The great bear had been awake for several weeks now, but nutrition was his first priority. Harry spent the weeks following his awakening filling up on green Spring shoots, mushrooms and fish, and when he had eaten his fill, he made his way down the mountains towards Ponyville. His muscles still ached from being dormant in his cave for the winter, and Fluttershy was good at evening out the knots that formed on his back and neck.
Harry lumbered along the path at a leisurely pace, occasionally stopping to sniff the air and get his bearings. When he came to a junction on the path he paused. There was a strange smell here, and it was not familiar to him.
Warily, he turned and used the woodland path to Fluttershy's cottage instead.
Fluttershy was having difficulty that morning. Though Discord had been warned that Seth's visit was imminent, he continued to make excuses, saying perhaps he didn't feel up to visitors that day, or that he wanted to wait a bit longer before seeing anyone, or that he had a headache, but after a while it was clear the excuses were just that...excuses, and Fluttershy told him that if he was having headaches then that was all the more reason for Seth to visit. “Discord, it's for your own good. The more we know the faster you'll recover.”
“And what would he know? If I'm the only draconequus that has existed for over a thousand years then how would he know how to treat me? Are there draconequus anatomy charts hanging up in clinics across Equestria, hmm? Maybe draconequus skeletons in every medical school?” Though Discord had decided days ago that Seth's visit didn't really matter, waking up on the day it was happening made him feel differently. He suddenly didn't want the stallion near the house.
“He performed an operation to remove a foreign object from your brain,” Fluttershy reminded him. “I would think that asking you a few questions wouldn't be such an issue.”
“What's so great about this guy, anyway?”
“Discord, calm down. It's just a check up.”
He looked slightly relieved that she hadn't answered his question.“Er...so you used to date this guy, huh?”
“Yes. Seth was my first coltfriend. After flight school I moved to Ponyville, and I started growing up and...um...filling out. Then colts that had teased me at school were suddenly asking me out, but I didn't want to go out with them. I didn't like that ponies that had made fun of me as a filly seemed to think I would suddenly date them. I also wasn't sure if they were asking me out as a joke. For all I know it was...”
Discord was silent. He waited for her to continue her story.
“Anyway, Seth was the first stallion to treat me like a pony instead of...a joke. He was interested in what I did and what I thought. He asked me out, and I said yes. And we dated for about a year, and things began to get pretty serious...until...” Fluttershy suddenly looked sad. Discord's ears drooped at the sight.
“Hey,” he said gently. “'Sup, Shy?”
“I realized that even though he was really sweet, and intelligent and kind...he. I just wasn't that attracted to him. In fact, I wasn't that attracted to any stallions. I tried, but it was awkward, to say the least...”
“You realized you were attracted to griffons.”
Fluttershy clutched her mug of tea and stared out the window.
“He was good about it, but you could see the hurt in his eyes. But still, he...he was good about it.” She bit her lower lip. “I've asked him for so many favours, including removing the crystal from your head.” She turned to the draconequus. “So you had better be nice to him when he visits, Discord.”
“So I have to be nice to him because you feel guilty?”
“Because he's my friend.”
“But also because you feel guilty.”
She shifted in her seat. “I do...feel a little bit guilty, yes.”
“Why? What could you possibly owe him?”
She shrugged gently, then her eyelids lifted as she looked at the draconequus. “I at least owe him a patient that's going to be polite and not cause trouble.”
“Oooh, well played, you sly Canary-Horse.”
Fluttershy finished her tea. “I'm going to check the mail,” she said, eager to change the subject in some way. She didn't want to think about this right now, and Discord was prying a little more than she would have liked. There was nothing of interest in the mailbox, just bills and a reminder to update her membership to the Equestrian Society for Preservation of Magical Creatures society, but she did get a pleasant surprise just the same.
“Harry!” she exclaimed in delight as she saw the bear lumbering up the path. She ran to meet him and embraced him, nuzzling his face. “I'm so glad to see you! Did you have a good Winter's sleep?” The bear grunted in affirmation and licked Fluttershy's cheek. She giggled.
“Discord!” she called out. “Come and say hello!”
Discord heard her call from inside the house and groaned. He opened the door and almost took a step back at the sight of the huge bear.
“I don't know if you remember Harry,” said Fluttershy, “But he helped me bring you here.” Discord watched as the petite pegasus petted the humongous bear. She clearly was not afraid of the thing, just as she wasn't afraid of him. “Come and say hello,” she smiled at him. The draconequus tentatively took a step forward.
Fluttershy laughed. “It's okay, don't be afraid.”
Discord puffed up the feathers on his chest. “Pssh. I'm not afraid,” he barked. He was of course, a little nervous. When he had encountered large ferocious beasts in his travels he'd always had magic to defend himself, and when he had been a cub he had been lucky enough to use his spryness and intelligence to avoid large predators. He did not know how he had avoided such things when he had lived as an animal in the Everfree. Perhaps he had been the thing other animals feared.
