The next morning Fluttershy checked the mail box before making breakfast. The only thing inside it was a single, white envelope with a royal seal on it.
She opened the envelope carefully and began to read the letter. It detailed everything Zecora had told her about Discord's memories, including her discovery of the mount. Fluttershy absorbed the words breathlessly. At the bottom of the letter, Celestia. had written:
Discord must regain his memories without you telling him of this. Zecora was right to not lay out everything for him in second person. It is imperative that we do not plant any false memories, however, it is also imperative that when he regains them, that you are there to talk to him and explain what really happened to him. I am sure it will come as a shock to him, but I have every faith in you, Fluttershy.
She took a deep breath, folded the letter up and tucked it under her wing. She wasn't sure about the Princess having 'every faith in her' but she knew she couldn't let her down. She couldn't let Discord down. She would need to sit him down and explain everything carefully to him, and he would likely find parts of it painful, but she would help him through it.
She found Discord in the kitchen, reaching into a bag and pulling out tiny clocks, which he promptly chomped down on and chewed. Fluttershy could hear the sound of tiny springs and cogs coming undone. She didn't bother to ask him why he was eating clocks. She was used to his idiosyncrasies by now.
He looked up at her and grinned, a piece of spring sticking out from between his teeth.
He was utterly ridiculous, but she had come to realize she liked ridiculous. She thought of last night and the glowing lights floating in the water.
It doesn't have to be logical. It only has to be.
“Hey, Shy?” he said, breaking her from her reverie. “What was with that thing Pinkie was talking about yesterday? The Elements of Harmony?”
She tried not to squirm. Once again this was a subject she had to be careful with. Though she and her friends represented the Elements, the actual physical gems were a threat to Discord, and he didn't realize that. On the other hand, she was becoming more and more positive that they would never have to use them against him. She definitely didn't want to use them against him.
“Well...” she began. Each of us represents an Element. For example, as you found out yesterday Pinkie represents the Element of Laughter. I'm the Element of Kindness, Rarity is the Element of Generosity, Rainbow is the Element of Loyalty and Applejack is the Element of Honesty.”
“I bet I could get her to cheat at cards,” said Discord, who was pretty sure that honesty had never been one of his strong points. He also wasn't sure if he had ever really been loyal towards anybody. And he squirmed as he thought of how unkind he had been to others in his nightmares. Fluttershy epitomised everything he was not. He tried not to think about it.
“What about Sparky?” he asked.
“Her Element is Magic,” said the pegasus.
“Magic?” exclaimed the draconequus, his tail standing straight up towards the ceiling. Even the fluffy tip stood upright. “You mean to tell me that she is meant to epitomize something as powerful as that?”
“Yes. She's incredibly, unbelievably smart. She was top of her class at the School of Gifted Unicorns. She graduated with Royal honours, and managed to hatch a dragon egg when she was only eight years old. That's Spike, by the way.”
“Hmm,” said the draconequus. Perhaps he had underestimated the unicorn. A being that represented magic of all things was not something to be taken lightly. His thoughts quickly turned back to Fluttershy.
“So you're the Element of Kindness,” he said. “Are you sure you're not the Element of Weird Chicks that Walk Around with Huge Spiders in their Hair?”
She giggled. “That's Mr Fuzzy-Legs.'Weird Chick'”?
“You should know by now that I mean that in the nicest possible way. I enjoy weird. Things that aren't weird are usually mind-numbingly dull. Been there, seen that. Weird is far more interesting. It's surprising.” Fluttershy had never thought of herself as interesting and surprising before, and she was surprised that the Spirit of Chaos had just described her that way. Was he surprised that she was his friend? That she liked being his friend?
“A penny for your thoughts?” said the draconequus.
She looked up, her face red. She had been thinking about last night again and the way the sea had sparkled, and the way she had happily leant against him.
What is wrong with you, Fluttershy? You know you can't get involved with him. He doesn't even have all of his memories back.
“Thank you for last night,” she said, simply.
“You're very welcome,” he purred, and she noticed he was looking at her intently again.
“I—better go and check on the chickens,” she squeaked, using the first excuse that came to her head. Discord nodded nonchalantly, tilted his head back and threw a clock into his mouth.
