Dragons Are Actually AWESOME And I Don't Care If Discord Makes Me Change This Chapter Title

Editor's Note: This was actually the first chapter Discord ever showed me. I mean, I started reading it from the beginning as soon as I got my paws on it, because who wouldn't? If you get a book that's your enemy writing about his fight with your friends, of course you're going to read it. But this was the chapter Discord himself handed me to read after I brought the book to him like he asked for, when we were keeping him prisoner in Fluttershy's house.

I think that's how I decided that I was making the right decision. It's really really stressful to be leading a double life like this, and secretly helping a guy who you're being told by all of your friends is the Worst Villain Ever against a guy who you're told by all your friends is the Best Hero Ever, and I'm not sure I could have done it. I've seen the evidence against Anon; I know Discord is telling the truth. I've personally hand-counted birth records in the Canterlot Archives and here in Ponyville, and compared them to the tax records for this year and the property deeds and the marriage announcements, and I've got proof that Discord is telling the truth about stallions being turned into mares, which I've put in a separate binder that I stuck in the "History of Ponyville" section. I've read everything in the Canterlot Archives about the Elements of Harmony, and there isn't one single thing in there about there being seven of them... including a book written by Princess Celestia and Luna recording everything they found out while they were searching. (Did you know that the Elements of Harmony come from a tree, and that it's in the Everfree someplace near the Castle of the Two Sisters? I didn't! But that ties out with stuff Discord has said as well.)

So I've got evidence that some of the things Discord has said are objectively true. But, well, that doesn't necessarily mean Anon was responsible for any of it, or that Discord is a good guy that anyone should be helping. And the truth is... I know he's not a good guy. He's a villain. He's not sorry for it. In this chapter itself, which he gave me as the first official thing to read that he was giving me from this book he's writing, he talks about driving creatures so insane they don't want to risk having children as if he's proud of it. Half the time he doesn't know right from wrong, and the other half he just doesn't care.

But that's the thing. He gave me this chapter to read. It doesn't make him look all that great. All it does is have information in it about dragons that I didn't know. If he was trying to make himself look good, there are better chapters for that. If he was trying to convince me how evil Anon is... Anon isn't even in this chapter. But he was trying to give me something I'd value, a gift of knowledge. Not holding it over my head saying I wouldn't get to read it unless I agreed to help him. He just lent it to me. (To be honest I guess he couldn't have stopped me, not then, but I'd have had to read though this whole thing up to this point to get to this chapter.)

The Dragon Lord, Torch... he doesn't actually sound so awful. I mean he doesn't sound nice, but he's nowhere near as awful as Garble was (and apparently still is.) Princess Ember sounds really smart. I didn't know dragons besides me could actually value being smart. Maybe the problem was that Garble's group of dragons were just all real jerks, because Torch and Ember sound tough, and maybe a little scary, but not mean. Also... aheh... I kinda admit I'd like to see a girl dragon that Discord says is young and hot. I mean I'm not even sure I could tell if any of the dragons I was hanging with were girls or guys, that one time, but I think they were all guys. I mean, it's Discord, so maybe she's got three heads, but he also says Princess Celestia is beautiful so I guess he's not totally weird about who's pretty and who isn't.

If we all make it through this, I've decided I'm going to go to the Dragon Lands someday. Princess Celestia must know a lot more about dragons than she ever told anyone, considering that there was nothing Twilight and I could find when we tried to do research but it sounds like she has had a lot more dealings with dragons than I ever knew. Maybe she even knows where my egg came from. It was at her school, after all.

But I can't do any of that until I get them all free from Anon.

They don't care about me anymore. They just ignore me. For the longest time I thought it was something I'd done. That Anon was just so much cooler than me that of course they were going to ignore me and pay attention to him. Except that's not how friendship is supposed to work. And Discord is right. Twilight raised me. It's totally out of character for her to say Anon should live instead of me, and the only reason I was sure that she meant it was that I've always been insecure about whether any pony actually does care about me, even when I know they do.

Well, I'm done with that. Equestria is my country. My friends are my friends. And I'll make a deal with the devil himself to make sure they get to be the ponies they are, not the ponies someone else wants them to be, if I have to. I know it's wrong to be helping Discord, but when he mind-controlled my friends, it just took a reminder of what friendship really feels like to snap them out of it. Anon's mind control has been going on for months. Assuming it's really coming from him, but Discord's got a point – who else would it be coming from, when the main thing it does is make everyone listen to Anon and think he's the greatest guy ever and, and fall in love with him and stuff? So if Anon has been mind-controlling everypony for months, even me, and none of us noticed, and no one noticed, and it's even affecting Princess Celestia and Princess Luna...

...Someone's got to stop this. And Discord's the only one who's even trying. And Anon's supposed to be a hero, but he treats me like garbage, and Discord's supposed to be a villain, but he gives me a pep talk out of nowhere and then later gives me the chapter to read that tells me about how dragons aren't all totally awful. So I guess I'm his spy in Anon's camp now, and I'm helping him copy this thing out so it's readable, because Discord treats punctuation and capitalization as suggestions. (Not even friendly suggestions, more like the passive-aggressive snotty suggestions you get from unicorns who are trying to be jerks but with plausible deniability, so you almost never do what they suggest.) I never wanted to be in a place where I was working with a villain, but like I said... I want my friends to be my friends again. It's not wrong to want things. I was scared of wanting things for so long, after I turned into a monster because I wanted everything, but what I want now is I want my friends back, and that's not wrong. Even if I can't have them back as my friends. Even if they hate me forever for working with Discord. I'm still on their side, even if they don't know it. I just want them to be themselves again.

I'll do anything to make that happen.

P. S. In case you didn't figure it out, I'm responsible for the chapter title. These things didn't have titles, or actually chapters, before I started editing, and usually Discord tells me what the chapter title should be, but this time I named it myself and I don't care if he makes me change it.

So I suppose you are all on tenterhooks wondering how things turned out with the caribou and the slaves, after I left. I was too. After putting that much effort into something, it rubbed me the wrong way to just leave it, without any idea how it all turned out. I used the Panauricon to investigate.

It was saddening but not surprising to find out that of course, everyone thought Anon was the big hero of the hour and that my role in events wasn't particularly large. Apparently the slave uprising had nothing to do with me; it started on its own, and I showed up to take advantage of it, tricking poor, desperate females in slavery into believing I was there to help them when all I wanted to do was feed off the chaos, and, eventually, take my Element of Disharmony off Dainn's dead body. I mean, they're not wrong on the last part – I didn't go up there to nobly start a slave uprising for the sake of Goodness and Honor – but they all seem to have forgotten how much I did to help them. Or, perhaps, the reindeer remember, because they didn't come to Equestria, they were repatriated to their own country, and it's only the ones who were brought down to Equestria for medical treatment or psychological therapy or because they're ponies and they live here that are getting the details wrong.

Even though I flat out told Anon that I had lured Luna up there with that letter, no one seems to be aware that there was never a Dreamy Star – I've heard Luna wax rhapsodic about the tragic fate of the heroic unicorn who risked her life and depleted her own magic to call for help, who was obviously killed after that because she hasn't turned up. Never mind that there also hasn't been a body and that none of her fellow slaves remember her. Also, no one seems to remember that it was a standard caribou tactic to deprive their slaves of horns and wings and that these things do not naturally grow back.

Or that one of the slaves sacrificed her life to save mine, even though I'd humiliated her, because she knew I was giving everything I had to save her and her fellow slaves. They don't remember that, either. I can only hope that the reindeer do.

There are areas where it turns out Celestia's intelligence hasn't been particularly weakened, which is sad because it leaves me being grateful for her ability to restore... ugh... order. Apparently Anon finds the process of overseeing an occupation and helping the rebels who overthrew the existing government to take charge as boring as I do, and hasn't hampered Celly from doing it. I'm not sure he even knows it's happening. At least I know when glorious anarchy is being nailed down and destroyed by laws and propositions.

