• Published 11th Apr 2016
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Eating Dessert First - alarajrogers



Sometimes I get impatient with how long I write and how long it will take before I get to a part I want to write, and then I write it anyway. This is a compendium of snippets from future parts of my fics.

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Ocean (Sequel to Ice; Drama; Twilight, Spike, Discord)

About an hour after Spike had woken up, and by Twilight's best guess over two hours since their nightmare trek through the frozen darkness had begun, Discord finally dropped dead.

At least, she assumed he was dead. She couldn't hear his heartbeat when she pressed her head to his chest, no puffs of air steamed from his mouth or nostrils, and he wouldn't get up and move when Spike bit him. Spike's threats to bite him – occasionally followed through on – had kept him awake and moving for the past hour, despite multiple collapses to four knees or to his belly, but for the past twenty minutes or so he'd been moving slower and slower, and been less and less responsive. He hadn't spoken at all for five minutes before the last collapse. She should have known something was wrong then. But what could she have possibly done? Aside from not have gotten any of them into this situation in the first place?

She had to leave him there, lying flat on the ice that had killed him, his expression still contorted with pain. She had to save Spike. Despite being fully reptilian, and therefore having no means of generating body heat in the absence of magic, Spike was still alive. He was smaller than Discord, more compact, and being a dragon he'd been hotter to begin with. Twilight had tried to keep them both going longer by having Spike ride Discord, a blanket tied around him and wrapped around the draconequus' middle, so they could share body heat. Discord was part mammal and could make body heat, just not enough to compensate for his reptilian parts. His scales hadn't given him any protection against the cold. She'd thought that putting them together would keep Discord alive longer, and maybe it had. Maybe he would have died of the cold half an hour ago without Spike. It didn't matter. She hadn't made it to the portal in time to save him.

It was too cold to cry.

She went back to carrying Spike, the blanket tied around him and her middle now. He was much too cold. Dragons were supposed to be hot; Spike normally felt like a hot summer day in a small package. Now he was a cool and breezy autumn. Twilight wanted to keep him awake by talking to him, but she had so little energy left and she needed it all to put one hoof in front of the other. One hoof in front of the other. Hoof, hoof, hoof, hoof. So cold.

Spike wasn't talking anymore either but she could still hear his breathing, raspy and slow but still there. He'd gone into some sort of torpor. She hoped. She hoped he wasn't dying. Of course he was dying; she was dying too. The only reason she was better off than Spike and Discord was that she was a pony; quite aside from being a mammal, she was covered entirely with fur and feathers, and her species had survived the far north and the windigos. It didn't mean that she was doing well, stumbling along through the southern polar continent of a planet without magic, without winter gear, freezing in the darkness. It just meant she'd live through this horror longer than they would.

No. If Spike died, she was just going to give up and lay down on the ice. She had to make it to the portal. She had to save him.

One hoof in front of the other. So cold. It's all your fault. You screwed up that spell and now Spike is going to die and it's your fault. No. Won't let it happen. One hoof. One hoof. So cold. Can't feel my hooves. Can't really feel much of anything actually. Discord said that an hour ago and now he's dead. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Discord, you shouldn't have tried to come through and rescue us. I know that was what you were trying to do because if it was true that you were just curious you wouldn't have admitted it. Whenever you did something to be a jerk or just for no good reason you claimed you had a good and noble reason and whenever you actually had a good and noble reason you claimed you were just doing it for fun. You said you were just curious so that means you were trying to save me and Spike and now you're dead. I'm so sorry. One hoof in front of another. What am I going to tell Fluttershy? I haven't felt Spike move in a while. He has to be breathing. Please still be breathing. Oh thank Celestia I hear it now. Don't know how long he can last. Don't know how long I can. All my fault. So sorry. So cold. One hoof in front of the other.

For several seconds she stared stupidly at the ice in front of her, wondering why she had stopped moving and what it was she had stopped here for, before instinct and sense percolated up to her half-frozen brain. This was the portal. She could feel it. It was here.

She'd expected to have Discord with her to help open it. But she couldn't doom Spike just because Discord was dead. She had to do this herself.

Twilight opened herself up to the flow of mana, as wide as she possibly could. There was nothing in the air, nothing in the ambient... but there were currents, running deep underground. In the absence of any other magic, her earth pony side could feel them for once; it wasn't usual for her to feel earth magic, not back home where there was so much other magic competing for her attention, but here it was all there was. She drew it up through her hooves, slowly, painstakingly, like trying to suck a really thick milkshake through a narrow straw, and pushed it back outward through her horn.

The portal glowed. It was active.

She pulled Spike down off her back. "Spike, Spike, wake up. Wake up. I found the portal, Spike, wake up."

"Whhuu."

