Here it is, the long beginning of the final installment of the "We're The Same!" series, which is probably the most random thing I've ever written lol. I hope you enjoy!

We're the Same!: Triple Threats and Epithets

Chapter 1:

OOREV Official One Year Anniversary Celebration Extravaganza

"Okay, okay, everyone, no need crowd—here comes your host, Discord, with fresh snacks straight from the kitchen!" Grinning, Discord flew past the banner over to the doorway of his kitchen that read: Official Top Secret OOREV One Year Anniversary Celebration Extravaganza—Happy Club Anniversary!" He passed between his many guests who were chatting, eating, and drinking punch. They each waved to him as he went by, and Discord waved in return—and also made sure to call out some encouraging remarks to the newer, still somewhat reserved, members of his organization.

"Fizzle, still love the cropped mane—very chic." Fizzle (formerly Tempest Shadow) gave him a quick salute and small smile before returning to her conversation with Twi and Sunset Shimmer.

"Stygian! You getting to know Smooze? Good, good…"

Stygian smiled at Discord, and Smooze waved his slime head in Discord's direction.

"Chancellor Neighsay! Hey, out of curiosity does this organization meet EEA Guidelines?"

Neighsay only laughed at the joke and then continued a lively chat with a smiling Thorax.

"Ah, and Pharynx—I know this party is probably a little lighthearted for you, but how often do one year anniversaries come around, am I right?"

Pharynx maintained a stern gaze but gave a nod to Discord. Trixie and Starlight, seated on either side of him on the sofa, waved over at Discord with smiles.

Discord finally got to the snack table and set down his fresh platters of treats then turned back to observe the full party. He'd never hosted a full house like this before for a celebration. But with all the new members OOREV had acquired over the last year and all the personal breakthroughs they had made together, a party seemed more than due.

But of course thinking of new members made Discord think of old members, which made him snap up a pocket watch and glance at it. Though the watch hands just ran back and forth in opposite directions and each of the hours just had a picture of Discord's face, he still tisked at the sight of the time. "Hmm, where could my Vice President be? She should have arrived two bowls of punch ago." He snapped away the watch and cleared his throat. "Attention, OOREV members!"

Everyone in the room sighed but replied at the same time with smiles, "Yes, President Discord?"

He beamed: the title was music to his ears. "I just have to pop out for a quick errand, but I'll be right back. Enjoy yourselves! Try not to miss me too much! And if you need more punch, ask Twi to magic it up."

Twi frowned and adjusted her glasses. "But…I still make things explode when I try to use my horn."

"I know! And it's hilarious!" Discord chuckled then waved as Twi finally cracked a smile again. He went to snap himself way…but suddenly a portal appeared behind him that quickly sucked him in.

To the other guests it just seemed like one of Discord's dramatic exits, so they all shrugged and went back to mingling.

Someone had used a summoning spell on him. No one had used one of those in quite a while; not since before the Tirek incident.

Discord found himself in a hallway in the Canterlot castle right outside the door to Celestia's study. And there was Luna.

Discord grinned. "Hey Moonie, what's the big idea? Shouldn't I be the one summoning you for the party for OOR—"

Luna put a hoof over his mouth, her voice low. "I'm sorry, Discord, but we have a situation. I tried to discuss it with Celestia on our own, but she insisted that—"

And then the study door opened, revealing Celestia.

Luna took her hoof from Discord's mouth and smiled just before Celestia caught sight of them. "Sister, look, tis Discord!" Luna pointed at him

"Wonderful!" Celestia smiled and came forward to take Discord's arm in her hoof and pull him inside. "Come in, Come in!"

A bewildered Discord went along with her as Luna sighed and followed after them, closing the door behind her.

Their usual table was arranged with tea, plates, and cookies. Celestia took a seat and magically pulled out Luna's and Discord's for them. "I know we don't have an OOLLA meeting until the end of the month, but something's come up and I need to call an emergency one, I think. I hope you weren't busy with anything, Discord."

"Uh…" Discord's mind flashed back to his house full of reformed villains. "Oh, er, I can spare a few minutes. What's up, Celestia?" He grinned a little. "And if you plan to grill me again for info about when I'm launching the surprise retirement party I clearly need to throw for you two, it won't work. I want you to be utterly flabbergasted by the whole thing."

Celestia laughed but shook her head. "No, it's about something more pressing actually." She shuffled her hooves on the table. "I had a visit from Starswirl yesterday, and he told me he's been sensing certain shifts in Equestria's magical field and he suspects that, well…that some of its most powerful beings have been gathering regularly and in secret lately."

Luna, with a dry look, caught Discord's tea cup with her magic just as he dropped it, his eyes wide. "Ah—I see," the chaos master replied carefully. "And, er, how certain did Starbeard the Swirleded, I mean SwirlBell the Starded, I mean Starswirl the Bearded sound about this theory exactly?"

Luna brought a hoof to her forehead. Discord slumped in his chair and deeply lamented how horrible he'd gotten at lying since his reform (or at least at lying without some time to prepare, and especially to Celestia who'd gotten so chummy with him lately).

"Very certain," Celestia replied, "though he couldn't tell who exactly the creatures were who are gathering—which is good news." She smiled, blushing a little. "It means our club is still a secret, though I admit it was flattering having him sense so much power from just the three of us. I told him that he might be sensing Twilight and the girls coming into their own innate magic even more, and I hoped he would move on from the situation. But he's pretty stubborn."

"To be fair, he had to be to teach Celestia and I when we were younger—if he wasn't stubborn, we wouldn't have learned a thing, " Luna added. "But regardless, my sister tells me that apparently Starswirl insists on continuing his investigations into this 'gathering of powerful creatures' phenomenon until he finds a definitive answer."

"I see." Discord reclined back in his seat a little, his composure returned. "Well, so he'll probably snoop around Canterlot and Equestria a bit… right? After all, it's a phenomenon he says he's found, nothing more. Equestria's full of those. I'm sure he'll get bored with this one eventually."

Celestia sighed. "But Starswirl is convinced now that creatures of power gathering in secret could mean a threat to Equestria."

Discord scowled—he couldn't help it.

Luna noticed and quickly cleared her throat. "And I told you, Celestia, that assumption seems terribly great. Perhaps if you and I just go over with him how stable Equestria has been over the last thousand years, he will abandon the notion."

"I wish he would, but there is one other problem." Celestia looked down. "What he's sensing—he says it's hard to tell where it's coming from, but some of the magic seems evil."

"Well, I think Starswirl needs to get off his high horse and stop acting like the white knight Equestria needs," Discord grumbled, arms crossed.

Celestia raised an eyebrow but then blinked and frowned. "Discord, he couldn't be sensing your magic and thinking it's evil. No matter what happened in the past." She reached across the table and placed her hoof on his hand. "And even if he is making that mistake, it's no reflection on you. You're a wonderful person and a very dear friend—Luna and I wouldn't even have this club if it weren't for you." She smiled again. "And if your reputation ever needs defending, no matter where Luna and I are on our retirement adventures, I'll come right to your side and be the first one to stand up for you."

Such a proclamation, and her calming touch, got Discord to smile again. "Oh, it… it's okay, Sunny, really. I'm sure it's not me he's sensing. And even if he is, like you said, it's all just a misunderstanding."

"Exactly. But Discord, I really don't think it's you—which is what concerns me." Celestia removed her hoof and her smile fell. "What if there really is a group of villains gathering somewhere?"

"Oh…" Discord took a deep breath, "I…" His eyes went to Luna.

Luna looked pretty uneasy herself but finally spoke again. "I really can't imagine such a threat as that attacking to Equestria, especially considering all the former ne'er-do-wells we've reformed. But perhaps we can look into this matter more during our next OOLLA meeting together?"

Celestia shook her head. "Starswirl won't wait that long. And I don't want him going through the trouble of investigating something that might be nothing—or worse, stumbling upon a threat all on his own with no one to help him. I'd like us to do something about this now. Starswirl has developed a way to track the source of the magical shifts. If we could accompany him, maybe we could all get to the bottom of the problem together. He wouldn't have to know we're a club of course—just the pony sisters with assistance. From Discord." She smiled at Discord. "And this would give Starswirl a chance to get to know you, Discord."

Discord felt like he was about to break into a sweat. "I just remembered I've got something burning in the ice box!" He flew up, putting on the best, most unsuspicious smile he could manage. "I should get home—now! Luna, could you join me momentarily to assist with the dirty dishes in the oven?"

Dryly, Luna replied, "You mean the 'something burning in the ice box'?"

"Sure, yes, fine! You know me, lots of wacky, chaotic stuff going on at my place. Can't even keep up with it half the time!" He wiped his brown and grinned far too much to not seem nervous.

Celestia raised an eyebrow at first, watching Discord and her sister for a moment. But then she blinked and stood with a small smile. "If there's something important you need to tend to, then of course go take care of it. But I told Starswirl we'd join him in a few minutes, and I'd really like you two to come along. Please?"

Discord hesitated. She looked so hopeful, and she'd said please so gently. Why was it so hard to say no to her these days when a thousand years ago saying no to her had been one of his greatest pleasures?

Luna came toward Celestia with a gentle smile. "We will be with you very shortly, sister." Celestia's smile returned and she nodded. Then Luna turned back to Discord. "Let us be off, Discord, to tend to the shenanigans of your kitchen, as it were."

Discord breathed a sigh of relief and snapped them both away.

Celestia watched them go with an interested smile, though she soon looked down with a worried sigh.

Luna and Discord appeared in Discord's kitchen.

Discord grabbed onto Luna's shoulders and spoke in a hushed voice as the sounds of the party continued in the living room. "That wizard is smart, stubborn, and powerful—he could actually pull off finding us! And we cannot have a suspicious and ready-to-strike Starswirl the Bearded stumble into my cottage full of reformed villains! There's no way to explain that situation without revealing the secret of the club, and there's no way to reveal the secret of the club to Starswirl without it coming off as some pathetic ruse to hide our 'treachery' to that paranoid old coot!"

