I'm calm now.

I've learned some things. Some of them very, very upsetting things. Some of them very interesting things. And then there's the things that just make me blink and shake my head.

I've gone and watched more of the short films (they call them "cartoons" ... yes, the same word as the word for those silly political sketches where Princess Celestia has the head of a fish and is swimming in an ocean labeled "Taxes" or something like that) in Anon's world. You see, a thought occurred to me, as I was writing the last chapter of this journal.

Anon knew Pinkie was supposed to find the Mirror Pool, and warned her against it. There must have been an episode about it. Yet, despite his warning, she found and used it anyway. Now, I'd known from seeing them for myself that the changeling invasion and the return of the Crystal Empire were episodes in this cartoon, but Anon had no motive to shut either of them down – he got to be a big hero, fighting big villains. On another hoof, though, he did try to stop Pinkie from having The Episode With The Multiple Pinkies. And, most importantly from my perspective... he failed.

Now, I don't know. Maybe he didn't really try all that hard. Maybe the thing that's really calling the shots wanted the episode to happen even if consciously it seemed that he tried to stop it. But, I thought, what if the episodes are fixed points that have to happen, and while Anon can change their outcome and can insert himself, he can't actually prevent them from happening? If that were the case, then knowing what the future episodes that he's probably seen and I haven't are would be really helpful.

So I decided to go back to Anon's world. And then, because it's not a plan of mine if it doesn't go running off on a barely related tangent, I thought, but wait, I've never been through the specific gate Anon came through. If I found that, and went through it, maybe I'd learn something about him, something that might help me defeat him!

Except I couldn't.

I knew, from spying via the Panauricon and my interrogations of Applejack and Rarity, how Anon had come to our world... more or less. He'd appeared somewhere in the Everfree forest, and single-handedly fought his way out to Ponyville. While I'd like to put this down to more of Anon's nonsense, this isn't actually that implausible. Ponies, as herbivorous prey animals who can run very, very fast, tend to come down on the "flight" side of fight or flight unless cornered, almost every single time. Humans, as physically fairly pathetic omnivores who had to figure out how to create weapons before they could get a decent meal, are more evenly balanced between fight and flight, and are close personal friends with Fire.

In other words, Anon took out a bunch of timberwolves with a lighter, a small device that starts fires, which is apparently a fairly common personal tool that humans carry around with them most of the time. How he managed to not burn down most of the forest is another issue, and that might have more to do with his usual shenanigans... on the other hand, a lot of humans are trained from early childhood in how to handle a fire, or train themselves by setting fires and then getting in trouble for it. (I believe I've mentioned before that I love these guys, Anon notwithstanding. How do you not love a species with no flame invulnerability whose children routinely play with fire?) Meanwhile, other species, such as manticores and hydras, are so used to ponies who run away, they will often back off if another creature brandishes a sharp stick at them, let alone a stick that's on fire. I myself learned long ago that non-sapient predators are still plenty smart enough to run away from a torch.

So Anon came from somewhere in the heart of the Everfree. After two or three months or so (not the best at telling time, here), I'd imagine any damage caused by the reckless use of fire would have grown back over, since he didn't apparently start a major forest fire. But I shouldn't need physical evidence; a gateway to another dimension that's been actively used in the last several years, let alone last few months, should stand out like a beacon to me. Particularly if I've actually been to the dimension in question. Which I have.

When I went to Anon's world, I didn't go through his gate. I just opened a pathway myself, after determining that there was only one dimension I could open a path to. I could tell it was his because dimensions have a... let's call it a smell. It isn't really, but it behaves more like a smell than like any other of your senses. Anon carries the smell of his own dimension, and when I opened a pathway to the only place I could go that wasn't our dimension, it had the same smell. I ought to be able to sniff out any gateway that had ever been opened to that particular dimension, since I'm familiar with the scent, and if I go looking for a gateway to a place I'm familiar with, it should practically glow with the color of the smell I'm looking for. (I did tell you it isn't really a smell.)

But I couldn't find it. At all. And believe me, I went up and down the Everfree. Twilight Sparkle would have been proud of me... I even used a system. Okay, my system was a series of concentric spirals that overlapped with other series of spirals going the opposite way, and I'm pretty sure Sparky would have chosen stripes or sectors or something, but the point is I had a system, because one of the things I love most dearly about chaos is that it's totally inefficient at accomplishing anything "useful" in a limited amount of time, and sadly, sometimes that means I have to... ugh... employ something orderly instead, when I've got a specific goal and limited time to achieve it in. (Trust me, I try to avoid this whenever possible, but sometimes you just can't.)

Now, by the nature of what I am, I'm attuned to any kind of unusual magic, which includes gates to other dimensions. There are very few powers capable of hiding such a gate from me, and very few powers capable of sealing one thoroughly enough that there's nothing left for me to see, and most of them are the same powers.

Harmony could do it, and Harmony would have a motive to thoroughly seal one – Harmony hates these things. But now that it's down to just one tree, and that one caged in by my chaos engines, Harmony probably doesn't have the power to do it without the help of its Element Bearers. Harmony's power is amplified by having other instances of itself, other Harmony Trees, to work with, and thanks to yours truly, it doesn't have any. Well, there's the Crystal Heart, but that's not really a Harmony Tree exactly, and besides, it still can't talk to it all that well with the Everfree and the chaos magic that permeates it in the way.

Order could do it, and is in fact a lot less opposed to opening the things than you'd think. Unlike Harmony, which really really really wants to maintain the status quo, Matrisse never had a problem with using any tool it could get its crystalline metaphorical claws on, even before it went insane, and would have had no ideological problem with opening a gate and grabbing an entity from another universe to solve a problem it perceived. But Matrisse is still in pieces. There's no way pieces scattered all over the globe could possibly coordinate enough power to oppose me, particularly not in the Everfree, which is the heart of chaotic power in the world, right now, due to my chaos engines.

Chaos could do it. I think I'm currently the only Chaos Avatar, but I successfully hid myself from my predecessors on more than one occasion when I went spelunking through the past, so if there's a time traveler, a cognate of myself, a non-cognate Chaos Avatar from another dimension where I'm not the one who has the job, or Screwball, it's theoretically possible for any of them to use the ambient chaos magic of the Everfree to power a spell that hides something from me. And any of them might have a motive to pull Anon into this world to kill me, because Chaos Avatars don't get along; most of us feel there should be only one, and are willing to kill to make that happen. I'm fairly sure it's not Screwball; she's still living in Canterlot Gardens, babbling nonsense on the rare occasions when she bothers to talk to anyone, and on most days she seems to think I'm her father. True, there are occasions when something of her memories as Brightest Star or maybe even Maelstrom surface, and she tries to kill me, but that hasn't happened since before I was first turned to stone.

The thing is, if it was Chaos behind this... Chaos isn't good at being stealthy. Could another Chaos Avatar or very powerful chaos mage, such as Screwball, hide themselves from me for a while? Sure. Could they enact a plot to kill me, or disrupt Equestria, or something, while hiding? Probably. Could they keep it up for months? Well, I couldn't, so I consider it really, really unlikely. Also, Anon's a terrible agent of Chaos. Why disrupt the entire world and then hide it from everyone so they can't even tell it happened?

And Disharmony could do it, and it's slightly more plausible that there could be a separate Disharmony avatar running around who isn't me, because, well, Disharmony pulls stunts like that. Judging from the degree to which my own Disharmony Elements have been opposing me, finding out that all of this is the work of a separate Disharmony Avatar who came into existence while I was in stone wouldn't shock me. But wouldn't such an entity know about my interest in recovering my Elements and be more actively opposing me? I've got five out of seven of them, now; another Disharmony Avatar should have made a move to stop me from gathering the Elements by now, rather than just sending Anon to bumble around and threaten me with a sword.

Theoretically there are other entities who could oppose me. An alicorn of Time, Space, or Time and Space, for instance. I don't know if any such alicorn exists or has ever existed, but generally speaking, alicorns are really noticeable to the guy whose job is to sense and maintain the supply of magic. An alicorn of Psyche could possibly explain everything, or almost everything anyway; most of Anon's powers can be explained by manipulating minds, and if any alicorn was capable of hiding herself from me, an alicorn of Psyche would. I've got a mind, chaotic as it is, and while I can defend myself from Luna's dreamwalking, that's partly because Luna herself trained me in dreamwalking when we were both kids, and I was teaching her how to handle the chaos of particularly bizarre dreams. I might have no defenses against an alicorn I don't know exists. But call me an intelligence chauvinist, I just can't believe any alicorn whose domain is Mind would use such a supremely stupid individual as her tool, even if she was a fallen alicorn like Nightmare Moon, or like Honor was. I mean, isn't using an idiot as your agent when your domain is Mind kind of like what if Nightmare Moon had employed ponies with sun cutie marks?

Maybe there are even others I haven't thought of. I doubt it – I'm a very smart and creative draconequus, and I think I've covered all the possibilities – but sure, I suppose it's within the range of possibility that there could be another such entity that could stand up to me. And there's always the possibility that whatever it is that gives Anon his power isn't something from our world at all. The point is... whatever it is that gave Anon his power is probably the same entity hiding his entry point to our world from me, and that gives me some ideas I could follow up on as to what that entity might actually be.