But hey, there's a silver lining; Celestia's not yielding to the reindeer. She's politely, firmly and sweetly annexing the territory, letting reindeer come in to help, but for the most part filling it with earth pony teachers and social workers, nearly all of whom are female. Her ostensible reason for this is the severe lack of intelligence suffered by the female caribou and the fact that reindeer, leading a harsh existence in a frozen wasteland, have a lot less in the way of social workers and caretakers than ponies do. And no matter how shiny and harmonious they are, they have a lot more cows who are going to take it very, very personally when innocent sacrificed caribou females tell them in all seriousness that the path to happiness is to stop trying to think for themselves and just let bulls have sex with them. Whereas ponies, who didn't have to live with this crap next door for thousands of years, will just shrug that off.

And who knows? Maybe this is even Celestia's real reason, and this isn't a power grab. I know that mare well enough to know that if it is a power grab, she's deluded herself into thinking her motivations are pure and she's doing it for the greater good, whether or not it's true, so it's not like I'll ever get the real story out of her. All I know is, highway to disharmony, here we come! The reindeer are powerful, and deeply irritated that Celestia is questioning their skill at rehabilitating sacrificed caribou cows. Celestia's got a point; in the past, when they managed to "rescue" sacrificed cows, the reindeer would sterilize them and keep them in very pretty, homey and comfortable "group homes", aka prisons, that no males would ever be permitted to enter. Oh, and if they got away with calves, the calves would be taken from them and raised by adoptive reindeer parents who would never ever tell them they were really caribou. But, you know, they've been fighting the caribou forever, and here Luna and Anon and a bunch of pony soldiers came in to take advantage of a slave rebellion, and now all of a sudden Celestia is laying claim to territory that the reindeer think should be theirs.

Celestia also has a point that the reindeer would slaughter the bulls who surrendered, but to be honest, considering how most of those wastes of protoplasm are still scheming to somehow overthrow the ponies and enslave and rape all the nice mares who came up there to help, I am not sure the reindeer are wrong here. In any case, between one thing and another, I predict some lovely political conflict. I love politics. Oh, it's boring watching the sausage being made, but where else can you get such churning, seething hatred between opposite parties that hardly ever results in anypony getting killed? Equestrian politics is dull as mud because everyone knows to kowtow to Celestia, and most of Celestia's diplomatic relations with other nations is also fairly dull because you do not mess with the mare who controls the sun. But the reindeer have had sunbearers amongst them before, and while Celestia is viewed as practically godlike by Equestrians, the reindeer are viewed in a similar light by all the ponies living in Neighropa. They're much closer matches for her than most other races are.

Back home on the ranch (does Applejack's farm count as a ranch? Irrelevant, because I'm actually talking about all of Ponyville), things went predictably horribly out of control without Anon to help, and he was forced to come home after his exciting northern adventure to hordes and hordes of Pinkie Pies. See, he warned her about using the Mirror Pool, but while he wasn't around she decided to do it anyway because it was so hard keeping her friends' spirits up without Anon! (He was gone for less than a day.) I would have run into them before Anon did except for my detour to relax and unwind for a bit with Tats. Twilight couldn't figure out how to solve the problem, and the entire town was overrun with Pinkies until Anon came home and gave them the brilliant idea of making the Pies watch paint dry to prove which of them was the real Pinkie, because the real Pinkie could overcome the overwhelming, horrifying boredom of staring at a wall covered in wet paint and doing nothing to it with the power of friendship. Gag me with a spoon. If friendship results in feeling like you have to endure watching paint dry, I'm better off without it.

Then Twilight brutally slaughtered the extra Pies, I mean, dispersed them back to the Mirror Pool, annihilating any hope they would ever have had of individuating into sapient beings... no, no, I can't keep a straight face with that one. They're magical constructs. They're no more sapient than this dancing fish with sexy pony legs that I just made is. But see, this is why the whole thing was idiotic in the extreme. I have to assume that Anon's "brilliant" idea to have them test the Pinkies with the drying paint and then have Twilight vaporize the ones that failed came from his knowledge of the show, because Anon's not that smart. Which means, in the "real" timeline that we don't live in anymore due to his interference, presumably Purple Egghead herself would have come up with it. But as usual for even a good Twilight plan, it was overkill. Zapping the real Pinkie with a spell intended to disperse a magical construct from the Mirror Pool back to the Pool would have done nothing. She's not a magical construct and she doesn't come from the Mirror Pool. The spell Twilight found to disperse the Extra Pies would have all by itself done the trick of distinguishing between the real Pinkie and the fakes. So poor, poor Pinkie had to watch paint dry for nothing, and I think I'll tell her so the next chance I get, since it was Anon who claimed she'd have to do that.

(Gilda killed one. Said it was "in her face", and she figured it wasn't the real thing anyway. All rants inspired by Anon to the contrary, I honestly don't think Gilda has it in her to commit cold-blooded murder, but she certainly shredded up this fake Pinkie... which then, like a good magical construct would, disintegrated as soon as it was "dead". This seems to have been somewhat cathartic for her, and she spent some time strutting around crowing about it. Literally. It's usually griffin males that crow, but unlike chickens, griffins aren't quite as limited by biology.)

But you're not here to learn about Equestrian politics and hear about the fate of magical copies of Pinkie Pie! You're here to hear about the next thing I did about Anon!

So explaining the next thing I did about Anon requires a bit of explanation of some other things as well.

First of all, let's talk about the quetzalcoatls. Before the coming of the Second Fimbulwinter, quetzalcoatls got along with their close neighbors—the llamas and ahuizotls to the south, the draconequui, coyotes and buffalo to the north – about as well as any draconic being can be expected to get along with its neighbors. Which is to say, not well, but there weren't really any wars. Quetzalcoatls mined for precious metals – gold, silver, copper, and rarest of all, iron – and traded with draconequui for the various amazing things we used our magic to make, or the stuff we acquired in trading on the open seas, because we were rather famous for our nautical skills. They traded with buffalo for pottery and llamas for wool and I haven't the foggiest what they traded with the ahuizotls for, because the only one I've ever met is a pompous idiot with a history of collecting dangerous magical items. And as far as I know coyotes never traded with anyone for anything; coyotes sneak in and take what they want.

Quetzalcoatls are closely related to both draconequui and sea serpents; we're all Eastern, serpentine, dragon hybrids. But where sea serpents are individualistic to the point where, much like anarchic dragons, they don't even have a centralized society, and where draconequui were free-spirited and preferred to live without the heavy hoof of too many rules weighing them down, quetzalcoatls were a lot worse about sticking to a rigid hierarchy and following laws. They were good at runic magic and group workings, as were the draconequui, but they could get a lot more quetzalcoatls in on a major working. They also had developed True Name magic. This is a bit of a problem.

You aren't familiar with True Name magic because it is dangerous enough to ponies that Luna and Celestia have gone out of their way to stamp it out. Basically, it's a form of magic that uses the True Names of sapient beings to control them. If a True Name user has your True Name, which is a name that represents your essence, your very nature, they can compel you to obedience. Not all ponies have True Names (well, technically everything has a True Name, magically, but not all ponies use it as their actual name, or even have any idea what it is), but... Fluttershy? Shining Armor? Luna? There are enough ponies out there who use True Names as their regular names that True Name magic would be very, very bad for ponies.

It was a lot worse for draconequui. All of us used True Names. My name isn't Discord because I enjoy long walks on the beach, snuggling in front of fireplaces, and reading poetry. We would go nameless until we found our Principle, the defining characteristic of our magic, which was a lot like a pony's cutie mark but represented by a word or idea rather than an image, and then we would be named for that Principle. My mother was the Principle of Motherhood, and her name in our language translates to "Madonna". I was the Principle of Chaos and Disharmony, accordingly named Discord. And so on.

When the Second Fimbulwinter came, the quetzalcoatls built an artificial sun, a magical construct that they fed with necromancy. They slaughtered captives in the thousands, cutting open chests and ripping out hearts, feeding the magic and the life force of the sacrifices into the artificial sun, which kept them alive as the cold grew. And because llamas are good at hiding in the mountains and ahuizotls don't use true names and good luck catching a coyote, most of their non-quetzalcoatl victims were buffalo and draconequui. Because when you know the name of a draconequus, you know their true name. And you can use True Name magic to force them to do whatever you want. Including march up the steps of their temple and lay yourself down on the sacrifice slab.

