It wasn't until a few days after the incident that Discord began to feel better. The smell of the burnt trees outside was an unfortunate reminder of what had transpired that morning, and Fluttershy really wanted the draconequus to get his mind off what had happened. At the same time, she knew she needed to do some further research on possible ways to help him.
It was market day, and Fluttershy was preparing her saddle bags for town. Discord's appetite was now enormous and Fluttershy's shopping list was much longer than usual. He ate the pony equivalent of six or seven meals a day and she had ended up cooking mostly one-pot meals for both of them so he could heat it up and help himself when he liked. The draconequus seemed to particularly like spicy food and there were several types of peppers listed on her scrap of parchment.
“Discord, I'm stopping off at the library on the way home. Are there any books you want me to get you?”
He perked up at that. Whenever Fluttershy was gone, or was busy he felt incredibly bored. Not only that but the thoughts of his terrible dream would start creeping back into his head, so he was hungry for the chance to have more reading material to occupy his mind.
“Something funny this time, Fluttershy. Or science fiction. That book about the rich idiot who throws parties to impress mares was boring. Even the twist at the end was boring. Twists don't mean much if I don't care about the characters.”
“The Galloping Gatsby?” asked Fluttershy.
“That's the one.”
“That was Twilight's recommendation. She said it was a classic.”
“A classic bore.”
The woodpecker was now nesting in one of the many wooden bird boxes Fluttershy had hung up in her cottage and it would occassionally poke its head out to watch Discord and Fluttershy talking.
“I'll ask her for something amusing,” said Fluttershy. “Anything else?” She sounded tired.
“A book about maps.”
“Yeah...I'd...like to see how much of the world has changed since I've been living in the woods.”
Fluttershy added “book maps” to her list then turned to go, but then she remembered something.
“Discord,” she said. “I think it might be a good idea if Seth came over in a few days to check how you're getting on.”
“I'm fine. My head is fine and all my bones have healed. What does he need to check?”
She chose her words carefully. “Recovering from brain surgery isn't all about the physical,” she said.
“Fluttershy, are you scared of me?”
She looked up at him. “No, Discord, I'm scared for you.
“That could have been your cottage I set fire to.”
“Yes, I know, but I'm still not frightened of you. It was an accident, okay?”
“But what if it happens again?”
“That's why I think I should go and see Seth.” It was also why she was going to see Twilight today, to see if any books existed on how to use chaos magic. Maybe Discord would be able to benefit from the information within.
He grabbed her hooves in his paw and talon. “What are you going to tell him?” he said, an edge creeping into his voice.
“I won't go into detail, I promise,” she told him softly. “He can come over and you can tell him how you've been feeling.”
Discord tried not to growl as he thought of the stallion being near Fluttershy.
He flinched as he felt her small hoof on his back. “Did you have a bad memory dream, Discord? Is that what caused it?”
“I...don't really feel like talking about this right now, Fluttershy,” he admitted.
“I'm sorry,” she said softly, and began to gather up her things again. “I'll see you later for our walk? I shouldn't be more than an hour at the most.”He nodded. “Think about what I said about a check up, okay?” Then she closed the door gently behind her.
Fluttershy's walk to town was thankfully a pleasant one. She enjoyed the warmth on her wings and noted several new migratory birds that were arriving to nest over the Spring and Summer. Even the market didn't seem scary today. She bought several small bags of lentils and beans, chillies, cheese, vegetables and bird seed. It was a hefty load, but she was able to balance the weight between her saddlebags without it being uncomfortable.
She found Spike and Twilight eating their lunch on the grass outside when she reached the Golden Oaks library. Twilight's nose was in a book as she munched on her sandwich, being careful not to get any crumbs on the pages.
“Hello,” said Fluttershy, who was thankful for an opportunity to drop her saddle bags for a bit.
“Fluttershy!” said Spike. “Long time no see!” The pegasus nodded. “I know, I'm sorry. I've just been super busy this week, and I can only stop for a few minutes this time. And I wish we'd had more time to talk at Rarity's party before Mr. Snare turned up.”
Twilight laughed. “He does like to wax lyrical about his favourite subject doesn't he?”
“Himself,” said both mares in unison and they laughed.
Twilight's expression suddenly turned serious.“Is Discord giving you any trouble?” she asked.
“No more than Angel Bunny is” said Fluttershy. “But...there have been some issues. Which is part of the reason I'm here. I think now that Discord is getting healthier it...might be logical to assume his magic might come back.” She wasn't going to tell Twilight and Spike about the trees or her kitchen. She didn't want them to worry about her.
“Has anything happened?”
“N—no,” said Fluttershy. “I just think I should prepare in case it does.”
“Well that's why we have that spell on our Elements.”
“I don't want to hurt him! I want him to understand that just because he has magic doesn't mean he will use it against us.”
