Dressed in his maid's costume again because it hadn't yet stopped being hilarious, Discord flew through the Everfree Forest, pointing his feather duster at various locations where the vines had destroyed animal habitats and resetting them. It hadn't been difficult at all to persuade Fluttershy that ponies should be responsible for fixing pony habitats and that he should concentrate his efforts on helping animals, given that if Discord tried to fix things to the way they had been, whoever could predict what form things would end up in? Chaos had a bad habit of not doing exactly what it was told, pretty much ever. Beavers wouldn't care if their dam didn't look exactly like it used to as long as it still functioned, but ponies would throw an absolute conniption if their buildings ended up an entirely different color or shape than they'd been. And besides, no ponies but Fluttershy were worrying about the animals.

It was a brilliant plan if he said so himself. It got him away from the ponies, who annoyed him tremendously when he wasn't being permitted to annoy them himself. It got him out of having to use his powers to create order; technically, he could do it, since unraveling the effects of time was inherently unnatural and therefore an acceptable use of his power, but technically he could count to 100 without randomly inserting pi, e, googolplex, seventy-three zillion, the square root of negative 29, or other ridiculous misplaced numbers, and yet he was fairly sure he never had and was never going to. And it made him look good to Fluttershy, since he was helping with the mess he'd created in an area that she, specifically, cared about and that other ponies didn't.

Personally he really didn't care about destroyed animal habitats. They were animals; unlike ponies, they weren't psychotically dependent on complex ordered systems. They'd figure it out and solve their own problems without wailing about the sky falling or hunting for a scapegoat. But Fluttershy cared, which, he supposed, meant he sort of kind of cared, in an abstract sort of way. The truth was he really did regret the vines popping up right now; as uproariously funny as it had been to watch them trashing Ponyville (and Canterlot, where he'd been watching the fun before he'd sensed Twilight summoning him and had decided to jump in the shower before the summons completed just to annoy her), they came from a part of his life that was over. Why couldn't they have surfaced earlier? Like, say, before he broke out of his stone prison the first time? Then they would have been useful. Now he'd actually had to participate in stopping his creations, because now they were a threat to Equestria and having friends who were ponies meant he'd reluctantly had to take up his ancient role as one of Equestria's protectors. Not that ponies, in general, were any more likely to appreciate him for it than they had the last time, but the last time he'd really only cared about one particular pony's appreciation. Maybe two if you counted Luna. So the fact that Fluttershy was grateful to him for helping out was all he really needed.

(Celestia claimed she was also grateful, but from the expression on her face, he could tell she hadn't forgiven him for the fact that he let her and Luna get kidnapped by the vines in the first place. Really, and after he'd gone out of his way to reassure her that he'd made sure Twilight and company would be coming to the rescue post haste. For some reason she was mysteriously unhappy with him for allowing her champions to go into danger to rescue her rather than simply erasing his own work and letting her go free. Go figure. Admittedly, he wasn't exactly going to tell her why he hadn't been able to do it that way, but she could try trusting him just a tiny little bit.)

His feelings about the Tree reclaiming its Elements were very mixed. On the one hand, it was a good thing that now ponies held no weapons that could stop him with magic. He hadn't been precisely terrified of the Elements – he had a number of contigency plans in paw that he could have used to protect himself if Fluttershy had decided to betray him – but it was helpful to know that they were out of the picture. On the other hand, now the power rested with that damn Tree. He'd been feuding with the Tree since he was a colt, before Luna had even gotten her cutie mark. Ponies could be manipulated; the Tree could not be.

And now that it had its Elements back, he had to be concerned. He'd felt the Tree pushing back against his power, felt it sending feelers out past his chaos turbines and encroaching outward, sending its influence out of the Everfree. It couldn't touch the Everfree itself, not without breaking the turbines and he didn't think it had the power to do that, but it could reach outward. Ponies were attracted to its song and found it beautiful; he seemed to be the only entity capable of seeing the Tree for what it was. And ponies were stupid, easy to manipulate and easy to fool; this trait was utterly hilarious when he was exploiting it for personal amusement, but the fact that they were so easily pulled under the sway of the Tree of So-Called Harmony meant that the Tree could have a disproportionate impact on pony society, which would feed back into the Tree's power, and so on and so forth until the static world of his nightmares came to be, Equestria and perhaps the rest of the world frozen in the Tree's idea of "perfection", never changing, no room for diversity or creativity or even thought, really.

