Dear Princess Celestia,
My friend Zecora and I request an audience with you at your earliest convenience. It concerns Discord. I have finally met the draconequus, albiet briefly and from the quick interactions I have observed between him and Fluttershy he seems to have developed some kind of bond with her. I do not know yet if this is friendship, but he seems to respect her enough. I only hope this is not because he is completely reliant on her and using her in some way. You mentioned he was someone very dear to you once, so I am, however reluctantly, inclined to believe the former explanation. Only time will tell.
As for our requesting a meeting, Zecora seems to have information on Discord that we don't. She has declined to tell me what that information is, only saying that it is "for Princess Celestia's ears only."
I...I wish I knew more about what was going on but I must admit to feeling somewhat "in the dark" about all this. I realize your private life is your own, but...should I have reason to worry? Fluttershy is alone with Discord much of the time and I do sometimes fret about her safety.
At any rate, if we could meet with you, that might clear a few things up for all concerned. I only want what's best for everyone and I'm worried that's beyond my reach.
Your Faithful Student,
When Discord woke up he realized his snout was buried in pink mane and that Fluttershy had spent the entire night on the sofa with him. He hadn't bothered to pull the couch out to make his bed before falling asleep, it had remained a sofa and she had still managed to curl up against him without falling off. Then again he thought, chuckling softly she's pretty small. She was facing away from him, breathing softly and he carefully reached up with a talon and pushed her mane out of her face and tucked it behind her ear.
"Wakey, wakey Canary-Horse," he whispered. The pegasus shifted. "Mmmfph...what time is it?" she said, trying to get her bleary eyes to adjust, and realizing with surprise that her wings were pressed up against Discord's chest. She blushed. She'd slept next to him before, but he'd been delerious or sick. Still, he had been pretty upset last night, so she supposed it was no different. So why did it feel different? "It's after eight," he said. She felt his voice rumble through her and after a beat he continued: "You came to look for me."
"Of course I did. I thought something terrible had happened to you."
He smiled into her mane. "You worry a lot, don't you?" he said, his paw tightening its embrace around her.
"Um...yes?" She was blushing in waves now at their close proximity.
Discord stopped himself from purring the words "I like it when you worry about me" in her ear in time. He couldn't be too forward. Not yet. But she had cared and that wasn't something he was altogether used to. Or at least not altogether used to accepting. His peaceful mood dampered a bit as he remembered what he had overheard when he had hidden in Zecora's cauldron: There were pony remains in the Everfree.
"W—would you like some breakfast?" asked Fluttershy. Her question was followed by the sound of a metal dish clanging which both made them jump.
"Well somebody does," said Discord, sitting up and inclining his head towards Angel.
"And you?" Fluttershy asked Discord as she moved towards the rabbit.
Discord was surprised that he didn't feel all that hungry, especially after a day of being active. As he began to get to his feet he realized his muscles felt quite sore.
"Just some water, please, Fluttershy."
"Are you okay?"
Discord bit his lower lip and his eyes fixed on a spot on the floor. "Maybe...not?"
"What's wrong?" asked Fluttershy. She quickly put some carrots and cucumber slices in a bowl for Angel and moved towards the draconequus.
"Fluttershy--I--I have to tell you something." He dropped down closer to her level so that he was on all fours.
"Yes?" she asked softly, making sure her voice sounded as welcoming and open as possible.
"You know the reason I went up to the Everfree. Well, I...I was right. There are bones up there." He saw a flicker of doubt or fear in her eyes and hoped that it wasn't because she was scared of him.
"Did you see them?" she asked.
"Well, no...but I overheard the trappers talking about it when I was hiding in Zecora's cauldron. They said they looked old and had been up there for a while. But there are remains!"
"That doesn't mean that it was you," she said. "It could have been a timberwolf or..."
"But if it was me, if it was...”
Fluttershy's eyes softed. “We discussed this Discord. You were living on survival instincts.”
“The thought that I could have eaten pony makes me feel sick, Fluttershy. I've only just gotten used to eating fish and crabs.” Though the draconequus had turned his nose up at the idea at first, he had eventually relented when he realized his body needed the extra protein. He did have sharp canines, after all.
She leaned against him, nuzzling his shoulder. “Don't think about it,” she whispered. “Today I'll go and speak to the gamekeeper and we'll sort all this out.”
A shiver shot down Discord's spine. “Wait...you're...you're not going to tell him about the pony remains are you?”
“I was going to tell him everything we know.”
“But what if he decides I'm dangerous and wants me killed!” he cried, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“That's not what gamekeepers are for. They were originally for keeping and hunting a stock of animals, but not in modern day Equestria. Now they are only responsible for shooting animals that are beyond hope or a threat to someone's life. Not that I like that either, but I understand why it's done.”
