Fostering Intelligence

by TheGreyPotter

First published

Discord deals with his abusive childhood in his own unique way.

A being that exists to perpetuate chaos. A creature that only knows how to destroy order and peace, tearing itself, and everything around it to pieces. A Draconequus is disorder, violence, and death.
As a child, Discord must confront this definition, and come to terms with it his own way.

Featured on Equestria Daily March 15, 2012

Fostering Intelligence

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Fostering Intelligence
The Grey Potter
http://cosmicponyfanfiction.tumblr.com/

How’s this for a mouthful: corduroy capers blooming on roof of a tumbleweed cave made entirely out of applesauce and flamingo feathers. Done saying that? Discord’s done doing that. Or, he’s done it. He has brought the sentence into being, and watched as it slowly rolled away, a mess of chaos. Life’s a snap for the old Draconequus, and with a click of his fingers he could turn the world into modern art, or just coat it in a layer of raspberry jam and toffee chunks. Things have gotten a lot more fun since he broke out of that old statue. At least, in his opinion it has.

Hovering high in the air, the Draconequus watched six tiny little ponies try and round up his perfect pink clouds. They were trying to throw his chaos at his chaos, transformed animals cancelling out his cotton candy creation. Really, acting like the clouds getting eaten solved anything. In a snap, the rope could be a string of balloon animals, the fence, a row of cinnamon graham crackers, the ground an ocean of lemon pudding, and not even the good kind of lemon pudding. Oh dearest Princess Celestia, I’m sorry to inform you, but your little ponies have drowned…

Ah, maybe not the last one then. Too… morbid.

Speaking of his longtime rival and primary opposition in fun times, the ponies’ little dragon pet apparently barfed up a letter, and from their squeals and mad dashes, it was from the Princess herself. Now why ever would Princess Celestia be calling on the aide of six little nobodies from a tiny out of the way town?

Oh, those must be those new-fangled ‘Elements of Harmony’ everybody’s been rambling and ranting about. Equestria’s newest saviors and all that garbage. Well, if she was calling for their help, Celestia was clearly not appreciating the new chaos décor!

Pity that, because she is going to like it.

He followed the six little ponies as they raced to the capital. Along the way, he spun his handiwork across the world. Corrupting this, altering that, spinning a spell here or there… It was easy, with how much power he had. Of course, the poor ponies never even noticed his excellent attention to chaos. Devoted little foals, aren’t they? He chuckled. Not if he had anything to say about it!

Finally, he came to watch the ponies, hovering invisibly about the group as they talked with their god, the old savior of Equestria. Powerless now, aren’t you Celestia? Calling on common ponies for help? Oh, whatever could Discord do to stop this farce? Steal the Element jewels themselves, of course, done almost the second he caught wind of them. But that was a temporary measure, the blasted Elements always have a way of being found, no matter where they were. What could he do to break his newest little playmates, the bearers that stood in awe beneath his feet?

Looking around the chamber for an idea or two… Goodness, how long has it been, how old was this dreary dump of a castle? Why, there’s even cracks in the ceiling! It could collapse at any time, especially given the chaotic nature of his powers. A piece of the ceiling could fall and crush the poor ponies, killing all hope for Equestria…

Yeck! With a snap of his fingers he repaired the damage, making the stone bright and new. Don’t want that to happen, no, not at all. Death, killing… not his style. Not something he wanted to witness. No more bodies, no more bloodshed. Just fun, fun chaos. Orange soda rivers and trees made out of taffy, that’s what chaos is.

And that’s all chaos ever will be.

~æ~

Centuries, maybe millennia in the past, in an underground chamber that stunk of hot fur and sour milk, a small child eagerly tried to climb his mother’s tail. His hands and body were splayed flat on the smooth red scales, mismatched feet barely tapping the ground, recoiling each time, and bringing with it a thin line of fetid water. Another setback, another squeak as his scaled foot hit the floor, and out from his lion’s paw popped his claws, digging in between his mother’s scales. His body inched up a little and he gave his tail a cheerful flick.

A snort from far, far above him, hidden in the celling’s shadows. A suggestion of his mother’s massive head jerked upwards, jerked awake, horns scraping loudly on the ceiling. Her tail barely moved, but it may as well been the force of a whip to the tiny Draconequus. The child tumbled onto his back, dragging a few red scales with him, crying out as he landed on the cold flagstone. He wiggled to his feet and whined loudly at his mother, who had fallen still once more. No response came. It was as good as permission.

Trying to avoid the puddles, the child crouched low, and then hopped right back up to where he started. In an excited white flash, the cold water snapped tightly around his toes, freezing into ice. The child squealed in pain as his mother shook him loose, violently this time, sending him sprawling once more.

He gently tumbled down an uneven section of the floor, where dirt had pushed up the stone, spilling into the chamber. Dizzy, he watched as two members of his litter dashed by, biting each other’s tails, squealing loudly. Another baby crept up close, then jumped on the dazed pup, pinning him down and nipping on his ears. Play! the pup demanded, batting a paw. Play with me!

The child whined loudly, yanking his head away and trying to shove his brother off, jabbing his hoof in the general direction of the playmate. Finally, amidst squeaking complaints, the baby broke free of the playful tormentor, scurried past two other groups, and found his favorite patch of weeds to sulk in. He drew his tail tightly around his body and glared at all the other children’s antics, daring them to come near.

He flicked his tail, and sneezed as the fur tickled his nose. Maybe that was enough sulking.

He flopped onto his stomach and decided to play a new, better game. With his tiny bird’s talon, he reached out to the dirt and tapped it. A ripple of green dye colored the soil, and he giggled. He began to draw, pulling his little toes through the earth, seeing what colors he could make appear. A red line, one of green, a glowing orange zigzag, and a bright purple squiggle. With an excited slap of his hand, he made the whole thing vanish in a brown puff, and started over.

He giggled again. This was clearly the best game ever.

