In Search of the Sun
The sounds of the crackling fire alone permeated the heavy blanket of silence in the library. The weak warmth that grew from it only seemed to make the cold at its distance more frigid. Twilight didn't mind. She felt the cold was her punishment, piercing into her very soul like the arrows of judgement. She didn't deserve warmth.
The unicorn sat on the opposite end of the library, far from the small comfort of heat that she denied herself. Her breath billowed out in misty clouds as ice nipped at her fur. She slowly turned, peering out the frosted window beside her. Beyond the pale, weary reflection of herself, she could see nothing. Darkness reigned over the world now, impenetrable, and uncaring. Winter had taken the place of all seasons, snow piling high in the eternal blizzard. What few ponies remained had long since left, but not her. She had to stay. She had to suffer.
The shelves around her were bare now. The books that had once given her endless joy had long since been fed to the fire, sustaining its dying light. At first, she had convinced herself that it was to survive, but she now accepted that it was only to prolong her misery. She only moved into its forgiving warmth when she could take the cold no longer.
She lifted the final book to her, placed on a small desk by the door. "The Essential Writings of Starswirl the Bearded". It was her favorite book. She had brought it from Canterlot when she first moved to Ponyville. A smile grew on her face as she gently traced a hoof over the embossed cover. It was a First Edition, given to her by Princess Celestia after her first year of apprenticeship. The alicorn had said it was her own once, given to her by the great magician himself. She opened the cover, the faded quill marks still visible on the first page. There, as always, was Starswirl's own signature, written modestly in the bottom corner, out of the way. She imagined him to be a humble pony, despite his prominence. It always made her happy to see that name, marked forever in the pages of his legacy. It truly belonged in the Museum of Magisters, and yet, Princess Celestia had given it to her, trusting her student with such a legendary piece of Equestrian history.
A hollow pain struck at Twilight's heart. Princess Celestia. She could no longer remember the great ruler she had once studied under as she was. She could only barely recall the colors of her mane, or the soft smile that she always wore. The features that once held her in awe were lost to her now, replaced by the sickly, dying alicorn that she had seen in her final moments. She could only remember the greyed, ailing Princess, robbed of her color and life by some illness alien to the mortal world. She remembered the final pulse of life falling still in the once great pony, and remembered watching her mentor and friend flicker away into shimmering dust as her time came and passed.
Her tears trailed her cheeks, leaving a soothing warmth before growing bitter in the cold of the room. Sorrow turned to anger. She didn't deserve to cry. She didn't deserve to remember Princess Celestia as she was before.
She tossed the book onto the fire. Within seconds, the flames greedily devoured the ancient tome, flaring with renewed energy.
The cold had again neared her to delirium, the subtle tug of oblivion on the fringe of her consciousness. She had been here many times in the past months, torturing herself with each shiver as her body reached its limit. With numb hooves, she moved to lie by the fireplace. As she watched the fire destroy her most treasured gift, feeding on the last kindling it would receive, she knew she would not leave that spot again.
She had failed.
She had failed Celestia.
She had failed her friends.
She had failed Equestria.
She had failed everypony.
Her heart swirled in a miasma of pain, sorrow, and fury, each troubled emotion lashing out from within. She didn't deserve to feel.
Suddenly, there was a rapping on the door, heavy and slow. She turned, looking to the long-since used entrance. She didn't care who was on the other side. They were better off not knowing her.
She looked back to the fire, already dying from its previous nourishment. Its embers pleaded for more to stoke its flames.
Another series of thudding knocks came to the door, more forceful now.
"Go away," she spoke quietly, her voice cracking from months of disuse. Her gaze never left the fire.
What if she threw herself onto the flames? Would that be enough? Certainly, she didn't deserve better. To be tossed onto the fire like trash. To feel the heat of the sun punish her. The flames danced in her eyes, calling her with its hypnotic spell.
The knocking grew more fierce now, never letting up. Whoever was waiting on the other side desperately wanted in.
Twilight stood, walking with quivering limbs to the door. "What do you want? I don't want to see anypony." Maybe it would be more fitting to walk out and let the cold have her, she humored. She slid back the lock.
Immediately, the door was thrust open, knocking her back onto her haunches. As her wits came about her, she was met with the unforgettable features of a draconequus, hanging from her door frame over an infinite darkness. "Dis... Discord?"
The immortal shot a mischievous smile back to her. "Time to go, Twilight!" he said, grabbing the pony before him by a foreleg. He let go of the frame, falling back into the abyss with the purple unicorn in tow.
Twilight flailed as she tumbled down into the infinite space beyond the door. Winds quickly rushed up through her fur. "WHAT'S HAPPENING?! DISCORD?!"
Beside her, the immortal seemed relaxed in his freefall, his arms behind his head and his legs propped over one another. "See, Twilight, this is what I've been saying; you just don't know how to let go!"
She almost wanted to smile, if the situation at hoof didn't seem more pressing. "What are you doing here!"
Discord rolled, laying his body flat as he propped his head on folded arms. "I knew you foals couldn't handle yourselves. And maybe..." He lost eye contact, looking off into the distance. "Maybe I'm not such a bad guy."
Even in the fall, Twilight couldn't hold back her joy any longer. She lunged towards the immortal, hugging him around the neck. "I knew it!"
Discord squirmed, trying to free himself from the hold. "Hey hey hey! No hugging!" His magic back at his command, he detached his head cleanly from his neck, sliding his body out from under the unicorn's grip to reattach himself beside her. Despite his attempts to sound upset, he was smiling. "It's already sappy enough that I came back for you!"
Twilight looked down, more endless blackness below them. Her mane streamed behind her as she quickly approached a ground she could not see. "Where is the bottom to this place?!"
"The floor?" Discord asked, floating alongside her. "Oh, yeah, right here." With no effort, the immortal ceased falling, taking a stand on an enormous book that seemed to form from the air.
The unicorn continued to flail in freefall, despite being beside the draconequus still. "Wait, what?!" She looked back down, taking in the odd situation. It finally struck her that she was not falling at all. Her mane fell back down as though in a sudden stop, and she gently hovered down to stand on another ghostly book beside the immortal.