The draconequui who crowded close to the quetzalcoatls' artificial sun to survive the cold brought by the windigos died to feed that sun. The draconequui who stayed far away from it froze to death. I had, shall we say, a slight grudge against the quetzalcoatls for that.

When all the draconequui died, the quetzalcoatls moved into our territory. Not as far north as we ranged, because ponies had moved in from the north, but they annexed a good bit of it. And then I became the Chaos Avatar, and some quetzalcoatls who weren't fond of my chaos thought it would be a good idea to use True Name magic against me, because hey, I wear my True Name on my sleeve like any good draconequus. Which reminded me that True Name magic exists, and that quetzalcoatls were masters of it, and that as much as Chaos hates being bound and generally protects me from any sort of obedience spell, quetzalcoatls are capable of raising enormous amounts of magical power through truly huge group workings.

So I made sure they wouldn't be capable of group workings anymore.

I didn't treat them as rough as I did the dragons. Sure, they'd contributed heavily toward the extinction of my race, but they weren't as dangerous as the dragons were. A lot of them got to keep their sanity, and their bodies remaining in a general quetzalcoatl shape. I destroyed all their records (okay, most of their records... sue me, I'm not detail oriented) and made sure that the elders with the greatest expertise in magic... well, let's say I facilitated an introduction between those elders and the force of raw, pure Chaos, and generally speaking, after that those elders were not going to be training the young in True Name magic, or anything else. But I didn't harry them to the point of eating their own eggs. Most of the time. Sure, a lot of them chose not to lay any because they couldn't bear to raise children in a world of total chaos, also the mutations (I happen to think that sticking the limbs of multiple different animals on a serpentine draconid is lovely, but when high rates of ambient chaos magic did the same thing to the unhatched children of the quetzalcoatls, well, those stick-in-the-muds couldn't see the beauty in uniqueness.)

The point is. By the time Luna and Celestia defeated me, the quetzalcoatls had retreated out of Northern Amareica entirely. They still exist, living in the mountains of the Andalusians alongside llamas and anarchic dragons, but they really can't be said to be a major power anymore. That being said, at the time, the last time maps had meant anything the territory immediately south of Equestria had belonged to them. Including the lovely volcanic islands off the coast near where Marelantis used to be.

So Luna and Celestia, high on their victory over me, flew to those volcanic islands that were not part of Equestria and never had been, and therefore were not theirs to give away or dispose of... and invited dragons to come live there. As you do, when territory isn't yours to give away.

And everyone thinks they are so morally upright and pure. Oh, I love those gals. No one does devious scheming quite like an alicorn.

As I've mentioned before, there are three general types of social structure for dragons. Dragons imprint on whoever hatches them. There are dragon societies where the females hatch all the eggs, which are matriarchal; dragon societies where males hatch all the eggs, which are patriarchal; and dragon societies where no one hatches the egg, they hatch by themselves once they've built up enough magic. Those aren't honestly traditional societies at all, as most of those dragons prefer to be left alone by other dragons, or at most hang out with a small pack. I've referred to them before as anarchic dragons.

The dragon nations, down near the southernmost part of the world, are all either matriarchal or patriarchal. Among the patriarchal dragons, especially trusted and powerful females are allowed to go down to the south polar continent and lay their eggs there, to bask in the intense magic traveling toward the pole (yes, the south pole does the same thing as the north), bringing them back to the eggs' fathers just as they're almost ripe for hatching, so the fathers can hatch them. Most mothers are kept under much tighter control; patriarchal dragons have to rule over their females rigidly, because one dragoness choosing to hatch her own eggs can ruin your whole day, as the dragonets will imprint on Mom instead of Dad.

The matriarchal dragons also lay their eggs at the south pole, hatch them there and bring them home on their backs as tiny dragonets. Matriarchal dragons don't need to control their males anywhere near as much as the patriarchal dragons need to control the females, because generally speaking among dragons if anyone's going to brood on a clutch it'll be the dragoness, and some say the matriarchal style is more "normal" for dragons. It's certainly better for all the dragons who live under it, though not necessarily for their neighbors – infighting and backbiting are more common among the patriarchal dragons. The Dragon Empire, the one where I had to drive them all mad, was matriarchal, united in a high degree of internal harmony. (You see now why I keep saying harmony's not all it's cracked up to be. Disharmony amongst creatures that want to eat you is a good thing even by pony standards.)

But the anarchic dragons don't deal with any of that. Either they don't feel like raising dragonets, or they want their young to be as free-spirited and untethered as they are, or both. They lay their eggs at the north pole, and just leave them there. Eventually, the egg gathers enough magic that it hatches spontaneously. The anarchic dragons owe no fealty to other dragons and are not imprinted. (Technically speaking, the only imprints they count are dragon imprints, which means that Spike, imprinted on a pony, would be considered anarchic.) I have no idea why Celestia ended up with an egg in her custody, nor do I care, but obviously most ponies can't hatch a dragon egg, so she was using it as a test for potential students to see how they handled failure. That didn't work out like she planned, obviously.

Anyway. So Celestia and Luna guessed, correctly, that the Dragon Nations were scared fewmetless of me and weren't going to go anywhere near Equestria as long as I was running the place, which suggests in turn that after they defeated me, the dragons who'd been afraid of me might not be nearly so intimidated by ponies, even alicorn ponies. So they had the brilliant idea to invite dragons to occupy territory that had once belonged to draconequui, and been taken from us by the quetzalcoatls, and then went largely abandoned while I was in charge. They invited anarchic dragons to come and stake out territory, and suggested the anarchic dragons could form their own nation, one without the tangled constraints of the Dragon Nations.

It's a testimony to Tia's persuasiveness that they didn't laugh in her face, but seriously, this should have been the stupidest idea ever. The only reason dragons can have nations is the bond of imprinting, and the intense loyalty a young dragon feels to its hatching-parent and desire to please that parent and serve them. Anarchic dragons are beholden to no one, so the inherently disharmonious nature of dragons takes over, making them solitary creatures who fight each other viciously for territory and material possessions. Unless there was a strong ruler at the top making them behave, the dragons would tear each other apart trying to take territory on these islands, and if there was a strong ruler at the top, he or she would have to spend so much time beating other dragons into submission they'd have no time to add to their hoard... which no dragon large enough to beat other dragons into submission could afford. A full-grown dragon is hard to cow into submission. I should know.

But Celestia and Luna (mostly Celestia; Luna's better with battle tactics and maintaining networks of spies than she is with diplomacy) had an answer for that too. They took their shiny new toys, the Elements of Harmony, and used them to create an artifact that embodies the only aspect of Harmony that dragons typically care about – Loyalty. A red gem was produced, Harmony being mostly predictable about its color choices, which, when bonded to a dragon who held it rightfully, would enable that dragon to command the loyalty of unimprinted dragons (and dragons imprinted by non-dragons, but at the time that wasn't an issue.) Dragons being what they are, they promptly gave the thing the name Bloodstone, because calling it something like the Loyalty Gem was obviously too pony. And to ensure that dragons wouldn't fight each other constantly to control the stone, the dragons, with some encouragement from Celestia, voted that the term of a Dragon Lord, the holder of this stone, would be a century – hardly a blink in the life of your average dragon.

Nowadays the Dragon Lands are barely populated; there's the current Dragon Lord, his mate normally except right now this Dragon Lord's mate is dead, his daughter, and a handful of other dragons, among them the last two Dragon Lords. But if the Dragon Lord should choose to summon and command them, all the dragons who owe no fealty to other dragons will be compelled to converge there, and obey whatever orders they get. It's not mind control so much as it is an overwhelming feeling of loyalty and desire to please the Dragon Lord, as if they were imprinted on him.

Oh, and ignoring the call can cause them to break out in hives, unless they're powerful enough to push it away. Winnie, of course, never answered the call – which at a minimum is put out every century so that all the dragons can choose who the next Dragon Lord will be, generally in some sort of contest that the current Dragon Lord picks, which could be anything from all-out battle to riddle games. One particularly interesting one, according to a book I stole from Luna's sealed archives, had dragons competing with insulting improvised poetry, where the winner was the one who could most creatively insult their opponents in rhyme and a recognized poetic form. I wish I hadn't missed that one, but, well, there's lots of stuff that happened in the past thousand-odd years I wish I hadn't missed.

