The King Who Would Be Man

Lest Old Acquantaince Be Forgot


Celestia opened her eyes and restrained her first impulse, which was to jump out of bed and prepare for an attack. "Discord.  I suppose it doesn't make any difference to you that I am trying to sleep?"

He was bouncing up and down on the end of her bed, which should have made the entire bed tip over from his size and weight, but he was either making himself lighter or the bed heavier, so it didn't. "Oh, come now, Celestia, it's been over a thousand years since I last teleported into your bedroom while you were trying to sleep! Don't you think I'm overdue?"

"No." She did climb out of her bed and get to her feet, tiredly. This wasn't an attack. If Discord actually meant to attack her, he'd do it when she was wide awake; he was perfectly happy to annoy sleeping ponies, but he was far too arrogant to attack one. It'd be beneath him, implying that he had felt he needed such an advantage. "Is there a particularly good reason why you're here?"

"Do I really need a reason? I'm Chaos."

"You have reasons for everything you do, Discord, even if half of them boil down to 'because you felt like it.'"

"But I have to deliver you my Twilight Sparkle report! I was having so much fun stealing Fluttershy's nose, I completely forgot about it."

"I hope you gave her her nose back."

"I certainly did. She defeated me fair and square. But then I realized, oh dear, the moon is up and Celestia may even have gone to sleep and yet I have not given her my report for the night!"

"You could have sent me a letter."

"And I could have written the report in tendrils of mist in the fog! Or cleverly arranged burning bushes! Or I could have made every foal's alphabet block in Equestria come here and do a little dance for you before settling down into the pattern of my report! Or I could have made the furniture speak to you in my voice! You'd have enjoyed that, wouldn't you have, Celly? I know you love my voice."

"I know someone in this room loves your voice," Celestia said wearily, "but it isn't me."

Discord whipped his head around.  "Who? Who? Do I have a secret admirer concealed in your closet? You must tell me, Celestia, I'm dying to know!"

"Never mind. If you've come to give me a report, you may as well do so."

He flew over to a chair and perched on the back of it, which was basically impossible because one of his feet was a hoof and shouldn't have been able to perch on anything, but impossible was a word with no meaning when it came to Discord. "She needs higher stakes."

"Why do you say that?"

"Oh, I don't know, let's see." He began to tick things off on the claws on his paw. "Defeated Nightmare Moon. Defeated me. The Changelings. Sombra. Give her an actual battle, and she does remarkably well. But the moment she's told, 'This is an exercise', she gets... not lazy, but sloppy.  Has a hard time thinking outside the box. I basically had to lead her to the answers like I was pulling on her reins."

Celestia shuddered slightly. "I wish you would not remind me of reins."

"I wish you would not remind me of statues, but your garden's still full of them and you won't let me make them go dance, so there." He climbed down from the back of the chair. "Besides. Every so often maybe someone needs to remind you of what I did for you ponies, and since Luna was a kid and barely remembers it, the only one around to deliver the reminder... is me."

"I've never forgotten."

"Are you sure about that?" His head curled around, looping over her body to murmur in her other ear. "You'd think that if someone saved you from mind control, and then from execution, and then made you immortal, and then helped you achieve everything you'd dreamed of since you were a tiny filly and made you a princess, you might possibly not want to turn him into stone."

"You're not nearly so knowledgeable as you pretend to be if you think I ever wanted to do that," Celestia snapped. "I had two ways I could stop you and they were both awful, and I tried for nearly a thousand years to find a third way. I tried persuading you, I tried begging you, I tried reason, I tried emotion..." She shook her head.  "It doesn't matter, anymore. I was sorry for doing it even before it was done, and I spent a thousand years mourning what I'd done to you, but it was the only way."

"Well, except for the other way."

"Which I believed would kill you."

"It's a rite of banishment. I'm an immortal spirit. How do you get the idea that banishing me kills me?"

"You are not merely a spirit," Celestia said. She put her hoof against his chest. "A heart beats in there, Discord. Yes, I know, you have no mortal weaknesses. You don't sleep, you eat only because it amuses you, but still, you wear a form made of flesh and blood. I have seen you feel pleasure, and pain. And when we perform a rite on a flesh and blood body which vaporizes it in magical fire and banishes the spirit within it to another realm, never to return to this world... under most circumstances we'd call that 'murder'. Did you want me to burn your flesh and banish you forever from this world?  Did you really never see how similar that would have been to killing you?" Her eyes might have filled with tears if she had not finished with tears for Discord so many centuries ago. "My oldest friend. Was I supposed to kill you rather than turn you into stone?"