When the princesses had taken the Elements off the Tree to use against him, they'd weakened it, but then they'd frozen him with them, and without him to foment chaos the Tree had been powerful enough to hold off his vines. But after a thousand years, with frequent use in the past three, the Elements had finally drained enough of the Tree's strength, and his being awake and free had probably drained it as well, so that now the vines worked. When he no longer really wanted them to. Because the Elements in the hooves of ponies could be used to protect ponies so he didn't have to, whereas the Elements in the branches of the Tree would just strengthen the Tree, and making it all come to a head with the vines now had been supremely bad timing.

Oh, well. Chaos was unpredictable. Half the time Discord had no idea whether what he was trying to do would work in exactly the way he wanted it to, or work generally to accomplish his goal but not in the way he wanted it to, or if possibly it wouldn't work at all.

He'd have to come up with something subtle to counter the Tree. Perhaps involving foals. Foals were inherently chaotic, and yet ponies loved them and would do anything for them. Find a way to amplify the chaos of foals in a way that made them happy, and thus resistant to anything their parents or siblings tried to do to contain the chaos, and he could generate enough disharmony to keep the Tree in its place. Discord would have to put a lot of thought into that one. And spend more time observing foals. The three youngsters who'd let him out of his prison the first time seemed like great candidates for study; they ran around Ponyville causing chaos in their quest for their cutie marks on a daily basis and everypony seemed to think it was adorable, not a reason to shoot them with a rainbow beam of stasis and trap them for millennia.

Hmm. What if he simply increased the birth rate? Bollix every mare's contraceptive magic or potions, spin the probability dial to push for multiple births, and within three years Ponyville would be swarming with chaos. And nopony would ever think to blame him because in their minds, foals were adorable bundles of joy and he was a monster and the two concepts simply never connected in their minds. Oh! And what if he played matchmaker? He could work through Fluttershy on the grounds that her friends deserved the happiness of having a special somepony, as if loving another pony could possibly ever be worth the heartache it would inevitably bring, and Pinkie Pie in particular had the same weaknesses any chaos mage who was capable of interbreeding with ponies did, though Celestia's little breeding project had ensured that nopony capable of wielding chaos was actually capable of being a mage, anymore. (Not that he could blame her, not after what happened to Brightest Star... he wished he could forget himself, but the fact that she had popped up in Ponyville after he had broken free the first time, under the identity he'd made for her when he'd broken Maelstrom, and kept drifting into his path and even stalking him when she was sane enough to remember who he was, meant that he kept seeing her. Really, Pinkie was a vast improvement.) It should be simplicity itself to get somepony to knock Pinkie up. (Oh, there were days he gave heartfelt thanks to whatever powers there might be that he couldn't interbreed with ponies without a deliberate act of chaos. "Chaos wielder" and "responsible user of birth control" were two phrases that simply never went together under normal circumstances.)

And a few careful words to Cadance, and he'd have an ally in getting Twilight Sparkle's life derailed by the chaos of love and motherhood, and oh maybe he could get somewhere with the little dragon's obvious crush on Rarity, and Applejack just needed a farm colt who wasn't related to her...

Well. The truth was they didn't wield the weapons that could stop him any longer, so maybe he didn't need to work on making their lives more chaotic. But the fact that they were, or had been, Bearers, meant that the Tree would have influence over them, and getting them to fall in love with stallions (or baby dragons who could possibly be tricked into turning into stallions for a time) and get pregnant would keep the Tree's influence to a minimum. Of course, there were lines that needed to be drawn. Rainbow Dash didn't need to get pregnant, she was much more easily distractible with adventure and athletic achievement. Maybe he could encourage Fluttershy to actively help her friend become a Wonderbolt, with his help, and then the Tree would have very little influence.

