"Small border markers have already been placed around the parameters of the most-deserted places in Equestria," Twilight relayed to the princess. "Mostly for every pony else's benefit since I do believe he'll know exactly how far away he should stay."
Twilight stood with Princess Celestia at the table of a moderately-sized meeting room. A map of Equestria was laid out in front of them, and Twilight indicated each of the newly-formed borders with small magically-drawn dotted lines.
Four sections of the land had already been given, with two others still being discussed. Well 'given' was the word Twilight used in her mind, although the unicorn knew that she did not have the power or the authority to officially assign Discord anything. Her magic kept him in those areas, but only Celestia could make them really his.
Even though so much had already been done to forward her plan in just a few short days, this meeting with the princess still felt more like a proposal to Twilight.
"Very good, and just so things are clear, the spell incorporates all sentient beings inhabiting populated areas?" Celestia asked her.
"Yes Princess; Ponies, griffons, dragons, donkeys, etc. I've made certain there were no loopholes for him to try and work around if he ever felt the urge."
"It seems that you have thought of everything," she stated.
"Everything I could think of, and everything I could control. There are still factors that remain to be seen, such as how every pony will react to these new conditions," Twilight said.
"They may be fearful for a while. I don't believe we would have much trouble keeping them out of any area that he inhabits, though I plan on arranging a meeting with the mayors of the respective towns closest to them. We would need to assuage that fear while still stressing that a distance should be kept."
Twilight found that slightly encouraging, although it came coupled with a small sense of guilt. She knew that her actions – whether or not Celestia agreed with them – would cause the princess to have to add to her already-massive pile of royal duties, either by helping every pony adapt to the changes or cleaning up her mess if things didn't work out. Twilight regretted causing her the extra headache.
"And what of Discord, how has he been adjusting?" Celestia wondered, momentarily pulling Twilight out from her anxious mind once more.
"Oh, it's been an adjustment," the purple pony replied as she thought back to the last time she had seen the draconequus, and she had to smile a bit at his expense. "Limits aren't exactly something he's used to, so he's been…frustrated to say the least. I guess I can't blame him, what with all the testing we had to do."
After the spell had been implemented they had needed to know the limits of this new restriction, just how close Discord could get before feeling its affects. It wasn't that hard to judge, the closer he got to any densely-populated pony area, the bigger the shock he received.
It became a sort of game – one that he had very much not enjoyed – a kind of hit-or-miss testing that allowed Twilight to map out the invisible borders. It had left Discord literally sizzling and in quite a bad mood, but once it was over the desert, the badlands, the swamps, and the Everfree had all been plotted.
In loyalty to her, Twilight's friends had actually helped with this as well, though AJ and Rainbow Dash seemed about as happy with it as Discord. Rarity seemed to be trying a bit harder, helping place the markers along with Fluttershy and Pinkie (who had a blast trying to guess when Discord would go zap).
She was grateful that they were making an effort to be accommodating even if it was only for her sake. She knew that every pony else would most likely not put forth as much effort. Word was slowly beginning to spread about what had transpired, and Twilight knew that whatever needed to be done needed to be done quickly, which brought the unicorn right back to feeling guilty.
Even if Celestia could stay ahead of the rumors and try to dispel any panic, it would not take long for it to become known that it was hers – Twilight's – actions that had caused all these new changes.
She had been certain in the moment that she had made the right decision, but the inevitable doubt Twilight had kept at bay now began to seep in, and her stance had subconsciously shifted to reflect those thoughts.
"Princess," she paused tentatively. "This has been a very large undertaking, and there is so much that will still need to be done. I apologize if it's caused you any extra stress, but I have to wonder – with all this extra effort – do you still think I did the right thing?"
"There is no need to apologize my student. This land has undergone many changes, some exceptionally more altering to the ponies' lives than this. I won't say that it may not be a struggle for some, but you certainly do not need to worry for me."
That was slightly more reassuring, despite the fact that the unicorn had a hunch her teacher would have told her not to worry about her even if all of this really did cause her stress.
"And concerning your dealings with Discord; I did tell you before that I had every confidence that you would do what needed to be done. I trust your judgment and therefore I would have supported whichever outcome you found to be necessary."
"How can we know for certain that I made the right choice, though?"
