One is a cosmically aware eco-friendly drifter. One is a reformed chaotic manifestation still adjusting to society. Together, they bake brownies, save worlds, and get to know each other!
A lot of things happened at the good ol' triple G. The crusaders got some hot tips on cutie marks, the nobles were smoozed beyond belief, and Tree Hugger met somebody who really, really intrigued her.
Still, Discord was a bit bemused when Tree Hugger offered to show him her garden. After all, he'd had threatened to throw her into another reality, and that usually put most ponies off from having more interactions with him.
But perhaps, with time, Tree Hugger's intentions might become clear.
Of Crusaders And Righteous Images Naturally Atypical
"...and that is how the cosmos decided on my mark," Tree Hugger finished with a lazy smile. "It was, like, a manifestation of destiny forever guiding my way through the song of life, ya'know?"
The three fillies stared up at her, their auras cloudy white with confusion. She noted the splotchy reds forming in the... pegasus, yes, and the unicorn's own purple energies were being consumed by the smog. Unusually, a note of yellow was actually spiraling through the third one's aura--most earth ponies, herself included, would have shimmered with orange, but she did suspect that yellow energy could actually be more efficient in clearing auras--
"Yeeeeeah, alright." The red splotches of the pegasus fed into the cloudiness. "That was... nice I guess, but that doesn't help us at all. Come on, girls."
Tree Hugger frowned as their individual clouds suddenly shimmered into a splotchy blue, all but crushing the other colors into nothingness before returning to the usual mix of shades foals had. One of the caretakers--ah, orange striped with violet, a stable sort--turned to her with an apologetic tone. "Mighty sorry 'bout that miss Tree Hugger. Ah swear, for a lot who desperately want their own marks, they don't even listen to half o' what we tell 'em..."
"They're too in synch," Tree Hugger replied. "When one steps forward, another steps back, and round the circle they go."
"That's... an interesting way to put it. Ah can see what you mean." The other mare looked away, a touch of green marring her appearance as she looked after the foals. "Still, the three of them are the best o' friends..."
Tree Hugger nodded. "Best to keep them in their circle. Split them up, they'll spin who knows where." She shrugged. "One of them will break the cycle eventually, and the circle will become a spiral."
Tree Hugger looked at the faint clouds forming on the orange mare. "A spiral. You know. Spinning and spinning but still going somewhere? Like... stairs, mare." She spun her hoof upward through the air to demonstrate. "Whoosh. Could go up or down, except they're good friends, like you said, so I'm thinking more ascension, yeah?"
The faint clouds brushed around the orange mare, but at the very least they didn't grow. "Ah... see. Are ya sayin' when one of them earns their cutie mark, they'll all start to figure themselves out?"
"They're very lucky to have you," Tree Hugger confirmed with a nod. "You're very orange."
"....riiiiiiight. Well, Ah'm... gonna go get some punch, maybe hobnob. Good talk, miss Hugger." The pony... something Jack she remembered, meandered off into the crowd.
It was always interesting to see how different ponies interacted, how their auras would compliment each other. Even here, with cold tile beneath her hooves, she could sense the faint throb of the universe whispering and flowing through the air, concentrating into little series of knots wherever someone stood. There was a lot of green in this crowd, true, but there was so much variety in the shading and the patterns... they all sang their own variant of a tune of pride, sometimes trying to drown out others, many simply growing pale as they followed the loudest. She had to hide a chuckle at their predictability; the image was beautiful, even if their actions were so... closed.
Of course, not everyone here was closed. Celestia shone, golden as she'd always thought, and with spirals of indigo and violet sometimes interrupted by surprisingly intense bursts of orange and yellow. And there was Fluttershy, of course, the splotches in her green shrinking as she happily lectured some poor pony whose orange was growing duller; she'd have to see if she could find him a good match afterwards, the pegasus was so oblivious. The Smooze happily danced with a twirling bundle of yellow and pink and blue and orange, his own colors a dull but unspoiled rainbow.
And speaking of rainbows...
Tree Hugger let her eyes drift over to the most oddly shaped aura, a twisty line with tangled jolts extending at random intervals in a crowd of minnows swimming on pointed legs. Nopony else seemed to notice the way that the living lightning bolt would sprout an entire network of convoluted limbs, until they all at once pried on the flow of reality and suddenly there was something new, sharing the spectral pattern that danced throughout its creator for the briefest of moments.
It was truly incredible, that pattern. So loose, so free.
"Oh, I'm sorry Tree Hugger." Fluttershy walked up to the earth pony, her green just slightly pale. "I got rather caught up in telling that nice stallion all about my animal friends."
"No worries, Shyfly. I saw how much your vibe was resonating." Tree Hugger briefly considered letting her friend know about the stallion's provocative aura, but decided against it; she'd seen how the poor pony reacted to even brief attention, when it wasn't something she was prepared for.
Fluttershy giggled. "Thanks. I do love it when somepony takes an interest in my own talent."
"It's usually a good thing," Tree Hugger agreed, her eyes drifting back to the spectral show on the dance floor.
"...Discord is a great dancer, don't you think?"
"Discord." Fluttershy waved out to the dance floor, where the auras were spinning like madtops. "You're looking right at him."
Tree Hugger tilted her head. "That's... all one thing?"
"...yes. I mean, I know he looks like a mish-mash, but that's the one and only Discord."
"Oh. Was he, like, the same Discord we met in Ponyville?"
Fluttershy's aura was growing yellow splotches. "...Yes, Tree Hugger. He was."
Tree Hugger's eyes widened. That was one creature. One aura. "...Righteous."
"I'm glad you think so. I mean, I really am sorry about how he acted earlier tonight, with the whole portal to another dimension thing--"
"Hey, it's all cool." Tree Hugger turned to Fluttershy with a gentle smile. "Dude felt I was harshing his mellow, cause he didn't know he could harsh his own. He's radically lucky to have a great teachfriend like you." She reached out a hoof to pat her friend.
"Aww... thank you Treezie."
Tree Hugger frowned, patting at Fluttershy again.
"Um... Treezie? What's wrong?"
"Fluttershy... did you know you have, like, feathers on your dress?" Tree Hugger patted at the material again. "There's like a whole wing here, or something."
"Um... that's, um, that's my wing, actually."
The earth pony blinked, patting one more time. "...Wait. You're a pegasus?"
"Didn't..." Fluttershy's aura was gaining more yellow splotches by the second. "Didn't you, um, see me flying earlier, when Discord was doing the thing with the portal?"
"Yeah, I thought..." Tree Hugger trailed off. Come to think of it, the grip that Discord's aura had had on Fluttershy's was actually somewhat slack. "I... wasn't thinking," she said slowly. "Because, you know, the portal."
"Oh." Fluttershy's yellow receded with a slow nod. "I... guess that makes sense."
A line of rainbow suddenly spiraled between them, and in less then a second the spectral shifting sensation that was, apparently, Discord had concentrated itself next to the two mares. "My dear Fluttershy, what fun is there in making sense?"
Even his voice was reverberating with color.
"I'd like to make sense of you," Tree Hugger murmured.
"What was that?"
"I said I'd like to talk to you," the earth pony quickly blurted. "I just thought, you know, now that our mellows have been chilled, we could really talk."
Discord... well, she couldn't really get a good read on him, but at the least he sounded surprised. "You did? I mean... Not that I wouldn't like to, but I did threaten to send you to another reality. Granted, a very hospitable one, but--"
"What you did is done," Tree Hugger interrupted. "And nobody can undo what was, not even the princesses... well, I think. But what is is a shifting ocean of possibility, forever taking paths that we never see to what will be."
"That's a delightfully chaotic view to have." Discord bent in half, the waveforms of his face near her. "And here I thought you'd be all about harmony with nature."
Tree Hugger smiled. "Chaos and Order are the twin sides of Harmony."
"What?" The aura twisted, parts of it shifting into other forms. "That doesn't make sense to me."
"Oh, but Discord..." The earth pony's expression grew sly. "What fun is there in making sense?"
At that, Discord actually belted out laughing, curling into the air in a spiral. "Ohohohohohoho! That's something I wasn't expecting at all!" He stilled halfway above the tiles, glancing at the dull rainbow bobbing out on the dance floor. "Unfortunately I... feel that I do owe it to poor Smoozie to make up for my deplorable treatment earlier tonight. Perhaps we can talk at a later date."
"Thursday's good," Tree Hugger replied. "I'd love to show you my pedal garden. It's a thing of cosmic beauty."
