The Magic of Friendship! Our Hero Discovers It's A Real Thing, Actually

I heard ponies near the door. Time for the best parody of a fancy dinner party ever, sure to give my former foster mom apoplexy if she'd been here!

Dressed as a butler, with a pencil-thin mustache because if you're going to be a refined and genteel supervillain who dresses as a butler, you need a pencil-thin mustache, I opened the door. "Oh, our pony guests!" I stuck out my tongue and let it roll out as a red carpet, then teleported to the end of the carpet and bowed. "We're so delighted that you've come. Please, do come in," I said in my best imitation of an upper-class British accent, which frankly wasn't very good, and motioned them on in through the door.

"See what a beautiful job he did helping?" Fluttershy said. "Discord set the entire table himself. I'm so proud." Set a table. I can turn a house upside down but she's impressed that I can set a table. Fluttershy, methinks your standards are... on the low side.

I teleported into the hat rack and leaned forward. "May I take your... ahem, hats, ladies?" And reached for Twilight's tiara with her Element on it. Instinctively I didn't really want to touch it, but I was wearing gloves... and I was pretty sure she wasn't going to let me grab it anyway, but I'd be remiss if I hadn't tried.

Of course she backed away, holding onto her element with her hoof. "Hang on to your elements, girls. It's gonna be a bumpy night."

I made the floor extremely lumpy. "Oh, dear! Let me take care of that. Shoo! Shoo!" I teleported and flew around, stomping on bumps and making them go flat, or roll out to the wall in a wave and then go flat, as if there had been some critter in there. Then I turned to the ponies, beaming. "No more bumps! All taken care of!"

Pinkie giggled. Twilight looked exasperated. Applejack rolled her eyes, Rainbow Dash just glared, and I couldn't see what Rarity was doing because the gems she was wearing were reflecting light into my eyes. No, that's a lie, I just wasn't paying attention to Rarity. Or Spike, who was there with the rest of the group, being forgettable as usual.

Still in my fake butler accent, I said, "Tonight's meal has been hoof-crafted by Fluttershy personally; mashed potato and cheese puff pastries, and a superb little carrot muffin made from the finest carrots, topped with a lovely slice of Gala apple from our dear friend Applejack's orchard."

"Sounds great!" Pinkie said. "I'm starving; ever since I heard we were having a dinner party I didn't eat a single snack because I wanted to save all my appetite for the party and now all I can think about is food!"

"I could whip you up a little snack," I said, manifesting a small tray of chocolate chip cookies. Pinkie reached for it, and I yanked it away. "Oh, but that's right, you're saving your appetite for dinner! Don't let me tempt you to ruin your own plans!"

"I need to run back into the kitchen to get the food," Fluttershy said. "But, um, if Pinkie is so hungry, why don't we just all sit down and get started, and I'll bring out the food?"

"Your cooking's the only reason I'm putting up with this ridiculous thing," Rainbow said, landing on one of the chairs.

"That, and the fact that you're my friend and you support me in what I'm trying to do, right?" Fluttershy prompted.

Rainbow rolled her eyes dramatically and waved a hoof in the air. "I guess," she said, in the most skeptical and put-upon tone you can imagine.

"Now, Rainbow, we are definitely here to support Fluttershy in her endeavors," Rarity said. "Even if what she's attempting to do is patently absurd and impossible, it is the task Princess Celestia gave to her and we owe her all the support we can possibly give." Wow. Thanks so much, Rarity, glad to know you consider becoming my friend patently absurd and impossible. Not that I didn't know that already.

"I ain't so sure of this, but sounds like Fluttershy's got some idea of what she's doing, and she's the expert on taming... critters." Excuse me, I am not a critter and I have no intention of being tamed.

"The food smells great, Fluttershy!" Twilight interjected, very loudly. "Spike, why don't we help Fluttershy bring the food to the table?"

"Sure! Glad to help!" Spike said overenthusiastically. I'd had a school principal glaring at me and referring to me as a "thug" while the counselor was trying to tell me I could have a place at the school if I would just try to follow the rules, and yet I have never seen such a dramatic example of someone sabotaging someone else's attempt to get a third party to reform, behave or be friendly as I did with these ponies... and the dragon.

They ran off to the kitchen, leaving their friends behind. I decided to interact with Pinkie Pie, since the others' cold stares and side-eyes weren't much fun. "So, my delightful little Element of Laughter! What's new in the world of the party pony? Any good parties lately?"

"All the time!" Pinkie said, grinning broadly. "Carrot Top just had a birthday last week, and we did a welcome party for Electric Sky who just moved here, and blah blah blah I'm droning on and on about all kinds of unimportant ponies you never heard of." She didn't say that last part, but since I can't remember what she actually said, she might as well have.

Thankfully I was saved from Pinkie's interminable small talk by the arrival of the food. "Please, permit me," I said, and used my magic to fly food from the serving trays to everyone's plate. Twilight hung onto the bowl of apples and set it down in the middle of the table, not letting me put apples on ponies' plates.

