"Well, that went well," Rainbow Dash muttered.
A strange sound came from Fluttershy. Twilight turned, and saw the yellow pegasus glaring at her, eyes spilling with tears, an expression of fury on her face. Taken aback, Twilight actually took a step backward from her. "Fluttershy, what--?"
"Twilight. You. STUPID!" Fluttershy shouted, her voice cracking, wings beating. She lifted off the ground and was in Twilight's face in two wingbeats. To Twilight's – and everypony else's, and possibly even Fluttershy's own – shock, she swung her hoof and slapped Twilight in the face.
And then she dropped to the ground, exploded into tears, and threw her arms around Twilight, who was still stunned by the fact that Fluttershy of all ponies had slapped her. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was so scared, you're so stupid, Twilight, why wouldn't you listen to me, I was so scared, I was so scared..."
"Hon, you all right?" Applejack asked tentatively.
"You're all STUPID!" Fluttershy screamed, and started sobbing brokenly again, still hugging Twilight. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I should have been louder but why didn't you listen, I was so scared..."
"For Discord?" Twilight asked disbelievingly. She knew Fluttershy considered the chaos god her friend and actually believed in him, but this seemed like an extreme reaction.
"For you! For all of us! And for Discord! But especially you, Twilight, I'm so sorry I hit you, that was so mean of me, I'm sorry, I just got so scared... I thought he was going to, he was going to..."
"Wait." She pushed Fluttershy off of her so she could see the pegasus' face. "You thought your friend, who you're always giving a lot of slack to, was going to do something to me?"
"You think I'm so dumb!" Fluttershy crumpled to the floor, still crying hysterically. "You never listen to me even though this is my job, Princess Celestia told me, but you think I don't know what I'm doing, you think I'm so dumb but you're so stupid, you don't know how to do what I do and that's ok, we all know how to do different things but you think you know everything and I was trying to tell you and you wouldn't listen..."
Rainbow Dash knelt down beside the other pegasus. "Hey. Hey, Flutters, it's ok. It's ok. We're gonna listen now, ok? Everypony's safe, nopony got hurt—"
"Well, aside from my mane being ruined," Rarity said, but then sighed. "But I suppose that's a small price to pay considering what Discord is capable of."
"Rainbow Dash's right," Applejack said. "We're all of us sorry we didn't listen to you, Fluttershy, but nopony got hurt. We're all ok."
"It's okay!" Pinkie said, with a tray of cupcakes that Twilight could have sworn there was no realistic way for her to suddenly acquire. She knelt down next to Fluttershy and pulled the strap holding the cupcake tray off her head, allowing the tray to sit on the floor. "Dissy didn't do anything terrible, Fluttershy, we're all fine! See, you were right, he doesn't want to hurt us now! Come on, have a cupcake, it'll cheer you up!"
"I, uh, thank you but, uh, I don't really have an, an appetite right now," Fluttershy whispered. "Maybe, maybe later?"
"Okie dokie lokie! Saving 'em for later!" Pinkie put the strap back around her neck and bounced off with the tray.
"Why don't I make you some tea, darling?" Rarity said. "I know the perfect calming blend."
"I'll help!" Spike said, and followed Rarity eagerly into the kitchen. "I'll show you where we keep all the tea blends, Rarity!"
Twilight felt completely at a loss. Everypony was doing something to try to comfort Fluttershy except her. Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie, who'd come back without the cupcakes, were all crowded around Fluttershy, petting her or hugging her or simply being there for her, and they had her surrounded. Spike and Rarity were doing something. Twilight didn't know what she could do. The press of bodies around Fluttershy didn't seem to leave any room for her, and she felt so awful and guilty for making Fluttershy cry like this, but why? What had Fluttershy so terrified? Twilight had just been trying to protect everypony from Discord!
And if Discord was Fluttershy's friend, why would she be so scared of him? Was it all an act? Was he abusing her in secret? Oh, if that was the case she wasn't going to wait for him to give her any ridiculous piece of propaganda, she was just going to hit him with the reforming spell straight out, no questions asked.
"What has Discord been doing to you, Fluttershy?" Twilight finally asked. She didn't want to frighten her friend or set her off crying again, but if Discord was hurting her Twilight needed to know.
