Discord escapes from his stone prison and wreaks havoc.
Discord's time of freedom draws near. Celestia has prepared, though. The Bearers of the Elements of Harmony stand ready to seal him up once more. Everything will go according to plan... but whose plan?
The Royal Canterlot Gardens were a wash of activity. Princesses Celestia and Luna stood near the center, directly facing the frozen form of Discord. Megan was by Celestia's side, General Spanish Steel standing in front.
Off to the side, Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy were clustered together, each one wearing their Element of Harmony. Rainbow Dash poked a hoof at hers. “So, when he breaks out we power-up and blast him, right?”
Twilight Sparkle nodded. “Got it, Dash.”
Applejack raised a foreleg. “Ah, begging everyone's pardon, but on the off-chance it doesn't work, what then?”
Fluttershy shrank down and folded her wings over her head. “Ah... panic?” At everyone's looks, she sighed. “Sorry, just trying for a joke.”
Pinkie Pie waggled her head back and forth. “Hmm, an A for effort, but kinda fell flat, Fluttershy.”
Twilight Sparkle walked up to Celestia's side. “Pardon me, Princess, but where's Cadance? I'm a little surprised she isn't here for this.”
Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle. She waved a wing in the general direction behind her. “Right now, she's back at Canterlot Castle, along with Captains Blueblood and Armor. I don't want to risk too many pieces in play in the hopefully-short time Discord is free.”
Spanish Steel pointed at the statue. “Your highness? Something is happening!”
Everyone there turned to the statue, focusing on it. Indeed, a small black mass had appeared on its alabaster-white surface, slowly pulsating. Small cracks started to appear, radiating out from the mass like a spider's web. The mismatched limbs could be seen vibrating, starting to move.
Luna waved a wing at the statue. “Everyone, stand ready! Discord's freedom is imminent. He must be stopped here and now, lest chaos reign over this world! Assemble your friends, Twilight!”
Twilight Sparkle swallowed, but started forward. Applejack and Rainbow Dash flanked her, while Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy hung slightly back. She tapped the diadem set in her Element of Magic. “Ready girls?”
The other five Bearers nodded. “Ready to kick Discord's butt back to...” Rainbow Dash trailed off. “Actually, we won't be really kicking his butt, will we?”
Fluttershy spoke up. “Well, we'll use the E-Elements to kick seal h-him back into stone, so...” She grinned. “We will kick his butt, Rainbow Dash! We'll kick his butt so hard he'll freeze in shock!”
The other five laughed. Pinkie Pie patted her on the shoulder. “Now that was a good one!”
Twilight Sparkle pointed at the statue. “All right, let's do this!” she shouted.
A bright dome of light formed around the six. Their necklaces started floating, glowing. The gems embedded in them all flared, firing off a beam of light that struck the diadem in Twilight Sparkle's tiara. Twilight's own eyes turned white as a double-beam of rainbow-striped energy emerged from the group, shooting into the air and spiraling around in a corkscrew before diving down steeply towards Discord. The Rainbow of Light enveloped the statue, coursing around it and hammering into the grass directly behind.
After a few minutes, the rainbow faded. The statue remained there, as solid as ever–at first. After a few seconds, cracks formed all over the statue. The statue and base disintegrated into a cloud of dust and debris.
Silence reigned over the area for a few moments. Pinkie Pie leaned forward. “Did we do that?”
As the dust settled, one piece of debris landed on the ground and unfurled into a piece of paper. Twilight's eyes narrowed. Her horn lit up, but the paper remained stuck to the ground. “Budge, darn, you budge!”
Celestia, Luna, Spanish Steel, and Megan walked over to Twilight and her friends. Both Celestia and Luna tried to float the paper over to them, with identical results to Twilight's.
Spanish Steel spoke up. “Your highness, with your permission I'll go and retrieve that.”
Megan held a hand up. “I'll go get it.” She looked to Celestia and Luna and waggled a finger at them. “No buts, young ladies. The Elements can cover me. Just keep an eye out, all right?” With that, she turned and walked over to the paper.
Everyone there held their breath as Megan knelt down and grabbed at the paper. She picked it up and brought it close to her face. “'I apologize for not being there in draconequus to greet you. I was busy getting the party ready'.” Megan looked up from the paper. “Oh, shit.”
The ink on the paper glowed. A small hole appeared on it, and a translucent shade of Discord snaked its way out of it. He reached out, grabbing Megan's shoulders with his lion's paw and eagle's claw. “My dear Megan!” he said, eyes dancing with an inner fire, “it's so nice to meet you! A spot of tea in the Royal Hedge Maze? Why thank you. We'll have such an insanely good time!”
Time slowed to almost a standstill. Celestia and Luna's shouts could be heard. They flared their wings and their horns charged with magical energy. Spanish Steel unsheathed a sword with his right wing and swung it about, all the while shouting instructions into an earpiece. The Bearers of the Elements stared at Megan and Discord. Applejack reared back and kicked her forelegs, while Rainbow Dash's wings blurred from flapping. Pinkie Pie had produced a party cannon from somewhere. Fluttershy's eyes went wide, and she dropped to the ground, wings covering her head. Rarity's jaw went slack and her eyes wide. Twilight's head shot all around as she shouted at them to get back.
Discord looked up at the commotion going on behind Megan. He clicked his tongue against his lone fang. “Oh, dear. I'd invite your friends, but they seem a bit too... unruly. Chaotic, you might say?” His body started withdrawing back into the paper. “Come along, Megan. Time's a wasting!”
Megan struggled, but Discord's grip remained firm. Before she could do anything, say anything, or try to unleash any of her alicorn powers, she was pulled forward, her head disappearing into the paper. Megan's body shrank and bent as she was pulled into the paper. Her boots quickly passed through and disappeared.
The paper floated back to the ground, landing gently on the debris below.
Celestia and Luna arrived mere moments later. Celestia's magic almost ripped the paper in two as she floated it up. “Discord, Discord!” she shouted. Her eyes blazed with an inner and outer fire, and parts of her mane started writhing about and smoking.
Luna draped a wing over Celestia's barrel. “Sister, sister! Celestia!” She cantered around and locked eyes with Celestia. Luna's eyes turned a bright-white. “Calm yourself. This is what Discord wants,” she intoned, voice echoing.
Celestia blinked. The fire died down, and her mane stopped smoldering. She sucked in two deep breaths before speaking. “Thank you, Luna. You are... you're right. Discord wants us to lose our cool. It's just... you remember what he did last time.” She closed her eyes. “Morning Glory...”
Luna gravely nodded. “I do, Celestia.” She took hold of the paper. “Twilight Sparkle, can you do anything, trace Discord's magic?”
Twilight's horn glowed as she took hold of the paper from Luna and floated it in front of her. A thin beam of magic shot from her horn, growing and enveloping it. Her eyes narrowed. “I'm getting something, but it–”
The ground lurched, sending everyone not named Rainbow Dash stumbling. The bushes making up the hedge maze at the center of the garden started growing up and out, twisting together. The branches wove in and out, locking together. The side facing the group bulged out, forming a leafy relief that bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain draconequus.
Rainbow Dash pointed at it. “Ah, Twi? I think we can figure it out from here.”
Megan found herself falling, tumbling head over feet, through an inky blackness. She flailed her arms and legs about, trying desperately to find something–anything to grab and slow or stop her descent. “Son of a...” She let out an inarticulate scream. Her eyes lit up, and ethereal wings sprouted from her back. A horn jutted from her forehead. “DISCORD!”
The area around Megan brightened. Her feet found purchase on a floor, although what kind of floor she did not know or care. She looked around, eyes still glowing. “Discord!”
“Come now, my dear. There's no need to shout. I'm right here!”
Megan whirled around. A table was there that wasn't a moment ago. Discord sat there, dressed in a top hat and tails, a monocle over one eye. She raised her hands and started forward.
Discord's eyebrow turned into an arch. “My dear, I'm not entirely up on human anatomy and health, but I don't think blood from the nostrils is a good sign.”
Megan paused mid-stride. She raised a hand and rubbed her nostrils. Her eyes crossed as she pulled them back, covered with her own blood. Megan's body shuddered as her wings and horn retracted back into her body. She felt a bit of calm wash over her. “Thank you,” she spat out.
Discord grinned. “Of course!” he said, raising his teacup in salute. He drank the cup, tossing away the tea. “Hmm, something's not quite right.” he held up his claws, forming a frame around his right eye. A picture frame popped into existence around Megan. “Yes, yes! I know just the ensemble!” He snapped his claws.
Megan's pants lengthened, the individual pant legs fusing together. The color changed from black to medium-blue, with a white apron sprouting from the back and tying itself over her waist. Her shirt merged with the dress at the hem, with the sleeves shortening and expanding, puffing out. Her boots shortened, with the color also changing to black. Finally, Megan's ponytail undid itself, and her hair flowed down almost to the small of her back.
Discord vanished, only to poke out from behind Megan's back. “Much better!” He waved a claw. A runway appeared, with dozens of miniature Discord's standing there with cameras and notepads. “Strut it out, Megan! On the catwalk, yes on the catwalk!”
Megan slowly closed her eyes. Ten seconds later, she opened them and glared at Discord. “When I'm able to, I'm blasting parts off of you that will never grow back.”
Discord's eyes rolled around in their sockets, finally coming to a stop and looking like a pair of dice. He smacked the back of his head and they rolled out, coming up as snake-eyes. “Low chance of that,” he said. He snapped his claws again, disappearing and reappearing at the table in a flash. An identical flash enveloped Megan–but she remained where she stood. Discord stared at her. He once more snapped his claws, but Megan again refused to teleport.
Megan looked herself over, then glanced at Discord. She slowly smiled. “Don't worry, Discord. It happens to every guy, eventually. I hear they make pills for it?”
Discord tilted his head back and forth. “All right, that one was good,” he admitted. “It seems even in your human form, your powers offer you some protection. “ He raised his arm and snapped his claws once more.
A large, striped box appeared behind Megan. A crank on the side rotated around for a few seconds. As soon as it stopped, the top popped open and a doll popped out, resembling the top half of Mike Richards, Megan's husband. Megan let out a shout as she scrambled away from the jack-in-the-box, her expression equal parts shock and revulsion at the effigy of her beloved. She looked to Discord and growled. “You bastard.”
Discord gasped and placed a paw on his chest. “Missus Richards, please! Language! There are children here!” Three flashes of light erupted around the table, leaving behind smaller versions of Discord with pacifiers stuck in their mouths and rattles clutched in their paws. A chair slid out away from the table. “Now you may join us if you watch your mouth.” Discord grinned. “Not like you've got anything better to do at the moment, right?”
Megan rolled her eyes, but trudged over and plopped down in the chair. She glared daggers at Discord. “You're not gonna get away with whatever heinous stuff you're planning.”
A halo appeared above Discord's horns. He placed his paws together as if in prayer. “'Heinous', my dear Megan? Perish the thought! What in the name of Primus or Granny Bonnie makes you think I have ill intentions towards you?”
Megan slowly looked to him. She spread her arms out. “Gee, I wonder why I'd think you had 'ill intent'. Oh, I don't know. Maybe I'll call up Morning Glory, ask her. Or any of the Flutter Ponies that you tortured the last time you were free!”
Discord shrugged. “It's not my fault they didn't get my games. I was only having some fun with them!” He threw his arms into the air. “Really, you folks need to get the stick out and get a sense of humor.”
“Mentally torturing someone and turning reality into a nightmare is your idea of 'games',” Megan finally replied. She slowly shook her head. “You just see other people as toys. That's all we are to you.”
Discord waved her off. “Oh, pu-lease. I see you as much more than that! I'm rather insulted by your insinuations. What do you take me for?”
“I take you exactly as all the other demons and monsters I've encountered,” Megan replied. “I've seen your kind a dozen times before. And just like every other one, you'll be stopped.”
Discord growled. Fire danced in his eyes. “Perhaps, perhaps not.” He held up a paw. The air above it shimmered, showing Twilight Sparkle and Celestia. “I'll give sunbutt credit, here. With those pesky ponies already wearing their Elements, I can't directly influence them. No easy solution for me, here.” He slowly grinned and brought his paws together. “Well, them I can't directly influence. There are, however, other options. I am nothing if not creative.”
The draconequus rose from his chair and sketched a bow in Megan's direction. “I do apologize for having to leave.” he gestured to the miniature versions sitting at the table. “I'm sure they'll be good company while I make... suitable arrangements for the incoming visitors.”
Megan shot to her feet, knocking her chair over. “Don't you DARE lay one claw on them, Discord!”
Discord bared his teeth at her. “Oh, and what are you going to do to stop me, Megan, that doesn't involve your head exploding?” He snickered as she stood there, glaring at him. “Oh, sorry. I don't want you to blow your stack. No need to get all hotheaded, my dear.” He brought his claw up and snapped his talons, vanishing in a flash of light.
Twilight looked up at the structure. She cantered from side to side, taking it all in. “Okay, yeah. I think we know where he is.” Her eyes narrowed. “Anyone see any sort of entrance?”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Twilight, you realize this might as well have a flashing sign saying 'ambush' over it, right?”
Rainbow Dash flew up and over to Applejack's side. “If you've got any better ideas, we'd love to hear them.” She jabbed a foreleg up at the structure. “Right now, that's our best bet.”
Rarity walked over to Celestia and Luna. “Pardon me, your majesties. I don't mean to intrude, but Discord. Do you remember if he was... showy? How much of an ego did the ruffian have back before you sealed him up?”
Luna looked over. “He did indeed, Miss Belle. Discord craved attention, had a need to be noticed by any and everyone around him. I daresay much of what he did revolved around gaining other's attention. And if he didn't get enough of what he wanted...” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “What he did still gives me nightmares.”
A voice boomed out all around them, sending Fluttershy shooting straight up in shock. “Oh please, Lulu! You need to get that stick out of your flank and learn to live a little! You'll wind up as bad as Celestia one of these days!”
Applejack snorted and stomped the ground. “I take it that's Discord?” She looked around, eyes narrowing. “Show yourself, you varmint!” She stomped the ground again, but let out a shout as soap formed beneath her hoof, sending her legs shooting out from under her. “Ho, boy!”
