• Published 24th Jan 2016
  • 2,024 Views, 104 Comments

If You Weren't Afraid - MyHobby



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

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Don't Trust Anyone

Applejack pulled her nearly ever-present hat from its perch. It flopped to her desk with an unsatisfactory pliff. “Nothin’ I can say will stop you, huh?”

“Not really.” Fluttershy shuffled her front hooves and glanced around the mayor’s office. The signature Apple Family style shone from every homey photo and apple-centric bauble—right down to the rocking chair Applejack sat behind her desk. “I need to go. Discord needs his friends right now.”

“Couldn’t you wait just a little?” Applejack drew near her friend, her tail lashing like a snake with indigestion. “Just until Twi gets back from Tartarus. Then she can help you out. Heck, maybe we can call Rainbow Dash back from Cloudsdale. Even better, let’s get the Royal Guard on the case! There’s gotta be somethin’ we can do that doesn’t mean feedin’ you to the nearest hydra!”

A swift kick from Bucky McGillicuddy moved her desk a couple inches. Applejack waited for her pencil holder to stop rattling before speaking. “I’d come if I could… This stupid city thing has the entire office workin’ overtime.”

“I know.” Fluttershy rolled her upper lip back. She turned away before Applejack could see her expression. “Ponyville needs its infrastructure.

“Besides,” Fluttershy said, resting her wing across Applejack’s back. “Discord’s going to be with me the whole time. His chaos magic will keep us safe.”

“Ain’t the chaos magic the whole problem?” Applejack lidded her eyes for a pointed glare. “Are you sure you can trust somethin’ with chaos in the name?”

Fluttershy shrugged. “I trust Discord.”

Applejack chuffed. She eased herself out of Fluttershy’s embrace and moseyed over to her overflowing inbox. “I feel like that was our first mistake.”

“It wasn’t a mistake.” Fluttershy leaned her forelegs on the desk and spread her wings. “Really, Applejack. Who do you know with more knowledge of magical creatures than me? I’m not going out into the world unawares. I befriend grizzlies, manticores, river serpents. I’m in no more danger than if I was just taking a walk through Ghastly Gorge.”

Applejack‘s head snapped around. “You ain’t goin’ to the gorge, are yah?”

“Well…” Fluttershy sucked her lips in. Her ears shrank back. “Just over it.”

“Good gravy, next you’ll tell me this Jelly Museum place—”

“Elysium.”

“—is in the heart of a dragon’s lair.” Applejack slapped a few letters together to even the edges. “To put it plainly, I don’t like it.”

Fluttershy frowned, swishing her mane back with a swipe of her hoof. “You don’t think I can do it.”

“I think it’s gonna be downright dangerous, an’ it’s foolhardy to jump into it without help.” Applejack all but stabbed an envelope with her letter opener. “How’re you even gonna call for help when you need it?”

“Spike offered to lend me a bottle of dragonfire.” Fluttershy swished a hoof through the air. “If I light a message, it’ll shoot right to his mouth. Just like Celestia’s letters.”

She gently laid a foreleg across the desktop to touch Applejack’s hoof. She favored the mayor with a smile. “I’m not going in unprepared. I’m packing up all the supplies I think I’ll need. Even a few I might not. I’ll have Discord with me at all times. We’re just traveling to find his birthplace, Applejack. There’s no monsters, no lost artifacts, no ancient evils rising from the grave. It’s just us.”

Applejack chucked the letter in the garbage, but didn’t pull away.

Fluttershy tilted her head. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe in me?”

Applejack eased herself into her rocking chair. Her hat found its place atop her head. “To a point, I guess. There’s just some things a pony shouldn’t take on alone.”

“And I’m not alone.” Fluttershy let a giggle bubble up from her core. “Anyone who wants to hurt me has to go through Discord and a million woodland critters.”

Applejack barked with laughter. “Who needs the Guard when you’ve got your own personal army, huh?”

“Exactly.” Fluttershy trotted to the saddlebags she’d left by the door. She fished around until she came across an itemized list. “You’re sure it won’t be too much trouble—?”

“Your cottage is in good hooves.” Applejack accepted the list with a dismissive wave of her foreleg. She popped a gumball in her mouth and offered another to Fluttershy. “I’ll have Scootaloo check on the animals, and I’ll personally make sure everything’s shipshape on my way home each night. Don’t you worry ’bout nothin’.”