Fluttershy looked at her with an expression of total confusion. "Doing? To me?"
"Yes! You say he's your friend but now you're telling us you're terrified of him—"
"I'm not," Fluttershy whispered, crumpling in on herself. "I'm... you don't understand..."
"Sugarcube, Twilight's right. If Discord's been doin' something to ya—"
"No!" Fluttershy shouted. "None of you are listening!" She started to cry again.
"Okay. Back off, guys," Rainbow Dash said, waving a hoof at Applejack and Twilight. "Hey. Hey, Flutters, it's okay. We weren't letting you talk, we were jumping to all kinds of conclusions, I know it upsets you. But you gotta tell us what it is you want to tell us, okay? 'Cause we're dumb, we don't know what you're thinking here and yeah, you're an expert in stuff we don't know anything about. I don't know why it is you'd be friends with Discord if you're scared of him, but you're gonna tell us now, right? And we're gonna shut up and listen." She looked up at Twilight and Applejack. "Right, fillies?"
"Right," Twilight said.
"Darned tootin'," Applejack said.
Rarity and Spike came in, Spike carrying the teacup. "Fluttershy, I hope you don't mind, I iced the tea for you," Rarity said. "If you'd like it warm there's still some in the kettle, but I thought it best to give you something calming you can drink right away, without waiting for it to cool down."
Spike gave Fluttershy the teacup. "No problem!"
Fluttershy took a few sips while Twilight's impatience grew. What had Discord done to her friend?
Eventually Fluttershy managed to stop crying. "I'm... I'm sorry, everypony, I shouldn't, I shouldn't have gotten so upset with all of you," she said in almost her normal tone of voice. "I just..."
"It's okay, sugarcube," Applejack said. "We know you were just lookin' out for us."
"Okay." Fluttershy took another sip of her drink. "Okay. So Princess Celestia asked me to reform Discord, right? And I figured out why after I spent some time with him. Because I know a lot about taming wild animals. And the thing you don't ever do with a wild animal is, you don't ever box it into a corner. If it thinks you're threatening it and it has nowhere to run... it'll bite you. That's what wild animals do."
Twilight took a deep breath. "Discord's not an animal, Fluttershy. Just because he's got all those mixed up animal parts—"
"I'm not stupid, Twilight," Fluttershy said softly. "We're all animals. Ponies are animals, dragons are animals. Everything alive's an animal."
"Except plants!" Pinkie said. "And sometimes rocks!"
"Right, ok, but the point is? Just because an animal talks and thinks doesn't make it not an animal. And ponies... we're civilized animals. Like, we're tame animals. We don't hurt each other on purpose if we can avoid it. We try to work together. We're friends with each other. So we're not wild. But Discord... Discord is feral. You have to understand that."
"Well, I will admit he looks rather savage, particularly with that fang, but—"
Fluttershy cut Rarity off. "No, that's not it! Like, Spike here. Spike, when you're grown up you'll look like a scary creature because dragons are scary creatures, but you won't really be a scary creature, you'll be a civilized creature. Like ponies. Tame. Friendly. Creatures who get along with each other, in, in harmony. It doesn't matter how scary somepony looks, it's how they are. How they think. Spike was raised with love and friends so he'll always be civilized."
"I hope so," Spike said. "I don't wanna be some kind of scary creature."
"But Discord... I think he wasn't. He acts like he wasn't. I mean he's very smart, and he's not violent – he uses his powers to be annoying, or even when he's, even when he's being evil, he hurts ponies with words and playing with their mind. I don't mean he's going to bite anypony. But... he doesn't need to. He's so powerful. If Discord gets scared and bites... he's not going to use his teeth. He's going to use his power. And even the princesses can't stand up to his power if he isn't holding back."
Twilight sighed with frustration. "Fluttershy, we can't go around living in fear of Discord, letting him do whatever he wants whenever he wants! If he's so dangerous, why did you agree not to put him in stone?"
