Mismatch opened his eyes. He flexed his ears backwards and forwards, listening for any threatening sounds. He could hear the breathing of the bear across the room and it made his feathery hackles rise. He scented the air; the pony wasn't around --not that he could do much about that at the moment. His body was still heavy with the sedative and he had no energy to move his limbs. All he could do was rely on his nose, eyes and ears to tell him what was going on in the immediate vicinity.
The pony confused him. When he had first attacked her his senses had flooded with her fear. Then he had woken up in this place and she had given him food. He no longer smelled fear on her, even when he had clawed at her. This was hard for the creature to reconcile as nearly every being he had encountered had smelt of fear. He knew the smell well; it often emanated from his own pores.
His ear's flexed forward as he heard the door latch and he emitted a low growl.
Fluttershy removed her coat and walked towards the kitchen. She could hear Mismatch's growl but recognized it as a "don't come any closer, I'm being threatening but I'm really scared" growl. She climbed up onto one the stools and stared at the wooden kitchen countertop.
She was exhausted. She wasn't entirely sure what time it was, but it had to be past 2am at least. She hadn't even made herself dinner and now she felt too tired to cook anything. She decided to have cereal when her mind was more focused. Still staring at the countertop, she tried to assess the situation as best she could: She had a large, predatory animal in her house who needed to be sedated for the forseeable future. Without sedation he was likely to hurt other beings around him out of fear or possible hunger. She also didn't yet know what kind of animal Mismatch was and she needed to find out quickly. At the moment she had Harry as muscle to protect her, but in 2 weeks or less Harry would need to hibernate, so she was running on borrowed time. Mismatch was obviously ill and suffering. His ribs were clearly visible and she still didn't know if the bump on his head was an injury or part of his strange anatomy. She needed to find out as much possible about his species so she would best know how to care for him. She decided to go to the Golden Oaks library in the morning; Twilight had a small section on magical creatures in the library. Though Fluttershy had read through some of the books eagerly, she didn't frequent the library as often as she would have liked. There were still many more she hadn't touched, and perhaps there were some in the back room that were so old Twilight kept them off display.
She felt a little better now that she had a plan. She hopped off the stool and opened the cupboard. Cereal it was, then. She poured some oat flakes into a bowl and pulled the stopper out of a coconut she needed to use up. She poured the coconut milk over her late night meal and returned to the stool. Mismatch growled at the movement and noise. He could smell her injury, even though she had been stitched up and it sent mixed messages into his head. His growl became a soft whine.
"I'm sorry, Mismatch," said Fluttershy wearily, stirring her oat flakes with a spoon. "Tomorrow I'll find out more about you then I'll do the best I can, okay?"
That was the other thing that was confusing: He didn't understand a word she was saying but her voice...felt good. Soothing. Still, he knew ponies couldn't be trusted. He growled again.
"Mismatch?" said Fluttershy.
He whined automatically, her voice making his instincts drop. Fluttershy pushed herself off the kitchen stool and slowly began to move towards the bean bag. Harry continued to snore gently on the other side of the room, oblivious to everything going on around him. The pegasus hesitated as she reached the edge of the bean bag, then she looked down at the creature. He was awake, and was looking up at her with one mismatched eye, the rest of his face pressed into the bean bag. The feathers on the upper part of his body were fluffed up. She didn't know if that was from fear or the cold as the temperature had dropped considerably outside.
He let out an almost plaintive whine and before she knew what she was doing, she reached out with her hoof and stroked his mane gently.
Mismatch stiffened, but then he heard her voice: "There, there. It's okay. Tomorrow I'm going to see my friend Twilight. She knows everything about...everything. I'll found out all about you and then we'll help you and everything will be okay and you'll be able to go back to the forest and you'll be okay."
The creature began to relax and closed his eyes in pleasure at the feel of his mane being stroked. No one had ever touched him so tenderly. In fact, he was sure no one had ever touched him. Not unless he was trying to bite them and they were fending him off.