“I know I won’t have to.” Fluttershy bobbed her head and backed towards the office door. “Thank you so much, Applejack.”

“You stay safe, you hear?” Applejack leaned against her knees, her eyebrows low. “Y’all gotta come back in tip-top shape, or no more solo adventures for you.”

Fluttershy wrinkled her muzzle with a tiny smirk. She turned the handle and pushed. “It’s not solo.”

A flurry of papers blew into the office. Outside, in the main room of Ponyville City Hall, the cubicles and workstations of the various bureaucrats were a mess of disorder and disorganization. Earth ponies ran for cover. Pegasi flocked away. Unicorns cast invisibility spells. Fluttershy walked through the pandemonium with as blank an expression as she was capable of concocting. ‘Just a normal day at the office,’ she thought. ‘Just a normal day.’

A notable face was missing from the fray. She turned to a random pony, whose glasses were bizarre swirls of color, and asked “Excuse me, this may seem a strange question, but have you seen Discord?”

“I haven’t seen him.” The pony vibrated as his bowtie constricted his words. “Not since she got her hooves on things.”

Fluttershy sucked on her lips. “Um…”

“Shy!” Pinkie Pie bounced up from under the assistant mayor’s desk and gave her friend a quick hug. “I’m so sorry I can’t come with you, but I can do you one better! I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure you’re fully stocked for the trip! I was just giving the supplies to—wait, where did he go?”

A faint bubbling came from a nearby coffee mug. Fluttershy glanced at it long enough to catch two yellowed eyes peering over the rim. “I assume you mean Discord?”

“Yeah! That’s the guy!” Pinkie Pie reached beneath her desk to bring forth a towering stack of bags and containers. “I just said, ‘hay, hold this stuff for me,’ and he vanished!”

Fluttershy looked up, up, up, and still had trouble seeing the top of the pile. “You keep that all in your desk?”

“No, of course not! That would be silly!” Pinkie held the stack in one hoof while she half-covered her mouth with the other. “I keep a few things stashed around town hall. For ‘Epic Journey into the Unknown’ emergencies. You’d be surprised how much use this stuff gets.”

“Help me!” Discord whispered loud enough to be heard across the room. “She’s going to suffocate me with supplies!”

Fluttershy blinked as the various dry goods rocked back and forth. “Dare I ask what’s in that?”

Pinkie rubbed her chin, jutting out her lower lip. She set the payload on her desk, which groaned with the strain. “Well….”

She pulled one item from the stack at a time, naming them as she went.

“A can of beans, some hiking boots
A twenty-footer parachute
A wheel of cheese
A plush to squeeze
And here’s some eye of newt

“A compass for if you get lost
A heaping dose of apple sauce
A handy map
A critter trap
It’s at a thrifty cost!”

‘Well, that’s one I haven’t heard before.’ It took all of Fluttershy’s willpower to keep a straight face. “I’m not sure we need a twenty-foot parachute, exactly. Both Discord and I can fly.”

Pinkie tossed the folded fabric into the air and caught it with her tail. “Oh! I get it! You want the deluxe package!”

Discord’s coffee mug rumbled with a suppressed moan.

Fluttershy’s mouth moved, but it took a while for her to find the right words. “That’s not necessary, Pink—”

Pinkie grasped Fluttershy around the shoulders and led her through a suspiciously-empty city hall.

“A traffic sign, a bag of sleet
A chocolate-covered parakeet
A set of keys
A hive of bees
And nine-piece cookie sheet!”

“Actually—”

“The town sheriff’s ten-gallon hat
The cravat of a diplomat
Deodorant
Bug repellant
And Rainbow’s welcome mat!”

“What are you doing with Rainbow Dash’s welcome mat?”

“That’s what I wanna know!

“Fifteen bags of phoenix down
Philomena gets around
Telescope to see the stars
Eighteen tons of chocolate bars”

Discord leaped out of the mug and threw his hands in the air. They clattered to the floor a second later. “She’s a madmare, I tell you! Mad!”

Pinkie grinned over her shoulder. “You’re just jealous that I’m cuter than you. Also, you’ve used that joke already.”