Fluttershy dropped back down to the ground, right above Applejack. She grabbed Applejack's barrel and helped her over to less-slippery ground. “Oh, my!” She looked up into the air. “That wasn't very nice of you. Applejack could've been hurt!”
Discord's voice boomed out again. “How positively cliched of you, Fluttershy. A little spill is nothing! You folks laugh at that in those newfangled movies all the time! And as for showing up, hayseed? Unlikely. I'd prefer not to eat a blast of rainbow magic to the face, thank you very much. Think of what it would do to my complexion!”
Celestia snorted, steam billowing from her nostrils. “What did you do to Megan?”
“Rest assured, Celly. She's alive and unharmed. Do you really think I'd kill her?”
Luna shook her head. “Of course not, Discord. You don't break your toys. It's not in your nature.”
Celestia slowly breathed in and out. “Discord, what did you do with Megan?”
Branches and vines near the base of the structure curled up, revealing six small doors. “She's at the center of my little playground.” All around, the fountains in the Royal Gardens started spewing forth a brown liquid. “If your pawns manage to make it through to her, I'll reveal myself. But only them, Celly. You and Luna aren't allowed to play!”
Applejack shook a hoof in the air. “And the reason we don't use the Elements of Harmony on you right now is?”
“Because you don't know where I am, Applejack. Firing off your little rainbow death ray won't do anything to me, nor will it free Megan. Honestly, Applejack. You're such a silly pony!” Discord paused. “Then again, being silly may be the least of your problems, hayseed. What a positively pathetic group of Element bearers you've collected, Celly. A hayseed bumpkin, a fainting fashionista too afraid to get her hooves dirty, an acrophobic pegasus, a future Wonderbolt-washout, a pink pony that makes me look serious, and a pontificating pest of a pony who freaks out over the slightest deviation from her schedule.
Twilight's eyes narrowed. “It won't work, Discord. We took out Tirac and stopped Queen Celestia's invasion. And we'll stop you, too.”
Pinkie Pie, meanwhile, bounced over to one of the fountains. She craned her neck up and sniffed. Her eyes widened. “Chocolate milk!” she gasped out. Her head rotated almost one hundred-eighty degrees as she stuck her head under the downward flow of the milk. She quickly gulped it down, belly extending and filling out like a balloon.
Applejack rolled her eyes. She galloped over while Rainbow Dash flew down. “Consarnit, Pinkie! We don't have time for this!” She grabbed Pinkie's body back, but her neck stretched out almost impossibly long, allowing her to keep her head underneath the cascading chocolate milk.
Rainbow Dash dropped down next to Pinkie's head. “Pinkie, this is totally disgusting! That milk's traveling through dirty pipes! Didn't you learn anything about sanitation while working at Sugarcube Corner?”
Pinkie gasped, sputtering a bit, but her head moved away from the fountain. She coughed and stuck her tongue out. “Yuck!” She looked around at the other fountains, then up at the warm, cloudless sky. “Ho, boy...”
Rainbow Dash followed her gaze. “What's the matter?”
Pinkie scratched the back of her head. “Well, Dashie, I have a bad feeling about all the milk out under the sun on this warm day.” Her nose wrinkled. “It's gonna be one big mess here. And believe me, after a year of dealing with the Cake Twins? I know my messes.”
Rainbow Dash's face scrunched up in disgust. “I think my stomach just went into freefall.”
Twilight walked up to the holes. Applejack trotted up next to her. “Again, you realize it's a trap, right?” Applejack said, motioning to the entrances.
Twilight nodded. “Yup.” Her horn glowed. “And no. I can't teleport into the structure. It's a chaotic, insane, jumbled mess inside. I'd be just as likely to bisect myself as teleport into an empty space.” She looked to Applejack. “You realize we have to go in there and rescue Megan, right?”
Applejack nodded. “Oh, yeah. Just as long as everyone knows what we're all getting into.” A shadow passed over her, catching Applejack's attention. She looked up. “What the–” Applejack gasped.
The sun was racing across the sky, leaving a fiery trail in its wake. The shadows lengthened and stretched out as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting the land in darkness. No sooner had it dipped down, the moon came out, bringing everything into sharp relief. The moon disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared as the sun rose in the east, racing across the sky once more.
Celestia's head shot up. Her horn flared to life. “No, you don't!” she said, grinding her teeth together. The sun slowed a bit, but continued across the sky at a breakneck pace.
Rainbow Dash flew over and landed next to Applejack and Twilight. “Okay, no time to argue! We better get in there before Discord decides gravity is too boring or something like that.” She looked over her shoulder and waved a wing. “Pinkie, Fluttershy, Rarity, come on!”
Pinkie sidled up to a visibly-shaking Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, I know you're scared, but–”
Fluttershy flew over to Rainbow Dash. She touched down on trembling hooves. “I don't want to do this, but I know I have to,” she said, swallowing.
Rainbow Dash reached out and wrapped a wing around her. “We'll promote you to Element of Bravery at this rate,” she said, smiling.
Rarity rubbed her chin. She looked to Luna, who by now was also wrestling with her own celestial body. “Your highness? Pardon me for asking, but just how sure are you that Discord put Megan at the center of that ghastly eyesore of a prison?”
Luna whipped her head back as the moon appeared once more. “Discord... knows that if he lies about where he's hidden something of value, then his prey will refuse to–come back here!” She dug her hooves into the grass. “Megan is in the center of that insult to Euclidean geometries, Lady Rarity. If in no other way, Discord is predictable in that.”
Twilight pointed up at the sun and moon. “Princesses, is Discord doing that?”
Celestia spared a glance at Twilight. “He is, Twilight. His innate chaotic magic alters the area around him, and it won't stop at the Royal Gardens!” She tossed her head and neck back, mane flapping about wildly. “It will spread beyond, to cover all of Equestria, all of Equus, and possibly even across the Rainbow Bridge to Earth. You must stop him here and now!” She looked to Spanish Steel. “General, fly to Canterlot Castle at best possible speed and warn them of Discord's escape and the oncoming chaos!”
Spanish Steel saluted. “Aye, your majesty. I'll inform Princess Cadance, Chancellor Fancy Pants and Captain Armor immediately.” With that, he turned and trotted for a few steps before launching into the air and flying towards Canterlot Castle.
Twilight's eyes narrowed and her mouth set into a thin line. “We won't let you down, Princess.”
Fluttershy looked the holes over. “S-so... can we all go into one of them?”
Two of the holes suddenly closed up. Branches and leaves retracted a dozen feet above, revealing two more holes.
Discord's voice boomed out. “One door, one pony. No cheating or cutting in line!”
Fluttershy looked up at the two holes. She rolled her eyes. “Oh, feathering horse apples,” she said before flying up.
Rainbow Dash chuckled. “Okay. That was easier and way cooler than I thought.” She looked at the other four, expression turning serious. “See you on the other side,” she said before flying up and joining her oldest friend.
Twilight looked to Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie. “You girls ready?”
Pinkie's mane puffed out and her tail shook like a rattle. “Ho, boy. This isn't quite a doozy, but it's pretty close!”
Rarity sighed. “I am not ready, for the record, but I know what must be done! For Megan's sake, and for Equestria's, as well!” She held her head up high. “I'm going in!”
Applejack smirked. “Just make sure you don't get your hooves too dirty,” she said, winking. She held up a foreleg as Rarity's horn glowed. “Kidding, kidding!” She looked around, then up at Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. “Just be careful in there, all right?”
Rainbow Dash looked down. “I don't think that's gonna be much of an option, Applejack, but thanks.” She looked to Fluttershy and leaned in close. “Be careful. I'm calling dibs on being your mare of honor when Big Mac pops the question,” she said, before turning and flying into one of the entrances. A thick, solid branch slid down mere seconds after she passed through, covering the hole.
Fluttershy swallowed. She reared back before flying in the other entrance, eyes closed, lips peeled back and teeth chattering in terror.
Twilight, Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie all exchanged a look. “See you on the other side,” Twilight said. She turned, lit up her horn, and walked in.
Spanish Steel flew over and up to many towers of Canterlot Castle. He circled around, orienting himself and doing a quick check. “All right, things look normal from the outside,” he observed. “Then again Discord's statue looked like a statue up until he kidnapped Megan.”
He flew down to a tower near the middle of the castle and touched down on a balcony. Spanish Steel exchanged quick salutes with the guardsponies there, but paused before going into the castle proper. “Corporals, have either of you noticed anything... unusual going on?”
The first guard, a pegasus stallion named Swift Bolt, shook his head. “No, General. Things have been relatively quiet.” He furrowed his brow. “Well, there's been some odd noises going on. Just started up recently.” He looked to his fellow guard, also a pegasus stallion. “What do you think it was, Fastball?”
Fastball shrugged. “Sounded like a bunch of doors opening and closing.”
Spanish Steel eyed the pair. “And that didn't seem unusual to either of you?”
Swift Bolt slowly shook his head. “No, General. There's a hallway beyond the door with a lot of doors lining it.”
Fastball nodded. “We hear doors opening and closing all the time.” He looked up. “It was just a lot... louder than before. And a lot more, too!”
Spanish Steel looked to the door. He hesitated, not sure if he should, or even wanted to open the door and go inside. He squared his shoulders and scrapped a hoof across the floor. “Stay here on guard. Don't let anyone in.” He walked up to the door and extended a wing...
Swift Bolt's and Fastball's wings extended, blocking Spanish Steel. “Sorry, General, but we've been given strict orders to not let anyone in,” Swift Bolt said.
Spanish Steel stared at him for a long minute. “W-what the Tartarus?” He brought his own armored wings up and slapped theirs aside. “Are you two bucking for a court-martial?”
Swift Bolt shook his head. “N-no, sir! It's just, you said not to let anyone inside! So we're not letting anyone inside. Right, Fastball?”
Fastball nodded, grinning. “Right, buddy!” He looked to Spanish Steel. “No one gets by. Orders are orders.”
Spanish Steel reared back. He cantered to his left and leaned in as close as he dared to Swift Bolt. He locked eyes with him. “Corporal, I am ordering you to let me through.”
Swift Bolt blinked. He stepped to the side, Fastball mimicking his actions. “Yes, General!” he said, snapping off a salute.
Spanish Steel walked forward. He sucked in a steadying breath before opening the door, trotting through, and closing it right behind.
A long, nigh-infinite corridor stretched out before Spanish Steel. Doors lined each wall, each one far too close to each other to have more than a broom closet behind them. Chandeliers hung down, the bottoms halfway between floor and ceiling, with wide fixtures for lights. Spanish Steel took a few tentative steps forward. He looked from side to side, then turned around. A long corridor now stretched behind him, the door to the balcony gone. “I'm too late,” he muttered. “And now I'm trapped.”
A loud slam from behind caught his attention. Spanish Steel whirled around. One of the doors had opened and Chancellor Fancy Pants had emerged, a teacup and saucer floating in front of him. He blurred, moving away from Spanish Steel in a straight line back before walking up to one of the other doors and entering.
Spanish Steel blinked. “Chancellor?” He started forward, but stopped as another door opened, this one on the opposite wall and several doors down from the one Fancy Pants entered. The Chancellor emerged from that one, flying down the hall on wings he didn't have before, this time closer to Spanish Steel, and walked through another doorway.
No sooner had Fancy Pants vanished from the hall, another door opened. This time, Prince Blueblood emerged, muzzle in air and eyes closed. He blurred two doors down, nary a hair in his mane moving as he suddenly about-faced and marched into another door next to the one he just emerged from.
Another door opened. Fancy Pants and Blueblood trotted out, this time Blueblood floating Fancy Pants' teacup and sipping from it. Blueblood was also smaller, with a rounder muzzle and wearing a formal dress. Fancy Pants was now much larger and shaggier, a buffalo instead of a pony. The pair circled around in the hallway before going right back into the doorway they had originally came out of.
Spanish Steel nickered and pawed at the carpet. “This is insane!” He waited for another door to open before galloping forward. A door a half-dozen feet away from him opened, letting out Blueblood, once more a stallion, but now purple-coated, with a neon-green mane and wearing plate armor. Spanish Steel spread his wings and flew down the hallway towards him. “Prince Blueblood? Your highness?” he called out.
Prince Blueblood moved to his right, continuing on as if Spanish Steel wasn't there. The pegasus hopped up and spun about in midair, but Blueblood was already walking through another door, the door slamming shut behind him. Two seconds later, a door directly opposite the one Blueblood had walked through opened up. Blueblood walked out of it, sipping from a wineglass.
Three doors directly behind Spanish Steel slammed open, sending him three feet into the air. Blueblood and Fancy Pants emerged from two of the doors, walking on their hind legs and front hooves replaced with tentacles. They moved about in a figure-eight pattern around Spanish Steel, not stopping, slowing down, or even looking where they were going.
Spanish Steel reached out with his wings, grabbing at them, but they ducked low or pirouetted out of his grasp. Frustration mounted as he pounced at Blueblood, but the prince's head and neck tilted impossibly back, avoiding Spanish Steel yet again.
“Oh no, you don't!” Spanish Steel cried out, eyes blazing and nostrils snorting. He turned and galloped after Blueblood, somehow a step behind. A door opened in front of Blueblood, and he walked through. Spanish Steel increased his speed, managing to slip through the doorway a half-second before the door itself closed.
Right in front of Spanish Steel stood another door. Blueblood had vanished, but Spanish Steel paid that no mind. He brought his helmeted head down and charged through the door, blowing it clean off its hinges. Another door, identical to the last, stood a few feet beyond it. He increased his gait, breaking down that door as easily as the previous one. Another door stood in Spanish Steel's way, but he broke through it, as easily as the previous seven. Spittle flew from his mouth as he broke through door after door, splinters flying.
Spanish Steel quickly lost count of the number of doors he smashed through. A small part of his mind shouted, banged against the anger and madness. The Soldier analyzed the wall against it, plotted the best course of action to stop the endless galloping.
Spanish Steel's wings shot out and hit the doorjamb of the next door the manic pegasus smashed off its hinges. Their joints locked into place, blocking his forward progress. Spanish Steel's head whipped back and forth, eyes wide at his body seeming to act on its own. He tried a few more times, but his wings, stretching past the door by a few feet, blocked him each time.
