Discord slithered along the ceiling. Re-pointering gravity had been one of the first things he'd ever learned to do with his magic, and he still liked to do it fairly often. Beneath him, Luna was questioning Celestia. "Do you really trust them? After what they did to Father?"

Celestia winced. "Nothing will ever change what they did to Father," she said. "But we've been trying to get them to make peace for how long now? Sooner or later it had to happen."

"But still. The dragons are proud. The idea that they are willing to make peace, now, after so many years of war—"

"Luna, I know about you and Discord and your Cry Havoc operation." Luna went still. Discord's ears perked, and he dangled his head, the better to hear and see, albeit upside down. "I don't know why you wanted to hide it from me. I trust both of you to do what's needed to help protect Equestria, and psychological warfare to break their wills so they no longer want to fight us will save not only countless ponies, but dragons as well. Why are you so sure it couldn't have worked?"

"Because she's actually been fighting the dragons, and has a better idea of where they really stand than you do?" Discord interjected, dropping from the ceiling. Sadly, he'd pulled this stunt often enough that neither sister was actually startled. "Yes, Luna and I have been trying to break their resistance by breaking their minds – her with nightmares, me with chaos – and it… doesn't really seem to be working. They're paranoid, they're frightened, but they've shown no sign to me that they're on the verge of surrender."

"It's a cease-fire, not a surrender," Celestia said.

"You don't think enough like dragons. They absolutely would consider it a surrender to declare a cease-fire with ponies."

"That's what I was trying to say," Luna said. "They say they want to negotiate for peace, but how do we know it's not a trap?"

"We don't," Celestia said, "but we don't have much of a choice." She reached up with one hoof to touch Discord's cheek. "Discord, I'm doing this for you. I know what this war is doing to you."

He flushed with shame, anger… and a tiny thrill that she cared, that she noticed.

Discord was easily the most powerful mage in Equestria. Draconequui had had special talents, too, for all that they didn't show them off on their flanks, and his was for chaos… which made him a master of chaos magic, the rawest, most powerful and most uncontrollable form of magic anypony had ever heard of. He was used to levels of power that could dwarf even Starswirl, generally considered to be the most powerful mage from the most powerfully magical species on the planet. But he was still a mortal draconequus; he had limits, and his sanity was fraying under the burden of the power he'd been wielding.

Celestia was most worried about the obvious psychotic fugues, the times he returned from battle raving that the world was a soap bubble or that reality was a shadow play that mysterious watchers from above were controlling or that all the angles were wrong and needed to bend a different way. Discord himself wasn't worried about those episodes. The fact that he could come back from them told him they were more like the fainting spells ponies who overused their magic suffered from, not a thing that would permanently damage him.

No. It was the things he'd done, the things that haunted him – not just because they were so horrifying, but because of what he'd thought and felt when he'd done them. He remembered juggling dragon eggs to enrage them, a huge grin on his face, and when they hadn't taken his bait, he'd made their eggs rain from the sky, unborn children exploding as they struck the ground, and he'd laughed at how silly they'd looked, covered in splattered egg. He remembered trying to negotiate the release of a city in Marelantis, and when the dragons refused to give ground, he'd sunk the whole thing beneath the waves… and he'd turned the ponies to seaponies, but he'd forgotten to do that for any other species. He who wasn't a pony had forgotten that anything other than ponies was worth saving. Cats, dogs, bunny rabbits… donkeys, goats, cows… all drowned. He remembered the vindictive delight he'd felt, watching the dragons slamming all their strength against the transparent impassable wall he'd made out of the sky where it touched the sea, trying and failing to break free, and how he'd laughed at the expressions on their faces when they'd drowned.

He didn't want to be that creature. Chaos was beauty, creativity, fun. It wasn't supposed to be mirthful rage and delight in wanton destruction. That was part of chaos, but not his chaos. That wasn't who he wanted to be. But when the power was raging through him and he was channeling it against enemies he wanted to kill – or even enemies whose minds he wanted to break, the plan he and Luna had devised – it happened more and more often that he couldn't remember why he didn't want to kill, why he didn't want to take unholy joy in the dragons' terror and madness. That was what scared him.

He didn't want to have limits. He didn't want to have to worry about his power eating away at his morality and compassion - never his strongest traits to begin with. He wanted to protect Celestia and Luna, and to a somewhat lesser extent their country, without ever concerning himself with the amount of chaos he was wielding. But he couldn't deny what was happening to him.

"I can manage," he said, roughly, because he was lying.

"But this war needs to end. Even aside from what it's doing to Discord, ponies are dying. If the dragons come and say 'we want to end this, we want peace', and I say no… what kind of monster would I be? I have to accept the meeting and try to negotiate a peace settlement."

"And if it's an ambush—"

"We'll have Discord with us, and General Swift Strike, and an honor guard… and I am not weak with magic, myself." In fact, Celestia was the second most powerful unicorn in Equestria. "Besides. I've had a dream."

Luna perked up. Despite her being a pegasus, she'd manifested a powerful magical talent for dream magic, and a cutie mark of the moon and stars to match. "An Apollonian dream?"

