In Search of the Sun
Twilight slept restlessly, her dreams filled with nightmarish images. A blackened sun, exploding in silence and raining a blanket of darkness over the world. Ravenous packs of wild dogs with diamond teeth, nipping at her tail as she ran. Chains tightly gripping the skin, dragging her down into fathomless, watery depths. Visions of black, inky skies. Sickness. Death. A laughing snake with twisted horns and piercing, red eyes, tightly wound around her neck.
The hours of miserable slumber final gave, the unicorn waking in a cold sweat with a start. She had expected the warming light of day to shine into her weary eyes before the reality of the situation flooded her again. Night still held dominance over the sky, the moon shining down as Luna's protective blessing. She wanted to believe that it was all a dream. That Princess Celestia wasn't sick. That the sun would be shining down like always. That they weren't so far away from home.
"Oh, look! Our fearless leader is finally awake."
That she wasn't stuck with Discord in the middle of nowhere.
"Wakey-wakey, Twilight!" the immortal teased. "I know there's no sun, but trust me, you overslept."
The unicorn raised herself, looking around. Of course, there was Discord, lying just inches from her, mocking her like a bad alarm clock. Further over, she saw her friends, getting what breakfast they could around the stream.
She stood, her energy returning as she further woke. "What time is it?"
Discord rolled onto his back, looking up at the sky. "I'd say noon-ish."
Twilight matched his gaze, seeing the moon above. "I miss the sun."
"You know," Discord continued. "I can raise it. Easy-peasy! All I need are my powers back, and it could be daylight in no time!"
"And then night again in just a second?" Twilight asked rhetorically, casting a smirk to the immortal. "I know how you like to work, Discord. No deal." She walked towards the stream with her friends.
"Can't blame me for trying!" the draconequus called to her as she left.
As Twilight approached the stream, weary faces met her from all sides. Everypony was growing hungry, the few blades of grass available being an insufficient ration. Spike was doing better than the others, having smuggled some gems from the caves the night before. Lack of sunlight was also contributing to their weakened states. Rarity was still out of sorts, sleep having done little to erase yesterday's injuries. Fluttershy had made a salve from nearby herbs sometime during the morning, applying it to the cut on Rarity's head. The bruises were much darker now, blood having pooled into the injured tissue throughout the night.
"Twi," Applejack started, nudging the unicorn. "We gotta hurry. The grass ain't lookin' so good."
It was true. The lack of sunlight was slowly killing the plantlife that thrived on it. The grass below was beginning to sag, and wilt, turning a sickly yellow shade.
"Mah apples ain't gonna make it much longer if we don't get that cure fer th' Princess," the farmer nervously continued.
"I know," Twilight answered, taking a bite of the dying grass. "We'll make it in time. I promise."
Their breakfast concluded, the group met Discord by the edge of the ridge, staring down into the area beyond Equestria. Below, a multitude of valleys and mountainous peaks dotted the darkened lands, reaching into the sky. Faint glows of red were visible throughout, providing an eerie atmosphere to the mysterious lands.
"Ooh, spooky!" Pinkie exclaimed, hopping beside the immortal. "What's down there, Disco?"
Discord looked to the pink pony beside him. "'Disco', eh? I like that! Nothing more chaotic than disco!" He swept his talon across the landscape ahead. "Those are the Draconian Mountains. Dragon lands!"
Fluttershy froze, dropping behind a large rock. "Dr-dr-dragons? A place with nothing but giant, fire-breathing dragons?!"
"Of course," Discord flatly answered. "You didn't think ponies ruled everything did you? Ugh, typical. You're all the same! You don't own everything your precious sun shines over." He raised his paw, counting off on his fingers. "There are dragon lands, griffon lands, zebra lands, oceans full of sea-ponies, and let's not forget the forsaken lands!"
Fluttershy shrunk further behind her rock. "F-f-f-forsaken lands...?"
"Oh, yes," the immortal continued, lowering his tone menacingly. He drew his face close to the pegasus' own. "A dark, wasted territory where once great beasts fought their own kind with terrible machines until the bitter end."
Rainbow Dash flew forward, inches from the draconequus' face. "Stop it, Discord! "
"Yeah!" Applejack joined, defending her meek friend. "We know yer jus' tryin' t' scare us! Ain't no such place as a 'forsaken land'."
Discord waved his talon dismissively. "Believe what you want, sister. You've never seen chaos like what they could do!"
"That's enough!" Twilight again intervened. "I don't care about these other lands. All I care about is getting Princess Celestia's remedy. If we have to cross dragon territory, then that's what we'll do. Come on, everypony."
As Twilight stepped forward on the downward winding path of the ridge, an audible hiss of pain was heard behind her. She turned back to see Rarity struggling to move forward, Applejack doing her best to support the unicorn's bad side. She returned to the two. "Oh, Rarity. How're you holding up?"
The injured unicorn smiled. "Oh, just fine, darling. No need to worry."
"She ain't 'jus' fine', no matter what she says" Applejack corrected. "She's hurt pretty bad."