Of course, playing in the dirt never lasted long. Another child quickly discovered the doodler and flopped over him, pinning him to the ground. The second baby knew very clearly that this was the only child smaller than he was, and demanded that they play with many excited noises. The doodling child whined his complaints, but even if he could speak, it was doubtful the bigger child would have listened. None of them ever do.

There was a clattering and scraping of wood against stone. An adult Draconequus, half the size of the towering mother, yet still giant in comparison to the pups squeaking at its feet. Standing on its hind legs, it rolled an upright barrel across the uneven floor, taking little care to avoid the children as they frolicked and tumbled around him. With the disinterest of a task done a thousand times before, the creature yanked the top off the barrel and shoved it over, spilling its putrid slurry. The children dove for the slippery mass, crawling over one another in their excitement. The smallest pup was no exception, trotting over from his patch of weeds to try and ease his way through the flailing pileup of tiny bodies.

But suddenly, he found himself lifting off the ground, the nape of his neck held between the jaws of the adult. The baby squirmed angrily, pawing towards the food far below him as he was carried off, outside the massive chamber that once held his entire world.

He was brought through wide stone corridors that were never straight, watching the uneven feet of the adult that carried him, claws clicking softly on the dark stone, brushing aside errant piles of straw. They passed through open chambers where other large Draconequus lounged, and past slightly curved corridors where older children yapped and chatted, chasing slender dogs, or simply talking with words the baby didn’t understand.

It was the first time that the child had seen such a wide variety of adults. The Draconequus body was a mish-mash of body parts, but it was also a mish-mash of different colors. The body’s fur tended to be natural shades, from black to brown, or the ruddy color the child wore. But with the limbs, the wings and tail, almost anything could be possible, ranging from natural to neon and back again, hues rarely appearing more than once.

The halls quieted, and they entered a passage lined with heavy wooden doors, scraps of cloth nailed to each one, each one bearing its own symbol. A red talon, a green fang, a black spike... Another adult watched the pair vacantly, picking at its feathered wing as a door was selected, one bearing a white six pointed star. The entryway was forced open, and the child's body seized from the sound of its horrible, uneven grinding.

The child found himself dropped inside, squeaking as he slapped into the stone. He flailed to his feet and yapped a question up at the adult Draconequus, but he was already gone, yanking the door shut behind him.

The baby waited patiently for all of thirty seconds before he began scratching at the door, whimpering. He didn’t want to be in this weird place. Where was his mother? The other pups? Or for that matter, any food? He whined and rolled on his back, as if that would get him the attention he needed.

The place was small compared to his home chamber, yet still large to the minuscule child. A loose pile of straw was pushed against one corner, covered in a blanket that could have easily hidden his entire litter under its scratchy folds. A lantern hung from the ceiling, unlit. Without any other windows or light sources to speak of, the room was nearly pitch black, even to the child’s low-light eyes. In another corner was a squat desk lacking a chair, simply made and spartan in contents, a single nearly bare shelf fastened to the wall above it. A barrel sat in another corner, the contents, a mystery. Bits of loose straw lined the walls, as if its owner had made some vague attempts to keep the room clean. It still smelled damp and fetid, but that was nothing new to the child.

The baby whined once more, barely minding his surroundings, and began scratching at the floor. He halfheartedly drew little scribbling lines as he pouted.

Again, the door was shoved open, scraping loudly. The child jumped away, staring upward. Another adult! The full grown Draconequus turned away from him, instead minding a wheeled cart in the hall. It seemed to be stacked unevenly with large wooden bowls, half the size of the Draconequus. The creature heaved one off the cart, letting it clatter to the ground, and shoved it into the child’s room. The baby leapt out of the way as it spun, almost tipping twice, until it rattled to a stop. With a loud scraping, the door was shut once more.

The baby sat quietly for a moment, then inched forward, peering at the strange container. Propping himself up on his hind legs, trying to hold onto the lip, he was barely able to peer inside. But it was worth the trouble, for the bowl contained dinner! It was a lot less chunky and slimy than usual, consisting of whole vegetables and slabs of red meat, but he knew food when he saw it!

He scrambled excitedly to get at the bowls contents, uneven feet gently scratching on the wooden side. The bowl tilted, then tumbled over, spilling some of its contents on the floor. The child stuck its head deeper in the bowl, crawling to get at a tasty bit of lettuce, and the bowl shifted back, rocking gently back and forth with him inside it.

Happily, he propped himself up against and began gnawing on the chunk of meat, trying to tear at it with his tiny, undeveloped teeth. It wasn’t getting him much success, but the meat stuff was the juiciest and tastiest thing there, and worth eating!

He didn’t know how much time had passed while he gnawed on the chunk, he merely ate, glad he didn’t have to share, or more accurately, fight over scraps.

A well-worked strip dropped out of his mouth as the door squealed open, not as loud or as grating as he remembered. He looked up as another adult, thinner, more slender than most, head coated in jet black fur, dissolving into a dark ruddy brown coat. It loomed over him, glaring down at the babe with one large, yellow eye.

The baby squeaked his welcome, cheerfully waving with his tail. The adult leered down at him, releasing a puff of hot breath over the child’s face. The child giggled, then squealed as he was grabbed tightly around his middle, clutched in the Draconequus’ birdlike claw. The child whined and kicked his legs as the grip dug uncomfortably into his stomach, making his wings fold at uncomfortable angles.

The adult squatted on his hind legs, regarding the baby as he dragged the bowl of food towards himself. With his free hand, the adult began munching on a carrot. He turned the child sideways, then upside-down, eyeing the wriggling baby while he ate.

The child would not, and did not stand for this! He yapped loudly, glaring at the adult that held him. The Draconequus snorted, and let the child fall to the ground. As he struggled to his feet, the adult began speaking, in a growl so unlike what the child had usually heard from its mother, or the squeaks of his litter. The baby didn’t care, and tried to head for the bowl, which was clearly his own. He was shoved back almost immediately.

“Mmble grmmble grwl mumble Discord, mumble.”