He backed up and spun about. “What is... what is...” He continued spinning, wings still out, until his left wing's primaries smacked into another being.
Fancy Pants' head whipped back, monocle flying off his muzzle. His teacup and saucer dropped to the floor, shattering upon impact. He stumbled back. “I say, I say!” He shook his head, eyes regaining focus. “General Steel?”
Spanish Steel blinked. The pair were once more in the infinite hallway with its endless doors. He straightened up and tossed the Chancellor a rather rakish salute. “Chancellor, I have a message from Princess Celestia. Discord has escaped.” He looked up and down the hallway. “Although that's probably quite obvious.”
Fancy Pants rubbed his chin. “I don't even remember how I got here!” He started pacing back and forth. “I was having breakfast with Fleur, some jolly good toast and eggs. I retrieved today's paper, walked out of the house...” He stopped mid-stride and looked to Spanish Steel. “And then you hit me with your wing!”
Spanish Steel shrugged. “To be fair, I didn't mean to do it.”
Fancy Pants chuckled. “No bother, General. I think you got me out of quite the pickle!” He looked around again, his good mood vanishing. “So I was just mindlessly trotting through these doors?” He shuddered. “I didn't even realize.”
Spanish Steel flexed his wings. “You and Blueblood were changing forms, genders, colors, everything. I was starting to get the same way, Chancellor. I just went through those doors, blowing through each one without even thinking!”
Silence descended upon the pair. Fancy Pants trotted up to one of the doors. His horn glowed, but quickly dimmed. “We're trapped.” he looked over as Spanish Steel walked up. “I don't dare open any of the doors!”
Spanish Steel walked up to Fancy Pants' side. “I can't blame you, Chancellor. I nearly lost myself to rage and madness trying to get to you.” He looked around. “Prince Blueblood's here, too, and he was doing the exact same thing you were.”
A loud gasp escaped Fancy Pants. His monocle danced about in the air. “Oh, my! That poor chap. We have to help him, General!”
Spanish Steel looked around. “I'd love to, Chancellor, but I don't think we're out of the Everfree ourselves.” He gestured at the hallway, then at the doors lining the walls. “How would we find him?”
One of the doors behind them suddenly slammed open, startling the pair. They jumped and wheeled about as Prince Blueblood emerged from one of the doors, cantered about, and entered the door right next to the one he walked out of. Another door across the hall opened almost immediately after, and Blueblood walked out of that one.
Fancy Pants' and Spanish Steel's eyes tracked Blueblood as he shifted from one door to another, almost too fast for them to keep track of. At one point, he walked out of one door before he had even finished walking into another.
Spanish Steel blinked and shook his head. “I think we should ask ourselves, what we should do with him if we catch him.”
Fancy Pants shook his head. “I think we have to try, General. If we leave him to this, the madness might become permanent. A poor flutter pony by the name of Morning Glory was tortured into madness by Discord. I shudder to think what this could do to the poor lad!”
Spanish Steel pointed to one of the doors. “And if we try we risk losing ourselves to the madness once more. And then we can't help or do anything to help.”
Silence descended upon the pair. Another door opened, Blueblood's front half emerging. Another door opened and his hindquarters trotted out. They walked around before meeting up and fusing together into one whole stallion again. Blueblood nodded to Fancy Pants and Spanish Steel before walking through the door his hindquarters emerged from.
Spanish Steel squared his shoulders. “We don't follow him through any doors, and we keep each other calm. Use your telekinesis to try and grab him while I fly around and herd him away from the walls. Ready?”
Fancy Pants' horn lit up. His eyes shifted from side to side. “No, but let's do our best, shall we?”
One of the doors opened...
Danielle Richards left her room in Golden Oaks Library, nose buried in her smartphone. She walked to the stairs that led from the upper floor down to the library proper. “Spike!” she shouted, reaching out to grab the handrail. “Have you heard anything from Twilight?” She took a step. “I don't think–SHIT!”
Instead of stepping onto the top of the carpeted stairs, Danielle's right foot landed on a banana peel. Her left hand grabbed nothing but air, while her right arm shot out, her phone tumbling from her grasp as she tried-and failed-to maintain her balance. Danielle let out a scream as her right leg slid out from under her. She landed hard on a chocolate cake, jolting her spine as she rolled down not a staircase, but a smooth, slippery slope, finally landing in a heap at the foot of the stairs.
Silence reigned for a minute as Danielle stared up at the ceiling, eyes glassy. Her breath hitched in her throat. She moaned, face twisting in agony as the pain spiked through her right leg, traveling up into the rest of her body.
Spike ran in from the kitchen. “Huh? What was– Danielle!” He ran over as fast as possible. “Oh, no! Danielle, are you all right? What happened?”
Danielle raised her left arm and pointed a shaking finger at the slope. “T-that w-was there,” she said, her voice shaking. She attempted to sit up, but flopped back down. “Spike, I lost my phone! Call Ponyville General, please!”
Spike ran over to the library's wall-mounted telephone unit. He scrambled up a chair and grabbed the receiver off the cradle. Shaking claws jabbed at the buttons. Spike barely waited for the line to click from the receiver before speaking. “Hello, Ponyville General? T-this is Spike at Golden Oaks Library. My friend Danielle Richards slipped and fell, and she's really hurt.” he paused, waiting for a response. The pause stretched out. “Hello?” he tapped the receiver. “Is this thing–”
A loud triple-toned beeping sounded through the earphone, sending Spike stumbling back. “We're sorry. The number you're attempting to reach is currently unavailable due to whipped cream backing up the phone lines.”
Spike leaned back slightly. “Wait, 'whipped cream'?”
Long jets of whipped cream shot from the holes in the earphone, completely covering Spike's head and upper body. He sputtered and waved his claws in the air. “What the heck?” He dropped the receiver and ran back to Danielle. “I... think Ponyville General's busy?”
Danielle slid her arms under her. She ground her teeth together as she leveraged herself into a sitting position. “Son of a BITCH!” she shouted. She sucked in several deep breaths before speaking again. “Spike, you know how to make a splint?”
Spike ran off. After a few minutes he returned, carrying two long wooden poles, a small doorstop, and several strips of cloth that looked suspiciously like the library's window curtains. He looked to Danielle's twisted leg, eyes wide and face green, even through his violet scales. He reached out towards Danielle's leg. “This is gonna hurt,” he said, handing over the doorstop.
Danielle nodded. She put the doorstop into her mouth and bit down hard on it. “Mo athead,” she said, words distorted.
Danielle's eyes narrowed. She pointed at her leg. “Sthpthe, I tha–”
Spike grabbed Danielle's leg and yanked on it, straightening it out. His ears folded over at the sound of Danielle's screams, but he placed one of the rods against her leg and tied it as tight as he could. After a few minutes he stepped back, forcing himself to look up at Danielle. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Danielle panted. She had practically doubled over, but after a few minutes she finally spit the doorstop out. “It's... all right, Spike. I understand.” She turned back to him, tears streaming from her eyes and cheeks flushed. “C-can you help me up, please?”
Spike nodded. He handed the other pole over to Danielle, then walked around to her other side and grabbed her left arm. Between him and her impromptu cane, Danielle eventually leveraged herself into a standing position and hobbled to the door.
Danielle held up a hand as they approached the front door. She pointed to the windows near the door, and the light flickering right behind their drawn curtains. “If I didn't have a busted leg, I'd be very tempted to go back to bed right now.” She slowly reached out and opened the door.
Outside, the sun and moon raced through the sky, rising and setting within minutes of each other before starting their journey in the east once more. Strange, nightmarish hybrids of rabbits and fish flew through the air, quacking.
Movement at ground level caught Danielle's and Spike's attention. Roseluck and Daisy danced up to Golden Oaks, their mouths stretched out into wide grins. “We can't stop!” Roseluck shouted, spinning about.
Daisy frantically pointed down at her cracked and bloody hooves. “It hurts! By the Herd, it huuurts!” She bent over, then straightened up and threw her forelegs into the air. Her face was twisted in pain. “My back...”
Danielle's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She reached out, but the pair had already danced away. She looked down at Spike. “Okay, maybe Ponyville General's not the best place to go.” She looked around. “Doctor Whooves' house is this way, down Mane Street. Maybe we can take shelter in the TARDIS.”
The pair started down the street, trying their best to avoid the insanity and chaos springing up around them. A sneeze sounded out from a house they were passing by. The front wall suddenly fell forward. Danielle crouched down and wrapped her arms around Spike. The pair huddled together as the wall came crashing down...
Danielle slowly opened one eye, then the other. She slowly stood up and looked around. “Oh, for heaven's sake,” she said. She and Spike were standing in the middle of an open window built into the wall that had fallen towards them. She looked to the house itself. The interior was little more than a blown-up dollhouse, with thin walls, one large empty space in the middle, and a few pieces of furniture.
One pony, Cheerilee, stood in the middle of the floor. Her muzzle had ballooned out to grotesque proportions, and her eyes, barely visible, were bloodshot and swollen. She looked to Danielle and Spike. “I dink I hab a cod,” she sniffled out.
Danielle and Spike stared at her for a few moments. Danielle finally patted Spike on the shoulder. “I don't think we can... do anything to help her right now,” she finally said.
The pair continued down Mane Street, eventually coming upon the Doctor's clock shop. Danielle looked it over as she hobbled up to the door. “Doesn't look odd. So far.”
Spike reached out and grabbed the doorknob. He twisted it, but the door remained closed. “It's locked.”
Danielle nodded. She reached up and carefully pulled a necklace from around her neck and held up a small triangular piece of metal attached to the chain. “It'sa good thing I'm a close friend of the family,” she said, as she unlocked the door and let Spike help her inside.
The interior of the clock shop was dark. Danielle and Spike slowly and carefully made their way through the storefront, down the central aisle and past shelves stocked with clocks, watches, and other items for sale. Spike stopped in front of one shelf and pointed to a clock that had begun to melt and dribble down to the floor. “That's really creepy.”
Danielle looked over and shuddered. “There are some things never meant to be three-dimensional.” She held her free hand up to her mouth. “Doctor? Ditzy? Dinky? Amethyst Sparkler? Are you here? It's Danielle and Spike. Ponyville's really messed up right now. I don't think Discord got resealed in Canterlot!”
Ditzy Doo's voice sounded out from beyond a door in the back. “We're back here, Danielle. You and Spike come on down.”
Spike let out a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness.” He started forward, helping Danielle past the sales counter and through the back door. “So, think the Doc can do anything?”
Danielle shrugged. “I don't know, but he definitely can't do anything if we don't ask.”
The pair walked into a large storeroom. Danielle looked around. “Ditzy, you in here?”
Ditzy dropped from the ceiling, landing in front of Danielle and Spike. “Welcome,” she said, voice flat and toneless.”
Danielle looked down at Ditzy. “Oh, thank god.” She pointed back at the door. “Okay, you know Discord, avatar of chaos or something like that? Twilight and the others were supposed to seal him up and considering what's going on outside...”
Dinky and Sparkler appeared from behind some crates. They walked over to Ditzy, flanking her. “We know,” Dinky said. “Chaos has come. Discord shall rule Equestria, then Equus.”
Sparkler nodded. “And then his chaos shall spread across the Rainbow Bridge to Earth itself.”
Spike stared at the three. “Ho-kay...” He gasped as Ditzy looked at him. “Holy–Ditzy, your eyes!”
“What about them?”
Spike swallowed. “T-they're s-s-straight!”
Ditzy nodded. “But of course.” She looked behind her shoulder. “Ah, my husband is coming. Doctors!”
Danielle and Spike exchanged a look. “Wait, 'Doctors'?” Danielle said, head tilted to the side.
Several groans echoed out from behind a stack of boxes. Danielle and Spike looked up and over. Their eyes widened and they stared as a large, shambling... thing emerged from behind the boxes. It had a large body on four thick legs. A long, distended neck jutted out from its torso, bent by a large head with sixteen faces scattered about on it, each one in a rictus of agony. Various bits of cloth and small items were stuck to its hide and legs as it wobbled over.
Danielle grabbed Spike and shoved him behind her. She held up her cane and waved it about. “Get back, get back! What the hell... are...” Her expression fell as she recognized the equine face of Doctor Whooves as one of the faces on the creature's head. “Oh, no. Doctor?”
The head bowed down. One of the faces, framed by curly brown hair, focused on Danielle. “Would you like a... jelly baby?” it asked, mouth twisting.
Another face spoke up. “Must save... Peri...” it said.
Danielle jabbed at its face with her cane. “Doc, snap out of this! Snap out of...” She shook her head. “Okay, Plan B.” She slipped the TARDIS key out of her pocket and held it in front of Spike's muzzle. “Spike, I need you to get to the TARDIS and open her up. There's a false lock in front of the real one. Slide it out of the way, get inside and ask for the User-Interface. Ask for her help with the Doctor and his family.”
Spike looked up at her, even as Ditzy and her daughters started advancing upon the pair. “What about you? I can't just leave you!”
Danielle slowly started shuffling back. “I'm dead weight right now, Spike. Getting to the TARDIS might be our last chance.” She pointed at a door at the far end of the storeroom. “Go, now!”
Spike groaned, but he ran off from Danielle, going around Dinky. He barely slowed down as he sped past the Doctor-Thing to the door. He hopped up, grabbed the handle and opened the door.
Ditzy flew over Danielle. She held her mailbag up and tipped it over. Envelopes started puring out. Danielle swung her cane at Ditzy, but she kept just out of reach. The letters started piling up around Danielle, quickly covering her feet and solidifying over them. They started accumulating around Danielle's thighs, piling up higher and higher.
Outside, Spike quickly spotted the TARDIS and ran over to the blue box. Shaking claws held the key up. He poked it at the lock a few times before slapping his forehead. “Oh, right. False lock!”
He slid the false lock up and poked the key into the real lock beneath. A deep clang echoed from inside. Spike tentatively reached up and pushed the doors open.