"Now, you're getting it!" Discord exclaimed, throwing his arms wide. "Chaos isn't so hard, is it?" In a flash, more of the oversized tomes appeared around them, forming multiple walkways into the distant blackness. "Now, let's find the others."
Pain all at once hit Twilight again. "The others..." Her eyes fell to the phantom ground below. "We were too late..."
Discord cocked his brow, before a wave of realization washed the look away. With a sly smile, he lowered his face to beside Twilight. "Were we now? Think about it."
Twilight couldn't help but think about it. Horrible memories she wanted nothing but to forget. That was, until she truly tried to remember them. More and more, the past seemed hazy, and details became dull. "Wait..."
"Think, Twilight," Discord encouraged, a somewhat soothing tone in his voice. "What exactly led up to this very moment? Think back as far as you possibly can."
She tried to follow his advice, letting her mind try to piece together a history that just didn't seem to fit. She could no longer remember what she was doing there, or how she had even gotten to that point. "I... I don't know... It's getting really hard to remember..."
The immortal lifted himself off the ground, letting himself loll gently within the air. "Then tell me, where are we?"
As if called, the true memories rushed back to her. She remembered the gate. She remembered walking through with her friends. "The Eternal Realm!"
Unseen buzzers whipped into a frenzy as though she had struck jackpot at Las Pegasus. Discord stretched himself out from the small space behind her, now dressed in a tuxedo and holding a microphone. He spoke in a mock-announcer's tone. "That's correct! Tell her what she's won!" In front of her, the immortal reappeared from seemingly nowhere, sans attire, his arms stretched wide. "You've won control!" The sounds of a phantom crowd cheered her on.
The bizarre antics of the draconequus only served to further confuse the unicorn. "None of that really happened? But, it felt so-"
"Real?" Discord finished for her. "Don't all dreams when you're in them? This is the Eternal Realm, Twilight. I told you it was powerful." He looked around, a cold glare in his eyes. "And it seems to be quite upset about being left alone for so long."
Twilight walked to the immortal, joining him on the book that held him afloat. "You say that like it's alive."
"In a way," Discord returned, analyzing the distant paths. "It has a will of its own. Luckily, it's nearly powerless when you know you're in control."
"Good," Twilight sighed, relieved. "I was worried the others were in danger."
Discord chuckled dryly in his throat. "They're in far worse trouble than you could ever imagine, Twilight."
"What?!" Twilight shouted, quickly turning to the immortal. "But you just said it was harmless!"
"Hardly," Discord said, looking down to her. "Tell me, Twilight, in that little room of yours up there, how did you feel?"
The past emotions flashed back, the bottomless sorrow still vivid to her. "Awful..." She shook her head, letting the memory die again. "But that wasn't real!"
"You thought it was," the immortal countered. "And before I opened that door, what did you feel like doing?"
She tensed, terror in her eyes. She had almost forgotten already just what she had wanted before. She looked down to her hooves, unable to fathom what could have possessed her to rationalize such thoughts. "I... I just..."
Sensing the shift in mood, Discord softened his tone, crouching to Twilight's side. "Felt like doing something stupid?"
"And what do you think would have happened if you did?"
Twilight's heart fluttered in her chest. "I don't want to think about it..."
His point made, Discord stood again. "This place can't hurt you, but it can make you hurt yourself, and provide ample resource. It's like a dream, here. It tries to separate you, and the lines between what's real and what isn't begin to blur. Memories get replaced with falsehoods. Before long, you've forgotten where you are, why you came, or what you're after." He again patrolled the distance, a talon shielding his eyes needlessly. "You came in with Fluttershy, Pinkie, and Rainbow Dash, didn't you? The others were still outside. Right now, they're lost in here, and the Eternal Realm is trying to break them just as well. We have to move quick."
Each word drove fear deeper into Twilight; a fear not for herself, but for her friends. Though many questions still begged to be asked, she had no time. "Let's go."
Discord smiled, narrowing his eyes. "That's the spirit!" He dropped his talon, twisting his mouth as he thought. "All roads lead to Rome, so-"
"Before your time. Anyway, I guess any path is good, so let's-"
Before he could finish, Twilight was already quickly headed down a forking road of hovering books. Discord laughed, chasing after her in flight.
The two rushed down path after unfolding path, finding the roads showing no new signs of where they were headed. Blackness still made up most of the world, with an unknown light illuminating only what seemed to fade into existence for them. Scrolls, inkwells, and scientific apparatuses hovered just out of reach, floating by placidly. At one point, they had crossed a bridge made of a large telescope.
Twilight found herself growing short of breath, hopping from book to book. "Discord," she began, stopping on the open pages of a gigantic encyclopedia. Two paths branched to either side, both disappearing into nothingness not far from where she stood. "What's with this place? I thought it was supposed to be some kind of paradise before. Why is there nothing here?"
Discord flew alongside the path. He spun in a backwards loop, diving forward into a huge rolled scroll suspended in air. Coming out the opposite side, he had a giant quill perched behind his ear. "Paradise is as the tourist sees it, Twilight."
"What does that even mean?" the unicorn responded, finding no time for the riddles.
"That's the problem with normalcy," he spoke with a sigh, hovering in air beside her. With the enormous quill, he began to draw glowing pictures within the air. "You get too used to one way of thinking."
"Fine!" he sighed, shooing away the stick-pony he had just created. As the glowing character ran off into the distance of the realm, he turned to face Twilight again. "This place gives you what you want, but not unlike a dream. You see more than what is really there. Hay, when I found you, you were lying on a stone slab in front of a fire with a door and some empty bookcases beside you."
This news visibly caught Twilight off guard. She could still recall every detail of her library in Ponyville from that room. Each slat in the floor, every web in the corners. Could it really have been as vacant as the draconequus now said?
Discord continued. "You see what you want to see here. Or, what the realm wants you to see. But whenever you're over its spell, there's hardly anything to see."
Twilight was beginning to understand, but one detail still nagged her. "So, what's with the books and stuff?"
"Residual information," Discord answered flatly. He rolled onto his back, hovering lazily with closed eyes. "It's projecting the most basic of things from your mind. That's how you know it's still trying to get in."
"Then why isn't it reading your mind?"
"I'm more willful."
"Then who's thinking about gumdrops?"