The child’s ears perked at the sound of his own name, one of the few things he could understand. He stared at the adult for a single second before inching back towards the bowl. Again, he was shoved away.

“No, Discord. Mumble grumble.”

Another word he recognized. One he didn’t like. He began whining.

The adult tapped his claw loudly, and the child stared at it. From where he tapped, a shape blossomed, green, like a weed, top popping open to reveal a radiant circle of color.

“Mmble growl?”

Discord batted at the strange appearance of the strange object, and his paw passed right through it. He looked up at the adult, in confusion.

“Mmble growl.”

The adult tapped his claw urgently, and when the child had nothing in response, he grabbed Discord’s paw, yanking it across the stone, drawing something that failed to appear. The child’s paw was released, and the adult drew a line across the stone, glowing a faint white, grumbling again.

Discord blankly slapped his hand on top of it, splashing a wave of blue color across the flagstone.

“Good.” Discord bounced excitedly, and continued to scribble more colors into the blue mass. “Mmlbe grumble growl. Brother mumble.” Discord stared at the adult, who repeated himself more slowly. “Ayemyr. Brother. Roo-in.” Again, the child merely stared. Ruin snorted and picked up another vegetable from the bowl.

“Grumble.”

~æ~

“You’re relying on the surface again, little one. Give it shape.”

To himself, Discord stuck out his tounge, silently tapping his bird’s claw.

“I don’t know what the thing looks like!” Discord retorted, scraping more orange onto the tail.

“I’ve shown you what it looks like.”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“Complete the exercise.”

Right to the point, Discord thought to himself. He lifted his hand from Ruin’s bedroom wall and gently coaxed his painting to follow him, a brilliantly orange bird. It followed his hands, lifting, still a flat plane. With a wave of his other paw, it became a box, the image on each side. Discord frowned expecting immediately—

“Incorrect,” Ruin informed him.

“I know! Gimmie a minute…”

Discord’s eyebrows scrunched, trying to conceptualize depth, a surface area. The duplicate images dropped, and the illusion puffed out, became a whole bird, hovering in the air, still and unmoving.

“Make it fly.”

“Uh-huh…” The next part was easy for the young Draconequus, and with another wave, the bird flapped its wings and soared around the room, leaving behind a little trail of light. It would never pass for the real thing, looking instead like a painting come to life. Ruin watched from his mat of straw, examining Discord’s handiwork. The child sighed, and began scratching his next assignment on the floor, keeping the Phoenix’s loop in the back of his mind.

“Do not bother with another illusion, I do not have time to see it.”

“Oh.” Discord looked, up, surprise making the Phoenix spin away and vanish. His brother rose from the pile of straw, brushing away the strays that clung to his ruddy fur. He stood on his hind legs and quietly doused the lantern before gathering a few things from his desk, packing papers and a bit of old cloth into a leather satchel. He strode past his student, who made sure he wasn’t lost underfoot. Discord may have grown, but most of the adults were still far larger than he was, maybe six or seven times his size.

With a quick shove, the stubborn door popped open. “Follow,” Ruin said. The child blankly obliged, keeping at his brother’s heels.

Discord watched the world as they walked, still such a big and strange place, even if there were few areas he was allowed to enter. He had never seen the inside of other Draconequus’ rooms, and the pair never lingered long in the corridors circling the private quarters. They descended into the common areas, a series of connected open-air spaces, none having a specific purpose or point, other than to offer somewhere for the Draconequus to come together.

Older children often tumbled and wrestled in corners, chasing and teasing dogs, out of the adult Draconequus’ way. Adults lounged, hogging what little furniture they had, resting on pillows and blankets. Several adults participated in lazy games of minor sport, batting pebbles at targets, throwing dice carved from bone. Stakes were simple, but precious in their necessity. Food, blankets, sometimes small pillows, clearly not intended for beings as big as a Draconequus. There was a roar in the distance, encouraged by guttural cheers. It was winter again, when Draconequus fought for status, for mating rights.

However, the majority of adults simply lounged. Not visibly doing anything, or participating in any activity. They stared at the stonework, sometimes preoccupied with a bone, sometimes growling in vague conversations. But most were simply engrossed in sleep, waiting for the next patrol, the hunt for meat.

Discord always wondered, as he passed by the glass-eyed adults. How come he never saw anyone painting? How come they never played games of intelligence and tricks, as Ruin had showed him? They certainly looked bored silly, why didn’t they just draw?

Finally, they arrived at a chamber, the same as every other chamber, as far as Discord could tell. Only empty. Ruin hung a scrap of cloth, his insignia, on the nail beside the dividing arch, a black cloth with a white six pointed star. With that, he sauntered inside, chasing out a stray dog and settling down on the far wall. Discord stared up at his brother, puzzled.

“What are we doing here, Ruin?”

“You are not the only one I must teach, little one.” Ruin explained, staring at the doorway. “There are others that need my instruction.”

“You’ve never brought me before, so…”

“Draw, Discord.”

Discord pouted and took to a rounded corner, scraping a nail across the stone.

“And do not use a surface. Draw in the air.”

Discord whined and pouted, but began weaving a shape in the air, a simple red ball. He pretended to bat it with his tail, and concentrated on making it look like it actually bounced.

It wasn’t long until a pair of young adults poked their heads around the archway, leering into the room.

“Hey,” one started, the largest with a tan face, “Elders said I need shadow magic or something to patrol. You teach?”

“Yes, enter.”

Another, younger kid followed the preening teenagers, keeping his head low as the other two puffed out their chests, holding their heads as high as they could. Discord made the ball bounce past them, and the oldest took a swipe at it with his tail, surprised to see it pass through. Discord giggled as the young adult spun around, snapping and slowly exposing his teeth.

“Your names are?” Ruin asked, taking a few folded bits of paper from his satchel.

“I’m Gnash,” said the tan one. He waved to his other two companions. “That’s Collapse, and that guy’s Rupture.

Ruin scratched his claw across the yellowing page, drawing curly black lines that meant nothing to Discord.