"I am fine!" Rarity protested. "Just watch!" She stepped away from the farmer, walking on her own. "See? I'm as fit as a model!" Within a few steps, however, she found her front leg growing weak, and her power wavering. She dipped, losing balance.
Applejack was quickly at her side again, helping to prop her back up. "Ah told ya! Now, don't go hurtin' yerself t' prove a point."
Rarity scoffed, cursing her weak leg. "A few bruises is all. I'll be fine."
Fluttershy walked over, joining the conversation. "Rarity, I really think you might be hurt."
"Oh, Fluttershy," Rarity whined. "Not you too!"
"I'm sorry," Fluttershy quietly answered, looking away. "But I think you might need a doctor."
"We should be gettin' 'er back t' Ponyville," Applejack continued. "She ain't in no shape t' keep goin' like this."
Rarity turned to Twilight, hoping to find sense in her fellow unicorn. "Twilight, darling, I'm fine! Honest. Yes, I'm sore, and I am having trouble walking, but we have no other options! We can't split up, not this far away from home, and the Princess is running out of time!" She stared pleadingly into Twilight's eyes. "I won't be a burden, I promise."
Twilight had a lot to think about. Rarity was in a bad way, but she had a point. They needed all the help they could get to continue. To take her back, she wouldn't feel comfortable sending her with any less than two of her friends, cutting their party in half. And how would they cross the Everfree River again without her! No, they were in too far now.
"Rarity," she began, sorting her thoughts. "Are you sure you can make it?"
The unicorn nodded. "I'm sure. I must look worse than I feel, darling. I know I can keep up."
Twilight smiled. Rarity really was a brave pony when she needed to be. "Okay. But please, please don't push yourself too hard. You're just as important as the mission, Rarity."
Rarity returned the smile. "I won't."
"Ugh!" Discord called out with disgust, a talon pointed down his throat in show. "Can we get on with it already! All this sappy friendship nonsense is going to throw me off my appetite!"
Twilight rolled her eyes. Surprisingly, she was starting to find the immortal's antics less obnoxious, and more entertaining. Maybe there was something to this "chaos" business after all.
A slow descent down the opposite side of the mountain found the adventurers on the dry and cracked soils of the Draconian Lands. Vegetation was scarce to grow on this side of the ridge, a sharp contrast to the jungle on the other side. The earth was singed, crumbling beneath their hooves with every step. An uncanny heat radiated from the ground, which grew in intensity the longer one lingered in place. Huge stones and boulders littered the way ahead. They proceeded forward, Discord again guiding them.
"How's everypony holding up?" Twilight called back to her friends.
Rainbow Dash was again in the air above her, overlooking the way ahead. "All's good up here," the cyan pegasus called.
Behind her, Applejack walked alongside Rarity. "We're doin' all right."
Spike rode on Applejack's back, keeping a close watch on the wounded unicorn he felt so strongly for. "Yeah, we're good."
Pinkie hopped around the group, taking no set place within. "Just peachy, Twi! Teehee!"
Fluttershy was at the back of the group, trembling with each noise. "I-I-I-I'm o-o-okay..."
Twilight didn't feel as reassured by the yellow pegasus' response, but knew of her trouble with dragons. As long as they kept moving, Fluttershy would be fine. She looked ahead. "And Discord? You?"
"Me?" Discord repeated. "You're asking about me?"
Twilight raised a brow. "Huh. I guess I am. How're you doing?"
The draconequus groaned in his throat. "My feet hurt and I'm bored as hay. I feel great. How kind of you to ask."
"Ugh, nevermind..." Twilight hung her head. Why she bothered to ask him, she didn't even know.
Spike looked up at the sky. "Hey, anypony else notice how dark it is?"
"Uh, Spike?" Applejack answered. "It's been dark fer two days now."
"I know!" the young dragon defended. "I mean, doesn't it seem darker now?"
"Yeah," Rainbow Dash called from above. She descended, landing beside the others. "I can't even see you guys from the air anymore! What's up?"
"It's the volcanic cloud overhead," Discord answered flatly, focused on the path ahead.
Twilight stopped in place, halting the group behind her. "Volcanic cloud?!"
Discord slowed ahead, turning to face the group behind him. "Of course. The whole range is full of volcanos. Dragon's love 'em! Like bird baths for the fire-proof. The smoke rising from the fires is blocking out the moon. It's going to get darker the further we go."
This was another piece of unsettling news for Twilight. Darkness was dangerous. Her horn began to glow with magic light. "That's not a problem for us."
"Twilight, tell me," Discord asked, a half-cocked smirk on his face. "Are you trying to get eaten?"
"W-w-what?!" came a shrill, terrified voice from the back of the group, which everypony knew to be Fluttershy's.
Twilight narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"Let's pretend you were a flying, carnivorous dragon," the immortal began, waving his pawed hand as he spoke. "And let's say, you saw a glowing light on the ground as you were searching for, oh, we'll say your lunch."
