A Crazed Gleam

by FanOfMostEverything

Chapter 1: Providing Immoral Support

Once again, Twilight Sparkle and Spike fell out of the timestream and onto the Cutie Map. This time, however, their fall was cushioned by a pile of rubber chicken-ponies already lying on the Map, one thick enough that they were buried in it.

They burrowed their way out to behold a distressingly familiar chaotic landscape, the princesses in clown outfits and afros, and Discord chasing them while astride a unicycle, all but laughing his tail off.

Then it rained pies. Twilight gritted her teeth and pulled out the scroll.

"Hold on, hold on!" Discord cried, suddenly at her side. He looked over to the panting diarchs. "Take five, ladies."

Celestia and Luna looked at one another, then galloped away.

"Don't take it personally, Twilight," said Discord. "It's only been a few minutes, but they think we've been doing that for decades. Also, they don't know who you are."

Twilight just gaped at Discord. Spike spoke up. "Wait, you remember us?"

Twilight found her voice and swept a forehoof across the landscape. "And you're allowing this?"

Discord gave them a look so flat, it briefly turned him two-dimensional. "Allow me to run you through the past half-hour or so of my life." The toys under him formed themselves into a chaise lounge. "There I was at home, building a better platypus, when I suddenly found myself dead." All the flesh vanished off of him, leaving his skeleton to say, "As you might imagine, this came as something of a shock."

"I'm kind of surprised you had an opinion at the time," said Spike. Twilight nudged him with a wing, and he gave a desperate smile. "Uh, no offense?"

Discord waved it off as he restored himself "Entirely understandable misconception. My body was dead, yes, but my awareness was still hanging around, sustained by the unpalatable but sufficient chaos of war. However, without a physical form, I couldn't do much more than exist and sulk. A few minutes later, I went from a ghost to a statue." He turned into a marble bust of himself and scowled. "I'm still not sure which was worse. At least I got to look at the inside of a changeling hive instead of the palace statue garden. A few minutes after that, I was still a statue, but I had a lovely view of the entire planet. From the moon." Discord looked down on Twilight, his neck trailing off as far up as she could see. "Don't suppose you could clarify that one?"

"Nightmare Moon must have banished you there along with Celestia," Twilight said as she and Spike got off of the Map.

Discord nodded as his body rotated across the horizon and back into the chicken pile. "And quite a bit else. I was up to my elbows in refuse. You'd think it was her solution to everything. Must've gotten it from Star Swirl. Well, after that, I was dead again, with even my disembodied awareness barely clinging to existence as Tirek lay waste to all and sundry." He took a deep breath. "So, when I found myself in the first enjoyable moment of chaos since this mess started, I indulged myself for a moment. You'll have to forgive me." He smirked. "Besides, unicycle chases are like tacos; if you stop midway through, it ends messily."

Twilight's jaw worked silently for a bit. Spike tugged on her tail. She turned to him, and he said, "I never thought I'd say this, but we have bigger things to worry about than Discord backsliding."

"Indeed," said Discord. "For one, I was hoping you could tell me what was going on."

Twilight sighed. "Starlight Glimmer."

Discord sniffed at a can with Starlight's cutie mark, gagged, and tossed it away. "Of course. All of the sealed evil in Celestia's pantry is doing fine; I should've figured it was the one you'd left open months ago."

Twilight scowled. "Hey!"

After a moment, Discord wilted. "You're right, that wasn't exactly fair. I've died twice in the past hour, Twilight. I'm a bit on edge." He nodded as he balanced on a single ice skate. "Go on."

"She altered Star Swirl's time travel spell, turned it into something that really can alter the past."

"She's stopping the sonic rainboom, and that makes all of Equestria fall apart!" Spike cried.

Discord glowered. "I see. I warned that mare."

Twilight gulped. "Does... does that mean you're going to help?"

"In my own way, yes."

Spike raised an eyeridge. "Meaning?"

"Well, I can't exactly go back with you to that fateful day. If anyone knows about the Butterfly Effect, it's me." Discord fluttered his fractal-edged wings for emphasis. "The foals might be able to gloss over an alicorn or a baby dragon if they don't look too closely, but meeting me is sure to be a life-changing experience for anypony."

"So change into a pony," said Twilight. "You've done it before."

Discord shook his head. "Twilight, you're suggesting sending the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony through a time travel spell powered by an artifact of Harmony. If this ends in every part of the universe exploding for all eternity, I'd call that lucky."

Twilight winced. "Well, when you put it like that..."