"I think so." The Gift of Apollo, named for a legendary and probably fictional alicorn who'd borne the sun all on his own, was a prophetic gift that appeared in sun-affiliated unicorns, once every hundred years or so. Celestia had dreamed of Luna's birth, her mother's death, her first time meeting Discord, her father's death, and many more trivial events. She couldn't see everything – the dreams came at random, and they were often hard to interpret, full of strange symbolism. But when they occurred, Celestia put great faith in them. "I saw us at the meeting, and the dragons gave Discord a gift. I didn't see what it was, but I saw his face – enraptured. Whatever the gift was, it was something he thought beautiful. And then the sun rose, and filled the world with beautiful white light."

"I saw that," Luna said, sounding troubled. "Are you sure that was an Apollonian dream?"

"I had it before the dragons sued for peace, so yes, I'm sure."

"Oh, a gift?" Discord said. "Hmm. Well, I still don't trust the dragons, but now I'm eager to see what they want to give me."

Luna gave him a look, before turning to Celestia again. "Sister… light isn't always a good thing. I saw that dream in your mind, but… to me it felt foreboding."

"I don't think my mind would use beautiful bright light as a symbol of anything bad, Luna," Celestia said lightly. "Now, if it had been your dream… we all know how much you fear the Daystar." She said the last in an overly pompous and formal tone as if they were watching a melodramatic play.

Luna snorted. "Just because I don't like my eyeballs baked from the inside out," she said. "But… I suppose you're right… you have very different associations with light than I do." Celestia's cutie mark was a sun symbol, because her special talent had to do with raising the sun. Obviously she couldn't do it by herself, no unicorn could, but she could do it with as few as 6 other unicorns backing her up if she strained herself, and with 9 it was effortless for her. Since it normally had taken 12 unicorns to raise the sun before Celestia had been born, and it had been a terrible strain on them that could burn them out within a year, her talent was enormously helpful. It also meant that Celestia always had a sense of where the sun was, and a perfect sense of time, and seemed to be immune to sunburn and the blinding effects of bright light. So of course for her, light had no downsides.

Discord didn't have an opinion about light one way or the other, except to find it irritating that ponies in general kept forgetting that light could signify terrible things. "You know, fire is also very bright," he pointed out.

"It was a white light. Pure, like the sun. Maybe even purer, considering that the sun is yellow."

He turned to Luna. "But when you saw her dream, you thought it was something bad?"

Luna hesitated, and then said, "I saw the same dream through the sleep of a dragon, only a few nights ago."

"Dragons have the gift of Apollo?" Celestia asked, startled.

"Maybe. I just… dragons are proud, and as Discord said, they'd think of a cease-fire as a surrender. Why would they perceive the light as something good? But they did. The dreamer saw the light and was satisfied and… happy, I suppose, inasmuch as dragons are happy. Ferociously happy."

"Well, then I have a solution." Discord began petting Luna's mane, like she was a cat, knowing perfectly well that she found that irritating.

She pulled away from him with a somewhat hostile snort. "Stop that. If you have an idea, tell us!"

"You stay home."

Luna glared at Discord. "I will not!"

"It… might be best, Luna," Celestia said. "If it is a trap… they're less likely to spring it if they know you'd live to avenge me. The missive they sent made it clear that it's you and Discord they respect, not me or the army."

"No!" Luna snapped. "I won't be left behind, like a child!"

"It wouldn't be like a child, it would be like my heir!" Celestia snapped back. "If you turn out to be right and it is a trap, do you really want Golden Blood taking the throne?"

Discord winced at that. Golden Blood was their uncle on their father's side, and next in the line of succession since neither Celestia or Luna had children, and he was an idiot. The kind of noble who was more concerned with getting his due respect than getting results. But Luna shook her head. "If you are certain the dragons are sincere in suing for peace, you know well that they asked for Discord and me to be there for a reason, and the reason is, we are the ones who brought them to it. Your peace talks will fail if I'm not there."

"I'll be there," Discord said.

"Yes, and they respect you for your power and because you are part dragon." This wasn't technically true; dragons had initially treated him with almost as much contempt as they did ponies, and didn't seem to consider draconequui to be sufficiently draconic by their standards. They respected him now, because he'd killed as many of them as the entire Equestrian army put together, and drove many others to madness with Luna's help. "But I am a pony, and a Crown Princess." This wasn't technically true either, since Celestia had refused to be coronated with the rank of Queen, meaning she was still the Crown Princess. But it was true that she ruled Equestria and that Luna was her heir, which… sort of made Luna the Crown Princess anyway. Royal ranks were complicated and absurd anyway, and not in a good way. "You can't negotiate a peace treaty for Equestria. I can."

"I can also," Celestia said in a measured voice that, to those who knew her well, indicated she was irritated.

"Nah, they think you're chopped liver," Discord said. He sighed. "Hate to say it, but I think Luna's right. If you want to take this peace offer seriously, we do all have to go."

And he would spend the next two nights before the summit meeting creating magical weapons that he could summon into place the moment it looked like anything was going wrong, and he'd make a door he could teleport Celestia, Luna, the general and the honor guard through at the slightest wrong move by the dragons, so he'd be free to go all out against them.