He sighed.  "It would have made life simpler." Discord flopped backward onto her bed. "I took Fluttershy into space today to look at the world."

Celestia took a deep breath.  "You're not planning anything with her, are you?  She's an ordinary pony, you know."

"Ordinary?" He chuckled.  "She's a pegasus whose flight talent can be measured in the single digits, she has no magic to speak of, she's scared of everything, I know, I know.  She's not the smartest pony that ever lived. She has no great destiny. But if you think that the first living being I've found in millennia to be both willing and capable of befriending me when I'm actually trying to annoy the living daylights out of her is ordinary... "

"None of the bearers of the Elements are truly ordinary, it's true," Celestia said. "And yes. Fluttershy's ability to see beneath your mask is all the more amazing when you consider how often I have seen beneath your mask, and yet I could never have done what she did. But... she's mortal."

"I don't have any intention of changing that," he said softly. "Well, unless I think that Sparkypoo needs her pals to anchor her through eternity, given that she hasn't got a little sister and immortality's not on the agenda for her bro... which reminds me, what's Can't Dance thinking? Hasn't she been around long enough to know what you don't do with mortals?"

"No. She hasn't." Celestia sighed.  "He's a unicorn. He could survive a long time, with magic. But in the end, you're correct; he won't remain. Twilight... might need support, but that will be my call to make, and the choice of those affected by the decision, not yours. You have a bias."

"You think I've never seen a mortal friend die?" Discord said mockingly.

"I think you have seen so many that it made you close your heart to friendship," Celestia said simply. "And now that it is open again I don't know what you'll do, because neither do you."

Discord sat up. "Score one for the alicorn," he said. "Very well, then. I won't make any more ponies immortal unless you approve.  It's not as if my track record thus far is impressing me, after all." A twisted, unhappy smile appeared on his face. "Besides, the point might be totally moot! I may not even be around to see it."

"What do you mean by that?"

"What do you mean what do I mean? You're the one who had the conversation with Glory.  She won't even talk to me."

"She said you had been exiled, and they would not free you from the stone this time, and you would eventually go mad if forced to remain within it, and then you'd destroy our world and be destroyed for it yourself."

"Huh. Probably true. But she didn't tell you anything else?"

"She told me that she loved you."

"Oh, Celestia, you're such a bad liar."

"She didn't speak those words, Discord. What she said was that she had loved you, and I think she was trying to convince me, or perhaps herself, that she no longer does. But I have met a few mares in love with stallions who break their hearts, in my time. And she may have appeared to me as a dragon, but I know that the heart of a dragon is no different from the heart of a pony... and the heart of a spirit has always seemed remarkably similar as well.  What did you do to her?"

He shrugged. "I might possibly have suggested that spending time with her was so boring it was making me want to spork my own eyeballs out?"

"Oh, Discord."

"What? She's clingy.  And jealous. I never promised her eternity and I never even implied monogamy. Love doesn't put you in a cage."

"Sometimes..." she said softly.  "Sometimes love has no choice."

He snorted. "No. Necessity might put you in a cage despite what love would rather do, but it isn't love putting you in a cage, or else it's not love. Glory wants to be able to own me. No one can own a spirit, not even another spirit, and most especially no one can own me. She calls it love, well, maybe it is, but if love is a prison then I can do without it."

"I thought your love was the Spirit of Love, not the Spirit of Righteous Warfare." As soon as Celestia said it, she felt bad about poking what was undoubtedly an old wound. Glory had told her that the Spirit of Love had tried to kill Discord and had been punished by being stripped of her magic and immortality. Discord's track record with his loves among the spirit kind seemed to be fairly similar to his track record of friendship with anyone else.

He stiffened.  "Things change. Not even I always find that they change for the better, all the time."