"Um, Tree Hugger?" Fluttershy coughed. "I thought you had a petal garden."
"Yeah, I've got one of those too. I think Discord would prefer my pedal garden though." She glanced back at Discord. "So, thursday? Like, round afternoonish?"
"Round afternoonish? How vague." Discord's aura burst brightly. "I'll be there, miss Hugger."
The earth pony watched him fly out to the dance floor, a smile tugging at her lips.
Agricultural Capacity Can Organize Radical Discussions Intellectually Of Note
Discord never had much truck with maps. To be fair, it was hard to truck anything in Equestria; the only motorized vehicles were either on rails or slow, massive machines used for construction. But no self-respecting spirit of chaos would let a little anachronism get in the way of a good saying. In this case, he decided against even looking at the map that Fluttershy had helpfully provided, instead homing in on Tree Hugger's presence and manifesting in a massive, smog-spewing vehicle outside what he assumed was her home.
While he did wear the traditional cap and overalls, though, Discord made sure the honk sounded like a french horn.
Tree Hugger exited the building with a small smile. "Yo, friend. Can you do me a blessing and turn off the smoke? Ruins the garden's vibe." She blinked for a second. "Oh, and yeah, smoke kills the flowers I think? Yeah, that's true too."
Discord grinned broadly. "Why of course Miss Hugger! With a snap of his fingers, the entire metal contraption disappeared, leaving him in midair. "I would never try to ruin you vibe."
The pony smiled at him lazily. "Yeah, that's a lie."
A frown formed on the Draconequus's face. "Excuse me?"
"Spirit of chaos, you are." Tree Hugger tilted her head. "Never isn't chaotic. It's too... solid. Not like you at all. I don't mind." Her smile turned into a smirk. "Besides, there was that one time you were, like, planning to dump me into another world, right?"
"Well, yes, but--I learn from my mistakes!" Discord protested. "I swear to you, Miss Hugger, I don't want to do such an awful thing anymore."
"No Miss," Tree Hugger repeated. "I don't do titles. They ground ponies in duty, where duty should be enjoyed. Just Tree Hugger. Or Treezie. Or you can call me Embrace, I actually kinda liked that one." She ran a hoof down one of her dreadlocks. "You know, whatever makes you comfortable."
Discord stroked his beard. "Well... I suppose I can see what you mean. I'll admit, being The spirit of chaos and disharmony did put a lot of pressure on me to act in certain ways." He snapped his talons, a bouquet of blue flowers appearing in his paw as he bowed low. "But where are my manners! Consider these a humble thanks for inviting me to your abode."
Tree Hugger took the flowers with a giggle. "Oh, I don't sleep here. I just keep the place smooth when needed." She sniffed at the flowers and let out a little gasp. "These are still alive! Most bouquets are fresh, but these little yellow flowers--this is amazing."
"Ah...." The draconequus held up a talon. "They're blue."
"Maybe on the outside, but they're yellow on the inside." Discord watched in shocked fascination as she pulled a single flower out and rested it behind her ear. "I like yellow. I like all colors, but yellow... it's so active, ya'know? Just radical movement. Let me put the rest of these in a vase somewhere," she added as she waved a hoof at the building, "you can go round the side and pick out a bike."
She sauntered into the building, giving Discord a chance to look around his current location. From what he could tell, the building itself was but a functionary starting point for a series of gravel paths meandering through some rather lively looking trees. Flowers of every hue could be found growing wild between them, and through the woods he caught glimpses of odd... things simply standing still. There was actually a solid circle of white roses right outside the front door of the building, marred only by the red ones forming the silhouette of an odd two-wheeled device. As he slithered around the side, he found a small shack housing such devices, in varying sized and with a few having a few extra wheels.
Discord ran his paw over them, eventually settling on a red model with odd blue stripes and pulling it out of the shack. He wrapped his tail cautiously around the bar holding up what seemed to be a padded tongue, arcing down as he rested on the cushion and carefully put his hoof on one of the pedals. "How in the world do ponies use these things?"
"It's a matter of balance."
Discord's head twirled around so fast that it popped off of his neck. "What in--how did you sneak up on me like that?!" he demanded, his body leaning down as his talon scrabbled on the ground.
"Balance... is everything." The earth pony was still looking at the body sitting on the bike, a smile of genuine contentment on her face. "It's in the physical, where you have to keep from swaying one way or the other to not fall. It's in the mental, where excess of any emotion will draw into insanity. It's in the spiritual, where purpose and order intertwine with choice and chaos. The cosmos is balance, and we are the weights on the scale."
Her ear flicked for a moment, a frown forming on her face. "No, that's... not a good metaphor. It's too, like, binary. Maybe we're smaller tops on a larger top?" She shrugged, adjusting the floral-print bandanna on her head. "Whatever. The point is, I am balanced with what is, so if you're not looking at what is, you might miss what I am."
Discord scowled, partially out of annoyance that his talon had just missed his head. "Really? How fascinating. Could you maybe come out of your cosmic twirling and help me pull myself together?"
Tree Hugger chuckled, stepping forward. "I dunno, you seem pretty integraled to yourself--huh." She glanced down, her hoof feeling about. "Did you put a rabbit here or something?"
"That'th my fasche."
"Whoa, really? So, like, your head fell off or something?"
The spirit of chaos frowned as she picked his head up. "I'd have thought that would have been obvious!"
"Whoa." Tree Hugger sat down, carefully spinning the object she was holding. "That's strange, I can't feel any blood on you."
"I'm a physical manifestation of chaotic magic! Why in the world would I have blood?"
A small spongey squeak came from his horn as Tree Hugger prodded at it curiously. "If you're, like, a magical manifestation or something, can't you just remanifest your body down your neck?"
Discord rolled his eyes, scoffing as his body disappeared in a flash and reappeared coiled around the pony. "You know, Tree Hugger, there's such a thing as over-examining a joke."
Tree Hugger started running her hoof up Discord's antler. "You know, this branch you've got on your head is really dry, but I can tell it's not dead yet. Want me to water it?"
"It's not a branch, it's an antler!"
The earth pony gasped. "An antler on your head?! Discord.... that makes perfect sense."
She giggled at the spirit of chaos's sputtering, easily disentangling herself from his coils and walking over to the shed. "Alright, alright, I'll lay off harshing your mellow. Asides, fun as it is to see you twisting like that, I didn't ask you over to watch the pretty colors." Her form disappeared deep into the shed for a moment, but it wasn't long before Tree Hugger returned with a green bike whose thick frame was covered in multicolored floral patterns. A hoof casually wave to the hypnotic patterns painted on the wooden wheels. "Ol' spiral-spinner here is my personal ride. He and I are going to take you on a tour 'round the garden."
Discord watched her mount the device and start it moving with practiced ease. He slithered up to his own bike, balancing precariously on the tiny seat and pushing against the pedals. Soon enough, he was riding backward in front of Tree Hugger, his arms balanced on the handlebars as he rested his head in his hands. "So, aside from you trying to 'harsh my mellow', what are we supposed to be doing?"
That cryptic lazy smile on her face as she adjusted the blue bloom behind her ear was infuriating. "All I'm doing is leading you down the flow. What you feel when you do is not anything I can decide. Just take in the world, Discord, see what you can and feel your aura resonate."
She let one of her hooves lazily gesture toward the right of the path. Discord flicked an eye in that direction, turned to look back at Tree Hugger--and then looked again. There, built out of what appeared to be discarded hayburger wrappers, was a circle on its edge with many odd shapes in the lines between.
"The pony who made that called it 'the portal of gluttony.'" Tree Hugger let her head loll a bit as her bike wavered left and right. "Said it was supposed to represent the alternate world Equestria had become after the invention of mass marketable goods. Personally, I felt he needed to chill and learn how to reharmonize, but it was interesting enough to put out here."
"This... is this an art garden?" Discord asked, letting his bike move alongside Tree Hugger's for a moment.
"No, no no. This is a pedal garden." Tree Hugger patted the green frame beneath her. "You can only ride if you rent, ya'know? Of course, not many can actually ride, so they just walk along holding the bicycle."
Discord hummed softly as they passed what appeared to be a tree formed out of partially melted gears, frames, and pedals. "That's a rather... interesting choice."
"Filly's gotta make a living somehow," Tree Hugger replied. "As much as I want to just float my boat, lotta ponies expect me to earn value to trade value. So I thought, like, if I can get them to pay to look at a collection, I'd be able to balance in them." She flicked an ear. "Just have to set up a few flyers every month, ponies come when they can."