Fluttershy was quickly at the front of the group, covering Twilight's horn with her shaky wing. "W-w-we d-don't need l-l-light, r-right?"
Twilight sighed, letting the glow die down. "Okay, I get it. Everypony, just stay close, all right. Be sure to stay in the group! But we have to find some way to see where we're going."
"Not a problem!" Spike called, raising his claw. "I can see in the dark!" He flexed his tiny arms for Rarity to see. "We dragons are cool like that."
"That's great," Twilight commended, relieved. "Take the lead with Discord."
"I can see too, you know?" Discord returned, unamused.
Twilight looked back, glaring. "Yes, but I don't trust you."
The small dragon dismounted, first walking to Rarity's side. "Are you going to be okay without me?"
"Ah think we'll be all right back 'ere, Romeo," Applejack teased, both her and Rarity getting a small laugh from the dragon's romantic efforts.
With a smile, Spike moved to the front of the group, taking position beside Discord. "Onward!"
As they continued on, true to word, the landscape grew dim. Before long, only the weak, distant glow of molten drifts could be seen, barely illuminating the path ahead. Everypony walked close now, within touching distance from one another. Nopony was to be left behind. Step by step, they proceeded into the dark unknown.
Time drew on in unnerving silence as hooves crunched the dry ground below. Fluttershy walked alongside Rainbow Dash, shaking in pure terror. Dash looked to the poor pegasus, a scowl growing on her face. Her friend was terrified of the dragons Discord spoke of, but there hadn't been any sign of the monsters yet. He had been poking fun at Fluttershy since they stepped out of the palace, and she suspected this was all another one of his stabs at her fearful nature. She was tired of the games.
"So," she began, glaring at the draconequus before her, "I thought this was supposed to be some 'dragon land' or whatever?"
"It is," Discord replied, without much interest in the pegasus.
"Then where are all the dragons?" she returned, an irritated tone in her voice.
"How should I know?" the immortal answered, his voice showing his growing frustration. "Just be glad we haven't run into one yet."
"I-I agree," Fluttershy quietly added, eyes scanning the blackness above.
"Aw, don't fall for it!" Rainbow Dash shouted, rolling her eyes. "There aren't any dragons here! He's just messing with you!"
Twilight turned to her friend, trying to see the pegasus in the darkness. "Rainbow, I'm not so sure. We should keep quiet."
Dash stopped in place. "Don't tell me you fell for it, too! My kitchen is more dangerous than this place!"
The group stopped, turning to the pegasus. Twilight let her horn glow faintly to light the scene. "He's been right about everything else, Dash. Why would he lie?"
"Because he's Discord!" Dash returned, waving a hoof at the unicorn. "Isn't chaos and disloyalty his thing?"
"Normally," the immortal answered, sitting back on his tail. "But not when my hide is on the line as well."
"But it isn't!" she continued. "You're just picking on Fluttershy, admit it! You're just doing this to get a laugh!"
"Rainbow," Applejack joined in, "He was right about th' diamond dogs. Ya know 'e was!"
"And he wanted to avoid the caves for it!" the pegasus argued. "So, if this place is so dangerous, why the hay are we walking across it now?"
"Keep your voice down, or you'll find out why I'd rather not be here!" the immortal countered, anger breaking into his voice.
"Oh, yeah?" Dash scoffed. "Your imaginary friends gonna get us?"
"Rainbow Dash," Rarity chastised, stepping forward with a limp. "This isn't the time!"
The pegasus took to hovering in the air. She cupped her hooves around her mouth, shouting into the darkness. "OH, MISTER DRAGON!! YOU OUT THERE?! YOOHOO!!"
Everypony save for Rainbow Dash and Discord froze in place, their eyes darting upwards into the cloud of ash waiting for the fires of a dragon to rain down. Instead, only the distance echo of the pegasus' call returned to them.
"See?" Dash asked, feeling she had proved her point. "Just smoke and hot air up there. What Discord's full of! Nothing to fear."
A loud thrust of wind sounded as huge wings shook the air. A dark figure crashed down in the darkness nearby, sending a pulsing shockwave through the ground, followed by a loud, roaring screech.
The group acted fast, hopping behind a small ridge rising from the crusted earth. "What was that?!" Rainbow Dash asked in a panic, her voice now barely a whisper.
"That," Discord responded in a similar volume, an accusing tone just present within, "is the dragon you just called here. Why don't you go say 'hi'?"
"Okie dokie lokie!" Pinkie whispered, a smile on her face. She turned, bouncing away towards the new creature before Applejack's teeth caught her tail, dragging her back.
"W-what do we do?" Spike asked, his claws digging into the rock behind him.
"Stay quiet, and don't move," Discord returned, lowering himself as far as possible. "Remember, they can see in the dark, but their hearing isn't very keen."
"What?" Spike asked, cupping his hand around his fin towards the immortal.
Discord slapped his paw to his forehead. "Exactly. Now, everypony, shut up!"