"So you lost your first love among the spiritkind, and did your best to drive away the second. I wish I could say this surprises me." She paced. "The first time I told you that you were alone, during your reign of chaos, you laughed at me and said you were used to it, and you didn't even seem bitter. But when I said that to you while the Element Bearers were in the labyrinth, when you were trying to taunt me, it hurt you. You tried to hide it, but I saw. You weren't truly alone before, were you? You had the other spirits. Your... family. And now you don't."

"Is there a point to this or are you just trying to get some licks in now that you can?"

"It's why I thought you might be willing to open your heart to Fluttershy," Celestia said.  "Because Glory told me enough that I realized that now you are truly alone. Now, you need a friend, more than ever before." She reached out to him again, stroking his back with her hoof.  "I find it telling that when you're exiled, you choose this place to be your home."

"Ha, that's what you think. You were my second choice. I had other candidates. I went aboard a ship, where I'd had dealings with the captain and crew, and offered them my friendship, and my services as a guide."

"And what did you do to them when they said no?"

"Celestia, you think so little of me!  What makes you think they said no?"

"Aside from the fact that you're here and not there? I know you, Discord."

He sighed. "I introduced them to a force of ultimate order and perfect harmony."

That might have sounded like a good thing... coming from anyone but Discord. Celestia shuddered on behalf of these unknown ponies, or whatever they had been. "Did they survive it?"

"After their captain recognized how utterly helpless he was to handle the threat without me, yes. I saved all their lives, thank you very much. Well, mostly all."

"Mostly all."

"Hey," he said defensively. "When you're facing a force of ultimate order and you only take 18 casualties out of a crew of a thousand, you're doing really well. And now they're forewarned and can prepare for the forces of order's inevitable attack. They thought they were ready for anything, and they would have gotten trampled if I hadn't taught them otherwise.  Now they've got a fighting chance."

"And eighteen dead that you did not need to allow to die."

"And if no one had died, they would have thought it was all a game." His look was cold and hard, far more so than she usually saw from Discord. "Folks don't always take me seriously. For some reason."

Celestia sighed.  "I feel sorry for them," she said.  "And I wish I could have spoken to them, to warn them of you and your temper, but what's done is done, even for you."

He looked away.  "For what it's worth... I do feel just a little bit sorry for that. I... don't like to do things just because I lost my temper. The results... don't always end up with what I would have wanted."

"Well. I'm not sorry you chose to come here for your exile, then. I've much more experience with your temper tantrums than I imagine others would, and we have better tools to manage your behavior. And... I did miss you."

"But you wouldn't have let me out if Glory hadn't come and told you I was likely to go crazy and blow up your planet to get free," he said mockingly.

"If all she had told me was that you would go mad, I would have tried to find a way. If all she had told me was that you were exiled, and now alone without your own kind, I would have understood that you might have been willing to make concessions for friendship, now, and I would have tried to find a way. If she had never come to me, then you're correct, I'd have had no reason to believe either that being bound would do you more harm than it already had, or that you'd be any more amenable to reason than you were any of the other times. It doesn't mean I wasn't sorry for the necessity." She sighed again. "That, too, is in the past. I find myself... glad that you're here now. For some reason." She smiled, teasing.

"Well.  They say home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. I suppose, by that definition... Equestria's my only home now."

She sat next to him for a moment in companionable silence, before she realized he'd successfully dodged her question. "But  you never answered me.  What did you mean by you might not be around to see it?"

He squirmed. "It's... hardly important. Probably will come to nothing. And it might be millennia yet before they reach a decision, and it's not as if any such decision is written in stone, yet."

"What, Discord?  Tell me."

"Well..." He looked away. "The main reason they told me to take a hike is that I'm sort of on trial."

"Wait. That makes no sense. You are on trial, so that they exile you so you cannot speak on your own behalf?"

"Yeah, that's how it works. They've got all the facts in front of them, Celestia. They're gods. They're basically omniscient. But they don't want me trying to influence the decision with—" He pulled a mocking face. "—friendship. So they're all in a secret meeting for however many centuries it's going to take them to decide what they're going to do with me, and maybe it's going to be absolutely nothing and I'll be pardoned and they'll fall all over themselves apologizing to me for the inconvenience!... but somehow, I doubt it."

"What do you think they will do?"