"Only time will tell that," Celestia answered. Twilight sighed, it was the expected response but it didn't do much to relieve this lapse in confidence she felt.
Her eyes had drifted to the floor, but her mentor lifted Twilight's face back up to view her own. Celestia smiled down at her in a way the pony recognized from her years at school. It was the same knowledgeable, didactic expression that usually preceded a lesson.
"It may be hard for you to conceive Twilight, but there will come times in your life when there may be problems with no one right answer. That is when one is required to make a choice.
I know that you were required to do so here, and that you tried to obtain as much knowledge as possible – that is always important – but you should never forget to consult your heart as well."
"But I can't solely rely on my own feelings," Twilight responded almost automatically, even though she thought she knew what her teacher was getting at. Twilight had attempted to keep things logical and factual, but in the end it had been her heart's contribution that had won her friends over.
"Not always, that is true," Celestia agreed. "But your thoughtful consideration may be one of the reasons you were able to do something I never would have thought possible, you convinced chaos to agree to be reigned in."
Twilight observed the princess as the elder's eyes looked over the map again intently. She didn't appear to actually be reading it; instead she seemed to be ruminating on how best to phrase what was in her mind.
"It is more difficult for me to see him as you do," she halted a moment, and Twilight thought she heard that touch of harshness that sometimes cropped up there when Discord was discussed.
When she began again though, the princess was as soft and composed as ever. "But I cannot fault you for giving a being a chance in such a way. It is in a sense an execution of some of the things you have learned about friendship, after all."
"However differently it will be to manage, I am pleased that you were able to find a way to exhibit a more diplomatic - and arguably kinder - way of dealing with him."
Twilight allowed an audible sigh to escape her; grateful that her teacher did approve of what she had done, even if the purple pony sensed she had her misgivings.
"Of course, whether this faith you have in him is justified will remain to be seen. We shall consider this his probation," she added. "I believe that you also know that we can not merely leave Discord to his own devices out there; we will need to find a way of keeping tabs on him. I could always assign some pony in the guard, or if it came to it I could check in with him myself."
"With all due respect Princess, I'd be willing to keep you informed. I doubt any pony else would want to approach him willingly at the moment," Twilight piped up.
"I had a feeling that you would offer, but are you sure that you would be up to the responsibility?"
"It might make for tight scheduling, but I think I can manage it along with my friendship reports and my regular studies," Twilight said. "Plus, I feel like he may be more inclined to actually show up if he meets with me."
"Somehow I don't doubt that," she said. It was an oddly specific tone of voice, but Twilight wasn't able to decipher the implication before Celestia spoke again.
"Do you know where he is now?"
Twilight thought for a moment. "He should be back in the desert. That's where we left him after testing the borders," she answered.
"I wonder if you could take me to him, if you wouldn't mind. There are some things that we need to discuss and I doubt Discord will want to be kept out of the loop on something that concerns him."
It was a different scene than Twilight had remembered that awaited them as she and Princess Celestia teleported to the deserted area near the exact center of the desert… or at least different from the last time Twilight had been there.
Gone were the odd groupings of neglected junk as well as the ramshackle building, though the jackalope population seemed to be flourishing.
The kaleidoscope of colorful sand swirled around them, mixing their respective hues together to create new colors as they shifted like some foal's giant sand art project.
The new building that stood before them was much grander, looking a lot closer to his hideout in the forest and just as out-of-place. It had the same fun house feel to it as well, complete with a rotating mirrored tunnel at the entrance and the whole thing leaning to one side. More wonky mirrors and false doors were sure to wait had they entered, but that turned out not to be necessary.
Discord was standing outside his new house, eyeing it meticulously with his mismatched arms outstretched as if to view its placement. He gave a light sliding gesture and the whole building shifted along with his claws, now sloping to the left instead of the right.
He had evidently heard their arrival, and called to Twilight without turning around, still focused on his decorating.
"So, have you come to see how I'm healing up after the torture you put me through the past few days?" he asked with mild sarcasm. He actually seemed in a much better mood than when Twilight had seen him last, and he was apparently taking pains to make his surroundings reflect that.
"Uh, partially," She answered. "Glad to see you're in better spirits."