The one he should be most worried about was Fluttershy, living right near the Tree as she did, but there was no way by any gods there had ever been or ever would be that he was going to do anything to encourage Fluttershy to fall in love with some stallion. No. If the Tree tried to work against him through Fluttershy, well, he'd worry about that if it happened. He knew very well what happened to platonic friendships when love entered the picture; it was one of the reasons why he was strongly considering getting Cadance involved to matchmake for her sister-in-law. A Twilight Sparkle in love would be a Twilight Sparkle making very little time to spend with her friends, and the same was true for all of them, and for any of them but Fluttershy that would be entirely to his benefit, but there was no way he was willing to lose his best and honestly possibly still only friend to some stallion who would probably take advantage of her kindness anyway. Or mare. Or animal. Or anything.

"Ho, creature of chaos! My thanks, you helped save us. Your actions were certainly quite a surprise; I'd not have believed, but saw with my own eyes."

Discord turned around. "Doesn't that ever get incredibly annoying? It's so mind-bogglingly grating to have to listen to, I find it hard to imagine it's any more pleasant to be forced to speak in it all the time."

"What, speaking in rhyme? No, it grew easy with time." Zecora smirked at him.

"But it's so limiting. What if there was a sudden invasion of sentient pony-eating oranges and you were trying to warn Ponyville?"

"Well, if I had need to speak of an orange, I'd remember that rhymes cover quite a wide range."

"Oh now, that is cheating."

"You object when a zebra cheats at a game? That hardly seems to match with your fame. I'd think widespread cheating would suit with your aim."

"Hmm. I didn't know you did three-sets."

"Of rhyming patterns I've quite a variety. Some are well known, and some are proprietary."

"That's not a real rhyme either. I see how it is, Zecora. You claim to speak in nothing but rhyme, but you're perfectly willing to bend the rules in order to make whatever you want to say work. And yet you supposedly speak for Harmony and Order, whereas when I demand that ponies play within the rules of a game, somehow I'm the villain."

The zebra rolled her eyes. "I've not come to talk of games, chaotic one," she said. "Only you think a pointless argument's fun. I was hoping you'd tell me: what did our new Princess see? When first I detected that you'd interfered, I thought the truth was quite as bad as I'd feared, but she learned what it was that she needed to do. Can it really be that you showed her visions true?"

"Well, plainly someone had to do it. Since your silly little potion can't actually send a pony's mind back into the past, and Sparkle's too bound to order and reality to handle what you were trying to do. Alicorn or no, you cannot get a pony like that to tap the collective unconscious without driving her mad, and while it might be awfully entertaining to watch Celestia's prize pupil completely lose her marbles... I have a vested interest in keeping the Alicorn of Magic from going off the deep end, when you consider how her madness would likely manifest."

Zecora nodded, a cool smile on her lips and her eyes narrowed. "So even you fear what Twilight Sparkle might do if Order consumes her. She'd then threaten you."

Discord shrugged. "Oh, I'm not worried. You know what they say about old age and treachery. But why take chances?"

"So what visions did Disharmony's avatar send, to allow Twilight Sparkle to bring Disharmony's end?"

"Hardly the end, Zecora. The vines were simply bad timing. Disharmony is still alive and well. You can go back and tell your Tree that I'm far from out of the game; it's just that this particular tactic would have had side effects that don't suit my current plans. That happens with chaos, you know. You toss a whole lot of plans at the wall and you roll with the ones that stick."

"Do you choose not to answer me? Are you afraid if I knew what Twilight did see?"

Discord sighed. "I gave her the heavily abridged edition of Tia's fight with Nightmare Moona, and my own last hurrah, short version, with vine seeds, so she'd see where Tia and sidekick got the Elements from and where the vines originated. And she still thinks what she saw was the literal past and that it was your silly potion that brought her there. You'd better tell her the truth one of these days, or she'll brew a pot of that stuff herself so she can go back in time and meet Starswirl or some nonsense, and end up blowing her mind apart."

Zecora nodded slowly. "I see. Quite unexpected, your aid, since we know that you haven't defected. But though your beliefs are uncouth, you did help us, in truth. I took terrible risks because of what was at stake; the Tree needed Twilight even should her mind break. My act was one of desperation; I hardly expected, given your vocation, that you would do right and protect and help Twilight. So I have come as an emissary. A message has been given to me, to carry to you, from the Harmony Tree."

