Sokolsky waited for the trappers. He had left a note for them at the Hippocampus Arms asking them to meet him at his residence at 9pm sharp, but they were running late. He was getting impatient.
Seeing the draconequus up close had made him hungrier. He never thought he'd see a once presumed extinct animal up close, and he never imagined that the draconequus would be Discord himself, but he had seen him with his own eyes. It was all there, just like in the engravings: lion paw, bat wing, antler, goat horn, eagle talon.
He steepled his hooves and considered the situation. Clearly trying to get closer to the creature by wooing the pegasus wasn't going to work. He couldn't pursue that avenue without ponies becoming suspicious, and the creature was clearly protective of her. She was pretty, but she wasn't worth that much trouble. But if he could get the creature to talk to him, he'd have all the information he needed. He'd be able to write a monograph on the draconequii and then maybe, at last, he'd have the recognition he deserved. He'd broken his back writing History of Equestria, and initially it had been well received, until one reviewer had noted that he'd used a lot of secondary sources, then other reviewers followed suit as they often did. He considered it ironic that they had accused him of lack of originality there.
A tapping on the window broke him out of his reverie, and he moved across the room and swung the door open to reveal the trappers.
“You wanted to see us. Mr. Snare?” asked Carmarella.
“You got my note, didn't you? Come in, there's been a change of plan.”
Carmarella whirled round. “Hang on a minute, we were promised money and...”
“Relax! You'll still get your money. It's simply that the task I need you to do has changed. It seems the animal is no longer in the Everfree.”
“It—it isn't? Then where is it?”
“Right here in Ponyville.”
The colour drained from Carmarella's face. “You mean a dangerous animal is walking around town?” Ox made a sound like a frightened whinny.
“Not exactly. He's living in a nearby cottage with a pegasus mare.”
“I don't understand.”
“It seems our friend the dangerous predator is quite sapient.”
“Sapient? But we can't hunt an animal that's sapient! That's against the law!”
Sokolsky snorted with laughter. “When has that ever stopped you?”
“I just mean...there could be repercussions if we were caught, Mr. Snare. That's nothing short of murder.”
“I thought you still wanted your money.”
“I'll double it,” said the stallion. “Triple it upon receipt of the creature.”
Carmarella and Ox were silent. “I'm listening...” said the mare. “Do you want us to capture it while it's asleep in the cottage?”
“No, that's the problem. The creature can wield magic. If you tried to capture him you'd likely be turned into mashed potatoes.”
Carmarella raised an eyebrow.
“Trust me on this,” said Sokolsky.
“So what are we meant to do?”
“Well you didn't think I'd call you here without a plan, did you? This creature does have a weakness. Indeed it's the one that brought him to his knees many centuries ago.”
“Centuries?” Carmarella began to wonder if Snare had been drinking.
“The creature is the draconequus of legend,” said Sokolsky. He pulled volume thirteen of History of Equestria off his bookshelf and turned to to appropriate page. “Look here. This beast ruled over Equestria for decades until a secret weapon took him down.”
Carmarella gazed at the woodcut of the creature, with it's sharp talons and wicked smile.
“What was the weapon?”
“A crystal. Either a crystal of harmony of order, I'm not entirely sure which, but that doesn't matter. It was shot into his head by my ancestor, Commodore Hoofsteader, almost a thousand years ago. Since then Discord has been living in the woods as an animal. We probably could have had him by now, but the pegasus got to him first.”
“So what are we gonna do? What happened to the crystal?”
“It was removed from his head. I'm assuming at the local hospital. I very much doubt an animal caretaker has the appropriate skills to perform brain surgery. I need you to go get it for me.”
“How will we know where to look?”
“Well, I don't know, do I? That's your job. Find it and you'll get your money. Come back to me and whine that you 'couldn't find it' and you won't. Does that sound appropriate?”
“Double upon receipt of the crystal. Triple once we capture the draconequus,” said Sokolsky.
Carmarella held out her hoof and they shook on it. “Deal,” said the mare.