"Well, why shouldn't I be? This may only be a form of freedom, but that doesn't mean I can't try and have some fun here," he finally turned to look at Twilight, and his eyes caught sight of Celestia beside her. His smile broadened.
"Oh and you've brought Celestia as well. Have you come to help me move in?" he asked jovially. "Or should we perhaps take this opportunity to celebrate? Do you like cheese? Oh what am I saying, every pony likes cheese."
As he approached them he snapped the fingers of his claw and a large pile of various cheeses appeared in front of them. Twilight raised an eyebrow and Celestia continued to watch him, completely unfazed.
"Discord," Twilight began, but Discord waved his paw and shook his head as he made the cheese disappear.
"No, you're right. Scratch that. Ice cream's the better way to celebrate." With a snap a giant tub of ice cream now towered over them in the cheeses' place, three tiny spoons already stuck in, barely visible at the top.
Twilight tried to peer around the massive tub, but found that she had to literally walk around it to be able to see him. She was a bit nervous about this meeting, for she still didn't know exactly what the princess would say to Discord.
"Listen, it's great that you're settling in and everything, but we're not here to celebrate."
"I asked Twilight to bring me here so that you and I may discuss some things," Celestia clarified from the other side of the ice cream, her voice formal.
Discord crossed his arms and slumped, his exuberance apparently dampened a bit by the prospect. "Really, more talking? Haven't we had enough of that?"
The ton of ice cream disappeared and they could see each other properly again. Discord was slowly losing his smile as it became clearer that they were there for serious business.
Celestia smiled at Twilight, giving a nod of dismissal. "Thank you for bringing me, Twilight. You may go."
Twilight blinked, surprised by this request. "But Princess, I thought you wanted to-"
"I do wish to speak with Discord, but alone." She heard the touch of authoritativeness in her teacher's polite words.
This made Twilight a bit more uneasy, whatever she was going to talk with him about; it must be something of importance. Why wasn't she allowed to stay, then? She had allowed the unicorn to take on the responsibility of being Discord's liaison; shouldn't Twilight be privy to their conversation?
The princess seemed to understand Twilight's hesitation to obey, and her smile grew a bit warmer as she lightly nudged her student's head. It was a maternal gesture, something that she had not done in some time, not since Twilight was a filly.
"Everything is fine, you don't need to worry," Celestia softly assured her. "Everything is still moving forward, but there are still things that need to be discussed."
Though Twilight still felt that she had a right to stay – and though this dismissal felt a lot like sending the foal off so the grown-ups could talk – Twilight knew that Celestia had her reasons.
She nodded to the princess, then slowly but awkwardly began to back away. She spared a look and a smile to Discord before taking a bit too-long to teleport away, as if hoping her mentor would change her mind.
The princess waited until she was certain that her student had indeed left to begin speaking. She knew that Twilight would want to stay, but this was something to be done on her own. Celestia assumed that the unicorn's hesitation might have also stemmed from a worry for her – for what Discord might do to her if Twilight left the two of them alone – or even vice-versa.
Celestia had begun to wonder about what Discord might be up to ever since she had heard of Twilight's meeting him in the forest. That had forced the alicorn to revisit certain memories that she typically wished not to.
Twilight had come to her – as she so often did – with her problem, asking her teacher to dig up the very memory that had drifted back up to the forefront of the princess's mind.
She had not stood before the draconequus in this manner since that day all those ages ago. Things had changed evidently for the both of them. Discord had towered over her in her youth, and it gave her a small sense of pride that she was nearly eye-level with him now.
While her growth since then was clearly visible, the changes the intervening years had made to her adversary were not entirely cosmetic. If Twilight was to be believed – and if he was to be trusted – than there had been some sort of improvement made on the inside…but that was much harder for the princess to see.
Her respect of the balance they retained and her desire for formal diplomacy were some of the reasons for Celestia to allow Discord this pseudo-freedom, her student's act of mercy and her adamant quest for a fair outcome had been another.
Her dear Twilight… she had such a kind heart. Celestia was proud of her and truly did trust her judgment, though silently she sought to watch out for her, to be certain that her faith was not merely unwarranted naiveté.
For although Celestia had faith in her student and her abilities…she found it quite difficult to form sympathy as Twilight had for the being before her, for this was the same being who had done such damage to her ponies – playing with their minds and their bonds with each other – when her mother had barely even faded away.