"It will be okay..." Fluttershy was saying. Though she had handled dangerous beasts before, she wasn't naive. She knew full well she wouldn't be able to do this if he was completely lucid and off Zecora's medicine.
"It will be okay..."
Mismatch whimpered softly. He could feel the pony's head resting on his neck now as her hoof stroked his bristly mane. He sighed contentedly and soon his breathing was deep and steady.
Unlike his waking life, his dreams were deep and lucid. In them he was hunting for something, but he wasn't sure what it was. There were also ponies in the distance. They were angry and shouted things at him he couldn't understand. He ignored them. He had to find whatever it was he was searching for. He was digging. His talons and lion claws scratched the earth; down, down he went until eventually his claws scraped against something that felt smooth, like glass. He kept digging, he had to get it out whatever it was. He had to get it out before the ponies reached him. The object had angular corners and these were stuck deep in the dirt. He continued scrabbling at the thing but it wouldn't budge. The voices of the ponies were louder now and he could smell them. Panic started to coarse through his veins, but he couldn't leave. He needed to get it out.
Then they were on him, beating him with sticks, shouting, screaming. One of them was cutting at his shoulder with a knife. He tried to fight it off but he was helpless. There were too many of them and they were overpowering him. The pony cut through tendon and bone and his lion arm was removed. He opened his mouth to scream but no sound emerged; he thrashed desperately. The ponies were attaching something to his shoulder now. Amazingly he wasn't bleeding to death. He stared dumbly at the object they brought forth. It was a griffon arm, like the one on the left side of his body. A pony swung a wooden pole at Mismatch and knocked his antler off. He knew what was coming now. They brought forth a goat horn and began sewing it onto his head. They continued to beat at his body relentlessly, breaking off parts of him and his mouth was open in a wordless scream. He had to get it out.
Mismatch whimpered in his sleep.
When Fluttershy awoke the next morning the first thing she was aware of was the surface she was laying on was not the flat, comfortable surface of her bed. The second thing she became aware of was that she had an enormous paw wrapped around her barrel. Fear swept through her as she realized the position she was in. Mismatch was still asleep but if she wasn't careful she might wake him up and the surprise might prompt him to snap in self-defense when he realized how close she was.
Very, very carefully she sucked in her stomach while trying not to breathe and wriggled backwards until she was free. Mismatch's paw hit the ground with a thud.
Fluttershy froze but he continued to breathe deeply.
The pegasus sighed with relief and chided herself. It occured to her just how exhausted she must have been last night. It wasn't like her to make such a mistake. Her stitches stung in the cold morning air and she applied a fresh dressing.
It was still somewhat chilly outside so she wrapped up in her scarf and put her boots on. In the dim light of the morning, she inspected the chicken hutch and pulled out six eggs. The chickens put up a ruckus until she fed them.
She gave one of the eggs to Harry, who used a claw to crack it then took his time savouring it, and scrambled the rest for Mismatch, since that was the best way to get him to eat the sedative without suspicion. She suspected that he was still hungry enough to gulp down anything that was put in front of him without question, but that would change with time.
The smell of the eggs frying woke Mismatch up and he looked at the pony expectantly. He seemed calmer now, but she wasn't about to let her guard down yet. The eggs were pushed across the room with the broom handle once more, and she watched as Mismatch greedily devoured them, licking the bowl clean. She really didn't want him to be on sedatives much longer, which was one of the main reasons she needed to see Twilight today.
Once Mismatch was asleep once more, Harry and her headed out the door; the bear to continue his pre-hiberation foraging and the pegasus to the Golden Oaks library.
Twilight was snout deep in a book about transformation magic when she heard the knock on the door.
"I'll get it!" yelled Spike eagerly. He pulled the door open to reveal a flustered Fluttershy with a windblown mane.
"Fluttershy! It's good to see you!" The dragon looked over her shoulder. "Is Rarity with you?"
Fluttershy smiled. "Not this time, Spike."
Twilight abandoned her book temporarily and walked over to give Fluttershy a hug. "Want some tea?"