He was breathing pretty heavily now, and Luna had to put her hooves on his arms. "Discord, calm down, we'll handle this."

"And why today? Why during the Official One Year Anniversary Celebration Extravaganza!" He pulled away from her and paced (across the floor, up one wall, over the ceiling, down the other wall). "I really needed a good party too after that whole Sombra scare!"

"And we can still have one," Luna assured with a smile. "We just have to be careful. And if worse comes to worse and we are confronted and must explain about the club, I'm sure Starswirl would agree to keep it a secret."

"That's not the point though." Discord snapped and flung himself back onto a cotton candy cloud that appeared. "This club is a safe space for these creatures: a place where you can go and know you aren't being judged about your past, a place where you can be yourself without the whole world gawking at you." He frowned at Luna. "I don't want them all to lose that. It's my responsibility to take care of them as president."

Luna was smiling a lot now. "Worrying over your subjects—you have become a true leader, Discord."

"Don't remind me." He rolled his eyes but sat up and snapped away the cloud. "And sheesh if I'd known leading was this stressful I would have left you and Celestia to the throne long ago."

Luna chuckled. "Discord, here's what we'll do. I'll return to my sister and assist her with Starswirl. Hopefully their journey does not lead them here and Starswirl is just being a little too worrisome lately. But if not, I'll try to convince him that perhaps we should just put energy into fortifying our own defenses rather than seeking out a threat that is not even confirmed. Meanwhile, you stay here and entertain the guests, enjoy yourself, and let everyone have their nice day together."

Discord frowned. "But you should get to enjoy the party too, Luna. Everyone's been asking for you, and you've barely met the new recruits yet. I cut loose all the time in real life but you deserve a chance to here. And anyway," he blushed a little, "it seemed really important to Celestia that I come along. I don't want to disappoint her."

Luna's smile softened. "I'm sure she'd understand, Discord."

Discord only pouted though and held his head high. "Afraid the answer's no. So I'm pulling rank, Luna. As president I order you to stay here and tend the party. I'll be the one going off to put Starswirl and Celestia off the scent. Besides, I don't like the idea of him even suggesting my club is evil."

"Discord, you do not need to prove anything to Starswirl." Luna rolled her eyes. "You've already proven yourself to everyone else in your life. And if Starswirl has a problem with you then he has a problem with Celestia and I as well." She winked.

Discord's smile returned. "I'll keep that in mind." He snapped—a table full of snack platters and punch bowls appeared in the kitchen. "Here, you're fully stocked. I'll try to finish up this escapade as soon as possible and get back here. Then maybe you and Tia and I can have an OOLLA meeting tomorrow or something to square everything away."

Luna nodded and waved. "Take care, Discord—let me know if you require assistance."

With a wave and a snap of his fingers, Discord appeared.

Just as he left, the kitchen door opened—Starlight, Trixie, Twi, and Sunset appeared.

"Princess Luna!" Twi raced forward and hugged her. "I've missed you!" She pulled back, smiling.

Starlight glanced around. "I thought we heard Discord in here."

"Yeah," Trixie nodded, "our lovable president's obnoxious tone is kind of hard to miss."

"I'm afraid he had to pop out once more," Luna replied. "But I am here now to facilitate the party in his stead."

Sunset dashed up to her. "Does that mean that our surprise for Discord can happen? We were worried we wouldn't be able to pull it off when we didn't see you at the party."

Luna's eyes brightened. "Of course—I almost forgot! In fact, this situation will be much easier with Discord gone for a while. Instead of me distracting him while you secretly bake him a surprise cake in the kitchen to celebrate his presidency, all of you can have free rein in here for the task."

"Great!" Starlight made a scroll appear. "Smooze designed the cake—three layers but with the smallest layer on the bottom. As long as we stick to his notes about structure, it should stay together."

"He is surprisingly good at drawing precise diagrams," Trixie had to comment. "Starlight and I will be able to bake it in no time." They hoof bumped.

"Then Twi and I can decorate it!" Sunset pulled Twi close. "Or, I'll decorate but Twi can mix the frosting. She's getting a lot better with hooves." Twi nodded.

"Perfect." Luna used her magic to create a cart. "You can use this to wheel out the cake when it's time. And I shall provide the candles later. Meanwhile, I shall be out among the party."

"Twi and I will join you." Sunset trotted after Luna, Twi following behind. She glanced at the others. "Let us know once the cake is done being baked."

Starlight and Trixie winked then got to work making bowls and ingredients appear.

The other three mares headed out into the party, which grew lively again now that Sunset and Twilight were back mingling with some of the newer guests. These less familiar members made Luna feel a little shy but she put on a proud smile and walked forward.

Seeing everyone around her, she couldn't help but be unsurprised that Starswirl was sensing something big: the magic of every creature in here combined was overwhelming to consider. First thing was first then—she would have to discreetly put up a barrier around the cottage to mask the amount of power it held. Her horn started to glow, but—

"Princess Luna!" Stygian came up to her, smiling. "It's so good to see you. I don't have the pleasure often. Thank you again for extending me an invitation to your club."

She unpowered her horn and smiled gently at him. "Of course, Stygian. You seemed an ideal candidate. I hope you are enjoying the party."

"Very much so!" He nodded. "I've almost learned Smooze's language and all of his abilities. Oh what an asset he would have been during Equestria's early days."

Luna chuckled. "Indeed. He has proven a most interesting compatriot."

"Yes." Stygian held out his hoof. "Would you like to join us? I was just talking to him about beauty of old ponish and how aspects of the language are not dissimilar to his own. I know I can always count on you for a good conversation about classic vernacular."

Luna bit her lip—one of her favorite parts of this club was indeed the chance to have discussions with creatures who had existed back in the past as she herself had. And she loved classic vernacular. But she had to shake her head with a polite smile. "Nay, thank you for the offer but I'm afraid I have to attend to some matters for the party in Discord's stead. Though I would be happy to engage in the conversation at another time. Feel free to write to me at the castle whenever you wish."

"Of course." Stygian bowed. "Arthank enue, Luna."

Luna lowered her head and replied in old ponish. "Arthank enue, Stygian."

The separated and Luna continued through the room—her goal was the window where she could make sure to watch her spell take effect and also not be seen by any other creatures while casting it.

"Princess Luna!"

Luna paused and turned, still with her welcoming smile, as two new ponies approached. "Chancellor Neighsay, Tempest Shadow."

"Er…" 'Tempest' cleared her throat, "actually, here I've decided to go by Fizzle."

"Yes, of course." Luna nodded. "My apologies. Are you both enjoying yourselves?"

"I'll admit," Neighsay rubbed his chin, "when I first learned about this group I thought it was a bit unorthodox—and that I might not quite qualify since I didn't try to take over Equestria. But I see now this club is less about villainy and more about forgiving yourself for past mistakes." He cleared his throat. "I've also appreciated the chance to get to know some other creatures while here."

"I'm glad to hear you're taking advantage of this helpful opportunity." Luna glanced to Fizzle. "And you, Fizzle?"

Fizzle glanced around. "I appreciate any chance to learn more about parties. This is the second one I've been to in my life. It is…informative to see how many other creatures have mistakes to manage." She gestured to Neighsay. "The chancellor and I were just discussing academic policies. I may start working as an advisor for the EEA to improve support for students with different abilities." Her horn stub sparked. "Would you care to weigh in?"

Policies—another of Luna's favorite topics. But she remained strong. "Normally, yes, but I have an urgent matter to attend to for the party. Though perhaps we could set up a meeting in Canterlot sometime to go over any ideas you have. I think your collaboration concept is wonderful."

"I'll look forward to it, Princess." Neighsay bowed.

Fizzle lowered her head. "As will I, Princess Luna."

They both smiled, and Luna smiled and bowed in return before she turned and continued her journey. Finally the window was before her. Luna approached, opened it, and gazed out into the ether. Celestia spent evenings here sometimes catching up with Discord and often remarked at how interesting it was to look up at the chaos that served as a sky for Discord. Celestia visiting him here seemed to be her way of growing a personal relationship with Discord since she had accepted that sometimes Luna and he went off together without explanation. And the situation seemed to make both parties quite happy. Discord wasn't as much of a flustered mess around her, and Celestia wasn't as preoccupied with thinking about him.

As Luna powered her horn, she hoped for success in Discord's mission to keep their club a secret. The members as well as Discord, Celestia and Luna had found a good balance together. Why disturb a situation where everyone was already happy?

Luna released the spell and watched as her magic's aura surrounded the cottage then dissipate to make the covering invisible. She nodded to herself then turned back to face the inside of the room.

She came face to face with a stern blue changeling.

Luna blinked. "Er…hello—Pharynx, I don't think we've been formally introduced. I'm Princess Luna, and it is a pleasure to meet Thorax's brother—"

"You're setting up a perimeter." He tilted his head, gaze still stern. "Why?"

Luna's eyes widened. "I, er…" she glanced around the room—at least the others didn't seem to notice the current conversation.

"Relax," Pharynx assured in a low voice, "I'm not in the habit of starting panics by revealing the use of defensive fortifications. I won't even press you for details about the threat. I just want to know if you need help—and I want assurance that the club members are safe."

Luna released a breath. She kept her voice low too. "Thank you, Pharynx. But I promise there is no threat; just a small chance that some non-club members may pass by. The anonymity of the club and its members is crucial, so I simply set up a field to dampen the readings of our magic. We should be fine. But if the situation changes I'll lead the club through additional precautionary steps. For now though I would simply prefer not to disturb the party." She smiled.

Pharynx gave a single nod and saluted with one hoof. "Of course, Princess. But if you do require additional help, I am at your service."

Luna's smile grew. "I shall call upon you if the need arises, Prince Pharynx."

Pharynx's poise finally faltered—he blinked several times then cleared his throat. "Pardon, Princess, but I'm afraid you're giving me a rank that's above me."

"But your brother is King." Luna tilted her head to the side. "Surely you are due a title as well."

"I'm less of a ruler and more of a soldier."

