The pale sun was just rising over Equestria when Fluttershy awoke in the morning. She was always up when her animals were, and that was usually the moment the golden beams of the sun peeked out from behind the distant hills.
A smile appeared on Fluttershy's face the moment she first heard the melodic chirping of birds singing from the outdoors. The tunes they were singing trailed off into abrupt squawks and a chorus of flapping sounds, but the door swung open before the pegasus had a chance to investigate.
"Oh, Fluttershyyy~! Are you up?"
Well that certainly explained where her birds went...
The mismatched creature hovered there in her doorway with an excited smile on his twisted muzzle as he flew in without asking, and plopped on the couch in front of the mare.
"Oh. Good morning, Discord," the pegasus greeted her friend politely, squeaking as he caused the couch to bounce them both. "What brings you here so early?"
"Oh, I thought I'd catch the morning sunrise, instead of turning the sun into a tangerine or something, like I'd normally do."
"That wouldn't really give off heat..."
Friends or not, there would always be a sliver of Fluttershy's mind that worried about him being free. He had used his powers for sinister purposes for eons, and even though the pegasus came to realize he really could be a sweetheart, she was well aware she was the only one stopping him from being who he was.
"How is your...training coming?" she asked quietly. "Refraining from causing chaos I mean..."
He heaved a theatrical sigh and fell limply over the pony's couch arm with his paw thrown to his forehead dramatically. "Oh, Fluttershy, it's simply dreadful!" His eyelashes batted with fake tears. "When you're a creature of chaos, stopping what you've done for centuries is quite the challenge. I'm not used the green grass and blue sky. It's been far too long. This morning several ducks walked by me and I didn't turn them into giant chickens!"
Shuddering at the thought, the saffron pony only gave the spirit a few gentle pats on his feline paw, and gave him a proud smile. "I'm glad you're trying. Twilight wants to start sending updates to the princess on how you're doing, and she'll be pleased to hear that."
The draconequus screwed up his face as if something was truly disgusting. Then again, Celestia was truly disgusting. "Well, the only thing that's keeping me somewhat sane is that I've developed a hobby. It at least keeps my mind occupied so I don't get any...'chaotic urges.'"
Fluttershy reluctantly followed the draconequus from where he was leading her to the doorway, a little nervous by what could greet her sight when he opened the door.
Everything seemed normal and un-touched by chaos at first sight. The grass was green, the tree trunks were brown, and for a moment, Fluttershy wondered what she was supposed to be looking at.
Then, a pink bunny hopped out of a bush—followed by a turquoise one with shades. Suddenly, dozens of little animals poked out their multi-colored faces from the leaves. Fluttershy squeaked in horror.
"Pet grooming!" Discord grinned, holding up several bottles of dye.
Discord wasn't feeling right. It was hard to explain how he was feeling so unwell, because technically, he was physically healthy. He wasn't sick, he didn't have a cold or the flu, but something in him just felt...off.
He couldn't explain it, but it felt as if something within him was waiting to break loose. What it was he didn't know, but the spirit merely chalked up the feelings to just wishing he could spread more chaos like the good old days.
The symptoms didn't go away, and in the period of the next two days, they only worsened. A deep, twisting feeling of worry formed at the pit of the spirit's stomach as he hid away in the clouds above Fluttershy's cottage. It was hard to explain it, but the spirit felt as if he should stay away from the ponies, where he would be able to ensure their safety.
Risk what happening? What was even wrong? A plethora of questions ran through the spirit's head, but he was interrupted by the feeling of someone gently landing on his cloud.
"Hello, Discord," Fluttershy politely greeted. She blinked when the draconequus seemed to scoot away from her, but she thought nothing of it. "My friends and I are planning on going for a nature walk today, and we'll be having a picnic and everything. Do you want to join us?"
Nature walk? Ponies to torment—but wait, he couldn't torment ponies anymore, or turn the birds they saw into feathered boas. The overwhelming feeling in his entire form was getting to be too much.
"I'll pass, but thanks," the spirit told her, turned away so he didn't see her disheartened expression. "I'm not feeling good today."
That immediately flicked on the pegasus's nurturing alarm bells as she flew up to him and felt his face with her hoof. "Oh no, are you sick? You don't seem to have a fever... Is your tummy sore? Do you have a headache? Do your eyes hurt?"
He grunted and shook her away as she stretched his eyelids to look into his annoyed, vermillion irises. Batting the pesky pony off his snout, he snorted at her in a huff.