The interior was dark, but lights flicked on as he entered the main control room. The central control console lit up. “Ah, hello?” he shouted out. “I need the User-Interface?” He looked around, scratching his head spines. “Wait... this thing's bigger on the inside! What sort of crazy magic is Doctor Whooves using?”
The main control console turned on, while a long column in the center of the room lit up. A white beam of light shot from the console, stopping a few feet away. The translucent image of a young redheaded girl in a nightie appeared in front of Spike. “TARDIS User-Interface activated,” she said. “Identify yourself.”
Spike looked her over. “Ah, my name's Spike and something is really wrong with Doctor Whooves and his family.” He turned and pointed at the door. “Danielle told me to find you–oh, you might not know who that is. Well–”
The Interface stared at Spike. “Danielle Richards' identity is known to me. Scanning local area.” Her eyes flashed. “Chaotic energy anomalies detected.Biological irregularities detected in the Thief and his family. Preparing for teleport and shielding.”
The central column started oscillating up and down, a loud vworping sounding out with each movement. Silhouettes faded into existence around the control room, filling out into Danielle, Ditzy, Dinky, and Sparkler.
The Interface looked around. “Engaging full energy shielding” She looked to Spike. “Thank you for helping my Thief.”
The room shuddered slightly. A low-pitched humming sounded out, and the roundels in the walls brightened. The pile of mail, now up to Danielle's stomach, disappeared. Danielle quickly collapsed to the deck plates, cane falling from her grasp.
Spike ran over. “Danielle, Danielle!” he shouted, grabbing her arm. “Are you all right?”
Danielle let out a low groan. “I've been better, but this could've been a lot worse.” She reached out and patted Spike on the cheek. “Thanks, friend.”
Ditzy closed her eyes and shook her head. Her eyes opened and her eyes snapped back out of focus, one going up and the other looking straight ahead. She rubbed her forehead. “Oh, I have had the worst dream.” She looked around. “How did I end up inside the TARDIS?” She looked down, spotting Danielle and Spike. She gasped. “Oh, no! It wasn't a dream!” She flew down, landing next to them. “Danielle, Spike! I...” Her head hung low and she kicked at the deck plate. “I'm so sorry...”
Danielle shook her head. She reached out and gently mussed Ditzy's mane. “It's fine, Ditzy.” She looked around as Dinky and Sparkler trotted over. “No one was in their right mind. Hell, I think I was going a little crazy there.”
Sparkler turned and cantered over to the Interface. “Excuse me, but where's Dad?” Her brow furrowed. “Something was... seriously wrong with him.”
The Interface's expression turned blank for a moment. “The Doctor is currently in the Zero Room, recuperating.” A door at the far end opened. “He is at the far end of the corridor. The lights will point the way.”
Dinky gasped as she spotted the splint around Danielle's leg. “Oh, Pythia! Danielle, what happened?”
Danielle groaned. “Discord's magic turned the top of Golden Oaks' stairs into a slip-and-slide. I went down and...” She waved Dinky off. “You go check on your father, all right? It only hurts when I... breathe.”
The Interface looked to the central column. A hatch opened, and a swarm of glowing lights flew out and over to Danielle. They surrounded her leg, zipping around in streaks of white light. “These are Chula nanogenes. They are repairing the damage to your leg.”
The lights zipped back to the hatch. Danielle tapped her shin. “Spike, could you please cut the bindings?” She winced slightly as Spike's claws made short work of the rags tying the splint to her leg. She gripped the cane and, with Ditzy, Spike, and Dinky hovering around her, stood up. She grinned as she took several halting steps. “Ginger Rogers, watch out!” She looked to the Interface. “Thank you.”
The Interface's expression softened. “You are welcome. Be careful, though. The bones might still be a bit fragile.”
Danielle chuckled. “Ah, come on. Are you my mummy or something?”
The interface stared at her, eyes wide. Ditzy wrapped a wing around Dinky and backed up, Sparkler joining the pair.
Danielle stared at the three. “What? What'd I say?”
Danielle grumbled as she walked down the TARDIS corridor, a slight limp in her gait. “For the last time, no. I didn't know what the nanogenes did!”
Ditzy, floating next to Danielle's head, reached out and patted her on the head. “Of course, Danielle. Sorry about that.” She looked forward as she, Danielle, Spike, Sparkler, and Dinky arrived at the Zero Room's door. It was a simple hatch with an observation window.
Spike hopped up and down, trying and failing to snatch a glimpse through the window. “What's going on in there?” He started glowing and floated up to the hatch, kept aloft by Dinky's and Sparkler's telekinesis. He leaned in close to the hatch, peering in. “Whoa.”
Inside, the Doctor floated in the center of the room, once more in his equine form. His forelegs were tucked in close to his body, and hind legs pulled in tight. His face was calm, serene. His muzzle occasionally twitched. “Yes, Sarah Jane. Leela is a bit... rambunctious,” he muttered. “Don't mind Zoe, either. Oh, you've met? Good...”
Danielle let out a sigh of relief. “Well, glad to see he's back to the closest thing that passes for normal for him.”
Dinky looked up. “Mommy? Danielle? I don't wanna go back outside. It's scary!”
Ditzy dropped down to the deck plating. She wrapped her wings around Dinky. “Don't worry, muffin. We'll stay here and look after Daddy.”
Sparkler looked up at Danielle. “You and Spike are more than welcome to hide out here, too. We can monitor things from the main control room, see what's going on.”
Danielle and Spike shared a look. “As much as I'd like to go out and help and do something... if Discord's magic could affect the Doc like it did to him, I do not want to imagine what it'd do to Spike or myself.”
Spike nodded. “Yeah. I couldn't even begin to imagine what I'd turn into.” He brought his hands up and tapped his claws together. “Although I just hope... Twilight and the others are all right. They were supposed to stop Discord and...” Spike's voice trailed off, and he seemed to shrink into himself.
Danielle slowly knelt down. “Hey, hey. It'll be all right, Spike. I'm worried about Twilight. Mom, too, and the other Elements of Harmony. But knowing them, they're cooking up some Plan B or something to stop the maniac.”
Spike grunted. He looked up at Danielle and forced a smile onto his muzzle. “Y-yeah, of course! They're getting ready to give him the old one-two, right?”
Applejack trotted through a large, open field. Green grass was spread out as far as the eye could see. Plywood apple trees were scattered about, while a cardboard sun, complete with a painted-on smiley face, hung from the sky on highly-visible wires. “Well, if this isn't the perfect setting,” Applejack remarked, shaking her head.
More and more trees popped up as Applejack continued walking. Hills started growing from the fields, forcing Applejack to continue down down an increasingly-narrower path. Every time she tried to deviate, a small mound of earth rose in front of her. She reared back and kicked at it, nickering and gnashing her teeth. “Okay, Discord! I'll play your game. Not for nothing I'm a five-time Ponyville pinochle champion!”
After a few more minutes, Applejack entered an open area. Trees-actual trees-were scattered about, apples hanging from almost every branch. She looked around, spotting what appeared to be some familiar faces.” Well, should've expected this,” she said, tipping her hat. “I'll give you this, varmint.”
Big Mac–or a being resembling her older brother–trotted up to Applejack. “Well, 'bout time you showed up,” he said, expression stern. He jabbed a foreleg at a copse of trees to his left. “Come on, AJ. We got trees to buck. Your family needs you.”
Applejack shook her head. “They do need me. They need me to stop Discord.” She started cantering around Big Mac. “Now if you'll excuse me? I've got to get going. Ponies to see, demons to seal up.”
Granny Smith suddenly appeared in front of her, looking even older than when Applejack had seen her this morning. “Applejack,” she wheezed out, “we need your help! The orchards are overflowin'!” Her eyes narrowed. “Ain't you gonna help your family?”
Before Applejack could say anything, Apple Bloom walked into her line of sight. She too was older, not quite a full-grown mare, but no longer a filly. She had long, almost gangly legs jutting out of a much rounder and filled-out torso. Every time she moved, a cutie mark flashed into view, albeit one that changed with every swing of her hips. “Applejack, you're here!” Apple Bloom cried out. “I missed you!” She slowed to a halt a foot or two from Applejack. “Where you been, sis? You've been missing out on everything!” She flashed her flank. “See? You even missed me getting my cutie mark!”
A voice sounded out in Applejack's ear. “Oh, my! What a shame, Applejack. All that Element nonsense, and there's so much you've been absent for! Moments and events you'll never get back. Like tears in the shower.”
Applejack nickered. “Moments that'll never come if you're loose, Discord! I know what you're trying to do!”
“Oh, my. You've got it all wrong, Applejack! I'm showing you what you'll gain back if you stop chasing me. Give up on this and go home. They'll be there for you. I promise.”
“Yeah, that and ten bits will get you a cup of coffee at A'la Carte,” Applejack replied.
“Oh, but this isn't all! Your family will be waiting for you back at Sweet Apple Acres... ALL your family.”
Applejack's ears wiggled back and forth. “What are you blabbering on about?” She waved a foreleg about. “All my family is here! What, are my extended clan Equestria-wide gonna... show...” her voice trailed off as two ponies walked out from behind a pair of apple trees.
They were both older than Applejack and her siblings, a mare and stallion that walked side-by-side in perfect harmony with each other. The stallion had a pale-yellow coat, flame-red mane and tail, and an achingly-familiar hat. The mare was smaller than her lifelong companion, with a pale-gamboge coat, an orange tail, and mane done up in pigtails. The stallion removed his hat and doffed it in Applejack's direction. “Well, bless my britches!” Bright Mac said. “It's little AJ, all grown up!” He looked to his right. “Ain't she a beauty?”
Buttercup looked up at her husband. “Shot up like a sapling!” She looked to Applejack, her expression falling. “Darling, what's the matter?” She reached out to her. “You look like you've seen the smooze or something!”
Applejack batted the hoof away. “You're not real!” she shouted, backpedaling away. She kept her eyes locked onto the pair. “You died! You died in the flood!” She reared back and kicked the air. “YOU DIED!”
“Yes, they died. And wasn't it sad? Big Mac had to receive a hardship discharge from the military. Apple Bloom must grow up too fast. Granny Smith is spending her twilight years working her hooves to the pad instead of retiring to Silver Shores. And you must shelve your own dreams and desires. It's just not fair, Applejack–but I can make it fair for you.”
A whirling vortex of bluish-white energy formed behind Applejack. “Go ahead, Applejack. It'll be the easiest thing in the multiverse to do! Just turn around. You'll end up right outside Sweet Apple Acres. Everyone you see here will be there, alive and well.”
Applejack turned to face the portal. “You-you're lying. You have to be. How can the d-dead be raised?”
“Oh, mere foal's play for me. Reanimating matter and sparking some neurons? A snap of my fingers. And no, I do not lie. After all, if I lie, then no one would take me up on my offers! And who would play with me?”
Buttercup trotted forward a bit. “It'd be awfully nice to see you again, sugarcube.”
Bright Mac nodded. “I hope you make the right decision.”
Rainbow Dash flew through a large room, much larger than what could be contained by the mound Discord had made. The ceiling was painted a bright-blue, with cloud-shaped bundles of cotton hanging from it. Lightning-shaped pieces of cardboard occasionally fell from the ceiling, barely missing Dash. “Lame,” she snorted. “I've seen school plays with better special effects. Hire the team doing the Daring Do series next time, Discord!”
A large mass of cotton appeared in front of her, small scale-model buildings and columns scattered about on it. Rainbow Dash slowed down, finally coming to a stop a few feet from the mass. She cocked her head to the side. “I think I built something like this when I was a filly.”
Discord's voice sounded out in Rainbow Dash's head, causing her to fold her ears flat against her skull. “Why thank you, Dashie! I'm so glad to see you approving of my hard work. However, if you go a bit closer, you'll see I've made some improvements and upgrades to the basic design!”
Rainbow Dash hesitated for a moment, but eventually flew closer to the mass of cotton. Her eyes narrowed as she picked out specks moving to and fro, specks that quickly resolved themselves into pegasi flying around. She quickly identified Wonderbolts flying in formation above the capitol building, former classmates of her time back in Junior Speedsters Camp. She chuckled slightly as one familiar stallion flitted into view. “Oh, my gosh! Zephyr almost looks cute at this size!” her head shot up and she looked around. “But do not tell that little creep that!”
“My lips are sealed, Dashie! Although you might wanna take another look. You missed a pair of pegasi particularly prominent in your perceptions.”
Rainbow Dash groaned, but started looking over the miniature ponies once more. “Okay, so who am I... looking...” She trailed off as two familiar ponies, a stallion and mare, flew past. “Mom? Dad?” she said, as Windy Whistles and Bow Hothoof flew by. “Okay... very funny, Discord. Is seeing little toys of Mom and Dad flying by supposed to convince me to, what, not stop you or something?”
“You're quite mistaken, Rainbow Dash. These aren't toys. What you're seeing really were the inhabitants of Cloudsdale.”
Rainbow Dash's ears twitched. Her head turned. “Wait, what do you mean 'were'?”
The miniature began shaking. The pegasi scattered about began panicking and flying in all different directions as buildings and columns collapsed. Windy Whistles and Bow Hothoof flew off, ducking and dodging around debris, sticking as close together as they could.
Rainbow Dash's eyes widened. “Mom! Dad!” She flew forward and reached out to them with her hooves... but they passed through them, the flying debris, and through the clouds up to Dash's elbows. “Hey, what gives?”
“Well, this is a representation of Cloudsdale, Dashie. And well, you see, I just can't control my chaotic magic and rein it in properly with my attention so divided. I do wish I could spare Cloudsdale... but with having to contend with you and your friends?” Discord's tongue honked. “A shame, a shame.”
Rainbow Dash slowly pulled away from the miniature. She stared at it for a good, long minute. “So, what? I'm just supposed to fly off and save Cloudsdale from you?” She snorted. “And you'll just let me or something?”
“Less let you and more reward you. If you leave me alone, I'll leave Cloudsdale alone. I'll curb my chaos directed up there so things become, ugh, normal. And you'll be seen as the big hero, too! It's honestly a win-win for you, Dashie.”
