It seemed unlikely that Discord had a window overlooking his own living quarters, since he lived alone as far as she knew, but she checked anyway. None of the windows showed Discord himself, and very few of them even showed anything that was recognizably his realm of chaos. She was close to giving up on using the windows, and going back to opening random portals, when she saw that the large kitchen she'd bypassed because surely Discord wouldn't have anything as normal-looking as a kitchen in his home, and more specifically the stack of plates in that kitchen, was being swarmed by... was that snakes with mouse heads? No, plainly it was lizards with mouse heads, because their long snaky bodies had short stubby legs. And they were eating the plates as well as the food on the plates.
Okay, that was probably part of the chaos realm. And unless Discord was so random that he had a kitchen full of dishes floating someplace in this dimension, with no one using it – which, she had to admit, was possible – then that was either his kitchen, or it belonged to some denizen of this realm that was relatively sapient, who might be able to direct her to Discord.
Now she had to solve the problem of opening the window. Nothing she'd done had opened the window to the outside world, the one that overlooked Sugarcube Corner, but if this was really a window to another location in the chaos realm... She tried opening the window as if it were a window, which of course didn't work, but she'd had to try it. Then she spent what seemed like at least 2 or 3 hours trying to attune her magic to the window and open a portal to the exact same location. By the time she successfully had one, the window room was littered with open portals to various places in the chaos realm, because she didn't actually know how to close any of them.
The mice-snake-lizard things seemed to be mostly done with their meal now. When Twilight came through the portal, the remaining few of them scattered.
This was indeed a kitchen. It was a large, open space, with a fireplace that roared with... water, splashing up from the firewood. Okay then. There was a pantry made of fine old oak that smelled like cheddar cheese. When she opened it, she saw the orange space she'd appeared in first, and floating a short distance in front of her was a loosely compacted double-sided pile of food items, most of them cans. Twilight reeled a can with a picture of tomatoes on it in with her telekinesis, and cast a spell to open the can. Hastily she tossed it back into the orange space within the pantry, since she couldn't find a garbage can. Why did Discord have a can full of green worms, and why had he labeled it as tomatoes? The question was rhetorical, of course; she knew why.
There was an open archway leading out of the kitchen into what appeared to be a glass tunnel. Twilight walked cautiously out onto it. Her footing seemed solid, but the tunnel was surrounded on all sides by the dark, swirling energies of the chaos realm. Glass walls seemed very fragile in comparison to that. Also, glass being a magical conductor rather than an insulator, albeit not as good a conductor as crystal – the amount of magic out there was absurd. This entire realm felt like there was enormous magical pressure, giving her a headache when she wasn't doing magic and a hornache when she was. What she was pushing through her horn was thicker, denser than the magic she was used to, and more energetic, and it took a lot more to hold it back. When she wasn't using it, though, the magic seeped into her personal mana pool, filling her to the point where she was restless, uncomfortable, occasionally even twitching with the need to use her magic, and the overload made her head pound. The effect was a lot less in the sealed buildings, like the window room or the kitchen, but here in the glass tunnel she could almost hear the magic itself whispering to her. Use us use us use us let us make let us dance let us free
She gritted her teeth. No. She was so angry at Discord for putting her through all this, but she was going to stay in control. She wasn't going to start ripping random portals in reality again.
The tunnel led to... she wasn't sure. Had it been triangular, she'd have called it a pyramid, like they had in Neighypt and Mexicaballo, but it wasn't a pyramid. It was... an icosahedron? An irregular icosahedron? An irregular icosahedron with the spikes of a star shape sticking out of it except none of them were aligned with each other? She saw it from above, first, and then the tunnel spiraled in a gentle ramp down to the middle of the thing. It was no kind of structure that could exist under gravity, unless maybe it was a cloud house... but it was made of solid brick, not clouds.
On the last bit of the tunnel, it sloped down dramatically, to the point where she couldn't see any way to walk down it, and narrowed so that she wouldn't be able to stand up straight in it anyway. It spiraled around several times more below her before finally entering the icosahedron-like thingy building. How was she supposed to get down there...?
Oh, wait. It was Discord. This was plainly a slide.
Tentatively, Twilight inched toward the slide. She could go down on her back, hind legs first, in which case there was a good chance of landing on her rump because her hind legs weren't good for establishing an initial purchase on something; she had a lot less dexterity with them. Or she could go down face first, and hopefully catch herself at the bottom with her forelegs and be able to come out of the slide on all fours, but if the slide came out too close to the floor she would faceplant. Eventually she decided that landing on her rump was safer than landing on her head, so she carefully braced herself with her forelegs at her side, from a sitting position, and inched her backside forward. Pinkie did this all the time. Slides wouldn't exist if pony anatomy couldn't handle them. Obviously she could do this.
Then her footing gave out, the slippery glass providing no purchase for her hooves or her magic, and she was slipping. Twilight screamed involuntarily. The tunnel seemed greased or lubricated somehow, so her descent was nearly frictionless, and terrifyingly fast. What was worse was that the topology of the slide was not the topology of the glass tunnel as she had seen it from above. When she'd been in the part she could walk through, the slide portion had been a simple spiral underneath her – a steep spiral, to be sure, but a regular, predictable one. Now that she was actually in the slide, it had upslopes that she went skidding up, hind legs first, which meant she was upside down, and some of them were far too steep for momentum to be carrying her. It wasn't a reversal of gravity, because she could still feel that the general pull of gravity was in the same direction; it was more that there was an upstream current so powerful that it carried her up, except a current of what? She was the only thing that seemed to be moving.