"You seem fine to me," Fluttershy frowned. "Are you just saying you're not feeling good to get out of seeing my friends again?"
Truthfully he did feel...off, but he certainly didn't want to see those annoying ponies again. They were only fun when they were his puppets. He didn't care if the lot of them vanished off the face of the earth for good. What Fluttershy saw in them was beyond him...
"Fresh air is good when you aren't feeling good," the pegasus said with a smile. "Come on the nature walk with us. You and my friends need to see each other more if you ever want to become friends."
When would she get it through her head that he loathed those mares and always would?
"Hrmmph, fine, since you asked so nicely." The spirit begrudgingly forced himself off the cloud and gave in to his friend's wishes.
By the end of the day, they would all learn that would be a fatal mistake.
Being in stone was preferable over theses dull ponies' idea of fun. At least in stone he had peace and quiet, and never needed to worry about being bothered by any meddlesome creatures (save for the birds that used his statue as their toilet).
They had all been walking for an hour, but that wasn't the problem. For one, Discord could float, or fly, or whatever transportation he pleased. It was their incessant chatter about the birds and the squirrels, and—oh! Mustn't forget the pretty flowers Rarity wanted to use for her designs. Gag, gag, gag, gag, gag.
I wonder if Princess Tightflank would have the mercy to turn me back to stone. Who was he kidding, Celestia wanted him to suffer. If she knew he hated spending time with the girls, she'd make sure he spent every waking moment with them.
"Fluttershy, look. It's the Scarlet Winged Bird you've been wanting to find!"
Through a thicket of trees perched a ruby colored bird; so red it practically glowed. It preened its feathers with its black beak, unaware of the six pairs of eyes staring at her beautiful form.
"Oh, it's so gorgeous," Fluttershy whispered excitedly. "Have you ever seen anything so pretty?"
Discord hung over the pony's shoulder, staring blankly at the little avian. In his opinion, a fire breathing chicken was cooler. Those were only found closer to Tartarus though...
"I just need one more photo and I'll have completed my book of exotic birds. Pinkie, do you have your camera?"
The peppy pony happily held up the box-like contraption hanging around her neck and poked her face through the flowery bush. It was lost on Discord what was so interesting about a fluffy bird, but he poked his twisted muzzle through the branches anyway.
Unbeknownst to the three bird watchers, a golden glow began to emanate around Discord's talon without permission from its owner. The sick feeling the draconequus had earlier returned, and he only had a brief moment to glance at his talon before something summoned right beside the bird.
A rubber horn, floating beside the raven, sounded loudly in the air. It started both the bird and the ponies, the bright flash from the camera not helping the situation. The bird hurriedly flew off while Pinkie Pie stared at her developing photo.
Fluttershy snatched the photo, praying for even a glimpse of the rare bird in the photo, but it was nothing but a blurred motion of leaves and frenzied flapping. Angrily, she dropped the photo.
"D...Discord! I don't know when I'll ever see that bird again!"
The baffled spirit stared at the angered pegasus, and glanced back down at his talon. It was still glowing, and it wouldn't stop. "But Fluttershy, I didn't..."
Huffing furiously, the pegasus forced some calmness to come to her. This was Discord after all, and they all knew redemption was going to be a struggle for him. A few slip ups and lapses in behavior was only natural.
"That's okay," she said kindly, "I know you're trying, and I'm sure I'll see the raven some other time. How about we all break for lunch?"
The six ponies laid out food on a checkered blanket, and as tempted as Discord was to join them, he stayed at a safe distance above in a cloud. The ominous feeling was tighter in the spirit's gut, making him wish to be anywhere else but there at the moment.
"I brought some candy!" Pinkie Pie slammed a rather large gumball machine onto the picnic blanket, in between the plates of vegetables and sandwiches. "For dessert!"
Twilight Sparkle blinked. "Gum for dessert? That doesn't seem like it'll be very filling..."
Feeling his talon pulse with power, Discord watched as his magic enchanted the mini machine, and it started immediately bouncing about. Candy balls began shooting out in all directions, like rainbow colored projectiles. The ponies squealed and ducked from the deadly weapons.
Clapping a paw to his mouth, Discord immediately began giggling, repressing the louder waves of laughter at the hilariously shocked expression's on the ponies' faces. The six pairs of eyes shot up to glare at him, but it only made him laugh more.
"Discord, stop it," Fluttershy warned him. "That's enough for today. We're trying to picnic in peace."