"Yes please," replied the pegasus, "But I can't stay too long. I'm mainly here to do some research on an animal that came into my care last night."
"What kind of animal?"
"That's what I need to find out. I've never seen anything like it before!"
"Oh?" Twilight pit on the kettle to boil while Spike fetched the tea crockery.
"It's huge, and it's a chimera, but I've never seen a chimera like this!" She described Mismatch's physical features to the unicorn.
"That doesn't ring any bells," said Twilight, "but you're more than welcome to look through the section on magical creatures."
"Thank you," said Fluttershy. "That's the other thing. He's really sick. When I found him he was starving and..."
She trailed off as she noticed Twilight was staring at her shoulder. Somehow on the way her dressing had fallen off and the recent stitches she'd had were on full display.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Um...yes. But he was scared. That's why he's now on sedatives until I figure out what to do."
Twilight backed off. Fluttershy knew much more about beast than she did, and while she did worry about the welfare of her friend, she didn't want to patronize her about something that was her field. Besides, Fluttershy was in front of her right now, sipping lemon tea and she clearly hadn't been eaten.
"Did you say the creature was part dragon?" asked Spike as he spooned some sugar into his tea.
"I think so. He looks kind of like an Eastern dragon but he's definitely not one. That much is obvious when you see his face, and the huge paw."
"Can I meet him?"
"Not yet, Spike," said Twilight. "First we have to figure out what he is and whether it's safe."
"My entire life is a series of denials!" moaned Spike.
Fluttershy snorted a little then hugged the little dragon. "I promise you'll get to meet Mismatch eventually," she said. "We just need more information on his species."
"Right," said Twilight, and she moved across the room and started pulling books off the shelves. She always got excited when one of her friends asked for recommendations. "You'll want to start with Vunkerhoof's Chimerical Creatures of Eastern Equestria and Whinnifred'sHybridization and Magic. Animals through the Ages by Cudlington is worth looking at too! Oh, and don't forget Scamander's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!"
Hours later Fluttershy sat at one of the library tables surrounded by books, some of which she already owned but had taken without mention to be polite since Twilight seemed so eager to help.
Fluttershy had looked frantically through the ones that were unfamiliar to her, but could see nothing resembling Mismatch's form. The closest things were Eastern dragons and though some of them had antlers, they were clearly not chimeras. She sighed deeply. She had already spent more time here than she had wanted to. She was about to ask Twilight whether she could borrow the remainder of the books and finish going through them at home, when she turned the page and read the very top line:
See: Equestria's Past Volume XIII by Hoofsteader. Pages 84-235.
Next to it was an image. The illustration was a black and white woodcut of a long-bodied beast with a beard, an antler and a horn. The rest of the illustration wasn't terribly detailed; the creature's body looked draconic rather than an amalgamation of various animal parts, but Fluttershy immediately asked Twilight for the history section.
"Oh, those are kept in the rare books room because some of them are pretty old and delicate," said the unicorn. She pushed the door to the rare books room open and the smell of old paper filled Fluttershy's nostrils. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she made out tomes of varying size; some were enormous, some were bound in vegetable leather so old it was flaking. In the middle of the room was a table on which sat a map of Equestria so old even Twilight was struggling to work out some of the more archaic place names so she could match them up with their modern counterparts.
"What's the title of the book you're looking for?" asked Twilight.
"Oh, um...here." Fluttershy pointed to the reference in Magical Creatures with her hoof.
"Oh, those aren't such an old set of books," said Twilight. "What are they doing in here?"
"There wasn't room in the main library when I arranged them," explained Spike.
"How many volumes of Equestria's Past are there?" enquired Fluttershy.
Spike let out a groan. "Too many," he said, placing his claw on the small of his back to illustrate his point. "Anyway, they're over here." He ran towards a darker corner of the room and began looking for the volume number. There were actually forty-two volumes, an appendix and an index. Spike spent about ten minutes looking at the titles printed on the book spines and even dragged out the index twice to flip through it.