"Besides, I've made it a personal guideline not to play the hero as long as there's somepony else who can fill the role." Discord leaned down and gave Twilight a genuine smile, presented without gags. "I am sure that you will find a way to solve this problem. You've done the impossible before. You even defeated me. You might even figure out why spacial rifts keep popping up between here and that world full of humans you keep visiting."

"Wait, what?" Twilight cried.

"We'll worry about that later." Discord backstroked into thick air. "I'll be rooting for you, Twilight. Remember, you've got friends in strange places."

Twilight smiled as she grabbed the scroll. "Thank you, Discord."

He nodded and watched her go. Then he reached out and grabbed the world around him with all six limbs, head included, space twisting in his grip. After a few seconds, a potent force tried to drag Discord's awareness along axes of possibility. Otherworldly exhaust tickled his nostrils for a moment, but he held tight to the mass of chaos around him, and the force soon subsided.

Discord smiled and sighed as he loosened his grip on the local reality. "Well, that worked." The smile became a smirk. "And while using it would be a bad idea, all of this harmonious magic crisscrossing the timestream means that I have a little wiggle room for some chaotic chronomancy."

He vanished from the world, his echoing cackle the last trace of him.

Starlight snarled at Twilight as the mare who'd had everything handed to her spouted yet another empty platitude. "Not everypony's lucky enough to get her cutie mark at the same time as her friends!" Starlight grabbed the scroll, the time gate opening behind her to take her away from this place of awful memories.

The world froze. The crowd cheering for Sunburst, the birdsong, the ticking and rush of wind from the time gate, all of it fell silent. The air felt stuffy and confining in its stillness. "You know," said a voice from Starlight's nightmares, "this spell of yours probably doesn't impact your own past. After all, what's the point of taking everything from Twilight if she can't remember what she lost? But I could kill your younger self right now. How do you think that would pan out?"

"Discord." Starlight's steady tone belied the chill going down her spine.

"Starlight. Did you think I would forget my promise?"


The creature writhed into view, emerging from the ground like a troublesome weed, his expression a wide-eyed imitation of shock. "What? You didn't think I was being serious, did you? I would never actually harm something so full of chaos as a child. I was merely speaking in hypotheticals." He leaned in, putting himself eye to eye with her. "Now, if you want to refer to actuals, there's the matter of you actually hurting my friends. Actually making it so they had always been hurt. Actually making them dead, along with everything else."

Starlight sneered as she took a few steps back. "Don't tell me you think the fate of the world hinges on half a dozen insignificant mares."

"Who do you think made me the draconequus I am now? Who do you think got the sun to rise after the release of Nightmare Moon? Who do you think you have to thank for not dying in any number of gruesome ways?" Discord stomped his lizard leg and threw up his graspers. "For Elysium's sake, Starlight, you sat in Fluttershy's throne! Anugypt at the peak of flood season isn't as deep in denial as you are."

"It's not denial, it's realism! There is no way the fate of the world could hinge on one stupid, self-centered foal!" Starlight kept backing up, inching closer to the time gate.

From behind her, a voice said, "I'm sorry, are we talking about Rainbow Dash or you?" Starlight jumped and turned. She'd been looking at him! Still, Discord stood before the gate. He held up a paw. "Never mind, I think we both know the answer to that."

Starlight gritted her teeth. "What do you want? What did you do? How did you even get here?"

"Finally, some decent questions. Going backwards, I found you through the bit of myself I left in your mind during our last meeting."

"What!?" Starlight's eyes crossed before she got herself under control.

Discord stroked his beard. "I suppose that would explain your greater irrationality. As for what I did, a simple explanation would be that I have captured a sort of snapshot in time. You are simply an instance of Starlight as she was at this moment, aware of the devastation she caused but unwilling to admit her responsibility, still committed to revenge in spite of all of the evidence."

Starlight took a deep breath. "Why?"

"Because I know how this story goes." A model of Cloudsdale appeared before Discord. "Your original is back at the moment of the rainboom, where Twilight is, for lack of a better term, presently dealing with her. Once Twilight finds an argument that will pierce that thick skull of yours, you'll be begging for forgiveness and friendship." A miniature rainboom cleared away the model. "Given what you've seen, I wouldn't give you five minutes against her. Afterwards, Twilight's little herd of heroes will no doubt forgive you with her approval, and the population of Ponyville will follow suit. There will probably be a song in there somewhere.

"But I am not nearly so forgiving. If I am going to let go of my grievances, I'm going to need to take them out on somepony, hence your existence. Is it petty?" Discord shrugged. "Yes, but at least my pettiness will only hurt one pony.