In a few other places, the gravity did rapidly alter, making her spin around the interior of the tunnel, except that because it was gravity altering it felt to her as if the tunnel was what was spinning, and the only reason she could tell otherwise was that the glass was still transparent and the icosahedron outside seemed to be spinning with the tunnel, which was probably less possible than that gravity was spinning. Then there was a portion where the tunnel went totally black, and she shrieked even louder. There were more upslopes, and more gravity switches, which were far more terrifying in complete darkness. The current of absolutely nothing that was carrying her made her slide rapidly from side to side so that even when gravity stayed in place she was still going halfway up the wall on one side of the slide, then across and halfway up the other wall, as her general motion forward continued.
And then there was light, and she was out and falling. Twilight shrieked again and scrabbled, instinctively trying to flap her forelegs because she didn't have wings, as she plunged... onto a very, very spongy, bouncy surface. She bounced once, twice, upside down, on her side, and finally came to rest many heads away from the slide exit. Oh, she was going to kill Discord when she found him.
She got to her hooves, panting, and took stock. She was in an enormous bouncy house. The top was easily twenty heads up. It was nearly impossible to walk on the surface normally, because it gave under her hooves and then snapped back, making her stumble. The only way to proceed seemed to be to bounce. Twilight had never been much of a bouncy pony, but she'd seen that Pinkie Pie almost never used any other form of locomotion, so she'd seen plenty of examples of it. Just push off, all legs at once, tilt forward with forelegs out, let hind legs come to rest behind them, then all legs again. It was like jumping, but with the surface being so springy, it took far less effort than jumping would normally.
Finally, finally, she was out of the bouncy house and in a corridor made of feathers. Or a corridor growing feathers, she wasn't sure which. The floor, and the wall when she touched it, had the exact consistency of a pegasus wing, except no bony edge; it was just all feathers. It was soft, and fluffy, and almost as hard to walk on normally as the bouncy house had been, and it was warm but with currents of a light breeze blowing through it, and in the center there was what looked like a hot tub, though when she tested the temperature it was more like a warm tub – the temperature you'd take a bath at, rather than the temperature of a soak at the spa. Also, the water in the tub was heavily salinated. There were, however, water fountains all along the walls, lovely things made of multicolored glass, perpetually jetting cold and delicious water in bow-shaped arcs. Being very thirsty, Twilight drank.
With her thirst quenched, she suddenly felt very tired; she'd been at this all night. The temptation to lie down on the soft feathered floor and take a nap was almost overwhelming. What kept her from doing so was the sound of voices, up ahead. Pony voices. Many, many pony voices.
Why would there be so many ponies in Discord's dimension?
As she moved forward, the distant sound of pony voices turned into a cacophony. Well, that might be an exaggeration brought on by her headache, but it sounded like a crowded school cafeteria, so many ponies talking at once. With magic almost browbeating her into using it, Twilight cast an eavesdropping spell, which would isolate each individual thread and cycle through them, amplifying one and muting the others, then shifting to a different one, one by one.
"For in a minute there are many days: o, by this count I shall be much in years ere I again behold my Romareo!"
"trade agreements with Griffonstone, largely centering on"
"and in his mouth he had... the brick!"
"Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madponies know nothing. But you should have seen me."
"crystal ponies were enslaved in the mines, digging for crystals. Sombra seemed to be looking for"
"sensitive initial conditions. Our first impression of another pony is crucial for"
"didn't know if she was ever going to get her cutie mark!"
"'contrary, my dear, I've already won!' Ahuizotl cackled. 'All I need'"
"mysterious nation of Neighpon, where dragons and ponies walk the same streets. We visited"
"She pushed him against the bed. 'Yes, I am,' she whispered seductively. 'But mares in heat choose our partners. And I've chosen'"
"before the killer would strike again. But she needed more evidence. She couldn't"
Being as widely read as she was, Twilight recognized almost all of these as lines from books. Was there some kind of book club here? But how could any pony make out what their neighbor was reading, in all of that babble?
She came out of the feather room onto a balcony and sucked in a quiet breath.
Before her there was a vast room, with architecture reminiscent of the structures of ancient Minos, or some of the current popular cloudhome architecture, though this was sculpted in marble rather than cloud. Different colors of marble were used almost everywhere, and there were pillars that seemed to be made of polished granite as well as marble pillars. The room was four stories tall, and she was on the third story. On each story, there were doorways all around the walls – many of them arches of various heights and widths, but there were also circles, standard rectangles, triangular doors, upside-down triangular doors, squares, trapezoids, and amorphous shapes that weren't easily defined as anything. Most of them were wide open, though all the ones she could see on the first floor were closed.
Each story seemed to be misaligned with the others, and of different irregular shapes, so not only didn't the doors line up with each other, the corners didn't either... and there was no consistency to the number of corners. It was beautiful and striking, but it made her head hurt as her brain frantically tried to find symmetry somewhere, anywhere, and came up with nothing.
Graceful fountains were placed in various locations on the courtyard-like lowest floor. Some of them had statues of creatures much like Discord except with four dragon-like limbs instead of just one, and smoother, shorter faces that seemed feminine, spouting water from their mouths. One fountain in particular was breathtaking and impossible. There was a glass sculpture of a phoenix in the center of the fountain, and the whole thing was made of red, orange and yellow glass, making the water itself seem to be on fire. The phoenix was in flight, as if bursting upward out of the water, and was somehow balanced into this position by sculpted droplets of water connected by threads of glass so fine Twilight could barely make them out. They reflected the fire-colored glass and the fire-colored water, looking like contrails of slender flame-colored of magic trailing behind the phoenix. Water ran up the sculpture and sprayed out as a mist of droplets from the phoenix's wings, creating a halo of flame-colored water all around the phoenix. That had to be Discord's doing – no pony had the ability to blatantly violate the laws of physics and make that violation permanent enough that it could support a sculpture. Well, no – teams of unicorns could do it. There were similar spells all over the foundation of Canterlot. But Twilight had never seen a pony put permanent gravity-defying spells on a work of art, and she herself wasn't sure she could do it. Support spells were one thing, but the water was flowing up. On the other hand, she wondered if Discord could really create something so beautiful and lifelike.