"Well...?" said Twilight a little impatiently.
"Uh...I don't see it."
Twilight felt a pang in her chest at the idea of a missing book. "Are you sure? Look again!"
"I've looked! It's not here. Volume XIII, right? Fluttershy, can I see the reference again?"
The next hour was spent checking both the regular library shelves and those in the historical books room for the volume, but to no avail. Fluttershy was beginning to worry that she had spent too much time away from the cottage.
"We'll find it," Twilight was saying, her mane now dusty and dishevelled from looking and behind shelves in the dark room. "It's got to be here somewhere."
"Um...actually, I could come back," said the pegasus.
"Oh, I'm sure its here," Twilight laughed a little too hard.
"Twilight..." said Spike.
"Maybe I'll look behind here again..."
"Huh?" The unicorn's head peered out from behind a stack.
"I was just thinking," said the dragon. "Maybe we could ask Celestia if there's a copy of the book we can have on loan from Canterlot central library."
"An excellent idea, Spike!" said Twilight, visibly relaxing. The dragon puffed up his chest with pride and produced a quill and parchment from his pouch.
Twilight began to dictate: "Dear Princess Celestia..."
When the letter was finished, Twilight used a copy spell to attach the illustration and reference from Magical Creatures to the message. A facsimilie of the black and white woodcut appeared at the bottom of the parchment along with the page number.
"I...I'm sorry to be rude, but I really need to get going now," said Fluttershy. "I'm worried I've left Mismatch on his own for too long. He might be hungry." This wasn't the entire truth. It was true that he might be hungry, but he might also be destroying her house or he might have found the chicken coop. Guilt gnawed at her. She had spent far too long in the library.
"We'll let you know when the book arrives!" said Spike. "And you aren' being rude, right Twilight?"
"You're the least rude pony I know, Fluttershy," laughed Twilight. The pegasus smiled a little.
"Thank you so much, both of you for all your help." At least now she was one step closer to finding out more about the chimera.
"No problemo!" said Twilight. "If you ever need more info on the history of Equestria I'd be more than happy to help. I could talk about it for hours."
"Days..." muttered Spike.
Fluttershy began packing her notes into her saddlebag before Twilight decided she might start doing that anyway. "Thank you for the tea...and the help, once again. But I really do need to go."
"Anytime!" said Twilight. Fluttershy smiled once more and hurried out the door, already half-flying half-walking at a brisk trot.
Fluttershy was gone for 15 minutes before Spike blew out the first message:
My Dear Student,
May I ask why you are enquiring after that particular volume?
The unicorn was surprised. Her mentor had never asked her why she needed to borrow a particular title. She assumed it might be because Celestia was interested in how far along in her studies she was, and dictated her reply to Spike:
Dear Princess Celestia,
Fluttershy came by today. She found a creature in the woods that may match the description in that book. She needs to know more about it in order to care for it properly.
Your Faithful Student,
Spike burped green flame two minutes later:
I need to speak to you, Fluttershy and the others immediately. Please come to Canterlot quickly.
Mismatch rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. He sniffed the air reluctantly. No bear, no pony. Good. He relaxed a little. After a few minutes of trying to get comfortable he gave up and rolled his cylindrical form off the bean bag and onto the floor. He still felt weak, but his snake-like body held certain advantages when it came to moving across a wooden surface. He half-slithered, half-dragged himself towards the kitchem, his nose guiding him there, and he soon found the food cupboard. Most of it was stuff that wasn't terribly palatable to someone with his particular set of teeth, but he did manage to devour a small wheel of cheese and a bag of nuts. Oh, sweet bliss. He knocked over a bag of flour and nosed through some oats. The grains and powdery substance stuck to his muzzle and feathers but he didn't care. He was so hungry. He was always hungry, but the past few months had been especially bad, until the pony had found him and fed him.