She felt she understood perfectly Twilight's side of it, but she had to wonder what Discord was getting out of this. Freedom, of course, but this was as much an adjustment for him as it was for the rest of Equestria. Accepting help from Twilight and agreeing to her plans to help him even though they would most likely remove him from his comfort zone…had that been purely out of the will to survive and evade his punishment?
Discord regarded Celestia with only mild interest, arms still crossed. Neither being moved any closer to each other than they had already been when Twilight left. For a few moments the only movements at all were the eternal flowing of the princess's mane and tail, and the slightly-squeaky rotating of the mirror tunnel on the house behind him.
"So…," Discord began slowly after a few minutes of this stalemate. "How are things?"
Celestia blinked, and then breathed in deeply before speaking. She wanted to summon her patience so as not to become as frustrated with him as she had done in the past.
"Busy, as ever," she answered still in her formal manner. "So I shall attempt to make this meeting brief. I wished to speak to you on the new circumstances in which you have found yourself, as well as inform you on what has been decided upon."
"Oh, that sounds like such an important and completely-not-dull discussion to have."
"It is important, and I assumed that you would want to know. Firstly however I would like to make certain of the limits this punishment spell that Twilight and the other Elements of Harmony placed on you have. It does indeed keep you confined to only the deserted areas of Equestria, and you are restricted from coming within a certain distance to any populated area of the land, is that right?"
"Yes yes, that's right. Your little ponies' homes are safe from big, scary, me. I would think that Twilight would have told you all of that already, is this really why you're here?"
"I wanted to hear it from you."
"Oh, pull the other leg," he scoffed with a roll of his eyes. "That can't be the sole reason for you to so graciously grant me this private audience."
Celestia chose not to respond to that. She would come to her other concerns at her chosen pace, and she didn't enjoy Discord's clear want to hurry things up.
"Twilight has given me – as far as I can glean – a full account of your latest encounter with the bearers of the Elements. From what she has told me, you do seem to be genuine in your agreement to her terms, though there is one question about this restriction that has not been addressed. The barriers holding you back only affect you, if you chose to seek them out. I wonder what would stop you from using your powers of manipulation on some pony unfortunate enough to enter into these territories you inhabit."
It was something that Twilight Sparkle had not mentioned in her explanation to the princess, and it had caught Celestia's notice. Her student normally would not ignore something she found to be such a basic, obvious thing to consider. Her thoughts then turned to Discord, and she feared the draconequus might use this as a loophole in their magical metaphorical contract.
Discord gave no signs that this surprised him, but neither did he look as if he were caught in the act of intentionally omitting that fact to exploit it.
"Under the restrictions of this lovely new punishment, actually not much," he replied, now inspecting his claws as he spoke. "After they shot me with those Elements again, we discovered that was a concern that turned out not to be necessary."
"And why would that be?" Celestia inquired sternly.
Discord gave a halted look, evidently not wanting to explain further. After a few moments of reluctant mental deliberation he seemed to realize that Celestia would not continue otherwise, so he finally relented. "…Because that apparently was part of the power I handed over to Twilight."
"By that you mean your manipulation of the ponies?" she asked skeptically.
"Their minds," he clarified, tapping his head with his claw for emphasis. "It seems that I no longer have the same affect on the minds of the ponies that come close to me as I used to. Outward forces I can still control – altering landscape, creating obstacles, even changing outward appearances – I've still got all that. I don't seem to have enough power anymore to alter their perceptions as I once did though."
He spoke regretfully, as if he had had a favorite toy taken away…which in a sense he had.
"And this will not dampen your ability to retain your side of the balance?"
"Oh, don't you worry about that," he said waving his paw at her. "I've still got plenty of chaos magic. I wouldn't give it all away just to ensure my freedom from being a lawn ornament. I'll still be able to keep up the fun.
"Of course, I don't know how much fun it will be if I can't get ponies to fight over a giant boulder they think is a diamond or think a drunk polar bear is following them around," he sighed, then looked back up to her with a smirk. "Although I thought you'd be pleased, that was one of those things you seemed to find objectionable about my methods, wasn't it?"