He reached out with his talon hand to pet the bear and Harry sniffed it suspiciously. Discord did not have the same smell he'd had when the bear had carried him down the mountain on his back. Back then, Discord had smelt of rankness and death. He was mostly bones and skin and if there were any other smells on him, it was the smell of stress and excess adrenaline. Now the draconequus smelt healthy and like the air after a rainstorm.
Discord ran his eagle hand through the coarse fur on Harry's back and even scratched behind the his ear. The bear made a chuffing sound, and Fluttershy was suddenly reminded of the night Discord had appeared in front of her out of the woods, his eyes glowing as he sniffed at her.
“I'm very sorry,” Fluttershy was telling the bear. “But I'm afraid you'll have to come back in just a few hours for your massage. You see, Discord has his doctor's visit today and we need to sort that out first. But you're very welcome to sunbathe in the garden or the field in the back until then.” The bear nodded and began to lumber towards the field. He gave Discord an understanding look as he passed by.
“Massage?” asked Discord, raising a fluffy eyebrow.
“Yes, every Spring Harry wakes up with terrible knots in his shoulders.”
A sudden image of the pegasus massaging Discord's own shoulders slipped unbidden into his mind. He shook it off, quickly.
They went back into the house for breakfast, and waited for the doctor.
Seth arrived shortly after 10am. After cautiously knocking on the door, he heard Fluttershy's voice telling him to come in. The earth pony pushed the door open, and was greeted by Fluttershy and Discord sitting at the kitchen counter. The first thing Seth noticed was the size of the draconequus. He was no longer the thin bag of bones he had been when Seth had last seen him lying on Fluttershy's bathroom floor. Instead he looked tall and formidable. Furthermore, Seth had never seen Discord's sapience in his eyes. Now it was reflected back at him in a way that seemed to threaten: “I'm aware now. So don't you dare get the wrong idea and think that I'm not.”
Seth definitely wasn't going to get the wrong idea. He knew he needed to tread carefully here. He was a stranger to Discord, despite the help he had given him.
“So,” he said. “Hello, Discord. Nice to see you again under better circumstances.”
“I don't believe we've met,” said the draconequus folding his arms. It was the first time Seth had heard Discord's voice. It was silky and sounded like a dangerous purr.
“Well no, you wouldn't have remembered me. But last time I saw you it was under rather stressful circumstances.”
“You mean when you pumped my stomach.”
Seth noted that Discord was very blunt. “Er...yes. But today I'm here for a much more benign reason. I'd like to see how you're doing.”
“I'm fine,” said Discord through gritted teeth.
“Well, I'm sure you are,” said Seth, using what he hoped was his most cheerful sounding tone of voice. “But just to be on the safe side let's have a listen to the ol' ticker.”
He removed his stethoscope from his doctor's bag and approached the draconequus. Fluttershy rested her hoof on Discord's paw. “It's okay,” she said softly.
“For goodness sakes, Fluttershy! I know it's okay, okay? I'm not two. I'm thousands of years old.” Seth looked up at Fluttershy, a quizzical look on his face. She shrugged and gave him a sheepish grin.
Whatever he thought. He placed the scope on Discord's chest and listened. The heartbeat was fast but seemed normal enough. He moved the stethoscope to Discord's back.
“Breath in and out for me,” he said.
Discord let out an exasperated sigh.
“Seems...normal,” said Seth. He checked the surgical site on Discord's head. “ All good there. Now, Discord. I'd just like to ask you a few questions. Not all recovery from brain surgery is completely physical. I'd just like to make sure everything's okay and you're feeling emotionally healthy. Okay?”
There was no response.
“Okay,” said Seth, deciding not to wait for one. “First question: How does your head feel? Any pain.”
“I'm fine,” repeated Discord in the same curt tone.
“Second question: Have you had any hearing loss?”
“Third question: Any disturbing dreams?”
“Okay, that's normal,” said Seth. “But I just want to make sure it's not affecting your mental health. Next question, which is related: any overwhelming feelings of sadness or anger due to these dreams?”
Discord got up from the kitchen stool and walked across the room with his hands clasped behind his back. “I don't see what good these questions are,” he said, facing away from Fluttershy and Seth. “So what if I feel anger or sadness? Doesn't everyone?”
“Of course,” replied the doctor. “But there are certain instances when emotions can be so overwhelming they can start to affect your physical health, and I just want to make sure that isn't the case here.”
Discord whirled round with a dark expression, and Seth almost took a step backwards at the look on the creature's face. It had surprised him, but he had caught himself in time. Being a herd animal, he'd had an instinctive reaction to the stare of a predator...or whatever Discord was. He seemed to be made up of both prey and predatory animals.
“So, doctor,” he drawled. “You want to know if I'm cuckoo, is that it?”
