Twilight Sparkle stared at her books. Her beautiful, beautiful books, all perfectly arranged, neatly shelved, and completely incomprehensible, their titles rendered into utter gibberish. "What..."
An upside-down head that almost looked like a pony's, except for the yellow eyes with red irises and the two mismatched horns, dangled down in front of her face. "Finno-Ugric, actually, but I'm hardly surprised you don't recognize it."
"DISCORD!" Twilight was angry enough to swipe at him with her hoof, planning to grab him and drag him down from where he was hanging upside down from the rafters, but he swung backward out of her way with ease, pulled his head back up to the level of his body, and poofed, to reappear perched on the back of the chair at the desk on the other side of the room like some absurdly huge, misshapen crow.
"Now, Twilight, is that any way to treat your favorite draconequus?"
"Is there even one other member of your species? Because if there is, that statement was factually wrong," she said angrily.
"Nope. Only one."
"Are there any dead ones?"
His eyes grew impossibly big, rather like a Cutie Mark Crusader attempting to wheedle an older sister into letting her do something she probably shouldn't. "Oh, Sparky, don't you like me?" he sniffled.
"No. What did you do to my books? They're gibberish!" She used her magic to pull one down and open it. "Nothing in here makes any sense!"
"Oh, it would all make perfect sense, if only you understood Finno-Ugric. But I suppose your education has been sadly lacking in classical languages. Dear me, what does Celestia teach her students nowadays?"
Twilight glared at Discord. "Finno-Ugric? Is that even a real language?"
"Turn my books back right now!"
"Or what, you'll huff and you'll puff and you'll blow my house down? You do know I live with Fluttershy, right? That would be awfully cruel to do to her."
"No. I'll do what we should have done all along and turn you back into a lawn decoration," Twilight snapped.
Discord sighed deeply. "That's supposed to be a threat, right? From your tone of voice I think I'm supposed to be quaking in my shoes, or something, but it's so hard to tell when ponies say things that are so completely nonsensical that even the spirit of chaos can't figure out why they said them."
"You think you're immune to consequences just because Fluttershy promised not to use her Element on you?" Twilight shouted. "You think she's going to fall for your tricks indefinitely? You think you can just do anything you like and she'll never see you for what you really are? You have another think coming, Discord!" She stalked up to him, glaring up at him. "Go ahead, be overconfident, gloat about how we can't possibly get the Elements together to defeat you because of the clever mind game you played. That's never happened before and I'm sure it'll end just as well for you as it did the last time."
"If it's never happened before, how can it end as well as it did the last time?" Discord asked innocently.
"Argh!" Twilight scrunched her mane with her hooves. "That was sarcasm, you idiot!"
"Is it? It wasn't very good sarcasm, so I couldn't tell."
"That's right, change the subject with irrelevant insults, make this conversation all about insulting me and not about what I'm saying. While you're at it why don't you strike a dramatic pose? You could be in it a while."
For several seconds she and Discord stared at each other, neither one speaking.
Then Discord said, "All right, I've had enough of this," and vanished, reappearing in the middle of the library. Twilight charged up her horn, ready for anything. "En garde, Sparky! I've got a wonderful game for us to play!"
"'Wonderful game' is an oxymoron as soon as it comes out of your mouth," she said.
"Oh, but no, you'll really enjoy this game! It's great!" He raised his paw and talon. "Hit me."
"Hit... you?" Had she heard that right.
"Yes. Hit me!"
"With my hoof?"
"Well, if you think you can do it, by all means, but I was actually envisioning that you'd use one of those stellar bolts of magic you're famous for, o Element of Magic. Hit me with a spell, any spell. Or just telekinesis. Whatever you want to hit me with. Just hit me."
"How is this a game?" she demanded.
Discord's face was suddenly in hers. "It's a game, because if it was a battle, I'd fight back," he said in a menacing voice, and then was just as abruptly standing straight in the center of the room again. "Come on, Twilight! I'm giving you the opportunity of a lifetime! One free shot at the draconequus! Any spell, any level of intensity! Don't tell me the thought of hitting me doesn't make your little heart go pitter-pat and all your muscles quiver with anticipation."