Even as he spoke, a miniature Rainbow Dash flew into the miniature Cloudsdale. Even as she touched down, the shaking slowed down, finally stopping. Windy Whistles and Bow Hothoof flew over to Rainbow Dash, hugging her and ruffling her mane. Others gathered around, some flying in with a large banner that read, 'Rainbow Dash is Awesome!'
“Why, look at that! They're giving you a heroine's welcome! Not that you wouldn't deserve it, my dear Dashie. You did do the right thing, after all. Oh, and look! Aren't those the Wonderbolts you always go on and on and... on about?”
Spitfire and Soarin flew over to the miniature Rainbow Dash, a folded-up Wonderbolts uniform in Spitfire's forelegs. It disappeared in a puff of smoke, only to reappear on Rainbow Dash. The trio flew off into the sky, every other pegasi in Cloudsdale following.
Rainbow Dash stared at the scene, eyes wide. “That does look... pretty cool of them to do.” She shook her head, the Element of Loyalty jangling with the motion. “I mean it looks cool, but is it cool?”
“Your dreams of adulation and acceptance are coming true, for the low, low price of flying back there to save Cloudsdale. Doesn't seem all that bad to me, Dashie! Now what do you say? Fly on and risk not only yourself, but your home and family, or fly back and be the hero you've always wanted to be. The choice is yours.”
Megan walked around the table where the the miniature Discords, four in total, sat. “All right, might as well make the best of–” She ducked as one floated a bowl of cereal and flung it at her head, barely missing her. “And there goes that idea.” Megan looked around, grabbing a chair on the side of the table opposite the Discords and holding it in front of her. “I'd say play nice, but considering who created you I don't think that's an option!”
The Discord who had flung the bowl of cereal at Megan sniffed and waved his little paws in the air. “More cereal!” he called out. “I'm hungry!”
The other three started waving their paws in the air. “We're hungry!” they chanted out. “We want food!”
Megan stared at the quartet, not entirely sure what to do. “I... I can't feed you,” she finally said. “I don't have any food.”
The first Discord, Discord-One, pointed at Megan's right. “Check the fridge,” he said. “What a bad babysitter Dad got us! One star online!”
Megan slowly turned. Sure enough, where before was an empty corner, an old-style refrigerator, straight out of a 1950's sitcom, now stood. She grabbed the silver handle and opened the lime-green door. “Might as well play along,” she mumbled, peering inside and quickly grabbing a cardboard milk carton. She held it up, eyes rolling as she saw a picture of her younger self under the word 'missing' on the side. “Of course.” She glanced away from the carton for a moment, the picture changing from her to Danny when she looked back to it. She looked away once more, the picture now Molly.
Discord-Two slammed his paws onto the table, sending everything on it bouncing up. “Story! I want a story!”
The other three Discord's began banging their own paws on the table, while chanting out, “Story! Story! Story!” Their voices blended together, pitching up and down, low enough to hurt Megan's chest, then high enough to force her to drop the milk carton and clamp her hands over her ears. She ran forward, leaned across the table and glared at Discord-Two. “Once upon a time there was a nice lady and an evil demon. The evil demon kidnapped the nice lady and held her hostage, but the nice lady was all right, because unlike the demon she had friends to help her out!”
Discord-Two stared at her for a moment. His muzzle lengthened, transforming into Discord proper. “You don't really think you'll win, do you?”
Megan kept her eyes locked onto him. “If I don't, my friends and family will.”
Discord grinned at her. “Don't be too sure on that, Megan. You'd be surprised.”
Megan's lips slowly curled up. “After what's happened to me over the years, Discord? Not much surprises me anymore. You're just one more in a long line of demons and wannabe Tiracs that have come down the pipe. You weren't the first, won't be the last either.”
Discord shrugged. “We'll see, Megan. All things do come to an end, eventually.” He teleported away, the other mini-Discords following, leaving Megan alone.
Megan slowly stood up and looked around. The room she was in remained, as well as the table and refrigerator. She suddenly opened the refrigerator, pulled out a pitcher and poured some water into a glass. She set it on the table and sat down in front of it. Megan's eyes narrowed as she stared at the glass of water and waved a hand at it. “Come on, come on! Ah, what did they say in that movie?” She snapped her fingers. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board!” She continued waving her hand over the water, repeating the chant.
“That's not going to work. Not by itself.”
Megan shot to her feet. She whirled around. “All right, no!” She shouted. “I know that voice! That was from that... that thing I went through to change me back into a human! That vision quest Mister Moochik sent me on! I don't have the time for any sort of damned games!”
“Then stop twirling about like a ballerina, Megan. Sit back down and look.”
Megan stopped spinning. She sat down. “Okay, where are...” She leaned over and stared down at what should have been her reflection in the glass of water. “Oh, you gotta be kidding me.”
The reflection of Megan was one of her much younger; her teenage self, around the time she started going to Dream Valley. The Reflection nodded to her, smiling. “Nope! I know time's of the essence, so I'll skip the whole 'trickster mentor' thing. You need help tapping into your new powers.”
Megan cocked her head to the side. “That's not what I was talking about. Who... sorry if this is a bit insensitive, but 'what' are you?”
“I'm not quite you. I'm connected to you. I am you, just split off from the main you for a bit.”
“All right.” Megan hesitated before continuing. “Now about tapping into my new powers. I was trying some low-level stuff there, but how far are you thinking we should go?” She waved her hands around her head. “Granny Bonnie did warn us–or me–that the human body can't take the kind of high power alicorn magic has.” She wiped the bottom of her nose, indicating the dried blood still there.
“Well, I'm not sure we exactly qualify as 'human' anymore. Look at what you've been through. You think all that's not gonna leave some mark beyond locked-up powers?” The Reflection laughed. “Don't be silly! The power and the ability to use it is inside of you. There's just some... barriers to overcome.”
“Some physical, some mental. I think I know what the biggest mental problem is, too.” The Reflection paused, gathering up her thoughts. “Mike, Danielle, Michelle?”
Megan kept her eyes locked onto the reflection. “I don't wanna outlive them,” she finally said.
The Reflection slowly nodded. “And that's holding you back.” She held up a hand. “Let me be honest, Me. When it comes to Mike, or even Molly or Danny, there was always a fifty-percent chance of either one of you outliving the other. Even if you hadn't gained the powers of an alicorn, it would be just as likely for you to outlive him, as for him to outlive you.”
“And my kids?” Megan finally said. “What about them? Outliving them, watching them die? You think I want this to happen?”
There was silence for a few moments from the reflection. “No,” she finally said. “But there's a lot of things that happen to us that we don't want to happen. We just have to make the best with the hand we're dealt. We've been given a gift, with these powers. Should we just lock them up, never to use them, never use them to help others?”
Megan stared at the Reflection. She finally closed her eyes. “Dammit. I should've known I'd know just what to say to convince myself.” Her eyes opened. “Although, wait a second. How do I know you're not really Discord, messing with me?”
The Reflection shrugged. “If we mess up, you could die. Discord doesn't kill, if only because he doesn't like breaking his toys”
Megan pursed her lips. “That makes way too much sense.” She sighed and held her right hand up again. “So, any ideas on how to start?”
Endless racks of clothes, of all kinds, styles, colors, and sizes greeted Rarity. She trotted down a hallway, occasionally grabbing an article of clothing off its hangar and floating it in front of her. “Too light, too dark. Too heavy, too light. Too long, too short.” She sighed and adjusted a pair of Pince-nez glasses that had appeared on the end of her muzzle. “Really, Discord. Are you trying to wear me down with these crimes against good taste?”
Discord's voice echoed over Rarity's head. “I know, I know. Hideous, aren't they. I don't know what I was thinking with them.”
The end of the hallway started brightening. Two silhouettes emerged from the light, quickly resolving themselves into Hoity-Toity and Photo Finish. The two trotted up to Rarity, cantering around to flank her. “Come, darling!” Photo Finish shouted, waving a foreleg in the air. “We need you to do... ze magicks!”
Even as Photo Finish spoke, loud, thumping music started blaring all around Rarity. Loud murmurs and chatter could be heard from the light, along with the occasional flash of bright-white light against pale yellow.
Rarity smacked a hoof against her forehead. “You have got to be kidding me. I am not that desperate for fame and/or fortune, Discord! Your pathetic little play at my ego will fail. I am the picture... of... refinement...”
Rarity's words trailed off as the light dimmed. She was suddenly on the far right side of a stage, a long walkway jutting out into a throng of reporters and fashionably-dressed ponies. Mares and stallions pranced down the walkway, dressed in eye-catching–and sometimes eye-searing–outfits. Reporters jotted down notes, while photographers took dozens of pictures, their flashbulbs almost washing out the runway models.
Several of the reporters turned in Rarity's direction. “There she is!” one shouted. The group moved as one amorphous blob to the far end of the stage. The reporters thrust microphones at Rarity, their shouted questions blending into a din. The photographers' flashbulbs all lit up in a strobing pattern, a few feet from Rarity's eyes.
Rarity's eyes spun as the light assailed her. The babbling of the reporters and others blended together, slipping through her ears and into her brain. She held up a foreleg over her eyes, while her ears folded over her head. “No, no,” she said, stumbling back slightly. She turned away, blinking rapidly. “Really Discord, this is what you think of me?” she said, looking up and shaking a hoof to the heavens. “Some tawdry little egomaniac who will fall under your sway at the slightest hint of fame and fortune?” She tapped the Element of Generosity hanging from her neck. “Well, I'm a bit more sophisticated than you think, darling.”
“Oh, Rarity! You're quite mistaken, my feisty fashionista! This is all window-dressing for what I can help you do, my dear.”
A voice from behind caught Rarity's attention. She spun around as an earth pony slowly walked up, head bowed and eyes barely making contact with Rarity overall. “M-Miss Belle?” the cream-colored mare softly said. “I-I just want to thank you for hiring me. I'll work my hardest, to reward your faith and generosity!”
Rarity stared at her. “I see... whoever you are.” She groaned. “Really, Discord. Stop this nonsense immediately! I seriously doubt I'd be able to hire anyone with the fashion industry subsumed by your chaotic taint!”
Actually, Rarity. If I may borrow your marefriend's Element, the fashion industry is almost too chaotic for me to handle. I would stay far, far away from anything to do with fashion, Rarity. It would be an equitable exchange if you stay away from me.”
Rarity blinked–and she was suddenly surrounded by other ponies, and even the occasional griffin and zebra. All were clamoring for her attention, their voices blending together into a buzz that passed right through Rarity's ears and into her brain.
Discord's voice joined them. “You'd gain the fame and fortune you so desire–I mean, deserve. You'd be helping out hundreds, if not thousands of your fellow Equestrians. And all you'd have to do is turn back and let me go. Wouldn't that be so... so generous of you?”
The crowd began gathering around Rarity, pressing in against her. Some of them held cameras up, flashbulbs popping. The bright lights quickly fell into a pattern, blinding Rarity and dazzling her. She held a foreleg up to her face, but the sheer amount of flashes overwhelmed its meager protection. Small spirals appeared in her eyes as both the light and sound wormed their way into her mind...
Rarity's foreleg dropped down, brushing against her Element of Generosity. The gem embedded in the necklace vibrated and flashed, the spirals in Rarity's eyes vanishing. She shook her head. “W-what was that?” She looked around, her upper lip curling back. “Oh, you ruffian! Trying to pull one over on me, Discord?”
“Well, I figured a little push wouldn't be too bad, my dear. As those wonderfully chaotic humans would say, mea culpa. Still, the offer is genuine. As are my feelings toward fashion itself. I mean seriously, two types of plaid over a disco ball? That makes ME dizzy!”
A bright light behind Rarity caught her attention. She spun around, finding a golden portal swirling about behind her. A dark silhouette faded into existence near the center of the portal, resolving just enough so four legs could be seen below a torso, and a head and neck at one end and tail at the other.
“All your dreams come true, Rarity. All those people saved by you doing the simplest thing. Why, I'd even throw in a certain somepony I know you're clamoring for... sugarcube.”
Rarity's mouth went dry. Her gaze lingered on the silhouette as its head turned, showing off what could only be described as a hat. Shecleared her throat. “If you think that is... tempting to me...”
“I'd be right. And there's nothing wrong with that, Rarity! All your dreams and ambitions, all you would ever want, and it would only take the simplest of actions to get everything... and everyone you wanted.”
Endless balloons floated about of an almost-infinite color. They fell from the ceiling in endless waves, swarming around Pinkie pie as she hopped along. She groaned as the balloons scattered about with each hop, only to cluster around her again. “Come on, Discord! I can't see two feet in front of me!” She shook her head, whipping her mane about and scattering the balloons about... only for them to roll right back at her.
Discord's voice echoed all around her. “But I thought you loved surprises, Pinkie! I know you love your family, and one of them was named Surprise. So why don't you love the surprise I'll be showing you? It all seemed so... ugh, so logical in my head. Now I have a migraine. Why do I have a migraine?”
Pinkie paid him no mind as she continued on, hopping about. Her Element of Laughter jangled each time she launched herself into the air. “So where am I going, Discord? Discord... Disco!” Pinkie Pie nickered. “Makes sense.”
“I'm not even sure how to respond to that. Well played, Pinkie Pie. I'm quite impressed. You deserve a reward for your cleverness!”
Lights started flashing from above. One shone directly onto Pinkie, casting her in a spotlight. Loud, thumping music sounded out as a gigantic disco ball lowered from above, suspended in midair. It started turning, the lights bouncing off of it.
Pinkie's tail and backside started twitching in time to the beat. She cocked her head to the side, but quickly stuck out her tongue and rolled her eyes. “Urgh, is that a muzak version of the Bee Gees? Discord, have you no shame? Have you no taste?”
“Would you prefer the Village People? What about Donna Summer?”
Muzak versions of both the Village People's music and Donna Summer's started playing, along with the Bee Gees. The three tracks blended together into a cacophony, forcing Pinkie to shrink down. She pulled out several wads of cotton and a pair of noise-canceling earmuffs. She stuffed the cotton into her ears, then slid the earmuffs over them. “Hah, Discord! You have to get up pretty early to pull the cake over my eyes!”
Discord's voice sounded off inside her head now. “Well, since I don't actually sleep, that's not as much of a problem for you as you might think.”