“And eating ponies isn't a threat to someone's life?”
“You're a sapient being. If someone shot you it would be a crime. It would be murder. I'm going to speak to gamekeeper and explain that you're under Princess Celestia's protection. And besides, there's absolutely no proof that you were the cause of the remains.”
Discord's eyes searched hers. They looked fearful and unsure. She placed her hoof in the crook of his elbow.
“I...I'd rather you stayed today,” he said, in an almost imperceptible whisper.
“But it's urgent that I go and explain that...”
“I don't disagree! But, Fluttershy...I...I...”
He looked embarrassed about something, and then he mouthed “I don't feel safe right now. There's no lock on the door or anything. I know there was no reason for one before, but there seems to be now.” She realized from the position of her hoof on his arm that he was extremely tense. “So, please. Please stay with me, just one more day?”
She couldn't refuse him. He looked so lost and terrified. Maybe even more so than the day he'd first spoken to her.“I'll stay,” she whispered. “Come and sit in the back garden with me. It's a nice day.” She felt him relax slightly. “I'll just check the mail first.”
She returned a minute later holding a large, brown package.
“More beetles?” asked Discord.
She shook her head. “This is a book I ordered.”
“Love on the High Seas Part 2?”
She stuck her tongue out at him and blew a raspberry, a motion he found irresistibly adorable for some reason. “It's a book on plumage and the comparison of feathers between different animal groups. Because I pre-ordered it I got it before the official publication date.” She tore open the package and removed the hardcover. Embossed on the red vegetable leather was the illustration of a phoenix. “I'll make us some tea then we can look at it together.”
He was about to make a sarcastic crack about how he “couldn't imagine anything he'd rather do,” when he suddenly realized there was nothing sarcastic about it. He wanted to lay down on the grass next to Fluttershy as she read. He wanted to just be next to her. Okay, there were lots of other things his mind wished he and Fluttershy could do together, but he wasn't about to tell her that. His dream life had become a lot more interesting.
He wondered if it was because he barely knew other ponies and she was the one who spent the most time with him. That would make sense; it had been a while, hadn't it? She was an attractive pony and he had been in a regressed state for over a thousand years. His mind was clearly latching on to the only creature available as a visual outlet. Yeah, that was it.
She carried the tea tray outside and poured them both a cup, then she lay on the ground with the book open in front of her. Discord lay down next to her with his paw and talon in front of him balancing his tea cup and looked over her shoulder as she turned the pages.
There were illustrations of the different feather types on the first few pages. “Here are the feathers of an ostrich,” said Fluttershy. “They're called semi-plumes. They kind of look like they fall inbetween contour feathers and down feathers, but most of the Ratites have unusual feathers like this.” She turned the page again and an illustration of a spread songbird wing came into view. “But these are contour feathers. And these are the kind that most birds have and they enable them to fly, just like the wings of a pegasus or griffon.” She spread her own wing for comparison. She turned the page again. There was a drawing of a male Blue Bird-of-Paradise on the left page and a drawing of a phoenix with spread wings on the right. “And these are feathers that have developed for most specialist reasons. In the case of Paradisaea rudolphi it's to impress the female, and in the case of the phoenix it's so the feathers are resistant to fire.”
Discord grinned at the Bird of Paradise illustration. The male was hanging upside down from a branch with his chest feathers spread out proudly. The female peered down at him from a branch, as if she was deciding whether the goods were satisfactory or not.
“Wonder what draconequii feathers were for,” he said out loud.
Fluttershy looked up from her book, suddenly worried she had upset him, but he simply looked curious and took another sip from his tea cup.
“Oh, well...maybe we can find out from looking at the structure,” she said. “You have a pegasus wing, so those are contour feathers.”
“Yes, but I can't actually lift off the ground with it. Believe me, I have tried. I have had dreams where I could fly, but I'm guessing that was magic rather than feathers. Plus the other wing has no feathers at all so it wouldn't exactly balance out.”
“Hmm,” she said, her hoof on her chin. She decided to concentrate on the feathers of his body instead. “I'm guessing the brown feathers on you are probably for temperature regulation or communication.”
“Yes, I've noticed when you're upset or excited the feathers on your back stand upright. That's probably a holdover from when draconequii couldn't speak and had to communicate through body language instead.”
“So my ancestors were once rather animalistic after all.”
“Well, everybody's were.”
“True. Your ancestors were three-toed plains horses and pony culture didn't come in until about 500,000 years back when the first cave paintings were found.”
“How did you know that?”
He grinned and patted her on the head with his paw. “I read too, Canary-Horse.”
Her face turned red. “Oh, of course.”
