Twilight was exhausted and her head hurt. They had spent hours trying to convince the crowd that Discord was not a creature to be feared or shunned, but they soon realized that while they had gotten to know Discord and knew of Fluttershy's plan to have him reformed, the crowd did not the same context. All they saw was the remains of a pony on the screen—probably someone's grandmother or husband that had disappeared decades ago, and with that in mind Twilight knew that it was would impossible to persuade the crowd over to the side of logic. In a way, she couldn't blame them. If she had a missing relative and Discord was a possible cause for their disappearance she most likely would not have been able to think logically either.
Snare was a master at working the crowd into a hysterical frenzy and he spoke as if he had all the answers.
The unicorn pushed the door to the Golden Oaks library open and Spike looked up from his bed.
“You're not asleep?” she asked.
“I couldn't. After you said there was an emergency meeting at the town hall I was too excited to sleep and wanted to sit up so I could find out what it was.”
“It's...not good news, Spike.”
“The town wants Discord gone in a week. There's photographic evidence against him. He may have preyed on ponies while living as an animal in the woods.”
“Th—that's awful,” said the little dragon, though he wasn't entirely sure which part of what Twilight had told him was more awful.
“We need to tell Princess Celestia that this has happened. Take a message.”
Spike leapt out of his bed, ran over to the desk and reached for his quill.
Seth was in a hurry to get the current group of medical students out of the laboratory. He had been doing a short talk with them before his next late night shift and had opened the cupboard to show them some examples of foreign objects removed during surgery. It was halfway through the lesson, when he returned the jars to the cupboard that he realized Discord's specimen was missing from the second shelf. He shuffled through the jars quickly, just in case he had been mistaken or had placed it on the wrong shelf, but it definitely was not there.
He grit his teeth. He had to cut the lesson short. He ushered the students out of the laboratory.
This wasn't good. Where was it? Why was it missing?
He wondered if Fluttershy was home by now. He knew about the emergency meeting that had been called, but he had been unable to go due to his busy workload. He checked the clock. He still had an hour before his shift started. Twilight's home was closer to him than Fluttershy's. Perhaps he would stop there first.
Discord clung to the petite pony pressed against his feathers. He wanted to tell her so many things—that he was amazed that she had come back for him, that she was here with him now, that he was sorry he had ever doubted her, that he was glad she had ever wanted to be his friend, let alone a lover. Unfortunately right now there were more pressing issues.
His leg was still in agony, and as time passed he was beginning to feel nauseated and weak. He'd lost a lot of blood, but he knew that wasn't the main issue. There was a thing inside him that was eroding his magic bit by bit.
He started poking at it with his talon again, hissing at the stinging and throbbing this caused.
“Let me try something,” said Fluttershy. “This may hurt,” she warned him. He nodded.
She squeezed the flesh of his dragon leg on either side so that the shard of the crystal was much more prominent. Discord winced, but went to work with his talons again. This time he was able to get a much better grip on it, but it was still stubbornly deep inside his muscle.
“Try again,” he told her. She did.
“Pull no punches,” said the draconequus. He grinned. “I'm a big boy, I can take it.”
She whinnied but did as she was told and squeezed the muscle with as much force as she could muster. Discord bit back a scream and dug deep with his talon. He felt agony surge through him and a distant part of his brain wondered how other parts of his body could be hurting so fiercely when the shard was in his leg. He felt tears streaming down his face, but he forced himself to continue, then with horrible urgency but equally horrible slowness he pulled the shard free. It clattered on the cage floor. He slumped back with a huge sigh.
Fluttershy hugged him once more. He lay there for a few minutes, trying to reassure his mind and body that the pain wasn't going to return and it was okay to move, then tentatively sat up.
“Now what?” whispered Fluttershy.
“Now we find a way out of here,” said the draconequus.
“But how? The door is booby trapped.”