“No, I haven’t!” Discord turned up his snout. One eye popped open. “Have I?”

“It’s possible…” Fluttershy fluffed out her feathers and brought her head below Pinkie’s. “Really, we want to travel light and fast. If we hurry, we might be there and back again within a month. And, believe it or not, I am a good forager.”

“I know.” Pinkie gnawed on her tongue behind her lips. She looked from Fluttershy, to Discord, to the pile of stuff. “I just wanted to feel like I was helping.”

Fluttershy pulled Pinkie into a tight hug. Pinkie leaned into it, putting most of her weight on her friend. “And they’ll especially need me to stay if everypony keeps taking the day off like this! Where the heck is everybody?”

“If things keep going like they are,” Discord whispered, “that big helium canister in the sky.”

***

Pumpkin Cake peered out of the kitchen. Her parents were busy with customers, but she only had a few minutes at best before they’d get curious. That only left time for about three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Not awesome. That would barely last her a day on the road. A growing filly like her needed more sustenance.

Her horn flickered as a knife slid across bread. ‘It’ll have to do for now. I’ll figure out something later. Right now, I gotta… do what exactly? I know I need that book. Fluttershy probably still has it. Should I ask her for it, or—’

“Mornin’, Pumpkin,” Pound said, slouching his way through the kitchen. His bleary, half-opened eyes searched for cereal and milk. “Whatcha doin’?”

“I’m doing…” Pumpkin spoke slowly to allow her mind to catch up with her lie. A specific appliance provided a way out. Kinda. “Toast.”

“Cool.” Pound found a bowl despite himself. He stumbled up to the countertop to fill it with sugary puffs and marshmallows. “I like toast.”

Pumpkin grimaced, but kept her voice light. She wrapped the sandwiches in her magic quickly. “I know, right? Super crunchy and the peanut butter’s good and I’ll see you later.”

With the sandwich bags in her saddlebags, resting beside Chewie, she trotted her way out the back door. The alleyway was blissfully empty. ‘Maybe the library has more than one copy? Spike’s on the way to Fluttershy’s, so it can’t hurt. I won’t get in trouble for stealing that way…’

With her destination chosen, she sped up to a gallop. Ponyville went by in a blur, a kaleidoscopic muddle of faces and colors. She was breathing heavily as she stomped up the path to the library’s front door. She didn’t bother with the door handle, instead lighting her horn and stepping through the wood.

“Mr. Spike, are you home?” She glanced back. The lock was firmly in place, preventing ponies without her super-special talent from entering. ‘Whoops. Library’s closed. Maybe I can back out slowly—’

The stairs creaked. Spike lumbered down, each heavy step of his hind legs sending little jolts through the floor. “Don’t bother, Pumpkin. It’s only five minutes until we open.” He scribbled across a sheet of paper, then lit it afire and sent it flying through the air. “Really, I’ve come to expect this from you.”

‘Ouch. Brutal honesty from the local dragon.’ “Oh, cool. Listen, could you help me find a book?”

“Sure…” Spike bared his teeth in a cheesy grin. “I can.”

Pumpkin’s jaw tightened. “Will you?”

“That, too.” Spike lowered himself to all fours and moved with a lighter step. Her perused the shelves, checking that they were in order. “What’s the book?”

Elysium and the Tree of Life.” Pumpkin saw the exact moment Spike’s back scales locked together. “It, um, really spoke to me.”

“Oh yeah?” Spike stood beside the fantasy section, running his fingers across the book spines. “Sorry, Pumpkin, but we’ve only got one copy of the book, and Fluttershy needs it right now. I can maybe find you something similar—”

He slapped his forehead. “Except somebody checked out all our books on faries.”

“Oh.” Pumpkin Cake plopped to her rump. “Well, that sucks.”

“It’s not so bad. Just check back here in, like, a week.” Spike clicked the latch on the door and flipped over the “open” sign. “Meanwhile, is there anything else I can help you with?”

‘You can help me right off a cliff.’ Pumpkin gathered her wits for an assault on Fluttershy’s fortress. “No. I’m fine. I’ll show myself out—”

The door jingled. Ribbon Wishes entered, carrying a sack full of books. “Hi, Spike. Stopped by before work to drop off a load. Figured I’d give the librarian something to do.”