“What do you pups know about magic?” Ruin asked, eyes still casually held to his paper.

“Jack all, that’s why we’ve—” Ruin looked up. “I mean uh, not much, sir.”

Ruin eyed the three, then began his instruction. Discord watched, idly bouncing his illusion off the far wall, trying to get proper timing so that it bounced when it hit his hand.

“Start by trying to draw a line.”

“What’s that got to do with magic?”

“You need to learn how to tap into your magical abilities, rooted in your fingers, your hands. Try and draw a line.”

With his claw, Gnash scratched the stone, leaving nothing behind. He looked up, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s not the movement that’s important,” Ruin commented flatly.

“You’re not telling me nothing!” Gnash snorted. His glare snapped back down to the ground as Ruin hovered above him, placid.

"Think while you draw. Imagine what a line would look, if it did appear," Ruin explained. "It is difficult to help you beyond that."

“Oh!”

The smallest Draconequus, Rupture, had traced a circle at his feet, a little white line following his finger. It vanished quickly, but a second swipe brought it back to life, vivid and bright.

“Now I get it…” he mumbled.

“How!” Gnash snapped, swiping the rocks beneath him once more. “How’d you do that?!”

“I dunno,” the young Draconequus shrugged as Gnash growled at the floor. “Just… drew, I guess?”

“You may have come too late to magic,” Ruin told Gnash, eyeing the scratched he had made on the stone. “It will be more difficult for you to grasp this, but it will certainly come to you, with practice.”

Gnash snorted, and kept scratching at the ground as his two friends were instructed to draw simple shapes. The large teen glared over at the baby Draconequus, as Ruin told him to construct a dog. Discord pouted, and began drawing, his fingers brushing on the floor. A, with prodding, through the air. A softly glowing framework was quickly summoned.

For an entire afternoon, Gnash scored the stone, but no light came from his fingers. Ruin instructed the teen to keep practicing, and come back only when he had tapped into a basic understanding of his magical abilities. With that, the adult left, plucking up the small bit of cloth as he exited.

Distracted by making his near-perfect dog chase its tail, the delayed Discord rushed towards the archway, illusion vanishing.

“Hey runt!” Gnash grinned as he stepped between the baby and his Brother. “What’s with the light shows? You showing off?”

“No?” Discord laughed, trying to sneak around the tan Draconequus. Ruin was already out of sight... “Those are just my lessons.” Gnash moved as Discord moved, continuing to black his path.

“If you’re so good,” he said, “Then teach me how to do it.” Discord frowned.

“It’s not that hard! And can you move? You’re in my way.”

“Then let’s see YOU do it, pipsqueak!” Gnash knocked his horns against the child’s, shoving him backwards. Discord stared up at the boy, squinting, confused. “Show me some shadow magic!”

“I dunno much shadow magic yet…” Discord said slowly. “But I can paint illusions real good. I can show you those, if you let me leave.” Do I know my way back to Ruin’s room? Discord thought. We walked pretty far… Without an answer, Discord reached forward to begin drawing on the stones. Gnash stomped forward, grinding his paw with the heel of his bird’s foot. Discord yelped, then glared up at the older boy. Gnash’s friends began to circle around him, chuckling and yipping, tails snapping back and forth.

“What’s your problem?” Discord demanded.

“What is YOUR problem pipsqueak? You got hearing problems? Your ears broke?!” He headbutted Discord, hard, sending the child reeling, bruise already throbbing to life on his scalp. “I said do shadow magic, not some namby-pamby coloring!”

“YOU do it!” Discord shouted, clutching his head, “You’re the one that needs it, you brute!”

“Brute? That what you call me?” Gnash burst out laughing, echoed by his buddies. “You think that’s some kind of insult, pipsqueak?!”

“You think ‘pipsqueak’ is some kind of insult pip—“

Sentence unfinished, another blow rammed into Discord, knocking him back, cheers echoing as the teen’s fangs snapped above his head, triumphant.

~æ~

It was nothing like fighting when he was a child. Back then it was annoying, his siblings pinning him to the ground, bites barely more than gums. Gnash had real teeth, and muscles behind every blow… But more than anything, a feeling greater than the pain, Discord was absolutely stunned. What in the world did he do to provoke something like this?

And where in the world was Ruin? Why did he just leave like that, when Discord was clearly in trouble?

Discord limped down the cold corridors, hopping as he clutched his hoofed foot tight to his body, breaths short, bruises and shallow bites hidden under his fur, throbbing. He found Ruin’s room, clearly marked by the little black scrap, struggling to stand up, and certainly not big or strong enough to force it open. He knocked twice with his good hand before tumbling sideways, unable to bear his own weight. A muffled voice came from within, but nothing more. Discord knocked again, furiously.

“Ruiiiin! Ruin!” the child squealed.

The door scraped open, and the adult Draconequus stared down at his student quietly.

“You’ve been in a fight, I see,” he stated plainly.

“Where were you?!” Discord demanded. “He just started hitting me, out of nowhere!”

“That’s not surprising.”

“Yes it was!”

“No. It wasn’t.” Ruin stepped aside, letting his student stumble in. “You’re getting big enough to fight for yourself. Learn to pick your battles.”

“What’s that mean?! I don’t wanna fight anybody!”

Ruin snorted. “That’s impossible.”

“I don’t wanna hurt anyone, why’s it impossible?”

“Discord, do you even understand what you are?”

Discord stared up at his mentor as he flopped onto the straw, frowning and overheating, boiling blood making his bruises pound more sharply.

“That’s a dumb question. I’m a Draconequus.”

“Yes. A being that exists to perpetuate chaos. A creature that only knows how to destroy order and peace, tearing itself, and everything around it to pieces.” Ruin lay down in front of his desk, watching his student closely. “You, and this society, is disorder, violence, and death. Count yourself lucky that the child you provoked did not go for your throat, as most would not hesitate to do so.”