Twilight backed away. "I'd love to hit you, except for the part where it's your idea," she said. "What are you going to do, feign injury and then get me in trouble with Fluttershy? Or the Princess? Or use the fact that I hit you as an excuse to retaliate?"
"Oh, what a wild imagination you have." He put up his lion's paw in the air. "I solemnly swear that I will not retaliate against you in any way, shape or form for any attempt to hit me, regardless if it is successful or not. But wait, there's more!" Discord flapped up into the air, craning his head down at her. "Smack one on me good, and I'll turn the books in your library back into Equestrian... or whichever original language they happened to be in, since now they're all in Finno-Ugric, without making you figure out for yourself how to do it!"
"If you intended to make me figure out for myself how to do it, then I can figure out for myself how to do it, so I don't need you," Twilight said.
"Come on, you know you wanna. Haven't you wanted to hit me since the day you met me?"
"Yes, but that doesn't make it a good idea."
"Oh, Sparky, why do you have to deny yourself your true desires? Give in to your urges for once!" He was suddenly next to her, except that his neck was bent over her and twisted so that his head was now at the level of right next to her ear. "So stolid. Live a little! Do something wild and crazy just for fun! Or something cruel and malicious just for revenge! You knooooow you waaaaant to...."
She twisted away from him. "I'm not going to let you trick me this time, Discord."
He straightened, head back in the air again. "No tricks! Totally straightforward. I just want you to hit me."
"I suppose if I tell you about the leather and the fetish gear you'll say no?"
As Twilight's eyes widened with horror, Discord started laughing uproariously. "Oh, dear, does someone need the brain bleach now? No, actually I just want a sparring partner. And since you're far, far too pathetic for me to actually spar with, I'll settle for a one-sided game of dodge."
"I don't believe you."
"'Cause you're chicken. Twilight won't hit me, Twilight won't hit me," he chanted in a "nyaah nyaah" tone, dancing around.
"That's right, I won't hit you. Now go back to Fluttershy's or something so I can figure out what you did to my books!"
His face was suddenly directly in hers again. "What I've done to your books thus far can't begin to compare to what I'll do to them if you won't cooperate with me, Twilight Sparkle," he said in a very menacing tone. "I tried to do this the nice way, but if you insist on being obstinate... why, books are so very fragile. So many natural substances inimical to their material... water, fire... petrification... chocolate milk..."
She backed away. "You wouldn't dare."
"Are you going to bet your library on the belief that I wouldn't dare to do something randomly destructive for a stupid reason? Really, Twilight?"
Twilight sagged. She wished Spike was here and not over Rarity's helping her with organizing her new shipment of fabrics. She could use someone to record to Princess Celestia that Discord had blackmailed her into this. "Fine! I'll hit you, if that's what you want sooo badly!"
"Goody!" He jumped up and down, clapping his paw and talon. "You do your best to hit me – which means either you actually succeed, or you become too exhausted to continue – and no harm will come to your books. Succeed in hitting me, and you won't even have to learn Finno-Ugric." He shifted back and forth from leg to leg, making "come on" gestures with his paw and talon. "Swing, batta batta batta! Swing batta!"
All right. Twilight charged up her horn and fired a bolt of magic at Discord.
Who wasn't there.
But one of her bookcases was.
"Oh, no!" The bookcase split down the center and started to topple forward. Twilight threw her magic against it to hold it up, but it was sliding. "No no no—"
Discord snapped his talon and the bookcase suddenly returned to its pristine condition. Twilight turned and looked at him, puzzled. "You... just fixed the bookcase."
"That's an amazing observation, Sparky! No wonder Celestia invited you to her school for Gifted Unicorns."
As soon as the bookcase had started to fall, Twilight had realized what Discord's trick was. Except, no, if he'd been trying to trick her into destroying her own library as a prank, why would he have fixed the bookcase? "Why?"
"Because if you spend all your time fixing bookcases you're never going to hit me. Let's go someplace you won't be perpetually panicked over your poor, poor books."