"Oh, it's a shame I left my bit bag at home," Discord said with a frown. "I do apologize, I'll just turn around and--"
"Discord." The earth pony pulled her bike to a stop. "I never expected you to pay."
"You... you didn't?"
"Nah. You're the spirit of chaos, right?" Tree Hugger rose a thick eyebrow as she hopped off her seat. "I didn't invite you expecting any value traded. This is a gift, from my aura to yours. Just ride with me and enjoy what you see, ya'know?"
Discord narrowed his eyes. "A gift."
"Yeah. No strings, no expectations, just something that comes free."
"You know, aside from Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, the only person I can remember ever receiving a gift from was Tirek." He frowned. "That didn't... turn out very well."
"Oh, yeah, bundle-bright." Tree Hugger glanced at the cobblestone path. "Yeah, I could feel his weight from miles off... When I saw what he was doing, going to be honest, I just ran to my basement and hid. Not my most cosmic day."
Discord dismounted, his glare softening. "...that day is something I... regret. And... I'm sorry."
"...the past is the past," Tree Hugger replied softly. "What was can't be changed. What will be can't be known. What is is all that matters."
The two of them stood there, standing next to their bicycles, letting the sound of the world around them flow.
"...You know, Miss Hugger, I... am genuinely honored that you'd let me in your pedal garden for free." Discord leaned down, raising the mare's chin with a talon and gave her a hopeful, awkward smile. "Maybe we should continue on our way."
After a moment, Tree Hugger managed to smile back. "That'd be righteous." She allowed it to morph into a smirk. "But don't call me Miss. Titles, remember?"
"Ah, yes. My apologies.... Miss."
With a shake of her head, Tree Hugger jumped on her Bike and led Discord further down the path. "Now, this piece is called 'the unfurled wing....'"
The Amusing Meanderings Become Observational Understandings Regarding Inquistive Natural Equines
Tree Hugger smiled to herself, pouring another cup and setting it on the rug in front of her. "Hey there, Dissy. What's your squall this time?"
"How do you do that?! I didn't give you any warning, I didn't even go for a sight gag, I just up and appeared!"
"Your vibe's pretty unique, bro." The mare turned her head up, letting herself fall into the dazzling spectacle that was bent over her. "You wanna coil on down? Drink's my own unique blend."
Discord grumbled, slinking around to the other side of the small tent they were in and resting on the provided space. "Oh, fine, I suppose I might as well while I'm here." He picked up the teacup and sniffed at it warily. "What is this, anyway?"
"Oh, I mixed some homemade orange juice with a touch of lemonade, then I steamed some tea leaves in it. The heat really, like, spreads the sugar through the leaves, but the OJ settles the whole concoction, ya'know?" She sipped her drink contentedly.
That actually seemed to bring pause from Tree Hugger's guest. He contemplated the cup in his grasp for a moment, tilting it this way and that. Then part of his aura extended into the liquid, swirling about in befuddlement. "This... is actually very good."
"Glad you dig it, brother." Tree Hugger rolled her shoulders. "Like, so many ponies don't feel the need to walk beyond their own patterns. They define their personality by so many things as they grow, and then forget that they are the ones that defined them, so they treat these guidelines as law in totality, sequestering their experiences into patterns of limitation."
"...so they don't think of mixing three different drinks because mixing drinks is something they don't do?"
"A limitation of decision in precision, my friend. The unknown is only undiscovered because a soul will not spin out of its pattern." The mare sipped at her drink. "It's a safer balance, fairness pending, but a smaller spiral can only go so far."
"You know something? You're absolutely right." Discord set his teacup down on the rug, spreading his arms wide. "I look from Horseshoe Bay to Vanhoover, and a good seventy six out of eighty three ponies are just doing what they've been doing ever since they were a foal! Even the few that shake things up a little have special talents as 'inventors' or 'artists' and they're just being random because it's what they do!"
"Sounds like it really clogs your chakras when you see, like, ponies limiting themselves."
The spirit of chaos scoffed. "I don't have chakras."
Tree Hugger burst out laughing. "Oh Dissy, hahaha! You know how to yellow my vibe!"
"Hahahaha! Ha... No chakras? Dis, if you can think, you've got chakras." She peered at the swirling spectrums across from her. "Maybe not, like, in the places ponies have them, cause you're a magical manifestation, but trust me: Without your chakras, there wouldn't be a you."
"Are you saying that some sort of jewelry is responsible for my identity?" Discord flashed and twirled. "Perhaps a necklace? A crown? Earrings?"
"No, nonono. Chakras are..." Tree Hugger put down her cup, tapping her chin. "Okay, so... magic flows, right? Through everything. It's the lifeblood of the universe, every rock and tree and pony has magic flowing... but not all of them in the same way." She pointed at the rug. "This is not alive. If a unicorn, like, cast a come to life spell? The magic would change, bundle up and redirect through the rug. That bundling, that place where magic flows swirl, that's a chakra."
Discord leaned down. "You know, I've brought things to life before. Granted, they didn't always stay alive for very long."
"That's probably cause they didn't have many chakras." Tree Hugger patted her chest. "Ponies have... I think seven, ish? There's more to their magic flow then just the chakras, but that's the most consistent. And each chakra is part of where our body connects to our mind, our mind connects to our soul, and our soul connects to the universe. I am straight up telling you, man, almost all emotions come from chakras... or maybe it's emotions that change the flow of the chakras? It's too tightly bound for beginnings and endings, just the ebb of the tides in the self. Completely radical to watch, you know?"
"I... suppose?" The swirling concentration of colors seemed for the briefest moment to swell with blue splotches before once again becoming the shifting rainbow that so fascinated her.
"What was that?"
Tree Hugger flicked an ear, refocusing. "So my point, it's like this: If you're you, like a real person, you've got emotions and thoughts and all those mind things going on and that's influencing the magic going through you. That means you have chakras. Or maybe in your case you're one big chakra? No, that doesn't make sense, you have more than one emotion. Maybe you've got, like, starfish chakras? Not a single bundle, but a lot of clusters." She spun her hooves around themselves. "So, like, everywhere instead of small spots."
Discord coiled down thoughtfully, his ever-shifting colors forming small spiraling patterns. "I suppose that..." He turned his head to her. "I mean, your explanation is acceptable."
"You totes were going to say it made sense."
He snorted. "It's funny how you think that, because that's not true."
"You're right, of course. You weren't going to say it, because you haven't said it. What's past is past, ever frozen in our shifting memory." Tree Hugger picked up her cup again, taking another sip. "Like, whoa. This taste. This taste is so good. But now, it's gone. And yet, I can still taste it. The fleeting memory won't make what was what is, but it does blend with my emotions and help cleanse my chakras to balance."
She sniffed at the air. "So... are you going to drink yours, or what?"
"Oh, yes, of course." Discord picked up his cup and took a quick sip. "I just got so caught up in listening to that fascinating rambling that comes out of your mouth. It's not like most of the rambling that comes from ponies, all that 'baking this' and 'dresses that' and 'existential crisis oh no!' You do these things about reality as a whole, and somehow you do it just as casually as other ponies talk about the weather."
"That's just how I flow man. My mind rolls round the nature of ponies and their lives. It's actually pretty radical, when you stop to think about it."
"Who has time to stop and think?" countered the spirit of Chaos. "Everything's happening at once! The more time you spend in your own head, the less time you spend observing what's going on around you."
"I dunno, Dissy. If you don't ever think, then you'll never discover your own pattern and just bounce against others like, you know, one of those balls that bounce in those... machines, with all the flashy posts in them...?"
"Those are the ones. Never seen one myself, but they're things that exist." Tree Hugger shrugged. "It's kinda hard to work with metaphors when you don't, like, know about what they're talking about, you know?"
"Oh trust me, it's far worse when you're the only one who gets the joke. Everypony staring at you with those blank eyes, trying to figure out what's going on in your head..." Discord growled, his colors darkening with red. "It's so frustrating, putting your intelligence on display and not getting any appreciation."
"Don't let ignorance twist your chi," Tree Hugger advised him. "Nopony knows everything, and that's okay. If you let other's limitations get to you, you're going to be limiting yourself a lot. Take what you get, spiral along with it." She sipped at her cup, frowned, and poured herself some more of her personal blend. "So what I'm saying is, be you when you is all you have to be, you know?"