Discord snorted. “You made that up. I’ve never been hurt before in my life. Except, well, now…”

“Have I spoiled you this badly…?” Ruin tutted, shaking his head. “Correct your attitude, little one, or you will not survive.”

The door burst open, making the child jump. A food bowl was thrown between the pair, scraping across the floor.

“Aug, finally!” Discord bolted up, winced, and then more carefully got to his feet, limping to the food. Ruin stopped his advance, yanking Discord up by the scruff, and holding him over the bowl, face to face with a red slab of meat and bone.

“Do you see that, Discord?” Ruin growled.

“Are you going to do one of those lessons where you—“ Ruin knocked Discord’s head into the side of the container, and the young Draconequus fell silent, stunned. His brother had never dared

“What are you looking at, Discord?”

“M-meat?” the child stammered, “A leg of meat?”

“What do you think meat is? Where do you think it comes from?”

“Uu-uh… animals?”

“Correct, Discord.” Ruin continued to hold Discord still, forcing him to face the raw mass. “To perpetuate your own life, you must take others. Every single day of your life you have lived on the good grace of death. Violent and unwilling death. It is what defines you, and every other Draconequus living here. It is how we all live, and how most of us will die, in each other’s jaws, starved for destruction.”

Discord stared blankly down at the slab before him, quiet, wondering if Ruin was done, if he could be set down now. A thought slowly crept into the child’s mind, a clever idea, clearly one no one had ever thought of before.

“Maybe I’ll just stop eating meat then?” Silence. Discord grinned. “Bet you didn’t think of that.”

Ruin was quiet, still for a moment, then set his student aside, sighing heavily. The child frowned. Be that way, Discord thought.

“Here, have some lettuce, a carrot or two.” Said vegetables were dropped at the child’s feet. “Let’s see you go the night without death in your system.”

Discord, thinking himself clever, snapped up the food, and proudly sat, stiff as Ruin devoured the rest of the bowl. The boy crawled back to the straw pile, grinning as he doodled, perhaps for several minutes, maybe an hour. His smile eventually faded, drawing ceased, and he began curling around his stomach as it softly growled.

“Ruin.” He said quietly to his mentor’s back. “I’m hungry. Can I um… are there any more carrots?”

Ruin turned and stared down at his student.

“You are a stupid boy.”

~æ~

Winter’s melt warmed the windowless corridors, humidity of the thaw releasing the smell of old earth and rotten scraps forgotten in corners, left to languish, or be reclaimed by the bravest and scrawniest of dogs. The star on black scrap claimed a room occupied, though many of the adults that walked by would leer at the solitary occupant. The spellcaster had taken one of the few rooms with a cool draft, a single loose brick allowing in the smallest hint of fresh air.

A small Draconequus, no longer a baby, but not quite an adolescent, poked its head around the door, quietly peering in.

“Discord.” Ruin stated plainly. The child recoiled. “I havn’t seen you for lessons in a while.”

“Wasn’t gonna stick around with you smacking me every five minutes…” Discord mumbled.

“What was that, little one?” Ruin snapped.

The child flinched, and then quietly approached his brother, settling by his side.

“How do you find your new living space?” Ruin asked.

“I don’t like the pups in my litter. They’re all idiots,” Discord replied to his paws. “All they ever want to do is practice fighting or chase dogs. Nobody can paint, I mean, cast illusions like I do. They think it’s useless.”

“To most, it would be.”

“Well, it’s not. You know it’s not! I’m just… you know…” Discord waved his paw through the air, “Still thinking of applications.”

Ruin quietly looked over his brother, bringing a brief moment of silence between them.

“You look thin,” he remarked.

“I’ve always been scrawny,” Discord muttered.

“Have you been eating right?”

“It’s… not like that anymore, it was dumb of me to stop eating altogether.” Again, Discord avoided Ruin’s eyes, scratching at the stone. “I just don’t like going down to the basement for food… The ice makes my claws hurt.” In a flash, Discord flipped nonexistent pebble off the rocks, where they realistically bounced, settled, and vanished.

“You seem to be practicing, little one.”

“Yeah…” Another pebble bounced and vanished. Then another. “I um…” Another pebble. “I saw one of my brothers die the other day.”

“Did you?”

Discord frowned at the immediate response. “Well you don’t seem surprised.”

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, figures…” A few more ghostly pebbles were tossed. “He didn’t even… My brother, a little one, I mean. I don’t know what happened, I just heard something screaming and squealing, and I go look, and he’s just… there was an adult, just tearing through him…” Discord’s eyes shot up to Ruin’s. “I mean, I’ve seen you adults eat dogs before but… But why?”

“That’s just what we are.”

“That’s a terrible answer.” Discord pouted, slinking into his arms. “We’ve got enough food. You adults go out on patrol, they fight stuff out there. So what if we’re some chaos… avatar… things!” Discord waved his yellow claw above his head, still buried in his furred arm. “Why does that have to include killing each other?”

“Destruction doesn’t only destroy other things.”

“Destruction destroying Destruction. Cute…?” Discord grinned, looking back up at his brother. “Well… maybe I can do that too, if that’s how we work. Maybe I’ll just use my destructive nature to destroy the destruction in my nature.”

Ruin snorted.

“Stupid, stupid boy.”

“It was a joke. I was being sarcastic.”

“No, you weren’t. I’ve already heard about your little escapades, little one.” Discord turned back to the pebbles, flicking them quietly as he pretended not to hear. “You’re riling your superiors. They will not put up with your childish antics forever.”

“They’re just pranks! … What? I’m being chaotic, aren’t I? And I’m not hurting anyone! What’s wrong with that?”

“Do not give others excuses to hurt you Discord.”

“I’ve gotten pretty good at running and hiding, I don’t let them catch me.”

Ruin flicked his head away from his student, returning to his paper.

“Fine, do what you will. Now why are you here, Discord?”

“To show you up, big guy!” Discord barked, grin returning to his face.

“Really?”