The current Dragon Lord is a truly enormous fellow named Torch. Torch has a young daughter. This is relevant to what I was trying to do.

I went to the Dragon Lands to soak in a volcano, first. Dragons like this because the searing heat is good for their scales, burning off impurities; I like it because active volcanos spew out the magic that is pulled underground at the poles. The ley lines go down into the earth there, into the magma, and are carried in magical currents outward throughout our entire planet, so the earth everywhere is saturated with magic. But where the magma actually spews out of the ground, or surfaces, boiling, within a crater, the magic is raw, pure, highly concentrated, and extremely chaotic. It's a great place for me to recharge and restore myself, as long as I have enough magic to turn myself into magic, which I did. (That year where I had Matrisse's dust in my lungs, and couldn't turn myself to magic, was agony – I knew if I could just swim in lava I could get enough of my magic back to clean my lungs, except that without my magic, I couldn't swim in lava.)

As soon as I was strong enough to manage a direct teleport to the Frozen North, I went back to caribou territory, to the location of the battle. They had towed the dead dragon out into the frozen wastes, since they couldn't exactly cremate her. It took a few teleport hops, burning a lot of magic, but I found her, and I brought her home.

She was a dragon who had never imprinted on a dragon. She'd been laid at the North Pole, and left there. By dragon standards, she was an anarchic dragon and she deserved to go to the Dragon Lands.

The dragons hadn't even noticed me taking a volcano bath – there aren't very many of them actually living there, as I said. But they sure did notice when I brought the corpse of a large dead dragoness to the ritual clearing where every so often dragons show up to ask the Dragon Lord for something, or where he calls them to service.

The Dragon Lord himself flew out of his cave, in an utter rage. I'll say this for the fellow, he was brave. Ponies, with their short little lives and Celestia's desire to purge the inconvenient truth, don't really know me, not after my thousand years in stone. And to be honest, no pony has ever known the side of me the dragons knew. Whereas dragons live a long time, and they keep their histories; the dragons who hoard knowledge would never permit any dragon to lock it away or wipe it out. Torch knew exactly who and what I was, and what I'd done to his ancestors.

"CHAOS LORD!" he boomed at me. "What have you done!"

"Why, I'm just bringing a lost little girl home," I said.

He hovered in the sky above me, trying to intimidate me. He was failing miserably, of course. Torch was huge, but Winnie had been a lot bigger, and had had a large number of deadly magic items that Torch didn't have. "What madness did you drive this dragoness to, that she died like this?" he shouted.

"Greed growth," I said. "She was a slave. The slaves were rebelling. I tried to make her strong enough to break free, but all she did was fight more fiercely for the caribou who'd enslaved her."

Torch's eyes lit with outrage, and he drew back a breath, probably preparing to blast me with fire. But a very small dragon – bigger than Spike, but that's not saying much – landed on his nose.

"Dad. That's the Chaos Lord. I think maybe we want to hear what he has to say before we go trying to firebreath him. Because I'm pretty sure that won't work anyway."

He growled. "You're too much like your mother. Too smart! Too much book learning! Dragons should fight with claw and fire, not with their brains!"

"A philosophy that's served you well, seeing as you don't have any," I said. "Listen to your daughter. I'm here to lay a dead child to rest, and tell her closest kin who murdered her, not to get into a fight with you."

"Did you murder her?!"

I took my eyes out of my head and rolled them on the ground, just to emphasize how hard I was rolling them. "She was hacked to death with a sword. I'm sure you've heard the histories. Does that sound like something I'd do?"

"No," he snarled. "But you're the Chaos Lord. You do things because they don't make sense."

"I also don't kill unless I'm provoked, and dragons have known better than to provoke me in two thousand years. I have no quarrel with dragons anymore, Dragon Lord, not as long as you don't start something with me."

A pink dragon spoke up. "Then why did you attack the legendary Wiñaypaqori?"

"Oh, you're dragons. You'll appreciate this. He stole from my hoard while I was paralyzed and couldn't defend it. I demanded back what he'd taken – just one item, amidst a mountain of them – and he fought me for it. So I took it, and then I took everything else he had and scattered it. Which, by the way, means that any enterprising dragon who searches within three or four flights of his lair ought to find a whole lot of goodies."

Two smaller dragons tried to take off. Torch slammed his scepter, with the Bloodstone in it, against the ground. In his paw it looked like a toothpick. "NO DRAGON LEAVES UNTIL I SAY SO!" he shouted, and sheepishly, they folded their wings and bent their heads. "Why did this dragon die, then, if you didn't do it?"

"Ah. You're familiar with Equestria, of course, and the return of Princess Luna."

"What of it? I don't care what namby-pamby ponies do in their own country."

"Dad, he's talking about the 'namby-pamby' ponies that control the sun and the moon. That's kind of important."

"Is this about the sun and the moon?"

"No, but it's about how this child was murdered."

Torch bellowed in my face. "CHILD?!"

He was a father, with a daughter just a tiny bit older than this dragon. Now I had him, I thought. "Yes. A child. Hatched maybe two years before your beautiful daughter there. By the caribou."

"Did they kill her? I will flay their flesh from their bones! I will burn their cities! I will—"

"Too late. I defeated them." I blew on my paw. "They didn't kill her, though. They enslaved her. They used her – forgive me, Princess Ember, there is no polite way to say this – as a slave to their lusts, even though she was only a dragonet. And because she was imprinted to their king, she was loyal to them. She had nothing, nothing of her own to hoard, except the creature who called himself her master." I could see the rage boiling in Torch's eyes – and Ember's. Good. Even the other dragons were moved. "She fought to defend him, to defend the creature who'd enslaved her, out of imprint loyalty and greed, because he was the only thing she had. And a servant of Celestia and Luna – a creature named Anon, a human, brought to this world from another dimension – hacked her to death with a sword, because all he saw was a monstrous beast."

"A servant of Celestia and Luna, you say?" he said with a dangerous growl.

"They think so. The truth is, they're under his mind control. They'd never have allowed him to kill a dragon in their right minds, and you know it. They think he's a servant, but he's their puppetmaster, and they're dancing on his strings." I flew up to Torch's face. "He has no respect for dragonkind. He abuses the dragonet that Celestia's student hatched, and no one stops him, even though Celestia's student raised the dragonet as if he were her son." To be honest I'm fairly sure the relationship between them is weirder than that, but I was talking to a dragon who wasn't very bright.

To my great surprise, Torch slumped slightly, the fire of rage going out in his eyes. "We don't want war with Equestria," he said. "Ponies are puny and weak, but the alicorn sisters are responsible for the sun and moon, and they'd fight to the death to protect the weaklings that they lead. I won't be the dragon responsible for losing the sun and moon."

"But Sire, dragons don't need either the sun or the moon," one of the dragons argued. "We would do fine in a world without either one of them."

"ARE YOU CONTRADICTING ME?" Torch bellowed. "I AM THE DRAGON LORD! NO DRAGON CONTRADICTS ME! Except my daughter, sometimes, but I let her get away with it, heh heh." He turned to Ember. "Your mother would never approve of war with Equestria."

Ember nodded. "You're making the right call, Dad. I'm sure of it. But we don't need to make war on Equestria to get them to hand a dragon-killer over to us. They're big on the whole law thing."

"They'd be very reluctant to give him up," I warned them. "You'll need a strong position to negotiate from."

"Who said we had to negotiate? We're dragons!" one of Torch's courtiers, such as they were, piped up. "We should just go there, find the killer, and kill him!"

"Are you mad? We're civilized dragons here! We follow the rule of the Dragon Code!" Torch shouted. "We will bring the killer back here for a fair trial, and once he's found guilty then we'll kill him!"

I snickered. Methinks somedrake wasn't very clear on the concept of a fair trial, but then, I'm not at all fond of the things myself. All that fact-finding and objectioning and all of the rules! Back in my day, when ponies wanted justice badly enough to brave coming to me for it, I generally just ruled in favor of the plaintiff because anypony willing to risk coming anywhere near me when they didn't have to was either very much the wronged party, or hated the other party so much that they were willing to risk their sanity to lie to me, and in that case probably the other party had it coming. Sometimes I rolled dice. Sometimes I went with whoever seemed to have the more entertaining story, or who I liked better. None of this tedious investigating and employing lawyers and all that stuff.