Discord focused on the outside. Damn, no dice. His magic still wasn't working. He switched to thinking of a physical plan. “Snare said the catch was on the underside of the cage.” His eagle talon was the thinnest part of his body, and he pushed it through one of the holes at the bottom of the cage closest to the door.
“Be careful,” said the pegasus. She looked fearfully up at the shards pointing towards her. They wouldn't affect her magically, but they were still physical missiles that could do a lot of damage. They would do even worse to Discord.
Discord stretched his arm as far as it would go, feeling carefully under the platform with his hand. There was nothing but flat surface. Therehad to be a button or a catch somewhere. He stretched his hands so that his claws would graze over more surface area, but it was to no avail. He tried on the other sides of the cage but could feel nothing. His entire tail wasn't going to fit through the cage's latticework because it got progressively thicker the closer to his body it was.
“Argh!” he growled in frustration and slumped back down again, his tail swishing back and forth angrily.
He felt her soft arms embrace him from behind and his heart sank. “I'm sorry, Fluttershy,” he whispered. “There doesn't seem to be a way out. I screwed up.”
“Don't talk like that. We can't give up now.”
He couldn't help but smile, and he reached up to place his paw over one of her hooves. He didn't want her trapped in this cage with him, but at the same time his heart was glad she was here and he wasn't alone. He could feel her pressed against his bat and pegasus wings.
“Wings! That's it!”
Twilight and Seth were out the door mere minutes after he reached Golden Oaks library and relayed the news to her.
As usual Spike had wanted to follow, but Twilight argued that it was well past his bedtime. He sighed as he sat down at the desk. She always seemed to have an excuse handy.
Well, at least he could be useful in one way at least. He took out a fresh piece of parchment, dipped his quill in ink and began his message:
Dear Princess Celestia,
Twilight has gone to Fluttershy's cottage. Discord's crystal is missing from the hospital. Please write back soon.
The scroll disappeared in his green flames.
There. At least he hadn't been a passive bystander. He was beginning to worry that he'd had no response to the first letter he and Twilight had sent. He wondered if both she and Luna were busy. Still, it was getting pretty late. He sat at the desk and looked at his bed. He knew he wasn't going to get any sleep with all the excitement.
Seth and Twilight were alarmed to see Fluttershy's door wide open and slamming back and forth in the wind. “Fluttershy?” called the unicorn tentatively. The cottage was dark, and there was no answer. She switched the light on. “Fluttershy? Discord?” She cautiously made her way up the stairs.
“Be careful!” said Seth.
Twilight pushed the bedroom door open as if something was about to leap out at her and bite her face off. She trembled as she heard the door give an unnerving creak and peered into the darkness.
She called down the stairs. “They don't seem to...” She screamed as her words were cut short and a pair of beady eyes and sharp teeth lunged for her.
“Twilight! I'm coming!” Seth rocketed up the stairs, his heart pounding. He found Twilight panting heavily, a look of relief on her face, and he clocked the ferret on her back.
“Geeze. I thought something had attacked you.”
“Well it kind of did,” she said, with a hint of annoyance. She switched the bedroom light on. Nobody.
Her eyes were drawn to the floor and she saw Fluttershy's Element.
“I don't like this,” said the stallion.
The second ferret was now nipping at his fetlocks. “Not now! He told it.
Ricardo hissed at him, and promptly began running up and down the stairs. When he reached the bottom he would stand on his hind legs.
“Wait,” said the unicorn. “Maybe they know where Discord and Fluttershy have gone.”
Ricardo ran in circles as if to respond in the affirmative, then he ran towards the door.
“Show us!” cried Twilight, and Mortimer leapt off her back to join her mate as they both ran out into the night. Ricardo began sniffing the ground, and he pointed with his nose over the bridge.
“Wait,” said Twilight, and she pressed her Element. Immediately four surprised ponies appeared before her.
“Twilight! Is it Discord? What's happened?” exclaimed Rarity. She was willing to forego the fact that Twilight had summoned them all while her mane was still a mess.