Discord's eyes popped open as the odd question hit him. "Wait, what?" He spun, taking in the sight of giant green and blue gumdrops drifting by in unnerving silence. "Oh. Gumdrops."
Twilight smiled wide. Only one pony would have candy so ingrained in her mind that it would appear at random. "Pinkie!"
With Discord following, they bolted down the path of books towards the gumdrops. Soon, the road began to change, the volumes of knowledge becoming interspersed with various pieces of oversized hard candy. Colorful balloons drifted by listlessly, mingling with beakers and inkwells from Twilight's own mind. As they crossed a liquorice rope bridge, a large gingerbread house became visible on the path ahead.
"That must be the place!" Twilight exclaimed. In a burst of magic, she teleported herself to the doorstep of the confectionary building. Before Discord could catch up, she kicked the door open.
The completely grey room inside was a harsh change to the bright colors just on the opposite side of the door. The dimensions inside the house were remarkably different, seeming almost four times the size of the outside. The walls buckled inward, corners awkwardly askew from standard angles. Bare walls, bereft of any detail, looked in with disturbing presence. In the very center of the room was a long, wooden table, empty seats on all sides. On the far end, in bright contrast, was the party pony Pinkie Pie.
Discord reached the door, peering in over Twilight's shoulder. "Homey, isn't it?"
Twilight burst in, a huge smile on her face. "Pinkie! I'm so glad we found you!"
The pink pony did not reply, nor even look up from her absent gaze across the empty table. Her mane lay draped over her shoulders, flat and lifeless.
Twilight slowed as she neared, realizing that something was amiss. "Pinkie? Are you okay?"
Pinkie blinked slowly, eyes affixed to a world neither Twilight nor Discord could see. Under her hoof on the table sat a shining kitchen knife.
"Discord," Twilight asked, slowly nudging the pony before her. "Why isn't she waking up?"
The immortal slid across the table, stopping just before Pinkie. He looked into her eyes, searching for signs of what vicious trick was at work. "She's still in there somewhere. Shaking her just isn't going to do anything."
Quietly, the earth pony spoke to herself. "Nopony likes me..."
Panic crept over Twilight's face. She shook Pinkie's shoulder harder, trying to wake her friend from the trance. "What do you mean! I just snapped out of it when you showed up!"
"It was different for you," Discord answered, sitting up on the table. "You're a unicorn. You're used to magic and its effects. Seeing what's real and what isn't. All it took to wake you up was to show you something out of place." He ran his paw over his beard in thought. "The others are going to be harder to reach."
In a quick motion, Pinkie slid the knife up with her hoof, jamming the sharp end firmly into the wooden surface of the table with a solid thud.
Twilight's pupils shrank in abject terror. "Whatdowedo-WHATDOWEDO?!"
Even Discord's expression flashed with urgency. "Okay, okay, let's not panic here!" He stood on the table, cracking his knuckles with crossed hands. "If she wants a party, LET'S PARTY!"
In a flash of magic, Discord vanished, instead being replaced by a bright, colorful cast of characters. In each seat sat large rag dolls, gently swaying with the sound of music coming from some unknown origin. Balloons bobbed in place, tied at each corner of the table. In the center, amidst an array of dancing teapots and plates, stood a three-tier cake, bouncing in musical rhythm. On the middle layer, Discord's face was easily visible, looking back to the pony. "How's this for a party!"
Confetti rained down over the still gloomy earth pony sitting at the head of the table. Different, however, was that her eyes followed the glittery pieces. Her eyes shifted sorely back to the cake on the table, no expression present.
Twilight smiled, knowing that they were getting through. "C'mon, Pinkie!" She encouraged, hoping her words would carry to the other side. "It's not a party without you!"
Another lethargic blink came from the pony sitting at the table, before a distant life again shone in her eyes. Her hair gently rose, beginning to kink and curl again, matching the upturning at the edge of her lips.
The unicorn beside her watched on, seeing the pony she knew slowly return from whatever dark reaches she explored before. "Pinkie...?"
In an instant, Pinkie's mane popped back into its normal curls, only a moment before the earth pony herself dove forward. She tackled the large cake, the party immediately vanishing back into silence as she rolled with the now-returned draconequus across the table. Pinning him down, she hugged onto his neck. "DISCO!"
Discord caught his breath from the sudden assault. "Hey! No hug-" As the earth pony squeezed tightly onto his neck, a huge smile spread from ear to ear, his resolve faded. "Well... maybe just this once..."
Twilight dove onto the two as well, catching both Pinkie and Discord in a now-group hug. "Oh, Pinkie! You're okay!"
Freed from the embrace, Pinkie sat up, still atop the draconequus. "Of course I'm okay!" A pulse seemed to wash over her, dropping her expression just enough to notice. It was obvious that she was remembering whatever reality she was shown in her dream. "Well, I am now." Her smile grew again, the present outweighing her nightmares. "Thanks to you two!"
"As touching as this is," Discord issued, a talon propping his head off the floor. "I would like to point out that you're sitting on me, and that we're on a tight schedule."
Now with Pinkie, the three adventurers continued their feverish search for their friends. Darting down a road paved with candy and literature, they hoped for any sign of the two pegasi.
"This place is kinda neat!" Pinkie said excitedly, running alongside Twilight. "I mean, look at the size of that chocolate bar!"
Discord flew beside them, just off the path. "I'll make you one when we get out of here, but right now, we need to hurry!"
"What would we see if we were near Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash?" Twilight asked, mostly to stimulate her own thoughts.
"Hmm," Pinkie pondered, running absently as she looked up. "Clouds? Rainbows? Bunnies?"
"The mother of all butterflies?" Discord asked, pointing ahead.
Sure enough, ahead of them, the path of books and candy ended, leading to a butterfly to rival the size of a dragon. Glittery dust flickered off with each pulse of its enormous wings.
Twilight looked ahead in awe. "Yeah, that's a pretty good sign."
Stopping on a peppermint at the end of the path, each pony looked to each other with uncertainty, before stepping off onto the back of the creature. With quiet obedience, the butterfly began to move, carrying them off in an unseen direction.
Twilight sat back, looking over the details of the large insect. "How is it that we can find each other here? This place must be endless!"