“I’d be lost without books, Miss Wishes.” Spike smiled and gripped the bag’s straps in one hand. “I didn’t think these were due for another three days?”

“I eat books, practically.” Ribbon laughed in that sort of way people laugh when they aren’t as funny as they think. The plumber winked at Pumpkin. “Getting any closer to making that wish come true?”

‘Get off my back and out of my business.’ “Of course. Heck, the wishes are just lining up, waiting to come true.” Pumpkin gave her a look that she hoped spelled “shut up” with a capital S.

Ribbon ignored it. “I’d browse a bit, but I gotta run. City hall’s backing up. Something about confetti clogging the system.”

“Pinkie?” Spike said.

“Pinkie.” Ribbon gave them both a smile that had no place on somebody who was about to stick their head in sewage. “See you later! Have a good one!”

“What an obnoxiously happy person.” Pumpkin managed to keep that one under her breath. In a speaking voice, she heaved a sigh. “See you around, Mr. Spike.”

“See you later, Pum—” He lowered his eyebrows as he sifted through the books. He held up a claw. “Wait. I think I’ve got… huh?”

Pumpkin propped herself against the front desk. She watched him scramble through a black spiral-bound notebook. “What? Did a dog chew on the glue again?”

He tapped a date with Ribbon Wishes’ name next to it. “Well, that lines up, but… It makes no sense.”

Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “Context, please?”

Spike glanced at her. He ground his teeth together and lifted a hefty tome. “This is the Seeds of Friendship Public Library’s copy of Elysium and the Tree of Life.”

Pumpkin furrowed her brow, peering at the book. It was the same book, even if the pages were dog-eared and the cover was chipped. “Doesn’t Fluttershy still have her copy?”

“Uh huh?” Spike scratched his head. A gray scale flaked loose. “But, I mean… I was pretty sure we only had one copy.”

He laughed in the back of his throat and stamped a new date on the inside cover. He scribbled Pumpkin’s name in the notebook. “I guess I need to recheck our stock. Are you familiar with the term ‘serendipity?’”

“Do I look like a dictionary?”

“Touché.”

Pumpkin grasped the book in her magic and practically yanked it out of Spike’s grip. He grunted and raised an eyebrow. “So,” he said, “are you gonna say goodbye to Discord today?

“What do you mean goodbye?” Pumpkin snapped. “He’s not going anywhere.”

“He’s…” Spike rolled his hand. “Going on a trip. To Elysium. To get an apple.”

“They’re—they’re actually going?” Pumpkin lowered her head to look at the tree engraved on the book’s cover. “They decided to take the trip after all?”

“As I understand it.” Spike leaned his elbows on the desk and frowned. “Hay. What’s up? Something I can help with?”

“I think you already did.” She slipped the book into her saddlebags. “Um. Thank you.”

“No problem.” Spike would have said more, but he was interrupted with a belch of flame. The magical smoke swirled and reformed itself into a scroll with the royal seal. He cut the seal and scanned the letter. “Sorry, I’ve gotta go. Tartarus is going nuts and Twilight’s being… Twilight.”

“Meaning?”

Spike lifted the scroll and let it hang slack. It flipped and flopped until it reached his feet. “Meaning I have a list five pages long of research she needs on the prisoners.”

Pumpkin smirked and lit her horn. She stepped through the wall with a quick hop. “Have fun with that.”

***

‘Okay,’ Pound thought. ‘Pumpkin seemed pretty chill this morning, so maybe she’s ready to make nice.’

He flew through Ponyville at slightly above head-height for a full-grown stallion. High enough to get a little elevation, low enough that he wouldn’t break his legs if he fell. He liked flying above the rooftops, but his parents fervently denied him permission unless accompanied by an adult. Scootaloo, mostly. It was pretty awesome.

It made searching the midmorning market for his sister an ordeal. The sheer amount of manes and yellow coats was exasperating. Everywhere he turned, there was another bob of curls, yet another blue ribbon tied in yet another bow. “Pumpkin! Puuumpkin!

Not a wink.

Pound gave the crowd a good, long look. ‘That’s weird. They’re all walking the same direction. Why’re—? Oh.’