Anyway. So once I figured out that finding Anon's exact gate wasn't in the cards, I went and crossed over to his dimension my own way. And this is how I learned what the future should have held for me, if Anon hadn't interfered.

Let me see if I can possibly describe how I found this out.

So I mentioned the last time that in Anon's world, there are thousands of short films being sent to personal, household crystal boxes which display the films, and that these films are sent on wires or by energy beams from space. That, however, is not how I got the information I got, the last time. The same films are recorded onto disks, rather like vinyl albums except that they're made of some kind of crystal and played with a light beam rather than a needle.

Every year, between 13 and 26 films based in the same fictional universe and continuity are released, for each of these "television" stories, and these are referred to as a "season". The first season of the fictional adaptation of our world started with Woona's return from the Moona and ended with that tantalizingly chaotic Gala; the second started with my own debut, and ended with the Changeling invasion. The third started with the return of the Crystal Empire. The last time I was in Anon's world, I managed to acquire a box of disks recording the entire first season, another box for the entire second season, and a smaller box containing the Crystal Empire episodes and some completely unrelated stories from the first two seasons. I'd wanted to get the whole third season, because I had even at the time strongly suspected that Anon had seen the whole thing, but they hadn't been available on the crystal disks (which for some reason are called DVDs), and the episodes, which had shown once a week while they were being released, were no longer being shown.

What I hadn't realized at the time was that there was an easy way to get all of the episodes to come to me on the wires without having to worry about going to multiple stores looking for the correct disks. (There's a stigma against adult men buying those disks, for some reason; the fact that the entertainments are intended for small fillies somehow means that stallions who want to watch them are viewed as perverted or childish. Or fathers, which was what I claimed to be. Fortunately I look old enough in a human body to pull that off. Also, there are lots and lots of these disks for sale, and most stores didn't have the specific ones I needed.)

Imagine that there is a central library, but it contains television films, not books. Imagine that you can transmit a request to this library for a film, like sending a message by telegraph or courier pony, but it arrives instantly. Imagine that instead of a pony (or in this case, a human) fulfilling your request, it's a machine familiar, similar to a golem but very, very limited in its capabilities, and all it can do is respond to your request and send you the film you wanted... which then starts playing on your crystal screen. Instantly.

All of the episodes for this television series were available from this service. It's not a free service, but it will give you a free trial, and that was enough for me to get what I needed. As it turns out... they'd all been available from this service the last time I was here, too, and I was kicking myself for not realizing that before. I'd seen all the ones from the first two seasons, so I just started with the start of the third season and watched all of them.

The first two were a two part episode about the return of the Crystal Empire. In which, as I've said earlier, Spike and Cadance were the ones who defeated Sombra. I noticed something else; the whole thing was plainly a test being run by Celestia, albeit a test with very high stakes. In the timeline that should have been, I imagined that Celestia and Luna were probably hidden outside the Crystal Empire, waiting to move in and take over if Twilight failed. Twilight was told, specifically, not to use the Elements and not to involve her friends, and saved the day by ignoring Celestia and relying on Spike and Cadance. Given that Twilight had previously cast mind control spells in order to try to come up with a problem she could report on to Celestia because she was just that anal about having to have a report for Celestia every week, I figured Celestia must have decided to test Twilight against her one major flaw as a leader, her total dependence on Celestia herself. I know Celestia; she's not a big enough idiot to test a mentally unstable unicorn with the stakes actually being a city's worth of ponies, so I assume she had preparations in place if Twilight failed. Of course, no such preparations were implemented in our world; Celestia had complete and mindless confidence in Anon.

Then there was the one about Pinkie and the mirror pool. Pinkie was slightly less of an idiot in the episode, only in the sense that she hadn't been warned against it and willfully went against the warning. The spell I'd suspected Anon had been able to give Twilight because he'd seen Twilight come up with it in a show turned out to be exactly as I thought. So even with her natural intelligence level, Twilight has blind spots. Like not realizing that the spell that banished magical constructs back to the Mirror Pool wouldn't work on an actual pony.

After that, a pointless episode about some cousin of Apple Zoom showing up and joining forces with Diamond Tiara and her sycophant. Probably I'd want to give Diamond her Element before that happened, to increase the odds that she'd actually be able to use the event against Anon in some way.

The next one surprised me a great deal. It showed that in the actual timeline, without interference from Anon... Trixie really was as stupidly obsessed with showing up Twilight as she was under Anon's influence, and she really had gone for the Alicorn Amulet, and ended up being corrupted into a dictator who ruled Ponyville with a slightly less than iron hoof. Well. I wondered if it would turn out in future episodes that Gilda, Blueblood and the Flim Flam Brothers were just as stupidly obsessed with the Bearers as they'd been in our world, and if I'd been blaming Anon all along for the personal failings of my minions. Since Trixie was still planning on fighting a duel with Twilight, it seemed like that episode was going to happen to at least some degree as well. They weren't going to defeat her the same way, obviously, but I had no illusions; I'm sure Anon will find some way, and it will probably involve making Trixie look like an idiot.

The next one was an especially pointless one about Scoopyloo or whatever her name is trying to impress Rainbow Dash and getting a talking to from Luna. Yawn. Next, a new potential minion on the horizon – a pony named Lightning Dust who managed to be even more reckless and self-centered than Rainbow Dash, who would end up endangering various ponies in her quest to prove how awesome she was. If I ever managed to find Selfishness, I'd found the perfect candidate, assuming that Anon didn't defeat her by either killing her or making her think he himself was so incredibly awesome that she succumbed to hero worship. Maybe I could intercept and recruit her before those events even happened in our world

After that, some sheerly amazing pointlessness involving Applejack having a family reunion, and then Spike running around trying to fulfill a supposed life debt to Applejack because she saved him from something. I wondered if Anon's self-centeredness would defeat his apparent dislike of Spike; either he was going to rescue Spike and make Spike run around as his servant, or his lack of interest in Spike would lead it to happen as it had originally. Or, if I could succeed in opening Spike's eyes as to what was going on, maybe I could prevent it from happening at all.

And then—

I have to admit, after I saw this one, I had to climb out the window of the hotel I was staying in and find somewhere else to hole up for the night. (This was perhaps ill thought out. Humans have no wings, nor flight fields, nor magic, and I didn't really have enough magic in their world to fight their gravity with much success, and I happened to be on the fifth floor of the hotel. However, after I smashed every single item I could find that was breakable in the entire hotel room, it wasn't as if walking out the front door was an option.) I didn't see the remaining three until a few days later, but that was just as well; it took me that long to calm down and stop plotting to return to Equestria and kill Anon that very minute.

You see, this episode was about me. Specifically, Celestia deciding to release me due to "having use for my magic" if I could be trusted to not turn the world upside down with it every single day (the use she had for it was never explained in the episode), and deputizing Fluttershy of all ponies to "reform" me. Which she did. By befriending me.

In the episode, I said I'd never really had a friend before. This is absolutely true. I've had a mother, a father figure, biological brothers and an adopted sister. I've had a lover, and a mentor. I've had groupies, cultists and minions. But I've never in my life had a friend. And Fluttershy, the pony who in this world, even under Anon's influence, managed to see far more of my weaknesses and my loneliness than any pony has any right to, who flat out told me she'd be willing to reach out to me if I was willing to stop being a villain... did exactly that. In a future that now will never happen, because of Anon.

Oh, I suspect the episode was collapsing time, speeding things up to make their adaptation of my lost future happen in 22 minutes, because I'm sure I'd have needed more evidence of actual friendship in real life. Others have offered me love and sex to stop spreading chaos; why would I take an offer of friendship to do the same thing unless I was convinced it was real? And considering that Fluttershy in the episode admitted that she was letting me do what I wanted so she could gain my trust, and considering that I have excellent hearing... no, I wouldn't fall for that. But at the end... she promised she wouldn't use her Element against me, and kept the promise even after I betrayed her, when she said she wasn't my friend anymore... at which point apparently I must have realized (would realize? Would have realized? Alternate futures are hard on the tense agreements) that her offer to be my friend was genuine, and that I was in danger of throwing something away that I'd never successfully gotten anyone else to give me in my entire two millennia plus of a lifetime.

I admit it, all right? Yes. Yes, I would. If I thought it was real. If it would end the hostilities between me and Celestia, and give me a friend, someone who cared about me more than they cared about what I could do for them or what I could be persuaded to not do... yes. I can't say the word "reform" without snickering or putting air quotes around it, because I'm not a criminal, I'm Chaos, and that's not going to change ever. But to decide not to turn the world upside down every day? I'm doing that now, for far, far less a reward than having a friend. I'd already decided, for my own reasons, that if I take over again I'll tone things down and let Celestia and Luna mostly run things, most of the time, because I like ponies having better teeth and being able to come up with amazing and ridiculous contraptions that barely depend on magic, and I think I will have to tone down the chaos if I want those things to continue. So if Celestia had the Bearers free me, and one of them chose to be my friend? Not out of lust, not out of a desire to control me (again, this doesn't appear in the episode myself, but I know I wouldn't have been convinced unless I felt certain that that wasn't what was happening... and why would she have kept her promise, after declaring she wouldn't be my friend anymore, if her only motive was to control me? I have to assume there would have been more, in real life, that they never bothered to show... but then, I knew for a fact that they skimped out on showing me, because they left out almost everything from my perspective when I'd first broken free, plus leaving out all of my taunting of Celestia, plus leaving out some of my best pranks on Ponyville. In real life, few events can be fully shown, from every perspective, in the course of a 22 minute episode, or even two of them.)