Heavy breathing was heard just on the opposite side of the ridge as booming steps cracked the ground. Everypony was still, hoping the unseen beast would not find them.
"I-i-is it still th-there?" Fluttershy squeaked quietly, eyes clenched tight.
Rainbow Dash pressed herself hard against the rocky wall behind her. She raised, peeking over the edge. Though the darkness prevented her from seeing much, she could make out the black shape of a large beast not far from their location.
"Guys," she began, whispering to the others. "I think he's looking the other way. We should go."
Applejack took a glance herself, confirming the situation. "But what if 'e sees us?" She looked to the unicorn beside her. "Rarity ain't in much'a shape fer runnin'."
"I can get us out!" Pinkie voiced excitedly. "With this!" Balanced on her hoof was a large pink ball, decorated with a cyan star. A fuse rose from the top of the sphere, a hissing spark slowly crawling along its way to the base.
"Pinkie," Discord asked, his ears dropping in shock. "What is that?"
"The Party Bomb!" the pony answered with a huge grin.
Twilight stared back in confusion. "Where did you even get that?!"
The pink pony giggled, her eyes blissfully closed. "Oh, Twilight, I never leave home without one. Never know when you'll need a party!"
This raised more questions for the unicorn. "But, where-"
"Not important!" Discord shouted, watching the fire near the bomb. "Whatever you're going to do, do it now!" He fell to the ground, covering his head.
"Oh, right!" Pinkie said, surprised. She tossed the bomb into the air. It reached its height, turning to fall back to earth. Pinkie reared on her front hooves, pulling her hind legs back to her, and as the bomb reached level again, she gave a mighty buck, launching the globe over the rocky wall towards the shadowy figure.
The bomb bounced along the ground, stopping just behind the beast. The dragon turned to the object tossed towards him, giving a confused grunt as he watched on. Over the ridge, eight sets of curious eyes also watched, waiting for whatever would happen. The spark disappeared into the bomb, fizzing one last time before issuing a puff of smoke from the top. Seconds ticked by.
"Pinkie?" Twilight asked, worriedly.
The earth pony was biting her lip in suspense. "Here it comes!"
Sparks shot out in a small fountain from the fuse-hole, creating a dull glow, as stage show piano music sounded from within. As the musical notes reached their crescendo, the bomb lived up to its name. A huge, colorful explosion of bubbles, streamers, glitter, and confetti veiled the scene, with glowing streams of light firing high into the sky and bursting into large patterns, spelling "PARTY!" far above.
The dragon stared in awe at the sky above, watching the fireworks explode in glorious detail. The adventurers watched on as well, equally as impressed by the show.
"Told ya!" Pinkie spoke in a singing voice.
Twilight felt a smile creep onto her face as she looked on, before being reminded of the circumstance. "Come on! We need to leave while its distracted!"
The group skulked off, leaving the wide-eyed dragon to marvel at the display.
More hours seemed to vanish as they continued. The low growl of sliding stone and bubbling lava set the atmosphere around them, always keeping them on edge. Everypony stepped lightly, none wanting to find a weak spot in the cracked earth. Distant, reptilian screeches could be heard far off, reminding them of the predators that hid in the darkness above.
Spike walked beside the towering immortal, eyes well tuned to the eternal night. "Hey, Discord?"
"Have you ever met an adult dragon?"
"Me?" Discord asked, arching a brow that only Spike could see.
"Yeah," Spike elaborated. "I mean, you're part dragon, right? Your leg and tail, anyway."
Discord smirked, glad to see somepony remembered his mixed composition. "Yeah, I've met some. Why?"
"Well," Spike continued, "I've only met one before, and he was a big meanie." He fumbled with his thumbs as he tried to find the right words. "I'm just wondering, well, are all of them like that?" He looked up to the immortal with hopeful eyes.
"Like what? Mean? As best I can tell, yeah." He smiled a toothy grin back to the dragon. "They'd rather eat you than greet you."
Spike's expression dropped, his spines drooping at the news. "Oh..."
Discord was taken aback by the shift. "What's your problem?"
Spiked stared down as he continued. "I don't want to be mean when I grow up..." he answered, solemnly.
The immortal felt a coldness within himself. Normally, he'd probably have felt indifferent, or even happy about delivering painful news such as that. Something was different this time, however. As he looked to the crestfallen dragon, eyes cast to the ground, something bit at his heart. It was an alien feeling, but one that spoke loud, telling him he had done something wrong. He didn't like this feeling, and had to correct it. "Well... You won't be."
Spike snapped back, looking to the immortal. "But, you said-"
"Those were wild dragons I met," Discord explained. "You've been raised as a servant your whole life. By your age, a dragon should be a killing machine, not a librarian!" He crossed his arms, looking away from the dragon. "You're way too soft to be anything like those others. It's pathetic, really."
Spike touched his claw to his chin, thinking over the words. "Discord?"
Discord threw his hands up. "Don't thank me! I just insulted you!"
