In Search of the Sun
Twilight's eyes drifted open, met again by the deep teal of a midnight sky. She sighed, still finding it hard to accept the situation. She looked out from beneath the cave overhang, again marveling at the enormous moon that shined down to provide the light they needed.
Around her within the sheltered alcove her friends also stirred from their slumbers, stretching out the fatigue of their poor bedding.
Rarity stood, letting her classy façade fall as she loudly popped her back. "When we return to Ponyville, I am going to buy the biggest, softest mattress in all of Equestria."
Applejack sat beside the unicorn, stretching out her neck. "Ain't that th' truth." The farmer was adjusted to early work hours, but often under better circumstance. She turned, looking to her friend. "Feelin' any better there, Rarity?"
The unicorn did the best she could with her magic to fix her bedworn mane. "Quite, darling." She stretched out her front leg, wincing a bit as a sting caught her. "Though, I am still sore." She turned to the orange pony, smiling warmly. "Nothing the spa can't fix, however."
"I think we'll all be making an appointment after this," Twilight humored, laughing lightly. She took note of the others. Rainbow Dash flew outside the cave, letting the cool air and exercise further wake her. Her tendency to nap wherever in Ponyville had come in good use, letting her fight the stiff pains from sleeping on the rocky ground that afflicted the rest of them. Fluttershy and Pinkie had moved to wait beside the campfire, holding what sounded to be a jovial conversation just out of the unicorn's earshot. Spike was curled in one corner, still snoring loudly as he slept.
Twilight giggled, watching the small dragon kick in his sleep. She moved to his side, nudging him gently with a hoof. "Wake up, Sleepyscales."
"Five more minutes..." Spike groaned, batting away her hoof.
Twilight had gotten used to his difficult morning ways. She smirked. "But Rarity's already awake. Weren't you her protector?"
Rarity overheard the attempts to rouse the dragon, giggling as she took her cue. "Oh, wherever is my fearless protector?" she called dramatically.
Spike's eyes popped open immediately. "Oh! Right!" He hopped to his feet, a claw raised proudly. "I will be your knight, my Rarity!"
"How brave!" Rarity said, smiling at the young dragon as he bounded to her side. "My own little Spikey-Wikey!"
Applejack walked to Twilight. "Ain't that jus' somethin' else?" she whispered to the unicorn. "He's really takin' t' this 'guardian dragon' thing, ain't 'e?"
"I think it's cute," Twilight returned, watching the pair from the side. "Besides, using Rarity as an excuse is a really easy way to get him to take a bath now!"
Fluttershy and Pinkie walked over from their places by the fire. "Good morning!" Pinkie exclaimed, no signs of tiredness in her voice. "Did everypony sleep okay?"
Disgusted looks rose from each of the group. "Don't even get me started on that," Twilight laughed, rubbing the back of her neck. "Is everypony ready to get moving?"
Fluttershy perked, looking around the cave. "Um, I think we're missing somepony."
"Huh?" Twilight quickly began recounting everypony around her.
"Yeah!" Pinkie answered first. "Where's Disco?"
A panic immediately flushed Twilight's features. "Discord!" She spun, scanning every corner of the small alcove. The immortal was nowhere to be seen. She immediately checked her neck, noting that the magic necklace binding him was still in place. "He can't be far."
"He's up here!" Rainbow Dash called, pointing just above the cave from outside.
Twilight and the group rushed out, turning to look up at the immortal. He sat perched on the ridge above. "Discord? What are you doing?"
"Sitting," he replied, eyes affixed on the wooded lands just on the other side of the mountain.
Twilight rolled her eyes, though with a small smile on her cheeks. "Well could you get down here? We're ready to go."
"Without breakfast?" Pinkie replied, rubbing her belly. "Aw..."
"We're a little pressed for time, Pinkie," the unicorn answered, staring at the night's sky above.
"Come on, Twi!" Rainbow Dash said, hovering back down to earth. "We can at least get a little to eat first!"
"It's better than going without," Fluttershy quietly answered, trying to silence her rumbling stomach.
Twilight looked to the paling flora nearby, and felt a growl in her own belly. "Well, maybe a quick bite."
The group quickly charged to the greenery, diving in hungrily. Wilting or no, it made a great meal. Twilight giggled, walking to join her friends.
After indulging on the pale foliage, the group met Discord on the edge of the ridge. A swampy land lay hidden in a dark fog below them. A cacophony of frogs and insects sang up into the night, chirping and clicking in the mud below. "That, my little ponies, is the Abhorrent Lowlands!"
"The last place before the Eternal Realm," Twilight reflected, a hope shining in her eyes. Below her breath, she whispered. "Hold on, Princess."
The immortal laughed. "Don't tell me you think this will be an easy trip! Down there are all manner of monsters! Cockatrices, manticores, timber wolves, chimeras, basilisks, and huge tribes of orcs!" A simple smile grew on his face. "It's wonderful, isn't it?"
Twilight looked down into the bubbling bog below. "Only you would think something like that about a place like there."
Discord lowered his face to beside hers. "Somepony has to be upbeat about this, don't they?"
Twilight scanned over the others, checking on the group. Each face met hers, brimming with renewed life. They were closing in on their goal, and everypony could feel the electric energy in the air. There was just one thing to complete before they began. "Let's send a message to Luna first."