"Oh, as if I have any interest in what that thing has to say."

"Be you at ease. The Tree wants only peace."

"Yes. As in, a statue, in multiple small ones. Don't try to fool me, Zecora, the Tree has been trying to push me and what I represent out of reality for a very, very, very long time. Just because I decided that today was a bad day to strangle it to death with my plunder vines doesn't make us friends. Or even not mortal enemies."

Zecora shook her head. "You've proven that Fluttershy is your true friend. We all feared she was a mere means to your end. Your embrace of the magic of friendship has earned acknowledgement that you have changed, and learned. For this reason, the Tree has decided to see if Chaos can choose coexistence with Harmony."

"The short answer is no. They call me Discord for a reason, my dear. How exactly does Harmony plan to peacefully coexist with the note that disrupts harmony? I had – well, not friends, more like family, but there were ponies I loved that I'd have died to protect when the Tree started this with me, so don't tell me that me learning the magic of friendship makes everything hunky-dory. The Tree wants to make the world stop, and is perfectly willing to lie through its nonexistent teeth to ponies to make it happen. And while perhaps I might have come to believe that ponies are so idiotic they don't even deserve chaos, ponies are not the only living thing in Equestria. It's my job to protect the changing world for every being, including the many millions of living things that are not ponies. Regardless of how many times the Tree locks me in stasis, I'm going to keep fighting to preserve chaos until I'm dead, and I'm not planning on dying in the next few millennia, or in fact ever. Let the Tree suck on that lemon."

"Your fears are still those of a foal," the zebra said, scowling. "A static world was never the goal. And there is a place for you in the song. The tree hopes you'll realize this before long."

"Exactly how is Harmony thinking that Disharmony can have a place in the song?"

"The dance that thrums to a different beat is not, yet, the fire that consumes our feet. And the note that changes with every chance is not the silence that ends the dance."

"What, so the Tree wants to make nice with me because I'm not death?"

"Essentially, yes, o last draconequus. You don't bring about silence, you don't end a life. Your goal is to bring noise and conflict and strife. These things can be needed, in amounts small. And while chaos has the power to destroy us all, so does order unchecked. Either, alone, will leave the world wrecked. Harmony's balance. It needs you to be. So we ask for détente. So says the tree."

He folded his arms in front of him and scowled. "I am not shutting down the turbines."

"None would ask that of you. We know that, you'd not do. And the world does need wildness. The tree does agree. You should leave your work in place, keep the woods ever free. If all the world bends to the needs of a pony, then the world will become very stifling and lonely."

Discord blinked. The Tree of Harmony was the last entity he'd expect to agree with him on that. "Am I understanding this correctly, Zecora? The Tree isn't asking me to shut down the chaos turbines that protect the Everfree from pony control, and is merely offering me a truce out of... what, the goodness of its nonexistent heart? What can it possibly hope to gain? I've already assisted in the destruction of my own long-range plan to protect the damn thing, against my better judgement." He clasped his paws together and made exaggeratedly sad eyes. "Why, I've helped the Tree to kill my own precious wittle babies." Paws dropped, he glared at Zecora. "What more does it want from me?"

"I told you true. The Tree wants only peace with you. The first move of good faith was made by you, Discord; there is no more the Tree wants you to do. Simply to acknowledge and agree that you don't need to be the Tree's enemy."

"I'll consider it. You're quite right, I did make the first move of good faith. Thus far I see no evidence the Tree is going to return the favor."

"There is little you need from one such as the Tree. So on its behalf, I'll give you some advice for free."

Discord rolled his eyes. "Oh, thank you, great shaman Zecora. I'm so touched by your heartfelt offer, it's almost made me forget that I have no need for, or use for, advice from a zebra."

"So you say, but if the visions of you I have seen do hold true, your future may be bleak. It is of these I'd speak."

"You've seen visions of me? Wreaking havoc, I suppose?"

Zecora shook her head. "There's many a way that the future might play. But in some, I've seen you crying." Her voice grew soft. "In others... I have seen you dying." As Discord's eyes widened, Zecora's voice grew strong again. "I know what I tell you may leave you annoyed, but you've earned the right to know what you should avoid."