Spike giggled, smiling again, before turning back forwards. As Discord looked over the young dragon, he couldn't help but feel the smallest bit of joy. He vowed then that he would get as far away from these ponies as possible the moment he could. Obviously, they were contagious.
Within minutes, the group reached the base of another mountainous ridge. "We have to climb over," Discord spoke quietly. "We'll be more visible, though, so everypony stay low."
"'M-m-more visible'?" Fluttershy repeated, cowering. "As in, th-the dr-dragons can s-s-see us?!"
Discord crawled on all four limbs up the inclined passage. "Well, they can see in the dark too."
"I dunno," Rainbow Dash spoke up. "We don't need to run into another one." She had been quiet for a while now. Though never having apologized, everypony could tell how sorry she was for what had happened. Everypony silently agreed to not bring it up, letting it sum to a simple mistake.
"Yeah," Pinkie added. "And I'm all out of Party Bombs."
Discord turned back, his smirk hidden in the darkness. "Just pretend it's a game! To win, make it up and over without being seen!" He looked up, running his talon over his beard. "Though, if you lose, you die, so maybe it's not the best game for a social gathering."
A piercing squeak sounded at the back of the group, again from Fluttershy. "I can't do this!" the pegasus shrieked quietly.
"What's wrong!" Twilight asked, rushing back to her friend. She let her horn glow, just enough to make out what was happening.
"I can't go on girls!" the pegasus again squealed, curling up on the ground. Her friends were forming around her now, concerned. "I can't! I just know that a big hungry dragon will swoop down any second and gobble me up, I just know it!"
"Fluttershy!" Rarity spoke, attempting to comfort her dear friend. "It's okay, darling. Nothing bad is going to happen, but we have to keep moving."
Fluttershy didn't seem to hear any of what her friend had said. "I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't..."
Twilight knew of the pegasus' problems. Fear could cripple her, and it would be difficult to console her. She had to do something quick. "Discord, how much further until we're out of the dragon lands?"
The immortal scratched idly at his brow. "Still many hours. Not like we'll be making much good time." He pointed to Fluttershy. "I mean, look at her! I moved more than her as a statue."
"Is there any way we can cut time?" the unicorn begged.
"Well," Discord began, looking off in thought. "I guess if we cut through the mountains. That means more caves though."
"But no open sky," Twilight interrupted. "If we're inside, there's no way a dragon could get us!"
Fluttershy snapped back to reality at the words. "No dragons?! Inside?!"
Spike glanced around, using his night-eyes to scan the ridge. "I think I see an opening over there," he said, pointing with a claw.
In a blur of yellow, Fluttershy was already waiting by the cave opening for her friends to catch up. The others soon closed the distance, happy to be moving again.
The group huddled close in the dark caves. Without the looming threat of the skies, Twilight was again able to light their way. Lifeless, rock walls lined the path deeper into the blackened space.
"Everypony, stay close," Twilight issued, taking the lead again.
"I bet they'll listen to you," Discord mocked. "But me? Noooo."
"Can you blame us?" the unicorn returned, cutting her eyes to the draconequus. "You are, you know, a villain."
"Only a little!"
Twilight ignored his antics, focusing more on her closer friends. "Fluttershy? How're you doing?"
"Oh, much better," the timid pegasus answered, walking with much more ease. "I'm sorry. I just really don't like dragons."
"Hey!" Spike shouted, again riding on Applejack's back. He looked at the pegasus, seemingly hurt by the statement.
"Oh, not you Spike," Fluttershy corrected herself. "You're different."
Spike smiled again. "Apology accepted!"
As the group continued, the caves opened up, turning into a large chamber veiled in shadows.
"So," Twilight continued, looking to Discord. "How far do you think these caves go?"
The immortal looked up in thought. "Well, dragons dig these things deep, so who knows? As long as we keep heading forward, we'll be fine."
The unicorn slowed as the immortal's words sank in. "Wait... dragons dig these caves?"
"Duh," Discord continued. "They live in them when they're not patrolling the skies."
Fluttershy froze stiff, her legs failing her. "S-s-so we c-could be walking r-r-right to them?!"
Discord spun on his heels, throwing his arms out in show. "Yep! Won't that be fun! Like room-service!"
"WHAT?!" Twilight charged forward, staring down the immortal. "Why didn't you tell us this!"
"Because you wouldn't have listened anyway!" Discord argued back, raising his voice. "You haven't believed a word I've said this whole trip!"
"This isn't a game!" Twilight shouted back, matching his tone. "This is dangerous! Life or death!"
"Uh, guys?" Spike tried to interject, walking to Twilight's side.
"Well, none of you are treating it like such!" the draconequus countered, glaring back at the unicorn.
Twilight recoiled, a disgusted look on her face. "You can't be blaming us for this!"
"Hello?" the dragon tried again, nudging Twilight.
"Oh, yes I can!" the immortal yelled back. "How many times have we almost been picked off already? The river, the ridge, the dragon outside!"
"Those weren't our faults!"
"Funny, but I don't think we would have been in those situations otherwise!"
