“Hello? Anyone in there?” shouted Carmarella. She pounded her hoof on the oak door loudly, waited approximately five seconds then started pounding again.
The door flew open and Carmarella and Ox were faced with a tall, blue earth pony with greying hair. “Yes,” he said, clearly annoyed.
“Howdy!” said Carmarella brightly, completely oblivious to the earth pony's tone of voice. “Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Carmarella, and this here's my companion, Ox.” Ox grunted in greeting.
“I'm not interested in joining any societies, buying any kitchen gadgets, any subscriptions to any newspapers or magazines, buying Fillyscout Cookies or donating to the Ponyville Players.” He started to close the door after what sounded like a well researched speech. But Carmarella held it open with her hoof.
“Naw, it's nothin' life that,” she said. “Ox, show him.”
The centaur grunted and took a folder out of his bag and handed it to the stallion, who sighed. “If this is some sort of tactic to get me to sign something you can be sure I will put in a complaint.”
“You are Mr. Solkolsky Snare, right?” said Carmarella. “The game warden?”
“I am a game warden yes, but if you're after what I think you're after then you will be disappointed. I only issue permits to hunt if an animal is a danger to society because it has attacked someone or is carrying a fatal disease.” He began to open the folder.
“I understand you're also a historian,” said Carmarella, trying to build up some rapport. “Written some books, and the like?”
“Yes, when I have spare time.” Sokolsky wished he had more spare time. He was tired of doing this job. It felt beneath him. He opened the folder all the way and stared at the first photograph.
“What is this?” he said, looking up at them.
“I was hoping you could tell me,” said Carmarella.
Sokolsky left the door open and began to walk over to his desk with the folder. He hadn't motioned for the trappers to follow him, but they did anyway. Carmarella whistled as she passed bookshelves. All the books on them bore Sokolsky's pen name on their spines.
The game warden put the folder on his desk and removed a looking glass from a small compartment within it. Then he began to examine the photographs carefully.
The first few were of a series of animal tracks. At first glance it looked as if it had been made by different kinds of animals- bird, reptile and mammal, but on closer inspection he realized the tracks were repeating themselves. The next set of photos showed deeper prints in some mud.
“I should mention the next photo is...” began Carmarella, but Sokolsky had already seen it and gasped. It was a pony skeleton, half hidden under a log.
“Yeaaah,” said the mare. “It had crushed cervical verts too. We think it may be a mountain lion, but I was mainly wondering if you had ever come across tracks like these before.”
“If you leave these photos with me I can do some research and...”
“Nowww...wait a minute. If you want these photographs then you need to give us what we came for.”
“You want a permit.”
“I think I'm makin' a good case here,” continued Carmarella. “If there's something up there killing ponies then it needs to be hunted.”
Sokolsky turned to the mare with a sneer on his face. “Please. I know your type. You're not in this for the protection of ponykind, you're in it for the money. You rogue trappers are all the same. You sell what you kill to rich collectors on the black market.”
Carmarella feigned shock. “Why, is that what you think of us? Well, that's fine. We don't need to stand here and be insulted, do we, Ox?” Ox shook his head. Carmarella reached for the folder: “We'll just take our photographs and...”
“Wait,” said Sokolsky. “I...what kind of deal did you have in mind?”
“Permit. And if you like we can kill this thing...whatever it is for you as a bonus.”
“No,” said Sokolsky. “No, I want it alive.”
“Really? Is there something you're not telling us?”
“Do you want your permit or not?”
Carmarella shut up.
When the trappers had left Sokolsky moved towards his desk. He pulled out a folder and removed a photograph of a painting and a letter.
Dear Mr. Snare,
I hope this photograph is of use to you. Little is known about the draconequii, but since you are one of the leading scholars on this subject hopefully you can shed more light on the specimen. The painting is all that remains of the collection and was done in oils by Rhenish van Rijn. A few more paintings of his are in storage, if you would like to see them, though these are of portraits.
I'm sorry that as you know, the collection was destroyed in a fire, but at least some documentation was kept. I realize this is of little use you as a historian, as you would have gained more from seeing the mounts themselves, but these things rarely last and even so, given the sensitive nature of the material, if it still exists it would likely have to be repatriated, especially the dragon. Thankfully we live in such times where such horrific acts no longer occur.
If you need any more information do not hesitate to contact us,
Silver Frames, Curator and Art Historian,
He gazed at the painting. There was an articulated dragon skeleton, and bird dioramas, but most remarkable of all was the mount of what looked like a feathered draconical beast, its body dark, its terrifying face pushed back in a snarl, its horns sharp and twisted. He looked down at the photograph the trappers had given him. Repeating over and over were tracks of a lion, dragon, bird and goat. He hurried over to the bookshelf and pulled out volume 13 of Equestria's Past, one of the few first editions he'd been allowed to keep. He turned to the page he was looking for and looked at the illustration of the beast, grinning back at him with its four mismatched limbs.
If this was indeed what he thought it was, he had a chapter to rewrite. But he needed more information first.
The information he had smuggled out of the Canterlot library had been surprisingly easy to get. All he had to do was tell them the partial truth: That he was a historian, and writing a series of books.
Discord's memory dream was about his mother.
They were walking through the underbrush of the Everfree together and she was showing him different plants. Like all draconequus cubs, Discord did not have horns yet. They would come in later when he became sexually mature. His body was feathery (though more like a fluffy chick's, perhaps a cassowary or emu chick, complete with stripes for camouflage) like hers, and the coarser brown feathers were beginning to poke through his downy baby coat, making him look like a strange, scruffy bird.