"I need you to wake up. I need to send you through the portal with a way to pull you back so you can see if it's right." The fact that the portal had fractured at least once, with the intake location and the exit point so far away from each other, meant it could have fractured multiple times. There was no guarantee this portal went back to Equestria or that it was even safe.

"Sllleee."

"No, you have to wake up!" She shook him, hard. "It's the portal, Spike, we could be safe, we could be warm again, but you have to wake up to test it!"

"Jusss go thruh."

"I can't do that, it'll close behind me as soon as I go. It has to be you because it's not your magic that opened it. Spike, come on! Don't you want to be warm?" She was starting to shake. The warmth that had temporarily flowed through her as she'd pulled on the magic was fading, and she couldn't seem to reach the magic anymore, as if she'd already gotten everything she could reach from here.

"Oh. Nkeh." He blinked and roused, sluggishly.

"We have to tie the blanket around... around my neck. Then you hold it and step through." There wouldn't be enough play if it went around her barrel. "Hold on tight in case it's a cliff or something."

"Uh..."

"Spike, just hold on!"

She waited until she saw him actually close his claws tightly around the blanket, and then nudged him to stick his head through. He leaned forward, his head disappearing into the portal... and then he pulled it back, fully awake now. "It's a beach! Twilight, it's a beach! It's warm! And an ocean! And sun! And a beach!" His voice was hoarse and raspy, but excited.

Twilight sagged slightly with relief. Spike was safe. Whatever else happened, he'd survive this. "Go on through," she said.

"Okay," he said, and started forward, then hesitated with one leg in the portal. "Twilight? Aren't you coming?"

"I have to go back for Discord."

"Oh, okay." Spike went almost completely through the portal, and then scrabbled backward before he was fully through, falling on his tail and looking up at her. "Wait! Isn't Discord... isn't he dead?"

Twilight nodded. Spike looked bewildered, and a little bit angry. "So why do you have to go back for him? He's dead, Twilight. You could die in the cold trying to get him and it won't even help him because he's dead!"

Every time Spike said the word "dead", a stab of horrible guilt went through Twilight's heart. "I can't leave him," she said. "I have to bring him back to Equestria. Fluttershy..."

"Fluttershy would understand. She wouldn't want you to risk your life to bring back a dead body."

"Stop saying that!" Twilight stomped her hoof. Tears welled, and she had to fight them down, because in this temperature tears could destroy her eyes. "I know he's dead! But I can't leave him there! He – he should be buried in Equestria. Or at least somewhere that there's chaos. He hated this place. I can't leave him here forever!"

"Then I'll help," Spike said, standing up.

"No, you won't," Twilight said, and shoved. "You'll be safe! I'll come back when I can!" Spike windmilled, trying to get his balance, and Twilight shoved him again, pushing him through the portal. It was half a portal, just like the one they'd come through to get here, and therefore one-way; once his body was fully through it, he wouldn't be able to come back.

A warm beach, in sunshine. He'd be safe. She didn't deserve to be safe and warm yet. She'd gotten Discord killed. Spike was saved, but she had to retrieve Discord's body before she could let herself go to safety as well.

The trip back was faster. It wasn't any warmer – in fact without Spike on her, it was colder. But his weight, and her fear for his fate, weren't burdening her any longer, and she'd managed to pull up that tiny bit of magic, restoring some of her alicorn hardiness. The only light was moonlight and starlight, and her hoofprints hadn't made much of a dent in the thick eternal ice, but in many places there was a light sprinkling of snow that clearly showed what way she'd come. She didn't think it was a full half hour before she reached Discord's body.

Twilight winced. His lips had drawn back, making him look as if he were snarling at something. When she'd left him, the expression frozen, literally, on his face had been one of pain; now he looked bestial. His eyes were slightly open; they'd been shut when he'd dropped. She tried to close them with her hoof, but they, too, were literally frozen in place. She felt bad because she knew it would have bothered him; he'd complained of the horrible expression he'd been stuck with when they'd turned him to stone, often enough. But there was nothing she could do.

At first she couldn't figure out how to carry him. She tried tying the blanket around his tail, so she could tie the other end around her barrel and drag him, but it was Spike's blanket and it wasn't nearly big enough. With trembling, ice-cold hooves, she tried to get him onto her back. Earlier, when she'd tried to carry him, she'd been driven almost to her knees by the weight. But that was when he'd been struggling, trying to climb off of her (ironically because he thought he was too heavy for her), and before she'd drawn up magic from deep within this planet with her hooves, renewing her earth pony strength. He wasn't impossibly heavy anymore. But he was frozen stiff, legs splayed outward and body rigid, so he kept rolling or sliding off of her.