Above the heads of the crowd, towering like a snaking pillar of kookiness, was Discord himself. Ponies were making a hasty, yet polite, effort to put as much distance between him and them as possible. ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’

As Pound got closer, he saw Fluttershy and Cloudkicker walking alongside Discord. He couldn’t hear everything Cloudkicker was saying, but he caught a few choice phrases, such as “—Cor blimey, Fluttershy, are ye tryin’ tah die—” and “—most foolhardy, misplaced courage as I’ve ne’er seen—” and “—for the love o’ Equestria herself, stop while ye’re ahead—”

The bushes rustled beside Pound. He chanced a glance down and saw a pair of matching blue bows amongst the leaves. “Pumpkin?”

He was yanked tail-first into the bush by the blue glow of magic. Pumpkin’s hoof clasped over his mouth, followed by a hissed “Shut up!”

Pound shoved the offending foreleg away. “Wha—? Why are we in a bush?”

She pressed down on the top of his head and pulled him out of sight. She peered through the leaves with a fierce glare. “I’m spying. Now shush!”

Pound nudged her with his shoulder so that he could have a look. Fluttershy and Cloudkicker walked right beside the bush, with Discord on their heels. Cloudkicker’s tirade continued unabated, without so much as a pause to catch her breath.

“—nae weapons, nae a map, nae even an idea o’ how far ye’ll be goin’! I’ve seen sailors who wouldnae blink at a storm o’brewin’ o’er the horizon, but this is a thunderin’ hurricane!”

“Too soon, Cloudkicker,” Discord said.

“Clam it, ye warblin’ ijit.” Cloudkicker raised herself into the air, her wings working overtime to heft her swollen belly. “I’ll hold ye personally responsible for e’ry bruise, cut, an’ likewise other injury Fluttershy sustains durin’ yer expedition! An’ I’ll take it outta yer hide, too!”

“Duly noted.” Discord crossed his arms. “Never argue with the pregnant mountain mare wielding a wooden spoon.”

“I’m not holdin’—” Cloudkicker lifted a long, hard wooden spoon that had not been there a moment ago. She shook it at Discord. “Ne’er arm the enemy, or ye have only yerself to blame for the pain.”

Pound shifted a branch so that it was no longer poking his butt. “I don’t get it. Why are we—?”

Pumpkin pinched his lips shut with a spell. “I wanna know where they’re going.”

Pound would have asked why if he could talk. He settled for shrugging.

“Because I wanna know, that’s why.” She pushed him down again and nestled deeper into the leaves.

Fluttershy was right next to them, inches away from Pound’s wingtip. She breathed softly through her nose. “Are you done?”

Cloudkicker flittered down, dropping the spoon on the way. It vanished with a soft Arooga! “Aye. I’ve said my piece. I think this is ridiculous, Fluttershy. The world itself is against ye on this. Cannae ye see it?”

“I see that my friend is hurting,” Fluttershy said. “And I know something that can help. Simple as that.”

Cloudkicker swiped a wing, which batted at the bush. Pound bit his lip to keep from shouting.

“Ye’re a braw pony,” Cloudkicker said. “A good friend and a bonny lass. But I’m scared for ye.”

She looked down at her chest and touched the whistle hanging there. She looped the cord over her head. “Here, take me Da’s boatswain’s call. It’s loud enough that it’ll startle predators an’ the like. It’s a cry for help in any language.”

Fluttershy’s wings snapped open as her eyes widened. “I can’t accept this—”

“Ye’ll accept it an’ like it, ye barmy fuzzball!” Clouckicker tried to laugh, but it came out as a sober groan. “Consider it a rental an’ a promise that ye’ll return. Can ye promise that, at least?”

Fluttershy nodded. She let the necklace slide past her ears and around her shoulders. “Thank you.”

She pulled a glowing green arrow from her bags and let it float upwards. “This is showing us the way, so don’t worry about us getting lost. We’ll be fine.”

Pumpkin climbed on top of Pound. She stood on his back to get a closer look at the magic. Pound’s legs shook under the combined weight.

“Splendid!” Discord spread his wings as wide as they would go. And then some. “Now that the goodbyes are taken care of, shall we be on our way?”

“Of course.” Fluttershy patted Cloudkicker’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Don’t.”