All the ponies drifted into sitting positions on the cushions. Spike was too short, so Fluttershy had me make him a second cushion. I would have thought a hammock swinging from nothing would be a better choice, but you know Equestrians, so picky.

Fluttershy began some opening remarks. "As you all know, Princess Celestia hoped we'd help Discord use his magic for good instead of evil."

Pinkie Pie didn't wait for her to finish whatever speech she had planned; she dropped her head, ripped the pastry's top off so quickly it could barely be seen, and stuffed her face deep into the potato pastry, coming up with a face covered with potato beard. Either Fluttershy was used to this, or she was unflappable, because she just said, "Pinkie Pie, care for some gravy?"

"You bet!" Pinkie said with her mouth full and potato covering her cheeks and chin.

I gestured. "Allow me," I said, and animated the gravy boat into behaving like a dog. Gravy slopped partway out of it but didn't fall, to be a tongue, and it panted and eagerly trotted over to Pinkie Pie.

She petted it. "Oh, what a cute little gravy boat you are! Yes you are! Yes you are!" It happily licked her face with its gravy tongue and then poured her some gravy.

You'd think it would be a lot of work to make a gravy boat act like a dog, and if you were doing it entirely through telekinesis and casting conscious spells, maybe you'd be right, but that's not how I did it. It was more like I just thought, "combine the traits of being 'dog' with 'gravy boat'", like a programming language, but one I was thinking in. I couldn't actually fully predict the gravy boat, though I could give it a nudge.

My biggest fan, Rainbow Dash, said, "That's one creepy little gravy boat if you ask me."

No one did ask you, I thought, but Fluttershy beat me to it with something much more polite than I would have said. "Oh, come on now, Dashie. You're not even giving this a chance."

The gravy boat bounded over to Rainbow Dash. I felt rather bad on its behalf that she'd called it creepy. Like a dog, it was too dumb to know it had been insulted, but I did, so I gave it the tiniest nudge, making it misidentify Rainbow's lap as her plate.

She yelped. "Hey! That's hot!"

"Whoops!" I said. "I'm so sorry!" I couldn't see Fluttershy's face, but I was touching her shoulder and I could feel her tense up, probably with suppressed rage.

Rainbow hovered above the table, pointing at me. "He did that on purpose!"

"Oh, well, I don't know about that." I smiled. "Mistakes happen." Okay, I could actually feel Fluttershy heating up with rage. It wasn't a literal physical heat, like the time Twilight set herself on fire because Pinkie's powers were impossible, but it felt like heat. The thought occurred to me that maybe I was detecting disharmonious emotions. It certainly would have made Discord's job easier when he corrupted these guys if he'd been able to sense their emotions. Well, I didn't want Fluttershy exploding on me yet, so I made a quick distraction. "Look, everypony, dancing candles!"

What they were supposed to do, because fire is dangerous and I don't want to cause death or serious physical harm to anyone, was dance around, gather in front of Spike since he's fireproof, and then trip and fall in his lap. If the fire got on any of the furniture, I'd quickly put it out. I knew Spike wouldn't be harmed, and I knew seeing the candles fall over would freak everyone out anyway.

But as three of them danced up to Spike – who watched them with wide-eyed wonder, like he genuinely liked them – Rainbow Dash blew them out.

"I'm not falling for that!" She stood on the table, which couldn't be sanitary. "Discord's just trying to distract us from–"

I told the candles to lift into the air and attack her. The three of them began repeatedly bonking her in the head and wings, making her flatten against the table. "Hey! Knock it off!" She glared at me from her position on the table. "I suppose that's another 'mistake?'"

"No," I said, "I think you just made them mad."

Twilight Sparkle frowned. "There's something fishy going on." Whoa, you think?

The soup tureen was shaped like a fish. I couldn't believe she was handing me an opening like this. I animated it with certain personality parameters, and it hopped over to Twilight and squirted soup in her face, then did Spike.

Fluttershy looked up at me. "Discord?" Ah, there was that disillusionment starting to kick in.

"Well, it's hardly my fault if the soup tureen finds the term 'something fishy' to be offensive." I made air quotes for "something fishy."

Meanwhile, Rarity shrieked as the tureen hopped over to her. "Not the dress! Not the dress!" It, of course, squirted cold soup all over her dress... and then went after Applejack.

"That tureen's only doin' what you're makin' it do!" Applejack insisted. Technically this was not entirely true. I'd infused the tureen with a desire to avenge itself, but I hadn't specified how, or who. Just that it needed to leave Fluttershy alone.

"Now, let's not jump to any conclusions," Fluttershy said, while I giggled behind my paws until she looked at me, at which point I played innocent. She sounded ridiculous even to me. Of course I was behind this. Was Fluttershy seriously considering any other possibility?

Rainbow Dash was still fighting unlit candles. She kicked them away. "Fluttershy! Can't you see what he's doing? He's playing innocent with you so you'll never agree to use the Elements of Harmony against him!"

Meanwhile the candles she'd managed to kick away had relit themselves and were dancing again, the tureen had gone and splashed everyone except for me and Fluttershy and was on round 2 or 3 with some of them, and everyone was cringing away from the table. It was total chaos. I loved it. I'd made this happen, I'd set it in motion, and now it was doing its own thing without more input from me, like a much cooler, real-life version of a computer program you'd made.