The sounds were coming from directly below. She peered over the edge of the balcony – and saw Discord, below her, floating on a cloud about halfway between the floor and the second story. He was reclining, but not looking up. All around him, books floated. One that seemed to be floating directly in his line of vision had tiny ponies in old-time garb walking around and posturing on the surface of the book... wait, were they having a swordfight? She was too high up to make it out properly. Discord was resting a large, dripping hayburger with at least three patties on one of the open books next to his arm, as he munched pickles out of a floating pickle jar. Except for the book with the tiny ponies fighting on it and the book with the hayburger, all the books floated around aimlessly, but with a general vaguely circular motion around Discord, like an orbiting cloud. A book floated under Discord's chin, and she saw with horror that pickle juice was dripping all over it.
The cacophony of conversation came from the books; they were reading themselves. Except for the one book that seemed to be enacting a play. She remembered the first snippet she'd heard. Yes, that could be Spear Shaker's Romareo and Julienne down there, the story of a noble unicorn colt and a filly from a rich and powerful clan of earth pony potato farmers who fell in love despite their families being locked in mortal enmity. And the tiny ponies enacting the play were actually hurting each other... there was blood spilling onto the book. One of the books Discord had actually returned had been the first volume of Collected Plays of Spear Shaker, and it had had blood on it too. Was he now engaged in destroying the second volume?
There was no clearly obvious way of getting down there and confronting him, and if she shouted, Twilight wasn't sure he could hear her over the babble of the books. She wasn't actually sure how he was managing to make out any individual book in the din, in the first place. After a few moments of thought, Twilight mentally facehoofed, realizing that the answer was not only obvious, but that if she'd thought of it earlier she wouldn't have gotten frustrated enough to start ripping holes in space. She cast the temporary wings spell on herself, the one she'd used on Rarity for the Best Young Flyers competition. Oddly, while Rarity's wings had come out as gorgeous, glittering butterfly wings, hers took the shape of perfectly normal pegasus wings, purple like the rest of her, just more ghostly and transparent than real pegasus wings would have been. In the polished marble of the floor she was standing on, she looked like an alicorn. Twilight giggled at the silliness of imagining herself as a princess, but her mirth was instantly cut short by the sight of a piece of pickle falling on a floating book. All of the rage she'd been feeling at Discord came back.
She jumped down, flapping her temporary wings. The spell granted rudimentary knowledge of how to fly along with the wings; she wouldn't be doing Rainbow Dash-style stunts, but she could fly at least as competently as Fluttershy. Discord didn't even notice her until she was practically on top of him. "Discord!" she shouted down to him, over the babble of the books.
Discord's head jerked up. With an expression of startlement that almost rivaled the one he'd made when he'd realized the Elements were actually working, he said, "Twilight?" The books went silent and scattered, hiding in the cloud he was laying on. "What are you doing here?"
"Give back my books. Now," she growled.
"Your books? Twilight, I am fairly certain that the majority of these are library books, not your personal possessions," he said. "Not all of them even come from your library."
"You. Stole books from my library. Destroyed—"
"How do you steal books from a library?" Discord interrupted. "I borrowed them. Isn't that what you do with a library?"
She took deep breaths. Despite her fantasies, she didn't want to actually punch him in the face, and she was getting very close to the point where she wasn't sure she could control herself. "You borrow books from a library by checking them out. That way the librarian knows they're gone, and where they are. And can send you overdue notices if you've had them out too long. And can make you pay for them when you destroy them!"
"I haven't destroyed any books," Discord said, sounding bewildered.
"Oh, really?" Twilight flew closer to him, darting at his face. Discord actually leaned his head back to avoid her – like backing up, except with just his neck. "What about the cookie crumbs? The water damage? The soap? The BLOODSTAINS?!" On the last, she yanked the books he'd been hiding in the cloud out, and shoved Collected Plays of Spear Shaker, Vol 2 in his face. Discord teleported away and appeared in the air a short distance from her.
"Pish-posh, Twilight. I know for a fact that all of those books are still readable."
"Fear and Loathing in Las Pegasus was warped badly and half the pages are stuck together!"
"All right, all of the books are still readable except that one, but really, do you want impressionable young ponies to be reading an account of a so-called journalist and his so-called lawyer spending an entire weekend on powerful hallucinogenic potions and mood-altering spells? It's quite irresponsible of you to even have that book in the library in Ponyville where any young foal could come along and read it."
"That's not acceptable!" Twilight flung all of the books at him. Discord teleported out of the way, and reappeared, chuckling.
"Oh, my. Aren't you ever riled up. And to think I accomplished this masterpiece of disharmony without even trying!" She threw the books at him again. He dodged physically this time, until she brought them back around for a second pass, and then he teleported. "You are so adorable when you're angry! Here, I need to take a picture of this." Suddenly he was off to the side, with a camera. He snapped a shot, but that kept him in place long enough that she could hit him in the head with Collected Plays, which was physically the largest book there. "Twilight, Twilight, do you – do you seriously think you can hurt me? By throwing books at me?" He started laughing riotously. "You are hilarious!" Discord snapped his talon, and all of the books turned into birds, which flew away, croaking like frogs. Twilight's eyes widened with renewed rage. "And really, you can't be all that concerned for the welfare of your books if you're going to damage them yourself by throwing them at me."