It had been, but that was not the extent of it. It was his manipulations of their minds and the toying with of their bonds, but it was also the flippant way in which he did it. The fact that Discord saw no worth in them or the remarkable potential the ponies of this world held within them, as well as within their capacity to love.
The princess would have been content to assume that such concepts were beyond him, though reluctantly she knew she must take his recent actions into account. Whether or not he intended to relinquish that particular part of his power, he had relinquished some part of it. It seemed that he had done so to not only save his tail, but on behalf of some pony else. Celestia had found that hard to believe, but that was the way Twilight had recounted it. She considered that as she spoke again.
"But you do not seem to understand why we found it 'objectionable'."
"Why does that matter?" he wondered dismissively.
The princess paused again to strengthen her resolve to not let him frustrate her. As calmly as she could she asked, "If that portion of your power had not been given, would you have continued to use it if you found an opportunity?"
"Hmm…," Discord thought aloud. "It depends on how bored I was. I'd assume I would get pretty bored out here with no pony wandering by every day. It's not as if that will matter, since I don't believe I'll get many visitors."
Celestia shook her head, sighing with exhaustion and – amazingly – disappointment.
"Even after all of this, you still fail to see their value."
"Well, it's only fair, as they don't see any value in me," he said as though it were obvious.
"Hasn't what Twilight Sparkle said convinced you of anything? Turning the blame entirely around on solely their ignorance will not change anything. Putting forth the effort – doing something on your part – is what will show them."
"I thought I'd already done that," he grumbled.
"You have to some extent. Agreeing to Twilight's proposal, giving up a piece of your strength, these are things I would not have thought possible of you, Discord. However, this probationary period we have decided upon will determine whether you intend to keep your promise or not. You could take this time to try and understand them better…so they can in-turn understand you."
"Oh joy, homework on top of it all."
"Twilight can help you, perhaps during the progress reports. She has agreed to be the liaison between us and will be checking up on you as frequently as she deems appropriate."
"And you won't be doing it yourself because you'd rather not be in the same room as me? He presumed.
"Twilight feels she can handle the responsibility, and she is the one who found you. She seems to see some sort of potential in you, and has been your greatest advocate in these days following your detainment."
"She can also tolerate me better than you can. Well too bad for that, whatever will I do without those lovely disdainful looks you give me?" Discord sardonically feigned sadness.
Celestia continued to not be amused.
"You also seem to be more receptive to listening to her," she added pointedly. That possibly meant that he might actually learn something. As she thought back to Twilight's departure Celestia reminded herself of the other reason for their talk's privacy.
"And since we're on the subject, I did want to speak to you for a moment about her."
"Ah, I figured there was a reason why you sent her away," he said sounding quite a bit more interested in the conversation now. "You know, I also see potential in her, although I'm sure for many of the reasons why you chose her for your student in the first place."
"It is that interest you have in her that has me concerned," Celestia said. "She does have great potential...but I have to wonder what it is that makes you realize this about her and not every pony else. You can not expect me to assume that it is only for the compassion she has shown you."
Discord chuckled at her words as if they were the punch line of a joke he'd heard before. "Oh Celestia, you are correct in thinking that there are other factors in my interest in Twilight Sparkle, but you'd be wrong to think that that was not one of them."
When she didn't look entirely convinced, he continued. "How she seemed to grasp the concept of the balance we share in keeping, and the way she talks to me rather than at me. It's almost like finding some pony that speaks your language – or is actually willing to learn it. I haven't had such fun conversation since... I can't even remember. You'd be wrong to think I don't admire that compassion, but it is also her want of knowledge that intrigues me."
"That comes from being my student," she stated.
He seemed to be regaining his enthusiasm, but Celestia retained her serious demeanor, hoping that might influence – or at least remind him – to keep a lid on it.
"Not to mention how much fun it is to fluster her, I can't even tell you, Princess. It might possibly be more fun than aggravating you. Someday I may just have to show my gratitude."
Letting that jab at trying to annoy her slide, Celestia focused on the second part of what he had said. "I may regret asking this, but how exactly would you show gratitude?"
Discord seemed to think about this as well, but more in a way that suggested he already had an idea.
"Perhaps providing her with something she wants, something she can't get enough of," he seemed to pause for affect. "Knowledge."