I cried, off and on, between swearing revenge on Anon, and screaming in the street and kicking over garbage cans or smashing random windows with equally random bricks. I didn't sleep at all that night, after slipping out of the hotel window. All I could think about was the fact that in the future that Anon had altered, Celestia would have had me freed, a Celestia who didn't hate me pointlessly and didn't believe I'd murdered her father, and I would have had a friend. For the first time in my life. A pony who I could genuinely believe would offer to be my friend, because she'd come awfully close even under Anon's influence. And Anon had taken this future from me, and I'd have to defeat him, survive it, and do so in a way that didn't make all of the Bearers hate me and want to destroy me, to get it back. And maybe I never would, even if I did do all of those things.

Like I said. It took me a few days to calm down enough to even think about watching the last three episodes. Also, some creative evasion of the police. I'm a rather distinctive looking human if I do say so myself, and, well, I did a lot of damage to that hotel room. But eventually, I managed to end up in a completely different city, and a completely different hotel, and there I watched the final three, expecting complete anticlimax.

Well, the first two of the last three did not disappoint in the degree of how disappointing they were. The Bearers go to the Crystal Empire to help Cadance win the right to host the Equestria Games. Yawn. Spike takes care of the pets while this is happening, and gets predictably overwhelmed. Double yawn. But the third one... well, I'm not going to be as outraged on Twilight's behalf as I am on my own, obviously, but what Twilight has lost to Anon is as staggering in its own way as what I have.

In that last episode of the future that Anon has denied us all... Twilight was supposed to become an alicorn.

Alicorn of what? I don't know. Maybe magic. Celestia, in the episode, claimed that Twilight got to be an alicorn by creating new magic, but that's... not precisely how it works. Alicorns don't get to be alicorns by creating new magic; I create new magic every day, and where is my princess tiara? (Okay, I am wearing one right now, but honestly, Equestria should have handed me one a long time ago, if creating new magic was the way it's achieved.) No, alicorns get to be what they are by creating new magic or expressing an extreme of magical power that relates to the principle they embody. Creating a new spell to mass produce hayfries won't make you an alicorn, unless you're going to become the Alicorn of Fast Food. In the episode, Twilight fixed Starswirl's botched alicornization spell, after swapping around all of her friends' cutie marks without the corresponding talents, but with the memories of having such talents, which frankly is such amazing and delightful chaos it almost makes me want to cry that it won't happen in real life, except that I'm all done with crying over what Anon has taken from me.

Can Anon prevent these things from happening in the future? He couldn't prevent Pinkie from getting into the Mirror Pool. But he's turned Celestia against me, so the events of my episode can't possibly happen. And he prevented Twilight from learning the crucial lesson she needed to learn, passing the test in the Crystal Empire that proved her to be more than Celestia's sycophant. Even if Celestia wanted to make Twilight an alicorn now, how could she dare, when she doesn't know if Twilight can stand on her own four hooves or not? (And right now, under Anon's influence, Twilight can't. Even Celestia can't, really.)

I've already hated Anon about as much as I can hate anyone, for everything he's done to me and to ponies I care about; I don't think the knowledge of the future I've lost can actually make me hate him more, but for a while, at least, it threatened to overwhelm what passes for my reason and make me go attack him directly, again. I managed to stay in the other universe, where Anon can't directly affect me (I think), until the impulse passed. And now I'm back, and I'm managing to hold it together, more or less.

I can't really share any of this directly with my minions. I can't show them the episodes unless I take them to Anon's world, and frankly, I don't want to take any chances that it might get back to Trixie that the Alicorn Amulet does not work the way I told her it did. Elements of Disharmony don't work together, but they might share gossip. I'll admit that more than once I've thought of kidnapping Fluttershy and bringing her to the other world to show her the episode where she "reforms" me, but the fact remains, I can't "reform" by her lights until Anon is defeated. He wants me to be a villain, and if I tried to stop being a villain, evidence suggests he'd overwhelm my mind and I'd just start being a villain again anyway... and I can't explain Anon or what he's doing to any of the Bearers. The closest I managed to come was to drop some hints to Spike. Maybe after all of this is over and Anon is defeated, I'll show Fluttershy what could have been... or maybe I won't, because why would she believe I hadn't made it all up? There are more things I can't do with my powers than I'm willing to admit to the Bearers, but creating an illusion of an alternate reality, or bringing a pony to an actual alternate reality but then creating an illusion of a disturbingly accurate cartoon rendition of our world, are both well within my capabilities.

No, as usual, it's going to just be me bearing this knowledge... me and my trusty journal that I share everything with, nowadays. Which nopony's likely to read until I'm dead. What a cheerful thought.

You and me, journal. You and me against the world. And especially against Anon.

I used to have a tiny small part of myself that would think, well, okay, I hate Anon passionately and everything he stands for but I gotta give the guy credit for one thing, I wouldn't be free today if it weren't for him. And it's true, but now I know I wouldn't have had to wait another 120 years or so for all the Bearers to die before I gained my freedom. Celestia would have given it to me, in another year or so, tops. And I could have had a friend. Something I've never had. Disharmony wants me to destroy friendships, and it's fun and I enjoy it and it generates lovely magic for me, but I've gotta admit, part of me always felt they had it coming, because why did ponies get to have friends when I had never had any?

Oh, an even more horrifying aspect of all this just occurred to me. Anon's almost certainly seen these episodes. Right? He was a fan of the show and he left his world and arrived in ours long after they were done being broadcast, because now that I've been to his world twice I know the timeflow is even and that I can calibrate well enough to determine when Anon must have left, and it was after the third season of episodes was over. So he knows that in the reality he's replacing, Celestia trusted me enough to have me freed. He knows that Fluttershy was going to befriend me and I was going to give up total wanton chaos for her sake. And he decided that no, he was going to treat me as a horrible irredeemable villain anyway, and make up stories about the awful things I must have done to Celestia and Luna, and make them believe those stories. Even if he doesn't know he has that power... how does he even reconcile having had those beliefs, when he knows what was supposed to happen?

He wanted me to be a villain. He hated me enough that he saw me make a friend, he saw me "reform", and he said to himself, no, that's not what should happen to Discord. Discord deserves to be treated like pond scum and then killed, because he's evil. Regardless of the evidence that I was not, in fact, evil. Not completely, anyway.

Gilda wants to know why I'm suddenly so mopey the last few days, since I got back. I can't very well explain to her how upset I am at having lost the chance to make a friend who was a pony, not after she and I have both agreed that friends are baggage that drag you down and hurt you. Which, I mean, they probably are, judging from what happened to her, at least if you're not a pony and you try to make friends with one, but I'd have liked to try.

But Gilda's right; now that I'm done with this journal entry I need to shake the mope off, and go recruiting! There's a little filly who needs to add another jeweled accessory to her current ensemble that I need to go chat with.

I began silently observing Diamond Tiara in the morning, when she got up. She went through a tedious routine of having a servant brush out her mane and coat before she was permitted to enter the Grand and Glorious Presence of her mother, Spoiled Rich (née Spoiled Milk. Most earth ponies adopt the same second name on marriage, but it's usually the stallion who changes, such as Carrot Field becoming Carrot Cake. I can see why a pony named Spoiled Milk would rather be named Rich, though. Although to be fair, what were her parents thinking? Or her husband's parents, for that matter; Filthy Rich is also a terrible name to be saddled with. It's not hard to figure out why they named their daughter Diamond Tiara.)

Spoiled Rich proceeded to spend the lengthy, rather sumptuous breakfast in lecturing her daughter. Actually I'm not even sure I can dignify it by calling it a lecture. It was more like a tightly controlled rant. About the deportment expected of young fillies of the Rich family, the areas where Diamond was expected to apply her education, and the inferiority of blank flanks. No, seriously, I'm not making this up. Blank flanks. Like she was an arrested adolescent perpetually trapped a week after cuteceañera. I can't help but wonder if this is Anon's work – surely an entitled, narcissistic, bullying filly is more than capable of coming up with "blank flanks" as a reason to bully her classmates on her own, without encouragement from a frankly psychotic mother? I've never before heard a grown pony give a fig for whether an unrelated foal has a cutie mark yet or not.

Admittedly in Celestia's Brave New Equestria, it's now apparently a very unusual thing for an adult not to have a cutie mark, so adults have been known to engage in some concern-trolling when they meet a fellow adult with an unadorned flank. Back in my day, it was common for adult ponies to have failed to acquire their Mark of Locked-Down Destiny And Loss Of Options; a lot of ponies were jacks of all trades (a term which didn't exist back then, either, because it wasn't assumed that if you are a generalist who's good at many things but not a specialist at any, you must be a donkey because no pony could possibly fail to have one, and just one, single solitary special talent.) Nowadays, adults have cutie marks, or other adults avoid them, don't give them jobs, and tsk at them a lot. But foals? Seriously, mocking a foal who hasn't gotten a cutie mark yet... who does that? (Spoiled Rich, apparently.)

