The minor thrill of having Picard actually say the words, actually admit he was wrong and he needed Q, wore off shortly after Q discorporated off the Enterprise, and he was left hollow and feeling actually worse than he had before he'd had this brilliant idea. Oh, sure, he'd made Picard pay for rejecting him, and he'd accomplished something positive even at the same time as he'd gotten revenge, by giving humanity a warning, and now he had a framework to come back later and give Picard more advice about the Borg and Picard wouldn't dare turn him down next time. But... that was later. This was now. He couldn't jump into the future; right now he was on heavy restrictions from the Continuum, so he didn't even dare look at the future. And right now, he couldn't go back to the Enterprise, and they weren't even likely to do anything interesting for a little while. They were going to have to fix their ship, and write tedious reports, and ugh. He had to go find something else to do.
Except there wasn't anything.
He was so bored. And... lonely. Yes, the Continuum were mostly the most pompous, dull stuffed shirts he had ever encountered in the universe, but some of them were friends... or had been, before all this went down. Right now he had no friends. Anywhere. And honestly, had he ever really had any? If his so called "friends" could turn away from him like this and participate in the Continuum's telling him to get lost when he hadn't even done anything all that bad, were they really friends at all? What a sham, friendship.
But he didn't even know if he could get some good enmity going, or some witty repartee. No humans right now, Picard was busy and Q was in too sour a mood to go try to meet some new humans to
terrorize study. Maybe go back in time, annoy James T. Kirk and the redoubtable Mr. Spock and seriously torque off the Continuum with the work they were going to have to do to fix the timeline?... no. Doing something to deliberately annoy the Continuum was... not a good idea right now. Go find someone new to play with? Or someone old? The trouble with both of those prospects was how very, very weaksauce the latest crop of mortals was turning out. For the past couple of hundred years, Q had tested more species than he'd done in the previous thousand, because they didn't take very long. Most... didn't pass. And after they didn't pass the first test, either they proved they weren't amusing enough to keep bothering with, or they were in no shape for another game, since it was a point of honor for Q that he wouldn't resurrect a test subject who'd died of stupidity, which in the end most of them had.
His old friends in the Continuum were horrified by how
vicious hardcore he'd gotten, ever since Q tore him apart and what he did to her in revenge the El-Aurian woman he'd had to kill his close friend and her lover for defying the Continuum stuff had happened. His new allies had thrown him under the bus because humanity had passed both his tests, despite the fact that they'd pulled him aside in a back room deal after Farpoint and demanded that he make sure they fail the next one. Which was embarrassing. He still didn't know how Riker had managed to beat him. Not that it mattered because it turned out everyone in the Continuum was furious with him for trying to bring a human in to join the Q, and implying that they were all ok with this when the human hadn't even been tested, and possibly things would have actually gone worse had he succeeded, because they didn't even want new blood. Short-sighted stupid stagnant fools. How did you manage omnipotence with that much idiocy? They didn't want change, but change was the only thing that kept immortality from being a horrifying prison. Change was the only thing worth living for.
Some changes, anyway. Getting told to take a walk while the Continuum decided what to do with him was not a pleasant change. Not that he wanted to go spend time in the Continuum, or hang out with other Q, but the fact that he wasn't allowed to galled.
So what was he supposed to do? Drift around aimlessly looking for someone new to torment? Fat chance. In his current mood, he needed something reliable, something he knew might grab his interest. He thought back to other species he'd tested. Most of the recent ones had failed. The El-Aurians... ok, not going there. Kerithwyn, dead a few millennia. Eirhean, went crazy and started worshipping him and also dead over twenty thousand years. The Emperor of Cherassa, well, that was long over and besides how long could you keep a fart joke going, even a really good one? There had to be someone...
He'd promised himself he was never going to go back to Equestria. Wasn't even going to look. But then, his past self hadn't known how incredibly bored he would be right now, and besides, he wasn't even sure he quite remembered why the place had upset him so much that he never wanted to go back. From what he remembered it had been great fun. Well, mostly.
With a thought, Q was on Equestria, still discorporate. Oddly enough, he seemed to have shifted backward in time about a year or maybe two. There were possible reasons for that but Q didn't feel like exploring them; he put it down to a minor teleportation mishap and focused on the planet instead, traveling around it, easily weaving his energy nature like a long flying snake around the currents of high-structure psionics (which the Equestrians called 'magic') that surrounded the planet. Wouldn't do to alert anyone that he was back until he was ready. Because first he had to do something about his body.