“Do you remember how the threat went? Everlasting torment, et cetera? Well, I thought about it, and I realized that I can’t do that." Discord raised a talon. "Not because of any moral compunctions, mind you, but because you’d be expecting it. You’ve likely been subconsciously girding your mental loins in preparation, though I suppose it's possible you forgot about it entirely. Still, I decided to do something better, or rather, worse. Indeed, to paraphrase a friend of mine, of all the possible things I could do to you, this will be the. Worst. Possible. Thing."

He leaned in close. “I’m going to give you exactly what you want.”

Starlight was silent for a moment. Everything she'd worked for. Everything she'd wanted. It wasn't even really hers, was it? Finally, as she processed Discord's last words, she managed a "What?"

"Oh yes. A world exactly as you envisioned it, where ponies..." Discord trailed off and shook his head. "Oh, but simply explaining it couldn't begin to match the impact of seeing it for yourself. Come along, and hold on tight. My method is rather bumpier than yours." He wrapped his tail around Starlight and plunged into the timestream, leaping in and out of it like a dolphin.

At the crest of every leap, Starlight glimpsed other times, other places: a unicorn's face carved into the Canterhorn, a yak army flattening everything in its path, a cackling she-demon hovering over a shattered crystal palace, and more still. Each came too fast for her to get more than a brief impression, save for one that seemed to last for an eternity. Starlight saw herself conferring with the princesses, the other princesses. A crown rested on her head. Wings were folded at her sides. A wedding ring sat on her horn, and next to her, wearing its mate, was the colt who'd abandoned her all those years ago.

Either a moment or a lifetime later, Discord cried "We're here!"

The possibility had vanished. Starlight blinked at the scene replacing it. Before her was something that resembled hardened tar or a baking disaster, a pile of shapeless black lumps sprawling out as far as the eye could see. Still, there was something vaguely familiar about it. The river, the hills, the forest... "Ponyville?"

"In a sense," said Discord, "much in the same way that Istanbull was once Coltstantinople."

Starlight looked around. When she faced the Canterhorn, she gasped. "Where's Canterlot!?"

"Hmm?" Discord followed her gaze to the ledge clinging to the mountain, much smaller than it should've been and with no visible towers. He gave a low chuckle. "Really now, Starlight, you must get with the times. Canterlot fell nearly two hundred years ago."

Starlight turned back to him, her jaw still hanging open. "What?"

"Honestly, access to all of time and space, and what do you do? Make petty personal attacks. Whatever happened to that grand vision of yours?" Discord heaved a sigh and shook his head. "Ah well, I suppose it's too much to ask ponies to have my wider perspective on these matters. In any case, this is one of the timelines Twilight visited thanks to you. I just skipped ahead a bit while you were busy gazing upon your works and despairing."

"What happened? Who, what could have done this?"

Discord produced a pitch pipe shaped like a Möbius strip and blew a none-too-sharp. “You really are out of the loop. Changelings?” When Starlight’s horrified expression didn’t shift, he shrugged. "Well, words really can't do them justice. Come along."

A flash of light put them in darkness. All Starlight could see were a few dim green glows. All she could hear was an omnipresent buzz, like a pair of flies hovering by her ears.

"Drat, too dark for pony eyes," said Discord. "Hold on, I'll take care of this."

The light levels slowly rose, revealing a massive cross-shaped chasm, with Starlight and Discord floating in the center. All around them were strangely curved structures of that same black matter. Their surfaces roiled with motion, and black dots flew through the gaps like Cloudsdale traffic at rush hour. Some of the creatures were close enough to see in detail, plated equinoid horrors the likes of which Starlight had never seen. They didn't react to her presence or the brighter light.

"These are changelings?"

Discord nodded, tossing a squat, rectangular wand from paw to claw. “I take it you've never found a desiccated black carapace around your little commune.”

Starlight shook her head.

He clicked his tongue with a sound like a bicycle horn. “I suppose they know a dry well when they see one. Well, not see, per se, but Equish doesn’t have a word for the relevant sense and modulated telempathy does not translate well."

"How did this happen?"

Another flash of light deposited them in a corridor of some kind, filled with objects and placards. It was like a blackened parody of a museum. "Where are we now?" said Starlight.

"The Badlands. More specifically, the hive from whence these changelings came, now the Omnifarian History Museum." Discord began walking through the corridor.

Starlight followed. "'Omnifarian'?"

Discord smirked. "Did you expect them to still call the place Equestria? No, no, we were just in Plexippus, capital of Omnifaria. At least, those are the terms for those of us who speak with breath and tongue instead of transmitted emotional signals."