There were so many hilarious things I longed to do to Spoiled Rich, but I heroically forebore; it wasn't going to win Diamond over to my employ if I humiliated her mother completely, as much fun as it would be. So I waited as she listened to her mother's lecture, nodding in all the right places in the universal foal style of "I am actually daydreaming about something interesting and tuning you out, but I have to pretend to be listening". Finally, she was released to go to school, meeting up with her minion Silver Goon shortly after leaving her family's estate. Given her parents' ostentatious display of wealth, I was rather surprised Diamond wasn't taken to school in a carriage drawn by servants, but then, Ponyville is an earth pony town and earth ponies frown on signs of physical weakness and/or "laziness", at least from ponies who aren't disabled.

The first thing she said to Silver Spoon as soon as they had trotted out of earshot was "I am so sick of my mom."

"What's she done this time?"

Diamond Tiara rolled her eyes. "She wants me to do something to get back at the blank flanks. Like, every day, it's all about how I'm so smart and so special and I need to prove it to everyone because I'm a daughter of the Rich family and by the way, I need to put those blank flanks in their places, and I'm like, Mom, what do you think I've been doing? I don't need a lecture from her to tell me what to do about three uppity foals who think they're so great just because two of them are related to the Bearers of Harmony! But it's not like I can do anything to them anymore, with that jerkface monkey of theirs. But my mom doesn't even get that!"

"Doesn't she even know what he did to us?"

"Of course she knows. Daddy was there, remember? He even thanked the stupid monkey. But Mom doesn't care. She's not going to go to the Princess and get Monkeyface punished for laying paws on you and me, because he's a stinking Hero of Equestria, so it's my job to try to work around him." Diamond sighed explosively. "I don't even want to be doing this stupid stuff. I don't want to even be in this stupid school with all these plebes and hick farmers. You and me should be in a prep school in Fillydelphia, getting ready to go to Mareton School for Business! We have our cutie marks. In olden days we'd be mares now! Why do we even have to go to this stupid school?"

"Well, neither of us have had... you know. The Big E."

Diamond snorted. "ES-trus. You can say it. It's not a bad word."

Silver Spoon looked embarrassed. "Mom wants me to be ladylike."

"Your mom is soft. Does she think your great-grandma got control of that land and got the Diamond Dogs off it and got loans to start a silver mine and turned it into the biggest silver mine in Equestria because she was ladylike? She's a good manager and all, but she doesn't have a lot of drive. I bet the mines will do better once you're in charge, Silver."

"Maybe. I'm just saying, right now we're not mares. There's a lot we've got to learn, and I don't want to go away and live in a dorm with a lot of fillies I don't know, do you?"

"It'd be better than this." Diamond kicked a rock. "Stupid jerkface monkey. Stupid blank flanks. I wanna do something! Like when I was class president, or when I was running the Foal Free Press!" She kicked another rock. "Maybe I ought to get my mom to get the rule about term limits removed, because I'm pretty sure I can beat Twist in the next class president election just like I beat her the first time."

"But she can't run next time, because of the term limits."

"Well, then, who's gonna? One of the blank flanks? A colt?" The two of them snickered at the very possibility that a foal of the male gender could possibly win a school election. Oh, the naivete. Not to mention more of Anon's handiwork; sexism as blatant as that should have been a hundred years in the past, although there were certainly undercurrents that discouraged stallions from politics in recent memory. "If I get the term limits taken off, so you can be president for more than a year at a time, then both Twist and I can run." She sighed. "But that's a long way off."

I was not particularly interested in a discussion of elementary school politics, so I chose this moment to pop in. "Hello, ladies! Heading off to school on this fine morning?"

They both screamed and attempted to run away, but I might have done a teensy little bit of space warping, so their attempts to gallop away from me resulted in them galloping toward me. Diamond was the quicker of the two to react, rearing up, wheeling on her hind legs, and galloping in the opposite direction, for what little good it did her since that just brought her back to where she'd started from. "Stop it!" she screamed at me. "Let us go, or else!"

That was hilarious. You just haven't seen comedy until you see a tiny little school filly, hardly more than two heads tall on her fours, glaring up at a ten-head-tall god of chaos and making threats. I chortled. "Or else?" I asked, chuckling. "Is there a noun that goes after that phrase?"

"Huh?" Diamond Tiara might have had a keen reaction time, but obviously she hadn't been paying a lot of attention in language arts.

"Or else what?" I clarified.

"M-My daddy's very powerful around here! You don't want to cross me, or you'll make him an enemy!"

I laughed outright. "Your daddy? You mean the fellow I turned into a cat when I first broke loose and made Ponyville my Chaos Capital, right?" I hadn't turned him into a literal cat any more than I'd turned Big Macintosh into a literal dog; I'd just made him think he was a cat, because a wealthy businesspony acting like a cat is much funnier than a cat acting like a cat, and in the midst of my chaos I doubted that I could get a cat to act like a businesspony even if that was what he was normally. So Filthy Rich had gone around chasing mice, drinking milk out of saucers, and licking his hooves, all the while dressed in his usual tie and cravat, because that was comedy gold. I had transformed him to make him significantly plumper than usual, because he's a businesspony, which makes him a... wait for it... fat cat. Oh, I crack myself up sometimes.

"Please don't turn us into weird things," Silver Sponge was mumbling frantically, prostrate on the ground with her hooves over her head. "Please, please, don't do anything weird to us, please..."

I teleported her into my arms, which I held in a cradling position, and I looked down at her with a broad avuncular smile. She shrieked. "Oh, never fear, my dear filly, I'm not here to—"

"LEAVE HER ALONE!" Showing more courage than common sense, Diamond Tiara attacked me, raining blows onto my legs with all of the strength of a tiny little filly a fifth of my size. It was adorable. "LET GO OF HER RIGHT NOW OR YOU WILL BE SORRY!"

I set the shrieking Silver Spring down on the ground. "Oh, come off it," I growled. "I haven't harmed her one single bit! You fillies are so excitable."

"Leave us alone," Silver moaned, her voice shaking and plainly on the verge of sobs. "Please, please, leave us alone..."

"You heard her! Leave us alone!"

"And as I said before... or what?" I glared down at Diamond Tiara with my best intimidating scowl. She quailed for a moment, and then rallied, glaring right back at me. I do so love the ferociousness of a brave pony, particularly ones who are ludicrously outmatched. I mean, a six-head-tall on her fours alicorn is still outmatched when she faces me, but that at least looks like a fight she could conceivably manage to hold her own in if I make a stupid mistake. The two-head-tall earth filly was beyond hilarious. It was like being attacked by a declawed, toothless kitten who doesn't realize how outmatched she is... or knows it, and fears it, but thinks that if she fakes it hard enough I won't notice.

"I'm going to tell Anon," she said, with that kind of fiercely smug expression ponies get when they think they've checkmated you. "Even if Daddy can't do anything about you, he can."

"Really," I said in my most deadpan voice. "You're going to go crawling to the guy you just referred to as a 'stupid monkey', to beg him for help. After the way he humiliated you." I sighed deeply. "And here I would have thought that the daughter of Filthy Rich would have some pride in herself, and some sense of dignity. Apparently not. I suppose I'm just wasting my time, thinking of offering you power."

Diamond blinked. "Offering me... what?"

"Power. My dear child, do you seriously think I'm here just to torment you? You're a child. When I want to torment ponies I pick on adults. Children are entirely too used to being pushed around by entities more powerful than they are for reasons that seem incomprehensible. The chaos I inflict on adult ponies when I step in and turn their worlds upside down? That's something foals like you have to deal with all the time. There's nothing entertaining about doing something to a foal that their own parents probably do on a regular basis."

Diamond's scowl got deeper, though at least Silver Spin stopped whimpering. "My parents don't inflict chaos on me!"

"Really? What about the time Anon physically overpowered you and tormented you, and your father's reaction was to say you deserved it and he respected Anon for teaching you a lesson? Was that at all anything you'd have expected your father to do?"

The disharmonious emotions that surged through her would have had most foals bawling their eyes out, but Diamond Tiara was made of sterner stuff, it seems. Her eyes got a little glittery and moist, but that was all. "Daddy had to do that! Anon's a hero of Equestria! If he didn't – if he stood up for me, then – then the newspapers might—"

"Don't be silly, child, no one would look down on a stallion for defending his daughter. Even against a Hero of Equestria. But I admit, while your convoluted rationalization is absurd, you are getting at a deeper truth, hidden below your ability to perceive it. You're right that your father had no choice, not against Anon's mind control powers."

Silver Sidekick chose this moment to pipe up. "Anon doesn't have mind control powers..."

"Really? Then how would you explain why he sold out his darling daughter after she was attacked by a mutant monkey?"

Diamond was staring at me in shock. "Is... is that why it happened?"