He'd vowed to King Starfire, who'd been the closest thing he'd had to a father, that he would protect Celestia and Luna. Starfire had been devoured by the dragons. Discord would give his life – or his sanity – to keep the same fate from befalling his beloved Celestia and his sister-of-heart Luna.

There were five dragons seated at the meeting place, ranging in size from just-barely-adult at twice Discord's size, to ancient and powerful at the size of the castle in Equupolis. Discord's eyebrows went up. They were taking this seriously, then. He had been half-expecting an ambush of 6 or more adolescents. Dragons typically sent teenagers, more expendable, less cautious and more unruly, into combat rather than risking the older, more careful adults.

The second-largest dragon bowed as Celestia, Luna and the honor guard approached. "Your Majesty. Your Highness. Archmage."

"Archmage?" Discord, who had no title whatsoever, said. "I like the sound of that. Celly, can I be the archmage?"

"Technically, Master Starswirl is the Archmage," Celestia said, "but you are the Queen's Mage. Or Princess's, I suppose."

"Princess's Mage. No, that doesn't sound nearly as good."

The dragon cleared her throat. "Ahem. Greetings. I am Arachis, the front paw of the great War Leader Syntel." She nodded her head at the largest dragon. "With me are Wing Leaders Affrit and Telax, and the Dragon Mage Rystar." Each dragon nodded as its name was spoken.

Princess Celestia inclined her head politely. "I greet you, noble dragons. I am Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria in the stead of King Starfire." Starfire was absolutely one hundred percent dead; Discord had seen him killed in his scrying fish, and Celestia had dreamed his death, and the dragons had mailed his breastplate back to them with dragon fire with the word "DELICIOUS" carved in it. But Celestia had never legally or formally acknowledged her father's death; she ruled as Princess and claimed to be serving on behalf of her father.

"Your Highness Princess Luna," Affrit said, ignoring Celestia, "and Archmage of Chaos Discord, we have brought gifts for both of you, to express how sincerely we desire peace with the ponies of Equestria."

"Gifts?" Discord drifted over, negating gravity on himself and using his wings only very slightly, to steer. "Well, now you have my complete attention."

"For you, beautiful princess of dreams, we bring you this." The dragon bowed, and handed forth a polished white opal. Luna took it impassively, only a small flick of her ear betraying what Discord was sure she was thinking, which he guessed was something like, You killed my father and yet you think you can appease me with a pretty jewel?

"And for you, Archmage—"

"Technically, I don't go by titles," Discord said. "Just Discord is perfectly fine."

"Our gift to you is this," the Dragon Mage said, breathing flame onto a large sealed ball of obsidian. The obsidian melted away, and inside was—

Oh. Oh.

Discord stared, transfixed, at it. With his eyes there was not much to look at. It was a small cube of iron, floating in the center of a magical field that enclosed and generated a magnetic field. Occasional sparks lit up the sides in sudden flares. But with his other senses—

"It's inverted matter," the Dragon Mage said. "It is the mirror image of matter. When it touches anything, both are annihilated. It has to be kept suspended in a field, or it will explode."

It was the opposite of everything. Discord stared at it reverently. He had never seen such a perfect expression of disharmony. The object vibrated with a song that was the antithesis of the song everything else was singing. It was beautifully, perfectly, nonsensically horrible, the natural destroyer of everything, without malevolence or hunger – just being what it was made it the negation of everything else.

He hadn't even realized he was drifting over to the dragon Rystar until he found himself standing in front of the dragon, reaching for the object. The dragon carefully placed the ball of magic, and the beautiful perfect disharmony inside it, into Discord's paws.

"It's… wonderful," he breathed.

"We thought you would think so," Rystar said. "You have been a powerful and dangerous opponent, and we honor that. Your death should be beautiful."

Discord started to look up at that, startled, but then the magical shield around the object disappeared, and then it blossomed into radiant white light. Like a second sun rising in the middle of the day, he thought, and had no time to think of anything else.

He was floating in a place.

It took a long, long time to realize that he wasn't asleep anymore. It felt wonderful. He was perfectly buoyant, so light and so free of pain anywhere that he wasn't even fully conscious of having a body. There was no need to open his eyes and see where he was. Sleep felt so perfect.

But then there was that nagging thought. What happened to Celestia and Luna?

He didn't remember how he'd gotten here, or why he had been sleeping. He realized, slowly, that he had no idea where he was. And there was that nagging thought again. Some reason why he cared. Something… bad had happened? Maybe? And they had been there? And he should be worried about it?

It was so hard to be worried. He was so relaxed and peaceful. It felt so good.

But he'd made a promise, and he was a draconequus of his word. Tried to be, at any rate.

He opened his eyes, and found that he didn't have any.

No muscles moved. He felt no feedback from his body. Vision flooded in, in 360 degrees around him, and more, a three-dimensional sphere. He saw everything, without moving his eyes, because his eyes weren't there. He wasn't there. A three-dimensional sphere of vision, and all he could see of himself was something wraithlike, illusory.

I'm a ghost, he thought, and then, I'm dead?