"I see. And I understand. Perhaps, then Commander Pharynx would be more suitable," she suggested.

"I suppose," he shrugged but then quickly resumed his stern look. "But at an affair as informal as a party in a mutual acquaintance's home, just Pharynx is fine."

"Then just Luna is fine for me," Luna assured with a nod of her head.

"Yes, ma'am." Pharynx saluted again.

"Pharynx, there you are!" Thorax trotted over with a smile. "Oh good, you finally got a chance to talk to Princess Luna! I knew you'd like this club, Pharynx: there are so many fun friends to meet."

"Yeah, well," Pharynx finally grinned, "you were sneaking off once a month for something, and you're terrible at lying. I'll admit at first I thought it was a girl, but this is a lot more interesting."

Thorax blushed and lowered his head shyly. "Pharynx, I wouldn't sneak off with a girl. I've just been talking to them a little more—Luna helped me with that."

Luna blushed too. "Er, I merely encouraged Thorax to feel free to approach all manner of changeling to engage in conversation. Tis a long story." Luna really hoped she wouldn't have to explain about Thorax's awkward obligatory attempt to court her so long ago

"Really?" Pharynx seemed pensive for a moment but then he cleared his throat and shook his head. "I see. Well, thank you for helping Thorax, Luna—he's been much less of a spazz lately since he joined this club." He reached up and gave Thorax a noogie.

"Hey!" Thorax squirmed but got free and smiled. "Very funny."

There was the sound of a small explosion from the kitchen, after which black smoke proceeded to filter out from under the door. The party stopped for a moment and everyone looked to the kitchen.

Then everyone looked at Twi.

She blinked and shrugged. "I didn't do that explosion. I was out here."

Luna's eyes widened and she dashed over to the kitchen door, addressing the crowd as she went. "Er, surprise every creature—we are preparing a special, secret, appreciation cake for Discord to celebrate his presidency. When he comes back please don't mention anything. And I'll see what the matter is in the kitchen."

Everyone smiled and nodded then went back to chatting.

Luna sighed deeply and opened the kitchen door.

Starlight was covered in black ash, and Trixie stood there clean but with her jaw dropped. The bowl Starlight was mixing no longer held any batter as it was now scattered all over the kitchen.

Trixie's eyes met Luna and she smiled sheepishly. "Heh, er…perhaps the great and powerful Trixie should have just added baking powder by hoof instead of using a leavening spell on the batter." She pointed at Starlight. "It was Starlight's idea."

Starlight frowned. "It was my idea to use the spell, not to have you use it."

Trixie scowled.

Before a fight could break out (or before Luna could see too much of herself and Celestia in the bickering of these two friends), Luna powered her horn and in a flash, cleaned up the room, cleaned up Starlight, and reset all of the ingredients neatly on the counter. "There, please just start over and do your best. No magic; just simple baking."

Both mares nodded, their smiles returning.

With a deep sigh Luna turned and headed out of the kitchen, ready to face the perils of the party once more.

Discord had snapped himself back to Celestia's study, and from there Celestia had led him out to the grounds to wait for Starswirl. For the last few minutes now, the chaos master lounged in the air while Celestia paced.

"Tia, are you really this nervous?" Discord raised an eyebrow at her. "Come on, we're just going to supervise Starswirl on a paranoid mission to save Equestria from an unidentified force that might not exist. Considering the lives we've lead, this barely cracks 'boring' for us both."

"I'm not nervous." Celestia let out a calming breath, but paced again, "I just wish Luna were here too. I'm sorry she was too tired to join."

Discord glanced away and tried not to feel too bad about the little fib. He shrugged with a smile. "Well, hey, you've got me. Come on, three of Equestria's historical figures coming together. Hey, maybe we can convince Starswirl to drop this mission and just go to a cider mill for a few pints. Celestia, Discord, and Starswirl walk into a bar—sounds like the beginning of a great joke." He chuckled.

Celestia smiled too but then lowered her head a little (and finally stopped pacing). "Discord, I should tell you something before he gets here."

"Is it about his outfit? Because, believe me, I've mentally prepared myself to keep the bell jokes to a minimum."

"No." She smiled a little more but then glanced at him sheepishly and shrugged. "Starswirl…kind of didn't like it when I told him I'd invited you along." She cleared her throat. "Not that he thinks you're evil, but he doesn't know the reformed you and he's got a really clear memory of what you put him and us through a thousand years ago."

Discord hesitated a moment. Then he raised an eyebrow. "If it's really a problem you could have just explained and uninvited me."

Celestia blinked. "Never." She smiled and moved closer. "Discord, you're my friend and I like spending time with you. And you can be helpful, especially since you can sense different creatures' magic. I know this quest won't be boring because you're coming along. I wouldn't uninvite you for the world."

Discord's chest puffed up as did his ego as he landed. Then he grinned and flew close to her. "Did you explain yourself to Starswirl so passionately?"

She giggled. "No, I had to be more firm and straightforward with him. But it's all the truth. I'm happy when you're around."

Discord felt happy when she was around too. But he also felt like trying to say those words would be the most awkward experience to have.

Thankfully (more or less) he was saved from this internal debate by a flash of magic and the sudden appearance of Starswirl the Bearded himself, standing a few feet back from between them.

"Celestia, pardon me for being late—I wanted to review a few defensive spells and gather an artifact or two before we set off." Starswirl smiled in her direction.

Celestia smiled back. "Of course, Starswirl. Discord and I are looking forward to helping you. I'm afraid Luna's a little too tired to assist at this time of day."

Starswirl nodded. Then his eyes drifted to Discord. His smile fell a little. "Yes, Discord… thank you for agreeing to assist, I suppose." He glanced around with a dry look. "The sky isn't going to start raining soda pop from marshmallow clouds or something, is it? That might really slow us down…"

Discord rolled his eyes and waved him off. "Of course not—marshmallow and soda pop is so a thousand years ago. My speciality now is pink cotton candy clouds that rain chocolate milk. But that's not going to start happening randomly anyway since I'm obviously here to be helpful." He leaned down and held out his paw with a grin and a gleam in his eye.

Starswirl pouted a little.

Celestia quickly came up between them both and turned to Starswirl. "Discord means it, you know. And I think he'd like a hoofshake. It's not a trick, right, Discord?" She glanced at Discord…just as Discord blinked, looked away innocently, and quickly slipped a joy buzzer off his hand.

"Of course not—just a hoof shake," the chaos master quickly assured.

She laughed softly but quickly regained her composure at Starswirl's dry look.

Starswirl finally sighed and shook with Discord. "Very well. Welcome aboard, Discord."

As they released, Discord clapped his hands together. "Wonderful!" He snapped, and instantly the four of them were on a small, floating tug boat. Discord had a captain's hat on his head. "Then let's set sail for whatever it is that's perturbed Starswirl so much!"

Celestia had to fight back a giggle, especially as Starswirl glanced at her with an eyebrow raised. He almost smiled. "You really find this amusing, Celestia?"

"It's fun." She shrugged. "Discord won't just help us find whatever you're looking for, he'll make sure we have a good time along the way."

"Another speciality of mine these days." Discord winked at her then floated up close to Starswirl. "Come on, all work and no play makes ponies so dull. But I'll make you a deal—I'll nix the pirate ship bit right now if you'll promise not to treat me like an evil powder keg waiting to go off. What do you say?"

Starswirl took a deep breath then nodded. "Perhaps you are right. Even if I'm not used to trusting you, I'm sure we can work together just for a day."

"I knew you'd hit it off!" Celestia popped up between them with a big smile.

Starswirl smiled too, and Discord tried not to laugh at her enthusiasm as he snapped away the boat and captain garb. "Well then, where shall our unusual trio head off to first?"

Starswirl made a scroll appear and studied it. "I'm following the magic's trail—it's echo, essentially. So first let's begin at the Ponyville Castle." He made the scroll disappear.

Discord tried to remain calm even if Starswirl was taking them to the official site of the first OOREV meeting. "All right, Twilight's bookish castle it is! Though you're probably just sensing an overwhelming amount of the magic of friendship. I'll take us—" He held up his fingers to snap.

But Starswirl's horn was already glowing, his head held high as he stepped in front of Discord "No, no, allow me. I insist." Without waiting for a response, in a flash of magic they all disappeared.

"Yes, guests, enjoy yourselves!" Luna called out to the happy crowd. "I'm just going to check on something in the kitchen!" With a wave of her hoof Luna then turned and walked through the kitchen door. She paused for a moment, eyes wide—flour was everywhere, an exhausted Starlight had two eggs in her mane, and Trixie was slipping on a couple sticks of butter on the floor. But on the cart was a three tiered chocolate-looking cake (chocolate chili surprise, to be precise), with the smallest tier on the bottom and the largest on top, all of it perfect and balanced. "Er…" Luna started with a smile as she walked inside, "I see you ladies finished the cake."

"Whoa!" Trixie almost fell forward onto her face.

But Starlight caught her with her magic, righted her, then made the butter on the floor and the eggs in her hair and the flour everywhere disappear. "Yeah, it was quite a journey." She used her magic to clean up the rest of the kitchen.

Trixie adjusted her hat and held her head high. "And Trixie put the spell on the cake to keep it stable even with the heavy layer on top. It is certified ready for decorating. Which means Starlight and I can go back to the party!" She hooked forelegs with Starlight, who finally smiled as her friend pulled her closer to the kitchen door.

"Okay, okay." Starlight called over her shoulder to Luna. "Luna, we'll tell Sunset and Twi that they're up next!"

"Thank you!" Luna called back as they exited. She turned back to the cake, eyes bright, but bit her lip for a moment. "Oh, Celestia would love to be here for this grand dessert. Perhaps I can find an excuse for a special cake at our next OOLLA meeting…"

The kitchen door opened, and Sunset and Twi entered now. Sunset grinned. "Sunset and Twi reporting for cake decorating duty!"

"This is amazing." Twi observed the inverted cake. "It practically defies the laws of physics."

"Eh," Sunset shrugged, "it's more like the 'suggestions of physics' in Discord's dimension. Plus there's magic involved."