Themusic died down, and the lights slowly switched off, save for a spotlight directly over Pinkie. She stood up on her hind legs and bowed. “Thank you, thank you! I'll be here only long enough to seal Discord away, so make sure to tip your servers, then straighten them back up again.”
“Oh, but Pinkie! If you seal me away, how can you become the Party Pony you were always meant to be? You'd have so many ponies lining up for your parties! It will be an endless stream of them, all wanting to get in. You might even have to recruit that coltfriend of yours, Dairy Bread.”
The area around Pinkie Pie lit up once more. A few-dozen ponies of various types stood or floated around her. “Throw us a party, Pinkie Pie!” they all chanted out. “Throw us a party!”
Pinkie's eyes narrowed. Her mouth set in a straight line, even as her mane and tail lost some of its bounce. “Oh, I'd love to throw you a party,” she said, words drawing the words out, “but I kinda-sorta have this pain in the flank to seal back into stone, first!”
“Gee, Pinkie. Was it something I said? I'm surprised at you! You're so chaotic and random. I thought for sure you'd be most receptive to me.”
A snort of laughter escaped Pinkie. “Are you ca-razy? I'm not chaotic, once you get to know the real me, the one underneath the bubbly smile and infectious laughter.” Her mane curled in on itself, pulling out a clipboard and ball-point pen. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to organize birthday parties, anniversaries, cutie-cereanas and other miscellaneous kinds of celebrations?” Pinkie rolled her eyes as she started writing on a sheet of paper on the clipboard. “Let me see... I need to schedule the 'We Beat Discord!' party right after the 'We Rescued Megan!' party. Now do you want to be the centerpiece, Discord, or a mere decoration?”
The ponies around Pinkie disappeared, along with most of the lights. Discord's voice sounded out once more, low and void of any mirth. “Better be ready to cancel those, Pinkie Pie. Your friends are already starting to waver. I have some mercy for you if you turn back now!”
Pinkie shrugged. She slipped the clipboard and pen back into her mane before turning and bouncing along towards the only light source left. “They're 'wavering'. That doesn't mean they've given into your temptations. And even if they have?” She tapped her Element of Laughter. “I'm from rock farm stock. We don't give in. We hunker down and keep picking away.”
“You'll regret this, Pinkamena Diane Pie!”
Pinkie looked up and blew a raspberry. “Only Mom or Dad are allowed to use the full-name ultimatum! As for regretting this? I'll add this to the list, Discord. It's so long already, though. Now if you'll excuse me? If I don't keep going forward I'll start sliding back, and where would that put me? Behind the eight-ball and so behind on party-planning I might never catch up.”
With that, Pinkie shoved her mane forward before resuming her journey forward, towards the light in the distance.
The water stirred, rippling slightly against the sides of the glass. The surface started bulging, rocking like waves on a beach. Finally, one small drop broke the surface tension and floated up, past the rim and into the air.
Megan stared at the small droplet, eyes narrow. She held her hand close to it, fingers glowing a slight reddish-orange. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board,” she muttered. “I got it. I got it!”
“You know, you don't have to repeat that mantra from 'The Craft', right? I mean if it helps, all right. But it's really not necessary.”
Megan groaned at the sound of her Inner Voice, a 'part' of her that was helping her learn about her internal magic. “Remember Twilight Wish? It helped her out!”
“Oh, yeah. 'I wish, I wish!' You know, I wonder who she had foals with.”
“I'll ask Twilight Sparkle if we ever see her again.”
“What do you mean 'if'? We've gotten out of worse jams before, just on Earth!”
Megan sighed and sat back down. “I seriously doubt being able to levitate a few drops of water is gonna help against Discord.”
“Well, you never know. The littlest things can sometimes make the biggest impacts. Isn't that what Wind Whistler used to say?”
Asmile tugged at Megan's lips. “Something like that...” She paused and glanced up. “Wait, have we decided what to call you? It's more than a little awkward and rude for you not to have a name.”
“Well, I mean I'm still 'you', just a part separate for the moment. A bit of a coping mechanism, maybe?”
“I suppose,” Megan responded. “But still... what about 'Reflector'?”
“The same name as the Decepticon who was three robots and combined into a Polaroid camera?”
Megan smiled as she stood back up. “Think of it as redeeming the name.” She sighed as she focused on the glass once more. “I am so gonna need therapy after this.”
“Pretty good idea, there. I'll make my own appointment.”
Megan raised her hand towards the glass, but paused. “No, not even gonna try.” She looked to the glass and narrowed her eyes. “Light as a feather, stiff as a board...”
Spanish Steel and Fancy Pants slowly trotted down a nigh-infinite hallway. Spanish Steel turned to his companion. “How long has it been since Blueblood disappeared down one of these doors?”
Fancy Pants floated a watch out of his jacket pocket and glanced at it. “Well, if this is right, chicken o'clock,” he said, turning it to face Spanish Steel. “Almost mundane for the old chap, wouldn't you say?”
A smile slowly crossed Spanish Steel's muzzle. “I don't mind.” He cantered about to face one of the identical doors lining the hall. He reached up with a wing, but stopped before grabbing the doorknob. “Maybe...”
Fancy Pants' horn glowed. An identically-colored magic enveloped Spanish Steel's wing as he yanked it away. “Not good, General. Not good at all! Remember what happened last time?”
A groan escaped the pegasus. “What else can we do, Chancellor?” Spanish Steel spun about, coming nearly muzzle-to-muzzle with Fancy Pants. “The hallway goes on pretty much forever in both directions. I've got some food and a flask of water, but that's definitely not going to last forever.”
Fancy Pants sighed. “I knew I shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning. I rather wish this was some sort of horrific nightmare, and the smell of breakfast would wake me from it.”
“Me, too,” Spanish Steel admitted. He looked up at where the ceiling should be, instead of an endless gray expanse. “Boredom can be quite preferable to this madness, where I don't know where we're going or where we've been. Or if we'll get out of this.”
A small smile crossed Fancy Pants' muzzle. “Don't worry, old chap. I'm sure Twilight Sparkle and her friends have the situation well in hoof. They've dealt with far worse, after all. Remember Tirac? Queen Celestia and Neo-Equestria?” His expression fell. “Oh, my.”
Fancy Pants grimaced. “I shudder to think what that demon's doing to her or the other prisoners. If I remember, Neo-Equestria's version of Discord gave her some sort of prophecy that dictated her entire course of action. Bonnie knows what he's doing to her, now.”
Spanish Steel's wings rippled. “Not even she deserves that. None of them do. None of us do.” He nickered and tossed his head about. “Oh, this is bucking ridiculous! We're trapped in this endless hallway with a cursed Blueblood and we're never going to get out and we'll be forgotten and–”
Fancy Pants trotted over to Spanish Steel. He took the pegasus' head in his telekinesis and moved it around so they locked eyes. “Stop that, stop that! If you continue down that trail you'll lose control again, General. And if you go down I'll almost certainly follow soon after. And then what?”
A slow sigh escaped Spanish Steel. He closed his eyes and his nostrils flared. “In with the sane, out with the crazy,” he chanted out. “Thank you, Chancellor.” He looked around. “Granny Bonnie, if you can hear me? We could use some help right now.”
A beam of midnight-black light stabbed through the air, tearing a hole in the fabric of space a few feet from the pair. It slashed down, widening the hole and allowing Princess Luna herself to walk through. A beam of light trailed behind her, crossing through the portal she had just emerged from. Luna looked around, quickly spotting Spanish Steel and Fancy Pants. “Huzzah!” she cried out, thrusting a hoof in the air. She turned back to the hole in space. “Sister! I have found General Steel and Chancellor Pants!”
Celestia's voice echoed from beyond the hole Luna had carved in the ether. “Okay, Luna! Could you hurry it up a bit, though? I don't know how long I can maintain the connection with you!”
Luna nodded. “Of course. Gentlestallions, if you please? Time is short.”
The two stallions exchanged a look. Spanish Steel turned back to their would-be rescuer. “Princess... Captain Blueblood is trapped here, too. He's been... affected, changed by Discord's chaotic magic.”
Fancy Pants slowly nodded. “Indeed, Princess. We can't abandon the old boy. It wouldn't be proper or right.”
Luna's eyes narrowed. Her eyes darted back and forth. “It would not, Chancellor. Fortunately, I know my nephew and how his magic feels.” She slowly looked from left to right. “Ah, ha!”
One of the endless doors flew open. Blueblood floated out of it, his front half resembling a buffalo, and his back half a deer. His muzzle was in the air, and he paid his surroundings little mind as he floated over to Luna's side.
Luna stared at him. “Oh, this is worse than I thought.” She looked to Fancy Pants and Spanish Steel as they started towards the portal. “Discord's magic is a curse upon this world.”
Fancy Pants paused right before entering the portal. He looked Blueblood over and whinnied. “Sadly, your highness, this is better than the last time he walked out of the door.” With that, he turned and left the infinite hallway.
Spanish Steel spared Luna and Blueblood a glance. “Last time, he was split into three floating parts. One was his head, his midsection resembled a human's, and his hindquarters...” He trailed off and stared into space before blinking and shaking his head. Spanish Steel then walked through the portal, following Fancy Pants.
Luna sighed and shook her head. “Do not worry, dear nephew. You shall be safe... or rather safer from Discord's magic.” She turned and walked through, leaving the now-empty hallway and sealing the portal up behind her and Blueblood.
Fancy Pants and Spanish Steel respectively trotted and flew out of a small tear in space. They emerged from the cerulean whirlpool and found themselves in the Royal Canterlot Gardens, or some twisted, nightmarish version of it. Topiaries had uprooted themselves and were running wild all over. Some of them were fighting, ripping off branches and shredding leaves. Small furrows formed in the dirt and raced around underhoof, eventually coming to a stop. Creatures with the heads of birds and bodies of Squirrels poked their heads out of the ground, sending up small showers of dirt and debris. And finally, the sun and moon raced through the sky, spinning around each other in the sky when not dipping below one horizon, only to emerge from a completely random part of the sky.
Celestia stood off to the side, head held high. A golden dome of energy flowed from the tip of her horn, surrounding an area a few dozen meters in diameter. About thirty servants and government officials huddled underneath the dome, an island of sanity in a stormy sea of chaos. Celestia'a head tilted down slightly as Luna walked over. “Is that... Blueblood?” she asked.
Luna nodded. “I am afraid the demon's magic got to him, Sister. Hopefully your shield spell can cleanse him.” She floated the discorded Blueblood through the barrier golden barrier and over to Celestia's side. “May your magic drive Discord's taint from his form!” she shouted.
Even as Blueblood passed through, his form started changing. His entire form shrank and became more uniform as the buffalo and deer halves reverted back to his original equine form. Blueblood's expression cleared and his eyes regained their sharp focus. “What happened?” He looked around. “Aunties? Is this some sort of prank or merriment?”
Celestia shook her head. “I'm afraid not, Blueblood. Discord escaped and kidnapped... Megan.” Her eyes drifted to the large structure Discord had formed, still bearing his leafy likeness on it. “Right now Twilight and the others are inside that structure Discord formed, searching for him and Megan. All Luna and I can do is triage out here, trying to keep as many safe as possible.” She looked around at those huddling under her shield. “I wish I could do more, extend my shield out further, but it's taxing enough right now.”
Blueblood looked up at the sky, eyes squinting as he focused on the sun darting about. “How much energy can you get from the sun?”
“Enough to maintain the shield indefinitely, but not much beyond that.”
Blueblood nickered and kicked at the dirt. He suddenly looked up, his horn glowing. A thin beam of magic shot from the tip, striking Celestia's own horn. “Then let me share some of my own magic with you, Auntie. Bonnie knows you need it more than I!” He held a hoof to his forehead. “Just give me a small patch of ground to... lie on...”
Spanish Steel and Fancy Pants entered the dome and flanked Blueblood, steadying him as they helped him down. Fancy Pants half-smiled. “You were always given too little credit, old boy,” he said, glancing up at Celestia. His own horn glowed, and he fired off a short burst of magic. “Princess, if I may?”
Celestia closed her eyes as their magic joined her own. “It shames me that I cannot protect you on my own,” she admitted, cheeks turning scarlet.
Spanish Steel whinnied as he spotted several soldiers under Celestia's protective shield. “I know that feeling, your majesty,” he muttered, wings folding tight against his barrel.
Luna walked up to Celestia. “If there's nothing else, I shall continue my rescue efforts.”
Celestia looked around. “I think we're all set here for the moment, Luna.” She fired a steady beam of magic, linking her horn with Luna's. “Just be careful. I don't know what I'd do without you.”
Luna's eyes went to the sky as the moon passed overhead. “Oh... you'd manage,” she said, before turning and walking through a portal.”
Celestia glanced down as Luna left the Canterlot Royal Garden. “Only because you could still watch over me then.”
Queen Celestia walked up to the sink in her jail cell, a metal cup balanced precariously on her forehead. With some careful maneuvering, she slid it down off, past her nub of a horn and into the basin. She brought a hoof up and turned the spigot, only for Discord's head and serpentine neck to flow out. “Oh, how original,” she said, stepping back as he poured himself out into the air.
Discord twisted his body into knots, wringing himself out and sending water flying all about. “Well, what can I say? I'm a sucker for the classics!” He looked around. “So, trying to get time off for good behavior? Has your Twilight tried some harebrained scheme to bust you out of here?”
Queen Celestia cantered around Discord and went back to the sink. “Well, your chaotic magic has been... well, evil. Now if you don't mind, I'm a bit thirsty. May I have some actual water, please?”
Discord stared at her, one eyebrow arched. “You seem quite a bit calmer since the last time we met.” His hair curled around into dreadlocks, a tie-dyed T-shirt flashed into existence over his upper torso, and smoke billowed about. “So, did you expand your inner consciousness and break on through to the other side? Maybe find some interesting plants that you rolled up and smoked to find this calm?”
Queen Celestia tossed her head back and laughed, the sound quickly devolving into choking gasps. When she looked back at the draconequus, her right eye started twitching. “Oh, Discord! Right now I'm internally screaming my head off.” Her mouth turned up in a rictus of a smile. “The Queenly Mask is good for more than just social occasions.”