“Not at all. There's no shame in taking steps to look after your mental health.We don't use the term 'cuckoo' by the way. It's offensive.”
“I'll make a note of that,” said Discord, grinning and showing off his sharp teeth.
From the look on his face, Fluttershy wondered if the note he was making was about endeavouring to use the word more often. She also wondered if there had been any mental health options back when he had lived as a sapient being before his ordeal in the Everfree. The pegasus moved towards where Seth and Discord were standing. “Discord, the quicker the questions are answered the quicker this will be done,” she said softly.
“Okay, fine, fine,” said the draconequus waving his talon in the air. “Let's get it over with.”
Finally, progress thought Seth. He reached out and placed a hoof on the pegasus' shoulder. “Thank you, Fluttershy,” he said.
That had been a mistake. Before Seth knew what was happening he was flipped upside down and staring down at the angry face and bared teeth of Discord.
“What are you doing?” shouted Fluttershy.
Seth pedalled his limbs furiously at the realization that he was suspended ten feet above the floor. “Fl-Fluttershy!” he cried.
Discord narrowed his eyes. “I thought you were here to see me he said suspiciously.
“I am!” Seth blurted out. “Fluttershy what the heck is happening?” The pegasus stared open mouthed.
Discord walked in a circle around the earth pony, turning Seth in mid air so that the doctor was facing him at all times. “Really?” he said. “Because I think you're here for an ulterior motive?”
Fluttershy seemed to break out of her trance. “Discord!” she shouted. “Put him down!”
“If you insist.” The door flew open and Discord unceremoniously chucked Seth out onto the grass.
Fluttershy looked at the scene in mortification. She glared angrily at Discord, whose ears drooped instinctively at her furious expression, then she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
“Seth, I'm so sorry! I had no idea that was going to happen!”
Seth rubbed his head. “You didn't tell me he was a magic user,” he said, grinning. Fluttershy felt relieved at his expression. “You're not hurt, are you?” she asked.
“Nope. Thankfully grass is kinda soft.”
“Good,” she said, sighing. “Well, now what?”
“I think I should go back in there and try to talk to him again.”
“Okay,” she began to follow the doctor.
“Oh, no,” said Seth. “I meant on my own.”
“Is that really wise?”
“I'll..I'll call for you if there's any trouble,” he replied. He slowly pushed the front door to the cottage open and was met with Discord's sour face. He closed the door behind him.
“Back for more, eh?” snarled the draconequus. Discord's hackles were up, and he was about to bare his sharp teeth at the pony when Seth caught him completely off guard. “She's cute isn't she?”
“What?” said Discord, his eyebrows shooting upwards before he could stop them.
“Fluttershy. She's cute. That's what this is about, isn't it?”
The draconequus spluttered. “What are you babbling on about?”
“It's okay, I get it. I mean, I used to feel the way you do now.”
Discord flicked his ears and blew air hotly through his nostrils.
“After all,” Seth continued, “She's kinda smart too. And her kindness goes without saying.”
“She's incredibly smart,” spat Discord. “You clearly know nothing.She knows all kinds of things about plants and animals. Most likely more than you know about surgery.”
Seth nodded. “Oh yes, I don't doubt that. It's almost a shame I've moved on.”
“You sure do love to talk about yourself, huh?” said Discord, who was clearly not getting the hint.
Guess I better be more blunt. thought Seth. It's like trying to wade through molasses.
“Discord, I better get going. I have a date tonight.”
“Why should I care?”
“It's not Fluttershy,” said the doctor, who noted with amusement the relief in his patient's eyes, however brief.
“Why should that matter?” said Discord quickly, his stare turning hard and cold again.
“Just making conversation,” said Seth. “Anyway, I best be off now. Got other patients to see before my date.” The earth pony made his way outside and closed the door, leaving a baffled draconequus behind him. He made his way over to Fluttershy, who looked relieved that Seth was still in one piece.
“H—how did it go?” she asked.
Seth chuckled. “He's jealous, Fluttershy.”
“Yeah, I think the guy might have a little crush on you or something.”
“Is it really so surprising? At any rate, I'm sure you'll be able to handle it.”
“That's ridiculous! How can you have possibly gleaned that from the way he's behaved?”
Seth grinned. “Guys know these things,” he said. “Plus he's watching us from the window.” He inclined his head towards the cottage and Fluttershy looked up just in time to see the draconequus' antlers disappear from view. Seth's expression suddenly grew serious. “Be careful, Fluttershy. I trust you know what you're doing, you always have, but...that guy seems a mite...'overprotective' to put it mildly.”
“I suppose I can see that,” she replied, sighing deeply. “Discord doesn't know anyone else. Well...apart from the fillies. But in terms of adult friends, he hasn't got any besides me.”
“Any plans on how to remedy that?”