"You just destroyed a dozen books," Twilight said softly.
"But I created a dozen birds! And really, in the grand scheme of things, what's more valuable? The life of a precious little animal or the existence of another printed paper copy of a book with a million other copies? I know which one Fluttershy would prefer."
Her vision was hazed in red, her heart pounding so hard she could feel it bruising itself against her ribcage. All she could think about was wiping that smug smile off Discord's face. With a thought, Twilight tore open a portal to the place that had been full of water the last time she opened a portal to it, directly over Discord. A veritable wall of water dropped out of nowhere and slammed into the draconequus, sluicing down and hiding him from sight.
Discord reappeared, drenched, with a snake-like fish twined in his antler. "All right, I'll acknowledge that was a good—"
She tore open another random portal. This time a large assortment of jars containing what might be food substances rained down on his head. Many of them proceeded to smash on the floor afterward.
The jars that hadn't broken floated upward, away from Discord, who was actually visibly bruised in several spots. There was even a trickle of blood on his neck. "Twilight, this is getting tedi—"
Twilight ripped multiple holes in the reality of the chaos realm at once. A jet of lava spurted out at Discord, who narrowly avoided it by dodging into a gale-force wind that flung him across the room. Various shower curtains tumbled out of another hole, and she used these to wrap Discord tightly while he was still recovering from the intense wind. Discord thrashed, tearing at the shower curtains with his claws. Before he'd freed himself, Twilight grabbed him and threw him into what was still a cascade of water pouring down. Most of her portals weren't doing much of anything – there was either nothing beyond them but space, or there was no pressure driving anything to fall out of the portal – but she ripped another, and another. The entire first floor of the room was now covered with water, since all the doors on the first floor appeared to be shut.
Discord materialized, a furious expression on his face. He was no longer wet, bruised or covered with shower curtains. Twilight had been expecting this, and had already grabbed all the objects that had thus far fallen out of portals – shower curtains, jars, broken jars, loaves of bread, a pile of black rocks that seemed to absorb the color of whatever they touched, a large number of live fish, and a great deal of water. She threw all of them at him from behind, so he didn't see them coming, and then teleported herself to get out of the way.
The pressure in her head was gone. The ache in her horn had gone away; the viscousness of the magic she was drawing on had thinned, and it was flowing out of her horn with a feeling more satisfying than any use of magic she'd felt before – like the almost painful satisfaction of peeing when your bladder was full to bursting. Every spell she cast seemed to be easier. She was alive with righteous rage, blood burning with the need to batter Discord into a bloody pulp and the joy of feeling her attacks hit him. The various things she'd collected as weapons were spinning in a few separate waterspouts, that seemed almost to be animating themselves now that she'd gotten them started, and she added to them as she pulled open more holes in space and yanked more objects in. Everything she'd been through – the stress and fear of discovering the books missing, her anger and heartbreak at seeing them damaged, the frustration and sleeplessness she'd endured of over a day searching through this place that made no sense, for Discord – all of it was pouring through her, the stress unraveling as she used the pent-up energy of her emotions to fuel her attacks on the one responsible. When Discord reappeared, she hit him with a waterspout, with cans and jars and an entire wardrobe of clothing rotating through it.
He was suddenly behind her. "TWILIGHT! YOU HAVE TO STOP THIS NOW, OR—"
"Or what?" Twilight turned to face him and laughed, teleporting one of her waterspouts so its bottom touched down on his head. With a yowl, Discord was yanked back into the waterspout, this one featuring black rocks and the shower curtains.
All of her waterspouts broke apart, the water and the objects within falling to the floor below. "Twilight, listen to me!" Discord shouted. He was bedraggled and wet, bruised again, but he looked less angry than... worried? Had she ever seen Discord looking? "Chaos amplifies emotion! If you're—"
She ripped open a portal and watched as some sort of suction pulled him in, flailing. The water below stirred in the strong wind created by the suction portal. She couldn't afford to have it suck all the air out, so she opened a second one to the very windy area.
Discord reappeared above her. "Twilight, you have to calm down! Chaos amplifies emotion, emotion amplifies magic, and magic amplifies chaos! You're in a feedback loop that will burn you out!"
That was ridiculous. She'd never felt stronger. "You just want me to spare you your punishment for stealing my books! Well, it's not going to work!" He had a shield up. She blasted the shield directly, varying the frequency of her magic rapidly to find a weak point, like Shining had taught her when she'd practiced against him. Discord's shield was varying its own frequency rapidly, but they weren't in sync; it took only a second before her magic found a frequency his shield was currently weak against, and shattered it, blasting him across the room. He slammed into the wall and slid slowly down it for a moment before vanishing.
"Now where are you?" She couldn't sense him re-entering. Space roiled and churned with the number of portals she'd torn open. Twilight spun in place, eyes wide, looking for any sign of Discord's return.
A shower curtain suddenly appeared directly in front of her and wrapped around her head. A blast of magic shredded it almost instantly, but more shower curtains attacked her. Tomatoes and berries and other soft fruit pelted her. Half-melted ice cream rained down on her in glops. Twilight sent the ice cream out, fully melted, in a wave of misty droplets, that just for a moment outlined the shape of half a draconequus at the edge of the ice cream cloud. Ha! She blasted him with downward kinetic force, throwing him with all her might into the water below, while at the same time pulling every object within the water toward him with great force.
And then she felt something clamp onto her horn, and her magic redirected upward, blasting at the ceiling. She reached toward the whatever it was with her hooves. It was a metal cone, bigger than her horn, that was fastened tightly to the base where her horn met her head. It opened outward, like a dog's cone of shame, and she couldn't make her magic point in any direction but straight. When she tried to cast a spell to destroy the cone, her spell dissolved into pure kinetic magical force, a release of telekinesis rather than actual spellwork.