And with that, Discord vanished with a pop. Ruin stared at the spot, then eyed the archway, where the true Discord waved. The child sauntered off, head held high, proud of his achievement. He had out-tricked the master, now nothing could stop him! He scurried down the random arches and halls of the common area, peering around corners and popping into empty rooms. The day of pranks had only just begun!

An adult, normal in most respects, wandered the passages, bone clenched tightly between his teeth, the spoils of a successful gamble. His claws clicked and clattered as he peered from arch to arch, looking for someone, or possibly a place to sit. He passed an another opening, and glanced into an apparently empty room.

Suddenly, a wall built itself in front of his face, black bricks piling and rattling as they blocked off the entire archway. The Draconequus took a few steps backwards, blinking, tail flicking to and fro. With a snort, he stepped forward to try and touch the sudden magical appearance. But before a single claw could touch the bizarre stones, the wall slowly rocked away, tumbled backward, and shattered, fragments splintering.

The Draconequus stared at the broken stone, settling back down on all fours. In a huff, he turned and stalked off, occasionally glancing backwards, a curious look on his face. Discord’s head shot out from the archway as he watched the adult leave, snickering and giggling. He scampered out of the room, trying to find someone else to spook.

He spotted a few more adults, lounging in silence. A blast of confetti exploded over their heads, accompanied by the whine of a trumpet. The adult curled in anger, baring his teeth and releasing a quick bark. He angrily swiped the air as the false confetti drifted by him. The second adult snorted, and began sniffing around the corners of the room, eyes narrowed. He spotted the child hovering in the door frame, and Discord squeaked as he fled, laughing as he ran.

He slowed, and snuck around yet another corner. The corridor was empty, but for one dog, lapping at fresh a stain on the floor. Discord realized with a shiver just what that stain might be, and snuck right the heck out of there, wanting to find a place a little less… morbid. A little further on, he spotted his next targets. Three children, about his age, maybe a little older, crouched along a wall. One gnawed on a scrap of meat, friends joking and jostling his elbows, pretending to snatch at his prize, and half meaning it.

Discord flexed his fingers. What would be a good prank for this group…?

After thinking on it for maybe a minute too long, he decided to throw another confetti ball in their faces. Sometimes chaos does the same thing twice, just to trip you up, right? The group made a number of startled noises and flails, which the child was satisfied with.

Meat fell from the central boy’s jaws, and another mouth yanked it away. He ran, the second friend chasing after, yapping. The meatless one remained, stunned at his vanishing ‘friends’ tails. Then, he swiveled around and glared directly at the illusion weaver.

Discord blinked. How did he…?

“That is it!” the child barked. He jumped up and dashed towards Discord, teeth bared, and snarling.

Discord squealed and ran, still confident, still laughing even as his pursuer snapped at his heels. He made an illusion of himself dive down a second hallway, but the boy was not fooled. Frowning, Discord picked up the pace and spun around a tight corner, quickly throwing up a wall behind him, like he had dodged and vanished down a dead end. But the attacker simply charged right through then illusion, still angry, shouting insults, threats, death threats.

His jaws snapped around Discord’s tail, yanking out fur, scales as Discord pulled it back. The prankster squealed, feet sliding on stone, breath vanishing, heart throbbing in his ears… What would happen if he didn’t escape?!

Blind, panicked, around a corner, an alcove, some sort of spot, anything! He slammed into a wall and tried to yank the shadows from it. Hide! Vanish! Too slow, this brand of magic was not his forte.

The second boy charged around the corner, fury locked right onto Discord, and charged. Teeth pierced deep into Discord’s gut, blood bursting from the wounds, seizing, stabbing pain.

Discord screamed.

~æ~

Ruin approached his door in silence, and stopped as he came close enough to see it. It was open already, jammed over the uneven part of the stone, barely big enough for a child to fit through. Fur clung to the splinters on the narrow passage, fur and a dark, bloody stain.

Ruin shoved the door open the rest of the way and eased inside, face and body posture neutral, peering into the corners. A small noise, a rustle, coming from his bedding.

Ruin closed the door with a scrape and quietly set his satchel on his desk, unpacking it and placing the papers into a neat pile. He drew a small clay pot from his shelf, and lit the lantern with a small puff of magic. Only then then did he approach the straw. Carefully, he pulled up the blanket to reveal his brother, sporting only a few shallow bites, and staring straight ahead, eyes half open, glazed over.

“Discord.”

“Mm…”

“What have you done now?”

“I killed a guy.”

Ruin stood silently for a moment, still clutching the blanket in his claws.

“Congratulations.”

Discord’s faced curled, twisted and collapsed into fury. He flung himself upward and screamed the foulest swear he knew at his brother. Ruin took it the same as he always did, quietly accepting, still. Nothing the matter. Discord’s tension faded, only slightly, and he dropped down again, curling into a tight ball.

“You would say that!” Discord snapped. “Why do I even keep coming back here?!” He dug himself deeper into the straw, shivering, repressing sobs.

“Because you think you’ll be able to proudly tell me that you’ve finally defeated your very nature?”

“Shut up! SHUT UP SHUT UP! Shut up…” Ruin set aside the blanket and let the young Draconequus shout and squeal himself to silence. Finally, Ruin settled by his desk, and Discord grew quiet. He stared at nothing, tranquil, empty.

“I don’t feel like I’ve won at all. I feel like I’ve failed, failed everything…” Discord finally muttered into his tail. Ruin did not respond. “It’s… even when I lose, even when I have to run and hide… I like it. I like feeling like I’m smarter than the people who would just hurt others, than the people who would hurt me. I’d… I think I’d rather lose, than win. If I have to win by just killing…” Discord dug himself into a tighter circle, closing his eyes, “It’s not fun. It makes me feel sick.”

Ruin silently sat at his desk, Discord curled tightly under the straw.

“Can I sleep here tonight…” Discord asked quietly, “I dunno if someone’s going to come after me… or…”

“Of course, little one.”