"Absolutely. Your daddy couldn't have stopped himself any more than he could have not chased mice when I convinced him he was a cat."

"How can Anon have mind control powers?" Silver Pooch asked me disbelievingly. "He's not a unicorn. He's a human! They aren't even supposed to have powers!"

"Have you, perhaps, ever noticed that literally everyone except for the two of you seem to think he's the bees' knees?" I floated above Diamond, coiling my body around so my face was looking straight into hers. "Which suggests that either the two of you are completely wrong... or that something is affecting everypony's mind but yours."

"Well, obviously then something's affecting their minds! But how do I know that's not you?" Diamond snapped.

I rolled my eyes. "Dear child, in case you have forgotten, I hate Anon. And the feeling is mutual. He's tried to kill me, multiple times. Why would I brainwash anyone to think of him as a noble hero?"

"Because that doesn't make any sense, and not making sense is a thing you do?" Diamond said triumphantly.

"Just because ponies think something doesn't make any sense doesn't mean there isn't a good reason for it," I said, irritated. "I have no desire to see Anon succeed at anything, trust me."

"But if Anon has mind control powers, why aren't we affected?" Silver Spin asked.

"Because Anon doesn't like you. The same reason his powers don't affect me, honestly. He needs everypony he likes to think of him as a great hero. But he thinks of you—" I pointed at Diamond – "as a pathetic bully, and you—" at her sidekick –"as a mere sycophant."

"I'm not a pathetic bully! I'm the heir to the Rich family!" Diamond snarled. "And Silver Spoon is the great-granddaughter of Silver Bits, the founder of the Silver Bits Mining Company! Just because Anon doesn't know anything about business or industry—"

"My dear, you're preaching to the choir here," I said, wearing an adorable choircolt outfit. "Anon knows very, very little about our world, and thinks he knows it all. But because of his mind control powers, and that idiotic sword of his, everypony who should have some common sense is instead forced to agree with him, and treat him as if he's the most important person on the planet and the most knowledgeable about everything. And that is why I've come to you. Because the fact that Anon doesn't like you, and has therefore left you sufficient free will to hate him, makes you, potentially, capable of helping to protect Equestria from him... with my help, of course."

"Yeah, well, why should I believe you?" Diamond challenged. "I know you're a bad guy. What makes you better than Anon?"

"I left you alone." I'd left all of the foals alone. Partly out of gratitude – their class bickering with one another had been the impetus that finally gave me the last bit of energy I needed to break free. The last little bit had come from the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon making fun of them in the gardens had been part of what had left them stressed enough that my influence was able to make such best pals feud over the meaning of my lovely visage. Partly because of what I'd said to Diamond earlier – unbalancing foals or making them see chaotic illusions is actually kind of pointless, because foals are no stranger to being unbalanced or to seeing imaginary things, generally speaking. "And I may have made your father think he was a cat, but I never interfered in his relationship with you." He had, in fact, rolled onto the floor and then rubbed his head against his daughter's forelegs, purring. While Diamond had been somewhat upset at the time – I seem to recall multiple pointless screams of "WHAT'S HAPPENING?!", as if repeating it more loudly and insistently was going to help a cat answer the question – there had been little question of her cat daddy's love for her. It's not that I can't break apart parents and foals, and back in the old days I used to do it all the time – being tossed out of your family home by your parents might have been unpleasant for a foal, but there were pie bushes everywhere, so none of them would have starved – but after more than a thousand years in stone... well, I really just hadn't wanted to. Most of the ponies I'd unbalanced that day, with the exception of the Bearers, had found the changes I'd made to their psyche to be delightful and liberating... if deeply humiliating after they'd come back to themselves. But I hadn't been out to be as cruel as I could possibly be, that day; I'd just been so happy that I was finally free, and I'd wanted to share that happiness, and the joy of chaos. The Bearers were different; I'd had to disable them, and even there, I'd pulled my punches. Chaos isn't permanent. The five I'd unbalanced would have reverted to themselves eventually; only Twilight Sparkle was supposed to be permanently crushed and rendered incapable of having friends, ever.

"You still turned him into a cat!"

"Well, I won't apologize," I huffed indignantly. "He enjoyed being a cat. Your father works hard and has to use his brain all day, crunching numbers, making decisions... don't you think it might be fun for him to be able to let go and worry about nothing more than whether or not he can get a bowl of milk when he wants it?" I straightened up. "But I will say I don't plan to do it again. I wanted revenge on Princess Celestia, you see. I'd been bound in stone for more time than you can easily imagine, unable to move, to talk, to see – so when I got free, I felt the need for a little payback. You're no stranger to that desire yourself, I've seen."

"But my father never did anything to you!"

I shrugged. "You can't hurt Celestia by hurting Celestia. She'll endure any hardship for the sake of her 'dear little ponies.'" I pitched my voice high, mocking Celestia's. "In order to hurt her, I had to make her feel her ponies were being hurt... even though very few of you actually suffered, strictly speaking. But I'm over all that! The only one I want revenge on now is Anon. And that's why I've come to offer you a chance to make him suffer." I leaned down. "What I did to you and your father wasn't personal, and I have no intention of repeating it. What Anon did to you, and to your father, was done to hurt you, you specifically, because he likes the blank flanks better than he likes you. He wanted you to suffer, and he mind controlled your father into agreeing. Are you just going to take that? Going to roll over and let a coatless monkey ruin your life?"

"Well, what am I supposed to do about it?" Diamond snapped. "He's a lot bigger than me and he's got a lot of powerful friends! If I bucked him between the legs I'd probably get suspended from school and grounded for a year, and I'm an earth pony, so I don't have fancy-schmancy unicorn magic and I can't very well hit him with a lightning bolt."

I floated in air again and coiled myself to make a half-circle around her. "Diamond, Diamond, Diamond," I said in my most disappointed voice. "How unimaginative. How disappointing. The filly who ran Gabby Gums' column in the Foal Free Press has no idea what she could possibly do to Anon?"

"I'm not running the Foal Free Press anymore, Featherweight is."

"True, true. But what if you had, in your possession, a magical item that allows you to persuade other ponies? Specifically, to persuade other ponies to think the worst of anyone you choose to target?"

"I'm an earth pony. How am I supposed to use a magic item?"

"By being yourself." I teleported to a standing position in front of her, holding out the item in question. The image of a caribou bull's hoof on a cow's head had faded, so that now the image of a hoof on a head was stylized and it wasn't clear what species or gender either belonged to. "This is the Element of Cruelty... an Element of Disharmony, opposite to the Elements of Harmony and equally as powerful, albeit in a different way. You don't need to be a unicorn to bear this Element any more than Applejack needs to be one to carry her Element of Harmony."

Silver Splurge took this moment to put her two bits in. "Anything named the Element of Cruelty sounds like you'd only have it if you were a bad guy."

"Yeah, good point, and since you are a bad guy, and you're trying to get me to work with you... I'm not stupid, Discord! And I'm not going to be a villain!"

"In Anon's mind, you already are," I said bluntly. "Of course it sounds bad. It's an Element of Disharmony, and you ponies have been taught all your lives that disharmony is the worst thing ever. But consider this. What if a charismatic leader of ponies was convincing all of them to jump off a cliff – or dive into the rocks below, if they're pegasi? Can harmony truly do anything, when ponies all agree that someone who is objectively terrible and dangerous for them is in fact wonderful and should be obeyed without question? Harmony is about agreement between ponies. Wouldn't it be a noble act, to stop an evil leader that ponies trust and believe to be good, by mocking that leader? By cruelly harassing and haranguing them until they show their true colors? If kindness and generosity and loyalty all conspire to make an evil pony seem good and noble, and honesty and magic are fettered by that leader's power... what could stand in the way, but the cruelty of the truth? Or even exaggerations of the truth, if that's what it takes to save ponykind."

"What are you talking about? Anon's not a leader of anything."

"No, he's worse than that." I transformed into a bird, and tweeted in her ear. "Anon didn't just mind-control your father. He's controlling the Princesses and the Bearers of Harmony." I transformed back. "Now you can say a little bird told you Anon's dark secret." I grinned.

"That sounds really implausible," Silver Slurpee said. "I don't like him and I think he's a jerk, but you're trying to make it sound like he's evil."

"That's because he is. What else would you call a fellow who knows what will happen in the future, and denies ponies their rightful chance to be a hero so he can take their places and make everyone worship him? What else could you call someone who mind-controls mares into falling in love with him? Who makes the Princess of the Sun think herself too weak and incompetent to fight off a foe on her own, so that she has to summon Anon for any kind of threat? To say nothing of the fact that he enjoys physically harming and terrorizing young fillies. What part of any of that makes him sound like he's good?"

Diamond scowled at me. "So if he's so tough, what good am I supposed to do? Either you aren't strong enough to beat him, which means I don't have a chance, or you just want to watch ponies do it instead of you, which means you're probably lying."

"Oh, but you have an advantage I don't, against Anon. You're fillies. He can't kill you. He can't even do you any serious harm." I scowled. "His weapon can kill me, and almost has, on more than one occasion. But he can't use it on you. Even Anon can't make ponies overlook a grown adult and supposed hero doing any real harm to young fillies." I hoped.