Being a female, his mother also did not have horns, but she had the sleek face of all her draconequii ancestors and rows of sharp teeth. Her long body was covered with cream coloured feathers, speckled with rust, like the mottled pattern of an owl, and her dragon-like limbs ended in sharp talons. She would have been considered a beauty among her species, if there were any left. Her mate had certainly found her beautiful.
One day Discord's father did not come back from hunting, and she knew they had taken him. The cub would have been too young to remember what his father had even looked like. She might have exacted revenge on the hunters, but she had a cub to protect, and it was too risky.
Today she was showing her son how to use magic. All draconequii magic revolved around nature and the earth and she was able to harness some of it, but without her flock much knowledge was lost. She wished to pass on as much of it as she possibly could to her cub. If something happened to her she would need him to fend for himself.
“Pay attention,” she was telling Discord. “It's really important that you learn these skills now. It's much easier to hunt with magic than without it.”
“I don't want to hunt,” he whined. “I want to look for bugs.” He was more interested in pretending to race the shiny things than eat them.
She tried a different tact: “Magic might help you find bugs faster.”
“I'm listening!” he said quickly.
“Now,” said his mother. “There are two principle energies within the earth. One is destruction and the other is creation. One can do amazing things with both, but even the most amazing and skilled draconequii can rarely harness both at the same time”.
“No one knows. It might be that those energies are too powerful for mortal beings to contain. Nature doesn't give up her secrets easily.”
Oh great, here came the “whys.” At least he was paying attention now though. “Maybe she doesn't want people to abuse those powers,” she said.
“Because abusing power is wrong.”
“Why is it wrong?”
“Because you can end up hurting people with it.”
“Oh...” he was suddenly quiet and she was worried she had scared him a little.
“That would never happen though,” she said quickly. “As I said, only the most skilled were able to do it, and even then it didn't last long.”
She didn't add that in the stories she'd read it was because the power had ultimately destroyed the wielder. She wanted his attention, not to be woken at an early hour by her son having nightmares.
“Now,” she continued, pointing to a toadstool, “this is a mushroom that can make you sick if you eat it, but by using magic you can harness properties from it that can help you see into another world. You don't eat it, you just absorb what is there and magic can help you filter out the bad parts.”
Discord's attention was already drifting. “Mummy,” he said. “What can you harness from bugs?” She sighed, but humoured him. If she didn't, he was bound to find playing with centipedes more interesting than what she was trying to teach him.
“I think you might be able to see the world the way bugs do,” she said, noting in her mind that this seemed like a completely useless skill.
“Oooh! Does that mean if I harnessed a bird I could see like a bird?”
Now that they were getting somewhere. Draconequus vision was good, but not like that of an eagle or griffon's.
“Yes, exactly like that. But it's not just about animals. Magic can come from forces deep within the earth and high up in the heavens. But those forces are much harder to wield.”
Discord's gaze was drifting towards a rotten log and the thought of what treasures might lie within. Maybe tasty, fat grubs.
“Which is why it's important that you pay attention!” his mother shouted. His head snapped back up.
“I'm listening, mummy.”
“Good. Now, put your hand here on the ground. You should be able to feel some of the energies if you concentrate. She put her own claw on the ground and could feel it start to run through her veins, like a liquid current. Mages from previous flocks thousands of years ago when her kind had been able to feel almost everything when it came to that power, but she knew it had consumed them.
Discord put his much smaller claw next to his mother's. Then there was a wooshing sound and he heard his mother cry out.
His eyes flew open and he sat upright on the couch. The sunlight was streaming through into Fluttershy's living room.
Luna and Celestia sipped their tea. It wasn't often the two sisters both had a moment of peace together outside of their busy duties to talk, but when it came it was nearly always in that short space between the hours of sunrise and moonrise: dusk.
“That horrible book,” Celestia was saying. "At one point I considered letting it slide, but so much of it is lies. I had misgivings about sending it to Fluttershy, but not all of it is inaccurate, especially the parts that were obviously lifted directly from Starswirl's manuscripts. Fluttershy needs to know what she's dealing with. She needs to know what Discord is capable of.” The parts of the book that were inaccurate were the parts that were Celestia's problem, not Fluttershy's. The author had an agenda, she knew, and she wasn't going to give him leg room to squirm. Not after all the pain she had endured when she had been told her love was dead. Her love, that had hurt her so much without laying a finger on her. Perhaps she could have forgiven that, but she could not forgive what Discord's actions had meant for her subjects.
All of the old love and longing had welled up in her, however, when she had been told he was dead. She remembered all his warmth and humour, she remembered the pain on his face when she hadn't believed what he had told her. She had wanted him immobilized, so he would stop what he was doing, then the hunters had told her he had been killed, and it was an accident and she had been furious. In private though, she broke down and mourned him.
Some of the villagers had been furious with her for failing to give them what they felt they deserved- honour for slaying the beast that had caused so much heartache. She had made sure the village was well looked after and everyone had enough to eat, but there were some that wanted more—knighthood or higher accolades. She had refused.
Luna looked thoughtful.
“Do you still love him, Sister?”
Celestia smiled sadly. “I think part of me will always love him, but there's too much...history between us, Luna. What he needs is someone to care about him, and there's no way he's going to be amenable to such things from me now, after all that has happened. And...maybe that's for the best. I've grown, and I'm pretty sure there are parts of me that will struggle to forgive. But if somepony could care for him, and show him friendship, then maybe...part of the old Discord could come back at least.” Her eyes felt wet.
“So that's why you had Fluttershy continue to look after him.”
“You always were one to act with your heart, Celestia.”
The white alicorn smiled. “Yes, sometimes I wish I was more like you. You were always someone who thought more with their head than their heart.”
Luna touched Celestia's shoulder gently and smiled wryly. “Not always...”
Celestia smiled back.