When Fluttershy came down the stairs she was surprised to see Discord was still in bed. While he occasionally slept in, more often than not he was awake before her. She watched him. His head was resting on his paw and he was deeply asleep. The ferrets had crawled on him in the night and were resting on his long neck, sometimes making squeaky noises as they snored. He looked almost as if he was a strange ferret parent. His body was a similar shape to theirs.
Fluttershy hoped that Discord hadn't felt too hurt by their discussion yesterday. She knew his comments about the “hypothetical” were a front, and he had taken it surprisingly well, but at the same time she knew Discord liked to hide behind humour. She sighed and went to put the kettle on. She brushed her mane and tail as she waited for it to boil. She thought about yesterday. She knew she had done the right thing, but at the same time she felt a little disappointed. He had looked so intently at her, and not in the way that stallions in the street sometimes did. He had looked at her like she meant everything in the universe to him.
She sighed. That was the problem of course. She couldn't be everything in the universe to him. It wasn't fair on either of them. She remembered what he had asked her in the field, about whether or not she had feelings for him, and her face felt hot.
She couldn't help but find him interesting. He was knowledgeable about so many things. He was funny. She couldn't remember laughing as hard as she did around him in years. He didn't care that she wasn't experienced and he hadn't judged her when he had found out she was attracted to griffons.
Griffons. She blushed as she realized that recently, when she had read her romance novels, the dashing griffon pirate had sometimes morphed into the draconequus in her mind. The griffon's feathery body replaced with Discord's own.
But that was alright, wasn't it? It was just fantasy, and fantasy couldn't hurt anyone. She bit her lip as she realized she'd not thought aboutgriffons per se for a while now.
He was strong. It had been a while since she'd found him starving and thin like a willow stick. Now she could feel the strength of his lion arm and long body as he held her close to it. Since his chaos had returned he seemed full of life and vigour. Mischief.
But still, her heart ached. She had to do the right thing, and the right thing wasn't always the most pleasurable thing. She had to be a friend to Discord as well as be his protector.
She heard Discord stirring and the ferrets chirruped in surprise as he sat upright.
“There better not be anything in my bed,” he warned them.
Fluttershy spoke. “It occurs to me that you haven't even given your adoptees names yet.”
“I most certainly have!” said the draconequus, making his way over to the kitchen. “I just haven't told you what they are yet.”
“What are they?”
Discord scooped up one of the ferrets as it ran past them. “This one is called Ricardo,” he said, grinning. He pointed to the other one with a sharp talon. “And that one is called Mortimer.”
Fluttershy blinked. “But, Mortimer is female.”
“And?” said Discord.
“No, you're right. It doesn't matter,” laughed Fluttershy. “Mortimer's a great name.”
Discord grinned and nuzzled Ricardo. The ferret growled in protest at the public display of affection. “Fine, you weird meat cigar,” said Discord, and he placed the ferret on the ground where it promptly began to wrestle with its partner.
“Would you like some tea?” asked the pegasus.
“I'm gagging for some,” replied the draconequus. He held out his cup as Fluttershy poured him some and added some milk.
For a time, they sat there sipping quietly, until Discord ran his talon along the rim of his mug and sighed.
Fluttershy looked up. “Discord?”
“We—we're okay, aren't we?”
“What do you mean?”
“We are still friends, aren't we?”
“Of course we are, Fluttershy. I told you that yesterday evening.”
She nodded. “Good.” She took another sip of her tea then said, “I was worried that after yesterday you wouldn't be amenable to making more friends.”
Discord set his tea cup down. “Well...” he began.
“Those ponies yesterday were mean,” said Fluttershy. “But not all ponies are like that. Applejack and Big Mac were nice to you, and the ponies before that crowd turned up weren't afraid of you.”
“Maybe that was an error of mine. Letting my guard down.”
“Your guard doesn't need to be up all the time. Some ponies are worth knowing and some aren't. I would really love it if you could meet the rest of my friends.”
“You expect me to not be wary after yesterday? I mean, Sparky's fun and Spike's interesting to talk to, but...I don't think they like me all that much.”