He froze and sniffed the air, looking furtively over his shoulder. She wasn't here, but she would be back soon. And then what? She had given him food, but why? Another thought occured to him and chilled his blood. What if she came back with stallions? Stallions were of greater threat to him than mares. He had learnt the hard way that not only were they physically stronger, but they seemed to carry a further streak of protectiveness (disregarding the caveat of a very angry mare protecting her foal.) With this urge to protect also came the urge to hurt or even try to kill the creature.
No, he couldn't take that risk. Now that his stomach was full again he could walk around on all fours instead of his belly. He felt less groggy.
He nosed open the latch and to his relief it swung wide open. Very few ponies put padlocks on their doors in modern-day Ponyville.
It was cold outside, but Mismatch resisted the urge to crawl back into the house. Better to be uncomfortable than potentially dead hours later. He started following the path across the bridge.
As soon as Fluttershy saw the open door and flour and oats scattered across the kitchen floor she knew what had happened. She became fearful for Mismatch instantly. She knew he wasn't well enough to go back into the forest yet. She had no idea if he was completely lacking in the interal injuries department, and he was definitely lacking when it came to nutrition. Luckily Mismatch partaking of the fruits of her pantry had covered him in enough flour to leave a trail, which she immediately began following.
She wandered for half an hour, where the trail abruptly disappeared into a wooded area. The sun was sinking below the horizon and Fluttershy began to wonder if she should be out alone looking for an eight foot long chimerical beast with sharp teeth. Despite this, she couldn't shake the feelings of concern for his well being. Yes, he was a predator, but so were lots of animals that she had cared for.
"Mismatch!" she called. He was unlikely to respond to a name she had only just given him, but she felt unsure of what else to do. She certainly couldn't wander into the woods after dark. She hadn't even brought a light with her. The idea that she had failed a creature in need brought tears to her large eyes.
While Fluttershy could not see in the dark, Mismatch, like most predators had been gifted with nocturnal vision. He watched the pony from the bushes, considering what to do. He had dragged himself overground for about an hour, but had felt the pain in his back, head and ribs returning and dragged himself into the bushes. On top of that, the open trail had smelt too heavily of pony for his liking. The urge to rub his head along the ground was stronger than ever and he had done so, dead leaves tangling in his mane and antler. Now the pony was no more than ten feet away from him and couldn't see him, but he could clearly see her. There were no stallions with her as he had expected. She was alone and vulnerable, like she had been in the woods a few days ago when he was stalking her, only this time there was no bear. If he had a bit more strength he might have been able to pounce and then it would be finished. Except this time it would be self-defense, not hunger that drove him.
"Mismatch!" she called out again. Then she began to cry. He could smell the salt of her tears and managed to stifle a growl.
Then she turned and began walking back up the path. Fluttershy wiped the tears from her cheeks. It was too dark. She would have to attempt a search for him tomorrow. Maybe she could get Harry to help her.
Mismatch waited. He didn't relax his guard until he could no longer smell pony. He sat in the undergrowth fidgeting. It was cold, and his bones ached even more with each passing minute. An owl hooted and his ears flexed at the sound. He thought of the warm fireplace back at the pony's cottage and his stomach growled at the thought of the place. With a deep sigh, he got up and began to follow the pony's trail.
Fluttershy was about a quarter of a mile away from her cottage when she noticed the light was on.
I don't remember leaving it on she thought. She was about to quicken her pace when she heard a twig snap. The fur on the back of her neck stood on end and she swung round to see Mismatch's snout inches from hers. A yelp died in her throat as she realized in time that any sudden sound or movement might set off his instinctive drive to pounce. His eyes glowed yellow in the dark as he sniffed at her. Fluttershy bit her lip and stood as still as a statue. His nose quivered over her mane and face as he tried to take in her smell. He still didn't know if she was to be trusted. Fluttershy began to relax as she realized he was scenting her with curiousity rather than because he was sizing her up as his next meal. The more she relaxed the more he relaxed. "I'm glad you're okay," she said softly.
Mismatch moved forwards suddenly, surprising the pegasus, but he only rubbed his head against her shoulder. She was reminded of the way lionesses greeted each other from pictures she'd seen in books. Very, very carefully, Fluttershy ran her hoof along his mane. The fur of his neck was matted, but there were still some patches that were silky. Mismatch made a chuffing sound.