The frightening thing was how absolutely certain the zebra sounded. She wasn't confident and cocksure like Celestia or Twilight had been with the elements (come to think of it, in retrospect that confidence had been warranted, hadn't it); she sounded worried. Almost... sad, for him. Discord could discount arrogance in ponies, or zebras for that matter, since if they weren't holding the Elements of Harmony it almost invariably meant he was going to defeat them without even trying very hard. But nopony ever sounded worried for him... except Fluttershy, who worried about everything.

"When you say 'crying', are you simply invoking some sort of metaphor for general melancholy to make your rhyme work, or do you literally mean you saw me crying? Because I believe the last time I did something like that was approximately two thousand years ago, so if you actually saw something like that, I'd put it down to indigestion. Perhaps some yams that weren't as fresh as they could have been, or a bit of ergot on your rye?"

"The word I used was the actual fact," Zecora said. "And it did not appear to be an act. My knowledge is limited as to why, but of what I did see, I do not lie."

"I'm sure you saw half a dozen other things as well that simply don't rhyme as well," Discord said dismissively.

"Discord. You must listen to me. Some paths you might choose will bring you nothing but misery. I cannot see well enough to warn you in detail, but I've seen enough in broad strokes to tell you the tale."

Discord sighed theatrically. "You'll just whine at me until I let you give me your cryptic warning, won't you?" he said. "Very well. But if all you want to tell me is that Rosebud was his sled, I've already seen it."

"The path you've chosen to walk now is hard. Your usual pleasures mostly from you barred. You find it too harsh to play friendship's role, so I know you consider breaking parole."

He studied the shaman, eyes narrowed. No mind reading needed there, he supposed, nor visions of the future either. Everypony probably guessed that sooner or later he'd break down and unleash chaos because they simply didn't trust him. They didn't know about his compulsions, how the sight of things ordered and balanced and controlled grated against him like sandpaper on his brain, how unbelievably hard it was to not reach out to all the silly little patterns everywhere and reshape them into some form they hadn't been in previously. The fact that things everywhere fell down and stayed down unless somepony picked them up! The fact that grass was green, and didn't have wheels, and didn't talk, and didn't taste like chocolate! The fact that the rain came exactly when the pegasi scheduled it, for exactly as long as they'd scheduled it, and it was always made of water! If anypony knew how hard he was trying to not break everything, they'd give him a medal, not whine endlessly at him when occasionally he treated himself to a small bit of chaos to reward himself for his efforts.

But he'd never been one to complain about anything sincerely; he'd indulge himself in theatrical complaints about things he didn't actually care about particularly, but he kept the things that mattered to himself. So nopony actually knew how hard he was working, and he preferred it that way. Fluttershy had some insight; the others just knew that he slipped up with some frequency, and they thought he could control it. Well, that wasn't precisely the phrase, because honestly he could control it, but they couldn't imagine how empty, how dull, how mind-bogglingly unendurable life was if he couldn't break any of the patterns. They thought his occasional small bursts of chaos were specifically to annoy them, not to preserve his sanity. Not that the fact that it annoyed them disappointed him any, it did in fact add savor, but he wasn't doing it just to annoy them. He was doing it because he couldn't bear the static world closing in around him, and a world where even change was predictable tore at him in ways none of them could imagine.

Well, maybe Rarity could. Maybe if he explained to her that living in the predictable world where everything was always exactly like everypony would have expected it to be, for him, was like living in a perpetual fashion nightmare would be for her, maybe she would understand. But he honestly didn't care if she understood or not. Fluttershy understood about as much as he was willing to let any pony know of his weaknesses, and he didn't want to give any of the others even that much insight.

"So? Tell me something I don't know. I'm sure everypony in Ponyville except for Fluttershy expects me to snap one of these days and run through the streets shrieking 'CHAOS!' while turning ponies into chinchillas and wombats."

"No need to be mean, I'm merely setting the scene. You don't wish to lose friendship, but chaos you crave, and sooner or later, you believe you will cave. But when you choose which laws to keep or to bend... remember the nature of your very first friend."