"You've got a point... but what does that mean I can do to him? Just because he can't, like, kill me or break my legs or something... he can still hurt me. He has. And if I taunt him in public, he will. And what good would it do? Grownups won't listen to kids. I'd get my daddy to go after him, but if he can mind control my daddy into thinking Anon's right and I'm wrong, then what am I supposed to do?"

"Simple. Make him hated." I leaned down and dangled the Element of Cruelty over her head. "With this, you'll be immune to his mind control tactics; he likes to make his opponents foolish and overconfident, but he won't be able to do that to you. You may be able to protect your mother and father, as well, and almost certainly you should be able to protect Silver Spook, over there."

"Hey! My name is Silver Spoon!"

"The Element of Cruelty makes it easier for you to inspire cruelty in others. Right now, everypony in town thinks Anon's a great hero. But what if somepony dug up some dirt on him, and started spreading it around? What if there were rumors, and they made him look awful, and the power of the Element made it so you could overcome his power, so that the mind control that makes everypony love him faltered, and your power made them hate him, instead? He can't bear that; he'd throw a lot of his power into reversing it, and that might weaken him, and free the ones he has the most control over. Perhaps the Princesses themselves would finally be freed, because he was spending all his power here in Ponyville instead of continuing to direct it at them. Who knows?"

I had no idea if Anon had limits like that – he has limits, I know that much, but could a plan like what I was describing actually strain them? I have no idea, but I'll never find out if nopony ever tries it, now will I?

Diamond looked thoughtful. "I'd have to have a way to get the rumors out to the grownups. They never listen to kids, but they read all the Gabby Gums columns."

"Take the Foal Free Press back over?" Silver Splash said.

"No, Miss Cheerilee pretty much has total control over that, and besides, if I'm gonna spread rumors about Anon... nopony can know that they're coming from me, or he'll just go tell Daddy to make me stop... Oh, I know!" Her eyes lit up. "Silver, this is perfect! We'll get Daddy to fund us and we'll create an underground newspaper!"

My great love of anarchy in all its forms meant I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I was rather shocked that a sheltered Ponyvillian filly from a wealthy background would. "An underground newspaper?" I said, eyebrow raised. "Pray tell, what would transmitting newspapers through underground caves do?"

Diamond Tiara gave me an appropriately withering look. "An 'underground newspaper' is one that isn't authorized by anyone in power, duh," she said. "How do you not know that?"

I laughed. "I know it perfectly well," I said, ruffling her mane and making her tiara fall onto her face, which drew an even more hilarious expression from her. "I wanted to see if you knew. And you did! Good for you, and I think it's a marvelous idea!" I teleported in front of her, holding the amulet out. "So. Is that a yes?"

"What do I get if I'm working for you?"

I smirked. "Oh, trust a businesspony's daughter to ask that one. The answer is, nothing. Any direct aid I give you could ruin you if it was traced back to me. What you get is the joy of ruining Anon's life. I might give you a tidbit or two of information to feed your rumor mill, but if you were expecting me to give you your very own human to ride around on or something like that, then no."

"Why would I want my own human to ride around on?"

"Well, human girls want ponies to ride around on, so why wouldn't pony fillies want humans? Seemed logical to me."

"Don't quit your chaos job. Your logic isn't very good," Diamond sniped.

"I wasn't planning to, but thank you, I'll take your no doubt vital opinion under advisement. So! Ready to save Equestria, and your father, from a jerk with mind control powers, and have fun doing it? Or are you too greedy to take it on if I don't offer you ice cream or bits or something?"

She heaved a sigh. "I guess if I asked you for something you would probably turn it into something stupid that I didn't want anyway, but... wait, no. I want a disguise spell, like in an amulet or something, one for me and one for Silver, that makes us look like grownup mares. And we should look beautiful, but be totally normal earth ponies who won't look weird to anypony but also they don't look anything like us. Because if we're doing an underground newspaper we're going to need to find places to sell the newspaper and that means pretending to be grownups because even when I have bits grownups don't take me seriously and we don't want anypony finding out I have anything to do with this newspaper. And you have to give it to us or we won't be able to do anything about your stupid Anon and that means we can't take your stupid amulet."

That... was actually a far more intelligent and reasonable condition than I expected from a filly. "Very well, miss. You drive a hard bargain, but I suppose I have no choice." I manifested two hoof rings, foal sized. "Wear one of these, and see what happens."

Of course, the fillies tested them. I had resisted the temptation to make the disguises striking or unusual in any regard, and you have no idea how hard that was, but Diamond was right, their disguises needed to blend in. So Diamond became a blue earth mare with a gray mane and the cutie mark of a newspaper; Silver became a green earth mare with a blonde mane and a spring for a cutie mark, because I couldn't resist throwing something funny in.

After confirming that they sounded like mares, and looked like mares, and when they walked around they couldn't see anything suggesting that the other one wasn't really a mare, and that they actually had the reach and weight of mares rather than fillies, they took off their rings, and Diamond agreed to be Cruelty's Bearer. "Just give me the stupid thing already. Hey, can I put it behind one of the diamonds in my tiara?"

I shrugged. "Let's find out." I snapped my talon, and the Element reappeared behind the center diamond. It was large, bulky in comparison to the tiny diamond, and completely out of place. I loved it.

Diamond checked in a mirror I thoughtfully provided her. "No, that looks stupid. Okay... give it to me as a necklace, I guess. But that icky picture on it has to go. Gross."

"What, the symbol of cruelty? You don't want to show off to the world how you crush your enemies under your hooves?" I said mockingly.

"No, I don't, because I don't need to be wearing a sign around my neck saying 'look at me, I'm working for a villain!' Make it something else."

I replaced the hoof with a diamond, pressing down on a stylized pony head. Diamond studied it. "I guess... this isn't totally awful," she said. "But it's still weird. What if we put it in a locket so you'd have to open it to see the symbol and then I could put a picture of my daddy in front of it so no one would know what it really was?"

Now I was impressed with my choice. I'd never thought of that, myself. "Done." I snapped my talon, and she was finally satisfied with the appearance of her necklace. "Go forth and bring pain to your enemies, young harbinger of Disharmony!"

"Drama llama," Diamond huffed. "Come on, Silver!"

"We are so totally late for class," Silver moaned.

"Who cares about class? Mom has gone off to her social club by now and Daddy's at work. So both of us are calling out sick today. We've got articles to write!"

Ah, the energy of youth. So excited about their new project. It reminds me of times when I talked Celestia into skipping out on meeting with our tutors so we could go exploring (this usually involved bringing Luna, who would otherwise have tattled on us, in order to bribe her into silence.)

Which, indirectly, reminds me of all the reasons I hate Anon. Goodness. I need to go do something to get my mind off all this hatred. I mean, it's not mindless hatred, I very much have excellent reasons for it, but it's ruining my digestion.

Maybe I'll go listen to the Panauricon for a while, see what juicy gossip I can dig up. I can't rely on my minions for everything, after all.

This is hilarious!

Already my little minion is proving herself. That didn't take long at all!

My efforts to make Rarity jealous, way back when, have finally borne fruit. Remember back when I was interviewing the Elements, and I convinced Rarity that she was Anon's least favorite out of all her friends? Well, after some time percolating in the background, that cup of coffee seems to finally be running over. Our dear fashionista has demanded that Anon prove to her that my cruel and callous words were, in fact, lies, and that he loves her as much as he loves any of the others, by taking her out to dinner in Canterlot, to an extremely fancy, trendy, purveyor of haute cuisine. Quite aside from the fact that this probably means Anon won't get anything to eat – fancy Canterlot food tends heavily to flowers, and artisanal hay from the finest of magically bred herbal grasses, neither of which humans can eat, and not a whole lot else – Sweetie Belle apparently told the rest of the Crusaders about this, and Diamond's spies were on the job. (Yes. She pays informants to spy on the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She always has; I didn't talk her into it.) So Diamond promptly went to Sugar Cube Corner, ordered a milkshake and a muffin, and taunted Pinkie Pie about this.

I have to hand it to Diamond, she knows how to find weak points almost as well as I do. Rainbow Dash would have been too arrogant to care that Anon's spending time with just one of her friends and not her; she's a lot more secure in her belief that she's the best than she might appear. Fluttershy would have been too kind and self-effacing to say anything. Twilight is allergic to looking as if she thinks she's better than her friends, so she would never have objected. Applejack was the pony I couldn't convince to be jealous of how much Anon supposedly loved her other friends more. But Pinkie? Deep down inside, Pinkie Pie seems to be secretly convinced that unless she works nonstop at making her friends love her three hundred percent of the time, they'll all hate her instead. Really, it's quite laughable how desperate she is for her friends' attention. Doesn't she realize how ridiculous she looks? If I did have any friends, which is hardly a problem I'd ever expect to have or particularly want, I certainly wouldn't be so insecure.