“If they get to know you like I have I'm sure they will like you, Discord. But that can't happen unless we meet with them.”
He sighed. “I don't know...”
“I promise it will only be my friends. No other ponies. No strangers from town.”
Discord picked at the skin around his talon. He did need to get his mind off the ache in his heart. Perhaps speaking to other ponies—and a dragon—would help.
“What did you have in mind?” he asked.
“Well...it's my birthday next week...”
It was a glorious day for a picnic. Late summer often yielded the hottest days of the year and ponies took full advantage of the heat while they could. Autumn would be around the corner soon, then the cold embrace of snow and frost.
Pinkie Pie bounced up and down cheerily, donning star shaped sunglasses and balancing a picnic basket on her back. Rarity followed behind, decked out in a marvellous sun dress and decorated straw hat. Spike followed behind her hurriedly, carrying a tray of hors d'oeuvres.
“I must say, I was having second thoughts about this meeting,” said Rarity, checking her make up in a pocket mirror, “But both you and Fluttershy have told me he is a funny fellow.”
“He really is,” said Spike, grinning as he remembered the incident with the pelican.
“I trust your judgement, Spikey Wikey,” replied the unicorn. “It's just after what Princess Celestia told us about the past it's hard to reconcile the idea of a...a friendly Discord.”
Twilight Sparkle nodded. “I wouldn't say Discord is always a delight to be around, but we aren't going to be anywhere near a restaurant this time. Besides, he seems to really respect and listen to Fluttershy.”
“Maybe she used the Stare on him,” said Rainbow Dash. “I wouldn't be surprised. She used it on the manticore.”
“The manticore only had a splinter in its paw,” Applejack reminded the pegasus.
“Well Discord did have a crystal in his head,” said Spike. “That sounds a lot worse.”
“Shhh!” said Pinkie, turning around to stare at them with eyes that looked like saucers. “My pinkie senses are tingling.” Her tail stood upright and her ears pricked up. “Oh, no wait. That's just my sense of hearing!” she exclaimed. “I can hear laughter!”
The others could hear it too. One of the voices was definitely Fluttershy, and the other was a male voice.
“Come on, girls,” said Twilight. “It's time to make a new friend. Or...at least try...”
They made their way towards the voices, which were behind a small hedge, and the group of mares peered over the top while Spike tried to look over by jumping up and down.
Discord and Fluttershy were laughing together. A tea pot floated in the air and poured the hot drink into Fluttershy's cup. Angel Bunny sat nearby on the picnic blanket gnawing a piece of celery, lazily. A pair of ferrets rolled around on the grass nearby. Fluttershy wore a straw hat to keep the sun out of her face, but Discord held a gigantic leaf over his head with his tail as shade. Occasionally the leaf would drop a fine mist of water on the draconequus to cool him off.
“Well that seems cosy enough,” said Applejack.
Fluttershy glanced up at the sound of her friend's voice. “Girls! It's good to see you. Come and join us!” Discord glanced nervously at the mares and the dragon. Though he had met Applejack, Twilight and Spike before, he had no idea how the others were going to react to him. The memory of adoption day was still fresh in his mind.
The ponies began to move towards Fluttershy and the draconequus, and Fluttershy shifted over to give them space on the blanket. Discord's tail instinctively curled inwards towards his body, and he dropped the leaf, drenching Angel Bunny in water.
“Hey Discord!” said Spike, running up and taking his place next to the draconequus.
“Hey there, fellow token non-pony,” grinned Discord, patting the little dragon on the head with his paw. “How's the library work going? Unimaginably dull, I gather?” He snuck a glance at Twilight as he said this, but she was deliberately ignoring him.
“Happy Birthday, Fluttershy!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, and she dove into the picnic basket, disappearing completely. After several minutes of waiting she re-emerged holding a frosted sponge cake.
Discord's right eye popped out of his socket in surprise and rolled towards Rainbow Dash, who made an uncharacteristic shrieking sound.
