A Mad Glimmer

by FanOfMostEverything

Chapter 1: The Stars Must Be Crazy

Starlight snarled as she stalked through the caves. Those cowards. Those fools!

Not the interlopers. No, there was always the risk of newcomers having a destabilizing influence for a time, especially half a dozen at once. She still loathed them for destroying everything she worked for, especially that double-crosser Fluttershy, but they weren’t the ones she hated the most.

Her so-called friends were why she stomped with every step, grinding her teeth in impotent rage. She gave them true harmony, she gave them utopia, and how did they repay her? Betrayal! Slipping on the blinders of talent and inequality once more, suckling at the teat of insipid iconography instead of embracing the new world order. Even Double Diamond, her first and equally dear as all others, had turned his tail on her.

To think that they had called her a hypocrite! They refused to consider the sacrifices she made. They never thought of the noble suffering she endured, having to shoulder the burden of her cutie mark when all others were gloriously free of them. Did they think she liked it? That she’d have kept it if there were any way to remove it and still be able to remove other marks? She dreamed of the day she could finally strip her own mark, when all of Equestria was liberated and she could at last join the perfectly equal herd.

Starlight smirked. Well, that wondrous day would still come. Now that she knew that the de-marking spell worked even on alicorns, she could go straight to the top. Next stop, Canterlot and Celestia. Once she had stripped the sun, all of Equestria would see the light.

Laughter echoed all around her. “Oh, that is just too rich! You actually believe that.”

Starlight came to halt, looking everywhere. She was in a wide cavern, big enough that her horn couldn’t light all of it and the echoes made pinpointing the sound impossible. “Who is that? Show yourself!” The actual words registered through her shock at hearing them. “And stay out of my mind!”

Still unseen, the voice sniggered. “You didn’t realize you were saying all of that out loud? Really now, Outer Monologue Syndrome is a serious condition.” Hoofsteps approached. Well, some of them were hoofsteps. There were only two feet, and one sounded nothing like a hoof. “I’d get it looked at if I were you. And if you weren’t one of Equestria’s most wanted fugitives.”

Starlight leaned down into a ready position. The voice was close enough that she could point her horn at its source, the glow intensifying as she readied a spell. “I am trying to save Equestria!“

“Been there, done that.” Starlight jumped. The steps were still approaching, but that had come from behind her. Something like a griffon arm reached across her peripheral vision, and she felt it pinch the tip of her horn and pull off the spell. She cringed at a sensation like getting a hair plucked and looked behind her.

Hideous. Absolutely hideous. A horrendous mishmash of different creatures, thrown together into a clashing, disagreeable whole. And that was just the face. It was like looking at everything wrong with Equestria.

It gave her a half-lidded stare as it flicked the brilliant point of her magic onto the cavern’s ceiling, where it hung like a star. “Well, don’t try to spare my feelings or anything.”

Starlight turned her body and backed away from the creature, only to run into something furry, yet scaly. She looked at the obstruction, only to see the beast again. She backed up, but paused after a few steps. She wasn't falling for that again. “Who… what are you?”

Whatever it was, it rested its head on its lion paw and sighed. “I'm not sure why you're surprised. New recruits in your little regime aren't exactly a reliable news source. If you spend years in a deliberately isolated community, you should expect to be out of the loop. And I do mean isolated; it was far enough out of the way that I didn't even bother bringing Tirek, though at least he'd have actually done something with all that magic you'd gathered.

"But yes, time for introductions.” It bowed. “I am Discord, spirit of chaos and disharmony, at somepony else’s service.”

Starlight glared at the creature. “I see. Everything makes sense now. That alicorn, Twilight Sparkle. She works for you, sowing chaos and disharmony in my perfect community—stop laughing!”

Discord had fallen on his back, mismatched limbs wheeling in the air in his mirth. “Ha ha ha… Twilight? Working for me? Pfft… ha ha ha ha!”