In any case, Diamond managed to successfully convince Pinkie that Anon might possibly hate her, and certainly loves Rarity more than her, and that she needs to go do something spectacular to prove her love and win Anon back from her supposed friend, right now, or lose him forever... on her first day on the job! This filly's going places, I tell you. None of my other minions hit the ground running quite like that. I must say I'm pleased with my choice. And how wonderful is it that the disharmony I set in motion months ago is finally coming to the foreground! Who knows, if things I started can run in the background for this long, maybe there's hope for my plunder vines! (Probably not, but a draconequus can dream.) So Pinkie is also going to go to Canterlot. I'm not sure what she's planning, but it's Pinkie Pie. I trust her to come up with something suitably chaotic for even my tastes.

Oh, how dearly I want to watch it happen! I know I shouldn't. It's dangerous; he's undoubtedly going to bring that damn sword of his. I could get just as much bang for my bits by planting a few ears, if it's just information I want. And if they catch me, aside from the not inconsiderable possibility of being skewered, I also have to consider that my sudden appearance will likely remind Rarity of exactly who told her that she was Anon's least favorite. Being that she'd been a bit under my spell at the time, I have gotten the distinct impression she doesn't actually remember that she heard it from me, and of course if she remembers she'll probably decide that it was all an evil plan of mine to sow strife between her and Anon. (And since technically that is exactly what is was, I can't even hold that against her.) So I really should not go in disguise to watch the fireworks.

Which, of course, means that I'm going to.

Oh, I am so very pleased that I didn't miss that. The looks on everyone's faces! I would have been quite put out if I had to miss entertainment like this.

I went to said fancy Canterlot restaurant, L'Enchantment, as a fly on the wall. Literally. Compound eyes are quite amazing; I highly recommend them. A less amazing aspect of being a fly was that I kept being distracted by the wonderful smells of the rotting garbage in the dumpster outside, and I kept having to remind myself, "listen, self, you are Discord. Lord of Chaos. You don't need to go buzzing around rotting meat."

I had forgotten about Rarity's generosity thing. Even in the middle of demanding that Anon pay an outrageous sum of money to take her to dinner, she still went out of her way to choose perhaps the only haute cuisine restaurant in Canterlot that serves meat eaters. Only chicken and fish, like most establishments in Equestria that will serve meat, but Canterlot is landlocked and quite far away from any major bodies of water – aside from salmon that swim up the river running down the Canterhorn to spawn, there are really not so many fish to be found anywhere near it, and of course they fly in magically preserved fish from the eastern coastal cities but once you cast magical preservation spells on fish, they never taste the same. On the other hand, there are actually quite a few chicken farms a short distance down the mountain from Canterlot proper, so eggs and chicken are generally fresh. There were plenty of wealthy ponies there, eating the aforementioned flowers and artisanal hay, but there were also a couple of griffin ambassadors, and a minotaur (technically they're not omnivores, because they don't have to eat meat to meet all their biological needs... but they can eat meat, and like the other species in the Taur nations they are part-ape chimeras, and apes are omnivores. The other species, centaurs and ikaroi, need meat more, but minotaur culture, which focuses on toughness and the ability to commit or stand up to violence, favors it for largely psychological reasons.) There was also a slender, delicate noble-looking unicorn mare who was delicately and nobly devouring a chicken dinner. (With tiny little bites on her tiny little fork, but the speed with which that thing kept returning to her mouth! I wouldn't have been surprised if her cutie mark was a steam shovel.)

So Rarity was there eating the artisanal hay and a plate full of flowers, which were probably arranged to look beautiful if you like boring, harmonious flower arrangements, and Anon was having some sort of chicken and pasta dish. Rarity was giggling as Anon regaled her with stories from his world. I think they were stories of things that didn't actually happen, that came from video games; I have rather less familiarity with human video games than I do with human films, theater and comic books, because the spells I used to observe the entertainments of other worlds didn't allow me to interact with those entertainments while I was in stone, and there is nothing more boring than watching a person, whether human or pony, play a video game when you not only can't touch the controls yourself, you can't even heckle the player. But I'm quite certain that Anon never actually fought an alien invasion of his homeworld, nor did he and a group of his pals do battle with chimerical beasts similar to those found in the Everfree, because in fact in his world there's no such thing as a chimera. We can't exist without magic. It turns out, in worlds without magic, every creature has to be made up of solely its own kind of organs and no other animal's. How dull!

In the middle of a lengthy story about how he dug rocks out of the ground to build a house that then got trashed by other humans and an exploding mobile plant that looks like a green vertical pig (most of this story was interminably dull, but I resolved to find out exactly what a "vertical pig" looks like, because the idea of roaming plants that follow you to your house and then explode was delightful enough as it was but the notion that they look like vertical pigs sounded like pure comedy gold), Pinkie showed up. With multiple musical instruments. She was wearing a short, fluffy ruffled skirt, white with pink polka dots (I approve of polka dots, but does a pink pony really need to wear pink ones? What, is she afraid that ponies will forget her name?), and when she arrived, she ran in, went to her hindleg knees in a way ponies really should not be able to and slid across the room on said knees, and without further ado, pulled out a fiddle, a drum set and a flute.

And then she started to sing, while playing the fiddle and the drums (somehow... there was chaotic magic involved, that's all I can tell you. Turns out a fly's compound eyes might be excellent for seeing every angle of a situation, but not so great for seeing magical patterns.)

"My heart is paralyzed
My head was over sized
I'll take the high road like I should
Maybe it's not meant to be
That she's better for you than me
You love my friend most, and that's good

Well that's okay, but I can't leave until I've had the chance to say

That I'd save you from a bugbear
Endure Fluttershy's stare
If you'd just love me as much as you do Rare
Please don't leave me, I'm no good at goodbyes!
I love you just as much as cupcakes
So I can't live with this heartache
Anything you want that I can bake for you, I'd make
Help me, help me, I think I want to die
If you're going to say goodbye"

Both Anon and Rarity were staring at her as if she'd grown three heads. There were tears welling up in the poor dear's eyes, but gamely, she went on with her second verse:

"My heart still feels the sting
You are my everything
I'll never find a love like yours
I know it's plain to see
You prefer Rarity
She's elegant, and I'm a bore

Well that's okay, but I can't leave until I've had the chance to say

I don't have to be your only
But please don't leave me lonely
I know she's beautiful and I'm just homely
But please don't leave me, I'm no good at goodbyes!
I'll play the second fiddle
But love me just a little
You can have us both and you be in the middle
Help me, help me, I think I want to die
If you're going to say goodbye"

She then played a complex flute near-solo, backed minimally by the fiddle and the drum. Everypony (and everyone not a pony) was staring at her, and at Rarity and Anon, who were both completely shell-shocked.

One thing I've never understood about the pony concept of lyrics is that they like to repeat them, pointlessly. After her solo, Pinkie started reprising the verses she'd sung after her "chance to say" lines. Couldn't she change it up some? Not that I've ever been a fan of the way ponies break out into song at the drop of a mike – it's a side effect of all the harmony magic, and it's deeply irritating – but if I were to suddenly break out into song, I'd make sure all the verses were actually different.

Now, as I've mentioned, I can sense disharmony. I can also sense the absence of it. Anon was just radiating complete confusion, and Rarity... I couldn't tell what Rarity was feeling. It was something that was causing her pain, but aside from that it wasn't in the range I can detect... which implied to me one of those soppy empathetic pains that was going to result in her bursting out with heartfelt apologies to Pinkie Pie and then the two of them learning an important friendship lesson about caring, or something. None of that was on my agenda, so I decided to do something about it.

One could reasonably guess, probably, that Anon, the person, didn't really want his marefriends fighting over him. I mean, maybe? Having attractive individuals that you're romantically inclined towards feuding with each other over who gets the best access to you can be a turn-on for many (myself included, I must admit)... but Anon is the sort that thinks himself a paladin of virtue and righteousness, and for such a person it seems out of character to want disharmony between one's nearest and dearest. On the other hoof... feuding between marefriends makes great drama. I already knew that at least on one occasion, Anon's power seems to have favored creating interesting drama over doing what Anon would probably have wanted – it granted me entirely ridiculous and implausible levels of swordsdraconequusship so that I could fight Anon with a sword for no particularly good reason, even though I'm sure Anon would have preferred to skewer me from the getgo. So I decided to find out whether Anon's power was being controlled primarily by his desires, or by the desires of whatever subconscious part of his mind or whatever entity might be creating a story out of all of our lives. I knew my power was no match for Anon's – but if his power cared more about creating an interesting story than about satisfying every passing whim of his, I thought it might well let me get away with it.

So I pushed disharmony outward, just as I used to do to the foals who had class trips to see me, when I was still in stone.

Various ponies, and the griffons and minotaur, began whispering to themselves as Pinkie sang through her final, repetitive verses... not necessarily very discreetly. Things like "has that mare any idea how much she's embarrassing herself?" and "poor pathetic thing, how desperate do you have to be?" But also, "who does that unicorn think she is, trying to keep a stallion all for herself? Hasn't she ever heard of herd sisterhood?" and even "what a cad! He could at least have invited his old fillyfriend to herd with the new one!" And, to my delight, "isn't that the human? Ugh, he's just as repulsive looking as the rumors say he is," and "don't talk where he can hear you! Don't you remember what they said? Humans are relentless and if you offend them they'll chase you down, kill you and eat you!"