"HEY!" Spike yelled, louder than both the draconequus and unicorn.
Silence fell on the setting as the two opposites ceased their bickering. Soon, however, the sounds of growling breath reached their ears. Twilight looked to her friends, all stock-still in place, eyes cast in an unknown direction to her opposite side.
"Spike," Twilight asked, unable to move her head in sudden fear of what was behind her. "What is that sound?"
Spike turned Twilight's head to look at the source of the ominous noise. "That's what I was trying to tell you about..."
Twilight's gaze met with three large, red dragons, each staring her down. Smoke flared in wisps from their nostrils as they drew and released each immense breath.
The unicorn's eyes went wide as she stared down the three predators. Silently, she slowly lifted Spike with magic, placing him gently on her back. "Everypony," she quietly began.
The dragons' eyes narrowed, teeth showing in ferocious display.
"RUN!" Twilight flashed her magic directionally, temporarily blinding the dragons. She turned on her hooves, leading the group again with guiding light as the sprinted into an off-shoot of the cave. Soon, the dragons found their wits again, giving chase to the group.
"This is exactly what I mean!!" Discord yelled, his back arched with how fast his legs were carrying him. "Again, we're running for our lives!!"
"JUST SHUT UP AND RUN!" Twilight shouted back, charging down the passage. "If we get outside, I can teleport us away from here! Do you see anything ahead?"
Discord narrowed his eyes, his night-vision cutting through the dark cave. "Yeah! Looks like an opening ahead! We can make it!"
Pinkie hopped into the air, twisting and landing in reverse, carrying herself backwards with the same speed. "They're right on us!" she alerted before correcting her stance. "Hurry!"
Rarity's face contorted with each fall of her injured leg. Waves of pain blasted throughout her as she tried to run. "Girls! I can't keep this up much longer!"
"Oh, yes ya can!" Applejack told her, slowing to run beside the unicorn. "Ya gotta keep goin'!"
The dim sky was visible outside now through the gap in the rocky wall. The air was growing more powerful as they ascended towards it.
The unicorn felt her body growing cold as her limit grew closer. "No..." she quietly answered, her eyes watering. "You'll... you'll have to go on without me!"
"Don't say that, Rare!" Rainbow Dash yelled, flying overhead. "We're going to make it! All of us!"
The opening was mere meters away now, the rolling clouds signaling their escape. Behind them, furious roars rose like the sirens of Tartarus.
"We're almost there!" Pinkie exclaimed, excited.
Rarity, however, had reached her breaking point. Tears streamed down her cheeks in pain and fear. "I... I can't run anymore! I'm sorry!" Her leg twisted beneath her as it lost strength, sending her into a tumble against the stone floor.
Applejack and Fluttershy stopped, returning to their friend. "Rarity!" Fluttershy pleaded. "Don't give up! Please!"
Through tearful eyes, the unicorn looked up to her friends. "Take care of Opalescence for me. And tell Sweetie Belle I'm so sorry."
Twilight skidded to a halt, turning back to her friends. "Rarity! You can't!"
"NO!" Spike leapt from Twilight's back, dashing back along the path before the motionless group. The darkness split across the scaled faces of the three dragons charging closer. "YOU WON'T HURT MY RARITY!!" In his shout, the little dragon filled the cave with a huge blast of green, magical fire, attempting to shield his friends from the approaching threat. A clawed, red hand pierced the fiery wall, its grip locking fast to the small dragon before yanking him back through. Spike's scream trailed back into the cave.
"SPIKE!" Twilight shouted, rushing after him.
Suddenly, a reptilian tail whipped through the fires, hitting the group in a broad sweep and tossing them out of the cave. As the adventurers landed outside, the loose rocks arching over the opening began to tremble, collapsing in a cascade and blocking the entrance before anypony could react.
"NO!" Twilight screamed, rushing to the sealed cave. "Spike! Come back!" Grabbing boulder after boulder in her magic, she tossed the stones aside with a jerk of her head, only to have more fall into their places. It was hopeless; the way back was gone.
The rest of the group recollected themselves, all in shock by the sudden event. They watched on as the unicorn tried in futility to reopen the cave, tears flying from her with each sharp motion. "Spike! SPIKE!" Her magic drained her with each use, and her power slowly left her. Her attempts drew weaker, before ending entirely. She fell, crying loudly on the rocky ground. "Spike..."
Applejack felt her heart drop as she looked on. She slowly moved to Twilight's side, placing a hoof over the unicorn's shoulders. "Sugarcube..."
Rarity tried to stand, only to slip back onto her belly. "Why?" she asked, pained both physically and emotionally. "Why did he do that! Why would he do something like that!"
"Oh, Rarity..." Twilight sniffled, turning to her friend. "You know how he feels about you..."
Terror washed over the white unicorn. "He... he did that over me..."
Twilight sobbed again, closing her eyes. "... Spike..."
"ARGH!" Discord shouted, flaring his wings wide. "That's IT! Come on, Twilight!" He swooped over, grabbing the unicorn by her sides. He made sure to keep his hands away from the amulet on her neck.
