Notes: Yes, I have two character tags for the same guy. If you want you can take the character tag "Q" to mean all the other Q that appear in this story.
This takes place after "The King Who Would Be Man" and will make some references to events I haven't written in that story yet, but not much.
The Tree in front of him was quiescent, half-dead. Weapons he'd snapped into existence when he'd been more than half-mad, consumed by the role he'd played until he barely remembered who he truly was and what he really wanted anymore, twined around it, black and thick, sucking the energies out of it. Two particularly thick and knotty tangles of thorny vines marked where Luna and Celestia were sleeping imprisoned, and part of him regretted that necessity, but they'd built this tree. From blueprints he'd given them in the form of spells, and energies he'd provided to them straight from the Continuum, but still. They'd put themselves into this Tree, heart, soul and magic. He couldn't take the risk that they'd sense him tampering with it.
Discord hadn't planned to do this. He'd completely forgotten the vines, and certainly hadn't expected them to ever sprout, let alone now. He remembered making these vines to destroy the Tree out of malice, over a thousand years ago, when he'd found out that Silver Eyes had betrayed him and used his own power to break his pocket dimension, pulling the Tree back into this reality so the sisters could harvest the Elements from it – not that he'd believed at the time that the Elements could actually harm him, given that they were weapons built by mortals and Lesser Powers out of Continuum energy rather than actually Q weapons, but he'd been angry they were even considering it. But the vines had never sprouted, and he'd put them out of his head. He wouldn't even have wanted them to come up if he'd realized they were going to do so – not now, when he actually had mortal friends for the first time in… ever? Had he ever really had mortal friends? Given what the Continuum was like and how it had been treating him for the last couple of billion years, he still felt that what he'd told Fluttershy that first day was true. He'd never had friends before, period. Not real ones, anyway.
He could have dispelled the vines with a snap. That would certainly have earned him points with those friends, if he had. For all they'd tried to help him when the Continuum had sentenced him, he knew that none of them but Fluttershy really trusted him, and letting the vines stick around wasn't going to help in the slightest with that. But it was ironically because of how precious they'd become to him – no, be honest, how precious Fluttershy had become – that he'd had to take this opportunity, now that it had been handed to him.
His mismatched hands reached out in front of him, pulling at energies that not even an alicorn could have unraveled or understood, opening up the core of the Tree's central intelligence. There were base functions that were locked away from him – in the material world he was nearly omnipotent, but the Tree was made of Continuum-stuff, and his level of access to its programming wasn't high enough to subvert it. A good thing, probably, or he would have twisted it against its purpose for laughs, back when he'd gone mad from being the god of chaos far too long.
Discord deeply resented the thing in front of him, the fact that it had – and had used – the power to pass and carry out judgement against him without being a Q, let alone the full Continuum. It was a machine, an artificial intelligence, a Q expert system. Of course, the technology of the Q was advanced enough that a Q expert system was a superintelligent sapient being in and of itself, and it had been granted the right to pass such judgements on even a Q, even the Q who'd arranged to have it built, when he'd given those particular blueprints to Celestia, Luna, and the team of mortals they'd been with at the time. He'd intended them to build it to be a guardian against Powers – though at the time it had been intended to disable alicorns, and he'd never imagined it could be used against Q. Never imagined that he himself would lose his perspective, lose his identity in this world…
…but it was so much more fun to be Discord than any of the other beings he'd been. At home some bridges had been rebuilt, but he was still on parole and on thin ice. Picard was fascinating, but Picard's species were too inferior for him to show them any weakness, to admit to having emotional needs like they did. Ironically, as underdeveloped as the ponies were technologically, the fact that they kept spontaneously ascending into Powers, and that since his intervention those Powers had shepherded the mortals benevolently and competently, meant that they were advanced enough to accept a godlike being in their midst as a friend, and even feed him tea and cookies.
The Tree had to help him preserve that. It owed him that, after all the time it had taken from him.
His resentment was irrelevant, here. The Tree had the power to do things he was forbidden to do, things he desperately wanted done but could not be seen, by Celestia or the Continuum, to be behind. With the Tree shut down by plunder vines, almost dead, its usual safeguards were shut down. He could insert something deep into its underlying programming, and only a Q engineer carefully debugging the thing would have any way of knowing it had been tampered with, and even they wouldn't be able to tell exactly what he had done. The Tree had been built by mortals and two Lesser Powers, and they'd made their own modifications to the construction and configuration spells he'd given them to do it with, and he'd sort of forgotten to log the analysis of the Tree after construction with the Continuum, so no Q actually knew what its original programming even looked like. Except him, because he was looking at it now.
There. Insert a new subroutine, deep in buried code. He wasn't an engineer – what one Q knew, all Q did, unless they were hiding information behind privacy locks like he was, but not all had the same talents. Discord lacked anything remotely resembling the patience to do this, most of the time. Today was different. Today he had a goal that was worth a little patience.
Carefully, Discord closed up the Tree, erasing his tracks as he did so, re-emplacing the plunder vines so they would coincidentally devour any traces of Q energy he might have left behind and damage the areas of the Tree's energies where his tampering was most likely to show. He backed away carefully, invisible and intangible, in his draconequus form because the Tree might be able to record the presence of a Q's energy form even in its shut-down state.
No one would ever know. And when this plan came to fruition – his friends would be startled, maybe even upset at first, but in the long run it would be the best thing possible for them. Twilight was an alicorns, ascended to a Lesser Power, destined for immortality – not like his immortality, not a scale of billions of years, but thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands. Her friends, however, were mortal. And what kind of Magic of Friendship would allow the Bearer of Magic to lose all her friends? Really, he was correcting an error in the design; had he done this twenty-five hundred years ago, when Celestia and Luna and their mortal friends had built this thing, maybe Celly and Loonie wouldn't have failed, maybe this world would have progressed faster, enough that when he came back he could have done so as a friend and mentor, not a judge and enforcer. They all ought to thank him for fixing it. If they ever found out that he had, which, of course, they never would.
Once he was a safe distance from the Tree, he winked out. He could go to Twilight now and offer his help, but no, she had to know better than to think she could count on him. She had to rely on her friends – especially now, after his programming changes. Besides, sooner or later she'd figure out that he'd had something to do with the vines. They weren't exactly subtle, after all. She'd summon him then, and it was to his advantage to wait for that. He couldn't look eager to help, after all.
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