But this place wasn't the afterlife that the books Celestia had read to him – or that he'd used magic to have them read themselves to him – spoke of. There was no river. There were no souls massed on a riverbank, there was no ferrypony, there was no Paradise on the other side. He was floating, alone, in a place full of energy and chaos, full of so much magic it made him dizzy. All around him was emptiness, in purple and yellow and black and orange and blue and vermilion eddies and clouds. Bolts of strange lightning, full of energy but not necessarily light, sparked all around him.

And then the voices spoke.

Welcome, son. / Welcome, little brother. / Hey, shithead. / Are you paying attention? / Pay attention, we're talking to you. / We're talking. / Welcome, child of chaos. / Welcome, chaos, to your home.

Around him floated faces, as wraithlike as his own or even moreso, formed of the shifting patterns of the chaotic energy all around him. A draconequus. A gargoyle. A goat. A reindeer who became a small dragon who became a reindeer. Another dragon, a female one and full-sized. Something that… might have been an ant-eater, maybe? A coyote. Another coyote. A zebra with mad eyes.

Bodies faded into focus, and faded out again. The zebra had eight legs. The gargoyle and the draconequus had mismatched wings and limbs like he did. The coyotes shifted form, becoming ponies, Diamond Dogs, draconequuui, buffalo. The reindeer who was a dragon laughed. The goat was a biped, like a minotaur but shorter, skinnier and shaggier. The ant-eater (he thought) had the body of an oversized pegasus, like a mythical alicorn except that without a pony head it could not have a horn.

They whispered their names into the chaotic energy all around them. Mayhem, the draconequus, killer of Queen Imbrium, the boogeyman that had haunted him ever since Starswirl had told him about the last draconequus chaos mage anyone had heard of, Mayhem the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony. Coyote, who used no name other than the name of his species. Mother Coyote, who had done the same until she'd given birth to her replacement, the pup she had loved so much she'd torn the heart of chaos out of her body and put it in his, granting him her immortality and dying in the process. Ar, the dragon who'd been raised in a place where male dragons ruled over female ones, who'd sought to change the world to raise female creatures above males everywhere. Anansi, the zebra who was also called Spider. Eris, the proud gargoyle who'd started the Tauran War because she was angry she hadn't been invited to a party. Pan, the goat who'd killed Eris and taken her place, whose songs of fun and desire had turned to songs of disharmony. Set, who'd loved Ra the Sunbearer and protected him from the devourer Apep until the day he hadn't, until the day he broke and Apep invaded him, controlled him and made him kill his love. (And who looked vaguely like an anteater for some reason.) Loki, frost-dragon, shapeshifter, foster child of the alicorn reindeer the Aesir, and also their death.

We are the Spirits of Chaos, they said. And Disharmony, some chimed. We are the avatars who speak the will of Chaos, who grant it a voice.

He knew, somehow, that they weren't really here. Wherever these souls had gone, they were long gone, beyond any ability to call them back to this plane. This was an imprint of them, their minds and a shadow of their personalities, stamped forever here in this ever-changing place.

You are the chosen one, the child of Chaos. You can choose to bear the burden we have borne. You can be a god, the avatar of Chaos in the world.

-Why me? Do you say this to all the dead chaos mages, or am I special?

His flippancy and sarcasm didn't come across well in a mental voice; he winced at the fact that he almost sounded sincere about the question.

No. You are the chosen one. Not the only choice, not the only option who can be chosen, but you are the first choice.

it will be hard, the goat whispered. you will easily win desire, but love will be your weakness. none will love you and if they do they will control you. dance, but know when to change the tune.

it will be hard, the gargoyle whispered. no one befriends chaos. you will be all alone, but you will have the power to do whatever you wish.

it will be hard, the frost dragon said. family will betray and reject you. games you play for amusement may twist under you and turn deadly without warning, for chaos is unpredictable.

He thought of Celestia and Luna. -My family would never betray and reject me.

perhaps they will not, the younger coyote said. my mother loved me so much she died to give me the chance to carry this weight. she left me, as your mother left you, but it was the price we both paid to keep me alive.

The memory of his own mother stung. -My new family would never leave me like my mother left me, not without saying goodbye.

but you have left them, the other draconequus said. you are dead, Discord, Principle of Chaos. the dragons released the magic they used to hold the inverted matter away from all other matter. it touched the air and your paw and annihilated all it touched, and the energy that was released vaporized you. you are dead.

Now the voices all spoke. You can stay dead. It is a choice. Chaos always gives choices.

Death is peaceful. / Death is calm. / Death will give you what you never had in life since your mother's death… rest. Quiet. Peace of mind.

Life is violent / difficult / painful. {The burden you will carry / the burden we carried /the burden that must be carried} is exhausting. {many will hate you} / {many will fear you} / {you will have no friends} / {all you will have is chaos}

But chaos will fill you / give you power / give you whatever you desire / reshape the world in any way you like.

You will be a god, but a lonely one, with a heavy burden to carry


You will be dead and know peace


-What happened to Celestia and Luna?


-I can't! I need to know – I can't leave them behind! If the dragons betrayed the peace talks, they'll need me!