“Hey,” said Luna. “At least you didn't end up marrying that Prince.”
Celestia actually laughed. “Small mercies,” she said.
The birds returned in earnest by mid Spring. Tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks, orioles, vireos and thrushes reclaimed the old nests and tree hollows they had abandoned in favour of warmer conditions in Mexicolt and South Amareica months ago. The trees were filled with colourful blossoms and bumblebees began to collect nectar. Butterflies danced over the field behind Fluttershy's cottage. They looked like delicate petals in pale blue and bright orange. A cuckoo called out in the distance, the other birds completely unaware of its future intentions for their nests. On the whole, however, Spring made everything feel alive again.
The beetles had noticed the change in temperature outside, and were doing what most animals were now doing this time of year—mating.
Discord watched them with some amusement as the male beetle crawled on top of the female then began half scrabbling and half hitting the top of her head with his front legs and massaging her back with his palps. Discord raised his eyebrow at Fluttershy. “Kinky,” he drawled.
There it was again, the strange feeling that he was flirting with her in a way that was hidden in plain sight. She pushed it out of her head.
“It's normal behaviour, for beetles” she said. “It stimulates the female. She might lay eggs soon.” He watched her start to pack lunch for their walk, his eyes moving upwards again quickly when she was done. "Let's go," she said.
Discord's first attempts at walking on his hind legs were shaky at best, but he had the option of quadruped walking if things got too difficult. Still, as the days went on, he managed to go a little further on them. Fluttershy told him not to rush it. He'd been walking on four legs for a thousand years and it would take some time. He had stubbornly tried anyway and ended up stumbling several times. However, his stumbles often resulted in hysterical laughter from him and she realized he was just glad to be outdoors and moving again.
As they walked together she asked him a question she had been dying to ask him. “Discord, did you...see lots of interesting animals on your travels?”
His face lit up. “Shy, you wouldn't believe the amazing things I saw. What country do you what to ask about?”
She refrained from squealing “all of them!” though she was itching to do so. “Um...how about Nickeragua? Did you see things in the rainforest? Did you see jaguars, and coral snakes, and howler monkeys? Did you see giant moths and butterflies?” Discord grinned. He enjoyed it when Fluttershy came out of her shell and geeked out over her chosen subject. He also didn't feel so lost when she asked him about something only he knew rather than the other way around.. He felt so lost about so many things.
“I saw much more than that. I lived in a tree for a few months.” He had built a home for himself in the canopy using magic. Up there he had been free and at night he could look at the milky way splashed across the sky in all its glory. Spiralling chaos, millions of light years away, crashing and burning and being born.
To her surprised he put his paw and talon on her waist and lifted her up, then he placed her on a tree branch. “Now, let's see,” he said, now looking at her at eye level while he stood on his hind legs. Fluttershy could feel a blush coming on, but Discord was already looking away and gesticulating.
"I can think of a something that happened to me when I was younger, when my chaos wasn't as strong. I got to know the Monkey King quite well."
"The Monkey King?"
"He was in charge of the ruins in the area. At least he thought he was until I turned up. Monkeys can harness some earth magic the way draconequii can...and..."
He grinned at her. "Well, only certain types of monkeys. The Atelids and the Lemurs, mostly. And as far as I know they can't nowadays."
"Lemurs aren't technically monkeys."
"Well, okay. Strange beasties with grabby hands, then, as is the technical term" said Discord, making a motion in the air to suit his description. "They're all weird anyway, that whole group of animals, and one of the weird things about them is how they can latch on to magic. It's a weaker form of chaos magic and damned if I know how they do it. Maybe if I get the rest of my memories back I'll know..." He was silent for a beat, then launched into his story again.
"One day they saw this spectacularly handsome creature in one of their trees, and they didn't like it."
She didn't have to be told who the creature was. She already knew and rolled her eyes, smiling.
"So there I was minding my own business when this big male threw a guava fruit at me. It hit me right in the stomach. Knocked the wind out of me--from both ends. And I swore this monkey was laughing at me. Laughing. Now, I could have quite easily finished the matter right there and then by putting up a barrier or something, but where's the fun in that? I chased the monkey through the canopy, and the whole time he was making this racket--you know how loud howler monkeys are--and I got tired of it so I made him sound like a goat instead. You should have seen the reaction from his friends. They all started laughing at him and all he could do was bleat at them."
Despite herself, Fluttershy was laughing. She managed to collect herself then said "So how do the monkeys use magic?"
"I'm getting to that. When the female monkeys had finished laughing at Mr. Bleat I turned myself the colour and pattern of the trees so they wouldn't notice me and followed them, and that's when I found the ruins. The Monkey King was pretty overweight. He liked taking all the choice portions for himself and the lesser males and females had to give up what they'd found first. None of the monkeys had the stomach to challenge him. He was bigger and heavier than all of them, and despite his weight he could move pretty fast and bite pretty hard. But he could also harness magic. If a monkey disobeyed him he'd have them twitching on the ground in seconds. He was a bit of a tyrant, really. Seems to be a thing in primates."
"Not gorillas. Or bonobos. They have pretty peaceful family units."
"Well, whatever," snorted the draconequus, stroking his beard. "His majesty certainly wasn't peaceful. Now, really it was none of my business what the monkeys did, but I actually can't ever stand to see blind devotion, and I could sense a delightful undercurrent of dissent. They were obeying because they had to, not because they wanted to. They were also under his protection. His magic kept them safe from jaguars and other predators. But oh, I could smell the delicious insubordination flowing through their veins. They just needed someone to show them it was possible.”