“Twilight is visiting next week.”
“Well let's hope her visit goes better than mine did.”
“Well Twilight is a magic wielder herself, so hopefully there'll be no trouble.”
“She's also a mare,” snorted Seth. “I suspect that matters to Discord. That and the fact you've never dated Twilight.”
Fluttershy said nothing, but looked at the ground.
“Anyway, I'll see you round, okay Shy? Take care of yourself.” He smiled warmly at her and began his walk back to Ponyville.
Fluttershy watched Seth go, then turned back to the cottage. Then she stormed up to the door and slammed it open.
“Discord!” she shouted. “We're going to talk. Right now!”
“Are we?” he asked.
“Yes! What was all that about?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Don't play dumb with me. You aren't dumb.”
“I think that's the nicest thing you've said to me all day,” replied the draconequus.
She grit her teeth in frustration. She wasn't going to let him turn this back on her. She had also decided she needed to be careful about how to address Discord's possible jealousy.
“The way you just behaved was incredibly rude. Seth was trying to help you!”
“Was he? Or was he trying to help himself to you.”
“That's ridiculous! He's my ex-coltfriend, and my friend.”
“I thought I was your friend.”
“You are! For goodness sakes, Discord. People are allowed to have more than one friend. The Cutie Mark Crusaders are your friends, aren't they?” His ears pricked up at that. She sighed, then her voice took on a much gentler turn. “I realize it's been hard for you here, and I'm the only pony your...well, not your age, but as near can be to talk to. But I'm hoping that will change. I know stallions make you nervous, but next week you can meet my friend Twilight if you want. Then, if you want, maybe she can be your friend too.”
After a beat, Discord said, “It's true I haven't had many social opportunities.”
“No, and it's getting towards peak season. Soon people will be wanting to adopt animals so there will be visitors stopping by the cottage. I want you to feel comfortable around them. And that means not chasing them off.”
“He was in a hurry to get away anyway, Fluttershy,” said Discord. “He had a date.”
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. “A date?” she asked.
“Yup,” said the draconequus, chuckling.
“That's wonderful!” exclaimed the pegasus. She was surprised by how light the words made her feel. If Seth was dating then surely that meant she no longer had to feel guilty? He'd moved on. She almost momentarily forgot to conversation she was meant to be having with Discord but collected herself in time. “Discord,” she said, her voice turning serious again. “I want you to promise me that you won't behave that way again when we have visitors, no matter who they are. Anyone I welcome into this house is a friend.”
He looked down at her angry pout and sighed. “Fine,” he grumbled.
She was about to head out the door to see if she could find Harry for his massage, when she felt Discord grab her arm gently.
“Fluttershy,” he said. “You would have both been miserable if you had grinned and borne it. You would have eventually resented him and he would have been left frustrated because he couldn't express his physical feelings for you by doing the horizontal mambo. It's not your fault.”
“I know it's not my fault, Discord, but you're being a little bit rude now. I don't really want to talk about my private life.”
“Then how come I always have to talk about mine? Why do I have to tell a complete and utter stranger how I'm feeling.”
“Because I can't do everything on my own, Discord. But you have to trust me when I say I'm trying to help you.” He watched her as she headed out the door.
That night he dreamt about her again. Only this time she was moving above him, and he was under her, exploring her soft fur with his hands. In the dream he couldn't help but feel amazed and slightly incredulous that this was happening. With each of her movements the bed they were on squeaked slightly. Discord tilted his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes in ecstasy.
He looked up at her. The tone of her voice did not match her expression. It was almost as if she was asking him something urgently.
“Yes, my dear?” he grinned, caressing the downy fur on her chest with his eagle talon, though he still felt thoroughly confused that her tone of voice did not seem to be one of passion.
“Discord!” His eyes flew open to see Fluttershy standing next to his bed in her bathrobe. He started, quickly making sure the blanket was covering his body, and pulled it up to his neck. He could still hear the bed squeaking in his mind. Wait—he was awake, so why could he still hear squeaking? He clutched the blanket to his chest and tried to adjust to no longer being in dreamland. The squeaks continued, interspersed with the sounds of braying donkeys and what sounded like a marimba being played.
“Discord! Do something!” To his horror and embarrassment, she climbed onto the sofa bed with him and he curled his tail and legs instinctively under him. He was secretly glad that the grey fur on his face was dark enough to hide how red it felt.
He sat upright to see what the commotion was and all thoughts of his erotic dream faded when he looked over the back of the sofa bed and saw where the sounds were coming from. The floor was covered with tiny instruments which were running around and occasionally bleating, braying and squeaking. A grand piano the size of a rabbit shot past, barking and chasing after what looked like a terrified trumpet that was hopping across the floor on its bell.
“I heard these noises and they woke me up,” cried Fluttershy. “Then I came downstairs and found this! It's chaos magic, right?”