"I bet you're hungry," said Fluttershy. "Let's see what we can do."
"Fluttershy!" Mismatch bolted instantly at the sound of her name being called.
"Wait!" cried the pegasus, but she couldn't see anything in the inky blackness. The light of the cottage was calling her home, as was the sound of her friend Rainbow Dash. She weighed up her options. Mismatch had followed her back here, so it was likely he would stick around. Rainbow Dash might be worried about her. She headed up the hill and over the bridge, occassionally looking over her shoulder hopefully.
"Fluttershy!" cried Rainbow Dash, once she was in view. "Celestia wants us in Canterlot!"
"Now?" asked the pegasus.
"Yes, like right now. It's super urgent. Twilight sent me to get you."
"Okay, I'll be two seconds," said the pegasus, and she ran downstairs, took some salted fish out the barrel, covered it with Zecora's potion and left it in the hallway. She left the cottage door wide open.
"I know enough by now not to ask you why," said Dash.
Hours later a much exhausted Fluttershy and her friends stood outside Celestia's throne room.
"What do you think it is this time?" asked Rainbow Dash excitedly. "A sea monster? A warlock?" She punched the air with her hooves. Fluttershy wondered where her friend managed to store all that energy, and wished she could borrow some. Her legs felt wobbly and she still felt distraught that Mismatch might still be alone in the woods. She had left an animal that needed her care on its own for far too long and it had managed to get itself lost.
"Whatever it is must be urgent," said Rarity and Fluttershy noticed the unicorn had a roller still attached to her otherwise perfectly coiffered mane.
What was so urgent? Whatever it was she wasn't looking forward to it.
She looked up at the sound of the heavy doors opening and a guard said "Princess Celestia will see you now."
They entered the throne room with its high ceilings and ornate glass windows. Celestia was not at her throne. Rather, she was pacing up and down.
"We came as quickly as we could Princess Celestia," said Twilight. "What's our mission?"
The alicorn looked down at her student. Twilight mused that she looked as tired as they all did, something she wasn't used to seeing in her mentor.
"Hopefully there won't need to be one," said the alicorn. "I've called you all here because of a letter you and Fluttershy sent me earlier this afternoon."
Twilight wondered if she had done something wrong by asking for the book. "I...I only asked for the book because we didn't have it in the library, Princess. If I had known I wasn't supposed to..."
Celestia smiled softly. "It's nothing like that, Twilight. There are parts of Equestria's past that I had hoped I wouldn't have to talk about, but if what has transpired is what I think it is, then I fear I must to keep my subjects safe. However, I will kindly ask that you all give me your word that what I am about to tell you does not leave these walls."
"Of course, Princess," said Rarity. The others nodded.
"Very well. Only a few copies of that particular volume of Equestria's Past exist because...well...I had them recalled. The later editions are missing that particular chapter anyway."
Twilight was shocked. It wasn't at all like her mentor to hide knowledge away. In fact. Celestia had been quite vocal about the fact that ponies in the past who destroyed access to knowledge often destroyed their way of life soon after.
"It is not what you think. I...I feared that seeing that particular part of my history would cause pain and anguish. Talking about it is hard..."
Twilight felt even more confused. Her history? There were things about Princess Celestia in that book? Clearly things she didn't want others to know about.
"We're here to listen without judgement, Princess," said Applejack.
The alicorn sighed and said "follow me." She led the ponies through a double door into a long corridor lined with more stained glass windows. Twilight didn't think she had seen this part of Canterlot castle before. Celestia hurried down the corridor, until she reached midway, then inclined her head upwards towards the stained glass window. "Is this him, Fluttershy?"
The pegasus felt her heart stop. The window depicted a harrowing scene: Ponies trying to hide from flames, ponies crying as the structures of their homes collapsed and flew into the air, ponies postrate and begging. And in the centre, as if it was dancing, was the creature she had been face to face with hours before, antler, goat horn and all.
