Friendship Bewitched

by ArgonMatrix

First published

Not long after the Battle of the Bell, Twilight is visited by one of the last creatures she ever thought she'd see in person.

Shortly after her coronation as the new Princess of Equestria, Twilight is visited by a creature she never expected to see in person. What's even more unexpected than the identity of this petitioner, though, is his reason for coming.

Partially inspired by the Imposing Sovereigns II contest under the prompt "Twilight/The Old."

For Whom the Bewitching Bell Tolls

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Twilight facehoofed. “For the last time, Ambassador: No, I will not condone the creation of a ‘Council of Smashing.’ There are so many things wrong with your proposal that I could write a twenty-page essay on the name alone.”

The yak tapped his chin ponderously, then puffed out his chest and beamed. “Ambassador not give up. Yaks think of better name and come back tomorrow with new proposal involving more smashing. Princess come around sooner or later. If not, yaks form Cult of Smashing instead.”

“That’s not—” Twilight tried, but the ambassador had already turned around. He stomped out of the throne room, rattling the windows with each hooffall, and Twilight found herself alone with her royal advisor. She slumped back in her throne with a long sigh and gave Spike a weary look. “Please tell me that’s the last petitioner.”

Spike put a tick on his checklist and nodded. “For the morning, anyway.”

Twilight groaned. “I never realized how much nonsense Celestia and Luna had to put up with. I swear, half of the creatures who come in here could solve their problems by talking to a therapist instead of me. It’s like they don’t even hear themselves!”

“That’s politics for ya.” Spike offered her a wan smile. “But look on the bright side! Every creature that comes here is here because they trust you to make the right call. And you’ve more than earned that trust.” He rested a claw on Twilight’s withers. “Gotta take the bad with the good though, right?”

A small smile crept to Twilight’s lips. “You’re right, Spike. Thankfully there’s a lot more good than bad.” She straightened up, the gleam in her eyes renewed. “What’s next on the schedule?”

Grinning, Spike flitted his eyes across the scroll. “You’ve got a meeting with the School of Magic's board members about the new curriculum, but that’s not for another half hour. We could squeeze in a quick lunch break!” He looked to Twilight hopefully, the tiniest bit of drool on his lips.

Twilight giggled. “Sounds good to me.” She hopped off her throne and stretched the stiffness from her legs. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to visit The Tasty Treat anyway. Pinkie tells me that Saffron Masala makes a mean—”

Three knocks boomed from the door, followed by a royal guard poking her head inside. She looked to Twilight, her eyes a bit manic. “Pardon the intrusion, Your Highness.” She bowed hastily. “I know there are channels for this sort of thing, but someone has requested an immediate audience with you.”

Twilight’s eyes went sharp as daggers. “Is there an emergency?”

“I don’t think so, but…” She looked over her shoulder and bit her lip. Turning back, she lowered her voice and said, “Let’s just say that he doesn’t look like the type who would want to wait his turn.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Who—”

“I grow tired of this,” a gruff voice growled from beyond the door. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, I demand an audience this instant!”

Her heart suddenly beating fast, Twilight scoured her memory to put a name to the voice but came up with nothing. She looked to Spike, who shrugged. Steeling herself, Twilight turned back to the guard and said, “Very well.” She pumped her wings and fluttered up to her throne. “You can let him in.”

With a curt nod, the guard straightened up and cleared her throat. “Next to speak before Princess Twilight in her Court of Friendship, I humbly present the ram, Grogar.”

Twilight’s train of thought crashed.

The guard stepped away, opening the door wide. Standing behind it, plain as day, was the spitting image of the ram sorcerer Twilight had seen countless illustrations of throughout Gusty the Great. His square jaw was carved in a scowl. His jaundiced eyes peered up at her, their depth rivaling the Celestial Sea. He wore a crimson collar adorned with four golden bells—an empty loop in the center where a fifth could hang. He marched past the threshold, each hooffall commanding the gravity of a thousand suns.