Twilight was surprised at the volume Fluttershy had used. She sounded defensive.
“So what did you have in mind?” asked the unicorn, who had now abandoned her sandwich, which was summarily snatched up by Spike.
“I was wondering if you have any books on chaos magic. Any at all.”
Twilight got to her feet and walked into the library. Fluttershy and Spike followed quickly and Twilight began checking the card index she and Spike had put together. “Hmmm, chaos, chaos,” she muttered as her horn glowed and the card flipped. “Hm. We don't appear to have any on index. We'll check the back room quickly.”
Fluttershy waited as Twilight and Spike spent twenty minutes looking through the tomes, but to no avail. “I can put in a request to the nearby Canterlot and Neigh Hampshire libraries,” said Twilight. “If there's anything it should be here within the week.”
“Thank you so much,” said Fluttershy.
“Oh...yes. Funny books have been requested this week.”
Spike hurried over to the humour section, grinning.
“And a book about maps? A modern one.”
Twilight's horn glowed and a thin brown book with a white spine floated over to the pegasus. “This is a pretty good one and I use it a lot,” said Twilight. Fluttershy read the title: “Atlas of Equestria, fourth edition. This is perfect, thanks!”
Spike staggered forward carrying a large stack of books. “This enough?” he asked.
Fluttershy giggled. “Um...I'll just take a few this time,” she said.
Carmarella grinned to herself as she and Ox lifted their rucksacks and started the trek to the Everfree. She would have a permit soon! They would be in the money soon and there wasn't a thing anyone could say about it. But first they'd have to catch this creature...whatever it was. She wondered why Sokolsky was so fixated on it. Did he want it for himself so he could make money from it? If so she wanted a cut, and she needed to think about how to make such a deal with him.
Worry about that later she told herself. First thing was first; Track the animal and trap it. If this thing was dangerous, it needed trapping for more reasons than one. She remembered the pony skeleton she had seen. Maybe that old zebra coot up the Everfree had seen signs of it. She decided once they were up there and had set up camp, she would pay old Zecora a visit.
After lunch Fluttershy and Discord headed out for their daily walk. This time they went beyond the field in the back and walked until they reached the edge of a wooded area. Discord was uncharacteristically quiet this time, and Fluttershy was worried that the mention of Seth had disturbed him, but she tried to cheer him up by pointing out various plants and insects she spotted along the way. He would nod or say one word, but seemed to not be interested in conversation.
She was beginning to worry that he was going into one of his sulks, and was about to suggest they turn back when there was a yelp from Discord.
She turned around quickly. “What's wro--” she began, and she was pelted in the face by tiny black things that looked like pellets.
“That plant just spat at me!” growled the draconequus. "And it hurt!"
“I brushed against it and it threw something at me!”
Fluttershy moved forward to get a better look at what Discord was pointing at. When she saw it, it all became clear and she laughed.
“What's so funny?” he growled, rubbing his stung face.
“The plant! It didn't spit at you. It's Impatiens balsamina!”
“In Equestrian, please. I can't remember all the languages I've forgotten yet.”
“No, that's its scientific name. It's a kind of Balsam. It comes from Neighpal and Myanmare.”
“So what's it doing here, flinging things at me?”
“You brushed against the seed pods. Here, look.” She gently touched one of the pods hanging off the plant and it burst with a popping sound, the seeds dispersing several feet away. “It's how it spreads. It's not native to Equestria. In fact, lots of ponies have tried to stop it because it can out compete other plants. It grows and spreads so fast it's almost unstoppable.” She pointed to the bright pink flowers growing on its vines. “The flowers are good for pollinators though. See, here's a bee. She seems to be enjoying it.”
Discord flicked his tail back and forth. He was still looking at the plant suspiciously, as if it had done him a personal wickedness.
“The problem is the plant sometimes chokes other plants around it because it grows so fast and wild. It blocks out the light other slower growing plants might need to start sprouting and growing.” She gently touched the branch with the flowers on so she could get a better look at the bees flying in and out of the blooms. “But that's not the plant's fault,” she continued. “It didn't ask to belong here. Ponies brought it over from Myanmare and wanted it growing in their gardens as an ornamental. They underestimated it and it began to spread beyond the garden. Now it grows wild, like it should. It's only doing what it needs to survive. I think, for that reason, Impatiens balsamina is beautiful.” She sniffed at the flowers.
Discord watched her. He was suddenly still as he took in the image of the sunlight glinting off her mane. Her eyes were closed as she breathed in the scent of the flower. Bees buzzed happily around her, as if they were saying “Hello, Fluttershy. Good to see you. Isn't the nectar fine today?” She moved up to another flower and did the same thing, her eyes closing as she took in the scent. Then she moved back, and accidentally brushed against one of the plant's pods again. She yelped as the seeds popped everywhere, then laughed.