"Oh, well, that's a bit harsh, isn't it?" I said. It wasn't entirely true either; I was playing innocent with Fluttershy because the moment she turned against me and decided to use her Element, this became a straight-up fight, and that was no fun. It was just so much more entertaining to irritate the dickens out of ponies who knew I was doing it on purpose, but I still had enough plausible deniability that they couldn't attack me like an enemy.

Rainbow managed to capture the tureen with a dish cover, and stood on it so the tureen couldn't escape. "You see what I'm saying, right, Fluttershy?" Fluttershy didn't respond. "Fluttershy!"

Fluttershy leaned forward, with her mad face on. "You know what I see? I see that Discord's far from perfect, but I also see none of you giving him a chance!" I grinned, the picture of innocence. Of course they weren't giving me a chance. I was trying to irritate them and they knew it.

Nearly all of them yelled, "Come on!" at more or less the same time, though Rarity was saying "That's ridiculous!" Rainbow added, "What's gotten into you?! Why do you keep cutting him so much slack?"

Then she pulled me close in a sideways hug, and said, "Because that's what friends do."

She touched me. Willingly. Not like social workers did, smothering hugs for little baby me and then at best, handshakes when I got older. A genuine bro-hug.

No one had ever touched me that way. I'd had sex with people who showed me less affection and compassion than that.

"We're friends?" I said, startled.

"Why, of course!" Was it fake? It had to be fake, but I knew fake so well and this didn't sound fake... "I can't remember my house ever being this lively before you came along." She was flying, and smiling, her posture and her movements full of energy and excitement.

Lively. Could be a polite euphemism. Could be a lie. Or could be... she was enjoying the chaos? She thought it was fun?

Couldn't be. It had to be a lie. This was Fluttershy, meek scaredy-cat Fluttershy. How could she genuinely mean she enjoyed my chaos?

But what if it wasn't a lie? This was the show about friendship being magic. What if, against all odds, she actually wanted to be my friend, my real, pony-style, Thousandth Man kind of friend, the friend who would drive the getaway car to hell to get you out and back again...? A friend like she had in the other five ponies who all wanted me to be a lawn ornament, but she wanted to be my real friend? I'd been basing my impressions of her on human social workers, but she was a pony... and not even a social worker among ponies, but an animal caretaker. Maybe veterinarian at best.

Maybe she was sincere about everything.

I realized my mouth was gaping. "Oh..." Taken aback, I had to struggle to think of something to say. "Well, I've... never really had a friend before."

She took my paw in her hoof. "Well, now you do!"

I felt a sense of warmth welling up, something I couldn't remember ever feeling before. Someone liked me. Someone wanted to be my friend. Part of my mind kept reminding me, she might be faking it, she might be lying to get under my defenses... but I couldn't help it. I was swept away. She'd said we were friends, and she was either the best liar I'd ever seen, or she was telling the truth.

At this point her stupid rabbit had to open the window and hop in, making weird rabbit noises. Way to ruin the mood, Angel.

"Now is not a good time, Angel," Fluttershy said. "We're having a dinner party." Oh, good, so she can stand up to the rabbit sometimes.

"Hold up!" Applejack said. "I-I think he's tryin' to tell us somethin'!" The rabbit proceeded to pour a glass of water on his own head, and feigned drowning.

Then he held up an apple. Multiple ponies proved they knew what it was by yelling "Apple!" Angel pointed at Applejack, so of course they said "Applejack!", but the rabbit did the best impression of rabbit exasperation I've ever seen, and then threw the apple in a pitcher of water.

"Oh! Sweet Apple Acres?" Rarity guessed.

"Flooding at Sweet Apple Acres!" Rainbow Dash yelled. "And we all know who's behind that now, don't we?"

Huh. To the best of my knowledge I hadn't actually caused any flooding. "Who, me?" I said, my best innocent expression on my face, and manifested a halo around my head, because I honestly didn't know if there was some chance I might be responsible.

"Oh, give it a rest!" Rainbow continued to hover in the air as the rest of the ponies filed out the door. "What do you think of your 'friend' now, Fluttershy?" she sneered, and followed them.

Fluttershy looked at me. I shrugged. I didn't actually know what was going on, this time.

Oh, yeah, the beavers! I'd completely forgotten about them.

When I'd made the beavers selfish and angry and determined to get what they thought they deserved at the expense of anyone else, I hadn't been thinking of it as mind control, because they're beavers. Now I felt a little bad about it, not because they'd built a gigantic dam that had turned all of Sweet Apple Acres into a proto-swamp – the water was still too fresh to really be a swamp, but give it time – but because I'd just sworn not to use mind control and here were the aftereffects of mind control I'd already committed. Me, not the former entity known as Discord.