She tried to use her telekinesis, but she didn't have nearly enough energy for that; a single spark lit up from her horn and then faded. Finally she pulled more mana from down deep – no one place in this frozen wasteland could give her a lot, but if all she needed was strength, it was enough – and used her strength to bend his body into a U shape. He wasn't literally frozen; he was icy cold, but his body was still somewhat pliant, not yet icicle-hard. It took a lot of effort, but she managed to do it without breaking him. Not that it mattered anymore; she could break every bone in his body. He wouldn't feel it or suffer from it anymore. But she wanted to bring him home as intact as possible. Already she couldn't bear to think of how she'd explain this to Fluttershy. Or Princess Celestia. Or Pinkie.

Once Discord's body was bent into a shape where she could lay him on her back and he'd mostly stay on, she used the blanket to tie him onto her, holding him in place. It was hard – she had no dexterity. No telekinesis, and her hooves were both frozen and very, very low on the magic that allowed them to function similarly to paws. Plus, Discord's body on top of her made it very difficult to reach behind or underneath herself to tie anything. Eventually she got the blanket tied, and set off, returning back the way she'd come.

There were two sets of hoofprints now, making the trail easier to follow, but Discord was much heavier than Spike – not for his size, Spike was definitely far denser than Discord had been even alive, but in total. And Twilight was exhausted and close to freezing to death herself. The fact that she could draw mana, sometimes, if she was willing to stand still on the ice and pull on it for what felt like forever, meant that she could manifest earth pony strength and stamina, but even an earth pony might drop dead of this cold. Discord's fur on her back started ice cold, but slowly warmed up, like a blanket; his body, however, was still cold enough to be sucking heat out of hers more than his fur warmed her.

One hoof in front of another. She knew there was an end to this. She'd been there. She just had to get back there again. One hoof in front of another. So cold, and the weight so heavy. If she set him down here surely Fluttershy would understand?... no. She couldn't abandon him. He was Equestrian; he should be laid to rest in Equestria, not in this ice cold land where nothing changed and everything was predictable and there was no chaos. How many hoofsteps? She hadn't counted the first or the second time. Could she estimate? One hoof in front of another. No way to know. She could guess how much time it was taking but she knew that her own perceptions of time would be skewed.

By the time she reached the portal again, her knees had given way and dropped her to the ice five times, and she was trembling so violently the blanket that held Discord on was on the verge of untying itself from the vibrations. But there it was, beckoning before her. Safety. Warmth. Spike, on the other side. Without hesitation, she stumbled toward the portal and flung herself through.

Into ocean.

Twilight spluttered and struggled. The water was warm, almost shockingly so after the cold she'd endured, making her limbs tingle. Spike had said it was a beach! She fought to get her head above the waves. Yes, there was a beach, not very far away. Her portal was even more badly damaged than she'd thought; the endpoint was drifting. Which meant, in the hour or so it had taken her to retrieve Discord's body, that the portal was out to sea far enough that Twilight had to fight undertow.

The only bodies of water near Ponyville were a placid lake and a river that was usually calm unless something had upset Stephen Magnet. Canterlot had none, outside of swimming pools and the artificial reservoir higher up on the mountain that nopony was allowed to go near unless they worked there. Twilight had little experience with swimming in the ocean, and none with doing so with numb hooves, a dead draconequus on her back, and an undercurrent pulling at her. She thrashed, and Discord slid off of her back, falling to the seabed below and carried away by the tide, along with her saddlebag. I'm sorry, she thought, miserably, but at least the ocean was chaotic, ever-changing and teeming with life. She'd wanted to bring him home for burial, but he would probably have accepted burial at sea as a good choice.

And she couldn't hold onto him right now or she'd join him. She might anyway.

"TWILIGHT!"

Was that Spike? She tried to orient to his voice, paddling as hard as she could to try to get afloat. The water wasn't terribly deep yet; if Discord had been alive he could probably have stood in the water and been able to keep his head above it, and perhaps Celestia could have kept her head above if she'd been there, rearing. Except that the current was strong enough that a rearing pony would be quickly swept away.

"TWILIGHT! SWIM! THE SHORE'S JUST OVER HERE!"

The sky was covered with dark clouds, but there was enough light that she could see Spike, a bright spot of purple against the shoreline. Anything further he might have yelled to her was lost to the roaring of the waves as she was pulled under again. Her lungs were burning and there was no magic she could draw; pegasi could control airborne water, but there was no magic usable to a pegasus under water, and while the ley lines were closer to the surface of the earth here, they were still underground. She'd have to touch land with her hooves, and the land of the sea bed was too far below for her to reach easily. This was the same planet; she wasn't home, so her unicorn magic had nothing to draw. Gasping, she broke the surface again, to find the wind whipping and fat raindrops splattering on her.