Abruptly there was a paw on her chin, a talon in her mane, and a weight on her back. Twilight thrashed and bucked, but couldn't dislodge Discord or keep him from holding her head in place, so that all her magic was shooting straight up into the hole she'd already made in the roof. "Twilight, you have to calm down." She could feel his breath against her ear. "I will not be responsible for trying to explain to Celestia that her favorite student burned herself out or fell to dark magic because she was mad at me for not returning books. Nopony would ever believe me. You have to stop using magic!"
"No—" Twilight thrashed harder. "I—DON'T!"
And the cone overloaded, exploding off her head. She felt Discord's weight disappear a split second before her second blast would have vaporized him, too.
Her vision swam and her heart was pounding and yet she felt good. Oh, how she was going to make Discord pay. Pay and pay and pay, for everything.
A tiny voice just by her ear. "You're in the chaos realm, Twilight. It's destabilizing you, and you're returning the favor! Trust me, you do not want—"
She cast a bug zapper spell over herself, and shivered uncontrollably as ghostly almost-shocks danced over her coat, zapping any unfortunate life forms that happened to be on her. Then for good measure she swatted at where tiny Discord had just been, but her hoof didn't contact anything.
"All right, all right!" His voice seemed to be coming from everywhere now. "I'll return the books I took, I'll clean them up, I'll buy you a new copy of Fear and Loathing! Just stop using your magic and calm down!"
"Not before I make you pay!" she screamed, and started blasting everywhere, firing attack after attack.
Most of the room around her was rubble floating in water now. Still no sign of Discord. "Where are you little chaos spirit?" she caroled, grinning madly. "Come out, come out, wherever you are! I know you like to—" Out of the corner of her eye she saw Discord, and fired at him. "-play!"
And then the world turned upside down, and an Equestria Games-sized swimming pool's quantity of water fell on her, bearing her down. She shrieked, beating her wings frantically, and then there was no air to scream, nothing but the struggle to stay airborne. Just as she was bursting upward out of the mass of water – and noticing that despite the gravity inversion, all of the rubble and other hard solid objects were still sticking to what had originally been the floor – the gravity went sideways, and she fell, her wings not oriented properly for flight against gravity in that direction. Before she could right herself, the water that was now all piled up against a side wall toppled over in a tsunami, catching her and dragging her under.
In panic and fury, Twilight lit up her horn once more with a heat spell, and put so much power into it that the cold water she was drowning in flash-vaporized.
Now she was dizzy, and her waterlogged spell-created wings didn't have the resistance to water that real pegasus wings did, and her horn hurt. A lot, actually. Actually, more than a lot. She sucked in a breath, trying not to scream as the pain sank in... and saw dead, flash-cooked fish all around her.
I did that. Fish that would never move or swim again. I did that. There had to be over a hundred of them. I did that. She'd dragged them out of their home by opening a portal within whatever body of water they'd lived in, and then she'd boiled them alive, instantly. I killed them. I killed them all.
Her head swam. In a panic she looked around for Discord. Had she hurt him? Could she have – no, no, if Discord could be killed surely somepony would have done it already.
She looked up. All her portals were gone, and Discord floated in the air above her, unharmed, the bruises and cuts she'd inflicted on him before gone once again. "Are you done now?" he said mildly.
She looked back down, hoping it had all been an illusion, but no. She was still surrounded by the fish she had killed. Twilight collapsed to her knees and wailed. What had she done? How many fish had she killed? Had there been other living creatures in the water as well? What if there had been ponies? Or the Skalboggan? Or anything?
Discord descended and landed next to her. "I don't know how you got here," he said. "But I'm guessing Celestia never warned you of the dangers of overusing magic in the realm of chaos?"
She shook her head, miserably. "I killed them... I killed all those fish... just because I was angry about library books!"
"Oh, so it's the fish you're upset about and not the fact that you repeatedly tried to kill me?"
"I – I wasn't trying to kill you," she said, pressing her hooves to her face and trying to hold back her sobs. "I just... I was so angry..."
"If I'd been a pony I'd be dead," said Discord. He knelt down in front of her, balanced on his haunches. "At least, if I'd been a pony who wasn't Celestia or Luna. And I'm not sure Luna could have stood up to that barrage, honestly. Though Luna would probably have killed you in self defense."
"I don't understand," Twilight sobbed. "I was angry before but I just... I just wanted to yell at you. To make you give the books back. But then... I got so angry that I wanted to hurt you, and I just kept getting angrier and angrier, and every time I hit you it felt good... that's horrible. I'm horrible. What kind of pony..."
"The kind who started using magic in anger in the realm of chaos, and is powerful enough to channel the magic here," Discord said dryly. "You may have noticed how much more raw magic is available to you here?"
Twilight nodded, trying to keep herself from bawling.
"Most unicorns couldn't cast much here. Magic is too dense. They'd start hurting themselves, quickly, and they'd stop." He stood up. "You have the capacity to channel chaos magic, Twilight. Congratulations."
"But I was so angry. Why was I so angry?..."
Discord sighed. "Chaos magic isn't dark magic, but they share similarities," he said, floating behind her so she had to pivot to follow him. "Dark magic feeds on negative emotion. The more negative emotion you pour into it, the stronger it gets. The stronger it gets, the more it heightens your negative emotions. Chaos doesn't care whether your emotions are positive or negative; all it cares about is that they're strong. But it'll do the same thing. The more emotion you pour in, the more chaos magic you can channel. The more chaos magic you're channeling, the more intense and irrational your emotions become."