I figured I was going to need to undo the warping on the beaver minds... eventually. But I wanted to see how Fluttershy handled this. So instead of doing anything to help out or even acknowledge that there was a problem here, I dove straight into the water from the air where I'd teleported in. "Woo-hoo!" I yelled. The water actually did feel nice; a little on the cold side, but I had fur on most of my body. I manifested swimming trunks because I was cool with running around naked on land, due to the aforementioned inability to see any genitals, but the water hitting me in the crotch told me I had something there and it didn't like the cold. Also because one of the cool things about Q was the constant costume changes. I actually liked clothes, I just hated trying to find any that fit me, and with my powers, that wasn't a problem.

Meanwhile Fluttershy was trying to talk to the beavers – which was weird, because if Fluttershy can understand animals when they talk, why had Angel Bunny had to play charades to get us to understand that the farm was flooded? Maybe he saw her making nice with me and figured he needed to tell the others because Fluttershy might blow him off for my sake. Paranoid, bunny, but nice thought nonetheless. The Apple family was trying to rescue apples by hand, which had to be the most ridiculous waste of time I could imagine. I swam, and dove, and found that I didn't need to breathe underwater, which felt great. I'm a city kid; I've only ever been to a pool a few times, giant municipal things with way too much chlorine and way too many people, and in my human body I didn't really know how to swim, but it hadn't entered my head that I'd have a problem with it before I dove, and it turned out I didn't. Was that more of Discord's subconscious memory at work?

But the thing about being underwater is that it makes it very hard to see or hear what your pony friends are doing on land. And considering that they still had the only weapon that works on me, I thought it was important to be able to see and hear them. So I quit swimming and teleported up, manifesting water-ski shoes for my mismatched feet and fish-shaped soup tureens to be my motorboats (also a life jacket and a flowered bathing cap), and started waterskiing all around Sweet Apple Lake. And I popped a tiny eavesdropping ear into the trees near Fluttershy and her friends.

Fluttershy was complaining about the beavers. "They won't listen to a word I say!"

"You see Discord's behind all this, right?" Rainbow Dash asked, in a tone of voice that made it sound like she was pretty sure Fluttershy didn't.

Indignantly Fluttershy said, "Oh, of course I do! Do you all think I'm a silly, gullible fool?"

I would have recommended the ponies not answer that, but they tried, Rarity saying something like, "Only in the sense of being silly and gullible," and Applejack failing to be simultaneously tactful and truthful, saying "Uh, no, not exactly..."

"I've just been trying to gain his friendship any way I can, so he'd come to trust and listen to me!" Thank you, Fluttershy. And here I was thinking that maybe you were sincere. So glad to be disillusioned.

I skied over to them. "Hey there, Fluttershy, you want a turn? The water's great!" I called, not letting on that I'd heard what she said.

She muttered, "Time to see if it worked." And then I jumped off my waterskis and landed right near her.

"Fluttershy, oh, there you are," I said. "A sight for sore eyes." I was laying it on rather thick, I admit. Hearing her admission stung more than I expected, and I wanted to make her feel guilty. It didn't seem to work, though; she just looked exasperated and angry.

"As you can see, there's a big mess down here at Sweet Apple Acres," she said, in a lecturing tone Twilight could have been proud of.

"Oh, yes. Awful business, that. Mm." I toweled myself off.

"It is awful." She glared. "This is Applejack's home, and it's being destroyed by innocent creatures who would never be acting this way if it weren't for your reckless behavior." She turned her back on me, hooves folded in front of her. "You need to fix this."

Right. I need to fix this, because that is the whole reason you tried to convince me you were my friend, so you'd have the power to tell me to fix it when I do things like this.

But wait. I'd been looking for some kind of a hook I could hang a plan off of. Perhaps I'd just found it.

"Oh, yes, very well, I will fix it. I only ask one thing in return," I said.

She turned around to face me with a big smile. "Yes?"

"I ask that you never use your Element of Harmony against me," I said. "As a sign of our friendship."

They take this friendship stuff very seriously in Equestria. I had no doubt that if there was any part of her that genuinely wanted to be my friend more than she wanted to control me and force me to behave, she'd immediately recognize that using your Element of Harmony to turn someone to stone was not the behavior of a friend, at all. And maybe it was real. Maybe it was her friends she was lying to, because she really did appreciate the fun and excitement in my pranks but she knew they didn't.

If she was real, she'd agree to do it. If she was a manipulator, she'd never relinquish any bit of control over me... and I'd know she was playing me, and respond accordingly.

She looked shocked. I didn't know why. Seemed to me like an obvious request. She turned to her friends for advice, and all of them vigorously shook their heads. Don't do it, Fluttershy! they said silently with their faces and gestures. Don't trust him! Don't give up the only means we have to threaten and control him!

She turned back to me, looked up with determination, and unfastened her amulet, saying, "I will never use my Element of Harmony against you."

"Excellent!" I felt great. Fluttershy was sincere, or sincere enough to make me that promise, anyway, and that meant I could get away with anything. I snapped my fingers... and turned the water into ice. "There, much better! I do prefer ice skating to water skiing! Don't you?" I spun on the ice like an Olympic skater, and dressed like one too. Really, this new body of mine could do anything. Not just the magic, I could do any kind of physical activity I wanted to. Three of me popped up and gave me a perfect 10 as I pirouetted.