"I-I didn't do it," the spirit giggled. His amusement was laced with genuine confusion as he gazed down at his glowing talon.
Rarity clutched a dish close to her protectively and glared at Discord. "I spent all morning on this raspberry crumble, so he better not do anything to ruin it!"
"Oh, don't worry, Rarity," the saffron pegasus gently assured, "Nothing will happen to your delicious crumble, I promise you." Strict, teal eyes slid up to glare at the draconequus lounging above them. "Right, Discord?"
The draconequus was silent. Oh, how he'd love to turn that treat into a delectable, worm-squirming mud pie, but he knew he couldn't risk doing anything else to tick off his friend. He was already skating on pretty thin ice with her. However, he wasn't sure if he could keep his promise. His magic seemed to have a mind of its own today.
"Oh, y-yes, right," the spirit mumbled quietly, wondering if stuffing his talon far enough in the cloud would smother his magic. "I won't do anything to harm Miss Fashionista's precious and boring concoction."
He could tell the frown the girl gave him meant she wasn't entirely accepting of his answer, but really, what did she expect of him?
His talon was so bright with power by this point that it illuminated the entire cloud. In three brief flashes, Applejack's hat became a sombrero, Rarity's crumble came to life, and the picnic basket whinnied and started galloping away.
"What the hay!" Applejack cried, flinging her sombrero to the ground as if it was on fire. "I thought he was going to be good!"
"He is, he is!" Fluttershy cried, dodging Rarity's crumble as it tried to take a bite out of her mane. "Discord, stop it NOW!"
The spirit was nearing tears from laughing so hard, which probably wasn't doing much to prove his innocence. Whether he was controlling it or not, this was just hysterical! "Bahahahaha, oh that's pr-pr-hice-less!" He stopped his giggles abruptly, snarling as he gripped and shook his talon. "Stop it!"
"Now you listen here and you listen good, mister!" The steamed Fluttershy flew up to the spirit, inches away Discord's face. "I've been patient up until now, but you've been really naughty and I've had it up to here! Knock it off or there will be consequences!"
Discord was too busy scrambling away to roll his eyes at the notion he was being scolded like a little boy. The pulsating magic in his palm was becoming so intense it was almost hurting, and every step Discord took trying to get away from her, Fluttershy loomed closer.
"Fluttershy, get away from me!" the spirit snapped out desperately. "Something is wr-"
An explosion of hot, golden light sent the pegasus spiraling off the cloud, landing several feet below, hard on her back. The girl's fur was visibly charred, parts of it reeking from burns. For the first time in his life, Discord felt genuine terror, his stomach growing ice cold as his heart constricted.
"FLUTTERSHY!" The spirit darted down to the ground, shoving aside the rest of the crowding ponies as he reached for his friend. The girl whimpered, tears pooling into her eyes. Discord extended a trembling paw to touch her, but before he even could, he found himself flat on his back as he got shoved away.
"Fluttershy, darling! Oh Equestria, somepony get her off the ground there!"
Fluttershy fought with every ounce of her being to keep the tears at bay, but a sensitive pony like her had no chance against the water that welled in her eyes and spilled down her dirty face.
Rainbow Dash spared a moment from the ordeal to give Discord the most murderous glare he had ever seen. "You lowlife, little..." she snarled. She reeled back a hoof to punch him, but Twilight stopped her.
"Rainbow, now is not the time!" She turned her disgusted and loathing eyes to the spirit. "Get us back to the cottage, Discord!"
He truly didn't want to risk it. It was better they all just walked her back rather than risk them all disintegrating into pieces if he tried to teleport them. Knowing the steamed mares weren't willing to listen to reason, the spirit shakily snapped his fingers and hoped for the best.
Thankfully arriving at the cottage rather than the middle of a volcano, the ponies immediately set to work. Discord hovered above, trying to do everything he could to help. The ponies wouldn't even let him near his friend.
"Take it easy there, Hon," Applejack soothed the whimpering pegasus as she gently began wrapping her burns with gauze. "Ya ain't hurt real bad, just a mild burn here and there. Don't worry...we ain't ever letting Discord harm ya ever again."
The spirit's ears fell limply to the sides of his head, and he swallowed. "But I..." He leaned back as he suddenly found his vermillion eyes practically rammed against seething amethyst.
"You even try it and you'll be dealing with me," Rainbow Dash snarled. "I don't care if you're the master of chaos or not, I'll tear you to shreds if you ever hurt one of my friends..."