"That's what we'll do," Torch said decisively. "We'll send an ambassadorial party to Equestria to speak to the Royal Sisters, and demand that if they don't hand the dragon-killer over to us to be tried, then we'll make war on them. We don't actually have to do it. Namby-pamby ponies will always back down to avoid war, but they know that dragons are tough and hard! Aren't we!" This didn't get a response. "I SAID, AREN'T WE!"

"YES, SIRE! WE'RE TOUGH AND HARD!" the dragons chorused back.

"And the ponies know it! So. Who wants to go to Equestria to negotiate with the ponies?" Crickets.

"Oh, now, don't all of you volunteer at once," I said.

"I'll go, Dad. I'm the best choice; I'm small enough to fit in their castles and I've got your authority backing me up, so they wouldn't dare try anything."

"No! You're too small. Hardly bigger than a pony! In fact, Celestia's bigger than you. I need someone they'll take seriously!"

A silver dragoness who hadn't had much to say so far spoke. "Sire, what if Princess Ember and I both go? She can negotiate with the pony princesses, and if she doesn't like how she's treated, I can lay waste to their capital city."

"I have an excellent idea!" Torch announced. "Ember, you go with Starflame! Both of you are female, so the pony princesses will listen to you." Dragon negotiations between matriarchal and patriarchal nations were always fraught with tension because the matriarchies take male dragons less seriously and the patriarchies don't take female dragons seriously at all, and while the number of dragons who aren't one or the other isn't actually zero, it's not large enough to guarantee a supply of ambassadors. (Anarchic dragons don't actually have that issue; without imprinting and being trained to believe in the inferiority of one sex or the other, dragons tend to view all other dragons as equally annoying or threatening, and when they manage to work together because the Dragon Lord makes them do so, they don't particularly care what gender the other dragons they're working with are. The term Dragon Lord itself is actually not gendered, despite what you'd think; there have been many, many female Dragon Lords.) Torch assumed Equestria to be a matriarchy, because it is, albeit one a lot closer to egalitarianism than any of the matriarchal Dragon Nations were. "And if they disrespect Ember because she's small and young, then Starflame can lay waste to Canterlot!"

"Excellent idea, Sire," Starflame said dryly. "I'm happy to serve."

"Don't say anything about my involvement in this," I warned them. "This Anon hates me passionately. If he were to learn that I brought you this dragon and told you of how she died, he'd twist things to make it sound like I was lying just to harm him."

Ember raised an eyebrow. "How exactly do we know you're not?" she said. "You're not known for your honesty, Chaos Lord, and you just admitted that the stallion you're calling a dragon-killer is your enemy."

"He's not a stallion. He's a human. Biped, no coat, pink skin like a naked mole rat, just about as tall as you are, Princess."

She rolled her eyes. "All right then, this human is your enemy. What proof do we have that he's the one that killed her?"

I teleported over to one of the wounds on the girl's body. "What weapons do you know of that can cut through dragonscale like this?"

Ember and Starflame both inspected the wounds. Starflame was a full-grown dragon, but not huge as dragons go, maybe twice the height and three times the length of Celestia, so she had no difficulty getting her head down to see where Anon's sword had sliced into the poor girl. "Beats me," Ember finally said. "Mom might have known, but..."

"I'm 300 years old and I've never seen a weapon to cut dragonscale so cleanly," Starflame said. "It cut through her scales like a claw through prey-flesh." She looked up at me. "What is this?"

"It's called the Element of Protection. It's a magic crystalline sword, usually about yay big—" I demonstrated the size with my fingers. "He hangs it around his neck until he needs it. Then it grows to full size, and it cuts dragon flesh like butter." I waggled my tail. "My tail's got the same scales you've got, and he sliced through it like it was nothing. Fortunately for me, I heal very quickly. This young dragon... not so much."

Starflame gently breathed a pale, ice blue flame onto the wound, then drew in a rapid breath, sucking the flame back in. "I have the flavor of the magic that contaminates the wound," she announced. "We will demand that this Anon present his Element of Protection to us for examination. If its magic has the same flavor, that proves his guilt, and we'll demand his extradition."

"Yes!" Torch said. "Good!" He turned to me. "But if my daughter and her companion find out that you were lying to me, to try to set the might of us dragons against your enemy, you had better beware!"

"Oh, please," I said, sighing. "I beat up Wiñaypaqori and took his hoard. I wouldn't exactly be trembling even if I was lying, which for the record I'm not. And honestly, I don't care if you go take on Anon or not." This was a lie, obviously. "I just wanted to make sure this child got laid to rest among her own kind, and that someone remembered her."

"What was her name?" Ember asked.

"I don't know. She may never have had one. Her enslaver just called her 'dragon'."

"You say she served that master until death? Bravely?" Torch asked.

"I did. And she did. She never begged or faltered in battle until she was too gravely wounded to fight." I wish she had. If she'd begged for her life, Anon might have spared her. Might. It had never worked for me, but Anon was patronizingly protective toward females, and hearing her voice might have led him to have second thoughts. On the other hand, maybe not. He'd shown Chrysalis no mercy, after all.

"And she's red. The color of loyalty and of heart's blood," Torch said. "We will name her Faith, and lay her to rest in the blood of the earth."

Dragons float in lava, but that's due to their internal magic, and it dissipates over time after their death. Float a dead dragon in a pool of lava, and she'll eventually sink and be dissolved. It's the traditional means that dragons dispose of their dead, and I don't know this just because of all the dragons who spontaneously decided to dive into lava to find dead family members who they were somehow deluded into thinking might still be alive down there, after an encounter with me.

Torch looked at me. "Chaos Lord, for bringing us this child's body, I will permit you to attend her funeral, if you like. As long as you are respectful and not disruptive."

"Thanks for the offer, but no thank you. Respectful and not disruptive? Those aren't my colors, I'll have you know." I lifted into the air. "But you go on and do your traditional thing, and I will take my leave of you and go find something fun to do. I swear, there is nothing remotely entertaining about anything to do with death. Such a somber, serious affair. I'm glad it's in your paws now!"

I turned invisible and watched as Torch corralled pallbearers, several dragons of approximately equal sizes to carry her body to a nearby active volcano. And then I really did leave, quite pleased with myself. The dragon child would be mourned by her own kind, returned to living, turbulent magic rather than left in the ice and cold to freeze and be forgotten. And far better, I'd just arranged for a major headache for Anon. Of course he wasn't going to be actually executed by the dragons – either they'd never get a chance to put him on trial, or they'd try him but someone would give a moving speech on his behalf that would inexplicably convince the most savage, grudge-holding creatures in the world to forgive him for hacking a child to death, or something. But he'd actually have to work for it.

Ember was feminine and pretty by human standards – well, not pretty by the standards they judged each other, but if he was regularly having sex with ponies he was obviously pretty comfortable with xenophilia, and by the average female-loving xenophile's standards, Ember was hot. Give her another 50 years and I wouldn't mind warming her embers, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Anon, being nowhere near as old as I am and probably nowhere near as good at judging the ages of dragons, would probably find her attractive, so this was going to be a problem he wouldn't want to solve with a sword. And if he solved it by seducing Ember, I knew a pony who could be very easily enticed into raging jealousy. Rarity is merely a unicorn, not even an overly powerful one, whereas Ember is a dragon and Anon is a reality warper, but let's put it this way... I, the nearly omnipotent Spirit of Chaos, would not want to be on the wrong side of one of her jealous rages. Also, I was fairly sure he wasn't actually having sex with Luna, but she wanted him, and I'm pretty sure the mare who tried to bring the night forever out of sisterly jealousy could be pushed into a good frothy fit of rage over Anon sexing up yet another female creature who wasn't her.