"Knowledge," she repeated questioningly. "What knowledge?"
The draconequus smiled, apparently glad she'd asked. "She may be your student, but she is a student still. She has a natural curiosity and open mind, some of the traits I probably have to thank for my current state."
"For that you have her heart to thank," Celestia corrected him. If that had registered with him though, he didn't show it.
"What I'm getting at is that there are certain things that she could learn from me, things that you would never show her."
It took Celestia a moment to realize what he meant. "Twilight has more sense than to use the chaotic magic you gave her. It may lie within her, but she would have no idea how to wield it."
"Not without some pony to teach her,"
"And of course you would be happy to accommodate?" she assumed.
"She's done quite a lot of accommodating just for me, I'd be happy to return the favor if she ever asked." Discord said. "But it is a part of her now."
The princess felt her stern expression slip into an uncomfortable frown. That was an idea that would be difficult to get used to, and one that she did not feel quite ready to think about.
Discord seemed to pick up on her feelings, and his smile only broadened to that of a smirk. "Which is it that bothers you more Celestia, that your favorite student essentially has a part of me residing inside her now, or that someday she may actually want to tap into it?"
"What Twilight wants would be up to her, though I feel I have spent enough time with her to have a clear grasp on her mindset. I highly doubt that she would want to use it, despite her newly-formed alliance with you," she spoke matter-of-factly.
"But of course, things can change. What some pony wants today may be something completely different tomorrow," Discord mused.
"Spending so much more time with me Twilight's wants could head in a fairly different direction from what you could anticipate, and - being the maternal figure you know she sees you as - you would never refuse her of something her heart desires, even if you don't approve of it."
Celestia wasn't sure what Discord was getting at, but she had a sneaking suspicion that he wasn't entirely speaking of chaos magic anymore.
"Discord, I realize that you now share a significant bond – not only the magical connections of your magic given to her and the magic restricting you – she has become in some small way your first friend, something I never would have thought you capable of letting into your life. You may want to show her things, but I think you could benefit far more from her."
When his attention seemed to be waning again, the alicorn stepped right up to him for the first time since arriving. Her patience with him was growing thin, and this was the part that she wished to hammer into the chaotic mind of the draconequus.
"Do not forget though, that Twilight has other even more significant bonds. She has a family and friends who all care for her. I know that you have formed a…special interest in her, but bear in mind that she is special to many, not only yourself," her voice grew harsher, losing its royal, princessy tone as she stared right into his face.
"If you take nothing else away from this meeting, know this; your probation holds the stipulation that you meet with Twilight to assess your status. If during those meetings Twilight is harmed – if you do anything in any way untoward – than you not only will have her friends to answer to, but me as well."
She had intended to intimidate Discord, but even if she had Celestia knew the miss-matched being to have a very good poker face. No shock registered on his asymmetric features, but at least he had lost the smirk.
Assuming that he got the message, Celestia backed away but did not break her stare nor change her serious tone.
"It is because of Twilight that this second chance is possible, but there will be no third."
With the hope that she had gotten her point across, Celestia departed, leaving Discord to his redecorating.
Twilight gave a groan of exasperation as she began to trek into the forest. She had been waiting on the edge of where she knew the invisible barrier to be for nearly an hour now for him, and Discord still had not shown up. This was already putting her far behind schedule, and if she had to go searching for him she might as well throw all her plans for the day out the window. He had better – at the very least – actually be in the forest.
It annoyed her that Discord couldn't even stick to the plan for the first day, and it was hard enough for Twilight to pry herself away from her friends for this meeting.
They had known what she had to do today, but that still didn't assuage any of the tension in the air that had risen when Twilight had announced that meeting Discord was what she was leaving them to do.
True, Pinkie and Fluttershy hadn't seemed too worried, but she could still sense a form of concern mostly from the latter. Rarity had attempted some quite transparent forms of stalling her.
"Oh I just remembered, I need to take all of your measurements again, Twilight. I wanted to make you a new...uh…saddle-dress, yes that's it," she had stumbled to her hooves as Twilight had headed for the door of her shop. She had then insisted on having Twilight try on various giant hats just in case it got too sunny outside.