Repeating the magic from before, she again created paper and ink from what surrounded them. She then needed another quill. "Oh, Rainbow Dash?"
The pegasus sprang into the air, flying far away from the unicorn. "Oh, HAY NO! Not falling for that again! Get Fluttershy's feather!"
Twilight turned to the other pegasus of their group, flashing a large, pleading smile. Fluttershy caught the gesture, and immediately began to tear up at the edge of her eyes in a frightened expression. Twilight looked away just as quickly, unable to even fathom continuing that plan with somepony as fragile as her. "I couldn't." She was humored, however, knowing that Fluttershy could wrestle a bear to the ground, but was scared of having a feather plucked.
Discord sighed loudly. "Oh, just take mine." He reached over, plucking a shimmering blue feather from his wing's plumage without even a wince. He handed the piece of himself over.
Twilight levitated the feather to her, shaping it into a quill with a few sweeps of magic energy. She smiled to the immortal. "Thank you, Discord."
The draconequus crossed his arms over his chest, pouting. "Don't mention it. EVER."
She handed the assorted supplies to Spike, letting the dragon take over as she narrated her note.
Dear Princess Luna,
We are nearing the Gate of Eternity, the door into the Eternal Realm! According to Discord, only the Abhorrent Lowlands lie between us, and Princess Celestia's cure! With your precious moon overhead, we will soon hold the remedy, and will swiftly find ourselves back at your side!
Twilight Sparkle, and company
Discord held out his tongue as she read her message aloud. "Is that an update, or a love letter? Bleh!"
Twilight sighed, though she had come to expect his kind of humor. Part of her even wanted to laugh. "Send it, Spike."
In a belch of magical fires, the note was sent, the smoky trail faintly visible as it took to the sky. "Done!" the dragon answered proudly, brushing off his claws.
"Well, let's get going!" Pinkie cheered in a sing-song voice, bouncing carefree down the ridge. "Daylight's'a wasting!"
Discord chuckled, following the pony's example. "Oh, Pinkie Pie. You are so random!"
"Hey!" Dash, shouted, a smile on her face. She chased after the two. "That's my line!"
The rest of the group laughed along, following their friends down the hillside.
As they reached the bottom, the rocky ground disappeared beneath a thick soup of mud and slime, bubbling from unseen life below. Large lily pads and mushrooms broke the surface, as grey, barren trees reached up towards the moon. An acrid odor of mold and stagnation hung heavy in the air, made worse by the damp, misty fog around them.
Pinkie hopped right in, splashing mud about with each hop. She didn't even seem to notice. Discord haphazardly walked in as well, slinging the gooey mess with each exaggerated step. Fluttershy and Dash took to the air above the sickly stew, both glad to have wings at their disposal. Twilight hesitated at first, her mind flashing with all the things she had read in books before about "trench hoof" and swamp bacteria. She remembered more, however, that Princess Celestia needed her, and boldly stepped in.
Spike rode on Applejack's back, keeping close to the unicorn that the farmer stuck near. Rarity was moving better, but was still slow from her injuries. Even if she could walk on her own now, Applejack refused to leave her side. As Applejack trotted into the bog without second thought, Rarity halted at its edge. "Girls, wait!"
Each pony turned, looking back to the unicorn. "Everything all right, Rare?" Applejack asked, concerned for her friend. "Ya ain't hurt'r nothin', are ya?"
Rarity grimaced, looking into the murky waters below. "I'm quite all right, Applejack dear, but look at this horrid filth!" She dramatically lifted a hoof to her brow, feigning a swoon. "My outfit will be simply ruined if I proceed into this disgusting swamp!"
Everypony of the group looked away, unable to tell the mare what they already knew. Applejack finally found the courage. "Uh, Rare? I didn't wanna tell ya before, but it's... uh... well..." Unable to find the right words for such a delicate situation, she pointed a hoof to the ensemble decorating the unicorn.
Rarity looked herself over, scanning for what the earth pony could be implying. Her once fashionable coat was in tatters, matted with dirt and specks of blood. Much of the material was charred or frayed, and what wasn't was marked with grass stains and chalk. She looked up, blank of expression. "I see." She stepped into the mud ahead without another word, joining the group again as they continued their progress.
As they moved further, the swamp engulfed them. Beams of moonlight fought to pierce the mossy canopy above the group, reflecting against the filthy waters below. Around them, animals unknown to them looked on, taking in the strange sight of these new creatures that breached their domain. Pinkie led them now, bouncing merrily almost on top of the sticky sludge. Discord followed, the rest in tow, showing that they were indeed headed in the right direction.
Twilight's eyes danced about as she noted all around her. "This is so exciting! I've never seen anything like it! These trees, frogs, insects, moss- all of it undocumented by ponykind!"
"Because no pony has ever been here," Discord answered with a smile. "Though, there are many zebra tribes that live in these parts."
Twilight immediately felt a kick to her curious nature, realizing that for whatever reason, she had never asked Zecora where she had come from before settling around Ponyville. However, if she had come from the swampy terrain of the Abhorrent Lowlands, it would easily explain her quick adaptation to the Everfree Forest. Her curiosity again burned with another question. "What else lives here?"