She tried to go under, to swim in a straight line, but she couldn't keep her eyes open under water; the salt burned. When she came up, though, the wind was blowing even harder, flinging salt spray and raindrops into her face, making it hard to get enough air into her lungs. The waves, more violent than in Equestria, crashed over her head. She couldn't see the spot of purple anymore. The sky had turned dark, the eerie gray color of a sky completely covered with thunderheads; the pegasi almost never set up such a violent storm, but she'd been caught in one in the Everfree once.

For a long time she bobbed and struggled in the waves. At one point the tide yanked her downward and then crashed down over her head, pulling her down, down under the water, to skid across the sandy bottom. Twilight took the opportunity to pull magic from the ley line under the ground. Magic surged into her, nothing like what she'd have available to her in Equestria but far more than she'd been able to draw in the frozen wasteland. Using the magic, she propelled herself to the surface. It wasn't telekinesis, it was earth pony magic – strength and endurance. She swam, trying to use her wings underwater to help with propulsion, but the sky was too dark and there was too much rain and she couldn't see the shore anymore. She swam until her legs and wings burned with agony and her throat was raw from breathing in spray and occasional salt water and she couldn't bear to keep swimming anymore... and still she hadn't reached the shore.

She was going to die out here. The knowledge sank into Twilight slowly, bit by bit, as the burn of muscle fatigue in her legs increased. She'd lost sight of the shore, and she couldn't orient herself, and she couldn't simply float and use her wings and the buoyancy of her body to hold her up, because the waves were too violent and chaotic, one moment bearing her up on a swell, the next dragging her down, and moments after that pouring over her head. When she tried to dive, to find the sea bed below and draw magic from it, she realized she was deeper than she'd known; two pony lengths and she hadn't reached bottom, and then she needed air and she couldn't find it, the dimness of the sky making it hard to tell up from down, and if it weren't for a fortuitous upswell throwing her toward air she might have drowned right then. She broke the surface, gasping, understanding that going down to the sea bed for more magic wasn't an option anymore. What she had was all she had.

The compass had been in the saddlebag that was lost when Discord had fallen off of her, and it wouldn't have helped anyway, because in this storm she couldn't read it and she didn't know what direction shore lay in. She was too far away to see or hear Spike. She had no idea where land was.

She was going to die.

Twilight continued to swim, because she didn't want to believe it. She'd survived so many things; how could this mistake kill her? She'd lived through the trek through the frozen polar continent, how could she die in a warm ocean? But Discord was dead, and if he could die, she could as well. Logically, she didn't have any hope. But she couldn't give up – even though she knew, sooner or later, her fatigue would force her to, and that there were no other options, and her death was inevitable... still, she couldn't give up. Her friends needed her. Spike needed her. Princess Celestia needed her. How could she let Flurry Heart grow up without an aunt? The fatigue was dragging at her mind as well as her body, making her thoughts slow and illogical. I want to go back to Equestria. I want to see my friends again. She was so afraid... but also so tired, and exhaustion was steadily gaining ground against fear.

For moments she would stop swimming, and drift, half-conscious, thrown about by the waves. Then salt water in her eyes or against her muzzle would shock her awake again and she'd paddle frantically, gasping for breath. It happened over and over, and part of Twilight was terrified. Her body was betraying her, cutting out on her when she most needed it to survive. Sooner or later that short spell of unconsciousness would be just long enough for her lungs to fill with water, and then she was done. Already she spent more time coughing than breathing when she had her head above the waves. But it was getting harder and harder to feel fear, and the thought of just letting herself fall asleep was growing more and more enticing. Everything hurt so much. What if she just slept, and never woke up again? What if she didn't have to feel the pain of lungs burning and eyes on fire and muscles aching until she felt as if her limbs would fall off and the fear of death?

She had started to drift again when a shadow moving under the water caught her attention. Twilight came back to alertness, or what passed for alertness in her oxygen-deprived state, just in time for the tail of a sea serpent to come up out of the water and wrap around her barrel. She screamed, terror overcoming the hoarseness of her throat, and struggled... weakly, helplessly, no match for the sea serpent's strength. No... no, please... please, I want to be with Spike again... I want to see my friends, and my family, please...

The tail constricted, hard enough that Twilight blacked out for a moment, and then released. She tried to gasp for air. A second constriction made her vomit and cough violently, the sea water that had already gone into her mouth and nose coming back out. By the time it stopped constricting and releasing, Twilight had most of her lung capacity back but no energy whatsoever. She simply floated, pulled by the sea serpent, which was swimming rapidly, but holding her in a way that kept her head above the water. Twilight had no strength to fight anymore.

The sea serpent wasn't eating her. Was it taking her back to its nest? Lack of energy and the slow recovery from lack of oxygen made her stare dully at the sea serpent's red scales, wondering why they seemed familiar. They weren't home; she couldn't possibly know any sea serpents here, unless they were analogues of folks back home and honestly the only sea serpent she'd ever met was Steven Magnet, who technically was a river serpent. Discord had said this world was too far from theirs in the multiversal stream for there to be analogues; this was a human world, but different from the human world she'd already encountered, unlikely to have humans who'd correspond to ponies back home.