"True—but it's still fascinating." Twi continued to eye the cake with interest.

Luna laughed softly. "Here you go, ladies." She made bowls of candies and icings in all different colors appear. "Have fun and follow your instincts."

Twi blinked. "You mean, there's no set plan? Shouldn't we have a design for the decoration?"

Sunset shook her head. "Not for a chaos cake. For a chaos cake you've just got to start decorating and see where it takes you. Trust me. This'll be a good experience for both of us. And you can take mental notes of how I use magic…"

Twi beamed. "All right then, let's decorate away! I'm ready to embrace the chaos!… I think." She smiled sheepishly, and Sunset chuckled.

Luna headed past them. "If you ladies are all set, I'll head back out to check on the party."

"Oh, Princess Luna, Pharynx was looking for you!" Twi suddenly called out to her.

"Yeah, I think he wanted to talk about something." Sunset was already using her magic to stir a bowl of blue frosting.

"Pharynx?" Luna turned and raised an eyebrow but then smiled. "Well, thank you for letting me know. I'll see if I can find him." She trotted out to the party.

Luna was met with the sight of guests still mingling and conversing, but no Pharynx that she could see. She was about to make a round through the room to see if she could find him when she heard a whisper.


Luna glanced at the nearest corner to see Pharynx standing in the shadows by a bookcase.

Luna trotted over, an eyebrow raised. "Pharynx? Is something the matter?"

"No." His gaze remained firm though he didn't quite look at her. "I just found this corner to be very private…"

Luna's eyes hazed. "Pharynx, you know one of the rules of this club is that nothing we say here leaves the meeting. But you should also know that the same can be said of conversations between individual members when the issue arises. Now, pray, what is it you want to speak with me about?"

He cleared his throat then shuffled on his hooves. "I don't meet many other creatures who are as military-minded as I am. But…the pony formerly known as Tempest who goes by Fizzle—she is different. What would be the protocol for…approaching such a lady?"

Luna's eyes widened.

Pharynx scowled and his head lowered. "Never mind—Thorax said you gave good advice, but I know this is ridiculous."

"Nay!" Luna held back a giggle and sat beside him. "Tis all right. This is how these things happen these days in friendly society. You go out and encounter a creature who interests you, and then let things develop slowly. How much have you talked to Fizzle so far?"

"I've…only overheard conversations she's had. I've never actually spoken with her. But she sounds confident and capable and like a warrior queen. She…interests me." Pharynx blushed, eyes down. "Thorax said I'd experience new feelings after I transformed, but this is the most intense and strange one I've ever had. I…" he grimaced and pouted, "…want her to like me. Ugh…"

"Then I shall help you, Commander Pharynx," Luna assured. "And we shall begin by using the party setting to our advantage so you can engage fully with Fizzle."

Pharynx almost cracked a smile.

The visit to Twilight's castle so far had only resulted in forty minutes of Twilight taking the opportunity to gush about books and magic theories while the trio of powerful beings—two of whom she idolized—sat and watched her: Celestia with a patient smile, Starswirl with an eyebrow raised, and Discord with his jaw slack and eyes closed, actively snoring.

Starswirl finally sighed and whispered to Celestia out of the corner of his mouth. "Celestia, dear, is there any way to…what's the best phrase? Er…"

"Ebb her enthusiasm?"

"Perhaps 'turn her off' would be more accurate. She is like all the most studious parts of you and Luna combined into one."

"You want to turn off Twilight, you say!" Discord whispered loudly, suddenly popping up between them. "Leave it to the professional." He winked at Celestia.

"Discord," she whispered softly, "Gently—don't hurt her feelings."

"Wouldn't dream of it, Sunny."

As he flew forward to Twilight, Starswirl blinked and looked at Celestia. "Sunny?"

She shrugged. "He's fond of nicknames and informality."

Starswirl sighed. "I think you've been far too liberal with him, Celestia. Truly."

"I know what I'm doing." Her eyes hazed as Celestia smiled in Discord's direction.

Across the room Discord engaged with Twilight, winding and twisting overhead, clearly leading the conversation. Then he snapped up a ringmaster costume for himself, snapped up a flaming hoop, and started making Twilight's books do jumps through it.

Twilight was quickly distracted and quickly ready to have Discord leave.

Discord snapped himself back over to Celestia and Starswirl. "Come on, she knows we're a group so clearly if one of us is leaving then all of us are leaving—say your goodbyes."

"But we didn't find any clues here." Starswirl frowned.

"What clues?" Discord shrugged. "This place is full of magic—trying to sniff out a shadow of it that might be slightly irregular is beyond even my skill."

Starswirl sighed but made his scroll appear again. "Perhaps. I really don't sense the active presence of a gathering here anyway." His brow furrowed as he examined the scroll. "Odd—I'm detecting a faint trace of something powerful beyond the Everfree Forest. But…now it's gone. And it doesn't line up with any of my other findings. The next place to look should be that dimension I banished the sirens to."

"Sunset's dimension?" Celestia's smile grew. "Oh, it would be lovely to visit her."

Sunset's dimension—where neither Sunset nor Twi would be found since they were currently partying at Discord's. "Er," Discord quickly got between them, "but an anomaly does sound strange. Maybe we should check out that place beyond the Everfree Forest, and then hey, how late will it be—like four? We could call it a day afterwords, take time to reassess."

Starswirl rolled up his scroll and trotted past Discord. "The blip out past the Everfree could have just been caused by a wild magical creature. Visiting the other dimension is a more promising lead."

Discord scowled and quickly whispered to Celestia, "He's just saying that to disagree with me, you know."

"Discord, he's stubborn with everyone, not just you." She put her hoof on his arm.

Discord's scowl disappeared quickly.

"Come on, I'm sure you two will find more common ground soon," Celestia added as she led him onward to follow Starswirl to Twilight's mirror while the friendship princess was still busy keeping her library from lighting on fire.

"Make eye contact…" Luna encouraged.

"I never don't," Pharynx replied, very seriously.

"Speak casually…"

"If you mean like I'm happy-go-lucky all the time like my brother, that's not happening. The best I'll manage is a restrained voice I use for civilians when I'm off duty."

"Fair enough. And try to smile, just a little."

Pharynx pursed his lips.

Luna sighed. "Think about that new interesting feeling you have around Fizzle. See if that helps."

The corners of Pharynx's mouth barely turned upward.

"Better." Luna nodded her approval. "Now, imagine I am Fizzle. Greet me. And whatever you do, refrain from discussing 'sharing love'—it can be quite off-putting to a mare to hear such terms so suddenly." She blushed a little but maintained her poised smile.

Pharynx nodded, hesitated, then cleared his throat. "Greetings, Commander Fizzle. We have not been formerly introduced. I am Commander Pharynx of the changeling hive. I'm…pleased to have a fellow military creature in our group. You reputation precedes you."

"Good." Luna nodded. "Now I shall speak to you as Fizzle." She cleared her throat. "Thank thee for your words of praise, Commander Pharynx. I am likewise happy to know another professional creature who is dedicated to protecting others."

The corners of Pharynx's mouth turned up a little more—Luna noticed. "I hear you're stationed in the winterlands outside of the Crystal Empire. Fighting in such terrain must be a thrilling challenge. You protect so many ponies even if they might not realize you're doing it."

Luna hesitated—protecting ponies while no one noticed she was doing it brought up a few personal memories. "I am happy to serve regardless of notoriety. Knowing my efforts aid my subje—I mean, the citizens—lets me take pride in my work."

"Agreed." Pharynx shifted on his hooves. "You seem well-suited for the work. Outspoken and bold and commanding and tough. But also your speaking voice is soft. It's…compelling."

Was a mare who could command troops with one booming tone of voice and gently soothe citizens with another tone really possessed of an attractive trait? Luna had never considered the possibility before—she'd often felt like her capacity for her Royal Canterlot Voice was something friends and others had to overlook in order to like her. "You are a true gentle creature. And I appreciate your firm tone as well."

"You really think she'd say that?" Pharynx raised an eyebrow. "Most of the hive says the way I talk is kind of…rough."

"But it is also full of authority which brings about feelings of safety." Luna blinked and quickly cleared her throat. "At least, I'm sure that's how Fizzle would feel if prompted to comment."

Pharynx considered and nodded. He went on. "Also, with your permission, Fizzle, I'd like to say I find your dark coat visually pleasing and, erm… highly valuable as camouflage in most terrains."

Luna blushed a little and wrapped her tail around herself shyly. "As I would say of your coat. The other changelings became so bright after they transformed, but you are the first one I've seen who is dark blue. Tis handsome."

Pharynx blushed. "You…think she'd say I'm handsome."

"You are, so—why wouldn't she?" Luna fought past her blushing to put on a comforting smile.

Pharynx sighed. "Thank you, Luna. This training exercise has been helpful. You're just as good of a leader as Pharynx says." He held out his hoof to her.

Luna held hers out and shook with him. "Coming from you both, I'll take that notion as the highest compliment. I've merely learned to balance the need for a disciplined rule with the need for tenderness when the time strikes."

"Well, I'm happy to call you our club Vice President." Pharynx released her hoof and saluted. "Ma'am." And then he turned, spotted Fizzle chatting with Trixie and Starlight now, and trotted over to her.

Luna watched him go, upon which she slipped farther into the corner and her smile faded, eyes wide. "That was…a strange interaction. I think I…enjoyed playing Fizzle more than I should have."

"Psst, Luna?"

"Ah!" Luna jumped as Discord's head suddenly popped through a portal.

He glanced around then whispered. "How's everything going here?"

"Oh, er," Luna righted herself and caught her breath, "fine, no major crises. And I've set up a magic dampening spell around the perimeter that will hopefully steer Starswirl away from here."

"Great work, vice president!" Discord gave her a thumbs up then raised an eyebrow. "Why are your cheeks all red?"

Luna's cheeks turned redder. "I, er…someone requested poppers of jalapeño so I created some. I suppose I made them too spicy."

