When Celestia retired to her chamber for the night, she did not expect to find an improbably large reddish-gold dragon curled around her bed.
She took a step backward, a spell of protection forming around her. "Guards!"
"They cannot hear thee," the dragon said in a mare's voice, her eyes intent on Celestia and her dialect the same royal speech that Celestia had rejected so many years ago, but that Luna still used half the time. "And it does not matter in any case. I have not come to harm thee, princess of the sun."
She lifted her head and gazed down at the princess with eyes as orange as the setting sun. Celestia's bedroom, though large as befit a princess, was not actually large enough for this dragon; there was something wrong with space in here, as if somehow the room had expanded, impossibly. Celestia had seen this effect before; Discord used to pull it all the time, and she'd seen it inside Doctor Whooves' home as well. Some dragons had very powerful magic, but this was out of most dragons' league; Celestia herself could warp space in this way but only with great effort. Celestia's instincts as a prey animal were screaming at her to run, but she was a princess, and an alicorn, and she drew on the power of the sun and the planet itself. If the dragon truly hadn't come to harm her, then an attack would be foolish, and if the dragon was lying… she would learn what it meant to attack the Princess of the Sun in her own home. "Why are you here, then?" Celestia asked. "I'm not accustomed to finding foreign dignitaries in my bedroom without proper introductions, so if you are an ambassador from the dragons, it would have been better had you gone through proper channels."
The dragon laughed. "Thou hast strength, little pony," she said. "I see why he finds such amusement in thee. Truly, I believe I could enjoy thee as well, should circumstance arise. Though for thy subjects' sake, thou shouldst pray that it does not."
Celestia's eyes narrowed. "Art thee a queen or princess of dragons, to speak to me so familiarly?" she asked coldly. She didn't use the Royal Speech because it dated from another era, when being able to put lesser ponies in their place was an important function of language. "Thou" was the pronoun to use with friends, lovers, family, and subordinates, and since she didn't know the dragon, the fact that the dragon was saying "thou" plainly indicated that either the dragon was trying to put Celestia below her, or didn't speak Equestrian well enough to know the difference. And somehow, Celestia was certain from the dragon's tone that the problem was not that she didn't understand Equestrian.
The dragon smiled. Broadly. With many, many teeth. "I am neither. I am a goddess, little pony. I am the Spirit of Righteous Warfare… but thou mayst address me as 'Glory'."
"Well. Despite what some of my subjects believe, I am no goddess, it's true. But I never bowed my head to the god of Chaos, and he, at least, had sufficient respect for me to speak as equals. If thou wishest to speak with me, thou mayst address me as 'you', for we are not yet friends to use 'thou' with one another."
The dragon – Glory – chuckled slightly. "The god of Chaos has no respect for thee or anyone. Else he'd not be a statue in thy garden."
"He had no respect for rules, for laws, for the words I spoke to him or the pleas I made to him, but he respected me. And if thou wishest to speak with me, thou shouldst do the same." Celestia turned her back on the dragon and walked toward the door to her bedroom.
This time Glory actually laughed out loud. "Oh, very well. I am not here as a goddess in any case… and I would prefer not to be your goddess. There's enough of warfare in the wide universe to give me my pleasures; unlike some, I understand myself to be a necessary evil, and where I am bored, the universe is a better place." Celestia turned back. The dragon was looking down at her, studying her intently. "I'd not bring war to Equestria, Princess, but if it comes… I may well choose to come to you. For the sake of another if not for your own."
Celestia nodded, once. "I, too, would prefer not to need your services, Spirit of Righteous Warfare. But if you haven't come to me as a goddess – and certainly a goddess does not come as an emissary of the dragons – then what are you doing in my bedroom?"
Glory hesitated. She wasn't merely silent; Celestia knew the body language of dragons well enough to know that there were words she wanted to speak, but she was holding back. "We are not enemies, Glory," Celestia said. "You can tell me why you've come."
"I come on behalf of another," Glory finally said.
"Another dragon? Or another Spirit?"
"He would never choose a form so normal as a dragon," Glory said sharply. There was some bitterness in her tone. "To other worlds, yes, he appears before them in the form of one of their own, that they may 'understand him better', which is to say, less well. But to you… for all intents he's made your world his second home, and your kind are well acquainted with other species of different appearance. To you he shows a truer face, better representative of his nature."
"You're speaking of Discord."
"Yes." The large orange eyes stared down at Celestia, unblinking.