The unicorn's frustration was calmed a bit by the thought of her friends' concern, for she knew that each of them did care and were concerned for her, but she hoped that they knew she could handle herself.
The way that Rainbow and Applejack had acted when she left the boutique, one might think that she was off to do something dangerous or unsavory.
It almost felt to Twilight like she had five extra mothers… with she in the role of the grown-up daughter going off to do something they silently objected to but had no right to keep her from doing.
She knew they loved her, and she appreciated their worry for her, but she was still an adult, and this was the way things were now. This was something that she was obliged to do – she had signed up for it.
Twilight admitted that these were very strange new circumstances she found herself in, but she was glad to have their support in some small way.
Of course she wasn't exactly pleased about these new responsibilities as she trudged through the undergrowth to find Discord when he knew very well where he was supposed to be.
At least he had made it easy to find him – the fun house was back – he had evidently incorporated it into some of the ruins of the old castle. She wondered how the princess would react to her old home being used in such a way for essentially a second time.
As she entered the massive central room she noticed that it still looked a bit on the dank, ancient side. Discord might not have been completely finished with his 'renovation.' She found him at the far end of the 'throne room' sitting in yet another giant squishy chair made of cake.
Before him sat a model city of Ponyville that seemed to be made of gummy candy. She was a bit too frustrated with him at the moment to wonder if she had just walked in on some sort of plotting session, but whatever concerns that brought up were silenced when he took a big bite out of Town Hall. She didn't think he'd eat something that was part of a plan.
He watched her approach as he finished chewing the candy building and the draconequus greeted her in his usual way, as if he did not notice how annoyed she was.
"There you are Twilight. Is it time to check up on me already? Why don't you pull up a comfy chair?"
With a snap a smaller cake chair appeared on the other side of the table on which the gummy-model sat.
Twilight shook her head. "I don't want a comfy chair," she said briskly.
Discord laughed. "Didn't think you would, I just wanted to hear you say 'comfy chair."
The unicorn cocked her head to one side, and then shook it once more before going back to voicing her irritation with him. "Discord, you were supposed to meet me at the edge of the forest to test the border again."
He gave a tired sound of derision through his nose before picking up gummy Sugarcube Corner. "I am not much in the mood to have my nerves fried today, Twilight. Don't you think we tested that little exercise in schadenfreude of yours enough?"
Twilight walked around to his side of the table, magically taking the gummy model out of his grasp and placing it back with the rest of the candy buildings, leaving Discord looking disappointed.
"Negative re-enforcement seemed like the only thing that would satisfy the population that you really would stay away, and it's only the border. The shocks intensify only the closer you get to any densely-populated area. It's not like I'm asking you to flash into Ponyville."
"I had no idea you were such a sadist," he quipped, which made Twilight sigh even though she had caught the joking tone.
"Hey, it was your idea," Twilight reminded him. "Sort of, 'shock collar'?"
"So I should just blame myself?" he asked, now deciding to finish Town Hall off instead.
Twilight was ready with a reply. "You like yourself too much to stay mad at you, so yes."
"You also seem to be responding to it pretty well," she added even though Twilight was sure that's not what he wanted to hear.
"But you could always try a little positive re-enforcement, you know," he muttered.
"Not entirely sure you would respond as well," she said sarcastically.
She then had a thought. Twilight was confident in the methods of her restriction spell, but it really only did one part of the job to be done. It made the ponies feel more at ease with Discord's presence. It did nothing to help him with his image problem or teach him about the value of companionship…something he very much still needed to learn. Perhaps some kind of positive incentive was also in order, something that could somewhat balm the negative.
"Though, I do suppose I could provide you some," she said. He apparently had caught the double-meaning a split second before her, and when she finally realized how that could have been taken she quickly elaborated. "I mean that since these meetings are going to be a part of our lives now, we could make an effort to make them more pleasant. I could stay and visit for a while."
She felt a little awkward about the speed at which she caught his full attention with her words, his eyes flicking up to hers and abandoning the Gummyville with a smile. The smaller comfy chair scooted up behind her.
"I can't today," Twilight added maybe a little too quickly. "If you'll recall I'm running very late because some pony missed an appointment, but we can begin the next time."
The purple pony hoped he caught that tiny reprimand in her polite offer. If she was going to stay longer next time, he'd need to be on-schedule.