“Fluttershy and Discord are missing, I'll explain on the way.”
“Where are we going?” asked Rainbow.
“Follow those ferrets!”
“I'm just saying Mister Snare. We've caught the creature and yet I still don't see any money in my hooves.” Carmarella poked the embers of the camp fire sulkily with a twig.
“I told you, you'll get your money upon its capture.”
“We have captured it.” Ox nodded.
“I won't consider it captured until its safely out of Ponyville.”
“And then what? What are we supposed to do with the mare. If we let her go she'll just run back and blab to the townsfolk.”
“No. That is absolutely not an option. She has to stay in the cage with the draconequus. She's the bargaining chip. He'll talk if he thinks she's in danger.”
“But after he talks, then what?”
“Then do what you like to get rid of them. I don't care. And you can make the draconequus into a pelt and sell it on the black market for even more money. Does that sound acceptable? Because if it does I expect you to quit whining.” Ox walked off in a huff. He didn't have to sit here and listen to this pony pontificate.
The trappers were ruining Sokolsky's mood. He was excited. He had finally captured a rare, thought to be extinct animal that could yield untold amounts of information that only he had access to. And if the draconequus disappeared no one would care. Ponyville would breathe a sigh of relief and assume that the creature had done as the town council requested—simply left to go elsewhere.
He was already obsessively planning the monograph in his mind. He'd even be able to have detailed anatomical illustrations. Photographs were not an option—it would be too obvious and harder to explain, but everything else was falling into place. He almost started humming.
Discord had picked most of his primary feathers off his wing, peeled away the barbs, and had constructed what looked like a long stick out of the remaining shafts by slotting them into one another. Having dexterous fingers was never something he had ever regretted in his life and he certainly wasn't about to start now.
The makeshift stick added over half a foot to his arm, but it wasn't very sturdy. He wondered if it would have enough give to press the button or catch.
“I'm worried it's not heavy duty enough,” he told the pegasus, and she began plucking her own primary feathers out.
“Thanks,” he said, slicing off the barbs, and building another stick and this time he opened one of the shafts and tore it into thin strips with one of his talons. He used one of the strips to tie the sticks together, so that the stick was sturdier. Then he carefully reached through one of the cage holes again and felt around under it. He poked this way and that with the feather shaft until he felt something give way slightly.
“Aw, yeah. That's what I'm talking about,” he said, grinning. He stretched as far as he could and pushed all his weight against the catch. The door was now no longer booby trapped.
Next he picked the lock with his talon, a process that was much easier since in his long life he had much experience doing such things. Again, dexterous fingers.
After about five minutes of his talon poking around he heard a click and the door swung open.
“Yes!” cried Fluttershy.
“Didn't I tell you I was amazing Fluttershy?” he boasted. “Let's go, you first.” She quickly scrambled forwards towards the opening, and began lowering herself down to the ground. Discord saw the centaur coming out of the darkness towards her. “Shy! RUN!” She whirled round to see Ox who slammed the door shut on Discord's face and reached for her. She tensed herself, ready to take flight at any second but to her horror she felt a tug on her tail. “No!” she cried, feeling tears welling up in her eyes.
The draconequus flung himself forward with all his might against the cage door and it slammed open, but he was suddenly face to face with the trapper mare, pointing her crossbow at him again. “If you think I'm about to lose my money that easily you're mistaken. Get back in the cage.” Discord growled as he saw Fluttershy struggling with the centaur. Something deep and primal within him was compelling him to rip the centaur's face off.
Fluttershy pulled and squirmed desperately, and suddenly she felt her tail give way and she shot into the air. She had never been so relieved that she wore tail extensions in her life.
“Yes! Haha! Fly, Fluttershy, fly!” cried Discord gleefully as he watched the yellow streak ascend quickly into the air in a somewhat lopsided manner He was glad they had started stripping his wing of feathers first or she might not have been able to have any lift. Discord turned his head slowly and looked at the trappers, his sharp teeth in a grin, his eyes bright and wicked.