"But that doesn't happen to you..."
His grin was bitter and wry. "Twilight, it happens to me all the time. It's my entire life. But I was born for it. I have a personality suited for it. I grew up with chaos. You didn't. In Equestria, you don't have enough of an affinity for chaos, and there's so much harmonic magic everywhere, that's what you'll naturally draw on." Discord picked her up with his tail and gestured expansively outward. "But there is no harmonic magic in the realm of chaos. There's no Tree of Harmony, no Crystal Heart, nothing here to help you harmonize and control your magic. There's nothing here but chaos magic, at a much higher magical density than in Equestria. It could have driven you insane." He set her down, and touched her horn gently with a single furred digit. She whimpered. "You nearly burnt out your horn with that last stunt."
"It hurts," she admitted, fighting not to start sobbing again.
"It's going to hurt. I don't have a horn myself, but I saw Celestia do this to herself once. She was laid up in bed for a week, and couldn't cast spells for two months."
"Two months?" Twilight wailed.
"Oh, relax. You're not hurt nearly as badly as she was."
"But she's an alicorn! They heal—"
"That wasn't a factor, trust me. You'll need to see a doctor in Canterlot, one of the ones who specializes in horn injuries."
"Yes, that. But my guess is, you'll be fine in a few days. Just stop using magic." He held out a small velvet-lined but otherwise empty box toward her. "Now that you aren't going to blow your own head up from the pressure if I block your ability to cast, I could take your horn for a few days and hold it in safekeeping until it heals. That way you wouldn't accidentally hurt yourself by using telekinesis."
"No," she said. Shaking her head turned out to be painful. "Thank you, but no. But why do you care? I was trying to hurt you..."
He smiled thinly. "Because chaos is mine, and I don't like seeing unicorns drive themselves insane or hurt themselves trying to use it. And, well, I admit I might have provoked you just a teeny bit. Though in my defense..." Now he looked genuinely puzzled. "You check books out of libraries? What does that even mean? I just always used to take them, and put them back when I was done."
"What kind of library would let anypony do that? Or did they just let you get away with it because you're Discord and nopony could stop you?"
Discord grinned. "I'll admit, nopony could have stopped me, but no, that was... just how the library worked. It wasn't a public library, though. Perhaps that's the difference."
This was familiar, safe ground, not like talking about her temper tantrum or the violence she'd committed. "Well, libraries today, public libraries, you have to bring the books you want to the librarian and have her mark down that you took them. And you have to return them in three weeks, or request a renewal, and you can't get indefinite renewals unless you have a dispensation from the Crown. And you're not allowed to take out 300 at once!"
"Because! Other ponies have the right to take out those books, too! If you take out 300 at once, that's far too many. Nopony can read 300 books in three weeks. I know, I've tried."
"I'll bet I could," Discord said.
"Well, if you always read twelve books at once, maybe, but... why do you even do that? How can you even understand all those books? And how does that audio conversion spell work? I've used audio conversion spells before, but they don't sound like natural conversation and they mispronounce a lot of the words..."
"It works because it does," Discord said. "After today's incident, I am even less inclined to show you the inner workings of a chaos spell than before. And I can understand all those books because I'm Discord, how else?" He grinned.
"But why did you even want so many books? I saw all the library books you had in that... orange place? It was huge. You must have had like two thousand books there or something."
Discord shrugged. "I never counted them."
"That doesn't answer the question."
"Don't you have at least two thousand books?"
Twilight sighed. "Everypony knows I love to read. But you've never shown any interest in reading. Why would you have stolen two thousand books from libraries if it wasn't just to be a jerk?"
Discord looked away. "Does it really matter all that much?"
"Yes, it matters! If you want me to believe you that you didn't even know you need to take out books—"
"Has it ever occurred to you that I spent over a thousand years in stone?" Discord snapped. "I could hear, I could walk in dreams, I could follow traces of magic to observe things that were happening, if by 'observe' I mean 'sense the flow of magic and emotion and nothing else'. Good comedy, if nothing else, demands that I be au courant with the times. So I've been using books to catch up with the modern age, so what? Isn't that what they're for? Is it so astonishing to imagine I would want to know things that happened while I was imprisoned? Luna talks like everypony did a thousand years ago, and no one questions why she would want to learn more about what's going on nowadays, but simply because I managed to pick up the lingo as it evolved because the only sense left to me was hearing, you assume I don't need to catch up?"
"Then why didn't you come to me and ask? I could have helped you—"
"Ask?" Discord chuckled harshly. "Nopony but Fluttershy has ever done anything for me just because I asked. Not in two thousand years, anyway. They'll do things I tell them to, if they're afraid of the consequences if they don't, but they won't just do something because I asked."
"Well, fine, but you could have come into the library during regular hours and browsed to find what you want—"
"Without all the patrons running out the door and screaming?"
"During workdays we hardly have anypony come in at all. You could easily have come in at a time nopony else was there and just read the books there in the library, or checked them out in reasonable quantities. You didn't have to hide—"
"Yes, I did!" he snapped. "You can't possibly understand—"
"What? That you're embarrassed to be seen reading? I don't like that when it comes from Rainbow Dash, and I'm not going to take it from you – not now that I know you've taken over two thousand books out of different libraries! I don't—"
"I can't read." His voice was sharp and uncharacteristically clipped, biting out the words.
The sentence stopped Twilight's rant cold. She stared at him. "Wh – what?"