"The options on the table are, a pardon so nothing, I go home, all's forgiven, la la la; stick me in a big rock, like you did, until I break down and promise to be good, but that's less than likely considering the number of times they've done it before and it never took; indefinite exile, like I've got now; stripping me of my magic and immortality; or just straight up execution. To be honest, both those last two are really the same thing, it's just about whether they're going to drag it out to incredibly tedious lengths or not."

"Oh, Discord. Is there anything I can do, or that anypony can do?"

"Aside from letting me turn the rivers into pink lemonade and make Cloudsdale into a roller skating derby rink and make all the sliding boards into Moebius strips?"

"I'm not even seeing how that would help you."

"It wouldn't, but it might distract me from my troubles for a little while."

"Well, I can't allow you to do any of that, but I can try to be your friend again, for as long as they allow you to remain."

He sighed. "That's actually more than I could expect of anypony, so... hey, Celestia, let's go ocean skating! I don't even have to turn it into ice, we can just use magic to skate around on the top. Or right under the top! Have you ever been upside down under water and looked up at the sky?"

"Yes.  The time that you made everyone in Canterlot a fish."

"You were a sea horse. Not a fish."

"And I'm afraid I have duties."

"I could handle the planetary rotation for you."

"At normal speed?"

He made a face. "Isn't that kind of dull? I mean think about it, everypony wishes they could get some more sleep at night, don't they? And more done during the day? So why don't I just make them longer than usual? That wouldn't be all that chaotic at all, really."

"That's exactly why I haven't asked you to help with the planetary rotation."

"Well, Sparky's not ready yet."

"I am aware of that."

"But you're going on a vacation with me as soon as she is. She can manage the day cycle for a week with Luna's help and you and I can go to another planet entirely! We can spelunk through ice caves, and fly over mountains you've never seen before, and go skiing around the gravity well of an alien sun, and it would be marvelous.  Come on, you know you want to."

She smiled wryly. "Come back to me with the suggestion later, once Twilight has ascended, and maybe I'll say yes."

"It's a date, then!"

Celestia yawned. "But now I need to sleep, Discord. Some of us are closer to being mere mortals than you are."

"Why do you all do that? So boring. Close your eyes and end your consciousness for a time. Isn't that really just like being dead?"

"You don't awaken from being dead," Celestia said. "And... I would have given much to give you the gift of sleep, as we did the alicorns we bound with the Elements. They don't suffer, in stone; they only sleep. I hoped the same for you... the guilt near-crushed me when I realized you were awake and trapped."

He sighed. "Do you know I have actually developed a phobia of closed-in spaces?" he said. "Have you any idea how ridiculous that is?"

"It doesn't sound ridiculous."

"It's completely ridiculous! I'm a spirit of chaos! I'm virtually omnipotent! Aside from those ridiculous Elements I never should have given you the raw materials to build, nothing can restrain me! Why should I be afraid of anything, much less being somewhere where the walls are too close?" He closed his eyes. "I push myself. Pinkie Pie likes to play Hide and Go Seek, and that sense of hers intrigues me. Her magic goes sideways to the rest of you; she's much more like me than you realize. So I play a game, and I put myself in tiny places and wait for her to find me, because it's a game, right? I'm the master of games. A game can't possibly harm me."

There was nothing she could say to that except, "I'm sorry," softly.

"Ah, I'll get over it sooner or later. Or I won't. Time will tell." He got up. "Well. I suppose I need to take my leave of you before I start telling you all about my childhood traumas and my relationship with my mother."

"Discord, you can tell your friends your problems.  Even if you think they're irrational. And why would your problems need to make any more sense than your whims do?"

He glared at her. "If my problem was that the grass outside is entirely too green, and it is mind-numbingly dull and in desperate need of some purple and orange to liven it up, and also it lacks wheels and I am really quite certain it needs some, then I would have a problem that makes no sense. If my problem is that I'm irrationally afraid of tiny rooms and low ceilings and narrow passageways because I spent many, many years trapped inside my own skin and now I've started to panic at the thought of being trapped anywhere, even though I cannot be trapped anywhere because hello, godlike powers of chaos, that is not a problem that makes no sense. It makes perfect sense. It is just incredibly stupid."

And he vanished.

Celestia stared at the space he had occupied, eyes unfocused slightly, too many memories crowding in on her mind. "I'm sorry," she said again, though he wasn't there. "You never gave me any other way. But still, I am sorry."

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