When Pinkie was done, she looked up at Anon with huge, pleading eyes. The kind of eyes nopony can say no to, unless they're completely heartless, like me. But it was Rarity who broke the sudden silence... Rarity, who had undoubtedly heard the whispers, whose emotional state had changed from something that was probably empathy and therefore inaccessible to me, to total humiliation and some degree of anger. "Pinkie, what were you thinking?"

"I just sang a song about what I was thinking! I could sing it again..."

"No! How can you – this is ridiculous! You were never the one who was less in Anon's eyes; I asked him to take me here to prove that I'm not less than you! Or any of the others!"

"But neither of you invited me! You're having a private party and I wasn't invited! You know I would have wanted to come along if you'd asked me!"

Anon facepalmed. "Pinkie... I was just..."

"No, this is ridiculous!" Rarity shrilled. "Everything must be about you all the time, mustn't it, Pinkie? You saw that I asked Anon to take me here privately, without inviting any of the rest of you along, and somehow in your mind this means that Anon is leaving you? We may have a herd, but we don't have to do every single thing together!"

"But you're so much prettier than I am and so much more sophisticated and you're smarter and better educated and you can run a business all on your own out of your own place that you bought and you don't need to live with other ponies so they can remind you to go to bed at night! I know Anon must love you more!" Her eyes brimmed with tears again. "I just don't want him to leave me so he can be with just you! I know I'll be second place, or if I count all the others, maybe sixth place—"

"This is ridiculous! Anon clearly loves you more than he loves me!" Rarity shouted. "You're friendly and sociable and undemanding and your generosity in the bedroom far surpasses my own, despite my supposed Element, so how could he not love you more than me? I don't appreciate you rubbing my nose in it by pretending you think he favors me over you!"

I was beside myself at how well this was working – under normal circumstances I think Rarity would rather die than shout about her friend's bedroom prowess in the middle of a fancy restaurant. Disharmony is truly the gift that keeps on giving. She could obviously hear enough of the quiet disapproval and mockery all around her that it was inflaming her to states of humiliation, and therefore anger, so severe that she was embarrassing herself even worse and not even noticing.

"Girls—" Anon tried to say.

"No, I will have my say! You are a wonderful man, Anon, but I know you can't possibly love all of us equally, and I know I remind you of the stuck-up human girls you knew in high school—"

"Hey, I never said that!"

"Of course you didn't, you're far too much a gentleman, but we all know it to be true." It's too bad flies can't grin, because mine would have been huge. Rarity remembered the lie I'd told her, but apparently had no recollection that it had come from me. Perfect. "But the fact that Pinkie would humiliate all of us, but especially me, with this grotesque display of neediness—"

"But I didn't come to humiliate you, Rarity!" Pinkie pleaded. "I just want Anon to love me!"

The manager of the restaurant turned up and spoke discreetly to Anon, though maybe not quite discreetly enough. "Sir, your lady friends are making a scene and disturbing the other guests. I'm going to have to ask—"

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. Just bring me the check," Anon sighed, running his hand over his face.

"He already loves you! He loves you far more than he loves me! Do you seriously question that, or is this some sort of hideous mind game intended to take even more of his attention than you already have?"

"This isn't a mind game! I just wanted him to know I love him as much as you do, and even if he loves you more I still need him!"

"Here you go, sir. We'll box up your food. I do apologize—"

"They're the ones who ought to be apologizing. I can't believe they're acting like this. Here." He handed the manager his marque of credit to pay the bill.

"So you had to come to Canterlot and interrupt our private dinner and ruin our evening?"

"He has to know how strong my feelings are! If I just waited for you guys to get back to Ponyville and just told him, that wouldn't be enough! He needs to know I'll completely embarrass myself in public just to let him know I love him!"

"Pinkie! Rarity! Shut up!" Anon snapped, loudly. "I love both of you, all right!? Now the maître d' is throwing us out of here because of the scene you're making, and neither of you needed to do any of this in the first place—"

"Throwing us out?" Rarity turned pale – well, paler. "I am a laughingstock! I'll never be able to show my face in the world of haute cuisine in Canterlot again! This is the WORST POSSIBLE THING!" She pitched over in a swoon, forcing Anon to dive to catch her.

"It's all my fault! I'm sorry!" Pinkie wailed.

"Sir, I do apologize..." It was the maître d' again. "But do you have another method of payment? Your marque doesn't appear to be funded..."

Anon turned toward the maître d', as if in slow motion. "What?"

"There is no funding available through this letter of credit," the maître d' said. "If perhaps you have another form of payment—"

"Try it again! It's got to work! I've got a line of thousands of bits!"

"I'm afraid that isn't possible, sir, it's coming back as... well..." He whispered to Anon, but loudly enough that I'm sure Rarity and Pinkie could both hear. As could I. Flies actually have no real sense of hearing, but of course I was using my own magical senses, and with them I can hear when I'm a stone statue, let alone when I'm a fly. I didn't stay a fly very long, though, because what the maître d' said made my need to laugh hysterically so overpowering, I had to teleport to the roof to let the uncontrollable guffaws out. What the maître d' had said was, "Line revoked."

Revoked! Anon's letter of credit with the Equestrian treasury was revoked! Oh, I hoped to dear Chaos it had been made retroactive – that would stick Anon with the bills for everything he'd bought on credit. Even if it was just from this point forward, though... I couldn't have timed it more perfectly if I'd tried.

As soon as I'd gotten the hysterical laughter out of my system, I went back in as a fly. Anon was arguing with the maître d' that his letter of credit couldn't be revoked, that there had to be some mistake, contact the ponies at the Treasury... which, of course, they couldn't do, because it was far too late at night. Banking and bureaucracy and particularly banking bureaucracy are daylight activities, a fact that I'm sure makes Luna feel deeply reassured about her equality as a diarch. Rarity was arguing that she would just pay the bill and they could investigate in the morning, and Pinkie was arguing that she should pay the bill because Anon had taken Rarity out so it wouldn't be fair to make Rarity pay and besides it was Pinkie's fault the dinner had been ruined, and then Rarity was arguing back with her that it was absurd for Pinkie to pay for a dinner she hadn't even ordered or been present at, and meanwhile Anon was pulling the "do you know who I am?" card and trying to intimidate the maître d'. Who wasn't intimidated, because if you run a restaurant that serves minotaurs and griffins you learn to stand your ground, though I was a little surprised that Anon's plot powers weren't causing the maître d' to cower in terror and give Anon whatever he asked for. Perhaps Anon's powers had decided it was time for Anon to face an exciting challenge!

Actually, there's no perhaps about it. That has to be what was going on, because there is no other possible explanation for why this was the moment when Ember showed up with a posse of Lunar Guards that presumably Luna had deputized to her, with Starflame plainly visible in the sky, circling above, and demanded that Anon be taken into custody for the murder of the dragon child Faith.

And to think if I had done the sensible, logical thing, I would have missed all of this!

I'm so excited! I can't stop wiggling with glee. I love my minions! Particularly Diamond Tiara and Blueblood, whom I have to thank for this wonderful, wonderful night, but the fact that Gilda seems just as excited as I am is also impressing me. I mean, I know it's not going to come to much of anything in the end, but... Anon's been arrested! The dragons showed up when Luna was in charge, and Luna insisted that Anon be placed in "protective custody" until morning when Celestia would be able to deal with this, and none of the begging and wailing and pleading from Rarity or Pinkie Pie amounted to anything because Luna knows perfectly well that if she doesn't put Anon in protective custody, a pair of angry dragons might just decide to kidnap him rather than going through diplomatic channels to get him extradited. (Or, at least, she knows that this is what should reasonably happen. I'm not sure it would – if she let Anon go, his reality warping powers would probably ensure that he would end up fighting the dragons and killing them rather than being captured. But killing the beloved daughter of the current Dragon Lord would most likely trigger a war, so even if Luna knew this, she'd still lock him up.) Sure, his jail cell is a comfy, large VIP suite in Canterlot Palace rather than a dank dungeon chamber, but you can't have everything.

Supposedly Celestia will be holding his extradition hearing in the morning. I have to go. No, really, I have to. It's a physical need. But since I'm deeply concerned with my ability to hold my disguise if, say, something happens that requires me to cackle maniacally or fall to the floor holding my stomach as I howl with laughter, I'm taking Trixie. With her Element of Deception amplifying my natural command of beguilement, I should be okay. I can't bring Gilda, though, much as she wants to see Anon get his comeuppance... she'll fight with Trixie and they'll interfere with each other and then the jig will be up. Sorry, Gilda. I'll drop some magical eyes and ears around so she can watch on her TV.

I'm sure this will come to nothing and it'll all blow over and Ember will end up joining the herd, or leaving Equestria with the belief that Anon is wonderful and totally justified, and they'll resolve the whole issue with the letter of credit... but this is the first real blow I've managed to strike against him. This is the first time I've done more than mildly inconvenience him for ten minutes. Oh, I'm as giddy as a schoolfilly on her first date! What to wear, what to wear... dear me, what do you wear to attend the humiliation of your hated nemesis, when you're going to be stuck in pony form? This requires thought.

Note: The song Pinkie sings is based on Train's "50 Ways To Say Goodbye".