"Why does the Spirit of Righteous Warfare come to me on behalf of the Spirit of Chaos and think there is anything she can persuade me to do?" Celestia asked, trying to hide her own bitterness. "Discord has made his own fate. I had no other options… then, or now."
"I could speak to you as mare to mare," Glory said… which was technically inaccurate, but Equestrian didn't have a word meaning "female person who happens to not be a pony". Even "dragoness" didn't carry the connotation of "fellow female adult" that "mare" did. "I could speak to you of one we both once loved in agony, tortured by a stillness wholly alien to his nature. But you know this, and still you have done what you have done."
"I had no choice!" Celestia snapped. "The first time… I let my people suffer for nearly a thousand years because I didn't want to use the Elements against Discord! We wouldn't have them if not for him, he gave us the raw material to make them from, do you think I wanted to use them as a weapon against him? Or do you think it would have been better if I'd combined the power of earth and sky and sun to banish him eternally?"
"It was what you were supposed to do," Glory said.
Celestia shook her head. "It would have been murder."
"It would have destroyed the body that bound him here, and broken the ties of memory so he would be free of you," Glory snapped. "But it wouldn't have killed him. It would have returned him to us."
"Was he really bound here?" Celestia asked, and wasn't sure herself whether her question was sarcastic or sincere. "He left this world for five centuries before returning and deciding I was a traitor to my own revolution, or something. Or whatever his justification was for unleashing unrestrained chaos on my people."
"If you think that was unrestrained chaos, you are very, very sheltered for a being millennia old," Glory said.
Celestia remembered an acid storm, shards of glass and burning rain shredding and killing any living thing not sheltered by a building or magic. She remembered three days without sleep, three days without sun, racing about Equestria as Discord's fury raged overhead, trying to save as many as she could. Yes, the provocation had been horrible; yes, in some ways she had been pleased to see him respond to such a hideous act with overwhelming rage; she'd have responded with similar rage, herself. But she would have blasted the cultists with the fire of the sun, a painful, furious, but quick execution that targeted no innocents. How could Discord have been so enraged at the murder of innocents that he unleashed a storm that killed indiscriminately, guilty and innocent alike? How could he have felt such hatred for ponies over murdering foals… when foals were themselves ponies?
No. Most of Discord's chaos had, actually, been restrained to a certain degree. He'd rarely allowed his chaos to cause any death or permanent harm to anypony. But there had been exceptions. She had seen what happened when his chaos was unrestrained.
"That may be as it may be," she said. "But it was unrestrained enough to harm my subjects. I betrayed them when I spent centuries trying to reason with him, trying to persuade him, trying to minimize the harm he did, instead of blasting him with the Elements or the banishing rite in the first place. He gave me no choice. If you're the Spirit of Righteous Warfare, surely you understand that."
"I do," the Spirit said. "I understand that you're correct. You did betray your subjects. You should have used the banishing rite and you should have used it early in his reign. You let emotions sway you that have no place in the heart of a ruler."
"He was my friend."
"For a billion years he has been mine," the Spirit said, "and yet my vote in our council was…"
She stopped speaking. It sounded almost as if her voice had been on the verge of breaking.
Abruptly Celestia realized something. When Glory had used the word "mine" to describe Discord, she hadn't meant "my friend". She had meant Discord was hers. Her beloved. Her husband? Did spirits marry? From the things Discord had said about marriage she couldn't imagine him voluntarily marrying anyone even if they did, but then, that level of cynicism usually spoke of bitter experience.
When she'd known him, he'd told her that the Spirit of Love was his fillyfriend. It might have been a running joke; she could never tell for certain with Discord. He'd also said he had more spirit mares than he could handle throwing themselves at him, that he was irresistable, and that the other spirits didn't want him to come home because he'd just start fights between spirit mares who wanted him too badly to share. As he'd also claimed that his mother used to spank him for not knocking over little foals and taking their ice cream, that he had a Ph. D. in Chaosology from the Universe University, that his brothers and sisters used to pick on him until one foggy Hearth's Warming Night his nose started glowing, and that he slept with the light on until he got his cutie mark (this one was especially absurd, as he didn't sleep and he didn't have a cutie mark), she hadn't taken any of it seriously. But Glory didn't seem to have much of a sense of humor.
She probed, delicately. "He used to tell me he was involved with the Spirit of Love. Was that you? Can spirits change their nature?"
"The Spirit of Love is dead," Glory said. "She tried to kill him with bare teeth and hooves, so we took her magic and her immortality and now she's dead."
Celestia's eyes widened. "I… would have thought the death of Love would have had more of an effect on the universe."