"Discord?" Twilight asked, shocked by the change in the immortal's demeanor. "What are you doing?"
He hovered off the ground, holding her tightly. "Spike's a dragon. He's got a better shot in there than you think, but we have to move fast!"
The unicorn rubbed the tears from her eyes. "But, how?"
"They're dragons," the immortal continued, determination in his voice. "They'll take him to their lair, and a dragon's lair always has an opening to the sky! I can't get too far from that necklace of yours, so you're coming with me!"
Dash flew forward, Fluttershy at her side. "We're coming too!"
"No, you're not!" Discord barked. "The little moron put too much in to getting you out of danger, so don't muck it up by throwing yourselves right back in!"
Twilight took a kinder approach. "Rarity needs you girls. We'll be back when we get Spike."
"An'" Applejack asked, slipping her hat from her head. "What if ya don't come back?"
"We will," Twilight replied, casting no doubt of her resolve.
Without further word, Discord took to the air, the purple unicorn in his clutches.
The two flew to the top of the mountainous range, Discord's eyes guiding the way.
"There," the draconequus spoke, nudging his chin forward. "There's an opening."
"Do you think that's it?" Twilight asked, straining to see what he could.
"Either that, or another volcano," Discord returned, aiming at the gap. "Guess we'll find out when we drop in it! Here we go!"
"What?!" Twilight shrieked, staring wide-eyed at her carrier.
The two turned fast in the air, diving straight down into the dark space. The weak light guided them down to the floor below, into the orange glow of a fire-lit chamber. They landed, both taking an aggressive stance, ready for war. In a moment, they again were greeted by the three dragons from before, now glaring at them in full lighting from one side of the room.
"Hello, gentlelizards!" Discord boomed, lifting his balled fists before him. "I think you have something of ours."
Twilight stepped back as the dragons drew nearer. "Discord..." she whispered. "Can we do this?"
The immortal turned to her. "Don't tell me you're scared! You're Celestia's understudy. This will be nothing for you! And I'm not as feeble without my magic as you might think." He winked to the unicorn, a smile on his face.
Twilight returned the smile, determination firing in her eyes. "Let's do it!"
The dragons growled low, each stepping towards the two with spines flared. The rescuers, however, were undaunted, and charged forward, ready to meet teeth and claws with hooves and horns. The dragons returned the initiative, taking thundering steps towards the assaulting group, the battle soon to begin. "FOR CHAOS!" Discord issued, raising his talon into the air.
"WAIT!!" a voiced cried from behind the reptilian beasts. The draconian trio slid on their claws, each stopping on demand.
Twilight and Discord stopped as well, just as shocked by the sudden interruption. Twilight stepped forward, eyes wide. "What..."
From between the three towering monsters, a small, purple dragon emerged. "Take five, guys. They're with me."
"SPIKE!" Twilight shouted gleefully, rushing to hug the dragon. She tackled her young assistant, rolling with him onto the ground in a tight embrace. "Spike! It is you! You're okay!"
Spike hugged back just as hard. "Twilight! I'm so glad to see you!" He pushed away, standing again and dusting himself off. "I was starting to wonder how I was going to get back to Ponyville. Nopony here's heard of the place."
Twilight looked over the dragon. "They didn't hurt you, did they?"
Spike looked back to the trio of dragons behind him. "The guys? Nah!" He looked back to the unicorn. "Turns out, they thought I was one of their own, and that you were dragonnapping me! I told them they had it all wrong! And, I think they have something to say." He cast a glare to the dragons. "Right?"
The dragons looked about nervously, scratching their scales. "Um..."
"Come on..." Spike insisted, sternly.
Spike smiled fin to fin. "There! That's better!" He turned back to his rescuers, a new worry dominating his features. "How's Rarity?"
"She's fine, thanks to you!" Twilight answered, smiling back. "But you really worried her."
"She's not upset, is she?" Spike asked, nervously.
Twilight giggled. "I think she'll get over it when she sees you're okay."
"Can we go now?" Discord asked, his arms crossed over his chest and lip pouted. "This lovey-dovey feel-good atmosphere is killing me!"
The group dismounted from the backs of the dragons, carried clear to the edge of their territory. They waved as the three dragons disappeared back into the shadowed distance, appreciative of the assistance. The adventurers were situated on the top of another mountainous range, just on the outskirts of the volcanic clouds. Moonlight again shined down as the group set up a resting spot.
"Another mountain, another campfire!" Discord shouted in faux excitement. "At least this one has a cave," he added, curling up in the shaded overhang of the mountain. "Still, what I wouldn't do for delivery pizza."
Twilight lay down in the cave as well, watching her friends huddle around the fire nearby. "Discord? Thank you."
"For what?" the immortal asked, laying down his head.
"For helping us," she clarified. She gave him a smile. "For helping me. If it wasn't for you, we never would have found Spike."
Discord groaned, turning his head away. "I was protecting my own investment, is all. I'm still bound to you, you know."