An accordion flew past their heads, making a sound like a motorbike.
“How did this happen? Was it because of a dream? What were you dreaming about?”
Discord felt as if his face had ignited. “Erm...” he said. “I was dreaming about...about...”
They both ducked as a violin whizzed past, screeching horribly like an upset parrot.
“It doesn't matter!” said Fluttershy, covering her ears. “It's just...can we stop it?”
“I can try,” said the draconequus, who was relieved that she had changed the subject.
He held out his paw. “I command you to STOP!” he declared.
Nothing happened. The instruments continued to whizz and fly and slide across the floor. Fluttershy noticed Angel Bunny looking terrified in a corner of the room, and she ran towards him, gathering him up in her arms and wings as she dodged airborne missiles and flung herself back onto the sofa bed. A xylophone moving like an overexcited caterpillar chased after her but she managed to kick it away. It flew across the room with a squeak.
“Sorry!” cried Fluttershy.
“Don't apologize to them!” said Discord. He was trying to focus on how he was going to stop the din.
He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate, but his ears were filled with the cacophony of the offending instruments.
Only...only...it didn't sound bad.
If anything it sounded exciting. He climbed up onto the back of the sofa bed, balancing himself on his hind legs.
“Discord, what are you doing?” shouted Fluttershy. Discord focused and closed his eyes. The noise channelled into his ears, into his skull almost as if it was vibrating against his temporal bone. He could hear every instrument individually but at the same time each one was part of a lovely conglomeration. The noises babbled in his ears, calling to him, caressing him, even screaming to him. He didn't want this to stop. He began to laugh; it sounded wonderful.
The noise increased in volume and Fluttershy was shouting to make herself heard. Angel Bunny was biting her arm as if to say “Make it stop, mare!”
Through the squeaking, wailing and screaming Discord could make out a faint sound, but it seemed inconsequential compared to the lovely feeling enveloping his body. The room was beginning to spin and the faint sound grew further and further away.
Then he was swimming, and the water was aquamarine and there were sea turtles floating past him, only they had wings and necks like giraffes, and they glided through the water as they flew. Discord laughed. He could breathe underwater, he could swim. Clouds of bubbles floated past him; coral that seemed to glow passed under him as he travelled.
Then he felt the sensation of being pulled downwards. He tried swimming upwards to counter the effect, but that feeling of being dragged towards the sea bed persisted and grew stronger.
He began to panic, paddling his limbs frantically. The sounds were returning, growing stronger. They seemed to call his name.
Then he was spinning. The turtles were flying past him and he was being sucked down, down into the depths. He tried to let out a scream but there was no sound and the only thing that emerged from his mouth were bubbles that quickly floated to the surface as he descended.
“Discord!” Fluttershy was shaking him. He saw her looking down at him with a terrified expression on her face and he realized he was lying on her living room floor in a puddle of sea water. Nearby a fish flopped helplessly. He sat upright. The rest of the living room was completely dry and the noisy instruments had vanished.
“What happened?” he asked her.
“The living room filled up with water,” she said. “I was so scared but I could breathe the whole time and so could Angel Bunny. Then I saw you get sucked down into this giant whirlpool until you hit the floor, only the floor looked so far away. She buried her muzzle in Angel Bunny's fur and continued to look over at Discord in a fearful way that made him feel rotten.
Discord reached for her with his paw. “Flutters”, he whispered.
“You couldn't hear me,” she said. “You were laughing and the instruments grew louder. And the noise! The noise was horrible and then the water came.”
He was puzzled. Had she heard the same noise he had? It hadn't sounded horrible at all.
He touched her cheek with his paw and was horrified to see her flinch slightly. She set Angel Bunny down then moved towards the draconequus, throwing her arms around him. “I was so worried about you,” she said. He slowly returned her embrace, holding her gently. He had already forgotten the fact that she had momentarily pulled away from his paw. He realized his soaked feathers were getting her bathrobe wet but she didn't seem to care. She was clinging to him.
“It's okay, though,” she said softly. “It's going to be okay, because Twilight will visit soon and then we can figure out to control the chaos. She felt his body go stiff in her embrace. He pulled back so that he could look at her face.
“Control it?” he asked.
“Well, yes...” she said, sounding confused. “That night you set fire to the trees. Surely you want to stop that?”
“Well I certainly don't want to set fire to your cottage or the surrounding area, but...what are you saying? I thought Twilight was coming over to make friends with me?”
“She is, but I thought she could also help you with your magic. She's a gifted student of Princess Celestia and she knows a lot about friendship and...”
“Wait, wait, wait a minute!” He sounded angry now. “You want me to stop having chaos magic?”
“I don't understand. I thought it was upsetting you and causing you pain. Now you're saying you don't want help?”
“I don't need help!” he snarled. “Why would I want to get rid of what makes me who I am?”