"You don't understand, Twilight!" Fluttershy got to her feet. "Princess Celestia told me to reform Discord. That's just like telling me to tame a wild animal. If you want to put an animal in a cage so it doesn't hurt anypony... that's cruel! Maybe you might have to do it if you can't tame it but it's so cruel to keep an animal in a cage, you need to try to tame it if you can. It's the same with Discord!"
Rainbow Dash said skeptically, "Wild animals don't know any better. Discord does. How do you tame something that's as smart as a pony, Fluttershy? He could do the right thing, he just doesn't want to."
"I just... let me explain." Fluttershy paced a little bit, nervously, all but walking around in circles. "So animals that live among ponies, tame animals? They feel the same way ponies do. They understand friendship and love. They know that somepony is going to take care of them and protect them, and they want to give those feelings back. That's harmony, right? But in wild places, like, like the Everfree. Animals have to take care of themselves. Nopony's going to do it for them. Every other creature they meet is maybe dangerous. Maybe it's their food, or it thinks they're its food, or it's angry because it thinks they want to steal its food, or steal its mate or its territory. There's no love, there's no friendship. Except between mothers with their babies, and timberwolves in a pack. Every creature fights every other creature." She took a deep breath. "So when you find one of them? They don't understand friendship. They don't understand love. They don't understand that you just want to help them. They think every creature is an enemy. And if they didn't think that, they'd get killed or eaten. So they have to think that way. So when you want to take care of them you have to be very, very careful to make sure they understand that you are a friend, and it's hard because they don't understand friendship."
"But, Fluttershy." Applejack was also skeptical. "Ah see the point you're makin', but there ain't nopony tryin' to eat Discord. Natural creatures are that way because they've gotta be, but he oughta know better!"
"But he doesn't," Fluttershy said. "I don't know what made him that way. Maybe it's because he's the Spirit of Disharmony. Or maybe he spent his life fighting other spirits. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. The point is that to reform Discord, I've had to treat him like a feral animal. Feral animals growl at you if you get too close, and they steal your food, and they pee in places you don't want them to. Well, he doesn't do those things, but he insults ponies, he plays pranks, he tries to rile ponies up and make them fight each other... and you say he ought to know better, Applejack, but the reason we know better is that we care about each other. Ponies worry about how other ponies feel. I have to teach Discord how to care about how ponies feel. And why he should. And it isn't easy, but it is working, slowly... or at least it was..."
"What do you mean at least it was?" Twilight asked.
"I mean you... might've... made it not work anymore? He was scared, Twilight. I could see it in his face."
"We all could," Applejack said. "But he threatened mah family, Fluttershy. Am Ah supposed to take that lyin' down?"
"You, uh, you accused him of... of doing mean things to me. Or that he might. I know it sounded like he threatened your family, and, and, if he said those things about my parents I would have been really really upset with him? But what he was saying was that... oh, he really doesn't understand how ponies feel. He isn't scared of things like his family getting hurt. I don't even know if he has one. He was trying to say that he hasn't done any bad things to your family or anypony else even though he could so you shouldn't be afraid of him doing bad things to me, but he doesn't understand how to say things like that without it being scary because he doesn't understand what it's like to feel afraid for the ponies you love."
"So why is it a bad thing to make him understand fear?" Twilight said. "If he isn't afraid for the ponies he cares about because there aren't any, then we have to threaten him to make him understand what it's like to be afraid."
Fluttershy shook her head. "Feral animals bite when you corner them," she whispered. "When he said he didn't want to do this... I was so scared. I thought he was going to kill you. He looked... he was scared, but he looked like he was grieving, like he was about to lose something he really cared about... and he said that, and I thought, I thought he was trying to ask for me to understand and then he was going to kill you to protect himself even though he didn't want to because I'd never forgive him and I was so scared I couldn't even talk... because he's feral and you had him in a corner, Twilight, you scared him and I was so afraid he was going to bite you. Not literally, but with his powers. And... and Twilight, he can kill. He doesn't like to do it but he can. He... he has. He told me."
Rainbow Dash said angrily, "He told you he's killed ponies? Like what, he was threatening you? He was trying to scare you?"
