They broke their kiss and gazed at each other for a minute.
"So," Big Mac said, "that spinach out yet?"
Cheerilee grinned. "Nnnope."
The tiger squatted on the makeshift raft and proceeded to scrawl out his note.
"My name is Richard Parker. I was in the shipwreck of the S.S. Phytoplankton. I am on a lifeboat alone with a crazy pink pony. Please send help."
"Eeyup?" Big McIntosh turned to see who was talking to him.
Next to the plow the red earth pony had been pulling stood an unfamiliar black unicorn--unfamiliar, but with a distinct red horn and green glint to his red eyes.
"Sombra?" he ventured.
Big Mac regarded the deposed ruler. Applejack hadn't said much about the guy, except that he had been defeated and later brought back at greatly reduced magical power. Apparently, Applejack and her friends, in their capacity as the Bearers of the Elements, wanted to get to know Sombra better as a pony. But while McIntosh could understand the girls thinking they would not be the best ponies to get Sombra to open up, having helped to defeat him, he wasn't at all sure he could do any better.
The unicorn stood silently.
"So," the earth pony offered, "whadday'all say once Ah'm done plowin', we head on in and talk over some cider?"
"I'd rather not."
Big Mac groaned. He was getting an inkling that this supposed "interview" had been set up as a crack at his own taciturnity. "Look, jes... jes don't wander off, alright? Wait fer me at the farmhouse there." With that, he went back to plowing.
"Hey Doc, why did Thunderlane shout 'I gots me a pot of gold'?"
"I dunno. I was asking him if he knew why Rainbow Dash was walking funny."
Without warning, a large figure crashed though the ceiling and landed heavily in a neat three-point stance. The draconequus raised his head menacingly and met the winged unicorn's shocked stare. "Hello, *Princess* Twilight."
'Oh, good,' thought Twilight. 'Now I can stop wondering how it will get worse.'
The Duchess Chevalier of Cervidae, maintaining her composure for the most part, was visibly displeased. "And just who is this crescent-fresh bucker?"
The crescent-fresh creature, rising to two feet, tut-tutted at the duchess. "Such language from a ruler. But I'll excuse it, considering... well...." He kicked bits of ceiling debris aside with false abashment. "Anyway. My name is Discord. And you, my deer friends--" He paused, briefly weighing whether the pun was too blunt or too subtle, then turned his gaze to the Equestrians. "--have been the victims of deception."
Discord's stunned silence was in reaction less to the mere sheer volume of the response, and more to how it seemed only he had not contributed to the chorus. This silence was broken first by chuckling from the Duchess of the Deer, then the Elements joining in, and soon by the boisterous laughter from the room's every occupant except the icon of Chaos.
Twilight was the first one able to speak again. "Oh, my goodness," she giggled. "Discord seems to be in the dark. Would you like to explain things, Chryssy, or should I?"
"Crissy?" Discord echoed flatly.
"We can take turns," said the impostor duchess. She addressed the dumbstruck creature. "I recognized Miss Sparkle immediately, having attended her brother's wedding. She wasn't an alicorn then--how *did* you manage that transformation, Miss Sparkle?"
The erstwhile unicorn concentrated on her fleeting memories of Bloomberg the apple tree. This was probably unnecessary, but it would impede unknown mind-readers from discovering both the Element of Magic housed in her tiara and the alicorn amulet, obtained from Trixie, concealed in her breastplate. "Sorry," she said, and with one hoof, pantomimed--no, manifested--a zipper sealing along her lips.
"Ah, well, it hardly matters." The faux deer dissolved her facade, revealing a stark black--
"Changeling queen!" Discord pointed accusingly at the chitinous equinoid. "Get her!"
"Uh, two problems with that plan, Dissy." Pinkie Pie popped out from a pile of pale red pebble rubble. "First, it's coming from you, and we can't trust you--no offense. And second, we're completely surrounded by changelings."
"Er..." said a possible deer. "Yeah, probably."
Discord stood mollified. "None taken," he mumbled, lowering his arm. This wasn't working at all.
"Yes, well." The indicated queen buzzed her wings briefly. "It's hard to be sure, but I had to imagine that trickery was an easier path than actual promotion." She rested her haunches on the "borrowed" throne. "So what about you, Miss Sparkle? When did you finally suss me out?"