(Lest anyone think I'm somehow promoting pedophilia in my effort to ruin Anon's day... Ember, unlike Spikey-Wikey and our poor dead friend, is over the dragon age of consent. Barely, but dragon childhoods are so long, dragons who've finally come through puberty to be capable of laying eggs or fertilizing them are more than ready to take on the most pleasurable of adult rights. I did hope that Anon didn't actually manage to seduce her despite all the lovely disharmony I could stir up if he did, because the thought of him having sex nauseates me and the thought of him having sex with a female I find attractive, even one I consider much too young for me, much more so. Not that any of the Bearers are exactly uggos, but, well, I'd been with ponies fairly recently and I like variety, so other species start to get more and more attractive the longer I avoid getting it on with any of their kind. And I'm part dragon, so, well, yeah. Starflame was a nice-looking lady too, much more mature than Ember, and for me personally, give me an experienced partner who's been around the block a few times and knows what they're doing over a barely legal virgin any day. I wonder if she'd be amenable to a romp with a draconequus after all this is done, assuming I live.)

Death is depressing. I left, but I didn't go far. There was something I'd noticed while I chatted with Torch and his minions, a sharp peak of disharmony coming from one of the dragons. Someone around here really didn't like Torch's plan, and it had started right when he'd said he didn't want war with Equestria. Which suggested to me that one of these dragons did.

Now, I've got personal reasons to be interested in dragons who want to make war with Equestria, but it's no longer my job to protect the ponies, and Equestria's a very different place. When I was young and living with Celestia and Luna, there was no such thing as alicorns, and in fact, they were considered a myth, a pretty story calling for the unification of the pony tribes and suggesting they'd be much stronger if all three tribes united as one pony race. Starswirl the Bearded was about at the level of Twilight Sparkle in terms of raw power, though obviously he had far more knowledge. I was more powerful than he was, but no one, including me, knew anything about how to control chaos. There were no alliances with non-pony races, and no contact with other pony nations like Prance or Saddle Arabia. Ponies were highly xenophobic. They weren't even in contact with their own lost homeland, the Crystal Empire, anymore; it was during Celestia's reign and before my ascension that the ponies discovered that the Crystal Empire still existed and hadn't fully succumbed to the windigos, due to their discovery of the Crystal Heart.

Today Equestria is powerful. There are three alicorns, four if you count the Alicorn of Desolation but I'm not sure Celestia could summon her back, five if you count poor lost Brightest Star. I mean Screwball, that's what she's calling herself now. (I mean, she's never bothered to grow back the wings and horn that were taken from her, so it's impossible for anyone but another immortal to notice, but she's still the Alicorn of Chaos and I fear for the dragon who manages to wake her from her trance enough to make her feel threatened. My blood is potent stuff, and you can't un-ascend an alicorn.) They have technology, and the will to use it in the defense of their home, if they have to. They have the Elements of Harmony. They have alliances. They have more advanced magic. There is no way the dragons could win a war against the ponies anymore, and Torch knows it, even if he had to posture otherwise.

But a dragon who wants to make war with ponies... well, I thought, that could be useful.

So I teleported down and had a conversation with one of the most singularly unpleasant young dragons it's been my misfortune to meet.

"Hey, bug off," the dragon said as soon as I appeared before him. He was a red dragon of a much darker shade than the bright red of the murdered youngster, with a golden crest and spikes, and a serious need for dental care. "I'm not in the mood."

I grinned at him. Music to my ears. And then I flipped gravity upside down, letting him dangle. I could have let him fall forever into the sky, but I was merciful, letting gravity center instead on a point slightly above my head, so when he fell, his body, standing on that point, reached down so that his head was right about at the level of my lower neck, but upside down. "You need to turn that frown upside down, fellow!" I said cheerfully. "Maybe you need something uplifting? Something to bring your mood up?"

"Put me down!" he snarled at me, and tried to lunge, except that the way I'd set up the gravity, it was much, much too heavy for him to just jump... so he tried to fly, but I flipped his wings backward and quickly put an end to that.

"Don't be such a downer!" I said. "It's a great day for up!" I leaned forward into his face to whisper something conspiratorially, but he tried to bite me. "Ohh, a feisty one, aren't you?"

"Leave me alone! What're you bugging me for?"

"You're fun to bug?" I let him down. "Actually the real reason is that a little bird told me you were, hmm, somewhat dissatisfied with the Dragon Lord's decision to not make war on Equestria?"

"Yeah, what kind of a lame ruling is that?" He scowled. "Weak little ponies and their weak little prissy princesses. We're dragons! How'm I supposed to take the Dragon Lord seriously when he's scared of war with ponies? What's next, dragons running away 'cause there's bunny rabbits?"

"Believe me, there are some bunny rabbits out there where you might be wise to run away." I've spied on all of the Bearers extensively with the Panauricon, but 90% of what I get from listening in on Fluttershy has to do with her pet rabbit being a selfish, demanding, overly entitled little monster. I hate it when creatures think they're better than everything else; it's very annoying to those of us who actually are. "But your disappointment seems to be personal, my dear lad. Why, were you spoiling for a fight with ponies?"

"Yeah!" He glared up at me. (As an adolescent dragon, he was significantly taller than a pony, but still a few hooves short of my height. And if he hadn't been, I'd have grown.) "What's it to you? I heard them call you the Chaos Lord but you don't look like all that. You some kind of wussy pony-lover?"

I chuckled. "You don't know your history very well, do you, youngster?"

"What do I need to know history for? I know everything I need to know. History's over! It's not coming back, so who needs it?"

I smiled at him.

And then, just for a moment, I made the world turn inside out.

Colors became music, loud and clashing. Up and down became circles and directions became cones, where one side got bigger the farther away it was and the other side grew smaller with distance. The scent of gems and lava and obsidian, all over the island, turned into the taste of dust and rock and writhing mealworm larvae. Hot and cold vanished, to be replaced by points of pressure on the inside or the outside. Dragon scales and flesh looked for a moment like glass, showing off bones and organs.

He was lying on his back on the ground, an arm and paw covering his eyes and another one held out as if to push away the chaos, screaming. As soon as he realized I'd stopped mangling reality, he stopped screaming and sat up. "What the ponyshit was that?"

"That was a history lesson," I said. "I just treated you to the tiniest sample of what I did to your ancestors in Neighropa, before you dragons fled across the ocean and hid down here, hoping I wouldn't find you. Imagine every day of your life being like that. For centuries." I was exaggerating. It was more effort to mess with dragon minds than it was to do the same to quetzalcoatls, or ponies, so I hadn't bothered to keep it up for centuries for any one of them. Besides, you actually get better results from randomizing it. One day the world is normal and the next it's insane, and there's no way to predict which it will be, or what form the insanity will take. Subject a creature to the same kind of chaos for too long and it becomes their new normal. You have to change it up frequently.

"That – that isn't cool, butthole! Not cool at all!" He got to his feet angrily. "I'm gonna tell Torch all about what you just did! Then he's gonna wreck you!"

"Or, I could tell him about your opinion of him for rejecting the idea of war on ponies. Who's going to get wrecked then, you think?" I snickered, then teleported the both of us to a rocky crag so we were both sitting, my arm around his shoulders like the best Chaos Dad you ever saw. "But seriously, young drake – what's your name, by the way? I can't just keep calling you young drake."

"It's Garble," he said, and tried to throw my arm off of him, except I might possibly have made it too heavy for an adolescent dragon to lift. "What's it to you?"

"Well, you see, I'm fascinated by your opinions here. If you were listening, you might perhaps have caught that the human who killed that poor little dragoness, the fellow who's under the pony princesses' personal protection, is my enemy. And if you had a strong interest in doing something that would upset ponies very, very badly, why, I might just have a gift for you that would enable you to do it."

I had been thinking about how to hand out Greed and Cruelty. Also, how to create a lot more chaos than Ember and Starflame were going to generate. They were going to go on a diplomatic mission, and diplomatically ask Celestia to hand Anon over, and Celestia would diplomatically say no, and eventually after a lot of posturing that would be that. Torch didn't want to go to war with the ponies over the death of a child he never knew, and while there had been moments I could possibly have manipulated him into it, Ember had a cooler head on her shoulders. Whoever picked her name picked well.