Fluttershy sighed. "No. He was telling me why I shouldn't be his friend because he doesn't really deserve one. And... and a lot of that is, uh, private, I mean, if somepony confides in you you don't just gossip about it to your friends, but... Discord talks to me. I know he's sincere about trying to get along with us. I know he really does want friends. But he doesn't know how and he's scared because he can get anything he wants by snapping his claws except a friend, so he's not used to not knowing how to get what he wants. Most of the time he's silly and he plays pranks or he wants to play games but sometimes he, uh, sometimes he really talks to me? So I know him better than anypony else here. But he's wild. He's starting to learn to trust but if you scare him he might do anything."
"So we have to let him do whatever he wants?" Twilight said. "Because he can threaten us all he wants or frighten us or make a mess of our lives, but the moment he gets scared he's going to attack us so we can't threaten him?"
"uh... yes? Exactly?"
"Fluttershy, how in tarnation are we supposed to live that way? And why should we? Just 'cause he's more powerful than us? You know darned well we can stop him any time you want to! Why should we just let him do whatever the hay he wants when we've got the power to make him stop?"
"Ahem," Pinkie Pie said. "Because Fluttershy promised, duh. It wasn't a Pinkie Promise so I guess she could break it if Discord did something really awful but it was still a promise to a friend and you shouldn't break those!"
"That's not why," Fluttershy said. "That was my reason until he told me about what it's like being turned to stone. It's cruel. It's really, really cruel to do to anypony. And, and the first time we did it, we really didn't have a choice? Even Discord admitted that to me, he knows we didn't have a choice. But there's another way now, so... I can't do something that mean to somepony if there's any way to get them to behave without hurting them. I just can't."
"Darling, wouldn't being turned to stone just make one unconscious? Twilight, you were attacked by a cockatrice, surely you'd know. Is it that terrible to be turned to stone?"
"Well, it was really frightening at first when I realized what was happening, but I did lose consciousness. I wasn't aware of being stone while I was. It's definitely very frightening because you don't know if you'll ever be brought back to life and if nopony ever restores you, you know it's basically like being dead. So I suppose for somepony like Discord, where he'd have no reason to think anypony would ever undo the spell, maybe he's afraid of going into stone and never waking up."
"He doesn't sleep, Twilight," Fluttershy said softly.
Suddenly Twilight remembered that Discord had plainly heard the entire conversation between Celestia and the Element Bearers about reforming him before they unstoned him. And that he'd claimed that it was lonely being stone. He didn't sleep. Maybe he couldn't?
Maybe he couldn't lose consciousness?
She didn't want to empathize with Discord, but the horror of it was too great. What would it be like to be frozen, unable to move, to speak, to see... for a thousand years? Unable to sleep, unable to die, trapped paralyzed in your own flesh and knowing, knowing there would never be anypony coming to the rescue, there would never be anypony trying to help you out of friendship or compassion because you have no friends and no one would ever feel compassion for you? For a thousand years? Wondering if it would be forever? No reason to hope that it might not be?
"So why is he so scared of a reforming spell?" Twilight asked. "I... see what you mean, about it being cruel to turn him into stone. If he wasn't asleep in there... that's pretty horrifying. But if we used a reforming spell we would never need to turn him to stone! He'd be safe!"
"For values of 'safe' that really shouldn't be considered part of the appropriate range for safety, perhaps," Discord said behind her. "What have you all done to Fluttershy?"
"They – they didn't. I was just, I was scared!" Fluttershy got up and ran to Discord, who was holding a book in his talon. "I didn't know if you would ever come back! Or if you were just going to make it rain chocolate all over Ponyville and everything we worked on together would be ruined and I would never get to be your friend again..."
Twilight frowned. What Fluttershy was saying to Discord sounded perfectly sincere, but didn't really match what she'd said to Twilight. And then Twilight realized that Fluttershy was the Element of Kindness, not Honesty. She wasn't lying, but she was putting a spin on the truth to Discord to make him feel better, implying she'd been more afraid of losing his friendship than of him doing something horrible to her other friends.