“Yeah, you may think it's amusing,” said Carmarella. But we're not going anywhere this time. We're gonna sit here all night if we have to and watch you. Seems you're a bit of a Hoofdini.”
Discord paced around on all fours, his hackles spiked up and his teeth bared. Still, he was hopeful. Fluttershy was free, and if she was free then she could work on a plan to get him out.
Princess Celestia groaned and wondered what hour of the night it was. When she and Luna had been younger, her nocturnal sister had often knocked on her door to complain of nightmares...or poltergeists.
She sat upright. Luna was Princess of the Night now, and it was unlikely that she was knocking on her door for that reason. She threw back the bed covers and ran to the door.
“What is it, Luna?”
“Discord. I sensed one of his dreams. It...I think he's remembered.” She looked sad. “There was so much pain,” she said.
“Are the others safe?” asked Celestia. Luna pulled out the scrolls Twilight and Spike had delivered to Celestia's throne room. “I think we should get moving, Sister,” she said.
Fluttershy landed in a nearby tall tree out of sight of her attackers and tried to catch her breath. It had taken all of her strength to push herself into the air, and she was certain with her lopsided wings that it had been mostly adrenaline that had spurred her on.
A fine drizzle was in the air, and she tried to see if she could spot the camp from her vantage point. Yes, she could see the soft glow of the fire, and she knew from its position where the cage was. For a moment she considered sneaking up to the camp fire so she could use it to set fire to something, but the air and ground were far too damp for that.
Think, Fluttershy, think.
She was torn from her thoughts when she heard shrieking. Carmarella was yelling, screaming. Fluttershy's heart leapt. Had Discord escaped? Was he able to get away from them? With a deep breath she threw herself off the tree, plummeting down twenty feet and whinnying in terror as the ground rushed up towards her, but at the last minute she arced in mid air and was able to gain lift. She flew towards the sounds.
Ricardo's teeth sunk into Carmarella's leg again and again. “Get them off me Ox! Their teeth! So sharp! Arrrgh!” Mortimer was pulling at her mane and chattering.
It took Discord a few seconds to realize what was happening, but when he did he was almost overcome with joy. “That's right, my babies! Do it for your noodle daddy! Daddy's so proud!”
Carmarella was flailing wildly and Ox looked at a loss as the mustelids bit and scratched at his partner.
Discord saw his chance and quickly shoved his talon and the feather stick through the cage. He found the trigger easily this time and the cage swung open.
Ox never saw him coming. One minute he was staring dumbfoundedly at the whirling mess of mare and ferret before him, the next a set of eagle talons, lion claws and the weight of the draconequus smashed into his chest, bowling him over.
He and Discord rolled over on the ground, the draconequus' snake-like body twisting as they tussled. Then Ox realized Discord was coiled around him and was squeezing.
Carmarella kicked Ricardo into the undergrowth. The ferret yelped in pain. The mare also managed to tear Mortimer loose from her mane and she threw the female into the bushes.
With a growl she surged forwards, pointing the cross bow at Discord.
“I would let him go if I were you,” she said, nodding towards Ox.
Discord stared darkly at her as if she was nothing but detritus in a vast galaxy, but he began to uncoil.
“Good, good,” said Carmarella. She was bleeding but she didn't care. As long as she had Discord in her cross hairs.
Suddenly she felt something smash into the back of her skull, as Fluttershy brought her hooves down on the trapper's head. Carmarella cried out and fell forward into the dirt.
“Nobody hurts my friends!” bristled the pegasus.
Discord beamed at her. Fluttershy quickly ran over to the cross bow and pointed it at Ox while Discord uncoiled himself and moved away from the evil looking shard of crystal. Even though he knew Fluttershy wouldn't hurt him, just the sight of the thing made his teeth stand on edge. Even though the shard in his leg had been removed there was still pain and he felt weak from exertion. He also still had no grasp on his magic. The centaur held up his hands as he surrendered to Fluttershy.