You don't need to know that to make the choice. Choose.

And he realized that it was obvious, that there was only one choice to make. As lovely and peaceful as floating in death had been… Discord had never been one to hunger for peace.

He had been a chaos mage, and a powerful one. But he knew from the stories that Starswirl had told him as cautionary tales that the chaos avatar, the Spirit of Chaos, had power that dwarfed his.

He didn't like the thought of becoming the thing that Celestia and Luna's mother's killer had been. But all his life he had believed that Chaos wasn't evil, that Chaos was beautiful and represented freedom and creativity and passion. Chaos deserved to have an avatar who craved fun and variety rather than destruction and pain. And Celestia and Luna needed him. And it was hardly as if he had had a soft, easy life full of friendship up to this point anyway. As long as he had Celestia and Luna, he didn't need anything else.

-I'll do it. I'll bear the burden. I embrace Chaos, as I've done all my life.

-I am Discord, the draconequus Principle of Chaos and Disharmony, and with this choice, I willingly throw aside my mortality to become the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony.

The voices came to a crescendo, all of them making comments on his choice, from cheering him on to jeering his motivations to praising or denigrating his attitude toward Chaos. And then the world lit up with brilliant lights all around him and within him, the lightning explosions turning bright and running through him. Power thrummed through him, a heartbeat that was terribly fast and deep and had very little rhythm to it, but he was Chaos and he could see the pattern, he could read the rhythm that came from the syncopation of a dozen, a hundred different rhythms all running at different rates.

I want to be alive, he thought, and he was suddenly embodied, air rushing into his lungs, the feel of sun on his face and wind ruffling his fur, and he shouted, "YES! I'm back! Celestia—"

As he opened his eyes, his words trailed off.

He was standing in a crater made of glass.

It was deep and wide and smooth, equidistant from him in all directions, as if energy radiating from him as the centerpoint had carved it. Which it had. With his new powers and knowledge, he understood what inverted matter was, and exactly what had happened when the dragons had released it, and it had touched him. He, and it, had exploded into pure energy, searing everything in a radius around him, melting dirt into glass and ponies…

No. No no no.

"Celestia! Luna!" he called frantically.

When he was a small child, when there had still been other draconequui, his tribe had tried to perform a ritual that would take them to a place where they would never be hungry again. Even when Starswirl had enhanced his memories of the event, he still wasn't clear on exactly what they'd tried to do, because he hadn't been paying enough attention at the time. All he knew was that his mother had called to him to join the circle, to complete the circuit and be included in the spell, and the moment he'd touched her hand the spell had exploded, the energy backlashing into him and knocking him unconscious, and all he'd seen of his mother and brothers and the rest of his tribe had disappeared into white light.

He'd woken up cold on the hillside, with his body twisted into a new shape, his limbs and wings replaced with those of different animals, and when he'd called for his mother she hadn't answered. She'd never answered again.

It was happening again, now. He'd found a family and once again they were gone in white light and he was alone, again, now.

No. "Celestia! Luna!"

Against his will, his imagination painted the picture of the white light, expanding in a circle, searing pony flesh to nothing as the dragons, who'd known it was coming, teleported away—



But there was no answer. He was alone. Again.

Bitter, hysterical laughter rose up in his chest, and tears pricked at his eyes, but no, no. He wouldn't accept it. Maybe they had teleported back to the palace. Celestia could have done that, right?

And with that thought, he found himself at the palace. Ponies, the stewards and assistants that kept the castle running and who made sure that Celestia's orders were executed, surrounded him. "Where are the princesses?" "What happened with the dragons?" "Is the honor guard on its way back?" "Did you teleport ahead of the princesses? When will they arrive?"

"They… aren't here?" His tongue felt thick and numb. Rather like it had when he'd transformed, back then, and it had become forked, but this was psychological, not physical. His body was exactly as it had been before the explosion. Only his mind and powers had changed.

"No, we thought they'd be with you!" "Where did they go?" "You need to find them!" "Find Master Starswirl, he'll know where they are!" "What happened with the dragons?" "Why are you here without them?"

"ENOUGH!" he screamed, and a harsh cyclone wind spun around him, flinging the ponies across the room and away from him. "I'll find them! I'll find them—"

Hours later, after teleporting everywhere he could imagine them being, after splitting himself into a dozen Discords (a thing he could do with ease, now, without even thinking about it) and having all of them search, after scrying as hard as he could, he returned to the glass crater, and this time, with the sun low in the sky, he could see the shadows of ponies imprinted on the glass. As if they'd been transformed to shadow, and the shadows fixed into the glass, forever.

With only shadows to go on, he couldn't tell which one was Celestia or Luna, but he knew what had happened to them. He had taken on immortality and power to save them, but it had already been too late. They'd died only milliseconds after he had.

He collapsed to his knees, and wept. All around him, black vines with heavy thorns grew out of the glass, and bloomed beautiful flowers, with faces that cried along with him.

Eventually the tears ran out, and he lay on his back looking up at the sky that Celestia would never help to raise the sun in again. Sometime after that he started laughing, and the flowers morphed into grotesque clown faces and laughed as well.

