Leave felt good. Even a few days after the chaotic Third Battle of Canterlot (they'd started keeping count), Rainbow Dash was still sporting bandages and keeping off her right leg, but only as far as the doctors would be appeased. She'd spent the last couple of days under a self-imposed news blackout; she didn't want to hear about anything she couldn't do anything about. Aside from anything else, it gave her a chance to spend some time in Ponyville with Scootaloo and Kalza, and get to know them better. When she spotted them sitting by themselves on a rooftop, she dropped down to perch behind them.
"Hey guys!" Ow.
"Rainbow Dash!" As soon as she was down, they attacked her with hugs.
She wheezed at the pressure on still sensitive spots, but held it in until she could peel them off. "Whatcha doing up here? You look kinda... well, bored."
"We're waiting for Sweetie Belle!" Scootaloo pointed at the inconspicuous terrace across the street. "She's talking to Vinyl... pony."
"That's the one!"
"Wow..." Dash chuckled. "Who'da thunk."
"Then we're heading to Applebloom's to meet up with the others!"
"Not a bad plan. Speaking of you... what is it, six now?" The two kids nodded. "Now that you've all got your cutie marks, are you still gonna be the Cutie Mark Crusaders?"
Scootaloo pouted. "I... hadn't thought of that! Maybe we need a new name! Right?"
"Sure..." Kalza laid her chin on her claws.
Dash frowned, looking her over; her flank was bare as a newborn. "It... Kalza, does it bother you that gryphons don't get cutie marks?"
"I... guess it shouldn't... still feels like... like I'm missing out on something."
Dash rubbed her chin. "Well... lemme put it to you this way. I'm always going to be a flier. Sweetie Belle's always going to be a singer. Scootaloo's always gonna be a... scooter." The little pegasus gave her a playful thump. "If we get bored of those talents, or worse, something happens that we can't do them anymore - like, I dunno, I break my wings - that's it. That's a personal crisis waiting to happen right there. But you... you can't be defined by a symbol on your butt. You can be whoever you want to be."
It took the gryphlet a couple of moments to grasp what was being said, but she soon smiled, and nodded. "Hmm... yeah!"
"And if you really want to fit in, we can get you a thing called a tattoo, but not 'til you're older." Scootaloo and Kalza exchanged puzzled looks. Dash shook her head - the meaning was lost on them. "Anyway. While I'm thinking about it..." She put a hand on the shoulders of both of them. "I just wanted to say, I'm really proud of both of you. Everything that happened in Canterlot. That was really brave of you, especially you standing up to Wolfram." She ruffled the gryphlet's crest, and she giggled, swatting her hand away. "If and when I have kids of my own, if they could be half the pon- half the people you are, I'd be thrilled." The pair blushed at the praise, and threw themselves at their guardian to hug her waist.
The sound of a door opening broke up the moment; a little white unicorn skipped out of the door across the street, humming merrily to herself.
"There's Sweetie Belle!"
"Okay, skin me some." Dash held her fist horizontal; Scootaloo quickly responded in kind, bumping knuckles with her. Kalza blinked, taking a moment to get it, before following suit. "Now go!" Without needing to be told twice, they hopped off the roof to join their friend, waving as they left. Rainbow Dash smiled and watched them go, before taking off again, hurrying on to her prior engagement.
Dash swung open the door to the library, finding her friends already present; Twilight flipping through a couple of official looking papers, Applejack looking over her shoulder, Rarity and Fluttershy sitting quietly in seats to the side, and Pinkie hanging upside down from the mezzanine handrail. Spike was busying himself with stacking shelves - finally they were getting around to tidying up the library. Derpy was probably off doing rounds, and there was no telling where Zecora was. Immediately, she fluttered to a perch atop the mezzanine.
"Oh! You made it!" Twilight perked up, hearing her friend come in.
"Duh, course I did," Dash chuckled. "So what's the news? Gimme the short version."
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Well... since I've already discussed things at length with the rest of you... Let's see. The remnants of the horde have been spotted in full retreat, and Trottingham was found empty. The northern border is being reinforced before resettling can begin, but things are starting to go back to normal up there. Uhm... Cloudsdale!" Dash looked up from quietly stashing Daring Do and the Sapphire Stone inside her jacket. "After Jetstream died, executive authority fell to his second-in-command, General Thunderboom. As soon as he got the full story on what happened at Canterlot, his first actions were to annul the secession and issue Soarin a full pardon. He says the offer for the Wonderbolts to return to Cloudsdale still stands, but you probably know how that's going better than me."
Dash snorted. "Spitfire's looking forward to practicing tricks instead of attack formations, so it might be a while before we go back."
Twilight quirked a brow and smiled. "I see. Anyway, speaking of new leaders, Princess Cadence is due to be crowned in the next few weeks, and we're all invited!" Rarity was visibly elated, and Pinkie Pie babbled an incoherent alliterative sentence about parties. The others were more quietly pleased. "This is after a few important things are taken care of. Her, Thunderboom and the Mayor are going to meet for negotiation in the next few days, and... well, something tells me they're going to be a lot more productive than the last round of talks."