"More beasties than you can count on both hooves," the immortal continued. "Well, I guess that wouldn't be many, though. Pretend you have fingers and you'll know what I mean!"
She giggled, imagining a pony with fingers. Only Discord would think of these things. He was chaos, she supposed. Another question came to her. She looked up to the pegasi above. "Fluttershy? How are you doing?"
"Oh, me?" the pegasus returned instantly, as if the question had broken an intense concentration.
"This place is kinda scary," Twilight elaborated. "And I know how you can get a little... you know, flighty. Are you okay?"
Fluttershy gulped loudly, her mind flashing all manner of monsters known and unknown that could be lurking in the darkened muds around them. She shook her head clear, however, and quickly put up a strong face. "As long as there aren't any dr-dragons, I'll be fine."
"No dragons," Discord continued, sloshing through the mud ahead. "Too wet for dragons. But there is much worse than that living in this swamp."
"Don't even start, Discord!" Rainbow Dash shouted down from the air. "We've all had enough of that!"
Undeterred, the draconequus continued. "There's a nasty rumor of a legendary monster living in these swamps. The Lowland Goliathan."
Twilight cocked her head, curiosity again aflame. "What's the Goliathan?"
"Some would say a ghost story to scare little foals," Discord said, his voice growing low. "But some would say it's the most monstrous monster known to this world!"
"Right after you, huh?" Applejack joked, smiling.
"Well, of course!" Discord laughed back. "I'm King Monstrous Monster! I have a coffee mug that says as much!"
Rarity drudged alongside Applejack, kicking through the soupy waters. The stains in her once fashionable outerwear would be impossible to remove now, but she was well enough content to burn the ensemble once they were done. "The sooner we're out of here, the better! This place is filthy!"
Spike had taken leave of Applejack, splashing playfully in the mud. "I don't know, I kinda like it!" he giggled with a smile.
Applejack smiled. "Yer such a boy, Spike."
"Hey, Disco?" Pinkie asked out of vision, having bounced far ahead of the group.
"What's an 'orc' look like?"
Discord scratched his maneless crown, sifting through his long memory. "Like a pig with hands. Often carrying something to hurt you with."
As the group walked forward, the pink pony again came into view, held upside-down in a net by a pig-faced armor-clad creature. Green-tinted skin seemed to glow below his thin layer of fur. Large tusks grew from his bottom jaw, and a heavy, blunt ax was in the grip of his other hand.
Pinkie's smile was big as ever as she pointed a hoof towards her captor. "So, like him?"
Discord held up a claw, ready to speak, but found no words to the sudden situation. The sounds of nets being tossed came from all sides, pig-like grunting signaling their assailants. As he awaited the snare of their traps to befall him and the group, he solemnly answered.
"Yes, Pinkie. Just like that."
The group found themselves lined up on a wooden walkway, placed around a large fire in the center of an orc village. Thick ropes were tied about their bodies, holding their forelegs, and the arms of Discord and Spike, to their backs. Minimalist huts, made of large branches lashed with swamp vine stood around them, twisted and leaning from their poor construction. Warrior orcs took vigil in the eternal night, standing proud in leather armors with savage, crude axes and cudgels in their hands. Many took watch over their new prisoners, beady eyes affixed on them intently. Around the fire danced three elder orcs, dressed in decorated outfits of colorful feathers and patterned furs, chanting in squeals.
Discord held a blank, yet stern expression as he sat in tight rope bonds. "Captured by brutish thugs, held against my will. Possibly going to be eaten. Why does this feel familiar?"
Twilight struggled against her ties beside him. No give met her efforts. She let out a sigh as she ceased her fight with the fibrous braids. She decided instead to observe her captors.
The elders ceased their tarantism, each taking their place sitting in a triangle around the huge flame. A large, decorated warrior walked over to one of the elder orcs, a conversation starting between them in their native tongue of squeals and grunts. Though Twilight had studied many foreign languages and dialects, these sounds were new to her, and untranslatable.
She leaned towards Discord. "What are they saying?"
The immortal scoffed. "Do I look like I speak orc?" He stuck out his tongue, rolling it dryly over his lips. "Hold on a second," he said to her, before turning to one of the orcs at his side. "Hey, you!" Discord then began to squeal out a string of guttural sounds, alien to Twilight's ears, though the tones seemed to mimic the orcs' own words!
The surly warrior looked to the draconequus, his half-flopped ears perked. As Discord finished what Twilight could only assume was talking, a wry smile spread on his face. This smile was instantly met with the balled knuckles of the muscular orc, spinning the immortal's head around uncannily to again see Twilight.
The unicorn drew back, a mix of shock and confusion on her face. "What was that?!"
Discord ran his tongue over his teeth, checking that they were all still present. "I asked him for a soda. I'm quite parched." He nudged his oversized fang, ensuring it was still firm in its socket. "He said 'no'. With his fist."
Twilight groaned in frustration. "If you understand orc, what are they saying?"