He rubbed his hands in glee and flashed his sharp, white teeth in smile. "All I had to do was convince them that they weren't powerless. That they could take that ridiculous lump if they wanted to. So I became a draconequus in monkey's clothing. I took the form of a female because that seemed easier. The king was more likely to want females around that males that could potentially challenge him, even if he did have the upper hand with his magic. So the whole offering of food went on as it usually did, with the monkeys giving him the choice bits and bowing before him, then skittering away with their meager scraps. Then it came to my turn. I had a huge bunch of bananas and two guavas I had found nearby. The greedy king licked his lips at me. I wasn't sure if he thought I was tasty or the fruit was. Maybe I had overdone it on the desirable female form I'd taken. At any rate, he went for the fruit first and that was when I pulled it away. The other monkeys gasped. You should have seen them, Fluttershy. Imagine shocked monkey faces. Anyway, His Majesty immediately tried to punish me, but he couldn’t. His magic wasn’t powerful enough to overcome mine. He howled with rage but I stood my ground. He ordered two of his males to seize me but they couldn’t move either. I’d pinned them to the ground. All they could do was watch.”
Fluttershy was now listening intently, her teal eyes shining. “Then what happened?”
“He gave up and went back to his throne. Then I ate my fill and slunk off back into the jungle. In the morning I took the form of a different monkey and did the same thing. Ate fruit in front of him, and he couldn’t get to me. Every day I did it, until I had taken the form of every monkey in that troop. And that was when they knew. They ran him out of the ruins, with disharmonic magic. Technically they didn't need to use it. By that point His Majesty was a beaten monkey, but it helped.”
“What happened to him?” asked Fluttershy.
Discord shrugged. “Who knows. But it was fun to watch him run.”
She was suddenly quiet. “It was kind of...mean.”
“Mean? Fluttershy he was a tyrant monkey king! I just took him down a peg.”
“No, I mean if he ran off into the jungle and didn’t have a troop…”
“What was I supposed to do, babysit him?”
“Could you not have found a way to show him that what he was doing was wrong while he was still able to live at the ruins? Maybe all the monkeys could have shared?”
“Where’s the fun in that?” He looked genuinely confused.
“Maybe he would have been lonely.”
“But then there would have been no rebellion!” said Discord, swishing his tail back and forth.
“Why does their need to be?”
He couldn't believe this. She had been laughing at his story only a moment before! “Forget it,” sighed Discord. “You clearly don’t understand.”
“What don’t I understand?”
“I said forget it,” he said, and walked ahead.
He was in a sullen mood for the rest of the walk and by the time they got back to the house, Fluttershy decided to give him some space. He curled up on the bean bag for about an hour, then he ended up flicking through her bookshelf, grumbling to himself. After dinner Fluttershy decided to start getting ready.
A few days ago she had recieved an invitation from Rarity to attend a party. She was normally interested in large social gatherings, but it would be the first time she had seen her friends in weeks. She showered quickly and began to put on her outfit and make up, making sure her tail extensions looked alright.
Discord did a double take as she came down the stairs. Her mane was tied up in a bun on her head and held in place with chopsticks, but ringlets of her mane stuck out over her face, framing it softly. She had chosen a turquoise blue robe embossed with a red and white flower pattern that also had the repeating image of delicate jellyfish. The garment swished as she moved and the jellyfish looked almost as if they were swimming in the aqua fabric. He was speechless for a moment, but collected himself in time and threw her a snarky comment: “You look like a sushi roll.”
He could have kicked himself. Why had he said that? Was he some kind of simpleton all of a sudden? It wasn't even witty.
“Very funny, Discord,” she said in a tone of voice that implied it was not funny at all.
“I'm...only teasing,” he said, and to his relief she smiled at him. She had been joking too.“What's the occasion?” he asked.
“Rarity is holding a party for her new Neighponese inspired collection. The dress code is Japonynese, hence the outfit.”
He put his book down. “You mean you're going out?”
“Well, yes. It'll be the first time I've seen my friends in weeks.” She occasionally ran into them at the market, but it wasn't often enough and she only had time for a quick chat before she had to get back to Discord.
“Will there...be stallions there?” he said. He wanted to stab his brain for making him say stupid things right now. He wanted to put a filter between his brain and his mouth, because there clearly wasn't one.
“I imagine so.” Then she seemed to remember something and said, “Discord, I told you. Stallions today aren't like the ones from the past. There's nothing to worry about.”
Somehow he found the words of little comfort. He didn't want her around stallions, even if they wouldn't hurt her. He just found the whole thing made him...uncomfortable. “I don't like stallions,” he muttered. This wasn't entirely true. In one of his dreams where he had travelled, it had not solely been ladies he had encountered, but he had somehow compartmentalized and justified it to himself when going to bed with someone was involved. He didn't have to like them the rest of the time.
“Yes, I know. But a stallion saved your life.”
“You saved my life.”
“Seth removed the crystal that was in your head, and he helped the night you took all those pills.”
“He was in the house?”
“Discord, calm down. Seth is a friend of mine. He's the stallion I told you about who used to be my coltfriend. He's a good guy. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I don't want you to go.”
Filter. Mouth. Mouth filter.
“I'll be back soon.” she said, a little impatiently. “When you're better you can meet Seth and my other friends.”
“And why would I need to do that?”
“Because I think it would be good for you to meet other ponies. You've been cooped up in here with me for too long and the point is that you get better and you won't be cooped up any more.”
He was inevitably going to have to meet people. Towards the end of Spring ponies would be bringing animals to her and she needed to converse with them to run her business. She should have foreseen this. He was completely reliant on her and had no one else to talk to.
“Discord, it's just for a few hours. Then I'll come back.”
“I know you're going to come back,” he spat. “I'm not a child.” She saw his claws sink into the couch. Oh for the love of...