~æ~

Two claws gripped at the floor, and yanked upward. A layer of dark peeled after them, still sticking to the ground. Discord adjusted his grip and kept pulling, trying to duck under the folds of non-light, and grunting in frustration. He could create an image with such ease, why was manipulating shadows such a difficult thing? He yanked the shadows over his horns, ducked down, and vanished, invisible. He relaxed slightly, and the shadow slipped from his fingers, snapping instantly back into place. He snorted and slapped it with his tail. Fine, be like that, it was too much trouble anyway. He strutted out of the room, chin jutting upwards.

He found himself being automatically carried away to the common area, feet doing what they usually did. But as he entered the open archways, he stopped, and stared. The bite marks across his middle and back had long since faded, yet he still hadn’t mastered hiding, or keeping himself safe. And looking around at all of the Draconequus… all still huge in comparison to him… he felt a little bit small, helpless. A group of his peers passed him by without a word, another loudly fighting with a dog. He watched them, quietly, then turned away.

He sulked into a corner of a relativity large chamber, opposite a mostly silent group of adolescent Draconequus throwing their bone dice, exchanging pots of pebbles. Discord wondered, could he simply wait, be still and glass-eyed like an adult? Quiet his mind, and accept the world around him. He didn't have to participate in the fights… Just let them happen. He watched the teenagers play their dice for all of five minutes before he flopped sideways, grinding his palms across his eyes. So bored. So very, very bored.

He summoned a ball, batted it once or twice against the wall. Well, if anything, his timing was perfect. It actually looked like he was batting about a real rubber ball. It was easy. Maybe too easy... Yes, still bored. The ball froze midair, and began vibrating violently. He grinned, and made it shoot up, down, across the room, up the ceiling! Slightly less bored.

A brown furred teenager spun on him, yapping angrily, teeth bared and growing. The ball vanished, and Discord scampered out of the room, squeaking like a baby. Out in the hallway his shoulders curled as he mentally scolded himself. Is this the new low he’d sunk to, panic at the slightest hint of trouble?

That’s it, he was going to prank somebody!

In the distance, there came a scream, and Discord’s all of his insides retracted.

Or… or not. It can be not.

A baby, barely old enough to speak, scurried down the hall, squeaking and squealing, tan fur matted with blood. An adult, thick of neck and heavy of paw, followed lazily after it, face placid. It slapped a foot to the ground, curling over the child’s tail. Discord watched, frozen and frightened, as the child was lifted up, to the mouth of the adult…

There was a ringing in his ears, and alarm going off. Death, once again, he was forced to watch the death of another child. His breath stuck in his throat, body steeled against movement, as the adult drew apart his jaws, baby screaming, writhing…

An suddenly, it slipped. The child’s little tail, slicked with blood, slid between the fingers of the adult, smacking back into the ground. The Draconequus took the event in stride, it was no matter to him. He lowered his paw once more to reclaim his snack, and—

No!

A dozen squealing, pained children burst from the spot, running and rolling away, all screaming, all blooded and hurt, all impeccably real. The adult snorted, frozen, head high in a dull surprise.

With one step he snapped his jaws around the slowest. Air. Another two and he swiped down at a screaming form. Air once more. Frustrated, he leapt forward, tearing into another replica. Air for the third time. The Draconequus bared its teeth and growled angrily, ears flat, tail snapping in tense angles.

Discord smiled as he saw the true child escape, running around a corner and vanishing. He released the spell, shivering as fear drained out of his body. If illusions were worth anything at all…

The adult Draconequus crouched low to the ground, eyes flicking around the empty corridor, breath a low hiss. They settled on Discord, and narrowed. The child stumbled back a step, laughing, nervous, as the ring returned to his ears.

“Hey, uh, what’re you looking at me for?” he joked.

The Draconequus moved. Not just an idle stroll, but a galloping charge.

Discord yowled and spun, clawing at the ground, desperate. An illusion, a spell, a need, he worked one up, and his body denied him, solely focused on the surge, the escape, the squeal from his lips. All focus on scraping forward, nothing existed, time held its breath, and total devotion would reward him, that’s all he felt.

He could feel the heat, feel the burn of his failure before he was ever touched. The claws of the monster fell on his back, his side, closing, crushing, digging into his gut. He gasped, but it didn’t stop. Momentum. The adult was still running, the hand, falling to steady itself, became a weight, a pillar, jabbing into the child’s spine, then pushing, crushing, cracking. Discord heard inside his own ears, the dull sound of his own bones breaking and snapping. Felt the claws forced deeper into his guts, his organs torn, exposed, wet, and burning in the air. His, arm, caught beneath his body, twisted and tore, white hot with pain.

The weight receded, and he was pulled off the ground, arm flopping weirdly beneath him. He dropped on his back, eyes staring upward at the quietly enraged adult. Discord lay, frightened to move, or unable to move, unable to even to make a sound as the Draconequus’ rage melted into the dull placidity, the glazed over to emptiness without feeling, without remorse. Only desire hunger, a light snack.

It dropped, heavy, huge, and pulled Discord by his good arm, leaving a trail of slick red behind. It placed a paw across the boy’s shattered chest, holding him in place, and lowered its head. Jaws parted, hot breath washing over Discord’s body, ready to dine on his death. On destruction.

Then it snapped up. Paw still across the child’s chest, the adult growled, and another growl followed, somewhere Discord couldn’t see. A head, jet black and slender eased toward the thick-necked Draconequus, teeth bared, hair on end.

The adult that pinned him snapped his teeth, raising his shoulders, displaying his size.

“Mine!” he growled, voice deep and guttural.

“You will unhand my student, Ferrous.”

“I caught it! It’s mine!”

Ruin took another step forward, forehead low, and Ferrous pushed back, horns clattering. His hand left Discord, and he began pushing back on Ruin, forcing him away. Yelps, barks, and the clatter of horns followed screamed insults and displays, claws scraping on the stones.

Through this, Discord was gently picked up and cradled in a single furry arm, staring up at the face of his mentor as the battle still raged behind him.

“Idiots, all of them.”

~æ~

“Listen. I do not have a way to dull your pain, nor any good way to make you sleep.”