Mortimer and Ricardo ran towards Discord, chittering as they clambered all over him. “Aww,” Discord cooed. “Just for that I'm gonna let you hide one dead rodent in my bed. But only once.”
“Get up,” said Fluttershy to Carmarella, and she motioned towards Ox. She needed them close together.
The dazed earth pony mare crawled towards her partner.
“Don't hurt us!” she wailed. “We were only in it for the money! It's Snare you want! He's the guy. He—he forced us!”
Discord snorted. “Oh yeah, your hooves certainly looked tied.”
Ricardo snarled at Carmarella, his back fur standing upright.
“We need something to tie them together,” said Fluttershy. “Rope or something.”
“I'm on it,” said the draconequus, and he began looking around the steam tractor.
“Maybe there's something nearer the camp,” said Fluttershy. Discord nodded and headed off in the fire's direction.
The draconequus knew he had to be careful of Sokolsky's whereabouts. He kept his body low to the ground, moving like he used to as an animal through the undergrowth and keeping to the shadows. He could smell the pony, but it was faint. Snare was somewhere else. Probably holed up in his tent. The draconequus systematically moved through the camp, searching high and low for some rope or twine. There was nothing. What kind of hunters were these? Idiots.
Fluttershy glanced nervously in the direction of the camp fire. Discord had been gone for a while. She quickly turned back to the hunters. She had to stay focused so that there was no chance of them escaping. And that was when she felt the breath in her air and the knife against her throat.
“Scream and you won't scream again,” said the stallion. She dropped the crossbow.
Discord had found some long vines hanging down from a tree. They were somewhat woody but they would have to do. These idiots had certainly come unprepared. He had at least expected netting of some kind. He limped back towards the location of the steam tractor and moved into the clearing.
They were all gone. The crossbow was on the ground and there was no sign of Ox, Carmarella or Fluttershy, but he only cared about one of those things. Panic welled up in him as he realized he now had no idea where she was and there was forest in every direction. He was about to bolt in a random direction when Ox's muscular arms closed around his neck in a chokehold. Discord thrashed, trying to coil his body around the centaur's again, but he was weakening.
No. No, he had to find Fluttershy. He couldn't let this happen after all they had worked for. He loved her.
But he could feel himself slipping away as his lungs fought for air.
There was a roaring sound, a huge shape plunged out of the woods.
“Yeeeeeeeehawww!” screamed Pinkie from Harry's back as the bear barrelled towards the centaur, and with one great rise of his head, knocked Ox unconscious.
Discord took in great gasps of air, and looked up in wonder.
“Did ya miss us, Discord?” said Pinkie cheerfully. He saw the others arriving behind her and Harry.
“You have no idea,” he breathed.
“Where's Fluttershy?” asked Seth.
“I don't know,” said Discord, wringing his hands. He wanted to scream. He wanted to kick himself. He should never have let her out of his sight. “We need to spread out and find her. One of them has her. Either Snare or Carmarella.”
Seth noticed Discord was limping.
“Hang on,” he said. “This isn't really what I would consider best practice, but given the circumstances...” He removed a syringe and needle from his saddlebag. “Hold out your leg.”
“What's that for?”
“It's localized anaesthetic.”
“You carry anaesthetic with you...just because?”
“I don't usually, but I figured tonight was special.”
“Get it over with,” said Discord, as he looked away. He felt a pinprick and then the area around his injury went numb. He could move his leg now without pain. He was probably still doing it damage as he walked around, but he didn't care. “Let's go,” he said, eager to find Fluttershy.
The pegasus whimpered as Snare forced her to walk further into the woods.
“Why?” she moaned.
“Because you're my bargaining chip. I know you two had a 'thing' and he's going to come for you. He won't harm a hair on my head as long as he knows I might harm yours.”