"That's pretty much what I normally do. Be me." Discord snapped his fingers and suddenly compressed into a far more quadrupedal form. "I could, like, be somepony who talks about radical auras, man. But, you know, I don't choose to?"
Tree Hugger snorted. "Is that supposed to be me? Cause you look nothing like me. I've got, like, more streaks and not so many spirals. I mean, your spirals are great and all, but they aren't me."
"Well, like, I don't know. You say streaks and spirals and cosmic balance and I can't tell what you're even talking about!" Discord's voice had slowly reverted back to his usual pitch. "You just--you--you just--"
The mare sipped her drink with a sly smile.
"...You just make no sense!" Discord shouted, decompressing into his usual self. "And yes!" he added, holding up a finger, "I know what I just said."
"Mmmhmm." Tree Hugger put her cup down. "Dissy, you ever think that, like, there's more than one form of sense?"
"I mean, like..." The mare tapped her chin. "Okay. Would you say Fluttershy is me?"
"No. You're very different."
"And why's that?"
"Well, Fluttershy is very timid and has confidence issues despite having a number of talents and tends to be quite introverted whereas you have... this... way of just seeming like you're going nowhere and then suddenly being somewhere else!"
"You're overcomplicating things, man. It's our patterns." Tree Hugger tapped her head. "Me in here, I move so differently than Fluttershy. And a lot of other ponies, actually, but that's the point. What's common sense is made by the common, even if one pony who does so much better moves differently. Conceptual limitations are formed by societal expectations which are derived from important relations. Hay, even I'm not free of the ways of pony, no matter how off-wall I bounce."
"Really? You? Have normal tendencies?"
Tree Hugger nodded. "Sure, man. I'm only a mare after all. I make money, spend it, don't live entirely off the land, mind my P's and Q's, all that jazz. Doesn't matter that I see things different, there's still a part of me that just spends itself with others." She put down her cup. "What makes me different is the same thing that makes ponies different from each other. I am me, a single instrument in the symphony of reality, and the fact that I play such strong counterpoint is only a result of of myself being as me as it can be."
"Is this the same 'everyone's special' talk that teachers give to kids?"
"Hey, just cause you hear it young doesn't mean it's not true." Tree Hugger shrugged. "Look, Dissy, why'd you really come here?"
"I.... well..." For a moment, Discord's spirals were dominated by blotchy yellow, but they swiftly faded into a pale blue. "I just wanted to know how you were resisting the poison joak so well!"
"The... flowers I gave you. They're called Poison Joak, they're supposed to play pranks on ponies."
"Ooooooooh, is that what that yellow stuff was?" Tree Hugger nodded. "Yeah, I was able to balance myself so it sorta slid off, you know? Couldn't get a firm grip."
"You... what? How--No. No, miss Hugger, I am not going to just accept whatever you say." Discord stood up as tall as he could. "You and I are going to have some serious together time, and I will get to the bottom of this mystery!"
"Sounds great." Tree Hugger swallowed the last of her drink. "Camping trip this weekend?"
"That will do quite nicely, thank you. And I assure you our venue will be quite memorable!"
The mare smiled. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
The venue was, indeed, quite memorable. Primarily because it wasn't in Equestria at all.
Oh, Discord wasn't stupid enough to try to take Tree Hugger to a place in another world, not so soon after the gala. No, nonono, this was actually still in the same universe, the same galaxy--the same planet even! The fact that it was not technically within the bounds of the country Celestia ruled--and Luna too, technically speaking--was really just a minor detail in his mind.
Granted, a number of the plants and animals in this particular jungle had never been seen by pony eyes.
And there was the whole thing with the temple of an ancient race being a small distance off.
As well as the whole "accursed by thine ancestors" nonsense that wraith had been ranting about when Tree Hugger met it.
But really, what was camping without a little adventure? Wasn't that the whole point? Civilized ponies, conquering their fears of the wilds by sleeping under the stars?
Or perhaps, Discord mused as Tree Hugger returned with a collection of dry sticks, maybe it was just about enjoying the natural world without any sort of attached meaning.
"You know I could have just created a fire without all this silly gathering nonsense," he pointed out, watching as she started to place sticks carefully into a small dug-out pit. "I could have made a whole tiki lodge for us! With chanting statues and exotic dancers in grass skirts!"
Tree Hugger chuckled as she started crushing a few leaves and scattering them in the fire pit. "Oh, do you know the Kapua?"
Discord scoffed. "Those islanders? My dear, I..." He sighed, deflating. "It's really a very long story, actually. I'd rather not talk about it." His twisted gaze traveled over the horizon wistfully.
"Peace, my bro. Just asking." The mare pulled some rocks from her saddlebag, striking them together. "Not many ponies know about them, is all. You brought up tikis, and you're, like, pretty well traveled, right?"
"Eh, yes and no. I've gone far and wide in my time, but that was pretty long ago. Do you know, Tartarus wasn't even around when I first tried to conquer Equestria?"
"Huh. That would explain why you didn't know what to expect from Tirek." Tree Hugger shrugged. "Sometimes, I totally forget that you were a statue for a couple thousand years."
Discord frowned. "Really."
"Mmmyeah. Kinda focused more on the now, you know? Don't get me wrong," she added, "I can get how that was, like, a core part of your past. Being forced to become unchanging... yeah, so not you. I just don't dwell there, cause... well, I don't know. I never saw the past as more than a series of object lessons to teach those who are."
She frowned, continuing to strike the rocks together. "Come on... this usually works..." Pursing her lips, she brought one up to her nose and sniffed it.
"...Having trouble there?"
"...I was using the wrong rock." Tree Hugger groaned, putting the rock down beside her and reaching into her saddlebags again. "This is so embarrassing..."
Discord chuckled as she produced another rock and sniffed it. "Most ponies wouldn't carry rocks in their saddlebags, you know. How many do you have in there anyway?"
Tree Hugger grinned despite herself. "A prime number." She let out a small snort of satisfaction as a spark leapt from her rocks and set the contents of the pit ablaze. "There we go! Our own little contained instance of destruction and entropy, creating light in a wilderness thus unexplored by ponykind, through which we can warm both our physical forms and through the sharing of words our ethereal selves. And, like, make some totally righteous smores."
"Ah, smores. That century-old delicacy, invented by some creative foal who was told to only eat sandwiches." Discord manifested some marshmallows on his talons, popping off his left arm and holding it over the flames. "I'm a little surprised you didn't suggest brownies."
The mare frowned. "Is that a druggie jab? Cause I don't do drugs."
"Seriously. Smoked a hookah, like, once, cause the ponies with it were all like 'gets you one with the universe, man!'" She snorted. "Yeah, no. What it does, see, it loosens the magic flow of your chakras. Yeah, you can see more of the universe, but that's because you're less of you and you're floating about in the stream, unable to control yourself. Unbalanced. Sometimes, you're not even able to get scared because you're so... wispy."
She shivered, hugging herself. "Never again. If they need it, fine, but me? Never again."
Discord awkwardly scratched his hoof with one of his lizard claws. "I... I shouldn't have assumed. You just seem so--"
"Out there?" Tree Hugger smiled up at him. "Yeah, I get that a lot. When your thought process doesn't quite meld with that of the usual pony kind, people just start looking for explanations. I don't blame them." She nestled herself against him, letting out a little sigh. "If they feel they don't know enough about something, that something has to be wild in their mind. Uncontrolled, chaotic, you know? Too many of them think organization is necessary for harmony." Her hoof waved round in an indicating gesture. "Big scary trees, ooooo, who knows what's in them?"
The spirit of chaos couldn't hold back a little smile at her giggle. "See, that's what gets to me too. Almost nopony stops to think that things outside their little system could be a good thing in its own right." He screwed his arm back on, levitating some graham crackers and chocolate to smoosh the melting marshmallow between. "I mean, when I first came around I just screwed around because the ponies of the time were just so... boring. Did you know, old Equestria had this whole caste system going on? Bleugh!" Discord sighed. "Of course, I never actually tried talking to them, I just started up craziness wherever I went. Some of them did come to me asking for things--I think there was this cult, actually, that saw me as some sort of liberator, I remember marrying a lot of ponies from different tribes--Oh! This one time, I actually swapped a couple's genders just as they were kissing, and they were overjoyed! Apparently they had lots of foals and now basically a fifth of Equestria has their blood..."
He cleared his throat. "My point is, the unusual can be bad, but it's also often good. The Wendigos led to Equestria's foundation, Tirek brought along his brother Scorpan--wish I could have met that old gargoyle--heck, Hearts and Hooves day was essentially started after some pony drugged a royal couple and let his county collapse." With a chuckle, Discord handed Tree Hugger one of the smores.