Discord was smiling at her wickedly.
“Oh, no! Don't you dare!” she cried, but she was laughing. Discord suddenly launched his body into the air and landed in the tangled patch of balsam. The pods burst everywhere, the seeds flying like botanical fireworks. Fluttershy shrieked with laughter.
Discord lifted his neck, so that only his head and tail were visible over the bushes. “Hey, Fluttershy, can we take one of these plants home with us?”
“Oh, I don't know. I don't think I'd want it covering the plants in the garden.”
“Then we'll keep it in the house. I can water it, and sing to it and whatever dumb stuff it is ponies do with plants to help them grow. Please?”
She smiled. “Well...okay. As long as it stays in the house.” She removed a small plant pot from her saddle bag and put it on the ground. Then she helped Discord carefully unearth one of the smaller Balsam plants and pack the soil around it as it was transferred to its new home.
Fluttershy began gathering some of the seeds in a small bag.
"What are you doing?" asked Discord.
"The seeds are edible," explained Fluttershy. "I can make bread or cookies with them." She dusted herself off and handed him the potted plant.
Discord carried it back in his arms almost possessively.
Sokolsky browsed the shelves of the Golden Oaks library with frustration and came to the conclusion that the book he needed wasn't there.
“Twilight,” he said. “Where is the Atlas of Equestria?”
“Oh, Fluttershy took that out a few hours before,” said Spike.
“Spike! You know we're not supposed to tell people who takes which book out,” scolded Twilight gently.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
“That's quite alright, young dragon,” said Sokolsky, as if he was the one who had enforced the rule. “I'll just have to make do with the third edition for the Historical Cartographer's meeting later tonight. Fluttershy, you say? Twilight, wasn't she the lovely mare you introduced me to at Rarity's soiree?”
The unicorn squirmed. She wished she hadn't introduced them. While Sokolsky seemed to be a pleasant enough fellow, and she enjoyed his talks on historical maps, Fluttershy had seemed thoroughly uncomfortable throughout the encounter. It wasn't just that Sokolsky had talked about himself throughout most of it; It was that he seemed to assume that Fluttershy had been hanging on his every word.
“Yes, that's her,” replied the unicorn. “She's a very good friend of mine.”
“Didn't you say she runs an animal sanctuary of some sort?”
“It's the best!” said Spike. “She even looked after a giant anteater once!”
“Is that so? She sounds like a most admirable mare, devoting her time to help the needy.”
“Yeah she'll take in any animal that's hurt or sick,” said the little dragon. “And she was really interested in my species! She even wanted to know how dragon breath works, and why I have a crest.”
“So she knows a lot about animals?”
“She knows everything about them!”
“How lovely.” He picked up his umbrella and satchel. “Well, if the book isn't here I'll have to come back another time.”
“I can send you a letter once it's back,” said Twilight.
“No need. I'll make do at the moment. See you at the meeting later?”
Twilight nodded. “Looking forward to it, as always.”
Sokolsky bowed and closed the door behind him.
When they returned home the draconequus carefully placed the plant on the kitchen counter and gave it some water. “I'm going to name it Harold,” he said.
“Why Harold?” asked Fluttershy.
“Because it looks like a Harold,” said Discord, gently stroking its leaves. Fluttershy decided not to ask. She was just pleased that Discord's mood seemed to have improved considerably since encountering the plant.
“Why don't we sit in the garden while it's still warm?” she suggested. “I'll make us some tea.”
The weather was getting warmer by the day and there were plenty of sunny patches in the back garden. Discord selected one, and flopped over into it like an elongated cat, stretching his legs out and displaying his claws in the process. Fluttershy watched him as she put down the tea tray. Despite the draconequus getting his memories back and his relatively speedy recovery, he still moved and behaved very much like an animal in many ways. Yes, he was an animal, just like she was, but she knew sapient animals had lost certain mannerisms over time in civilised society. Discord still walked on all fours often and sometimes he would still sniff his food before eating it.
She watched as he sighed deeply and lay still on the grass, sunbathing. The chocolate brown feathers on his back looked thicker and healthier now, and the scales on his tail had a lovely iridescent sheen that was previously lacking. She opened her sketchbook and began to outline the feathers of his resting pegasus wing. Next she made a study of his tail scales and the tuft at the end of his tail. She became so engrossed in adding in the details that she nearly missed the knock at the door, but Discord's sensitive ears caught it and he froze.
“There's...there's someone at the door,” he said, lifting his head. Fluttershy could see the tension in his body.
“I'll get it,” she said. “You stay here, and don't worry. It's probably a delivery or something.”
She put down her sketchbook and walked through the house, then she peered through the window and smiled.
Discord waited, his body still tense, then Fluttershy reappeared. “You have visitors,” she said, smiling.
