The Game is Afoot.
Twilight growled, stepping around the chair to glare at him. “Do you have something to do with this, Discord?” Discord didn't move, he didn't look up from the book he was reading, he didn't even flinch. Instead he took another long drag from his pipe, blowing a smoke ring into her face, sending her into a coughing fit.
“Uh ah. That's no way to treat a guest. Tsk tsk, I figured as the Princess of Friendship, you'd have more manners.” He continued to read though the book, licking his fingers and turned the page in a rather entitled fashion before he gasped. “Why, Twilight Sparkle, what would your mother say if she knew you had this?” He held up the leather bound book, Twilight didn't recognize it, but on closer inspection her face lit up like a Hearthwarming eve bulb. “The Pony Sutra, for shame. Why are these pages dog eared? Some of your favorite positions?”
“Twily?” It was Shining Armor's turn to cough out a gasp.
“It's not mine! I've never seen it before in my life.” Her body was shaking with rage now, not only was Discord not answering her questions, but he was making fun of her. When she glanced at Shining Armor, he scratched at his wrapped arm. Sweat started forming at his brow, a weary look washing over his face. Despite the white fur on his face, she could tell that he was growing pale, the illness was coursing through him at an accelerated rate. “Answer me, Discord, I don't have time for this crap.”
“Language!” Discord closed his book around his index finger looking at her, exasperated by being pulled away from his book. “If you want to know so badly, you'll just have to ask nicely.”
Twilight gritted her teeth so hard that a spark of pain started throbbing in her temples. Her fingers were balled so tightly that her nails were tearing into the flesh of her palms. “Fine. Will you tell me what's going on, please?”
Discord gave her a heavy lidded look, one eyebrow cocked. “There, see, all you had to do was ask.” Discord slithered himself up from the seat into a standing position, tossing his pipe and book into the fire. “I'm so glad we can be civil, Twilight Sparkle. You're going to need that kind of tenacity to figure out what I have planned for you tonight.”
Discord moved over to a small cellarette that was topped by a large number of crystal decanters with matching crystal tumblers. They were mostly used for decoration, but at one point they held only the most expensive and rare of ciders and liquors . He pulled the stopper from a tall slender bottle that appeared empty but when he tipped it into a glass. Twilight watched a rich brown liquid swelled magically from the bottom of the glass. Discord plunked the stopper back into the decanter, raising the glass to his nose taking a long sniff to sample the body of the liquor. “Ah yes, a Sappy Pappy Apple Brandy, slightly older than you, my dear. Just how I like it.” He took a long sip of it, holding it in his mouth for and swallowed with an excited shiver. “This is the good stuff here.”
“Can we get down to business, please?” This time Twilight managed to sound a little more composed than before, despite her still quaking in her body.
“Certainly, my dear sweet Princess Twilight Sparkle.” Discord slithered around her, coiling her in in his serpentine body. Shining Armor flinched, already on the move to intercept him. “Stop!” Discord held up one finger. “IF your brother interject or get involved in any fashion, this conversation is over. Do I make myself clear?” The playful tone drained from his voice, his furrowed brows showed that he was willing to carry through with his threat.
Twilight looked at her brother from the corner of her eyes, “Shining Armor, please stay back.” She could see the desperate look in his eyes, he clutched his chest as if something had cut him deeply. Seeing her in such distress was taking quite a toll on him. “ It's alright, he won't hurt me. He needs me to play his game, otherwise it would be no fun for him at all.”
“Of that you can be assured. However the same thing can't be said about this evenings festivities.” Discord clutched Twilight's face in his warm talons, holding her close enough so she could smell the tobacco on his breath. Again her eyes found Shining Armor, battling between doing the right thing and doing what she'd asked him to do. “Another year goes by, another Friendship Means Family Festival. I see you all gather with your families, your friends. Enjoying the food, the drink, the dancing, the music, and the games. Since I have neither family nor friends it gives me a chance to study this practice closely and with a large amount of jealousy I might add.”
Discord tightened his coil around her legs and hips, she winced and let out a soft cry. Shining Armor flinched and took a few steps closer, but stopped when Twilight hollered 'stop', holding up one hand. “Clever girl,” Discord hissed dropping her onto the wooden floor. “But I digress, through all your happiness, I can see in each and everypony's minds that you don't know the true meaning of family or friendship.”
“Get to the point you slimy sack of...” Discord held of his hand, clenching it into a fist. It glowed with a green energy that matched the same color of the moon and the mist that they had seen earlier. Shining Armor was engulfed in the same light, he gripped his chest doubling over to the ground writhing in pain.
“Ugh you cretins! If neither of you are drawn to the thrill and ambiance of the theater, than I will waste no more of my precious time.” Discord turned his attention back to Twilight, who was on her feet, already moving to help Shining Armor. “I have infected all of Equestria with a mind altering virus. Once they're infected they have no other want in the world than to infect another with their 'gift'. It will turn friend against friend, brother against sister, and so on, until every last pony falls victim to it.”
Twilight grabbed Shining Armor, pulling him into a hug. “No.” Shining Armor uttered, clutching her tight to him, kissing her cheek. “Stay strong sis, there's gotta be a way.”
Twilight looked her brother in the eyes, before looking back at Discord. “He's right isn't it, after all you did say this was a game. There's a way to win. A way to save all of them, isn't there?”
Discord smiled and tugged at his long beard. “Perceptive as always Twilight Sparkle, there is a cure. It's kept safe, right...” Discord slowly lifted his hand up. “...up...” He extended his finger touching it to the side of his head. “...here. And if you want it, you'll have to find me at my secret abode in the Everfree Forest. Once there we will play a game of riddles, I assure you it won't be an easy task. To ensure that there is no cheating I've taken steps to level the playing field.” He mimed a point to his forehead as if indicating a unicorn horn. “As you've probably already noticed, I've taken away everypony's magic ability. I've rendered all wings useless. If, by some miracle, you win, I will lift the curse. If you lose, well I don't think I need to elaborate on that, do I?”
“I don't understand what this has to do with bringing friends and family closer?” Twilight snapped, her fingers curling into Shining Armor's sweat soaked mane.
A chuckle hummed from Discord's throat. “Fear...” He hissed. “It's the only true way to bring family and friends closer and I assure you my little princess. You're going to need every last one of your pathetic little friends and their family members to get through this night unscathed. I made sure no one could survive this alone.” Discord snapped his fingers and slowly started to fade away. “Toodles.”
“Wait.” Twilight ran to where Discord had been standing, her hands slipping through his fading figure. “Where is your home, how am I suppose to find it? Are...my friends still alright?” Twilight slipped down to her knees on the floor.
The fired had faded along with Discord, leaving the room dark and cold. The smell of fire and tobacco were gone, as if they'd never been there at all. Everything that happened made her feel as if she were losing her mind. Tears welled in her eyes as they slipped down her cheeks to be soaked up by her pajama shirt. The warmth of Shining Armor's hand against her back pushed her over the edge. She buried her face in her hands and started sobbing. Shining Armor moved in close to embrace her, pushing his lips to her ear in a soft kiss. “I'll be alright Twilight. If anyone can beat this thing, it's you.” The words that were meant to comfort her, only made her cry harder.