Just then, behind Discord, the kitchen door opened and Sunset popped her head out, glanced around in panic, then looked in Luna's direction. She opened her mouth like she was about to yell for help but paused at the sight of Discord. Instead she desperately gestured for Luna to come over as the kitchen doorway began to glow bright red.

Discord grinned at Luna just as she shifted to block his potential view of the kitchen. "Ooo, jalapeño poppers—yummy! Hopefully, this shenanigan will be over soon. Save some poppers for me!"

"Of course—good luck, Discord!" Luna waved, her smile rigid.

Discord disappeared.

Luna dashed in the direction of the kitchen and got within about five feet of the door before icing shot out and covered Sunset as well as Luna in multiple colors of the substance.

The party guests stopped and turned.

Twi stumbled out of the kitchen and took off her icing covered glasses. "Sorry—um, that explosion was me, heh."

Sunset sighed and patted her shoulder. "It's okay, Twi."

"Are both you ladies all right?" Luna glanced from one to the other.

Sunset shrugged. "Twi tried to catch a falling bowl of icing with her magic. It…did not work."

"But the cake does look extra chaotic now, heh." Twilight smiled sheepishly.

Luna followed the ladies into the kitchen and used her magic to clean up the ocean of icing and candy, leaving behind only the cake abstractly swirled and dripping with all colors of icing and candies haphazardly applied.

Luna smiled and turned back to the ladies. "Tis perfect. And I shall apply the candles." She made candles appear jutting upside down out of the two upper tiers. "We shall light them once Discord returns."

"I'm just glad we got to finish it before he got back. Though I feel bad he's missing so much of the party." Sunset frowned as she used her magic to remove the icing from herself and Twi.

"Yeah," Twi added, "does he need help with whatever he's doing to finish it faster?"

"Er…I'm afraid it is a task he has to take on personally," Luna replied, glancing away and swallowing.

Sunset smiled a little, her eyes hazed. "If Discord wants Celestia to come to one of these club meetings instead of just going off to spend time with her outside them, he should let everyone know and invite her. I don't think anyone would mind. Celestia's cool."

Twi nodded. "And I'd like to meet her."

Luna's smile softened. "I assure you, while what Discord is currently doing may involve my sister in an indirect way he is not missing his own party to go on an outing with her. They have become good friends, but we are Discord's friends too." She raised an eyebrow. "You two would really not mind if an outside creature came to a meeting or knew about the club as long as you knew who they were and knew in advance?"

"I don't know if it would bother any of the other club members, but it wouldn't bother us," Sunset replied as Twi nodded.

"I see. Interesting. Thank you for the input." Luna made a sheet appear and placed it over the cake. "Well then, for now let us all go back to the party." She opened the kitchen door, and followed the two mares out. But Luna paused and her eyes widened when she saw Pharynx talking to Fizzle.

She felt strange inside that he had just been talking to her so familiarly not a moment ago.

When she noticed Sunset raising an eyebrow at her, Luna shook her head and put a smile back on. "I just remembered I forgot something—I'll be right back." With a burst of magic she disappeared and reappeared on Discord's roof outside. She took a deep breath. "Fizzle and I have some similarities, so when Pharynx talked so affectionately about her it was easy to feel as though he were talking about me. That is all. I don't even know him." She tried not to think about how Discord and Celestia always gently encouraged her to get to know others more. "Perhaps this is a sign for me to expand my social circles slightly. Maybe…the opportunity for a more-than-friend would be acceptable someday."

Luna used her time out here to refortify the magical dampening spell and then teleported back inside.

She accidentally teleported right in front of Pharynx who was no longer talking to Fizzle.

Both creatures jumped back, and Luna took a deep breath. "Pharynx, how did your conversation with Fizzle go?"

He glanced down. "All right, I guess. But…she didn't seem to understand that what I wanted to express to her was more than professional admiration. Maybe I didn't do it right. I even told her she looked nice, like we talked about. Thorax says girls love that."

"Hmm," Luna brought a hoof to her chin, "well, Fizzle is a very serious-minded pony. Perhaps with her you have to be even more direct. I still wouldn't speak of sharing love, but ask her if she would like to accompany you for an activity out of the club: one of a personal nature where you could get to know each other as more than friends. Be clear with her Pharynx."

He took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay, I'll try." He turned, held his head high, and marched back over to Fizzle.

Luna watched, curious for several reasons about what would happen next.

"I want out of this dimension—now."

"Discord, it's not so bad even if it's different." Celestia assured, patting him with her hand.

"Yes, this place could be fascinating to explore more under the right circumstances." Starswirl twirled his beard in his fingertips and glanced around.

"Oh, if I had my magic…" Discord seethed.

"Well, you don't for now, Discord." Starswirl replied cheerily. "Now, let's see if we can pinpoint the trail of magic I sensed. It should be easy in this world where magic is limited." He wandered around the school front lawn, studying his scroll.

Celestia, in her human form, turned to Discord. "I'm sorry, Discord, I'm sure we'll be out of here in no time." She bit her lip, clearly trying not to laugh.

Discord glanced at her with a dry look—or as dry of a look as he could manage given his current form. While Celestia and Starswirl had turned into a couple of these biped human creatures, he was a full grown horse of several colors, no horn or wings. Pretty much the most boring form he had ever inhabited. "Oh please, you and I both know Starswirl feels so much better here with powerless me being led around like some ironic pet."

Celestia glanced awkwardly at Starswirl (who was currently attracting the attention of a few students) then back to Discord. "Well, you do have one point: none of these creatures seems to be leading around a horse. And I know Twilight said my counterpart has a healthy presence at this school, so I don't want to confuse anypony. How about you and I stay here by the statue for now, Discord?"

Discord sat on the grass. "Fine, I suppose." He did smile just slightly though.

Celestia sat too. "I really wish I could have visited Sunset. But I wouldn't even know where to start looking."

Discord swallowed. "Well, er…why don't you make plans to visit her one day? Maybe during your retirement? I'm sure she'd love it."

Celestia's smile returned. "That's the part I'm looking forward to most about retiring—visiting with friends."

"Does this mean I should expect you at my house for late night snacks even more often?"

She laughed. "It means you should probably expect visits from both Luna and I along with the usual visits I make to you on my own."

"I'll be sure to keep the place well-stocked on cake and other sweets then. And a few booby traps in case Starswirl tags along." He rolled his eyes.

"Discord, I really think you two could get along…"

"Why do you want us to?"

Celestia glanced down. "You're both important friends to me. But also you have more in common than you realize." She glanced at him again. "You both have strong magical power, you both know a lot about early Equestria, you can both be tremendously stubborn, you both have a superiority complex, and you both pull off having a beard very well."

Discord had an eyebrow raised and he was smiling a lot. "I'm not sure whether to be flattered or insulted."

"And you both have strong relationships with me," she added softly, smile warm.

Discord blushed a little and cleared his throat. "True." He took a deep breath. "I'll keep trying as a personal favor to you."

"Thank you."

Starswirl returned to them now. "Well, I'm afraid with how weakly magic functions in this world, my map can't get a clear reading. We'll have to return to Equestria and—"

"And hit up that spot outside of the Everfree Forest," Discord quickly suggested. "That sounds like a good plan."

Starswirl cleared his throat and interrupted, "We'll have to visit the most recent area of magical concentration which happens to be in your dimension, I've discovered. So you can do the honors of taking us there." Starswirl, head high, walked back through the portal.

Discord exhaled with a dry look and nickered through his lips. "Can't we send him to an old ponies home or something, Celestia? A little shuffleboard and lanyard making might do him good."

"He's not much older than us, Discord." Celestia nudged him.

"Yes, but we have aged far better." He wiggled his eyebrows.

Celestia laughed as she walked back through the portal and Discord trotted after her.

Luna chose to hide behind a lamp as she watched Pharynx interact with Fizzle. At the last moment, the changeling had specifically asked her to observe and provide feedback later in the event this confession didn't go as planned. Thorax had decided to join her and stood by her side.

"Pardon me for being indirect earlier, Fizzle," Pharynx cleared his throat, "but I am ready to speak plainly now."

"Of course," she replied cooly. "Is there some threat I should know about?"

He swallowed. "Actually it's sort of the opposite." His cheeks puffed up for a moment and his face flushed, but he spoke clearly as he finally said, "Fizzle, Ma'am, I find you intriguing. Would you allow me to escort you on an outing whenever we both have free from our duties? I want to become closer to you as a lady." He bowed.

There was silence. Luna bit her lip. Thorax's eyes widened.

"Commander Pharynx, please rise," Fizzle said smoothly.

Pharynx blinked but straightened up.

Fizzle was smiling gently. "I appreciate your admiration and your interest very much. And I would value the chance to have a friend who understands the need for order and discipline in a society so well. But…" she cleared her throat, "Pharynx, while I am open to relationships between species, I am less open to relationships with a male. And while I am sure you could change into a female creature temporarily, I'm afraid that wouldn't be quite enough." She blushed. "I serve in the Crystal Empire alongside an old friend of mine. She and I have gotten close…"

"Commander Fizzle, I'm sorry, I didn't realize." Pharynx looked into her eyes steadily even as he blushed profusely.

Fizzle just smiled and held out her hoof. "There is no need to apologize—soldier's honor."

Pharynx nodded, reached out, and shook hooves with her. When they released, he asked softly, "You would really still like to be friends?"

"Very much."

"I'd like that as well."

"I'm glad we could reach an accord."

Both creatures nodded to each other.

Just then Smooze and Stygian approached. "Pardon me, Fizzle?" Stygian tapped her shoulder. "Smooze wanted me to let you know that he admires your mane style very much. He's trying to recreate it for himself and would like your opinion."

Smooze nodded, and the slime at the top of his head shifted into a mohawk, though it quickly melted back to normal.

"Of course, I'll be happy to provide some guidance. Thank you for the compliment, Smooze." Fizzle waved to Pharynx, and he waved back. Then turned to head off with them.

Once she was across the room, Pharynx hung his head.