Canterlot Gardens. He looked over the statue. It had to have been pretty horrible being trapped in that thing, but he remembered almost nothing about it so he was able to look it over with a critical eye. At least he was in a great pose. Nice looking creature if he said so himself. Completely asymmetrical, totally screwed with everypony's sense of what categories go with what, and yet it all worked together in a coherent whole. To a much, much lesser extent he'd adopted the same principle with his human body, eyes slightly too close and nose too big and lips too full to be classically handsome and yet it all worked together and he made quite an attractive human, though not nearly as impressive as this thing. What was that made up name he'd given for his species? Draconequus? Right, why had he done that? There was definitely dragon and pony in that thing but also bat, and goat, and lion, and eagle, and where had he gotten that tufty little tail end from? He'd completely forgotten.
The truth was that the Q normally didn't forget anything unless they chose to forget, but he'd been choosing to forget Equestria for quite some time. His memories of this place weren't complete. He'd spent nearly a thousand years continuously embodied in the same form, aside from teleportations and absurd shapeshifts. At some point the biochemistry had started actually affecting his mind possibly within the first few months, Q was rarely embodied even that long so he'd made the decision to store biochemical memories with the body's brain, and only upload factual memory to the Continuum. So while he could choose to have perfect factual recall of everything that had happened when he'd been on Equestria, the emotions had been stripped out, and without the emotions very little of what he'd done on Equestria made sense to him now. He had notes, of course, indexes by his facts that were as dry and factual as the facts they were describing saying things like "Here I felt very angry" and "At this point I was having fun" and "During this incident I was in love with Celestia", but a lot of those didn't make any sense either. Seriously? In love with a mortal? Ok, she was a Lesser Power, not a mortal, but what had been wrong with that now-granite brain there to fall in love with a matter being?
Q didn't know, because when the Continuum had pulled him out of that statue none of the memories he'd stored in it came with him, and at the time he'd been grateful. Equestria was one of his most embarrassing moments, his most egregious fuck-up that didn't result in planetary extinction for his target, ever. He'd spent a thousand years here and never got the results he was trying to get. And then they'd turned him into stone. Q remembered almost literally nothing of that because during the thirty years or so he'd been inside the statue, nothing whatsoever had actually happened. There were no memories there except for the emotions he'd felt. Which had to have been horrible, because he'd broken down, pride collapsing, and begged the Continuum to help him, after presumably thirty years of trying and failing to do it on his own, and anything that could get him to beg the Continuum for help had to be pretty awful, but thankfully all those memories had been emotions and he hadn't even bothered to save indexes of them. He'd been grateful to forget. Bad enough the Continuum wouldn't let him forget the part about the begging.
Without the emotional context it had been just too frustrating to remember Equestria, because so many of his really bad decisions here had been caused by emotion. It was almost as if he'd been a different being. Of course that wasn't literally true, but the Q were highly adaptable and any time you spent too long in a specific matter body, it was possible that the body's characteristics would start to affect your mind. Also, he'd been the god of chaos here. Not worshipped, not exactly, but it was dangerous to play a god; the collective unconscious of a planetful of mortals could affect even the mind of a Q, forcing some of a Q's personality traits to the foreground and suppressing others, and he had the distinct feeling that being the god of chaos had played holy hell with his common sense. He had to laugh at that. He'd allowed himself to take on the role of the god of chaos and disharmony in the first place because it was such a good fit for his personality and interests, surely the role couldn't corrupt his nature into something it wasn't. Well, true enough, he had never entirely stopped being himself, but he had stopped being his sensible self, to the extent that he was ever his sensible self, fairly early on.
Most Q would say that Q having a sensible self was oxymoronic, but then, he'd come to believe they were just straight up moronic, so who cared what they thought?
He observed the world for a bit. So, Luna had gone crazy, shortly after helping her sister turn him into a rock, and Celestia had sent her to the moon? Wow. And now she was back. Oh, and look at that, Luna and Celestia weren't connected to those stupid things he'd helped them build that they'd turned against him anymore. Now... oh, it would have brought tears to his eye if he had an eye in his energy form. Now they'd split up their precious Elements of Harmony to six different ponies, two representatives from each of the races. The thing he'd wanted to force them to achieve in the first place, the thing he'd turned their whole planet upside down to try to make them do, and finally they'd done it. Political power was still in Celestia's hooves and most of the leadership were still unicorns, but finally, after all this time, the pony races weren't prejudiced against each other.