He chuckled and waited for her to continue. She turned the page again. This time there were lots of misshapen feathers on the page and diagrams explaining various pathologies. She pointed to the long plume of a rooster. “Look here,” she said, and Discord instinctively felt his back feathers raise as he listened to the sound of her soft voice. “This feather displays shock marking.” She pointed to a faint, horizontal line running across the tail feather. “That means this rooster had a hard time at some point. Maybe it couldn't get enough food one year and suffered nutritional deficiency. Every line of a shock marking represents a difficult period.”
Discord was silent. “And...how many shock markings do I have?” She looked up at him. “Oh, I didn't mean to...I um… I'm sorry.”
He shook his head and smiled. “I'm fine, Shy. Just curious.”
She nodded and he spread his blue pegasus wing. It was the same colour as the chest feathers of the Paradisaea in the book.
She examined his wing carefully, gently cradling it in her hooves and moving her head so that the direction of light revealed more. Discord shivered slightly. Fluttershy had touched him before, but never on a place as sensitive as his wing. She continued to examine him and noticed the first shock mark at the end of one of his primaries. She started counting backwards. Seven. That was just one feather. How many moults had he gone through before that? She didn't want to think about how difficult things had been for him.
She looked up at him. “There are...um...a lot. Seven, actually.” She felt tears forming in her eyes. She felt so angry that he'd had to endure such suffering for centuries. Had that been seven incidences when he was close to starving? Or when he had suffered incredible stress? Or when he had developed injuries? She wondered if some of the markings had even developed while he had been living with her. The incident with the burning trees had certainly been one that had disturbed him.
Discord noticed the waterworks coming on.
“Oh, Fluttershy, don't cry. I was only curious. I'm finding this stuff fascinating actually.” He really was, though at the same time he probably could have listened to her reading a list of hardware products and he would have been happy.
Happy. Was he happy? He wasn't sure. Yes, there was still fear in the periphery of his mind when he thought about the revelations of yesterday, but that seemed so far away now that he was in the warm garden sitting next to his friend.
“You are?” asked Fluttershy.
He nodded. She beamed at him and settled down to read the book again. The next page was on feather colour, and he listened to her read: “Blues, greens and purples in plumage are the result of the refraction and reflection of light from physical structures in the cuticle; sometimes in combination with colouring in the cortex.”
Discord's toes curled. He could have listened to her for hours. He should have been frighted. He should have been worried. He usually had a very short attention span. Even while reading books he was incredibly quick. He could plow through one hundred pages in five minutes. But listening to her read at a normal pace made him feel incredibly calm.
After they had finished their tea, Fluttershy went out the feed the chickens and ferrets and Discord couldn't help but feel disappointed. They couldn't go for a walk today, for obvious reasons so boredom now threatened to overtake him.
He watered Harold three times that day, before realizing that if he didn't stop he was probably going to drown the plant. He tried racing the beetles against each other on the hardwood floor, but they just ended up mating again, their sharp claws scrabbling on the floor.
“Alright for some people,” he told them bitterly. He couldn't believe this. He wasn't really feeling envious of a pair beetles, was he? That really was pathetic.
But he couldn't help but feel a pang in his chest. He wondered when the last time he had experienced physical intimacy with someone had been. He wondered when he had last had someone run their hands or talons or hooves over his body or when the last time he had been kissed was. His ears drooped.
“What are you doing?” asked Fluttershy as she came through the door. His head shot up as he realized how odd the situation looked. “Er...” he began.
She walked over to where he was sitting and looked down at the insects. “Oh, they're mating again,” she said. “The first batch of grubs haven't even cocooned yet! I hope I can find homes for all of them once they're adults.”
He relaxed. She didn't seem to think it was weird that he was sitting cross-legged on the floor while two beetles went at it in front of him. Of course she didn't. Fluttershy knew it was a natural process. She'd seen this sort of thing countless times.
“I won't move them back into the enclosure until they're done,” she said. “I don't want to disturb them.”
The scrabbling continued and Fluttershy began preparing lunch.
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
I can see you as early as tomorrow. Please make sure that you and Zecora are alone when you visit. I am pleased to hear that it sounds like Fluttershy is making progress with Discord, but if remember that if she ever feels unsafe the option of using the Elements of Harmony is there.
Discord is a creature of chaos and Harmony would immobilise him. However, I do hope that you will all choose to use this capability only when it is necessary to do so. I will be contacting Fluttershy in due course to discuss Discord's progress in further detail.
If you and Zecora could let me know if tomorrow is amenable to you then I will make preparations and see you then. I await your reply, my dear student.
Here is an image of the Blue Bird-of-Pardise displaying and here is an image of shock markings.
Next chapter will be further away (possibly in a month's time) as though I am still waiting on paperwork for my new job, I have other things of import to be getting on with. Thank you very much for reading so far and hope you enjoy the rest which I'll try to get up as soon as I can.