Starlight gritted her teeth, lit her horn, and cast the first spell that came to mind.

Absolutely nothing happened.

Discord smirked and floated a few inches above the cave floor, still on his back. “I’m not sure what you were expecting. Word to the wise: A spell that manipulates cutie marks isn’t going to do much against a creature that doesn’t have one.” It waggled its unmarked, draconic tail.

Starlight glared at the creature and fired a more destructive spell, one she'd spent years perfecting so that she could defend her town against those unready for enlightenment.

The monster snatched the ray of coherent destruction between two lion claws, pressed it in its fist, popped the resulting mote in its mouth, and grimaced. "Ugh, flavorless." It stuck out its tongue. "I should've guessed."

Discretion definitely seemed like the better part of valor. With a shockwave of distorted space, Starlight slipped through the cracks of the universe.

A moment later, she rematerialized in the exact same place. She glared at the creature, whose pleased grin told her all she needed to know about what just happened. “What do you want?”

It chuckled. “What do I want? Oh, we’d be here for quite a while if I ran through everything I want, not least because I’d change my mind halfway through, start from the top of the new list, change my mind again halfway through that… oh, that could stretch on for eternity.” It shook its head. “No, what you meant was ‘what do I want with you, here and now?’ And the answer is that I’m here to deliver a message.”

“From who?”

“From myself. You see, Twilight may not be my,” a few laughs escaped the beast, “subordinate, but she and her merry companions are my friends.”

Starlight sneered. “As if anything like you could ever have friends.”

Discord gave a single nod. “A year or two ago, I’d have agreed with you. It wasn’t an easy process for anyone involved, but I’m coming to appreciate the concept.”

“Impossible,” Starlight spat. “True friendship can only take place between equals, and you mmph fmmpl—“ She put a hoof to her muzzle and found her mouth was gone. “Mmm!?”

“It’s not much fun when someone’s taking essential bits of your body, is it?” Discord considered an irregular lump of crystal floating above its eagle claw. Starlight’s snarling mouth could be seen through the misshapen facets.

Starlight lunged for it, but found herself immobile. Looking down, her eyes bulged as she saw her legs had become something like shimmering stalagmites, binding her to the floor.

“Well, it looks like we’ve found a way to keep your thoughts to yourself,” Discord said an inch from her ear. “Now, I’ve gone on record as saying I don’t turn ponies into stone, but one, you’re still mostly flesh, and b, technically speaking, crystal isn’t stone.”

Starlight’s response was incoherent and would’ve been unprintable if it weren’t.

Discord drifted back in front of her. “In any case, where were we? Oh, yes, you going on about how utter equality is the only feasible basis for friendship, so you reduce everypony to the least common denominator through logic that even I find twisted.” Discord paused, frowned, and snapped his talons. “This isn’t any fun if it’s one-sided.”

“What’s that supposed to—“ Starlight gasped as she rediscovered the joys of lips, teeth, and tongue. Then she glared at the horror before her. “I wouldn’t expect something like you to understand my cause.”

Discord's expression hardened, as did his tone. “I understand it better than you think, Starlight Glimmer. You're trying to impose your own vision of how things should be over the unacceptable reality of what currently is. The thing is, you aren't nigh-omnipotent, so you wouldn't have an introvert's chance in Ponyville of succeeding even if your method weren't fundamentally flawed."

"What flaws?" Starlight cried. "My way has already created a harmonious utopia!"

Discord sighed. "Where to begin? Your past efforts may have resulted in an, ugh, ordered society, but homogenizing ponies even more than they already are is monotony, not harmony. Even I know you can't get harmony out of a single forced note, but I suppose you've never had music lessons."

"Don't try to confuse me with false parallels," said Starlight.

Discord continued, heedless. "Confining those ponies in a impoverished village far from any other civilization isn't harmonious either; it's needlessly cruel. And creating a regime where everypony wears a rictus grin for fear of spending a night in the propaganda hut?” Discord shook its head. “Take it from an expert on the subject: That's about as disharmonious as you can get."