It's not, you understand, that I wanted dragons to go to war on ponies – though it would be almost unbearably ironic if that happened due to my actions. What I was kind of hoping for was that I'd have a chance to start something so big that Anon would be convinced this was my Ultimate Plan, and maybe, I don't know, fake my death or something after making it look like I tried to start a war between ponies and dragons. I don't know exactly what I was hoping for – I never do, really. I pick up threads that look like they might be interesting and I tug on them to see what happens. When it all comes together at the end, I look like a chessmaster par excellence, someone who thinks through all the options and has a contingency for everything, when the truth is, I don't usually know exactly what the plan is until five minutes before I enact it. Sometimes I don't know what the plan is until half an hour after I've started enacting it.

So I hadn't solidified anything yet, but I was sorta kinda contemplating giving Garble one of my Elements. Greed ought to be a shoo-in for any dragon, but this guy cared enough about bringing harm to ponies that he wanted to go to war with them, so there was a chance Cruelty might fit.

"Yeah?" His whole manner changed. Instead of being sullen and rebellious, now he was sleazy and full of false camaraderie. "Hey, dude, if you want to put the hurt on ponies, I'm your drake. I had to migrate through Equestria. I hate those things, all pretty and sparkly and 'yay friendship!' and it just makes you wanna barf, you know what I mean?"

"Oh, I do," I said, nodding. "I definitely do."

"You wanna hear something unreal? There's a dragon, little wuss about as tall as my kneecap, that those ponies managed to make into a total weakling. Kid was hanging with us and being kinda cool, actually; I mean he was too little to be any good at anything, but he was trying. But then he's all like, 'Nooo! Don't smash that phoenix egg! All life is precious blah blah I sound like a pony!' What a waste."

I snapped my talon, not because I was doing magic but because I'd just realized something. "Wait, I know you! You were in the episode about the dragon migration!"

"The what?"

One of the episodes of the show from Anon's world, which I watched, featured Spike going on the Great Dragon Migration, for about a day or two. He ran into this Garble fellow, got hazed a bit and then initiated into the group, until the group wanted to smash a phoenix egg and Spike took exception to the idea. I have to say I agree with him. How is smashing an egg either funny or fun? Now, hiding it so that the frantic mother runs around in circles for half a day desperately looking for it, only to return it to exactly where you took it from... that's good comedy. But smashing an egg... I have smashed a great number of dragon eggs in my time, because when you want to rile up dragons enough that they chase you mindlessly into a tornado full of razor-sharp obsidian and monofilament carbon wires, making it rain dragon eggs was one of the few things I found that would invariably get all of them into a single-minded rage. It was never fun, or funny. It was war, it was awful, and I hope I never have to do anything else like it again.

I didn't say that to Garble, but my mind was racing. He was a Defined Antagonist as understood by Anon, someone who'd been an antagonist in an episode. Admittedly, it being an episode about Spike's life, Anon had probably paid little attention to it, but when he saw Garble, he'd make no attempt to make Garble like him. He'd cast Garble as a minor villain, exactly like Blueblood, Trixie and Gilda. This made the thought of giving him an Element even more attractive.

"Never mind. The point is, I want to know, why do ponies rustle your jimmies so badly? Did a pony steal your sandwich one time? Why do they upset you so very much?"

"They just suck!" Garble said hotly. "No, they didn't do anything to me... like I'd ever let a pony do something like that to me. They just think they're as good as dragons, and they're total prissy wusses. And how come they have all those gems, and we don't have any? I don't even know why I came here. I thought the Dragon Lands would be awesome but it's just a lot of rocks. I mean, I like the volcanos, but there's no gems. How come prissy little ponies get gems and we don't?"

I didn't point out to him that most likely this was because prissy little ponies didn't eat their gems, and thus any that they mined stayed around for hundreds or thousands of years, whereas dragons could easily use up all the gems in an area within a generation or two. "So you're jealous of them."

"I'm not jealous! Ponies don't have anything I couldn't take for myself, if the Dragon Lord hadn't said we're not allowed to go to Equestria and steal stuff from ponies. Like it would even be stealing." He licked his lips. "If they don't wanna give me gems, that's fine. I could just take meat instead. Bet they'd be wishing real hard that they'd given me the gems when I said to, then."

Well. That changed matters. A dragon who disliked ponies? Par for the course; few dragons respect ponies. A dragon who wanted to steal gems? Aside from Spike, which one of them doesn't? But a dragon who threatened to eat sapient beings was a very different story.

Dragons need to consume magic, frequently. They can take it in the form of gems, which are highly concentrated, and that's how they prefer it. They can chow down on magically conductive substances like gold and silver, though they need a lot more of that than they'd need of gems. Or they can eat living things. All living things in our world are fairly saturated with magic, but some things have more magic than others. Plant matter has fairly little magic, most of the time; earth pony-infused plant matter is much richer in magic, but dragons don't have access to a lot of that, unless they're Spike. There are also magical plants, but a lot of magical plants have magical defenses against being eaten. Animals have more magic, some of them being very, very magical, such as hydras. Then there are sapient animals, who also range from not-very-magical to, well, me. But any creature with sapience has more magic than a non-magical sapient creature.

Small dragons can satisfy themselves with plant matter, particularly if it's grown by ponies and supplemented by the occasional gem. Very large dragons either need to consume a large quantity of gems... or a large quantity of animals. And most animals large enough to feed a dragon are sapient. The dragons of Dragon Island prey a lot on very large sea creatures of low intelligence – sharks, swordfish, tuna – and large land nonsapients such as pigs. All of them recognize they'd get more bang for their buck if they ate sapient low-magicals, such as cows and sheep, but cows and sheep in Equestria are under pony protection, and aren't stupid enough to live outside Equestria, not on this continent (they have their own homelands, Bovinia to the south of Neighsia and Neighropa more or less between the two, and Agland to the north of Albion, located on the same island to the west of Neighropa, but dragons don't go there anymore, because I am awesome.) And all of them also recognize that the most juice they could get out of eating animals, equal to a gem, would be to eat a magical sapient.

The trouble is, the local magical sapients know dragons. Ahuizotls are partially aquatic and live in underwater caves where dragons can't get in – a Western dragon can dive into the ocean holding its breath, but unlike us Eastern draconics, Western dragons don't have water as one of their elements and can't breathe the stuff, so they can't break into an underwater cave system. Llamas have lived as if they were in mortal danger from their neighbors since the quetzalcoatls started tearing their hearts out; like zebras, they're excellent at defensive spellwork using natural substances, and like quetzalcoatls, they can use runes and group rites. Quetzalcoatls have fallen far since the days when they terrorized this region of the world themselves; my presence taught them fear and caution and how to hide. Buffalo are huge, and brave, and will shoot a dragon's eye full of gem-tipped arrows if one tries to prey on them. Coyotes are also really, really good at hiding, as are deer. (Deer are weird, because not all of them are magical, but the ones that are can give ponies a run for their money... they're just vastly outnumbered by ponies.) Diamond Dogs burrow underground and are rarely seen aboveground, and would bargain for their lives by offering gems, so no dragon would actually ever eat one. Caribou live too far north. And who can actually find a changeling to eat one?

But ponies! Non-violent, soft, civilized ponies who live in village enclaves where they don't really have adequate defenses against a bunny stampede. Or, for that matter, slightly more violent and less civilized ponies living in enclaves on the outskirts of Equestrian territory, who are well equipped to defend themselves against the occasional manticore or panther, but are totally out of their league when it comes to dragons. It would be so, so easy for any dragon with territory anywhere near the Dragon Lands to swoop in and eat a pony or two, and ponies are so magically powerful they're the equivalent of a small pile of gems. Besides, they're delicious. (Oh, don't look at me like that. Remember I eat meat that I magically conjure, which is copied from real creatures but was never alive? Of course I've experimented with eating pony flesh. If it makes you feel better, I've had draconequus a lot. I am unexpectedly delectable, I must say.)

The reason they don't do this is that the Dragon Lord won't let them. And the reason the Dragon Lord won't let them is that the last time they tried, Celestia used the gravity of the sun to create a tsunami that washed over the Dragon Lands and half-drowned the inhabitants, and that was without Luna. The time before that, she had the Alicorn of Desolation to help her, and earthquakes that sunder islands and cause some of them to plunge into the sea is within the definition of desolation. It's not like dragons haven't tried this stunt, more than once. And Celestia and her allies have always responded swiftly and mercilessly – well, okay, they show far more mercy than I ever did, but enough that the dragons always recognize that a war with ponies is one they won't win. Organized, militaristic dragons like the ones in the Dragon Nations could do it, but those guys spend all their time fighting each other. The anarchic dragons, though? Heck no.