He scryed for the dragons. They were easy to find; they had teleported only a handful of dragon-lengths away. The Dragon Mage Rystar must be very, very powerful, to be able to teleport five dragons in such a short period of time.

They were toasting their victory, literally; a pony Discord couldn't recognize lay on a bed of gems, and they were firing the gems with their breath to heat them, so the heat would cook the pony.

A song he did not know came to his mind, and he took control of the dead pony as if it were a puppet. He made it get up off the bed of gems and begin to sing, with half a dozen imaginary skeleton ponies playing instruments such as drums and banjo behind it.

"Well, my hoof bone's connected to my leg bone
My leg bone's connected to my knee bone
My knee bone's connected to my thigh bone
My thigh bone's connected to my hip bone"

The dragons looked around frantically. "What's causing this?" "That pony is dead!" "Yes, this is obviously magic at work!" "I can't smell any pony around here but the dead one!" Telax was breathing bursts of flame onto the pony, charring it, but this did not stop Discord from making it dance and sing.

"My hip bone's connected to my back bone
My back bone's connected to my withers bone
My withers bone's connected to my neck bone
My neck bone's connected to my head bone
My head bone's connected to my horn bone
Now hear the word of the Lord!"

Discord appeared in a blast of confetti and fireworks. "And the word is, RESURRECTION!" Horns tooted. "Can you say resurrection, dragons and dragonettes? Naah, I thought not, you're too stupid."

The gigantic war leader Syntel breathed a blast at him, but he wasn't there. Three Discords floated in the air, pointing and laughing at her. "You couldn't hit the broad side of a mountain!" he jeered, as the pony kept singing.

"Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones
Now hear the word of the Lord… of Chaos!"

The dead pony fell to pieces as he withdrew his power from it; it had been charred to the bone by their attacks.

All of the dragons tried to attack Discord. Unfortunately, they were immune to each other's flame, so he couldn't get them to burn each other. But it didn't matter. They had murdered Celestia and Luna; they would pay.

Experimentally he found that he couldn't just turn them into bouncy balls or flowerpots, even with all the new power at his command. Something about dragon nature resisted the power of Chaos. But he could work with whatever existed within dragon nature.

Young dragons didn't have wings, so he took their wings, because that was within the realm of dragon nature, and they fell hard to the ground. Dragons who had overused their flame didn't have it anymore, so he took their flame. Then he mailed them literally thousands of scrolls covered with nonsense and childish scribbles, making them roll on the ground with severe nausea because they didn't have the flame to materialize the scrolls.

This didn't stop them. Writhing in pain, they still managed to lift gems off the pile and fling them at him in a final gesture of defiance. None of the gems actually hit him, but he appreciated the gesture. It would have been much harder to bring himself to kill dragons who weren't fighting back.

The gem pile began assembling itself into a gigantic monster. He manufactured gems with a snap of his talons and teleported others from gem hoards his newly expanded sense for magical concentrations could detect, until he had a gem monster the size of the War Leader Syntel. And then, while Syntel was trying to grapple with it, he had it reach out a tail, grab Wing Leader Affrit, and pull her into its mouth. Syntel tried to grab the tail, tried to pull the Wing Leader out – to no avail. Discord magically hardened and sharpened the gems that made up the monster's teeth, and made them grind the screaming dragon to death, even as she tried to bite the gems to bits herself. "Hey, sauce for the goose is sauce for the dragon," he said. "It's an eat or be eaten world, and these gems are sick of being the ones who are eaten!"

Syntel bellowed, went up on her hind legs, and swung her forelegs, with their sharp claws at the end, at Discord… who wasn't there anymore. "Ha, ha! Too slow!" he chortled, and threw a cream pie made of an extremely powerful solvent in cream form at her. She bellowed as the solvent ate at the scales of her face.

Rystar pointed his talons, and the gem creature fell apart, victim of an entropy spell. Discord's eyebrows went up. Most dragon mages needed to use their flame to transmit their magic, but he should have remembered that Rystar had dropped the magical field around the inverted matter, and killed him, without flame.

With a smirk, Discord dove at him, faster than he could react. He tried to throw up a shield, but Discord cut through it like a diver through water and landed on his head. "You're a very talented magic user," he crooned, as Rystar tried and failed to hit him with a spell, or his paws. "It's a shame no one really appreciates it. The other dragons should be yielding their hoards to you for all you've done for them."

He could feel things he never had before. He could feel the disharmony in the dragons' hearts. He could see personality traits, the way he'd always been able to see the traits of objects, and he could amplify or reduce them. The words he spoke were hardly necessary; it was brute force magic he was using to change the levels of Rystar's greed versus social skill.

"Yes," Rystar mumbled. "Yes! I should have what they have! I should have everything!"

Discord restored his ability to breathe flame, but not the others'. Rystar breathed a spell onto Telax, who froze solid, turned to ice. "What are you doing?" Arachis shouted.

"I want everything! All dragons should yield their hoards to me!" Rystar screamed, firing a spell at Arachis. She dodged. A boulder behind her melted.