When Fluttershy reached the chicken hutch, she went through the usual motions of searching for eggs, but she knew she wasn't really paying attention to what she was doing. Her mind was on Discord. She felt guilty. It was like the situation with Seth, except she was actuallyattracted to Discord.
“Horse feathers,” she muttered. She was going to have to get over it. Yes, Discord was an adult but he was a vulnerable one, surely. Except he didn't seem that vulnerable...he was very powerful and intelligent, and funny...and for goodness sakes, girl, get a hold of yourself! You're like a daydreaming teenage filly with a crush!
She sighed and began carrying the eggs back to the house.
It wasn't hard for Carmarella and Ox to disguise themselves as doctors. Carmarella found it almost laughable. Storage cupboards with surgical scrubs, gloves and face masks were left unlocked throughout the hospital, and she even found an abandoned trolley. She pushed it down the hallway, trying to look busy as other medical personnel walked past her. Some nodded to her as if they knew her.
Idiots she thought. Now came the hard part. She needed to find out where the crystal was kept. It occurred to her that it might not even be at the hospital. Perhaps it had even been disposed of, but if she didn't at least look for it then she definitely wouldn't get her money. Her mouth watered as she thought of the amount she stood to gain.
She began searching in the most obvious section—neurology. If there was a place where foreign objects were removed from patients it would surely be here. She continued checking cupboards. The trolley was the perfect cover for this. It just looked like she was searching for more bandages or syringes instead of trying to find the thing that had once brought the Chaos King to his knees.
She moved down the hallway, systematically checking every door and cupboard. She knew walking into the operating theatre was too risky. If she was to check in there it would have to be when she was certain no doctors were around, and there was probably a lot of security around there as well. She decided that would be plan B. She knew Ox was checking the other side of the hospital. It was unlikely the object would be kept there but she wanted to cover all bases on the off chance it was.
She moved through another set of double doors, nodding to a pair of nurses who smiled at her. She turned the corner and was alone again. There were more storage facilities further on, and she moved to search them.
Halfway down the hallway her head turned to the right and she noticed a glass window that looked into what looked like laboratory space. On the shelves sat anatomical models of different sections of the brain. Carmarella realized she was looking at a teaching area. She peered through the window to make sure no one was inside the laboratory and gently pushed the door open. She left the trolley outside.
There were plenty of cupboards to look through here; under the sinks, the counters, even on the walls, but they yielded nothing of interest. There were mostly surgical instruments, lab coats and notebooks. Then she turned and looked to her left, and spotted a glass cupboard filled with jars of liquid.
Upon closer inspection (and smell) she realized the jars held formaldehyde and alcohol, and within them floated objects of various shapes and sizes. There was a rusty looking nail, a piece of wire, even a knife. The reason for the alcohol was a grisly one. Some of the objects still had flesh attached to them. They were specimens for students to study. After going through the top shelf, and moving jars aside to reveal ones behind them, she moved to the next one.
It didn't take her long. Only four jars in and she found it. It was red, and looked sharp and menacing. She grabbed the jar and left the room.
She moved through the hospital with the jar secreted within a batch of paper towels as she pushed the trolley down the hallway and whistled merrily.
The first signs of Autumn were beginning to make themselves known. Leaves were reddening and dropping, and Harry was ardently snuffling through them in search of tasty grubs, fungus and truffles. It had been almost a year since Fluttershy had found Discord in the woods. It was late in the afternoon and some birds were already beginning to choose their roosting spots.
Harry spotted Fluttershy walking up the path with her basket. “Hello!” she told the bear and nuzzled his face. “I was wondering if you'd mind if I joined you? Stuffed mushrooms for dinner would be lovely.”
Harry nodded but made a confused sound.
“Oh, Discord? He's at home. I told him I just needed a walk on my own to clear my head. I may as well make the most of the time and find something to eat.”
The bear chuffed and returned his attentions to the leaf litter. Fluttershy began searching too, by crouching down and moving the leaves aside with her hooves. After a while, she sighed.
“But the truth is, Harry,” she said softly. “That's not the only reason I'm out here. I—I needed some time alone, to think.”