And suddenly they were in a wide, open rock quarry (or maybe a rock farm – Twilight had never been to one, so she wasn't sure how they differed from a quarry), Discord perched on a large outcropping of rock. "Here we go. You can really cut loose now, Sparklepie."
"Who lives near here?"
"No one. The quarry's mined out of anything useful, for the most part. We're about four hours away from Ponyville by maximum trot, well within the range you ought to be able to teleport yourself back if you're really as awesome a mage as you think you are, but I figured on taking you somewhere that nopony could possibly get hurt by your pathetic baby filly attempts to hit me."
"You'll eat those words, Discord," Twilight said, firing three bolts of magic at him in quick succession as he launched himself off the rock. He didn't even teleport this time, just eeled his body out of the way of her bolts, bending in ways no actual living creature who wasn't a spirit of chaos could possibly do.
"Oh, yum! Can you put some hot spice on them this time? That friendship book you fed me was terribly bland."
"That was a book, you—you—stupid creature! It was for reading! Not eating!" Three more bolts, any of which could have shattered a tree, none of which hit Discord.
"I'm sorry, I don't know anypony who can read with their eyes closed, which they would inevitably do if forced to read that utterly inane book. I don't even sleep and it put me to sleep." During his taunt he dodged another two magical bolts. "What's the matter, Twilight, can't you hit me?"
"You keep moving!"
"Well, why don't you track my trajectory and figure out where I'm going to be?"
"Because you don't have a trajectory! That would imply that the laws of physics behave rationally around you and anypony could predict where you'll end up!" She fired a barrage of blasts, wide left, wide right, up, down, and then center as he dodged all the others, which was supposed to have forced him to dodge into the final blast, except he teleported behind her.
"Nice one. I think you might possibly have seared a single hair on my eyebrow!"
"You're... fast... Discord," Twilight said, panting. "But you're overconfident. You're going to slip sooner or later!"
"You mean like this?" He was suddenly directly in front of her. Twilight fired, and laughter came from above her head. "Oh ho ho, maybe overconfidence is your word for being just that amazing!" Twilight fired straight up without even looking. Now Discord's voice was behind her. "Good one! But you still can't hit me!"
Twilight spun around and performed a wide-area blast, a fan of energy radiating out from the point of her horn to be the entire width of her visual field. Discord limbo'd under it, bending impossibly. Twilight fired another one while he was doing the limbo and theoretically couldn't see her, with his face pointed in the other direction, but it obviously wasn't good enough because he teleported, floating in midair in front of her. "Come on! Are you a filly or are you a mare? Hit me!"
"I... will..." she gasped. "Getting my breath..."
"Oh, I suppose it would help you then if I was dancing on your back!" Twilight nearly buckled under the sudden weight landing on her. "Hi-ho, Sparkle! Aw—" He teleported away from the blast as she threw her head backward and fired at point blank range. "-ay! Oh, that was a good one. That was almost close!"
"Just... stand still!" Twilight shouted, aware that it was a really stupid thing to be saying and not caring. She wasn't really talking to Discord, more like demanding that Fate arrange matters so that he would stand still for her.
"Okay!" Discord said, grinning. "I'll stay right here! Surely you'll be able to hit me!" She fired at his chest, but he was suddenly so small he barely came up to her chest, so it went over his head. "Oh, you missed!" She fired at tiny Discord, but now tiny Discord had immensely long skinny bowlegs which bowed in the center to let her blast through. "And even when I stand still she can't hit me! What are ya, blind?" Up, and he was suddenly two-dimensional and folded so that the blast went over him again. Back in the center, and he split down the center and bowed out of the way of the blast, a giant opening forming between his two halves. "Four tries when I'm standing in one place and you still can't hit me, Sparkledud!"
"I... will... knock... your... teeth out!" She fired again. He eeled sideways again.
"Bored now! Done with standing still!" He was suddenly behind her, poking her in the cutie mark. "Hey, I can touch the stars!"