"Discord!" Fluttershy screamed. "That's not fixing it!" She galloped out onto the ice, with predictable results. "Why, I oughta..." she started, and then skidded on the ice, apparently realizing that stopping on ice from a full gallop is not a thing that happens quickly.

"Where are you going?" I asked her cheerfully. She managed to stop, and glared at me. I approached her with an expression of fake concern. "What's wrong, pal?"

"Don't call me your pal!" she yelled.

Ah, but part of you wants to be my friend, I thought, or you wouldn't have made that promise. She was mad now, but if she really wanted to be my friend because she liked my chaos, she'd get over it. "Oh, pfft." I handed her a set of four ice skates. "Come skating with me, and we'll let bygones be bygones."

Spike, who was better balanced on the ice than a pony, given that his feet had claws, raced out to us with the Element Fluttershy had tossed aside. "Here you go, Fluttershy! Game on!"

Twilight Sparkle called from the shore, "He fixes this or he goes back to being stone! Princess Celestia will understand!"

Fluttershy looked between my skates and the Element in Spike's hand. Back and forth, back and forth. I was prepared to snap myself away and regroup at a moment's notice, if she took the Element.

And then she said, "I made a promise not to use my element against him, and I'm going to keep it." And she took the skates.

I felt giddy beyond belief. Ponies were moaning and gasping in horror, on the shore, but the sounds of my enemies being unhappy has always just given me a thrill. Fluttershy was on my side. She'd rejected her friends in favor of me. And they had no means of controlling me anymore,

I couldn't keep myself from laughing in delight. "You see? She wants to have fun with me because we're friends. She can't use the elements against me because we're friends." I'd found the key to winning against the ponies, and it was their own weapon! I'd never had a friend before in my life, but now, here in Equestria, the moment I had one I became truly all-powerful, and the ponies who were so controlled by the Magic of Friendship were helpless in front of it. "I'm free forever!"

Fluttershy flung the skates and made an animalistic shriek of rage. "Not. Your. Friend!" she screamed.

I was so sick of being jerked around like this. Make up your mind, filly. "Who cares?" I snapped at her. "I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I'm Discord, the master of chaos!" She was stalking away, and I hated that. She wasn't even going to listen to me? Well, I'd make her. I teleported over to her and hung my head down in her path, trying to force her to look at me. "You think you can boss Discord around?" I growled at her. "You think I'm just going to turn all this back because you say so? Because if I don't, I'll lose the one friend I ever had?"

And then what I'd just said caught up with me, and all I could say was, "Oh."

Because I was human, and I understood that friendship was a thing I wanted desperately, that I'd always wanted, and never actually gotten. Casual acquaintances, yes. Anyone who cared about me? No. Not ever. No parents, just people paid by the government to watch me. Teachers and counselors saw me as a problem. Other kids bullied me or ignored me, until I was old enough and smart enough to win attention by being funny, and then they laughed at my jokes and let me hang around them but they didn't care. No one invited me to their birthday parties, or told me anything in confidence, or listened to my ideas except when they were jokes.

And I wanted it, I'd wanted it for so long I'd lost track of how much I wanted it. I'd stopped hoping and become entirely bitter and cynical about the whole concept. I'd mocked My Little Pony for its presentation of friendship, because I'd known things didn't really work like that.

Except here, they did. And I had a friend. And I had just thrown her away because I was too busy scheming and trying to get one over on her and the others.

For the first time since I was around six or so, I felt tears well up in my eyes. "Well played, Fluttershy," I said hoarsely, trying to keep my voice from cracking. "Well played."

It's so much easier to manipulate and control people if you genuinely care about them. If the thing you have to offer is "I will actually like you as a person if you stop being a dick to me." And I didn't know what the real Discord would have done, but I'd lived without friendship, and I'd lived without creating as much chaos as I wanted anytime I wanted, and of the two, living without friendship had hurt a lot more.

I sat down heavily on top of one of the trees sticking out above the ice, held my hands to my heart, and wished everything to be back the way it had been before I'd interfered with it. No massive dam, no crazed beavers, no flood, no ice.

The ponies ran to Fluttershy and cheered her. I didn't know how to ask her if we could still be friends, if I'd ruined it completely. It felt bad, watching them cheer her, when they hated me, because she'd beaten me. I wanted her on my side again, but I didn't know how.

I teleported over to her. "I liked it better my way," I said, anxiously, "but... I guess when you're friends, you can't always have things exactly your way all the time, eh?"

As I spoke they all just looked at me, and it was the worst feeling, the rejection I'd always suffered back when I was human, "you don't fit in", "you're not one of us", with an added helping of "you blew it." And then Fluttershy smiled at me. "You must have been very lonely, all those years without ever having a friend."

"I... was," I admitted, again forcing my voice not to break. I didn't want to admit to weakness in front of the other ponies, but I'd have done anything to keep Fluttershy's smile turned on me.

"Well, you don't have to be lonely anymore," she said, and put her hoof on my hand, and I wanted her to keep it there forever.