“You're crazy,” she said.
“I just want what my family was owed.”
“You're still crazy,” she said. “That happened long ago and you're completely fixated on it.”
He ignored her. Soon he knew the draconequus would come, and then he'd drag the mare all the way back to the cage with a knife to her throat if he had too. He knew the creature, with no magic would have no choice but to follow.
Rainbow Dash had opted to take to the skies. She had theorized that she could cover more ground that way, and she was lucky. It was Autumn, and most of the leaves had fallen off the trees. Her heart leapt as she spotted a pony running through the undergrowth and she swooped down for a closer look. It was a mare.
She knew she was looking at one of the hunters, and she was fleeing the scene. She sped down towards Carmarella, ready to knock her off her feet but someone got to her first. Applejack's hind hooves connected to the mare's jaw and she crumpled.
“This just ain't your night,” said Applejack to the trapper.
“That was awesome,” said Rainbow Dash, and Applejack grinned at her.
Discord had split up from the others completely. His heart was pounding as he ran, sometimes stopping to sniff the air. He had picked up Fluttershy's scent. He knew it well now. It was embedded in his pores and senses now that he had shared everything with her and he felt fresh terror in his heart at the thought that she might be injured...or worse.
But then there was another smell, and he realized with horror that Fluttershy wasn't with Carmarella. It was Sokolsky. He began to rocket through the bushes, filled with anger as well as terror now. That primal feeling was back again and he knew if he found the stallion he might not be able to contain his rage. He was feeling pretty enraged already. It felt as if it was going to burst out of him, all over the trees, onto the ground, the forest drenched in his anger.
And that was when he felt everything give way and he knew his old friend was back.
Sokolsky waited. He knew it was only a matter of time before the draconequus came. He dragged Fluttershy over to a log and sat down on it, still holding the knife close to her throat.
The forest was silent except for the sound of crickets.
Then they fell silent.
There was a humming sound, and Sokolsky's mouth fell open as he saw the air ripple before him.
He fell backwards as a lightning bolt crashed down only ten feet away. Fluttershy was also knocked off her feet. Her ears rang, but cleared almost instantly.
A growl reverberated through the forest as the draconequus spoke.
“DO YOU DARE ANGER THE LORD OF CHAOS?”
Sokolsky whimpered. The voice seemed to be coming from all directions. After looking about wildly he bolted in a random direction.
Laughter followed him, and as he sped through the forest, he turned his head to the right, and to his horror, saw the draconequus flying alongside him almost effortlessly, as if he was gliding through water with the speed of a dolphin, his tail streaming behind him.
“Do you know what you've done to anger me?” snarled the draconequus.
Sokolsky whimpered, tears now streaming from his eyes, and he screamed as the ground opened up and gave way beneath him to reveal what looked like a whirlpool filled with snapping piranhas. He shrieked in terror, trying to stop himself from falling. Just as he was about to hit the water he was alone in the forest again, as if nothing had happened.
He looked around in confusion. He felt as if he had just gone mad. It was completely silent. Had he lost the draconequus? He had to get out of the woods. He began to hurry in a different direction and suddenly the forest melted before him and he was suddenly surrounded by pony skeletons.
Only they were running alongside him. He shrieked again, continuing to speed along out of pure, unadulterated fear. A skeleton snapped it's teeth at him and whinnied almost as if it was laughing at him.
Discord's voice again: “I SAID, DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU'VE ANGERED ME?”
“No, nooo,” whimpered Snare.
“YOU DO!” said Discord, and he cackled, but it was an unearthly sound, almost as if it was made up of multiple voices laughing and fading into the background.
A skeleton nipped at his flank.
“It's because I put you in a cage!” cried out the stallion. He knew he was running now out of pure terror and would probably hit a tree trunk soon.