Twilight bucked. Discord laughed riotously, floating above her head again. "That was clever, Twilight, you almost got me!" Right in front of her face. "Almost." She fired, but of course he wasn't there anymore. "Touching your horn!" Fire. "Oh, come on, how can you not hit me when I'm touching your horn? Really, Twilight!" Fire. "I've got a big box of ice cream, I'm going to put it on Sparkle's head..." Fire. "Look at what you did to my lovely ice cream!" Twilight was now covered in melted vanilla ice cream from Discord's attempt to balance the ice cream on her head and the subsequent head toss plus magic bolt Twilight had used to take him out. She'd gotten the ice cream at least... but now she was covered in it. "Mm, how does ice cream taste with a little Sparkle?" His tongue licking her side. Twilight shrieked, spun and fired again, but once again Discord wasn't there. "It tastes like sweet victory! Hahahahhahaha! You can't even stop me from licking you, Sparky, because you can't hit me!"
His tail was right next to her foot. She stomped on it, but he swished it out of the way barely in time. "Oh ho! Changing up the game! Twilight Sparkle sees a body part of Discord's she thinks he's lost track of. She stomps! She misses! Discord actually knows where his tail is, who would have guessed!" He swung the tail straight up to display regions of his body she'd really rather not look at and waggled his rump. "Go on, kick my butt, Sparky!"
"You... wish." She fired the next one at the closest rock, exploding it. Discord would have been in the path of the shrapnel except for the fact that he was now behind her again.
"Does that mean the leather and fetish gear is still out of the question?"
"Not... how... I swing... but... make an exception... to beat you to a pulp!"
She tossed her head backward again and fired at the sound of his voice. Which was suddenly coming from next to her ear. "Is that a promise?"
This time Twilight didn't even move her head. Instead of pointing her horn at Discord, who was so close to her that it would be difficult to maneuver, she fired the magical bolt at an angle , so instead of using pointing her horn and firing it straight, she kept her horn straight and pointed her magic. It didn't help. Now Discord was in front of her. "Nice move, but not quite good enough." He jumped onto one of the rocks, laughing at her. "Wait until I tell Rainbow Dash that I'm thirty percent cooler than Twilight Sparkle!" She fired at the rock, transmuting it to a giant glob of superglue. Discord actually sank into it for a moment, a look of surprise on his face, but before she could fire the second bolt, the glue turned into chocolate pudding and Discord was elsewhere, so her bolt hit the chocolate pudding and made it spray all over. "Deliciously chaotic! Now we're getting somewhere!"
Her head hurt so much. Her vision swam with the effort of firing off so much magic. Her chest felt like it was going to burst, and she was drenched in sweat, and she felt like she'd run a marathon. Twilight dropped onto four knees, kneeling exhausted on the ground. "So... tired... so much... magic..."
"Oh ho. Ready to cry uncle, dear Twilight?" Discord grinned. "That was a lot of magic. I'm impressed. No one but Celestia and Luna ever kept it up this long without keeling over from exhaustion."
"Can't... breathe... chest... hurts..."
Discord's look of smug triumph changed to alarm. "Oh dear me, did you push yourself too far?" He came toward her. "Deep breaths, Sparky, if you've drained yourself too badly it could be very bad for your heart. I certainly don't want to explain to Celestia that I gave her favorite student a heart attack."
Twilight lowered her head, letting her bangs fall over her eyes and narrowing them so much it would look through her mane like her eyes were closed. "So... tired..."
"Oh come on now, Sparky, you can't be the Element of Magic if that's all you've got!" Discord now looked genuinely alarmed. He knelt down in front of her, reaching a paw toward her head. "I can heal you if you really—"
And she fired all the power she could manage to summon, directly at his chest.
Discord flew back across the entire length of the quarry and slammed into the rock wall, hard.
Twilight got up onto her hooves, panting. That really had taken a lot out of her, and she did have a stitch in her side, but she'd used more magic than this before in one session. Once she got home, she'd eat some chocolate bananas, drink some willow bark tea, drink some vegetable bouillon to wash down the awful taste of willow bark tea, and she'd be in fine shape. She tried to trot over to where she'd thrown Discord, but she was too tired to do more than walk.