“Well then, you'll be mature enough to understand that I can have a night out with my friends and shouldn't have to feel guilty about it."
She started walking out. He saw her leaving and panic welled up in his chest.“Fluttershy, wait! You...”
The door slammed in his face and he pressed his forehead against it. “You look nice,” he grumbled.
Fluttershy's annoyance with Discord had already started to dissipate as she neared the Carousel Boutique. She could already see mares and stallions in Japonynese garb chatting and sipping glasses of punch in the small garden outside. Rarity had strung fairy lights shaped like Neighponese lanterns over the doors of the boutique and in the nearby trees. Larger paper lanterns sat on tables , giving off a warm, welcoming glow.
She hadn't even reached the door yet when she heard Rarity's voice: “Fluttershy, darling! I'm so glad you could make it, come in!” She bustled the pegasus through the double doors into the din of the crowd. Fluttershy suddenly realized there were a lot of ponies there that she didn't recognize and she moved closer to Rarity, smiling sheepishly.
The unicorn handed her friend a glass of punch, which Fluttershy took gratefully, suddenly glad that she had something to hold onto and look occupied with. She looked around the room for more of her friends but she couldn't see over all the elaborate headdresses.
“Fluttershy, allow me to introduce, all the way from Neighpon, Ms. Lily of the Valley, one of the finest Japonynese designers working today,” said Rarity. She gestured towards a pegasus mare who bowed to Fluttershy.
“Oh...um...” Fluttershy bowed back, hoping she was doing it correctly. “It's a pleasure to meet you.”
“Fluttershy runs an animal adoption business,” Rarity explained.
Lily's eyes lit up. “Really? How lovely. It's so good to see that ponies are still doing things for the welfare of animals.”
“Thank you,” said Fluttershy. She was about to start gushing over the beetles she had just gotten from the Equestrian Entomological Society but Lily had started gushing over Fluttershy's robe.
“The pattern is simply divine!” said Lily, stroking the silk material.
Rarity giggled girlishly. “Oh thank you,” she said. “Fluttershy here has modelled a number of my creations.”
“I can't wait to see the others.”
Fluttershy was beginning to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Now that the conversation had shifted to fashion and not animals she awkwardly tended to her drink, trying not to gulp it down as she had done at previous gatherings. Rarity and Lily were now chatting away eagerly, so she was immensely relieved when she spotted Twilight across the room looking equally awkward.
“Um...Rarity, I'm just going to go over and speak to Twilight,” she said.
“Oh, of course!” said Rarity. “Enjoy the evening!”
Fluttershy hurried over towards the librarian.
“You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” said Twilight. “I don't know anyone here apart from Rarity and one guy from the Historical Cartography Society I saw earlier and I haven't seen the others yet! They're probably here but I can't see anything over the crowd.”
“I know,” agreed the pegasus. “And I'm glad to see you too.I...hate these things. I'm just here to see you girls.”
“How's it going with you-know-who?” asked Twilight.
“A hoof full?”
“Twilight Sparkle! Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?” A tall blue stallion wearing a black and white robe strode forward towards the two mares.
“Oh, Mr. Snare. I didn't see you there. I got lost in the crowd again. This is my friend Fluttershy.” The pegasus held out her arm for a hoofshake.
Sokolsky was staring at Fluttershy intently. “Charmed,indeed!” he said, and he took her hoof and kissed it. Twilight noticed her friend had now turned the colour of a tomato, but Fluttershy reacted that way to most stallions.
“Um...thank you?” said Fluttershy, at once wondering whether it was rude to frame what she had just said in a questioning tone. It was just that she didn't feel sure herself.
“This is the guy from the Historical Cartography Society I was telling you about, Mr. Sokolsky Snare.”
“May I get you another drink?” said Sokolsky.
“Your glass appears to be empty,” he pointed out as she gazed down into it. “I'll be right back.”
Fluttershy was relieved to watch him go. She lowered her voice at Twilight again. “Discord is a hoof full, yes, but...he's. He's actually really...”
Sweet? Funny? Exciting to be around?
“...um, easier to tolerate than I expected,” she said.
“Well if he tries anything...” said Twilight, gritting her teeth and pounding one of her hooves into the other.
“Oh, it's nothing like that. Mostly I think he's scared, Twilight. Even before his memories started coming back he was acting out. He clawed my mattress open and things like that...that's the sign of a stressed animal.”
“Who are we talking about?” said Sokolsky. He had returned with two glasses of punch.
“My pet bunny,” said Fluttershy quickly.
“Well he must have quite a temper if he's strong enough to shred open a mattress with his little bunny teeth and claws!”
“You have no idea,” said Fluttershy softly.
Discord had tried returning to his book but his thoughts continued to drift towards Fluttershy. How dare she leave him here by himself! How dare she tell him he was immature! She wasn't the one suffering intense memory loss. She wasn't the one that had spent close to a thousand years in the woods doing buck-knows-what to survive. At least she knew who she was! At least she had friends!
He seethed at the latter thought.
At first he had considered following her and arguing his point, but she would have been cross with him, and even more daunting was the thought that there could be royal guards out there. He shuddered.
He was bored of the book. It had started off interestingly enough, but had descended into moralizing, and the character Discord had considered the hero was actually a villain and he knew without reading any further that he would probably be killed off in the next few chapters. He moved over to the bookcase. Fluttershy had to have something other than novels and zoology books. She would occasionally bring him books from the Golden Oaks library to read if he requested them, but he read so fast that she wasn't always able to keep up with his demands. This had only been a recent thing too, as prior to that his head had hurt too much to concentrate on reading. He pushed the book he had been reading back onto the bookshelf in an annoyed fashion and that was when he heard something slide downwards.