He stopped by a flat part of the wall with a few deep purple smears on it. "Ah yes, changeling art makes use of a different part of the spectrum. Just a moment." He produced a flashlight from nowhere. In its beam, the wall revealed a mural of two ponies, one white, one pink. "Back when Shiny Object and Princess Lovebutt tied the knot, they had a few uninvited, shapeshifting, love-sucking guests." Discord moved the light to the next part, showing a larger changeling, one that the artist clearly revered, judging by its noble pose and all of the abstract embellishments surrounding it. "Furthermore, the bride had been replaced by Chrysalis, the queen of the changelings." He panned further down the wall to a portrayal of a black haze over Canterlot. "Naturally, when given a race of infiltrators who consume positive affect, she decided that the best course of action was a relatively direct frontal assault. In this timeline, it actually worked, partially because a certain lavender unicorn had fled Canterlot in shame years before." He turned to Starlight. "Hint, hint."

She didn't dignify him with anything more than a "Why else?"

Discord moved to a pony-sized, resinous, green cocoon and patted its side. "These. These pods feed off of the magic of those sealed within, making them utterly inescapable. In this timeline, they also trap the captive in an illusory world where they believe they are loved, and thus love in return. The prisoner becomes the jailer.

"With Celestia and Luna encysted, Chrysalis had the sun and moon in her porous hooves. Through them, she held the world for ransom, forcing Equestria's many allies to accept her takeover."

Discord gestured at a clear dome containing a zebra war mask and some golden jewelry. "After mopping up the last pockets of resistance, the changelings were free to address the long-term problem. You see, ponies have this unfortunate habit of aging, especially when they're getting the love sucked out of them. The changelings would need to replenish the supply somehow, and they'd have to take ponies out of their pods for the usual method of doing so, which Chrysalis saw as an unacceptable risk. Fortunately, with their combination food and energy crises temporarily resolved, the changelings were free to develop their considerable talent for biomancy."

Another brilliant teleport saw them floating in a cavernous chamber before a great, chitinous dome as tall as Twilight's castle. It pulsed like a living thing, a mountain of heaving, armored flesh that smelled like rotting meat in a chemical plant. Several fleshy pink tubes emerged from its base, each wide as a pony's barrel and full of a series of lumps that slid out of the immense mass and out of the chamber.

Discord brought them next to one of the tubes and tapped it. It went transparent, revealing a series of translucent, pinkish spheres. Starlight looked closer, and saw the fetal, barely equine shapes within. The heads were strangely flat, the limbs little more than stubs poking out of the hairless bodies. She flinched away, her stomach roiling.

"The changelings' food, their currency, the power source for their technology: Love, love, love. Love is all they need from ponies," said Discord. "But the original models were full of troublesome extra features. Free will, for example. So the changelings created a pony better suited to their purposes. These creatures have just enough sentience to feel love and are psychologically incapable of feeling anything else."

Starlight swallowed against her building nausea. "This is horrible!"

Discord blinked blankly. "What do you mean? Everypony is happy. Everypony is a valued, valuable contributor to society. On top of everything else, the genome of these creatures was derived from Princess Cadence, so everypony is an alicorn! That's a utopia and a half by most measures.

"This is equality, Starlight. True equality in every sense of the word. No matter how much distinctiveness you stripped from ponies, there were still some differences between them: gender, tribe, coloration, personality, et cetera." Discord shook his head. "For true equality, ponies can’t be people. They have to be fungible goods, interchangeable parts. And in this world, that is precisely what they are, thousands of them churned out by changeling womb-factories like this one every day.

"Even Celestia and Luna are no more. After decades of consuming their magic, their pods mutated into forms capable of sucking them dry, which they did." Another flash, and they hovered over the former site of Canterlot. The only thing there was a twisted, black spire as tall as the castle it had replaced. Its base widened to buttress it, and embedded in the chitin there were two much smaller ovoids, one pink, one blue. "The pods are now integrated into the Biological Clock, an unaging living construct that automatically manages the sun and moon through its cardiac metronome.

"Of course, while leaving you here would make for some hilarious chaos—ponies have actually been romanticized of late—if I did that, then everypony wouldn't be equal anymore." Discord grinned. It didn't stretch his face to impossible lengths. All it did was reveal teeth. But the mad look in his eyes chilled Starlight to her core. This was chaos, wild and uncaring. Twilight Sparkle couldn't have defeated this. The only thing that could've defeated this creature would be it choosing to give up, and Starlight knew she'd never be able to convince it to do so. "You, my dear, are going to need to fit in."

Starlight hung there, paralyzed. Why run? There was no escape. All she could do was watch the eagle talons as they came together and gave a snap that shook the world.