Cloudkicker shook her head. “I always worry about ye, lass. Always.”

She walked one way, and Fluttershy and Discord walked the other.

Pound grunted. ‘This is so weird. Why am I hiding in a bush eavesdropping on Fluttershy? It’s wrong. What does Pumpkin want with—’

It hit him like a ton of bricks. ‘Oh no.’

He twisted his neck to look his sister in the eye. “Pumpkin, you know you can’t go with—”

She leaped off his back and charged through the marketplace.

“Pumpkin!” He clawed his way out of the bush, his mane tangled with leaves and branches. He shook his wings out and strained to get airborne. “Pumpkin, stop! Don’t!”

She paid him no mind, running full-tilt, slipping around, under, and through anything in her path. He hopped up and flapped as hard as he could, flying a good head taller than the biggest stallion. “Stop, wait, wait, wait!”

“Fluttershy!”

The shout pulled his ears to the left. Fluttershy stopped, as did Discord. When Pound looked again, Pumpkin was nowhere to be seen. He kicked himself and settled down on a nearby rooftop.

Merry Mare strode through the marketplace, her face wrinkled with worry lines. She yelled again, her voice softer. “Fluttershy, wait.”

A chill ran down Pound’s spine. The breeze blowing across his back played with his mussed mane. He hid himself from sight until only his eyes and ears could be seen from the street, and only if one was looking.

Merry Mare placed her hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “I’m not going to try and stop you. I know how much this means to you. But just do me one favor.”

Fluttershy rested her hoof on Merry’s outstretched foreleg. “Of course. What?”

Merry took in a deep breath. She gritted her teeth, like she’d swallowed something bitter. She stared Fluttershy dead in the eye. “Whatever you do, wherever you go, don’t trust anyone. Understand?”

Fluttershy let her leg drop. She eased half a step back. “I’m not sure I do.”

“Me either!” Discord said. He covered his heart with his paw and turned his nose up. “Why should she not trust such an upstanding citizen as myself?”

Merry let her ears droop. “Because there are dangers out there that no amount of friendship can thwart.”

Fluttershy pushed her chest out and held her head high. “I have yet to meet one.”

Quiet hung over the little intersection on the edge of town. Fluttershy turned to Discord, but kept her head facing Merry. “Thank you for the advice. Take care of yourself.”

Merry sat down and let them walk. “You, too.”

They crossed the park that sat at the between Ponyville and Whitetail Wood. Pound lifted himself up, ready to launch himself at the first sign of Pumpkin.

There! In the grass! A blob of orange and yellow charged towards them. Pumpkin raced for the tree line, apparently to move out of sight. Pound spread his wings. He wouldn’t be able to catch up with her before she reached the woods. She’d get away. She’d hide.

‘This won’t work,’ he thought. ‘I should just get Mom and Dad. They’ll know what to do. They’ll organize a search party. I can—’

“I can catch her.”

He re-judged the distance. Pumpkin was slowing down. He scratched at an itch on his flank. ‘I’ve got better endurance. If she slows down, then I can catch her at the trees. If I can convince her to come back, then she won’t get in trouble. She won’t blame me for getting in trouble. It’ll be better for both of us.’

He gnawed his lip. ‘But I should just tell Mom and—’

“She’s getting away.”

The itch beneath his wings grew worse. He launched himself from the rooftop, careening far higher than he was ever allowed to go. He zeroed in on Pumpkin and followed her towards the woods.

They disappeared into the trees, a few feet away from Discord and Fluttershy. The two of them followed the arrow, taking an easy walk down the Whitetail Wood trail.

***

Jeuk slithered across the rooftop, out of sight. He watched the pegasus colt race for his sister’s life. The fae let out a chuckle. “Awfully distractible, that one. Amusing; most very amusing.”

He leaned over the side of the roof and watched Merry Mare retreat back to her home. Maybe even the pub, if she was feeling especially upset. She never drank a drop in her life, but there were friends to be found. Jeuk considered heading there himself, but thought better of it.

“Celebrate when the business transaction is successful,” he said to himself. “It offers the opportunity to gloat.”

He conjured up a pair of ears and set a black boater hat between them. A red tie was next, beneath a black suit coat and above four hooves. All his pieces were set in motion; he only needed to wait for Tirek to make a move.