"Now, Fluttershy, what kind of a friend would I be if I gave up on you just because one of your friends wants to rip my mind out through my eyeballs with a buttonhook and replace it with a large wad of cotton stuffing?" Discord said, as Fluttershy hugged him. "I'm sure Twilight isn't going to do anything hasty. Why, I'm sure by now she's considered the fact that she got this spell from Celestia's private library, meaning Princess Celestia has had this spell the whole time, and yet apparently never chose to use it on either myself or Nightmare Moon, but in fact preferred to banish her own sister to the moon for a thousand years rather than use this particular spell. And I'm sure even Twilight isn't arrogant enough to think she knows so much better than her beloved Princess Celestia."
Twilight frowned. He... had a point, there.
"Don't listen to him, Twilight!" Rainbow Dash said. "You don't know what the Princess was thinking of; just because you had an idea she didn't doesn't mean you're better than her or smarter than her, it just means you're a different pony with a different perspective! You could have a perfectly good idea she just never thought of!"
Discord was smiling at Fluttershy, his tone as jovial and humorous as always, but there was something wrong with his eyes. They were fixed on her, not Fluttershy, and they were very, very cold and hard. Twilight shuddered. For a moment she seriously considered firing off the spell anyway, now that he didn't expect it. But... maybe he had a point? Princess Celestia hadn't used this spell when she could have, and while the Princess might have thought that locking Discord in stone was more merciful if she hadn't realized that he couldn't sleep, surely she would have tried to use the spell to turn her sister back into Luna rather than sending her to the moon for a thousand years. Of course, possibly it wouldn't work on a separate entity like Nightmare Moon ; Luna couldn't be reformed because Luna was good already, and Nightmare Moon couldn't be reformed because she was Luna's evil side and to reform her was essentially to destroy her, and what consequences might there be to literally destroying the evil in a pony's psyche rather than suppressing it?
"I think Discord promised me a book on the subject," Twilight said. "I'm willing to do more research before I rush into this." She looked straight at Discord as she said so.
"I am a draconequus of my word," Discord said, and proffered her the book in his talon. "This should tell you exactly what you need to know about the consequences of reforming spells and why they should not be used."
"And it's totally unbiased, I'm sure," Twilight said dryly.
"Twilight Sparkle, here I thought you were an accomplished researcher. Surely you know how to read past the biases in a work and identify what is most likely to be true versus what's simply the author's spin. Besides, bias or no, I think you'll find this makes quite a compelling argument."
She levitated the book from his claws and brought it over to herself. When she saw the title she scowled. "The Tale of the Terrible Doctor Twilight? Discord, is this some kind of a sick joke?"
"It's not a joke at all, I assure you," he said, his voice colder and more serious than she could ever remember hearing him.
"Then why, exactly, does it have a title like that?"
"That's not the title," Pinkie Pie said, frowning, peering over Twilight's shoulder. "It's something about cupcakes! Let me see... I see cupcakes, I see pie, I can't make out the rest of it..."
"It's encrypted," Discord said. "Twilight, your experience as a powerful unicorn mage will activate the true potential of the book. Pinkie wouldn't get the same experience out of reading it as you would. And this book is dangerous in the hooves of an untrained or unmagical pony, so Pinkie, back off."
"Okie dokie lokie! But if it's really about cupcakes can I read it later?"
"It's encrypted to unicorn mages and it has my name on it?"
"As if you're the only unicorn to ever be named Twilight. Isn't that your mother's name? For that matter if I recall correctly the female magi in your family have had the name Twilight going back a very long time."
That was true, she admitted to herself. Her mother was Twilight Velvet, her grandmother wasn't a Twilight but her great-aunt had been Twilight Moon, her great-grandmother had been Twilight Starshine, there'd been a Twilight Silver who'd been a great and important mage shortly after the Discordian era... despite herself her heart beat faster with sudden eagerness. What if this was a book about one of her ancestors, one of the Twilights before her who had been powerful mages? It was family tradition that the oldest daughter of the line have the name Twilight, and most of them had been very powerful unicorns, though very few had been in her own league. She flipped to the middle of the book, and frowned in dismay. "This is unreadable gobbledygook," she complained. "Is this even Equestrian?"
"Encrypted, Twilight, is not a word referring to Mexicallavan mummy gods of the kind who routinely have their tombs disturbed by Daring Do. You need to start from the beginning."