"I think I'll hold you to that," he answered. "Think of all the fun we'll have."
"Fine, now that that's settled, will you please come to the border?"
He sighed regretfully, but flashed them both to the edge of the forest anyway. They landed in the shade of a black mulberry tree just at the part of the forest where the thick growth gradually receded into softer, shorter grass.
Discord stood next to her, looking down at her skeptically. "Are you really going to make me do this?"
"I'm afraid so," Twilight responded. Then when he didn't move, the unicorn held out a hoof and smiled as if to say 'after you'.
Discord sighed as he took a few steps closer; wincing in preparation for the shock he was about to receive. As soon as his clawed foot met the ground within the invisible line, they heard a crackle and a pop and Discord hopped back a few more steps than was needed.
Blowing on his smarting foot, he glanced back down at Twilight. She hoped he appreciated that she wasn't smiling so as not to make him think she was enjoying his pain in any way.
"There," he mumbled. "Happy, have I fulfilled my requirement for the day?"
"Indeed, you have." Twilight replied politely. "I suppose that is all for today, but we'll make sure to schedule in more time for the next visit."
The draconequus smirked down at the growing formalness in her tone. It wasn't that she wasn't trying to be unfriendly. On the contrary, Twilight thought that was fairly friendly, she just wanted to do things properly…especially since she had gotten such a late start.
"Until next time, Twilight Dear," Discord bade her farewell.
Twilight rolled her eyes, but her smile remained. "Do you have to call me 'dear' like that?"
"I could always call you 'Twily'" he shrugged.
"That would be a no," she answered. "Only my brother calls me that."
"How about 'Sparky'?"
She couldn't help but chuckle at that one. "Now you're just getting ridiculous."
"Good, it's what I do."
She sighed, but with only half the annoyance she would have had before. He had taken this opportunity to yet again enter that uncomfortably-close distance between them. Was this how things were going to be now? Would she have to get used to Discord continuing to invade the territory of her personal space?
Twilight knew exactly where the invisible border lay behind her mere inches away from her hooves. She only had to take two steps backwards and he would be physically incapable of being as close to her as he was right now.
That would be impolite, and not exactly a good example of friendship or trust if she did so without any notice. Then again, Discord had done quite a few things to her without warning.
She superficially rationalized that this was the reason for her stalling, for why her hooves seemed glued to the spot and the constantly-running gears in her mind had halted. She couldn't will herself to take those two extra steps in any case.
The unicorn did notice that Discord also seemed to be stalling, and her heart hammered despite her attempts to regulate its pace. He couldn't possibly be about to do what she was thinking, he wouldn't end two conversations like that…her stomach gave a little involuntary flip at that prospect.
"I know what you're thinking," she stammered, now attempting to distract him as well as herself. "…and I won't be giving you that power back. I wouldn't know how anyway."
He seemed unfazed by her attempt to get him off his apparent train of thought. "Oh, I wouldn't dream of asking. That was my 'show of good faith' and everything, wasn't it?"
She managed a nod, her mind trying to recover from the mental halt that his proximity was causing.
"Besides, think how much fun you could have with it if you chose to use it?" his voice was softer now, almost a purr.
She blinked, that question had helped momentarily clear her mind. It was something she hadn't considered possible or even thought of at all.
"I wouldn't know how to do that either, and don't believe I would want to use that power even if I did," she answered, her voice growing quieter as well.
"You could always learn," he said. "Either way it is yours now, do or do not with it what you wish," his purr seemed to vibrate as the tension Twilight felt between them grew stronger.
"Though if you ever get curious, you know where to find me," Discord whispered, and it didn't take much for the unicorn to anticipate what was about to happen next.
Twilight closed her eyes as he inched closer, her legs only half-heartedly still attempting to back up. She waited breathlessly for the expected sensation of his lips on hers…only to hear a pop from directly in front of her.
Twilight's eyes fluttered open, her cheeks warm, and as she made the realization her stomach dropped with embarrassment and irritation. She was alone now at the very edge of the barrier.
Of course, she thought. She had expected it, and Discord didn't want to do anything expected.
…Yup, she mentally concluded as her legs finally began to make the trip back into town and to her friends. This is exactly how things are gonna be.