Discord reclined on a hammock between the butterfly's antennae. "It's not as big as you'd think. It's more like a labyrinth than anything. And whether it wants to or not, you can always find what you're looking for with enough persistence."
"Is that how we find the cure, too?" Twilight asked, remembering the true reason they were there.
Discord laughed drolly. "I think it will find us."
"Acorns! Acorns!" Pinkie chimed, bouncing excitedly on the abdomen of the insect.
Around them, visions of nature began to form, mixing with the visions from each of their own minds. Acorns and leaves passed by, dotting the spaces between sweets and knowledge. The images began to grow odd, fusing together in unusual ways. A gnarled twig took the form of a candy cane, and a history book opened into blooming flowers.
"This... is getting weird," Twilight commented, a taffy scroll floating by.
"This is getting delicious!" Pinkie shouted in return, taking a bite of the scroll as it passed.
"But we're on the right track," Discord replied, pointing ahead. "Look."
Before them was a small island, floating in the infinite blackness. In the center grew a tree at the end of a dirt path, a single door set in its bark. A multitude of small butterflies hovered just over the lush foliage of its branches. As their transportation flew to meet the path, the three adventurers disembarked.
Twilight ran up the path, quickly flinging the door open. Inside, another grey world met her, this one much smaller than the last. The room was hardly the size of a carriage, six nondescript surfaces all starring in. Fluttershy lay on the floor, curled into a trembling ball in a small puddle of her tears. Around her, her shadow split, traveling up each wall and branching into dozens of pony silhouettes. Each shadow-figure looked back with hollow eyes, laughing with toneless voices back at the pegasus they branched from.
Twilight was stunned by the setting, taking a step back instinctually. "Whoa."
"Somepony has some demons," Discord remarked, barely able to see into the small doorway around the unicorn.
"Don't worry, Fluttershy!" Twilight spoke to the terrified pegasus. "We've come to help!"
The unicorn shot blasts of magic against the shadows on the walls, hoping to destroy the ghostly visages. Instead, the dark forms seemed to absorb her magic effortlessly. She recoiled, the intimidating shadows seeming to laugh back at her failed attempts. "What? How is that possible!"
Discord groaned, moving Twilight aside. "I've got this."
The immortal leapt at the wall, sliding into it and becoming a shadow himself. The silhouettes around him drew back in confusion for a second, before returning to their haunting laughter at the defenseless pegasus before them. Shadow Discord, however, took a boxing pose, and began to swing his fists towards the figures. With each blow, the shadow pony struck was popped, yet reappeared only a moment later. Discord switched tactics, trying to take out as many as he could at once, flailing wildly with arms, legs, tail, horns, and even wings. His efforts seem to win at first, clearing the entire wall he was on, but he was immediately hurled back into the real world when the shadows suddenly rushed back.
He shook his head, dizzy. "Well, that didn't work. I'm out of ideas."
Behind them both, Pinkie cleared her throat, drawing their attention. With a stern face, she pushed past both the unicorn and immortal, standing square in the doorway of the horrible room. She looked back to her friends. "Amateurs!"
The pink pony turned again to the room, looking at the shadows all around. She inhaled deep, preparing herself for battle.
"Ha!" she spoke into the room.
With the simple declaration, multiple malicious figures vanished into shadowy vapors.
Twilight and Discord both looked on, astonished.
"Ha!" she continued.
More of the silhouettes burst away, halving the number of tormenters.
Fear crossed the shadow faces in the room. It was time for the final blow.
In a wave, the room was cleared, the vicious spectres all being swept away.
Pinkie smiled, her work done in three syllables. "Like I say; just laugh and make them disappear!"
She and Twilight filed into the room, taking both sides of the pegasus. "Fluttershy!" Twilight said, lying beside her sobbing friend. "Fluttershy, it's okay! We're here for you!" She nuzzled the pegasus, trying to sooth her.
Slowly, Fluttershy stirred, peering out from beneath her mane with wet, reddened eyes. "G-girls...?"
"It's us, Shy," Pinkie cooed, putting a hoof over her friend. "It was just a bad dream, that's all. Now, let's see that smile!"
Fluttershy looked to the friends at either side of her, the past terror of her dream fading fast in the grip of familiar faces. She felt tears well in her eyes again, now forming in joy. She shot up, wrapping her hooves and wings around the two ponies in a tight hug. "GIRLS! I'm so glad you're here!"
"Of course we're here, Fluttershy," Twilight said softly, trying to hold back tears of her own. "We would never leave you behind!"
Discord sat in the door to the odd room. As eyes turned to him, he crossed his arms, averting his gaze. "Don't look at me. I'm all 'hugged out' for the day."
Fluttershy scanned the area around them. "But, where's Rainbow Dash?"
The ponies around her drew back, worried looks on their faces. "We haven't found her yet," Twilight regrettably answered. "We have to go. It's not safe here, and she's all alone."
The two ponies helped Fluttershy stand, the pegasus still trembling in terror. As she began to calm down, their pace hastened, and the group was again in search, hoping to find Rainbow Dash before it was too late. They ran down the path, rejoining Discord as they boarded the butterfly again. With each heavy beat of its wings, the gentle giant carried them further off towards more of the unknown.
Chaos to rival Discord's own swirled around them as their flight carried on atop the butterfly. The Eternal Realm was reaching into them, pulling out imagery from their subconscious minds. Rabbits played on globe islands, shaded by candy cane trees. Books flew by in flocks, flapping their covers frantically to escape pursuit from gummy sharks.
"So this is where you got ideas from," Twilight remarked, her comment aimed to the immortal beside her.
"Nah," Discord replied, humored by the sights around. "You've either got it or you don't. I am taking notes, though."
"This place is so strange," Fluttershy said, gently petting the insect they rode. "But, it's kind of nice."
Pinkie sat, her rear hooves hanging off the back of the butterfly. "Yeah!" In her forehooves, she held a fishing pole she had somehow acquired. Below, she watched with growing hunger as large caramel-coated pecans nipped at her line. "Well, when it's not being a big meanie-pants!"
Twilight remembered the pain the realm had shown her at first. "A little too mean." She turned to Discord. "I see why you wanted to leave."