Glory shook her head. "Chaos will exist if the being, Discord, does not. Righteous warfare will exist if I do not. The Spirit of Motherhood took over the duties of the Spirit of Love. Murderous rage at the one you love is part of what love is, but I've wanted to rip him to bits a million times and yet I, of war, have never done it. Love must contain forgiveness, or it cannot be love. She was a failure."
"So spirits can change their nature? If the Spirit of Motherhood can become the Spirit of Love…"
Glory laughed. "You think that's a stretch, little pony?"
No. Of course not. The essence of motherhood was love, and romantic love was what led to motherhood. They'd been overlapping spheres from the beginning. Celestia deflated slightly. For a moment, she'd had a hope. If a spirit could change its nature, could take over a different realm… but no. Discord would never willingly give up Chaos even if he could change, and most likely, he could not. "What do you expect of me? Am I supposed to perform the banishing rite, now that he's trapped and cannot stop me? Is he truly bound here, or is it only that you're angry that he chooses to be here rather than to be among the spirits?"
Glory shook her massive head. "Had you done that early in his reign, it would have helped," she said. "He was too long embodied. He needed to purge the body's memories from his soul, to return to his true state so he could remember where he truly belonged. But his weakness for you, for your kind and for you especially, kept him from doing it for himself when he could. He needed you to rise up against him to save him from himself, because this world and what he felt for it was poisoning him. But it's too late now. It's soaked into his true nature, it's changed how he is when he is with us. Your banishing rite won't even work anymore; it'll destroy his physical body but it will purge nothing, so he'll just come back as soon as he feels like it."
"I'm sorry," Celestia said. "Forgive me for being so weak that I could not bring myself to murder my oldest friend in a blaze of mystic fire just so that I could purge him of any emotional weaknesses he might have toward me and my kind. Perhaps he should have chosen another to lead the revolution he wanted, if that was what he was going to need in the end, but I don't kill my friends."
The banishment rite was primarily intended for disembodied spirits, or spirits linked to physical objects. It was an exorcism, of sorts. The rite needed the power of earth, sky and sun, so a team consisting of an earth pony, a pegasus, and a sun-linked unicorn or alicorn was required, and the earth pony and the pegasus needed sufficient stores of mana and sufficient conscious control over it that they could feed it into the the spell. It was rare to find such earth ponies or pegasi, but hardly unheard of. The rite was supposed to purge the spirit of the memories that bound it and kept it from moving on to the spirit realm, send it to the spirit realm, and lock it from returning.
Against a typical spirit – the unquiet ghost of a dead unicorn, a disembodied essence of fear, a hungry spirit seeking to feed on the energy of the living – it had no drawbacks. But it couldn't be performed to free a possessed pony, because it would destroy any living body that the spirit was inside. And that was the reason she couldn't bring herself to do it to Discord.
He was vastly more powerful than the spirits the rite was intended to contain, but still, he was a spirit and it would work on him. It would have destroyed his body, and with his body, the memories that bound him to this realm. Perhaps, being the essence of Chaos, he was powerful enough to come back if he wanted to, but without the memories tied to the physical form he'd taken, why would he want to? And she'd known it would work on him because it almost had – during the revolution, one of the enemy alicorns had stripped the mana from a pegasus and an earth pony in an act of monstrous necromancy and fired the spell at Discord, and it had set him on fire. She could still remember him screaming, remember how shaken he was when she'd disrupted the spell and saved him, remember that for once the sly humor and sarcastic remarks were gone and he had hugged her, thanking her sincerely. It couldn't have killed his essence, he'd told her, but it would have destroyed the body he wore and the memories he'd tied to it; he was powerful enough that he wouldn't lose his memories entirely, but he'd lose the emotions that drove them. Equestria would have become nothing more to him than any other mortal world. He'd have no longer cared.
Even after his emotional attachment to Equestria became a terrible thing for everypony living in it, she hadn't wanted to destroy the part of him that had cared. What was he when he wasn't Discord the draconequus? At the time, she'd thought he might return to his true nature, to formless, mindless chaos. Glory's words suggested otherwise. He had a life among others of his kind, other powerful spirits. Perhaps it would have been a kindness to free him that way. But the very definition of murder was to destroy a pony's body, releasing their spirit to whatever spirit realm they were destined for; how was it any different if the being in question was not a pony, but a spirit powerful enough to make a body for himself and live in it, without possessing anypony else?
He had burned. She'd smelled it, the horrible stench of burnt fur and flesh. He'd healed himself as soon as she'd disrupted the spell, but while it had been focused on him he had been burning alive, screaming. How could doing that to him have ever been a kindness? How could anyone have ever expected her to do that to anypony she'd ever cared for?