"Yes," she squeaked. For a fraction of a second she could have sworn she saw a flash of fear in the alicorn's eyes, but it was quickly gone and Fluttershy wondered if she had imagined it. "What is he, Princess?"
The alicorn closed her eyes, and began her tale:
"This is Discord, the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, a creature known as a draconequus. Before Princess Luna and I took the throne, he was ruler of Equestria and it was a place of deep unrest. Discord did not allow any laws to exist. No groups could be organized and therefore there was no way to fight back against him."
"What do you mean by no groups could be organized?" asked Rainbow Dash. "Couldn't you kick his flank with magic?"
"Discord was a very powerful mage. Perhaps one of the most powerful to ever exist, I do not know for sure. His form of magic is raw and closer to nature than what we ponies can harness. He feeds off negative energy and he may be one of the oldest beings in existence, if indeed it is him who is still alive."
"I don't understand," said Twilight. "How did you become rulers of Equestria if he was unstoppable?"
"I'm getting to that. Shortly before mine and Luna's mutual rule, we discovered the Crystal Empire. Back then it wasn't the bustling and successful kingdom it is now. It was little more than a mining village, and of course the ponies there were mining for crystals. For whatever reason Discord hadn't turned his attention to this part of Equestria, perhaps because they weren't as aware as we were what was happening in the East. I imagine they probably heard whisperings, but if they had known the full extent of the pain Discord's reign wrought I imagine they either would have fled or tried to take to arms. Luckily they did neither, and their village was devoted to mining and cataloguing gems and crystals. I only later found out the true reason Discord stayed away from this hamlet. It was a place within the earth that was counter to what he needed to harness and control his magic. In short, the crystals weakened him."
"It was his kryptonite!" exclaimed Pinkie.
"His what?" said everyone.
"His kryptonite! You know, that one thing everything has that makes them weak. Like an achilles hoof?"
Twilight shook her head but resolved to look up the word "kryptonite" later in the dictionary.
Celestia continued: "Once we learnt of this my sister and I were able to formulate a plan. Word slowly trickled out of the hamlet by letter. Ponies were told to come one at a time and not too close together to avoid suspicion, and eventually, we amassed an army but we knew that in order to use a crystal on Discord the group we had to send it would be relatively small and scattered. The plan was not to kill him, but to immobilize him until we could figure out what to do next.I do not know what happened other than what was relayed to me by a pony called Commmodore. I heard that Discord had been shot in the head and killed. I was angry, but Commodore explained to me that it was an accident."
"There's something in his head," said Fluttershy. "I felt it. Something under the skin." Any lingering doubts Celestia had about Discord's identity vanished with that statement. "It's him," she said, her voice nearly breaking.
"What should we do, Princess?"
The alicorn composed herself then said, "Luna and I learnt that the Crystal Empire and the Tree of Harmony are connected and each has the power to immobilize the draconequus."
Fluttershy felt sick. "Princess Celestia...um...Mis...I mean, Discord is meant to be a magical creature from what you've told me, but he's never used magic."
"The crystal has stopped him from doing so."
"Yes, but I think it's stopped other things too. When I found him he was starving and I found it hard to communicate with him."
"Has he spoken with you?"
Fluttershy looked up sharply. She had simply meant communicate with tone of voice and body language. "He can speak?"
"Discord was a powerful mage, not just a magical beast. He could speak many tongues. Oh, he is a sapient being Fluttershy, and a dangerous one."
"He's not well," said the pegasus. "The crystal is hurting him." She thought of the way he had walked on all fours at all times and looked up at the window where he was depicted dancing on his hind legs.
Celestia nodded. "This is advantageous to us if he is indeed in a position where he is not able to use his powers, however, I do not wish for him to stay this way."
Rainbow Dash looked alarmed. "Why? If he gets better surely he'll attack Equestria again!"