Discord sighed. "You're so boring. All right, all right!" He continued to turn his head in the wrong direction to again face the orcs around the fire. His ears lifted, listening closely. "They're talking about the sky going black. Something about strange creatures entering their forest. Possible dinner tonight, blah blah blah. Oh, and the snake-goat god with them?" A huge smile spread on his face. "They think I'm a god! Excellent! Finally, some praise!" Within seconds, the smile slipped away, being replaced by a look never seen on the draconequus' face before. "Oh... wait..."
To Twilight, the sounds were still jibberish. "What? What are they saying now?"
Discord listened for a few more seconds in silence. "They're saying to sacrifice the foreign god to bring out the day. They're going to sacrifice me to the sun!"
Twilight rolled her eyes. "So? What are you worried about? You're immortal."
Discord twisted his head back around proper, leaning towards the unicorn. A distant panic seemed to show through his faux-calm voice. "Immortal is not invulnerable, my dear. Especially when I have no powers, and fire is involved. Just because I never age doesn't mean I can't die!"
The words washed over Twilight like a thundering wave. "So... they're going to kill you?!"
"Seems so!" Discord laughed, though a laugh of nervousness. "Isn't that a surprise? Live for all of time, causing endless chaos, and I'm going to be sacrificed to bring back order, which will guarantee order will never return! How ironic! Just delightful!"
"What do we do?" Twilight asked, hoping the immortal had some plan to get out.
"You still have magic, don't you? Untie these ropes!" he hissed, the prospect of death causing more emotion to show on his surface.
This was an option Twilight had already considered, but found complicated. "I can't! It would take time, and if they see what I'm doing, I don't think they'll wait for ceremony to start!"
Rarity leaned forward. "What if I assist, darling? Magic's not my specialty, but I can surely help."
Twilight liked Rarity's confidence, but it was risky. "That will still take time, and we can't do anything with this many eyes on us!"
"So what are we going to do?" Spike asked, his ropes seeming much thicker on his tiny frame.
Discord groaned, throwing his head back. It was the best option they had, and he knew as such. "We need a distraction."
"I got it!" Dash spoke up. "All you have to do is get me and Shy loose, and we can draw their attention from the air!"
"Ugh! Rainbow!" Applejack shifted, bumping her shoulder into the pegasus. "How're ya'll s'posed t' get free t' distract 'em if we need t' distract 'em to get ya'll free?"
The pegasus caught the paradox. "Oh. Uh... Well, I don't see you coming up with anything!"
Fluttershy did her best to speak up. "Maybe if we asked them really, really nicely to look the other way?"
Pinkie immediately began bouncing in her ropes. "OOH! OOH! Don't worry! Just leave it to Pinkie Pie!" The pink pony immediately leapt up, taking to her unrestrained rear hooves.
"Pinkie, wait!" Twilight called after her.
It was too late. Pinkie was suddenly beside the two orcs by the fire, both recoiling in surprise. "Hey! What's all of this 'sacrifice' talk? That doesn't sound very nice at all! I can think of something much more fun to do for the sun! Heehee! That rhymed!"
Twilight watched on in horror. "Pinkie, they can't understand you!"
Pinkie flashed back a smile. "I don't have to speak orc, Twilight! I just have to speak the language of laughter!"
All of the orcs' eyes were upon the pink pony now. Whatever she had planned, it had better be good.
She cleared her throat.
You can write the sun a poem
You can sing the sun a song!
You can dance throughout the night
And invite the sun along!"
Discord blinked incredulously. "Is... Is she... ?"
Twilight smiled. "Yep. She's singing." The unicorn's magic immediately went to work, undoing the bonds of each of her friends around her. "Way to go, Pinkie!"
The earth pony continued to bounce between the distracted orcs, each taking a fascination to her song, despite having no grasp of the lyrics.
"You can throw the sun a party
You can bake the sun a cake!
You can buy the sun some icecream
Just don't get a tummy-ache!"
Twilight and Rarity focused their magic, each quickly unravelling the tight knots. Their focus was to simply loose the bands, having each of them break free at the same moment to better catch the orcs off guard. Afterwards, they would untie Pinkie, her current diversion making her the focus of the tribe.
The pink pony performer hopped up onto a large wooden idol, singing the last stanza of her impromptu song loudly.
"There's a hundred things that you can do
A thousand ways to play!
There is so much to do for the sun
To celebrate the daaaaaaaaaaay~!"
She held her last note, a subtle vibrato carrying it home. Ending the note, the sounds of the swamp filled the space in what could be called a silence. In an instant, cheers rose from the orcs, issued in squeals and oinking grunts. Swamp lilies were tossed up to her on the totem.
"Thank you! Thank you, Lowlandians!" Pinkie returned, taking a bow. "You've been a great crowd!" She beamed one final smile to the orc tribals. "And now, for your next performance, give it up for Twilight and my friends! Woohoo!"
"Thank you, Pinkie Pie!" Twilight answered from behind the crowd of orcs.
As the pig-men turned back to their prisoners, they were met by a fierce team of five ponies, a dragon, and an immortal, each taking a strong-willed pose against them.
The orcs, however, were not very intimidated. They clasped their weapons tightly, taking a step towards their once-captives.
Discord laughed menacingly, holding up his talon and paw in a pugilist's stance. "Ever tick off a god before?" He cast a quick glance at Twilight, signaling the unicorn. She quickly caught his idea. With a discreet spell, she cast light onto Discord, letting the being they thought was a god glow brightly. He smiled wide. "Maybe I should show you all how I took away the sun!" he bluffed in his own language.