Twilight wouldn't let Spike send his message to Princess Celestia about Fluttershy's success until she'd thoroughly quizzed me. "And you don't plan to do evil things anymore?"

I snorted. "I never did evil things. Chaos isn't good or evil; it just is."

She scowled. "That may be true of chaos because it's not a sapient being who can make decisions, but you make choices, and you can make good ones or evil ones, and the last time we dealt with you, you were definitely making evil ones." I rolled my eyes.

"If you say so," I said dismissively.

"The point is, are you going to refrain from using your magic in ways that hurt ponies or other creatures?"

I sighed. "Wasn't that the point of this entire exercise? Yes. Fluttershy is my friend and she wouldn't like it if I went around hurting things, so yes, I am going to try to refrain from using my magic in ways that hurt anyone." A few harmless pranks, though, that should be fine.

"I'll believe it when I see it," Rainbow Dash said.

I pointed at Rainbow Dash. "Fluttershy, how can you stand having a friend who's so negative? Can't she just be happy for you without trying to minimize your accomplishments?"

"You hurt my friends very badly when you warped our personalities, the first time we met," Fluttershy said. "It's going to take them some time to warm up to you. But I'm sure that as long as you behave yourself and don't hurt anyone, you'll win them over." She smiled at me.

Dammit. I couldn't keep that up. I wanted to try to drive a wedge between Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, because Rainbow Dash was a jerk and reminded me of the jocks who used to bully me and I didn't like her, but I couldn't stand up to Fluttershy's smile.

"So would you say you consider yourself reformed now?" Twilight persisted.

"Absolutely and completely 100% reformed, and Fluttershy didn't even need to pull out my brain with a buttonhook like Smarty Pants' stuffing," I retorted.

Twilight scowled at me. "How do you know about Smarty Pants?"

I smirked at her. "A gentleman needs to keep some secrets," I said, with an elaborate fan, decorated in black, purple and gold fractals, in front of my face like I was a geisha or a Southern ingenue.

Eventually, Spike was allowed to send a letter to Celestia, and then we all had to wait around for Her Royal Sunshinyness to show up. So I entertained myself by making Carousel Boutique into an actual carousel, for about thirty seconds, making Rarity throw a conniption fit and Fluttershy admonish me that I needed to ask permission before changing ponies' stuff, and then put a fountain in the center of town with me as the centerpiece, which got me a lecture from Twilight about zoning, and then made a huge tub of chocolate milkshake, which got me a lecture from Pinkie Pie about how it needed whipped cream, while she was busy swimming in it. I was careful not to do anything that would actually harm any ponies, but I could see Twilight steaming up with frustration because technically I was not doing anything evil, and Fluttershy was lecturing her on the need to use patience and understanding because after all I was a being of chaos and it probably wasn't healthy for me to restrain my magic too much, and it looked like she wanted to explode but was barely keeping it in. It made me chuckle to myself. I'd spent most of my life getting people's goat (reminder to self: do not use that expression in Equestria) without chaos magic. Twilight could be my Captain Picard. We could have a wonderful relationship based on the fact that she is a major league control freak and might be so much fun to pester and annoy. I was looking forward to it.

Eventually, Celestia showed up, in a carriage drawn by pegasus guards despite the fact that with her wingspan and strength, she ought to be able to go faster if she flew by herself. "Princess Celestia!" Twilight called out and ran to her, as her friends and Spike bowed, because apparently you don't need protocol if you're the Princess' star pupil.

"Hello, Twilight," Celestia said. "I got your letter." Didn't that go without saying? I mean, the fact that she was here should have meant she got the letter, right? "Do you believe that Discord is sincere in his desire to reform?"

"I wouldn't call it a desire, per se," I muttered.

She heard me, despite the fact that there were approximately six ponies and a dragon between her and me. "What would you call it, then, Discord?" she asked.

"Ugh." How annoying. I hate it when I mutter something to myself and then people call me on it. "A quid pro quo, really. An exchange. Something valuable offered to me in exchange for doing what you want, more or less."

"More or less?" Her eyebrows went up.

I shrugged. "I'm still chaos, Princess. And I'm not a tame lion." I morphed into a lion, except I still had my own head, covered with a thick lion mane, and my own tail where the lion's tail would be.

Celestia showed no sign of getting the reference, which is good, because I would be deeply disturbed if there was a pony version of Chronicles of Narnia. "No one objects to you being Chaos, Discord. No one ever has."

"I could beg to differ—"

"No one that matters to you, in any case," she said firmly. "The problem was always that Chaos is fundamentally amoral, and can be used for good, evil or neutral purposes."

"Like in Ogres and Oubliettes," Spike piped up. "You can be chaotic good, chaotic neutral or chaotic evil."

Right, of course Dungeons and Dragons wouldn't be called that in a world where dragons are real. I'd picked up the part Spike was talking about through cultural nerd osmosis but I'd never actually played the game. Before I could say anything, Celestia continued. "In the past, you've often chosen to use your chaos to evil purposes, causing pain, harm and disruption to ponies and other living things. I never believed you were evil, but you were selfish, thoughtless, and heedless of anypony's desires and needs but your own. Now you have a friend who'll stand by you if you try to change that. Can you?"