“Close,” said Discord's voice, as if it was right by his ear. Sokolsky turned his head and through his streams of tears one of the grinning pony skulls seemed to wink at him with its eye socket. Even through his terror he was puzzled to see a flower crown on its head. “You are so very close,” it said in Discord's voice. “And it's true, I am not happy about that. NOT HAPPY AT ALL, but I'm afraid that isn't the main reason.”
The forest was melting around Sokolsky as he felt bony teeth nipping at his haunches and the skeletal figures giggling at him.
“I don't know! I don't know!” he cried.
“Do you want me to tell you?” asked Discord.
“Yes! Yes! Just please don't hurt me.”
“It's a secret,” giggled Discord in a whisper.
Sokolsky felt as if he was losing his grip on his sanity. “Tell me!” he wailed.
The whisper in his ear turned into a vicious growl mid sentence: “It's because you touched what was MINE.”
The forest crackled and the world melted around Sokolsky. He shrieked in terror as a void opened up in front of him. He could see galaxies and stars swirlling in the middle of the vast, inky blackness of space and he knew what the draconequus had planned for him.
“Oh, very yes.”
“I'll do anything! Anything you say!”
“Too late!” said the draconequus as if he was informing someone that tickets for a pop concert had sold out, and he threw Sokolsky into the void.
Snare screamed, and his scream seemed to go on forever. He was still screaming when he opened his eyes and realized he was inside a cage in the middle of the forest clearing.
Pinkie and Harry stared back at him. Pinkie had a smug little smile on her face. “Don't even try anything, Mister. If you tamper with those things above your head, they'll fire. If you mess with the lock, they'll fire. And they look like they could give some serious ouchies.”
Snare wept with relief.
Discord chuckled to himself. No one could ever say he was predictable. He teleported back to where he had last seen Fluttershy.
She was not near the log, but he had expected that. She would have moved off, and he felt for her. She was a quarter of a mile from him and then he was walking beside her.
She jumped, startled, then flew into his arms, sobbing with relief.
“Shhh,” he said. He was trying not to sob himself. The relief washing over him was overwhelming. For a terrifying half hour he was afraid he had lost her forever. “Fluttershy,” he whispered, and he held her close and inhaled the scent of her mane while she buried her face in his feathers. He snapped his fingers.
“Wha?” said Twilight as she appeared next to the cage.
“Well, that was novel,” said Rarity. One minute she and Seth had been combing the forest, the next they had appeared in the clearing again. Carmarella, bound and gagged, struggled on the ground in confusion.
“It's just Discord, you sillies,” said Pinkie.
Indeed, the draconequus and Fluttershy emerged from the woods.
“You're alright!” cried Rarity. The others ran towards them and suddenly Discord was being hugged from all angles, along with Fluttershy. He bit his lip as he felt it wobble slightly.
Applejack pulled back. “I think we should get her and her cowboy into that cage,” she said.
“Already way ahead of you,” said Discord, and he snapped his fingers. Carmarella and Ox landed on Snare, who yelped.
Pinkie strode over to the cage. “Now,” she began. “If you try to mess with the thingies above your head...”
“Well, that was a memorable weekend to say the least,” said Rarity, pulling twigs and leaves out of her mane as she and the others rested around the remains of the camp fire. Light was beginning to creep over the horizon.
“I'm sooo tired,” said Twilight. She hadn't felt this exhausted since cramming for her Transfiguration exam. “I'm going to sleep for weeks.”
“Hey, where are Discord and Fluttershy?” said Pinkie.
Applejack pointed with her hoof. The draconequus and pegasus were sitting away from the group on a leaf pile.
“I guess they need some time alone together to discuss things,” said Rarity. “They've just been through an awful lot.” She watched the pair, as they sat together, and she suddenly noticed their tails were intertwined. She managed to stifle a tight-lipped whinny of excitement as she realized what she was looking at.
Discord buried his muzzle in Fluttershy's mane as he wrapped his arms tightly around the mare.
“Are you okay?” she said softly.