“Oh, sorry,” said Discord, reaching for his eyeball. “It's just...Pinkie, is it? I've never seen a pony do something like that.”
“Something like what?” replied the earth pony. “Frosted sponge cake? I can give you the recipe if you like!”
“No, I mean. You climbed into that picnic basket.”
“Of course I did, Silly! How else was I supposed to get Fluttershy's birthday cake out of there?”
“Pinkie, are you a chaos user?”
Fluttershy looked up in surprise. She had never thought of Pinkie that way, but after living with Discord for almost a year she was now shocked that she had never made the connection. The way Pinkie seemed to pull things out of thin air and her mannerisms which often defied the laws of physics despite the fact that she was not in possession of a unicorn horn were now something Fluttershy was very used to and she hadn't ever considered the possibility that Pinkie's magic was chaos.
“I don't use anything, Mister,” said Pinkie, glowering at Discord. “I'm completely clean!”
“Heh, that's not quite what I meant,” said the draconequus. “I mean, how do you do that? Climb into the picnic basket?” He knew full well how it was done, but he wanted to hear it from the earth pony.
“I dunno,” said Pinkie truthfully. “I just feel like doing something and it happens. But if I think about it too much then it becomes difficult.”
“Is it more of a feeling?” asked Discord.
“Yeah, that's it! And then my Pinkie Senses start tingling!”
“Yup,” chuckled Discord not bothering to ask what 'Pinkie sense' was and leaning back on his elbows. “She's a chaos user.”
“But...she's an Element of Harmony,” said Twilight. “Chaos is supposed to be inherently disharmonic.”
“Not necessarily,” said the draconequus, who was now slicing into the sponge cake with his talon. He hadn't bothered to ask anyone if they wanted some first. “It's just non-linear. It doesn't think in straight lines, if you will. Most pony magic is based on learning a spell, memorizing it then doing it. In rare cases your kind can transfer magic to one user from another, but most of the time you spend time racking your little brains and horns over whatever incantation it is you're trying to learn.” He pressed the tip of one of the pads of his lion paw against the tip of Twilight's horn as he said this and she looked as if she might bite his hand off.
“A common misconception people have is that chaos never repeats,” he continued. “That's not true. It does, but it just doesn't repeat in exactly the same way.”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” replied Twilight. Discord chuckled.
“If you didn't memorize everything you know, then how did you learn your magic?”
“I didn't say I never memorized anything, Twilight. My magic is simply much more accessible than yours. Well, I say accessible, but only certain beings are privy to it, and its choices are completely random. Take Pinkie here.”
The pink pony's face was smeared with icing. “MMM, good!” she trilled cheerfully.
“So Pinkie's a chaos mage?” asked Applejack.
“Not exactly. A mage is one who devotes his or her life to magic. Pinkie seems to have devoted her life to cake.”
“Mmmhmm!” replied Pinkie, her mouth full. “And parties!”
“Still,” said Discord, stroking his beard. "It is unusual that you called her...what was it? An 'Element of Harmony'. I've never heard of such a thing, personally.”
Fluttershy suddenly grit her teeth as she remembered what the Elements were supposed to do to Discord.
“I'm the Element of Laughter!” said Pinkie, licking icing off her hooves.
“Ah, it all becomes clear,” said the draconequus.
“It does?” asked Twilight.
“Yes, laughter is one of my domains, after all.”
Twilight wanted to rub her temple with her hoof. Half of what he was saying didn't seem to make any logical sense. How could anyone master magic simply because they were chosen? Yes, sometimes these things were genetic. For example, most magic wielders were unicorns and alicorns, but they still needed to hone their skills.
Fluttershy was staring at Discord in fascination. She'd never really him talk about his magic this way before.
“I think the reason chaos magic isn't something ponies are taught is because of it's wild unpredictability,” said Twilight. “It would be much harder to control and extremely dangerous if the wielder wasn't competent.”
“What makes it harder to control?” asked Spike.
“Er...Fluttershy...” said Discord. “Could you pass me some lemonade?” She sensed that Discord wanted to change to subject to something else.