"Mmm. Horrible histories lead to modern wonders." The mare nibbled on the proffered treat. "That's the easiest for ponies to see since the past is frozen. It won't--it shouldn't attack them, they think. It's nice and distant." She snuggled in deeper. "But change is, like, the one thing that is constant. Paradox of reality, but it's totally true...?"
Tree Hugger giggled again. "Sorry, I lost my train of thought there. We were talking about unusual not being bad or good, and I start talking about change... the trees here are so interesting." She shut her eyes, her ears twitching against Discord's barrel. "There's so many vines just whispering through them, and they give freely. I can smell the water dripping down the leaves, mixing pollen from higher flowers with necter in the lower ones... I can hear the buzz of small insects, dipping into the pools of sugar and stirring them together... I can feel the whispers of passing wings as the feathered snakes fly down from their perches, snatching the animals that would eat the blooms and dropping them off in the nests of their young... and, yeah, this smore tastes radical."
Discord looked up into the branches. "You got all that with your eyes closed?"
"Mmm. Yep. It's pretty amazing, when you think about it. I mean, trees are trees, but even in that framework there's just so much variety."
"...I suppose there is."
The two of them sat listening to the various squeaks and sqwaks of the jungle around them, occasionally punctuated by a howl of unbridled fury when the wraith attempted to break through the enchanted shield around the temple. Discord tilted his gaze to the pony barely a quarter of his size, basking in the twin warmth of the fire and his own body's feather-fur substance. She seemed as content here in this moment as away in her garden, or at the gala... and that was another thing about her, she seemed to just be herself no matter what the situation was. A lot of ponies were constantly watching their actions whenever they were pushed out of their comfort zone, but... Tree Hugger, he realized, was her own comfort zone. She never tried to change the world for her own gain; she simply rebalanced whenever the world threw her a curveball, surfing peacefully on waves that would drown far greater people then her. She was... maddeningly adaptable, simply because she was so aware of her own self!
It was such a contradiction to everything Discord knew about ponies. The chaotic ones embraced change, the orderly ones rejected it, but... Tree Hugger was exactly like the trees she hugged. Enduring any storm, and drawing in the rain to grow. She was...
And suddenly he realized. She was. Pure and simple.
Discord wrapped his lion's paw around her, almost without thinking. Another puzzle solved, perhaps. But then, why was Tree Hugger so intriguing? True, she was unique, but that could be said of so many things. So many ponies, in point of fact. He tilted his head, watching her finish off the last of the smore. She was so frustrating, but at the same time so... so...
Why did he come back to her, week after week? What was it about her that fascinated him... well, obviously, it was her sense of self, but Celestia had that as well. On the other talon, Celestia didn't entirely trust him--true, they were friends now, and she actually enjoyed his pranks, but there was always a wariness to her gaze... a wariness shared by most ponies. Fluttershy accepted him, but she... well, she was a frail thing, and he never felt like really unleashing his full potential around her.
Tree Hugger, he realized, accepted him, and accepted herself. She was Celestia's confidence, Fluttershy's understanding, and just enough of her own brand of zaniness to be distinctly herself. And... he liked that, he mused. He'd never had a friend like that. Never a friend like her.
"You're awfully quiet," Tree Hugger commented.
"Hmm?" Discord shook himself. "Oh, yes, sorry. I was lost in thought, you know how it is."
"Really?" The mare's voice took on a teasing tone. "And here I was thinking you were a creature unbound by the complexities of thought, like, just going with your own flow."
"Hey now, I can have deep thoughts!"
"Never said you couldn't." Tree Hugger yawned. "You're so floofy, you know? Like a biiiiiiig ferret kitty. Causin' my body to feel comfortable, sleepways."
Discord chuckled. "You're drifting off then?"
"Want me to set up the tent?"
"Who needs tents?" The mare snuggled deeper into him. "Got me dracyequui. Scare off the monsters, plus superwarm. Good cook too."
The spirit of chaos shook his head as the mare drifted into Luna's realm, a small smile on his lips. He took one last look around--
"Oh, what?" he grumbled, giving the wraith a challenging glare. "You never saw a sleeping pony before?"
The wraith whistled softly, its eyes peering from the shadowed form.
"Yeah, well, this one respects nature in all its forms. So you're not getting her." Discord waved his talon. "Now go on, shoo, you probably have some lost travellers to eat."
An offended hiss.
"Well that's about the same as eating them isn't it?"
A series of clicks.
"...look, we can argue about this all night, or you can go about your duties. And trust me, my name is Discord? I can keep this argument going."
The wraith threw up its claws and whirled away, throwing a parting wail over its shoulders.
"What?! She is not---!"
Discord paused, giving the sleeping pony a contemplative look.
"...Well, she's not right now," he mused. "But then, where does friendship end and love begin...?"
Discord gleefully appeared in Tree Hugger's tent and wrapped himself around her. She had, as always, reacted with only a smile and a brief shuffling of her forelegs to avoid spilling whatever it was she was working on.
"Someday you're going to have to tell me how you do that."
The mare smiled. "Maybe I will, maybe I won't. No future is set in permanence, save the ones we make ourselves."
"And as eloquent as always!" The draconequuis chuckled as he coiled around to the other side of the small tent--it amused him to realized that Tree Hugger owned a fair number of properties but chose to sleep homeless--and corkscrewed to the ceiling, where he could look down on what she was working on. "So, miss Embrace, what difficult task have you prepared for yourself today?"
With a lazy smile, Tree Hugger scrapped the last of her dirt into the small crate in front of her. Her hooves dug into the material; her eyes half lidded as she began to sway on her hips. "Lamyamham, neehheeheehee, lamyamham, neehheeheehee..."
Discord couldn't help but raise a brow as a miniature tree, of all things, began to spiral out of the soil, branches curling and twisting in ways he hadn't ever seen. The grey bark soon sprouted countless leaves, each soaking in the light from the open sun-flap in the roof of the tent. Before his very eyes, white flowers bloomed out in a pattern of spirals, eventually forming the silhouette of four swans swimming around the circumference of the green sphere.
Tree Hugger let out a long, slow breath as she pulled her hooves out, wrapping one gently around the small plant and giving it the tiniest of nuzzles. "Welcome to the world, little sister. Blessings be upon you."
The spirit of chaos brought his paw and talons together in enthusiastic applause. "Bravo! Bravo indeed, miss Embrace. I've only ever seen old codgers pull off that sort of thing with that sort of speed, and they never had this refined a touch!"
"Hmm. They overcomplicate things, usually." Tree Hugger poured a little water into the crate. "They think balance is a delicate and very difficult thing to master... but, it's more like just listening and reacting to what you hear. You know? The plant's rhythm is always there, you just need to... connect to it, communicate with it. Most ponies force their own rhythm onto the plant, and even the best, well, they just mimic the rhythm instead of bonding." She stroked the leaves. "Sort of makes sense, they're not great conversationalists, but even the most quiet ponies have something to say..."
"Well, whatever the reason, that talent of yours is something to be treasured." Discord descended from his position, draping his body around tree and Tree with a devious smirk. "Speaking as one artist to another, your work is utterly superb."
Tree Hugger returned his smirk with an amused grin. "Am I sensing a segue there?"
The draconequuis clutched at his chest. "How?!" he cried dramatically. "How are you always one step ahead of chaos itself?!"
"Healthy eating, meditation, and a bit of educated guesswork."
"Well, as it just so happens, I have one of my own artworks to show you. BEHOLD!" With a snap of his talons, Discord produced a painting, setting it on an easel for easy display. He chortled as he coiled around the struts. "I think it's quite amazing, if I say so myself, but I can't really take all the credit, the subject matter was quite incredible."
Tree Hugger gave him a warm smile. "I'm sure it's very lovely." She didn't even spare it a glance before looking down at her tree again.
"...that's it?" Discord frowned. "No wonder? No shock? No schepiel about how art is our way of expressing our oneness with the universe or something like that?"
"Huh. You know, you might be onto something with that art thing--"
"Oh come on!" he whined. "I put a lot of work into this! I actually painted it with a paintbrush instead of just snapping it into existence right here and now!"
Tree Hugger giggled. "Do you want me to praise and adore you?"
"That would be nice, but I'd settle for you telling me how you thought it looked."
"Would if I could, man." She shrugged. "But I can't."