Whether or not the orcs could understand his words, they seemed to recognize what they were against. Each took a step back, fear growing quickly on their faces. Worried oinks and grunts rose from the warriors as they looked up towards the platform. In an issue of retreat, the pigs dropped their weapons, each scattering into the swamp opposite the adventurers.
Twilight let her spell fade, smiling in pure joy. "It worked! We scared them off!"
"Aw," Rainbow Dash sighed, "I was looking for a good rumble!"
"Let's just get Pinkie untied," Twilight said, looking back to her friend atop the idol in the now empty village center.
Instead of the confident, excited face she expected of the party pony, she was met with a look of terror to rival that of the orcs. "G-g-g-girls?" she muttered, eyes wide. "I d-d-don't think they were scared of you!"
The sounds of a wood snapping behind them drew the attention of the group. Each turned, just in time to dodge the huge tree tossed towards them, the air off of which ruffling their furs. Quick to find where the attack came from, they were met with a huge, terrible beast, whose very image looked to have been born in Tartarus.
The muscular behemoth stood over twice Discord's height, scales and fur black as a moonless night. Four tauren legs held him to the ground, each massive hoof planted deep in the mud. From above his forehooves extended the torso of a dragon, with huge, clawed and spined arms rigid at his sides. In one claw, a huge branch was clutched as a club. At its neck was an enormous, ferocious wolf's head, teeth barred as it growled with a malicious rasp. Red and yellow eyes burned back, pure evil behind their stained sclera.
Twilight's ears dropped as she looked up to the giant. "What... the buck is that!"
Discord laughed, giving a huge grin. "My Goliathan!"
The rest of the group all turned to him at once. "YOURS?!"
Twilight shook her head to make sense of it. "You made that?! You made the Lowland Goliathan?!"
The immortal turned to look back to her. "It was a slow weekend, I got bored! You try keeping things interesting for an eternity!" Eyes set back on his creation, he stepped forward. He spoke in baby-talk. "Aw, you missed your daddy, didn't you! Yes you did! Yes you did! Who's a good little giant blood-thirsty monster! Who's my little monster!"
Instead of love, the immortal was greeted by the downward strike of the branch-club the Goliathan wielded, barely dodging the lethal blow as it splashed into the mud. "WHOA! Hey!" Discord chastised, shaking a talon to the beast. "Don't try to kill your daddy like that! That's a bad Goliathan! Bad Goliathan!"
Slamming itself down lower on its claw, the Goliathan roared with the voice of a king dragon at the immortal, mouth opened wider than the draconequus was tall. Slimy, jagged fangs lined its maw, various pieces of bone and flesh being loosed from its teeth by its powerful cry. It slammed its mouth closed, staring with vicious focus at the immortal.
Discord lowered his talon, spit dripping from his coat. He turned, walking casually back to the others. Taking his place beside them again, he calmly spoke. "So, it seems he's forgotten me."
"An' what does that mean, 'xactly?" Applejack asked, never letting her gaze stray from the monster.
Discord cleared his throat into his paw. "It means, Applejack, that we're all going to die." Calmness was immediately replaced with terror. "RUN FOR IT!!"
Another roar from the monster was all the others needed to take Discord's advice. Each pony barreled off into the mud, charging away from the chimeric beast. The Goliathan was quickly in pursuit, driven by an unprovoked rage.
Pinkie splashed down from the idol she had stood upon into the mud below. She hopped in panic after her friends. "Girls! Girls! Wait! I'm still all tied up!"
Twilight turned, sliding to a stop in the slippery mess. "Pinkie!"
Discord slid around, using his arms to regain traction as he bolted back towards the village. "I've got her!" He scooped up Twilight under one arm as he passed, making sure he'd have the distance needed from the necklace.
Pinkie struggled to bounce on her back legs as the terrible beast drew nearer to her. She huffed with exhausted breath as the beast's shadow spread over her, cast by the distant ceremony fires in the village. She could smell his breath as he roared out just behind her. "HE-E-E-ELP!"
Before the Goliathan could reach her, however, Discord had closed the distance. He quickly wrapped his serpentine body around the pink pony, gripping her tightly. The Goliathan reared back his branch, ready to bring down a devastating blow to the three creatures. Discord aimed his head from his coiled pose back to the beast, and in a massive roar of his own, fire spewed in a jet from his mouth. Singed and startled, the Goliathan stumbled back, rubbing at its toasted nose. Taking the opportunity, Discord stood with Twilight, taking Pinkie under his other arm. "Hey, Twilight, ever consider sports?"
The unicorn cocked a brow. "What does that have t-" Before she could finish her question, Discord reared back, holding the unicorn in his paw like a sportsball. In a single motion, she was tossed in a high arc at a blistering speed back towards her friends. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!"
Discord turned back to his creation, placing his pawed thumb to his nose as he stuck out his tongue. "You're not getting any treats today, I'll have you know!" The Goliathan recovered from his stunned state, again lifting his club to strike. The immortal, however, hopped into the air just as the magical barrier of the rune necklace caught up to him from Twilight, zipping him away faster than the counter-attack of the Goliathan on the winds of the magic wall.