But she'd feared turning him into stone, because he didn't sleep. When he'd given her the materials to make the Elements of Harmony, and she and Luna had used them to bind the enemy alicorns… alicorns slept, and she had made certain that they were wholly unconscious and unaware. Someday, someday when Love and Harmony were strong enough in the hearts of the ponies of Equestria that they could withstand the return of the Masters, Celestia hoped she could free them, one by one, and reform them with the power of friendship. But if it could never be done… then at least they weren't suffering.
Discord didn't sleep. She didn't know if he could. The fear had haunted her. What if she bound him into stone and he didn't sleep? She'd tried so hard to persuade him, to make him voluntarily leave off the harm he was causing, because the alternatives were to burn him to death or immobilize him forever in near-total sensory deprivation and helplessness.
In the end, she'd chosen the stone, because she couldn't bear to kill him. Was that a fault? Had she done him more harm than good with her mercy?
Glory sighed. "Of course not," she said. "Your ignorance is expected, given that you… well, you are technically immortal, but still you are flesh. You couldn't have known. It was our fault. We should have summoned him home, we shouldn't have believed him when he said he had everything under control and he was just playing a bit while he studied your kind. We should have realized that for anything to catch Discord's attention for nearly a thousand consecutive years… but so many of us settle and form warm bonds with a world that worships us. He always mocked worship, so we should have seen, we should have guessed, but we did not. We thought he was growing more mature… not more tainted."
"It doesn't sound as if you truly paid attention," Celestia said.
"And why would we? We are the Spirits of the Continuum, those that tame and contain the fire of creation, the Heart of the Storm. So little in this universe can harm us. Why would we think we needed to watch one of our own, to ensure he was not being corrupted by emotions he'd have been the first to mock?"
Celestia sighed. "I suppose we both made mistakes. But in the end he made his own choices. Could you have told him what to do? Because I couldn't."
Glory snorted. "No. None could ever tell him what to do."
"So why are you here?" Celestia asked. "Have you come to summon him home now?"
"No. None of us will speak with him. He is your problem now. You made him this way; you can have him. But I have come to grant you a warning, because… because he would not want what will be if you go on as you have. Not for himself, and not for you."
"If we go on as we have? Do you mean, if we keep him in the stone?"
"How long was he bound, the first time?"
Celestia knew this number with great precision. One thousand, forty-three years, six months, and ten days. "One thousand years," she said. The precision was something she didn't share with others. It was too revealing, that she knew to the day.
Glory chuckled. "Oh, that would have destroyed him," she said. "No. In the beginning you used to go to his statue and talk with him. Then you stopped, thirty years later. Why?"
For thirty years she'd felt Discord's consciousness within the stone. She could sense nothing else, not his thoughts or feelings, only that he was conscious. Silver Eyes, the unicorn he'd resurrected as a filly and then kept alive with magic for six hundred years, had had more insight, a closer connection. In her fillyhood, cultists had killed her as a sacrifice to Discord and shredded her soul. What he had done to them did not bear imagining. What he had done to the world had been three days of murderous rage. What he had done to Silver Eyes was to take the shredded bits of her soul into his own and stitch them back together so she could live again, but despite his best efforts some of his own soul had gotten mixed in, turning what had been a very serious, very studious, powerfully magical young unicorn into a willing servant of Chaos… and yet, somehow, still serious, studious and responsible.
She had had such a close connection with Discord that it had stunned Celestia when she'd helped Celestia and Luna find the Elements in the utterly ridiculous places Discord had hidden them in, places no one could have imagined unless a tiny piece of his soul lived inside them. She'd said that Discord needed to be stopped for his own good, that he'd lost his way, that she was serving his true ideals by helping the two alicorns stop him.
And then she'd said she could hear him within the stone. Screaming. Cursing. Pleading with them, attempting to make deals with them, that no one but her could hear.
Celestia had never heard Discord cry. He was immortal, nearly omnipotent, and took absolutely nothing seriously. Of course she'd never heard him cry.
Silver Eyes had lived thirty years more, long enough to give birth to a filly and watch her grow to adulthood (a filly who was Twilight Sparkle's ancestor, so in a sense Twilight owed her existence to Discord, not that Celestia was planning to tell her so). And then she'd killed herself, unable to live with what she'd done to the being who'd given her back her life and soul. Celestia had gone to Discord's statue to tell him the news, though as Silver Eyes had held a tiny part of his soul he probably knew, and rant at him. She'd screamed that it was his fault, that Silver Eyes had loved him like a father, that he'd forced his daughter figure and his best friend and his best friend's sister to lock him away like this, that they'd given him chance after chance and he'd laughed, and now it had come to this. Now they had to live with the guilt of what he'd forced them to do to them. And some of them couldn't.