For a moment, Twilight couldn't think. Then she remembered herself. Her muscles relaxed as she both glared and rolled her eyes in one sardonic motion. “Very funny, Discord. What’s the meaning of this?”

In a puff of gummy bears, a little black book appeared in the air nearby. Discord slithered out from amid the pages, his ears literally on fire. He doused the flames with a glass of water and said, “Did somepony say my name? I’ll have you know that I was in the middle of a particularly gripping novel, and I don’t appreciate—”

“Wait,” Twilight said, ice flooding her veins. “If you’re there…”

“Then who’s…?” Spike finished, hovering closer to Twilight as he pointed a trembling claw forward. All eyes turned to the ram in the room.

Grogar snarled, his incensed eyes burning into Discord. “I’ll have words with you later, draconequus,” he said, his gravelly voice going volcanic. “Rest assured, your misdeeds in my name will not go unpunished.”

Discord wrapped his hands around his eyes and twisted, extending them like binoculars. A coy smirk played on his lips. “Oh, my! The old goat’s finally escaped his pen, has he?” He reclined in the air, rhythmically tapping his fingers together. In a grim voice that betrayed his age, he said, “It has been some time, Grogar.”

“Indeed it has,” Grogar said, “and I will be more than ready to rekindle our old rivalry after I have said my piece.” His glare shifted to Twilight.

“Hold on,” Twilight said, squeezing her eyes to make sure they worked. She looked feverishly from Discord to Grogar and back again. “That isn’t really Grogar, is it?

Humming, Discord tapped his chin. He curled his tail up. A piñata bearing Grogar’s likeness hung from the tip. “Looks the part.” Suddenly he was atop Grogar’s head in place of one of the ram’s horns. He took a dramatic sniff and gagged. “Smells the part.” Discord vanished again, and Grogar’s mouth wrenched open. A tiny version of the ram stepped out and said, “Sounds the part,” mimicking his voice perfectly. Grogar chomped down, but Discord was already back at Twilight’s side. “Barring an exceedingly well-read changeling, or Chrysalis, which—” He snapped his talons, and a large statue thudded to the floor at the chamber's far end—the Treacherous Triad still as petrified as ever. Discord shrugged. “I’d say we’ve got a genuine antique sorcerer on our hands. Or hooves. Claws. Whatever.”

Baring his teeth, Grogar said, “I assure you, Princess, I am exactly who I appear to be.”

“But that’s impossible!” Twilight said, feeling her mane bristle. She primed a shield spell in the back of her mind, just in case. “Gusty the Great banished you millennia ago!”

“Shackles which held until those buffoons unsealed my Bewitching Bell.” He chuckled darkly. “At least they achieved something useful.”

“Also,” Spike added, peeking out from behind Twilight’s tail, “we have a pretty good track record of ancient monsters breaking out of containment to exact revenge.”

Everyone collectively blinked.

Twilight shook her head. “Still, the Bell is back in containment at the top of Mount Everhoof. Celestia, Luna, and Starswirl saw to it themselves!”

Grogar ground his teeth and snorted, dark smoke billowing from his nostrils. “The minutiae are irrelevant. I have waited a very long time and traveled a very long way to get here. I will be heard.” He took a step closer.

A translucent magenta dome trapped him like a snowpony in a globe. Twilight rose from her throne and flared her wings. “I don’t think so.” She leapt down so she and Grogar were on the same level, glaring at him with fury that would’ve given a cockatrice pause. “If you really are Grogar, give me one reason why I shouldn’t have Discord bring my friends here to send you back into banishment where you belong.”

Grogar roared and slammed a hoof against the barrier, sending a ripple of pain through Twilight’s skull. “Release me! I have done nothing to provoke this hostility.”

Twilight deadpanned. “‘The Father of Monsters.’ ‘The Tyrant of Tambelon.’ You didn’t exactly earn those titles by being benevolent, did you?”

“Oh!” Discord exclaimed, raising his paw high. “Don’t forget the ‘Scourge of the Seven Realms!’”