Pinkie looked to the immortal from under his talon as they flew carelessly through the air. "Wow! I didn't know you could breathe fire, Disco!"
Discord smiled, letting his chest puff up with pride. "I'm a 'draconequus'. Dragon's in the name!" He coughed out a single puff of smoke, watching it trail out behind them. "It leaves such a terrible aftertaste, though."
Twilight screamed through the air, flying fast towards the rest of her group. "DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSCOOOOOOOORD!!!"
Rainbow Dash slowed from her own flight, hearing the steadily growing wail behind her. "What the-?" As she turned, she was graced to see the unicorn zooming to her, anger and panic glowing on her face. "WHOA!" The pegasus was quick to stop Twilight's fall, catching the unicorn in midair. "Wow, Twi! I thought I was the fastest flier!"
Twilight trembled in fear, her wide eyes staring at the ground. "Yeah, ha ha, now put me down!"
As Twilight was dropped back onto the muddy earth alongside her friends, Discord caught up, flying on his own trajectory. As he hit the ground, he twisted himself into a skillful roll, instantly popping back onto his feet with Pinkie in tow. "No time to rest, Twilight! Keep moving!"
"I'm going to kill you!" Twilight shouted after him, again finding speed.
Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy flew alongside Applejack. The farmer was moving slower than the others, carrying Spike on her back and helping the still wounded Rarity to keep pace. "AJ!" the cyan pegasus called. "We gotta do something to slow this guy down!"
Applejack took a moment to look back, seeing the distant silhouette of the Goliathan again forming in the shadowy fog behind them. They couldn't outrun the beast, and she knew as much. "All right, Rainbow! Ah got an idea! You and Fluttershy get Spike and Rarity outta here!"
Dash was quick to respond, hefting up Rarity in her forehooves as Fluttershy took Spike in hers. "Geez, Rare!" Dash said as she lifted the unicorn into the air. "How much do you weigh?!"
Rarity flushed with rage as she was carried off. "WHY I NEVER!!"
Now alone, Applejack took to work in haste. Grabbing a vine from a nearby tree, she yanked the fiber down, gaining a long length to use. She quickly tied the end into a lasso just as the sounds of thundering hooves grew near. "Yer tanglin' with the best dang rodeo pony in Equestria, partner," she spoke, turning to face the monster. The Goliathan barreled towards the lone pony, its terrible club raised to strike. "Ya better be ready fer th' ride!" She bolted forward with the lasso in her mouth, dashing faster than the beast could expect between his legs. As the Goliathan turned to again find his prey, he was instead snared about the mouth by the vine, the earth pony taking her place on the broad back of his bull-like tauren body. "YEEEEEEEHAAAAAH!"
The beast sprang into action, thrashing wildly by instinct to displace the pony on his back where claws could not reach. Applejack tightened the lasso around his snout, holding the vine fast with her teeth as she held on. Each violent kick and jolt fired through her, threatening to toss her from her vantage point. Her determination gave her strength, however, and with each move, she balanced herself to remain just out of the monster's reach.
The Goliathan stopped, ramming his front hooves down into the mud with violent aggression. He arched back, roaring like a beast driven mad. His powerful jaws spread wide, shredding the vine as though it were twine. Applejack gasped in shock as she suddenly found no grip in her tether. As the Goliathan bucked a final time, a wave convulsing through him, the pony could not keep hoofhold. She was tossed high into the air, hooves flailing in the hope of sprouting wings. Below, the Goliathan turned quick, sharp fangs aimed up as he awaited the fall of his prey. She gripped her hat tight to her head, deciding to at least go out with her dignity.
Before Applejack found herself in the gullet of the constructed beast, however, she was saved, plucked in her descent by a blur of rainbow. Her senses collected, Applejack looked up, seeing none other than Rainbow Dash holding her. "Miss me?"
Relief flashed over the farmer. "Did Ah ever!"
Both ponies landed, staring at the now riled beast. "So," Dash began, "got a plan of action?"
Applejack's heart was still racing from her previous ride. "That was mah plan. This thing's nothin' but power!"
A smirk crossed the pegasus' face. "My turn, then." Dash shot into the air, disappearing into the dark sky. "Keep him busy!" she called down. "I'll be back!"
The earth pony followed her friend's ascension before reseting her gaze to the Goliathan. It had again sighted her, taking another raging charge in her direction. Applejack had only enough time to jump out of his way as the monster barreled by, snapping trees like twigs against his body as he passed. The farmer used her time well before the Goliathan could collect himself, arming herself with another tree vine. She made sure to get a thicker vine than last, hoping for more tensile strength from this band. As she tied her slipknot again, the beast came back into vision from the shattered brush, galloping to her with club raised high. Now was her time to act. With a toss of her head, the vine was quickly wrapped over the claw that wielded the large tree-weapon. Undeterred, the beast swung downwards, an enormous splash reporting as his club missed the agile earth pony. Applejack was quick to action, running around the beast with as much speed as her hooves could purchase from the muddy ground. The vine wrapped around the Goliathan, binding his arms to his torso as he attempted to grasp what the pony was doing. She darted from tree to tree, letting the vine's length slip through her teeth as a throttle. The beast tried to raise its club again, only to trip itself as it found the vine about its hooves as well.