Starlight scowled. “Meaningless prattle. You know nothing!”

Discord smirked. “Far, far from the truth.”

“Differences can only lead to discord! You should know! Look at you!”

“Oh, I know.” Mirrors appeared in a hemisphere around Discord. He turned from one to another in admiration. “Glorious perfection that I am, how could I not?” The mirrors blinked, and then Discord was eye to eye with Starlight. “But the thing about order is that it isn’t harmony. If it were, I wouldn’t need to distinguish myself as the antithesis of both."

He took her chin in his lion paw. ”It is you who knows nothing, Starlight Glimmer. You don’t know what it takes to upend the banal paradigm of Equestria, which I admit has grown on me of late. You don’t grasp the rudiments of friendship that even I have come to understand. You don’t even know yourself, mishearing your cutie mark’s cry for excellence as a call to handicap everypony else.” Discord shook its head. “Honestly? I pity you.”

Starlight pulled her head out of his grasp and thrashed against her bindings. “You? Pity me? You disgusting beast!?”

He nodded as he moved a few steps back. “Yes, I do. Because I, the very embodiment of everything you despise, am a more harmonious creature than you, a pony. I'm all for ironic reversals, but this one is almost tragic.”

“You are a monster! When I have enlightened everypony, I'll show you tragedy!”

Discord nodded. "I have no doubt that you would. After all, in the extremely unlikely case you actually won, your policies would ruin one of the most prosperous nations in the world. And since you aren't immortal, it would only be a matter of time before some other race conquered it. Perhaps the griffins, perhaps the dragons. Given what you'd do to Equestria, I'd even give the Diamond Dogs even odds, and how embarrassing would that be?"

Starlight bit her lip hard enough to draw blood. "Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up, sh—" Her mouth vanished again.

Discord tossed it from forelimb to forelimb. “Well, that was disappointing. You were even more fun to tease than Twilight for a while there, but now you've gotten dull. I suppose I'll have to get to the point." It tossed her mouth into the air, did a front flip, and smacked it high with its tail. "My message to you is as follows: Quit while you’re not too far behind. Whatever tragic backstory led you to this moment, forget it. Whatever mad dream you’re following, abandon it. Whatever path you think leads to utopia, leave it. You won't like the alternative."

Starlight's mouth landed back in place. She sneered. "I 'won't like the alternative'? You call that a threat?"

Discord raised an eyebrow. "You know, I could've beaten you with a snap of my fingers. Literally."

She smirked. "But you didn't, because you're a coward. The disharmonious struggle against one another, but when confronted with true equality, they—"

"Infiltrate it and dismantle it from the inside, going by your recent experience." The smirk moved to Discord's face—literally; Starlight watched it—leaving a furious frown in its place. "Fear didn't even enter into why I let you be. I didn’t deal with you because I knew Twilight and company could. Frankly, you’re not worth my time.”

“Not… worth…” No. No, that couldn't be true. Starlight was the visionary that would bring true harmony to Equestria. This fiend must oppose her.

"Besides, if I gallivant around overthrowing every minor malignancy in Equestria, ponies will come to expect it of me, and heroism is a full-time job. I value my free time far too much to fall into that trap."

The creature leaned in close. "However, I wasn't expecting you to catch the girls off-guard as you did. You hurt my friends, Starlight Glimmer. You hurt them on a very deep level. So I took the time out of my busy day to give you this dream."

"Dream?" Starlight laughed as everything clicked back into place. "So this isn't real."

"Oh, this may be taking place in your head, but it's still quite real. As your cheery little town anthem put it, 'You can't have a nightmare if you never dream.'" Discord chuckled. "And nopony can deny that you have a very big dream, Starlight. It's only appropriate that the nightmare match. Did I mention that you very nearly got one to come out of retirement?"

She blinked. "What?"