If he were still working for the Continuum, that would mean he could go home, success achieved, epic win even if somewhat delayed and possibly not by his doing even indirectly but hey, if someone else kicks the ball into the goal you're trying to get you still get the points. But he wasn't still working for the Continuum.
Q wanted to have fun.
No grand plan, no secret ambition, just fun. A couple of days of tormenting ponies and being completely silly and distracting himself from his troubles, maybe identify some interesting ones to work with in the future, or maybe not. No higher purpose. Just kick back and do goofy things and watch ponies squirm for a little while and then leave. If he recalled correctly, it had been really, really entertaining to upend the laws of physics all over the place and watch them try to adapt. He just needed some mindless fun, that was all. They'd already achieved the goal he'd wanted them to achieve, there wasn't any point to this, but he wasn't going to hurt anypony and, well, it wasn't like the Continuum was giving him anything useful to channel himself into right now, were they?
So. First things first. The Continuum wouldn't allow him to manifest himself a different body here; he had to use the one in front of him, the one that had been turned to stone and imbued with the same energies the Continuum used to bind renegade Q into comets. And to be fair, he wanted to use this body, since it was where all his emotional memories of Equestria were stored. Of course, he planned to sort through them first while he was still out here, detached and objective, and delete anything that seemed like it would be unpleasant. Such as those thirty years in stone. He was pretty sure he wasn't even going to review those before deleting. But he couldn't get the memories out until he'd restored the body.
Hmm. What's this?
There was a complex energy field of highly structured psionic power, with Luna's resonance, surrounding the body. A booby trap of some kind, maybe? Celestia and Luna didn't know the Continuum had freed him, since he hadn't been able to come back or do anything to influence this planet in any way as long as this body here was still stone. He inspected the pattern. It looked like...
Q laughed. A summoning spell! Luna knew I wasn't in there... but apparently couldn't figure out I was nowhere near her planet. Far out of range. Well, the thing had to be stale now, after so many centuries. It looked like Little Luna had put it on shortly before turning to Nightmare Moon. Had she tried to summon him, to be her ally against Celestia or something? As if. He'd cultivated the filly's rebellious streak, pretended he hadn't noticed her organizing a revolution against him, but given a choice of sides between the enemy who loved him and the enemy who had come to genuinely hate him, obviously the contradictory nature of an enemy who loved him was funnier, and also offered more opportunities to play both sides against each other.
So. He decided he could safely ignore the spell. From here, with the power of the Continuum and the leverage of being outside the stone prison, Q was fairly sure he could unravel the stoning spell and free his body, and then he'd be able to sort through his memories, clean them up and reinhabit the thing. And then go have some fun for a few days.
He reached toward his old body with his power.
The moment his power intersected with the spell that bound the body, Luna's spell the one he'd just dismissed as unimportant activated.
He didn't even have time to scream before the spell turned into a black hole, a sucking maw. Q thrashed wildly, but he had no leverage, no energy he could grab onto to secure himself, and in mere nanoseconds, his essence had been sucked back into his own body. Luna had known he wasn't in his body anymore. She'd left that thing as a trap in case he ever returned.
For a moment, all Q could think was, Well, this sucks.
And then he reeled, mentally, as the memories stored in the body came back to him, filling in the gaps, brilliant and vivid like they'd just happened moments ago because this body hadn't aged the memories while he wasn't in it, and he remembered everything about his life as Discord.
A thousand years of chaos. A thousand years, because Celestia had betrayed her revolution, their revolution, the one he'd helped her build and even fought in at her side, and he'd come back five hundred years later and there was no more mind control but the unicorns were still in control, the pegasi still went into the military disproportionately, the earth ponies were still likely to be dirt poor and stuck in dead end or low paying jobs and treated badly by unicorns and pegasi alike. Things had changed, but they hadn't changed nearly enough. He'd felt betrayed, and so disappointed in Celestia.