The next day she had gone out to the statue to apologize. Silver Eyes had lived six hundred years, much longer than the average unicorn, and if Discord's suffering had led her to kill herself, well, he could hardly not suffer to spare others. It hadn't been fair of her to accuse him of causing Silver Eyes' death.
But it hadn't mattered. Because when she'd touched the statue there had been no consciousness inside.
He hadn't escaped; the spell held. His essence would have shone like a beacon of Chaos had he gotten free, but he was nowhere in the world. No concentration of overwhelmingly powerful Chaos magic; no consciousness within the stone. He was gone.
Celestia had thought he'd either finally managed to put himself to sleep, or that he'd somehow willed himself to die. Maybe Silver Eyes' suicide had carried that tiny part of his soul into death, and the rest of him had been able to follow it there. She had cried, and cried again for years when she thought of it, and finally she'd been done with tears for Discord, forever.
"I no longer sensed him in there," Celestia said. "I thought he might be asleep… or dead."
"Oh, if he'd had the power to do either one, he might have been," Glory said. "But that is not what happened. He broke down finally and begged us to free him, to take him home, and we did." She lowered her face into Celestia's. "You know his pride. You know his feelings about the ties that bind. Can you begin to imagine how broken he must have been to be willing to admit to us that he was helpless, that his toys had turned on him and he needed us to save him?"
"If you freed him in thirty years, why didn't he return?"
"He couldn't, not with his body in stone. He could have destroyed the body, but he'd kept too many memories in it, and if he couldn't destroy the bound body, he couldn't return to your world in a new one. He might have gotten around that if we'd allowed him to try, but we enforced the laws of magic that constrained your world, so we didn't permit him to return. We allowed him no loopholes. As long as his body remained bound he was kept from your world."
"But I sensed him. Shortly after the Element Bearers were identified and first used their power. I felt him within the stone again. Why? If he could have returned at any time, why wouldn't he have returned when the link to the Elements was broken and none could have stopped him?"
"Because he didn't try to return to your world until we told him to leave," Glory snapped. "And when he tried using his magic to free his body so he could roam your world at will, he was sucked back in. He was imprisoned less than a year before he broke free, but it was long enough for him to remember how much he hated it."
"You told Discord to… leave? To leave your realm, you mean?"
"Yes," Glory said, and this time it was a pained whisper. "Yes. To leave us, and go elsewhere."
"Because you broke him," Glory said coldly. "Because it has ever been his nature to be conflict, to be strife, to be argument and the breaking of all the rules, to be the world turned upside down. But he became… disharmonious… with us. He brought his chaos home and he would no longer… he would no longer connect with us, he would no longer be continuous with us. He became a discontinuity in our fabric, and we have begun to snip it out."
"Discord was ever harmonious with anything? I find that difficult to believe. Isn't disharmony his essential nature?"
"Listen," the dragon said, and beautiful music played. A tinkling harpsichord, a lilting flute, the sweetness of a lyre. It was beautiful, and peaceful, but it seemed out of place for this conversation and Celestia didn't see why the dragon had summoned it.
"Your music is beautiful, but what—"
And then there was a chord that sounded like noise. So loud it made Celestia startle, a sound profoundly unnatural, as if metal and lightning could scream. And it came again, jolting, terrifying, and then the music changed completely. The melody was still the same, but now it was played with that horrible screaming metallic instrument like no instrument Celestia had ever heard. And now there were drums, fast and furious, like a gallop, like a flying pegasus' powerful heartbeat. And the music was loud and it was horrible and it was so cacophonous that it was almost not even music and it was drowning out everything and yet it was compelling Celestia to listen to it, to want to dance, to shake her mane and horn and beat her wings and move her hooves to the sound of the beat. And when it stopped, she was both relieved, and somehow, disappointed. As if the world without that powerful screeching music was too silent.
"That is Discord," Glory said softly. "That is his role in the harmony. He is the note out of place that signals a change in the tune, he is the screech of sound that cannot be ignored, he is the cacophony that makes the melody grab your attention by the horn and shake it. And we have always needed him. Because we don't oversee the stately music of the spheres, the neverending and predictable dance of sun and planets… well, neverending everywhere but here, at least. We oversee life. And life is cacophonous. Life makes noise. Life makes patterns and then it breaks them. Life shatters a peaceful summer day with a thunderbolt. Life needs chaos, conflict and strife, as much as it needs the more peaceful harmonies."