Interesting. Not "will you" but "can you." I wondered what my relationship with her was, in the past.

I strode forward dramatically from behind the grouping of ponies that had somehow turned into a line in front of Celestia. "Yes, Princess, I'm ready to use my magic for good instead of evil." I bowed, and muttered, under my breath, "Most of the time." To be honest, I was probably mostly going to be using it for neutral purposes.

"Congratulations on your success, ponies," Celestia said, smiling. "I definitely sense a big change in Discord." A weird word to use there, "sense". Did she just mean what she could hear and see, or was she picking up something else? Did she have some magical ability that was telling her I was actually a completely different person? Or was I just reading too much into the stilted language of a mare who'd been alive forever? Then she half-whispered to Twilight, "I'll leave the Elements of Harmony with you, Twilight. Just in case." Oh, nice, Celestia. Way to show confidence.

"You were right when you said Fluttershy would be the one to find the way to reform Discord," Twilight said. "By treating Discord as a friend, she got him to realize that friendship was actually important to him. And something that, once he had, he didn't want to lose."

Fluttershy murmured at me, "Go on. Say it..."

I groaned. We'd talked about this, but that didn't mean I liked it. "Alright," I said, and then as quickly as I possibly could, mumbled "Friendship is magic."

"See?" Fluttershy said, beaming up at me with her hoof on my paw. "He can be a real sweetheart once you get to know him."

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught several of the ponies pawing the ground with their hooves and glancing away, obviously not quite on board with Fluttershy's interpretation of my character, but I didn't care. I had one friend. I'd lived my life without any; I didn't need more.

"So, Princess Celestia. I recall hearing something about having a use for my magic?" I waggled my eyebrows, trying to imply that I was implying something.

Celestia ignored that. "I'd like to see you get settled in first, get used to being free... and not wreaking wanton havoc. In a week or so, I'd like you to come to Canterlot, and we can discuss what I want you to do for Equestria."

Oh, darn. For a moment I thought she was going to end that sentence with "want you to do", and I had all kinds of innuendo planned, and then she had to go and ruin it. "I would be delighted to serve," I said, putting as much of the innuendo back into the sentence as I could.

Celestia took her leave, and so did the other ponies, and Spike, but Fluttershy stayed with me.

"So, um... do you have anywhere to go? Like, a place that you live?" Fluttershy asked diffidently. "Because if you do, and you want to go there, that's fine, but... if you'd rather stay at my place for a while, I'd be fine with that too..."

"Trying to get rid of me so quickly, Fluttershy?" I asked, teasing – more or less.

"No! No, no, I just – I don't want to impose on you or make demands, but I feel like, if we're going to be friends, maybe we should spend some time together. I'd be happy to let you stay at my house for a while, and I could make us some tea, and maybe bake cookies—"

"I do like cookies," I admitted.

"So would you like to stay as my houseguest for a little while?"

"Well, if you're inviting me, how can I refuse?" Also I had no idea where Discord lived, or if it even still existed after he'd been more than a thousand years in stone.

So we went back to Fluttershy's house, and she made tea, a drink I'd always found interminably dull – give me coffee if I really need to stay awake, or Coke if I want something caffeinated and tasty – but with my new nose, I found the aroma pleasant enough that the tea was actually relaxing. I tried to think of something that humans eat at dinner parties that would be safe for a pony – no meat, and I didn't know if dairy was safe for anypony who wasn't Pinkie Pie, and I couldn't take anything with sugar seriously as a meal – and came up with cucumber sandwiches, which I had once eaten an entire tray of at my foster mother's stiflingly dull dinner event because she had made us skip lunch to have room for dinner and then hadn't served dinner for another eight hours. I'd gotten in a lot of trouble for that since the tray was supposed to be for all the guests, but it paid off now because it meant I remembered the flavor well enough to replicate it, and Fluttershy pronounced them to be delicious... and I thought she might have actually meant it. She also made chocolate chip cookies, which were warm and soft but a little bit too sweet for my tastes. I tried snapping one into existence with a darker chocolate mix and a bit less sugar in the cookie dough, found it to be much better, and offered it to Fluttershy to try. She smiled and said that if that was what I preferred, she'd make the cookies that way the next time.

Someone cared enough about my food preferences to change their recipe to accommodate me. Not because I was faking an allergy but because I'd just said, I think this is a little too sweet, what do you think of this cookie, it's just like yours but with less sugar and I think it'd be better for my teeth, and she'd guessed I was really talking about my food preferences rather than actually caring about my teeth, and agreed to make cookies like that for me. The next time. Because this was going to happen again.

This was dumb. I was the Lord of Chaos, and before that I was Eric Reese, professional troublemaker and hardened street kid. I was not going to cry because a pony wanted to make me cookies I would really like.

They hadn't invented the television yet, let alone Netflix and chill, but I felt that this situation really deserved some TV to relax in front of. I wasn't entirely sure if they'd even invented movies, and I didn't want to risk sounding ignorant. "Fluttershy. Are there any plays or shows you were thinking of seeing?"