Syntel, her face badly scarred and one eye ruined, struck Rystar with her massive tail, flinging him and slamming him into the ground with such force he lost consciousness. Discord clapped.

The two remaining dragons faced him, glaring. "We killed you once, Archmage of Chaos," Arachis growled. "We can kill you again."

"No, see, you actually can't? Because—" He made his head vanish, let his body fall spurting blood, turned the blood into a spray of fireworks, and reappeared, wearing a cape and top hat, amid the fireworks. "—Ta-daaa! I am no longer a mere chaos mage. I" He was on Arachis's head, poking her in the snout. "—am the Spirit—" Now he was on Syntel's tail, conjuring it into a knot. She spun, trying to see him, to grab him and stop him, and he made her spin around several times before leaping onto her head. "—of Chaos!" As Syntel opened her mouth to snap at him, he threw a very small device in her mouth, a device that was magically tearing apart atoms of very, very heavy elements. The device exploded in a mushroom cloud.

"That entire situation was abominadragon," he said, standing in the bloody chunk of what had been a very large dragon, and was now highly radioactive. "But now, I think you could say it's… nodragon."

"What?" Arachis screamed, struggling to her feet. Wow, she hadn't been ripped apart in the explosion. Dragons were tough.

"Oh, I'm sorry! That joke really doesn't work unless you've heard it before," Discord said. "See, the joke is that you describe a situation where an explosive device has been put inside a male bovine, and you ask for a description of the situation, and it's abominable. Then you talk about what happens after the explosive goes off, and you ask for a word describing that, and it's noble. You get it?"

Arachis growled and lunged at him, her teeth bared. Discord slowed time so that he could plink each of her individual teeth and turn them into tutti frutti gummies, and then let time resume at full speed and let her bite him. The gummies squished against his body. He turned himself to chocolate syrup and poured out of the dragon's mouth as she was gaping, unable to grasp what had happened to her teeth.

"What—what are you?" she babbled. "This isn't – none of this is possible! You don't have this kind of power! No draconequus does!"

"No draconequus but moi," Discord said. "Because, in case you failed to hear it the last time, I am the Spirit. Of. Chaos. Oh, and disharmony too, but mostly chaos."

All around them in a circle an icy flame burned, like the spell of Rystar's that had frozen Telax. Arachis shrank away from the flames, glaring at him. "You've killed three dragons today. You'll pay for that."

"Already pa-aid," Discord caroled. "Died, lost my body, lost my lover and her sister, probably lost my sanity but who's counting? Frankly, it was a gigantic down payment and I think I was cheated. I'll be taking this up with the Better Business Ponies Consortium." He turned and looked at Rystar, still unconscious, and pointed at him, concentrating massive amounts of power on the circlet of office the dragon wore around his neck, turning it into a thing that was impossibly sharp and impossibly heavy. Its own weight dragged it through Rystar's neck, severing his head. "Anyway, four dragons."

"Monster!" Arachis shrieked, and fired flame at him. Whoops. Her wings were back too.

Discord removed them again and inverted her gravity, letting her fall into the sky, screaming.

He gave Telax's frozen body a good hard kick, and he shattered into pieces. Then Discord sat down in the ruins of three dragons' bodies and a gem monster, conjured a picnic tablecloth and a basket of cucumber sandwiches, boysenberry pie and chocolate milk. He sat and ate for a few minutes, then glanced up and snapped his talon, then continued his meal.

A few minutes after that, Arachis plummeted, her whole body radiant with fire that she hadn't breathed, screaming as gravity reeled her down. The normal gravity of the world wasn't actually enough to kill a dragon her age who fell from a height, no matter how high, so Discord temporarily amplified it twenty-fold, and she splattered across the landscape when she hit.

He wiped his face with a napkin. "Well. That's settled. Who wants dessert?" Discord turned, facing the various dead dragons. "Anyone? Anyone? Naah, you're right, too fattening."

Then he picked up Rystar's head, levitating it effortlessly. "Ooh, I bet this would look awesome on the palace wall," he said, and then he and the dragon head were gone.

"Killed Celestia and Luna. And every pony soldier who was there. And you were the only survivor," Prince Golden Blood, Celestia and Luna's uncle, sneered at Discord.

Discord picked his teeth with a pickle. "Yes, that's what I said."

"And the dragons who did this are all dead, and you've brought the head of the mage who cast the spell that killed them as proof that you avenged them."

"That about sums it up! My word, Golden Blood, you're a regular Clover today."

Golden Blood's nose scrunched as if he was smelling something awful. He snorted. "How convenient! Everypony in the situation, every dragon even, dead but you. No one to contradict your story!"

"Point of order," Discord said, raising a talon. "I also died. I just got better."

"Yes, that certainly makes your story more believable."

Discord enlarged himself so that his head was three times Golden Blood's size, hovering directly over him, showing off his fang and his very sharp teeth. "Prince Golden Blood, I'm sure I must have misheard. It sounded to me like you were calling me a liar!" He lowered his head closer to the Prince, who had just urinated all over the floor. "Please tell me I was mistaken."

"Ah – yes! Yes, of course, I never meant to imply you were lying, haha!" the Prince babbled in terror.