"Darling, are you sure this is a good idea?" Rarity asked. "As you said, the likelihood that Discord would provide an unbiased perspective on the matter seems absurdly small."
"It's just a book, Rarity," Twilight said. "It's not even a spellbook. Knowledge can't harm me."
"Ah ain't so sure on that, sugarcube," Applejack said. "So-called knowledge that's nothin' but a pack of lies can do a lot of damage."
"Well, I think I'm good enough with ancient texts that I ought to be able to tell whether this is a pack of lies or not," Twilight said.
"What if we just ask Princess Celestia?" Spike said. "Discord said she didn't use a reforming spell on him or Princess Luna, so why don't we write to her right now and ask why not? If the spells are really bad, she'll tell us!"
"It's a good idea, Spike, but I can't go running to the Princess every time I have a question about anything," Twilight said. "I'm supposed to be an advanced student at this point, so I need to consult my own research before bothering the Princess." Besides, if it was really about one of the former Twilights, she wanted to read it. And if she consulted Princess Celestia, the Princess would certainly answer her question about why she had not used reforming spells on Luna and Discord when she could have, but she might also tell Twilight not to read the book Discord was giving her. Discord hadn't said it was a spellbook, and the title suggested it was lore or history, not spells, but a mage-encrypted tome was, in fact, a dangerous thing. Twilight was certain she could handle it, whatever it was; she didn't want to be warned off by the Princess being overprotective of her student. At this point, after she'd faced Nightmare Moon, Discord himself, the Changelings, King Sombra... Twilight had confidence in herself that she could handle any kind of magical threat, especially with her friends all around her and the Elements of Harmony at hand.
She flipped open the first page of the book. Her eyes fell on the first line. Twilight Sparkle was a unicorn who loved books, it said.
And then Twilight was falling, and the world went dark around her.
Twilight's eyes glowed, and her whole body went rigid, as the book fell to the floor.
"DISCORD!" Rainbow Dash screamed, lunging at him through the air, knocking him into the bookshelf-filled wall behind him. "What did you do to Twilight?"
"Exactly what I said." There was no humor in his tone. He snapped his talon, and Rainbow was back on the ground, wingless, her wings held in Discord's lion paw. "The book I've given her will teach her exactly what it means to use a reforming spell on someone."
"Free Twilight now, Discord!" Fluttershy shouted. "And give Rainbow Dash back her wings!"
"Not if she's going to keep attacking me. It gets tedious."
Abruptly he went flying sideways, crashing into the floor. "Ah don't need wings to attack you!" Applejack said, looking back over her shoulder after having bucked Discord. "You want more where that came from, you keep this up!"
"Oh, you all think you're so very dangerous," Discord said sardonically, picking himself up off the floor. "What if I turn your hind legs into marshmallow fluff, Applejack, how are you going to buck me then?"
He yelped then suddenly and turned to face Rarity. "Did you... just shove a sewing needle through my ear?" he asked disbelievingly.
"And you can be grateful it wasn't your eye, you awful excuse for an... anything!" Rarity shouted. "Release Twilight right now!"
"I'm sending a letter to Princess Celestia," Spike said, hastily.
Although nopony saw her move, Pinkie Pie was suddenly on Discord's neck, hooves wrapped tightly around its flexible length. She grabbed his beard with her teeth and dragged his head around to face her glare. "Let. Twilight. Go. Now."
"You are all incredibly annoying." He snapped the paw that Rainbow Dash was trying to leap at to grab her wings, and all of them were suddenly on the other side of the room... with their Elements of Harmony on the floor where they'd been standing a moment ago.
"Cow crap!" Applejack shouted. "The Elements!"
Rarity's bag flew from her side again, scooped up the Elements, and flew to the ceiling, where it hovered. Without her wings, Rainbow couldn't reach it, and Rarity's efforts to pull it down telekinetically were obviously being stymied by Discord's far greater power. "Now," Discord said. "Perhaps we can discuss this like civilized ponies?"