"Oh, if I struggle with it, I can eventually make it out." He paced, gesturing. "I can read Fluttershy's letters; they're short and easy, and her hoofwriting doesn't confuse me for some reason. But I can't read a whole book. I can't stand there and browse, reading the back and flipping through a book to see if I want it. I can't sit in a library and read." Discord turned and glared at her. "Because I can read faster than any pony alive, including you, but only because I have a spell that reads to me and the ability to understand dozens of different conversations at once. And that's not good enough for you ponies. You're going to treat me like I'm less than you, as if I'm less intelligent when I've been alive for thousands of years and I've been to more other worlds than I can count and I can travel in time and I can walk under the light of alien stars but no, my eyeballs cannot make sense out of the squiggles you ponies call letters without my putting great effort into it, so that makes me inferior to you."
He poked at her, his talon not quite hitting her in the eye. She flinched. "No. I'm not putting up with it," he said, anger in his voice. "You'd throw me out of the library for trying to read ten books at once because you'd complain that libraries are supposed to be quiet."
Twilight stared at him. "You have dyslexia?"
"I'm not currently involved in a passionate romance with Princess Celestia, no." He smirked.
"What – I – never mind, I don't even want to know where that came from. Do you know what dyslexia is?"
"If it's not about my romantic adventuries with Princess Celestia, then... it sounds vaguely like I'm supposed to be dating a bald coatless monkey who's on a one-being crusade to save his planet from a superpowerful alien?"
"I have no idea where you are even going with these jokes, but I don't care. Dyslexia is a condition in a pony's brain that makes it difficult for them to understand writing, but it doesn't have any other effect on their intelligence. They just discovered it within the last century. Before that, foals with the condition were just considered to be stupid, but some great inventors in Equestria's history had it, so it's got nothing to do with how smart you are. Once they realized it was specifically an inability to read written language easily, they were able to come up with ways to help foals with the condition get a full education, without being hampered by their disability."
Discord stared at her. "I always just thought it was because of Chaos."
"But that doesn't make sense; spoken language is much more complicated and difficult to understand than written language. Anypony trying to learn a second language will have an easier time with the written form than the spoken form, unless they're a foal because foals are optimized to learn languages. If Chaos prevented you from processing symbolic representations of sounds or ideas, then you wouldn't be able to talk."
"I... had some issues with that, too... though there might have been other reasons."
"Well, you can talk perfectly well now, and I've heard you speak words from other languages, so I'm guessing maybe you know more than just Equestrian. I strongly doubt your problem with reading has to do with being the spirit of Chaos. Heck, given the collision between unicorn writing and hoofwriting still hasn't sorted itself out, written Equestrian is a lot more chaotic than the spoken language is."
"Ponies have this problem?"
"Sure. Mostly you don't see it with the adults, because our educational system adapted and we work harder to teach the foals with dyslexia so that by the time they're adults, they might read slowly and their spelling might not be great, but they can read without magical assistance like the kind you're using. But there are adults who occasionally didn't get that training, and there are programs to teach them as well, so they can improve their reading abilities. Of course, since you've found a way to take your magic and an ability that you have that ponies don't and use them to read faster than ponies can, maybe you don't really need any help, but... if you want help, we could try one of the educational programs for adult dyslexics and see if it helps you."
He continued to stare at her for a moment, and then chuckled, shaking his head. "You just destroyed my home, ruined my entire collection of shower curtains, killed my entire fish pond, smashed jars of food that have been in my pantry for over a thousand years, and tried to kill me, over damaged library books... and now you're offering to help me learn to read better?" Discord twanged her horn – which didn't hurt, as it was suddenly rubbery and gave under his talon with a bounce, and while it was rubbery the pain she'd felt before was gone. Then her horn was normal again, and the pain came back. "Sometimes you're more absurd than even I could imagine, Twilight."
"I – I'm sorry." She looked away. "I – yes, I was really mad at you, and I had every intention of chewing your head off metaphorically, but somehow... somehow I got so mad that I actually wanted to hurt you. I know you say that was the chaos amplifying my emotions, but I still feel like I should have been able to keep it under control better."
"But of course you couldn't. If you don't know something is affecting your mind, you have no reason to try to keep it under control." He was suddenly dressed in a martial arts gi, a cotton headband around his forehead with Neighponese characters on it. Twilight herself was dressed in a similar costume, though she had a white belt tied around her waist, and Discord's was a riotous, loud plaid made of clashing bright colors. "If you would learn the ways of chaos, young student, you must first remember that all emotion is chaos, and chaos is emotion. Control your emotion, and you cannot control chaos. Do not control your emotion, and chaos will control you. You must exist in the space between controlling and not controlling, to master chaos."
"I wasn't actually out to learn to master chaos. I just wanted you to give me my books back. All the library books you took, from all the libraries."
"For someone who wasn't trying to master chaos you've gotten off to a great start." The costumes were gone. "I'm amazed you got here in the first place, and even more astonished at that lovely, lovely chaos you caused when you started ripping portals open willy-nilly. Mind you, don't try this at home. The dimension you live in is much less resilient to the stress of spatial portals all over the place than the chaos realm is."
"Didn't you say I was destabilizing your dimension, though?"
Discord waved a paw. "Piffle. Chaos isn't stable in the first place. What you were destabilizing was the pockets of stability I'd set up, because I like to have living creatures around the place, and a stash of food for when I forget exactly what snozzberries taste like so I can't conjure up any for myself, and things like that, so I do maintain stable pockets here and there in order to have those things. The dimension wouldn't have been harmed at all, no matter how many holes you put in it. The things I've made, however, can be wrecked – as can the things I've been keeping here, considering that that's exactly what you just did to a good number of them." He sighed mournfully. "I'll never be able to replace some of those shower curtains."
"...Why do you collect shower curtains?"