“You said it yourself,” Grogar spat, butting his horns against the shield. “That was millennia ago. I have had a great deal of time to think as I watched history unfold. Besides, I am powerless without my Bewitching Bell. If I had malintent, why would I have come here without any means to defend myself?”

“He, uh, does have a point,” Spike said.

“I don’t care,” Twilight said, sweat beading on her brow. “We don’t know what Grogar can do. And Equestria was nearly destroyed less than a month ago—thanks to his magic, no less. I’m not taking any chances. Everything I’ve ever read about him paints him as nothing but evil.”

Grogar narrowed his eyes, his glare penetrating Twilight like light through a window. “The same could be said for the Pony of Shadows, could it not?”

Twilight’s ears flattened. Her scowl softened to a frown. “That’s different. Stygian was corrupted by darkness because his pain made him vulnerable. All of the horrible things you did were by your own free will.”

“And there is living proof in this very room that such a creature can change.”

“Really? Where?” Discord said, lifting the throne and looking under it. “Is Starlight Glimmer hiding in here somewhere?” He dove into the pool of water that trickled nearby and emerged from the pool on the opposite side of the throne. He lifted his snorkel and said, “Or Sunset Shimmer, perhaps?”

Twilight grimaced so hard she felt her cheeks strain. “Okay, okay, I get it. That still doesn’t give me a good reason to believe that Grogar is any different now than he was when he was banished.”

White-hot agony lanced her brain as Grogar rammed the dome. “Perhaps if you granted me a free moment to speak as I have requested, you might find reason!”

A small claw grabbed Twilight’s shoulder. She looked down at Spike, whose frown reached his eyes. “Twilight, I know that we can’t exactly trust him, but shouldn’t we at least hear what he has to say? Maybe he really has changed. And even if he hasn’t, we’ve got an all-powerful Lord of Chaos for backup.”

“Quite right,” Discord said, peeling a starburst from a stained-glass window and eating it. “I’m not just here to chew the scenery, you know.”

Biting her lip, Twilight met Spike’s gaze. Her eyes drifted down to the medal around his neck. It shone in the light of her magic. She gave Spike a little nod before teleporting back to the throne with him in tow. “Alright, Grogar,” she said, releasing her magic. “You have my attention.”

“Finally,” Grogar grumbled. He lifted his head high, and his jaw visibly clenched. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, I come before you today to propose an alliance.”

At that, Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “An alliance? Why?”

Grogar’s sigh sounded like it had been waiting millennia for the right moment. “I had hoped it would be obvious, but clearly your judgment is clouded.” His eyes suddenly sharpened, taking on a nearly academic shine. “Ever since I assisted in the release of Nightmare Moon, you and your friends have been gaining power. I have—”

“Back up,” Twilight went to say, but Spike beat her to it. “You helped Nightmare Moon escape?!”

Raising a stony eyebrow, Grogar said, “Would you have preferred that I hadn’t?”

Twilight’s mouth went dry and her gaze fell to the carpet. “Continue,” she said, her voice a ghost of itself.

“As I was saying”—Grogar turned and paced towards the statue that still lay behind him—“from my starlight prison, I have borne witness to all of your victories. Time and again, powers beyond your ken rose to darken Equestria. And each time, you and your friends triumphed over impossible odds, growing ever stronger for it.” He regarded one of the stained-glass windows with hollow eyes.

“And I could only spectate. Spectate, and ponder.” He wheeled around to face the statue. “Were I to oppose you—even with my Bewitching Bell—I would inevitably fail, and one of two fates would befall me.” He gestured to the immutable forms of Chrysalis, Cozy Glow, and Tirek. “Eradication.” His hoof moved to point at Discord, who was knitting a licorice sweater bearing Fluttershy's likeness. “Or redemption.”

“Hmph,” Discord hmphed. “You’re smarter than I remember.”

Grogar rolled his eyes. “Of these two options, one is objectively better than the other.” He turned to face Twilight again. “So I choose to skip the conflict entirely. There is no point in fighting a war in which the outcome is decided before it begins.”