"Pharynx," Thorax came out of hiding and frowned. "I'm sorry. Do you want to go home?"

"No, of course not, " Pharynx said strongly, head high again. "It was just a single emotional experience. You know I'm tougher than that, Thorax."

"Pharynx," Luna came out of hiding too, "I'm sorry—I honestly did not realize Tempest… If I had known, I would not have encouraged you so much.…"

He glanced at her. "Princess Luna, you were an exemplary commander in this situation. Unforeseen circumstances sometimes arise though. It happens in any risky or new endeavor." He sighed. "Thank you for your help. I just…need a moment now to reassess." He walked off to an empty corner…and took a bowl of chips with him.

"Yikes," Thorax's ears drooped, "Pharynx doesn't eat anything but rations. He must be really sad."

Luna frowned. "Opening up emotionally to others can be rewarding but also painful. I hope he will continue to seek out friendship and relationships."

"I think he will. He doesn't want to go back to how he was before he changed—I can tell." Thorax smiled a little. "I'll go talk to him."

As he left, Luna—her emotions very mixed right now—couldn't think of anything to do but make one more check of the house's perimeter. She teleported herself outside to Discord's roof again.

She looked up and her jaw fell as she saw Discord, Celestia, and Starswirl in the distance closing in.

As the trio flew through the ether of his chaos dimension, Discord was running out of plausible excuses to keep Starswirl away from his house. "Look," Discord swallowed, "I don't care if your scroll or spell or whatever does say there's a lot of magic by my cottage. You can't just bust in there! It's my private space. And of course it's full of magic—I live there! Not to mention I have magical guests sometimes. Between Smooze and Luna and Celestia…"

"Celestia, you visit here alone? And you bring little Luna sometimes?" Starswirl raised an eyebrow at her.

Celestia blinked. "Of course. Discord's our friend, and this place is fun. And safe—just a little messy sometimes." She ducked underneath a flying pie. "And Luna hasn't been little in some time, Starswirl."

Starswirl looked forward, eyes narrowed. "Well, regardless, Discord, there is an exceptionally strong gathering of magic near your cottage even if the signal was very hard to trace at first. Almost like someone was trying to hide it…. And I'm still sensing something evil in Equestria. We have to make sure—"

"Make sure of what exactly?" Discord got in front of him, stopping their progress. The chaos master crossed his arms and scowled.

Starswirl scowled right back up at him. "Make sure Equestria is safe from any threats."

"I am not a threat."

"Then a threat has gotten into your house somehow."

"No, it has not."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"You will stop talking to me like I'm one of your little students who you can scold and order around!"

"Insolent blackguard!"

"Frumpy walking wizard bell tower!"

"Enough!" Celestia flew between them and looked to Starswirl. "Starswirl, Discord would not hide anything bad from us. But he's also a private creature, just like me." She looked to Discord. "And Discord, Starswirl has just been worried ever since Sombra's sudden return that the same thing might happen with other villains. He wants to make sure you're safe too."

Starswirl took a deep breath and addressed Discord more calmly now. "You said you came along to help. So why aren't you helping now?"

Discord almost frowned. "Because you're not listening to me. You don't like me and I don't know why."

"Because you could have hurt my girls!"

Discord blinked.

Starswirl went on, eyes flashing with anger. "They had so many threats to face in those early days of Equestria. And now one of those threats is hanging around with them like nothing ever happened. I don't want you to almost hurt them again, even if it's just in a smaller way like not being a good friend. I can't trust you yet, Discord. Now I'm going to your house and getting to the bottom of this." And then he used his magic to guide himself down toward Discord's cottage.

Discord frowned—a lot—his ears down, and finally followed him. Celestia followed too, looking to Discord with concern.

Luna had teleported herself back inside just as Starswirl's gaze had gone to the cottage. Her eyes were wide with panic.

"Luna?" Pharynx saw her and approached, Thorax in tow. "What's wrong?"

She latched her hooves onto Pharynx's shoulders, her voice low but panicked. "The magic dampening spell did not succeed. And we may be under siege! Starswirl the Bearded has discovered that Discord's house is currently a hot spot for magic, and he fears evil is here and intends to investigate. We cannot let the club's anonymity be compromised—Discord has been working all afternoon to preserve it. I require assistance!"

"Oh no!" Thorax brought a hoof to his mouth and frowned.

Pharynx just narrowed his eyes and nodded. He dashed across the room and a moment later returned with Fizzle.

She looked to Luna with a stern gaze. "Luna, Pharynx has filled me in. With all three of us working together I think we can do a fine job organizing the rest of the club in record time."

Luna frowned. "I would hope so—we barely have a minute."

Fizzle smirked then gestured to the crowd with her foreleg. "After you—I've heard you have quite the commanding tone yourself."

Luna blinked at first but then a smile finally returned to her face. She cleared her throat and employed her Royal Canterlot Voice. "ATTENTION GUESTS!"

The room froze.

Pharynx's eyes widened.

Luna gestured to him. "PAY HEED TO PHARYNX!"

Pharynx quickly took over speaking to the room. "Attention, troops! We have a situation. Apparently an outside party is trying to infiltrate our club because he has sensed our magic. It is important to Discord to preserve the club's anonymity for all of us, therefore we need to work together. Do you understand?"

Everyone nodded.

Tempest cleared her throat, her tone cool but weighty. "Stygian, Neighsay, bring the food into the kitchen. Smooze, you spend a lot of time in this house outside of the club meetings—find hiding spots for everyone. Trixie, Starlight—stand lookout at the window as your presence, if discovered, will be the least suspicious. Sunset, Twi, assist me with hiding the decorations. Now, to your posts. Luna, Pharynx, and I will take care of the final details."

It was a beautifully organized series of actions for something occurring in the chaos master's home.

When Discord landed with Celestia just after Starswirl on his lawn, he was surprised to see his windows dark.

"Hmm…" Starswirl examined the scroll again, "I'm still barely detecting the strong magical presence any longer. Though there are echoes."

"Those would be from me—living here." Discord kept the reply as free from sarcasm as he could. He held his tail in his hands, looking down.

Celestia frowned up at him and touched his arm but he shifted away.

"I'd like to have a look inside if you don't mind," Starswirl went on.

Discord hesitated. "I…" But then out of the corner of his eye in a window he saw Starlight wave a hoof and smile then duck back down. "I…if you insist. Pardon the dust bunnies." Discord snapped and the front door opened, the light came on.

The three entered the house.

Aside from Discord's chaotic furniture and some floating knickknacks and indeed a herd of dust bunnies the cottage was empty. Starswirl walked into a few rooms but found nothing. He hesitated. "Where's the kitchen door?"

"It's right…" Discord pointed but paused as there was only a blank wall where the kitchen door usually was. "It's usually right there but sometimes the rooms like to switch places in this house. It'll probably be back later."

Starswirl sighed then finally furled up his scroll. "Very well. I suppose there is nothing dangerous here at the moment, and there's no way you could have hidden anything. You had no chance to send a message to anyone or thing that might have been here anyway."

"Also I'd never do that," Discord added, pouting.

They walked out to Discord's lawn and the door closed behind them.

Starswirl's horn glowed. "Maybe we should just go check out that anomaly at the edge of the Everfree Forest and then call it a day. I'd like to do some more research—and I might be making a few surprise trips back to this cottage of yours soon, chaos master."

"We're not going home yet," Celestia stated.

Starswirl turned to her.

She was frowning. "You owe Discord an apology."

Starswirl blinked then frowned too. "I can't help that I don't trust him, Celestia."

"But you don't have to talk to him like he can't possibly be a good friend, Starswirl."

"Look, he had a point," Discord interrupted, "I did almost hurt you and Luna and a lot of ponies once—let's just move on."

"No." Celestia shook her head, still looking at her former teacher. "You're not perfect either, Starswirl. You learned that from what happened with Stygian. You make mistakes too. And holding mistakes over a creature's head only make it even harder for them to find happiness and friendship: that's been one of the most important lessons for myself as a ruler and teacher."

Starswirl looked down but didn't reply.

Celestia's gaze softened. "When Luna came back to me, after Nightmare Moon—not for one moment did I make her feel unworthy. I offered her only friendship and love and support and complete forgiveness. And she's thrived. All reformed creatures have thrived on that response most of all—the changelings, Tempest, Sunset Shimmer. So I won't let you punish Discord for being imperfect when he's already suffered enough.."

Starswirl's gaze finally met hers again. "You've gotten very bold, Celestia. You never spoke to me like this in the past."

Celestia's stern look softened. "That's because you were the teacher and I was the student. But now I'm grown up, and I can make decisions and judgments and friends for myself. And I trust Discord as a new friend just as much as I trust you as an old one." She put her hoof in Discord's claw.

Discord's eyes widened and he blushed. "I…er…I…"

Starswirl came closer and observed him. Then he sighed deeply. "And I trust your judgment, Celestia. Which means, I'm sorry, Discord." He bowed his head. "I…should have been more open to you, and less harsh with my judgments. And if you would still be willing, I would like to be your friend." He held out his hoof.

Discord reached out with his other hand and shook. Then he grinned and instantly wrapped up Starswirl in a big hug. "Ha, I knew it! I win over everyone eventually! You should comes to guys night with Spike and Big Mac and me—we have role playing games, it's the best!" He finally released Starswirl whose hat and cape were now askew.

But Starswirl was smiling as he fixed his attire. "Yes, well—I don't know what this role playing game is, but perhaps we should indeed communicate more."

Celestia smiled and hugged them both close with each of her forelegs then released them.

"I'd like to check out that anomaly at the edge of the Everfree forest now," Starswirl pulled out his scroll again. "Maybe there's more to it—could projecting false echoes into other areas… Would you both join me?"

"Love to but afraid I can't," Discord replied with a shrug. "Actually I'd like a moment with Celestia if the sun princess will indulge me."

Celestia blinked but then nodded. "Oh, er, of course, Discord. Starswirl, I'll meet you back at my castle. Let me know if you find anything. And be careful."