Discord liked nonsense, but not in the context of nonsensical warnings about bad things in his future. "Celestia?" Why would anypony think to warn him that Celestia wouldn't like it if he gave in and started causing as much as chaos as he longed to again? Wasn't that so blatantly obvious it was almost tautological?

"No, not Celestia. Think back and remember. Which of your friends would reduce you to ember?"

And suddenly in memory Discord was a tiny colt again, cold and shivering, alone in the forest, watching in fascination as flames from a lightning strike danced over a tree branch, constantly changing. He hadn't really understood that fire wasn't alive – of course he'd been at an age when stuffed animals were alive, so it was hard to remember what he'd really understood and what had just been a wild imagination – so he'd made a pet of it. It was so beautiful and free and ever-changing, and as long as he fed it and took care of it, gave it wood and cleaned up the ashes it left behind after its meals and made sure it got plenty of air and shelter, it had warmed and entertained him, and even made the hard root vegetables that he was able to dig out of the unyielding ground into things soft and delicious for him to eat. Fire had kept him alive, had been his only companion, his beloved pet, his best friend.

It had also burned him every time he'd accidentally stuck a paw or his tail into it.

He stared down at the zebra. "Exactly how do you know about that?" he asked coldly, forcing down the memory.

She didn't answer his question, but met his eyes fearlessly. "Fire brings warmth and light when you're master, but when it's in charge it brings only disaster. Left unchecked your first friend will seek to devour - you, and all things. So too with your power."

Discord made himself breathe. Celestia had told her. Had to have. Neither the Tree nor some strange zebra could possibly know him that well. Though... if Zecora had been able to use that potion on herself, or something like it even without the extra oomph from alicorn magic, she could have tapped into the collective unconscious, and seen almost any event in the history of the world that anyone remembered. He'd thought he was cut off from the collective unconscious himself, his perceptions too chaotic and strange to fit the rest of the world, but perhaps his memories lingered out there where a truly skilled shaman could uncover them. "You know a great deal about me, Zecora," he said casually, studying his claw. "Am I a subject of your studies, then? You should be careful with that. Haven't you ever heard that when you gaze into the abyss, sometimes it gazes back into you?"

"There's no cause for alarm. I mean you no harm, Discord, I seek only to warn." She backed away a step and lowered her head slightly, not as if she were afraid but as if she were trying to avoid seeming threatening to him, as if he'd ever be threatened by a little zebra no matter how many potions she knew how to make. "Be careful where you make chaos. You must learn to behave, or that which you master will keep you its slave."

"Keep me its slave? You sound like you think I'm ruled by chaos, not the other way around."

"And are you not? It swallowed you whole, took your mother, your love, your freedom, even your soul. You lost everything, Discord. Recognize this. No matter how sweet you find chaos' kiss, there is more to your life than causing havoc and strife, as long as you choose that all else you won't lose." She started to walk away, then turned back for a moment. "Your choice made your own fate, turning you into naught but an object of hate. You can choose differently. A new chance, now you're free. Or let chaos still own you. If that's what you do, your future is empty. You know I speak true."

"Did Tia put you up to this? Because I'm truly enjoying this episode of 'This Is Your Life, Discord', really I am, but thus far I haven't heard a single thing I can use, or anything I wouldn't have expected. Ooh, don't be a bad colt and make chaos, Discord, or bad things will happen to you! What bad things? I couldn't really say, I saw them while I was on a drug trip and besides I can't make them rhyme."

Zecora shook her head. "I can only give advice. If you take it, that'd be nice, but there's nothing I can make you do. What you do with what I have said is all up to you."

She turned away and began to leave. Discord called after her. "Oh, Zecora? One more moment of your time please?"

Zecora turned back to him, eyebrow arched. "Just a simple little question, really," Discord said. "You knew that the Tree of Harmony existed, and was in danger, and that most likely the Elements would have to return to it. Twilight was so very put out that I'd known this all along and hadn't told her... but I had my reasons. Yet you were prepared to give her a potion that could possibly have driven her utterly bonkers to give her information that [i]you[/i] could have given her yourself." He smiled cheerily. "So, just wondering, why didn't you?"

"Shall a zebra tell ponies, in essence, to give up their nation's most powerful defense?" Zecora asked quietly. "Some things, it is not my place to tell. A pony will accept the harsh truth if she learns for herself."