Twilight beheld the ancient emperor gormlessly, trying and failing to process his words. “I don’t understand. Back when you were in power, all you did was spread hatred and fear. For centuries. Do you really expect me to believe that you’d abandon your ideals, just like that?”

“You have good reason to doubt my intentions,” Grogar said, arching his back, “and I will admit that I do not expect to adjust well to a world where anguish and terror have been replaced by rainbows and tea parties.” He spat the last words like they might burn his tongue.

“Oh, at least give them a fair chance!” Discord called, launching a volley of cucumber sandwiches at the ram’s face. They bounced off his muzzle and flopped to the ground.

Grogar stomped the refreshments into pastel paste. “However, it is clear to anyone who has been paying attention that you are on the right side of history. Those who deny such are either too foolish to understand it or too stubborn to admit it. I refuse to be either. I would rather my name be glorified and remembered than consigned to the dark annals of failure. Hence, an alliance.” He extended a hoof and glared through Twilight, waiting.

Twilight’s muzzle scrunched like she’d taken a whiff of sulfur. “I see.” She glanced down to Spike, and he returned her quizzical stare. Her mouth pulled in a taut line. Craning her head upwards, she said, “Discord, could you keep an eye on him? I need a minute.”

“With pleasure,” Discord said, grinning like a wealthy Diamond Dog. He plucked one eye from its socket and hurled it at Grogar. It clung to his coat like a bur.

Meeting Grogar’s dark eyes, Twilight gave a brittle smile and said, “I’ll be right back.” The world flashed magenta.

In a pop and a blink, Twilight and Spike appeared in her royal suite. “He’s using us,” Twilight blurted, already pacing.

Spike hopped up on her bed. “How do you mean?”

“Didn’t you hear what he said? All he wants is to be remembered—to not be on the losing side. He doesn’t actually care about friendship or harmony, except as a means to an end. He hasn’t changed at all!”

Spike sucked a breath through his teeth. “When you put it like that, it does sound pretty bad.”

“There’s no other way to put it!” Twilight shouted, punctuating it with a stomp. Spike flinched. Seeing that, Twilight reined herself in as best she could and continued, a smoldering fire fueling her voice, “He’s opportunistic. Sure, he’ll play nice and try to win our trust. We might even start to believe him. But the next time some horrible monster tries to take over Equestria? Boom! Stabbed right between the wings!”

Scratching the back of his neck, Spike said, “Okay, maybe. Probably. But we don't know much about him apart from the stuff in books, right?”

“That's all I need to know.” Twilight paused at the window, observing Canterlot below. Creatures of all types wandered to and fro, smiling in the shadow of the castle. “Even after seeing what friendship can do, he doesn't believe in it. If watching all of our victories didn't convince him that friendship is more than just a tool, nothing will.”

“Maybe he's never tried to make any friends. Everyone deserves a chance to do that, right?”

Twilight looked to Spike. He wrung his claws together, only weakly meeting her gaze, as though afraid of what he might find there.

Closing her eyes, Twilight let out a shaky sigh. “Of course. But even if he legitimately wanted to make friends, how could we trust him when the foundation for that friendship isn’t genuine?” She shook her head. “I've made that mistake before. I can’t make it again.” Sudden heat filled her eyes, like an old wound bursting open.

Heavy silence dominated the room. Spike jumped down from the bed and stepped up to Twilight's side, placing a familiar claw on her shoulder. “Cozy Glow was never honest with us—Grogar is. We know what he wants, so we can work around that. He might be starting off on the wrong hoof, but the fact that he’s willing to start at all is huge. More than we ever got from any other villain.” Despite everything, Spike managed a tiny smile. “And who knows? Maybe he’ll really like friendship once he gives it a try!”

Twilight’s frown didn’t waver. She looked briefly to her desk, where her Book of Memories lay open to a page she couldn't make out. A small pang struck her heart. Turning her droopy eyes back on Spike, she said, “Do you really believe he can change?”