With the wind churning up the water and the rain pelting down, she couldn't see the sea serpent under the waves. But that didn't make any sense. The scales were bright red, really more of a brick red if Rarity were here to comment on it but still red, and wouldn't she be able to see red under the water? All she could make out was a dark, slender mass that was definitely not red. Why would a sea serpent have a body in a different color than his tail? Or her tail. It could be a female sea serpent.

Twilight then caught sight of something purple bobbing in the waves, much too far from shore, and screamed.

Spike could swim – Canterlot Palace had swimming pools, and Celestia had insisted that Spike needed swim time because dragons had to learn about water. Later Twilight had found out that this was entirely made up, intended to make Twilight herself exercise physically in a place where she'd be literally unable to carry a book, because the jogging and calisthenics while attempting to read had caused her several minor injuries. Most Western dragons, the type Spike was, actually couldn't swim and never went near water, because it put out their flame and they were too dense to be buoyant. Spike was secure enough that he didn't feel he needed his flame at the ready constantly, and in a swimming pool the negative buoyancy was easily counterbalanced by his strength and stamina. But there he was, in an ocean. He must have tried to swim out to rescue her – stupid! Stupid, stupid! He knew he couldn't float! He knew he didn't have the strength to manage a stormy ocean!

The sea serpent was making a beeline for him. Twilight screamed again, her voice hoarse and cracking, and she struggled, kicking the sea serpent's tail as hard as she could. This got her dunked, as the sea serpent dropped her, then grabbed her up again before she had a chance to swim away. It was one thing to let the serpent carry her off and eat her, but it wouldn't get Spike. She wouldn't allow it.

The tail now pinned all her limbs together up against her body. This gave her leverage. She pushed, trying to break the hold. This time the tail dunked her in what was probably a deliberate act, letting her trail underwater for the longest seconds of her life before letting her up again. She gasped, and panted, and tried to shake the salt water out of her eyes so she could see.

Once she could get her eyes open again, she saw Spike... bobbing in the waves up ahead. How? This ocean must be far, far more saline than the ones Twilight was familiar with, for a dragon to achieve buoyancy. Well, either that or Spike had managed to inflate his secondary lungs. Which would be an important step in learning to breathe weaponized fire rather than magical transport fire, and if he'd managed to finally do it she was proud of him, but there was still a sea serpent swimming straight for him. "Spike!" she yelled, but the crash of the waves made her voice sound tiny, and she saw no evidence that Spike was even conscious. (Or alive... no, no, don't think that, he'd have released the air if he was dead and he wouldn't be floating, he had to be alive.)

None of her screams or struggles availed her anything. The sea serpent drew up to Spike, overtook him... and then shot forward toward land. Where was Spike? Held in the serpent's claws? (Water serpents, unlike actual snakes, had forelimbs, with claws on them.) Being held underwater, drowning? She summoned the last dregs of magic from within... resulting in a single, sad spark from her horn, and nothing more.

And then the sea serpent heaved its upper body out of the water, standing, and with the salt water making her vision into a glittering, nonsensical kaleidoscope, at first all Twilight could perceive was the purple in the creature's golden forelimbs, and the generally dark color of the rest of the body. And then she managed to blink enough of the water out of her eyes to see.

It wasn't a sea serpent holding Spike and Twilight. It was Discord.

The water here was shallow enough that Discord could stand in it. He was holding Spike in his arms, and had lowered Twilight to the point where only her neck bobbed above the waves; his tail, wrapped around her barrel and legs, was underwater, and most of her body with it. Here, it was shallow enough that the powerful tides surging back and forth were dragging sand across her body, pulling it up from the sea bed.

Shock kept Twilight silent for a moment. When she finally managed "Discord?" it was a nearly inaudible croak.

He staggered forward against the pull of the waves, and fell when they returned to push, dropping both Spike and Twilight into the water... but they were almost to shore, the water just above Spike's head and low enough for Twilight to walk with her head above water. She grabbed Spike and tossed him on her back, and trotted forward against the ocean's back and forth buffeting until the water had receded enough for Spike to be fully exposed. She heard him cough and gag.

"Twilight? Twilight... I thought... I thought you were swept out to sea..."

Twilight couldn't even answer him; her throat was too hoarse. She needed fresh water, but probably wasn't going to get it. She staggered up the sandy bank and dropped to the ground, her legs splayed out under her, in total exhaustion.

A moment later there was a loud thump behind her, and a low-pitched wailing moan, the sound of a stallion in agony.

"Discord?" she said again, her voice rasping but at least audible this time. "You're alive..."