"Mm-hmm." Twilight unzipped and un-existed the zipper. "Well, picking Queen Chrysalis out was easier at the wedding, since I knew the pony she was replacing." She confessed, "It took me... five, maybe six hours, to recognize your affectations as the same ones you used as Cadence."
"I beg your pardon," huffed the Changeling Queen, "these were completely different affectations!" She glared with subdued, almost mock indignation.
"Er, actually, Your Majesty," chimed in Rarity, "if I may?" She received a curt nod. "Once Twilight suggested you might not be the Duchess, I did note an air of the new dress about you."
"ENOUGH!" Discord bellowed. "I am Discord, Lord of Chaos, and I-- NO WHISPERING!"
Twilight was startled at these last two words, but she recovered fast enough. She addressed the quivering pink-and-butter-yellow ball who had been whispering to her. "You heard him, Fluttershy. You'll have to crank it up to at least mezzo piano."
"That's not what I meant, and you perfectly well know it!"
"...still a statue."
The draconequus had enough time to shield himself with his arms and scream "AAAAUUU--" He knew it couldn't be enough. He was unsurprised when the blast from the alicorn pretender left him petrified.
The Equestrians cheered Twilight, and a few apparent Cervines joined in. Queen Chryalis was more confused than anything else. "Hmm. Just what was that about?"
"Well, Chrysalis," started Twilight, noting she might want to start using formal addresses again. She shook her head, then continued. "The last time my friends and I saw Discord, we turned him into a statue. And as it turns out..." She regarded the harlequin-colored creature and his current uncomfortable-looking pose. Then with another, shorter blast, she dismissed his glamour, revealing his stony nature. "...he never stopped being a statue."
"And his full-body articulation?"
"Somepony decided to animate his prison. That might have contributed to why I'm here, rather than another princess."
"If I might pry, what warranted his imprisonment?"
Several ponies answered at once. "He turned tha weather into a surrealist nightmare!" "Overthrowing the Princesses! Switching the Sun and Moon a hundred times in an hour!" "He stole Applejack's honesty and my loyalty! And my wings!"
"Careful!" admonished Twilight. "This might be what Discord was trying to get done! Instigate chaos so he could be released again!"
"Let's see," said Chrysalis. "In order: nice to know that was him, nice to know that was him, none of my business, and begging your pardon, 'released again'? Wasn't Discord released until a couple minutes ago?"
"..." Twilight said until the Queen had finished. "Ah! Well, as a statue, even an animated statue, he didn't have access to any of his chaos magic. I'm glad Fluttershy picked up on that--thank you, Fluttershy."
Fluttershy mumbled something about how Applejack and Rainbow Dash were the ones who noticed something off, and she was just guessing. Those two nudged her and she made a you're-welcome sound.
Twilight, though, now had her attention focused on the statue. "Hmmm. Discord moving around and doing things put a good dent in his seal, but it still has a good nine hundred fifty years on it. Couldn't hurt to move him out of the way, though."
Queen Chrysalis flicked her eyes to one side. "Shacklebolt," she ordered. "Get it done."
One reindeer dropped his disguise. The changeling gestured for others to help him, and they set to judging the statue's mass.
"By the way," said the queen, "about those trade negotiations...?"
"I came here to negotiate with the Duchess Chevalier of Cervidae," said Twilight coolly, but firmly. "I would appreciate it if you would release her--and, in fact, all prisoners you have taken."
"YOU ARE IN--" bellowed Chrysalis, before getting control and composing herself. "--I must admit-- exactly the right position to make such a demand. You four..." She gestured to some deer. "Release the prisoners."
Three deer reverted to changeling form. The fourth looked around, bewildered. "Me?" she asked. It took another nod and a couple nudges for her to follow the detachment of changelings.
As Rarity explained to Chrysalis what her "new dress" remark meant, Twilight convened with her friends. "Well, I would have liked not to deal with Chrysalis or Discord, but that could have gone much worse."
"You said it!" said Pinkie Pie, who had somehow gotten onto Twilight's back without being noticed. "There's just one thing I don't get, though."
"Who animated Discord's statue and brought him here?" offered Twilight.
"What?" Pinkie blinked. "Oh! Nah, we're gonna figure that out. What I meant is, how does Thunderlane know about leprechauns?"
Twilight shot a quick probe at Discord's seal. Nope, nine-fifty and holding strong. The changelings, she noticed, had turned the statue on his side so that more of them could be near enough to levitate. "I can't really speculate on that, Pinkie."
"WE MAY NEVER KNOOOOOW!"