In what more and more ponies were actually calling Namepending Castle, Twilight and Starlight sat at the Cutie Map, all but surrounded by books on advanced magical theory.

A groan and several eye-watering cracks interrupted their discourse and brought their gazes up to the oak-root chandelier. There, Discord stretched a bit more before squinting one eye open. "Oh, don't mind me. Just getting the kinks out now that we're all back when we're supposed to be."

"Discord." Try as she might, Twilight couldn't keep a small smile off of her face. "I thought you'd said you'd back me up. What were you doing in all of that nonsense?"

Discord appeared between the two mares. "Oh, this, that, the other. Mostly cleaning up after you, removing your coffee table from timelines where it doesn't belong." He looked down his muzzle at Starlight. "Don't want somepony else using it to go where they shouldn't, now do we?"

She returned the scowl. "Twilight's been telling me about all of the horrors she's faced. You have no right to throw others' misdeeds around given all that you've done."

Discord beamed. "Delightful!" He swept Starlight into a hug and gave her a fond noogie. "You're so much more entertaining this way!"

"Put me down!" Starlight cried as she squirmed in his grasp. She felt herself fall after a flash of light, managing to catch herself in her magic only an inch above the floor.

"You're going to want to be careful with phrasing around him," said Twilight, giving an empathetic smile.

"It's nothing personal, Starlight," Discord said, leaning down from his perch on top of her seat. "As a proud hypocrite, I reserve the right to harass all reformed villains. Which reminds me." He turned to Twilight. "When are you going to let me meet Sunset Shimmer?"

Twilight gasped. "The rifts! The journal!" She bolted to her hooves and galloped off, shouting "Be back soon!" as she left.

Discord watched her go, then turned to Starlight, who cringed under his scrutiny. He sighed. "Feeling a bit less secure without Twilight in the room?"

After a moment, Starlight swallowed and nodded. "I... I really am sorry, but if that isn't enough, then whatever you think—"

"Oh, relax. I do enjoy a bit of respectful grovelling now and again, but the worst thing I'm going to do to you is heckle you." Discord flicked Starlight's horn. "It's how I show my affection."

Starlight's mouth worked silently for a few seconds. "But what about the eternal torment?"

Discord shrugged. "Already taken care of."


"Well, you're reformed now, aren't you? I'm still a bit shaky on this whole 'morality' thing, but it doesn't seem right to punish you after you apologized." Discord struggled with the halo snagged on his red, pointed horns for a moment before adding, "After all, if I got forgiven for feeding all of Equestria's magic to a power-crazed centaur, surely you can get a pass for the omnicide. It wasn't even really your doing, per se. Those timelines had all always existed; you just connected past and future."

"But you said you were a proud hypocrite." Starlight's eyes widened as she clapped her forehooves over her mouth.

"I'm also proudly inconsistent. Usually." Discord patted her on the withers. "Do relax, Starlight. You are going to need to make up for your misdeeds elsewhere, but I've already forgiven you."

Womb-Factory #014's maintenance alcove was a fairly typical bit of changeling architecture, a burrow reinforced with structural spittle. More of the excretion had been shaped into reasonably comfortable couches, where Overseer Occupational Duty and Trainee Eager Enthusiasm spent most of their work shifts. The system largely took care of itself, as able to sustain its homeostasis as any organism. Even minor issues were addressed by the factory's rudimentary intelligence.

A piping psychic whistle of concern made Eager Enthusiasm's ears perk up. He moved to the color-shifting chromatophore display. "Huh. That is odd," he broadcasted.

Occupational Duty didn't even look up from his news sheet. "What is it?"

"There's a bizarre fluctuation in a generator's love output. Regular." Eager squinted and tapped the display a few times. The output didn't shift. "Sinusoidal, even. It's like looking at an oscilloscope."

Duty glanced at the screen. "Amplitude?"

"Less than a microcadence. The system only flagged it because it's never seen this kind of thing before."

Duty shrugged and went back to the news sheet. "It's well within tolerance levels. Usual protocol applies: Tag the batch number for a random sample review and send it on its way."

"Yes, sir." There were no physical controls attached to the display. Eager simply thought the commands at the womb-factory, and it complied. The unusual generator was shifted out of the anomaly review gizzard and back into the conveyor duct, where it rejoined countless, virtually identical others to feed and power Omnifaria.

And Starlight Glimmer continued to scream.

Author's Notes:

And thus I make peace with Starlight Glimmer's redemption. For more thorough thoughts on this story, including details of what exactly Discord did with and to the timestream, see here.

And if you'd like to see a happier story set in this universe, go check out A Nation of Love

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