“Hello?” he said out loud, and manoeuvred his long neck so that his head was peering into the small gap between the bookshelf and the wall. Yes, he could see a book, and it was one he hadn't read. He secretly prayed to the ether that it wasn't another novel of the same ilk, pushed the shelf out a little with his stronger lion arm and reached inwards with his thinner griffon arm. His claws managed to gain purchase and he pulled it out.
It was a blue hardcover entitled The History of Equestria.
Now this was interesting. Maybe he would learn something about the past a thousand years. He briefly noted it was part of a series written by someone called Hoofsteader and he turned to the contents page. His eyes began to travel down the page quickly gathering the information, and precisely 0.5 seconds later he saw "The Reign of Discord.” His heart began to pound as he turned to the appropriate pages. Then he began to read.
Fluttershy felt exhausted. Applejack and Twilight had insisted on walking her home, but she told them they could go no further than the bridge. At some point she would introduce them to Discord, but she knew he had to be more emotionally stable for that, and right now he wasn't.
She couldn't help but feel slightly annoyed by how the evening had gone. She had hoped to spend it talking to Twilight but Sokolsky seemed to have monopolized the conversation. He had mostly talked about himself, and all the while he had kept looking at her in a way that made her want to stare at the floor.
Still, at least she was home now. She removed her horseshoes and the chop sticks from her mane and pushed the door open. It was late, but the kitchen light was on, and that was where she found Discord, who was sitting at the counter with the book open in front of him. He raised his head to look at her and from the look on his face she realized what he was reading before she clocked it.
She began to move forward.
"Don't come any closer," snarled the draconequus.
“You're a liar!”
“I didn't lie to you!”
“What bunch of bull! You kept all this stuff from me and I'm supposed to trust you?”
“I don't even know if that book is accurate! It says right there that were unfounded rumours about you and Celestia!”
“Then why were you hiding it? If this is just harmless twaddle then why is it in a secret place?”
“B-because I'm not sure how much of it is inaccurate. And also because I was instructed to.”
He flung the book across the room and it hit the wall with a loud thwack.
“You're screwing with me,” he snarled. “I don't know how, or why this Princess Celestia is ordering you too, but if you take one more step towards me I can promise you you'll be sorry.” He looked furious. The feathers on his back were standing upright and his claws were all unsheathed. If anything he looked even more frightening than he did the day she encountered him in the woods. He now had strength and intelligence on his side.
Fluttershy froze. Words were her only chance.
“Discord, I wanted you to get your memories back on your own. If I had shown you that book, which could be lies, it might have...”
“Don't talk to me about LIES!”
There was a moment where the air seemed to suck out of the room and Fluttershy was vaguely aware that her ears had just popped, then there was an explosive sound and she was blown backwards by an unseen force.
She landed behind the couch, remarkably uninjured. She could feeling ringing in her ears and head and she quickly scrambled over to the couch, where her saddlebag was. The ringing was fading but her heart was pounding and she felt like she might faint at any moment. She fumbled in the bag for her Element frantically. Then she heard sobbing.
Gingerly, she peered out from behind the couch. She couldn't see Discord from where she was. He was hidden behind the kitchen counter. Fluttershy stood up on shaky legs and pricked her ears forward.
There was a retching sound then louder sobbing, and she followed the sound to behind the kitchen counter, where she found Discord, a terrified look on his face.
“What happened?” she asked. She was terrified as well, but he was crying.
“I don't...know. I just know I was so angry with you and all of a sudden this feeling just slammed into my chest and then slammed outward.”
Fluttershy looked at the kitchen floor. There was a crater there, but instead of blowing the floor open it had bent the wood in a way that looked physically impossible. It looked there were was a cracked bowl in her kitchen floor, and growing out of the cracks were green-leafed vines, that were still slowly spreading across the floor. Eventually they stopped, and ended in a bud, which flowered and deposited marbles which rolled across the floor and melted, leaving holes in the woodwork.
“What the buck?” shouted Discord, and began sobbing again.
Fluttershy tentatively moved towards him and put her hoof on his shoulder. He flinched, but then melted into her embrace and bawled into her shoulder. “Help me,” he said.
“Shh,” she said. “Shhhh.”
She didn't know what words to use to comfort him.
“Help me. Help me.” he was saying over and over. He was trembling and clinging to her robe, his head against her chest.
Fluttershy looked around the kitchen and the living room. The shock wave had thrown furniture and books everywhere. He didn't need to see this.
“Discord, come with me, you can sleep upstairs tonight.” She would sleep on the sofa bed and she would worry about tidying up later. He stood up on shaky legs, and leaned against her as they slowly made their way up the creaky stairs.
“Lie down,” she told him. He had sat on the edge of the bed as if in a stupor, and it was only when she spoke to him that he realized lying down would be the best course of action. She started covering him with the blanket, and was about to get some extra bedding out the wardrobe for herself when she felt his paw around her wrist.
“Stay with me,” he said. “Please.” She looked down at his face. His eyes were searching hers frantically and she nodded.
Discord slowly leaned back onto the bed. She could still feel him shaking. She removed her robe and lay down next to him, then put her arms and wings around him. He began to sob again.
“It was the chaos,” he was saying. “It was the chaos but it didn't feel good like in the dream...”
“I wanted to tell you about the book,” said Fluttershy, whose own eyes were now filling with tears. “I really did. But I was just doing what the Princess told me. I know Princess Celestia and she would never do anything evil. If she wanted it hidden, it was for a good reason. But now you know, so I guess I'm no longer bound by my promise to her.”
She felt his muzzle in her mane at the top of her head and his arms wrapped around her.