"D-Dashie, that's enough," Fluttershy quietly pleaded.
"I'll join ya on that," Applejack hissed darkly. "Hogtie him and feed him to the pigs. They're omnivores, ya know."
Normally Discord wouldn't take this. Anyone that was stupid enough to talk to the god of chaos like this would probably be a toad right about now, or a snack for a toad. However, reformed Discord wasn't allowed to do that, and even if he was, he wouldn't be able to as he felt himself crumble under the glares and the pained mewls of his friend.
"N-no!" he cried. "No, you don't understand!"
"We don't understand what?!" Rainbow Dash snarled. "That you've been playing us again? You've done it multiple times, who's to stop you from doing it again?! You've done nothing but cause misery all day to everyone—like usual!"
The distraught spirit felt his throat begin to tighten in knots, his eyes starting to sting. "Listen to me! It's not my fault!"
"Not your fault, eh?" Applejack snapped. "Well then ya can tell us who's it is cause we didn't throw any dangerous magic at her!"
"But I couldn't control it!" Discord cried. His speech by this point was hardly understandable as his throat closed off, siphoning off air and any attempt to get a word out. "You don't understand!"
"Girls, stop it!" Fluttershy gasped, both with pain and horror. "Leave him alone!" She knew Discord was nearing his breaking point, and that could go in any catastrophic direction.
"J-just let me—I can..." Not even able to form a proper sentence and desperate to help, Discord gained control of his power enough to lift a pitcher of water Twilight was reaching. Instead of tipping it into a glass like he meant to, the entire pitcher combusted in the air. The ponies screamed and covered their faces in the ground, while a terrified Fluttershy hid under the covers.
Horrified, and not even able to say a word, the shaking spirit backed up with a hand to his mouth.
The girls slowly uncovered their faces and rose from the floor, shielding the pegasus from the spirit as she tried to see over them, and Rainbow Dash stalked furiously toward him. Discord actually backed up.
"No, we understand just fine," the cyan pegasus snarled, giving the draconequus a shove with every step she took. "And if you think you're ever going near Fluttershy again, well you better re-think that! We may not be able to put you in stone, but we can at least keep Fluttershy safe from you!"
The sheer anguish in the spirit's eyes was almost too much for Fluttershy to take. She wanted to reach out to him so badly, but her friends kept her back, and she didn't have the strength to fight them.
"But I never meant it!"
Rainbow Dash gave him a final shove, nearly sending him toppling back over a stool. "You can pretend all you want, but we know who you are! And what you'll always be!" Her face darkened with hate. "Rotten to the core."
The words hit him like a slap, slowly sinking into his mind.
He was evil.
He was a monster, and he was dangerous. Who was he kidding? He wasn't meant to have friends. The only thing Discord could do was destroy things, and that included friendships. It was foolish to think he could ever be anything different.
The world blurred behind his eyelids as the tears seeped into them and filled them to the brim. He attempted to mumble something out, but all that came out was an intelligible squeak as the draconequus finally broke and instantly teleported.
"No!" Fluttershy gasped, staring at the spot he had just been in. Her heart broke. "I don't believe you girls! How could you all say such mean things to him?" Her glare was pointed at Rainbow. "You really hurt his feelings!"
The cyan pegasus spluttered in shock, as if she couldn't even comprehend what she heard. "We hurt his feelings? He hurt your entire body! Besides, who says he even has feelings?"
"He has feelings! You all hurt them..." Fluttershy kept her teal eyes trained to the empty spot, but the spirit didn't reappear. She didn't know where he had gone and had no way of knowing. Currently, with her body charred and raw, she certainly didn't feel like searching.
"Fluttershy, I know you want to see the good in Discord," Twilight began quietly, trying to approach the sensitive subject carefully. "But he is still who he is: the spirit of chaos and disharmony. Who's to say he isn't relapsing?"
"I am," the pony said firmly. "I believe he isn't relapsing. He didn't mean to hurt me; you could see the pain in his face when it happened. I don't think he could control it."
Rainbow Dash gave a dubious snort and crossed her hooves over her chest. "He's been able to control everything he does up to this point. Why all of a sudden is it so hard for him?"
"I don't know," the pegasus responded, lifting her head as Angel bunny slipped a cushion under her head. As ridiculous as they all found it, she believed him. She knew he hadn't injured her intentionally, and she needed to find him. She couldn't stand the thought that he was somewhere alone and thinking everyone hated him.
And beyond that, a heartbroken draconequus was a dangerous draconequus.