"That's not why we left," Discord mused, watching with watering mouth as Pinkie reeled in a catch. Taking the treat from the line, he split it, handing Pinkie her half with a smile. "When we were here, it was a lot nicer. Just boring."
"Boring?" Fluttershy asked, unsure of the ethics or how she felt on the matter of her friends eating the semi-sentient pecan. "But, how can something that makes you happy be boring?"
"It wasn't real," Discord remarked dryly, chewing his portion of the snack. "It doesn't matter if it isn't real."
Twilight hadn't expected such an answer. "You? Looking for something substantial? I never would have thought."
Discord returned a wide, mischievous grin. "I'm just full of surprises. Besides, what fun is chaos in a world that seems overjoyed to give it to you?"
"That sounds more like the Discord I know," Twilight answered with a giggle.
Fluttershy hopped to a stand, wings flared. "Girls! Clouds!"
Everypony turned, looking over the front of the butterfly. Ahead, amidst the turbulent chaos, clouds began to show. Some drifted by peacefully, white and fluffy, while others dripped with heavy raindrops or snow. Occasionally, one would pass, raining down assorted chocolates or squirrels into the infinite spaces below.
Twilight ran to the front of their ride. "Rainbow Dash! She has to be nearby!"
"I think that's our stop ahead," Discord commented, pointing to a trail of clouds. Each mass sat close to another, raising into the air in a large spiral.
Instead of meeting the path, however, the butterfly turned, taking them further from what they assumed was their destination.
Twilight watched as the trail grew smaller and smaller. "H-hey! Wait!"
Fluttershy looked down into the butterfly's large eyes. "Oh, Mister Butterfly! I think you missed our stop!"
"Do something!" Pinkie exclaimed, hopping in place.
Discord sighed. "All right, fine." With a clap of his hands, he and the three ponies flashed into light. In another burst, they reappeared, positioned on the first of the cloud steps.
Twilight looked over their new hoofhold. "Why can Pinkie and I walk on these clouds? Shouldn't we need a spell for that?"
Discord laughed, following the path around. "Physics is for chumps, Twilight."
Pinkie bounced by, smiling wide. "Duh!"
Twilight was humored by the odd behavior of the immortal. She and her friends were soon alongside Discord, setting a blistering pace around the spiral.
As they continued to circle the coil, a voice began to sound. At first indeterminable, the voice grew louder, and could immediately be recognized as that of Rainbow Dash.
"She's just ahead!" Twilight yelled to her friends. With renewed energy, the group hastened their steps, turning the final bend of the spiral.
As the four adventurers reached the top, they were met with a large gap, finding themselves standing on a lone cloud at the end of the path. Across the divide, a large nimbus set the stage, with many faceless pony mannequins standing atop. Darting between them was the pegasus they were after; none other than Rainbow Dash.
"Why can't you see me!" the cyan pegasus yelled, pushing her face close to one of the mannequins' own. She gripped the side of its head in her forehooves, tears moist in her eyes. "LOOK AT ME! I'M RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!!" she screamed, shaking the simulacrum.
Pinkie skidded to a stop at the edge of the final cloud. "Uh oh! She's having a Dashie-moment!"
Twilight peered across the gap to her distressed friend. "Rainbow Dash! Snap out of it!"
Her pleas unheard, the pegasus continued her delusional episode under the effects of the realm. "Speak to me! C'mon, somepony! ANYPONY!" As Dash charged from mannequin to mannequin, hoping for any recognition from the lifeless figures, the winds following her speed began to swirl. In her frantic efforts, she riled the grey, static-charged cloud below her hooves, whipping its edges into a fury. As the winds grew faster and faster, they took a life of their own, and within seconds, began to spin themselves into a funnel, rising above and below the island Dash now found herself stranded on in a maddened tempest.
Fluttershy attempted to fly, hoping to meet her fellow pegasus within the eye of the storm. Lifting herself even just off the cloud, she could immediately feel the pull of winds stronger than herself, threatening to toss her into the turbulence. With a squeak of terror, the pegasus threw herself back against the cloud below, doing her best to grab on for support.
Winds whipped by, tossing Twilight's mane into a frenzy. "We can't do anything with this storm!"
"DASHIE!" Pinkie called, her curly man being pulled straight by the wind. "We're over here!"
Dash was still beyond their reach. Tears poured from her as she flew between the faceless figures. "CAN'T YOU SEE ME?! I'M! RIGHT! HERE!!"
Discord tried his hoof at flying through the storm. The moment his legs left the cloud however, the incredible force of the tornado grabbed him. In a sudden motion, he was pulled around the arc of the storm, powerless against the wind. As the others looked on in shock, watching him disappear over the edge of the violent winds, his screaming grew quiet. In a moment, however, the scream was heard growing louder again. Turning in time, the group was able to see the immortal being flung back around towards them, unable to gain control in the air. Each pony quickly ducked, the immortal passing over them in spinning chaos. Twilight quickly hopped up, grabbing him in her magic before he could be thrown around again. She dragged him back, dropping him onto the cloud.
Discord sat up, his eyes spinning in his head. "That... didn't work as expected."
In the storm, Dash was in a panic, giving up on words in place of screaming into the faces of the mannequins for attention.
Fluttershy looked on, fearful for her friend. She had known Rainbow Dash the longest, and could almost tell what twisted world the cyan pegasus must have been seeing. Dash could never stand being alone, with nopony there for her.
Then, an idea came to her.
"Rain-bow Dash. Rain-bow Dash," she softly began cheering, accenting each syllable in beat. Her voice was hardly a whisper, but held all the focus of a full cheering squad.
Beside her, Pinkie caught on to the mantra, repeating it herself. "Rain-bow Dash! Rain-bow Dash! Rain-bow Dash!" Her own voice added highs, helping the chant to pierce the winds shielding their friend.
Twilight joined next, her voice filling the harmony. "Rain-bow Dash! Rain-bow Dash!"
Still, even with the three voices together, the pegasus at their destination could not hear them over her dream.
Discord held crossed arms over his chest as he watched on. The three ponies beside him were giving their best to try to reach their friend, but were just shy of the power they needed. It was his turn. In a flash, he was suddenly wearing a Junior Speedsters fan jersey, with a ball cap positioned on his crown. "RAIN-BOW DASH! RAIN-BOW DASH! RAIN-BOW DASH! RAIN-BOW DASH!"
