy coughed as the smoke rolled over her. Tears ran down her cheeks to combat the sting in her eyes. She waved it away with a strong beat of her wings. “I’m sorry, Zecora. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Of course not, Fluttershy.” Zecora wiped her face with a handy fern. The soot came away easy. “I’m willing to let bygones go by. I just have the wish… that more could have come of this.”

The sound stage collapsed, hippos and all, into a pony-sized suitcase. Discord picked it up and slid it neatly down his gullet. “It figures. We finally get a big break and it goes kaboom kibosh right in our faces. Or just yours, really.”

“Well… Well it’s not the end!” Fluttershy stomped her hoof, swirling the fog of cinders. “We’ll keep looking until we find another way. We’re not giving up—”

Zecora pressed her hoof against Fluttershy’s mouth. “Shush! Please, hush. Listen and learn.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes. She turned her ears with slow, steady movements, searching for an out-of-place sound. She caught it somewhere behind her—a low, steady hum, like a tuning fork. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at Zecora’s hut.

“Discord,” Zecora said, “it’s your turn.”

Discord scratched the top of his head. A light bulb appeared over his head, before crashing to the ground. An industrial-sized fan appeared with a snap of his fingers. Rather than blow, it sucked the caustic air from the house. In a moment’s time, the darkness was gone, leaving the home mostly unmarred.

The cauldron was empty, surrounded by a charred floor. Above it, floating on air and trailing shimmering pixie dust, was a green arrow.

Fluttershy swallowed. “Was that supposed to happen?”

“Not in so many words.” Zecora shrugged. “Chaos magic is for the birds.”

Discord snaked to the arrow. He let out a titter. “I want to touch it.”

Fluttershy reached out to snag his tail. “Discord—”

“All should be well, my quiet friend,” Zecora said. “The foulest bit came from Discord’s head.”

Discord touched the tip of his talon to the back of the arrow. It swiveled in place, before righting itself on its original course.

“To homeward bound, this arrow stays. Keep it close and you’ll find your way.” Zecora dragged her hoof along a nook to find it covered in black dust. She stuck her tongue out for a brief second. With a wizened smile, she placed her clean hoof on Fluttershy’s back. “Now go, make haste, your work’s not done!”

She raised her head to look Discord in the eye. “Find that apple before this one’s time has come.”

Fluttershy cupped her hooves. She plucked the arrow out of the air and tucked it beneath a wing. It hummed and tingled against her skin. “We will. Thank you, Zecora. We need to spend some time together when I get back.”

“It’s always a joy to hear you sing.” Zecora bowed at the knee in the Equestrian way. She jerked her head at Discord and eyed the door. “Now on your way, you silly thing.”

“Aye, aye, aye, Mon Capitan!” Discord threw a mock solute. With the wrong limb. He gave her a chilling grin. “When you and Fluttershy hang out, I’ll be sure to be on hand.”

Fluttershy tugged on his elbow, pulling him out of the house. “I’m sure you’ll be a proper gentlepony. Right now, we’ve got some packing to do.”

“Oh, ho, ho.” Discord intertwined his fingers and let out a deep, crackly chuckle. “I think I smell a road trip.”

***

‘Princess Twilight’s magic won’t help,’ Pumpkin thought. ‘Even Princess Twilight can’t help.’

She lay sprawled out on her bed, unwilling to get up but unable to sleep any longer. The sun glared through her window. Patty was already stirring in the bottom bunk.

Pumpkin rolled onto her side and hugged Chewie with a faint squeeka. ‘So what good will I be? What can I do?’

Rice cried from her brothers’ bedroom, indicating that he was awake and ready to be fed. Pound never slept through it. He couldn’t.

‘I could tell Pound I’m sorry.’ Pumpkin pulled her blanket over her head. ‘I should tell him. Maybe later, when it doesn’t still hurt.’

She opened her eyes and looked out the window to the street below. ‘’Cept it’s just words. He’s not big on words. Actions are what matters.’

She pulled Chewie through the blankets to look him in the face. “What do you think?” she whispered. “What should we do?”

Squeaka.

“I can’t help Discord. Nobody can.” Pumpkin pressed her nose against the pillow. “Princess Twilight won’t. Fluttershy won’t. The town won’t. He’s all alone.”

Pumpkin lifted her head and kicked her blackest to the foot of the bed. “And that’s not fair, even if he was a butt.”

She glanced at the red walls of her room. Building blocks lay in one corner. The other had a small bookshelf with easy picture books for Patty. Pumpkin’s saddlebags sat next to it, open and waiting.

Pumpkin nodded. She hopped off the bed and started gathering stuff as she walked. Scarves, blankets, a sleeping bag, Chewie. She tucked them into the sacks, doing her best to keep them balanced.

Patty sat up, her curly mane a thick fuzz atop her head. “Pun’kin. Whatcha doin’?”

Pumpkin Cake’s teeth clamped around Chewie’s neck. Squeaka. “I’m making my wish come true.”

Author's Note:

For those seeking a tune for Discord's words, I give you "The Devil is Bad" by The W's.