“I'm not saying you should get rid of it. I just think we need to control it!”
Discord laughed. “Fluttershy, you can't possibly understand. Do you remember what I said the morning of our first walk in the woods? Chaos feels good.”
“But...the trees...you were crying.”
Discord was suddenly silent. It hadn't been the trees bursting into flames that had upset him, it had been the dream, and he was definitely notgoing to tell her about that. Not sweet, innocent Fluttershy who looked after bunny rabbits and bears alike. She would hate him; he was certain of it.
“Listen, Fluttershy, I'm not sure but I think chaos is tied to how I feel. If I feel good there's chaos. If I feel bad there's chaos. Because whatever I was feeling just now, it was like it was running through my veins.”
“But you can't predict how you're going to feel in a dream.”
“No, I can't.”
“Do you know if this has happened before? I mean...like before the Everfree.”
“Before I lived as an animal? Come on, Fluttershy just say it. We're all grown ups here. No, I don't remember anything like this.”
“So why is it happening?”
He thought for a minute. “Maybe it has to do with the fact that I don't have all my memories back yet.”
“I—I suppose that could be it.” She looked uncertain.
He contemplated her sadly. “You're scared of me, aren't you?” he said.
“I'm, um...a little bit scared of the chaos, but not of you.”
Discord felt something contort in his chest. Did she not get it? He was the chaos. He knew that now and did not feel a distinction between her being afraid of it and afraid of him.
She touched his face gently with the tip of her hoof. “You're soaked,” she said. “I'll get you a towel.”
Once Fluttershy was back upstairs and Discord was dry and back in his own bed, he lay awake with his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Though the light was out the predatory aspects of Discord's anatomy meant he had the ability to see in the dark.
It was market day tomorrow and she would leave the house. He would do it then.
“I'm so glad you're feeling better now,” Fluttershy said, kissing Harry on the nose as the bear turned to leave. “Don't be a stranger!” She called, waving.
Discord watched the pegasus from the kitchen window and his heart ached.
It's okay he told himself. It's only for a few days and then you can come back.
He wondered why he even cared about coming back. Probably because he had no where else to go. He was a stranger in Equestria. Not only out of place but out of time. He was so lost in thought he didn't notice when the pegasus re-entered the house. “Right, I'm off to town,” she said cheerfully. “Any books you want me to get this time?”
“Er...yes,” he said. “The next two books in that delightfully funny science fiction series.”
“Okay,” she said. “I better take the other two back then. And the map one.”
Discord handed the books over, trying not to look nervous or directly at them. He sincerely hoped she wouldn't notice what he was worried about.
Fluttershy stuffed the books back in her saddle bag. No, she seemed completely oblivious.
“See you in about an hour!” she called over her shoulder.
“Sure,” said Discord, smiling his best smile.
When he was sure that she was far down the path and out of sight, he pulled the folded piece of paper out from under his pegasus wing. He had torn it as carefully as he could from the book so that it wouldn't be too noticeable that a page was missing. He unfolded the map and started to plan his journey. He knew he had less than an hour's window before she realized he was missing and he needed to get up there before she could stop him. He found one of Fluttershy's rucksacks upstairs and filled it with food and a bottle of water.
He began to walk out the door, then stopped. As an afterthought he grabbed a quill and a spare scrap of paper from Fluttershy's desk and scribbled a quick note: “Back soon.” Then he turned and stepped out into the unknown, alone for the first time since living as a feral beast in the woods.
He hurried over the bridge, trying not to get distracted by the giddy feeling of being let off his leash, so to speak. He knew that the path to the woods was very open and while he and Fluttershy had sometimes spotted ponies approaching from a distance, he'd never had to deal with one on their walks close up. Thankfully he saw no one, and he eventually reached the turning into the woods. He knew this path well, because he and Fluttershy had walked here often, but they hadn't gone much further than the clearing they'd spotted the flowerpeckers in.
He climbed over dead trees and moved through the underbrush, sometimes reverting to walking on all fours so that his antlers wouldn't get caught in tangled vines and sharp, thorny branches. This went on for about an hour, and he was out of breath before he finally reached the turning to the Everfree. He cursed as he realized the path was uphill from there on.
Oh well, he thought. Maremmano wasn't won in a day. He began to climb, stopping every now and then to catch his breath. He found it difficult, and realized that apart from his walks with Fluttershy he hadn't had much exercise. But then, had he needed to exercise before the crystal was shot into his head? He wasn't sure. He had no memories of such things. In his dreams he used magic to do almost everything. He looked up at the path where it became steeper and sighed. He wished he was there already.