So he'd deposed her. The ponies needed to rise up and revolt, again. They needed to work together, all three races in harmony. So he emphasized disharmony, because he was the enemy. Discord turned everything upside down. He let Princess Celestia try to run a government, sort of, because he certainly wasn't interested in running anything, but he ensured there could be no true stability, no status quo. He'd randomly mix up the races or take away every unicorn's horn and every pegasus' wings, he'd invert gravity, he'd turn day to night and back again within moments, he made it rain things that weren't rain. A lot. He'd dropped anvils on pretentious unicorn governors who thought he cared about their tax collection efforts, after making the governors into rubber so they could survive it. It was only supposed to be for a little while. Celestia had a spell that needed at least three ponies, one of each of the races though an alicorn could substitute for any one race, but it couldn't be just her and her sister because there was no third alicorn. She could banish him, destroy his physical form and fling him back to the Continuum by force, any time she was willing to work together with her common ponies rather than surrounding herself with unicorns.
She wouldn't do it.
She'd work with common ponies, even train them in the conscious control of pegasus and earth pony magic that most such ponies had no deliberate access to, but she wouldn't banish him. He eavesdropped shamelessly on her conversations with Luna, where he heard her reject the idea because that would kill him. Right. Immortal eternal spirit of chaos can die because you cast a spell. Of course, he supposed from her perspective he would die because she'd never see him again; destroying his physical body would destroy the memories and then he'd have never had a motivation to return to Equestria. Well, unless he got really, really bored, like he had now.
She still wouldn't do it.
She spent her time talking to him, trying to persuade him, reason with him, placate him, manipulate him, and he should have sent her away time after time because half the time it worked, and what kind of threat did that make him? She shouldn't be able to accomplish her goals by directly working on him, she was supposed to work with common ponies and re-forge true partnership between the three subspecies. He shouldn't have let her get away with it, but he had.
When she hadn't done it in five hundred years and she'd successfully persuaded him to let the sun actually set and had apparently been so moved by his willingness to compromise that she'd made an offer he wanted badly enough to almost forget he wasn't allowed to take it, Discord had realized he had to turn truly vicious. She'd never do it if she thought she was killing a misguided friend. He had to be evil. He had to hurt her, break her heart again and again, terrorize her ponies and plunge her into despair, for her own good, because she needed to do it, she needed to fight him with the harmony of the three races and drive him from her world, and he needed her to do it because he needed to forget and if he could just quit, if he could just get rid of this body and the memories and feelings in it, he could do that. But she wouldn't. She wouldn't and she wouldn't and even sending the spell to Luna via a catspaw so she wouldn't know it came from him didn't work.
It was tearing him to shreds to hurt and terrify her the way he had to but he had to if she was ever going to learn, if she was ever going to banish him and let him go free from the feelings the Continuum would punish him if he ever acted on and he couldn't claim it had been something else. But it hurt too much. So he just turned off his conscience and empathy. That was why the Continuum sent him, the tainted one, the troublemaker, the one they barely wanted to acknowledge as their own, on assignments where someone needed to be the bad guy. He could do that, if the stakes were high enough, if the need was great enough.
And then they'd gathered up the wrong solution. The Elements of Harmony had been forged by Celestia, Luna, and a team of now-dead ponies of all three tribes, bonded magically to Celestia and Luna, used for sealing the Alicorn Masters in stone during the revolution because Luna the child soldier probably could have killed all of them, with Discord's help, but it was damaging her and it was hurting Celestia so they'd needed a better solution. And Discord had given them raw Continuum energy, chaos in its purest form, for them to weave into the weapons they'd chosen to make. He'd meant them to be strong enough to bind an alicorn. It hadn't been all that obvious to him at the time that a weapon made of Continuum energy would actually be strong enough to bind him.
He remembered bitterness, and anger, and why wouldn't she pass the damn test so he could go home? He remembered love, and tenderness, wanting to protect her from everything, but he couldn't do that, he was supposed to be the enemy. He remembered mad cackling chaos when he'd finally decided to take most of the brakes off so that she'd fight him, remembered reveling in the terror he could cause the ponies, remembered how much he enjoyed cutting loose from his own morality and being thoroughly evil... except when it had stabbed him in the heart because it was hurting Celestia, but the whole point was to hurt Celestia so she'd change.
He remembered being unchanging for thirty years.