"Oh, um, I think today's been stressful enough, don't you? I was just planning on staying in tonight..."

"Heavens, no, I wouldn't imagine you would want to leave the house this late," I said. "I have no intention of taking you out of your home, my dear. But there's something I'd like to try. So, are there any plays or shows going on in Manehattan or Canterlot or somewhere that you'd like to see?"

"Hmm." She gave it some thought. "There's a romantic comedy playing in Manehattan about a pony and a griffin who fall in love... do you think that's weird, wanting to see something like that?"

Oh, Ponyville provincialism. "If I did think it was weird, that would only make it more delightful. I take it you were too embarrassed to tell your friends about your interest in this play?"

"Um, kind of, but also, what if I said I wanted to see it and we all went to see it together and it was terrible? I'd feel so embarrassed that I recommended something that turned out to be bad."

I reeled my head backward, staring at her, taken completely aback. "How... that makes no sense, Fluttershy, and not in a good way. Your friends would seriously expect you to know ahead of time if a play you've never seen is any good, and blame you if it wasn't?"

"Oh, no, they'd never expect that, or blame me. But I'd blame myself."

I shook my head. I was not even going to try to understand that. "Well, how would you feel about watching it right here, in the privacy of your own home?"

"How would that work? I wouldn't want you to kidnap the actors..."

"No, no!" I laughed, and snapped up a giant flat-screen television, which I made float in her living room. "We'll watch it on this."

"Oh! Like a movie!"

Good, they did have movies. I knew Discord had made movie-related jokes by eating popcorn, but that didn't necessarily mean ponies had movies. "Just like. Except we don't have to go to a theater."

"That sounds wonderful," she said. "It's called 'Love Like Feathers'."

That was a terrible title, but I didn't say so, not to Fluttershy. Instead I reached out with my powers. I knew Discord had the ability to display the past – albeit the past he'd been in, but not from his own perspective, so I'd guessed that he could actually view the past in general. It would have made it made sense that he knew the Mane 6 so well despite having been in stone. Turned out I was right; I could make a performance of the play from yesterday show up on my television.

We sat together on Fluttershy's couch, ate popcorn, and watched the play, which was stupid. I mean, really stupid. Every single plot twist and complication could have been resolved if the characters had just talked to each other. But Fluttershy ate it up, and seeing her laugh at the dumb antics of the star-crossed lovers was far, far better to watch than a genuinely entertaining play would have been.

"Do you... need sleep?" she asked. "I mean, most creatures do, so I'd guess you might, but then, you're called a Spirit of Chaos and I'm not sure what that means..."

Neither was I. I could eat and enjoy food, but despite doing that, I'd felt no need to use the little draconequuses' room. I knew I had a body and that it felt things, powerfully, but nothing that had happened to me had caused me physical pain. So I had no idea if I needed to sleep or not, but I couldn't admit that to Fluttershy. "I could certainly do with a bit of rest," I said, making myself yawn with my powers.

"Is the couch comfortable enough? Do you need extra blankets?"

I laughed. "I'm quite fine, Fluttershy. Don't worry about me." No one had fussed over me like this since I was maybe four or five. I loved it, but I found it kind of embarrassing as well. I was an immortal, ancient chaos spirit now, right? Not a child who'd just moved to a new foster home.

It turned out that a chaos spirit who's had a long and exhausting day after being released from stone and getting hit by a truck can sleep, and dream. But I'd have expected a silly, chaotic dream, something like swans dressed as firefighters swimming through hurricane clouds, or the sky raining newts, all of whom claimed they used to be ponies until a witch cast a spell. I didn't expect what I got.

I dreamed that I was facing the Mane 6, armed with their elements of Harmony and their rainbow friendship laser, and I was turning to stone, screaming with fear. And then, although my mouth was sealed in stone, I snarled in rage. You can't hold me forever!

Another voice came, and I couldn't tell if it was male or female. It sounded more like wind chimes than a person, or pony's, voice. You're right, I can't, and if a thousand years in stone taught you nothing, more time in stone would be nothing but cruel.

So let me go, then!

No. There are things you need to learn, and neither stone nor freedom will teach them.

And then I was falling, falling, and the darkness of stone was replaced with sound too loud and light too bright and air too cold, and I could feel everything but I couldn't make my body move the way I wanted to, and there were giant blobs all around me and I couldn't tell where their edges were and where other things, like the air or other objects, began...

I screamed. And then I woke up.

The house was still silent and dark. No Fluttershy was coming down the stairs, aflutter with concern for me. I must have only screamed in the dream, not in real life, thankfully.

I felt downright cheated. Sure, my nightmare had been chaotic and incomprehensible, but not in a fun way. "No more nightmares," I whispered to my powers. "I just want to sleep, and have entertaining dreams, and if they're cryptic and bizarre, let it be in an interesting way, not... whatever that freaky thing was."

Secure in the knowledge that my powers would protect me from nightmares, I tried to go back to sleep. But it was a long while before I succeeded.