A quizzical sound came from the bear, but he did not abandon his hunt for tasty treats.
“It's Discord,” said the pegasus. “He's...he's. I don't know what he is. But he's been occupying my thoughts a lot lately, and that isn't right of me. It isn't proper. He's supposed to be in my care. I feel like a weak person for...thinking of him as something more. I'm supposed to be responsible for him. Princess Celestia would be disappointed in me if I messed things up. It's so confusing, Harry.”
The bear slobbered greedily as he found and devoured a patch of bolete mushrooms.
“So I guess I'm out here because I feel guilty. I feel guilty for being weak. I've always been weak. I'm scared of so many things.” She sat down and drew her knees up, resting her head on them.
This time the bear nuzzled her face affectionately.
Sokolsky flung the door open as soon as he heard the knocking.
“We got it!” hissed Carmarella excitedly.
“Quick, get inside,” said Sokolsky. The pair of trappers followed him inside and he looked furtively around outside before closing the door. “Well...where is it?”
“Hang on, I want to see our money first,” said the mare.
“Fine,” said Sokolsky. “You can see it but you don't get it until I see the damn thing.”
Snare made his way over to a locked drawer and pulled out a leather satchel. He placed it on his desk, undid the buckles and opened it for the trappers.
Carmarella's eyes nearly popped out of her head at the amount.
“Remember, you get triple the amount if you capture the draconequus for me. Now, where is the crystal?”
“Right here,” said Carmarella. She could hardly contain her excitement at the sight of the money. She pulled the jar out of her saddlebag and held it up the light, and Sokolsky could see the ruby-coloured mineral glinting and floating.
“Amazing,” said the stallion in an awestruck voice. He took the jar from Carmarella and placed it on his desk, then he carefully opened the seal. The smell of alcohol filled the room. Sokolsky poured the liquid into a bowl and carefully cleaned the crystal off with a cloth. Next he wrapped it in a dry cloth, and before Carmarella could protest, he brought a hammer down on it, hard. The sound of glass shattering filled the room.
“Mr. Snare, no!! What are you doing?” she screamed.
He unfolded the cloth to reveal the smashed bits of crystal.
“Relax. You are still getting your money,” he said, and he handed over the satchel. “But we're going to catch this creature, and we need more than one chance at doing so.”
“I still don't see how we're going to get away with this.”
“Simple. We make it justifiable,” said Sokolsky. He didn't care how they did it, as long as they caught him. Then he could get all the information he needed, and it didn't matter what the trappers decided to do with him afterwards. They could make him into a pelt for all he cared, the way the thing should have been centuries ago. “Plus I have another task for you. How are you at presentations?”
It was beginning to get dark when Fluttershy returned to the house with a basket full of chanterelle mushrooms. The light was on in the cottage, but she was surprised to see a pony shape moving outside by the door.
“Who is that she called?”
“Fluttershy!” said Rarity. “I was about to knock on the door. I didn't know you weren't home.”
“Well I am now. What's up?”
“Mayor Mare has called an emergency meeting at the town hall,” said the unicorn breathlessly.
“An emergency? What about?”
“She didn't say. She just said it was very important that all ponies attend if they could.”
“Oh my. We better tell Discord.”
The two mares pushed the door to the cottage open. “Discord, there's an emergency meeting at the town hall. All ponies need to attend.”
The draconequus made a face. “Must I, Fluttershy? Meetings are so boring. What is it about?”
“We don't know,” said Rarity.
“Well that doesn't really make me any more excited,” said the draconequus. “For all I know they could be discussing tax brackets.”
“Well, Rarity and I are going. I just thought I'd give you the option.”
“Nah. Besides, it said all ponies need to attend. It didn't mention anything about draconequui.”
“I'm pretty sure they meant all citizens of Equestria, Discord, but if you don't want to go then of course you can stay at home.”
He felt disappointed that Fluttershy was going out again when she had just gotten home, but he didn't want to try and persuade her to stay with another pony present. “I'll stay here and read,” he said.
“If—if you're sure,” said the pegasus. She grabbed her coat. Now that it was evening the air was much cooler.
“We better get going, darling,” said Rarity. The meeting's in less than half an hour.