With a final twist, Applejack fastened the long braid to a tree, standing back to watch the beast struggle against its overlapped ties. "That ought'a hold ya!"
Fury rose in the beast as it began thrashing wildly against the binding vine. Applejack looked on in fear as even this vine began to fray under the stress.
"LOOK OUT BELOW!" a voice called from above.
Applejack looked up to see Rainbow Dash descending with incredible speed, directly towards the Goliathan. She knew what was coming next. The farmer dove into the mud, clutching her hat over her face with protective hooves. The Goliathan looked up just in time to see the explosion of rainbow light above.
The rest of the group sat in a clearing, exhausted from running. Pinkie had been untied with the help of Spike's claws, the two being the only ones spared the exasperation of treading the muddy terrain. Light rainfall pattered into the waters around as the adventurers took harbor on a grassy knoll, dotted with large, bleached stones.
Pinkie sat down on one of the rocks. "You know, this isn't as fun as I thought it'd be."
"You're telling me!" Discord joined, hunched over his knees. He breathed with heavy fatigue. "I'm not built for running! My legs aren't even of the same Class!"
Fluttershy shook the rain from her fur, her wings sore from flight. "What about that terrible monster! What are we going to do!"
Rarity winced as she moved, her leg again throbbing with renewed pain. Twilight helped the unicorn to lie down in the thick grass, Spike quickly at her side with worry.
Twilight stood, looking back into the dark woods. "Applejack and Rainbow Dash can handle him. I know they can."
Just then, a huge explosion shook the ground as bright, prismatic light flashed in the distant marsh behind them. A mushroom cloud, composed of many brilliant colors rose over the trees, shining with under-lighting against the night's infinite sky.
"Ooh!" Pinkie shouted, leaning forward with huge, gleaming eyes. "RAINBOOM! RAINBOOM!!"
"'Rainboom'?" Discord asked, leaning back. "More like a Rainbomb!"
Vibrations trembled through the ground for several seconds, sounds of a rolling thunder echoing far off. The colors above died out as two figures became visible in the air. Rainbow Dash flew down to the group, Applejack in her hooves.
Fluttershy galloped forward, overjoyed to see her friends again. "Oh, girls! You're okay!"
Dash smiled, stretching her wings. "Of course! Nothing can stop us!" She turned to Applejack, the two old friends bumping hooves in victory.
Discord stepped forward, a concern in his eyes. "And Mister Mittens?"
"Who?" Twilight asked, taken aback by the name.
Discord shot the unicorn a glare. "The Goliathan!"
Applejack shook her head. "Ain't gonna have no more trouble outta 'im."
A pained look briefly overcame the immortal, but faded just as fast. "I see..."
Twilight looked to the immortal, a true empathy in her heart. As much as Discord tried to play it off, she could read the pain on his face. Monster or not, the Goliathan was his creation. "I'm sorry..."
The immortal scoffed, quickly turning from the others. "It's not so bad. He wasn't even house broken." His joke sat cold over the group as he sniffed back his sorrows.
As much as Twilight wanted to help comfort the draconequus, she knew it was better to let the incident rest. "We have to keep going. The gate must be nearby."
Discord spun, a smile again on his face. "Right you are! Very right!" He waved his talon over the meadow. "In fact, this is it!"
Twilight tilted her head, looking over the small island they stood on. "This? But, there's no gate here!"
"Of course there is," the immortal continued, lifting one of the large stones with effort. He dropped the stone on top of another, the two almost matching perfectly at their edges. What before looked like simple markings in the rock matched up, forming a bevel and ancient symbols. Discord turned back, propping himself against the small stack he had begun to form. "Some assembly required."
Twilight took in the meadow, noting the stones around her. They were all marked with similar etches and grooves, as though part of a greater structure. "Of course!" she remarked, a flash in her expression.
With a huge burst of magic, the unicorn lifted all of the rocks into the air, rolling Pinkie rudely off of the one she sat on. Turning and repositioning the stones in the air, she began to piece together the puzzle. The rest looked on in awe as stones were shifted and spun, being placed over each other at their faults. Another stone stood across from where Discord stacked the first, firmly attached into the ground as the second post. She built from both sides, meeting the towers at the top in a curved arch. As the final stone was placed at the top, a magic of their own bound them together again, letting the unicorn's magic rest as she looked over the large archway standing on the hill.
"Th' gate!" Applejack exclaimed, joy in her voice. "We found it!"
Twilight narrowed her eyes, more determined than ever to see her mission through. "All right, Discord. Time to work your magic!"
The immortal lay against the outer post of the gate, scanning the claws of his pawed hand. In a calm tone, he spoke. "Hmm? Oh, I'm sorry, I must have missed that. Do what?"
"Open the gate," the unicorn replied.
Discord gave a quick laugh, picking dirt from below his pinkie claw. "No, I believe you said, 'work your magic', which is precisely the problem. Maybe Luna forgot, but I can't just wish the gate open. I need my powers."
"What?" Rarity said, lifting her head from the grass. "But you don't have your powers!"
Life sprang back into the immortal as he jumped from his seated pose. "Ding-ding-ding! Correct!"