He wasn't hurt. A tiny part of her had worried about that as soon as she'd seen how hard he hit. If she'd hit a pony that hard they'd have broken every bone in their body, between the impact of her magic and the impact with the rock wall, but Discord was sitting on the ground, looking slightly dazed but otherwise no worse for wear. "Are... you okay?" she panted.
Discord looked down at her with an expression of disbelief. "You cheated."
"Wasn't... against rules," she said, grinning triumphantly. "You said... hit you... or exhaust myself. Nothing about... faking being exhausted."
"You actually tricked me." For a moment, from the look of shock on his face, she was afraid there was going to be a real fight, one she couldn't win in her exhausted condition. And then he started to laugh. "You... actually... tricked... me! Hahahahaha!" He laughed hard enough to fall over on his side, curl up, and start laughing again, clutching his abdomen. "Twilight Sparkle cheated! And tricked me! With... with concern for a fallen opponent! Oh, this was priceless! Oh, it would almost be worth getting turned to stone if this was how you did it! Heeheeheeheehehheh! Oh, oh, promise me you'll try something like that if we do actually have a throwdown with the Elements! Oh, stop, stop, I'm going to bust a rib... hahahahahaha! Tricked! Me!" He fell over on his back, kicking his feet in the air and swishing his tail wildly. "You've defeated me, Sparky, I'm dead! Here lies Discord, who laughed himself to death! Oh... oh that's actually starting to hurt... oh hahahahaha heeheeheehee oh please I can't take it anymore that look on your face oh I'm going to cheer myself up with this memory every time I feel bored for the rest of eternity! Tricked me! Never mind Pinkie Pie, they need to give you the Element of Laughter, Sparky! Hahahahaha! Oh my." He rolled around on the ground, laughing uproariously, still clutching onto his abdomen like he was holding his guts in, as Twilight stared. Finally he got himself under control, sitting back up and wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "Oh. That was marvelous, Twilight, we'll make a devious trickster out of you yet."
"Well, you wanted me to hit you."
"And you did! And it was hilarious! Because you couldn't touch me until you cheated, and you cheated by using my concern for you, and that is so many levels of funny I can't even begin to enumerate them all." He snickered again. "Plus the glue. That was inspired! Oh, and the angle shots, and the shots without looking, and the occasional use of hooves, oh that whole thing was just fantastic. You're great, Sparky." Discord got to his feet, unsteadily. "That was so wonderful, I will, apropos of nothing, spontaneously promise not to tell all your friends that I've just spent the afternoon having the most enjoyable experience I've had in a thousand years with Twilight Sparkle, but now we're both exhausted."
"I'll hit you again," Twilight growled.
"That's a disincentive?"
"I want my books back now, Discord."
"And you'll have them. Patience, patience. You've actually worn me out, little pony. Not from the battle per se but the incredible hilarity of the way you won it. Oh. I haven't laughed that hard in I can't remember."
Twilight sighed. "I'm not seeing what's so funny about it. I don't like doing things like that, but it was the only way I could win."
"Well, yes, of course it was." Discord sat back down again. "Let's not go back to Ponyville this instant. I think this occasion calls for ice cream. That isn't in your mane."
"Only if you get the ice cream that is in my mane out," Twilight sighed. She wasn't going to spend four hours trotting to Ponyville in her current state of exhaustion, and actually one thing Discord did well was random sugary treats.
"Done." Discord snapped his talon. The feeling of sticky gunk all over her body vanished, and a chocolate covered, chocolate ice cream sundae with a banana on top appeared in front of her.
She looked at Discord suspiciously. "How did you know I was planning on getting a chocolate covered banana?"
"Because I know that overuse of magic depletes potassium," he said cryptically. His own ice cream bowl had something like eleven different kinds of ice cream, none of them particularly recognizable as flavors she knew, covered in what looked like raspberry syrup. "Mm. Could use sprinkles." A small cloud materialized and rained chocolate sprinkles onto his sundae. "Want some?"