“Discord!” cried Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Apple Bloom. They burst out from behind Fluttershy, descended on him, and immediately began jumping all over the draconequus who was now laughing hard.
Fluttershy sat down next to the tea tray again and resumed her sketching. This time she did quick studies of the fillies and Discord playing in the garden. He moved like a huge, longer weasel, though he could occasionally coil almost like a snake, especially when he was trying to avoid being tickled.
“You can be the dragon!” Sweetie Belle was saying. “And I'll be the Princess who needs rescuing and Scootaloo and Apple Bloom can be the knights.”
Discord pouted at the filly. “Why can't I be the princess?” he asked. “One of you can be the dragon.” His voice suddenly turned high pitched and he cried “Oh save me! Save me from these dreadful beasts, Fluttershy!” There was much giggling and further rough-housing, then a look of delight suddenly appeared on Sweetie Belle's face as if something amazing had occurred to her and she peered over Discord's long body and said "Hey, Fluttershy, is Discord your coltfriend?"
Giggles came from the other two fillies. Discord suddenly rolled away from the girls, sideways across the grass like a giant rolling pin towards Fluttershy and rested his head in her lap, the back of it balancing on her legs so that his ears flopped over his antlers. "Yeah, Fluttershy," he said, grinning up at her beet red face as she clutched her sketchbook to her chest, "Am I your coltfriend?" He placed the back of his eagle hand on his forehead and said in an upper class Trottingham accent, "Because if so I want you to draw me like one of your Prench girls." Before she could respond he rolled back towards the fillies who were now shrieking with laughter.
Fluttershy realized she'd been holding her breath and she let it out again slowly so as not to draw attention to herself. The fillies had now forgotten their comment and were rough housing with Discord on the floor. She breathed a little easier. It had been a silly comment, nothing more.
He's in your care. Never forget that.
Eventually the light began to fade, and it was time for the fillies to go home again. They did put up some resistance to this at first, but Fluttershy explained that it wasn't good to be out late because it would make their sisters worry and they relented.
“We'll be victorious one day, Princess-Dragon!” called Scootaloo over her shoulder as they were leaving.
Fluttershy laughed and closed the door. Her eyes were bright with mirth and so were Discord's. The shift in mood was wonderful. “Would you like some stew?” asked the pegasus. “There's some leftover from last night.” The draconequus nodded eagerly. All the rough-housing had made him work up an appetite.
He watched as Fluttershy heated up the leftovers and spooned their dinners onto separate plates. She seemed to be moving with more liveliness now and during supper he kept sneaking glances at her when it seemed she wouldn't notice. Discord ended up eating three bowls of stew. He hadn't realized how hungry he was until now.
“Oh, I got those books you wanted,” she said, and moved towards her saddle bags. She placed the three titles on the kitchen counter. “Spike assured me those two were pretty funny. Something about a two-headed guy who was once President of the Galaxy or something. And I got you an atlas.”
Discord stared at the books, then looked up as Fluttershy cleared their plates and did the washing up. Then she moved towards him and said, “I had a really nice time today, Discord.” She placed her hoof on his lion arm, then she gave a little yawn. “Oh, excuse me!” she said, feeling embarrassed. “It was a fun day, but a long one, so I guess I'm really tired. I should probably have an early night.”
“Okay, Flutter Nutter,” said Discord. She turned to go upstairs.
“Hey, Fluttershy,” he said. She looked over her shoulder. “I...I had a good time today too.”
She smiled warmly at him and headed up the stairs.
Discord continued to sit at the kitchen counter with the books in front of him. Finally, he reached for the Atlas of Equestria and began to turn the pages.
“Gotta be here somewhere...” he muttered to himself. He flicked though until he found what he was looking for.
“Yes!” he whispered. There, in front of him was the road out of Ponyville, and on the facing page was a map of the Everfree Forest. His heart pounded as he tried to commit the map to memory.
He wouldn't go today, or tomorrow, but if anything went wrong then at least now he knew where he was and had a place to run to. But it wouldn't be now. He closed the book and looked fondly at Harold. Then he picked the plant pot up and walked over to his sleeping area. He placed Harold on the coffee table then climbed into bed, sighing happily. His muscles ached, but it was a good ache. The ache of someone who had exercised without overdoing it. He pulled the blanket over himself and yawned, then bid Harold goodnight as he drifted off. He didn't even care that the stupid doctor pony would be coming over in the next few days any more.
That night he didn't dream about bad chaos or good chaos. He didn't dream about awful things happening in the woods. He didn't dream about the stars. That night he dreamt about Fluttershy, her soft curves, her warm smile, her laughter, the way the sun had glinted off her mane.
A shorter, gentler chapter this time, though the next one will be longer and stuff's about to go down in it.
Impatiens balsamina is a real plant. You can see some in action here. The plant in the video is a slightly different species, but nearly all plants in the genus Impatiens have seed pods that pop.