Fluttershy felt as if her heart was going to snap in half. She was the only one who hadn't been teleported to the other side of the room. She and Twilight were the only ones still wearing their Elements, and Twilight was still standing as if frozen, eyes glowing. Her one Element could do nothing; even if she decided to break her promise, even if the others still had theirs, the fact that Twilight couldn't use hers made them useless. But the fact that Discord had scooped up everypony else's suggested that he didn't really trust her. Or that he didn't really trust that four together would have no effect.
She flew up to Discord's face. This hadn't worked the last time she tried it, but it was all she had left, if he was going to betray friendship exactly as she'd feared he would, after Twilight had cornered him. Part of her mind was wailing for him, that he'd made such progress and he'd been so close and now it was ruined and it wasn't even entirely his fault it was ruined, it was Twilight's fault and the others as well as him, and now she'd lost him back to his dark side; the rest of her was screaming in fear for Twilight and the rest of her friends, and all Ponyville, and all Equestria. Fluttershy mustered up all her power, and brought the Stare to bear against Discord's eyes. "Discord, release Twilight. Now."
The last time she'd tried to Stare him, he had pretended it had worked, pleading with her, "Not the Stare!", and then started laughing uproariously and wiggling with hysteria in midair, mocking her completely. This time, he said, "You know that doesn’t work on me," without a joking note, with irritation but also uncertainty, and he looked away, as if he didn't dare meet her eyes. As if the Stare would work if she could only get him to look at her.
"Look at me, Discord!" she said, commandingly.
"Why, so you can make googly eyes at me?" He still wasn't looking at her.
"So you can explain, to my face, why you want to throw our friendship away! I deserve that much!" She would not cry. Not now. She had to be strong.
"What makes you think I want to do any such thing?"
"Got what she was begging for," Discord interrupted. "She won't be harmed. The spell will show her what she needs to know, and then she'll wake up the wiser for it. I haven't done anything to justify all of you deciding to attack me; I defended myself from her plans to attack, and she isn't hurt."
"Prove it," Rainbow Dash said.
"I don't need to. Time will prove it. And until it does I'll take my leave of you. Right now I don't want to see or hear from any of you."
He snapped again, and vanished. Rainbow Dash's wings reappared on her back, and the purse with the Elements in it fell from the ceiling and clattered to the library floor.
Fluttershy landed and began to weep, looking at Twilight's still, standing form and glowing eyes. It felt like this was her fault. It had been her job to reform Discord. She'd been his only good friend; it had been her job to protect him from her other friends, and them from him, and she'd failed, and now he hated all of them and Twilight was frozen and Discord was probably going to go cause chaos and her friends would hate her for being such an incompetent pony that she'd failed the most important job Princess Celestia had ever given her and she'd betrayed all her friends, Discord for her mare friends and her mare friends for Discord.
"Don’t cry, sugarcube," Applejack said, coming over and putting a hoof around her. "He ain't worth it."
"Twilight will be fine," Pinkie said, but shakily, as if she was trying to convince herself. "She's probably just having like a weird vision or something and she'll totally snap out of it and wake up any minute now!" Pinkie poked Twilight, who didn't move. "Any minute now!"
"I told Princess Celestia," Spike said, looking at Twilight with anguish in his face. "We just have to wait for her to reply."
Rarity had scooped up the bag containing the Elements, and carried it over to where everypony was congregating around Fluttershy. "Darling, I know you don't want to break a promise to a friend," she said, telekinetically passing out everypony else's Elements to them. "But under the circumstances... once Twilight wakes up, if she wakes up, I think we must seriously reconsider the possibility of returning Discord to stone, at least for the moment."
"Yeah." Rainbow Dash was preening, her wings in total disarray after Discord had removed them and then returned them, but she'd joined the group huddled around Fluttershy. "Sometimes, Flutters... you know, when a feral animal won't stop biting ponies... you know sometimes we've gotta put it down."
Fluttershy began to cry even harder. She just wanted none of this whole event to have happened and everything to go back to normal the way it had been before she and Discord had even gotten here. The thought of hurting him like that, after he'd told her just how terrible it had been for him to be trapped, unable to move or see or speak, for so long... and yet, after what he'd just done to Twilight....
Please be okay, Twilight, she begged silently through her tears. Please, please be okay.
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