Almost instantly he was surrounded by a white flash and then he was losing his balance on the ground, nearly falling over as he realized he was now at the top of the path. He stared in wonder back at the place he had previously been standing, then looked up towards the rest of the path. “I want to go further,” he thought. The flash of light happened again and he was about one hundred yards further up the path. He laughed, and tried the same thing again, only this time he wasn't concentrating properly, and overshot the path by about two feet, where he fell into a small crevasse about five feet deep. Groaning, he picked himself up and climbed out, secretly thanking the ether that it had not been a cliff he had plunged off.
Twilight frowned. “Spike, did you check this book was intact before it got loaned out?” she asked the dragon.
“Um...no. I know I should have...but why? Are there tea stains on it?”
The unicorn shook her head. “No, it's worse than that. There's a page missing.”
Fluttershy looked alarmed. “I'm sorry,” she said. “I didn't think to check it when I took it home.”
“It's not your fault, Fluttershy,” said Twilight. “I know you look after books. However, would this be the sort of thing Discord would do?”
“I don't know. I've never seen him deface a book.”
“What if he tore it out because it was information he wanted to keep?” asked Spike.
Twilight snorted. “Then that's what copy spells are for, obviously, and he should have asked.” She looked down at the book forlornly.
“What page is missing?” asked Fluttershy.
“Erm...let's see. Pages 34 and 35.”
“What was on them?”
Twilight turned to the book's index. “Just a map of Ponyville and a map of the Everfree. Ugh! I hate it when people do this. We have perfectly good copy spells and as long as it's only a fifth of the book I could have made a copy for him.”
Fluttershy wasn't listening. Spike noticed the worried look on her face. “What's wrong, Fluttershy?”
“It's...It's probably nothing,” she said. “But a while back Discord said he wanted to go up to the Everfree.”
Twilight looked surprised. “Why would he want to go back up there? I would have thought that would be the last place he'd want to be after what he'd endured.”
Fluttershy was silent. She didn't think it would be a good idea to tell Twilight and Spike that the main reason Discord had wanted to venture up there was to check for evidence of his last probable meal. “I think I know,” she said carefully, “But if he has gone up there then he could be in danger.”
“He survived in the Everfree for a thousand years on his own,” pointed out Spike.
“Yes, but that was on animal instinct. I don't know if he can do it now,” said Fluttershy. “Anyway, I really should go now...” She was beginning to worry. Surely he hadn't gone up there alone? But then what other reason would he have to tear the map out of that book? And how long had he been planning this? He had clearly asked for the book for this specific reason.
“You sure you're okay?” asked Twilight.
“Oh yes,” replied the pegasus shakily. “I'm sure it's nothing. See you soon!” she called over her shoulder as she galloped off down the path.
“Do you think we should follow her?” asked Spike.
“Yup,” replied the unicorn. “Besides, if she finds Discord I want to give him a piece of my mind for what he's done to Atlas of Equestria.
When Fluttershy returned home her heart sank. As she had feared, Discord was no where to be seen. She had found his note: “back soon” but it brought her little comfort. He had never been out on his own before, and she had no idea how ponies were going to react to him if they saw him, or equally importantly, how he was going to react to them. At least she had a pretty good idea of where he was going. She turned and headed out the door again, and walked straight into the barrel of a stallion.
“Oh, goodness gracious me!” said the pony. “I'm so sorry Fluttershy. I was about to knock on your door but it seems you got to me before I could.”
The pegasus looked up, slightly dazed.
“Let me help you up,” said Sokolsky, offering the mare his hoof.
“Oh, th—thank you Mr. Snare,” she replied.
“There now,” said the stallion, pulling her upright. “No harm done.”
“Mr. Snare, um, I don't mean to be rude, but I'm afraid I'm kind of in a hurry.”
“Heading back to Ponyville? Perhaps we can chat on the way.”
“Oh, um. I don't think so, I'm not going to Ponyville.”
“Oh, well then where are you going?”
She squirmed slightly. “I—I'm meeting a friend. In the woods. We're going bird-watching.”
Sokolsky raised an eyebrow at her. “Oh, well. Perhaps we can talk some other time.”
“O—okay,” said Fluttershy, wondering briefly what he could possibly want to talk about. She hurried along the path.
“Bye!” called Sokolsky.
When Discord finally reached the top of the hill he sat down to eat his lunch. He had a good view from up here, and could see several small villages and towns. He could even see Ponyville, though he didn't recognize it. He hadn't been able to visit to see any of the landmarks. He sighed happily, momentarily forgetting why he had come up here. He felt so free. He was tired of being cooped up in the cottage.
He finished his meal, slung the rucksack on his back and began to walk into the Everfree. Maybe he wouldn't look for anything. Maybe he would just enjoy the day.
But the more he tried to tell himself that, the greater his morbid curiosity became. How had he survived up here? Had he sustained himself on fish or birds, or maybe even deer? Or was it something much worse? He had to know.
He trudged onward, hopping over felled trees and streams. Just as he leapt over what seemed like the umpteenth rotten log there was a snapping sound, then a whoosh and all of a sudden he was airborne as a net surrounded him and pulled him upwards.