Discord wrinkled his own nose. "Ugh. Maids! Cleanup required!" He teleported a pair of cleaning ponies into the chamber. They looked around themselves in shock. Discord pointed at Golden Blood. "The prince there has had a mishap. Please sanitize the area?"

Golden Blood's gold-colored fur shone bright red on his face with his humiliation. He stepped away from the puddle. "Well. Be that as it may. With the princesses dead, I am next in the line of succession, so I am now King Golden Blood."

"No, you're not," Discord said.

Golden Blood glared at him. "I am! The line of succession is clear. Starfire had two foals and they are now both dead. He had no other heir but me, and our younger sister."

"Yes, but you're not taking the throne. No one is. I'm in charge now."

"You – what?"

"In fact I think we need more ponies here for my big announcement," Discord said, and gestured. The doors were thrown open and the nobles he had forced outside because he hadn't liked the way they were shoving at him and gabbling about where were the princesses all pushed their way back in.

As they approached, Discord struck a giant gong with a cat, who screeched as the gong boomed. "GIVE ME YOUR ATTENTION!" he shouted in his best rendition of the Royal Command Voice.

All of the nobles shut up, staring at him. "First, the bad news. Your princesses are dead! Oh, and your general and all the other ponies that came with us. They had a dragon mage who cast a spell that turned all of us into a crater of glass, and there wasn't anything I could do about it because I was the first one to die. Sorry about that! But the good news is, I didn't stay dead! Yes, ponies of Equestria, you now have the one and only Spirit of Chaos on your side in this war. Remember that guy who killed Queen Imbrium and made a hurricane the size of a large island and basically ruined the entire world and also gave you windigos? Well, I can do anything he could do, but I'm one of the good guys! Also, I brought you the head of the dragon mage that killed the Princesses." He levitated Rystar's large head again. A few of the nobles screamed. Two mares and a stallion fainted.

"Oh, we can't have that! Wake up! I'm not done!" Three absolutely gigantic salt crystals whose noses were wrinkled in an expression of sniffing something noxious appeared and pulled the three fainted ponies to their feet, waving fans in their faces and dumping water on their heads. Several nobles were backing toward the doors. Discord shut them with a bang and then made them vanish. "Rude! Now where was I? Oh yes. Golden Blood here wants to be King, but he's an idiot, so I've decided I'm taking control."

"You – you're not in the line of succession! Starfire was very clear on that when he adopted you!" Golden Blood shouted.

One of the nobles – Discord couldn't be bothered to remember his name – yelled, "You're not even a pony!"

With a snap Discord turned him into a chicken. "Neither are you." He turned to Golden Blood. "And King Starfire is dead. Murdered by dragons. And Princess Celestia is dead. Murdered by dragons. And Princess Luna is dead. Murdered by dragons. And I feel I would be remiss if I let any other pony run this country, since it seems to be a one-way ticket to being murdered by dragons. Not that I care if Golden Blood is dragon lunch, but." He leaned forward. Several in the crowd shrieked and trotted backward frantically. "Equestria is under my protection. Mine. Spirit of Chaos. No more dragons eating ponies or turning them into glass. And that means I run things, because Golden Blood would get you all eaten."

"This is outrageous!" Golden Blood spluttered.

"No, what's outrageous is that anyone listens to you just because you were King Starfire's younger brother. You're an idiot and you have always been an idiot and you were constantly trying to sabotage Celestia's rule and you're probably happy she's dead because it means you get to be King, so no. You don't. Cry for your niece, she actually liked you. I don't."

One of the nobles said, in a trembling voice, "So… so does that mean you are King Discord?"

"What? Pfft. No! I'm the Spirit of Chaos. What part of Chaos wears a title like King? You can call me Pickle Pants Discord. Or Tinfoil Hat Discord. Or Castle Crasher Discord. Ooh, actually I like that one. Top Hat Discord! Great Dalmuti Discord! Lemon Supreme Discord! Pie-o-matic Discord! Anything you want, but not King. Equestria doesn't get a King. The King got eaten and his daughters are dead and I—" A sob caught in his throat, wholly unexpected. He used his new powers to suppress most of it. "—I owe them too much to let the nation they died for fall to the dragons. So I am now the Table Salt of Equestria, the Master of Disaster, the Lord of Chaos, Banana Pudding Discord!"

All the nobles stared at him. None of them spoke.

Discord smiled broadly. "Come on, that announcement deserved some applause, don't you think?"

Dead silence.

He stretched out his talons. Magic sparked from them.

All the nobles began to pound their hooves on the ground.

If Discord squinted, he could pretend that their expressions of terror were of excitement instead.


Cover art is "The Chaos" by Zhoid, used with permission.

"Dem Bones" was originally written by author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. The version I am imagining the pony singing (with modifications for pony anatomy and different god) is based on the one that played during the TV series The Prisoner, by the Canadian vocal group The Four Lads.

The terrible pun involving "abominable" and "noble" came from Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers by Martin Gardener. I've had Discord use a variation of this joke in Not the Hero as well, though it didn't involve blowing anything up.