"Why?" Discord wailed, his voice just as hoarse as hers. "Why am I alive? It huuurttss, it hurts, everything hurts, please... why?"

"I don't know," Twilight said. "You were dead. I... I carried your body... we found the portal..."

"You both sound awful," Spike said. "Would anyone like coconut water? I found coconuts and they have water inside them."

"Oh Celestia yes," Twilight said. "Please."

"Won't help," Discord moaned. "Throat hurts less than everything else. Ohhh my tail, my back, my eyes, everything's burning, my tail feels broken... what did you do to me?"

"Pretty sure—" Twilight started to say, and coughed, the irritation in her throat keeping her from speaking. Spike brought her a fresh coconut and poked a hole in it with his claw for her. A bit of liquid sprayed out. With trembling hooves she took the coconut, put her lips to the hole, and drank the refreshing liquid inside in several gulps.

"Where's my coconut?" Discord whined.

"You said you didn't want one."

"I said it wouldn't help. I didn't say I didn't want one."

"Fine." Spike walked across the beach, back toward the tree line and his pile of coconuts.

"Pretty sure your tail isn't broken," Twilight said, her voice a little stronger now. "You were holding me with it."

"It didn't hurt this much until I got out of the ocean," Discord moaned. "I'm burning. Everything hurts. Why didn't you just leave me?"

"You were dead," Twilight said again, helplessly. "You weren't breathing, your heart wasn't beating—"

"I know what dead means." He took the coconut Spike handed him and devoured it savagely, ripping at it with his fang and claw, gulping down the water inside, then biting and chewing the coconut itself, tearing away the shell with his claws and eating the fibrous part along with the meat. With his mouth full he said, "I knew I died. I could tell. Why didn't you leave me?"

"I wanted to bury you in Equestria," Twilight said. "Or at least not leave you in an ice-cold place where there wasn't any chaos. But then you fell off my back because the portal drifted into the ocean, so I fell in."

"It huuuuurrrtttsss," Discord groaned again, closing his eyes. "I don't want to be alive. You should have left me."

"I could bean you over the head with a really big coconut," Spike said. "I don't think it would kill you, but maybe it would knock you out."

"Spike—"

"Twilight, he wants to be dead. If it hurts him that much... unless your magic is working, I think maybe we should knock him out."

"But why does he hurt? And why is he alive?" She coughed again. "I'm sorry, Spike, can I have another coconut? I'm really thirsty."

"I found a pond through the trees," Spike said. "The water's pretty yucky, though. I drank it but I think for a pony we'd have to distill it or something."

"We don't have a still, though."

"It's going to rain again," Discord pointed out.

"Oh, yeah, that's a good point! Those clouds aren't done with us by a long shot, I'm sure. Spike, we need more coconuts! Or better yet, half coconut shells! And anything else it looks like we could store water in!"

"I'm on it." Spike began waddling back to where he'd left the pile of coconuts. For the first time Twilight noticed how slowly he was moving. Their time in the cold had obviously drained him badly. She was sure he needed to sleep, and if she could find any gems to feed him that would be best.

"How did you come back?" Twilight asked Discord. "You were dead. I mean – I mean, I'm – s-so glad—" She swallowed hard. She couldn't break down crying. She was still too weak. "I'm glad you're alive – but how?"

"I'm not." Discord rolled onto his back, still moaning with pain. "It hurts, Twilight, make it stop, please..."

"What hurts? I mean, how does it hurt? And where?"

"Everywhere. It's burning. Literally every single part of my skin. And my eyes. And inside my ears. I don't feel any pain in my hoof or my antlers and I think those are the only places I don't."

"Could it be a bad reaction to the salt water?"

Discord glared at her briefly before closing his eyes again. "I once lived in the ocean for a month. Oh, my gills! Oh Chaos this hurts, they're on fire. No, it's not salt water! If anything it's air, it didn't hurt nearly as much while I was in the water!"

"I didn't know you had gills."

"You never asked." He was hyperventilating. "They hurt so much. When I was breathing with them they didn't hurt this much but they felt like they weren't working right. I couldn't get enough air."

"Do you know how you—how you revived?"

"Chaos. I remember it was peaceful and warm and I wasn't cold anymore and it was so boring but I was too tired to care and I was just going to sleep. We're in another dimension, I don't have magic, I won't be going to the Shadowlands and I won't be coming back. I'll just disintegrate eventually when the very last dregs of my magic are gone. But I didn't care because I was so tired and I didn't want to be cold anymore and if I just slept and never woke up that would be okay. And then something started waking me up, I could feel randomness and change all around me." He opened his eyes again. "The ocean. It was the ocean. I wasn't dead enough yet not to feel the chaos of the ocean. This one is so much stronger than at home. You feel those waves?"

"I almost died in them."