"To me," Twilight corrected. "Not Spike. You didn't have to save him, but you did."
"I'm no hero," the draconequus mumbled. "So don't get any ideas."
The distance sounds of laughter and joy from her friends made for better atmosphere than the night before. Plantlife was plentiful on this ridge, if not just as stale from light deprivation as the other batch had been. Still, it was sustenance, and everypony was happy for it.
Twilight's smile slipped from her. "What really happened?"
Discord turned to face her again. "Why are you asking me? You were there too. Or did you forget?" He looked up, counting off on his talon. "Let's see, there were dragons, lots of fire, screaming, 'OH NO, HELP US, HELP US', and then loverboy over there-"
"Not that," she interrupted, meeting the immortal's eyes. "I mean, if the books aren't true. What really happened in your story?"
Discord shifted back, laying his head straight. "Oh. That. Maybe I was... provoked. I'm still the villain, like you said. What does it matter, anyway?"
"I just want to know."
"You're far too curious."
Twilight chuckled. "I've been told."
"Hmph. Fine," Discord began, sighing loudly. "Celestia and I weren't always enemies. There was once admiration between us. Or, perhaps more. Tell me, have you ever been curious as to why so much is controlled in Equestria? How so much is ordered and structured? That's because there is no chaos. There is nothing random, or spontaneous. It's all thought, and control, and organization. It wasn't always like that. Once, chaos worked with order. Perhaps one isn't as bad as it seems, and one isn't as good alone. They need each other. Harmony and Balance."
Twilight caught on quickly. "You used to work with Princess Celestia?"
"And Luna," he continued, not minding the interruption. "Something of a trifecta, we were. Back when leaves fell from trees on their own when their time was done. Back when clouds formed, and rain fell without notice, and when some days were just windy. Nopony liked my work, no, but it was needed. Every day, lines formed, full of ponies ready to thank Celestia for the day. Never did one pony so much as look my way without a scowl. I was the one who rained out their picnic, or made leaves change before they could truly enjoy them. I was a pest."
Twilight gasped lightly. "You felt neglected, like Nightmare Moon..."
Discord chortled. "Nah. Luna felt she wasn't appreciated. I knew I was. Just, not by you ponies. By only one. The only one I ever cared for in return. I thought there was something more there. But, there wasn't."
"So, you and Celestia..." Twilight's eyes went wide as she connected the threads. "Oh..."
Discord sighed wearily. "No. Just me. Love is the most chaotic thing of all, isn't it? She couldn't give me her heart, because she had already given it to every one of her subjects. She loved all of ponykind, and couldn't choose favorites. She's too good. Too good for me, anyway. Love can be a bitter thing, Twilight. It takes everything you've built and twists and mangles it below a fog of joyful powerlessness. And you don't even care. You're so high up, you can't even see the ground anymore. But when it disappears, you can see the wreckage it left beneath. And sometimes you get mad. And sometimes, you just don't care about the leaves, or the clouds, or the rain, or the world. Sometimes, you just want the ground to quake, and the winds to blow, and the storms to never end. Sometimes you just want to watch everything fall apart, with no control, and nothing to stop it. Sometimes, you want Chaos. I'm no hero. I'm the villain."
Silence took the space between words. Twilight looked over the seemingly distant immortal. "But, that was so long ago. Isn't there somethi-"
"I was right. You're far too curious," the immortal laughed. "And you need your rest. We tackle the Abhorrent Lowlands at sunstay, hahahaha!"
Twilight cocked a brow, a smirk on her face. "What?"
"Get it? Like 'sunrise'? But, it's staying where it is?" After a few vacant seconds, Discord gave up, tossing his paw dramatically. "Oh, you're just no fun!"
"Heehee! Well, okay." Twilight stood, walking to a corner of the alcove to lie down. "Goodnight, Discord."
"And, Discord? You were a hero today."
As Twilight stepped away, Spike ran up to the draconequus. "Hey, Discord!"
"Ugh, what now?" he groaned again, unamused with being the sudden object of attention.
Spike smiled, "Twilight told me what happened. That you came to rescue me."
"We didn't rescue you," the immortal corrected. "You weren't in any danger. Hay, you gave them nicknames!"
"But, you didn't know that," Spike pointed out, "so, you still rescued me."
Another sigh came from the draconequus. "Sure. Whatever. Do you want an autograph, or is this eternal admiration free of charge?"
Without warning, Spike moved forward, wrapping his arms around the immortal's long face in a hug. "Thank you. I knew you weren't such a bad guy."
Discord was stunned by the sudden affection. "Um... well..."
Behind them, Rarity's voice called out. "Where has my fearless protector gotten off too?"
Spike broke the hug, bounding back to the fire and his unicorn. "Coming, Lady Rarity!"
"Hmm..." Discord lay back down, curling over his arms. He spoke out to the long gone dragon. "I'm still the bad guy. Don't fool yourself, twirp."
Though sleep would never come to him, the immortal was comfortable letting himself zone out until morning.