Disord hung there for a few seconds in shock, then he realized the situation. He struggled, and tried biting the netting, but it was difficult to get a grip on it. It was made of nylon rather than cotton, and mostly slid off his teeth. He looked at the ground a few feet away and concentrated hard.
I want to go there he thought, but nothing happened. He tried again, desperately thinking all the conceivable words for “want” and “wish” but to no avail. Well this was just perfect. His first time out alone and he had gotten caught in a trap. He could almost imagine the “I told you so's” that were going to be coming from Fluttershy.
He was hanging there, plotting his next move when he heard a loud thwack and a cry of “Idiot!”
Then he hit the ground with a hard smack, his jaw reverberating as it connected with forest floor.
He groaned, and looked up to see the silhouette of a mare standing over him. When his vision came into focus again he notice she was a zebra.
“Well Ulaghai, we meet at last, though I didn't think you'd be out this fast. Are you up here on your own? What are you doing so far from home? And does Fluttershy know you climbed up here? Do you really mean to worry that mare?”
“First of all,” said Discord, who was slightly concerned that his voice sounded slurred after his hard landing, “who are you and how do you know who I am?”
The zebra's face took on a calm look. “Ah, I see. She has not told you about me. My name is Zecora.”
“You know Fluttershy?” asked Discord, rubbing his sore head. The zebra nodded.
“Well that explains that. Though I've not heard the name the Zebricans called me for a while. I have to say, on the whole, I prefer 'Discord.' The other word sounds too close to 'ugly' for my liking.”
“It means trickster, though it is a name we would whisper.”
“I know what it means.”
“I have not answered my question, and I hope you'll be quick. Does the pegasus know? She will be worried sick.”
“It's all fine. It's all good. I left her a note.”
“Why are you up here if everything's fine? And I saved you just now, from becoming entwined.”
“Yes, yes, I know you saved me. Uh...thanks. And the reason I'm up here is confidential.”
The zebra stared at him.
“Very well,” she said. “Then be more careful as you head out on your travels. There are trappers about, and more snares to unravel.”
She turned to go. “Hey, wait!” cried Discord suddenly. “You're a zebra.”
Zecora raised her eyebrows as if to say “Of course I'm a zebra you fool. What did you think I was? A giraffe?”
“No,” said Discord, noticing the expression on her face. “I mean...your people, they have that weird memory spell. The one involving dark magic.”
“What of it?”
“I...I need to use it.”
“For what aim? What is it you seek to claim?”
“Memories. I have some of them back, but I can't remember everything that happened before I lived in these woods. Heck, I can't even remember living in these woods. I suppose that's a good thing.”
“But I cannot give these memories back. It would be me that was seeing them, and your mind which will lack.”
“Yeah, but maybe you can tell me what my memories are once you see them. Then I might have a better idea of what's going on here.”
“And why would I wish to do that, Ulaghai?”
“Because my magic is coming back. But not all the way. And stuff keeps happening. Weird stuff. Stuff that I can't...that I can't control.” He grit his teeth as the said the last word.
Zecora was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Very well. But you may not like what you hear. Sometimes forced memories are too painful to bear.”
“Yeah, yeah. Spooky warning, whatever.”
Zecora ignored him. “Follow me.”
Discord hobbled after her, his body still a bit sore from the landing. After about half a mile, they reached the shaman's hut and Zecora beckoned the draconequus inside.
“Sit,” she told him, pointing to a mat on the floor. Discord tried to make himself comfortable on the floor.
Zecora reached into her store cupboard and removed several bottles. Next she lit a fire and placed a skillet on top. Discord watched impatiently as she chanted and sprinkled the powder over the skillet. A sage-like smell filled the air.
Finally Zecora stopped chanting and poured the residual powder into a bottle filled with a milky white substance. She made her way over to Discord, pulled out a mat and sat opposite him. “Finally,” he muttered.
“I need some of your magic, to make this successful, and there isn't a need to be so disrespectful.”
“Sorry,” he muttered. He wanted to get this over with. Surely this was a better way to deal with the situation than finding the remains of a pony in the woods. Not that he wanted to come across that. But it was better to know, wasn't it?
She held out the bottle to him and he placed his paw over it, hoping that his magic worked this time. Thankfully he felt a tingling in his bloodstream and the potion glowed. He knew it had been successful.
“Remember this, I hope you hear, that memories may be something to fear. The past is always set in stone, but neither can it tell alone. The only memories I'll see are your point of view through me.”
Zecora tilted the bottle and gulped down the concoction. Then she took a few deep breaths and prepared herself for her journey. Discord watched as the zebra mare's eyes rolled back into her head, and glowed like otherwordly beacons.
Then her journey began.
Maremmano= My pony version of Rome, so named because the horses of Roman emperors were a distinct breed of the same name.