"They're so wild. This Moon's a lot bigger than ours and I'll bet its orbit is controlled by gravity. It's yanking the entire ocean around willy-nilly. So many waves and they're so fierce."

"I guess that's theoretically possible but wouldn't it eventually decay and crash into the planet?"

"If it's as big as I think it is then no because it has to be very far away. You can see it. Look."

Twilight looked up. "All I see is clouds."

"There's a break in the clouds. Right there."

"Are you sure that's not the sun?"

"Absolutely. No amount of clouds would ever turn the sun milky pale like that. Besides, the sun's over there." He pointed in a different direction. West, she assumed, since the sun was near the horizon and she could see the moon.

"Is the moon supposed to be out in the daytime like this?"

"Nothing prevents it. You just can't see it very well because the sunlight washes it out." A cold breeze kicked up. "Owww. Oh chaos this hurts. I'm going back in the water. It didn't hurt so much in the water."

"If the ocean is chaotic enough to bring you back from death, it might be giving you enough magic to heal, or at least ease your pain," Twilight said. "But I don't understand why you're hurting. If it was just your back and stomach maybe I could understand but all over?"

"Why would my back and stomach be understandable to you?"

Twilight sighed. "I had to bend you to get you to stay on my back. Rigor mortis was setting in. Your skin was frozen but your core body wasn't, but it was stiff from rigor, so I had to bend you or you just rolled off."

"I think you broke something," Discord whimpered.

"No, you were moving just fine in the water. I might have bruised you though. But I'm pretty sure nothing broke or you'd be bleeding from the mouth and your legs and tail wouldn't work, if I broke your stomach and your spine."

"It hurts."

"I know. I'm sorry. I thought you were dead. You were dead. I didn't know you would – oh, of course!" A sudden revelation interrupted her train of thought. "Your skin froze, Discord!"

"You said that already."

"I mean that's why it hurts! Cells that froze would have ruptured. You've basically suffered frostbite over your entire surface area. Go back in the ocean. If you don't gather enough magic from chaos to heal yourself... I don't know. Your skin might all come off or turn gangrenous or something."

"Oh, wonderful." Discord tried to get to his feet, and failed. He then tried to get up on four paws, and failed. He attempted to inch, and howled in pain. "AAAAAAH! Hurts it hurts oh chaos please am I bleeding? Did I rip it all off?" He fell onto his side, presumably to show Twilight his belly where he'd been trying to inch it along the beach.

"No, there's no bleeding." Twilight tried to heave herself up, but her limbs burned from the forever she'd been in the water, swimming for her life. "I can't – I'm sorry – I want to help but—"

"No, no, that's quite all right, after I saved you and your little dragon from drowning I suppose that merely calls it even if you're responsible for getting me to the ocean so I could survive, even though technically the entire reason I died was your fault because you're the one who made that portal, but of course if it's a little inconvenient to—" The rest of the sarcasm was cut off by a coughing fit that went on, and on, and turned horrible, gurgling noises coming from Discord as he hacked and wheezed, and blood coming up out of his mouth. His eyes were wide with fear, but he couldn't seem to stop coughing.

Was he going to die, again? Right in front of her? Fear for him gave her enough of an adrenaline shock that she could get to her hooves. She was wobbly, and weak, and ached everywhere, but Discord sounded like he was about to cough up a lung. Tears were streaming from his eyes, and he looked terrified.

Once again Twilight reached down, down into the earth below her hooves, to try to find magic and pull it up. There was less of it here than on the ocean bed, and she could actually feel it ebbing down into the ocean, slowly eroding away. But there was enough to fuel earth pony strength, for just a few moments. Long enough to pick up Discord, who screamed in pain, but at least that seemed to interrupt his coughing, and carry him a few heads down the beach, where she laid him down in the water. A moment later the rushing tide drew the water back out, away from him, and then came back in on a large swell, splashing over him.

Discord submerged his head when the next waves came rushing in, and lifted it when they ebbed. "Better," he said weakly, no longer coughing. "Sleep now." His head sagged again, and he lay limp and floppy on the sand.

Spike came back with many, many coconut shells, which he was arranging on the beach, in sand to hold them in place, high enough that until the tide rose the salt water wouldn't get to them. "We'll have to move those before high tide," Twilight said. "Nowhere on the beach is safe. But that's good for now." A few raindrops were spattering on her head.

"What about Discord?" Spike pointed, and Twilight followed with her eyes. The waves rushing in were actually lifting Discord, pulling him into the ocean, and then rushing back in and dropping him on the beach. He was either unconscious or sleeping, or possibly dead again although she hoped not, and in any case was doing nothing to anchor himself.

"Get me a vine, Spike. A really long vine, but strong. And a really long stick. Hurry!"

He couldn't hurry. He was obviously hurt, but he was gamely struggling onward. With what was left of the strength she'd drawn from the earth, Twilight staggered up the beach and into the trees. "I'll help."