Spike snorted. “Honestly? No.” He squeezed her shoulder tighter. “But, hey, we’ve done the impossible before. And if anypony can help him, it’s you.”

For a moment, Twilight didn’t do anything. The scales in her mind weighed her bricks of thought rigorously, remaining in almost perfect balance. She pulled out of Spike’s grasp and walked over to her dresser, casually glancing across the many framed pictures before landing on the mirror, pondering her own reflection. She tried to imagine looking at herself like this with the knowledge that she had refused someone’s friendship, no matter the reason.

She couldn’t do it.

“Okay,” she whispered. She straightened her back and pivoted to Spike with a smile. She wrapped him in a quick hug, saying nothing more. Pulling in one steady breath, she lit her horn, picturing the throne room in her mind's eye.

They appeared just in time for a parade of ginseng pouches to float past them, singing their chipper melody. Twilight looked across the room to where Discord, Grogar, and Fluttershy sat around a pink dining table—Fluttershy trembled so fiercely that the tea in her teacup had doubtlessly spilled out long ago.

Discord grinned at Twilight and splayed his arms in a welcoming gesture. “Ah, right on time! I was just about to regale our guest with the wonders of raspberry scones. Please, come join us!” He held out a plate of pastries that made a horrible, raspy racket as they grated across the porcelain.

Grogar's coal-like eyes bored into Twilight. He threw his teacup to the floor and said, “I take it you have come to a consensus.”

Fluttershy simply said, “Please help.”

Twilight offered her a sad smile. “It’s alright, Fluttershy. You have nothing to be afraid of.” She leapt from the dais, gliding down to where Grogar stood. Holding her head high, she regarded him warmly and said, “Grogar, I hereby accept your offer of friendship”—the ram’s lip curled at the word, but he didn’t interrupt—“on one condition.”

He snorted and rolled his eyes. “I will make no attempt to retrieve my Bewitching Bell,” he growled.

A few gears clicked into place in Twilight’s head. “Okay, two conditions. That, and you have to enroll in the School of Friendship.”

Grogar suddenly advanced, his mountainous frame casting Twilight in a grim shadow. “I will do nothing of the sort! You would dare subject a being of my stature to such cruel humiliation?! Surely you have a more dignified position that I might hold.”

Twilight stood ironclad. “Until you understand the real value of friendship? No, I don’t.”

“I understand it perfectly fine,” Grogar spat, the veins in his neck bulging. “It is by choice that I do not utilize it. I will tolerate your philosophy, and I respect the power it commands, but I have no need for such folly. It is a waste of time for one such as I.”

For a split second, Twilight didn’t see Grogar standing there. Instead she saw a lonely little unicorn—one who had dismissed friendship out of hoof in favour of something she had deemed more important. Twilight blinked, and the image was gone.

She frowned. “You might think you understand it, but you don’t. Not until you actually make a friend.” She shrugged and extended a hoof. “At any rate, it’s that or back into imprisonment. Your choice.”

Grogar snarled, looking at Twilight’s hoof like it were poisonous. He made a grinding, savage sound that could only loosely be called a groan. “Phrased as such, it is no choice at all.” His titanic hoof grasped hers and shook it.

Twilight grinned.

“Huzzah!” Discord proclaimed, exploding in a burst of Bewitching Bell-shaped confetti. He appeared at Grogar’s side and slung an arm across his shoulders. “Welcome to the club, you caprine codger. You’re going to absolutely hate it here—until you don’t, that is. Now, Fluttershy”—his other arm stretched out and yanked Fluttershy into the huddle—“why don’t we head over to the school to begin the orientation process? Give your new student the old rigamarole, eh?” He squeezed both of them closer. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun.”

Fluttershy blanched, looking between all the creatures in the room. “What just happened?”

Twilight giggled, giving Spike a one-arm hug. “The start of something special.” She smiled at Grogar, whose eyes scorched her very soul.

“I hope,” she added.