"I do know that," Celestia said.
"Well, then you were a fool to ask how Discord could ever have harmonized with the rest of us. You know how. You've heard it." She took a deep breath, as if containing anger. "But now, he smashes the instruments and laughs. Or refuses to play. He's disconnecting from us. He's becoming, not the note out of place that shatters the harmony and changes the tune, but the destruction of the music entirely. And no, he is not there yet, but we won't allow him to remain among us as he transforms into Nullification." The dragon got to her feet. "And it's your fault."
"Because I locked him in stone?"
"No." Glory glared down at Celestia. "Because he loved you. Because he came to your world to bring chaos and play the villain you needed to oppose and he lost himself in the part. Because he was too merciful to you, and you to him, when you needed to be deadly foes, because his emotions were involved. Because it's not permitted to love a lesser being, but it's permitted to torment them, if the goal is their benefit, and we send him to a race that needs to be tormented precisely because he enjoys it so much, but normally he can be objective and here he lost his way. Because you all thought you saw a God of Chaos and the pressure of your beliefs ensured that that was the only part of himself that he could be, and he never saw how you were changing him and constraining him because he enjoys that part of himself so much. He didn't have to be responsible, careful, he didn't have to limit himself, he didn't have to pull his punches to achieve a calculated result. You let him do whatever he wanted, on a whim, because that was what you expected him to do."
"That wasn't what I expected him to do!" Celestia cried. "He was my friend. He helped me overthrow the Masters. And then he came back and he said I had disappointed him, that I'd just changed who the Master was, that I was kinder than those who came before me but still I was enslaving my people, and instead of trying to explain to me how any of that could possibly be true he just plunged the world into chaos! The anarchy he caused led to exactly the thing he helped me fight against, the domination of the weak by the strong, and when I tried to tell him that he acted like it was all a game! I never expected him to behave that way at all!"
"Perhaps not. But that was not the issue. The issue was not that you saw him as a God of Chaos and nothing more; that was his choice, that was deliberate. The issue was that he stayed too long." She shook her great head. "He waited and waited for you to free him, for you to end the play with the dramatic climax, because he was too obsessed with you to free himself. But you wouldn't do it because you didn't want to kill him, and he stayed and let your people warp him into an extreme of himself because he could not let you go, and by the end he wasn't playacting. When first he brought his chaos the villain was a mask, but by the time you sealed him in stone… it had become his face."
"And what could I have done to prevent this?"
The dragon seemed to deflate. "Nothing," she said softly. "As well tell you to not be yourself. How can I tell you that to save him, you had to not be one he could love? Of course he loves the heroes, his noble opposition, his foils, as well as I do. How could Chaos ever have loved Righteous Warfare without loving my chosen ones, my heroes, as well? You reflect me, Celestia. Not entirely, of course, but you were a revolutionary leading your people to freedom despite the terrible dangers to yourself and your young sister, and that made you one of mine. And because you wanted freedom you were one of his as well. If he were not a being who could have loved you, he could never have loved me, and I refuse—" Her breath caught. "I refuse to believe he never loved me. Regardless of what he says now."
Celestia took a deep breath. "So there is nothing different I could have done," she said, "and nothing different I can do, so tell me, why are you here? What do you want of me? I… I'm glad for the perspective. I knew nothing of Discord but what he himself told me, and half of everything he ever said was a lie and I never knew which half. But I cannot figure out what you want."
"I want nothing," Glory said, standing again. "I don't need him. None of us do. We have exiled him, and in time I expect when all the votes are in, we will sever him from the Continuum and end him, and even if we do not, still he'll be an exile and no concern of ours anymore. But in the days when I cared what he thought, I knew he wouldn't have wanted to see your world destroyed, and especially not by him."
Celestia's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean we will not take him from the stone this time. These Bearers are mortals, no alicorns this time, but you bound him for thirty years and he broke and begged us to free him, and we placed him in isolation to heal for forty years when the Spirit of Love savaged him and the loneliness drove him mad, and we healed him then but the damage is cumulative. He cannot bear boredom, stillness, loneliness, constancy, and what you have condemned him to is all of them. He will go mad. Sooner or later, and my guess is sooner. And he will do anything, anything, anything at all to free himself, like a crazed timberwolf chewing its leg off to escape a trap, and he won't have the rationality to know or care what harm he does. He can free himself, you know. Any time he stops caring about the destruction of your entire solar system and the total annihilation of every living thing on your world, including you, he can summon sufficient power to free himself." She uncoiled herself from around Celestia's bed, moving far more gracefully than anything that huge should be able to. "Of course, we have a death penalty for unsanctioned genocide. We'd execute him for that. But by that point he wouldn't care anymore."