He chuckled. “Always thinking about others over yourself. I guess you can't help it, Miss Element of Kindness.”
Her face suddenly felt hot. “Um...about that. I—I really meant it when I said I would never use it on you. There were times before, when I didn't know you very well and I was scared, and I thought I should have used it, but I never wanted to.”
“I know, Shy.” His fingers ran over her face, over her mane.
“Whoa! Three O' Clock!” said Applejack as she looked up.
“It's more like 6am,” said Seth.
“No, I mean look in that direction.” The others turned their heads to see the swanlike yin and yang of the princesses' wingspans gliding down towards them.
“Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!”
The alicorns landed gracefully, almost soundlessly, and Twilight noticed her library assistant and ward on Luna's back.
“Heh, I couldn't sleep,” said the little dragon, though he certainly looked like he wanted to. Twilight smiled. She suspected they'd both be snoozing for most of the day.
“Are you all alright?” asked Princess Celestia. The ponies all nodded.
“And Discord and Fluttershy?” asked Luna.
“They're...um,” said Rarity. “They're over there,” and she smirked and inclined her head towards the pair who were holding each other.
“Oh, my, Sister,” said Luna. “Shall we go and say hello, once more?”
“Yes,” said Celestia. “Let's.”
The alicorns strode towards the draconequus and pegasus and Discord happened to look up at that very moment. He recognized them both, and he was suddenly filled with a mix of fear and a sensation that was not altogether unpleasant. He had once considered these mares something like family, but it was the white alicorn that filled him with the most trepidation.
“Hello, Discord,” she said.
“Hi,” he croaked. Fluttershy turned at the sound of Princess Celestia's voice.
“Hello, Fluttershy. I see you have done wonders.”
Princess Celestia smiled. “You have done much more. I sense a big change in Discord,” she whispered.
“It's not polite to do that,” said Discord, and to his surprise, the Princess chuckled.
“Where are the traitors?” commanded Princess Luna. Discord pointed with a claw towards the cage.
“Excellent,” said Luna. “All ready to be judged before a jury of their peers.”
Discord grinned. He was sure nothing could surpass the trial he had just put Snare through.
Celestia turned back to Fluttershy and Discord. “I see you have made friends,” said the Princess. “Friends who are more than willing to give everything to save you, to pledge loyalty to you.” She looked at Fluttershy tenderly. “Friends who are kind.”
The next look she gave Discord was harder, but not completely without warmth. “Do not forget this,” she told the draconequus.
He nodded, pressing his muzzle against Fluttershy's mane and looking at the ground.
“So how are we going to get these miscreants back to Canterlot?” asked Luna, looking at the trappers. Discord snapped his fingers. “Ah, yes. I forgot you could do that,” said the alicorn.
“Really? You forgot that?” He rolled his eyes at Luna.
“I did not forget the fright you first gave me in the library!”
He grinned at her. “You're not talking in the Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice.”
She shrugged. “I am trying to blend in.”
“That's a tad hard for an alicorn.”
Spike yawned loudly as he clung to Luna's wing feathers. “Ah, it seems it is past someone's bedtime. Sister, shall we depart? It's almost mybedtime. And you have a job to do.”
“I'll do it on the way,” laughed Celestia.
“Goodbye my little ponies,” she said to everyone. “Until we meet again.”
The midnight blue and pure white alicorns ascended into the air as the crowd below watched them.
Celestia felt the wind in her wings, as she pulled the fiery orb into the sky. It rose slowly above the horizon as she and her sister flew towards it, silhouetted in its light.
“So, Sister,” said Luna, as they flew. “Will you be living vicariously through a certain mare and draconequus?”
Celestia chuckled. “Maybe. But thank heavens for suitors, eh?”
“Oh yes, even if we have to keep them secret. That dashing unicorn noblestallion who came to the last Gala has really got my feathers ruffling.”
They laughed together, as only sisters could.
Spike snored on, happily oblivious.