“Please tuck in, girls,” she said. There's sandwiches, and lemonade and cake. Discord made the salad.”
“Is that why it...looks like it has a piece of bandage in it?” asked Rarity, picking at it warily.
“Oh, that's the dressing,” explained Discord. He handed her a bowl with more cotton bandages pouring out the sides. “More?”
“Thank you, dear. But I think this is enough,” said Rarity politely, as she poked through the salad with her fork to make sure the first bite she took was entirely made up of vegetable matter. “Oh, I nearly forgot, Fluttershy. Here's your gift.” She handed the pegasus a small wrapped box.
“Thank you, Rarity,” said the pegasus.
“Go, on! Open it!” said the unicorn excitedly.
“Um...okay.” Fluttershy carefully began tearing the paper back. Inside was a jewellery box. She hoped Rarity hadn't bought her something ridiculously expensive. She wouldn't put it past the Element of Generosity to do so. She lifted the lid and almost sighed with relief. Inside was a carved, wooden pendant shaped like a rabbit. “It's lovely, Rarity,” she said, smiling at her friend. “So cute! And it looks just like Angel Bunny.”
Angel ignored them all and continued to gnaw on his celery.
One by one the others gave Fluttershy their gifts and she opened them. There was a Daring Do book from Rainbow Dash (again), a book on animal tracks from Twilight and Spike, miniature apple strudels from Applejack and more cake from Pinkie.
“What did you get Fluttershy, Discord?” asked Spike.
The draconequus shifted. “Er...well...”
“It's okay, Discord, you didn't need to get me anything,” said Fluttershy.
“That's...not it,” he replied. He had indeed gotten her something but wanted to wait until they were in private to give it to her.
“You didn't get her, anything, did you?” said Rainbow Dash. “Geeze, after everything that Fluttershy has done for you, you could at least show a little appreciation!”
“Dashie!” scolded Fluttershy. “Leave him alone. He really didn't need to get me anything.”
“But I...” began the draconequus.
“It's just one day a year and he could have least...”
“Dash!” shouted Fluttershy and Rarity in unison.
“Sorry,” muttered the blue pegasus.
“It just so happens, I did get something for Fluttershy", said the draconequus, his hands on his hips. “I...just can't show it to you here.”
Pinkie giggled. “Oooh! Is it something romantic?”
Fluttershy suddenly felt as if her face was roasting.
“Pinkie, it's something amazing if I do say so myself,” replied the draconequus.
“Exciting!” cried the Element of Laughter.
“Presuming this thing exists,” muttered Rainbow Dash, taking a bite of cake.
Fluttershy sought to change the subject again. “Oh, did I tell you girls? Discord adopted the ferrets. They're now in his care.”
Twilight looked up at this. Fluttershy was entrusting Discord with the care of two animals. It was highly unlikely Fluttershy would have done this with just anyone. Even when she held adoption days she insisted that ponies have references before taking an animal away, and she always asked them to bring them back after a month for a health and well-being check up. If she trusted Discord with animals, it meant she trusted Discord, and if Fluttershy trusted Discord, then maybe she could trust him too. He seemed to know a lot, despite his arrogance and abrasiveness.
“Did ya name 'em yet?” asked Applejack.
“Oh, yes,” said the draconequus, and he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly for them. The ferrets came bounding out of the undergrowth and barrelled towards him, biting him and crawling all over him while he giggled. “This one is Ricardo, and this is Mortimer.”
“Interestin' names,” said Applejack, raising an eyebrow.
Discord was suddenly still. Despite the seemingly relaxed atmosphere he knew the ponies were still wary of him, and that made him feel wary. He put down Ricardo gently and his ears flattened against his head. Then he felt something soft around his middle, and he realized Fluttershy was hugging him. “You're doing great,” she whispered. He put his eagle arm around her and mouthed 'thank you' silently.
It was late afternoon when Discord, Fluttershy, the ferrets and Angel Bunny returned to the cottage. At this time of year the sun was now lower over the horizon and the setting sun bathed the trunks of trees in orange.