For three or four days, he'd thought it was funny. Haha, they'd pulled one over on him. Well, he'd show them. He'd get free of this... in just a bit... except he hadn't. Nothing he tried worked. He had no power. He couldn't move. He could hear, he could still hear practically the entire planet if he chose, but he couldn't speak. He couldn't see, couldn't feel, couldn't smell or taste or use any of his Q senses or do anything.
Couldn't do anything. For thirty years.
Not that he'd actually been able to keep track of the time. He'd found out how long it had been when he finally got out, when he broke down and begged the Continuum to save him.
And now... and now he was back in it. While he was persona non grata with the Continuum, so he had no hope of being rescued this time. Walls of stone crushed in around his psyche, and reason nearly dissolved under the sudden onslaught of absolute terror, because what if he never got out?
In his mind, Discord laughed, and laughed, until it started to turn hysterical (maybe quite some time after it turned hysterical, actually).
No. Panic attacks weren't going to help. Laughing hysterically wasn't going to help. Think.
Things were different now. Celestia and Luna weren't the bearers of the Elements of Harmony anymore. Therefore the seal was weakened. (Which meant a whole lot of other seals were weakened as well, but not his problem anymore! Let Celestia worry about that one.) Which meant... yes.
Discord grinned. The spell cut him off from the power of the Continuum. But the same pressures of the collective unconscious that he'd feared had been altering him, here, gave him another means to get energy. The Q could, if they wanted to, feed on any emotional or mental energy, but when they did it gave them very little in comparison to what the Continuum could give. However, here he was the god of chaos and disharmony. There were a limited subset of emotions he could draw from, given that, but they'd give him a lot more power than they would have somewhere else. Admittedly still not much in comparison to the Continuum, but he could trace the seal with his mind, he could see the weak points. All he needed was enough energy.
In the meantime, he expanded his range of hearing to cover Canterlot, and when he heard where the Element Bearers lived, he expanded it to Ponyville. Listening, to his six new nemeses, to the mares who held the only weapon that could really hurt him. The part of him that was still Q of the Continuum was proud of the six, of the pony race as a whole, for finally achieving the unity he'd tried to push them toward; but the part of him that was Discord, the tormented, imprisoned draconequus, was listening for the ways he could break them apart. Because to hell with whatever he'd been trying to achieve for Equestria that he'd failed at for a thousand years and they'd just gotten it together now; and to hell with a simple few days of fun. They'd frozen him in a statue, and the fact that the emotional memories had been perfectly preserved in stone meant that re-entering the body forced him to experience the memories of those thirty years as if they were yesterday and not a thousand years ago. They'd really have left him for a thousand years, like they obviously just had since Celestia hadn't known he wasn't really in it and she'd have been the one with the power to do something, left him to be forgotten and to go mad from immobility and sensory deprivation and boredom. He owed them something for that.
No, it wasn't going to be just a few days. Now he knew why he'd shifted back in time; it took effort to go somewhere that you already were. He must have already been on Equestria when he was trying to persuade Picard to let him join the Enterprise crew. Which meant he was going to be here for at least a year or two. And the way he felt now... oh, he was certain it was going to be longer than that.
As soon as he got loose from this thing, he was going to unleash unrestrained chaos as his revenge on Celestia, and he was going to keep it that way until he got bored... and as long as the creativity kept flowing, he doubted he was going to get bored this century. Disable these new Bearers, shatter their friendship so they couldn't use it as a weapon against him, and no one would be able to stop him. He mapped their strengths and weaknesses as he listened. Oh yes. That would be an elegant way to do it. They'd all think he was up to one thing, and by the time they found out what he was really doing, the Element of Magic would be ruined for harmonizing with the others. And that one was the linchpin, irreplaceable, would rarely find a powerful enough host, and this particular one was powerful enough to live a long, long time.
Destroy Twilight Sparkle's faith in the magic of friendship, and he could keep this whole world, for as long as he felt like it and the Continuum didn't summon him home.
Within his statue, Discord grinned. Okay. This part, definitely excruciatingly boring. But making plans, well, that was more entertaining than aimlessly drifting through space. And once he'd gathered enough chaotic emotional energies to break this seal and get back his powers from the Continuum, it'd be showtime.
He'd paid Picard back for rejecting him... but Celestia hadn't just rejected him, she'd turned him to stone and left him there. If Picard deserved the Borg, then Celestia deserved a lot worse.
Oh yes. He was glad he'd come back here, even with this inconvenience of being temporarily stuck. This promised to be fun.
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