A sigh escaped Discord. “Boy. My alternate-quantum reality counterpart really did a number on you, didn't he.” He floated about, passing through the bar cells and into the main hallway. His eyes popped out of their sockets and whizzed about before jetting back and plopping into his mouth, eventually rolling back up into their sockets. “Oh, don't be so stoic, Celly! Your fellow prisoners are making the most of what I'm offering them!”
Twilight hopped about her cell, quills and scrolls just out of reach of her hooves. “Get down here!” she shouted, jumping up and just missing them. “I need these! I NEED THESE SO I CAN MAKE SENSE!”
Flutters was huddling in a corner of her cell, wings folded over her head. Three rats the size of bulldogs surrounded her, teeth bared and dripping saliva as they snarled at her. Mosquitoes the size of falcons hovered near her, buzzing. “No, please stop,” she whimpered. “I'll be good! I'M SORRY!”
AJ sat on her bunk. Ghostly shades resembling her long-dead parents stood next to the bed, staring up at her. “Why did you forsake our legacy?” Pear Butter asked. “Why did you deceive so many?”
AJ's breath hitched in her throat. “No, no. I didn't mean to, Ma! I thought I was doing good things!”
Rares galloped about her cell, chasing various items she had collected while imprisoned. “GET BACK HERE!” she screamed, eyes ablaze. “YOU BELONG TO ME! YOU'RE MINE!”
Pinkie's lips curled back, exposing her teeth in a sneer. She batted her forelegs in the air. “You're not funny! You're being mean to me! Shut up, you hear?” her ears folded against her skull, and she hunkered down against the hard, stone floor. “Leave me alone!”
Shiny stood in front of a translucent image of Princess Cadance. Every time he took a step towards it, the image faded. When he stepped away, it solidified. He stared at it, eyes never leaving the shade of his beloved.
Finally, Dash sat in the middle of her cell, staring up at a patch of blue sky hanging right above her. She flexed the remnants of her wings and sighed. “So close,” she murmured. “Just so... so not cool.”
Discord turned and flew back into Queen Celestia's cell. “See? What'd I tell you?”
Queen Celestia stared at him. “I think you might be crazier than the Discord back in my reality. Or at least more vicious in your own way. He set up the bogus prophecy that destroyed all I had worked for. You seem to live more for the moment, for the thrill of breaking someone.”
Discord grinned. “Oh, I have plans. They're a bit short-term, some contradict each other, some run parallel to what you desire, but make no mistake, Queenie. I have plans. And not just for Equus, either!” He held his paws up, two spheres forming in their palms. One was Equus, with a super-continent dominating one hemisphere and a trail of islands scattered all about the ocean. The other was Earth, with its continents scattered about. “The humans are so wonderfully chaotic! I think they'll like me a lot!” He closed his paw over Earth, crushing it. The pieces turned steel-gray and reassembled themselves into a metal world. “I think Cybertron might like me, too!”
Fire danced in Discord's eyes. He brought out a stick with marshmallows impaled on it and shot the fire over them roasting the marshmallows. He slid the stick all the way into his mouth, then spat the marshmallows out. They expanded into clouds, chocolate rain falling from them. “You're so gullible you'd buy the beans without any need for them to be magic,” he said, chewing the stick up and swallowing it. He tossed a wave at Queen Celestia, the water washing over her head and soaking her mane. “Ta-ta for now!” Discord turned, grabbed empty space and pulled it open, stepping through the hole in the ether before it snapped back into place.
Queen Celestia stared at the spot Discord had vanished from. Her breath hitched in her throat, and eyes bulged from their sockets. She backed away from it, the Queenly Mask slipping away from her as quickly as it had formed. “They'll stop him. They'll stop him,” she repeated as she cantered about, eventually collapsing onto her cot. She folded her ears down as tightly as she could against her skull, then folded her forelegs over her ears to drown out the screams of her fellow prisoners as much as possible.
For US Marine Sergeant Robert 'Bobby' Field, his assignment to the Everfree Forest guarding the reconstruction team for the Castle of the Two Sisters could feel almost... quaint, nostalgic. It reminded him of the years spent in the Realm, fighting off what would once be considered to be otherworldly threats and not sure what to expect around the next corner.
Right now he stood near a newly-rebuilt wall of the castle, his trusty magic club, a souvenir from his adventures in the Realm, held high as several pieces of heavy construction equipment shambled or floated towards him. “Okay, if this is some sort of damned joke, it's not funny!” he shouted, as he jabbed at them with his club. The enchanted wood glowed with each movement, brightening as it came closer to the marauding machinery. He looked his club over. “Ah, screw this!” He brought the weapon up and, with a loud shout, started swinging.
The club struck a chainsaw, knocking it out of the air. A large flash of light burst from the point of impact as it flew off, striking the ground and bouncing a few times before stopping. It lay where it landed, not moving or operating.
Bobby looked at the chainsaw, then at his club, then at the machines around him. Some of them waggled about in midair, almost as if they were looking from Bobby to the knocked-out chainsaw. A smile slowly formed on Bobby's mouth. “Thank you, Dungeon Master!” he shouted as he moved forward, club swinging.
The machines all scattered, flying or scurrying off in different directions. Most of the ones in the air evaded Bobby's blows, but the ones on the ground were quickly knocked out. Bobby hefted his club high into the air. “No one stops Bobby the Barbarian!”
A noise from the side caught Bobby's attention. He looked over, gasping as a large monster shambled over. It was bipedal, with the upper body of a trout, and lower legs in pants and dress shoes. Bobby's eyes widened as he spotted a name tag right below the fish's gills, reading 'Potter'. “Colonel?”
The Discorded Colonel Henry Potter, head of the detachment of marines assigned to the Everfree, shambled towards bobby, mouth opening and closing. Fishing lines swung from his fins, large hooks tied to them, their barbs somehow glinting in the dim light.
Bobby sucked in a breath. “Oh, son of a bitch.” He swallowed and brought his club up. “Colonel, are you in there? Can–” He ducked and rolled to the side as one of the hooks sailed at him, nearly slicing his head open. “All right, I'll take the court-martial!” With that, he charged Henry, club swinging.
Henry, being half-man and half-fish, was unable to dodge as Bobby ran up to him and swung his club. The wood struck him, not nearly as hard as it did the machines, but enough to send him falling to the dirt. Even as Henry fell, he was enveloped by a bright flash of light. When it faded, Henry Potter lay there on the ground, fully human once more, a fish in his right hand a fishing pole in his left. He stared up at the forest canopy, blinking. “Sergeant Field?”
Bobby leaned forward, paling slightly. “Yes, sir?”
“What happened to me?”
Bobby swallowed. “Well, sir, as far as I can tell you were turned into a fish-man with giant fishing hooks for weapons. You attacked me and I struck you with my club.” He pasted a grin on his face. “Sorry?”
Henry groaned. “Apology accepted, Sergeant. Now could you please help me up?”
Bobby knelt down and grabbed Henry's right arm. He helped the older man to his feet. “Sir, do you remember what you were doing before you became that thing?”
There was a pause. Henry looked over his shoulder. “I was at a river with some of the ponies on the restoration team, doing some fishing. I heard a voice say something about me wanting to be with the fish so badly and then... I'm staring up at you.” He looked back, eyes landing on all the pieces of machinery scattered about. “What happened here?”
Bobby scratched the back of his head. “Well, I was just walking along when the machinery started up. I thought it was some sort of glitch or prank, until they all started flying at my head!” He hefted his club. “If it wasn't for this, I'd be in the middle of a horror movie by now!”
Henry looked around. Distant screams and shouts, muffled by the walls and foliage, echoed. “I think we already are, Sergeant.”
Bobby looked his club over. “Sir, if I may test something out?” At Henry's nod he walked a few paces away from his CO. He let his club slide down a bit out of his grip, until he was only holding it by the strap. He started spinning it around, the wood glowing and brightening with each revolution. He finally brought the club down onto the ground, striking the dirt with a mighty thwack!
The ground at the point of impact shattered and cracked, bolts of energy racing along shallow fissures forming in the dirt. A large dome of translucent energy burst from the crater, expanding out for a few meters and passing through both everything it touched, restoring them to what passes for 'normal' in the Everfree Forest and removing Discord's taint.
Henry looked around. “Nice job, Sergeant. Think that'll work again?”
Bobby looked his club over. He walked forward a few feet before stopping, spinning his club around again and bringing it down again with another thwack! This time, however, the point of impact barely sparked, and no dome formed. He sighed and brought his club back up. “Sorry, sir. I think it's gotta recharge.”
Henry walked up to his side. “It's all right, Sergeant.” He waved a hand around. “Looks like you've already done some–look out!”
Bobby brought his club up just as a timberwolf with wings and the head of a snake bounded at him. He jabbed his club at it, striking the head. It flashed, breaking apart into a timberwolf, an eagle, and a snake. The animals all scattered, running, flying, or slithering off.
Henry swallowed. “Good job, Sergeant.”
Bobby relaxed slightly. “Thank you. I think it'd be best if I take the lead in seeking out any from the restoration crew, or our fellow marines?”
“Quite prudent, Sergeant. Lead on and keep that club high!”
For the tenth time that hour, Mike Richards pulled his cell phone out and scrolled down to his wife's number. For the tenth time he looked at it and almost called before sighing and sliding it back into his pocket.
The kitchen door opened and a young blond about Danielle's age walked in. “Hey, Mister Richards,” Tessa Yeager said, walking over to him by the kitchen counter. “You all right?”
Mike looked to her and pasted a smile on his face. “Oh, me? Just fine.” He waved her off. “Just making lunch for Cade.” He leaned in close. “You know how he gets when in his workshop.”
Tessa rolled her eyes. “Only been dealing with it since I was five, Mister Richards.” She looked him over. “Are you all right? You seem a little tense.”
Mike hesitated for a moment. He picked up a brown paper bag with one hand and held up his phone with the other. “Megan said she'd call me after her business with that Discord thing was done. Unless there's been some sort of time-slippage going on, that should have been nearly an hour ago.” He swallowed. “I'm worried.”
Tessa bowed her head. “Well, that explains it,” she finally said. She looked back up. “What do you need, if anything?”
A sigh escaped Mike. “I don't know if I 'need' anything, Tessa. What's the old saying about hoping for the best?”
“And preparing for the worst,” Tessa finished. She looked to a silver picture frame on the counter, showing a young, wild-eyed man with short brown hair and a woman with longer blond hair and a face almost identical to Tessa's. “It's a hard lesson.” She cleared her throat and held out her hands. “Here, let me help you with that.”
Mike handed over the paper bag and a thermos of coffee, grabbed another bag, and followed Tessa out of the large, two-story house and across the yard to an old, dilapidated barn. The pair maneuvered around several craters and ditches in the ground and walked up to a small side door in the barn, next to the much larger main ones. Warning signs were plastered all over the door and the wall surrounding it, while a scavenged and refitted traffic post had been stuck into a patch of concrete next to the door.
Tessa looked the traffic light over. “Okay, green. We're cool.” She opened the door and walked in, Mike following.
The interior of the barn had been long since gutted and rebuilt into a combination laboratory and test chamber. Random bits of machinery, tool racks, and plain junk were scattered about, with high-powered lights strung up on the ceiling and casting harsh shadows all about.
A man in a lab coat and goggles around his forehead about Mike's age was sitting at a table, old-style tape recorder in hand. “Notes for future experiments; energon is not suitable for use inside an internal-combustion engine.” He kneaded his forehead before continuing. “Although I'm wondering if the Mythbusters don't know that or not.” He turned in his chair as Mike and Tessa approached. “Oh, hey!”
Mike placed the paper bag on the table in front of Cade. “Hey, old buddy. It's lunchtime, and Tessa and I know how you can get... really into your work.”
Cade looked back at the bag. “I had breakfast. Tessa brought me some.”
Tessa walked around to Cade's side. “Did you eat the breakfast I gave you?”
Cade swallowed. He cleared his throat and waved his hands about. “Well, do you see the food anywhere around?”
Two teenagers walked to the table, each a couple years younger than Tessa. “Thanks for the breakfast, Mister Yeager,” the one in the lead, a young girl with pale skin, short brown hair and wearing a vest over a band T-shirt, said. “It was pretty good.”
“Yeah, those hash browns were divine,” the second one said, a young man with dark skin and a halo of curly brown hair said. He looked to Mike and Tessa and grinned. “Oh, hey! When did you get here?”
Cade slowly shrank down in his chair, while, in an impressive bit of improvised choreography, crossed their arms and glared down their noses at the eccentric inventor. “Well, I mean they're both growing kids,” Cade said, swallowing and sweating slightly.
Tessa waved a hand at the pair. “Mister Richards, this is Charlie Watson and Guillermo Gutierrez. Dad hired Guillermo two weeks ago to help out around the lab. Charlie's been working her a few months, actually. Just with the whole Neo-Equestrian invasion she couldn't come over while you, Megan and Michelle have been here.”
Mike nodded. He held his arm out and shook their hands. “Nice to meet you two. Thanks for making sure Cade's limbs stay attached.”
Guillermo grinned as he pumped Mike's hand. “Been a pleasure, sir. But please, call me 'Memo'.”
Mike's brow furrowed. “Well... all right, but why– “
Memo pointed his thumbs back at himself. “Because you always need to get the memo!” he said, grinning.
Silence reigned around the table for a few awkward moments. Mike cleared his throat. “So, Charlie, the Smiths? Good band. Danny, Cade and I made our way to Pittsburgh for one of their concerts in... when was it, Cade?” he snapped his fingers. “August of 1986!”
Charlie's face twisted in jealousy. “Oh, lucky!”
Cade chuckled. “That was great.” He stood up and turned to Charlie and Memo. “All right. I need you two to get the power convertor ready for full-scale testing. I think we've got all the bugs worked out. Bring it out to the back field. I'll meet you there in a few.”
Charlie looked to Memo. “I'll get the dolly ready while you open the back doors. Then we'll get the blast shields in place, okay?” She looked to Cade and tossed him a quick salute before turning and heading off.