“Yes, yes. Most very, very amusing.”

***

“There it is,” Tirek said. He stretched his hand over the hill overlooking the settlement. “The hated Ponyville.”

“Slick digs, horsebutt my man.” Lacer the Displacer gazed through a pair of binoculars, his muscular torso fading in and out of view as clouds loomed in front of the sun. If Tirek stared at the shadows, he could see faint outlines swirling like smoke on the wind. “Looks dicey, though. Too many guards for my liking.”

Munchy climbed up onto a rock. He gnawed on some unspecified bone. “Munchy has plan.”

Tirek frowned, and wished to do much more than merely that. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Munchy can go down. Sneaky-like and spooky.” Munchy crouched, his hands spread, as if he was telling the most intense story he had ever heard. “Then Munchy eat all the ponies! Munchy has very good plan!”

“Scintillating.” Tirek’s pointy, rotted teeth clashed together. “Lacer, what is taking your scout so long?”

“It’s reconnoitering, man.” Lacer lowered the binoculars and leaned two forelegs against Munchy’s rock. “It’s to see and not be seen. It’s to know and be unknown. It’s slow work, man. Subtle.”

“In my day, if we required information we needed only take it!” Tirek’s fist found his opposing palm. “Ponies would fall over themselves to spare their loved ones. Princesses and kings bowed to my whims!”

“Ancient history, horse man.” Lacer and Munchy shared a glance. “Ancient history.”

Tirek laughed, a harsh, wheezing sound. “Not for long, my critical minion. Not for long.”

Lacer sputtered with suppressed laughter. “Where did you find this guy, matey masticator?”

“Tirek save Munchy’s life!” Munchy gave Tirek a wide, terrifying, oh-so-charming smile. “Munchy thankful for all eternity.”

Tirek’s eye twitched ever so slightly.

A leaf swayed on a breeze that went unfelt. Sunlight broke through the cloud cover, revealing a displacer beast climbing the hill. “Lacer, dude. The pony ain’t in town no more. She up and left.”

“What?” Tirek shoved Lacer to the side and knocked Munchy from his perch. He grasped the displacer beast by the shoulders and lifted him. “Impossible! She would never leave this village! Where has she gone?”

The beast squirmed in his grip, breaking free with a sudden kick. For its credit, the creature continued its report. “She’s gone on some sort of quest. That Discord dude she hangs out with got sick, so they’re headed for a cure.”

“Blast!” Tirek paced on the hilltop, his arms akimbo and awry. “We’ll never catch up! She could be leagues out by now! She could be anywhere! She could be—”

“They left ten minutes ago.”

Tirek settled down. He swept his cape around his knobby body, pulling the hood low over his eyes. “Well… That does change things, doesn’t it?”

He rubbed his chin, his grin growing wider by the minute. “In fact, this could be even more perfect than I possibly imagined. Which direction are they headed?”

“West by northwest, sir.” The displacer beast pointed in the indicated direction with a long, snaking tentacle. “Through Whitetail Wood.”

Tirek set out at a fast march. “Lacer, ready your beasts. We strike by the light of the moon, when we are far away from the village. We must take Discord by surprise first, then we can do as we wish with the pony.”

“Discord?” Lacer scowled. “No way, horselegs. I didn’t sign up to face a draconequus—”

Tirek gripped Lacer by the throat. Mad, beady yellow eyes glared into the displacer beast’s soul. “You assumed we could slay Fluttershy and completely avoid the ire of her friends? Are you that small-minded, or merely naïvely hopeful?”

A trickle of sweat slid down Lacer’s forehead. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

“Banish such weak thoughts from your head.” Tirek released his throat, looming over him as a horned silhouette. “My task shall be to deal with Discord. Yours is to destroy the one called Fluttershy. Together, we shall exact my revenge, and you shall have your reward.”

A suave smile, slightly insincere, made its way across Lacer the Displacer’s muzzle. “Alright, big hoss. I gotcha. You take the lead.”

Tirek clenched a fist and raised it to the sky. “Tonight, blood shall be spilt!”

Munchy hopped onto his back. “And Munchy will have food! Lots of food!”

Tirek bucked the offending morlock off. “Be quiet, Munchy, or I shall have to hurt you.”

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