But Glory would. Celestia saw it now. Glory probably didn't particularly care what happened to Equestria, but whatever she said to the contrary, she did still care about Discord. "So… I have no choice but to banish him?" she whispered.
"That would kill him as well, most likely. The rite of banishment would send him directly back to our realm, our Continuum. And he's not permitted to go back there on pain of death. And he has enough enemies that he probably would not be given a chance to explain that it wasn't an intentional return on his part, that he's been spending his time among proto-Powers and they actually had the ability to send him home. Someone would take the golden opportunity this last flouting of the rules would give them, and deliver summary execution on the spot. Maybe he'd be fortunate enough to land among his friends, oh, except he hasn’t got any anymore, so that seems implausible." The dragon shrugged. "He is the master of implausibility and he's very good at quick-talking, so it might not be certain death. Just very, very likely death." She smiled again, with too many teeth again. "You should be pleased, Celestia, your misconception about what it would have meant to perform the rite of banishment is actually now true."
"Well, then, what? What am I expected to do? I can't let him loose to rain chaos on my people again! Are you telling me I must send him to his death to save my subjects and my world?"
"I don't care," Glory said. "Kill him. Don't. Our opinions no longer matter to him, so his shouldn't matter to me, right? We're so unutterably tedious that if we refuse to bring on new blood he'll expire from boredom, isn't that right? He's sick of all of us and he cares nothing what happens to us and he doesn't need us, he has places he can go, mortals he can entertain himself with, isn't that right? We can take our rules, and our society, and our friendship, and our unity, and go drop it into a black hole, because he says he never really belonged to us and now he's declaring that he has no use for any of us anymore and he's not even mildly entertained when any of us beg him not to throw his future away because we love him, because our love was always a fiction but it's no longer amusing him to play along… isn't that right?"
Oh, Discord, Celestia thought. He hadn’t just burned his bridges with his own kind. He'd turned them into lime jello, and set giant mutant jello eating snails on the jello, and when it was all gone he'd turned the snails into balloons, and when the balloons reached the upper atmosphere he'd gathered them all and flung them into the sun. And he'd done this, not to mortals under his dominion, but to his fellow gods. Spirits of unimaginable power, his equals in strength… who outnumbered him. Did he have a death wish?
Maybe he did. Maybe spending the time he did spend in the stone, even if it wasn't a thousand years, had crushed some part of him inside. Or maybe he didn't spend a fraction of his vast intellect thinking about the consequences before he opened his mouth and said whatever came to mind, and he couldn't be bothered even trying to control his temper. Both of which actually sounded a lot more like Discord than a secret death wish did.
"None of that actually sounds right to me," Celestia said. "You have known Discord for billions of years, so I'm sure you must realize that almost everything you just told me that he said was probably a lie, don't you? When he's angry he just says whatever will hurt the most. I think possibly he even believes it when he says it, most of the time. But that doesn't make it the truth."
"It doesn't matter," the dragon said, her voice quiet, hoarse and almost broken. "He's made his fate. I only came to tell you that we are not saving him from you this time. And that we did, the last time, and that is the only reason he didn't go mad and destroy your world to get free. And if you don't find some way to end his imprisonment, he will. He might suspect we won't answer if he calls, but he hasn't tested it yet; when he does, and hears no answer, I would expect the end to come soon after. For what we shared, once… I no longer care if he lives or dies, but if he's to die I would rather it be with his mind intact." Her wings opened, flaring outward. "Otherwise," she said bitterly, "it would be too much of a mercy. And if I'm granted the entertainment of watching him die, I don't want it to be merciful."
And she vanished, in a blinding flare of light.
Apparently Discord wasn't the only spirit who told bitter lies about his feelings.
Troubled, Celestia left her room, out into the palace. She told her guards she'd had unsettling dreams, and she wanted to walk under her sister's moon for a bit, through the garden. And before long, she came to the statue.