Four voices chanted in chorus, each carrying their own power through the storm. Inside, Dash stopped her rush, her ears perking at the sound. "H-huh?"
"RAIN-BOW DASH! RAIN-BOW DASH! RAIN-BOW DASH!" the mantra continued.
Slowly, Dash turned, looking back to her friends with a hollow gaze. She searched, squinting to see where the distant notes were born of. Through the blackened winds, she could just make out the group that called to her. Light pulsed back into her lifeless eyes as the nightmare lost hold of her. "GIRLS!!" She charged through the miasma, spreading her forelegs wide to tackle the three ponies in a hug.
Discord stood back, a scowl on his face. "And guy! Don't forget the guy here!"
"We're so glad you're all right!" Fluttershy squealed, hugging onto her friend.
"I'm so glad you're here!" Dash commented, still sobbing, now with more joy than fear. "Wh-where are we?"
"The Eternal Realm," Twilight replied, sitting back. "You were under its effects."
"But you're all better now!" Pinkie squealed.
Discord stuck out his tongue. "Sappy moment alert!"
A strange noise groaned behind the immortal, instantly drawing his attention away from the group hug in front of him. Turning back, the tornado still raged, now filling with imagery from the realm. Candy, books, animals, and clouds all met the tempest, forcing it to grow larger. The winds twisted and buckled, each strange item throwing it further and further off balance. With no source to provide it stability any longer, Discord knew what to expect. "Um, girls?"
Twilight pushed a giant peppermint off of herself, rolling out from under the debris with a dusty cough. Around her, all manner of item lay strewn. The paved stone ground they found themselves upon was littered with candies and brush debris. Clouds hovered lopsided overhead, raining down mixed weather. Pages from books torn asunder drifted down in peace with leaves.
"Is everypony okay?" she asked, finding the strength to stand.
Fluttershy stood first, a chocolate fish in her mouth. She spit it out onto the ground. "I'm okay." She then recoiled, looking to the confectionary animal flopping on the ground. "Oh, I'm sorry."
Pinkie immediately hopped over, swooping up the creature in her mouth. She swallowed hard, letting her tongue roll out in satisfaction before her wits returned. "Okie-dokie!" She turned, looking to the horrified pegasus beside her. "What? It was a chocolate fish! You can't expect me to not eat a chocolate fish!"
Dash lifted a heavy book off of herself, letting it topple over with a heavy thud. "Yeah, I'm good." She looked around, a confused look on her face to the odd world she had not yet been introduced to. "Okay, what the hoof is going on here?"
Twilight did not answer. There was still one missing from their group. "Where's Discord?"
Pinkie's eyes went wide, pointing just on the opposite side of the unicorn. "Um... Twilight?"
Sensing that something was amiss, Twilight followed Pinkie's direction, turning to see what lay behind her.
A wall of light stood as a barrier, raising high into the nothingness of the realm. On the opposite side was Discord, but he wasn't alone. In front of him, in his stunned gaze, was Princess Celestia. They stood across from each other, ensconced in each others eyes.
Twilight looked on, dumbfounded. She moved closer to the wall. "... Princess?"
"What's she doing here?!" Dash shouted, rushing forward to the barrier.
As each pony looked inward, a scene began to play out.
"Discord," the Princess spoke, her voice soft and haunting. "I've waited so long for you."
Twilight narrowed her eyes. "Girls, that's not the Princess!"
"Looks like the Princess to me!" Pinkie answered, tilting her head.
Discord smiled sheepishly, a blush on his cheeks. He spoke back to the alicorn, his voice crooning with fondness. "Oh, Celestia. It's so wonderful to see you again."
A gentle blush rose on the alicorn's face. "I knew you would come back."
Fluttershy jumped, visibly unsettled. "Wait. Did she say 'come back'?"
"I knew it!" Twilight yelled, reaching her conclusion. "That's not her! It's the Eternal Realm! It got to Discord!"
She rushed forward, hoping to tackle the wall of light that divided them. When she made contact, however, she found herself forced back by a tremendous energy, rolling her onto the stone floor a distance back. She rose from her sprawled pose, shaking the strange sensation of magic away.
Discord chuckled, just on the opposite side. "Celestia, my dear. It's been a long time." He lifted his paw, gently rubbing the fake Celestia's blushing cheek.
"SNAP OUT OF IT, DISCORD!" Twilight screamed, making another assault on the barrier. Shot after shot of magic energy left her horn, harmlessly melting into the glowing divide.
Fluttershy hovered down from some distance above. "It just keeps going! There's no way over it!"
"Can't go around, either!" Rainbow Dash added, flying back from alongside the wall. "Seems to go on forever!"
"But what about Disco!" Pinkie shouted, beginning to panic. She set herself to work, trying to dig under the wall through the stone floor, only to find no such luck.
This news was not what Twilight wanted. Discord was their only way out of the realm, and the only one who could help them find the cure. And, as strange as it felt to say, she had come to see him as a good friend. She wouldn't leave him behind. "DISCORD! WAKE UP! SHE'S NOT REAL!"
Discord couldn't hear the unicorn, his mind set into what the realm wanted. It fought back against the invaders, now no longer with fear, but with desire. His eyes glistened as he spoke to the image before him. "It's been over a thousand years." His thumb ran back, gently stroking the fur of her cheek as the alicorn cooed in his hold. He drew back his hand, lowering his face to meet her own.
Twilight looked on, fearful that she may not be able to save the immortal from his own hopes. "Discord..."
With gentle eyes, Discord smiled back to Celestia. In a hushed voice, he spoke. "Meh. I think I'm over you now." He blew a puff of air into the surprised Princess' face, watching the image disappear into glittery dust on an unfelt wind.
Immediately, the wall of light shattered, vanishing away.
Joy welled up from the ponies that watched on. Twilight couldn't hold back the huge smile on her face. "Discord! You're back!" The group charged forward, again taking to his side.
The immortal shot back his own grin, brimming with his own unique enthusiasm. "It's going to take more than old flames and soft fur to make me fall for this place again. Besides, it was a terrible impersonation! Celestia's much more frigid than that!"