"This is the part I did not wish to tell you, little ponies. Discord was once someone very dear to me, and to Luna. I will not go into detail at this point. I do not think I have the strength to tell you everything this evening, but I promise more will be known. For the moment, I am leaving him under the protection of Fluttershy and you will all need to be prepared to use the Elements to immobilize him if he regains his powers and decides to use them for ill."
"Me?!" squeaked Fluttershy. She had been able to cope with the idea of letting a predator with a set of sharp fangs into her home, but now she was terrified.
Celestia lifted up Fluttershy's chin with her hoof. "Fluttershy, I wish to extend the hoof of friendship to Discord. I am unable to do so myself because there is so much strife in our history he will be unlikely to trust me. However, I am also not about to let any of you get hurt, which is why you must also wield the Elements. If at any point you feel unsafe, use them. Discord will not be able to fight back."
"But...why, Princess?" asked Applejack.
"I have use of Discord's magic for good instead of evil, but I also believe every being deserves a chance at friendship." Her voice was beginning to crack again. "We will need to remove the crystal from his head. I imagine he will also need to be checked over in a hospital."
"Seth," whispered Rarity. Fluttershy felt her face go hot.
"Pardon me?" asked Celestia.
"Fluttershy...da...Fluttershy knows someone who works at the local hospital. We should be able to sneak Discord in there."
"Is he trustworthy?" asked Celestia.
"Yes," said Fluttershy, her face still red. She wasn't about to tell Celestia that this wasn't an idea she was entirely keen on. She was sure Celestia had better things to worry about than boyfriend troubles. She was sure someone as beautiful and regal as the alicorn of the sun never had any trouble with matters of the heart and she could love and be loved without guilt by any stallion.
"Excellent. Then if it is at all possible, he needs a health check and he needs the crystal removed. I will write out a letter with the royal seal if you run into any problems. But apart from Seth, I would rather that as few ponies as possible know about Discord's existence and none at all know about his history."
"Thank you for coming, my little ponies. I would join you if I could, but I fear my presence might disturb Discord greatly..."
Fluttershy was lost deep in thought on the train ride back home. She no longer felt sleepy. On the contrary she was wide awake and her heart thud rapidly in her chest. Apart from Twilight, whose expression matched hers, the others were asleep.
"What else do you think Celestia isn't telling us?" whispered Fluttershy so she wouldn't wake the others.
"Best not to speculate," said Twilight. The pegasus nodded.
It was nearly morning when Fluttershy returned home. She walked up the bridge cautiously, Celestia's story still fresh in her mind. She had to remind herself that Discord was currently in a state that rendered his magic and even to some extent his intelligence useless.
When she reached the door her heart was pounding in her chest, but she let out a sigh of relief as she found Discord curled up on the bean bag. The fish were gone. The plan had worked. She quickly prepared a second meal for when he woke up. Tonight they would take him to the hospital.
Fluttershy nervously played with her mane in the hospital waiting room. She eyed the magazines on the coffee table in front of her. They were all about fashion and celebrities, neither of which interested her. Couldn't hospital waiting rooms ever have magazines about wildlife?
"You wanted to see me Fluttershy."
She looked up, startled, at her ex boyfriend. "Um...yes," she said, trying not to feel guilty for what felt like the umpteenth time about asking him for something when she had broken up with him. "But it's best if we talk about it in private." She had brought the letter with the royal seal on it with her.
Seth agreed to help almost instantly, as she knew he would.
Stop feeling guilty her inner voice growled at herself. If you didn't have a contact at the hospital this would be so much harder for Misma...this would be so much harder for Discord.
That was true. Where else would they have found a pony with medical training who was good at removal and sutures who could be trusted to keep quiet about the fact that there was a huge animal being seen in a hospital for ponies? The others were in the waiting room with her, all wearing their elements and looking furtive.
Hours later in the operating theatre, the hard, cruel-looking crystal fell with a clang into a metal bowl, its opaque red form stained brown with old blood. Discord's wound had been cleaned and stitched up and he slept, full of painkillers, and for the first time in centuries, void of any nightmares.