Discord's brain was screaming at him to run, run far away from these accursed ponies because how did he know they weren't using him? How did he know this wasn't all some kind of farce? But his heart was terrified and all he wanted more than anything right now was to hold onto someone and be reassured by them, because he was afraid that if he didn't have that, the roof might cave in, and then the floor, and he would be swallowed up by nothing and go insane, so he clung to her, because he had nothing else in the world right now.
“I think when things are a bit more relaxed,” she said softly, “You should meet my friends.”
He began to protest, but she said “Shhh. You don't have to decide now, it's just an idea,” and he relaxed again. Well, as relaxed as he could be when he had almost blown up her house.
Eventually his choked sobs gave way to softer, deeper breathing, and she knew he had fallen asleep, possibly from sheer exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, and soon she joined him.
In the morning Fluttershy covered the bowl shape in the kitchen floor with a rug, and instructed everyone in the house to remember that they shouldn't step on it. She would have to repair it some other time. Discord helped her put furniture upright and reshelve the books that had flown across the room. When they were done Fluttershy suggested they sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.
"No walk today?" said Discord, sounding disappointed. Tidying the house up had been boring enough.
"I think you need to rest today," she said. He pouted, but she gave him a look that made him feel less sure about starting an argument. She was right anyway. He felt tired and drained after last night. His muscles ached, like they had been sapped of most of their strength and he flopped down on his back on the grass, weary at the heavy reminder. They watched as the ferrets wrestled in front of the house, sometimes chasing each other around the front garden. Suddenly one of them stopped, and sniffed the air and licked its lips as if it had smelt something delicious. And it had, to a ferret anyway.
Fluttershy could see Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom coming up the path and she panicked. Her immediate instinct was to herd Discord back into the house, but after what had happened last night, she didn’t want him to feel like any more of a freak than he probably already was. And she had wanted him to make friends, hadn’t she? At some point, someone would have turned up with a hurt animal, and that was exactly what was happening. She could see the bird on Apple Bloom’s back. Its eyes were half open and it was panting. The ferret stood on its hind legs. “No,” said Fluttershy primly. “You’ll get plenty of food later.” The ferret gave a disappointed snort and slunk into the house. Its companion followed.
Discord was watching as the foals came closer, and had actually stood up on his four legs. He felt unsure. These were ponies that were not Fluttershy, and he had no idea how they were going to react to him.
The pegasus ran to meet the fillies.
“We found him on the ground, Fluttershy. Did a cat get him?”
She checked the bird over carefully. “He’s dehydrated,” she said. “Let’s get him some water.” She picked the bird off Apple Bloom’s back and set it between her wings. The fillies began to move forward, then Fluttershy stopped them. “Girls, I have a guest staying with me. His name is Discord. Be polite. He’s recovering from...health issues.”
Discord waited in the background. He was trying to strike a stance that was between protective of himself and not too menacing. He looked like a big feathered snake.
“What kind of name is Discord?” mouthed Sweetie Belle.
But the other two fillies had already spotted him. “Whoa! Neato!” cried Scootaloo. He gazed with abject terror as the fillies ran towards him.
“Girls, wait!” shouted Fluttershy.
“You’re amazing!” cried Apple Bloom. “Look, he’s got a lion paw, and an eagle claw!”
“And look at his head! He’s got an antler and a horn!”
“Wow, look at those teeth!” shrieked Sweetie Belle, but it was a shriek of excitement. Fluttershy watched in amazement as the draconequus stretched his body, his claws unsheathing as he did so and the fillies continued to be amazed at all his animal characteristics.
“I’ve never seen an animal made up of so many...animals.” said Sweetie Belle.
Fluttershy worried momentarily that Discord might take issue with being called an animal, but instead he looked extremely proud of himself, he was even beginning to move around with some measure of swagger.
“What are you?” asked Scootaloo.
“I’m a draconequus,” he told them. “Well, I am The draconequus. There’s not another one like me.”
Instead of sounding sad, he seemed quite proud of this fact. He let the foals walk around him and examine his bat wing and dragon tail. Fluttershy was beginning to relax.
“Is Fluttershy looking after you?” asked Scootaloo.
He looked up at the mare, smirking. “Yes, I’m very sick,” he told them. He began rolling around on the ground clutching his stomach and groaning. Fluttershy almost rolled her eyes. “I think I may be suffering from ennui.” He lifted his head slightly and grinned at the pegasus, but she was now walking past him into the house to get the bird some water.
“From an-whatta?” said Apple Bloom. "Does that mean you have trouble going to the bathroom?"
The rest of the afternoon was one of the most pleasant in recent memory for Fluttershy. Discord ran around the garden happily with the fillies. He even forgot the pain his muscles. Fluttershy watched them happily. The Blue Jay that the girls had brought her was recovering nicely under the shade of her wing, and she sipped from a glass of lemonade she had made for everyone. The girls had declared war on the vicious beast, and were now making him surrender.
“Nooo!” he howled, clutching at his heart as Apple Bloom stabbed at his chest with a bulrush. He began going through fake death throes in a way that Fluttershy worried looked rather graphic. After a time he lay still. Then the three fillies shrieked with laughter as he let out a loud burp. He then chased them round the garden again, the beast coming back to life for revenge.
Then the light was fading and it was time for them to go.
“Can we come back and play with you and Discord another time, Fluttershy?”
She smiled and looked up at the draconequus. “I dunno…” he said, furrowing his brow and stroking his goatee.
“I think it could be the perfect cure for your ennui,” said Fluttershy, and sipped at her lemonade. She could see him smirking out of the corner of her eye, but she demurely continued to look at the ground as if she had said nothing.
“The doctor has spoken, girls,” he said to the fillies.
Fluttershy laughed. “Yes, of course you can. But ask your big sisters first.”