"Hey, now! That's the Princess you're talking about," Twilight warned, still grinning with humored joy.
Discord snickered. "Okay, fine. Retracted!"
Rainbow Dash even found herself grinning, despite the odd ends she sat on with the immortal. She had other questions, though. "All right, we're all together again! Time to get this cure and get out!"
"Ah, yes," Discord said, picking up the conversation. "The Panacea of Eternity." He looked over his shoulder to a fountain sitting just behind him. "It's right over there, help yourselves."
Twilight looked over to the fountain. It was an unassuming piece, made of white stone. A round pool at the bottom stood half her height, and a large decorative pillar rose in its center. No water poured from its spouts, and as she approached with her friends, she found none sitting in its reservoir either.
"Discord," she began, confused by the spectacle. "There's nothing here." Worry sparked in her as she looked into the desiccated font. Had their journey been for naught? And what did that news mean?
Discord leaned over the edge, looking in. He laughed. "Yes, there is! You just have to look!" With his talon, he reached over, dabbing at a single droplet hidden within the corner of the well. From somewhere unseen, he produced a bottle, and with careful precision, placed the single bead inside. Sealing it with a cork, he held it out towards Twilight.
Before the unicorn could take the vial, Pinkie rushed forward. "That's it?" she asked, placing her eye to the glass.
"This tiny drop?!" Dash exclaimed, flying over and pushing Twilight aside.
Fluttershy also moved to it, further blocking Twilight from the prize. "Um, but there's so little there."
In a flash of magic, the three ponies were lifted, suspended in air by a magenta light. Twilight walked under them casually, lifting the glass bottle in more of her magic. "This is what we came for. Is it enough?"
"What you hold is the most powerful cure-all that has ever existed," Discord humored. "Trust me, one drop will do."
The unicorn set her friends back on the ground, all of which were immediately around the bottle again. Inside, a single drop of clear liquid rolled around, a golden sheen being cast off by refraction. If one looked closely, they could almost see the shifting colors of magic energy shining within.
Twilight felt tears forming in her eyes. They had found their goal. "Hold on, Princess." She looked up to the immortal. "Now, where's the exit?"
Discord turned around, looking into the nothingness of the realm. A split of light formed in the air, the blackness parting like huge double doors into a blinding white glow. Winds whipped out from the gap, whistling by with a subtle chill.
The adventurers walked forward to Discord's side, marveling at the amazing sight.
Calmly, the immortal spoke. "The Eternal Realm gave us whatever we wanted. Even when we wanted out." He looked up, a tranquil look of appreciation on his face. "Thanks, again, old friend."
Together, they stepped forward into the brightness, and were engulfed by the impossible light.
The five figures walked out through the Eternal gate, first glowing white with energy, before returning to their original tones. They were back under the night's sky, their hooves sinking within the muds of the Abhorrent Lowlands.
Spike hopped up from beside Rarity. "Hey! They're back!"
Applejack helped Rarity to stand, the two slowly moving to their friends. Rarity winced with each step. "Did you find the antidote?"
Twilight held the bottle up, if only to confirm it hadn't been a dream. She sighed, watching the liquid swirl around. "Right here."
"So," Applejack asked, "that's it? It's done?"
"It's done," Discord answered. He bent back, stretching out his sides. "Now, to get home."
Rainbow Dash groaned. "Great. Just when I was starting to feel better about this, we have to walk all the way back!"
"Oh!" Discord mused, an idea seeming to flash on his face. "Did I mention, I can just teleport us all back to the palace from here?"
Twilight was stunned. "What?!" It was no surprise that the immortal was more powerful than her. He was more powerful than both of the Princesses! Even so, this declaration of his strength surpassed even what she thought was possible. "You can teleport us that far?!"
"Oh, yeah!" the immortal replied, rubbing his knuckles over the fur of his chest. "Piece of cake!"
"If you could have done that," Dash protested, "why did we walk all this way the first time?!"
Discord crossed his arms, turning away from the pegasus. "Because I didn't have my powers."
Twilight gave the immortal a look back with her own impish grin. "But if you had them back then, would you even have helped us?"
Discord spun, throwing his hands into the air. "Hay no! I would have turned the lot of you into colorful gelatin molds and rained elephants down over Canterlot!"
Giggles rose from all around him. Fluttershy even felt comfortable around the immortal. "So, why are you helping us now?"
Discord felt a blush rise to his cheeks, which he quickly looked away to avoid showing. "Let's say I've had a change of heart. You girls," he looked to Spike. "And dragon, have grown on me. But don't take that as a compliment! You've grown on me more like a fungus, if anything!"
Pinkie bounced in place, bubbling with a happy laugh. "You're a good guy!"
"Now don't go slandering my bad name! Very unshowmare-like!"
The still scene outside the gates of the palace was disrupted, a bright burst of light flashing as eight figures reappeared. The ponies and dragon of the group were each dizzy, stumbling from the odd sensation of long-distance teleportation. Even Twilight and Rarity, unicorns who were used to the effects of magic, were off-put.
Discord stood at the head of the pack, lifting a pair of aviation goggles from over his head. "We're back! Told you it was nothing!" He turned back, looking over the group. "By the way, all of you non-unicorns are probably about a month older than you were a second ago. Just a warning."
Rainbow Dash shook her head wildly, fighting off the spinning sensation. "How does that work!"
"Look, there are some side-effects, okay!" Discord shouted back. "You're a bit older now, these things happen!"
Pinkie squealed excitedly. "Hey, Rarity! This means I'm older than you now!"
Twilight rushed towards the gate, the cure still clutched firmly within her magic aura. "C'mon! We don't have time to waste!"
She exerted more of her impressive magic, tossing door after door open, a job normally at the responsibility of the guards, on her way towards the throne room. Each seismic pulse stung at her, her magic being tested by the abuse, but she had resolve to see her mission through to the very end. She had no time to spare in getting the Panacea to the Princess. Her friends followed in her wake, all doing their best to keep pace. Even Rarity, still sore from injury, gave her all.
Twilight neared the end of the corridor, the throne room just in front of her now. She burst in, declaring loudly. "Princess Luna! We have the cure!"