“You'll have to wait a few more hours for your present,” said Discord.
“Oh?” she replied, feeling somewhat confused by this statement.
“Yes, it's not midnight yet.”
“Why does it have to be midnight?” asked the pegasus.
“Because that's peak hours,” said the draconequus mysteriously.
She tilted her head at him in an almost exact copy of the way he had done so when she had been caring for him as an animal.
“You'll have to wait and see,” he grinned. “No peeking until then.”
Fluttershy couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation throughout dinner, not just from herself but also from Discord. Whatever it was he wanted to give her seemed to be something he'd been planning for a while. She hoped, however, than he hadn't taken an animal from the wild for her. If that turned out to be the case she would have a hard time explaining that while she was grateful for the gift, it wasn't exactly the right course of action to take.
Discord played with the ferrets after dinner while Fluttershy took a shower. Then they both settled down on the sofa with mugs of cocoa.
“Five minutes until midnight,” said Discord, looking at a wristwatch that had suddenly materialized on his eagle wrist. “I'm really not usually this fastidious with time, but I did want it to be at its peak.”
Fluttershy waited patiently. Finally midnight rolled round and she looked up at Discord, who got to his feet and walked in the direction of the fireplace. An elegant looking rope suddenly dropped down from the ceiling and Discord grabbed hold of it with his paw and talon. “Ready?” he asked her.
She nodded, though she felt thoroughly confused. Then Discord pulled on the rope and the ether rippled, and her living room fell away to reveal a beach at nighttime. At first she felt confused because it looked as if the image was upside down, but then she gasped as she realized what she was looking at.
She walked towards the beach, a look of wonder on her face.
There, in the water, were thousands upon thousands of glowing and sparkling stars. The blue light reflected on her mane and face and she reached out with a hoof to touch one of them. The water rippled and the light spread as if it was alive.
But of course that was because it was alive.
“Discord,” she said breathlessly. “Is this the Sea of Stars in the Maldhoove Islands?”
He grinned. “Well spotted, Canary-Horse. Well, we're not actually there. I mean, you can touch it and sit on the beach but it's mostly an image. I still don't have the ability to actually go to the place or bring it here completely. I'm still working on that.”
“It's amazing!” shouted Fluttershy. “I never thought I'd see this! I've only seen photographs in books! They don't even do it justice!”She looked down at the tiny creatures, glowing and floating. Some of them washing up on the beach but still maintaining their bioluminescence.
“How did you...” she began. Then she shook her head and smiled. “Chaos magic. I mean I know how you did it I just didn't expect it to...”
“Look like this?” he grinned. “Everything you're looking at is a form of chaos. From all the tiny protists causing the light to the grains of sand on the beach. That's what I meant when I said chaos chooses completely randomly. It goes with the flow. It doesn't have to be logical, it just has to work.”
“It's beautiful,” said the pegasus, gliding her hoof over the water again to see the effect. She shrieked as Discord suddenly dived into the sea, bioluminesence exploding outward and everywhere. He sat up with the star-like objects clinging to his fur and feathers. “Sorry,” he grinned. “I couldn't resist.” Fluttershy laughed. She felt so light. She sat down on the beach and looked up at the night sky and then the starry water. It was hard to know where the sky ended and the sea began.
Discord shook himself off like a dog then sat next to her. “Happy Strange-Pony-Custom day, Shy,” he said. "You didn't think I'd get you a dozen roses or anything lame like that did you?"
She wrapped her arms around his middle. “Thank you,” she whispered. She nuzzled his chest feathers and he tentatively placed his eagle arm around her then pulled her closer, then he rested his head on top of hers.
The ferrets ran through the shallow water, causing ripples of illumination.
You didn't think Discord would give up that easily, did you? :) He's far too stubborn.
The Sea of Stars is an actual place in the Maldives in which thousands of tiny phytoplankton gather in shallow waters and produce the light when their cell membranes react with Oxygen. Some of these creatures can be toxic, but my versions are not, because reasons. :P