"I'm fine, thanks." She took a bite of her ice cream. Reluctantly she had to admit that it was delicious. "I'll give credit where credit is due, Discord. You make good ice cream."
"Why, thank you." He picked up one of his eleven scoops of ice cream with a fork and popped the whole thing into his mouth. "So. Figured out yet what the point to this was?"
"There was a point?"
He sighed. "I suppose I spend enough time doing random pointless things that I can't entirely blame you for failing to see it, but yes. There was a point." He tilted his head back and used his fork to toss another scoop of ice cream into the air, where it fell into his mouth. "Mmm, lemon cranberry mozzarella flavor! Delicious. Want some?"
Mozzarella flavor ice cream? She took another bite of hers to get the imaginary taste of Discord's bizarre flavor out of her brain. "No thanks."
"So, Sparky, what'd you learn from this little exercise?"
"That the only way to hit you is to trick you?"
"Yes. Yes, actually, that was exactly the lesson I wanted you to take away from this. I'll confess, I have... some flaws, that a clever opponent can exploit... difficult for me to admit to, but since you shamelessly took advantage of them that last time we had a serious brawl, I suppose you already know. I can be overconfident, it's true. I can be tricked – although in actual combat that particular trick you just pulled wouldn't work because I wouldn't particularly care if my opponent was having a heart attack, but I suppose there are other ruses that might be effective. But if I know it's a real fight and I'm taking it seriously... you cannot hit me. I'm faster than you, I'm smarter than you, I'm much more powerful than you and the physical laws of the universe are my pet puppydog. "
"And yet we still beat you," Twilight said.
Discord looked embarrassed. "Yes, well, I admit that given my level of superiority that really is quite a humiliating defeat on my part. In my defense, you are the sort of stubborn creature to keep throwing your horn at a rock wall over and over, and I thought my attack on you was foolproof. I suppose..." He hesitated. "Now that I know a bit more about what you were fighting to protect, I suppose it's more obvious that you wouldn't have given up on friendship so easily. But it seemed like such a flawless plan at the time."
"So you don't know everything."
"Not anymore, at any rate," he said, staring at nothing for a moment, and then turned back to her. "But. Your endless nonsense about how you're going to use the Elements against me again is nothing but that. And that is not because of Fluttershy's promise... I expected Fluttershy to break her promise. I was looking forward to it. We'd have had such a delightfully epic fight where I'd have utterly mangled your confidence in your precious Elements... it didn't happen because Fluttershy defeated me, not with a physical attack, but the same sort of attack I almost defeated you with."
"I don't understand."
"I discorded your friends against you so you would lose faith in the power of friendship. Without that, you couldn't have harmonized with the other elements, ever again. The mental whammy I'd put on them would have worn off, in time, but what it was intended to accomplish would have been a permanent effect. Once you lose confidence in your beliefs, it's gone forever." He looked out at nothing again. "Fluttershy destroyed my confidence in my belief that no one could ever possibly sincerely want to be my friend, and that therefore I didn't need or want friends, because why need or want something you can never have? And she did it by keeping her promise." He sighed, and then looked directly at Twilight again. "So when you tell me you're going to use the Elements against me, it's utter nonsense. Fluttershy won't break her promise, because she understands that that promise was how she defeated me, and that she'd ensure my return to my old ways if she broke it. So you've only got five Elements to begin with. But even if you had had six, even if Fluttershy had done exactly what I expected and wanted her to do and we'd all had a showdown... you'd have lost. Miserably. Because the fastest, best-trained unicorn in your group can't hit me with her magic when I know we're actually fighting. How are six of you going to coordinate to hit me at the same time when just one of you can't? One Element's energies hitting me would do nothing whatsoever."
Twilight felt cold, not from the ice cream or the sweat she'd worked up but on the inside, as it sank in that Discord was right. They'd gotten him the first time because he had been absolutely certain the attack wouldn't work, so he'd stood still for it. Now that he knew the Elements would work in their hooves and that they could defeat him... he'd never do that again.
"Do you know how Celestia and Luna beat me?" he asked.
"Not really, only that they used the Elements to do it."