The first time she'd bound him, she and Luna, he'd been mocking their belief that they could defeat him by singing something called a Klingon opera. Badly. She thought, anyway, because surely nopony anywhere could ever have enjoyed that, and she'd heard Discord sing songs she knew and he was invariably awful at it, so she was sure the opera would ordinarily have been very nice if she'd understood the language or if it hadn't been Discord singing it. They'd caught him eternally in a pose of laughter, mockery. Even though she'd known he was screaming inside until he'd finally gone silent, at least she had thought it was a fitting image to represent him through eternity.
Now there was a look of terror etched into his face. It made him look cowardly. He wasn't a coward, she thought sadly; few things could hurt him, but when they'd discovered that the Masters had a spell that could do it, he hadn't abandoned her to let her fight her battles all alone. He'd stayed by her, risking one of the very few things that could possibly do him harm to help her in her fight. He didn't deserve to look like this for the rest of eternity. Of course, it was his own fault for underestimating his opponents again. She'd never thought he'd just stand there and let them try a second time. So arrogant, so overconfident. So easily bored that he handicapped himself even in life or death battles where he truly didn't want to lose, because a world where he always won was worse, to him, than a world where he could die.
She could never tell him of Glory's ultimatum. If he knew for certain that his people wouldn't rescue him from the stone and that the rite of banishment would send him directly to the hooves of his enemies to be killed… he could make every Element Bearer drop dead, instantly. He could send the Elements deep into space where even Celestia couldn't retrieve them. He could banish both Celestia and Luna to an alien world far from their own sun and moon, or send them to a realm he'd made from his own overactive imagination. Discord didn't do those sorts of things because they weren't funny and they weren't good sport, not because he was incapable.
Celestia paced around him. Leaving him in the stone was no longer feasible, if his sanity was as fragile as Glory implied and if the consequences of his madness were as high. Could she kill him? Banish him to the spirit realm he came from, and hope he dodged his enemies there? But then he'd just come back here. If he lived. If he died, Equestria was free of him forever. Glory thought his chances were miniscule; perhaps it'd be a risk worth betting on. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie probably could be trained to channel their mana into the rite of banishment, easily enough given their status as Element Bearers and the unusual amount of magic they both possessed for a pegasus and an earth pony. And they'd do it with no conflict in their heart, because Discord had never been their friend and because they wouldn't be aware how likely it was to destroy him utterly and because he wouldn't scream as he burned in mystic fire because stone couldn't scream… oh gods of sun and sky no. Helpless, unable to move, unable even to scream as he burned. No. She couldn't do that to him.
But if the only other choices were to let him go mad and destroy them all, or to let him loose to unleash chaos on Equestria, then what choice did she have?
No. There was another choice.
"You're alone," she said to the statue, softly. "I said you were before, and you laughed, but it wasn't truly the case then. You had nopony for a friend, but then, you had the other spirits. Discord, what drove you to break your ties with them and enrage them into exiling you? At least one of them loved you, and now, she pretends to herself that what she feels is hate. It's not true, but why did you ever let it get that far?"
The statue did not answer, but she felt something. She could feel his consciousness within the stone, and she thought she felt his attention turning on her. He'd said he could hear her in the stone, after all.
"So there may be another way," she said softly. "Because now you're truly alone. And I think… I think it hurts you."
What if she tried, again, what she hadn't been able to accomplish in a thousand years? What if she tried to bind him, not with the magic of cruel rites of control or banishment, but with the magic of friendship?
She couldn't do it herself this time. For one thing, in a thousand years she hadn't succeeded. For another, there was too much between them, too much pain, too many times they'd hurt each other. She could never be patient enough to get through Discord's defenses and he'd never forgive her enough to lower his guard with her. But it had been a very long time since she had wielded the Element of Kindness, and even then, she had never been a match in that Element for the current wielder.
Fluttershy tamed vicious injured animals all the time, and as intelligent as he was, Celestia had to put Discord in that category if he'd managed to deliberately enrage the omnipotent spirits he came from against him. He had definitely come to a place where he was biting the hand that fed him. Maybe it would be impossible to get through to him. Omnipotent spirits hadn't been able to. But they had so much pride of their own, and if someone like Discord could have come from them, Celestia doubted they had an overabundance of Kindness.
If anyone could calm him and tame him, or at least make him willing to contain himself, even slightly, it would be Fluttershy. And if there was anything within him worth redemption, if there was anything in him worth the grief and guilt she felt for how she'd hurt him, Celestia was certain Fluttershy could find it and bring it out.
And if there was nothing… if he couldn't even respond to Fluttershy without cruelty and mockery, if even she couldn't befriend him… then Celestia could have a grimly clean conscience when she burned him and banished him and sent him to die.
Comments? Go here!
Back to Next of Kin To Chaos