If I gave Garble one of the Elements of Disharmony, and he used it to try to eat a pony – or Anon, for that matter – it would justify Anon's brutality, and he would probably come down here with Celestia's blessing and slaughter every dragon on the island, because Celestia knows the Dragon Lord can control his dragons, and doesn't know that an Element of Disharmony would disrupt that control. At the very least, Garble himself would be hacked to pieces by Anon, if Torch could convince Celestia that Garble was a rogue dragon and not under his control. While Garble would kind of have it coming, I don't want to engineer a lot of death and murder. Some pony, somewhere, might end up eaten, and then Garble would die, and maybe a lot of other dragons, and Anon would look like a big hero even with the blood dripping from his hands, and no. I wasn't going there.

"Hmm. Well, I think I see the problem here."

"Yeah?" he asked eagerly.

"You're terminally stupid," I said, and booped him on the nose. "Sorry, kid, but if you don't get treatment for it soon, I don't see a lengthy prognosis in your future."

"What?" he asked, outraged. "Are you calling me stupid?"

"Yes. Yes, that is indeed what I'm doing. Do try to keep up." He drew back a breath to breathe flame at me. I conjured marshmallows on a stick and toasted them in the flames, being sure to not let my physical body be affected by the flame in the slightest. Then I ate one of the marshmallows and offered a second one to Garble. "Marshmallow?"

He knocked the stick out of my paws. I glared at him. "Rude!" Then I turned the ground he was standing on into marshmallow. Sticky, goopy marshmallow, and being that he was, like all dragons, dense and very heavy for his size, he sank like a stone. I made the marshmallow almost as tall as he was, so he'd sink in to his neck. Shooting flame at marshmallow just makes it stickier and goopier, although also more delicious.

"Hey!" He tried to fly, but the marshmallow held his feet fast. That, and I'd just taken his wings. "Hey, you can't do this to me! Stop this!"

"I can't? I think I just did," I said. "Now what's the magic word?"

He said something very, very rude, which was most certainly not the magic word. "Oh, I'm sorry, that's not it," I said. "Want to try again?"

This time he suggested an anatomical location into which I could insert my magic word. My eyes lit up. "Oh my! That does sound like fun!" I said. "But no, still not the magic word, and I'm sorry, but I'm bored with you now. Enjoy the marshmallow!"

Then I teleported away. His wings would reappear on his body the moment I was gone, but since he'd started sinking, his weight and density already had him up to his waist, too deep for wingpower to pull him free. If he flambéed the marshmallow before he sank all the way in, he'd increase his sinking speed by making the marshmallow more liquid, but if he waited until he came to a rest, he would have a hard time positioning his head so that it pointed down at the marshmallow, given that the marshmallow was going to ride right up to his jaw and maybe just a bit more. Eventually his body heat would cook the stuff enough that he'd be able to get free, but it would take a while.

So I'm thinking now about my strategies for my Element.

Greed could go to anyone who won't use it to eat ponies. The difficulty of my fight with Winnie notwithstanding, Greed's one of the more harmless of my Elements. Cruelty, however, is one of the two worst. Most beings I could hand Cruelty to would be capable of doing incredible damage with it. I imagined my banished Sirens with Cruelty (not that I could pull them back with the dimensional gates closed, but they were an example), and didn't want to think about what sort of hellish conditions they could create. I thought of Chrysalis, or any changeling. No. Brr. I thought of a random wrestler-turned-motivational-speaker who'd actually managed to turn Fluttershy just as cruel and nasty as my disharmonizing had, according to the cartoon. That guy didn't even qualify as a villain by any reasonable standard – he taught a technique, Fluttershy took it way too far, she asked for her money back, and he begrudgingly gave it to her because he'd promised 100% satisfaction and she wasn't satisfied. Tempting, but I didn't know much about him, and giving a guy who'd demonstrated the ability to turn Fluttershy cruel, when I myself had had to use brute magical force to pull that one off... No. There was no way I was giving that Element to someone more adept with cruelty than I am.

I still don't have any great candidates for Greed, but I think I've decided on Cruelty. I have to give it to someone who is good at being cruel, obviously, but I also have to give it to someone who cannot do any serious damage by being cruel. Which means the obvious candidate is Diamond Tiara, the filly whose destined life talent is apparently wearing a tiara really well. Her sidekick Silver Spoon, a slightly smarter filly, is also a candidate, but she's mostly Diamond's yes-filly and rarely comes up with any really nasty ideas herself.

Diamond Tiara is truly talented in the art of making ponies miserable; she's actually managed to embarrass Celestia. She hates Anon, who bullied her in the course of trying to teach her that bullying is wrong. She's got the resources of a wealthy father, and the experience and advice to draw on of a mother who is actually a master of the art, and she actually seems to have some leadership talent. But at the end of the day, she's a filly. She can't create a society based on discriminating against foals without cutie marks. She can't rile up mobs. She can't take over Equestria.

All she can do is exert her financial and social power over foals in Ponyville to irritate Anon. A lot. Oh, she'd probably do most of it by targeting her blank-flank nemeses, the Bearers' little sisters. (Wait, is Scootaloo actually Rainbow Dash's sister? I'm thinking maybe... no?) But she does specifically hate Anon, so she'll probably do something to undercut him. Hmm. Far be it for me to tell a Bearer of Disharmony how to do their job, but I might mention to her the groundwork I did in trying to make Rarity jealous of her friends. A well-placed lie released in Sugar Belle's hearing (is that her name? It was something like that), to be carried back to Rarity, could do a lot of damage.

So that's settled, assuming the kid accepts, but why would she not? However, this raises a bigger issue. I think I know now how to use Hatred.

See, I have a kind of internal ranking for how dangerous these things are. Greed and Arrogance are probably at the low end, then Deception, Rage and Selfishness, then Cruelty, then Hatred. And Hatred in particular has always struck me as too dangerous to use. When Hatred was hooked into Yggsdrasil, it brought the windigos and the Second Fimbulwinter and killed my species. When Sombra used Hatred, he was able to counteract and overpower the Crystal Heart, turn the Crystal Empire against outsiders, pass off the princess he murdered as a traitor pawn of Celestia and Luna, and make earth ponies rise up against pegasi and unicorns, driving many of them out of the Empire and allowing Sombra to gather up the rest and enslave them. Once he had all the pegasi and unicorns, it was easy work to enslave all the earth ponies as well. By the time he was done, all of the crystal ponies lived in terror of Sombra, but when he started out, they gleefully supported him against the "corrupt, decadent" Princess Amore. Hatred's very effective for generating disharmony, but it has a bad habit of generating mobs who murder the innocent, as well.

If I was going to use it... I'd need to give it to someone who will not let it get out of hand. Because hatred grows. Hatred generates more chaos than any of the others, which might change my opinion of it if the chaos it created was any good, but no, murderous mobs under no one's control aren't my idea of a good time. I prefer flying pigs. Hatred is very, very hard to control, and anyone who's good at using hatred generally has no motivation to keep it under wraps, because they themselves usually hate what they're targeting.

But I know someone for whom too much hatred is actively poisonous, someone who most assuredly hates, and in particular hates my enemy, and who has a lot of resources and reasons to owe me one, but also who cannot afford to allow indiscriminate hatred to consume a society. And if she didn't want it, I know someone else in more or less the same boat, who has the same reasons for not wanting hatred to get out of hoof. (Plus the experience of having suffered from mob mentality and a society consumed with hatred and fear, but these folks are not known for their empathy, so that might not help.) And with two such candidates in mind... I think it's time I bit the bridle and went to go retrieve Hatred.

Because siccing a dragon or two on Anon will be a challenge for him, and siccing a mean filly will be an annoyance... but if I sic an enemy he thought he defeated forever on him, he'll have to turn his attention away from me to focus on the older enemy. And with his attention off me... maybe I can use that to come up with something, anything, that can actually take him down.