He waggled his tail at her, from a reclining position in mid-air. "They don't call me a dracon-equus for nothing, Twilight. I've got to hoard something, and gold and jewels are just so jejune and overdone."
That didn't actually explain anything, but she let it pass. "I'm sorry I wrecked your house," she said. "I wasn't – I mean, I didn't come here planning to do that."
"Ah, no harm done. I probably would have wrecked it myself in a week or two; I confess I am passionate about redecorating."
"What about that—" Her eyes fell on the remains of the glass phoenix statue, the one she'd been just about to ask him if he intended to save when he redecorated. It was nothing but large shards, now. "Ohhh..."
"Is something the matter?"
"That beautiful statue." She pointed at the broken remains. "The phoenix."
"Oh, that old thing? Don't worry about it." He waved a paw dismissively. "It was from my thankfully short-lived realistic period. I was thinking of giving it to Fluttershy, but I'm sure I can come up with something much better to give her."
Twilight drew in on herself, feeling even more guilty. One of the very few things Discord had probably ever done in his existence that looked genuinely beautiful to pony eyes, and she had casually destroyed it because she was mad about library books. "I'm sorry," she whispered again.
"Do stop apologizing, it's getting tedious."
Twilight looked up. "But I hurt you. And I wrecked your things."
"You didn't hurt me; a few minor bruises here and there, but nothing I couldn't wish away with a snap. And now I've learned an important lesson! Librarians should be informed of what books you're taking out!" He sidled up to her, leaning sideways, and put his eagle arm around her in an awkward sideways hug. "Buuut, if you really want to make it up to me, and you insist that I have to return all the books... perhaps you could help me! After all, as a librarian yourself, you're sooo skilled at sorting and classifying books..."
She sighed. "What are you asking for, Discord?"
"Just a teensy bit of help in separating out which books go to what library? Sorting things correctly always gives me the most horrendous headache."
That was actually much less unreasonable than she was expecting. "Sure. But can you send me home, first? I've been wandering around this place without any sleep and with nothing to eat but pudding and a mushroom potato pie for I don't know how long..."
"Oh, of course! Not a problem in the slightest!"
Discord snapped his talon, and the two of them were suddenly standing in the Golden Oaks library. Spike barreled into Twilight, nearly knocking her over.
"Twilight! Where have you been? I was worried sick! Pinkie said something about you going to another dimension to find Discord—"
"That's kind of what happened, yes," Twilight said. "Spike, can I get ice water and something to eat? I'm starving."
"Aren't you going to offer me anything? I am your guest," Discord said. "And considering that you destroyed a good bit of the food in my pantry..."
"Can't you just snap yourself up something?"
"Yes, but I want you to feed me. Isn't that what friends do when their friends come to visit?"
"You didn't offer me anything to eat."
"I didn't even know you were there until you started throwing books at me."
"I've got enough fresh salad to feed the whole gang, so I'll just bring out bowls for both of you," Spike said. "Twilight, did you want coffee?"
Twilight's mood lit up immediately. "Yes! Yes, please!"
"And, um, Discord, uh... we do actually have some chocolate milk?"
Discord pouted. "What, you think just because I did the chocolate milk rain one time that that's the only thing I drink?" He rolled his eyes and gazed at the ceiling, throwing out his arms. "'What can we serve the embodiment of chaos to drink? I know! Chocolate milk! He made it rain chocolate milk once, so obviously the only thing he likes to drink, now and forever, is chocolate milk! Don't even contemplate giving him raspberry lemonade, or apple cider, or pickle juice... no, it must be chocolate milk, because plainly that's the only thing he drinks!'"
"Uh... ok, the only other things we have are water, apple juice and regular milk..."
"Oh, go ahead, the chocolate milk will be fine."
"Oookay then." Spike headed off toward the kitchen.
"Was that really necessary?" Twilight said. "You're just confusing him."
"Hello, have you met me?"
"Uh... Twilight?" Spike's voice came from the kitchen. "You might wanna look out the window."
Uh-oh. Twilight ran to the door, pulling it open with her hooves since her horn still hurt, and looked outside. At first nothing seemed amiss... but when she looked in the direction of the kitchen, and the area Spike would be able to see out its window, she saw a gigantic stack of books. It was a mountain, easily three times taller than Discord, and wider than the spread of the library tree's branches.
"What?" The draconequus was at her side. "You did promise to help me sort them, did you not?"
"I thought we were going to do that in your dimension! Not on my lawn!"
"But you asked me to send you home." If it wasn't for the twinkle in his eye, Twilight might have actually thought his bewildered tone was sincere. "I didn't think you'd want to go back to my humble abode now that you've left it."
Twilight sighed. "I am going to eat my salad and drink my coffee. And then I am going to bed. And then, after I get some sleep because I was wandering around your bizarre dimension all night, Spike and I will sort your books into piles based on what library they came from. Unless I sleep past sundown, in which case we'll do it in the morning. Spike! What's the weather report? Are the pegasi supposed to be bringing rain tonight?"
"Nope! Sunny days the rest of the week!"
"Okay, great!" She turned back to Discord. "When we start sorting, I expect you to be here. I won't make you sort anything because I'm fairly sure you'll do it wrong, but I want you here to start teleporting books back to their correct libraries, and cleaning and repairing any books you damaged. Do you understand me?"
"Sir, yes, Sir!" Discord saluted, suddenly dressed as a Royal Guard cadet, with Twilight in her brother's formal uniform as Captain of the Guard.
"All right." She turned around wearily and went back into the library to eat her salad. Discord followed.
"Dear Princess Celestia," she composed in her head. "I'm sorry I went against your instructions and pursued the book thief myself, but I've learned some very important lessons as a result..."