Discord screamed and squealed as Ruin yanked on his arm, previously bent out of shape, and still lumpy with furious purple bruises.

“But I would greatly appreciate it if you sat still while I worked.”

Discord continued to scream and scream at the pain. Ruin sighed, lost among his student’s cries, as a silvery balm was rubbed across the wound.

“Your ribs are still broken, doesn’t it hurt to make a fuss like this?”

“My arm hurts more! My arm hurts more! Stop it! STOP STOP STOP!”

Discord shouted and cried as Ruin set aside the salve, and began his next task. Eyes tight in focus, he drew his thumb over the wound, hovering slightly above it. A thick white plaster followed. Ruin did this several times, then tapped the illusion. It snapped around Discord’s arm, a white lump of solid material. Discord whimpered as Ruin looked him over for more injuries, middle already wrapped in the pliable formless mass.

They were back in Ruin’s chambers, a little had changed in the time Discord had left it. The lantern was lit above his head, as he rested on Ruin’s blanket, separated from the scratching straw. Ruin splashed more of the cooling balm on minor cuts and bruises as Discord’s cries slowly faded. He stared at his arm, at the stiff creation that surrounded it.

“What is this stuff?” he asked quietly.

“Nothing spectacular or special, a mass produced commodity created by ponies, made with…”

“Not the balm… The stuff you made,” Discord croaked, “Is that an illusion?”

Ruin let out a single laugh, and popped the cork back into the clay jar.

“Yes, it’s an illusion. Reality’s Illusion. I’m sure you’ll learn it someday.”

Discord stared, remaining still as Ruin moved away from him. He felt… well, he didn’t feel as though he was dying anymore. Didn’t feel fear, nor dread. But his entire body throbbed, each beat of his blood making his mind cringe, his stomach churn. Spiders or needles were stuck all across his wounds, twitching and itching, and with nothing else to occupy his mind, he became engrossed in the feeling, unable to perceive of anything but intense aches and irritating pain.

“Why would anyone want to make others feel like this?” Discord muttered. Silence followed, and the boy snorted. “Yeah, I know, I’m stupid. Whatever. I just… I don’t want anyone to feel like this.”

“Chaos is…”

“Chaos nothing.” Discord interrupted. “Chaos can be like, a rock that suddenly turns blue. Why can’t chaos be that?”

“Because it isn’t, Discord.” Ruin said softly. His face appeared once more over his student’s. The child thought his mentor seemed tired. “You keep thinking you understand what you are, what life here is like, what chaos should be. It is not going to conform to your expectations of it, just because you want it to. Discord. Discord, look at me.” Ruin waited patiently for his student to turn his nose upward. “If you keep this up, you will die. Give up this silliness, and stop trying to make a fuss.”

Real chaos doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations,” Discord stated quietly.

“It does when death is on the table.”

Discord stared upward, both Draconequus silent and unrelenting. The child looked away, and his brother accepted this, quietly turning out the light and shifting himself to his bed, settling into the straw. Both were quiet, Discord with his niggling pain, and Ruin the same as always. Just watching.

“Everyone here is stupid,” Discord muttered, wondering what his brother would say.

“Yes, Discord, everyone here is a complete and utter moron, wasting their intelligent minds, nothing more than beasts.” Discord stared into the darkness as his brother spoke, hearing his words alone. “But if you haven’t noticed, thinking isn’t just underappreciated. In fact, it’s barely tolerated. Why don’t we work in accordance to your idea of chaos? Why must we fester and rot until our hearts turn to stone? Why can’t we get along, even among ourselves? All these stupid and obvious questions no one asks, because no one cares, because they can just bite someone’s head off and be done with it. You must live under the rule of those stronger than you, and you cannot deny or pretend that it doesn’t work that way. Please, for your own sake,” Discord blinked. Such a strange tone to be coming from Ruin. “Just accept this life.”

“No.” Discord answered immediately. He waited for his mentor’s response. A sigh, a snort, anything. Not just nothing. He turned to look at his mentor, a clear outline, looking directly at the injured boy. “If no one else is going to be smart, then I’ll just be the only one.”

“You understand, by sticking to that, you could easily be hurt again, be killed.”

“Yes.”

“And you know you can’t simply take up nonviolence. Eventually you will have to hunt for your own food, have to kill for your meat, give in to your own inner desires for destruction.”

Discord looked away once more, without a good answer, wondering, is that something that’s beyond his ability to control? Could he try…?

“I’ll figure out how to deal with that when it comes to that,” he stated eventually.

“Fine.”

Discord blinked. “Fine?” he asked.

“Fine. Keep your ideals, Discord,” Ruin told him. “It’s certainly something we need more of around here.”

~æ~

Centuries, maybe millennia in the future, Discord, fully grown and thin as a bean pole, watched his cottony clouds roll by. Pigs and pies floated over his head, a checkerboard of chaos rising and rolling at his feet. He cradled a barely drunken glass of chocolate milk, liquid remaining still as the glass seemed dissolved around it.

Life had been hard. He didn’t know how it couldn’t have been. But he survived. While his entire species imploded in on itself, violently self-destructive, he remained, transformed into a god by the very mechanism the ponies use to grow their own. And now, his destruction, the chaos of the last Draconequus crisscrossed over all across Equestria, spreading further and faster than any amount of violence could have created.

And the only thing he was forced to kill was order. No ponies were hurt. No ponies in agony or pain… Corrupted, maybe. Emotionally unhinged. But unharmed, whole, and able to enjoy each and every breath free from suffering.

And now, with the Elements indisposed, this chaos, and his reign were supreme. Was he king now? Prince? Whatever he was, who was to say this destruction, his chaos, wasn’t the correct one? Who was going to tell him that chaos is all about killing each other? The candy-coated ponies? Those harmless beings?

A smirk peeled onto his lips. Was there anyone left to oppose his definition?

Of course not! He had won!

So he laughed, loud and clear.

“Chaos is a wonderful, wonderful thing!”