"Ah, so you were scared enough of lynch mobs from Ponyville to risk Twilight's sanity, given that you didn't know I was on your side. Good to know!"

Zecora only glared at him. "I will not play your word games, draconequus. Our discussion is done, you may return to your business." She stalked off. Discord watched her go, grinning.

Once she was gone, he lost the grin, thinking of the last things she'd said before he'd zinged her. Ridiculous. He was not a slave to chaos. All right, so he had compulsions, he was easily bored, things that were orderly and predictable grated on him so badly that there were moments he thought his brain would explode if he didn't make something change, but he wasn't a slave to anything. He could quit making chaos anytime he wanted to; the fact was that he didn't want to and never would. It was in his blood, his magic, his soul. His nature had been decided when he had been a mere foal, perhaps even from the moment of his birth.

But... maybe it would be a good idea to look into ways he could cause chaos and change that ponies would actually appreciate. Because, well, it wasn't like he actually believed the zebra shaman had any genuine insight into his future (him crying? He was more likely to do... well, almost anything, really), but it wasn't hard to figure out that if he didn't find some outlet for his obsessions, sooner or later he'd do something that would seriously anger Fluttershy. And the thought of taking over Equestria again and unleashing total chaos and breaking every pattern he could find and making the world right, making it properly unbalanced and disarranged and deliciously unpredictable, was painfully hollow when he imagined how completely alone he'd be if he did it.

He decided to table the thought of getting Fluttershy's friends too occupied with coltfriends and foals to worry about what he was doing, and for that matter the notion of increasing the birthrate, at least for now. Those were long range plans. Zecora's advice was stupid, given that it boiled down to, in essence, "stop creating chaos" and that was never going to happen, but the concept that maybe he should be careful about what chaos he created and where? Maybe it would be better if he thought out his chaos and presented his ideas to Fluttershy and got her approval (and oh, did that ever miss the point of chaos so badly, but if it meant he could have both chaos and Fluttershy he was willing to compromise his ideological purity a bit).

Well. As far as he was concerned, he'd been doing this job long enough. Any animals he'd missed repairing the habitats of, they'd just rebuild. Animals were tougher than ponies; they were better at adapting to chaos. Right now, he needed to come up with something he could show to Fluttershy, something ponies would appreciate. He snapped the claws of his talon, and vanished in a burst of light.

This story is in the same continuity as "The Last Draconequus", "Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps" and "Elements of Opposition." The fic sequence for this particular continuity goes like this:

Last Draconequus and related fics: Discord's childhood and history

Awkward Conversations: Post "Keep Calm and Flutter On", pre-Alicorn Twilight. Discord has conversations with several other characters. Most of them do not go well.

Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps:

- Vines: Pre-"Princess Twilight Sparkle". Discord decides to help with the vines. Mostly.

- Detente: Post-"Princess Twilight Sparkle". Zecora comes to Discord with an offer from the Tree of Harmony, and some advice.

Light Rain: Discord has something to show Fluttershy. Bridge between "Princess Twilight Sparkle Endcaps" and "Elements of Opposition".

Elements of Opposition (series):

- Discord in Hell (Not Literally): Discord travels to an alternate universe to wreak entertaining havoc, and picks the wrong one. After being enslaved with twisted versions of the Elements of Harmony that his now-dead counterpart had corrupted, thus corrupting their Bearers, Discord writes a desperate plea for help.

- Twilight Sparkle's Report On The Entropic Gradient: Technically happens before "Discord in Hell". The corrupted Twilight Sparkle outlines her plan for Discord to her version of Princess Celestia.

- Dragonfire and Sympathy: The alternate Spike is trying not to have any sympathy for Discord.

- World Without Harmony: Stories of the alternate universe.

- Elements of Opposition: The Mane 6 from the regular universe go on a mission to rescue Discord from the alternate universe.

These are not hyperlinked because fanfiction dot net strips hyperlinks, but all of them either are or soon will be available on my author page.

For updates and notes about my work, visit my Livejournal at alara-r dot livejournal dot com. (Fanfiction dot net strips links, so I have to write it out like that.)

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