Just as she had met them, Luna stood over her ailing sister, ever-vigilant to whatever threats may seek their audience. As Twilight entered, Luna sparked with new energy. "Twilight! You have returned!"
As Twilight neared, her friends close behind, Luna quickly took to work, taking the cure from within Twilight's magic into her own. She did not even check the contents of the bottle, trusting fully in the efforts of her sister's own chosen understudy. With wordless haste, she removed the cork, placing the bottle to Celestia's lips. With a tilt, the droplet disappeared, slipping into the ill alicorn's slack mouth.
All eyes were upon the grey alicorn, each with hope burning as bright as the sun.
Time drew on, nothing shifting within the downed Princess's appearance. Silence froze the still world.
Twilight bit her lip. "Come on..."
Luna leaned down, nuzzling the sick mare. "Please, Celestia. Please wake up."
Twilight moved to the alicorn as well, whispering softly. "Please, Princess. Your subjects need you. I need you! Please!" She closed her eyes, fighting away the worry that ate at her.
Silence. Bitter and cold, and dark as an endless night. Trepidation gripped every breath of the room with fathomless apprehension as everypony awaited whatever may come.
"... Twi... light...?"
The unicorn's eye shot open, peering into the face of the alicorn before her. "Princess!"
Sparkling glints of energy began to twinkle around Celestia. The pink tones of her coat returned, replacing the lifeless grey before. Again, the phantom winds of her magic rolled at the edges of her mane, picking it up in a wave of energy as color rushed back through. She opened her eyes, fired again with the powers of a Princess.
"Sister!" Luna cried, joy bubbling in her voice.
Twilight felt the same ineffable delight rise in her heart as she watched her mentor reach her hooves, all the radiance of her title returned. "Princess Celestia! You're all right!"
The alicorn stretched her wings, flaring them in full. "I am now, Twilight. Thanks to you, and your friends." She looked over the smiling faces that met her, each glowing with hope and accomplishment. "Thank you all."
"Not a problem, your highness," one voice called beside the group. Discord lay in an open archway of a window, curled in the sill in a reclined pose. "Next time, however, I suggest consulting a licensed physician. Maybe get them to walk half-way around the world for you."
Celestia gasped, spotting the immortal. "Discord!" She lowered herself, taking a defensive stance. "What is he doing here!"
Discord stood, walking forward from the window. "All right, let's get the statue-ing over with already." From behind his back, he procured a pair of glasses, equipped with false eyebrows and nose, and fake eyes on the ends of springs. He placed the odd item on himself, letting the spring eyes bob freely. "Let me at least look dignified this time."
"WAIT!" Twilight shouted, running between the two beings. "Princess, wait! Discord's on our side!"
"Side?" the immortal countered, removing his ridiculous eyewear. "I'm on nopony's 'side'!"
"Now's not the time, Discord," Twilight hissed back through a clenched smiled. "I'm trying to help you here!"
Celestia's gaze softened. She exited her fierce pose. "Is this true?"
"He helped us get the Panacea," Twilight answered, defusing the situation. "And he led us to the Eternal Realm."
"Yeah!" Pinkie added. "And he was great company!"
"As much as I hate to say it," Rainbow Dash joined. "We couldn't have done it without him."
Celestia turned back to the draconequus. "You were their guide?"
He smiled. "Trust me, they needed one," the immortal jested.
An air could be felt between the two powerful beings, unspoken and intense. Celestia walked over, passing Twilight, to stand just before the draconequus. She sat back, looking into his eyes. "Discord. Thank you."
"Why does everypony keep thanking me lately?" Discord mused, obviously enjoying the moment. "Though, from you, I think I can get used to it."
Celestia laughed, having had many centuries of experience with his kind of humor. "And Discord?" she continued, her voice softer than its normal, proud tone. "I'm... I'm sorry. For what happened between us."
The witless, vacuous smile that normally marked Discord's face melted away, replaced with a look of somber reflection. Another sheepish grin spread over.
Twilight sat back, a strange, hopeful yearning in her heart. Ever since Discord had told her of his previous connections with Celestia, she had been curious to if he was being truthful. Now seeing the obvious link before her, there was a voice inside that wanted to see the two find mutual ground again, and maybe more.
"Celestia," the immortal spoke in a warm, gentle voice. He immediately snapped back to his typical self. "It was nothing." He turned, walking away from both the Princess and the group. "But I think this makes us even now, so I'll be taking my leave."
Though his actions came as no surprise, Twilight had not anticipated that he would go. She rushed forward, calling to the draconequus. "You're leaving? But, to where?"
Discord stopped, tapping his talon to his chin in thought. "You know, I have a feeling there are some orcs in the Lowlands that need a little more chaos in their lives. And besides," he added, looking back to the unicorn. "I need to make another Goliathan, don't I?" He continued to walk forward, before disappearing into his magic. His voice called back as he vanished. "So long, everypony. It's been a blast!"
The immortal's departure made the room seem strangely colder. After all they had been through, the adventurers had begun to see him in a different light, and could call him a friend now. Twilight felt a simple joy though. Something inside told her they hadn't seen the last of the chaotic being.
Luna stood beside Celestia. "It is good to see you well, sister. But there is still business to attend to."
Celestia knew without word what was needed. She moved to the window, taking flight through it into the night. The gathering moved to the windows at the side of the throne room, looking through at the spectacular scene that was soon to unfold.
Celestia flew high into the air, golden light shining from her horn. Trails of orange bloomed over the east horizon, piercing the night sky. More and more light shined over, banishing the darkness that had cursed the land, and in seconds, the life-giving star broke over the darkened mountains.
Twilight looked on in fathomless elation as the sun rose again, feeling the touch of its radiant warmth again bless her yearning skin. A new day had risen, and with the night, their journey had ended.
This... is an immense story. One to rival that of many published novels. And it's a fanfiction...
I never thought I'd make something like this, and more than that, I never could have without you guys: the fans, the watchers, the friends, and the critics. You guys all rock.
I really hope you've enjoyed the story, and all the twists and turns involved, and I'm so grateful for all of the comments, faves, and encouragement along the way!
... I should hardcover this and put it into my portfolio. XD