"No, Twilight, I can do it..."

"We have to move fast, before the undertow drags Discord off." If the ocean was chaotic enough to strengthen him, maybe that would actually heal him, but he'd been complaining that his gills weren't working well. What if he woke up under water, choking for air like a sleep apnea patient, and he was too deep and disoriented to find the surface in time? Gills were on the surface of the body, generally. She didn't know where his were, but if they were on his outside like most creatures with gills, then they had frozen too, which meant they were probably in much worse shape than his lungs, even given that he was coughing up blood.

Despite his sluggishness, it was still Spike, who'd explored the island earlier while she'd still been in a frozen hell, who found the vines and the appropriately large stick. Drawing as much strength from the earth as she could, Twilight used everything she had to drive the stick into the sand high above the furthest point inland that the tides went. She had Spike, with his dexterous claws, tie one end of the vine to the stick, wrapping around it multiple times for security. The other end, he tied to Discord's tail while Twilight held onto Discord and kept him from floating off. Now Discord could bob in the waves, the water flinging him to and fro arrhythmically and not entirely predictably, but he wouldn't wash out to sea.

Finally Twilight and Spike could rest. The rain started coming down, but it wasn't quite at sky-opening yet. It filled several of the coconut shells quickly, and Twilight drank and drank, draining several of the shells for the rain to fill back up again.

"You're moving very slowly," Twilight said. "Are you hurt?"

"I can take it," Spike said, which was a "yes".

"Tell me. Maybe we can find something to treat you."

"Naah, it's just... I've got no fire and I just feel... really, really weak and run-down. Thought maybe I was hungry, so I ate a few coconuts, but that didn't fix it." He rubbed his belly. "What I wouldn't give for a gem."

"Maybe we can find some."

"I doubt it. There's a – I don't know what to call it – kind of a smell? Rarity's better at detecting them than I am, but... when we're in a place where they're easy to get to, I can smell them. And I don't smell any gems here."

"Maybe you'll feel better once you dry out and your fire starts back up."

"Yeah, though with this rain, I kinda think it might be a while before that happens."

And then the heavens opened up fully and drenched them both.

The wind was vicious, flinging water into her face at high velocity, blinding her. She tried to catch the wind, to redirect it with pegasus wings, but its magic was slippery and insubstantial. "I think we need to find shelter!"

"There isn't any, I looked! There's a rotting hut with the walls falling down and no roof, and I'm not sure it'll even stay up in this wind, and that's all I found!"

"What about caves?"

"Twilight, there aren't any caves on an island like this! It's made of coral or something! If there were any caves they'd be under water!"

"What if we dig something?"

"If I were less tired, or you had your magic, or Discord could help, yeah, maybe we could do that, but with just me and you working with claws and hooves, it'd take so long to dig a shelter the storm would be over."

Twilight sighed. She'd really, really wanted to be able to get out of the rain. Or the wind, at least. "Come closer." She wiggled her body into the sand, which was a lot warmer than the air was right now, making almost a nest.

"Okay..."

"Closer. Snuggle up. Like we used to do when I was little and you were a baby."

"I think I'm too big for that now."

"Nope. I got bigger too. Alicorn now. Snuggle up."

Spike sighed as he wiggled closer to her. His spines poked her at first, but then relaxed and folded down as he spooned against her. "You're warm."

"So are you, but not as warm as you should be." Carefully she laid her wing across him. There might be hardly any magic here, but pegasus wings were waterproof even without magic, like duck wings. There was nothing she could do to protect herself from the wind and rain except to keep her head down, but she could shelter Spike, at least.

For a few minutes they lay there, Twilight resting, the exhaustion of the trek through the cold and then the swim in rough ocean taking its toll on her. Then Spike asked, plaintively, "Are we ever gonna find the actual portal back to actual home?"

She watched Discord in the waves, rolling onto the beach as the ocean drew back, floating as it rushed forward and then pulled out to the length of his tether. The vines seemed flimsy to stand up to the fury of this storm. Discord, please be okay. Please don't drift off into the ocean and lose us. She swallowed. You sense magic, a lot better than I do. You've traveled to a lot more other dimensions than I have. You sounded like you knew something about this world, specifically. I need you. Spike and I aren't going to make it without your help. You have to be okay. The fact that he'd died and come back to life didn't reassure her. It seemed like it must have consumed any residual magic he had to do that, and that now maybe he was even more fragile than he'd been before he'd frozen to death.

At least Spike seemed to be getting warmer. Or maybe she was just getting colder. "I hope so, Spike," she said. "I really hope so."

Author's Note:

This has been kicking around in my head for forever, but I have so many different ways it could go from here, I have no idea which one I'm going to take, if any. So here you go, the not-really-awaited-by-anyone sequel to Ice.

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