“We will!” promised the foals as they made their way across the bridge.
“What’s ennui?” asked Scootaloo when they were out of earshot.
That night he dreamt. He was surrounded by beautiful chaos, and it hugged him like a warm blanket, comforting him, whispering to him. In the final stages of his dream he was on his throne and a mare was before him. He was surrounded by other ponies. Some were massaging his shoulders as he lazily made the fabric of reality warp and bend before him. Piano keys floated past, each making an out of tune sound as they passed overhead. In the distance, whales and giant squid floated through the air, sometimes tussling violently with each other as they made low bellowing sounds. Occasionally a tornado of cats would rampage over the horizon, meowing loudly.
The mare was begging him for something. Begging him to use his magic. She had a bundle in her arms and she was begging him.
Then she showed him the contents of the bundle.
He was awake now, and running. He could hear Fluttershy calling his name behind him. Running out of bed, down the stairs, across the living room, the door burst open seemingly of its own free will and he was under the early morning sky and then it happened. The air seemed to billow before him then the trees burst into blue flame.
Fluttershy was now out the door and she cried out when she saw what had happened. Before he knew what was happening she was flying towards the flames.
“Shy!” he screamed. “Don't!” What was she doing?
“There are birds nesting in that tree!” she cried out. He couldn't hear what she was saying but he was terrified for her and began to run towards the tree. Fluttershy had wriggled into a hole in the trunk and there she found the terrified woodpecker and its eggs. The pegasus was already beginning to cough as she gathered them all up in her wings and arms. “I'm gonna...get you...out of...” she began to feel faint. There was so much smoke in the tree and it was climbing up her nostrils, into her throat making the delicate membrances within feel like they were suddenly being turned into dried up paper.
“No, no no!” Discord cried. He couldn't let someone die because of him again. He tried summoning his magic. He tried thinking of water, but nothing happened. He howled in frustration. Fine, so be it. Fire it was. He began climbing up the trunk, trying to avoid the flaming branches, some of which were falling past him.
Discord was angry with himself. Angry at everything, terrified he might never see Fluttershy alive again. His paw began to quiver he felt the anger and terror pool in his chest and explode outward and inward again. He managed to cling to the tree as rain, hail and wind pelted at him with the force of a hurricane. The extra blast of wind brought the fire to terrifying life momentarily.
“SHY!” screamed Discord. The flames were now beginning to vanish in the storm's onslaught but the smoke had increased in the process. Discord reached the knothole and began pulling her out as the wind died down. He climbed down the trunk with her on his shoulder. He took the frightened mother bird and her eggs as well, balancing them between Fluttershy and his body. The smoke was beginning to affect him too, and soon they were all on the ground, coughing and hacking. Discord's coughs turned to sobs and he lay on the wet ground as the rain continued to fall. He didn't want to get up and face reality.
But Fluttershy was already getting to her feet. “Where's the woodpecker?” she shouted. Discord lifted his pegasus wing to reveal the shaking bird and her eggs. “Let's get them inside,” she said.
“Take them,” he said. He just wanted to lie there. Fluttershy reluctantly gathered them up and hurried inside with them, out of the cold rain. Once she was sure the mother bird was comfortable with her eggs she ran back outside for Discord. She found him curled up in a ball and knelt down next to him, nuzzling his face. "Are you okay?" she whispered. He looked up at her and she gestured for him to place his head in her lap while she stroked his mane.
He bit his lip, trying not to cry, but the tears mixed with the pelting rain.
He wasn't going to tell her about his dream. She would surely never want to see him or help him again if he did. This was on a whole different level than the Monkey King story had been.
It was all true. The book was right. A kid starved because of him. And he hadn't cared. He hadn't cared because the chaos made him feel good and he needed it. He needed it because nothing else felt good any more. It wasn't his fault ponies were dying. They were just victims of circumstance. That's what he had told himself. He hadn't cared. A kid had died because of him, a kid! He remembered the little fillies he had met yesterday and how they hadn't been afraid of him and sobbed into Fluttershy's shoulder hysterically. He couldn't have even used the excuse that he “hadn't been in his right mind” like Fluttershy had when he worried he had eaten ponies. Maybe part of him hadn't been in his right mind, but it didn't matter.
“Let's go inside,” she said, helping him to his feet. He was shaking as she led him into her cottage. She ran upstairs and got a towel, and began drying his soaked feathers and fur off. When she started towelling off his mane he muttered something.
“Pardon?” said Fluttershy.
“I said, I'm sorry,” he whispered. Even though he meant it, the words felt empty and hollow after his dream. He felt as if a great weight was crushing him and he hung limply as she led him to the couch and sat him down and continued to towel him off. She even wiped the tears off his wet face. Nothing got past Fluttershy.
"I'm sorry too," she said. She felt his talon gingerly touch the top of her head then stroke her mane and she hugged him.
"What if..." he began. She looked up at him in the dim light to see his amber eyes staring back at her fearfully. "What if this is what I am?"
She knew he was talking about what he had read in the book, and she touched his lion paw gently with her hoof.
"That was then, this is now," she said softly.
By "repatriation" I mean the process by which museums and other cultural institutions transfer possession and control of remains, funerary objects, objects of cultural patrimony and sacred objects back to the culture of origin, sometimes for burial. In this case it would be the the remains of dragons, and if they had survived, the draconequii.
So I've still found some way of working Discord's surrogate mother into this tale. As with my other tales, she's Nature and is of course the greatest source of chaos magic.
The title of the chapter comes from the song of the same name by Veruca Salt
Finally, I wrote this chapter while not feeling my best. So if anything looks "off" please let me know. Many thanks to Alara for looking over part of this for me.