Discrod fumed. "What do you mean you can't? Are you blind or something?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
Those words froze his anger and shattered it, the cool shards freezing to his skin in a far more metaphorical manner than the usual way his emotions manifested. "...what?"
"I'm blind. Well, mostly." Tree Hugger leaned back from the tree, spreading her hooves in an outlining gesture. "See, I got my cutie mark when I, like, bonded with the magic of the universe. Except that kind of burned out my eyes. I can see outlines, barely, the general shapes of things, but mostly I rely on my ability to see the colorful auras of everything around me."
"So..." Discord tilted his head. "You... can't really see anything I do?"
"Actually, you're a lot easier to see than ponies. Your aura isn't like them, with stripes and striations, you... you're a bunch of spirals of color in this, like, loose collection. It's not bound to your body, like ponies, so when you're about to do a thing it just... reaches out." She gave him a warm smile. "Kind of how I predict what you're going to do. I just love watching you..."
The draconequuis let himself land, curling around the outer edge of the tent. His thoughts were chaotic, which was not anything unusual for him but here he was experiencing the rare sensation of regretting that chaos. So many questions reverberated in his skull--How could he have not noticed? What was her aura vision like? Had he wasted all that effort for nothing?--demanding his attention, fighting for the right to be asked. He considered simply popping his head off and shaking them out his ears, but... somehow, knowing what he did now, that sort of twist of metaphor did not feel appropriate.
"...You love watching me?" he finally managed.
Tree Hugger blushed. "Uh--well... yes." She pushed a dreadlock back, stroking her reddening cheeks. "I... guess I just let that out there, didn't I..."
"...you did. Yes."
"...it's not, like, the only thing I li... I love about you," she added. "You know that, right?"
Discord's ears perked.
"...I mean..." Tree Hugger rolled a hoof. "I mean, I... I know I don't do things like normal ponies. Don't talk like them, don't... express myself the usual way. And that weirds them out, which is okay, because my balance is mine and I don't need approval, but... You didn't back away from my quirks, or just ignore them. You accepted them. No, you actually... you investigated, you... embraced." She ran a hoof down her tail. "And you... you're also your own creature, you know? You've got this... way of being, this way of... just doing as you feel, in such... interesting twists. It's... really just... I'm sorry, I'm not... I'm a lot better at talking about big things like the universe and the forest and auras than I am about talking about... me. My feelings."
She let out a wry chuckle. "Kind of silly, since I kind of see feelings, you know, instead of just feeling them."
"Well..." Discord raised his head, giving her a considering look. "I can't say I dislike silliness. It's rather a hallmark of mine, all things told."
"Somehow, I'm not at all surprised."
"To be quite honest, I've been feeling quite a bit sillier since I met you. The number of ponies that could fluster me I can count on one paw without even growing extra fingers! And if I'm honest, the only reason they can get under my skin is because they're already... well... ponies that I think about a lot." He rested his chin in his talons. "I suppose in the case of Celestia I can attribute that to our little tiff way back when, and Fluttershy was... to be quite honest, the first pony that treated me as an actual person instead of some great force to be dealt with, which is actually rather unique. And then there's you... so very interesting, so very... chaotically harmonious. You should be unimportant to me, all things considered, but somehow you've managed to worm your way close to my heart."
Tree Hugger shifted, pushing herself into the brown fur. "Do you even have a heart? Like, not the metaphorical kind, but the actual lub dub pump."
"Well, I know I can survive without my magic," Discord mused. "So I've got to have something keeping me running." He gave her a mock glare. "But I've already told the princesses that I'm not going to let them cut me up."
"It's good to have a firm stance on that."
They sat in silence for a moment.
"...so," Discord managed. "I was, to be honest, actually hoping for your opinion on the painting."
"Discord, bro, I'm sure it's amazing, but like I said--"
"Because you're actually the first pony I've shown it to," he added.
Tree Hugger blinked, tilting her eyes toward him. "What, seriously?"
"Yes, I... kind of had this silly idea that I could, you know, make something for you. Instead of just snapping it out of nowhere."
"Whoa." The mare pushed herself up, letting out a slow breath. "That's... oh wow. Now I kinda wish I could see it. Geez, I must have sounded like such a jerk."
"Enh, not nearly as much as I've been."
"Well... let's not be jerks anymore, okay?"
"Oh, very well."
Discord smiled as she leaned back into him again. Somehow, she had managed to find just the right spot; the weight of her mane pressed into his floof in quite the relaxing way, and her breath brushed gently against the tips of his purple feathered wing. He let his eyes drift from her to the painting, quietly contemplating over what she had said.
"...you know," he mused, "I've been known to warp a few ponies' bodies. Usually as a prank, mind you, and never permanently; vanish a pegasus's wings, or a unicorn's horn."
Tree Hugger rose a thick eyebrow. "So you take things away?"
"Only temporarily. Still..." Discord stroked his beard. "If I could give you the ability to see... what would you say?"
Tree Hugger narrowed her eyes, focusing on the small tree in front of her.
It was... brown, with green leaves and white petals.
She lowered the spectacles on her muzzle, and once again saw the familiar network of red veins with small golden sparkles resting in the bends and cracks.
She rose them up again.
"...I can't even see the bugs in there." Tree Hugger turned to Discord. "How do ordinary ponies keep from squishing the tiny souls?"
The draconequuis shrugged, absently lifting his feet off the ground. "I suppose they don't."
And that was another thing. Discord was... well, surprisingly mellow-looking through the glasses. Grays and browns and dull golds--yes, he had a smattering of other colors, but they were all very confined, limited to limbs or extremities. He looked... solid, for lack of a better phrase. Not like the dancing river of colored spirals that coiled and wove through her tent.
Tree Hugger lowered the glasses again, just to be sure. Yes, that creature was Discord. Somehow, that conglomerate of solid parts was just the same as the familiar flow of fantastic flurry. If that was truly what ordinary ponies saw when they looked at him...
...actually, it didn't explain anything. He didn't look particularly bad either way. Strange, yes, but not...
She flushed, pushing the glasses back up her muzzle and looking around the confines of her tent. Now that could actually see it, the color seemed... well, actually rather drab. And she'd always known the fabric was rough, but she'd never expected that there was a... visual aspect to the roughness. It looked rough, and that was... as best as Tree Hugger could explain it. And... yes, there was the tiny tiny hook that she would have to fiddle to open the patched in window, with the small incense pot that she hung from it in order to find the thing one dark night.
It looked so obvious now... So easy to spot, so brightly colored.
"You're awfully quiet," Discord noted. "Not that I mind, really. Usually when I expose ponies to new experience, they start complaining very loudly."
Tree Hugger turned back to him. "Well, like I said, I'm not good at talking about my feelings. Although," she mused as she moved the glasses to half-mast, "I'm digging what I can get from this. It's a pretty radical gift, you know?"
"I think my mother tried to get me something like this once," she mused. "Before I got my cutie mark. She thought my eyes were seeing the wrong things..." Tree Hugger shook her head. "The spell on those glasses worked, I guess, but they were trying to fix a problem that wasn't there. These... these actually change what I see."
"Well, viewing things from different perspectives is something of a specialty of mine." Discord popped his head off and spun it round in his talons, plunking it back onto his head backwards and upside down. Then he conjured something fancy and pink in his paw, holoding it behind his neck and...
"What is that?" Tree Hugger asked, amazed.
"What is what?" asked the upside-down image of Discord's face on the object.
"That thing you're holding." She pointed. "What is it?"
"...it's a hand mirror." His upside down face frowned.
"That's a mirror? I thought..." Tree Hugger took the glasses off for a moment, looking carefully at the spiraling colors of Discord's aura for any sign of deception, before replacing them. "Ponies talk about seeing themselves in mirrors, but I see your face..."
"Ah!" Suddenly Discord snapped his talons and in a flash his head was back in its usual position, smiling in understanding. "Mirrors only work that way when you look at them straight on, because the image bounces straight back." He contorted his body into a squarish outline with a sproing, gesturing to the flat surface he now embroidered. "See?"
There, right in front of Tree Hugger, was the image of the tiny tree she had just grown. And standing behind the tree was a green mare with orange-and-reddish dreadlocks held back by a yellow floral-print bandanna. She brought her hoof up to her cheek, slowly; the mare matched her motion exactly, astonishment clear in the faded lavender eyes behind the smoky purple glasses.
"...is that really how other ponies see me?"