Memo stood there for a few moments. His grin quickly faded. “Wait, 'blast shields'?” He hurried off after Charlie. “Hey, Charlie! Wait up! You're kidding about those, right?”
Mike shook his head as Memo ran off. “He'll learn. He'll learn.”
Cade looked mike over. “So, what's the problem?” He held up a hand. “And don't, Mike. I'm the immature doofus who needs his own daughter to remind him to eat. You're the responsible one with his head planted firmly on your shoulders.” He cocked his head to the side. “Megan?”
Mike's head drooped. “Megan hasn't called yet. I'm worried about her, Cade. This Discord sounds like real bad news. I'm not sure if I should call or not. What if she's in the middle of sealing him away or something and whoops! There goes her ringtone, or it starts buzzing. She almost never silences her phone unless she's in a theater or something like that.”
Cade placed his hands on his hips and bowed his head. “I get what you mean, Mike. I mean...” He looked up, his mouth stretched in a gin. “Ah, come on, man!” he slapped Mike on the arm. “It's Megan! She can handle herself. Wasn't she having to deal with crap like this since she was thirteen? She'll be fine, buddy. And she's not alone, either. She's got the ponies, right?”
Mike barked a laugh. “Right, right! They'll be fine! Maybe a bit of mischief with Discord, but nothing she can't handle. Nothing at all.”
Cade jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “Okay, come on to the back field. We'll run some tests, have some brewskies. It'll be a blast!” He held his hands up. “W-well, not literally.” He turned and started walking to the aft end of the barn.
Mike and Tessa followed. Mike leaned in close to the young woman. “We're not actually gonna be drinking any alcohol, right?”
Tessa shook her head. “Oh, no. We're all gonna need our wits about us when that convertor starts exploding. Or transforming. Or both.” She shuddered slightly. “Like this one time...”
Mike paid just enough attention to Tessa as she talked to get the gist, but his mind quickly drifted back to the Rainbow Bridge, across it, and to the love of his life. She'll be fine. She'll be fine.
Every sound, every movement in the shadows caught Fluttershy's attention. She flitted about a wide open field, darting about. “I-is anyone t-there?” she stuttered out. “Rainbow Dash? Twilight? Pinkie Pie?” She sighed and dropped down to the grass, only to fly back up as a pack of bunnies hopped out from behind a plastic-looking tree. “EEP!”
The bunnies all hopped up to her in perfect lockstep, each one moving in sync with each other. They stopped in front of her, looking up at Fluttershy with shiny red eyes. Birds flew off of previously-empty branches and circled right above Fluttershy. A large rainbow formed, stretching from horizon to horizon.
Fluttershy looked over the bunnies, the birds and the rainbow. She blew a strand of her mane out of her face and rolled her eyes. “All right. This is a little much, even for me. Are you around, Discord?”
Lines appeared in the rainbow, sliding open to reveal Discord's yellowish eyes. They blinked several times before falling off to the ground. They hit the ground and bounced up, settling into Discord's body as it appeared. “Why hello, Fluttershy!” he said, sketching a bow. He turned the canvas around to her and waved a claw over it. “What do you think? Too Post-Impressionist? I might try my hand at Bob Ross next.”
Fluttershy's eyes crossed at the sight of Discord's drawing, Both of her wings shot out and folded over her head as she hunkered down. “It's... interesting,” she said, peeking at it through a mass of feathers and only getting a mild headache. She focused on Discord, shielding herself from the art as best she could. “Umm, I know this might be a bit of a long shot, but is there any chance you could stop this whole chaos thing that you've been doing? Things have gotten pretty badly for everyone out there.”
Discord snorted. “Oh, my dear Fluttershy! I–” He stopped and folded the canvas up into an impossibly-small triangle, then flicked it over a goalpost made up of his own talons. “There we go. So, like I was about to say, why should I have to change? I'm merely being who I am. Isn't 'be yourself' an important lesson to be learned?”
Fluttershy nodded slightly. “Well, yes, but there's also respecting other people's boundaries and feelings. Being harmful to those around you, whether intentional or not, just isn't right, Discord. And you're definitely being intentional in your harm.” She slowly unfolded her wings from around her head. “Can't you just, not harm people or radically alter the environment at a whim? Or at least not do it so others aren't mentally scarred by the experience? Pinkie Pie and her coltfriend Cheese Sandwich manage to do that!” She paused and made the briefest of faces. “Well, most of the time.”
Discord grumbled. “Oh, where's the fun in that? I don't want to be limited or constrained! I want to be me!” He held a paw to his forehead and swooned, doubling over into a Mobius Strip comprised of his own body. He spun about a few rotations before untangling himself. “If only you knew what it was like to be me, Fluttershy! I mean, kindness needs some empathy, right?”
“I suppose,” Fluttershy finally said. “I mean, one sometimes has to trot a furlong in someone else's horseshoes to understand their viewpoint. We had to deal with that in Appaloosa between the settlers and buffalo, but we almost got them to come to an agreement.” Her stance shifted, and her face hardened ever so slightly. “Applejack and Rainbow Dash almost caused a full-scale war between them, but we managed to eventually get them to talk and come to a compromise.”
Discord clapped his paws together. “Oh, it sounds like such a delightfully chaotic tale, Fluttershy! I'd love to hear more about it.” he snapped his claws. A large couch flashed into existence. He snapoped his claws again. Discord vanished and reappeared on the couch, a bucket made of popcorn held in his paws. Fluttershy flashed as well, but she remained where she was. “Oh, what a dreadful shame,” Discord muttered.
Fluttershy blinked. She flashed again, only to remain where she was. Her Element of Kindness glowed, catching her attention. “What's going on?” she asked, tapping it with her hoof. It vibrated, bouncing about round her neck.
Discord leaned forward. His eyes darted from Fluttershy to her Element, then back again. “Oh, my! It seems my magic is blocked by your, ugh, Element of... whatever. Kindness, right?” At her nod, he held a paw up to his forehead. “Oh, no! All I wanted to do was bring you over here so we could chat a bit, but I guess with that interfering with my magic, we can't talk things out.”
Fluttershy hopped up. She stretched her wings out and flew over to the couch, pirouetting around in midair before dropping down next to the draconequus. “Sorry about that. What did you want to talk about?”
There was the tiniest of pauses before Discord spoke again. “Well, I was thinking you could try and see things a bit more from my perspective, but I'm not sure you can, my dear.” He brought a single talon up and moved it as close as he dared to the three butterfly-shaped gems. He winced as the tip of his claw glowed white-hot, and a small barrier formed around the diadem. “Your sparkly little necklace just doesn't seem to like me!” He straightened up and a dozen halos formed over his head. “I just don't know why, though.”
Fluttershy looked down at her Element and slowly tapped it with a hoof. “Oh, I'm sorry about that. I hope it didn't hurt you or anything.”
A slow smile crept across Discord's muzzle. He waved his paw in the air and blew on the suddenly-smoking claw. “Oh, ouch! I think it might've caused a bit of a boo-boo, dear. It does cause a bit of a problem. I just don't feel safe around it!”
Fluttershy shrank down a bit. “Oh, I'm very sorry about that. I just don't know what to do, though.”
Discord laced his claws together and wound his way around Fluttershy. “Well, would it be possible for you to, I don't know, remove it for a bit? Just slip it off so I don't feel so unsafe, then right back on after I'm-I mean, we're done here.”
Fluttershy's expression hardened slightly. She arched an eyebrow. “You're not trying to fool me, are you? That wouldn't be very nice of you.”
Discord shook his head. “No, it wouldn't be very nice of me at all, would it.”
Fluttershy stared at him for a few more moments. Finally, she made her decision.
Numbers, letters, and symbols floated all about Twilight Sparkle. They danced about, rearranging themselves into words, numbers, or equations. Some of the equations flew down to her. “That's wrong,” she commented. “That's wrong. That's...” She squinted. “I think that one's right.” Her eyes widened as another one came into view. “I'm fairly sure reality itself would start to unravel if that one was solved like that.”
The words strung together and flew around Twilight's head. Her eye rolled about as she instinctively tried reading them. She screwed her eyes shut as several nigh-incomprehensible phrases rolled by. “No, no no!” Twilight's horn flared as she telekinetically shoved them away.
Some of the words broke apart into their constituent letters. They landed in a heap and melted, turning a light-brown and merging together. It flowed up into the air, getting furrier as it turned into Discord. “Oh, what's the matter, Twiley?” he asked, slithering over. “I thought you liked learning!”
Twilight nickered. “I'd prefer not to go gibbering mad like a character in one of those old HP Lovecraft stories, thank you.” She looked around and rolled her eyes. “And seriously, words and equations? I'm not that bookish anymore. Try something else. Spice it up a bit!”
Discord held a paw up to his forehead. “Oh, how horrible! Twilight Sparkle has been sassy to me. How ever will I recover from her sharp rebukes?” He shot forward as Twilight started walking once more. “Hey, where are you going?” He pulled out a small Rolodex and started flipping through cards inside. “We have to have our mandated 'banter session'!”
Twilight looked around as she walked through a seemingly-endless darkness. “What's the point?” The tip of her horn brightened, driving away some of the immediate darkness. “I'm looking for my friends, and you're going to try and distract me so you can continue with your depredations. There's nothing else to really say to each other, so why bother?” She skidded to a halt as Discord flew right in front of her. “Hey, you mind?”
Discord waved her off. “Oh, of course! Let me stop in my efforts to stop you from turning me back to stone. What was I thinking?” A table and two chairs flashed into existence behind Discord. He vanished, reappearing on one of the chairs with a green visor perched around his horn. Playing cards floated up and started shuffling themselves. “Care to make a wager?”
Twilight nickered and waved Discord off. “I'd rather bet on a sure thing, like my friends. We'll stop you together.”
There was the briefest of pauses before Discord snorted, the snort quickly turning into full-blown laughter. His paw turned into a shoe and he pounded it on the table. “Oh, how rich! You're kidding, right? Them? A 'sure thing'?”
A portal opened up on Twilight's left. Images of her friends flashed inside of it, showing Rainbow Dash flying about, Applejack stumbling around Sweet Apple Acres, and Pinkie Pie hauling a cake down Mane Street, among other shots of their daily life.
Twilight watched the slideshow for a few minutes before slowly nodding. “Yup. They can be quite the hoofful, Discord. I don't exactly need you reminding me of their foibles and missteps, thank you. I already know how egotistical Rainbow Dash can be, how stubborn Applejack is. I know Pinkie can be erratic and sometimes insensitive, while Fluttershy can have bad mood swings. And yes, Rarity can be manipulative. I know all this.”
Discord leaned forward in his chair. His eyes narrowed and, for a moment, all was calm. “Wait, you know this already? T-then why are you still friends with them?”
Twilight turned her head and trotted forward. She fixed a stare on Discord. “Because I know that's not all they are. Rainbow Dash won't leave her friends hanging and would take a bullet for any of us. Applejack is dependable and steady. Pinkie wants us to laugh on the inside and smile on the outside. Fluttershy's kindness and empathy know almost no bounds. And Rarity would literally give you the shirt off her back if the need arose. Honestly, sometimes I don't know how they put with with this sarcastic, introverted, neurotic bookworm sometimes.” She shook her head. “I remember once, after Rainbow Dash and I had an argument and then made up, that friendship didn't seem all that easy. But it was worth fighting for.” She tapped her tiara, and the diadem nestled within it. “And my friends? They're very much worth fighting for.”
Discord sat there, unmoving. After a few minutes he started clapping. “What a wonderful speech, Twilight. It'd move me to tears, if I gave a damn about any of that!” He vanished in a flash of plastic, reappearing by Twilight's flank once more. He looked around, eyes extending from their sockets and turning into fleshy binoculars. “Tell me, Twilight Sparkle. Where are your friends? They don't seem to be around!” He twisted about, his body turning into a corkscrew. “Where's the 'magic of friendship' when you really need it?”
Twilight's eyes narrowed. She tapped her chest. “They're here, Discord. They're here with me in spirit, which is more than you can say about yourself. And sure as they're with me, I'm with them! We're connected, no matter how far apart we are!” She paused. “We're-wait, what did I say?”
Discord looked up from a book. “What? Oh, sorry. Just waiting on you to finish pontificating, purple pony.” He slammed the book closed. “Well?”
Twilight spun about and started pacing. “If I remember my history correctly, the Elements of Harmony were once the Rainbow of Light, back during Dream Valley.” She stopped and jabbed a hoof at Discord. “You shattered the locket containing its magic during one fight with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. They took the remnants of said necklace to the Dragon Clans, where Clan Head Spikor, formerly Spike of Dream Valley, and who would one day be King Spykoran the Old, convinced King Terronax the Fanged to aid the Princesses.”
A low, forced chuckle escaped Discord's lip. “Well, that's a fascinating little history lesson. I wouldn't expect anything less from you.”
Twilight shook her head. “I'm not done.” The tip of her horn lit up. “The magic of the rainbow was still embedded in the necklaces and tiara the Metal-Weaver Clan would forge the Rainbow's original locket into. The Rainbow of Light, split up among six separate objects–but still connected!” Twilight grinned as five beams of light shot from her horn, flying off into the darkness surrounding her. “There we go. A simple tracing spell and I'm in business!”
Discord's face fell. He quickly grabbed it and slapped it back over his skull before waving his paws frantically in the air. “No, no! T-that's not a good idea, Twilight! You don't know what you're doing!”
Twilight arched an eyebrow at him as her horn started glowing. “I seriously doubt you're concerned for my safety, so that means I'm onto something with this. You're nervous, Discord.” Her eyes crossed as she focused on her horn. One of the beams of light started flashing. “And first target is acquired.” Twilight teleported away, even as Discord reached for her.
The draconequus floated there for a few moments, alone. He tapped a claw against his front tooth. “I may have underestimated her,” he murmured. “Clever mare, there.” His eyes went back and forth, finally landing on a large clock with Discord in the middle. He slid his paw through his ear and pulled out his brain. “All right, you. Think! How can I stop her? What can I do?” Discord held his brain close to his head. “Ah, ah! Very clever!” He unscrewed his cranium and plopped his brain back in. “She won't be able to find her friends inside here if all her friends aren't in here!” He snapped his claws, teleporting away.