The town hall was buzzing with conversation. It seemed no one knew why the meeting had been called or what kind of emergency was going to be announced. Some ponies were even skeptical that it even was an 'emergency' meeting.
Fluttershy and Rarity spotted the others sitting near the front.
“We're here,” said Rarity.
“What's going on, girls?” asked Fluttershy.
“No idea,” said Applejack. “It can't be that much of an emergency though. It if was then surely Princess Celestia would have contacted us.”
“Maybe a water main burst or something,” said Rainbow Dash.
“That's a mighty weird thing to call a town meeting for,” said Applejack. Surely the mayor would have contacted the council's maintenance department instead?”
Suddenly there was a hush over the crowd as Mayor Mare took the podium. “Ladies and Gentlecolts,” she said in her authoritative voice, “Thank you all for coming. I have called you here as some respected citizens of Equestria have called attention to something which I feel may be a threat.”
Fearful murmurings spread among the crowd.
“Do not panic!” called out the Mayor. “It is imperative that we deal with this in a calm and orderly fashion. I do not wish for this to become a witch hunt. This presentation is for your safety. As for the problem, my council and I will discuss what needs to be done, but we need to be on our guard.”
“Sounds pretty important,” whispered Fluttershy.
“Now, without further ado, here is the local gamekeeper, Sokolsky Snare to give the presentation.”
Fluttershy looked up. The meeting had to be about the hunters! Snare must have caught them! She began to relax slightly.
Sokolsky took the stage. “Good evening, Ladies and Gentlecolts,” he said. “And thank you to my two colleagues for setting up the slides for this presentation. Mayor Mare is correct. The reason I am here is that you all need to be aware and informed of a threat right here in Ponyville.
There were more murmurings and in the back row a foal began to cry loudly.
Snare clicked onto the first slide on the projection screen. It showed a photo of the Everfree forest.
“About a year ago trappers in these woods identified a threat to the safety of ponykind. It's well known that most dangerous animals stay in the Everfree and don't come down to Ponyville. Indeed, a lot of animals that are considered dangerous aren't even a threat especially to ponies. However, once in a while...”
Fluttershy was beginning to feel a knot growing in her stomach.
Sokolsky looked out into the audience, who were now rapt and silent.
“I must warn those you with a sensitive disposition, or those of you with foals that the next slide contains disturbing imagery,” he continued. “I would advise you to cover the eyes of your little ones if this concerns you.”
He clicked the button on the projector and the photograph of the pony skeleton half hidden under the log flooded the screen.
There were gasps from the audience.
“Is there a pony-eater out there?” cried a stallion in the back. The crowd broke out into fearful chattering.
“Ladies and gentlecolts, please, please,” said Snare. “Let's remain calm. The aim of this presentation is to inform not cause mass hysteria.”
The crowd quietened down and Sokolsky continued his presentation. “Now, we come to the crux of the situation,” he said. “Before now the identity of this animal was a mystery. But new information has come to light. I'm afraid the creature that dispatched this poor soul was...” he sighed deeply as if it was a great weight he was unbearing… “is the draconequus.”
Fluttershy stood up. “That's a lie!” she screamed angrily. “There's absolutely no proof that the remains of that pony are because of Discord!”
“That's right!” Applejack chimed in. “Discord may be strange, but he's harmless enough. Not to mention he's a sapient being.”
“Then that just makes him even more dangerous, then, doesn't it?” said Sokolsky.
“I bought of tortoise from that guy,” said a voice in the back. “He didn't seem dangerous!”
The girls were now smirking at Snare. He didn't have a leg to stand on really.
“That's right!” said Fluttershy. “Without proof this is libellous!”
Sokolsky looked right at her, and she felt his eyes burning into her. The look in his eyes was one of smugness and defiance. Then he clicked the button and the next picture came into view.
Screams and cries of fear filled the room. Fluttershy felt her heart sink.
There was a picture of another pony skeleton, only this time, surrounding it were the tracks of an animal. At first it looked like multiple animals had circled the body and left their mark, but on closer inspection it was evident who the tracks had belonged to.
“Lion paw, eagle talon, dragon foot and goat hoof. Now, who do we know that has that exact combination?” said Snare.