Starswirl nodded. "Very well. Both of you take care too, Celestia, Discord." He gave them a smile then disappeared in a flash of magic.

Celestia turned back to Discord, smiling.

Discord was sitting on his front steps. He patted the place next to himself.

Celestia sat beside him.

He leaned back on his hands. "Well, you did it—I think Starswirl and I might actually become friends."

"And believe me, it was one of the most daring accomplishments of my reign."

Discord chuckled. He swallowed. "You really want me in your life a lot, don't you?"

"I'd miss you a lot if you weren't," Celestia replied with a shrug. "And I don't just want you to feel like a friend, Discord…"

His eyes widened so much, and his heart stopped for a moment.

"I want you to feel like family," she finished with a smile.

His smile returned a little again too. "I've been getting the hint. But…Celestia, that was a very passionate defense of me just now, and I… I've had something on my mind sometimes. Something that I haven't been quite sure how to ask you about because I don't want to reveal something about another pony. So if you'll be okay with me skipping some details, I'd like to ask it now."

"Of course, Discord." Her gaze softened. "I know the importance of not betraying a friend's confidence."

"Do you…did you ever…" Discord took a deep breath. "Remember how I told you once that I found out a lady friend of mine thought I was cute?"

She nodded.

He turned and looked into her eyes.

At that point, Sunset Shimmer burst out of Discord's front door.

"Discord, wait!"

Obviously, Discord and Celestia both turned at the entrance of the surprising guest.

She got to them, panting. "Discord—hello. And Celestia, hello to you too. You're probably wondering why I'm here. Well, it's a long story. Could I, uh…maybe just write it to you later instead of trying to explain now, Princess?"

Celestia's eyes hazed. "Don't worry about the reason why. I'm just glad to see you, Sunset." She gave her former student a gentle hug.

Sunset smiled and hugged her back. "i'm glad to see you too." She turned to Discord. "Anyway, Discord, I couldn't help but overhear you talking out here. You know it's…it's actually pretty easy to hear what you're saying from the front windows even though they're closed. Heh…Almost too easy…" She gestured back to the house with her head.

Discord blinked, blushing a little. "Oh, er, thank you, what an interesting fact. Celestia, perhaps we should go around back…."

"Wait!" Sunset held up a hoof, frowning, "Also, Discord, you don't have to lie—you can tell her I told you." She glanced at Celestia. "Princess Celestia, I'm sorry, It was an accident."

"Told him what?" Celestia tilted her head.

Sunset bit her lip and glanced at Discord who only nodded, blushing. Then she walked close to Celestia and whispered into her ear. Celestia's eyes widened. Sunset pulled back. "I didn't realize anyone was really listening, and it came out as a joke. I'm really sorry again."

"It's okay, Sunset." Celestia's smile was soft once more, though she blushed. "I promise."

Sunset only nodded then teleported back inside.

Before Celestia could say a word Discord snapped them into the backyard. They were seated now in two lounge chairs by his garden and a small pond in his lawn. Discord looked down into it, and Celestia's gaze followed. She blinked. "Are those…water balloon fish?"

"Yeah," Discord chuckled low, "unbreakable though—I did that for Fluttershy because she was worried about them."

"Very creative, Discord."

"I try."

There was a moment of silence. Then Discord took a breath. "I really didn't take it seriously, you know, what Sunset said. But there was a tiny bit of teasing by ponies who shall remain nameless, and then I stopped spending time around you because it was awkward. But then you seemed so upset and that made me wonder if it was true. And what happened today made me wonder again. That's all."

She took a breath. "I do think you're cute, Discord. But that doesn't mean I see you as more than a friend."

He raised an eyebrow and glanced at her. She was looking down into the water as the colorful round fish floated by. "You make me smile, you have the best sense of humor, and you're relaxing to be around. And you're kind. I like all of those things in a suitor very much. But that's not everything I like. So right now to me you're a friend—a very good friend…who I happen to find cute sometimes. Does that make sense?" She glanced at him.

"Hardly." He still had an eyebrow raised. "But I'm the king of not making sense, so I'm sure it'll absorb soon."

She laughed softly.

He looked forward. "Hey, Sunny? You know…I think you're cute too then, I guess. You're…playful and dramatic and caring and you get me. And I know I'd want all those qualities in someone who was more than a friend."

She was blushing and smiling more.

Discord blushed and smiled more too when she put her hoof on his hand.

"So," Discord started, "how do friends usually handle complicated situations like this?"

"Some of them would start dating, I suppose." She glanced at him. "But I'd prefer to continue on as we are and see where our time together leads."

"Oh thank chaos, I'd like that a lot!" He scooped up her hoof in both hands and shook it. "You don't understand, dating can get so messy but what we have is so much fun! I don't want to change it!"

"Good, I don't either. Not right now." Celestia hugged him and he hugged her back.

When they separated, Discord floated up. "And you're really okay not knowing why Sunset was here?"

"I…have my own ideas about why she was here—and why Starswirl was sensing a lot of magic from your dimension…and why the kitchen was hiding…and why you and Luna go off alone somewhere at least once a month…though I didn't have an idea about the exact location you were going to for any of it until today." Celestia stood with a knowing smile on her face.

Discord frowned, and his ears drooped.

"But," she went on, "all I have are theories—no proof, no evidence. So for all I know, what I think is going on is just my imagination and still a very well kept secret: one I'm glad stayed kept. And on a possibly-related note, let's move up our usual OOLLA meeting this month. I really enjoy our private time together, just you and Luna and I."

Discord's smile returned and he held out his paw. "You're a good friend, Celestia."

"You too, Discord." She held out her hoof and they shook.

They separated, smiling. Eventually Celestia teleported away and Discord went back to his front door.

He entered, but instead of seeing the OOREV party restored, the place was in darkness. "Hello? You guys can come out… Seriously, coast is clear: one hundred percent. I—"

There were sparks, and then the room lit up with lights and fireworks (courtesy of Fizzle's horn). "SURPRISE!" everyone yelled, surrounding the cake.

Luna stepped forward. "Congratulations on being our president for one year, Discord! We are terribly lucky to have you!"

"Oh my!" He clasped his hands together with a big smile. "I'm finally being celebrated for the wonder I am—I don't know what to say!"

"How about you just let us cut the cake?" Trixie offered.

"Or I could make a speech!" Discord countered, then snapped up a scroll that unfurled foot after foot throughout the house.

"How about a short speech while we cut the cake, Discord," Luna offered, raising a cake server.

"Oh fair enough." Discord snapped away the absurdly long scroll and He flew over to the cake. "Thank you all for being my loyal subjects and for making OOREV such a hit. And I'm especially impressed at how well you hid the party from Celestia and Starswirl! Truly our skills of deception are unmatched! Also, nice job keeping the cake a secret from me!" He snapped—the cake cut itself and slices started flying across the room to everypony. "And now that the crisis is averted, let's party some more for our Official One Year Anniversary Celebration Extravaganza! OOREV! OOREV! OOGA-CHAKA!"

"OOGA-CHAKA!" everyone else cheered back!

Discord snapped to put on music, and began a conga line that quickly gained followers.

The party continued late into the night.

Luna was the last guest at Discord's house, staying behind because as vice president to help clean up and see everyone off.

The food and decorations were all put away now, and she sighed. "Well, despite the stresses of our near discovery, it was an excellent party."

"Believe me, it was an excellent day all around." Discord smiled to himself as he laid back on his couch. "Luna, since we're still technically in the club, can I tell you something in confidence?"

She sat on his arm chair. "Of course."

"I talked to Celestia about knowing she thinks I'm cute. I told her I think she's cute too. We both decided it's okay for friends to feel that way about each other, and now everything's just wonderful. Also, she stood up for me to Starswirl in a truly magnificent way." Discord grinned proudly.

"I am glad to hear you both will be far less awkward around each other." Luna smiled. Then she took a breath. "Discord, may I tell you something too?"

"Always, Moonie." He sat up a little.

Luna's mouth quirked to one side. "I think…I find someone cute."

With a snap Discord was leaning over the arm of the couch closest to her, a bowl of popcorn in hand. "Ooo, please dish! Who?"

She blushed and pouted. "Mmm… I think… Pharynx, possibly."

"Hmm," Discord considered, "stern second-in-command of the changeling hive, some minor issues fitting into progressive modern society, a commanding voice, night-hued coloring. Yes, I could see it."

"I don't want to ask him out or anything!" Luna quickly assured in a fluster. "And it all happened so oddly. I was helping him gain confidence to ask out Fizzle, just as I assisted Thorax with the changeling females. But how Pharynx spoke of her felt like he was speaking of me, and I liked it. Very much." She looked up at the ceiling.

"Fizzle is not into stallions."

She blinked and looked at Discord. "You knew?"

He shrugged, swallowing a bite of popcorn. "I'm the president, I know everything about the club members. And incidentally this is why, of the two of us, you're the one who needed the time to socialize with the new recruits at the party today."

Luna had to smile. "Yes, well, Pharynx found out the truth when she gently turned him down. He was upset, but Thorax thinks he'll be okay and so do I. I just…am not sure what to do about my own feelings."

"Take your own advice." Discord's smile brightened. "Visit the hive sometimes, talk to Pharynx a little more at these meetings, see where things go. Put yourself out there, Luna—you're an amazing pony."

"And you're an acceptable president." She tossed a throw pillow at him with a grin. "Incidentally, if you and Celestia do end up dating, I approve."

"Who wouldn't approve of me?" He tossed a pillow back at her and chuckled.

Luna sighed. "I should get home. Shall I tell Celestia you said hi?"

"Tell her I said good night, and that I winked when I said it. Then when she giggles tell her I said she'd do that."

Luna snorted. "Very well." She waved. "Goodnight, Discord, and sweet dreams."

"You too, Moonie." He waved as she disappeared.

Discord had a moment of peace on his sofa before a scroll appeared. He raised an eyebrow, then opened it and grinned. "An invitation from Starswirl to meet at a cider mill next week for a drink. Well, looks like the old coot is capable of some fun after all." He penned a scroll in return and sent it away. Then Discord snapped himself into bed with the rest of his cake and finally passed out, snoring and full of crumbs and happy.