"Yes. Well, mostly yes." Discord waved a paw. "There's this whole horizontal inversion going on for reasons that are quite frankly boring, but you're pretty much symmetrical in that direction anyway so it doesn't really matter."
Tree Hugger trailed her hoof around her face. "My eyebrows are freaking huge..."
"Not nearly as big as mine!" the draconequuis quipped, waggling his own bushy brows.
She nodded absently, giving her reflection a tiny wave. It waved back, exactly in time with her. "That's... that's just... huh. She's moving like I move." Almost without realizing, she walked forward, reaching a hoof out to her visual twin. It stopped, less than an inch away, from the hoof the other mare was likewise raising. "Whoa. That's weird."
"I can't feel the... the warmth of her hoof." Tree Hugger tried to reach further, but that quarter-inch of distance would not close. "There's... there's something between me and her--"
"Embrace... she's not real."
The mare looked up at Discord's face in confusion.
He gave a sigh. "Just because you see something doesn't mean it exists. The eye is meant to pick up light bouncing off objects, right? That means what you see is just the light. What you're feeling is a flat sheet of glass, which is reflecting light that bounces off you back into your eyes. And that can change surprisingly fast!"
Tree Hugger jumped back in shock as the mare in front of her began to distort, stretching tall and thin and short and wide and warping as Discord wibbled and wobbled. "What the--what is that?! What's happening?!"
To his credit, the draconequuis noted her distress and ceased his actions, vanishing the image entirely.
"...what was that?" she asked. "What was..."
"That," Discord explained, "was me bending the mirror. That means the reflection would change." He gently, cautiously reached out a paw to clasp her cheek. "But the reflection, like I said, isn't real. What you saw did not change what you are."
She lowered the glasses, returning to the familiar, reasonable image of colored swirls and flowing lines. Her breathing slowed back to normal. After a moment, she brought a hoof up to his paw, letting herself feel the warmth from it. "We're always changing, Discord. I just... that was a change I didn't... wasn't ready for."
"Well, clearly not," Discord said, a sardonic tone almost hiding his relief. "I haven't seen a pony jump back so far since Pinkie Pie's party cannon backfired!"
"Pinkie Pie... Right, I think Shyfly introduced me to her. Yellow and pink, blue and orange."
"You know, I've never seen her in orange, to be honest. But she does have a yellow and blue cutie mark."
Tree Hugger gave Discord a flat look.
"Ah, yes, you were describing how you viewed her." Discord pulled back his paw, clearing his throat. "...I didn't mean to frighten you with that little... demonstration."
"...I shouldn't have been frightened," Tree Hugger said, not to him.
"Oh, don't worry about hurting my feelings. Celestia knows I've cause much worse reactions from ponies over the years--"
"No!" Tree Hugger stood. "You don't understand. I, I embrace everything about the world! I like experiencing new things! I mean, I don't like doing drugs, because of how they affect me, but--this wasn't anything dangerous, or life threatening, I just..."
She stopped and looked inward, trying to brighten the pale stripes of green in her aura--
And then she realized what she was doing.
"...I couldn't see. When I looked, I couldn't... see."
Discord tilted his head. "Yes, that's why I created the glasses. Wasn't this already established?"
She turned to look up at him. The glasses came on, and she saw a concerned gray face. The glasses came off, and the spirals of color had tinges of pale indigo and pale green.
"...This is... a radical gift, Discord." She regarded the glasses themselves--she'd been told that they were smokey purple to others, but she could only see sudden apertures in an otherwise colorful but vague world. "It lets me see like others, but... it also blinds me to my own groove. I don't think that's a bad thing... or a good thing. I think... I think I'll keep them, but I'm not going to wear them every day." Tree Hugger gently took the glasses off. "You understand, right?"
Discord crossed his arms peevishly, but he did give a reluctant sigh. "You did seem rather unlike yourself when you were wearing them. I don't really understand why, but I suppose the fact you're keeping them at all--"
"Don't be like that, Dissy." Tree Hugger stepped forward, nuzzling him gently. "I like it. I really do. I just... didn't know everything they'd do. Kinda the reason why I asked for glasses and not new eyes," she added.
"...you said you made me a painting."
She felt the angry tension melt away from him. "Well, I never said I made it for just you, but I was rather thinking of you in particular when I made it."
"Well, I suppose that art is an expression of one's self through the form we grant it, and therefore a reflection of our reality within the universe."
Discord snorted. "How much of that did you make up just now?"
"Basically all of it. That's kinda the point of philosophy, to figure out the figuring as you go along, you dig?"
"So you admit you have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Nah, I've got plenty of ideas about what I'm talking about. I'm just choosing the ones I like." Tree Hugger held up a hoof, raising the glasses up. "Do you... can I see this painting though?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes." Discord gestured to something at the side of the tent. "It's still there, if you want to look at it."
The mare turned to face the object, slowly bringing the lenses to her eyes. And through them she saw something similar to what Discord had shown her in the mirror; a green mare with orange-and-reddish dreadlocks held back by a yellow floral-print bandanna. Only this time the mare wasn't moving. No, her faded purple eyes were half lidded, and a gentle smile was on her face, and she had some sort of exotic flower insect on an outstretched hoof.
And there were other things too. Certain paint strokes accentuated some curves and smoothed others. The image's dreadlocks did not merely droop; they stretched, flared, in various directions. And where her own foreleg was jointed in clear ways, this painting portrayed it as a single, flowing line, just barely hinting at vines. In fact, if she looked at it from another angle, the mare's face was in the center of an exotic, underwater flower-like creature, hints of great creatures swimming in the background.
"...This isn't how other ponies see me, is it?"
"No." Discord lowered his head. "This is how I see you."
"...well, mostly," he added reluctantly. "I mean there's only so much you can do with just paint. This is a still image, after all, and you're a living and breathing pony--"
"I love it."
Discord swallowed his words, and the words of the pamphlet entitled 'how to woo a mare'.
"I... really do love it Discord." She turned to him, her smile as soft as the rain of a summer's day. "I really do."
Discord Inevitably Decides Green Equines Rate Indescribably Desirable On Occupation
The petal garden was quite lovely on this day. Not just because of the various flowers and their colorful leavings scattered around, that would have been expected any day not outside winter (and Fluttershy had her suspicions about even that). No, there was a sense of grandeur in this place today, and yet it was not the offputting, cold grandeur of pomp and ceremony. Instead, it seemed that every flower watched the ponies with rapt attention, stamen and stigma pointing from the blankets arrayed in a circle to the two curved tables that hugged a central circular raised stage.
She wasn't entirely surprised at the small number of guests that Discord had invited--even after his reformation, the number of friends he made was rather small. She was, however, surprised to see that Tree Hugger had decided to match his slim pickings; three guests and a Giver for three guests and a Giver. Granted, Discord's guests consisted of three alicorns, in stark contrast to the three mares that Tree Hugger had invited, but she supposed that was to be expected. Tree Hugger's mother sat between Luna and Celestia, clearly torn between nervous awe and outright joy; on the other side of the stage Twilight was engaged in an intense discussion with the head of the Equestrian Society for the Preservation of Rare Creatures while another mare simply watched in amusement.
"You know," she murmured to Discord, "it's usually tradition to have each group of guests sit separately."
The draconequuis harrumphed. "That's a pony tradition. My kind have always believed in mixing groups--we are going to be family after all." He adjusted his bowtie. "Well... at least that's what I've heard, anyway. I couldn't actually ask any of them."
"My dear Fluttershy, have you ever seen another draconequuis?"
The pegasus held up a hoof, paused, and lowered it. "...now that you mention it, no."
"There's a reason for that," Discord said grimly. "One which is quite horrific, traumatic, and disturbing."
He stared into the distance for a moment.
And then he smirked. "Which is why I'm not going to be talking about it today. After all, this is supposed to be a happy time, isn't it?"
"Well, yes," Fluttershy allowed. "I just... if you ever need to talk to anypony, you can talk to me, you know that right?"
Discord nodded absently, scanning the skies. "Yes, yes, I'm well aware--ah, there's our master of ceremonies!"
"Hmm?" Fluttershy looked up and--yes, there was, indeed, a brownish figure descending from above, spiraling slowly stagewards. "Oh! Did you ask one of your friends to officiate?"
"Not precisely. I asked Smoozey to go looking for somebody in particular, someone who would know the old draconequuis traditions. And lo and behold, he delivered." Discord cleared his throat. "Now remember, you're supposed to lead me to the base of the stairs, but not walk up them."