“He's a killer!” cried a mare in the back. “To think I let my foals within a foot of that beast!”
“Ponies, ponies!” called Sokolsky. They eventually quietened down, mostly because they wanted a solution to the problem that had now been presented to them, and Sokolsky seemed to be the stallion to deliver it.
“Listen!” shouted Fluttershy before Sokolsky could continue speaking. “If—if Discord was the culprit then it wasn't his fault!”
“What on earth are you blabbering about, mare?” called a stallion from the pews.
“That's what I'm trying to explain,” said the pegasus. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Talking to huge crowds was one of her biggest fears, but she needed to get through this, for Discord. “If Discord...did this, then it was at a time when he wasn't in his right mind. He was living in the Everfree as an animal. I found him and nursed him back to health, and that was when we realized he was sapient. He has no memory of his time living in the Everfree. He suffered brain damage. He didn't know what he was doing. He was only trying to survive.”
There were more murmurings.
“But the creature has magic!” said a voice in the back. “And I've seen it work. He destroyed an entire restaurant.”
“Yes!” called another voice. “I was there and saw it with my own eyes!”
“How can we trust him? He could use his magic against us!”
“But he hasn't,” said Fluttershy. “He's my friend.”
Mean sounding laughter echoed through the crowd, and she blushed as she realized she was probably the current subject for the town gossips.
Sokolsky “As I said, dear, we do have a solution to this problem. We are not inhumane creatures. But we do need to look after the safety of this town.” He looked down at the pegasus. “That is why I am giving you a week to get the draconequus to leave.”
“Leave? Leave where?”
“He needs to go back into the wilderness. Far away from ponykind. We simply can't trust him to not be dangerous when we know next to nothing about him. I feel this is the best course of action.”
“And if he refuses to leave?” asked a pony in the back.
Sokolsky bowed his head. “Then regretfully, we may need to take...harsher measures.”
Fluttershy felt like she was about to faint. The room suddenly felt hot and she swooned. Rainbow Dash caught her in time and she whimpered. The horrible news, the menacing crowd, the terror she felt for Discord. It was all too much.
“Let's get her outside,” said Twilight. They dragged the pegasus out into the cool night air. Sokolsky was still speaking to the crowd as they left.
Fluttershy began to feel better as the night air hit her senses. She opened her eyes to see five mares staring down at her with concerned faces.
“Darling, are you alright?” asked Rarity. “Maybe I should get some water...”
“I'm fine,” said Fluttershy softly. “I just need a minute.” She began to get to her feet. Her legs felt wobbly.
“What the heck just happened?” cried Rainbow Dash. “Discord eats people?”
“We all knew this was a possibility,” said Fluttershy.
“Yeah but I never thought I'd see actual evidence of it!”
Fluttershy's stare was hard and cold. “What are you saying, Dashie?”
The pegasus suddenly looked shamefaced. “I—I'm sorry, Fluttershy, it's just, kind of shocking.”
Fluttershy looked at the rest of her friends, who all wore similar expressions. “You do realize there's a difference between what Discord was then and what he is now?” she said.
“Of course we do, Fluttershy. It's just hard to take in.” admitted Twilight.
To their surprise the pegasus burst into tears. “What am I supposed to do now?” she wailed. Then she turned and fled.
“Fluttershy, wait!” cried Pinkie, running after her, but Applejack had grabbed hold of her tail and she Pinkie scrabbled until she wore a hole in the ground. “Let her go, Sugarcube. She needs to tell Discord the news.”
“But we should go after her! She's upset!” protested Pinkie.
“I think Fluttershy would best be served by us if we went in there and argued Discord's case against Snare,” said Twilight. She was already beginning to feel guilt for how she had reacted to the photograph, they all were.
“Twilight's right,” said Applejack. “Come on, it's time to give Snare a piece of our minds!”
Unfortunately for the friends, while they had been outside Sokolsky had dropped the biggest untruth of all during his presentation: “Rest assured that Princess Celestia has been informed of this.”
Fluttershy ran, her coat and tail billowing behind her as she fought against the wind. Her lungs felt like they were going to burst and the tears on her face cooled almost instantly in the night air. She had to get to Discord. She had to make sure she was there for him.