"So, how do we get into the Eternal Realm?" Fluttershy asked, shifting her eyes around nervously.
"Well, it's easy! Twilight?" he called, walking to the group again. "Take those gems around your neck, and smash them into a million pieces!"
Twilight looked down to the necklace Luna gave her. It bound his powers, but made him incapable of opening the door for them!
"No way!" Pinkie shouted. "You'll have your magic back!"
"Precisely!" Discord laughed. "It's the only way!"
"But, if we do that, how can we trust you'll keep your word?" Rainbow Dash asked with obvious anger. "How do we know you'll open the gate!"
"That's the fun part: YOU DON'T!" he bellowed, chaotic joy dancing in his eyes. "I might just walk away and never come back! But, if you don't release me, you'll never get in anyway! Isn't it sensational! MHAHAHAHAHA!!"
Twilight looked up again, a solemn expression on her face. "Okay."
Shocked gasps arose from all around the unicorn at her resolution.
Even Discord's maddening laughter sputtered to a stop. "Wait, what?"
"Okay," the unicorn repeated. "I'll release you. I trust you, Discord."
The immortal cocked a brow. "You trust..."
Before his contemplations could find hold, Twilight lifted the necklace from herself, and in a toss of magic, hurled the protective runes towards the stone gate. As it made contact, the necklace shattered, a bright blue light flashing briefly as the remnants flickered into dust.
She looked back to the still stunned immortal. "There. Now, please help us."
A malicious smile crept onto Discord's face as magic surged back into his being. "Heh. Heheheh. HAHAHAHAHAHA!" The draconequus reared back, cackling mad into the lightning flashed sky above. Chaos took hold of their surroundings: the rain reversed, heading back into the sky; flowers bloomed through the grass, opening into small phonographs, each blasting out the eerily off-tune sounds of polka; the waters around the small meadow began to spin, transforming into a typhoon of catseye marbles. Discord reached out a talon, grabbing a large pair of gem-studded sunglasses from the very air. "Twilight, you put far too much trust in the good side of others!" He placed the shades over his eyes as he lifted himself into a magical hover. "One day, you'll learn that not everypony has one!"
Twilight cast her eyes down. Had she been wrong to see him as a friend, even after all they had been through?
Without warning, the chaos overtaking their world fell silent again. The marbles melted back into water, the phonograph flowers twisted back into the soil, and the rain met its height, falling back onto the adventurers from above. Discord sighed, landing back onto his legs. "But, today isn't that day." With a snap of his fingers, a sheet of blue and purple magic sparked within the arch of the gate, waving gently as it swirled around. The Gate of Eternity was open.
Twilight felt a warm grin slide across her face. "Thank you, Discord."
"Stop thanking me!" Discord shouted back, a true anger growling in his voice. He turned, walking off from the group. "I'm gone. I've done my job. It's up to you now."
"But, we need you!" Twilight begged, rushing forward.
Discord continued to take his leave. "HA! Laughable."
Twilight ran in front of the immortal, spinning to face him. "We don't know what we'll find in there. Discord, this is your home. You can guide u-"
"It's not my home, foal!" Discord corrected, lifting his sunshades. "I don't have a home. And you're not my responsibility."
The words stabbed at Twilight. Her expression sank into dejection. "Discord..."
"One day, you'll learn not everypony has a good side, Twilight," the draconequus repeated, dropping the shades back onto his long snout. "A calm in the storm isn't always a sign the weather's clearing." Without further word, the immortal vanished into a flash of magic, setting off to some unknown destination.
As the magic sparks died, Twilight was left staring into the open air. She sighed, feeling betrayed. Still, she had greater motive than befriending the essence of chaos: she had to get the cure of Celestia. "Come on. We're so close now."
Rarity shook her head. "Girls, I can't go further."
Fluttershy moved to nuzzle her sore friend. "Oh, but Rarity-"
"No, Fluttershy," the unicorn interjected. "I'm in no condition to go in there." She stood, her legs trembling as she put weight in them. Despite Spike's attempts to help, her weak leg gave, and she collapsed again into the wet grass. "See? I'll just slow you down."
Twilight wanted to protest, but knew it was true. It would be reckless to drag the wounded unicorn into the unknown dangers of the Eternal Realm. "Rarity, are you sure?"
"I'm certain, darling," the alabaster unicorn replied, smiling softly. "I'll be here when you return, I promise."
Spike stood by Rarity, taking a strong pose. "Don't worry, Rarity. I'll stay here to protect you!"
Rarity blushed. "And I know I'll be safe with you here, Spikey-Wikey."
Spike's scales flared as he bashfully smiled.
"Ah'm sure ya will be with a big, strong dragon t' protect ya," Applejack continued, lying down by the unicorn. "But jus' in case ya need some extra protectin', Ah'll stick by ya, too."
Twilight, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash turned to the gate. "I guess it's up to us," Dash said, staring into the portal.
"I'm not scared,' Fluttershy proudly added, stepping forward.
"Time to get serious!" Pinkie said, hopping into place.
"All right, girls," Twilight confidently spoke. "Let's do this. For Princess Celestia!"
Boldly, the four ponies stepped into the swirling magic of the archway.