Applejack chuckled. "No kiddin'."
"What else do we have here... As soon as the succession is dealt with, Cadence and Shining Armor are going to get on with planning their wedding, uhm..."
"I meant to ask," Dash cut in. "What happened to Discord in the end? Considering how worked up we were over him, he just kinda... stopped being important at pretty short notice."
Twilight hesitated. Not out of fear; more of thought. "I... never figured out exactly what happened. One moment he was laughing in my ear, then halfway through Blueblood's ritual, he just started screaming, like he was afraid of something... and then he was gone. I didn't get a look at the exact ritual he used, but based on what happened after, we guessed it was a power drain, like to the one that we used on the djinn, only absorbing the power himself. Since there doesn't appear to have been a trace of him afterwards, we can only suppose that... that is the end of Discord."
A burst of light by the stairs grabbed the attention of the room. A group of ponies were staggered along the staircase, looking for all the world like a mariachi band - sombreros, violins, guitars and trumpets. And slouched along the staircase was an entirely too familiar form, dressed to match.
"Au contraire, mes petits poneys!" he exclaimed. "He's back!" Without further ado, he conjured a trumpet from thin air and led the band off. Most of the group had looks hanging somewhere neatly between exasperation, disbelief and flat-out confusion. Rainbow Dash and Applejack immediately started moving to attack. Discord was on the ball though; he broke off his trumpet overture and clicked his fingers, summoning six cigars - one for everyone in the audience, already in their mouths. "Relax..." The gesture confused them enough to halt their charge and inspect the cigars. Twilight did not look impressed. "Since the cavalcade of shenanigans in Canterlot, my power in this plane is a mere fraction of what it once was. Heck, if Shining Armor hadn't pulled through, I might not even be here! So unless you're allergic to parlour tricks, I can't hurt you."
"Swell," Applejack deadpanned.
"Don't fret, Applejack! My good fortune is your good fortune!" With another click of his fingers, a pair of dancers appeared on each of her arms, fawning over her and dressed in what most might consider 'barely enough'. She just gave Discord a hard glare. "Oh, you're so stolid! You weren't like that before the djinn!" The stare only intensified. The draconequus rolled his eyes and sighed. "Very well..." Another click, and the girls disappeared... only to reappear by Rainbow Dash. She was in less of a hurry to complain.
Twilight, who had been watching this with an incredulous gawp, decided she'd had enough. "Discord!"
"But I feel like celebrating!"
Reluctantly, he frowned and nodded. "Alright..." Click. The phantom mares vanished, leaving Dash looking slightly disappointed.
Twilight furrowed her brow. "All of it."
"Ugh..." Click. The mariachi band disappeared in a flash of light, leaving just himself slouched over the banister.
"Now, at the risk of being rude..."
He was quick to take the hint. "Yes, once again I've overstayed my welcome. Before my brush with mortality I was ill-equipped to be personable with you, but for my continued existence you have my everlasting gratitude." She wasn't sure if the kiss he blew was sincere, or just a taunt. "Until next time!" The prospect of there even being a 'next time' made Twilight groan. "Ah, but... before I go. There's a debt I wish to repay... to all of you." Discord slunk from his perch, making a pass at the whole room, before settling behind Twilight's shoulder. "Think of it... as a going-away present." With another flash, he was gone, leaving not a trace.
Snort. That was unexpected. Twilight doubled over a second time, slightly confused about the smile that briefly crossed her lips. She looked around - her friends were just as bewildered as she was. Out of nowhere, Rarity let slip a little giggle. Applejack choked back a snicker. Behind her, Rainbow Dash had been holding her breath for a couple of seconds now, before finally losing her resolve and giving in to a hearty whoop of laughter. Before long, the whole room was in stitches.
"Why are we - hic - laughing?" Pinkie was just about able to manage between chuckles, before losing her grip and crashing to the floor in one of the unsorted heaps of books.
"I don't know!"
Minutes passed before they were finally able to settle down. Wiping a tear from her eye, Twilight steadied herself on a shelf, and turned back to her notes. "Oh, I haven't laughed like that in so long... that was... that was good." As Spike was recovering, another noise escaped him - a deep belch that knocked him on his rump, and a scroll materialised from the twist of green fire that resulted, landing with a bonk on the unicorn's head. The little dragon chuckled at the turnaround, from a petty incident a number of days ago that likely only he remembered. She shook herself off, picked the scroll off the floor, and unfurled it to read.
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
You've done it! The Great Bridge is ship-shape again, good as new. We don't know how you did it, but regardless, thank you.
Battenberg, Duke of Trottingham
"Well? What's it say?" Rainbow Dash asked.
Twilight quirked a brow and folded the message back up. "Hmm. There might be a... sliver of humanity in Discord after all." When she fired the scroll away to a nearby table, there was another flash. A lit cigar appeared in her empty hand, between two fingers, and in the smoke, Discord's face was looking at her.
"Don't bet on it, Sparkle."