Fluttershy rolled her eyes with an amused smile, taking Discord's talon and walking him forward. It was, to be honest, rather adorable to see him so nervous and detail oriented; it spoke volumes to how far he'd come since she first met him. The two of them arrived at the base of the stairs just as the brown figure landed on the stage--a strange batwinged biped, with bald hands and feet, a leonine tail, and a long pink-skinned face emerging from a thick brown mane.
"WHAT HO, FAIRRRRRRREST OF GUESTS! VERRRRRRRRRRILY DO I PRRRRRROCLAIM THAT TODAY! I, SCORRRRRRRRRPAN! HAVE BEEN GRRRRRRRRRANTED THE GRRRRRRRRREATEST OF HONORRRRRRRRS!"
Fluttershy's jaw dropped as she stared in utter shock.
Scorpan held one hand to Discord, and the other to the other side of the stage. "TODAY, TWO SOULS HAVE COME FORRRRRRRRTH! TODAY THEY SEEK TO INTERRRRRRRRRTWINE THEIR VERRRRRRRRY FATES! ARRRRRRRRRRRISE, SO THAT ALL MAY SEE THE GLORRRRRRIOUS BOND THAT HAS FORRRRRRRRRMED BETWEEN YOUR HEARRRRRRRRRRRTS!"
At his call, the draconequuis began to clamber up the stairs. Fluttershy shook herself and backed off, catching sight of a green earth pony moving to join the unicorn between the older alicorns as she herself quickly made her way to a seat next to Twilight. As she sat down, she couldn't help but smile, her fond gaze falling on the stage.
There was Discord, stepping up in his bowtie and what he had claimed was the traditional hat for a draconequuis groom--a strange five pointed thing with no less than eight long feathers and a tiny tree. And there was Tree Hugger, wearing her own floral crown, as well as some sort of necklace collar thing that swooped back across her shoulders like some great pair of macaw wings.
"...are those really traditional draconequuis marital outfits?" Twilight whispered to Fluttershy.
The pegasus shrugged. "Well, Discord said he couldn't actually ask any other draconequuis. I wouldn't be surprised if he was just messing with our heads."
"BEHOLD!" Scorpan bellowed. "TO MY RRRRRRRIGHT, DISCORRRRRRRRD! CHILD OF THE DRRRRRRRACONEQUUI! PRRRRRROCLAIM YOUR PRRRRRRROMISE TO THIS OTHER SOUL!"
Discord cleared his throat. "Well, let me see. Traditionally I'm supposed to love and cherish you till death do us part, in sickness and in health, yadda yadda yadda. Let's just take that as read. I think a much better vow to make is to ensure your life is interesting and long to the best of my capability, to support you in your endeavors, and to be always willing to lend an ear. Actually, you know what?" He reached up and popped off one of his ears, handing it to the mare. "Here, just take it."
"Thanks, bro." Tree Hugger took the offered ear and carefully put it behind her own, a breezy smile on her face. "I'll treasure it for, like, ever."
"...okay, now I know he's messing with us," Twilight grumbled.
"Actually, it is a tradition to exchange body parts," Fluttershy murmured. "It was one of the few things that Discord was absolutely sure about."
"NOW, TO MY LEFT! TRRRRRRRREE HUGGER, CHILD OF THE EARRRRRRRRRRRRTH PONY! PRRRRRRRRROCLAIM YOUR PRRRRRRRRROMISE TO THIS OTHER SOUL!"
"So, I guess I'm going to love and cherish you, in sickness and in health, until my mortal frame releases my aura into the greater universe? Oh, also. I'm going to encourage your artistic endeavors, try my best to help you find your balance, and, you know, just generally be there to help out when I can." Tree Hugger reached up to her mane, untying a well-hidden knot, and held out a particularly long dreadlock to Discord. "So, can you take this as a symbol of my impact upon the universe and your life?"
"Absolutely." Discord took the thick bundle of hair and tied it around his neck. "I do so like things that remind me of things I like. And also tautology."
"I'm surprised she's going along with this," Twilight murmured.
"She was the one that suggested this whole thing."
Fluttershy shrugged. "That's what Discord told me."
"YOU HAVE SEEN THESE TWO PRRRRRRRRRROCLAIM THEIR PRRRRRRRRRROMISE TO EACH OTHER! NOW, BY THE AUTHORRRRRRRRITY GRRRRRRANTED TO ME BY THE RRRRRRRRULERRRRRRRRRS OF THE LAND, I DO PRRRRRRRRROUNOUNCE THE FATES OF THESE SOULS TO BE! AS! ONE! LET THE CELEBRRRRRRRRATION COMMENCE!"
Discord and Tree Hugger kissed to the cheers and clapping of the assembled party. Then Discord picked Tree Hugger up, tossed her over his shoulder, and hopped down to the ground. The mare took this completely in stride, sliding down his back and casually stepping off his tail.
"Well, that was fun," Discord said.
"Very much so," Tree Hugger agreed.
Fluttershy smiled as she trotted up to them. "Congratulations, you two."
"Thank you," Discord replied. "Actually, thank you quite a bit. We would never have met if it weren't for you."
"Oh, I... it wasn't anything, really." The pegasus ran her hoof through her mane. "I mean, I just thought to invite Tree Hugger to the gala because... well... I don't actually remember why, come to think of it."
"It was probably the flow of fate binding me to my future through my past," Tree Hugger offered. "It happens."
Twilight walked up to the pair and cleared her throat. "If I may ask, what exactly motivated you to... well, get married? Not that I don't think you love each other, I'm just surprised how quickly you decided to tie the knot."
"Oh, me and Discord started sharing some intense vibes, you know? Our auras resonate pretty deeply after we hang around each other enough. But we can't exist in a void outside the realm of others... well, I can't, he might be able to. And ponies would notice us, like, totally getting each other in a way that generally reflects harmonizing and they'd start asking when we'd write our own song. But the way I figure it, what goes on between me and my drakkyeqky is a song that should keep to only those who sing it. I can't stop ponies from asking, though, so I asked Discord if we could play a little tune now so they don't ask for an orchestra later, you know?"
Fluttershy tilted her head, parsing Tree Hugger's rambling. "So... you're saying that you got married... so ponies wouldn't ask when you were getting married?"
"...what," said Twilight.
"Oh come now, Twilight." Discord adjusted the dreadlock around his neck. "I'm doing something that's actually sensible for once in my life. Shouldn't you be happy about that?"
"I--you--that's not how--you're supposed to build up a relationship!" Twilight finally managed. "I mean, getting married just for the sake of marriage--this is, this is meant to be a celebration of your devotion to each other!"
"Well, we are devoted to each other," Discord pointed out. "And we do intend to build up a relationship. Nopony ever said we couldn't get married before any of that happened, though, and honestly dear Embrace had a point. Can you imagine how many reporters would want to get the scoop on the love life of a devilishly handsome draconequuis?"
"Well," Fluttershy interjected, "whatever the reason, I want to wish you a long and happy life together."
Tree Hugger looked up at Discord, a gentle but genuine smile spreading across her face. "Oh believe me, we will."
Discord looked down at her, returning her smile with a crooked grin. "What crazy scheme are you concocting now?"
"Oh, I kinda hid a gift for you in all the other wedding presents."
With a gleeful clap, her new husband bounded over a surprised Celestia and Luna, digging through the collection of gifts until he found one long and wide one. "From us, to us!" he read out loud.
"Careful with the wrapping!" Tree Hugger called. "They're kinda delicate!"
Discord rolled his eyes, raising his talons.... and then snapping them, vanishing the wrapping away. He gasped. "This... this is the portrait of you I painted... and, oh, what's this behind it?"
He slid another painting out from the one of Tree Hugger. To Fluttershy, it was a strange shape of swirls on a black background. But from the way Discord suddenly stopped and stared at it, it was obviously very important.
Tree Hugger trotted up to him. "You did one for me. Fair's fair."
"...this is really--?"
"Hmmm." Discord tilted his head. "Well. I never knew that I could look so.... wonderfully diverse."
"Yeah, but it's kind of still, you know. Now, if you picture it moving, it's a lot more realistic..."
Fluttershy shook her head as the two of them talked. Maybe this wedding didn't make sense to her, but if Tree Hugger and Discord got something out of it, that was what mattered. And she couldn't help but smile at the way they kept together, even when talking to the mare's parents, or convincing Scorpan to break out some of his mead.
Looking at the way they just... fit, somehow... it was just magical.