Discord nodded. "I didn't think they'd work. I... had a hand in creating them, in the first place... at least I knew what they were supposed to do, I knew what they'd been used for in the past, and I thought I was far out of their league. I thought I'd be able to negate their magic easily." He smiled wryly. "So when Celestia and Luna turned up, declaring that they would defeat me, I started singing a warrior's death aria from a ridiculously overmelodramatic opera to mock them. And they were smart, they hit me in the head so that went first. And after all that I think it was probably close to a week before I realized I couldn't, actually, break the spell, and that this was serious."
"I'd seen the statue of you in the gardens before I ever knew you were an actual living creature. I remember, it looked like you were singing something. Or yawning, or making a speech."
He nodded. "So. The first time I faced the Elements, I thought I could beat them easily. The second time, I thought I'd already beaten you. That trick isn't going to work a third time. And I don't sleep and I don't actually need to be looking at you to see you, so a sneak attack isn't particularly plausible either." He took the rest of his ice cream sundae, all scoops, and dumped the entire bowl over his mouth, eating all the ice cream in a more or less single large gulp. "So I would really appreciate it if you would stop with this nonsense of 'Discord, I'm going to turn you into stone for playing another stupid prank!', because I know you won't. And now you know you won't, and I know you know you won't, and you know I know you won't... so stop bringing it up."
"Huh." Twilight took another bite of her ice cream and then looked hard at Discord. "You were so frightened of a reforming spell you more or less bespelled me to live out your worst fear. You're bothered by remembering being trapped in stone, so you don't want us to threaten you with it because it wouldn't seriously work... but half the time I'm just saying it because I'm angry and frustrated at you. I know Fluttershy won't break her promise just because you played a stupid prank or two. It really seems like for a spirit of disharmony... you're a little thin-skinned."
Discord stared at her. "Did you just – you just did, didn't you."
"I just said that ponies who are angry and frustrated with you are likely to make comments involving your being turned to stone the same way ponies who are angry and frustrated with each other might talk about kicking each other's flanks or even killing each other. It doesn't mean anyone's going to actually do it, or even seriously think about it. So you stage this whole elaborate thing to prove to me that we actually can't use the Elements against you... except we already knew that because of Fluttershy. Maybe you might possibly need to get over it?"
"Get. Over. It." His mismatched eyes were even more mismatched than usual, goggling at her.
"Yes. You're a spirit of disharmony, right? So don't you think it's a little bit weird that you have these vulnerable points hanging out where anypony can kick them? You're scared of reforming spells... well, after that thing you made me see, I understand why. And you don't like being threatened with stoning even if it's a joke or the kind of thing ponies just say because they're mad. But you're happy to run around pushing everypony else's buttons all the time. So you need to either learn to take it or stop dishing it out, Discord."
He sighed explosively. "You're an idiot, Sparky. You think I'm going to cry to my mommy because the mean unicorn threatened to turn me into stone?" He stood up. "I don't like you making empty threats that nonetheless reference real harm I've suffered because I'm trying to make friends with you, you stupid one-horned flying purple nerdy reader. You're supposed to have more emotional vulnerabilities around your friends than around your enemies, isn't that how it works?"
"You have a really weird way of making friends." Why had he said "flying?" It was true she had one horn, was purple, and she did read a lot, and she'd certainly been called a nerd before, but the "flying" part made no sense. Then again, this was Discord.
"Yes, well, cut me some slack here. Before Fluttershy I was convinced it wasn't even possible for me to have real friends. Because it's not as if being the spirit of disharmony makes anypony inclined to be your chum in the first place, and every single friend I've managed to make in my existence before I met Fluttershy has turned on me, betrayed me or abandoned me, or I've done the same to them, so in the long run none of them were ever really friends at all. I'm much, much closer to my enemies; they don't betray me, because we never trusted each other in the first place. So yes, I admit it, quite possibly I have no idea what I'm doing because everypony I've tried this strategy with, the goal was to have an enemy who'd respect me and take my advice sometimes and who'd be the closest I could get to a friend, but... it's hardly as if I have a veritable plethora of other strategies in my toolbox."