It leaned back, arms behind its head. "Well, that anthem of yours was more right than you know. It turns out that when you tear the cutie mark off of a pony and slap on one of those distasteful limiter hexes of yours in its place, you quell the pony's presence in the dreamscape until it's virtually imperceptible. And that's before you stick them in a house with indoctrinating slogans on a constant loop, making it near-impossible to enter REM sleep. Princess Luna, who you may remember from the day the sun rose a few hours behind schedule, thought some of her best friends were dead. Thanks to a certain dragon's conscientious status report, she had the exact coordinates of your little cult commune. If it weren't for my intimate familiarity with Fluttershy's psychic signature, Luna would have sought vengeance by way of a meteor the size of a Manehattan city block. Once she realized how many innocents she killed, including the very ponies she was trying to avenge, she would've surely gone mad again, and lunar banishment wouldn't be an option this time.

"So, not only did I save your life, I also saved the entire world from the consequences of your short-sighted megalomania." It stared at her like a disappointed parent. "You're welcome."

Starlight rolled her eyes. "Why should I believe a word of that?"

Discord shrugged. "I don't really care whether you do or not, though it's generally advisable to thank someone after he's saved your life. It encourages the habit.

"But I digress. Since you're about as grateful as a dyspeptic manticore, I'll forgo any further banter and go straight to what happens if you don't follow my earlier advice.”

Starlight sneered. “Talk is cheap. You sneak into a dream and expect me to believe you'll follow through on anything you say in reality?”

Discord shook its head. “You do not know who or what you are provoking, child. It is far more dangerous to have me in your mind than near your body." Discord grabbed at thin air, then pulled open a file cabinet. "You don't want to know what I could do from in here." Its talons paged through the files. Every time they made contact, Starlight felt a nauseating tingle in her brain. Discord slammed the cabinet back into nothingness. "But I am letting that slight go because I, the spirit of chaos and disharmony, the master of madness, the avatar of insanity, am your moral and ethical superior.”

Starlight felt her eye twitch. “You. My superior?”

Discord smirked. “I do believe I’ve struck a nerve. Yes, Starlight Glimmer, I am a better person than you are, and because of that, I am merely issuing a warning: The next time you harm my friends, I won’t be the better person. I will make you suffer, and I will devote squillions of years of experience, the full creativity of the physical incarnation of improbability, and every iota of the malicious glee I can't otherwise express to that purpose.”

“Not the first misguided death threat I’ve gotten.” It was, Starlight admitted to herself, a lot more intimidating than the ones she'd heard during early reeducation sessions, but she wasn't going to let this patchwork beast know that.

“You're thinking out loud again. Besides, that wasn't a death threat. I find death distasteful. It’s the ultimate assertion of unchanging stasis over chaotic potential. No, Starlight, I’m not going to kill you. I'm not ever going to kill you. I will keep you tucked away in your own personal subdimension, where you will experience agony after agony with no hope of respite or even becoming inured to the experience. Every pain will be as fresh and shocking as the first time you ever stubbed a hoof as a filly. And you know what?” Discord grinned, wide, and for the first time, Starlight realized that all smiles were not created equal. “I think that with a stress doll like you, on whom I can vent my every cruel impulse, I can be a much, much better person to everypony else.

“So, me lass, do forget my earlier advice. Please, do seek out your revenge. Because when you fail, and you will—"

"I won't."

"You will. You couldn't handle a few dozen ponies who you'd been indoctrinating for years once they decided they'd had enough of you. Even if you could rip the cutie mark off of an alicorn who isn't still growing into her wings—fat chance—all of Equestria would stand against you. And that's before I get my hands on you. Know that when I do, you actually will make the world a better place. For everypony else.”

Starlight awoke screaming, and found that she’d fallen asleep standing up, her legs locked. She didn’t sleep again for the next four days.

Author's Notes:

A little capstone to Starlight's escape. Who knows? If we see her again, there may be a sequel.

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