"All right, all right—what's with all this sudden congregating?" Pharynx walked through a crowd of changelings that was clogging up a large segment in the hive—safety issue. Once he parted through the throng and got to the center of things, he blinked.

Two changelings (he assumed) were facing each other and switching through form after form—transforming into various fantastical creatures, panting and smiling as they went. The crowd around them cheered.

Pharynx raised an eyebrow. "Recreational fast-paced transformation? No, no, we have to conserve our magic for emergency situations, and all of you should be off doing your duties and chores for the hive instead of watching this!" He grumbled under his breath. "Where's Pharynx?"

The crowd cheered again as the transformations got even faster before suddenly both creatures collapsed to the ground, smiling and out of breath. One transformed back into Thorax but the other had taken the form of Princess Luna and seemed intent on keeping it.

The one who was in realty was of more interest to Pharynx anyway, who sighed with a hoof to his head and then walked forward. "Thorax!" He frowned down at his brother (but did reach out a hoof to help him up). "What are you doing? There are changelings to supervise and projects to approve, and the king needs to conserve his magic most of all!"

Thorax stood, still smiling. "It's a transformation contest, Pharynx! Though I guess we've never ended up doing one before when you've been off duty and in the hive." He put a hoof to his chin.

Pharynx stood over his brother's opponent. "And you, changeling—while I commend your impersonation of Princess Luna's form, turn back into your original state immediately. I want to know your name. And… I want to know how you developed the skill to keep up with the transformation power of royalty."

Luna stood, smiling a little sheepishly. "Probably because I am royalty myself. Hello, Pharynx. Tis me—Luna." She held out her hoof.

He raised an eyebrow at first but then touched her hoof with his and looked into her eyes—there was no brief green shine there, no changeling magic. It really was her. Pharynx blinked and released her hoof to salute. "Princess Luna, I apologize for my rudeness." He bowed then straightened up. Then he blinked. "Wait, you kept up with transformations that quickly? But you're a pony." He cleared his throat. "No offense."

"On the contrary, I consider your words a compliment." Luna pushed back her mane with her hoof to straighten it out a bit. "I come to the hive sometimes to have transformation contests with some of the younger changelings—transfiguration spells have always been a speciality of mine. But this was the first time I tried against a fully grown changeling—and, I suppose, the first time I came when you are here and off duty."

"She's really talented, Pharynx." Thorax wiped sweat from his brow. "And she's helped my reaction time for changing and given me a lot of great ideas for other creatures to change into." Thorax quickly turned into a giant Timberwolf, then a manticore, then a dodo, then back to himself.

Luna grinned. "I am impressed you still have the energy to change into other creatures. I'll need some time for my magic to revive." She held out her hoof to Pharynx and they shook.

"Well…" Pharynx observed them, and his scowl softened, "I supposed if these contests are helping the younger changelings practice transformation and if they're increasing my brother's agility, they're alright." He glanced at the crowd. "And I suppose if it's improving your morale and giving the rest of you ideas of things to change into for defensive purposes, that's fine too. But make sure all your crucial tasks are taken care of before stopping to be a spectator at one of these events. Okay?"

The crowd of changelings nodded with smiles and started to disperse.

Pharynx turned back to Princess Luna. "And Princess Luna, thank you for taking the time to assist our hive and my brother." His scowl was gone now—he was almost smiling. "Your magic in this area is really very impressive"

Luna's smile grew, though she glanced to the side modestly. "I appreciate your encouragement." She took a breath and her eyes met his again. "Perhaps next time I visit, you and I could engage in a transformation contest—er, away from the other changelings of course so that we do not distract anyone."

Pharynx's eyes widened a little. "Well—as long as I'm off duty, of course, Luna." He smirked a little. "I'm the best in the hive at transformation though—it could be an intense competition."

"Exactly the sort of challenge I was hoping for." Luna smirked back as they shook hooves. Then she strode past him, casting a glance over her shoulder. "I'll see you then, Commander Pharynx." She used her magic to make a portal appear.

Pharynx waved. "Safe travels, Princess Luna."

Luna nodded to him then waved to his brother. "Take care as well, Thorax!" She smiled and then departed through the portal.

Speaking of Thorax, he had been watching this exchange with great interest. He looked at his brother now (who continued to stare in the direction Luna had gone with a smile) and beamed, changeling cheeks rosy.

Pharynx finally turned and opened his mouth to address Thorax but raised an eyebrow at the sight of his brother's expression. "Thorax? What is it?"

Thorax quickly cleared his throat and calmed himself down. "Oh, nothing, nothing—just really happy to see you and Princess Luna hitting it off so well as friends. Isn't she great?"

Pharynx considered. "She's…different from other ponies. But in a lot of good ways. I'd like the idea of getting to know her more even outside of club meetings. She's a good friend." He was looking down pensively for a moment (while Thorax watched with a big, beaming grin) before Pharynx grinned and looked up, grabbing his brother for a noogie. "And hey, having her around means more advice for you on how to talk to girls, you big goofy king you!"

"Pharynx!" Thorax whined. "What about you always telling me to act more professional around the changelings!"

"They all cleared out, which means right now you can just act like my brother!" He noogied his head a little more then released him. "Now come on, we both have work to do." Pharynx resumed his serious posture as he strode forward, though with a small smile at the corners of his mouth.

Thorax noticed the smile and worked hard to keep his own beaming grin as subtle as possible. The last thing he wanted to do was reveal anything before Pharynx figured things out with Luna on his own.

"Next time we've got to bring Celestia here—she loves a good night out." Discord grinned as he sipped some of the frothy cider from his mug.

"She was always so serious about her studies—it's hard to imagine her taking a night off, let alone retiring soon." Starswirl sipped his mug as well.

Discord chuckled. "I used to feel the same way. She seemed so grim: who knew it was just because I was messing with her subjects and her kingdom and herself, huh?"

Starswirl laughed a little too. "Yes, she and Luna both seem different but happier somehow, and closer too. They grew up into fine ponies."

"Cheers to that."

They clinked glasses.

Then Starswirl lowered his voice, frowning a little. "Discord, I didn't just ask you to come here for a friendly get together. There's something else. I'm worried, Discord."

Discord's smile fell. "Are Celestia and Luna all right?"

"Yes, yes—believe me, if they weren't I'd be in the castle right now defending them with my very life. It's about our mission last week, to find the source of the magical shifts and evil I've been sensing." He glanced at Discord hesitantly, but when the draconequus only gave interested gaze instead of a perturbed scowl, Starswirl opened his mouth to go on.

But Discord went on first. "You found something when you went out past the Everfree forest, didn't you?"

Starswirl nodded. "Celestia and Luna are so excited about retiring, I didn't want to worry them, so I haven't told anyone else. But you're powerful, Discord, and I do trust you, I think. You can help."

Discord nodded. "I'm waiting for this retirement plan of theirs to go off successfully before I retire too, you know. That's a secret between you and I though."

"Retire?" Starswirl raised an eyebrow. "But you're not a leader…"

"No, but I am lord of chaos and I need to get out of here for a little while, to travel, to understand some things about myself and the world. I'll visit a lot, I just won't be living in my cottage as much. But I won't go until Celestia and Luna are settled, and until the girls are fully realized in their powers to rule. Now tell me what's wrong—whatever it is, I want to nip it in the bud as badly as you do." His look darkened.

Starswirl nodded. "I don't know. I couldn't find anything specific out there—just this vague sense of something bad. Like a shadow of great evil. Like a knot of magic I couldn't pinpoint. I'd feel wisps of it for a moment but then nothing. I can't imagine what power could be strong enough to hide all of that." He brought a hoof to his head. "I must have misread something that led me to your house during our mission—I'm very sorry, Discord. I can't imagine what happened."

"Not important. What is important is something like that explains a lot—like how Sombra came back." Discord looked down into his mug, pondering.

Starswirl glanced at him. "Do you have an idea of who we could be facing."

Discord's brow furrowed as he considered. "Maybe. But no matter what it is, the most important thing is to keep Celestia and Luna present and in power until we figure it out. And to get the girls in touch with their own power as quickly as possible. We all have to work together." He sighed. "I have a team—very hush hush. I'm sure they'd all help if needed. Consider them auxiliary troops."

"I'd like to keep this matter just between us until we're sure what we're up against. I don't want to cause a panic," Starswirl added after another sip of cider. "But you're right, it's best to get all of our assets in line. Thank you for offering additional help, Discord."

"Any time." He sipped his cider too. "If you're still into rambling around Equestria, I'd recommend a stop in the Crystal Empire. See what Cadance can offer."

Starswirl nodded. "Discord—I'm proud to have you on the side of good."

Discord's mouth picked up into a smile on one side. "And I'm glad you didn't stay trapped in oblivion because of a lot of friend drama a thousand years ago—we'll need all the help we can get. Also, we need to bring back beards—seriously, this generation has no personal grooming sense."

Starswirl cracked a smile.

"Barkeep!" Discord held up a finger. "An order of nachos, please, extra jalapeños!"

"What are nachos?" Starswirl raised an eyebrow.

"Perfect food to eat when you're up against impossible odds and just need something to help you relax." Discord grinned. "Trust me, you'll love them."

"And perhaps afterwards we could partake of some of that cotton candy cloud you mentioned you make that rains chocolate milk?" Starswirl asked hesitantly. "I didn't want to encourage you, but that did sound good when you brought it up."

"Dinner of champions—let's do it."

The two creatures shook hands and spent the rest of the night getting to know each other a little better and making plans to communicate further about whatever they might discover outside of the Everfree and what it might mean for Equestria.


Thank you for reading, and please review if you can! The story is incomplete for now because I want the epilogue to be based after the season finale, and I'm following the USA schedule for that :) But there will be a tiny bit more! I hope you liked where this story went and some of the shipping fun I had ^_^ Personally, I think Luna with a crush on anyone would be just adorable to see.

Take care!