"Are you serious? You're doing things to me like changing all my books into Finno-Ugric because you want to be friends and the only way you know how to make friends is to make enemies? That doesn't even make sense."
He shrugged. "Sometimes not making sense isn't actually any fun, but that doesn't change the fact that that's the way it is."
"I... have to wonder why the spirit of disharmony wants friends anyway."
"Because disharmony doesn't actually stand against the principle of friendship. It stands against the principle of agreement. I want friends who'll argue with me." He sighed. "Don't get me wrong, Fluttershy is very, very dear to me. But... I have to restrain myself around her so much. She's frightened of everything, she doesn't like the slightest bit of conflict... she's perfectly willing to embrace chaotic nonsense if it seems harmless and amusing, and I appreciate that greatly, but there's no bite to the poor dear. I can't spend all my time drinking tea, watching my language, and pretending not to hate evil rabbits. But apparently, according to you ponies, friendship means you always get along and never disagree and never have an argument and ugh, I might as well be a stone statue if that's going to be all I get for the rest of my existence! I need arguments."
Twilight slowly smiled. "The word you're looking for, Discord, is 'frenemy.' "
"'Frenemy'? What a lovely sounding word! Does that mean what I think it does?"
"A friend who's an enemy? An enemy who's a friend? A friendly enemy? Yes, something like that. The pony you love to hate, the pony who makes your life awful but it's so much fun to make their life awful that you keep coming back for more... or that's how I've heard the term used, anyway. I've never actually had a frenemy, I always thought the idea was stupid... why would you be friends with someone who's always fighting you, and why would you want to spend time with an enemy? But... you're the spirit of disharmony, so I suppose to you it would be a good idea."
"It actually sounds like a marvelous idea!" He was grinning broadly. "So, that's the word, is it? A being who you get to fight with as if they were an enemy, but nopony ends up dead, seriously injured or turned into a statue so the next day you get to do it all over again, and they actually enjoy fighting with you as much as you enjoy fighting with them? And everypony gets a marvelous educational experience like 'what spells should I use to turn my library back into Equestrian' or 'don't trust Twilight Sparkle when she claims to be having a heart attack' and then we get to go out for ice cream?"
Twilight sighed. "So you've been tormenting me because you wanted us to be frenemies, but you didn't know the word."
"To be fair, I've been tormenting you because Celestia told me to train you."
Twilight choked on her ice cream. "What?"
Discord was uncharacteristically serious. "The fate of Equestria ends up in your hooves on a regular basis, Twilight Sparkle. Celestia's given you a valuable grounding and all the knowledge you need to make of yourself a scholar of magic. But your destiny, unfortunately, is not to hide in a library studying magic; your destiny is to be a hero, whether you like it or not. And the problem with being a hero is that generally all the training is on-the-job with life or death stakes. Well, what better way to gain an advantage than to train against a villain whose end goal is to make sure you survive fighting the real villains?"
"Princess Celestia gave you permission to harass me to give me better training in combat magic? Is that what you're saying?"
"I admit I probably would have done it anyway," he said, grinning toothily. "You are just so much fun to taunt."
"And you're a lot of fun to throw across a rock quarry," Twilight said acidly. Discord just laughed.
"I told you that game would be fun."
She took a deep breath. "All right then. I'm still not sure I trust you, but... that trick I used on you wouldn't have worked if you really didn't care if I live or die, and... I guess I've learned some things from trying to figure out or undo the tricks you've pulled on me. And you do know a lot about magic. So if this is what the Princess wants... but you know I'm going to check, right?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Twilight offered him a forehoof. "So. Frenemies, Discord?"
He shook her hoof with his talon, solemnly. "Frenemies, Twilight Sparkle."
"Great. Now get us back to my library and fix my books or I'll throw you across the rock quarry again."
"You'd still have to be able to hit me," he said, grinning, but he snapped his talon and they were in the library again. Twilight sighed to see familiar-looking words on the spines of the books.
"Until our next match, Sparky," Discord said, bowing, and then vanished.
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